Friday, February 25, 2011

JA Konrath Interviews Barry Eisler

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

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

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

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

Until now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How has it worked for him?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mike Dennis said...

Barry--Based on your rapid success with LOST COAST, are there any plans to self-publish a novel? You know, get it out with no waiting and start making $ right away.

Stacey Cochran said...

Very cool to see Barry joining the fray. Great interview, Joe.


Plug Your Book at

JA Konrath said...

are there any plans to self-publish a novel?

Yeah, Barry. That's something else I've been nagging him about.

In my own experience, novels vastly outsell short stories. While a rank of #566 is nice, some of my novels hang out in the #200 to #400 range.

Lots of money there...

Unknown said...

Welcome to the Indie Epub World, Barry!

And isn't Rob Siders the absolute best?!

He does my books too...luuuvvv working with him!

Can't wait for your next Indie Epubbed title!

P.S. And keep on with your self-pub info, Joe. It's uber fascinating and one-of-the-rare, real number factuals we can rely on.

Steve said...

Barry and Joe, super interview. Looking foward to the next Rain novel. Barry, you could knock out two or three a year if you self published them. Guess you'll have to wait until the current contract is finished.

Barry Eisler said...

Thanks everyone, so good to be here, in so many ways!

Mike, this is an experiment for me, and I'm still trying to figure things out. But there's no question that self-publishing is a viable option now for writers. Which writers, for which books, for how much... it's case by case. But as I've argued elsewhere (link below), digital is the future. And, as William Gibson said, the future is already here -- it's just not evenly distributed.

No doubt, Carl and Rob rock. Rob's formatting was perfect (and fast), and Carl did (again, fast) what I think is the best cover I've ever had. Gorgeous, eye-catching, and perfectly evocative of the story in all sizes and regardless of color vs grayscale.

I'm going to be away from my desk for a few hours at a time today, but will keep popping in as long as this thread continues to answer questions and (more importantly, from my perspective) to learn. I don't need to mention that Joe is the prophet and general of this revolution, and the amount I've learned from him, both through our friendship and on this blog, is incalculable. The comments here are also typically smart as hell. So thanks again, everyone, looking forward to this conversation.

Ruth Harris said...

I love it! Very interesting post indeed. Curious about how BE decided on $2.99 for a short story? And, btw, how short is short? (Meaning how many words.)

T. B. Wright said...

I've always struggled with the dichotomy of violence vs. sex and how it is portrayed, especially in literature. Even in my own work, I have found myself much more willing to depict violence, whereas I tend to shy away from sex. I'm having to force myself to balance it out, because I have always truly believed that sex is a much less traumatic thing to depict.

Ramblings, ramblings. Congrats, Barry, on the success. The dark side is much better, isn't it?

Samantha Hunter said...

Good interview, and I will definitely check out Barry's story. The interview drove home a couple of points, one of them being the importance of producing new, fresh material for self-pub.

Most of the published authors I know will self-pub their backlist, but I think the real reward comes when you take a risk and write something new and put it out there.

I've put two new works up on Kindle and one older ms that was just sitting in a file, and they have all done pretty well. I am definitely writing more original books/shorts for Kindle. It's well worth the time and effort, for many reasons.

I think it's even better if you go off the reservation a little and do something different or risky. Readers love it.

Looks like Barry did both.


Barry Eisler said...

Ruth, short here is about 6600 words. I came up with the price by seeing what price points seem to work for digital books (and of course over the course of many conversations with Joe). Lower than $2.99 your royalty drops from 70% to 35%, so of course that was a factor in my thinking. But now, as I'm sure you've seen from Joe's recent post on The List, it seems possible to sell six times as much at $.99 than at $2.99, and that the lower price boosts sales of the other low-priced products on your digital bookshelf, too. No one knows the precise answer yet (no one ever will), but I think some very useful guidelines have emerged. For me, $2.99 felt like the right place at least to start.

Thanks, TB. If you've read Joe's books (AFRAID!), you know sex can be traumatic, too. Though I wouldn't say trauma is the point, for sex, violence, or anything else. The point is to depict something that people relate to, to cause readers to have a feeling of insight, connection, understanding -- to move them. And of course, to reveal character and advance the plot. Lots of different ways of doing all that.

