Thursday, February 10, 2011

Guest Post by Guido Henkel

My guest poster today is an interesting case.

On one hand, I've never seen a more professional self-published writer. Guido Henkel's website for his Jason Dark series, his covers, and his methodical, smart approach to selling books would be envied by any of the Big 6. His blog has a terrific, step-by-step instruction on how to format e-books, and is worth studying.

So surely his ebooks must be selling like crazy. Right?

Read on...

Things you can do if your book is not selling so well
by Guido Henkel

There has never been a better time for authors to publish their own work, no doubt, and in recent months we’ve read a lot on these pages about successful indie authors who have managed to not only carve out a niche for themselves but actually make a living with their self-published books.

Unfortunately, not everyone has reached that point just yet.

While there is certainly a pattern evident in what these authors did in order to achieve this kind of success, it is clearly not a reciprocal process and doing the same thing does not necessarily guarantee the same kind of success for other authors and books. I think many of these elements are simply a necessity in order to “make it” at all, such as proper covers, strong descriptions, etc. Therefore, to set yourself apart from other authors and increase your discoverability, I have always felt that you sometimes have to think outside the box and create promotions that get attention simply because they are a little unusual. As you will see, I have tried to do that on a number of occasions, though with limited success.

Especially when your books are sitting in the midfield the need to be proactive is, I think, imperative. I am not only talking merely about posting on message boards and using social networking, but also the critical examination of one’s own work.

When I first realized the books were not selling to my expectations, I decided to rework the covers. The original layout of the covers (shown above) was designed with print booklets in mind, featuring a recurring theme that went through then entire series along with highly detailed cover artwork. While the books look gorgeous in print - at least in my eyes - when reduced to thumbnails, none of the detail remained. In fact, it was virtually impossible to recognize anything other than perhaps the Jason Dark logo.

With that in mind, a rework of the covers was in order, specifically for the eBook versions, to bring out the focal point of the cover artwork and complementing the images with larger titles.

I like the new covers much better for eBooks and have no intention of going back to the print covers for those channels - although I still use the original print covers inside the eBooks for illustrative purposes.

Another change I made over time was the price point. Each volume in the series sells for $2.99 and no matter what anyone thinks, to me that is a good and realistic price point, even though these are novella-length releases. I have never bought into the magic of the 99 cent price tag, and I still don’t, but I gave it a try. For a limited time I offered the first volume in the series for 99 cents to introduce more readers to the series, hoping that it would lead to an upsell of the other parts in the series.

Although I saw my sales triple, roughly, clearly this was a losing proposition. Given Amazon’s royalty structure - or the overhead cost of such minuscule credit card transactions on my own site for that matter - I would have had to sell at least six times as many copies. Unsurprisingly to me, that did not happen, and I decided to return to my original $2.99 price point. I may be selling less, but I’m making more money that way. I know, this has worked big time for some authors but in the case of “Jason Dark,” I did not find it as much of a driver as I expected.

I’ve been working in the entertainment industry for almost 30 years now and I know the importance of publicity. Even before the series was launched I approached the media with it to make sure I had coverage from day one, and it resulted in a nice launch with solid coverage across the web. The key to approaching media is to come across professionally. Not only does indie publishing have a stigma, what’s even worse is that every media outlet is swamped with requests for coverage these days. Even the most ordinary book blogger who started his site last week will find himself confronted with a pile of proposed submissions that is impossible to conquer.

It is even worse when you talk about major media, such as USA Today, the LA Times, etc. Nonetheless, I have had announcements on various major horror-related websites at the time, oftentimes followed up with solid reviews shortly after. Even Fangoria covered the series and gave it a full-page review, which is something that rarely happens. Personally, I like to attribute most of the willingness of these media outlets to support the series to the professional presentation of the books and the official website, which took me four months to put together painstakingly from scratch. From the beginning, the web presence of the series was designed as a destination all of its own and I included not only the ability for people to purchase books right from the site, but also message boards, the ability to leave reviews and ratings, all the way to free in-browser versions of all the books in the series. While I originally offered the full books for free there, I have since switched to a sample model, allowing only about 40% of the book to be read online.

Over the course of the past year I have also constantly approached bloggers and professional reviewers to get “Jason Dark” reviewed, with fairly good success I would say, as there are, at this time, roughly 50 reviews all over the web covering the series. Nonetheless, that is an endeavor that never stops, of course. Strangely enough, though, reviews on Amazon or Barnes&Noble have been very sparse and the few that are there are mostly reposts from those same bloggers. It has always amazed me how some books manage to be awash in customer reviews in very short periods of time, and somehow I have not figured out the magic formula for that yet. At the same time, I often feel it is the crux for success on Amazon and other channels. Too bad Amazon does not give authors information about page views, so it is impossible to gauge how many people may have looked at my books and decided not to buy them for one reason or another, but I am certain that customer reviews do drive sales.

All of this has been pretty much standard fare for any writer who self-publishes and takes his product seriously. However, I have also dabbled in promotions that are a bit more outside the usual box. To get people interested in the series I was able to secure a dedicated “Jason Dark: Ghost Hunter” panel during last year’s “Weekend of Horrors” in Los Angeles. This is one of the largest horror conventions in town, attracting not only fans but also major horror superstars. Apart from appearing on the panel and discussing the series, I also handed out hundreds of print copies of “Theater of Vampires.” As with any good promotion, the idea was to generate interest. Have people check out the sample book, hopefully read it, and look for more.

On another occasion I also gave away hundreds of copies of books during the Saturn Awards in Hollywood. This awards ceremony is gathering some of the Hollywood’s most talented, creative people to celebrate the movies they made. As a result, people like James Cameron, Sam Raimi, Leonard Nimoy and countless others got their very own look at “Jason Dark.” I did the same thing with the “Reaper Awards” later in the year, where every visitor found a copy of “Theater of Vampires” in their goodie bag.

Since horror fans are my main target group, “Jason Dark” also lent itself to a promotion with independent studio Blue Underground. We had thousands of advertising flyers packaged with their DVD and Blu-Ray release of the zombie classic “City of the Living Dead.” That way I was able to directly reach out to hardcore horror fans. Clearly, it was not the ideal movie for the purpose - a Hammer film would have been much more suitable - but it was worth a try. At the time I also approached Warner Brothers and Universal Studios to do the same thing in the DVD and Blu-Ray release of “Sherlock Holmes” and “The Wolf Man” respectively, but unfortunately the cost was prohibitive for my limited budget.

To me, these kinds of promotions have a lot of potential, even though they do cost a good bit of money, and I plan to revisit them again in the future. I think, now that the series is up to ten volumes, there is even more weight behind it, which can make a good bit of difference. It is no longer the new kid on the block.

Shortly after the launch of the series I also took out a full-page color ad in “Screem” magazine, a print publication that specializes on classic horror movies and I spent a lot of time at various conventions, handing out flyers to visitors, just to burn the name into people’s minds.

With all these cool things going on, surely, the “Jason Dark” series has turned into a hot property, you might think by now. However, you might be surprised that it still sits firmly in the lower midfield of the eBook catalog, with sales rankings in the 100,000s somewhere. So, in a way, my guns-blazing approach has not been quite as effective as I had originally envisioned. Why, I can’t tell you, just as Joe will never be able to put his finger on the one thing that makes his books sell. It might just be the constellation of stars, or karma. We will never know.

I don’t like sitting back and just taking things the way they are, as I am sure you can tell by now. Instead I began to look at my own work again, giving it a look-over. Maybe the problem lies somewhere else, after all. Maybe the problem is rooted in the product itself?

I have returned to taking a look at more basic things, such as the blurbs for my books, the first impression it creates on Amazon’s website, the first things a visitor of the product page will see. As I am writing this I am in the process of uploading new product descriptions to Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. Trying to tighten them up a little, making sure they are as impactful as possible might just be the way to turn prospective browser-window-shoppers into customers. Maybe, in the past, I have not been critical enough with some of my own work, but at this point in the game, I sure as hell am not giving up.

Joe sez: First of all, I'm amazed and impressed by how much Henkel has done to promote this series. He's attacked both tried-and-true methods of marketing--a website, appearance, ads--and he also thinks outside the box and tries new, imaginative ways to promote.

I bought the first Jason Dark ebook, Demon's Night, and found it to be exactly as Henkel describes, a fun, penny-dreadful horror novella, well written, well edited, and compelling.

So why isn't this guy selling?

Here's what I would do.

1. Experiment more with price. Dropping to 99 cents for a short period of time tripled his sales, but he then changed it back to $2.99 too quickly. I'd recommend pricing the first three books in the series at 99 cents, and leaving them there for at least two months. It's a drastic step, but there's really nothing to lose here. He needs to get on some of the genre bestseller lists to get noticed, and he won't get there with rankings of 100,000.

I price my novellas at 99 cents. $2.99 might be a tad too much for a novella. In figuring out the "value" of an ebook, I've determined that it has nothing to do with cover price. Value is determined by how much money an ebook earns. I have a feeling, if he dropped his prices, he'd eventually start selling six times what his is now selling, which means he'll earn more in the long run.

2. Bundle. The more virtual shelf space an author has, the better the chances of being discovered. Henkel has a good opportunity here to add to his shelf-space without having to write more. Why not try combining three Jason Dark novellas into one ebook, and selling that for $2.99? Or selling five ebooks in one package for $4.99? Lots of combinations and possibilities here, and since Henkel is already a pro at cover art and formatting, it won't cost him extra to do this.

3. Wait. I've said many times that the wonderful thing about ebooks is they are forever, and the shelf space is infinite. This means there is time for something to catch on and start selling. In every Kindle success story I've heard about, it took months, or years, before the author became a hit. While it is frustrating to be trying your best and not seeing fabulous sales, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Luck ALWAYS plays a part. It just can take a while. Which brings me to...

4. Keep writing. While ten books in the Jason Dark series is impressive, it might be time for Henkel to try something new. I have 19 ebooks on Kindle right now, with several more being released this year. I've got horror, thriller, mystery, humor, sci-fi, and even some poetry. And I have ZERO clue why some of my ebooks sell better than others. But diversity can only help people find you. And once they find you and like you, they'll buy more of your work.

5. Stop advertising. In my opinion, ads are a huge waste of money. I know a lot of ebook bestselling authors. None of them advertise. It isn't necessary, and in the case of ebooks, I think it's worthless. Also, I'm really not in love with all the ads on Henkel's home page. I'd be curious to know how much income they're bringing in, but in my opinion they'd have to bring in a lot of money to make up for the distraction they cause.

6. Createspace. Henkel's print books look pretty damn cool, but they aren't for sale on Amazon, probably because it's damn near impossible to to get self-pubbed books for sale. But I've found that print and ebook sales, linked together on Amazon, tend to enhance each other.

Createspace will print Henkel's books, and list them on He might need to bundle them in order to find a decent profit point, but the set-up cost is minimal ($39). There's really nothing to lose in trying.

Those are my immediate ideas. Does anyone have anything to add?


Justin D. Jacobson said...

Great post. It's nice to see a less-impressive recount of e-publishing to give a fuller picture of the landscape of things.

Interestingly, Chuck Wendig is discussing some of these very same issues on his blog regarding his recent decision to drop "Irregular Creatures" to 99 cents for a temporary sale: Irregular Creatures Sale

Unknown said...

Great guest post again, Joe. Thanks to Guido for sharing his experience.

Not surprisingly, I've read or heard at least 3 writing related sources mention Joe in the last week, and they continually reference his pre-existing traditional market as the reason for his eBook success.

I know it has been addressed here ad-nauseam, but people still aren't getting it. I bring it up, because I think Joe mentioned it again in his response.

If I've learned anything it's that eBook success hinges on two things: 1) Product availability and diversity. (From Joe to Amanda Hocking, the most successful authors have multiple titles available.)

2) The price/time formula. While Guido might not have been making as much money, he was gaining readers (when he dropped his price). Readers that will hopefully buy his next 6 books at whatever price. However, until you have an install base of dedicated readers numbering in the thousands, you'll need to continue to entice new ones. The material/price has to stay accessible for a long time.

People want to draw hard lines between traditional and ePublishing, but many of the same rules apply. (Especially for authors.) You have to establish a brand (God I hate that language, but it's true), and you have to maintain it.

Layton Green said...

Interesting post. I have one ebook out, The Summoner, which has sold almost 1500 copies in less than two months. Modest, of course, and Guido's marketing efforts are awesome and make mine look like a preschooler's. His efforts do, however, raise interesting points as to what works. I have found that I do not get my money back from ads in a tangible way (excpet for Kindle Nation), but that reviews definitely help, probably by spurring word of mouth. But I also do not feel like my sales reflect my reviews, and not sure what to do about that. It's all beautiful and frustrating at the same time. I agree, I'm surprised Guido isn't selling a ton of books. Maybe he should change his name to Guide Konrath Henkel, and write a new Jason Dark series titled The Ghost Hunter with the Vampire Tattoo.

Anonymous said...

I think more than anything, keywords matter most. I write in a small niche for many of my books, and I notice that when I do searches for the good keywords important to finding my books - I'm ranked 1, 2, and 10 out of the 12 results that pop up. When I search other keys I'm always in the top 5 and sometimes in top 10 too.

I've been an SEO nut for the past 11 years. Amazon uses search algorithms just like Google does. The best way to be found and to sell books in Amazon - is the same way that's best to be found in Google - optimize your book for them.

If we knew what book buyers were searching on in Kindle - we'd have a better idea how to structure our titles, descriptions, keywords, categories, etc.

Anybody have THAT information? Is it freely available and I'm not clued in yet?

Book cover, descrip, reviews, and the rest of it are important - but only AFTER the keywords.

Hope Welsh said...

I wish you weren't right, but I think you are, Joe.

I priced my book at $2.99--did so-so. Put it down to 99 cents. Got reviews--tripled my sales for Jan--within days of lowering the price.

I figured--bring it back up to $2.99. I'm making more $ now--but selling less.

At this point, readers is what I need. The $ will have to come later. LINKED is going back down to 99 cents.

I think you're also right on it having to make the top lists in one of the sub-genre. I've seen this increase sales in friends books--some of which I don't even think are great books--but it works.

Back to writing more and pricing down the novellas to get the readers is the way to go.

Nathan Lowell said...

Ok, this is going to sound harsh, but my two pence?


You have none.

Professional web site. Check.

Nice looking covers. Check.

Catchy name. Check (altho it's running in to some conflict with Jason Dark the musician)

Social Presence. Not so much. A Facebook page with a few "likes" .. nobody's talking with you. You're not talking with anybody. You're on twitter but you're broadcasting not creating relationships. You've got no blog that I can find.

Bottom line: You look like a store front, not a story teller. Or more precisely, the story you're telling is "Buy my book" and I know how that one ends.

Robert Burton Robinson said...

@Joe: I price my novellas at 99 cents. $2.99 might be a tad too much for a novella.

I recently dropped all seven of my books to 99 cents. Three of them are 56K to 63K words. But the others are 36K to 40K. One of the books has been on bestseller lists for several months, and two others were a couple of months ago when I had them priced at 99 cents.

Guido, I noticed that in the description of the Jason Dark books you do not mention that they are novellas, nor do you give a word count or print length count. I understand not wanting to label your books as novellas, since many people consider them to merely be longer short stories of 18-20K words.

