Wednesday, May 26, 2010

J.A. Konrath's Thriller Ebook "The List" sells 16,000 Copies on Kindle

I first self-published on Amazon Kindle's Digital Text Platform in April of 2009, as a favor to some fans.

Back in 2005, I put some free ebook downloads on my website, These were books that my agent tried to sell, but NY didn't want to buy.

I posted them on my site, for free, figuring they could be used as a gateway drug. Give readers a taste, and if they like it, maybe they'll go on to buy some of my print novels and I'll make a few bucks.

In 2009, several fans emailed me, saying they wanted to read my free ebooks on their new Kindles, but Kindle couldn't (yet) read pdf files. Was there any way I could make the ebook Kindle-friendly?

It turned out there was. Going to, writers could upload their ebooks to Kindle for free. So that's what I did.

For price, I set it under $2.00. I figured this was a loss lead, meant to steer people toward my print novels.

Since then, I've sold over 46,000 ebooks. About 16,000 of those have been The List.

What's The List about? Here's the Kindle description:

A billionaire Senator with money to burn...
A thirty year old science experiment, about to be revealed...
Seven people, marked for death, not for what they know, but for what they are...

THE LIST by JA Konrath
History is about to repeat itself

About the ebook:

THE LIST is a bit of a departure for Konrath. It's a technothriller about a group of ten people who each have tattoos of numbers on the bottoms their feet, and don't know why.

One of them, a Chicago Homicide cop named Tom Mankowski, has had one of these strange tattoos since birth. When he investigates a violent murder and discovers the victim also has a tattooed number, it sets the ball rolling for an adventure of historic proportions.

To say more would give away too much.

Like the Jack Daniels series, THE LIST combines laugh out loud humor with serious suspense and thrills.

You can order it HERE for $1.99.

To say I'm shocked by how many copies this has sold is putting it lightly. My other ebooks are doing well, but this one is clearly the runaway hit. It's had 62 customer reviews and counting, which is more than the majority of my print titles have gotten. It's been the #1 seller in the Amazon Kindle Store Police Procedural category for six months (I currently have 12 ebooks in the top 100 in that category.) And I get more fanmail about The List than I do about my Jack Daniels series.

What is it about this particular book? I wish I knew. Maybe it's the cover. Maybe it's the description. Maybe the sample excerpt, which can be downloaded for free, hooks people. Maybe it's word of mouth. Maybe it's the title.

Whatever it is, the sales are double any of my other ebooks. It's currently selling 80 copies a day, and shows no signs of closing down.

Here's what fascinates me: I would assume that 16,000 self-pubbed ebook sales are impressive. In fact, I would think they'd be impressive even by NY publishing standards. Compare that to the 2500 ebooks Whiskey Sour (my first novel) has sold, and it's taken six years to sell that many.

So why hasn't any major publisher looked at this ebook and made me an offer?

I assume some industry professionals read my blog. I've been making a lot of noise over the past year about ebooks, and most editors are tech savvy and pay attention to Twitter and Facebook and the blogosphere.

Yet no one has approached me with a deal, even though this ebook is outselling major bestsellers. After all, it is ranked on Amazon higher than Kellerman, Robb, Connelly, Crais, Patterson, and everyone else. Wouldn't it make sense to release a print version?

So that's what I'm doing. Next month, using Amazon's CreateSpace program, I'm self-publishing The List as a low-priced trade paperback.

I'm curious how it will do, and I'll let you know when it's available.

I'd also like to announce that next month I'm self-publishing two original horror novels on Kindle. And guess what? Both of these did have offers from large NY print publishers. But I have decided to put my money where my mouth is and release them on my own instead.

The future is now. Any questions?

Q: Is The List available on other platforms?

A: Yes. Through, they're available on Nook, Kobo, and iPad. You can get The List, and my other ebooks, on these. It is also coming soon to the Sony reader.

Q: How many copies have these other platforms sold?

A: I don't have the numbers yet. Amazon reports monthly. Smashwords reports quarterly.

Q: Who were the publishers who made offers on those two horror novels you're putting up next month?

A: I don't think it's nice to kiss and tell, especially since they are both publishers I like and respect. If you don't want to believe me, no one is forcing you to. But my close circle of friends know who they are. Maybe you can get one of them drunk and pry the info out of them.