Barry Eisler said...

Thanks, Sam, in various respects this did feel a little risky, but that's the price for going for a reward.

Of course, Joe will now say, "There's no risk! You make money forever in digital, and forever is a long time. Especially if you make forever start today."

And the thing is, he's right.

Anonymous said...

I mean no offense, but $3 for a short story is quite pricey. I'd have to be a huge fan of a particular author to pay that much, and chances are I wouldn't anyway. That's just me of course.

I do appreciate that you make it very clear that it's a short story, too. No one should feel burned thinking they are getting a novel.

I am curious about how, if at all, you promoted the story? Joe's blog here and on your own website and anything else? Did Amazon give you any help by including it in one of its emails?

Samantha Hunter said...

LOL on no risk -- I suppose I have to agree.

Oddly, one of the things that convinced me to self-pub was a news story about a NY sidewalk salesman who sold some kitchen gadget (peeler?) for ninety-nine cents, but he sold them so successfully that he had a very nice penthouse in NYC among other things.

His daughter took over selling when he died and said her father always told her not to ever underestimate earning a small amount of money -- and with digital, as you point out, that can definitely add up over time.

But along with some extra money, the creative freedom and reader appreciation are huge rewards, too :)


Barry Eisler said...

Anon, you might be right. In the end, it's what the market will support that counts. The goal of the vendor is to find the price point that multiplied by units sold maximizes revenues. If $2.99 isn't doing that for this short, I'm sure I'll adjust the price. And of course, one of the great things about digital is that you can adjust the price endlessly to adjust to changed buying patterns and other circumstances.

Promotion has been through my mailing list, blog, FB, Twitter, and here. So far, so good -- lot of copies sold, and I'm having a hell of a lot of fun, too.

Easy to overlook in all the discussion about the publishing of the story is the story itself. Whatever else happens, I had a blast writing it, and I'm now boiling over with other ideas for shorts.

Barry Eisler said...

Okay, gotta run out for a few hours, but will be back. Thanks again for all the comments, people, and again it's great to be here!

Julianne MacLean said...

Congrats on the short story, Barry! The cover is FANTASTIC.
Enjoyed the interview.

Selena Kitt said...

Welcome to the world of independent publishing! Come on in, the water's fine. I think you'll like it here. ;)

it becomes obvious America has some hangups about pleasure.

Amen, brother! I never in a million years could have found a market for what I write in the traditional publishing world. Of course, there are those who would say that's because I suck. *snerk*

But 60K books sold in January on Barnes and Noble alone gives me the will to carry on...somehow... :D

BTW, you're an established name with a popular brand - the market will bear a $2.99 short story, you'll see.

Now it's time to move on to novels....

Bryan Gilmer said...

Barry, curious if you talked with your agent and/or publisher about this beforehand or what you may have heard from them about it after the fact. I would see it as a great way to build your brand that will likely result in increased sales of your conventionally published work and put money in their pocket. But I can see how a traditional publisher might also view it as a threat. Though maybe when it's Barry Eisler you're dealing with rather than some mid-lister, they're more inclined to let you do what you like.

Joe, thanks for all the great posts about Kindle publishing. Your advice helped me make my novel Felonious Jazz a Kindle Mysteries & Thrillers bestseller the week of its release. And thanks to your recent posts, I've just lowered the price of both it and my mystery novel Kill the Story to 99c. Sales are already picking up.

Bryan Gilmer

Jude Hardin said...

Congrats on the short, Barry.

I recently completed my first serious attempt at a short story, too, a Nicholas Colt tale titled "A Hard Line Drive to Wrong." It will be in the anthology Deadly by the Dozen, edited by Mark Terry and to be released as an ebook around March 1.

I plan on doing more, and I think I'll price them at $.99. I would actually go lower on shorts if I could. Since you can get an entire issue of EQMM for $3.99 (in print!), $.99 still seems a little high for just one story.

Terry Odell said...

