Monday, April 26, 2010

The Newbie's Guide to Publishing Book

My exhaustive writing and marketing ebook, The Newbie's Guide to Publishing, is now available on Kindle.

How exhaustive is it? It's over 370,000 words, and clocks in at over 1100 pages.

The thing that makes it possible to navigate this monster is an organized table of contents that allows you to jump around.

Which brings up an interesting point about ebooks. In this case, my book simply couldn't be sold as a print book. It is too long, too niche, and too dependent on hyperlinks. Even 1/10th of the essays were bound in a print edition, it would still cost more than the $2.99 I'm charging for it.

If you still think $2.99 is too much, you can download a pdf version for free on my website. Here's an overview of headings and contents:

WRITING - More than forty essays, covering everything you need to know to craft fiction.

BREAKING IN - Over forty essays on how to find an agent and sell your writing.

PUBLISHING - More than twenty essays about the publishing business, and how it works.

PROMOTION - Over fifty essays on marketing, advertising, and self-promotion.

TOURING - Extensive, in-depth details on how to do book tours and signings.

INTERNET - Dozens of essays on how writers can effectively use the world wide web.

EBOOKS - Speculation and real-life examples of digital publishing, the Kindle, print on demand, and self-publishing.

MOTIVATION - Over fifty essays guaranteed to enlighten and inspire your writing efforts.

Plus many, many more.

It also includes a foreword and several bonus essays by bestselling author Barry Eisler.

When I first started this blog back in 2005, my intent was to share what I've learned about the publishing business with the world. Publishing was a secretive industry, with a lot of mystery surrounding how it worked. Newbie's Guide documented my journey, while also attempting to reveal some of that mystery.

And what a long, strange trip it has been.

Now, five years and 500 posts later, I still haven't run out of things to blog about. The publishing world is in the midst of a major upheaval, with the arrival of the Kindle and other ereaders. My views continue to change and evolve as the industry does.

I plan on updating this ebook again next year, and every year after that, because I know I'll never run out of opinions, predictions, and things to say about this business.

I'd like to thank you for reading this blog. I don't do that often enough. I'm lucky to have so many blog readers who share their comments, link to me, and help spread the word. I just learned I was again named one of Writer's Digest's Top 101 Websites For Writers. Incredibly, Googling my blog address, "", gets 383,000 hits. In the past week I've done eight interviews, all based on things I've said on this blog.

Since I'm feeling reflective, I think it's appropriate to go back to my very first blog post, from March of 2005. Here's what it said:

Oh no, another blog about the publishing business.

But before you mouse over to the VIEW NEXT BLOG button, hear me out.

My first novel, WHISKEY SOUR, was published in hardcover in 2003 by Hyperion. Since that time, I've learned a heck of a lot about how this business works. And the biggest thing I've learned is this:

1. There are over 100,000 books published every year.

2. Only one out of five books makes money (two break even, two lose money).

3. If you expect to stay in this business, your book had better make money.

I have hundreds of author friends. Dozens of them are on their fifth, tenth, forty-third book, and find themselves unable to sell their latest because their numbers just aren't good---their publishers aren't making back their investment.

And investment in an author is expensive. Besides the advance paid, publishers must also pay for paper, printing, binding, cover design, editorial work, galleys, corrugation (making boxes for the books to be shipped in), shipping, and marketing/advertising/promotion. What profit is left is shared with the bookseller, and often a distributor (Ingram, Baker & Taylor). On a $25 hardcover, the publisher makes about as much as the author; about three bucks.

Many of my peers believe that their job is simply to write the books, and that the publisher must sell them.

Many of these same peers find themselves struggling to sell their next project.

I believe the opposite. If it's my name on the book, it's my job to sell it. My goal is simple; to make my publisher money, so they'll buy my next book.

So does a lowly author have the power to make this happen?


That's the purpose of this blog. To raise author awareness of what needs to be done in order to become one of those one in five books that turns a profit.

My second book, BLOODY MARY, comes out this June, along with the mass market paperback edition of WHISKEY SOUR. I'll be sharing my promotion tips, what works and what doesn't, and be happy to answer any questions along the way.

My name is Joe, and I'm an author.

Welcome to my blog.


What has changed since then?

Some things have changed a lot. But some are still the same.

I still believe it is my name on the book, and my job to sell it. While it isn't within an author's power to make a book a huge hit, an author does have the power to make a book profitable.

But that's no guarantee the publisher will continue to buy books from the author. I've parted ways with two print publishers, even though my books continue to earn royalties. I've also signed deals with three other print publishers, and have learned that it's possible to make a living without print at all.

Authors have more power than ever. And you can make a difference in your career.

I'm proof.

My name is Joe, and I'm an author. I'm still here. And I plan on being here for a while.

Welcome to my blog.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

How To Format For Kindle

The Newbie's Guide to Publishing Book. Now available on Kindle for $2.99.

I’m a pretty tech savvy guy, but when I decided to turn my blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, into an ebook, I knew I was in over my head. This was a hefty project, weighing in at 370,000 words. Besides getting it properly compiled and formatted, I also wanted a linkable table of contents. Though I know my way around HTML, I simply didn't have the skills to do it on my own.

So I turned to Rob Siders for help. Rob did a terrific job putting the ebook together. It was an incredibly difficult and complicated task to format this ebook (and he did it twice--once for Kindle, and once in pdf available as a freebie on my website) so I asked Rob if I could interview him to describe the process.

Rob, tell us a little about your background.

Rob Siders: When people ask what I do I always answer, "I write books that nobody ever, ever reads: software manuals!"

The long answer is I'm a technical writer who writes and produces at least a dozen computer how-to books every year for a Denver software company. Each one of those books, then, gets ported to one electronic format or another, whether to PDF (for offline use) or to XHTML (for online use). My days as a professional writer, however, stretch back to 1999.

Beyond that, when I'm not being a husband and new Dad, I'm currently in the muddy middle of writing novel number two.

Joe: Is Kindle difficult to format for?

Rob: Heh heh. You'd think it'd be a piece of cake… upload your book and let Amazon Digital Platform do the rest. But anytime you take your native document and try to automagically convert it to something else then you're sort of going on faith, hoping the thing that emerges on the other side resembles what it once was.

The Kindle conversion, presumably because it's a new tool, chokes on some of the things that Microsoft Word just does, like tabs, page breaks and curly quotes. We hardly think of those things as advanced formatting. So, as it goes, the more complexity you have in your document's formatting, the more fits Amazon's automated conversion is going to give you.

Take, for example, The Newbie's Guide to Publishing Book. It's a thousand pages with a table of contents, some pictures, and a bunch of hyperlinks. These are things Word does well and with ease. Click a button, and voila! You have a table of contents! Type a URL and Word makes it a clickable link. Want those pictures? Easy. Just copy and paste them.

But these things just kill a Kindle conversion.

What's more is that the Kindle format's file output is a very rudimentary version of HTML, which isn't that difficult to learn or work with, but when you're talking about a novel-length manuscript… that's a lot of code to sort through if you need to clean things up. And odds are pretty good that you will need to clean things up.

To give you another example, TNGTP's table of contents is almost 900 lines of HTML code after conversion to the Kindle format. The whole book is more than 30,000 lines of HTML code after conversion. It's an inelegant way to look at your work.

Joe: Do you have any tips for newbie writers trying to upload their ebooks?

Rob: Absolutely… keep your source document simple. As you know, formatting a manuscript –– wide margins, double spacing, 25 lines per page, and name, title and page number in the header –– is a great practical presentation to an agent or editor you're trying to attract to your book. After all, you want to look like a pro even if you're not. Especially if you're not.

