Monday, February 28, 2011

Guest Post by Blake Crouch

Today's guest post if from my frequent collaborator Blake Crouch, about how legacy published authors must come to grips with self-publishing...

Here's Blake:

So I finished a novel back in August that I’d been writing for a year and a half between other projects. I thought it was probably the best thing I’d written, the closest I’d ever come to fully realizing the initial idea. My writer friends who I swap manuscripts with agreed. Even my lovely wife, who can’t deal with my SERIAL stuff, loved it. My agent loved it, and we went through several edits and took it out in October to a number of publishing houses.

“You’re losing money, Blake, every single day RUN is not for sale.”

Around December, Joe started making a point of telling me this every time we talked on the phone, emailed, or Skyped. I thought maybe he was right.

I had a great December selling ebooks.

January came close to doubling that.

“Blake, this is the best thing you’ve ever written. You know that novels sell better than short stories. Why are you sitting on this?”

Now, every time Joe said this, it was like a gut punch. Because I knew he was right. I knew the potential monthly income I was turning my back on, the new readers I was missing out on.

We’re in the Wild West of ebooks, and my best work was on the sidelines. We hadn’t had any offers on RUN, but had gotten very close with a couple of dream editors. It’s always been a tough market, but with Borders going under and the ebook-induced turmoil, it’s harder now than ever.

So I released RUN myself this past Saturday, for the following reasons, and many more:

1. It’s my best book. A lot of my work has a horror bent, and this certainly does, but it’s far and away the most commercial thing I’ve written. It has the most potential to earn me new fans, and now I have a substantial backlist for them to dive into if they dig it.

2. As I’ve blogged about here before, I need more novels. My novels far outsell my short story collections, single stories, and novellas. This was an opportunity to add a fourth novel to my catalog.

3. For the first time in my writing career, I can support myself solely through writing. Releasing RUN has the potential to launch me to the next level, and the window for doing that is open and here.

4. Numerous ebooks, already released, have been picked up after the fact by publishers. See Michael J. Sullivan, H.P. Mallory, the Encore crowd, etc. If numbers are strong, it can help an agent make an argument for the sale and negotiate a better advance.

5. Ebook royalty rate: 25%. This royalty rate is so completely biased in favor of publishers, it’s not even funny. The ebook rights to my catalog are far and away the most valuable thing I own.

To give a publisher the exclusive license to my e-rights when I have no control over pricing, and in light of that 25% royalty rate, is a terrifying proposition. This all adds up to my suspicion that, even if an offer were to come, I would have a very difficult time parting with those rights if the offer wasn’t stellar and life-changing money.

6. No one knows yet what the selling trajectory of an ebook is, although we do know that it doesn’t follow the traditional arc of sliding into coop and needing to sell huge in those first 6 weeks to stay alive. Konrath is a prime example. All of his titles have been his greatest sellers at different points in time, and at different price points. But if a book is never available, you can never find that sweet spot where it works for you. Your old books sell your new books, and vice-versa, and the more books you have available, the more you will sell, and the more you sell, the more you sell.

7. I don’t know what the future of RUN will be. Will I always control the e-rights? Will I ultimately sell them? Hard to say. But I know that having it available right now is a great weight lifted off my shoulders, because there is no longer any benefit to sitting on good work, and waiting for a “Yes.”

Joe sez: Not only is RUN the best novel Blake has written, it's the best thriller I've ever read. That's not an exaggeration. RUN is powerful, moving, frightening, exhilarating, and the end will reduce you to tears.

I considered it my duty, as a friend of Blake's, to nag him to self-publish RUN, but he wanted a big traditional publishing deal. And guess what? I understood his thinking. RUN should have gotten a big traditional publishing deal. Blake should have been offered six-figures for RUN, months ago. It has "blockbuster" written all over it.

But the current publishing climate is awful. Publishers aren't buying as much, and they aren't paying as much. And every day Blake waited, the legacy publishing climate got worse, the self-publishing climate got better, and he missed out on making money.

How much money?

Let's be conservative and say RUN sells 20 copies a day. If he'd self-pubbed it nine months ago, like I told him to, He'd have $10k in his pocket right now. Ouch.

Double-ouch because 20 a day is a low estimate. I sell 90 copies a day of Endurance, and it isn't even my best selling ebook. If I'd waited nine months to publish Endurance, I'd have missed out on about $49,000.

That's what I mean by, "Ebooks will earn money forever, but you should start forever right now, not tomorrow."

It could be that RUN does really well as an ebook, which might spark some publisher interest. But if it is doing that well, Blake would be foolish to sell the rights. A 25% ebook royalty is really 14.9% after everyone takes their share. If ebooks are the future, why would any author choose 14.9% over 70%?

I encourage all of my blog readers to pick up RUN. It's terrific.

I also encourage all of my blog readers with a book on submission to rethink their priorities. I know you want a big book deal. I felt the same way, not so long ago.

But that was before I was selling 800 ebooks a day. Right now I'm earning $1 a minute, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Big book deal? No thanks.

Blake sez: It’s so annoying when Joe’s right.

If you’ve benefited from any of my posts here, I would humbly ask that you check out RUN, available for $2.99 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

Here’s the pitch:

For fans of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Thomas Harris...

Picture this: A landscape of American genocide...

5 d a y s a g o

A rash of bizarre murders swept the country…

Senseless. Brutal. Seemingly unconnected.

A cop walked into a nursing home and unloaded his weapons on elderly and staff alike.

A mass of school shootings.

Prison riots of unprecedented brutality.

Mind-boggling acts of violence in every state.

4 d a y s a g o

The murders increased ten-fold…

3 d a y s a g o

The President addressed the nation and begged for calm and peace…

2 d a y s a g o

The killers began to mobilize…

Y e s t e r d a y

All the power went out…

T o n i g h t

They’re reading the names of those to be killed on the Emergency Broadcast System. You are listening over the battery-powered radio on your kitchen table, and they’ve just read yours.