But many customers will be upset and give you a bad review if they are expecting a novel and instead get a novella. If they know the book length and are willing to pay the $2.99, then no problem. But if they don't know---look out.

I don't label my shorter books as novellas either, but I give a word count or print length number at the top of the description so the buyer will know what she is getting. I think everyone should do that, whether their book is 25K or 120K. Really, Amazon should probably be listing word count, the way Smashwords does.

Michael said...

I think he should change his name to J.A. Hocking-Rowling and watch sales take off. In all seriousness, maybe "Guido" is not the best pen name for a writer.

Apart from that, are the books good and do they have an audience? If the first is true, then it seems that the second should obviously be true, too, but not necessarily. There has to be the right ratio of readers to writers in any particular genre and if that number is weighted too heavily toward the number of writers, any individual writer has to be that much better than his peers to stand out. Guido could be writing perfect well, but with too much competition in his niche.

Unknown said...

I'm not giving suggestions based on super sage knowledge because my shortie novella is selling about as well as yours (although I'm barely marketing it right now while trying to actually get a novel done). But as a reader, I wouldn't buy this book. I absolutely adore the cover--I'm just commenting on Demon Night here--but the description doesn't make me want to read it. I don't know if this is your latest description or not, but the reason why I don't like the one I just read is it's too in-your-face without really giving me the information I want to know. All I want to know, as a reader, is what's the story and why do I want to read it? I really liked Karen McQuestion's recent blog post on creating descriptions

I changed my own description based on this information just yesterday, and really liked the outcome.

Personally, the other problem for me as a reader is that the story just doesn't grab me. I'm pretty picky about what I read, so maybe others can chime in on this. It just seemed like a lot of atmosphere with not much story going on. Have you vetted it with critique groups, editors, etc.? Maybe this is just me, as writing can be so subjective. The other thing I would say, which was recommended to me by Zoe Winters, is that it would probably be wise to give a page and/or word count so people have an idea of the length of your story. I don't remember even seeing anywhere on the description that it was a novella. And honestly, it would tick me off to pay that much for a novella on Kindle. Good luck in the future!


Nathan Lowell said...

Ah! Found the blog under "Guido Henkel." My point still holds.

As platform, there's a lot of broadcast and not much conversation.

Great series on How to Format An Ebook but writing to writers isn't building you a robust platform.

scott neumyer said...

I've known Guido for a LONG time now. I've been working with him in the entertainment industry for several years (me = publicist, him = press) and he's one of the nicest, most professional people you'll ever meet. Smart guy as well.

I love his Jason Dark series and it bums me out to see it not sell as well as it should, but I agree that it will find momentum over time. I'm pulling for Guido and you should too.

Scott Neumyer
Author of Jimmy Stone's Ghost Town

Gretchen Galway said...

I have to disagree with Nathan L's comment about not talking w/people, but rather at them as a storefront...

I've heard of you because of your helpful ebook formatting series and your presence on KindleBoards. I've found a few other authors that way.

On the other hand, I haven't bought other writer's books just because I know them online. My identity as a reader is totally separate. I've wondered about this, if we're social marketing with other authors but not our readers.

As Joe has said, he doubts his 2K hits a day on his blog is driving any of his sales.

Nathan Lowell said...

@Gretchen said:
"On the other hand, I haven't bought other writer's books just because I know them online. My identity as a reader is totally separate. I've wondered about this, if we're social marketing with other authors but not our readers."

that's my point about platform.

I've been building platform since before there was a word for it. What most writers are doing here is networking with other writers and completely missing the point about what a platform really is.

I've met a LOT of writers online lately. Darn few of them are in my platform and NONE of the conversations I have with them (like this one) contribute to my platform unless they happen to take a look at my books on the basis of this conversation and decide they like them.

In most cases, we talk to people who aren't in our genre, don't read the kinds of stories we write, and don't really connect to the work we put out. What brings us together in this community is that we're all fighting in trenches and comparing notes on how best to wage the war. Darn few of us are even fighting on the war, let alone the same battle.

Networking is good. Perhaps even required.

But what drives sales is platform.

Gary Ponzo said...

Great tip on the book cover Guido. I was just about to have one made for my 2nd ebook and when I look back now I realize how important the large print is with such a small image.

Unknown said...

Guido created a pro-looking blog under his name I know because I read it. I guess we've found the second hardest-working fiction writer alive. I admire your tenacity.

The silver bullet is a myth. The intangibles of traditional publishing live on in the digital realm.

All the best to Guido for a banner year!

p.s. As a half Sicilian, Guido is the perfect name for a writer . . .

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the feedback guys. I'm sifting through all of this with bated breath, really.

@Nathan, you keep repeating the term "author platform" but to be honest, to be that is just a buzzword with not much of a meaning.

You mention that on Twitter I am merely broadcasting. I may be missing something but Twitter is not exactly a discussion platform. It is pretty much going one way. It is a broadcast platform.

I have been trying to set up my presence as one that is communicative in all respects. It is part of the reason why I have included full blown message boards on the Jason Dark website, because my intention has always been to get people to talk about the stories. If you ever get the chance to read them you will see that there is a lot of stuff in them that is worth discussing, such as the historical and literary references found in the text.

And yet it is not happening. The same is true on Facebook. I would be more than happy to talk to people and have discussion, but it's not happening if no one's talking or no one is subscribing.

In essence, what I am trying to say is that at this point I am forced to broadcast unless I intend to talk to myself in public, which is not the kind of image I wish to generate. :-)

S.J. Harris said...

Just read a sample of Demon's Night and, sorry to say, I think it's the actual writing--on a sentence level--that's holding you back. I would suggest reading some really good prose (Hemingway would be a fine place to start) and then trying to emulate it.

Also, the first paragraph is about weather, which is almost always a mistake.

Jamie D. said...

Joe's right (naturally) about leaving it at .99 cents for a couple months. When I dropped my novella to .99 cents, it took a full 2 months before it finally started selling in the hundreds. I started my recent release at $2.99 which was a the future, I'll start at .99 cents for everything and gradually step them up (like Amazon does with encore books). Though my novella & shorts will stay down at .99 cents.

Platform is good, but I'm not convinced you need a big one to sell (mine's really only good for initial sales...because as someone above said, it's mainly writers, aside from my serial draft blog readers). On twitter, it's not my own followers buying my books - it's the hash tag followers. It has to be, because when I tweet just a link to my own followers, sales are iffy. When I tweet a hashed link, I'm almost guaranteed at least 1 sale. My small bit of advice is to play with hash tags on twitter. That's been very helpful for my sales.

Nathan Lowell said...

@guido -

about the buzz word. Yeah. That's a problem. For a lot of people it's a buzz word. For me, it's a way of life.

There's a certain catch-22 about it because if nobody talks to you, it's hard to have a conversation.

One of the keys is "talk about them. don't talk about you." That seems backwards I know.

But think of it as a cocktail party. How do you start up a conversation? "Hi, I'm an author. Buy my book"...? And "Do you like Horror?? Oh, well, you'll love my book!" isn't any better because you're talking about YOU not about them.

On twitter another key is follow enough people (you don't yet). The idea that you need more followers is backwards. If you have interesting conversations, then you'll GET followers, but if you don't follow enough people, you can't have the conversations to begin with. (I've followed you on twitter. Let's see if we can help there.)

I could be wrong, but I firmly believe that the reason I'm selling 200 units a day with only two titles has every thing to do with having 15,000 people who were fans before any of my books hit the shelf. That's platform. It's not a buzzword.

CS McClellan/Catana said...

I'm afraid Guido's website looks exactly like one of those obnoxious hard-sell "buy this guide to becoming fabulously rich and famous" sites that we learn to back-button very early in the game. Cluttered, loaded with ads that distract from the books themselves. This is the website of someone who's stuck in a past era of advertising.

JL Bryan said...


Twitter is definitely a conversation platform. It's actually a very easy way to keep in touch with readers, book bloggers and other indies without too much effort.

I'm still learning this myself, but what you want to do isn't advertise your books, but start conversations. Make comments and ask questions that encourage people to engage in conversation. If your book is set in Victorian England, start conversations about that era, and maybe about Spiritualism and other supernatural interests common in that time. This will help your readers feel more engaged and like they have a chance to participate, and it will attract people interested in the subject matter of your books.

I'm reading "We Are Not Alone" by Kristin Lamb, which is all about how authors can best use social media, and it's very informative and I strongly recommend it.

You know who's a Twitter master? Amanda Hocking. Follow her--she almost never posts ads for her books, but instead engages people in conversation.

I'd also recommend dropping the first book or two to 99 cents at this point. You probably won't sextuple sales of those particular books--but if you double or triple them, and then double or triple sales of the later $2.99 books, this will be a huge increase in income overall.

Well, those are my thoughts, and my advice is worth what you paid for it. Best of luck to you! I like supernatural Victorian-era things, so I will try out your first book..

Megg Jensen said...

This is a really great post & conversation, especially for a newbie like me. I announced my ebook (CS should have my print book ready by Monday), Anathema, and I sold 11 copies the first day. It's not thrilling, I know, but some were sales to people I don't know.

I'm eager to learn new ways of connecting with readers too. Twitter is a great place to have a conversation with readers as well as other writers. I'm also a big fan of Facebook and love playing around on there.

I'm excited to read more post and opinions on this blog! :)

Justin said...

I was sold as soon as I saw that London After Midnight looking cover.

I have to wonder if the lack of sales is simply down to there not being a big market for gothic horror?

HyperPulp 5000: New Fiction, Every Damn Day

Kendall Swan said...

Thanks, Joe, for different kind of guest post. This (and hopefully future) ones might even be MORE helpful. But they are all great and much appreciated.

I agree with what Jerry said about SEO within Amazon. I would bet that those efforts would earn more revenue than any ad. I'm referring to things like putting your key search terms in your description (and even title, if possible) and manuscript.

re: reviews
Having just finished BV Larson's SWARM- I can tell you that at the end, he asks his readers for reviews if they want that book to become a series. It's a great book. But I liked the approach bc it wasn't just a request for a review. It was offering something in return (more books). It got me to get on the computer and post an amazon review, something I'm usually pretty lazy about.

I also agree with Joe re price and especially the experimentation period. Horror is a big, crowded genre. And price matters A LOT to ebook readers.

Also- definitely get on createspace-- That is one of the things I was disappointed with on Larson's SWARM. I really wanted to buy a print copy for my husband, but none is available. It is kind of a professionalism vs amateur thing, imo. Have both available so as not be seen as an amateur.

Also, I'm not big on the "Guido"- it kind of has a negative connotation for me (Jersey Shore over-saturation perhaps?). Having said that, it is unique, which is something.

Thank you for sharing with us, Guido. It is much appreciated.

To your future wild success,

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Twitter feedback, guys. I will look closer into that, though, somehow it just feels awkward as a conversation platform because it is all so disjointed. To me, at least. Maybe I need some software to manage incoming and outgoing tweets.

Abigail Hilton said...

Nate speaks the truth. The idea that Twitter is a broadcast site is misinformation created by people who don't understand it. These are the same folks who say, "I never use Twitter, because it's just people telling us what they ate and how often they went to the bathroom! Ick! (Oh, and selling stuff! Double ick!)"

In reality, Twitter is a stream of succinct conversation. If you say insightful things, people become interested. If you say funny things, they *love* you. If you give them little peeks into your day, they feel like they know you. If you talk intelligently about books they love, they'll become interested in things you write. I'm not always the poster-child for this, but I know how it works.

"Platform" is "audience." Nate is saying you need to have one to get one, which I know seems circular. Obviously it's not always true. But generally, it's easier to get people invested in you, your ideas, opinions, and tastes in a low-risk, low-investment environment like message boards, Twitter, Facebook, or Podiobooks *before* you ask them to cough up money.

Off-topic: Thanks for doing these interviews, Joe. I'm learning a lot. :)

Kendall Swan said...

Try TweetDeck . It's worked well for me on my phone. It has also taken me months to get into the Twitter groove bc it is just so specific (and different from FB). But the time into play around more and you'll be a pro in no time.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick word also about print editions. The entire series IS available in print!

However, currently only through the official website. I've been talking to Amazon just this week about distributing the print version through them though there are some issues surrounding pricing.

Createspace is not an option at all for me because of the resulting end price and their technical limitations. I want to make sure the print versions sell at $2.99 also, and that is a bit challenging to achieve in low volumes - and given the current sales ratio, I am simply not willing to commit to large print runs that would bring my per-unit cost down.

JA Konrath said...

I want to make sure the print versions sell at $2.99 also, and that is a bit challenging to achieve in low volumes - and given the current sales ratio, I am simply not willing to commit to large print runs that would bring my per-unit cost down.

Createspace is POD and cheaper than hell.

If you sold three novellas in one print edition for about $10, you'd make money.

Cunningham said...

Dear Joe -

I have just read your recent post regarding Guido Henkel and his attempts to further his ebook sales. Great stuff.

I've never met Mr. Henkel, and I don't want to make any assumptions, but I have to point out a few things:

1. Jason Dark is the pen name for Helmut Rellergerd - a German "pulp novelist" whose fame comes from a series he's written called John Sinclair: Ghost Hunter. (in German, "Geisterjäger")

Here is the wikipedia entry:

2. You can look at the original art for JS and can tell that it has influenced the cover design.

Now the question in my mind is - has he licensed the John Sinclair: Geisterjager novels and simply changed the character's name to Jason Dark? Or is he writing new novels in the same style and confusing the genre audience with the name change?

He seems to be in a weird area - If he has licensed the books, why not promote that?

If he hasn't and is generating new material then why stick so close to the JS style? The general horror reader will see this and not recognize the style. Those in his core audience group will recognize it and be confused... or be upset that it isn't Helmut Rellergerd's work.

I am loathe to say this, but it appears on the surface that Mr. Henkel is engaging in some sort of 'fan fiction'.

You may have already addressed these issues with Mr. Henkel in your tweets - I haven't had the chance to go through them yet, and I certainly don't want to harm Mr. Henkel.

I simply thought I needed to bring these points up as a possible explanation for his lack of sales.

Gareth-Michael Skarka said...

A few things --

1) The web site is not engaging. Definitely doesn't bring across the feel of the series. Very off-the-shelf (and, honestly, a bit off-putting as a result).

2) I'd like to know numbers. I understand if Guido isn't willing to give them, but it would lend some perspective. One man's "not selling well" is another's "reasonable expectation for the genre."

3) The ads, the swag-bag placement, etc. are all expensive. That's eating into your sales, surely.

4) I'm not sure if Guido is really using social media effectively (the earlier comment "Twitter isn't a discussion" indicates a failure to grasp the model). I'm a professional working in the "geek media" field, and I've never heard of the Jason Dark stuff outside of the recent mention in Fangoria. There are many books in the series: I should have heard something by now.

5) The works are very short. I read here: that they are 64 pages. $2.99 is far too much for something so short. That's probably impacting your sales figures.

6) Pulp isn't a big seller -- it's niche appeal. Try cover designs that de-emphasize the pulp nature of the tales. For example: check out the covers of the various editions of HOUSE OF LOST SOULS by F. G. Cottam. The subject matter is full-on pulp-investigation haunted house stuff ("Legend of Hell House", etc.) but the cover is very much in the mode of traditional literary fiction.