I'm curious about the price point as well--and Barry knows I have all of his novels--even bought one twice by mistake, so I'm chiming in as a curious and (I hope) objective onlooker. I have a LOT of trouble laying out $2.99 for under 7000 words. I know too well the Amazon royalty price point, but I (and many, many others), sell my own full length novels for $2.99 and my short stories for 99 cents. Figuring a novel is about 100,000 words, and sells for $6 - $8, that $2.99 point seems steep.

Then again, I don't have a kazillionth of the following that Barry has, and I know there are names that are auto buys for people, who won't even look at the price.

To be honest, I have the sample downloaded to my NOOKcolor, and if, when I reach the last word, I find it's worth the price to hit that 'buy now' link, I just might.

Barry, have you considered something like a Smashwords coupon, which would keep his Kindle royalty at that 70% point while still lowering the price (and SW pays a higher royalty rate than Amazon for the under $2.99 pricing.)

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Anyway, I'm sure this wasn't supposed to be a discussion of pricing, but Joe talks about it a lot, and I'm hoping Barry understands.

Bella Andre said...

Hey Barry! Congrats on getting the short story up on kindle. Fun is definitely the word for it, isn't it? :)

Like you, I've got my feet in both worlds. 6 self-pubbed ebooks out in the past 9 months w/ 5 coming out from Grand Central 2011/2012. Personally, I'm thrilled to see my e-pub success (Game For Love, my latest self-pub novel, is currently #30 on the bestseller list!) do some really great things for not only my backlist with S&S and RH, but also my upcoming NY pubbed books. I'm positive you're going to see the same thing.

Glad you listened to Joe and got out there with your new story. Can't wait to see it go top 100, very soon!

:) Bella

J. R. Tomlin said...

I am really worried by the comments in this blog and what seems to be an implication that the main character in the story is sexually violent. The prejudice that gay men are predators is so prevalent in our society that I tend to pretty strongly react to this representation--especially from someone who says he defends gay rights.

There are, of course, some gay predators, just as there are straight ones. But... *sighs*

I am unwilling to censor what someone can or should write; that doesn't mean I'm comfortable with the apparent thrust of the story either and the implication that our sexuality will be well served by bringing violence into it. Maybe I feel that there are times when we had BETTER tell our characters where they can and can't go. Yeah, I won't be picking up that short story. Then again, I'm not the target audience, I rather suspect.

Unknown said...

Barry ---

Is your blog - The Heart of the Matter - available on Kindle?

I subscribe to your blog via Kindle, Joe, and that way never miss a post.

I'd luuuvvv to subscribe to yours too, Barry, but I couldn't find it on there.

Thanks Bunches --- D. D. Scott

x2far said...

About time, Mr Eisler.

Firstly, I think this is Carl Graves' best cover. So congrats to you and he on that.

Secondly, I think there is no harm with sticking with $2.99 until that price point has exhausted itself - then go to $0.99.

#590 is nice moving for a short story that's only been on there for a few days.

Love to see a stand alone novel though.

bowerbird said...

maybe i'm wrong about this,
and if i am, do please say so,
but i get a strong feeling that
the predominant attitude here
-- among all the commenters,
mostly, not mr. eisler per se --
is that if you can get away with
over-charging, you _should_...

for example, if you can get
$2.99 for a short, go for it!

your readers will pay that,
so go ahead and charge it!

i'm not here to tell anyone
how they should price stuff
-- really, do what you want --
but i can't help but remark
that this is the same attitude
that got new york in trouble.

you can keep edging up the
price, and people will adapt.
look at the price of popcorn
in the theaters, or the price
for a gallon of gasoline now,
as two vivid examples of that.

but what you are doing there
is creating some resentment,
and an adversarial relationship
with your readers, and _that_
is a very dangerous precedent.
(witness the music industry.)

in the long run, remember,
you _depend_ upon them...

they can _literally_ be your
bread and butter, they can.
(and they're quite tasty too!)

joe's saying about how you
best not piss off the chickens
if you are selling eggs can
be understood in this light
as well... your readers are
the very key to your success.

the variable cost for each unit
you sell is absolutely _nothing,_
folks, so _anything_ you make
-- anything! -- is pure profit...

you need to think of it like that,
and make the decision that you
want to _reward_ your readers
with the lowest possible price
that you can possibly endure...

if you want to _retain_ those
fans for the long-term future,
that is. in my humble opinion.

and if you make more money
in the process, all the better!

i'm just sayin'...


rubrooks said...

