Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Ark by Boyd Morrison

Here's a guest post from my friend, Boyd Morrison. Boyd's the one I approached when I first wanted to put my ebooks up on Kindle, and Boyd is the first to land a major print deal from his Kindle sales.


Many thanks to Joe for hosting me today. I wish I could kick things off by sharing with you the joke I told him the night we met at the very first Thrillerfest conference, but the story about Snowflake, Feather, and Piano just won’t work in the written form. You’ll have to get Joe to tell it to you the next time you see him in person.

This is a big day for me--the official release date for my first print novel, The Ark, a thriller in which former army combat engineer Tyler Locke has seven days to find Noah’s Ark to stop the end of the world. I qualify that milestone with the word “print” because The Ark was actually for sale last year for three months as an ebook on the Amazon Kindle store. And if I hadn’t self-published electronically, I wouldn’t be holding a print book of mine today.

Like Joe, I went through years of rejection before I got my first publishing deal. The Ark is the first of my books to be in print, but it’s the third thriller I wrote. The first was called The Adamas Blueprint, written during graduate school. I sent it to five agents, one of whom read it and gave me encouraging feedback. I was quite a novice in the publishing biz at the time, so I had no idea how good a one-out-of-five response rate was. I got discouraged and stopped sending The Adamas Blueprint to agents, much to my wife’s chagrin (she promised she’d see it published some day; I’ve since learned to listen to her).

But I still wanted to write thrillers, and at that time my wife was just applying for medical school. So we made our own deal. I would support her through nine years of pre-med, med school, and residency, and when she was a full-fledged doctor, I would get to quit my job and write full-time, with the goal of getting published in nine years.

Right on schedule in 2005 when my wife became an attending physician, I quit my job in the Microsoft X-Box group and started writing my second novel, The Palmyra Impact. When I finished the book, I sent it to agents, but I didn’t quit at five. I did stop counting the rejections at 50. At least five agents read the entire manuscript, but nobody wanted to represent it.

So I did what I would recommend to everyone who wants to make writing their job. I wrote another book. One huge mistake I’ve seen writers make is that they keep re-writing the same book over and over, year after year. My advice is let it go. Move on. You can always do something with it later, as Joe has found out by self-publishing all those books that no agent or publisher wanted.

In 2007, I completed my first draft of a thriller I called The Noah Covenant. That year, Thrillerfest inaugurated a new program called Agentfest, where agents looking for new thriller authors could listen to pitches from unpublished writers. This was before the speed-dating kind of sessions they have now, so I sat at a table with eight other authors and a well-known agent named Irene Goodman. She had primarily been representing romance and non-fiction and was looking to branch out into thrillers.

Irene went around the table and asked every person to pitch her their books. If you ever pitch your book at a conference, you need to have a pithy two-line hook that makes an agent want to know more. When Irene got to me, I was prepared with the following pitch:

A relic from Noah’s Ark gives a religious fanatic and his followers a weapon that will let them recreate the effects of the biblical flood, and former combat engineer Tyler Locke has seven days to find the Ark and the secret hidden inside before it’s used to wipe out civilization again.

As soon as I said “Noah’s Ark”, she wanted to read the first three chapters. I had completed my first draft, but it wasn’t polished yet, so I told her I’d send it to her as soon as I was finished buffing it up.

Two months went by, and she thought I’d forgotten about her. On the contrary, when the final draft was ready, she was among the first agents I sent it to. She received the chapters on a Monday and called me that afternoon because she was so excited about it. I was blown away. No agent had ever called me before. Irene asked if I could overnight the full manuscript to her. After I picked myself up off the floor, I casually said sure and then ran every red light to make sure I made it to the Fedex office in time.

Irene received the manuscript on a Tuesday. She offered representation on Thursday. I accepted on Friday. That was a good week.

We did some editing to flesh out the characters a bit more, and she made one major suggestion. She thought The Noah Covenant was too Ludlum-esque and suggested that we just call it The Ark. Short. Simple. I liked it, and we were ready to send it out to publishers in early 2008.

So now it was just a question of letting the offers roll in, right? Uh, no. No offers. Not one.

We got what I call “rave rejections.” Editors loved the premise, plot, and characters, but they just couldn’t see how it would fit into a crowded thriller market. We went to every major imprint that published thrillers, and all 25 publishers turned The Ark down. Any publishing hopes for it were effectively gone.