Your name is Jack Colclough. You have a wife, a daughter, and a young son. You live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. People are coming to your house to kill you and your family. You don’t know why, but you don’t have time to think about that any more.

You only have time to….


Sunday, February 27, 2011

The List Hits the Kindle Top 100

On Feb 15th I dropped the price of my technothriller novel, The List, from $2.99 to 99 cents on Kindle and Nook.

As of 2/15/2011 7:30pm, The List had sold 592 copies sold on Kindle in February. That had earned me about $1200.

Here were the Amazon rankings prior to changing the price:

#1,078 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery & Thrillers > Police Procedurals

in Books > Mystery & Thrillers > Police Procedurals

in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Action & Adventure

Now, a little over eleven and half days into the experiment, The List has cracked the Top 100 overall bestsellers on Kindle.

Here are the new numbers:

#78 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

in Books > Mystery & Thrillers > Police Procedurals

in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery & Thrillers > Police Procedurals

in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Action & Adventure

At $2.99, I was earning $2.03 per download. And I was selling an average of 43 ebooks a day.

At 99 cents, I only earn 35 cents per download. I'm now selling 533 sales a day.

At $2.99, I made $87 a day.

At 99 cents, I'm now making $187 a day.

Now, the automatic reaction to this might be, "Wow, cheap prices = more money! I've got to lower the price of all my ebooks to 99 cents!"

But that assumption is incorrect.

My horror ebook, Trapped, which is currently ranked at #325 on Amazon, has sold 3640 copies this month. It is priced at $2.99, and I earn $2 per copy sold.

On Trapped, I'm earning $276 a day, selling 138 copies daily. For it to earn that at 99 cents, I'd have to sell 6 times as many copies, or 828.

Maybe I could, if it climbed high enough into the Top 100. Certainly the best selling ebooks are hitting higher numbers than that. But that's going after the two birds in the bush, when I'm pretty happy with the one currently in my hand.

The List, originally ranked at #1100, was a better gamble.

So what about my other titles? I have a few novels that are ranked higher than The List was. Should I drop their prices to 99 cents and see what happens?

Prior to this price change, I was selling 534 books a day of 14 other fiction titles, not including The List.

Currently, I'm selling 539 a day.

So my belief that a bestselling ebook improves the sales of backlist titles doesn't seem to have much merit.

Which means, based on the data I've accumulated, it might be a wise move to lower the prices on some of my other ebook novels. By guesstimate, if I have novels ranked over #1000, it stands to reason that I should drop them from $2.99 to 99 cents. But for novels ranked lower that #1000, it is too big a gamble, so I should leave those at $2.99.

My novel Shot of Tequila is my poorest selling ebook novel, currently ranked at #2523, and having sold 453 copies this month at $2.99 each.

I have just lowered the price on it to 99 cents.

I have no idea if sales will take off like they did with The List, or if Tequila can crack the Top 100. It might. It might not.

But I'll keep Tequila at 99 cents for two weeks and see what happens. Tequila is currently earning me $33 a day, averaging 16.5 copies daily.

In order to match that, I'll have to sell about 100 a day at 99 cents.

I'll start keeping track once the new price goes live.

It should be interesting to see what happens.

Even more interesting is a dilemma I haven't had to face yet. The List is currently in the Top 100 at 99 cents.

So when, if ever, should I switch the price back to $2.99?

Added: At 5:30pm Shot of Tequila was lowered to 99 cents on Amazon. Its rank is #1405, and I sold 483 copies so far in February.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Guest Post by Jeff Strand

My guest today is Jeff Strand. You may know know him as my co-author of Suckers and Draculas.

By coincidence, that's also how I may know him.

Anyway, Jeff has been at this ebook game longer than anyone. But we really can't give him props for that, because in 11 years of ebook sales he's made exactly $73.41.

That's $6.67 a year, before taxes. I'm posting this because a lot of my blog readers like hard numbers.

But now Jeff has finally decided to join the rest of us in 2011 and publish on Kindle, and...

Well, I'll let Jeff tell you.

The Long, Strange Trip of “The Sinister Mr. Corpse”
by Jeff Strand

My introduction to the world of e-books was back in 1999, when author Pauline Baird Jones encouraged me to send one of my novels to an electronic publisher. My initial reaction was “Sure, or, in a similar vein, I could print out my manuscript, sprinkle a little Fresh Step on top, and let my cat defile it.” But after a little more research, I decided to give it a try, and in 2000 three of my unpublished novels came out as e-books. (Out of Whack was also supposed to come out that year, but its route to publication was hampered by the minor detail that the publisher sucked.)

Back then, you were an “e-book author” before everything else. Stephen King had given the format a bit of legitimacy with Riding the Bullet, but 99.999% of the e-book authors were not Mr. King. I could’ve played a drinking game with the number of times I heard “Let me know when it’s a real book.” Despite my insistence that my publishers provided cover art, formatting, editing, etc. there was still a very real perception that E-Book = Self-Published = Crap.

But, hey, I threw myself into e-books full force. I spent three years on the board of EPIC, an e-book authors’ organization, two of them as President, and emceed the EPPIES awards banquet (in a tux!) nine times. I continue to emcee awards banquets (in June, I’ll emcee the Bram Stoker Awards for the third time) but I will never, ever, ever, ever be on the board of a writers’ organization ever, ever, ever again. That way lies a descent into the gaping jaws of madness.

In 2003, my novel Mandibles appeared in actual print, and was soon followed by a few others. It was print-on-demand and thus didn’t really appear in bookstore shelves, but the “When are you going to publish a real book?” question had been answered. I still liked e-books, but I was no longer required to be a passionate proponent of them to market my work. Sweeeeeet.