Q: If The List is your bestseller, how are your other ebooks faring?

A: Origin comes in second, with almost 10,000 sold. It's currently ranked #241 overall in the Kindle Store. Then come my novels Disturb and Shot of Tequila, ranked #846 and #832. Which means I currently have four self-pubbed ebooks in the Kindle top #1000. Not bad, considering there are over 500,000 ebooks available on Amazon. My novellas and story collections are all ranked above 10,000, most of them above 3000.

Q: Are you going to do print editions of your other ebooks?

A: Absolutely. They should all be available by the end of the year, including the two new ones.

Q: So from now on are you only writing for Kindle?

A: Yes. After I've met my current contract obligations with print publishers, I will devote my full time to Kindle and other ebook platforms. I really doubt I'll ever accept a print deal again.

Q: Do you still need an agent?

A: Absolutely. She still does a lot for me. In the past few months, she's vetted several contracts (including the one for Shaken with AmazonEncore), done two movie deals for me, and is currently working on audio and foreign rights sales. She's essential.

Q: Do you recommend bypassing print publishing to new authors?

A: I recommend new authors learn their craft, write great books, set appropriate goals, and decide what works for them. The print industry has been incredibly good to me. I've worked with some fabulous people who have done wonderful things for my career. I feel like I stumbled upon this ebook thing, and it has snowballed into something pretty big. That doesn't mean it will snowball for everybody.

Q: I'm a reporter. Can I quote this piece and take excerpts?

A: Absolutely. Quote as much as you'd like. But please... get the facts right. :)


David H. Burton said...

Congrats Joe! Looking forward to your thoughts/experience on CreateSpace.

David Wisehart said...

Amazing numbers. Thanks for the inspiration. I think The List as a good "high concept" hook. A nice gimmick with the tattoos. Maybe that's helping sales.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Awesome success story!! I love it! Even though I don't have a Kindle, aren't published electronically and will probably never read an ebook, I love hearing about your and others successes with nontraditional publishing.

J.A. Paul said...

I must say that you do add a bit of excitement to the ebook blogosphere.
Congratz and keep it up.

Also, I like the free preview to Shaken on Kindle!

JA Konrath said...

Thanks for the kind words, all.

@KarenG - Why won't you ever read an ebook?

David H. Burton said...

Now that I think about it: why CreateSpace and not Lulu?

Jude Hardin said...

I think a lot of things came together for The List. The concept, the title, the cover, the description...and the x factor that we can never quite put our fingers on.

It's a good example, in microcosm if you will, of why any book makes it.

JA Konrath said...

Createspace will allow me to sell through easily, and the author copies are cheaper to buy by 50%.

David H. Burton said...

Never knew that. Thanks! I've been considering using it, so I'll be watching for your thoughts on it. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Yay! CreateSpace is my POD printer and I love them. They offer expanded distribution, too (through an agreement with Lightningsource) and they pay royalties every month. So they are the best option-- and all it will cost you to publish is the ISBNs (they are so cheap) and the cost of the proof, which will be about 15 bucks.

Anonymous said...

By the way, Joe-- on the subject of "The List" and it's success-- have you considered that you might just be better at writing techno-thrillers than murder-type mysteries?

I certainly didn't think that I was going to make boatloads of money writing tax textbooks. If anything, I thought I might make money writing historical fiction or non-fiction Medieval history (what I actually studied at SJSU).

I ended up writing about tax-- and that pays all my bills.

I've learned that trying to guess which books are going to sell well is like trying to guess like trying to guess how drunk you are after each shot of whiskey.

Ellen Fisher said...

I liked The List, but my fave of yours so far is Disturb. I really liked that one a lot.

I'm sorry your original books on Kindle are going to be horror... I'm not good with gore. Your regular thrillers have parts that haunt me; I doubt I can read a horror novel by you and still sleep at night:-). (I'm reading the Jack Daniels series now, though!)

I'll be interested to know how CreateSpace does for you. I still haven't quite gotten up the gumption to try POD publishing. It looks like it's kind of a pain to set up a book. Good luck with it!

Edie Ramer said...

