Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Am I Good Enough to Epublish?

Based on comments and emails, a lot of writers are using me as motivation to self-publish ebooks.

I've tried to be clear that the only writing you should sell on Kindle is good writing, and it's very hard to judge if your own writing is good. Which is why I recommend you only epublish works that were published before (short stories, out of print novels) and works your agent tried to sell but couldn't (a good agent actively trying to sell you is usually proof your work is worthy.)

But those of you paying attention will notice that I have a few things up on Kindle that I wrote specifically for Kindle. My agent didn't rep them, and they were never previously published.


Well, sort of. :)

When I offer works like SERIAL UNCUT, PLANTER'S PUNCH, and TRUCK STOP, which were written without any apparent vetting by professionals, I'm not completely bypassing traditional publishing channels. While I do believe ebooks are the future (and have the proof to back this up: it's 8am on March 24 and I've already sold 4300 ebooks this month) I also believe it's foolish to put anything up on Kindle unless you're 100% sure it is good enough.

In my case, everything I write is read by several of my peers. My peers are all professional writers--people who have agents and have sold books to big houses. If there is something wrong with the writing--and even though I've now written over 2 million words, I do still make mistakes--my friends point it out and I fix it before it goes live.

But what if you don't have a cadre of pros to vet your work? What if you're unpublished, unagented, and none of your peers are published writers?

My advice stands. Before you begin putting your work on Kindle, get an agent and sell some writing. I know it's hard. That's what makes it worthwhile.

Agents do much more than simply pair you with publishers and negotiate terms. And even if you're selling as many ebooks as I am, that pales next to what a big house can do for your book.


I've seen the ebook world accelerate in the last 12 months, and traditional print publishing seems to be slowing down. Agents and editors are becoming pickier. Personally, I'm faced with some choices in my own career where I'm thinking about passing up print contracts that don't allow me to keep my erights.

I can predict a future where writers can, and should, make money without needing major print publishers. (I still believe agents are essential--for example, mine just negotiated a film option for SERIAL, is working to change terms in one of my contracts, is negotiating terms for another contract, has sold foreign rights, and has renewed my film option for AFRAID, all within the last four weeks.)

But I don't see agents as necessary in the ebook world, at least not yet. And I see print publishers as pretty much clueless when it comes to ebooks, for many of the reasons I've mentioned in previous blog posts. (If you're interested in epublishing, follow those links and read those entries.)

So what should newbie writers do? Stay the course, find an agent, and try to sell a print book in a difficult market? Or upload their stuff to Kindle without professional vetting?

If you're thinking of uploading to Kindle, and you don't have an agent or any publishing credits, here are some things to ask yourself.

1. Do I Understand Story Structure? Long ago I figured out the essential elements to a narrative. You can download my Newbie's Guide for details, but in a nutshell they are: Hook, Conflict, Dynamic Characters, Setting, Mood, Pace, Style, Resolution, and Spelling/Grammar. Unless you can speak at length what each of these do for a story, and know how to effectively use them, you probably aren't a good storyteller.

2. What Do I Want? If it's to make a living, get your work in bookstores, or have a wide fanbase, you want to get an agent. If you're content with making grocery money, getting a few fans, and not pursuing this as a career, then by all means ignore traditional publishing. Your goals should dictate your actions. And, as always, your goals should be within your capacity.

3. Can I Get Critiques? No matter your level of experience, you need other eyes on your work in order to vet it. Join a writing group. Befriend your peers. Use my crit sheet to give to friends and family (even non-writers) so they can critique you with a level of expertise. You can't do this in a vacuum. Even if you self-publish, you must have quality feedback.

4. Are There Downsides? Yes, there are, for either choice. Traditional publishing downsides include: publishers ill-equipped to handle the oncoming ebook boom, waiting a long time for the "yes" or "no", and relinquishing control of many aspects of your career. The downsides for epublishing yourself include: potentially alienating print publishers who want first rights (though that could swing the other way if you're a success), less money, less name-recognition, smaller fanbase and fewer readers, and putting out an inferior product, which can hurt your career.