7) Follow up from the last point -- if you decide not to de-emphasize and stick with the niche appeal, recognize that it's going to require a lot more social-media "legwork" to get the word out. Be prepared to outreach, more than you are currently -- or rather, in smarter directions that you're currently doing. Targeted marketing to the narrow focus, not trying to hit folks like Jim Cameron and Leonard Nimoy with award-show swag.

Sam said...

I would say keep working on the cover designs. They need a consistent, strong font treatment that ties the series together. Right now, the fonts are different on almost every title, and the sans serif ones don't convey the feel of the books at all.

Wouldn't take much to get a re-make of fonts and layout. Something to suggest the vintage, penny dreadful "flavor" might be good...

Anonymous said...


Just a quick word regarding the "John Sinclair" connection - there is none. I am paying homage to the "John Sinclair" series by the name and the fact that it is a pulp series, but that's as far as it goes.

As for general horror readers getting confused, considering that "John Sinclair" is limited to Germany, that has never been a concern of mine. No one in the US has ever heard of the series, let alone read it.

The reason I am sticking so close to that "John Sinclair" formula is because that series had a profound impact on me growing up in Germany, and to me it seemed like a perfect fit, especially as something to cut my teeth at as a writer.

JA Konrath said...

Lots of good suggestions worth trying here in the comments.

But the thing that requires the least amount of work might also be the most effective--lowering the price.

If it doesn't work after two months, the amount of money you will have lost probably won't come close to what it costs to stuff goody bags at the Saturns.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, you're probably right, though personally every bone in my body screams "Don't do it!"

I REALLY have a problem with the 99 cent price point - though that is material for a different discussion at some other time - and I simply feel that it is not appropriately valuing the material. Devaluing the property is one of my greatest fears I am open to admit, and putting a 99 cent price tag on it is is the first step in that direction.

I know, this is just me and this attitude might be plain stupid, but it is in me. I think I will bow to it, though, and reduce the price back to 99 cents just to make access to the series easier.

Gareth-Michael Skarka said...

@Guido: "No one in the US has ever heard of the series, let alone read it."

Except for your target market....horror fans, especially the sort who would be attracted to a penny-dreadful, pulp-driven character series, HAVE heard of it.

Check the link to the blog I provided in my earlier post, for example -- that fan noticed the similarity immediately, and posted cover comparisons.

I think you're demonstrating a tendency toward sweeping generalization (this statement, your earlier one about Twitter, etc.) -- indicating a lack of thinking things through, which might go a bit further to explain why you're not having the success you're expecting.

Unknown said...

Diversify, Diversify, Diverify

Read and listen to what Nathan is's about a connection. I've worked in high end sales with very educated and skilled people as my targets (doctors, surgeons and hospitals...that's how I can now afford to write full time), my point is that on average it takes 3 encounters to generate interest in a sale. That's JUST INTEREST. How many commercials run once then are done? If you aren't getting to people on a repeat basis you are doomed. That's the whole idea behind sales. Why do you think car salesmen are so pushy, they know they've got one shot. Don't be a car salesman, develop relationships. I know it sounds fucking corny, but it works. Nathan is making connections one at a time by providing some VALUE. What VALUE do you bring to your target customers. Konrath's value is in his attitude (straight shooter) and passion which translates into some buzz. Every website that I frequent has a host that is active. They respod to posters. We are all marketed to death and now we just DVR things to skip the marketing. Guess whaty, people are skippig your marketing. The sweetest sound to a person's ear is the sound of THEIR OWN NAME.

Reading is a very personal thing. A lot of people are looking to make connections with characters and even underlying ideas and philosophical concepts. They're looking for a relationship. Do you know who your market is? Do you know who your current marketing is appealing to? Whole businesses are created to just find these things out.

Twitter is about being involved. Personally, I delete people from my follow list if they twitter more than five times in a half hour. You know why, because they're people that twitter, not people that work and pay bills. Just like I slam doors on the faces of soliciters and telemarketers. I've earned the right after haveing plenty of doors slammed in my face. You can't sell them if you can't see them.

Top salesmen and product movers keep trying and find a way. They don't always have the best product. (Hell, that's why we all think we can sell the shit we're writing because we're tired of buying inferior product.) Top salesmen are always the best listeners. They are also great evaluators of their own actions. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Your product has nice presentation, do you?

Mark Feggeler said...

Great points from Joe and amazing effort by Guido.

I agree it would be helpful if the online venues tracked and reported product hits that do not result in a purchase. In the hospitality industry we call them denials. Some hotel chains require the reservation agent enter a classification for the denial any time they check availability for a guest. A little much to expect from an online service, I suppose. Still, being an analysis junkie, it would be interesting to know the ratio of hits to conversions. Any data can prove helpful if used correctly.

Mark F.

JA Konrath said...

Devaluing the property

As I said, value isn't based ont he list price. it's based on how much money an ebook earns.

I think you'll earn more at 99 cents.

Anonymous said...

@Joe, not sure I agree. At 99 cents it becomes a throwaway item and people will consider it as such. At least that's how I look at it and I am not sure I want the "Jason Dark" series seen as something that is worth less than a stick of Hubba Bubba.

KingofElfland said...

I have no great knowledge on this topic, but, as a reader, I got hooked on my first indie author when he gave away his SECOND book in a series. I bought all the rest (4 others) at $3.99 and $2.99. And will pay full price for his next book. I don't think $2.99 is too steep for a novella (I like the shorter format personally). My 2c.

JA Konrath said...

At 99 cents it becomes a throwaway item and people will consider it as such.

A 99 cent ebook that sells 100,000 copies has a lot more value than a $2.99 ebook that sells 1000 copies. Simple as that.

Douglas Dorow said...

@Guido there have been many conversations on this blog about the struggle with price. Is your story worth more than a pack of gum or a cup of coffee?

I think you're in the position where you need to decide what's more important to you; how many you sell or how much you sell them for?

Take the advice and drop it to .99 for two months. A great experiment for little cost.

Moses Siregar III said...

Write more, write more, write more. And I'd try writing something different.

You've gotten the word out but, for whatever reason, this series hasn't taken off with readers. I still think you need to write something different and see if you find readers in a different genre or by writing a different length. Maybe try a novel that's a change of pace for you.

Once people discover you in a different genre or at a different length, they might come back to the Jason Dark novellas and buy those.

A couple people in the comments have said something about the writing itself. That's subjective, but it could be an issue. Keep writing, keep studying writing, keep getting feedback from good editors (or crit partners, etc.). Find out what is and what isn't grabbing readers.

$2.99 for novellas probably isn't helping either. I don't think it's an unfair price, but a lot of people will pass on novellas at that price when they can get indie novels at that price. Since they aren't selling at that price, price _may_ be an issue. I'd definitely keep #1 at $0.99 and I'd at least consider $1.99 for the other ones, too.

I checked out your Twitter feed and I think you're using Twitter pretty well, actually. You're really not just broadcasting and treating it as a one-way conversation.

But you're going to need to up your followers if you plan to use Twitter (and btw if you don't want to use Twitter, no biggie). Follow more people who might follow you back(!). Use good hashtags in moderation so people can find you that way. Promote your Twitter account in more places (like in your sig on message boards, etc.).

But write more, write more, write more.

John DuMond said...

At least that's how I look at it and I am not sure I want the "Jason Dark" series seen as something that is worth less than a stick of Hubba Bubba.

Author David Wellington started out by giving away his novels online. It didn't seem to devalue his work any. There are people (including me) who have paid money to purchase his books even though they were (and 6 of them are to this day) available free of charge online.

Jon VanZile said...

That's interesting ...

It's strange what resonates with people and what doesn't. That seems to be the alchemy that even highly paid editors and major publishers can't figure out either.

So totally unscientifically, if I was you, I'd write something completely different. Still horror, but a new standalone, with a new concept, etc. Keep trying different concepts until one sticks, then people will loop back and pick up the Jason Dark stuff.

And thanks for talking about your extensive marketing efforts. It's really interesting and instructive.

Jon VanZile
Zig Zephyr and the Forever Diamond

thip said...

Thanks for sharing, Guido - info about things that DON'T work as well as others are important lessons, too. Speaking purely as a tech writer, I have experimented a bit with the suggestions provided on - and have found that layouts of graphs, pages, whatever really DO seem to improve when you take into account the purely structural guide of the f-shaped reading pattern that seems to be the norm for e-reading : - you might want to toy a bit with it (most of your covers, as seen on Amazon, do not follow the F pattern). It's not science as such, just has been a good idea to me.

Moses Siregar III said...

Btw, I think your covers are great and your book descriptions are good, too. Your website for the series is excellent, IMO. And you're an incredibly likable guy. I don't think these are your problems. Even the price, which may be an issue, can't be THE issue (though 99 cents for book 1 makes sense to me). There are people who sell novellas at $2.99 (see: Zoe Winters in a popular genre).

So basically everything that needs to be there for marketing is good and yet it's not taking off. Just thinking out loud now ...

Are you writing for too much of a niche? Is there a big enough audience for this sort of story? (I really don't know--just wondering.)

Is the story written in such a way that it's really grabbing people? I'd take the money you had spent on promotion and (maybe you've already done this, but ...) hire some good editors to go over the text and see what they find. Ask them to be critical and rip the story apart. Or, find some good author friends or crit partners who know what they're doing. This may be what's holding you back. Because it seems like you're not getting the word of mouth to keep your momentum going (despite some good promotion), so I suspect there may be something about the words on the page that isn't generating enough enthusiastic response.

I could certainly be wrong about that, though.

thip said...

Forgot to add that most of Joe's covers DO roughly follow the F pattern I mentioned in my post, above. Definitely not the sole reason for sales, but - as I said - just sharing an idea ;o)

Tara Maya said...

I do like hearing about the "not yet runaway success" stories, but there's also a danger that people will jump to conclusions something is wrong when maybe it's just not had enough time yet. How long have you been selling? It sounded like two years or less? A lot of the success storiees here weren't selling like pancakes overnight.

The only thing that may clearly not be working is that you are spending more money (and time and creative effort) on advertising that does not give you a worthwhile return on investment. We don't know how many books you are selling or how much you're making; it could be an amount that would be considered good by some authors here, but still makes no financial sense considering your investment.

I think some ads can be worthwhile. I agree with Joe, that an author can probably make it without ANY ads... but the tradeoff is you have to invest time. In my case, I don't have the time I'd like for social networking, so I've chosen a few ads carefully (like Kindle Nation). If I had more money, I know I'd be tempted to buy more, but perhaps it's better I don't. I'm not sure if it's always a good idea. I think some kinds of ads actually backfire on self-pubbed books; seems like the author is trying too hard.

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song

Mikaela said...

I have done a lot of thinking about pricing. Both as a reader, and as an author. The conclusion I have drawn is that I am prepared to pay 2.99 for a novel, and a long novella (35+). For shorter works like novelettes? Nope.

Maybe a good compromise would be to lower the price of the first two books to 0.99 and the rest to 1.99?

S.J. Harris said...

A couple people in the comments have said something about the writing itself. That's subjective, but it could be an issue.

It's not subjective. I can point to very specific problems in the first chapter, so I have to assume the rest of this volume and the other volumes have similar problems.

We're writers. It has to start with the writing, IMO. Promotion and price changes are not going to fix what's wrong here.

Cunningham said...

Guido -

I think that you are forgetting your pulp roots with this series. You are selling a unique serialized entertainment based on German pulp literature.

That means you have to be more concerned with things like regularity and quantity and less about price point. If these are novellas (less than 100 pages) then you must price them accordingly. That means 99 cents for Kindle.

Then you must make sure that you have a new novel out at least every other month. Just like McDonald's burgers, you may only make pennies per burger - but there's over 17 billion served.

There is a REASON that the Germans call this "Trivialliteratur" ... it is meant to be consumed and then set aside for the next adventure...

In my own company - Pulp 2.0 Press - we price our Kindle paperbacks at $2.99 - but we provide over 350 pages of pulp entertainment. We then follow up our Kindle releases with "collector's editions" via Createspace which feature bonus extras for discerning fans of our kind of pulp literature. We think of our Kindle editions as the basic burger and fries and the print editions as "Supersizing" the meal.

We're also coming up with 99 cent Kindle-only books that will have added value to them - new, better art throughout the book by fan favorite artists, essays, etc... We want people to get used to seeing our stuff around, trying it out and then if they're happy then maybe trying out our more expensive (yet still affordable) print stuff too for their bookshelf.

We're also selling t-shirts with our covers on them, and give away signed cover proofs to the first five readers who send us a pic of themselves with our books.

Thanks to some of Joe's ideas and test marketing here on this blog we're also going to try some new approaches to getting some inbound links.

But - our main focus this year - and I think yours since we're in the same ballpark - is to get more entertaining books out to the masses as quickly and as cheaply as possible.

Thanks for listening,


Margaret said...

Guido, one of the best things on Twitter is @mentions. Check that a few times a day to see who has responded to you so you can respond back.

Also, check the hashtags. I follow other areas of interest besides writing and use hashtags when I'm commenting on those interests. I've picked up followers that way.

Both are good ways of starting conversations. There is no way of knowing how much good Twitter is doing me, and my followers are building slowly, but I know I'm reaching new people every day.

Mikaela said...

Since a couple of people commented on the writing, I decided to read the sample from the first book, and the fifth book ( that's the latest that's available on Smashwords).

My impression?
Book one didn't impress me. Book 5 on the other hand did. Enough that if the price had been lower, I would probably have bought it.

Since the first book were published 2009, my suggestion is that you sit down and read it again, with a critical eye. Why? Because the more you write the more you grow, and after an additional 9 books you are a better writer now.

Sharper13x said...

Thanks for sharing your story with us Guido. And good luck.

I'd just like to offer an opinion of why paid advertising may not work so well (for ebooks in general, not yours specifically).

People don't buy books because somebody else (like a publisher or an author) thinks it is worth spending money on to promote. It's got to be a very personal connection, something that tells them this is not only worth investing the cost of the book, but more importantly (for me "by far")it is worth investing time and energy to read. I think that paid advertising, including promotional swag, etc, is just too scattershot of an approach to make a personal connection. For example, I don't think I've ever seen a paid advertisement for a book that made me want to buy it.

I think that is why the most effective seller there is for a book - especially a book from a new author without a track record - will always be word of mouth. And Amazon's system, essentially is a big "word-of-mouth" machine. I think customer reviews, good ones that show insight and "here's what i liked, though your mileage may vary" kind of thought, push sales more than anything else.

Actually, let me walk back that I never bought a book based on ad" comment. Yes I have. When I was little kid in school they used to have that mail-order book club (the one with "Dynamite" magazine). We used to get pretty excited about that and I always checked off a bunch of books each month. Very exciting for everybody when the boxes arrived too. But that system was a paper and pencil version of what Amazon is now.

Robert Burton Robinson said...

Guido, another thing you may want to consider is giving away at least one book. My first four books can be found free all over the web (although those are older editions) and can be read for free on my website.

Why do people buy my books when they can get them for free? Because it's just easier to buy them, especially if you have a Kindle or a Nook or some other ereader. And they're only 99 cents anyway.

Of course, there will be many who will read the books for free and never buy any of my books. But most of them would never have bought one anyway.

On the other hand, some of those readers will really like my writing and become fans. Then they will start buying my books.

Do these fans account for a large percentage of my Kindle sales? No. But they "keep the pump primed" so that my rankings stay high enough for other people to notice the books.