But, again, that kind of stuff causes problems with Amazon's converter. At minimum, you should have two versions of your manuscript: one with as much rich formatting as is needed to present to agents or editors, and one that's relatively barebones for Kindle (even then be prepared to do some futzing with it before you click the Publish button).

Joe: If a newbie is looking to hire someone to help them format, what are some of the things they should look for? Questions they should ask?

Rob: Well, there's a guy in Denver who's really top-shelf! But seriously, if I were looking to hire someone for something like this I'd want someone who's experienced and who understands what my needs are. I'd also want someone who's accustomed to deadlines and who can turn out professional results.

Joe: How much do you charge for a Kindle conversion?

Rob: It really depends on the size and scope of the project, but budget a couple hundred dollars for fiction. Double that for non-fiction or picture books, because of the advanced text formatting, tables of contents, and image optimizing.

Joe: How should people send you their manuscripts?

Rob: Microsoft Word files are best, but I can convert PDFs, too. If all you have are hardcovers or paperbacks or paper versions of your manuscript, I can handle those conversions, too. It just takes a little longer and costs a bit more.

Joe: What are your predictions about the future of ebooks? Are we heading to an era where publishers are no longer needed?

Rob: Oooh. These are tasty ones. Back in the 90s, before I was a pro writer, I ran record stores for a small, Midwest-based independent chain that doesn't exist now. This was an interesting time to be in that business: everyone was expanding as CD sales fueled enormous growth. Labels were signing anyone who wore a guitar. But I remember as plain as day having three interactions, at different times, during that tenure.

The first was in 1993-ish. I was running one of the company's college-town stores. The campus was completely connected through a VAX system, which was the same system our stores used. The systems were closed to each other, of course, but they were basically using the same technology. One afternoon at a manager's meeting, I mused at how great it would be if the students could search our catalog database and place a special order or hold for a CD from a campus computer lab or their dorm rooms. The other managers looked at me like I had three heads.

For the second interaction, jump forward to sometime in 1996. A customer wanted a CD we didn't normally carry and asked whether I thought had it. I didn't own a computer at that point and had never seen the Internet (let alone the Amazon Web site), but I'd read enough stuff in the record industry trade magazines to know what she was talking about. I remember feeling threatened by her question.

The third interaction, in 1998, was with an employee who worked for me. He raved to me about the mp3 format… its compression, its virtually imperceptible loss in fidelity, and how you could, if you knew where to look, download off the Internet for free just about anything we carried in the store. I went home after work and learned more about it and quickly understood that the industry I loved was about to get clobbered.

Now, back to your questions… I don't think we're in any serious danger of losing analog books anytime soon. There're too many people like you and me and your readers who really love books. I'm talking deep, soulful connections to books and the stories they contain. In that respect, music lovers and book lovers are truly cut from the same cloth.

But the parallels between the publishing biz now and the record biz a decade ago couldn't be clearer. And it's not just the pervasiveness of digital products and their associated devices. It's also the way in which the Internet allows producers, artists, whatever you want to call them, to make their work available to people and then build a following. There's a place for publishing companies and record labels, but producers and consumers can go around them now in ways that evolve faster than traditional companies can. The band Panic at the Disco got discovered on MySpace. Comedian Dane Cook used social networking to catapult himself from the club circuit to Madison Square Garden. New York Times best-selling horror novelist Scott Sigler got there by first serializing his books and releasing them as free podcasts. Of course, these people have extraordinary results. But, like you, they promote the hell out of themselves, then and now, without necessarily relying on a giant corporation's money or help.

I think, even though it's been underway a while, we're just beginning to see the publishing industry's clobbering. They're fighting it like the music industry did (and continues to do in some ways). But, until they figure out how to adapt, it's a fight they're going to lose.

Joe: Thanks for your insights, Rob, and for the great job you did with Newbie's Guide.

If you're an author with a backlist and want to get your work up on Kindle, even if the only thing you have is a paperback copy, I suggest contacting Rob. And if you've tried uploading to Kindle yourself and got frustrated because your book looked like crap, Rob can help with that, too.

Visit him at and tell him I sent you.

And if you find my blog helpful, feel free to pick up a Kindle copy of The Newbie's Guide to Publishing Book. If you don't have a Kindle, download the free Kindle for iPhone app. If you don't have an iPhone/iPod/iPad, you can get Kindle for Blackberry, or Kindle for PC, for free.

You can also get the free PDF of this ebook at If you feel guilty about getting 1100 pages of my blood, sweat, and tears for free, there is also a Paypal link for donations. Whoever donates the most will have a character named after them in SHAKEN, the seventh Jack Daniels book, being released this winter. I can't say who the publisher is yet (I signed a non-disclosure agreement), but I'll be making the announcement soon.

Depending on the turnout, you might win with just a fifty cent donation. Who knows? So donate early, donate often.

(The savvy among you might realize I'm doing this as another experiment. Micropatronage, or crowd funding, is a way for artists to make money while releasing work for free. How much money? We'll see...)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Interview with Karen McQuestion

"JA Konrath is selling well because he's an established name."

"The reason Konrath has sold so many ebooks is because he has a large backlist of print books."

"Konrath has a platform--that's why he's making $4k a month on Kindle sales."

"Joe Konrath has a popular blog, and he's been self-promoting for eight years. No one else would be able to sell 40,000 ebooks."

I hear and read quotes like these all the time. Even though I'm pretty sure my ebook sales are fueling my print sales, and not the other way around, I still can't seem to get people to understand that ebook success isn't about having a known name.

It's about price, quality, and professionalism.

So it was a pleasure to talk to an ebook author who is OUTSELLING me. Karen McQuestion only has six ebooks on Kindle, rather than my thirteen books, and she's been live for less than a year. Yet she's sold over 30,000 copies since July.

And guess what? She's never published a book before. No name-recognition. No platform. No backlist. No blog that gets hundreds of thousands of hits on Google like mine does.

Karen simply writes good books, with good covers and descriptions, and posts them on Kindle herself.

Here they are:

Celia and the Fairies in paperback ($8.99) and Kindle ($0.99)

For ages 7-11, or those who are young at heart

A Scattered Life ~ currently available on Kindle ($1.99)

Easily Amused ~ a romantic comedy, available on Kindle ($1.99)

Favorite ~ a young adult novel, available on Kindle ($1.99)

Life on Hold ~ a young adult novel, available on Kindle ($1.99)

Lies I Told My Children ~ a collection of thirty humorous essays, on Kindle ($1.49)

When Karen admitted on this blog how well she was doing, I knew I had to ask her some questions, to see what secrets she could reveal about selling well on Kindle. She kindly responded, and here are her answers...

Joe: How and why did you get started self-publishing your ebooks on Kindle?

Karen: I’ve always thought of myself as a writer, even during the times when I didn’t write anything at all. When my three kids were (finally!) in school, I became more focused on writing with the goal of publication. I had success getting my feature articles and essays accepted by magazines and newspapers, but my fiction went nowhere. The first novel I wrote, A Scattered Life, caught the attention of a top agent, and I naively thought I’d made it, even though I never officially signed on as her client. One year and two revisions later, the agent opted out and I had to start over again. During the next several years, there were more novels and more agents, then contests, and direct submissions to editors at various publishing houses. Increasingly I got the sense that I was getting closer, but no offers were forthcoming. Talk about frustrating.