5. Should I Do It Alone? A while ago, I postulated that estributors would arise--people who would be middlemen between the author and the etailer (such as Amazon.) For those writers who don't want to mess with cover art, formatting and uploading, or keeping track of numbers, there are people who will help you get your book Kindle-ready. As always, look at the terms of the contract. Do you want to give a percentage to someone forever for doing something you could pay a flat fee for? Or is it worth a percentage to not have to worry about all of that stuff? And what percentage is fair?

6. What Do I Expect? Goals are within your control to reach. Expectations, however, are akin to dreams and beyond your control. I've been pretty successful at epublishing, but I'm still not sure why some of my ebooks sell better than others. My expectations going into this venture were very low, and yours should be as well.

Conclusions? Only you can decide what is right for you. But THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS. Writing is a craft that must be learned. Just because it's easier to reach readers with epublishing doesn't mean you should forsake finding an agent. Like everything in life, there's a learning curve, and jumping in blindly is stupid.

I epublish things that are out of print, things my agent couldn't sell, and things my peers have vetted that I'm pretty sure I can make money on based on my ebook experiences.

If you have something out of print, epublish it.

If you have something your agent can't sell, epublish it.

If you have a fanbase who wants it, epublish it.

If you've exhausted all agent and print possibilities (meaning you've gotten a lot of rejections), don't epublish until it has been vetted and you have clear goals and expectations.

If you've never even tried to get an agent or publish it traditionally, think twice, then think again, before epublishing. It's tempting to get the instant gratification, but there is probably a reason you couldn't find an agent, and that reason is probably: the work isn't good enough yet.

Are there exceptions? Sure. There are always exceptions. And in my experience, every newbie writer thinks they're the exception.

But I urge you, before you self publish, to understand your reasons for doing so. You always have a choice.

The publishing industry is pretty moronic, and it makes a lot of mistakes. But before you think you're smarter than the industry, you have to experience the industry.


Mike Dennis said...

Outstanding post, Joe. Very, very detailed look at the whys and why-nots of epublishing. This should be required reading for everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, who is even thinking about epublishing.

Your success, as you've pointed out, is possible because of your long, long track record in traditional publishing, and your thorough study of the digital publishing world. And even with all that, you still needed some unknown factor, as you said, to make some books sell better than others.

Anonymous said...

I posted an article just the other day on my own blog detailing my internal debate about the future of ebooks and self-publishing in general. I really enjoy your perspective on it, for I think it demonstrates very well the kind of thinking that went behind my post. You have done it both ways and see the value in it; see more of the big picture. I, being both unpublished and unrepresented, am left to speculate. So thank you so much for this great outline. It's nice to hear someone say "you wanna self-pub? Go for it, but here's how to do it right" instead of "don't bother, all self-pub is rubbish," which is the more regularly heard response.

If you're curious, my article is here:

Thanks again for the post!


Steve Anderson said...

Great posts and responses. I seem to fit the mold. I've been writing and (rewriting) for years, have an agent now and had another agent who was unable to sell certain books. Got the background in writing including some journalism and marketing, which help a ton. The ebooks I'm bringing out now are only ones I feel are good enough; the rest will stay in the drawer -- or the trash, more likely (their backsides make good paper for printing drafts).

Which brings up a critical point, I think -- there is much to be said for having banged your head against that wall for so long. Years of trying agents and editors tells you what works and what don't. Some self-publishers who don't go through that might not want to hear this, but it's true. It's all about how many blows you can take and still stand. I'm still standing. The last thing I wanted to do was self-publish, though, because I bought the tired old lines too about there being only one way to do this. Now, and thanks to your blog also, I'm able to start creating a (admittedly small so far) platform for a historical crime/espionage noir series to come, hopefully repped by current agent. The best of both worlds? That's the goal. The goals could be moved, of course, but by then there will be multiple ways to do this.

One concern I still have is the view traditional publishers take of someone who's already put stuff out there. I know, judging from what you and others have written, that they don't have a clue. But they're still making the big career-changing decisions and writing the (however small) checks. Probably a moot point for me now though, because I'm up and running and enjoying the ride.