It's working for me. Four of my books are currently in the 900-5000 rank range. But it didn't happen overnight. I've been at this for a while now. Some writers hit it big almost immediately, but for most of us, we have to think long-term.

Shaun said...

I suffer from a lack of sales like your good self, Guido, but if price is the magical bullet that increases sales, then you won't lose anything by trying it. After all, it's not a race and the internet provides a virtual bookshelf that's not going to be cleared at the end of every month, so your books are not going to disappear. You control the price, so if after a few months it's not worked out how you wanted you can always raise it again.

bowerbird said...

hello guido...

as is usually the case,
the very reason that
your books don't sell
is the very one reason
you don't want to hear.

in your case, it's that
your prices are too high.

now i agree with you
that you don't want to
drop below the $2.99,
because that will mean
a lower "royalty" rate...

but the paying customers
are telling you that $2.99
for a single novella is just
too much for them to pay.

once you dropped the price,
people _did_ start buying...
numbers tripled immediately.

and the sales _would_ have
gone up 6 times as much --
maybe even 10 times -- if
you would've left the price
at the $.99 level for a while.
you didn't give it a chance...

but $2.99 is too high.

especially when you have
a series with 10 "volumes".

you are charging $29.99
for the whole thing, and
it's no surprise people balk.

or they would, if you could
get them in the door, but
you cannot even do _that_.

(and no, i'm sorry, but
this is the new world,
and hype does _not_
get people in the door.
you're wasting time
_and_ your money by
"doing marketing"...
word-of-mouth is the
new boss, same as the
old boss, same as it
ever was, and will be.)

the other problem, one
which you acknowledge,
and is integrally related,
is your lack of reviews...

of your 9 "volumes" up,
6 have 3 or fewer reviews.
only 1 has more than 5,
and it has a mere 9...

every author with a mother
and a spouse and a friend
should have 3 reviews, and
those are all 5-star ratings
(or at least we'd hope so!),
so your stuff goes nowhere
until you get more reviews.

you need to wrap your 9
volumes into 3 packages,
and sell _those_ for $2.99.


as for your blog, especially
your series on formatting...

i was terribly distracted by
a number of outright errors,
in spelling and grammar and
sentence structure and so on.

this was especially ironic
because the thrust of the
series there was on being
_professional_. so, frankly,
i'd wonder if your e-books
are beset with similar errors.


Mark Asher said...

The one thing that is hard for anyone to say when the author is in listening range is that it may be the writing itself. I read the first book and while I enjoyed it, the writing wasn't sharp enough to make me want to read any others.

If that is the first one Guido wrote, maybe the others improve as he gets into his rhythm? If that's the case, maybe revisit the first and work on it a bit.

I also like Joe's idea of bundling. I hesitate to pay $2.99 for a novella, though clearly some sell well at that price -- Zoe Winters does ok with $3 novellas. Price the first book at $1 and then give me two novellas bundled for $3.

A lot of readers are probably like me -- price conscious. To reach us, you need to price accordingly. I see too many $1 novels and $3 novels to be comfortable paying $3 for a novella. Not saying I won't, but it makes me hesitate and think about it, and that usually leads to a lost sale.

Dawn said...

All this talk of pricing makes me want to lower the price of mine and see what happens.

Great comments about the platform / audience.

Any other suggestions on good forums to connect with readers vs. writers?

Moses Siregar III said...

Guido, I just read the first 43% of the first book in your series and I'll give you my two subjective cents on what may be an issue.

Of course, in a long series, the early parts of the first book are CRUCIAL. If you lost too many people there, they'll never get to the rest of the books.

I think your first 20-25% starts too slow, without enough hooks for the reader. But after that mark, the story became really, really good. But I wonder if you're losing people who don't make it to the first major fight scene, which was great and by far the strongest scene to that point (about 1/3 of the way into the book). More on this in a sec.

I think the writing is mostly very good and much, much better than most self-published offerings. I do think a relatively light copyedit could improve a little here and a little there, but nothing too major. Then again, you could get a deeper copyedit just to make sure. Couldn't hurt and the text isn't so long, so it wouldn't have to cost too much.

Okay, here's what I noticed. Once you got into the story, you started writing in more third person-limited, which worked well. Before that, the writing was more in omniscient, and it felt a little distant and old-fashioned.

I didn't get a good "hook" in me in the first 20% of the story. I didn't find myself rooting for the characters yet (though I did later). The main mystery was already solved early on, so that wasn't a good hook either; even though Jason Dark didn't know what happened at the dock, the reader learns about it in the first chapter.

So after that 20-25%, I wasn't pulled in by the protagonist, I wasn't pulled in by the mystery, the distant pov didn't suck me in either, and there wasn't a whole lot that I cared about yet. I could've easily put the story down and left it.

All I knew is that you could write, and that's the main thing that kept me wanting to read: an instinctive trust in the author that the pace of the story would pick up.

I'm not surprised at the comment by Mikaela that book 5 is better written, because that's normal. But since book 1 is the gateway into your whole series, you've got to make sure that book 1 is great. I think you could probably rewrite it to get book 1 off to a faster start and update it with your improved skills as a writer.

Just my 2 cents. I hope something I've said can be useful to you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking the time for such an in-depth look, Moses. I may truly have to revisit the first volume in the series.

Not only was it the first book in the series, it was actually the very first piece of linear fiction I ever wrote and I do have a sense that I have grown quite a bit as a writer since.

JA Konrath said...

My initial reaction to the first book was too much description in the beginning.

But this series is supposed to be gothic, and description helps set the mood.

Moses Siregar III said...

My initial reaction to the first book was too much description in the beginning.

But this series is supposed to be gothic, and description helps set the mood.

Yeah, I had the same thought and then I corrected myself the same way. I thought of the setting of the mood was fine. It certainly wasn't anything that made me want to stop reading. In fact, I quickly liked that part of it. The setting became a big plus for me.

My main issue was that nothing grabbed me hard enough in Act I to force me to keep reading. I felt distant from the action and I felt there wasn't much there to help me identify with the main character. I was reading about a story, but not *feeling* anything yet. Once the first fight scene happened, my blood was pumping and he had me hooked.

Cheryl Tardif said...

I can really relate to Guido. I've been doing everything to market my ebooks (and I'm known for my marketing abilities) and haven't seen the extremely high numbers that many authors have seen. And I want them! :-)

I know how frustrating it is NOT to get those numbers, especially when you sometimes see authors with less experience, fewer titles and sometimes terrible covers who ARE doing better.

LUCK! I know that's a huge part of things, and all you can do is run the marathon, knowing it may take some time.

I agree with some of the other comments that Guido could and should increase his exposure via social networks. That does help to get your name and book titles out there. Your name is your brand.

Joe's right about keeping lower prices to attract more readers. I held a $0.99 sale at Christmas and just after. It was supposed to be on for 2 weeks but it was extended another 2. In that month, my sales increased dramatically and most of my page ranks were well under 5000, with a couple of titles dipping below 500.

Was it the $0.99 price that got me the sales? Partially. What DID get me the sales was a small $80 ad at Kindle Nation. What I earned from my sale more than paid for the ad, plus my sales remained higher until the end of January.

However, they've gone back down again. I could lower the prices to $0.99 again, but I sure can't keep them there forever. At some point, you have to make a decision to raise them. My prices are still under $4.

I have 6 ebooks available and 2 brand new ebooks coming out in the next couple of months, plus a second edition of one of my titles, with an overhauled cover.

Covers: I hear the argument about having great covers and I agree totally. I'm turned off as a reader by poorly designed covers. Yet, I am stunned that my second highest selling novel is THE RIVER, and I'll admit to everyone, it has a terrible cover (hence, the upcoming overhaul) compared to my others.

I agree totally with Joe on getting the paperbacks out. I have 3 of my novels available in paperback, and I have 6 more coming out between now and June.

Guido, hang in there and don't lose faith. We have to believe the sales are on their way.

Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Moses Siregar III said...

I'll say this on the pricing issue. If I loved your first novella, and if the novella felt long enough, I'd pay $2.99 for the rest.

However, as I've said, the sample for book 1 wasn't strong enough to hook me (though once I read a little farther into the story I was hooked) and it looks like I'd be able to finish this one in two hours or less.

So if I didn't know you and I was looking at $2.99 for a read of this length, it would be a tough call. For $0.99 it would be no problem at all and for $1.99 I'd still do it if I liked the series. But for a $2.99 novella, I'd need to LOVE the author and his series.

But if you packaged two of them together for $2.99, no problem. And three for $2.99 would be a steal. Maybe something like that would be the way to go.

Hm. What about $0.99 for the first novella by itself and then $2.99 for two novellas bundled together for the remaining stories? Just another idea for you.

Julianne MacLean said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I am not a writer.. Just a reader that likes to read this blog to learn cool stuff about writers.
English is not my native language, so this comment might lack in grammar or spelling!

However, seeing that we are discussing the price tag for series, I believe that my pov as a reader might be helpful.

I got often hooked up on series, because the 1st volume was for free in Amazon. And when I really liked it, I just did not care much on the price tag of the other volumes..
If they cost below $10 I just buy them!

Reading is an addiction.. If the product is good, it just sells!

So maybe it could be a good idea to:
- lower price or even offer volume 1
-Make sure that book 1 is addictive, and that readers finish it with the feeling of MUST BUY the next one.

Karen Woodward said...

Great post! Interesting and educational. Guido, thanks for sharing your experience and, Joe, thanks for the tips.

It was interesting and helpful to see the original artwork for the print book and then the changes that were made for the ebook cover.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I posted this earlier but somehow it seems to have gotten lost.

Question: What do you guys think of pricing volume 8, which I think is one of the strongest in the series, at 99 cents as opposed to volume 1?

Good idea or bad?

LMB said...

Joe, After reading Guido’s post and all of the great comments here, I was struck with an idea. Years ago, I subscribed to Fortune Small Business magazine and they would do this great, recurring series on struggling businesses. They would take a small business that was struggling and offer it the help of a few business experts. The experts would suggest improvements and then months later the magazine would check back and see if the company’s financial situation had improved any. Why not do something similar here with a struggling indie author?…Most of your posts tend to focus on authors who have already made it, but for those of us who are just starting out- and don’t have those stellar sales numbers yet- the indie e-publishing glory can seem elusive. I will gladly offer up my book for the experiment.

P.S For you other self-pubed authors that have found it hard to get Amazon reviews, would you be interested in a book/review exchange? A ‘you review mine, I’ll review yours’ type of thing? If you are, e-mail me & I’ll try to organize one. lmdmu01{at}hotmail{dot}com

Too Much Love, Too Much Discipline: The Perfect Mix for Changing Your Defiant Child's Behavior & Restoring Peace & Harmony to Your Life & Family

Anonymous said...


First, thanks for sharing your challenges. While Joe has found great success and found others with success, a reality check is helpful.

I agree with those that recommend pricing your novella at $0.99 and even more with those that recommend you bundle 3 or 4 for $2.99 (hint: I'd be more likely to buy it with 4), and update the descriptions so people know they're getting a novella on the short ones.

I see no reason to price #8 lower than #1. Nobody starts reading a series with #8.

The good thing about self-publishing is you can update the text, not just the cover. Think about what you could do to #1 to make it a more compelling read.

Finally, I'm confident all your effort will pay off in time. Keep at i and good luck!

Sharper13x said...

Question: What do you guys think of pricing volume 8, which I think is one of the strongest in the series, at 99 cents as opposed to volume 1?

Are stories actually sequential? Are they proper sequels or separate adventures for Jason Dark. If it's not strictly necessary, why not take the numbers off. Let people gravitate to the title or cover of their choice. Lower the price of the one you think is best overall, etc.

Just a thought.

Sharper13x said...

If you add the word "the" and two question marks to my post, it makes perfect sense. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

While the stories follow a general timeline, each volume is an adventure of its own. They are not really interconnected and people can start reading any adventure out of sequence without problems.

I did not have volume numbers on Amazon for the past year because of a technical shortcoming on Amazon's end - then people started complaining that there should be volume numbers.

The overall problem is, of course, that whatever you do, there's always someone who thinks it should be different.

Since it is a series I feel the volume numbers should be there if only to give people some kind of guidance in which order they have been released and should be read if someone wants to follow the entire trail.

At the same time, it is important to understand and communicate perhaps, that it is a series by name only, not by story.

Kendall Swan said...

Re #8 at 99c.

That won't really matter, unless, as STH says, they are not sequential. If that's the case, I agree with STH, take the numbers off and let the titles speak for themselves within a brand.

If they are sequential, who cares what the price of #8 is if #1 is still 2.99?

As mentioned earlier, reading is an addiction. We must create addicts first. As a reader, once I'm addicted to that writer's work, I'll go pretty much anywhere at any price with them.



Kendall Swan said...

If it's a series by name only-- include that as a parentheses in the title. And no volume number. And state at the bottom of your description that they can stand alone/there is no wrong order. Have each book have a separate title.

Nathan Lowell said...

It's near the end of the day and I'd like to add my voice to the people who have thanked Guido for sharing his story. This *has* been one of the most engaging threads, in part because I found it fascinating to see what ideas people have and the criteria they use for decision making.

I *really* like Lisa of Pencil's idea of a kind of "adopt an indie week" kind of post where the community gets together to help one poor guineapig... um ... author get a handle on their ebook. It would be nerve wracking and painful at times, I suspect, but that would be pretty interesting.

Thanks again, Guido, for sharing your story and being such a good sport.

Anonymous said...

As you might have noticed, all the reworked covers don't have volume numbers and don't even mention the series. It's just the name of the book and the author's name.

The series name and volume number shows up only in the title listing on Amazon, but as I said I had no volume numbers attached to them for the past year since their launch, and it made no difference.

Anonymous said...

I only skimmed the comments because otherwise I get so engrossed in the awesome conversations, it becomes too late for me to participate!

I have to agree with everything Nathan L is saying. Conversation and networking writer-to-writer is great...but it's NOT social networking!

A year ago I set up a group on Facebook that was the fictional fan club of the Ghost Hunting group in my as-yet unpublished novel. Getting the platform built with people interested in the paranromal and investigations. That group (XPI- Xavier Paranormal Investigators) took on a life of its own because of the conversation I had with those folks over time and with activities NOT CENTERED over buying my book. There was no book to buy...but those folks came along for my journey. Within 3 months I had people volunteering to help build the group with me, and by 5 months we had over 3,000 members.

THAT led to connections for promotion of my novel that's due out in June. I suspect my XPI group will be supportive and buy the book about the fictional XPI group. In the meantime, I released a Sci Fi eBook and that was fairly well supported by readers who connected to me along the way. Not enough to sell in the 1,000s each month yet, but enough to be in the top 3% of books sold in Sci Fi and stick on the best selling by category lists...which lead to more sales.

I use this as an example of what you could do...make a fan page on Facebook for your character and interact with people that way...but I also agree with others opinion that it might be time to try something else. Maybe it's the name, the writing, the characters, the covers some bizarre combo of some or all of those things, but it might just not be clicking with readers. It happens.

There's a difference between putting something out to the universe, being flexible to adjust and trying to force something to work at all costs. One often works, the other rarely so. Release your expectation that this series MUST or SHOULD do well and write something else. Go back to Joe's saying, "There's a term for a writer who never gives up..."

