Monday, January 31, 2011

Guest Post by Blake Crouch

I've known Blake for years, and liked his writing enough to work with him on several projects, including the upcoming KILLERS UNCUT and STIRRED, the final Jack Daniels novel (which will also be the conclusion to his Luther Kite/Andrew Z. Thomas series.)

Naturally, because Blake is a friend, he's been forced to endure my endless ranting about ebooks nearly every time we speak to each other. But he's been experimenting with Kindle and ebooks for a while now, and the conclusions he's drawn have been entirely his own.

I asked him to do a guest post because he's at the point where he's seriously considering quitting his day job to write ebooks full time. If the trends continue, it's a no-brainer--he can make more money on Kindle.

Here's Blake...

My ebook journey began on March 7th of last year when I uploaded a collection of four previously-published stories called FOUR LIVE ROUNDS. Later that month, I released a novella and a nasty piece of work I co-wrote with Konrath called SERIAL UNCUT. At the time, my expectations were low—sure, Joe was pulling down a couple grand a month, but he was Joe. An anomaly. I just thought that having some new, exclusive work up on Kindle might spur my “real” book sales, meaning the four novels I had published with St. Martin’s Press over the last six years. I made $215 that first month, and as the summer progressed I released a few short stories individually and watched sales slowly grow.

Once the 70% royalty rate kicked in, it occurred to me that my greatest assets were my novels, DESERT PLACES, LOCKED DOORS, ABANDON, and SNOWBOUND. But they were tied up with my publisher.

In September, I got the rights back to DESERT PLACES and LOCKED DOORS. I blogged about the rights reversion process right here on October 11th, just after uploading those novels. I was excited, but I wasn’t sure how well the books would perform with new cover art and a snazzy price of $2.99.

My publisher had been pricing these books at $6.99 prior to the rights reversion, and sales for the last six months before I took them back had been about 200.

In the three months I’ve had these books, they’ve sold over 3000 copies, and I attribute most of this to the price, but some to the new cover art by Jeroen ten Berge.

Thanks in part to those books, this month, I will earn more from my US Kindle sales than the advance I was paid for my first novel—$6,000—and will come close to selling 5000 ebooks.

I still don’t know what to make of this, and I often wonder for whom is this experience more surreal?

(A) The unpublished writer who had dreams of a big traditional publishing deal and wound up knocking the lights out on Kindle and Pubit?; or

(B) Guys like me...who have been in the trench warfare known as midlist New York publishing, are scarred all to hell from the battle, and then suddenly...

This utopian dream.

It’s like that scene in Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalypse novel, THE ROAD, where the father and the son, thirsty and starving to death, accidentally stumble upon an underground bomb shelter filled with more food and water than they’ve seen in years.

To be paid monthly to write exactly what you want to write and have absolute control over the presentation is an amazing thing.

The main reason I read Joe’s blog is for information, no matter how anecdotal, regarding how people sell and why. So here’s mine, for what it’s worth…

I have available 4 novels ($2.99), 3 novellas ($2.99), 2 short story collections ($3.99), 1 complete short story collections ($4.99), and 8 individual stories ($.99).

My two novels, DESERT PLACES and LOCKED DOORS, and SERIAL UNCUT are the top sellers. I sell far more story collections than individual stories, and surprisingly the $4.99 collection I put up looks on track to start outperforming the shorter collections. My novel, FAMOUS, which cannot be classified as a thriller, is unlike any of my other work—and I can’t give it away.

Because my work varies widely in length (from a 1500-word short story to an 85,000-word novel), I make sure to clearly designate the form (short story/novella/novel) and include a word-count in the product description.

As I mentioned previously, I spend a lot of time getting the covers right, and I think this has made a tremendous difference. I’ve nearly tripled sales this month on my novella PERFECT LITTLE TOWN following a complete revamp of its cover.

This all points to one of the great things about ebooks: the ability to make adjustments midstream, so you can constantly honing the presentation toward perfection. Something isn’t selling? Change up the product description. Retool the book cover (mine have gone through at least four modifications to arrive at a solid brand). Rename it....just did that with one of my books, and early indications are it’s working.

But to me, the best thing about the ebook revolution isn’t the money. It’s the unlimited creative potential. No more asking permission to write the book you’re dying to write. No more constraints on form (welcome back the novella!). And collaborative possibilities are endless. Writing DRACULAS with Joe, Jeff Strand, and F. Paul Wilson last year was one of my all-time writing highs.

But I NEED MORE NOVELS. My publisher retains control over ABANDON and SNOWBOUND, which is some of my best work. Even at $12.99, these books are consistently below 20,000 in sales ranking. In light of what I was paid for those books, and knowing I will in all likelihood never see another cent of royalties while the publisher owns the rights, it KILLS me to think what I could be making per month off those titles. I will get the rights back. Maybe not tomorrow. But it will happen.

Here are the questions that keep me up at night…

- Can an Indie break into the top 100 without pricing a novel at $.99? I’ve been tempted to drop DESERT PLACES to $.99 but fear upsetting my pricing balance.

- Can anyone other than Michael Sullivan do big business at more than $4/ebook?

- With instant publication now an option, will writers have the self-discipline to take the time to produce great work?

- How will readers continue to find the good stuff when there are potentially millions of shitty manuscripts being uploaded? Based upon my experience, books in the top 5000 are selling about 7/day. Which means buyers are regularly going outside of the top 100 to make purchases. Right now the system is working, but if it gets too fouled up with bad books, will it break down? Will finding that diamond in the rough become so taxing that readers predominately default to the top 100, as buyers of print books do today?

Good book, good cover, good product description, low price—is that really all we’ve learned? All we can bank on? Is this all a giant crapshoot?

I think it may be appropriate to quote the screenwriter, William Goldman: “Nobody knows anything.”

Joe sez: I've been following Blake's journey, watching him sell more and more ebooks each month, and a few things strike me.

1. The writing matters. Crouch is as good a thriller writer as any who have ever lived. His publisher, St. Martins, made so many mistakes with his career--mistakes beyond Blake's control--that it's miraculous he hasn't eaten a shotgun by now. Honestly, it is the most depressing comedy of errors I've ever seen in the biz.

And yet, Blake's still chugging along, and on his way to his best monetary year ever. Cream does rise to the top, if it struggles hard enough.