All you who are reading this but haven't been working on craft for years. Listen to Joe! Get yer ducks in a row. You will save yourself in the long run and be able to take all those blows to come. Having industry gatekeepers knock you down sucks, but having readers do it because the work's not ready is the only thing worse.


Sheryl Nantus said...

Excellent post!

I weep for the number of writers who rush to put their unedited, badly-written tome onto Amazon and then wonder why they're not pulling in high numbers, despite spamming everyone and everything about their *fantastic* work.

You *can* get published if you keep trying and keep learning and refining your craft.

(heck, if *I* can, anyone can!)


The Daring Novelist said...

Great post, some people will listen. But a good proportion of those who listen fall into that category of people who just want to do it for fun.

And frankly, I suspect there is an audience for the new vanity press, something like fan fiction. The key is going to be helping the readers sort out professional stuff from the hobbyists.

And I suspect there is going to be a category in between - the new Pulps.

Steve Anderson said...

Daring Novelist,

You make an interesting point here:

"And I suspect there is going to be a category in between - the new Pulps."

I've been thinking about this a lot. I could see -- don't laugh! -- a new format somewhere between a short novel and the modern readable (i.e. minimally formatted) screenplay. It doesn't have to be silly. Could be great.

But I'm also getting us farther off topic ;)


David Wisehart said...

Great post, Joe!

I wrestled with this myself before epublishing, and yes, I'm one of those who found motivation in your previous posts to take the plunge with Kindle.

Before epublishing, I had already done many of the things you suggested. I vetted my first novel with a local writer's group, with online critique sites, and with other friends. I also studied story structure for years (MFA in screenwriting at UCLA).

I've had success in other forms of writing. I once earned a good living as narrative scriptwriter for documentaries, and before that as a tech writer. I currently have an Oscar-winning director attached to direct and produce my recent horror script.

Though I did not exhaust all book agents in my genre (historical fantasy), I did submit to a couple dozen and got similar feedback: great writing, but not commercial enough, and falls between genres.

I've also had complaints (from a few online readers, not agents) about the challenging vocabulary, erudition, and frequent use of Latin -- it's written closer to the style of Umberto Eco than James Patterson. This was a deliberate choice of mine, but I understand why this might prove off-putting to commercial agents and publishers.

And though I've had agents in the past for screenwriting (including CAA and ICM), I've made more money from un-agented work.

The idea of being an "indie author" appealed to me. I've been an indie director of short films, and I'm currently directing my own stage play in Hollywood. I've had prior experience with print-on-demand, self-publishing my verse play through Lulu so I would have a nice bound copy to give to my actors, and to friends and family as gifts.

With my second novel (a contemporary mystery) nearly complete, I decided to epublish my first novel as an indie and put the question to the readers. Sales over the first few weeks have been slow, steady, and satisfying. I even debuted at #17 on Kindle for historical fantasy. Frankly, that accomplishment didn't take many sales, but now I can joke about being a bestselling author.

Thanks again for your inspiration, and your caveats.

David Wisehart
Author of Devil's Lair

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Fantastic post, as always.

"If you have a fanbase who wants it, epublish it."

Thanks for including this caveat - this is the situation a friend of mine (that I've been referring to your blog) is in. She has a fantastic fanbase (online) of people who love her writing. Some fraction of them will almost certainly be willing to pay money to read more of her work. I don't know if she'll decide to go the e-publishing route, but at least she is armed with all the info she needs, thanks largely to you!

Unknown said...


Loved this post. As a yet-to-be published author, the tech a'splosion in publishing has been making my head spin lately. It seems every agent/editor/writer blog that I keep up with has been covering it in some fashion. So much so, that my most recent blog post is a spoof about the eReaders taking over Terminator style!

On the one hand, as a creative type, I love the idea of being able to control the distribution of my own content. If you want to sale a painting, you don't have to get the endorsement of a major museum to be marketable. All you need is that one person on eBay (or street corner) to enjoy it enough to pay for it. Similarly, the music industry has also been opened up by the electronic distribution model to where you don't need to have a fat contract with Sony, etc. to get your music out and sale a few records.