Loved The Lost Coast, Barry. I'm still excited that I was the first to purchase it.

Russell Brooks
Author of Pandora's Succession

JA Konrath said...

you need to think of it like that,
and make the decision that you
want to _reward_ your readers
with the lowest possible price
that you can possibly endure...

Your missing the bigger picture here. Both Baryr and I have backgrounds with legacy publishing, where they charge $9.99 for ebooks and $26 for hardcovers and the author makes 15% on each.

$2.99 is lower than anything a legacy publisher would charge, but it also give writers enough to live on (compared to the advances legacy publishers offer.)

Going down to 99 cents might sell more ebooks, and make fans happier, but it's tough to live on that royalty rate.

At $2.99 I can make a living without price gouging, and still undercut what the legacy publishers are doing.

Three bucks for an hour of entertainment is a fair price. Magazines, Starbucks, and movie rentals are all comparable.

I don't think we're in a race to the bottom, as so many are predicting. And I think the number of folks who bought, and continue to buy, Barry's short story is a good indicator that the price is fair.

Scott Gordon said...

Fascinating. Thanks Joe & Barry for the interview! Just out of curiosity, are there any authors who have been successful selling short stories? Anyone selling over 1,000/month? Seems like the demand isn't there, but I've been rethinking everything since visiting this blog.

Ellen Fisher said...

"if you can get away with over-charging, you _should_... for example, if you can get $2.99 for a short, go for it! your readers will pay that, so go ahead and charge it!"

You could argue that if readers are paying it in large quantities, then it isn't overcharging:-).

"are there any authors who have been successful selling short stories? Anyone selling over 1,000/month?"

Yes, but mine are erotic romance. I don't know how well other genres would sell.

Barry Eisler said...

Thanks, Julianne. Carl did an amazing job for sure.

Thanks, Selena! I've been following your success here on Joe's blog and you're an inspiration. Congratulations on all the good things you've achieved -- talent, hard work, and guts.

Bryan, I have indeed informed my agent, and through him, the publisher I've been negotiating a new deal with. For me, this is a no-brainer for everyone concerned: as you note, free and effective publicity for all my books, past and future. But I think you're right, too, that legacy publishers are watching authors dipping their toes in these waters with a certain degree of trepidation.

Jude, on pricing and everything else, I'm making this up as I go along... with a lot of good guidance based on Joe's experience and his analysis. On the one hand, $2.99 seems like a lot for a short. On the other hand, it seems like a lot for a latte. In the end, it's about perceived value and what the customer is willing to pay -- and what price point multiplied by units sold achieves the highest overall revenue. Within the broad guidelines we can outline from the experience of Joe, Selena, and others, there's a lot of room for adaptation and experimentation. Again, look what happened to Joe's book The List when he dropped the price from $2.99 to $.99 -- two years out (!), and it breaks the Kindle top 100.

Terry, I don't know about Smashwords coupons (I'm very new at this), but will look into it. Thanks for the suggestion.

Thanks, Bella, and again, agreed -- I think a short story like The Lost Coast can only be good news for all my other published books.

Barry Eisler said...

Jeanne, this is a great point, and there's always going to be a legitimate tension between the exigencies of art and of politics. To use a more banal example, should a character in a book smoke cigarettes (or use drugs, or profanity, or have unprotected sex, or eat fast food...? Or kill people for a living?)? If the character is cool and young people might emulate him, might I be encouraging young people to take up smoking? But if smoking is what this character would do if he were real, then shouldn't I be true to him?