Though the hardcover edition of my 2006 novel Pressure was available as a $25 trade hardcover and did get bookstore distribution, almost all of my work after that was part of the limited edition market. Unlike e-books in 2000, hardcover limited edition horror novels had a built-in market, and books like The Sinister Mr. Corpse, Disposal, The Haunted Forest Tour, and Gleefully Macabre Tales all started out exclusively available in $35-$50 editions. It was fantastic, because these books looked incredible, but in terms of reaching actual readers…well, your potential audience is not huge when you’re offering 250 copies of a $50 book. Once again, the format overshadowed the content.

And then, in 2009, it finally happened. My first mass market release. The paperback edition of Pressure was in bookstores everywhere for $7.99. My sister picked one up at a military base in Korea and my dad got one in a grocery store in Alaska. There was nothing to block anybody from reading this book. It was cheap and easily available. If you wanted a copy of Pressure, by golly you could get a copy of Pressure. Dweller followed. Suddenly, it was ALL about the content. There was nothing to explain except that it was about being best buddies with a serial killer.

I did a ton of book signings for it, and what question kept coming up? “Is it available for my e-book reader?” Being polite, I did not shout “Are you freakin’ KIDDING ME??? It’s a $7.99 paperback on the table right in front of you!”

In 2010, I looped around right back to where I’d started, with Draculas, a novel written exclusively for the e-book market. It wasn’t quite where I started, because this time I was piggybacking off JA Konrath, F. Paul Wilson, and Blake Crouch, but still, the world of publishing had changed to the point where it actually made sense to not even try to get a print contract!

In 2011, I looped around again with The Sinister Mr. Corpse…except that this time, there wasn’t even the cry of “It’s not self-published! My publisher is like any other publisher except for the format! I’m a real author, dammit!” The Sinister Mr. Corpse is a self-published e-book. Eleven years later, after clawing my way up through the ranks, getting my work in a format that everybody in the world would agree was a “real” book…I decided that the best home for my zombie comedy novel was to upload it to Amazon and Smashwords myself.

I can’t deny that there’s an element of frustration in watching the market change just as I broke through, but at the same time, it’s incredibly exciting. I can control the price. Upload it whenever I think it’s ready. Write whatever the hell I want. I have to admit that I’m nowhere near ready to abandon the pursuit of traditional publishing, and my next novel is going to my agent and not Amazon…but still, the freedom, and the possibilities the whole Kindle revolution offers are jaw-dropping.

Unless The Sinister Mr. Corpse tanks. Then I’ll be completely bitter.

Jeff Strand's 10 Reasons Why You MUST Buy The Sinister Mr. Corpse

1. I Was E-Published Before It Was Cool

Graverobbers Wanted (No Experience Necessary) was published as an e-book in May 2000. Back then, if you were e-published, everybody thought you SUCKED! You were a LOSER! I suffered for the technology! There was none of this “Oooooh, how I love my Kindle!” sentiment. I practically got beat up in playgrounds over this.

2. It’s Dirt-Cheap

It’s $2.99. Have you ever heard of an e-book only costing $2.99? Well, yeah, lots of them are these days, but still…$2.99 for a novel? That’s madness! Honestly, when you finish reading The Sinister Mr. Corpse you’re going to feel like a criminal for having gotten it so cheap. And there’s no better feeling than the adrenaline rush of committing a crime, even if it’s a white-collar crime like this one.

3. You Don’t Need A Kindle (Though They’re Awesome)

The Smashwords edition is available in a bunch of different formats, covering pretty much any e-way you’d want to read it, and you can re-download it if you change your mind. The Amazon edition does not have DRM (digital rights management) enabled, so if you use Blake Crouch’s handy guide you can convert it to whatever format you want.

You can also download the Kindle app (for free!) for your PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, ColecoVision, or whatever and read the Kindle editions that way. The download links are on the right side of the Amazon ordering page.

This also means that you could copy and share it pretty easily, but if you do, I’ll hunt your e-pirating ass to the ends of the earth.

4. It’s Suitable For Zombie Fans and Zombie Haters

Love zombies? It’s a zombie novel! Hate zombies? It’s a satire! It’s the ultimate in have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too storytelling. If you’re humorless and grim, it’s possible that you won’t enjoy this book all that much, but that’s what my novel Pressure is for.

5. People Kinda Like It

“For pure, unadulterated, foul-mouthed, off-the-wall Strand at his humor-horror sarcastic best there is nothing that comes close to The Sinister Mr. Corpse.” — Savannah Now

“Those expecting the typical apocalyptic world full of flesh eating corpses will quickly realize they are in for a different treat altogether. For those familiar with Mr. Strand’s popular Andrew Mayhem novels, take the witty banter, sharp one liners and laugh out loud moments, and then turn it up a notch or three.” — Horror World

“With loads of relentless action and characters that make reading seem more like eavesdropping, The Sinister Mr. Corpse will have even the biggest stiffs among us laughing all the way to the grave.” — Rue Morgue

I liked it, but Strand is a tool. J.A. Konrath, millionaire author

6. If You Don’t Buy A Copy, In Three Days You Will Be Walking Down The Sidewalk, Lost In Thought, And An Ice Cream Truck’s Brakes Will Fail, Causing The Vehicle To Careen Off The Road And Splatter You Like A Melted Cherry Popsicle.

Sorry, but it’s true.

7. If You Do Buy A Copy, In Three Days You’ll See An Adorable Orphan Walking Down The Sidewalk, Lost In Thought, And Because Your Senses Are Hyper-Aware From Having Read The Sinister Mr. Corpse, You’ll Save Him From An Out-Of-Control Ice Cream Truck, And Get A Reward That’s Way More Than The $2.99 You Spent.

Awesome, huh?

8. It’s Not Another Frickin’ Mash-Up

I’m not suggesting that Pride & Prejudice & Zombies was not the single most brilliant idea of the 21st century, because it totally was, but maybe you’re getting sick of authors saying “In my mash-up novel, you can’t tell which parts were written by me and which parts were written by F. Scott Fitzgerald!” You can buy The Sinister Mr. Corpse with confidence, knowing that none of it came from a public domain work by an author whose skills are far superior to my own.