Congratulations! And thanks for letting other writers know about this. You're an inspiration to me, and I know at least one other writer who you've influenced.

Anonymous said...

Joe said:
"What is it about this particular book?"

I'm pretty sure I've told you before, but it's got a great hook and, I think, it's your best book (and I've read just about every novel-length book you've released).

Ty said...

Joe, you make me laugh. In a good way! Just when I think it's impossible for you to flip the bird in another manner at the big shots, you do so again.

More power to you, bud.

And The List is one of yours I've yet to read. Now you've got me interested.

Jude Hardin said...

I don't think that's it, Christy. Dirty Martini is my favorite of Joe's so far, although--based on the excerpt--that might change when Shaken comes out.

Unknown said...

I have been fascinated with your epublishing experience. While I would love to publish the traditional way, I don't think it's going to happen, at least not with my current novel. Six months ago, I would have been devestated at the prospect of no agent wanting to rep my book, but now, there's a little part of me thinking maybe I can sell a few on Kindle.

Thanks for the inspiration. :-)

JA Konrath said...

I like The List, but I don't think I'd put it in the top 5 of my favorites. I think Origin is more fun. For my JD books, I like Rusty Nail, even though fans seem to like it least. The other three would be Endurance, Trapped, and Timecaster, which is the most fun I've ever had writing a book. We'll see how those do when they're released.

I also love Shaken, and that will probably rank among my faves once I turn in the final draft.

Oddly, my least favorite is Disturb, because it is so short. I'm going to add to that one someday, flesh the story out a bit...

A.P. Fuchs said...

Being a guy who makes a living self-publishing, I recommend to not use Createspace as your printer.

You'll overpay and make way less money than if you went the true self-publishing route of forming your own company.

Feel free to shoot me a line at coscomentertainment at gmail dot com for some advice.

Seriously. Places like Createspace and Lulu are not self-publishing. It's subsidy publishing no matter how they disguise it.

Just lookin' out for ya, man.

Anonymous said...

It's the first chapter hook, Joe.

Anonymous said...

"Both of these did have offers from large NY print publishers."

Ouch for your agent after going through all that work.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Joe, I tried reading one of my favorite authors on a Kindle and couldn't make it past the first 3 chapters. I'm waiting for better technology I guess.


JA Konrath said...

Ouch for your agent after going through all that work.

It's business. She couldn't sell them. She tried. I respect that. But she's made a nice bit of money with me, and continues to do so.

and couldn't make it past the first 3 chapters.

Why is that?

Redstarsix said...

I think part of the reason that The List sells well is because the cover art looks great and the description gets the reader hooked. Perhaps readers of technothrillers are more willing to give different authors a go too.

I wouldn't underestimate the value of a great cover and a fantastic description though.

Jude Hardin said...


Being rejected by agents is probably the worst reason of all to self-publish. Keep working on craft until you start getting some yesses.

WDGagliani said...

Joe, you're a one-person publishing empire!

THe Emperor of E(books).

Reading your blog has become a daily task That Must Be Done to find out what's really going on in the business.

Congratulations, man. I knew you when...


JA Konrath said...

if you went the true self-publishing route of forming your own company.

That sounds like work. I don't want to start a small business. I just want to write.

I'm not doing this to make a lot of money. I'm doing this for fans who want the dead tree version.

Anonymous said...

Seriously. Places like Createspace and Lulu are not self-publishing. It's subsidy publishing no matter how they disguise it.

I disagree with this. CreateSpace is just a printer-- and they're cheap as POD printers go.

My wholesale cost for a 200 page book with a color cover is about 2.30 per copy. That seems pretty cheap to me. Of course, I let them handle all my distribution, so I don't relaly bother selling direct. I use a POD service so I don't HAVE to do any order fullfillment. That's the reason I got into this business in the first place-- more writing, less bullshit.

I own my own publishing company, the ISBNs, etc. I own my domains and I've spent thousands on trademarks, etc. I have an attorney on retainer. I'm not just talking out of my ass.

The other real options are LightningSource and Offset printing, both of which have their benefits and drawbacks.

I've done the research on this issue. LightningSource has lower costs per copy and better binding options, but nobody has a direct line to Amazon like CreateSpace. That's because Amazon OWNS CreateSpace.