In early 2009, I was just completing my web site (, and I decided, why not try to build up a readership by giving my books away? I mean, they weren’t doing any good just sitting on my hard drive. At about that time, the Kindle 2 was about to come out, and Amazon was starting to let unpublished authors put their manuscripts up for sale on the Kindle store.

The Kindle store was really an afterthought on my part. I thought, why would readers buy my books on Kindle when they could download them for free from my website? Still, I decided to put all three books on the Kindle store just to see what happened. Irene was fully supportive of the plan. I had nothing to lose.

What I didn’t do was self-publish in print because I would have something to lose. From the beginning, my goal was to get a traditional publishing deal (remember this was in early 2009, which seems not so long ago, but the ebook market was still in its infancy, and making a living from self-published ebooks seemed like a pipe dream). If I had published print books, not only would it be a hassle I didn’t want to deal with, but it would also mean my novels would need ISBNs.

ISBNs are international standard book numbers that can be tracked by publishers. If my sales were low, publishers would be able to see that and might not even want to look at my next book. But with ebooks on the Kindle, you don’t need an ISBN. If my sales were bad, no one would ever have to know. And if they were good, I could use that data as evidence that readers were interested in my books.

I figured if people could find my books for free on my web site, I had to set a low price on Amazon. I priced my first book, The Adamas Blueprint, at the lowest price Amazon allows, $0.99, as an introductory offer, and my other two books at $1.99, marked down to $1.59 by Amazon. My only expense was the small fee I paid to a graphic designer to create professional-looking covers for my books.

I was armed with glowing blurbs from generous authors like James Rollins, Douglas Preston, Jon Land, and Chris Kuzneski, all of whom I had gotten to know through Thrillerfest. Amazon let me choose up to five categories under which I could list my books, so I maxed those out (technothriller, suspense, men’s adventure, action & adventure, and thriller).

In the second week of March 2009, I put my books on the Kindle store and on my web site. I had no plans for marketing or advertising. My plan was just to see what happened.

Within several days, readers on web discussion forums noticed the low price on my books (there were very few self-published authors on the Kindle at the time). Through the magic of Google, I was notified about these posts, and I went ahead and introduced myself to members of,, and the Amazon discussion boards.

Because the books were priced so low, those readers made an impulse decision to take a chance on an unknown author like me. Within a week, I started hitting a few of the genre top 100 bestseller lists.

As I wrote this blog post, I went back and looked at my email archives because I remembered that around this time, Joe got interested in what I was doing on the Kindle. It was early April, about a month after my books had gone on sale, and I had already sold 826 copies. Not bad for a newbie author after four weeks.

Joe emailed me to ask how I had gotten my books onto the Kindle because he had some unpublished books for download on his web site and wanted to see what would happen if he put them on the Kindle store (we were so green back then). I told him to go for it. If I could get those kinds of sales as an unknown, I thought he could move some serious numbers as a published author. Pretty soon, he had loaded all his unpublished books onto the Kindle store, and the rest is well-documented history.

I radically underestimated the power of the Amazon bestseller lists and word of mouth. My sales didn’t plateau as I thought they might. They kept going up. I reached the lower rungs of the technothriller bestseller lists through word of mouth and great reviews, but the rankings for my books just kept rising. My theory is this: Kindle device sales were exploding, and the first thing any new Kindle owner would want to do is download some books. So what did they do? They looked at the bestseller lists, saw my cheap books and good reviews, and downloaded them, in many cases all three at once. Because of these sales, the rankings increased, which kept them on the bestseller lists, and so on, creating a virtuous cycle.

In three months, I sold 7,500 copies of all three books together. The Ark was the number 1 technothriller for over a month, outselling books by Tom Clancy and Brad Thor, and sometimes my books occupied the top three slots in multiple genre lists. The Ark was even ranked in the top 25 thrillers overall. By June, my books were selling at the rate of 4,000 copies per month.

Because of the velocity of my sales, Irene was immediately able to take that data to publishers. She couldn’t go back to publishers who’d already rejected it (you don’t resubmit a manuscript unless they have specifically requested it), but Touchstone, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, was just making a transition into the thriller market. They saw the reception for my books and offered me a deal. That phone call from Irene will always be one of the most amazing moments of my life.