9. I’m Saying “Please.”


10. Stick It To The Man!

The Sinister Mr. Corpse is my first venture into the world of self-publishing, and every time you buy a copy, some man is getting stuck! Fight the power! Support the little guy by heading over to Amazon right now and…okay, yeah, I’ll admit that Amazon fits the criteria of The Man, so you’re actually sort of supporting The Man instead of sticking it to him, but, still, they’ve created a world where I can self-publish a novel for the Kindle without people saying “You suck!!!” (See Item #1 above.)

Click HERE to get it from Amazon.

Click HERE to get it from Smashwords.

Joe sez: If you want to win some Jeff Strand books, head over to All Purpose Monkey's Blog and follow the instructions.

I'm proud that Jeff is finally releasing his work on Kindle, after I've been screaming at him for two years to do so. Strand, like Barry Eisler, is proof that you can lead a mentally challenged horse to water and make them drink, but it takes twenty-four months of nagging.

Also, for those who are still reading, here's my review of The Sinister Mr. Corpse:

Lately I've been accused of "shilling" reviews for my writing friends.

That's complete and total absurdness.

I do write a lot of 5 star reviews for friends of mine because I truly love their work, and it deserves five stars.

I never write a 5 star review simply because I like someone. Especially in this case.

While The Sinister Mr. Corpse is a laugh aloud horrific romp and well worth the low price, I'm not giving it 5 stars because I like the author, Jeff Strand.

In fact, Jeff is a jerk. A jerk, a ninny, a butthead, and a lowlife.

Now, Strand may get on his high horse (as per usual) and claim that I'm calling him a poopypants because I'm envious of his writing ability.

Nothing could be more untrue.

While Strand is, admittedly, an excellent writer, I'm not the type to be envious of anyone.

But I do feel a need to warn everyone who may come into contact with Jeff Strand to arm yourself with some pepper spray if he gets feisty, and a portable video game if he starts talking, because hooo boy that guy can TALK. And he never says anything the slightest bit interesting. He's lucky he's gets paid for being a writer, not for giving speeches, because he's so bland he could bore monks. His delivery is slower than a snail surfing on molasses. He's so full of hot air that HE is the true cause Global Warming.

You get the idea.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah.

The Sinister Mr. Corpse: 5 Stars

Jeff Strand: 1 Star, because these isn't an option for zero

Trust me. I'm an author.

Friday, February 25, 2011

JA Konrath Interviews Barry Eisler

If you spend any reasonable amount of time with me (more than ten seconds), I eventually will begin evangelizing ebooks and self-publishing. While I've stopped doing this in public (with the exception of this blog), all of my peers who talk to me on a regular basis wind up getting an earful.

As a result, most of my friends have given self-publishing a try. Henry Perez and I have done Floaters. Blake Crouch and I have worked on so many ebook projects together I've lost count, the latest of which is Killers, the sequel to Serial. F. Paul Wilson has jumped into self-pubbing his backlist. I helped Robert Walker get his backlist live. Jeff Strand (who does a guest post HERE) after years of self-pubbing is finally plunging into the Kindlesphere. Ann Voss Peterson and I finished a short story that will go live, and are halfway through a collaborative novel. Lee Goldberg has gone from being vehemently against self-pubbing to endorsing it in certain instances.

And now, after two years of nagging, Barry Eisler has finally given self-publishing a try.

Barry is an interesting case study for a few reasons. First, because he's an international bestseller who commands big advances. Second, because even though I've been telling him for years he needs to write a short story, he never had.

Until now.

Barry used the incomparable Rob Siders to do the formatting for Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords, and the amazingly talented Carl Graves to create the terrific cover (which includes a photo Eisler took of the titular location using his iPhone.)

The result is The Lost Coast, a slick, fast-paced thriller short that went from idea to live in two short weeks. Here's the description:

For Larison, a man off the grid and on the run, the sleepy northern California town of Arcata, gateway to the state's fabled Lost Coast, seems like a perfect place to disappear for a while. But Arcata isn't nearly as sleepy as it seems, and when three locals decide Larison would make a perfect target for their twisted sport, Larison exacts a lifetime of vengeance in one explosive evening.

Includes an excerpt from the new John Rain novel, The Detachment (available soon), featuring Larison, Rain, Dox, Treven, and others. Also includes a fun interview with novelist J.A. Konrath.

Warning: this story is intended for mature audiences, and contains depictions of sexual activity, though perhaps not in the way you're expecting. 6600 words.

You can read more details about The Lost Coast on Eisler's website and blog.

Barry's ebook novels, released through his publishers, range from $5.99 to $9.99, so $2.99 seemed like the sweet spot for an original story.

How has it worked for him?

In 24 hours he's sold several hundred copies, and is currently ranked on Kindle at #566.

Included in the ebook is a Q&A I did with Barry, which I'm posting here for my blog readers. And it should go without saying that I loved the story, it's awesome, go buy it.

Barry will also be hanging around my blog for a bit, so if you have any questions for him, or just want to welcome him to the dark side, do so in the comments.

Q&A: J.A. Konrath Interviews Barry Eisler

Joe: Correct me if I’m wrong (not), but I believe The Lost Coast is your very first short story. Why haven’t you visited this form before?

Barry: Because you’ve never suggested it to me, you bastard.

Kidding, obviously — my reluctance has been despite your frequent blandishments, and I’m glad you finally got through to me. I think there were a number of factors. The thought of appearing in an anthology or magazine never really excited me that much, even though an anthology or magazine placement could be a good advertisement for a novel. And probably I was a little afraid to try my hand at the new form (though now that I have, I think I must have been crazy. Short stories are a blast to write). In the end, I think it was the combination of knowing I could reach the huge new audience digital publishing has made possible and make money doing it. Plus you just wore me down.