Last spring, I read an article about the author Boyd Morrison. He’d self-released three of his unpublished novels on Kindle, and as a result of great sales and reader enthusiasm wound up signing with Simon & Schuster. His story was a revelation to me. Up until then, I honestly hadn’t known that a writer could self-publish on Kindle. Something clicked and I knew I wanted to try to do this myself. At the time, I only knew one person who owned a Kindle, and I had never actually seen one (or any e-book device, for that matter). The thought of making money for past work was intriguing, but I had no expectations. I remember saying to my husband that I thought it would be wonderful if I could make enough for a nice dinner out once a month.

I uploaded one of my novels, a romantic comedy called Easily Amused, and a collection of my humorous essays, Lies I Told My Children. By the end of the first day I had sold a few books. I was elated, but puzzled. Who were these people and how did they even find my books? Every week the sales grew slowly but surely. And then I started getting positive reviews. Spurred on by my initial success, I went back to my other novels and uploaded them one by one. I now have six books on Kindle.

Sometimes I still can’t believe the turn my writing life has taken. A year ago I was a failed novelist with years of work on my hard drive, and now I have readers and an income. Life is good.

Joe: Did you do anything at first to promote your Kindle ebooks?

Karen: I introduced myself and my books on, and also on the message boards on Amazon. Some of my first sales came from readers there, and I’m grateful they gave an unknown author a chance.

Joe: How have the sales been? Steady? Going up?

Karen: My best day to date was Christmas day, believe it or not. Overall, sales have fluctuated, but each month they’ve either equaled or exceeded the previous month.

Joe: How did the film option happen?

Karen: Ironically, the novel that got optioned, A Scattered Life, almost didn’t make it to Kindle. I hadn’t looked at the manuscript in years, so I when I opened the document file, I wasn’t certain what I’d find. I was pleasantly surprised to discover I still loved the characters and the story. So much time had passed that reading it was almost like reading someone else’s book. It needed some work yes, but I still found it touching and funny. I went back and reread the notes the first agent had given me and she was right—way too much backstory, something my earlier revisions hadn’t adequately addressed. I spent about two weeks reworking it and uploaded it the beginning of October.

A little more than a month later, I got an email from Eric Lake, an L.A. producer. At first glance I didn’t take it seriously. For one thing, it got routed to my spam folder. Not only that, but the name of the production company is “Hiding in Bed,” which was part of his email address. It all seemed a little fishy. I would have deleted it except the subject heading was the title of my book.

The email asked for the contact information for the person handling the movie rights for A Scattered Life. I think my heart stopped beating for a few seconds, but once it started up again, I checked with Mr. Google to see if this was a legitimate production company (it was) before responding.

Over the next week, Eric and I talked on the phone several times, and emailed back and forth as well. Once we agreed on terms, we were able to finalize the deal. I just heard from him recently and the project is on track. There are several more steps before it becomes an actual movie, but I’m hopeful it will happen eventually.

Joe: What are you doing now to promote yourself and your ebooks?

Karen: I still post on message boards, and make comments on heavily-trafficked websites and blogs. I think some writers underestimate the power of the message boards, especially the ones right on the Amazon site. The Kindle readers are right there, only one click away from your book.

One thing I did, which I think helps, was to set it up so my posts on Amazon come up under “Karen McQuestion, Author.” That way, I can participate in general discussions and if people on the boards are curious, they can check out my books, and if they aren’t, that’s okay too.

I've also posted comments on, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, and other newspapers here in the US and worldwide. I'm genuinely interested in reading about anything Kindle /e-book/ publishing related, so it was natural for me to seek out articles on these topics online. Whenever I felt I could contribute to the conversation or politely clarify a point I did, and always mentioned that I spoke as a self-published Kindle author. I do believe this led to sales, but it's impossible to say for sure. Regardless, I felt it was a good use of my time.

Joe: Are you going to raise your prices to $2.99 in June to get the 70% royalty?

Karen: I’m still debating this issue. On the one hand—hey, more money!--who wouldn’t want that? But then I remember the readers who said in reviews or on message boards that they tried one of my books primarily because it was cheap, and then liked it so much they went on and read my other titles. I’d hate to raise my prices and miss out on even one reader. So, I’m torn.

The short answer is that I may raise the price on one of the books, and see how it goes.

Joe: Have you used Smashwords to get on Sony/Nook/Ipad? Results?

Karen: I have not used Smashwords. All of my books have been sold via the Kindle or Kindle app.

Joe: What advice would you give to newbie authors who are thinking about uploading their unpublished ebooks onto Kindle?

Karen: If your writing has been vetted and you have every reason to believe it’s of publishable quality, I say go for it.

Amazon does not discriminate against self-published authors. In fact, they’d love for every indie author to sell millions of downloads. When you make money, they make money. The book pages on Amazon don’t differentiate--small press, self-published, big publishing house— each product page has an identical layout. And it’s free to upload a book on Kindle (I still can’t get over that)!

Four tactics that will give your book a huge advantage can be set into place before the book is even on the market:

Price: Set the price low--under $2.00 is best. A low price makes a huge difference in enticing readers to try an unknown author.

Title: Choose a title that’s catchy and easy to remember.

Description: Descriptions should be brief, ideally only a paragraph. Try to avoid making it just a rundown of plot points. Start with the main character and make sure you include the conflict. Use strong verbs and specific nouns, and leave the reader wanting to know more.

Cover: A cover can make or break a book. Try to make the cover as professional in appearance as possible. For ideas, look at traditionally published books similar to your own.

Additionally, when you upload your book, make sure you take advantage of the options in picking “categories” and “keywords.” And after the Amazon book page is complete, add appropriate tags. All of these things help readers find your books.

Finally, be prepared to spend some time doing marketing. For the first six months I spent at least an hour or two a day doing promotion online and it paid off in a big way.

People can’t buy your book if they don’t know about your book, so don’t be shy—get the word out!


Joe sez: Many years ago, I was arguing with someone who said the secret to selling a books is simple: just write a good one.

I disagreed. First of all, there is no set definition of what "good" is. Second, many "good" books go out of print, and many "mediocre" books become bestsellers (at least in my subjective opinion.)

The success of as book, I posited, depended on how much money a publisher threw at it, how big the coop was, how large the print run and distribution.

In the age of ebooks, where print runs and publisher dollars don't mean anything, there is still an unknown Factor X that determines why some books sell well and others don't.

But I'm also changing my thinking a bit. Writing a good book, with an interesting premise, a professional, eye-catching cover, a decent description, a low price, and a hooky preview, does help sell ebooks. Perhaps even more than it ever helped sell print books.

Maybe the secret is to write something that people will really enjoy reading, and make sure it's cheap, easy to acquire, and presented professionally.

Karen has done just that, and has sold a lot of ebooks. I predict she'll continue to sell even more.

Monday, April 19, 2010

You Can Become A Kindle Millionaire Part 17

This post was written by my friend, Lee Goldberg, taken from his terrific blog A Writer's Life. I asked him if I could repost it, because I think it speaks to something I've been preaching about for a while.

If I were you, I'd rename all the .357 Vigilante books getting rid of ".357" and "Vigilante" in their titles. The new covers should be generic--maybe a gun or some sort of weapon as the central image--but they should also tie together as a brand. And they should be done by an artist. Maybe a friend (you must have graphic artist friends) or maybe you can hold a contest on your blog. I'm convinced your covers and titles (which scream "Men's Action") are holding back sales of this fun series.

I'm not sure that changing the covers for .357 VIGILANTE (or the titles) will help. The books are what they are -- pulpy, men's action adventure novels from the 1980s. That is their appeal...and their drawback.

Give me $XYZ. I'll give it to my graphic artist to redo the covers for the Vigilante books. Let me retitle them and do the product descriptions, and I bet your sales go up at least 25% in a two month period (compared to your last two months of sales.) If they don't, I'll give you the $XYZ back, and you get the covers for free. That's how sure I am those books will sell with the right packaging.