As far as we can tell, I was the first author to get a Big Six publishing contract for a self-published Kindle book. Touchstone acquired The Ark and its sequel in a two-book deal. On the strength of that deal, my foreign rights agent, Danny Baror, was able to secure deals in fifteen foreign markets covering over 100 countries and territories (for those confused by that scenario, the UK is considered one market, but they publish the book in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and 75 other countries in English; same for Spanish worldwide rights—one market, many countries).

Since then, Pocket Books acquired the rights for The Adamas Blueprint and The Palmyra Impact, so essentially I have a four-book deal with Simon and Schuster. The Palmyra Impact will be released as a mass market paperback and ebook under the title Rogue Wave in December 2010, and The Adamas Blueprint will be released under a new title in December 2011.

So why did people buy the Kindle versions of my books instead of downloading them for free from my web site? First, readers may have only seen my books in the Kindle store and not even known they were on my web site. Second, at less than five dollars for all three books, it might not have been worth the hassle to download the books and then figure out how to get them on their Kindle in the right format. And third, some people just wanted to show their appreciation to me by buying them.

Would I recommend self-publishing ebooks? It depends what your goals are. If you want to see your book in print, as I did, I wouldn’t choose that path as your first option. I was in a unique limbo because I had an agent and blurbs from bestselling authors, but I couldn’t get a publisher. Once my sales jumped, my agent was able to act on it immediately. If I had to start the agent search from scratch at that point, it would have been much more difficult.

I don’t want to seem discouraging. Obviously, I did it, so it can be done, and it has been done by John Rector, among others. Some people may even forgo publishing print books altogether and make a living solely on ebooks, as Joe has proven possible. And if you are confident that your work is the best you can make it, electronic self-publishing might be the way to go, especially if your genre is a niche market.

Some might ask, if I was doing so well selling ebooks on my own, why did I give S&S those rights? Well, I wanted a print deal. And no publisher would sign a new author for print rights without getting the electronic rights as well. Stephen King might be able to swing it, but I couldn’t. So the choice for me was either to sign over electronic rights, or no publishing deal. It was an easy decision.

My goal was always to be traditionally published. I wanted to get my books in front of as many readers as possible, and while ebooks are the fastest growing part of the market, they still represent only 3-5% of all books sold. If I wanted to reach a broad market, I’d have to be in print, and the only way to get into most bookstores is through a traditional publisher. Plus, foreign rights, which represent a surprisingly large segment of the market, would have been virtually impossible to sell without a deal with a traditional publisher. And as much as I love ebooks, there’s still no substitute for holding a print book in your hands to make you feel like a real author.

Today, I’m lucky enough—and persistent enough—to hold a book in my hands and call myself an author.


Joe sez: I love Boyd's story. It's encouraging, uplifting, and has a great ending. But allow me to anticipate the question many of you are asking: Did Boyd really make the correct deal? Chances are, if he'd kept his books on Kindle, he'd be making several thousand dollars a month, and over $10k a month once the royalty rate changes in July.

That didn't seem possible back when Boyd signed with a publisher. Like all smart writers, he was looking to find the widest audience and make the most money, and that's what he did. Boyd was absolutely right when he signed those print contracts. I would have done the same.

But the last few months have seen some major changes in the publishing landscape. As someone said, "The happy ending to self-publishing success is landing a big print deal." That was true, earlier this year. But I'm not sure it's true anymore. I'm now thinking the happy ending to self-publishing success is getting filthy rich with zero stress. If you look through five years of this blog, you'll see the stress I went through in order to succeed, and that was tied directly with print.

To live the life of a writer, without the stress of self-promotion, worrying about numbers, or bending over backwards to please my publisher--that's worth a lot to me. It's liberating in ways I never dreamed of.

Ultimately, it comes down to goals. If you want the widest readership possible, you should sign with a print publisher. Print is still the dominant form of book media. You'll learn a great deal by working with agents, editors, publicists, and booksellers. And you can make a lot of money, and reach far more people than you could on your own.

But there are downsides. Lack of control, small royalties, and having your rights tied up for years when the ebook market is booming---these are all considerations to take into account.