The publishing and movie industries seem to be the last of the artistic endeavors where profit/distribution is being regulated by a small group of entities. I realize that we’ve been able to share our writing electronically for a while now, but until recently there hasn’t been a ‘storefront’ or a medium that would allow a writer to put out work for purchase and be given an instant audience. Just like when iTunes came around, mp3 players became affordable, and a song could be purchased for less than a buck, when a good-sized eReader comes out for under $100 and the average eBook falls to $5-$7, the game is going to change.

On the other hand, as a consumer of literature, I see how watered down the market could become. Keeping in mind the warning you issue about only ePublishing quality content, it may become impossible to find the true gems. If my neighbor can write a story about garden gnomes and occupy the same electronic bookshelf as Stephen King, trouble could be a’brewing as they say.

However, being the optimist that I am, I think publishing will follow the example of music. I’ll be introduced to a million new authors that I would have never known otherwise, and based upon reviews, search filters, personalization, etc. I’ll be able to find exactly the things I like to read without wading through fourteen rows of Vampire-Story-of the Month.

Dawn said...

This is a great post. Very informative. It always amazes me--for example--I would never dream of trying to remove someone's tonsils or rewire my house, but some folks with no training will easily say they can write. I'm not knocking newbies, heck, we were all newbies, but many times 'overnight sensation' writers have been working on their craft for decades, toiling away with little fanfare...

J.L. Penn said...

Very interesting and informative blog here! I'm curious about your comment about epublishing potentially hurting your career. I self-published a soft cover of my first novel and epublished it as well. I've got a few stellar critical reviews, a bunch of stellar reader reviews, decent (?) sales for being a nobody (82 Kindle editions so far this mth), and no agent (not for lack of querying). Have I made a mistake? Should I not be boasting my book's accolades in my queries?

JA Konrath said...

@ JL - Unless your book is selling in big numbers (several thousand copies) you shouldn't mention it in agent queries. If you self pub, and have an ISBN, your sales are trackable, which means any publisher or agent can check them, and they have to be stellar to impress.

Have clear goals and expectations. If your goal is to get an agent, it should be for a new book, not one you've self-pubbed.

My ebook The List has sold over 11,000 copies. Plus, my name has some value attached to it. But not a single publisher has approached me asking for print rights. I find it both curious, and telling. I also know that if/when I am approached, it will take a lot of money for me to consider any offer.

I'm not here to judge, or decide what is a mistake and what isn't.

Rex Kusler said...

It is difficult to explore the new world while anchored in the old. Agents today receive upwards of 100 queries per day. That's 36,500 per year. Out of those, they may take on 2 or 3. If you are one of those lucky 2 or 3--then what are your chances from that point? 10%? 25%? I've read blogs written by agents who recommend spending money on conferences, and pitching them like snake oil salesmen.

Maria said...

Well, technically I followed your advice--I did have an agent before I decided to e-publish (for one of the books I have out--and yes, it just so happens that book is doing the best of the three).

Technically I think you're right to offer caution, but I also have read a number of un-agented, self-published books now that were edited every bit as good as a trad publisher and had no major flaws.

My two favorites were actually non-fiction:

Jim Chambers "Recollections" and
David Baldwin "Snake Jazz"

I've also read one of Karen McQuestion's books -- no issues there either; good stuff.

I've heard good things about:

Rottweiler Rescue: A Mystery for Dog Lovers, by Ellen O’Connell and intend to read it along with a host of other books.

The sample feature on Kindle makes it a lot easier to "miss" those books that haven't been properly edited. While it can't tell you if the storyline is going to work, it gives you a pretty good clue.

Ebooks are finally changing the game. I don't dispute your advice because it is impossible to completely judge your own writing, but there are other ways to get there and people are finding it. More power to them.

Maria Schneider

Stacey Cochran said...