You have a deal!

So I sat back and let Joe have his way with my books. Here's the original cover for .357 VIGILANTE:

And here is what he did with it:

Vigilante 1
Here is the original cover for .357 VIGILANTE #2: MAKE THEM PAY:

And here is what he did with it:

Vigilante 2
Here's the original cover I cobbled together for .357 VIGILANTE: DIE MR. JURY, an omnibus collection of all four .357 VIGILANTE books:

Face and logo9
Here's the revamp I did for it last month:

Die Mr Jury1l
And here's what Joe did:

Jury Series
It's only a little past mid-month, but already it's clear that he's won the bet and his repackaging is a success.

Last month, 357 VIGILANTE sold 59 copies or about 2 copies a day. This month, with the new title and cover, it has already sold 46 copies, or about 3 copies a day. It remains to be seen whether that pace of sales will continue for the rest of the month. But wait...

.357 VIGILANTE #2: MAKE THEM PAY sold 39 copies last month and now, with the new title and cover, it has already topped that by selling 43 copies. But wait...

.357 VIGILANTE #3: WHITE WASH sold 23 copies last month. So far this month, with the new title and cover, it has sold 27 copies. But wait...

.357 VIGILANTE #4: KILLSTORM sold 14 copies last month. But with the new title and cover, it has sold 48 copies. That's right, the sales have more than tripled and the month isn't over yet. But wait, it gets even better...

.357 VIGILANTE: DIE MR. JURY sold 20 copies last month and now, with the new title and cover, it has sold 47 copies...the sales have more than doubled and the month isn't over yet. What's really surprising about this bump is that the book is priced at $4.99, making it the most expensive of my previously published/out-of-print titles on the Kindle. They aren't buying it because it's cheaper than everything else out there...I believe they are doing it because they think they are getting a great deal, four books for the price of one, a point Joe hammered home on the new cover far more effectively (and clearly) than I did on the old ones.

Based on these results, I quickly reworked the covers of MY GUN HAS BULLETS, THREE WAYS TO DIE and BEYOND THE BEYOND (retitling it DEAD SPACE) to take advantage of what I learned from the bet and from Joe's example.

What did I learn?

1. Your covers should have a clear, simple, striking image that will still pop out when the cover is reduced to the size of a postage stamp.

2. Your covers need to have a consistent, branded look.

3. Don't be afraid to experiment, to rethink everything about how your book is presented: the title, the cover art, the categories its listed under, the way you describe it, the way you've priced it. Just because your book has been posted, that doesn't mean it's been carved in stone and can't be altered. You need to adapt to find your audience. In other words, you can't just post your book on the Kindle and leave it. Your book will continue to need attention and, if necessary, updating to stoke sales.


Joe sez: I'm happy Lee is selling more books, but I was pretty sure I was right about this. Even in the digital world, people still do judge books by their covers. Something that looks 1980s and cheesy has a limited appeal. But a subtler, professional cover, and a toned down product description (the original book descriptions had a lot of exclamation points and flashy adjectives and simply sounded pulpy) will broaden a title's appeal. As will the title itself. My mom isn't going to buy a book called .357 Vigilante: Killstorm! But she will buy a book called GUILTY.

Readers are customers. The secret to successful sales is: Know Your Customers.

It's also important to note that Lee's ebooks had some formatting issues, and I went through them and fixed a bunch. That's also key. People download the free sample, and if the paragraphs are all messed up, or the spacing looks off, they won't buy.

I read the .357 Vigilante books when I was younger, and enjoyed them before I'd ever met Lee. They're fun books, and deserve a wide readership. But Lee--who is a pretty savvy guy--wasn't presenting them correctly.

Would you serve fillet Mignon on a dirty paper plate? Of course not. The presentation is part of the appeal, and the sizzle sells the steak.

No sizzle=no sale.

The key is: Be Professional.

Hire a cover artist. Hire someone to format your books for Kindle if you can't do it yourself. Make sure the title and product description are targeting your audience. And, of course, make sure your book kicks ass.

BTW, if you need someone to format your manuscript for Kindle, I recommend Rob Siders. You can reach him at robsiders(at) He can even help if all you have is a paper copy, and if you're tech incompetent he'll also upload it to Kindle for you. Rob currently charges between $200 and $400 per manuscript, depending on how much work needs to be done. Could be less, if it's a quick job.

The cover artist who did Lee's new covers above is the same one who has done all of my Kindle covers. His name is Carl Graves, and he can be reached at cgdouble2(at) Carl currently charges between $300 and $800 a cover, depending on how much work needs to be done. Could be less, if it's a quick job.

If you contact these guys, tell them Joe sent you.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Print is Eternal

Moderator: Welcome to Obsolete Anonymous! I've gathered you all here to welcome our latest member, the Print Industry.

Print Industry: Hello, everyone. But there's been a mistake. I don't belong here.

(chuckles all around)

Print Industry: I'm serious. I'm not obsolete. I'm relevant. Print books have been around for hundreds of years. They're never going to be replaced.

VHS Tapes: Yeah, we all thought like that once.

LP Records: It's called denial. It's tough to deal with at first.

VHS tapes: Easy for you to say, LP. You've still got a niche collector market. They can't even give me away on eBay.

Antique Stores: Can we please not mention eBay? I used to have stores all over. But more and more keep closing thanks to that good-for-nothing website.

CDs: At least you still have some stores left. The specialty stores that sell me are almost extinct. I'm down to a few narrow isles at Best Buy and Wal-Mart.

Print Industry: Look, everyone, I assume you all think that ebooks are going to put me out of business. But that won't happen.

Ma Bell: We all deny it at first. I remember when you couldn't walk twenty yards in a city without seeing a pay phone. Then those gosh darn cell phones came along. Do you know some people don't even have land lines anymore? Used to be a land line in every home...

(Ma Bell begins to cry. Print Phonebooks joins in. So does Dial Up Modems. Encyclopedia Britannica, wearing an I Hate Wikipedia T-Shirt, pops a few Prozac. A group hug ensues.)

Video Rental Store: What Ma Bell is trying to say is that when a technology comes along that's faster, easier, and cheaper, the old technology--and all the companies that supported it--tends to fade away.

Print Industry: Why are you here, Video Rental Store? There are still Blockbuster Videos everywhere.

CDs: There were record stores everywhere once.

Cassette Tapes: Hell yeah! They sold cassettes, too! Someone give me a high five!

(no one gives Cassette Tapes a high five)

Video Rental Store: Things looked good for a while. I had a decent, twenty-year run. Then I got hit by all sides. Netflix, shipping DVDs though the mail. On Demand. Tivo. YouTube. But the nail in the coffin came in the past two years. Hula. Roku--which allows Netflix subscribers to stream video instantly. iTunes and Amazon offering movie downloads. Red Box, which rents DVDs for 99 cents and takes up no more space than a Coke machine...

Print Industry: But ebooks are just a tiny percentage of the market. People have been reading print since Gutenberg. They won't adapt to change that easily.

Kodak: You're correct. It takes a few years for people to fully embrace new technology. Some never do. Polaroid never replaced me.

Polaroid: Shut up, Kodak. We both got our asses kicked by digital. When was the last time you sold any 110 film?

TV Antennas: I'm still big in some third world countries!

Typewriter: The bottom line is: when technology improves, it becomes widely adopted. Me and Carbon Paper used to have a groovy thing going. I'd make the words, he would make the copies. Then Xerox got into the act, but he's not doing well now either.

Xerox: F*cking computers.

Floppy Disc: You said it!