I still believe the most important thing is the book, and that too many newbies try to publish before they're ready. Traditional publishing is still a good way to test if your book is good enough for prime time. It's impossible to judge that on your own.

However, unless the deal is significant, or has tangible benefits that I can't achieve on my own, I can't see ever signing with a print publisher again.

As a writer, you need to make a list of your priorities, and set your goals accordingly.

Also, as a reader of this blog, you need to buy a copy of The Ark. Boyd is an inspiration to all of us, and we should show him our support. Plus, it's a damn good read.


CJ West said...

Ok now here is a link that works...




Joseph D'Agnese said...

Boyd and Joe,
Thanks for this. I love hearing these kinds of success stories. Someone asked me recently how long it took to get an agent. I said I worked my way through the Guide to Literary Agents, 10 letters at a time, until someone said yes. I started at the A's, and stopped when a P agent said yes. That probably took a year's time. A dozen or so years later, that particular book is still unpublished and I'm onto my third agent. Print is nice, and as you say, dominant, but I am still fascinated by the idea of self-publishing. But, enough: I'm Arking it up.

Frank Zubek said...

Inspirational to say the least

Continued success to you

Thanks for sharing your story
Frank Zubek

Zoe Winters said...

Congrats, Boyd! If a print deal is what you want, I'm happy for you!

What you say about not being able to keep your e-rights if you wanted a trad print deal is one of the reasons I don't want one. Ebooks may be a small part of the market now but they are growing FAST. I know everybody has to take the path that makes the most sense for them, but for me, parting with e-rights for seven or more years when technology grows and changes as fast as it does, just isn't a bet I'm willing to make.

(Of course, I could be wrong in my betting on E taking over, so i guess we all take risks.)

However, having said that, I assume you are putting eggs in both baskets, which is smart.

Morgan Jaimes said...

Congratulations Mr. Morrison! I am happy to see that persistence does pay off eventually, and I'm very happy for you as well. As a new author with no published works, my nearly finished manuscript, 'A frail New World', a technological/thriller with a twist, will also be published to the Kindle site soon. Thanks for the encouraging article, and keep up the good work!

Morgan James

Stacey Cochran said...

I have no doubt that Boyd's novels can compete with NYT bestselling authors like Jim Rollins and Steve Berry.

It may take a couple of novels from S&S to get there, but I think he can do it.

And if you get to the top of traditional world's bestseller lists, you're going to make a hell of a lot more than as a Kindle author. Even a bestselling Kindle author.

Plus the added credibility, reviews, conference invites, etc.

Of course, Boyd, it doesn't hurt that you're a great guy to begin with. I wish you all the best.


Stacey Cochran
Bestselling Kindle Author of THE COLORADO SEQUENCE

Aaron Brown said...

I'm finishing up reading The Ark now, and it's one of the best books I've read in a while. Really enjoying it. I definitely recommend it to thriller fans (especially Rollins fans). Congrats on the release, Boyd.

I'm now in a similar situation as to what Boyd found himself in. I signed with the first agent to whom I submitted (Danny Baror, Boyd's foreign rights agent). I thought the publishing deal was in the bag, but like Boyd, I've received many rave rejections. There's still hope that I'll land the deal, but Boyd's story definitely provides inspiration in my current situation.

Keep up the good work guys, and thanks for sharing your story.

Aaron L Brown

CJ West said...

Hey all, sorry my message got mangled above.

If you'd like to talk with Boyd live, he will be on my Blog Talk Radio Show at 1:00 PM EDT (in 20 mins). We'll be talking about THE ARK.

Here is the link again.

Edie Ramer said...

Congratulations! I mostly lurk on this blog, but it seems to me that whichever way you went, you're a winner.

Unknown said...

@ Boyd: Congrats on your success (and may you have much more, btw)! I had to laugh at your story, because it is so very similar to my own.

My wife is also a doctor, and we also had a deal during pre-med, med-school (I call it my indentured servitude): I'd work and support us, and when we were able (for us it started in residency), I'd write full-time (or mostly, I do still tutor at a local middle school a couple of days a week). I've been doing so for a few years now. (She's finishing residency next month < WOOT!> and will best starting a Hem/Onc fellowship.)