I am buying longish short stories and novellas at Stacey Cochran Books to publish via the Kindle Store. If you've got a long short story or novella (7,500 to 30,000 words), drop me a line.

I'm particularly interested in commercial fiction: thrillers, suspense, mystery, romantic-suspense, etc. But anything would good characters, plot, setting, style, and themes is welcome.

Anonymous said...

Joe, what time of day do you typically get the most sales on Kindle? And are weekends better than week days? I'm curious to know how Kindle sales trend.

Anonymous said...

"But not a single publisher has approached me asking for print rights. I find it both curious, and telling."

What do you think that means, Joe?

Theresa Milstein said...

Your blog is a great resource. I haven't one that covers ebooks like you do. Even though I'm someone who still needs an agent and book contract, I still think it's worth following your blog to keep on top of these trends.

JA Konrath said...

"But not a single publisher has approached me asking for print rights. I find it both curious, and telling."

What do you think that means, Joe?

I have five theories.

1. They haven't noticed. But I'm pretty sure publishers have noticed. If you Google "" you get 300,000 hits. My blog posts have been linked to by sites that publishers read. Publishers are watching ebooks very closely, trying to figure out what to do, and I don't doubt more than a few have read my posts and looked at my numbers. 11,000 ebooks sold for a title is more than some bestselling authors even manage.

2. They're waiting to see what happens. Which is what most of publishing seems to be doing; waiting instead of acting. Maybe they think I'll cap off at 5000 ebooks per month, even though trends point to ebook sales becoming stronger, not weaker.

3. They resent everything I say and do, and want me to fail. That would be rather vindictive, especially if there's a chance for them to make money. Am I a big gorilla in the room no one wants to acknowledge, because that would mean they'd have to rethink their approaches?

4. They've read the books, and don't like them. It's possible. After all, these books were rejected previously.

5. They think my numbers are the result of low cost (which I agree with.) Acknowledging that would mean they'd have to consider lowering the cost on their own ebooks, which would hasten the downfall of print, which they don't want. So they dismiss my sales (and by extension, the readers who flock to cheap ebooks.)

But I've blogged about all of these topics, and explained why publishers are nearsighted. I've repeated myself over and over.

A smart publisher would take a cue from me, release ebooks for $2.99, and realize that's the way to make money.

Here's the thing, though. Once the Amazon agency model kicks in, selling 11,000 ebooks a year will earn an author $21k annually. I believe if I release an original Kindle ebook novel, I'd make that much or more, and that I'd continue to earn that much or more for many years to come. That means in 5 years, I can make over $100,000 on an ebook novel.

Why would I want to share that with some publisher?

Jude Hardin said...

I'm not sure what to make of Kindle's current top ten. On one hand, eight of them are listed for $0.00, with Andrew Gross's Dark Tide leading the way. On the other hand, Harlan Coben's new release Caught is at #3 for $9.99. So it seems Kindle readers are willing to pay what I consider to be a fair price for hot new product.

There's only one in the top 100 priced at $1.99, btw, and none at $2.99. The ones that aren't free are priced between five and ten dollars. That tells me a lot of people probably download free stuff just for the hell of it, but are willing to pay a fair price for what they actually want.

At any rate, I agree with your post here. If a writer can't land an agent, or a book deal with a legitimate press, it's probably because their book just isn't good enough to be published. At any price.

JA Konrath said...

That tells me a lot of people probably download free stuff just for the hell of it, but are willing to pay a fair price for what they actually want.

It tells me people will pay $9.99 for bestsellers, which will probably sell at any price.

How many midlisters do you see on any of the bestseller lists? I currently have ten of the top 100 Kindle Police Procedural bestsellers. The other 90 are mostly brand name authors, or cheapies.

Harlan is selling well on Kindle because he's Harlan and sells well in all formats.

JA Konrath said...

.. but some of my ebooks are outselling Harlan's. I can't say the same for my hardcovers, paperbacks, or audiobooks...

Anonymous said...

I'm off topic, Joe, but check your e-mail.

Anonymous said...

I'm off topic, Joe, but check your e-mail.

Jude Hardin said...