Dot Matrix: F*cking laser and inkjet. Doesn't anyone else miss tearing off the perforated hole punches on the side of paper? Don't they miss the feel and smell of that?

Fold-Out Paper Maps: I agree! Isn't it fun to open up a big map while you're driving, in hopes of figuring out where you are? Don't you miss the old days before cars came equipped with GPS and no one ever used that bastard, MapQuest?

CDs: F*cking internet. That's the problem. Instant access to information and entertainment for the whole world. You guys want to talk about pirating and illegal downloads?

(everyone shouts out a collective no!)

Moderator: We all read on JA Konrath's blog that the way to fight piracy is with cost and convenience. Print Industry, are you lowering your prices and making it easier for customers to download your books?

Print Industry: Actually, we just raised prices on our ebooks.

(collective sighs and head shaking)

Moderator: Well, far be it for you to learn from any of our mistakes. Are you making it easier at least?

Print Industry: Well, we've begun windowing titles, releasing them months after the hardcover comes out.

(collective head slapping)

Music Industry: Have you at least tried selling from your own site? I wish I'd done that. But that upstart Apple came along...

Print Industry: Uh... no. We haven't tried that. In fact, some ebooks--we'll use JA Konrath as an example since he was mentioned--aren't even available on all platforms and in all territories.

Moderator: What do you mean? Konrath's ebooks are available all over the place.

Print Industry: Those are the ones he uploads himself. The ones of his that we sell are missing from several key markets, and have been for years. But it's okay. We're paying him much smaller royalties and jacking the prices up high so we can still make a profit. Besides, ebooks are a niche market. Ereading devices are dedicated and expensive.

Arcades: I used to be a thriving industry. Kids spent billions of quarters in my thousands of locations. But then Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft made home arcade machines, and now people play their videogames on dedicated devices. It's a multi-billion dollar business now, and I can only compete if I sell shitty pizza and give out plastic trinkets to kids with the most foosball tickets. If people want the media, they buy the expensive device. Period.

Print Industry: None of you are listening to me. Print will always be around.

Newspaper Industry: Yeah! What he said!

Print Industry: Let's not compare ourselves, okay Newspaper Industry? No offense.

Newspaper Industry: None taken. Hey, maybe we can help each other. I'm selling advertising space for dirt cheap these days, and...

Print Industry: No thanks. No one reads you anymore. People get their news elsewhere.

Moderator: So why won't people get their novels elsewhere as well?

(Print Industry stands up, pointing a finger around the room.)

Print Industry: Look, this isn't about me. All of you guys have become irrelevant. Technology marched on, and you didn't march with it. But that WILL NOT happen to me. There will always be bookstores, and dead tree books. We'll continue to sell hardcovers at luxury prices, and pay artists 6% to 15% royalties on whatever list price WE deem appropriate. And the masses will buy our books BECAUSE WE SAID SO! WE SHALL NEVER BECOME OBSOLETE!!!

Buggy Whip Industry: Amen, brother! That's what I keep trying to tell these people!

CDs: (whispering to LPs) I give him six years, tops.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Looking at Kindle Bestsellers

Right now I'm selling about 180 ebooks a day on Kindle.

That's pretty crazy. So crazy, that some people on the interwebs are wondering if I'm making it up.

Well, I'm not. Here's a video for proof. Check the time and date and crunch the numbers.

Click Here.

Some (most?) people want to believe this is an anomaly. That I'm some aberration. And there's very good reason they want to believe this. Because if I'm not a fluke, then print publishing might be in very big trouble, and authors who have print publishers might be in very big trouble.

It's much easier to think there's a specific reason behind sales. One I've seen a lot is:

"Konrath is selling well because he has a name and a fan base."

Okay, let's analyze that.

First of all, I've worked my butt off for seven years trying to promote my brand and establish a fan base. I'd love to believe that my hard work has paid off, and that people are flocking to my books in droves.

Unfortunately, there are some serious flaws with this statement.

1. My publisher is selling almost as many ebooks as print books. According to the last statistic I read, less than 10% of all book sales are ebooks. So if people truly are finding my books because they know my name, shouldn't they be buying the print versions?

Let's look at my first book, Whiskey Sour. It's in its fifth printing. Last royalty statement, I sold 1547 paperback copies. I also sold 1401 ebooks of Whiskey Sour.

Hmm. That's strange. Shouldn't my ebook sales be only 10% of my print sales? That's how it is with other authors.

Why have I sold so many ebooks of Whiskey Sour?

Oh, wait. I know. Because I've sold 37,000 other ebooks for $1.99, and some of the people that bought those became fans and bought the more-expensive ebooks that my publisher is selling.

This isn't a case of JA Konrath fans buying my cheap ebooks. It's a case of readers buying my cheap ebooks, then becoming JA Konrath fans.

2. I give these ebooks away for free. You can go to my website,, and download for free most of the ebooks I'm selling on Kindle.

Wouldn't my fans know that? Why would they buy them when they're already free?

3. Cheap sells better. How can I be sure? When Grand Central released AFRAID as an ebook, they priced it at $1.99 for the first month. Keep in mind that Afraid was written by my pen name, Jack Kilborn, who had no built in fan base.

In one month, Afraid sold 10,253 ebooks. Then, in May, they raised the price. Since then, it has only sold 3720 copies. If this were a name-recognition thing, the ebook would have continued to sell well. After all, the bestseller lists are filled with high priced ebooks by name authors.

4. I'm not the only one. Right now, I have nine books on the Kindle Police Procedural Top 100 Bestseller list. This fluctuates--sometimes I have as many as thirteen in the top 100.

So who else is on this list?

All the ususal suspects are there, selling at full price. Jonathan Kellerman, Robert Crais, JD Robb, Michael Connelly, James Patterson, Charlaine Harris, Robert B. Parker, Jeffery Deaver, Lisa Gardner, Stuart Woods, James Lee Burke, Nelson Demille, Kay Hooper, Anne Perry, John Sandford.

These are all NYT bestsellers. Why am I up there with them? Why am I ten percent of the entire bestseller list?

Price. My books are cheaper.

And guess what? There are a few others on the same bestseller list. Charles Shea is selling well at 99 cents. Casey Moreton has three books on the list, all at $1.99. Eric Cristopherson is hanging tight at $1.99. Michael Harvey is $1.59. John Luciew is $2.99. J Gregory Smith is 99 cents.

So a bunch of newbies are competing with a bunch of bestselling authors. And none of those newbies has the so-called fan base and name that I have.

What conclusions do I draw from this?

I'd wouldn't say "J.A. Konrath is selling a lot because he has fans and an established print backlist."

I'd say "Readers like inexpensive ebooks."

Apparently, readers don't mind paying more for books they want. They'll pay ten bucks for a bestseller. They'll also pay seven bucks for me, if I hook them with a two buck ebook first.

This really makes me wonder, though, how well I'd be selling if all of my ebooks were a few dollars each.

Writers are notoriously tight-lipped about how much they earn, and how many books they sell. But I humbly ask my peers who read this blog: how many ebooks did you sell on your last royalty statement? How many compared to your print books?

You don't have to have a name to sell well on Kindle. All you have to have is a good book at a low price.

Remember that value isn't the cover price of a book. A book's true value is how much money it makes.

I'm making $125 a day. In July, it will be over $300 a day. By the end of the year, I'll have $100,000 in my pocket.

That's not a fluke. That's simply paying attention to what customers want, and giving it to them.

Write a good book. Make a good cover. Use a good description. Then sell it for cheap and make the money in volume.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Guest Post by Wendy Webb

Here's a blog from my friend Wendy Webb, all about what she's done (and still doing) to self-promote her gothic ghost story debut.