2. Novels DO sell better. I have 19 self-pubbed books on Kindle right now. My novels are by far the best sellers, though SERIAL UNCUT does very well. But that's almost 40k words, though, so it's actually a novellini.

3. Experimentation and an open mind are essential. Blake had been diligent in tweaking his covers, changing product descriptions and titles, trying to maximize his sales and his brand. You can't ever be completely satisfied. Once you are, you cease trying, cease learning, and cease growing.

4. The book itself matters. This one is REALLY hard to figure out, and I gotta admit I'm close to clueless as to why some ebooks sell so many more copies than other ebooks. So far this month, I've sold 5393 copies of TRAPPED. It's a horror novel by my pen name, Jack Kilborn. My other self-pubbed Jack Kilborn horror novel, ENDURANCE, has sold a respectable 2890 copies, but that's only a little better than half of what TRAPPED is selling.


To make it more confusing, for the previous four months, ENDURANCE has been outselling TRAPPED. In fact, my #1 seller has changed many times since I started ebook self-publishing. At first, THE LIST was my #1 seller. Then ORIGIN. Then ENDURANCE. Then DRACULAS. Then SHOT OF TEQUILA. And now, TRAPPED.

THE LIST, my first ebook to sell 20,000 copies, only sold 1130 in January. And it can't be because it has already saturated the Kindle market. Stephen King's THE STAND is still in the Top 10 horror category. That book has been selling for 30 years, and hasn't reached a saturation point.

No, what's at work here is some weird, unknown factor that makes certain books sell at certain times.

Of all my novels, my book DISTURB has consistently sold the fewest copies. I have no idea why. It's a fun book, high-concept. Is it the subject? Title? Cover? All of the above? Should I change the author name from Konrath to Kilborn, since Kilborn sells better? And why should Kilborn sell better? Too many uninformed yet opinionated yahoos on the internet keep crowing that my sales are a result of my previous traditional publishing background, yet my previous traditional publishing background has been as J.A. Konrath. Konrath has many more books in print than Kilborn does, so why is Kilborn the better seller on Kindle? Thrillers outsell horror on the NYT list, so shouldn't my thriller series outsell my horror books?

And if horror sells so well, why is DRACULAS--a horror novel written not only by Kilborn and Crouch, but Jeff Strand (who has a large cult following) and F. Paul Wilson (who is a NYT bestseller) not selling as well as the other Kilborn ebooks? Surely vampires are still a hot genre? And with 167 reviews and a four and a half star average, it would seem DRACULAS should be a no-brainer must-have purchase for all horror fans. But it's only sold 1000 copies this month.

Blake's experience with his novel FAMOUS, which isn't selling anywhere close to what his thrillers sell, is proof that readers aren't indiscriminately buying every ebook an author releases.

Wunderkind Amanda Hocking currently has a staggering seven ebooks in the Top 100 on Kindle. But her zombie novel, HOLLOWLAND, priced super-cheap at 99 cents, isn't in the Top 100. Why the hell not? She's a hot author. Zombies are hot. 99 cents is THE price for breaking into the Top 100. Yet this isn't selling as well as her others.

Obviously, the conclusion to draw is that the book matters. In fact, it may matter more than the author, the price, the genre, and the writing.

But I still have no idea why some books sell more than others. The only advice I can offer is to keep writing, and hope something will click with an audience. Eventually. Maybe.

The big thing on our side is that ebooks have both an infinite shelf space, and an eternal shelf life. Unlike print, which has six months or less to find an audience before it gets returned, an ebook is forever. Forever is a long time to find readers.

As for Blake's questions...

- Can an Indie break into the top 100 without pricing a novel at $.99? I’ve been tempted to drop DESERT PLACES to $.99 but fear upsetting my pricing balance.

I think so. But it may be a case of pricing it at 99 cents, then changing it to $2.99 once it starts selling really well. Obviously, more experiments are needed. The problem is, if something is selling well, do you really want to mess with the price? That takes a lot of guts.

- Can anyone other than Michael Sullivan do big business at more than $4/ebook?

We'll see. I know Blake and I, after writing KILLERS UNCUT, will combine it with SERIAL UNCUT for SERIAL KILLERS UNCUT, which will be $4.99. It'll be interesting to watch how it does.

- With instant publication now an option, will writers have the self-discipline to take the time to produce great work?

There will always be writers who strive to improve their craft. These are the ones who will sell. The ones who post crap won't sell, at least not for long. They'll either be forced to improve, or they'll give up out of frustration.

As I've said before, the readers have become the gatekeepers. Their money and their time are valuable, and they won't put up with garbage. In fact, they go out of their way to warn each other about garbage.

- How will readers continue to find the good stuff when there are potentially millions of shitty manuscripts being uploaded?

I see this concern echoed a lot. The fact is, consumers have always been able to find what they want. Doesn't matter if it's on the internet, on TV, on Youtube, in a bookstore, or on Amazon. We all constantly make choices about what to spend our time and money on, even when there is already a lot of crap out there. More crap won't mean a thing.

How did everyone reading this blog entry find my blog? With millions of websites, many of them crap, they still managed to find mine.

As Theodore Sturgeon said, 90% of everything is crap.

As I've said many times, don't write crap.

There's the answer.

But even if you do write good books, that's no guarantee you'll sell a lot of copies. Which leads to another poor argument that those opposed to self-publishing trot out without thinking. (Those opposed to self-publishing have lots of bad arguments, the majority of them unsubstantiated, specious, and poorly thought-out.) It can be summed up as:

The majority of self-pubbed ebooks don't sell well.

This is a crap argument for a multitude of reasons.

1. The majority of print books don't sell well, either.

2. The majority of ebooks published by traditional publishers sell fewer copies than self-pubbed ebooks, as evidenced by authors who have both.

3. Self-pubbing is a guarantee it will find some readers, while pursuing a traditional publishing contract is still a long shot.

4. It is notoriously difficult to have a hit in any kind of media: TV, movies, music, and books.

5. The fact that you can self-publish and not sell a lot of copies should not dissuade writers from self-publishing, because selling a few copies is arguably better than letting the book sit on your hard drive, doing nothing.

As I said, it's shit argument. But it gets trotted out as often as "Konrath sells because he's Konrath."

The follow-up argument is:

If you self-publish, you ruin your chances at a traditional publishing deal.