It tells me people will pay $9.99 for bestsellers, which will probably sell at any price.

But if you compare the Kindle bestseller lists with the NYT bestseller lists, there's no correlation at all.

JA Konrath said...

@ Rob - Haven't gotten any email from you. You sure you're sending to

But if you compare the Kindle bestseller lists with the NYT bestseller lists, there's no correlation at all.

Kindle bestsellers are either bestselling authors or bargains.

Anonymous said...

My wife has a novel I've shopped for a while. She doesn't fit all your categories yet, but had a top agent say she loved the book but couldn't sell a book of that length (450 pages) from a first time author. Likewise a small publisher said he wanted to publish the book but couldn't afford the print run necessary for such a large book.

Since with e-books, size doesn't matter, I'm advising her to go with the Kindle.

Jude Hardin said...

Since with e-books, size doesn't matter, I'm advising her to go with the Kindle.

I would advise her to cut 150 pages.

Jude Hardin said...

Kindle bestsellers are either bestselling authors or bargains.

Actually, they're either bestselling authors, or they're J.A. Konrath.

Yours are practically the only books listed in the top 100 of police procedurals priced below five dollars. I think your results are simply atypical, Joe, and shouldn't be regarded as any sort of selling trend.

Your popular blog and your tireless promotional efforts have paid off with respectable Kindle sales, and I'm happy for you; I'm just not convinced that what you've done can be duplicated on a mass scale.

I think the price point of new releases should stay similar to that of trade paperbacks, and later should stay similar to that of mass market paperbacks. The occasional freebie is okay, as in the case of Andy Gross, but perception of value needs to be maintained in order for the industry to survive.

J.L. Penn said...

I would respectfully disagree with Jude's comment about books not finding an agent or publisher not being worth publishing. My book Reunion sits on an exclusive High Raters page on a genre-specific as the only self-published novel among bestsellers like Kinsella, Keyes, Giffin, Strohmeyer, etc. These are the big names in my genre and my book was rated better than some of theirs. I've gotten great critical reviews and stellar reader reviews. My readership is steadily growing and my sales increased seven-fold this month. Bookstores are also miraculously finding my book and ordering it unsolicited. Yet, I still have no agent. I'm hoping it's just a matter of time, but I don't at all feel that my book falls into the "not worth publishing" category. I think it's simply an issue of too many queries/books, not enough capacity on the agents' parts.


Jude Hardin said...

Hi Jenn. Here's what I said:

If a writer can't land an agent, or a book deal with a legitimate press, it's probably because their book just isn't good enough to be published.

I said probably, Jenn. There are always exceptions.

As we've (unscientifically) established here before, the ratio of self-published books that are actually good enough to be published traditionally comes in at something like 10,000:1.

And every self-published author thinks theirs is the one.

J.L. Penn said...

Yeah, that 10000:1 ratio is probably the unfortunate truth. And that adds to the frustration of those of us who know (based on credible feedback) that we've got something worth publishing but can't seem to break through. F-R-U-S-T-R-A-T-I-N-G.

I have learned one big thing here as of late ... stop mentioning that my book is currently self-published in my queries. Speaking of queries and those darn gatekeeper agents ... I know all successful authors talk about their many rejections (I saw Joe mention 500), but I'm wondering how one gets that many. I haven't found 500 agents. Am I missing something or is everyone querying the same agents over and over with tweaked queries each time?


JA Konrath said...

but perception of value needs to be maintained

You did read my blog post about the perception of value, right? ;)

Value is what a book earns, not the list price.

Am I missing something or is everyone querying the same agents over and over with tweaked queries each time?

Writers write, Jenn. When one book gets rejected, write another one and submit to agents all over again.

Jude Hardin said...

Value is what a book earns, not the list price.

I know, but there has to be a starting point, a range that corresponds to the buying public's perception of worth. Since the vast majority of Kindle bestsellers (those not being given away, that is) are priced between five and ten dollars (not $1.99 or $2.99!), it seems that the starting point is at least beginning to become established.

JA Konrath said...