I received complaints from a number of women who were troubled when in The Last Assassin one of my female characters gazed upon her sleeping infant son and was horrified that she had, before he was born, considered an abortion. For me, this sentiment was true to the character. I wasn't trying to make a point about how any other woman might feel about having almost aborted the child she now loves. I'm sure different women would have different reactions. But if even one of them might react the way my character did, then it means my character's reaction has real world analogs, that my character's reaction is human, and possible. For many women, though, my character's reaction was a political statement that could represent a setback for women's reproductive rights. There's no right answer here; again, there will sometimes be an inherent tension between political and dramatic objectives. In my mind, I'm trying to create real people and gripping stories, and I don't care about political implications. Larison is what he is, and he's real to me. That's my objective here. But that doesn't mean your point isn't valid; it just means that you're more focused on the politics and I'm more focused on the drama.

As for your notion that I've done something to convey "the implication that our sexuality will be well served by bringing violence into it," this I can't accept. Beyond the fact that you haven't even read the story, I'm not sure what your notion means. What matters to me is whether Larison is real and believable and whether his behavior has dramatic impact. I think it would be silly to go from there to arguing that his behavior somehow suggests that "our" sexuality (who is "our?" Everyone?) will be well served (and what is "well served?") by bringing violence into it. But I could be wrong, too.

DD, thanks for the great suggestion! I will have to ask our fearless leader how to make HOTM available on Kindle. Hadn't even occurred to me, which is another way you can tell how much I still have to learn about digital and self publishing.

Thanks x2far, agreed on all counts. Don't know if this is Carl's best ever, but it's the best I've ever had for sure.

Bowerbird, point well taken. Though I think our philosophy is the same: maximum profits for the long term. An enlightened vendor recognizes that you can't hit that maximum without respecting your customers, and without them feeling respected.

Thanks again Russell!

On price, agreed with Joe. Respect for the customer is important for the long term; in the short term, my sense is that $2.99 for an hour of entertainment is entirely respectable. If it causes outrage, of course, I'll reconsider it.

SE, that's a good question. Will be curious to hear from others who know more than I do.

Ellen, encouraging to know you've been doing well with shorts, because I plan on writing a bunch more! Wish Joe had encouraged me to do so sooner. :)

JA Konrath said...

Wish Joe had encouraged me to do so sooner. :)

That's my biggest flaw. I don't encourage people.


Jude Hardin said...

In the end, it's about perceived value and what the customer is willing to pay -- and what price point multiplied by units sold achieves the highest overall revenue.

Yep. That's it in a nutshell.

And it's definitely hard not to go for the 70% royalty.

But short stories are a tough sell anyway. If someone can get several times the quality content for the price of a latte, then my guess is that's where they'll go. It might be useful to gauge the market with comps, the way real estate agents do (thus the EQMM example--$3.99 per issue).

Pocket-47 Book Trailer

Barry Eisler said...

One more thought on pricing, folks.

There are different business philosophies overall, I'm sure. Speaking only for myself, I tend to be a bit of a Vulcan. With certain rare exceptions (gouging for essentials in the wake of an earthquake, say), I tend not to look at pricing as an ethical issue. For me, it's all business logic, whether I'm the vendor or the customer.

Do I like that legacy publishers offer me only 17.5% of my ebook retail prices (14.9% after the agent's cut)? Not really. I'd prefer it if they'd offer me 90%, or even 100%. But I respect them for extracting what they can based on their presumed negotiating position. Hopefully, they'll offer me the same respect if I decide I'm better off on my own at 70%. In the end, it's just business.

Likewise, would I like it if Joe charged $100 for his next book? Not really, but I wouldn't think his behavior was outrageous or unethical. I'd just think it was stupid from a business perspective, as very few people would be price-insensitive enough to buy the book at that price (I'd buy it, though, 'cause Joe's characters suck on each other's toes in ways that have cost me thousands of dollars in therapy, and that's the kind of story I like).

Way back when I was a technology lawyer representing Panasonic on a licensing deal with Microsoft (Microsoft as licensee), Microsoft's lawyer got angry when we told him we wouldn't offer an indemnity if Microsoft was sued by a third party because of any claimed intellectual property infringement by Panasonic's technology. "It's your technology!" he shouted. "You have an ethical obligation to indemnify us!"