Now I could argue convincingly that this is a GOOD THING. Stay the hell away from traditional publishing deals, I say, because you'll make less money and have to deal with a ton of bullshit. But if you go to, you can read about many writers who are finding agents and getting publisher interest BECAUSE they self-published. If that's the route you want to go, then I say getting your book on Kindle is a quicker, and more lucrative, way to find a traditional publisher than the query-go-round.

Which brings me to: why all the haters and nay-sayers?

Self-publishing is the most important thing to ever happen to writers. It liberates us from an arbitrary, unfair, broken system, and allows us to reach more readers at a faster rate than traditional publishing ever had. Best of all, as Blake said, self-pubbing allows writers to do it on our own terms.

To be paid monthly to write exactly what you want to write and have absolute control over the presentation is an amazing thing.

Anyone who doesn't see the advantage to that is an idiot. Or brainwashed by Stockholm Syndrome. Or fearful of change.

For almost two years, I've spent a lot of time and energy trying to inform writers about this opportunity. It staggers me that so many don't want to listen.

My past attitude has been to argue with these dolts. To convince them using logic and solid data that this is the future, and they'd be better off embracing it.

My new attitude is: if you want to stick with traditional publishing, it's your loss.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Guest Post by Sam Torode

As I've mentioned many times, I get a lot of email. Though I can't respond to it all, I do read it all. Some of it is fan mail, but an increasing percentage of it is from writers either asking for help on ebooks or telling me how well they're doing.

This email came a few days ago from a writer I don't know.

Dear JA,

My self-pubbed humorous novel, "The Dirty Parts of the Bible," just passed 5,500 Kindle sales for this month and is ranked at #70 in the Kindle store. I'm still in shock, and don't know how long it will take for this to sink in...

How to sum of the years of disappointment and bitterness trying to get traditionally published? I spent 3 years writing and honing the book, and it was the most satisfying creative project I'd ever worked on. The 2 years that followed, trying to sell the manuscript, were like tossing my heart into a meat grinder. It was rejected by over 100 publishers, from every big house in NY to small presses in Texas (where most of the book is set). I did manage to get an excellent NY agent who shopped it for a year, but to no avail. The real killer was when an editor at Penguin said she loved it, but the Penguin *marketing department* shot it down. (Did I mention bitterness?)

I self-published a paperback version, but it never sold more than 10 copies. I work as a professional book designer for small presses. I *love* real books, and I collect antique volumes of my favorite writers. I scoffed at the Kindle. So I just never thought of putting "Dirty Parts" out as an e-book.

More than a year after I had completely given up looking for publishers, I entered Amazon's "breakthrough novel" competition. My book made it to the top 50 last year, but was again shot down by Penguin editors/staffers when they narrowed the crop down to 4 finalists. (No surprise; but more disappointment.) But a few weeks after the contest was over, I noticed that the Kindle excerpt of my novel was being downloaded by more customers than were the finalists. That inspired me to publish the entire book to Kindle for the first time.

Sales were very slow for the first 6 months (about 5 to 20 per month), as Amazon removed the contest entries so I lost all the reader reviews that my excerpt had accumulated. Then, in mid-December, something clicked. By the end of the month, 300 copies had sold. And so far this month (January 2011), it's sold 5,500 copies. All with no promotion on my part (other than giving away some free copies in the Kindle forums after sales started picking up). It's also attracted 20 unsolicited reviews this month.

I followed your blog closely during the 2 years I was trying to sell my book traditionally, but stopped reading after giving up hope. So I had no idea that other unknown authors were finding this kind of success on Kindle. Never heard of Amanda Hocking or Karen McQuestion (greatest author name ever, by the way) until this month.

How to describe the thrill of finally getting *readers* after all these years? It's incredible. All along, I just wanted the chance to get my book past the gatekeepers and into readers' hands. I've gotten some great e-mails this month: one from an 87 year old Texan who said the characters reminded him of the folks he knew back then, another from a high-school English teacher who is recommending it to her students. It's like a commercial for the credit cards I foolishly used to finance my writing dreams before they were squashed: Priceless.


Joe sez: I love this story, for several reasons. First, because it shows an epic fail by the gatekeepers. Penguin had two shots at this, and failed both times. Now the book is selling hundreds of copies a day. Oops.

Second, because Torode priced it at $2.99. The majority of self-pubbed ebooks that have made the Top 100 have been 99 cents. It's nice to see an indie ebook selling well AND making a lot of money for the author.

Third, because here is yet another example of an unknown author who sells a ton of ebooks without a platform, an agent, or any sort of marketing. It just caught on with readers who liked it. This is the ultimate in "word-of-mouth."

And fourth, I'm a sucker for a the fairy tale ending.

Sam followed the rules for successful ebook authors (which you should all know by heart by now.)

1. Write a good book.
2. Have a good cover.
3. Set a low price.
4. Have a good product description.

Here's his description:

Watch the video trailer at

The Dirty Parts of the Bible is a humorous novel set during the Great Depression---a rollicking tale of love and liquor, preachers and prostitutes, trains and treasure, sure to appeal to fans of Water for Elephants, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Mark Twain, and Johnny Cash....

Semifinalist for the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

"While the title suggests a raunchy read, this rich and soulful novel is actually a rather well-done bildungsroman [coming-of-age story] steeped in wanderlust and whimsy that at times recalls The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and at others a tamer On the Road. The story begins in 1936 as 19-year-old Tobias is thumbing his way from Remus, Mich., to his uncle's farm in Glen Rose, Tex., to find a hidden bag of money, after his father, a Baptist pastor, drunkenly slams his car into the church and is removed from the parsonage. The author does an excellent job in making well-charted territory (riding the rails; scavenged campfire meals under the stars) seem vibrant and new. Snippets of scripture, Southern spirituals, and folk ballads lend context and flavor to the text. Most impressive are the jangly dialogue and the characters' distinctive voices, which are authentic and earthy but not remotely hoary. When Tobias finally arrives at his uncle's, the surprises that await him are more than enough to keep his--and readers'--interests piqued." --Publisher's Weekly (ABNA)

"I absolutely loved The Dirty Parts of the Bible.... [It's] a grown-up Mark Twain-type adventure with lots of spirit and humor." --Reader Views

"[It] has lots of laughs and a few tears, and characters that are pure joy." --Front Street Reviews

"A fun read" --The Nashville Scene

"Sweet and funny" --Kirkus Discoveries

From the Back Cover

It's 1936, and Tobias Henry is stuck in the frozen hinterlands of Michigan. Tobias is obsessed with two things: God and girls.