Since the vast majority of Kindle bestsellers (those not being given away, that is) are priced between five and ten dollars (not $1.99 or $2.99!), it seems that the starting point is at least beginning to become established.

If readers didn't care about price, I wouldn't be a Kindle bestseller.

Kindle books are priced at $9.99 (and soon they'll be higher) because that's what the publishers demand, not because that's what they're worth. And people are willing to pay that because they have no choice if they want to read those ebooks.

Supply and demand doesn't exist in an ebook world. It's artificially attributed by the industry, not by any inherent value in an ebook.

But if my experiments have shown anything, it's that people like paying less for good books. They like it so much, they're elevating my sales up to those of name brand authors.

Stacey Cochran said...

I think your results are simply atypical, Joe, and shouldn't be regarded as any sort of selling trend.

This is simply not accurate. Every week for the past four or five months I've had author guest after author guest on my podcast Book Chatter and every week I learn about a new self-published author who is selling thousands of copies of his/her eBooks and/or translating their Kindle bestsellers into major book contracts or film options.

What's remarkable is how not atypical Joe is. If it's not a trend, I don't know what else you'd call it. A "high frequency of occurrence" perhaps.

Just read this post on the Kindle discussion boards for a list of dozens of indie authors who have cracked the Top 1,000 in the Kindle Store.

Jude Hardin said...

If readers didn't care about price, I wouldn't be a Kindle bestseller.

I don't know. It seems if price were the primary factor, there would be a lot more in the top 100 police procedurals priced comparably to yours.

Why not raise your prices and see what happens? I personally think your books are worth a lot more than 99% of the self-published crap out there.

Rex Kusler said...

Crap is in the eye of the beholder.

Robert Burton Robinson said...

Another great post, Joe. And congrats on your wonderful success with your ebooks!

I have come to realize that even if you are good enough to ePublish, you're only halfway to success. You've got to promote your books like crazy.

The Kindle sales for my six books have been nothing to brag about. But that's mostly because I've made them easy to read for free on my website. And I mean EASY. You don't even have to download them.

But that's okay. This is my way of building a fan base.

These figures won't mean much to you unless you're into this kind of thing, but here are my latest monthly site stats:
- Visits: 4,776
- Absolute unique visitors: 2,954
- Pageviews: 22,604
- Avg. Pageviews: 4.73
- Time on site: 13:54 min/sec
- Bounce rate: 38.02%
- New visits: 58.21%

Most self-published authors would kill for these numbers. (Joe is an exception.)

But I wish that four years ago when I created my site I would have realized how important it is to have a mailing list. And to promote it and maintain it.

Instead, I made one halfhearted attempt after the other, building a list of hundreds of email addresses, only to discontinue the list.

I have now created a free monthly newsletter which will include a brand new short story with each edition.

I'm making it clear that these short stories will not be posted on my site. So, the only way to get them is to subscribe to the newsletter. (And, of course, I make it easy to unsubscribe, I don't include any ads, etc.)

When Rebecca Ranghorn, my new murder mystery novel, goes on sale this summer I will tell my newsletter subscribers, and hopefully many of them will buy the ebook.

The last thing you want to do is gain a fan, and then lose touch with her. It could be that she would love to buy your new ebook when it comes out---if she only knew about it.

So, my only regret is that I did not stay focused. If I had been consistent with my list building, I could have had 5,000 subscribers by now.

Just think how nice it would be to instantly notify your 5,000 most faithful fans and tell them you've got a new book out. And think how happy they would be to go buy it. :)

Anonymous said...

"Your popular blog and your tireless promotional efforts have paid off with respectable Kindle sales, and I'm happy for you; I'm just not convinced that what you've done can be duplicated on a mass scale."

I used to think that too, like "no way can I do what Konrath has done", but the past two months I've seen Indie books climbing into the top 50 in many genre fiction Kindle categories.

My own book (and I'm a complete unknown, not even remotely close to years of published success a la JA Konrath) is consistently at #1 or #2 in the Western category (at least since the holidays); I now see at least four indie books in the top 25 in the Historical Romance category (in 2009 you couldn't find ANY indies in the top 25, and sometimes only one in the top 100).