I can have a book published, listed, and selling on Amazon within 4 days after submitting my files to CreateSpace. I know, because that's exactly what I did when I released my tax books this year. Since tax information is so time-senstive, every day counts.

Bob Fleck said...

Hey Joe,

Very interesting stuff. I'm not exactly rushing to tear out my bookshelves yet, but it's an interesting shake-up in the business. I wrote a bit about your experience, and that of some of my clients doing some e-publishing, yesterday. Particularly my client Vicki Tyley, whose mystery I couldn't get half of New York to look at because she's Australian, but in one month on Kindle she's sold almost 2000 copies and is #1 in Kindle Mysteries, #4 in ALL mysteries on Amazon, and #17 among all paid Kindle books.

Even before that, just having the book on Smashwords, Suspense Magazine made her their featured new author for April. I had another conversation with one of the editors who wouldn't even consider her, and was told they still couldn't--marketing won't let them look at Australian mystery writers because they don't sell.

Zoe Winters said...

That's awesome Joe! Did you consider using LSI? And if so, why did you pick CreateSpace? (Nothing against CS, I think CS and LSI are the two best choices to go with.)

I'm also getting a print release ready. Have no idea how it will go, but I do know some of my readers want print because they don't have e-readers so I'm happy to oblige.

JA Konrath said...

Vicki Tyley is doing awesome with Thin Blood. Which again blows away the "Joe is sellign because he has a platform" argument that I'm getting really bored with. Congrats, Bob.

David Tanner said...

So, Joe, regarding the whole 'only writing for Kindle' thing: Does that mean that you wouldn't do another deal with AmazonEncore? Or are they included in only writing for Kindle? Also did you consider pursuing a deal with your other titles through them? Just wondering about the decision making process that went and looking at the pros and cons for myself.


Bob Fleck said...

Thanks, Joe. The "Joe sells because he has a platform" is one of my own assumptions I attack in my blog.

JA Konrath said...

Does that mean that you wouldn't do another deal with AmazonEncore?

We'll see how they do with Shaken, but I'm already anticipating the next Jack Daniels book, and Encore is a good fit for it.

Also did you consider pursuing a deal with your other titles through them?

Never considered it. Why give up rights to books that are making money? I'm guessing the push I get from Encore will fuel sales in my backlist. But right now, this is a fun experiment for both me and Amazon.

PokerBen said...

Excited for you Joe, very inspiring!

Stacey Cochran said...

Joe, you're a very smart man.

Draw all that heat from PW and then post a massive ad for your book THE LIST on your blog that rockets your sales toward the top 100 overall.

It's like you're just playin' 'em. Like hopscotch.

I hope you send a thank you to Rachel Deahl. I would. Maybe a box of flowers and a bottle of nice wine.

Stacey Cochran
Extreme Bestselling Author of CLAWS for 99 cents

Author Scott Nicholson said...

The publishing industry has entirely different goals than the writer, and they only coincide at the point of selling tons and tons of copies. I can perfectly understand why NY will look at "The List" and say, "Oh, he's already used up 16,000 of his customers and we didn't get a cut." That makes sense to me.

Same with Bob's client. By the time you talk them into it, you've usually gone past the point where the partnership would be beneficial anyway. Sort of like telling an old love, "Hey, maybe we should give it one more go?"


Anna Murray said...

Hey Joe,

The List is great. Who knows what special ingredient makes one book sell so much more than another (similar plot, same genre, same author)? It's a mystery.

I'm posting my latest author blog (Amazon) below, because I believe indies are actually leading in bringing back a sub genre -- maybe other authors here have similar stores. If so, I'd like to hear them.

Western historical romances are climbing the charts!
9:10 AM PDT, May 27, 2010 Anna Murray

When I first published Unbroken Hearts to the Kindle store there wasn't a single western on the Kindle store historical romance hourly bestsellers list.

Today the regency novels still dominate the top 100 in historical romance, but I'm proud to say that Unbroken Hearts is NOW on the list, AND it is often the top-ranked western in the category. Even more exciting is the fact that I'm not alone. Ellen O'Connell and Ruth Ann Nordin have westerns on the list too. All are indie-published books.