Mostly girls, of course.

But being a Baptist preacher's son, he can't escape God.

When his father is blinded in a bizarre accident (involving hard cider and bird droppings), Tobias must ride the rails to Texas to recover a long-hidden stash of money. Along the way, he's initiated into the hobo brotherhood by Craw, a ribald vagabond-philosopher. Obstacles arise in the form of a saucy prostitute, a flaming boxcar, and a man-eating catfish. But when he meets Sarah, a tough farm girl under a dark curse, he finds out that the greatest challenge of all is love.


Torode did a lot right in this description. He compared it to well known books and movies, explained the type of book it is, listed some rave reviews, mentioned it was a semi-finalist, and went briefly into the plot, setting, and main character.

His cover is professional, his title is perfect, and his web page is well designed.

What he needs to do next is get more writing up on Amazon ASAP, to capitalize on his current popularity.

More guest posts coming. Thanks to Sam for allowing me to share his email with my readers.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Guest Post by Terri Reid

I've been getting a lot of requests to do guest posts.

What I find interesting about this isn't so much that people want to share their self-publishing experience with me, or with the world. The thing that tickles me is more and more authors are selling a lot of ebooks.

Before we get to today's guest post, I'd like to share an interesting tidbit of info, courtesy of

Apparently, Ken Follet's publisher raised the price of his ebook from $7.99 to $9.99... and sales dropped 48%.

Jason Davis, who runs BookBee, took that as evidence the Agency Model doesn't work. I happen to agree with him. In fact, I spoke out against the agency model a year ago. Much as publishers thought they'd scored a victory by controlling their own prices, I predicted it was an epic fail.

Publishers were, and still are, trying to slow the growth of ebooks in order to protect their business model, which is built around selling paper.

How has that been working out for them? Not very well. Ebook sales have climbed at an astonishing rate, print sales have fallen, and the agency model earns less money for both the publisher and the author.

Jason's post also links to another of his posts, where he discusses the optimal price point for ebooks ($2.99-$3.99) based on the research of Dave Slusher, who used something called "math" to analyze prices based on some of my sales. I encourage all readers of this blog to check them out.

Strangely enough, though the agency model is costing publishers money, those who self-publish using the agency model are doing very well. That's because authors are using it to find the sweet spot to maximize profits, whereas publishers are apparently using it to hasten themselves out of business.

While modest pricing is no guarantee of sales, it's worth noting that more and more self-pubbed authors are hitting the Kindle bestseller lists. Take a look at horror sales at Amazon.

Books > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Horror

There are several things interesting about this list. Most interesting is 12 of the top 20 bestselling books in the horror category are self-published. And I say "books" because this list includes print books as well as ebooks.

I currently have three of the Top 20 bestselling horror titles on all of Amazon.

Terri Reid has two.

Naturally, I asked her to do a guest blog. So without further yakity-yak on my part, here's Terri...

Early in the month, I sent Joe a frantic e-mail.

Hi Joe -

You are the only person I know who can give me a serious answer to my question. I'm "freaking out" a little bit here - but in a good way.

My books have consistently sold 350 a day since the beginning of the month.

Every day - no change.

I was just checking Amazon and my books are in the top 20 of about 10 different genre lists - Ghosts, Paranormal Mystery, Paranormal Romance, Women Sleuths, Romantic Suspense - they are all over the place.

My Amazon ranks are at #301 and #345.

I am in shock. Does this continue? When I look at these numbers and estimate forward - I'm making amazing money.

My reviews, for the most part, are great. I'm even picking up good reviews in the UK.

My question - is my bubble going to burst or is this really happening? And can it continue?

My husband, sitting across the room from me in my office, was concerned as he watched my face when I read Joe’s response. My eyes filled with tears and I placed my hand over my mouth.

“What did he say?” he asked.

I read Joe’s response:

The bubble isn't close to bursting, Terri.
Write more.


I’m sitting here at my desk a week later writing this blog to tell you my story. Since the e-mail, I have consistently sold more than 300 books a day. My average book sales are 330 a day. Two of my books, Loose Ends and Good Tidings from The Mary O’Reilly Series, are the majority of the sales. But, even my “Ghosts of New Orleans” is selling more than 30 books a day, so I have absolutely no reason to complain. I sell my books for $2.99. About seven percent are Amazon International sales - so I get 35% of the sale price, the remainder of the sales is at 70% - you do the math.

So, what’s my story?

I don’t think you need my whole bio to understand how I got here, but I’d like to offer some relevant points. I did well in high school and received scholarships to go to college. After two years in college, I was married and expecting my first child. College was put on hold. Seven children later, I was working as a consultant doing advertising, marketing and public relations for small to medium-sized businesses in the area. I even had some Fortune 50 companies as clients. I still hadn’t found the time to go back to school, but as a consultant, my clients were more interested in what I could do for them, than the degree hanging on the wall - thank goodness!

In the background, in my spare time, I was writing novels. It was my dream - “Someday I’m going to be a writer.” But, at that point, it was in the same category as “Someday I’m going to be the same size I was when I got married” nice to dream about - but then you wake up!

However, some of the stories had to be told, so, I continued to write. A little every day. While I was writing, I was trying to find my voice and decide what I wanted to write. But, again, since my consulting was paying the bills, writing was more of an escape.

Then the economy crashed and because of the uncertainty of so many things, my clients started tightening their belts and holding on to their money. Marketing budgets were slashed. My business was in trouble. I started looking for a full-time job, but even with fifteen years of experience, I didn’t have a degree. And in this job market, employers have lots of options.

Suddenly, the thought of writing for a living made sense, because, really, what did I have to lose?

I had been working on Loose Ends for months. I found myself with more time than money, so I worked nearly full-time to complete it. During that time, a friend sent me the Wall Street Journal article about Karen McQuestion and her amazing success in e-books. I had heard of Kindles, but I had no idea they held such a market share. I sent an e-mail to Karen, who was gracious enough to answer me. She shared her experiences. Then I did some research on my own and decided that I was going to try downloading my book through Amazon.