I think price plays a part in making these books best sellers, but it is not the entire equation. There are over 500 books in the Western category for less than a dollar (or cheaper, many out-of-copyright volumes are free), yet my book is #1. Why not one of the other 500? It can't be marketing, because I don't have an author blog, and I've done very little beyond posting about my book on a few reader blogs.

Could the formula for mid list success be as simple as offering a good story at a can't-pass-it-up price?

Anna Murray

Stacey Cochran said...

My writing group partner Elisa Lorello sold 35,000 self-published eBooks in January and February. At 35 cents a copy, you can do the math.

Then, today, I learned that my Book Chatter co-host Holly Christine's latest self-published book has rocketed toward the top 100 overall in the Kindle store.

If she can work her way up about 45 more spots and break into the Top 100, she is going to have a very, very fun month ahead of her.

While a small minority of detractors still haven't gotten on board this eBook revolution, many of us have. And we're tweaking and refining our marketing strategies and getting better and better month by month.

J.L. Penn said...

Two questions - Were Elisa's sales from one book or multiple books? Just curious because I see her Faking It constantly popping up near my book, and I've in fact bought it (although I haven't read it yet). Yet, my sales are nowhere near that high (yet? LOL). And second, how do you pick the authors for your Book Chatter? I'd love to get on the list.


Stacey Cochran said...

Hey Jenn,

Would love to have you on next week.

Yes, Elisa has pretty much set the bar at the highest standard I've seen yet for a self-pubbed Kindle author. Her sales were for both Faking It and Ordinary World.

Just drop me a line at and we'll get you squared away as a guest for next week's show.

We might be having Blake Crouch on, too. Who knows? Maybe even Konrath will drop by.

Barb said...

All very good advice. Based on the previous post, I spent most of the week scanning an out-of-print book of mine (used FreeOCR and highly recommend it), spent not much time formatting it, got an image for the cover and then mentioned it to my agent. Who wants to show it around "That sort of book is always interesting". I have nothing to lose. It's all gain even if it's just getting my name onto the net which Joe keeps saying.

Author Scott Nicholson said...

I am actually writing an article on this subject right now--the scary reality of the phrase "Money always flows toward the writer." The authors who scream it the loudest are usually the ones giving most of their money to other people.

In putting together the Write Good or Die download, I realized that Joe, Kevin J. Anderson and I have amassed more than 2,000 rejection slips. That is an awesome achievement that is almost impossible to duplicate today because there are fewer legitimate outlets. Obviously Joe and KJA have more success than me, but I am takingt he step to put out two more original novels out as ebooks. Based ont he performance of the other two novels, this will put me near the "Konrath standard" of paying my mortgage with ebooks. That is literally a life-changing move.

And I STILL say get an agent. Get rejected. Get tougher, get better, stay hungry. Talent is worthless, as are ideas. The only thing that succeeds is success. Sure, you get lucky, but the luckiest people work the hardest.

It is really hard to step out on the high wire--it almost feels like abandoning everything I learned about a writing career. I have to make sure I am not indie-pubbing (or hell, I don't mind "vanity publishing," I'm vain enough) because I am desperate or accepting I'm not "good enough." But now the audience is going to tell me that--not a solitary gatekeeper or two. But if someone wants to write me a check, that's fine, because now i know how much it needs to be. Ten years ago, you'd have to be a lunatic to turn down a print offer.

Scott Nicholson
Haunted Computer

JA Konrath said...

@ Scott - Right now I've sold 5300 ebooks this month. When the Amazon Agency rate kicks in, that will be $10k a month.

I'm thinking in my previous posts, I short-sold the money to be made doing this.

I once viewed ebooks as a supplementary income. Then they started paying the mortgage. Now they're paying all of my bills.

Soon, they might be buying me cars and houses. And I really don't think I'm exaggerating here.

I'm lovin' the future outlook.

Rex Kusler said...

If you ain't the lead dog, the scenery never changes. -- Lewis Grizzard