Are western romances finally making a comeback? Were the traditional publishers simply ignoring the genre? Whatever the reason, it appears the indies are making a grass roots push to revive this category, and that's very exciting for western authors and readers.

Anonymous said...

Great Idea, and as Baen Books has found, it works.

I've fond several authors via the Baen Free Library and have gone on to buy other books from them.

Jude Hardin said...

The publishing industry has entirely different goals than the writer...

Really? How so? I thought everyone's goal was to produce the best book possible.

Agents and editors don't get into the business because they get their rocks off rejecting writers; they get into the business because they love books. It has to start there, and it hardly ever ends with selling tons and tons of copies.

Jack H. H. King said...


Your numbers are seductive. Thanks for the striptease.

The math proves your badassedness.

93% of all books published sell less than 1000 copies in their life.

Any book that sells more than 5000 copies puts you in the elite 1%.

I bet THE LIST breaks 100,000 ebooks sold within five years.

I bet by the end of your career you will have more than 30 novels that have sold more than 100,000 ebooks each.

I bet you make at least $10,000,000 in your life by self-publishing.

Because you understand. Risk and reward. Ambition and craft. You know how to nail words to the page.

The 8% royalty is dead.
Long live the 70% royalty.

- Jack

Laurence MacNaughton said...

Why not do both, print and epub, and double your money? If it's good, it'll sell.

A.P. Fuchs said...

That sounds like work. I don't want to start a small business. I just want to write.

I can show you how to automate the whole thing, free of charge. Then you can just write, write, write, etc.

I'm just a stickler when it comes to people self-publishing and doing it wrong. I've been there. It sucked.

Moses Siregar III said...

I'd love to hear the arguments on CreateSpace vs Lightning Source. The last time I had that discussion with a couple of indie authors, they were of the opinion that LightningSource is clearly the better option, mainly because you can get 80% of the list price via Amazon through them (IIRC). But I've only talked to other writers about this, rather than tried to figure it all for myself.

Moses Siregar III said...

Btw, Kindle fans, here's a little piece of good news about the new operating system upgrade that's coming in a week or so (which is automatically downloaded to your Kindle):

- More Fonts & Improved Clarity: Enjoy two new larger font sizes and sharper fonts for an even more comfortable reading experience.
- Collections: Organize your books and documents into one or more collections.
- PDF Pan and Zoom: Zoom into PDFs and pan around to easily view small print and detailed tables or graphics.

There are other items on the list, but those look like the best to me.

Steven Seagal said...

Joe, are you buying your own ISBNs?

Errol R. Williams said...

The fact you turned down offers from major NY publishers, commands respect and admiration. You are a man true to your word and incredibly inspiring.

Jeff Sherratt said...

The overstuffed executives heading media firms that own the big six publishing houses better wake up and change their business model otherwise doomsday will arrive, Random House will be known as Abandon House.

Jeff Sherratt

Debbi said...


You did a DIY publishing workshop at BEA, made a killing on your self-published ebooks and now you're turning down offers from large NY print publishers on two books, in favor of self-publishing them.

Are you sure you don't want to be the poster boy for self-publishing? :)

Even if you don't, you may end up being ordained such by others (like it or not).

Anyway, congrats on your amazing success!

Nicole said...

Ooooh exciting stuff your blog :) am hunting for an agent at moment but have to confess this idea (and totally blaming you for this ;p) of self-publishing is certainly appealing. Love a success story! Especially against the odds

Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

On my way to get the List for my weekend read.
The cover grabbed my attention and the sample drew me in.
Giggles and Guns

Thomas Brookside said...


My CreateSpace sales are generally around 10% of my Kindle sales.

But when your Kindle sales are as good as yours, 10% is a nice number.

Joan Hall Hovey said...

I'm very inspired by your story, Joe. Your figures speak for themselves, and I congratulate you. What you've done takes talent both as an organizer and a writer. I like being with a small press like BWLPP and sort of going from there, I don't feel quite so alone, and they take very little of the royalty compared with many publishers. I have three books on and the fourth will be ready shorly. Thanks so much for your wonderful tips.

Christopher said...

Congrats. I was about to write an e-book a couple years ago, but stopped thinking that it wasn't possible to sell and here you have 16,000 copies sold just for Kindle. How they world has changed in such a short time!