Joe: I really liked the Larison character in Inside Out. Though he’s one of the antagonists in that book, I wouldn’t actually label him a villain. He’s more of an anti-hero, sort of a darker, scarier version of John Rain. Why did you decide to write a short about him?

Barry: As usual, it wasn’t a conscious plan; more something influenced by my interests, travel, and reading habits. Anyone who reads my blog, Heart of the Matter, knows I’m passionate about equal rights for gays. At some point, I was reading something about gay-bashing, and I had this idea... what if a few of these twisted, self-loathing shitbags picked the absolutely wrongest guy in the world to jump outside a bar? That was the story idea that led to The Lost Coast.

Joe: The ending of Lost Coast is pretty ballsy (in more ways than one.) You could have gone a more conservative route, but you didn’t wimp out and shy away from what I feel is a laudable climax. Are you purposely inviting controversy? Was this the story you intended to tell from the onset?

Barry: I imagined it from the beginning as a pretty rough story — a little about redemption, a lot about revenge. But midway through it got darker than I’d originally envisioned. Thanks for saying I didn’t wimp out because for me, the story was being driven by Larison, who while being a fascinating guy is also a nasty piece of work. When I’m writing a character like Larison, there’s always a temptation to soften him a little to make him more palatable to more readers, but in the end I’ve always managed to resist that (misguided) impulse. For the story to come to life, you have to trust the character as you’ve conceived him and as he presents himself to you. For better or worse (I’d say better), that’s what I’ve done with Larison.

Joe: After this interview, there’s an excerpt from the upcoming seventh John Rain novel, The Detachment. This is also a sequel to Fault Line and Inside Out, featuring your hero Ben Treven. It also showcases Larison, Dox, and a few other characters from your past novels. Was it your intention all along to bring both of your series together?

Barry: I’m afraid that “all along” and related concepts will probably always elude me. Usually I get an idea for the next book while I’m working on the current one, and that’s what happened while I was working on Inside Out. I thought, “With what Hort’s up to, what he really needs is an off-the-books, totally deniable, awesomely capable natural causes specialist. So what has Rain been doing since Requiem for an Assassin? And how would Hort get to him? Through Treven and Larison, naturally... and the next thing I knew, I was working on The Detachment. It’s like the Dirty Dozen, but deadlier. Plus there’s sex.

Joe: Your sex scenes tend to err toward the aggressive side. That isn’t a question. It’s an understatement. The question is, why do you think the US is so repressed when it comes to sex in the media, especially homosexuality, and at the same time so tolerant of violence?

Barry: George Carlin had some typically wonderful insights on this subject in his book, Brain Droppings. When you look at not just our laws on drugs and prostitution, but the whole approach to those laws (unlike just about any other regulated area, drugs and prostitution are dealt with without any weighing of costs and benefits), it becomes obvious America has some hangups about pleasure. With regard to homosexuality specifically, some of the craziness is probably driven by self-hatred; some by the need for an Other to denigrate (Orwell was all over this); some just by inertia. As for the relative comfort with depictions of violence as opposed to sex, I’ve never understood that, either, because in fiction I obviously enjoy them both

Joe: Will we be seeing more short stories from Barry Eisler?

Barry: Yes! Got a great idea for a Rain/Delilah short set in Paris in the period between the end of Requiem for an Assassin and the kickoff of The Detachment. The research, the research...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The List Experiment Update

For those of you just tuning in, on Feb 15th I dropped the price of my technothriller novel, The List, from $2.99 to 99 cents on Kindle and Nook.

As of 2/15/2011 7:30pm, The List had sold 592 copies sold on Kindle this month. That had earned me about $1200.

Here were the Amazon rankings prior to changing the price:

#1,078 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery & Thrillers > Police Procedurals

in Books > Mystery & Thrillers > Police Procedurals

in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Action & Adventure

Now nine days into the experiment, here are the new numbers:

#123 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

#2 in Books > Mystery & Thrillers > Police Procedurals

in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery & Thrillers > Police Procedurals

in Books > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Action & Adventure

So we've seen a dramatic increase in sales.

But is it enough of an increase?

At $2.99, I was earning $2.03 per download. And I was selling an average of 43 ebooks a day.

At 99 cents, I only earn 35 cents per download. I'm now averaging 205 sales a day.

At $2.99, I made $87 a day.

At 99 cents, I'm making $71 a day.

But in the last few days, The List has been selling stronger, averaging about 250 sales a day. If it can hold that number, or do even better, that's $87 a day--matching what it made at $2.99.

This is curious. At first glance, it seems like price and profit have found an equilibrium.

But there are obvious certain benefits to the 99 cent price point. Because it is now higher on the bestseller lists, it is seen more often. And 99 cents is more of an impulse purchase.

I like this book, and so do readers, and it's logical that the more people I get to read it, the more potential fans I'll make, and those fans will probably so and buy my other, more expensive ebooks.

What I've done here is the equivalent of putting turkey on sale for 19 cents a pound at the grocery store. The sale brings people in, then they buy other items that aren't on sale.

So is it working? Are my other sales going up?

Prior to this price change, I was selling 534 books a day of 14 other fiction titles, not including The List.

After the price change, I've been selling 547 books a day.

So there's a slight raise, which adds up to about $12 a day.

Now, this isn't a perfect experiment. I also launched a new ebook, KILLERS, this week. While I'm not including the KILLERS numbers, it has increased my virtual shelf space, and might be a small factor in slightly higher overall sales.

On the surface, this experiment looks to break even for me monetarily. But I won't know for sure until I get more data.

However, if The List does crack the Top 100, then these numbers could indicate that I'll make more money at 99 cents, both on that ebook and on my backlist, than I did at $2.99.

I've still got a ways to go. Last night, The List was ranked as low as #112. If it can stick around this rank until the weekend (when people buy a lot of books) then I may have a shot at the elusive Top 100. I've hit it three times before, but those were with new releases. The List has been on Kindle for two years.