Book Promotion 101 - What I’ve Learned as a Newbie Author by Wendy Webb

My first novel, THE TALE OF HALCYON CRANE, hit the shelves on March 30, and I’ve been swept along in a rush of promotion ever since. Two words: Whirl. Wind. I’ve had book signings and readings, and interviews for radio, TV, newspapers and blogs. I’ve guest hosted a literary chat group on Twitter. Reviews have popped up in magazines, on many blogs, on Amazon, Library Thing, Goodreads and Redroom, in addition to great features about me in my local Twin Cities’ newspapers. In the months ahead, more is to come. I’ll have more readings and signings and I’m participating on panels at book fairs and festivals, culminating with a reading on Mackinac Island, where my novel is set, later this summer.

But really, the book promotion started long before the first copy found its way onto a new release table, shortly after I got the deal that set all of this into motion.

As a first-time author, I know I’ve got my work cut out for me in terms of building an audience. It’s not like I’m a Joe Konrath or any other writer with a sizable fan base. But I’m lucky enough to have my publisher’s fantastic marketing team behind me. I’ve heard from other authors that their publishers don’t do a whole lot to help them in terms of marketing and promotion— not so in my case. I have two publicists who are working very hard to get the word out about my book online, over the airwaves, and in print. I haven’t had to set up any of my own interviews, appearances or reviews — they’re doing it all for me and doing a spectacular job.

But even with all of the help that a marketing and promotions team can provide, authors still must do their part to promote their own books. I’ve found that, during the months leading up to publication and especially now that the book is on the shelves, I’m busier than I’ve ever been — and it’s all been marketing and promotion.

Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way:

• Build an online presence long before your book is published. Before your book hits the shelves, before you get the deal, before you get the agent, start building an online presence. Done right, it will help with all of those things. Hop onto Twitter and start following literary types. Start here or follow me (@wendykwebb) and then follow who I follow. But remember, think of this as your professional communication. It’s not a place to dump negative thoughts. Write on Twitter ONLY the things you’d like a prospective agent or editor to read.

• Support other people on Twitter, don’t just write about yourself. Once you start gaining followers (it doesn’t take long) support them in their endeavors. One of the best things about Twitter is the supportive, caring community of book people. Be one of them. Bloggers, authors, aspiring authors, agents and editors have supported me, and I’ve supported them.

• Participate in @Litchat on Twitter. It’s a live chat about books on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 4 pm EST. Authors, editors, agents and aspiring authors tend to participate. It’s a great way to be a part of that community. To find out how to participate, just follow @lithchat.

• Start posting on book blogs. Get your name out there as a reader, even if you’re not yet published as a writer. Start commenting on book blogs — nothing negative, please — and you’ll increase your visability. It also supports the bloggers, who perform a fabulous service for authors.

• Investigate AuthorBuzz. This is a business run by bestselling author M. J. Rose with the goal of helping authors get exposure. Her team gets the word out about your book to thousands of online sites and is well worth the expense. If your publisher doesn’t provide this type of marketing service to you, plan on saving part of your advance for Authorbuzz.

• Get over your fear of public speaking. This was tough for me. But once your book gets published, you will be expected to do readings, be on panels, do radio interviews, and even TV interviews. The better you come across, the more books you’ll sell.

• Go into your local bookstores and chat with booksellers. Let them know you have a book coming out. This I learned from Joe Konrath, and it was invaluable advice. My local booksellers know me by name, and they’ve been incredibly supportive of me.

• A few months before your book is released, create a page for yourself on Library Thing, Red Room and Goodreads. These are online sites with huge numbers of regular visitors, all of whom are looking for the next great book. Join the forums and participate in the discussions.

• Once you get the book deal, invest in the creation of a good web site. This is going to cost money, so plan on saving some of your advance for it. You can link your site with other online forums like Twitter, Facebook, Library Thing, Goodreads and Red Room.

• Plan on spending 2-plus hours each day on promotion. Blogging, Twittering, attending live chats, tending to your own website — it all takes time. Make the time.

Joe sez: All fine advice. Here are some things Wendy could also be doing.

1. Have a sticky website. That means content, in the form of information and entertainment. Having a blog and Book Club questions is a good start, but I'd also a lengthy excerpt from the novel, a writing tips (and promo tips) page, more pictures, and anything else that makes people want to hang out at the website. Then I'd make sure it is updated often, so people keep coming back. Also, I didn't see a Links page. Reciprocal links are a great way to drive traffic and get better search engine placement.

2. and download tracker are every promoter's best friends, as they help measure effectiveness of campaigns.

3. LibraryThing is great. Real libraries are better. Contacting local libraries and offering to give talks about writing and publishing is an easy way to get some free local press and to sell a few books. Some libraries even pay you.

4. Conferences, conferences, conferences.

5. Booksignings. And a booklaunch party.

6. Writing more. Getting some short stories that tie-in with the novel up on her homepage, Kindle, and Smashwords will widen her reach. So will getting into anthologies and magazines.

7. Read my blog. It's got five years' worth of self-promotion tips on it. An older version of my Newbie's Guide Ebook is available for free download. The newer, updated version will be out this month on Kindle.

8. Meet writers. Either in real life, of in the virtual world. Trading tips and strategies with fellow authors is one of the most effecting things you can do. A good way to introduce yourself is by saying: I bought your book and I loved it. I'm getting so many emails these days from people who want my help. I try to help when I can, though I can't answer every email myself. But if one of my peers starts off an email with, "I just bought all of your books on Kindle" or "I have all of your hardcovers" I'm more inclined to give them personal advice.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Is Print a Subsidiary Right?

I'm having a crisis of faith lately.

On one hand, I'm an old school author. I got over five hundred rejections before landing a book deal. I've been preaching for years that the way to make a living being a writer is to get an agent, sell to a big publishing house, and self-promote like crazy. I've done book tours, have hundreds of thousands of books in print, and have spent many years teaching people what I've learned about breaking into this industry.

On the other hand, it looks like I'm going to earn more money self-pubbing on Kindle this year that I earned in six years on my first three print novels.

So I'm pretty conflicted about what advice to offer newbie authors.

By uploading my own ebooks to Kindle and Smashwords (which has deals with B&N, iPad, and Sony), I'm able to earn up to 70% royalty rates. My past sales, and the rate ebook popularity is growing, only points to bigger sales numbers in the future.

I've been lucky enough to make my living as a fiction writer since 2003. I've done everything I can to bigger my fansbase and brand--and my efforts have been extensive. Who else has visited 1200 bookstores? Who else has mailed our 7000 letters to libraries? Who else has blog toured on 100 different blogs in a single month?

And yet, all of my effort hasn't resulted in me appearing on the bestseller lists. I make a living, but I drive an old car, live in a townhouse, and my wife still works.

Then along comes this ebook thing.

I got onto Kindle as a form of self-promotion. My early, unpublished books were (and still are) on my website as free downloads. When some Kindlers emailed me, complaining their Kindles couldn't read pdf files, I uploaded them on Amazon. I couldn't give them away for free, so I priced them low, at $1.99, figurign they might help boost my print sales.

And now, Since April 8 of 2009, I've sold 36,000 ebooks. I'm selling over 1200 per week.

Crunching the numbers, I'll earn more on ebooks than I have in my entire print career, and I'll do it in a shorter amount of time.

All of my life, I've been struggling to break into print. And now print isn't the most valuable right anymore, at least to me.

Print has become a subsidiary right.

In a regular writing contract, the main rights are the North American (or world) print rights. Sub rights like book clubs, audio, movie, first serial, and electronic, have always been considered having lesser value.