During that time I've worked on a story that I'd started way back in the med school days (I ended up shelving that one, though), completed another story (that I'm work shopping as we speak with the hope of presenting to agents soon), and have started drafting another. So, your advice about not sitting on the same story for years really hit home. Being a newbie, I've always felt that I didn't want to have only one story in my basket.

I'm not at the point that I'm ready to only consider eBook publishing, but because of stories like Joe's and your own, I'm beginning to think of it as a real possibility. I’m writing for the YA/MG crowd, so I’m not sure how that will work in the ePub world (I’m guessing most kids don’t have $400 eReaders … yet).

Thanks for sharing, and it's nice to know that there’s another Dr. Man-Spouse in the writing world!

@ Joe: You're awesome ... that is all.

My blog, it's occasionally funny.

CJ West said...

Thanks for stopping into the show today Joe. Boyd has a great story to tell and it is a fascinating time to be a writer.


Jack H. H. King said...

Boyd & Joe,

Have you considered a 50/50 split? Write one book for New York, then one book for Kindle. Go back and forth. Experience the best of both worlds.

It takes longer for a print book to release. You could finish a Kindle book and self-publish it right when your New York book hits stores. Use each to promote sales of the other.

- Jack

JA Konrath said...

Have you considered a 50/50 split?

None of the big NY houses would allow that. They have what's called a "first look" clause, which means they have the first option to buy the next book you write. It's possible to reword that clause, but as ebooks continue to become more popular, publishers are going to insist on it more and more. They simply can't afford to let writers get away.

Boyd Morrison said...

Thanks for the congratulations, everyone! It's great to see so many people pursuing their writing dreams. I achieved my own writing dreams because I married a smart, successful, supportive woman who could pay the bills while I was struggling to get published.

Jack, right now I'm going the traditional route just because it seems like I'll reach a broader audience that way. But I will certainly keep an eye on self-publishing. I have some SF ideas, and many times publishers don't want you to stray from your genre, so putting some new stories on Kindle might be an option in the future.

The lag time between finishing a book and seeing it published is a big difference from self-publishing. Another difference is the amount of information you get. When I had my books on Kindle, I could see my sales numbers in real time and correlate that data with the Amazon rankings. Now I have to wait to get my sales data, so I have no idea how the book is selling in most stores (I can still see the Amazon rankings, which is probably the reason most of us writers get obsessed with Amazon). It can be frustrating, but in the end, I have to focus on the one thing I truly have control over, and that's writing the next book.

JA Konrath said...

@Boyd - You'll get your first accurate sales data next March. Your first royalty statement will come in October, but that will only be for May and June and won't account for returns. The March statement should be more accurate, but it won't be as accurate as the following October statement.

Your publisher may give you sporadic updates, and Bookscan figures, but you aren't actually going to have a realistic view of how many books were sold until October 2011.

Anonymous said...

I love this story.

I've made my money self-publishing, but I really understand the author's desire to get a book deal with a big publisher. In the same situation, I may have done exactly the same thing.

Shanna Wynne said...

@Boyd, your story is very inspiring. I agree with you about wanting a traditional print deal. I remember last year when John Rector first announced his success publishing through Kindle, and I contemplated e-publishing as an option, but I'd rather give traditional options a chance first.

As it is, I'm very lucky to have a supportive spouse as well. I had not considered writing as a career, or even a dream, of mine. It was just something I did because I liked to write. I had planned to be a virologist. (LOL. If those aren't two of the most diverse career goals..)

But my husband saw that I had talent and encouraged me. We function as a team, and though we've hit a few stumbling blocks over the years--life getting busy at times and all--we've finally settled in a time and place where I get to write, full-time, and he supports me by encouraging me, giving me goals, and finding me markets to submit to, while I do his college homework. (Yeah. He uses those writing skills for his advantage, too!)

I'll bring your success up to him and we'll be keeping it open as a consideration in the future.

Thanks for sharing!!

Unknown said...

You make some very good points. Six months ago, I wouldn't have considered e-publishing, but now, after reading several success stories, I think it's a viable alternative. It's definitely something to consider. Thanks for sharing.

Jude Hardin said...

Congrats, Boyd!

I still think print contracts are majorly exciting, but I'm also watching the developments with Joe and some of the others in the ebook world. While I don't think self-publishing is generally a good idea (because most writers simply aren't ready), self-pubbed ebooks do provide a great opportunity for some.