Wouldn't it be amusing if it hit the bestseller list after two years of sales?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Time Is Money

Here's a concept that is tough to wrap your head around, but it needs to be addressed.


First, it's important to understand that in traditional publishing (which my friend Barry Eisler calls "Legacy Publishing"), time moves slowly.

When your agent sells you novel, it can take several months to get the contract.

Once you sign the contract, it can be months before you're paid.

Once you turn in the manuscript, it can be months, or even over a year, before your book is published.

The large, inefficient, unwieldy industry that is legacy publishing is painfully slow.

Because it takes so long, there is often a date set for publication. Some call this the sale date, or the release date. For bigger books, all bookstores hold off selling the title until this date arrives, so all retailers have an equal chance to sell it.

Prior to the release date, there's a lot of pre-launch promo that happens. Advertising, pre-orders, interviews, reviews--all of this hype is to build a buzz for the release, so everyone buys it. The more people that buy it during its first week of release, the bigger the book's chances at getting on a bestseller list.

This model usually results in big sales right away, then a trickle down until the sales reach a steady level, or eventually fall to nothing and the book goes out of print. This can take months, or even years, to happen. But it's always the same: start selling strong, then eventually sell very few, as the book is no longer regularly stocked on the bookstore shelves (or if it is stocked, it isn't in the quantities it once was.)

But release dates don't apply to ebooks. There is no reason to delay a release. What took two years for a legacy publisher can be done in two weeks by self-pubbing. Holding off on publishing the book is like letting money slip through your fingers.

It can take up to 18 months after the release date in order to get an accurate count on how well a book sells. That's because publishers often hold back reserves against returns. Since books are returnable for full price, they don't count copies shipped as copies sold, so they don't pay the author for a certain percentage of titles shipped.

You would think that publishers would pay the author on monies received from the retailer, but that would make too much sense, which means legacy publishing doesn't do that.

So the time you finish the book, until the time you get your first accurate royalty statement (and hopefully a royalty check to go with it), is usually around 3 years.

In them meantime, the only money you received for that book is the advance money. And since only 1 out of 5 books actually earns out the advance, that money may be the only money you ever see.

Now let's compare that to self-publishing.

When you write a book you plan on publishing yourself, you don't get an advance. That's a minus, especially if you'd like a large chunk of money upfront.

But that large chunck of money shouldn't be thought of as a payout. It should be thought of as a loan. More specifically, a balloon loan, which costs you more and more money as the years pass.

Self-pubbing doesn't give you money up front. But you make money sooner. And you ultimately make more money.

Scenario #1 - Legacy Publishing

1. Write a book - Takes as long as it takes.
2. Find an agent - Takes weeks to years. (it took me 8 years to land an agent)
3. Find a publisher - Takes weeks to months. (it took me 6 months to sell Afraid)
4. Get the contract - Takes weeks to months (I've heard 3 months from handshake to contract)
5. Get the advance money - Takes weeks to months (usually around 6 weeks)
6. Book is published - Takes 6 to 18 months after contract is signed (Whiskey Sour took 19 months). During this time all of the work is done on the book, editing, proofing, cover design, typesetting, printing, promotion, etc.
7. Get your first accurate royalty statement on how well the book sold (18 months after pub date)

Scenario #2 - Self Publishing
1. Write a book - Takes as long as it takes.
2. Edit, proofread, format, design cover, upload. - Takes one or two weeks.
3. Book is published - Two weeks or less after the book was written.
4. Get your first accurate sales figures - The next day, and every day after that.
5. Get paid - Two months after publication, and once a month after that.

Now, since time=money, which the the better scenario for the writer?

Technically, you get paid faster with self-publishing, though normally the check isn't as big as an advance will be. (I say "normally) because we earned over $5k the first month Draculas was released, and $5k is still the average advance for a debut author.)

Crazy as it sounds, every day your book isn't being sold, is a day lost that you could have been earning money.

The legacy publishing scenario--sell a bunch on the release, then trickle down to nothing--doesn't apply to ebooks. Ebooks often follow a bell curve. Sell a few at first, gain momentum and sell a lot, then gradually decrease in sales until they sell steadily.

In some ebook cases, it is more like a many-humped snake, with sales rising and falling for no discernible reason. I've had ebooks sell really well, then drop a bit for a month, then sell even more the month after that. Instead of the standard bell, the graph looks more like a snake going up a staircase--a wavy line on a gradual overall incline.

That's because ebooks NEVER stop selling. They aren't dependent on coop or shelf space. They don't get remaindered or stripped and returned.

If you look at many of the indies in the current Top 100 Kindle Bestsellers, most took months to get on that list. If they'd been legacy published, they would have been returned before they found their audience.

So, if you have an agent shopping a manuscript around, every day your book isn't for sale is a day you're not getting paid.

But Joe, you may ask, what about multiple book deals? Even if you never earn out your advance, won't you make more money annually because you keep signing contracts with a legacy publisher?

Let's look at the numbers. Imagine you signed a two book deal for $500k, and then signed another two book deal for $500k right afterward. Let's assume each $250k is paid out over a three year period.

A two book deal for $500k, minus agent commission, is $71k per book per year for three years.

This means you're getting $71k per book per year. So how quickly does this accrue?

Year 1: $71K
Year 2: $142K (because you also got paid for book 2 that you turned in)
Year 3: $213K (3rd year for book 1, 2nd year for book 2, 1st year for book 3)
Year 4: $213K (3rd year for book 2, 2nd year for book 3, 1st year for book 4)
Year 5: $213K (same as above)
Year 6: $213K (same as above)

and so on as long as you keep getting contracts.

Now let's look at self pubbing.

Year 1: $53K (based on 1600 sales a month at $3.99--a conservative estimate compared to some of my novels, which sell 2000-4000 a month)
Year 2: $106K (book 1 still earning, plus now book 2)
Year 3: $159K (books 1, 2, 3 all earning)
Year 4: $212K (books 1, 2, 3, 4 all earning)
Year 5: $265K (books 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 all earning)
Year 6: $318K (all 6 books earning)

and so on, each year adding $53K.