But I keep looking at my numbers, where I'm currently making $125 a day on books NY rejected. And I keep thinking how much more money I'll make when the Kindle royalty rate goes up from 35% to 70% in June. And I really don't think I'll ever sell my erights again.

If I release an ebook novel, I'm pretty sure I'll earn over $100,000 on it within five years.

Assuming I can do two novels a year, I can get pretty rich pretty quick.

There certainly are advantages to this model. Cover art and titles are of my choosing. I can start selling a book a week after I'm done writing it, rather than waiting 8 to 18 months. I can set my own price. I can make instant changes and revisions. I can earn $2.80 on a $3.99 ebook, which is more than I earn on a $23.99 hardcover. I get monthly royalties, instead of bi-annual.

There are downsides, too. No professional editing (though my professional peers are a great help in vetting my manuscripts.) No marketing and sales teams behind me. No widespread distribution to bookstores and non-bookstore outlets. No advances. No advertising. No paper book to put on my shelf and stare at. (This is a biggie. I have an entire bookcase dedicated to the works I've published, and there are over a hundred.)

I never wanted to be the poster boy for self-promotion, even though my efforts (chronicled on this blog) have made folks think of me that way. And I certainly don't want to be the new poster boy for self-publishing.

What I want is the same thing I've always wanted: to earn money by writing fiction.

It's a huge surprise to me that I'm now able to earn more on my own than I have been able to earn through traditional print publishing. Even more surprising, I've been one of the fortunate ones in the print world. My advances, and sales, are better than the majority of my peers'. My books are still in print. I'm in royalty situations. I'm extremely lucky to have the print career I have.

But if one midlist writer working on his own (say JA Konrath) can sell more ebooks than James Patterson in various Kindle genres, doesn't that say perhaps there is something wrong with the way print publishers are conducting business?

And if one midlist author working on his own (perhaps JA Konrath) can earn more money on ebooks than he's earning on the titles his publishers are controlling, isn't it obvious that signing print deals isn't the way to go?

So for the first time in the history of this blog, I don't know how to advise newbie authors.

But I do know that if you're a writer, and you're changing your career path based on a blog, you aren't thinking long and hard enough about this business.

I've walked the walk for a long time. Your mileage my vary. Don't give up your agent search because I'm pondering aloud about the future. Don't rush to put your stuff up on Kindle without fully understanding and weighing the potential costs vs. benefits.

Print publishing and bookstores and agents aren't going away anytime soon. Ebooks are still a small percentage of the book market.

I know that percentage will grow. And I'm confident I'll continue to make money.

For me, print has officially become a subsidiary right. If I ever sign another print deal, it will be to supplement my ebook income.

This is a strange development, but not a bad one. The writer, for the first time ever, gets the lion's share of the profits from his work.

Never thought I would see that. But I'm sure glad it's happening.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Publishers + Ebooks = Epic Fail

The ebook world is changing fast.

A year ago, we had the Kindle and the Sony Reader as the two main platforms for ebooks. Now we've got Kindle, Sony, Nook, and iPad. Apple sold 300k iPads on its launch day. And this technology hasn't come close to reaching a saturation point with the general population.

New ereaders are going to continue to come out. They'll be better, less expensive, and more widely available. And people will adopt them.

Our society is moving toward a digital future, and the concept of ownership in regard to media is changing rapidly. We don't need to own a tangible object, because we recognize that the content, not the object, is all we care about.

We've actually known this for hundreds of years. The endurance of libraries proves a lot of people are happy to experience media without owning it.

Now we have Netflix and On Demand, and we can watch movies with the press of a button. We have iTunes, and can access the store directly using our mp3 players. We're no longer slaves to the television schedule. Indeed, TV schedules, and TV seasons for that matter, are things of the past. We Tivo, we Hula, we YouTube, we Roku.

And if we don't want to pay, we pirate. Millions of people share billions of files.

If we want it, we can get it instantly, without leaving the comfort of home.

Of course ebooks are going to continue to gobble up greater and greater shares of the publishing market. It's inevitable. Media has become fast food.

So why don't publishers act accordingly?

From July through December 2009, I sold 4840 Kindle ebooks of my Jack Daniels series, earning me $9130.

If I had the rights back from my publisher and priced them at $2.99 each, and they sold an average of 800 copies per month (which is what the average of my five top self-pubbed Kindle titles sell), then I would make $58,752 in a six month period.

By my count, I'm going to lose almost $100,000 per year. Probably more.

You may have noticed that ebook prices are going up. That's because publishers have switched to the agency model, allowing them to control the price. Though no publisher has come out and said it, the reason they're raising the prices of ebooks is twofold.

First, they want to stave off the inevitable dominance of ebooks, and make as much money as they can on print while print is still around.

Second, they believe they need high-priced ebooks to cover the cost of doing business, and that customers will adapt to higher prices.

They're wrong, on all counts.

I sold about 8000 paperbacks that same period. Which is not a lot. Keeping my ebook prices high didn't result in people buying more print books. And as bookstores stock fewer of my titles, those print numbers will go down.

Compare that to roughly 20,000 ebooks I sold by self-pubbing on Kindle during the same period.

On one end, we have a large NY publisher, with distribution muscle to get books into thousands of stores. They're a giant machine that employs a lot of professionals to acquire, edit, print, and sell books.

On the other end, we have a single guy uploading his self-pubbed ebooks to Amazon.

You'd think the NY publisher would cream the single guy in terms of sales. But they didn't. Not only did I double the sales of my publisher, but I made more money per book. Hell, I sold more ebooks than they sold print books and ebooks combined.

Don't you think there's something amiss in the universe when a midlist author can make more money on his own than he can with a big publisher?

Publishers talk about devaluing an ebook by pricing it low. I've said before that the value of a book is what it earns, not what the cover price is. Low-priced ebooks--which are what customers want--earn more than high priced ebooks. My own sales hammer this very simple point home.

People don't care about ownership. They care about price.

People want their media instantly. They don't want to go out and physically shop for it (or order it and wait for the mail to come.)

People want their media without restrictions.

In simpler terms, people want ebooks fast, easy, and cheap, and I can fulfill their needs better than a large company can.

I don't have overhead. I don't have meetings. I can make a decision without answering to my boss. I can turn on a dime. I can publish a book a few days after I write it.

In short, this market is perfect for a one-person operation.

I'd certainly entertain an offer from a large publisher, if they wanted to buy rights for one of my books. But I'm not going to go out looking for the opportunity. Especially since I'll make more money in the long run if I keep my rights.

I could even make more money in the short run.

According to my recent royalty statement, my horror novel AFRAID sold about 54,000 copies in all formats, earning me around $27k.

If I released a Jack Kilborn ebook on my own, and it sold like my current ebooks are selling, I'd make $20k in a year.

It's doubtful I'll make $17K next year on AFRAID, since it's no longer getting coop on bookstore shelves. But I'm sure I'd make $20k, or more, on a self-pubbed ebook.

So in two years I can make more money on my own on a self-pubbed ebook than a book released by a major publisher in hardcover, trade paper, paperback, and ebook formats, supported by a tour and advertising.

Unless it's a big offer, I can't imagine selling rights to my work ever again...

Monday, April 05, 2010

Guest Post by Mark Terry

I've known Mark for years, and he frequently stops by this blog and offers his insights.

His new thriller, THE FALLEN, just came out. I encourage you all to buy it. His Derek Stillwater novels remind me a lot of Lee Child crossed with Tom Clancy.

If you have a Kindle, I also encourage you to buy DANCING IN THE DARK. Hopefully someone will after reading this blog post...

E-BOOKS AND ME by Mark Terry

Everyone here pretty much reads Joe’s successes with e-books with their mouths dropped open in astonishment. I mean that. He’s so far ahead of the curve on this that he’s out of sight.