None of the big NY houses would allow that. They have what's called a "first look" clause, which means they have the first option to buy the next book you write.

I think I have the perfect solution to that, but you probably already know what it is. ;)

Jack H. H. King said...


You're already doing a 50/50 split. You're self-publishing Kindle books NY rejected. Correct?

Even a "first look" clause gives you freedom. If New York refuses to pay you 200K for a killer NC-17 thriller, you can put it on Kindle.

The Big Publishing process is like Hollywood. They make safe stories for mass markets. And that's fine.

But you seem like you're a hardcore kind of guy, in your literary soul.

That's what I meant by 50/50 split. One for the masses. One for the base. You time your release dates to increase the size of your base. To make money off your "high-risk" experiments. Create a deeper Brand.

Everybody wins.

Jude Hardin said...

A guy just commented on your Facebook link that he was going to buy Boyd's book, but that the $11.99 price tag was too high.

For a new release.

From a real publisher.

What a shame that some people think books are only worth $1.99 these days. Maybe soon the perception of value will be $0.00. Great for the consumer, I guess, except there won't be any new books worth reading.

Rex Kusler said...

For a lot of people $11.99 is an hour's pay. Or more.

Jude Hardin said...

Hey, life's expensive. That's just the way it is. You can buy a book with your $11.99, or you can take a date to Burger King.

And there have always been options for people who genuinely can't afford to buy new books.

Rex Kusler said...

Also--I bought a floor lamp at Walmart for $11.99. It had plastic shades, but I was so impressed with it I bought another one six months later.

I make good money, but I haven't bought THE LIST yet, because it's $1.99. If it were $.99 I would click it without a second thought. I'd spend $1.99 to help a guy out (I've given up to $20 a pop to homeless people on the street). But Joe doesn't need any help. Either does Boyd. No doubt they're both top notch, but I've bought a lot of top notch novels I didn't like.

Jude Hardin said...

See, it's all about perception of value. I would rather have a good book than a cheap-ass floor lamp or a couple of Quiznos subs, but that's just me.

Rex Kusler said...

The thing about Burger King. When you order the extra large fries for $1.99, you know what you're getting.

Jude Hardin said...

Exactly. Frozen potatoes and grease.

Only, they might have been cooked five minutes ago, or five hours ago. And the sodium content depends on how many shots of tequila the dude wielding the salt shaker had before work this morning...

Rex Kusler said...

You're right. Next time I've had too much tequila, I'll get the hot dogs from 7-11.

Jude Hardin said...

Next time I've had too much tequila, I'll get the hot dogs from 7-11.

Or, you could try the latest $1.99 self-published ebook. The relative quality will most likely be about the same.

Linda Pendleton said...

Great story, Boyd. Good luck with the book.

bowerbird said...

boyd said:
> I decided, why not try to build up a
> readership by giving my books away?
> I mean, they weren’t doing any good
> just sitting on my hard drive.

that's the attitude that'll fuel change.

it can be smart to accept admission
into the major-publisher clubhouse;
good for the ego and the reputation.

but make sure you keep track of
exactly how much it's costing you,
so you can decide if it's worth it
when you go to the next round...


Author Scott Nicholson said...

I love this story because it is so beautiful and human--the simple power of dreams. Only a writer or a crazy person would cling to a wild dream that long, and fight through the obstacles. I don't blame Boyd a bit for taking the deal--that was his dream, and presumably the money was good, and he can always write more books, and for the rest of his life.

If the industry collapses in five years, he can still write and self-publish and he doesn't have to give the money back. In retirement years, he may have lost money overall if he gave up the typical ebook rights common in most contracts. But it's still the right move, right now.

I came at this backwards, 400 rejections, then six NY books, then nothing, then starting all over. I'd take a print deal but I am not counting on NY to make my career and that's not my dream anymore. Success is a moving target and goals keep changing.

Just the way agents sneer and smirk at writers in their blogs and tweets is enough to make me want to avoid the whole process, because it is so closed off now. "Submission" has taken on a whole new meaning. Power has been given to people who know nothing about writing, only about selling books. But, like Joe, I don't need to give anyone power over my ability to pursue my dreams. Not to be negative in any way, but to me Boyd's success shows that just maybe readers and consumers are better at picking winners than agents and editors are. Now they have the chance.