I'd say in today's day and age the term is "Successful."


Sharper13x said...

I agree with Kendall about letting the brand speak for itself without numbers. Numbers on book covers communicate something beside "series." For instance, my books have numbers because they are a serialized story. So they need them. But at the same time, I think the fact that I have numbers on my covers creates an idea at first glance that I'd rather not be communicating. So I'm likely turning off a certain percentage who might really like the book. Covers send a lot of signals.

Sharper13x said...

"As you might have noticed, all the reworked covers don't have volume numbers and don't even mention the series. It's just the name of the book and the author's name."

Oops. No picture on my comments page. I just looked back. Quite right. Disregard all that then. It was all great advice... for someone... just totally irrelevant in this case.

Michael said...


A couple of thoughts. I agree with pricing the first book at .99, and let me suggest that you start completely over with volume 1. Don't even go look at the first book and rewrite it with your current skill set. It's just a novella and you know the plot. You could do it in a few weeks. Give it a good hook and read-on prompts from scene to scene.

Finally, as for reviews, take a look at the book in my signature, The Devil's Deep. I have 51 reviews (31 five star, 17 four star, 2 three star, and 1 two star) since January 30. Only one of those reviews comes from someone I know (my beta reader). If you'll email me at m.wallace23(at), I'll tell you how I did it.

I'm certainly no expert on marketing, but I've sold 800 books in my first three weeks on Amazon and can give you those tips I know.

Michael said...

I'm going to offer my suggestion on the opening to book 1 from a writing standpoint. First, as a former reader tens of thousands of slush manuscripts let me say that roughly 50% of submissions begin with either the main character waking up or with the weather. I believe this is authorial throat clearing as the writer gears up to the difficult task of starting a book. Yours starts with the weather. Interesting, atmospheric weather, but still. It's not a story yet.

Second, never forget that a story is a character, in a situation, with a problem. The reader isn't hooked until you've got all three. It's important to notice that the scope of the problem can't outweigh the situation and the character. This is why it always fails to start a scene with a gunfight or a runaway train. We don't care because the problem outweighs the other two facets of the story. Instead, I suggest starting with a modest problem that escalates. For example, here is the opening of my book The Devil's Deep:

It was ten minutes to midnight when Rosa Solorio entered the darkened room to kidnap the retarded man.

She found Chad Lett twitching in his bed, his arms curled into clubs, biceps stretched like cords. His hands formed claws. Muscles strained on his neck and his eyes fluttered. No sound came from his mouth, but it grimaced as if in pain.

“Dios mio,” Rosa whispered under her breath.

Clearly defined character, clearly defined situation, clearly defined problem, inasmuch as you can manage to do all three of these things in the first half page of the book. Here is the opening of my polygamist thriller:

Amanda Kimball drugged her three-year-old daughter before putting her to bed. She dissolved half an Ambien tablet into a cup of warm milk and sat her daughter at the table to drink it.

Sophie Marie wrinkled her face after the first sip. “I’m not thirsty, and anyway it tastes funny.”

“Just drink it,” Amanda urged.

You can see that my scope in both these cases is limited, but it's concrete and intriguing. And I resist the urge to explain. You'll find out what's happening when it's convenient for me to tell you, not before.

Look at the opening to your book and see if you can pull this off. Once you get going, the story becomes quite interesting. That opening is weak.

S.J. Harris said...

I'm learning a lot from this thread. Thank you Joe, and Guido, and everyone who has commented.

I have to say, though, I am astounded that people balk at paying $2.99 for a novella. If something entertains me for a couple of hours, I have no problem paying a fair price for it. Has anyone been to a movie lately? Tickets are ten bucks. $2.99 for a novella seems like a bargain to me. If it's good, of course. If it's not, I don't even want it for free.

$2.99 is a candy bar and soda at the gas station. Surely a compelling 25K word book is worth that.

bowerbird said...

michael said:
> never forget that
> a story is
> a character,
> in a situation,
> with a problem

with all due respect
to joseph campbell,
formulaic approaches
no longer have to rule.

a story is anything that
you can wrangle which is
able to attract audience.

and if you can do that
without following the
recipe everyone else uses,
your brilliance will be
acknowledged by all.

before, one was forced
to follow the instructions
in the standard manual,
in order to appease the
gatekeepers, because
their rules had created
a self-fulfilling prophecy,
but those obstructions
have now been cleared.

if you really and truly
want to bake your cake
the standard way, fine.
you can be assured that
people will like the taste.

but if you want to invent
the doughnut, go ahead.


Michael said...

Bowerbird, sure you can make donuts or creme brulee, or epic poetry for that matter. But a story has certain characteristics. There are a zillion ways to do so that won't come across as formulaic, but when I read Guido's opening pages, I read about a guy wandering through the London weather. He had no intent to his wanderings, he was waiting for the plot to happen to him.

There's a question to this post: why is Guido doing so many things right and yet his books are still not selling? It could be that he's making donuts and the world doesn't want donuts.

Brian Drake said...

Please allow me to jump in as I am in Guido's position as well, though with only three ebooks available:

I launched my books last year at 2.99 and did okay, but through October, November, and December of 2010 I sold ZERO copies. As 2011 began I did two things: I gave away one of my books for two weeks, and had over 200 takers; then, I priced them at .99 and sold more books in the last two weeks of January than I did throughout all of 2010.

Now, with my latest out this week, I'm back to zero. I've also put prices back to 2.99. There has to be a connection.

So now I'm experimenting further (as I do my round of blog interviews and guest posts regarding the new book). Instead of 2.99, I'm trying the 1.49 price point (I used to buy Mack Bolan books at that price, so why not?). If that doesn't get me going by the end of the month, I'll drop to .99 and, like others have suggested, wait until I build my brand a little better before going to the $2 mark.

It's frustrating, because I have some very good reviews and a bit of a cult following (every interview I do makes my blog traffic jump sky high--62 visitors today, for example). But I think Donald Westlake said that the difference between wide readership and a cult following is the author actually making a living.

We persist.

Guido, Give .99 a try. Seriously. I made some nice pocket money in January that I didn't otherwise have. And a bunch of people bought my books who might otherwise have not.

bowerbird said...

michael said:
> Bowerbird, sure
> you can make donuts
> or creme brulee,
> or epic poetry
> for that matter.

my comment had
nothing to do with
your specific advice
on michael's book.

it was a reaction to
your general point
that a "story" must
be a certain thing.

> a story has certain
> characteristics

that's old thinking.

_your_ recipe for "story"
might well have certain
"characteristics", but
someone might invent
a different new breed.

high-jumpers used to
jump the bar so they
landed on their feet.
so some people even
_defined_ high-jumping
as "doing it that way".
then fosbury arrived,
and did it differently,
and now _everybody_
does the fosbury flop.
because the true object
was not the _landing_,
or the style of jumping,
it was clearing the bar.
fosbury cleared it higher.

> It could be that
> he's making donuts
> and the world
> doesn't want donuts.

it sounds more like
you are saying that
he _is_ making cake,
but doing it wrong.

which might well
be the case, i can't
really say, since i
have not read the
book or the sample.


s.j. harris said:
> a compelling
> 25K word book
> is worth that.

you might think so.

i might think so.

many customers
might think so.

the real question,
however, remains
"how many people buy?"

that's all that matters.


Lundeen Literary said...

Ok, here are my thoughts:

-Change the byline to G. Henkel - Guido is a great name, but you're trying to market to your audience. Romance writers have fluffy, naughty sounding names. Writers of Italian crime dramas have Italian-sounding names. JK Rowling was told to not put her name as Joanne Rowling, mainly because the publishers thought that YA male readers would not want to read a book written by a girl. Guido is a great name, but it's got a preconception to it. You need to get the Italian crime drama idea out of buyer's heads.

-I agree with Joe that you need to bundle novellas 3 at a time to sell them on createspace.

-I agree that you need to ebundle novellas 3-for-$2.99 or drop the price. There are some novellas that I've paid $5 for in paperback (back when NY bought such things), and the current asking price for those books from NY is $6.99. I'd buy them again at that price. But this was a 208 page novella. I will not often pay more than a cup of coffee for an ebook when I am likely to read that whole ebook before I've finished that coffee. You have novelettes more than novellas. There's still a market, but at a lower price point, or in bundles.

-the website is well-designed, but screams that you're trying to sell me. I don't like being sold. I hit the back button pretty quickly.

-repeating others here again, but you do need more reviews.

-on twitter: how many folks do you follow? How many folks do you reply to? how many tweets do you retweet to support other authors? Because, trust me, authors WILL retweet your tweets if you have done so for them.

-work on your tags - your best-reviewed books are also the ones with the most quantity of appropriate tags. Join an author tag exchange.

-Pricing volume 8 at 99 cents will not get readers to read TO volume 8. Rework volume 1, reupload, make it 99 cents, or make it part of a bundle.

It seems you're coming at this from the Hollywood angle, which is to jump up and down screaming "HEY, LOOK AT ME!!!!" That doesn't work so well in publishing, I'm sorry to say. In my years of living in L.A., that type of advertising never once worked for me. Here, you don't have to one-up anyone. You don't have to be seen more often than anyone. You don't have to do swag bags or gift suites. You need to be a contributing part of the community in a way that's sincere. Make lots of friends on the web. You'd be surprised at how well that works!!


Lundeen Literary said...

Lisa has a great idea! Let's Do it!!! Of course, we've been doing that impromptu-like anyway, but what if it were a regular thing that we did on purpose?

@Brian Drake - We can't help you if you don't link us to your books, love… ;) Maybe give us a web address or a title?


S.J. Harris said...

the real question,
however, remains
"how many people buy?"

that's all that matters.

So far, two unsolicited customers have bought my book for $.99. Kind of discouraging.

Unknown said...


My suggestion is to look for some professional editing - see [almost] random extract -
'Muttering under his breath, he turned into a small dirt road that led out of the village and towards a light forest.'

This is in the first page. [Do I need to clarify the issue with 'he turned into a small dirt road'?]. I do not know what a 'light' forest is.

This would - and did - stop me reading any further. Perhaps that is part of the overall problem.

Also, not too keen on the web site - extraneous clickthru advertising may generate some revenue, but is not helpful for promoting your work.

This is intended as constructive comment. I daresay within a couple of months you and others will be able to make similar comment about my first ebook.

John West
[Web site to come -]
ebook to come - Broken Glass

Unknown said...

PS -

Guido - tremendous to post your problems.

Joe - your blogs are a major ebook education source.

Thanks to both of you.

John West

Selena Kitt said...

Hi Guido!

I'm speaking here not as an author, but as a reader, and as an avid reader of horror fiction at that. I love the stuff, eat it up with a spoon. I am always always always looking for my next favorite horror writer.

Before I read the comments, I headed over to Amazon to check out your books. I read the description. Not great, but okay. Intriguing. And the cover - awesome! Then I saw that $2.99 and balked at the price.

I know. But I did.

My finger hesitated over that 1-click button annnndd...

Nah. I back-clicked.

If it had been $0.99, I would have clicked without a moment's hesitation. And if I'd read the first and loved it and the rest were priced higher? Well hell, then you would have picked up another fan girl and I would have 1-clicked for you over and over again.

But to pay $2.99 for a novella by an unknown (to me) author....

As a reader, my instinct was "no."

I just wanted to share that experience with you, in case it might be helpful.

Speaking as an author now - I had the delightful privilege today to get an email from a fan who told me that they not only owned everything (everything!) I'd ever written, but they one-click my name every time they see it come up in new releases. Wow. How do you say thanks, right?

But here's the thing - Guido, you don't want money at this point. I mean, you do, but that's not really the thing. You want FANS. You want people who will see your name and one-click you without a second thought.

You could have had me for $0.99, baby. I'm cheap that way. But at $2.99, this fish got away.

J. R. Tomlin said...

To me it is noticable that so few of Guido's advertising efforts other than on his own website seem to have been online. There is a lot of evidence I have seen that off-line, traditional advertising does not transfer well to online purchases.

I wonder why he didn't concentrate more on places where he would reach ebook readers. Those other readers will probably be ebook readers eventually. But if they aren't now, they aren't going to buy his ebooks now.

No insult intended but I am not so sure he was thinking outside the box so much as in the old traditional box. If you want Kindle/Nook readers, surely you advertise where those people are, not where they aren't.

Just my tuppence on it.

Anonymous said...

"$2.99 for a novella seems like a bargain to me. If it's good, of course. If it's not, I don't even want it for free."

I think that's a key point. Fans of King, Rice, Rowlings etc aren't going to balk at paying $2.99 for one of their novellas, but an unknown??? I don't know that people are going to pay that for anything short of a full book. They can reread the classics for not much more than that...or for free.

I think if you've got no platform & aren't getting the *volume* of sales you want, worrying about profit margins is a bit like worrying about the mental discipline necessary to beat Tiger Woods when you can't even break 90.

Coral said...

Oh my goodness! I have the house to myself and decided to see what Joe was up to and wow... What a great conversation!

As a reader - I literally have read every book in a 20+ book series (paying between $6-12) because book one was given away free. I will and do buy $.99 books all day long to check out unknown authors. Once I find one I like, it's like a marriage 'til death due us part'. Hmmm I'm a female and size matters. I'm not going to pay a whole lot for a novella/short story. I can get those for FREE from a HUGE number of sites that I can list for you if you like and they're indie authors and they're dang good. I do look forward to checking out your series because I love ghost hunting. Have you hooked up with any local ghost hunters? I wrote a couple of short stories just for them and included advertisement at the end of the book and used local businesses to link to the story as well. It's fun, you meet great people, and it's fun. :)

As an (amateur) writer - Lisa of in a Pencil's idea is covered in all kinds of awesome sauce goodness! I'll be sending you an email. And just Joe's suggestions alone seem like something worth trying. You got nothing to lose.

Is it sad I consider this fun on a Friday night? hehe OK off to review/read a book!

Anonymous said...

BTW, thanks Guido for sharing your story with us and being a good sport allowing us to pick apart your every move! No matter what, keep writing.

One other think I wanted to mention from your post and I apologize if I'm repeating--you *can* tell how many people who go to your Amazon page are buying your book. It's under the section that says:
What Do Customers Ultimately Buy After Viewing This Item?
77% buy the item featured on this page:

That's a very high percentage...which is good. It means people going to your page are buying...which calls to question why you're not getting the volume *to* your page that you want.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you are absolutely right. That never occurred to me that that conversion value is actually there, if you look right. Thanks for pointing that out. It makes me feel a lot better... but then again those 77% could come from the fact that the volume has been priced at 99 cents from October up to January 1st.

Moses Siregar III said...

Three cheers for Guido for putting himself out there like this. Three more for Joe for hosting us.

Anonymous said...

Hey, every once in a while we all need someone to lay it on us. :D

Lindsay Buroker said...

Way to put yourself out there for critique Guido. That's gutsy!

I haven't read all the responses here, so apologies if I repeat, but this really rang a bell for me: "While ten books in the Jason Dark series is impressive, it might be time for Henkel to try something new."

The same things that can make a series wonderful (if people like it, they'll go onto read more) can be a real detriment too. If people try Book 1 and aren't into it, they aren't going to go on and try any of the others, so having the other nine doesn't help that much.