Which also means he’s not typical.

Last summer, inspired by Joe’s adventures, I looked through my various projects, found one that I thought was good enough to be published, wasn’t being marketed by my agent, or wasn’t tied up contractually, and published DANCING IN THE DARK as an e-book. To say my sales are different than Joe’s is to compare a AAA battery to a lightning bolt. Here’s my sales to-date:

Invoice Date Amount Paid:

30-SEP-2009 3.12
16-OCT-2009 1.56
11-NOV-2009 1.56
21-DEC-2009 2.08
19-JAN-2010 1.56
23-FEB-2010 1.04

Yeah, man, I’m rocking. Let’s not spend that $10.92 all in one place.

But first, let’s discuss the possible reasons why my sales here are a bit sluggish (to say the least), particularly in comparison to Joe’s.

1. Joe’s better known than I am. Although my novels have been well-received critically, I’m typically published by independent presses with limited distribution. Sales have been modest. And in fact, although THE FALLEN, the third in the Derek Stillwater series, is officially released this week in hardcover, the two previous Derek Stillwater novels, THE DEVIL’S PITCHFORK and THE SERPENT’S KISS, are essentially out of print (except they will soon be available on Kindle, more about that later).

2. Although I think the cover of DANCING IN THE DARK is pretty good, my cover person laid it out in a 3-D fashion that I initially liked, but am now not so wild about, primarily because it’s different from everything else you see on Amazon. Needs to be changed.

3. I was in between books. As mentioned before, my first two Derek Stillwater novels are out of print. There was a lag of several years before I found another publisher and in that period, although I was very busy making a good living as a freelance writer, I wasn’t spending much time promoting books that were out of print. Now that I’m promoting THE FALLEN, I’m hearing an overall interest in my e-books, simply because readers are once again being made aware of me.

4. Someone recently pointed out to me that my Amazon page was a mess and not all my books were linked. I took care of that, but the fact is, there’s a lot of housekeeping involved in making sure that if someone hears your name, it’s then very easy for them to find your books—all of them (and publishers do not always make this easy, being far more interested in selling their books, rather than the author’s backlist from other publishers).

So what’s going on? Well, a couple things. As anyone who’s following the e-books and publishing, e-rights have becoming a big bouncing ball. Publishers want to hold onto all e-rights and give the author a very small percentage, anywhere from 10% to 25% for those rights. Authors, naturally, want to hold on to them or get significantly better percentages of e-rights. Publishers are dragging their heels, pushing for 25% or less, but agents are pushing for 50% to be standard. Meanwhile, Amazon, currently the biggest purveyor of e-books via the Kindle, is offering a 70% royalty if you publish them yourself. A “standard” agreement on this hasn’t really been worked out yet in the way that a “standard” agreement has been more or less worked out for mass market paperback, trade paperback, and hardcover royalty rates.

Here’s where my own experiences start getting rather across-the-board. First, in addition to the novels, I’m a freelance writer. I’m collaborating on a nonfiction book with a pair of doctors and due to a weird set of circumstances, I ended up negotiating the contract rather than our agent (very long story). One of the sticking points, for me anyway, was e-rights. I really felt that either the publisher needed to tell me what their plan was for an e-book version of the book and then negotiate a decent royalty (50%), or let us keep the e-rights. After much haggling we got a 25% royalty, but the rights will revert to us within 18 months of paper publication if the publisher doesn’t actually get around to doing an e-book version. (Book contracts are all about compromise. Was I happy about this? Well, it was a compromise. I could live with it).

When my former publisher and I parted ways, they returned all print rights to us for THE DEVIL’S PITCHFORK and THE SERPENT’S KISS, as well as ALL rights to THE FALLEN and the 4th Derek Stillwater novel, THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS (scheduled for September 2011 now). However, for Pitchfork and Serpent, the publisher hung on to all the foreign rights because they were still marketing them, AND, digital rights. Recently we got most of the foreign rights back and went after the e-rights. But the publisher wouldn’t release them because they have plans to publish an e-book version and had, in fact, already submitted the manuscripts to Amazon and B&N and others (without telling us). They aren’t, as far as I can tell, available yet, but should be soon.

My publisher for THE FALLEN did not have a negotiated right to the e-books … but apparently planned on publishing a Kindle version simultaneously with the hardcover version. Something I found out only recently. Again, you can hear the ball bouncing, so my agent and I are in discussions about exactly what our royalty rate is going to be for this.

And so it goes.

Will I be self-publishing more books? Oh, most definitely. The more I have around, the more synergy I’ll create, the more sales I’ll get. Besides, more and more people are buying e-readers—my iPad arrived Saturday!—so the market’s only going to grow. I plan to put forth a Kindle version of DIRTY DEEDS just as soon as I figure out where the original files are, see if I can find a floppy disk drive to attach to my computer, get cover art … oh, and find the original contract and see who actually has the e-rights. And I wrote a follow-up that never got picked up, and there are some other projects that I still like that won’t embarrass me to see them in print and available to readers.

The entire e-book world is exploding (while traditional publishing seems to be slowly imploding). No one really knows where it’s going to land in five or ten years, and so far most prognosticators have been totally full of crap. If everything goes to e-books and paper books become dinosaurs, I’m concerned about the millions of books currently sold at non-bookstore venues that are bought by millions of people who buy a book or two a year to take on vacation or for their business plane trip. Are they going to buy an e-reader when they don’t regularly read? Will they buy multi-media devices like the iPad, and if they do, will they buy books or just surf the web or watch a movie instead? Will they start selling e-reader individual books, a cheap, almost disposable one-shot, like you occasionally see (or saw, I haven’t seen one lately) for audiobooks? I don’t know. But writers should probably pay attention and get involved in it.


Joe's response.

Here's a case of a professional writer with a good book, good cover, good product description, and terrible sales. He's got a good website,, and has several previous books in print. He's selling DANCING IN THE DARK for a very reasonable $1.49.

So what do I think is going on? I have a few theories.

1. Mark hasn't mentioned that he's done any sort of marketing for this book. At the very least, he should visit and post about his book, join the community, and maybe politely ask Red Adept to read a copy to review. There are other Kindle forums, including on on Yahoo, that could also use an announcement.

2. Mark's been out of commission for a while, so who is going to go looking for this ebook? He didn't mention sending a newsletter to fans, though he has a mailing list. He has blogged about ebooks, but I'm not sure what kind of blog traffic he gets. One thing I'd do if I were Mark is trade links with more blogs, and offer to guest post on blogs (which he's doing here.)

3. Mark could consider cross-promoting with some of his author friends who have Kindle titles, trading chapter excerpts for inclusion in the back matter.

4. DANCING is buried on his website, and isn't listed in the sidebar on his blog. Compare that to my website and blog.

5. Does Mark have an Amazon plog? Is he using his social networks to the fullest (Twitter, Facebook, Crimespace, Goodreads, etc.)?

6. Weird as it sounds, $1.49 seems to be an awkward price. I don't see any other books priced like that. I'd either raise it to $1.99 or drop it to 99 cents.

7. The problem with the 3D book cover is its size. When it is viewed as a thumbnail, its too small to make out any real details.

8. I hope he went the Smashwords route and got this up on the iBooks for the iPad launch, and that it's also available on the Nook and Sony Reader.

Mark also seems to know that this is the very beginning of the ebook revolution, and there's a very long tail here. Okay, so the first six months were terrible. But the more he gets his name out there, the more he and others link to his books, the more Kindle books he posts, the easier he'll be to find.

With a little work, his sales will go up. Hell, they can't go down... :)