Before I learned about Karen, I had planned to send my book off to an agent I had an acquaintance with in New York. She’s a very successful agent and, at one time, had told me she liked my writing. But the biggest thing that sold me on e-publishing was the finances. I could get paid within 90 days of downloaded my book. I could make the same amount of money on my e-book that I would through a traditional publisher. And, perhaps, as an entrepreneur this excited me even more; my destiny was in my own hands.

I uploaded Loose Ends on August 3, 2010. I joined some forums and told them about my book. I went on Facebook and told my friends and family about my book and asked them to put my link on their Facebook pages. I called the editor of the local paper and told him about my book. The paper did a Sunday feature about me and my book. (I had to borrow a Kindle from a friend for the photo.)

In August I sold 142 copies of my book. In September I sold 248 books. In October I added another book, “The Ghosts of New Orleans.” I had read that multiple books help you cross market and lead to more sales. The Ghosts of New Orleans was a novel I had written four years ago. It was a darker novel than The Mary O’Reilly stories, but I felt it still had merit. I did a quick edit and uploaded it on October 10th.

In October I sold 789 copies of Loose Ends and 195 copies of The Ghosts of New Orleans.

At the end of November, I added the second Mary O’Reilly book, “Good Tidings.” It was available on the night before Thanksgiving. By the end of the month, one week later, I had sold 142 copies of Good Tidings, 745 copies of Loose Ends, and 320 copies of The Ghosts of New Orleans.

In December I watched my numbers climb and three weeks into the month, found that both Loose Ends and Good Tidings had sold over 1,000 copies. I reached those numbers the day after Joe invited us to be part of his Best Seller blog. I couldn’t believe I was part of that crowd of authors. By the end of December, I had sold over 5,000 books.

Now, the secret to my success is...there is no secret. I’ve heard rumblings that Paranormal Mysteries or Paranormal Romances are easy to sell. I didn’t write my book because of market trends. I wrote it because that was the story I had to tell. And, thinking back to Joe’s list - they certainly weren’t all Paranormal genre books, although there were a few.

There’s been a lot of conversation about quality. You do yourself and this new industry a disservice if you think you can upload something poorly written, poorly edited and poorly executed and try to sell it. Be sure you are offering the best product you can. Don’t be your own critic or editor - that never works. Have someone who knows editing - a friend who’s a journalist or hire someone - to go through your book. Get some beta-readers to read it and ask them to be honest. It’s better they critique your product before you upload it, then afterward say, “Oh, you know, that bothered me a little too.”

You only have one chance to make a first impression.

You need to get out there and talk about your book. You are your own marketing and public relations team - if you don’t think your book’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, why should I?

You need to believe in yourself and remember the brilliant words of Joe, “The bubble isn't close to bursting...write more.”

Write more!

Joe sez: A few things strike me about Reid's post, and her publishing journey.

As far as I can tell, she doesn't have a website or a blog. She only has 233 Facebook friends. She doesn't have a Twitter account. And though she's active on and her local paper did a story on her, it really doesn't seem like she's done an overwhelming amount in the way of self-promotion, especially compared to other recent guest posters.

Her covers are decent, and the black and white stands out, but in my opinion they could be improved.

She's clearly new at this, as indicated by her apparent belief that simply uploading a few ebooks would give her the income of a fulltime job. In fact, she didn't even try to get an agent or a publishing deal, but thought that her first book would be good enough to sell on its own.

And guess what? She's selling like crazy. In fact, with no track record, no real marketing strategy, and what I view as somewhat unrealistic expectations, Reid's ebooks are outselling many of mine, and she's going to make $20,000 this month.

So what can we attribute this to? A low price? Good writing? Luck? All of the above?

That's why I love Reid's story so much. She's new at this (both writing and self-publishing) and perhaps a bit naive (like we all were when we started out) but she's making huge money and selling like crazy.

It might seem like I'm knocking her, but I'm really not. The fact is, I'm in awe of her success. If anyone is proof that the old ways of publishing are dead, it's Terri Reid. She's spearheading a new movement, one that completely ignores the conventions of traditional publishing.

Now, does this mean everyone can sell 10,000 copies a month?

Of course not. If everyone could do it, everyone would be doing it.

Reid has obviously found her niche, and self-publishing was a smart and (in hindsight) an obvious choice. Though she didn't mention much about her marketing strategy, she had a job in marketing, so she clearly has done something right. Though she didn't mention much about her writing background, her reviews and sales again point to her doing something right.

The future isn't Big 6 publishing houses vetting manuscripts, rejecting the majority, taking 18 months to publish, and then insisting upon ebooks with high prices and DRM, all the while paying authors one third of what the house makes.

The future is smart, talented writers doing it on their own.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Time Investment

More guest posts are coming, but I wanted to take a moment to post some numbers and some thoughts.

So far this month, I've sold over 18,000 ebooks on Kindle.

When I include Smashwords, Createspace, and Barnes and Noble, my income for January will be about $42,000.

Last January, I made $2,295 on Kindle, and I was amazed I could actually pay my mortgage on books NY rejected.

"Amazed" is no longer strong enough a word.

In just 12 months, I've seen a 2000% increase in income. And ebooks are still only 11% of the book market.

What happens when they're 15%? 30%? 75%?

And yet, I still see some writers clinging to the notion that getting a book contract with a Big 6 publisher is the way to go.

But money isn't the only reason ebooks self-publishing is preferable.

Back in 2004, when my first novel, Whiskey Sour, was released in hardcover, my publisher forbade me from doing booksignings. In order to have an official signing at a bookstore, the publisher is required to pay coop. Since Whiskey Sour was a hardcover, and I was a no-name, they didn't want to pay coop to bookstores because it wasn't cost-effective. Even $50 in coop would mean I'd have to sell about 15 books for the publisher to break even. Newbies simply don't sell 15 hardcovers a day at a single location. Very few books--bestsellers included--sell 15 copies a day from a single location.

This irked me, because I'd already set up signings, and because I felt as if I was being prevented from doing my job. One bookstore was especially upset, because the manager was a big fan of the book, and he'd been talking it up to his customers. He begged me to at least drop in and sign stock.

I asked my publisher, and they were fine with that, as long as they didn't have to pay the store.