I'm a relative newcomer when it comes to e-publishing, but I've been making a living as a blogger for years, and I've definitely found that maybe 1 in 5 blogs I started would take off and start making me money. And no matter how much research I did, it was almost always impossible to predict which ones would be the winners.

If you try a number of different series, maybe one will take off and be The One. The cool things is you only need one "The One" in your lifetime to have it made. :)

Good luck!

Ebook Endeavors

Anonymous said...

Three words: Kindle Nation Daily.

An eBook of the Day sponsorship alone is worth the bucks. Believe me.

Brian Drake said...

@Brian Drake - We can't help you if you don't link us to your books, love… ;) Maybe give us a web address or a title?

Ask and ye shall receive. Direct links to my books can be found at my blog, Brian Drake Explains It All.

Anonymous said...

@Debbie, This may have gotten lost in the overall context of the blog post etc. but I did do a number of what I would call "obligatory" promotions, such as the Kindle Nation Daily eBook of the Day, Cheapreads promo and others. All of these I did while the book was priced at 99 cents.

I did see significant spikes during the days of these promos. Nothing spectacular but enough to pay for themselves.

Anonymous said...

Oh also, just because this has never been covered to any length in the discussion or original post.

For the entire first year I have had ALL volumes in their entirety available for people to read for FREE on the official website. I have since reduced it samples of about 50% of the books because I felt offering them had absolutely no impact and therefore didn't want the whole books sitting around on the web.

If this would have been a solid force to drive people to the site, yes, but it wasn't so there was no point in making them available entirely for free.

K. A. Jordan said...

I'm get an education every time I see a new post.

"...If you want Kindle/Nook readers, surely you advertise where those people are, not where they aren't.

This caught my attention. It rings true to me.

Also I want to relate this - as a Nook owner I got the first book of the "Fever" series by Karen Marie Moning for free. I read it, was impressed and bought the next books, which were priced higher as the series went on. Then I waited a couple of months for the last book to come out, and laid down the full $9.99 for it.

So using a combination of prices worked to reel me in.

Best wishes - and thanks for letting me behind the scenes. I have the same issues and appreciate the education.

wannabuy said...


Thank you for sharing. Great new cover!

Ummm... You have to rewrite your biography on Amazon. I'm not a writer, but your description sounds like 'hey, why don't I write.'

Perhaps start with:
"Award winning game designer Guido Henkel has been a writer for over 25 years..."

I'm not sure what level you worked on the games and such, but you should highlight your novels 1st and then list off the video game awards. (I'm not seeing you selling video games from your author profile on Amazon...)

Your reviews look fine. I'm going to join the chorus and note you need to do your first novel as a loss leaderat $0.99. Not for a week or two... for a long time.

But do fix your author profile... It just doesn't have 'it.' I'll let others recommend more.

Good luck,

Archangel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Archangel said...

@Guido, thanks for being our 'make over' guy. That takes cojones.

incidentally, I dig your name. It's memorable. And tough. Perfect for your genre, I think. My names are long, and early on in pub. some mktg and eds told me I should change or drop one part of another. It was funny in a way, cause most of their names were Ed, Al, Oz and Ted.(no offense to any named these). Besides, Guido has a totally cool meaning in old Teutonic: forest trail maker, guide through the forest. So it's good.

Regarding your ebks, just to add to the intelligence here, really a million bucks worth of advise. Listen to every word peeps have told you re platform. Listen re website ought not even lightly resemble Zig Zigler. Listen to not wasting $ on 'old publicy' tropes. Listen to advisement for price drop for 2 months (you have to plant perennials well in most hospitable soil and not keep uprooting the plant to see how its doing, otherwise it cant gain its toehold and grow well) c

We're all learning together, and I've learned a lot from your words and others here running along beside you. So thank you again.

Re your covers, they remind me of good thumbnails but not passed through final and pro production yet. It would be easy to fix those. As others have said, you have the opp to have huge continuity in this series with same font/F pattern on book face, and etc.

hang in there


Unknown said...

I'd rework the first novella a bit too. I love this kind of book, but the writing could be stronger.

Price it at $0.99. Then put it up on Smashwords for free and hope Amazon will price match so Amazon will offer it for free also.

I'd think about pricing the rest of the novellas at $1.99 and bundling them together in pairs at at $2.99.

There's really no reason not to have at least one of them at $0.99 when you have ten of them. Amanda Hocking has a couple of $0.99 books that start her series.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the price is as big a deal as it's being made out to be. I buy novella length fiction from writers I don't know at all and have never read a lot, often for more like 3-5 dollars than 2.99. If a book is good (ie the cover, description, and sample hook me), I'll purchase it for any reasonable price. If it isn't, I won't even download it for free.

I went and read some of your first book and I agree with what others who have read it are saying. I wasn't hooked at all. I was given good setting and mood, but there just wasn't any reason for me to care about the story or what was going on. I think a total redraft of that opening might help a lot (I imagine that your skills have improved after writing all these books). As the book stands now, even for free, I didn't want to continue reading, sorry.

If it had hooked me? The price wouldn't have deterred me at all. If you feel that these are on the short side of novella length, consider 1.99 or bundling two together for 3.99 or something. But first I'd pay greater heed to the writing and the blurbs (too many exclamation points in your descriptions for my personal taste).

Good luck. And thanks for standing up and being open to suggestions and putting yourself out there on this blog. That really takes guts.

Unknown said...

See, I don't understand why you don't just combine the series together and list them at $2.99. Instead of saying, "book one," why not just say "volume one," combine them, and depending on length, charge $2.99. But as I said before, I really think the writing needs to be stronger.

And to whoever recommended the book on social media, thank you! I am a complete moron in this area and want to educate myself.


Anne Marie Novark said...

Excellent post. I learned a ton.

I accidentally posted this wrong, so I'll try again.

Has anyone seen this?

Amanda Hocking

I'm wondering if this author has permission to use everyone's names. Is this on the up and up? Is it ethical?

Looks like she's trying to ride Amanda's and Joe's coat tails and make a fast buck.

Maybe I'm wrong. I hope I'm wrong.

*shakes head in disgust*

Scott W. Clark said...

You should take these writing critiques with a grain of salt. People don't read critically. If they did, nothing would get by not even some of the classics. People read for plot (not the same thing as reading for analysis) and are more forgiving.

One problem with all this help is that it can sit in your head when you sit down in fromt of the computer to write. You don't need that. No one does.

Time can be a factor and you might be tweaking something that hasn't had enough time to work its way through the system. If it doesn't hit quick it might just take some time.

Cheers and good luck.



These are just my two cents, but my gut feeling is that people KEEP buying because they like or are intriguied by the writer, by his or her personality. In my view, it is seduction - and almost never a straightforward cash transaction. It happens to me - I fall in love with a writer? I am doomed: sooner or later I will buy her or his books.

And so the necessary followup is that we need to allow the reader to see us for who we are (which is scary.) The good and the bad, the charming us, the nerdy us.

Again, just my two cents, and clearly something I'd better work on myself as well.

author of Kafka's House

Michael said...


That's a good question. There does come a point when you become a celebrity and your public info becomes fair game. It's not that much different than, "The Movie Making Secrets of Steven Spielger," or "How to be a Talk Show Personality like Howard Stern."

But the cover, with "Amanda Hocking" so prominent, makes it look like she wrote the book.

wannabuy said...

@AnneMarie:"Has anyone seen this?

Amanda Hocking

I would have listed as the Laura Donogue book that it is. (Amanda is *not* the author.)

I'm not sure permission is required. The book is also hopelessly out of date. Amanda has broken a half million sales!


JA Konrath said...

The book is also hopelessly out of date.

It also looks like the book was directly taken from my blog.

Mark Feggeler said...

All the discussion and breakdown of Guido's first book is extraordinarily informative. I am almost finished with the first draft of my first novel and I can see myself doing some of the very things people say Guido did in his.

Michael said...

"It also looks like the book was directly taken from my blog."

As in borrowing wholesale from your ideas, or as in outright plagiarism?

sean said...

Ive been reading a lot of blogs on this exact topic in the last few days - particularly since the debut of major news outlets having top eBook sales and seeing how a few independent authors are selling.
There is a balance between promoting and actually writing, but I think the key is to balance and do both. I never realized I would have to be a promoter, but that is what is moving books. So if that is what it takes. Great article as well!

Archangel said...

just as a pub'd author who's seen a lot go by in terms of plagiarist shennanigans and ill-placed ambition by various authors who often when asked about it, claim their filching all was meant 'to honor' those the work was filched from. My standard response is If you want to do an homage, ask me first... otherwise what you have in mind may not be accurate or timely.

However, re the book with A Hocking's name at top like a movie marque, giving a seeming wrong impression that Amanda is author of this book, and if said author (who is not Amanda) is presumably writing under 'fair use' from amanda's and joe's and others' works...

IF it is indeed fair use (a certain number of words, for say, research purposes, etc) this apparently graphically misleading book may be protected under 1st amendment (which contrary to some pop belief, does not protect all speech nor ways of acting with speech). But in copyright law/ intellectual property law, there is a clause for 'fair use.' Meaning only a small portion in proportion to the whole blog entry, interview, poem, chapter, etc.

However, there's almost no better way to shoot oneself in the foot than to undermine one's own credibility by making a book like that one with Amanda's name writ HUGE, seem something it is not... presumable, IMO, to try to draw a readership by 'coat-tailing'.

I would imagine those who review a book that carries another author's name as though the book is by or about that author, only.... might say in their reviews that the contents of this book are available for free at x. That the contents are outdated. That... etc.

That's the huge risk taken by any author, in my two cents worth... to give the impression of misrepresentation graphically or otherwise. Basic trust with potential readers not just on origin of material, but timeliness and up to date reliability of the data... that seems the place where readers/ reviewers will have their say.

Yet, too, since parodies are often covered by 1st Amendment, one could say the book, being out of date, is a parody. But it would be in author's best interest to state so right on cover, again, so readers are not misled.

I've always felt bewildered when a person said x, y and z will be solved by such and such method or item, but there's no meat there... after paying for meat. Whether a $3 night light from Target that doesnt work, or a $14 trade paperback that doesnt deliver what it promised on the cover... it leave a feeling of aversion for future purchases pretty certain.

caveat emptor

Tuppshar Press said...

Regarding the Laura Donoghue "how to" book, I glanced at the Smashwords page and the one review, and was struck by how amateurish the whole thing seemed. The writing in the sample is awkward, and given the large amount of material dealing with self-publishing that is freely available (and much better written and probably more timely and accurate) on sites like this one, it's hard to imagine plunking down $2.99 or even $0.10 for this, even if it turned out Amanda Hocking did write it.

Mikaela said...

@Mary Anne Graham:
I am not sure what you mean by selling Previews for .99? Since both Amazon and Smashwords offers samples. For free. So who would buy the previews?

Coolkayaker1 said...

Two points about Jason's guest blog and Joe's reply: Jason, you clearly know your stuff. I really appreciate seeing someone with a quality product telling us how you think through the process of book marketing. Recent posts here seem to all proclaim "It's easy, look, I have no advertising and I'm selling 50k books a month." While that may be true for a few, it's not most. You speak for the "mosts" out here.

And Joe, I appreciate your asking your blog readers for their opinion (finishing your section with a question). While I know you're an outstanding writer (I have read 3 of your books) and own this blog, you seem to carry plenty of vinegar over the years of searching for sales in print publishing. You've well-documented your straiggles early on, and your super success now. More power to you, and appreciate your candor. It's the incessant drubbing of the print publishers, the "gatekeepers", that gets very old, especially post after post. Thank you for keeping it fresh, keeping it positive, and that attitude springs forth in this post. Hopefully the sunny days ahead for us in western Chicagoland will have you and us readers looking up and smiling more than we have all winter.

Mary Anne Graham said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Naomi Clark said...

I actually bought Demon's Night today before I visited Joe's blog. Coincidence?

Whilst this is exactly my kind of horror - pulpy, b-movie esque - I have to say, I find Guido's website very off-putting. It just feels very ... uninviting and I can't quite put my finger on why. Maybe there's just too much going on on the home page?

As for Twitter, I'm addicted, and I love interacting with readers and writers there. I prefer it to Facebook, which always feels slightly juvenile to me. Don't think of it as a place to advertise though; find people who share your interests, talk to them, and let them come to you with regards to your books.

JA Konrath said...

It's the incessant drubbing of the print publishers, the "gatekeepers", that gets very old, especially post after post.

The gatekeepers still exist, like minefields from old wars. Which means they can keep hurting writers.

I need to preach this 24/7 until all writers realize they can do better.

If it's old for you, leave.

Too harsh?

Okay, if it's old for you, you can take up the mantle and make sure EVERY WRITER knows self-pubbing is a viable alternative.

When you finished preaching to every writer, you're allowed to say it's "very old."

wannabuy said...

@Joe" It also looks like the book was directly taken from my blog."

It reads like a quick summary of your blog circa two weeks ago.


wannabuy said...

@CoolKayaker:" It's the incessant drubbing of the print publishers, the "gatekeepers", that gets very old, especially post after post."

If the other side wasn't doing far worse... Someone has to counter their lies. Look at the NY Times 'best seller list!'

"E-books available exclusively from a single vendor will be tracked at a future date."

"Among the categories not actively tracked at this time are: perennial sellers, required classroom reading, textbooks, reference and test preparation guides, journals, workbooks, calorie counters, shopping guides, comics, crossword puzzles and self-published books."

I wondered how Amanda Hocking couldn't be on that list. Simple, the AAP publishers made their ad sponsored list lie.

If the publishers are going to pull off BS like that will the help of the NY Times... Than they can deal with one author telling it like it is.

Hat tip Kindle forums.


Stitch said...

First of all, big thanks to Guido for sharing, and to Joe for letting him.

Now, as long as we're brutally honest, here are my comments. (To keep my comments from becoming a small novella in its own right, I'll divide them up into smaller chunks.)

The Website
* It feels more like a corporate website than an author's website, in my opinion. It's not very inviting or engaging.
* There are a number of things that I would change for SEO purposes, but I won't go into them here. Suffice to say, there are things you can do to improve your Google search rankings.
* Likewise, there are a number of things that I would change to improve navigation and ease of use.
* The ads are horrible. Simple as that. If you're not making serious money from them, and I seriously doubt that you are, I would definitely get rid of them. Have you tried reading your story samples yourself? I couldn't even force myself to read the first page because of the blinking and animated banners.
* I think there is a huge risk that the forums are doing more harm than good. When I visit the forums, I do not get the urge to participate, because there isn't really anything to participate in. It's just a bunch of empty tables. I don't believe in setting up a message board in advance. I would take the forums offline, and maybe put up a guestbook instead. Introduce the forums when the guestbook is no longer enough.

To be continued...

Stitch said...

Here's a question for you: Which book is more valuable? The one priced at $100,000 that sells 0 copies, or the one priced at $1 that sells 100,000 copies? I don't know about you, but for me (and I have a feeling that Joe agrees) the answer is clear.

I would probably do something like this:
* Price the first (and maybe the second) novella at $.99 each.
* Price the rest at $1.49 each.
* Bundle them in threes for $2.99 each.
* Bundle all of them for $6.99.

To be honest, I would probably stop advertising. At least offline. Some well placed online ads may give results, but I have a hard time believing offline ads will sell ebooks. (Unless you're HUGE!)