Boyd didn't, either. He made his dream. He wrote those extra books when everyone said "No." He made his luck. I love it.

But I also don't think it's going to happen that way for anyone else, but that's the way dreams are. Perfect timing, good product in a popular genre, commitment, and a likable personality.

Everyone who makes it has carved their own path--from Joe to Boyd to Oprah to Sandra Bullock. They simply don't know the word "No."


Zoe Winters said...

@Scott. Totally agree with you. If someone's dream is a print pub and they make that dream, then YAY. Boyd got his NY publisher. Jude got his first print publisher... that's awesome.

But I'm with you on wanting to avoid the whole process. There is a lot of stuff in life I don't personally want. But it doesn't mean I don't recognize the hard work it took for someone else to get there or how it fulfilled a dream "for them." Which makes it great.

But I agree totally with the "new take on 'submission'" Yeah, no thank you.

Smaranda said...

Thanks for this advice! I uploaded an anthology ( to Kindle yesterday and priced it at 99 cents. Two people have already bought it. Sure, 70 cents of profit certainly isn't much, but the feeling of having my writing out there is great! Thanks again.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Boyd and Joe. As a writer, I've learned a lot from both of you about digital publishing with an eye to edging toward the printed market. You've given me a lot to think about and act upon. Keep up the good work.

Helen Hanson said...


I admire the willingness of Joe, Boyd, and others to share the logic of this rather personal decision. I have one question, if I may.

@ Boyd When you set your ebook price at 1.99 and Amazon marked it down to 1.59, at which price were your royalties based?

I’ve read the Amazon terms and didn’t see an answer to this question. I know they reserve the right to markdown from the list price, at least in the current iteration of the terms.

Print pub or E-pub? There’s no single correct pub path for everyone. Makes me want a pint of John Courage just writing that. Fun to order, too: “A pint of Courage, please.”

Take care, all.

Boyd Morrison said...

Helen, the royalty is based on the list price, so for a list price of $1.99 (set by me) marked down to $1.59 by Amazon, the royalty is 35% of $1.99, or $0.70.

Helen Hanson said...


All the best for rampant success!

Jack H. H. King said...

I'm somewhat new to Joe's Cafe. Why is "self-publishing" a dirty word?

I became an author on accident, after ten years of playwriting, directing, and life in the theater. Joe is the only writer blog I read.

My editor owns her own small press. She's a friend of mine. She made me adapt one of my screenplays into a novel, at penpoint. Working title was 'Hot Naked Battle Lesbians' but she made me change it to something less interesting. It sold too well, so she made me adapt again, except with my stage play 'Dr Weil Gone Wild.' So I'm new to the lingo. Is "small press" a dirty word?

Did my editor lie to me? Am I not a real "author"? Am I a "small author"? Or am I just a "typist"?

Not that I care. I never worshipped New York. I have one God, and his name is David Mamet. But Mamet believes in semantics, so I would like to be able to label what I am.

I only have 300 books in my book cube, half of them plays. But in my life I never made a decision to buy a book based on the publisher's name. Do readers secretly do this? I can't even name the Big Six.

Movies, video games, music, plays, paintings, sculptures, architecture etc... Are books the only artform where indie = bad?

Jude Hardin said...

If I buy a $200 camcorder and post some home movies on YouTube, does that make me an "indie filmmaker"? If I buy some midi software and burn a CD on my computer, am I then allowed to call myself an "indie musician"?

Pretty ridiculous, huh?

Boyd landed an agent before he self-published, which automatically put him in a different league than most "indie authors."

There's nothing wrong with being independent; the fact is, most of the titles simply aren't of publishable quality. Authors like Joe and Boyd are the exceptions.

As for small presses, all are not created equal. If a press isn't recognized as legitimate by professional organizations like MWA and ITW, then I would say writer beware.

JA Konrath said...

Are books the only artform where indie = bad?

I've judged many writing contest for a big magazine, and the overall quality of the submissions was abysmal.

Self-pubbing has a stigma attached to it for a reason. Everyone thinks they can write a book, but very few take the time to understand and learn the craft, and they believe the 60,000 words they strung together are good enough to release to the world. As a result, many newbie authors get burned by vanity presses who take their money and their rights and offer only disappointment in return.