So I visited the store, and to my dismay, the manager had ordered 100 copies.

Having worked in a bookstore before, I knew books had a limited shelf life and were returnable. Seeing that many books, knowing they'd be sent back, made me nauseous. I'd worked like a dog to land a print deal, and I knew I had to sell as many books as possible if I wanted to ever get another contract.

So I hung out at the bookstore, and greeted people who walked in, and told them about my book.

It was brutal. All I ever wanted to be was a writer, not a salesman. But I smiled, and I pitched, and I shook hands, and by the time I was done I'd been there for eight hours.

And I'd sold all 100 copies.

The district manager of the chain got wind of it, and invited me to do the same thing at other Chicagoland stores.

I did. It was an exhausting summer. Weekends were spent traveling to stores, spending hours on my feet, smiling, schmoozing, shaking hands. But I made a small impact, and handsold hundreds of books.

The next year, my publisher toured me.

For Bloody Mary, my second novel, they sent me to the West Coast. I had ten official signings. But I quickly realized what a giant waste of money tours were. Why do signings at only two bookstores in L.A. when there were 30 stores in town? Why fly from city to city, and pass up all those bookstores between cities?

So, on my own, between official signings, I dropped in 95 additional stores and signed stock.

It was eleven days of busting my ass. No sleep, constant travel, constantly being "on." But I felt it needed to be done.

The next year, for Rusty Nail, I was on the road for 55 days, and signed at over 500 bookstores. I blogged about it, day by day, but here are the final stats for that tour:

Miles driven: 11457
Books signed: 4066
Books hand sold: 214
Booksellers met: 952
Bookstores visited: 504

It remains the hardest thing I've ever done. I was so exhausted after that tour--physically, mentally, emotionally--that it took me weeks to get back to normal.

If we assume that every book I signed on that tour wound up selling (which is a big assumption,) it means for every hour I spent on the road, I sold three books.

It was the very limit of what I was capable of doing, and the best I could do was a book sale every twenty minutes.

Now let's look at ebooks.

In January, I haven't done a single bit of promotion. No touring. No signing. No interviews. I've basically sat on my ass this month.

And I've earned, on average, a dollar a minute.

In 2006, it took me almost 8 weeks to sell 4000 books.

In 2011, it took me five and a half days to sell that many. And I didn't have to drive across twenty-nine states to do it.

Now the numbers I'm quoting from the tour aren't the only books I sold during that time frame. I visited 505 stores, but there were thousands of other bookstores also selling my books that I didn't visit.

Surely there's a huge advantage to having your book in that many bookstores, right?

I just checked my last royalty statement. Rusty Nail, that book I worked so hard to promote, has thusfar earned me $42,000. This includes all of my hardcovers, paperbacks, ebooks, and foreign editions, combined.

With self-publishing, in a single month, I was able to earn the same amount of money it took me four and a half years to earn through traditional publishing.

Back in 2009, I wrote a book called Afraid for Grand Central. It was a paperback original, and I got a modest advance of $20,000. But my publisher gave Afraid a bigger print run than any of my previous books, and gave it decent support. They put an ad in USA Today. They got the book into Wal-Mart.

I did my part as well. I went on a blog tour, appearing on 100 blogs in 30 days. That was hard. I also did a real tour, and visited over 200 bookstores. That was harder.

After the tour, I wrote a follow-up to Afraid called Trapped. My publisher didn't like the book, and refused to publish it.

Last year, I released Trapped on my own, on Kindle.

In the last 68 days, Trapped has earned me over $20,000. It's currently selling over 160 copies a day.

Because this is my career, I measure my success with how much money I'm able to make. But money is only part of the equation. The amount of time invested in order to earn that money is just as important.

I'm pretty sure I'm the only author who has ever visited 100 blogs in a month, or 500 bookstores on tour, or sent 7000 letters to libraries and bookstores (each with a signed drink coaster.)

These things took a considerable amount of time to do. Time I could have spent writing more books. Hell, I could have written a book in the time it took to put stamps on 7000 envelopes. And do you have any idea how many trips it took just to get them all to the post office?

My point should be obvious. Even if you promote your ebooks online, using websites, social networks, and blogs, it takes much less than promoting print books. I used to spend about 80% of my professional time self-promoting.

I've since stopped self-promoting. I don't do public speaking anymore, even though people offer me big money to do so. I turn down several interviews a week. I don't do conferences (the last conference I plan attend is Love is Murder, Feb 4-6, so if you want a chance to meet me or hear me talk about ebooks, this will be the last time.)

I'm a writer. So I'm devoting my time to writing, and quitting all of that other stuff.

Self-publishing ebooks hasn't just made me money. It has also given me my life back. And hopefully I'll never have to do something like this again:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Guest Post by Jeremy Robinson

Continuing my series of guest post by writers doing well with self-publishing, here's Jeremy Robinson.

Like the previous guest posts, he's come to this point by taking his own, unique path. It's worth mentioning again that every writer needs to set their own goals, and you should never compare yourself to anyone else. Everyone's journey is different, and your mileage may vary.

That said, there are a lot of commonalities among those selling well. A while ago, I mentioned 4 elements needed for Kindle success.

1. A good book (and good formatting to go along with it.)
2. A good cover.
3. A good product description.
4. A low price.

I'm going to add two more to the list.

5. Continually adding more books to the virtual book shelf.
6. Perseverance, and the willingness to experiment.

As with print books, the more products you have available, the likelier you are to be discovered and bought.

Also, this isn't a sprint. It's a marathon. While it's easy to look at these guest posts and think, "I bet I can make that much money," this doesn't happen overnight. It took two years for me to be selling at the rate I'm currently selling at (700 books a day), and six years prior to that busting my hump in the traditional publishing world.

If your sales aren't where you'd like them to be, you need to keep trying, keep tweaking, keep experimenting, and keep writing.

Now here's Jeremy...

For people to truly understand my thoughts on e-publishing, the first thing you need to know is that I’m a risk taker. My advice may not be for you if you prefer not to rock the boat. And before I offer my advice, for perspective, I offer the wham bam thank you ma’am version of my path to publication and e-publication.

My wife and I got married at twenty and for the first ten years I worked at becoming a writer, full time. I made no money while my supportive, loving, amazing wife worked. There were years where, combined, we made an entire year. Keep that number in mind for later. In 2003 I started making progress publishing articles and a non-fiction book about screenwriting, but nothing that paid the bills or remotely close to the fiction I wanted to write.