So in six years, you made $1,065,000 through a traditional publisher.

On your own, you made $1,113,000 by self pubbing.

And each year after 6, you keep accruing.

I'll make $500,000 this year, with six novels, a collaborative novel, and a bunch of short stories, novellas, and collections.

You may make a bit more with a traditional deal the first few years, but then it becomes a very bad deal compared to self-pubbing. Akin to buying life insurance where you keep paying more per month for a diminishing final payoff.

And these numbers don't take into account how quickly you get paid.

Book launches are no longer necessary in self-publishing. In fact, every day the book isn't released, is a day it isn't earning money. And those days can add up, when compared to a legacy publishing schedule.

Let's say you already have an agent, and a completed manuscript.

If it takes six months to sell, you could have earned $26,000 on your own during that time.

If she finds a publisher, you could have made another $9000 in the time it takes to sign the contract and get the advance check.

By the time the book comes out (let's say 12 months later), you could have made another $52,000.

Does that big advance still look as attractive?

On a single book, with a $250k deal, you'd have made $212,500 from the day you finished writing it until you got your first accurate royalty statement, which is 40 months later (could be longer.)

In that same 40 months, you could have made $176,000 on your own. But the money keeps coming in, month after month, year after year.

Assuming you earn out your advance and sell 1600 ebooks a month at $5.99 through legacy pubbing (which is 25% royalties minus Amazon and agent fees, which equals 14.9%) you'll earn $16,700 a year after that.

With self pubbing, you'll continue to earn $53k a year.

See what I mean about a balloon loan or a bad life insurance policy?

At ten years, even if you earn out your advance of $212k you'll wind up earning around $328,000.

In ten years, self-pubbing, that book would have earned $530,000.

Now I'm being VERY broad with the numbers here. They don't include print sales (though I'm now making $100 a day on my self pubbed print books) because it assumea that within five years, print will be a subsidiary right.

It also assumes a $5.99 ebook will sell as many copies as a $3.99 ebook, which it won't. The $3.99 will sell many more.

And it assumes you'll earn out your $212k advance, when likely you won't.

It also assumes you'll sell well. You might not sell well self-pubbing. You might not sell well legacy pubbing, either.

But at least with self-pubbing you have forever to find that audience. An ebook selling poorly for a year is still earning some money. A book looking for an agent or an editor isn't making any money at all. And even if it does find a publisher, by the time it is published, you could have already made a nice bit of money.

And let's face it: very few authors get $250k advances.

Time=money. You can start making money as soon as your book is finished. Or you can spend months to years looking for an agent, selling the book, getting it published, hoping for a big advance, hoping it does well enough to earn out that advance. And even then, if the book earned out a big advance, you'll then be locked into a contract that pays you 14.9% instead of 70%.

That's a bad deal.

Instead of waiting around, crossing your fingers, to ultimately get screwed, self-pubbing is a much faster, and more lucrative, way to go.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


For the three of you who don't have ereaders yet, SHAKEN, the seventh Jack Daniels thriller, is available in print today. is currently pricing it at a paltry $7.75.

It's also available in various audio formats.

Those just tuning in might not know that SHAKEN's journey to publication has been a long, strange one.

I'll recap.

Though my previous six Jack Daniels novels are still in print and earning money, my publisher, Hyperion, decided that they didn't want to make any more money and didn't pick up the seventh book.

My agent shopped it around to three or four other publishers. No one bit. I went on to write some other books, got a little bit of traction with ebook sales, and then got an offer for SHAKEN from a major publisher.

I passed on the offer. I figured I'd release SHAKEN on my own.

Then AmazonEncore came into the picture. We struck a deal for them to publish SHAKEN in ebook, print, and audio formats. Encore had more marketing muscle than I did, and the ability to get books into bookstores was alluring.

The ebook version was released in October for $2.99, and I've been pleased with the sales.

Preorders for the print version of SHAKEN have been strong. If will be interesting to see how the book does. Especially since STIRRED, the final Jack Daniels book, will be coming out later this year.

Monday, February 21, 2011

KILLERS (Sequel to Serial) at the Cutting Edge of Collaboration

This was a Google docs conversation done in real-time between Blake Crouch and Joe Konrath.

BLAKE: So, Joe, you’re watching me type this, right? Even though we live over a thousand miles apart...

JOE: I am. And you're watching me type this. In fact, I'll purposely make a typo, and watch you correct it as I'm finishing the sentence (which you just did.)

We're using Google docs (, which is an online storage method that allows several contributors to all have simultaneous access to a single document.

Now you and I have collaborated on many previous projects. For the original SERIAL, we each wrote our introductory sections, then wrote the third part together by trading emails. It was cool, but not very fast.

Then, for Draculas, we used Dropbox ( which allowed us and the other two authors (Jeff Strand, F. Paul Wilson) to all save and access MS Word documents by sharing the same folders on four different computers. While that was cool, Google docs is even cooler.

BLAKE: Before we started writing KILLERS, which we can talk about in a minute, we did a dry run on Google docs, just to test the software out. I knew immediately that it was going to change the way we collaborated. For people unfamiliar with Google docs, I’ll explain what it’s like to be in the document.

It looks like a standard Word doc, with some formatting toolbars at the top. The difference is, I not only see my cursor, I see Joe’s as well, which is pink at the moment. While I’m typing, I see you typing, and at first, that can be a little jarring and distracting (particularly when you correct or change a sentence as I type, like you’re doing right now!).

I can scroll up and down the doc while you write, but it doesn’t scroll the document for you. I feel like this makes the collaboration process so much faster, easier, and more interactive. You?

JOE: It's pretty cool. I never would have guessed that co-writing could be so easy. While it is a bit odd at first to see someone changing the sentence as I write it, it actually is both time-saving and simpler than going back and doing multiple rewrites. Two pairs of eyes on the same story at the same time means it takes less than half the time finish.