So for years I've cautioned people against self-pubbing.

Then this Kindle thing came along, and I've tempered my advice. I still believe writers have to find a way to show their work is worthy of being read (which is impossible to judge yourself.) But now self-pubbing is free with no risk other than bad reviews and bad sales.

I know several authors who do fine self-publishing their work. But they are the exceptions. The overwhelming majority should have concentrated more on rewriting and editing. That's been my experience, and I have more experience than most.

Anonymous said...

Jude. If I released a movie or music on my own and people paid for it and liked it and told their friends about it and they bought it and ... you get the idea. Yes, I think I could call myself a successful indie film maker or musician.

Jude Hardin said...

If I released a movie or music on my own and people paid for it and liked it and told their friends about it and they bought it and ... you get the idea. Yes, I think I could call myself a successful indie film maker or musician.

Like I said, there's nothing wrong with being independent. Good is good. But the handles "indie filmmaker" and "indie musician" and "indie author" are largely meaningless when people who don't know what they're doing adopt and use them freely. The internet, great tool that it is, has fueled the delusions of many a clueless "artist" who simply isn't ready for any sort of public showing.

Moses Siregar III said...

Congratulations Boyd! And thanks for sharing your inspiring story.

"However, having said that, I assume you are putting eggs in both baskets, which is smart."

Mark your calendars, folks. Zoe Winters said traditional publishing is "smart." LOL

Jack H. H. King said...


If 80% of the books published by New York never make a profit...

Maybe 80% of professional authors should self-publish.

- Jack

Jude Hardin said...

If 80% of the books published by New York never make a profit...

Maybe 80% of professional authors should self-publish.

That argument sort of collapses on itself, because a higher percentage of self-published titles never makes a profit, and professional authors and self-publish don't belong in the same sentence.

With the previously noted exceptions, of course.

Zoe Winters said...


Another time I agree with you! Self-publishing has been SO scorned by people throwing out manuscripts their cat probably puked on for public consumption... that it's almost synonymous with "couldn't get a publisher."

That's a pretty stifling world to live in if you're entrepreneurial and don't see the sense in the trad pub system as it stands.

The term indie author isn't a term meant to be thrown around by those SAME lazy people unwilling to do the research and work.

While most authors can't know the quality of their own work that doesn't mean one can't find out. It's ridiculously easy now to gather the information necessary to "self-publish right." There is a plethora of good information and advice on the topic.

I'm okay with it if someone wants to self pub unedited drivel for them and their family members, but when they put it out to a larger market it causes me to be painted with that same brush.

The term indie author should only be worn by those who have EARNED IT.

And earning it doesn't necessarily mean having wild and crazy sales. It means educating yourself about the business you're entering into and doing the work to put out something of quality that a "real publisher" could have published.

People who aren't willing to do that don't deserve to call themselves indies.

While I want to be inclusive, I do think we have to stand up and say what you need to be willing to do to call yourself indie. Otherwise it will become as bad a label as "self-published."

Zoe Winters said...


HAHAHAHAHA Come on now, this is how rumors get started! I said it's smart to put your eggs in more than one basket.

We all know I haven't taken that advice, but that's just because if epub never makes it big, I'd rather work within the niche than deal with NY publishing as a system.

I think if what I'm writing is good enough, over time I'll build all the platform I'll ever need and will continue to be happy as an indie. If I'm not good enough, I won't. So to me it's not a big risk to avoid NY altogether.

Jack H. H. King said...


Let's say there are three kinds of books. We'll list them by sales. Above 5000. 5000 to 50. 50 or less.

80% of the books published by New York fall into the middle. They're good enough to get an agent and a publisher, but fail to sell enough to make New York a profit.

These books, by professional authors, could be self-published for free on Kindle. Every sale is 100% profit. A $2.99 ebook could earn a $2 royalty. If their book sells only 2500 copies in its life, the author will make more money than if they stuck with New York.

How does this hurt anyone? New York no longer takes the loss. The author gets the same money or more. The book exists if any reader wants to try it.

It's win-win-win.

- Jack

Mark said...

This is a great story but a Black Swan event not to be repeated.


Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I look forward to meeting you in Seattle at the end of July, Pilar

Lisa said...

Wonder how things are going now for Boyd. Think I'll go and find out. Thanks for posting this.