In 2005, after deciding no one would want to publish a mainstream thriller featuring Jesus, I self-published my first novel, THE DIDYMUS CONTINGENCY, using Within a year I had sold 6000 copies at $18 and made about $1 per book. Good sales. Crappy income. I did some research and discovered that if I cut out the middle man and started my own small press I could make $4 per book and turn that $6000 into $24,000, which for my wife and I was enough to live on. But there was a hitch.

We had a daughter. And a son on the way.

So I did what any responsible parent would do. I started a small press, Breakneck Books, using three credit cards and took our family to the brink of financial ruin (the only money in the bank came from credit cards). I put out three more of my own novels (RAISING THE PAST, ANTARKTOS RISING and KRONOS) and a few by authors I knew. And, thank God, they sold. And for a few years I eked out a living as a publisher/writer. But just barely.

I sold well enough to attract the attention of my agent, and then Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press who offered me a three book deal based on my previous books’ sales, a 75 page sample and a summary of the first book. The advance was nearly three years income for me and I snatched it up.

So now I have PULSE out in hardcover and mass market. INSTINCT is out in hardcover and arrives in mass market on February 1. And THRESHOLD, the third book in the series comes out in hardcover on March 29. Hurray for me! Now I can quit the day job, right (which for me is self-publishing)? I thought so. So I stopped. I got out of the publishing gig.

What followed was a rude awakening. I wasn’t going to instantly become the next James Rollins. I wouldn’t make money hand over fist. I was...I was...a mid-list author.


I had left the publishing company I started to focus on my writing and had only one book left that I hadn’t signed away. So I went back to my roots and self-published BENEATH on Kindle, in February of 2010. I sold 1000 copies in the first month and since then have sold 7000+ copies.

I spent the spring and summer of 2010 writing two novels, one under my name and one under a pen name (which I have yet to publicly claim is me). After writing three books in a series, I found both books incredibly liberating and fun to write because I could experiment. THE LAST HUNTER is a YA book that takes place in the world of ANTARKTOS RISING, 20 years before the events of that book. The novel by the pen name is dark and gruesome horror that I could never get away with as Jeremy Robinson.

With the bank account once again becoming barren, I put both books out as e-books in mid-November.

And now, just two months later, I have sold 9052 e-books, not including Smashwords and Nook sales. I made $10,000 in December and am on track to make $10,000 in January. In two months I will have made more than I did in previous years. And even if sales fall, which I expect them to do, I will still make more than I do from being a mid-list author. A lot more.

This week, I put out two more experimental books, INSOMNIA, a book of short stories, and THE ZOMBIE’S WAY, a humorous illustrated inspirational...for zombies, under the pen name Ike Onsoomyu (sound it out). So now I’ve got five e-books out. I’ll be writing the second book in the Hunter series in the spring and the second horror novel under the pen name this summer. Both will be out by the fall. And when the rights to my first four books revert back to me, I’ll have eleven e-books. I’m making 10k from just three, so I’m fairly excited to see what happens when I have eleven.

Now, the first thing critics are going to point out is that I, like Joe, and am established mid-list author so that must be why my e-books are selling well. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Keep in mind that I was selling lots of books long before I had a traditional print deal. My books sell because I work like a bastard. I do my book covers (even Thomas Dunne asked for my help on the covers), website, interiors, marketing and PR, never mind writing the books. The only thing I don’t do is edit. If anything, my hardcovers sell well because of my self-publishing efforts.

Also worth mentioning is that the horror book released under a pen name, which isn’t linked to me in any way, is selling twice as many books as those under the Robinson name, and will soon outsell my hard cover releases in a fraction of the time. In two months, this book published under a no-name pen name has sold 4900 copies.

So what about that advice I promised you? It’s two fold. Part one is simple, take risks. Jump in. You have nothing to lose. Seriously. You’re not going to blow a future print deal by self-publishing an e-book. The numbers aren’t tracked by Bookscan. You can make the book disappear with the click of a button. At the same time you might just sell enough to entice a publisher to make a sweet offer (if print is your goal). If you fail, pull the book and send it back to the slushpile.

Part two is not so simple. Do it right. I’m not saying I’ve done everything right. I make plenty of mistakes. But I am dedicated to putting out books that rival those produced by the big publishers in every way. I want my covers, my interiors and my story and writing quality to match, or beat, those produced by the big guns. And you should too. If you don’t, you’re not going to sell. You’re going to be disappointed and you might just give up on your dreams. Don’t be afraid to pay for a cover. To hire an editor. You might spend $1000, even $2000, getting your book ready, but if you don’t believe you can sell the 500 - 1000 copies of your book at $2.99 and make that money back you shouldn’t be self-publishing. If you don’t believe the book will sell, it probably won’t. Don’t half-ass it.

So, have I given up on print? Despite making more money than I ever have before, no. I just agreed to write two more (stand alone/non-series) books for Thomas Dunne/St. Martins and will have new print books coming out until 2013. Why? A few reasons.

First, I still cling to the hope that I will be the next Crichton, or Rollins, or King. Those kinds of sales can’t currently happen with e-books. Second, I love hardcovers and really enjoy having my books in that format. Third, my editor has vastly—vastly—improved my writing and I’m still learning a lot from him. Fourth, having my books in stores and online increases my market exposure. Those who find me at B&N are picking up the e-books, and those that find the e-books are picking up the print books. Last, if my books never break out of the mid-list I may lose money on the print books vs. e-books, but I currently write three to four books a year, and am willing to take the hit on the chance of becoming a print book bestseller. Imagine the bump the e-books would get if that happened!

Whether or not I become a print bestseller, I expect e-books will be my main source of income for years to come. By 2013 I plan to have fifteen e-books out, thirteen of them novels. My personal goal is to make $20,000 a month by that time. With three novels selling 5000 books a month now, and the ever increasing e-book market size, I think that’s doable, and worth the risk. Don’t you?

Joe sez: Robinson is a smart guy, and a good writer. He's also willing to take chances, which is a plus.

I agree with much of what he said here, up until he agreed to write more books for his publisher. To me, that's a big mistake. I'll take it point by point.