The Product
* Personally, I hate when books in a series are not numbered. The number doesn't have to be on the cover, but I think it should be easily found in the title, description, or meta data.
* The covers can definitely by improved. The artwork is fantastic, but I would change the fonts and layout. As it is now, the books don't look much like they are connected.
* I haven't read any of the stories, so I can't comment on the actual writing. However, based on other comments, revising the first few stories may be a very good idea. To take them up a notch, if they need to be. This is just one of the fantastic advantages of e-publishing compared to paper. You can revise your work and republish without any significant investment.

S.J. Harris said...

The gatekeepers still exist, like minefields from old wars.


That's the simile of the week.

But don't you think publishers still serve an important function, Joe? After all, the paper mill workers' kids gotta eat too.

Stitch said...

And I almost forgot.... I would include a word and/or page count in the product descriptions, so a potential customer knows what they're buying. If I expect 300 pages and only get 70, I'll be disappointed, whatever price I paid.

Anonymous said...

* It feels more like a corporate website than an author's website, in my opinion.

That is intentional. It is not supposed to be an author's website. It is a corporate product website, so evidently I have achieved my goal there at least. I have my blog as the "author's website."

*Have you tried reading your story samples yourself? I couldn't even force myself to read the first page because of the blinking and animated banners.

Again, that is the whole purpose. I was even thinking about including interstitials there because while I offer the free reading service I don't want people to be too comfortable with it. I want a less than stellar experience here to make purchasing the book for a meager $2.99 more attractive. So, again it seems as if I have actually succeeded.

J. E. Medrick said...

"I offer the free reading service I don't want people to be too comfortable with it. I want a less than stellar experience"

... You have lost me. Well, I guess I understand, but I can't wrap my mind around it. Why would you want any interaction with your product to be LESS than PERFECT?

I think you think they'll read it and want to buy it to avoid ads... but really, most people will just remember the annoyed undercurrent of reading it like that. You should want to portray your writing in the most intoxicating way possible - to draw readers in, not drive them away from a free sample.

The sample is just a sample, it is meant to entice... to make you want more.

Here is my analogy for you:
You go to a high-end restaurant and order an appetizer. When it comes, there is a giant wad of black hair smack dab in the middle. Calling the waiter over, you exclaim, "I can't eat this! It's horrible!" He calls the chef out to explain and the chef says,

"I wanted to make sure your appetizer was less than stellar, so you will want to buy the fillet mignon."

For me, I'd walk out. They can keep their hairy appetizers (and everything that comes after!)

J. E. Medrick

Selena Kitt said...

I'm wondering if this author has permission to use everyone's names. Is this on the up and up? Is it ethical?

Well she sure as heck didn't ask me to use mine! :P


I imagine some folks will plunk down some cash for this... but unfortunately, they're going to be misled. Lots of misinformation in there it seems.

Joe, if she's seriously plagiarizing, perhaps a cease and desist is in order? It sounds like she's pulling some of this information directly from your blog posts...but she's not portraying things very accurately.

Of course, what is it they say? The only bad publicity is no publicity.... ;)

Tara Maya said...

Neil, I'd heard the NYT was going to start tracking ebooks. I didn't realize they decided to just ignore indie authors. Wow. Thanks for the heads up.

Anonymous said...

@J. E. Medrick

I don't think your analogy works at all. To me it is more like watching a movie on TV. It kills me, and if I only marginally like the movie I'd rather pay $20 for the Blu-Ray Disc or DVD and watch it in proper presentation quality and without the constant distractions.

Coolkayaker1 said...

Joe wrote, "The gatekeepers still exist, like minefields from old wars. Which means they can keep hurting writers."

A writer would be best to enjoy the output of ANY model that prints the work of writers. Blogs, ebooks, and print publishers all support the art of the author.

Plus, as discussed and you acknowledged as a possibility earlier, the sooner the print publishers fail, the sooner Amazon and e-publishers may reduce author royalties.

So, I raise a bottle of Negra Modelo to anyone, anyhow, who publishes anything, by any means, that is written by an author.


J. E. Medrick said...


But it isn't about what you would do, right? It's about how your readers will react. People here have told you it's difficult to enjoy - and thus get "hooked" - by your current presentation.

To you buying the $20 disc, I would say, why would I when I can watch it on Netflix that only charges me $8 a month... and I can watch thousands of other movies besides? And TV shows!

People want to be entertained and I think you're shooting yourself in the foot by deliberately giving them a bad experience.

J. E. Medrick

thebuckedoff2 said...

Everything you put up as a blog has inspired me in my writing. I just wanted to stop by and say thanks. I really do appreciate every bit of the effort you go through to show us that way in our publishing futures. Thanks again.

Stitch said...

That is intentional. It is not supposed to be an author's website. It is a corporate product website, so evidently I have achieved my goal there at least. I have my blog as the "author's website."

I haven't read your blog, only had a quick look. Who is the intended audience for it? The reader? Why would your readers and fans be interested in how to format ebooks? It looks to me that your blog is aimed at other writers. How does that help?

...while I offer the free reading service I don't want people to be too comfortable with it. I want a less than stellar experience here to make purchasing the book for a meager $2.99 more attractive. So, again it seems as if I have actually succeeded.

Wow.... Just... Wow.... Yes, you have succeded in making me not want to read your stories, even for free. I'm not clear on how that is positive for you as a writer. Please explain. And I'm not trying to be sarcastic here, I really am wondering.

You are intentionally creating a bad experience for your website visitors. You are intentionally making potential readers associate your books with negative feelings. How is any of this a good thing? How will it make anyone want to give you money?

I think you are stuck in old thinking, and if you don't adapt, you will never sell a lot of product. That may sound harsh, but I'm just being honest. But hey, I'm no expert, I may be completely wrong on all points. But, both me and my wife like the genre and might like your stories. You are driving us away from them, instead of sucking us in. Think about that.

Kris said...

This post and the entire conversation have been quite enlightening to a a newbie in this revolutionary world of self-publishing. Thanks everyone for the education.

JA Konrath said...

So, I raise a bottle of Negra Modelo to anyone, anyhow, who publishes anything, by any means, that is written by an author.

Oh come on now.

I'm not going to toast to publishers who exploit, mistreat, and undervalue me. Who make mistakes that cost me money and hurt my career. Who hold me back. Who refuse to learn, change with the times, or open their minds.

Why do I give publishers hell? Because they deserve that, and more. They follow an archaic business model in a broken industry.

Borders is now filing for bankruptcy. Borders, who sells as much as 20% of what publishers print.

If you're toasting to publishers, it's a farewell toast.

Unknown said...

Guido, you forget one thing:
-> the HUGE competition you have!
You are driving the potential customers to the competition...
The reader is just looking for something good to read, and an annoyed reader is just going to move to the next author!
It's no wonder you have trouble selling to the public...

Robin Sullivan said...

Joe Konrath said...A 99 cent ebook that sells 100,000 copies has a lot more value than a $2.99 ebook that sells 1000 copies. Simple as that.

I don't agree as many of the 99 cent copies will never be read and therefore they've not really added new readers. And besdies that is not the most likely math. Most in the $2.99 to $0.99 debate state their sales increse 3x so we are talking 1,000 vs 3,000 not 1,000 verses 100,000.

Robin | Write2Publish | Michael J. Sullivan's Writings

Robin Sullivan said...
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Robin Sullivan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robin Sullivan said...

Just got done reading the whole post (been busy) So this is going to a response to the hread as a whole.

1 - Regarding Nathan Lowell and Platform - HE IS THE MAN when it comes to this. I encourage all authors to listen and take his advise as he has masterfully created a group of rabid fans which makes my job as his publisher SO MUCH easier.

2 - Regarding Guido's book - from what I see I think that you could stand for some rewriting - and I applaud you for taking the advise of people here. Michael is in of a revamp of his first book (even though it is selling very well) to correct some deficiencies. This is one of the great things about ebooks is you can adjust and improve without paying $$'s to do so.

3 - Regarding Amanda Donahue's book - She didn't ask any of our permission (from what I know) - not Joe, Michael(Robin), Selena, and I'm 100% sure not Amanda. I had to buy it just to see what was there - which isn't much. She in general was very complimentary to the author's profiled so its some free publicity but there is nothing "there" "there" for anyone trying to find real success

Robin | Write2Publish | Michael J. Sullivan's Writings

Coolkayaker1 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Coolkayaker1 said...

Hi Joe. Your venom for the publishers runs deep, it's clear. I can understand: I read your newbie's guide and know how much effort you've put into marketing and promotion in the past. A publisher's dream author, really, in that regard. So, I can certainly see how you're feeling devalued. It's stuck in your craw pretty good.

For what it's worth, Joe, I think I'm right when I say, the e-publishing industry was a nascent "blip" in publishing at the time you wrote many of your detective novels. So, you really have not missed the boat by going traditional publishing when you did. In fact, as a champion of e-pubbing, you were one of the first to use it successfully. Your timing was impeccable!

Thanks, Joe, for not being harsh--well, too harsh, anyhow--to me. You'll get your wish: Borders and B and N and Penguin and Random House will fall, and you will continue having success online.

That is, unless Amanda Hocking dethrones you. LOL

Have a great Sunday. And here's a quote from Stephen Covey (7 Habits) that echoes you and the traditional publishers:

“It isn’t the snake bite that does the serious damage; it’s chasing the snake that drives the poison to the heart”

Give up the chase, you have survived--and even thrived, Joe.

Thanks for setting a new bar for young and new authors.

Tuppshar Press said...

I want a less than stellar experience here to make purchasing the book for a meager $2.99 more attractive. So, again it seems as if I have actually succeeded.

Guido, if I may offer a bit of what I hope is helpful advice, I think you are thinking about marketing too hard, and that you may be trying to guess what your prospective customers will do before they do it. The trouble is, they may not follow the path you think they will from first seeing your book to clicking on the "buy" button.

I would suggest simplifying, and by this I mean making the process of deciding to buy your book as simple as possible, with as few steps as possible. Here are the most important things to focus on, in my experience:

1. The cover. Make it attractive, relevant, and catchy. As I think you noted, it helps if it looks good as a thumbnail image. This is also a good place to state just where in a series the book belongs. The purpose of a cover is to catch the eye and give the viewer a quick impression of your book, encouraging them to look further, leading to the blurb.

2. The blurb. Don't just say what the book is about, but give the reader a reason to want to read it. Treat it not as a book summary but as a gentle sales pitch. This can include asking leading questions, as is common in the romance genre: "Will Esmerelda overcome her past trauma at the hands of Bret and learn to love again? Will Thomas realize that true love need not be with a noblewoman? Will they overcome the odds and find the passion that only exists in each other's arms?" Some blurbs open with a quote from the book that is especially catchy: "'Time to see the goods,' Bret snarled, his swordpoint slicing open the silk ribbon of her bodice." Ideally, this gets the viewer to buy right away (you can get some indication of this from Amazon's "What do Customers Ultimately Buy after Viewing this Item?"), or failing that, to lie awake at night thinking about your book, so they are more likely to return for another look.

3. The sample. Make sure that your book is well-formatted, and most of all, make sure the writing is as good as you can make it. Make sure you have a good hook in the first paragraph or two that makes your reader want to read on: "Despite its color, her thin red negligee did little to hide the blood." Ideally, they buy after the first few paragraphs; failing that, they read on to the end of the sample and then cry "More!"

All three of these things are either on the sales page or are directly accessible from it. Everything else, such as webpages and forums and blogs and twitter and such, are elsewhere, and require the prospective buyer to go there, which creates the risk that they won't come back to the buy page. The ultimate goal of things like blogs and forums devoted solely to your work is to serve an established fan base, but generally these things won't build one themselves.

Also remember that some things are out of your hands, and that spending too much time trying to make them happen is probably not time well-spent. Reviews, for example, can be flattering when they are good and can help sales (and even a good negative one can help you improve your writing), but the choice to write one isn't yours. So remember the mantra that has been repeated here again and again: write more books and be patient.

Best of luck, and hope this is helpful!

Kendall Swan said...

Ok so I'm responding to a post by Robin that I read in my emailed comments but doesn't seem to be showing up here.
Here's what I'm responding to:

But...what if you have a chance to be a "break out novelist". I think that can only happen with the big-six. To many of the things necesary to make this happen is controlled by them

- Coop placement
- NYT Book Reviews
- Influence in the industy.

The real question then comes down to...which will you be? It is all crystal ball speculation...and depends on what kind of "lovin" you are going to get from the publisher, which you have no guarnantees of.

Bottom this stage of publishing the "safe bet" is self - and you can make not just good money but great money. Like Joe, Michael is clearing tens of thousands of dollasrs a month.

But you'll hit a glass ceiling and will never be a houshold name in self-publishing...few outside our writer echo chamber know who Amazda is.

I agree with you Robin that self is the safe bet now.

And I'll even give you that maybe, yes, TODAY, breakout hits are by the big6.

But for how much longer? I would venture to say less than a year.
When Amanda hits 1 million and Amazon advertises her new status in the exclusive club with Patterson, Roberts, and Larsson-- that will be a game changing day.

The NYT will lose credibility for not including self pubbers in their ebook bestseller lists. Everyone will sit up and take notice of this new phenom called self publishing.

The conversation will mirror that of when internet self publishing took off. Just because there were (and still are) tons of really, really bad websites out there didn't mean everyone stopped using the internet. All of us individual users (readers) explored and found the good stuff.

The NYT will then have to be content to merely reporting on author's sales and success rather than creating it.


Kendall Swan said...

Ok just noticed she left that comment on the Blake Crouch post. Sorry about that.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Kendle - I agree with you, in the future this may change - I sure hope it does. But it will take several Amazda's instead of just one. Currently she is the only oen that I know of who has really hit the stratesphere.

There are many others doing VERY well...Joe, my husband Michael, Vicki, B.V. Larson, H.P. Mallory, J.R. Rain but we really are at what I would term "mid-list" level.

Right now that makes Amazda an outlier and until we get a few more of her running about we won't see the change you are talking about. Will it happen...I really thinks so. But I don't think the traditional strangle hold on "star making" power will happen for at least a year....maybe two.

JA Konrath said...

You'll get your wish: Borders and B and N and Penguin and Random House will fall, and you will continue having success online.

I won't cheer when the system collapses. In fact, I've done my best to inform publishers how they should have been responding to this revolution.

They haven't listened.

I'm not angry at publishers. I'm saddened they don't see what's coming, and protect themselves and their authors, me included.

I practically begged my last publisher to release my upcoming ebook at $2.99 without DRM. They didn't even so much as entertain the concept.

So I see it as a service for newbie writers to warn them. If I had just finished my first novel, I'd certainly want someone to warn me?

Venom? Nah. I'm just Chicken Little, warning the world.

Sarah Woodbury said...

Kristin Rusch just posted this:

Changing times . . .

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of the advice here.

Guido, I personally think that your covers look outdated and pulpy. Although that might be what you want, they aren't attractive to me.

I think that your website for Jason Dark is good (although the cover images don't look good as thumbnails-- you can't even read the title).

My advice is to make the first book in your series 99 cents to get people interested in buying the rest. Trying a lower price point for two months isn't long enough to let Amazon's Analytics do their job.