As for writing over each other, we worked out a system. When one of us is finished for the moment, we type a #. That means I'm ready for you to pick up the scene, or vice-versa.

BLAKE: I have a hunch that Google docs is responsible for KILLERS being three times as long as SERIAL. The writing just seemed to flow in this format. I felt more immersed in these scenes than the ones in SERIAL, because I could watch my co-writer create them in real time, and he could watch me. I have never experienced a collaborative situation like this before.

JOE: Do you think it might be daunting for potential collaborators to try and write together using Google docs? Some writers are slower, more deliberate. Others despise their first drafts and don't let anyone see them until they've been reworked extensively.

BLAKE: It could absolutely be daunting, and probably not something to just dive into without doing a little experimenting first, to make sure you’re comfortable with your co-writers. If you’re overly protective of your sentences, or don’t like someone looking over your shoulder while you write, this may not be the approach for you. But I find this method helps me to think faster on my feet, and lets the scene evolve more organically, instead of it being overly-thought out. On my own, I’m a slower, more methodical writer, and sometimes that has its drawbacks. Sometimes, you just need a freestyle approach to challenge yourself.

One of the other things we used was Skype, so that we could send each other instant messages while we were in the Google doc. Frequently, we’d IM each other, with something like, “I’m not feeling that line,” or, in one case, “are you sure you want to take the story in that direction?”

JOE: What I actually messaged you was: "You really want to stick that up her ass?" BTW, that turned out to be my favorite scene in the novella.

BLAKE: And I did, and it turned out to be my fave scene in the novella (ha! - we just wrote that at the same time). The thing about Google docs, is that it strips away all barriers to collaboration, most importantly time. So if you can get comfortable with your co-writer(s) and let your guard down and allow them access to the way you write, it can really take the story to unexpected and spontaneous places. That’s what I love most about this software.

JOE: I love correcting your mediocre prose as you write it. Saves me the time of having to try and explain to you why it isn't working.

But seriously, my truly favorite part is when we're both working on the same section at the same time and then start

BLAKE: finishing each other's thoughts.

JOE: LOL. Yeah. It is truly instantaneous, and really gets the creative juices flowing. It's the written equivalent of a conversation. But it's a conversation you can change, shape, and mold, and it is forever saved as a document.

Damn, I sound like a paid spokesman.

BLAKE: Wish Google was paying us. At least the software is free.

JOE: So let's talk about working on KILLERS, and what it's about (other than things in asses.)

BLAKE: It’s the sequel to the short story, SERIAL, which featured Donaldson (written by you), a psychopath who drives around picking up hitchhikers and killing them, and Lucy, my character, a hitchhiker who travels around the country killing the drivers who have the misfortune and poor judgment to give her a ride.

At the end of SERIAL they were both involved in a horrific accident of their own making. I think everyone assumed they were dead, but, as often happens with popular characters, they found a way into a sequel. In this case, they each wake up in a hospital room on the same floor, gravely injured, under arrest, but still wanting desperately to finish what they started--to kill each other.

JOE: We got over one hundred 1 star reviews for SERIAL, so of course we had to write more about these two. And once again we followed the same structure. You wrote a scene. I wrote a scene. We didn't show each other our scenes. Then we hopped into Google docs and tried to kill each other.

It was like playing tennis, or paintball, or chess, because we were both trying to win. While our characters interacted, we didn't use any interior monologue, so we didn't know what the other one was thinking, or any of the prior set-up (how injured they were, the weapons they carried, the plan they had.)

I can't think of anything I've ever written that was more creative, spontaneous, and downright fun.

BLAKE: In some ways, writing like this feels more like a performance than the drudgery of solitary writing or even standard collaboration. What you just wrote is accurate. It’s like playing a game. Cause and effect unfolding right before your eyes and although we have a broad idea of where we’re going, the journey from A to B is constantly a surprise.

We had a blast writing KILLERS

JOE: And writing this quickie interview.

BLAKE: and I hope that translates into a more intense experience for the reader. I also hope more writers explore collaboration through software like this, because it really stretches different muscles than sitting alone at a keyboard, slogging your way through a story.

JOE: Now I encourage everyone reading this to buy KILLERS, and judge if the story works or not. It's available right now on Amazon for $2.99, and will soon be available on Nook and every other ebook format.

Buy it right now, or I'm deleting my blog. :)


Guess who's back?

A sequel two years in the making...

First there was SERIAL...

Acclaimed thriller writers Blake Crouch and Jack Kilborn pitted their skills against each other in a psychotic game of serial murder. Crouch wrote about Lucy, a hitchhiker who killed drivers. Kilborn wrote about Donaldson, a driver who killed hitchhikers. Then they brought their characters together and tried to slaughter one another on the page.

SERIAL has been downloaded over 350,000 times. The film rights have been optioned, and it is currently available as an ebook, in print in various collections, and forthcoming in audio.

Now comes KILLERS...

At the end of SERIAL, Donaldson and Lucy didn't die. When they each wake up in a hospital, under arrest for their crimes and guarded by the police, each burns with a single, overwhelming desire:

To escape and finish what they started.

That's going to be difficult with the deputies posted outside their hospital rooms and their life-threatening injuries, but these killers are hell-bent on finding a way.

Beyond a thrilling piece of horrifying suspense, KILLERS takes the collaborative literary experiment begun in SERIAL to the next level. Crouch wrote the first part. Kilborn wrote the second, and then, unaware of each other's opening section, they wrote the third part together in a Google Doc where they could simultaneously write in real time. All bets were off, and may the best psycho win.

At 18,500 words, KILLERS is a full-length novella, almost three times the length of SERIAL. This ebook contains KILLERS, a Q&A with Kilborn and Crouch, author bibliographies, and excerpts of Crouch's BREAK YOU, and Kilborn's, Konrath's and Crouch's SERIAL UNCUT.