My response was calm, and from, my perspective, logical: "Look, this is just a question of the allocation of business risk. At this price, the deal isn't worth it to us if we have to indemnify you against potential infringement risk. If you want the indemnification, you have to pay more. But if the deal isn't worth it to you at the higher price or without the infringement indemnity, just as it isn't worth it to us at the lower price or with the infringement indemnity, then the deal doesn't make sense for either of us. If that's the case, presumably we can be glad we figured this out early in the proceedings, shake hands amicably, and discuss other possible deals in the future."

It's just never been a question of ethics for me. It's what the market will support, coupled of course with an enlightened recognition that happy customers are paying customers.

Scott Gordon said...

Ok, you made me curious. Purchased it. Congratulations on your sale!

Mike Fook said...

Hi Joe,

There is this awesome functionality called, "Threaded Comments". Hear of that? Great stuff... great stuff...

Selena Kitt said...

That's my biggest flaw. I don't encourage people.

And here I thought it was your pretentious taste in beer!



ok now I'm too curious about this story... damnit... I have so much on my TBR list my Kindle is creaking with the weight of it...

no, no, can't do it, musn't do it...


Damn you, Eisler!

Jude Hardin said...

Just got an email. I didn't even know this was live yet.

Deadly by the Dozen

Twelve short stories for only $2.99.

But I should say, Barry's story is longer than most shorts, and Joe makes a good point when he says three bucks for an hour of entertainment is a fair price. Magazines, Starbucks, and movie rentals are all comparable.

Off to buy "The Lost Coast" now.

Maybe Barry will be kind enough to reciprocate and buy a copy of ours. :)

Russell Brooks said...

I'm glad that we're on the topic of short stories because I feel that they are a great way to hook and bait potential readers. They are also great "fillers" in between books that are part of a series that will allow readers to get to know the main character or even a villain in a series.

Russell Brooks
Author of Pandora's Succession

bowerbird said...

joe said:
> Going down to 99 cents
> might sell more ebooks,
> and make fans happier,
> but it's tough to live on
> that royalty rate.

yeah, it's tough for amanda,
what with her only making a
measly million dollars a year.

that's the rookie mistake, joe,
focusing on the royalty rate
instead of your bottom line...

and since you are in the midst
of learning that a lower price
_can_ "make it up on volume",
i am rather surprised by that!

you're making _more_ money
at the "tough" 35% royalty rate
because you make more sales
directly due to the low price.
_lots_ more sales. even more
than the _6_times_more_ that
is required to overcome the
unnecessary handicap which
amazon places on low prices.

now, just to repeat it _again_,
i think that the 35% royalty is
_unfair_, and i believe writers
should _refuse_to_play_along_
simply because it _is_ unfair...
no way should amazon receive
nearly twice that of the author.

so i'm not advocating $.99...

but there can be no denying the
power of lower prices to move
units out the door, in volume...

and imagine if the royalty rate
_was_ the same for _all_ prices,
and you just had to sell _three_
times as much at $.99 as $2.99
in order to profit just as much...

there is zero doubt where prices
would be going if that were so...

so the only reason that we are
not seeing the _real_ truth here
is because amazon is hiding it...


barry said:
> Bowerbird, point well taken.
> Though I think our
> philosophy is the same:
> maximum profits
> for the long term.

thanks for taking it so well...

and yes, we have a substantial
degree of philosophically-agree.

and again, i sensed that attitude
more from _other_ commenters
than from you per se, since you
confess to being a pure newbie
to the whole publishing-digitally.
they're the ones saying "do it!"...

but let me pose some questions,
not for you, or joe, personally,
but for everyone to think over...

questions that go beyond the
issue of "maximum profits"...

how much money do you need?
really. a very big handful of you
will make over a million dollars
in the next year from e-books.
a million dollars! in one year!
from a newly-blossomed flower!

a few of you will even make 2!

i know it is an exciting thought.
believe me, i know it very well...


when does it become "enough"?

at 3 million? at 6 million? at 10?

when do you stop thinking about
extracting more cash from the
marketplace? and start thinking
about stuff like your creativity?
and elevating the human race?
and your legacy as an _artist_?
and safeguarding your integrity?
and saving the world from evil?

when do _those_ matters gain
some priority in your mindshare?