And there's no excuse for printing offset and not using CreateSpace or LSI. It's not a good marketing tactic. You should never drive individual sales to your website. You should drive sales to Amazon or Barnes and Noble-- always. Any money that you might be making on offset copies you are losing from simply not having the sales produce more referrals on Amazon. I drive all sales to Amazon, and I earn referral revenues (via the Amazon affiliates program), which completely covers my Adwords budget (about $300-$500 per month).

CreateSpace is so easy, too-- you don't have to carry any inventory (except for review copies) and you can link the Kindle and Paperback editions. The reviews will populate on both detail pages and both editions will drive sales of the book.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I just I noticed a video for BAMBI (the Disney movie) pop up (Full-screen) on the Jason Dark website. It almost crashed my computer while it was loading. That's a no-no.

That was totally lame. I hate pop up ads and even worse, if you are trying to sell horror books, people shouldn't be seeing Bambi videos.

The ads should be affiliate links for your books, not lame ads for Disney movies. Strip them out.

Kendall Swan said...

@Sarah Thanks for introducing me to another cool blog (or maybe I shouldn't thank you......). Obviously, this girl is brilliant since she is of the same opinion as me. That is a completely unbiased, non-ego based analysis.

wannabuy said...

@Robin:"1 - Regarding Nathan Lowell and Platform - HE IS THE MAN when it comes to this. I encourage all authors to listen and take his advise as he has masterfully created a group of rabid fans"

Understatement... Once Nathan's solar clipper series is out in whole, I expect his sales to add a zero or two. :) IMHO, it is wise of him to 'end the series.' Some readers wait until the series is complete. (Not I!)


Robin Sullivan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robin Sullivan said...

@Sarah - thank you thank you. I've found a whole new blog to follow - Really like the link you posted.

In just a few minutes I found my next blog post. Following the other blog it showed that the top sellers for all of 2009 ranged from:

Hardcovers (100K - 5.5M)
Trade Paperback (100K - 3.5M)

Amazda Hocking sold 450K books in JANUARY!! How can she be snubbed by NYT ebook list - What an outrage!

@wannabuy - I think I'm going to accelerate Nathan's production schedule from 6 months to 4 months. To get the whole series out faster.

Robin | Write2Publish | Michael J. Sullivan's Writings

bowerbird said...

let's remember that
amanda's total is for
_multiple_ books,
and not just _one_...

it's still _remarkable_,
still _mind-blowing_...

but one needs to
compare apples to
apples, not oranges.

however... goodness,
selling 450,000 units
in a single month is an
accomplishment which
is truly quite amazing.

especially if -- as we
might well expect --
that number doubles
in february. after all,
it quadrupled in january,
and went up 10-fold
in december.

let's also keep in mind
that amazon has only
sold a certain number
of kindles. we do not
know that number, but
estimates place it at
less than 20 million...

even accepting the fact
that you don't need to
own a kindle machine
to buy a kindle-book,
she cannot keep selling
a million _every_month_.

maybe she can do it
for all of this year, or
maybe not, but still...
at some time, it has to
level off to the number
of new kindles being
sold in that month...

let us start to prepare
for that eventual time,
and set our resolve
that we will not allow
ourselves to feel any
when it arrives. got it?


Vinzenz said...

Interesting discussion going on here. :)


I would agree that the Jason-Dark-website is due for an overhaul. The header graphic looks awesome, but the rest of the design really is off-putting and not at all pleasing to the eye. To me, it looks like a website from the late 90's or early 2000's, which would suggest that you either don't know what you're doing or you don't care enough about the product to update your design and feel. I'm sure that's NOT what you want to convey.

I would also suggest putting yourself -- Guido, the writer -- out there just a little more. Right now, as you put it yourself, you are treating "Jason Dark" as a product, a corporate enterprise, and it clearly is. From what I've gathered, it's also very much a labor of love, and that, IMHO, is going to get you much further in this day and age than "advertising your product".

Looking at your post, I'm in AWE of everything you did in an effort to promote "Jason Dark", and I completely get why you went there. Heck, my initial knee-jerk reaction was, 'That's awesome, I'm gonna do that, too!'. Except, I won't, -- because it didn't work. The fact of the matter is that you, I, Joe and just about ever other indie author out there cannot compete with the marketing dollars of a major corporation. I was told very recently that you'd have to spend AT LEAST half a million bucks in order for print, TV and/or radio ads to really make sense. I don't have that kind of budget, and I daresay you don't either. So, why go there?

You may not have the dollars, but you have your stories, you have your reasons for writing them, and you have your own unique personality. I'm convinced that THOSE are the foundations we'll all be building our platforms on in the future. The appeal of the slickly designed product is very quickly fading. What people want is for others to be themselves, to be open, and to be authentic. Why not get a headstart?

jtplayer said...

Here's an interesting interview with Amanda on a Minnesota TV station. This was linked on her blog, and I also saw it on You Tube.

Btw...the interview states she's sold 500k in 10 months, not one.

Amanda Hocking on KTTC- eBook eVolution

jtplayer said...

To put a finer point on it, the reporter states Amanda has "nearly half a million book sales in the last 10 months".

Amanda herself says she sold 169,000 in December alone.

She seems like a really nice young woman, very down to earth. No matter how you look at it, her story is pretty damn impressive.

Donald Wells said...

Joe, thanks for another great post and discussion.
Guido, best of luck.

wannabuy said...

@Robin:"I think I'm going to accelerate Nathan's production schedule from 6 months to 4 months. To get the whole series out faster."

Strike while the Iron is hot is old good advice.

That's 3 sales/year from me instead of 2 sales/year. ;)

I also think Nathan will do far better after he as his 2nd series under his belt. I know, a few years off...


bowerbird said...

amanda's numbers are huge.
no matter how you slice them.
so who cares about specifics?

especially if you're a person
who bashes self-publishing?

but, for the record, the t.v.
interview was taped on 1/25.

amanda hit a half-million 1/30:

so the reporter got it right.
(which is a pleasant surprise;
usually you can count on them
to mess up _something_ big.)

of course, they coulda known
by the time the piece aired,
the total would be outdated.
but you do the best you can.

on february 3, amanda said she
sold 100,000 in the last _week_:

considering the number growth,
and the fact amanda now is on
the u.s.a. today bestseller list
(but not the n.y. times, as they
"don't count" the self-published)
her trends will get goosed again.

so whatever her total is now,
we know it'll soon be outdated.


jtplayer said...

"especially if you're a person
who bashes self-publishing?"

I hear ya man, those self-pub haters piss me off too.

But anyway, facts are facts, and USA Today got it wrong, and many people ran with it (including many posting here), even though the correct information was out there.

wannabuy said...

@JT"Btw...the interview states she's sold 500k in 10 months, not one."

We'll all celebrate when she breaks a million.

I believe the mis-understanding comes from the wording of this USA today article that implies 450k sales in January but rather should read 450k sales to date through January 2011 (since then late reports have increased the sales numbers).

To think, she only broke 100k total sales in November on her first month of 20k+ sales.

She'll increase the number of books out there which will easily bring her sales over 500k/month this year. It is a question of when not if. :)

For Amanda:
November sales 20k
December sales 100k+
January sales 200k+

We could be in that 500k month or it might not happen until the late year sales surge.


Rex Kusler said...

I tried blogging about my books and writing, and couldn't get much traffic. I really don't have anything to say about writing that hasn't been said a lot. So I deleted my blog (twice). Then today I got a new idea for a blog that I had been thinking about for a long time. That might work better, and I'll have more fun with it. If not, I can always delete it again. The great thing about Blogger, is they let you undelete blogs for up to 90 days.

antares said...

@ Guido Henkel

Myself, I write, too. Joe gave me the kick to publish on If editing (ebook formatting) and cover art come in on schedule, I shall publish Heart of Stone in April.

Three things to say about your situation.

1. I recall the lyrics to an old country and western song: "It took twenty long years to become an overnight sensation."

2. If eight people tell you that you are a horse, you oughta get a saddle.

3. Comparison is the heart of all unhappiness.

Keep writing. Keep learning. Keep focusing your goals.

Margaret Falk said...

On the bundling point, I think that is a great idea. When you have a series, why not bundle books and give them an enticing price point? More and more, it's becoming evident that eBook readers are price sensitive, they love good value, and who doesn't?

I asked Amazon if it would be possible to bundle multiple books in a price promotion without including them in the same eBook edition and they said they would forward that suggestion to the right people. May be too problematic for them.

Naomi Clark said...

Guido, a lot of your logic seems counter-intuitive to me. If I go to an author's website, have a horrible time with pop-ups, ads, flash, and general annoyances, I'm not going to think, "sod it, I'll just buy his book." I'm going to think, "sod it, I'll go somewhere less painful on my eyes."

Am I missing something here? It seems you're driving a lot of potential readers away by using sales techniques that depend on readers being irritated into buying from you ... which probably isn't going to happen.

Jon VanZile said...

Hey, Guido ... I just read over your samples and had a few editing suggestions. I'm not really used to offering this kind of feedback in "public," but I guess this is the deal for this post.

I liked a lot of things about your writing (Demon's Night) and the set-up and mood. It's hard to go wrong with foggy London, right? And scary, murderous mist is always a good thing. I liked that you set it up fairly quickly (although I agree with an earlier commenter about opening with the weather) and there's a sense of the larger narrative to come even within the first sample. So plot-wise, I was in.

I did see a few things, however, that would give me pause if I was looking for reading material. First, there were several (albeit minor) grammar errors, but I personally have a low tolerance for grammar errors in the first few pages of a book. A blog post with errors? No big deal. A novel? Uh-oh.

Mainly, though, my thoughts focused on the point-of-view issues. The book opens with omniscient narration, bouncing among the various characters and even into the mist's thoughts until it settles on Jason Dark. The narrator also tells us things the characters themselves can't possibly know. I'm not one of those freaky "no head hopping!" types, but in this case, I think it costs you some urgency. There's a certain distance between me (the reader) and the story as a result of the distance imposed by the narration. When the character dies, it's like I'm watching it from a comfy seat in my living room, not living it. So I lost the immediacy of their terror and the strangeness of what's happening. In particular, in the first scene, when the old man doesn't see what's happening behind him, I thought, "Then why do I know it?! Don't give this awesome stuff away so cheaply!"

Personally, I'd recommend opening with a more limited POV, even if you jump between different characters. Give me less exposition, more internal atmosphere. Don't give me the narrator's impressions ... because then I'm pulled from the sensory experience of reading ... and give me the real-world experiences of the characters, limited to what they think, see, feel, hear, touch, taste and smell.

I don't know if that makes sense, but it was my strong impression as I read, and only speaking for myself, it would give me pause to run across this before I made a purchasing decision.

gniz said...

I've just finished reading all of the comments and have to say, Guido, you appear to be getting very good advice on the whole.

So far, though, on most of the points people have made, you seem to have excuses for why these points aren't valid. For instance, the price point issue. You don't like the idea of 99 cents. Well, I hate to say it, but what does it matter whether you like it or not? It's not about what you like.

Here's a hint. I would much rather sell my books for more money. So would most writers. I am selling some of my novels--at 85k words and above--at 99 cents. You think I ENJOY that? No, I did it because they weren't selling at 2.99. Now some may disagree with my selling a novel that cheaply. But I'll tell you this, I didn't do it because I liked the idea...

And similarly with your website and the ads. People are saying to you that it doesn't work, that it's unpleasant, etc. You seem to say that you are glad it's a horrible experience because you don't want people to enjoy the free material.

These kinds of statements make me feel that there is a deeper reason why your work isn't currently selling. You don't appear willing to be flexible and change based on what your customers and the market is telling you.

And that will be a very difficult flaw to overcome. That stubbornness and the unwillingness to change course will not stand you in good stead in a fast changing business like epublishing.

I hope after the sting of all these comments wears off you're able to take a look and reassess how you've been trying to operate in this new world.

You can see a lot of books, but it will be on the marketplace's terms, not yours.



gniz said...

BTW "see" should be "sell" as in, you can sell a lot of ebooks but it will be on the marketplace's terms, not yours.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to mirror others gratitude to Guido for putting himself out there and being so willing to listen and learn. I've been devouring these comments and it's a terrific education. Thanks Guido for making it possible and thanks to everyone else for their insight thoughts.

I've got multiple short stories up on Kindle and Smashwords and not sold, but I know I'm at the beginning and learning. This is a wonderful education. Thanks to all!

Anonymous said...

Belly laugh of the day goes to JE's resturant analogy. I don't think it's entirely accurate but it should get the point across in a funny way.

A better analogy would be making your covers intentionally ugly so people don't get fascinated with them and are forced to read your content. Not to beat a dead horse, but add me to the list of people suggesting as positive an experience as possible to your website visitors.

ModWitch said...

I've said it before - I think you're missing a big marketing opportunity in how you classify your books. Fans of gothic horror will find you. I'd try classifying your stuff as "paranormal mystery" (much bigger, hotter genre, and you fit), and calling your guy "Jason Dark, paranormal detective" (right in your amazon title listing). It's good to chase niche audiences for your books - but what "else" is your series, besides gothic horror? How can you help those potential readers find you?

Archangel said...

from publisher's lunch on new deals:

D.B. Henson's self-published Kindle bestseller (and Kindle "customer favorite") DEED TO DEATH, featuring a successful young Nashville real estate agent who, in the aftermath of having to bury her fiancé on their wedding day, is determined to prove the police's suicide theory wrong and soon uncovers a deadly web of lies, to Lauren Spiegel at Touchstone, for publication in July 2011, by Noah Lukeman at Lukeman Literary Management (World).


David Wisehart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Wisehart said...

Very interesting news about D.B. Henson. Her book is making a ton of money as a Kindle bestseller. That must have been some incredible deal they offered her.

I thought indie authors selling at that level would continue to go it alone, but I guess not.

I suppose the fact that she's been selling her book for 99 cents means she's not giving up a 70% royalty. A traditional publisher should be able to match or better the 35% she's getting now.


Robin Sullivan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robin Sullivan said...

Regarding D.B. Henson...this is interesting news - I also thought that someone selling at that level would never take a traditional deal. But being represented by Noah Lukeman...Yeah that would tip the scales substantially. I don't think there is anyone in the publishing business who is better at picking true "break out" people. Also notice...July 2011 release date - this is an accellerated release. My prediction...with this D.B. will probably be the first "indie" to become a "name". Even dispite the fact that Amazda is outselling D.B. by huge numbers. This will be a true test of whether traditional pubishing can "beat" indie. I suggest everyone keep their eyes on this one.

Robin | Write2Publish | Michael J. Sullivan's Writings

bowerbird said...

robin said:
> This will be a true test of
> whether traditional pubishing
> can "beat" indie.

just exactly what will it prove?

that the corporations can
skim the cream off the top?

who ever said that they couldn't?

or does this just "prove" that
if you want to get the attention
of the big6, you'd better go out
and get big numbers yourself?

> I suggest everyone
> keep their eyes on this one.

i'll be watching it. but so what?


TheSanPintoTimes said...

My advice: Write more books.

Joe Menta said...

If nothing else, this post got this reader to buy "Demon's Night", promptly read it, and post a review on my blog "Kindle Taproom", as well as on Amazon. It wasn't a rave, but a solid three-star review that generally encouraged readers to take the plunge.

I think thoughtful, qualified recommendations help a book more that slick, impersonal raves, anyway. Though if subsequent installments rate a rave, don't worry, I'll do that, too!

Again, enjoyed the book.

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