First, I still cling to the hope that I will be the next Crichton, or Rollins, or King. Those kinds of sales can’t currently happen with e-books.

Actually, it's close to happening. Amanda Hocking is going to wind up with over 250k ebooks sold by the end of this month, if she hasn't hit it already. She's on track to do a million sales within by the end of this year. That's more than most bestselling authors do.

Hoping your publisher gets behind you is like buying a lottery ticket--you could win, but it isn't a sound business investment. Robinson says he hopes to make $20k a month by 2013. I believe, if he had the rights to the books that his publisher currently publishes, he'd currently be making what I'm making; over $35k a month.

The fact that his publisher is releasing his Kindle ebooks for $7.99, $9.99, and even $14.99, is hurting his sales, not helping them.

I'm pretty convinced that bestsellers are bestsellers because of the lack of choice, coupled with habit. Go to a drug store, they have twelve different titles available. Naturally, those books available in drug stores will sell more copies than those only available in bookstores. And when you go to bookstores, you see those same titles selling at 40% off, in huge stacks at the front of the store. Of course they sell a lot.

Over the next few years, as ebooks become the dominant format, we'll see a change in bestselling authors. Ebook buyers aren't going to continue to plunk down $14.99 for titles, because they'll have a choice. Right now, we're in a transitional period, and people are buying what they're familiar with buying--bestsellers.

But once the switch to ebooks happens, and readers are given unlimited choices, price will become a dominant factor. And publishers aren't going to be able to price the latest King or Patterson at $2.99. So readers will go elsewhere.

Second, I love hardcovers and really enjoy having my books in that format.

I love hardcovers, too. And I get a fair amount of email from people who want my books available in hardcover format. So that's what I'm going to do this summer.

Along with the trade paperback versions of my ebooks (which sell at $13.95 and currently earn me $85 a day). I'm going to make limited edition hardcover versions. They'll be signed, numbered, with a ink fingerprint on the title page, and full color dust jackets. I'm pricing these for the collector's market at $40 each.

That's a lot of money, but I've paid this for collector editions of authors I love, and I think this is fair for what is increasingly becoming a luxury market. They'll be available exclusively on my website for anyone who wants one, and they'll satisfy both my personal need and the needs of uber fans who demand them.

But, unlike the hardcovers a publisher releases, which essentially punish fans by charging high prices for a book when it comes out, I'm going to release hardcovers concurrently with the trade paper and the ebook releases. I won't make my fans wait a year to get a less expensive format. Nor will I gouge them by charging the same for an ebook as I do for a hardcover. I think that sucks, big time.

Third, my editor has vastly—vastly—improved my writing and I’m still learning a lot from him.

That's great... until the editor wants Robinson to change something he doesn't want to change. It's happened to me a few times, and it stings.

A great editor can vastly improve a book. But editors are people, and people make mistakes, and the writer can wind up suffering for it.

Or, in my case, the writer can get out of the contract, self-publish the book in question without making any changes, and earn a lot more money than he did with the publisher.

Fourth, having my books in stores and online increases my market exposure. Those who find me at B&N are picking up the e-books, and those that find the e-books are picking up the print books.

Maybe. Some do. But for the most part my self-pubbed ebooks are lifting the sales of my traditionally pubbed books, and not vice-versa. I know this because my ebooks are selling my traditionally pubbed books (in all formats combined) at a rate of 10 to 1, and the vast majority of email I get are from folks who discovered me through my self-pubbed titles.

And, as I stated above, while Jeremy may get a few people buying his print books in bookstores who then get his self-pubbed ebooks, he's also irritating people who buy his ebooks and like them and then have to pay $14.99 for his latest.

Looking at his rankings and his reviews for his $14.99 ebooks, they aren't selling nearly as well as his self-pubbed, and his fans don't like the high prices.

Last, if my books never break out of the mid-list I may lose money on the print books vs. e-books, but I currently write three to four books a year, and am willing to take the hit on the chance of becoming a print book bestseller. Imagine the bump the e-books would get if that happened!

Again, this is playing the lottery. Except he's gambling with tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars, in the hopes of winning a million.

If he kept his rights, he'd eventually get the million without having to gamble.

But Robinson isn't alone in his desire to stick with mainstream publishing. It has been a goal of his since he began writing, much like it has been a goal for most writers.

We've had it drilled into our heads that the only way to succeed is to follow the age old formula of: write a book, send out queries, get an agent, hope for a book deal.

Robinson, and most of my peers, have been conditioned to believe publishers are essential. And they still believe this, even though they aren't essential anymore. If we look at Robinson's five reasons for sticking with his publisher, they fall right in with the dream that publishers have been selling us for years: hope for a bestseller, the importance of an editor, getting into bookstores, the chance of huge success. Even the vanity of having a hardcover version has always been a carrot on the stick for authors. I know several authors with paperback deals who have pursued a hardcover deal for years, simply because of the prestige of having a hardcover.

That's nuts.

The gatekeepers have sold us a dream, and we've bought it hook, line, and sinker.

Another oft-heard argument for traditional publishing is "being validated."

Now, I don't discount that if a book is accepted by the Big 6, it meets a minimum quality standard. It is difficult for writers to judge their own work, and acceptance by an agent is a good indicator that the work is up to par.

But guess what? Selling a shitload of ebooks is a much better validation. Getting a stamp of approval from readers is more important than a stamp of approval from a publisher.

This is a business. When I see writers acknowledging that they'll probably earn less money by signing with a publisher, but still wanting to do it, I plainly see how much publishers have perverted how writers think.

It is not good business to sacrifice thousands of dollars for validation and a pipe dream. Yet the myth is so entrenched in writers' minds that they're willing to walk away from cash in the bank to be part of some bizarre club.

Yes, the club is exclusive. It's also expensive, poorly run, and often abusive toward its members.

We've all heard the term "gifting a white elephant." According to Wikipedia:

To possess a white elephant was regarded as a sign that the monarch reigned with justice and power, and that the kingdom was blessed with peace and prosperity. Because the animals were considered sacred and laws protected them from labor, receiving a gift of a white elephant from a monarch was simultaneously both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because the animal was sacred and a sign of the monarch's favour, and a curse because the animal had to be retained and could not be put to much practical use, at least to offset the cost of maintaining it.

Kinda sounds a lot like signing a publishing deal, doesn't it?