because you _are_ artists!
and not investment bankers.

and you are now receiving a
_huge_ blessing which artists
have been deeply longing for,
since the beginning of time --
full monetary support from an
adoring populace which makes
very few demands upon you...
you're the luckiest artists who
have ever lived on the planet...

and again, i know it's exciting!

but far too many of you seem
-- to me, at least, and i hope
i am not being unfair to you --
to be scrooge mcducks who are
chuckling over your money bags,
trying to scheme to get _more_,
instead of fully comprehending
the magnitude of your blessing,
and the responsibility which it
puts squarely on your shoulders.

i'm not trying to make anyone
feel bad... and who gives a shit
what bowerbird thinks anyway?

but the world is on its way to
ruin, due to investment bankers,
and we sure could use some
artists to put things right again.

feet don't fail me now...


dr.cpe said...

Barry, congratulations on your swift success.... and your negotiation parry and thrust with microsoft was elegant. Reminds me of gaming (and mediation) wherein people negotiate/ manipulate/position above board by convincing other that there is not one possible deal, but several, depending on exchange of dollars, or like kind or resources.

My sense is from reading your work that your multilayered knowledge of how to put a 'deal' together in your other life as a lawyer, served very well in how you layer and structure your stories.

I think you may help a renaissance in the long-short story again. It's due again, I think. There was a time re Sat Evening Post for instance, or True Story mag (for men) when people bought the mag ONLY for one central long-short story set in the midst of several short-shorts.

Seems that price, at this point in the ebk cherokee strip, is up to ea individual. I think what you said about fair price point and keep readers 'happy' is right on.

sex/violence/gay. Guess one could take a political stance on such, but too, political thought is often deeply personal and idiosyncratic thought.

On another note, I thought whatever sexuality or sexual endeavor/interest, character was cohesive across board. Believable in other words. Credible.

I think like many here, you have open road, blue sky ahead Barry. I am happy that you are thrilled. Enjoy that.

JA Konrath said...

that's the rookie mistake, joe,
focusing on the royalty rate
instead of your bottom line...

That's a rookie mistake, comparing one's salary to the single person making the most money.

Just because Amanda can earn that mush, doesn't mean we all can, even if we follow her example.

My goal is to make a comfortable living. There is nothing "fair" about price. There is only a balance between what compels people to buy something, and what I'm able to earn.

Ellen Fisher said...

"when does it become "enough"?

at 3 million? at 6 million? at 10?

when do you stop thinking about
extracting more cash from the
marketplace? and start thinking
about stuff like your creativity?
and elevating the human race?
and your legacy as an _artist_?"

Once I have my four kids grown and through college, then maybe I'll start thinking about art. Till then, I'll continue writing with money in mind:-).

Karly Kirkpatrick said...

Awesome post Barry! And welcome to the club!

I've been throwing around the idea of doing more of a novella (between 17-40K) just to go between novels and try out some different material. I'd actually been thinking of selling those at $1.99, being that my novels are $2.99. At 35/40% I'm making between 70-80 cents per sale, better than at 99 cents, but would still establish my novels as the main feature at the $2.99 price. Barry, being established, can definitely get $2.99 for his short, so he should!

I still have to write the novella of course, but we'll see how it all pans out!

Thanks for the continued info, Joe and best of luck Barry!


Selena Kitt said...

but far too many of you seem-- to me, at least, and i hope i am not being unfair to you -- to be scrooge mcducks who are chuckling over your money bags, trying to scheme to get _more_, instead of fully comprehending the magnitude of your blessing, and the responsibility which it puts squarely on your shoulders.

Two things.

First, I think it's difficult for many writers who have been through the traditional publishing machine to imagine the amount of profit they're making, even as their bank account grows, AND because they know the trad publishing folks oh-so-well, they're also afraid of the house of cards falling down at any minute. Who knows what tricks the Big Six might have up their sleeves to take it all away again and put authors back in "their place?" (I know many are banking on the hope that big publishing will stay in denial long enough that it won't matter, and a re-check of their beliefs in the PW weekly article about we "delusional" writers seems to support that... and I sincerely hope it turns out that way... but none of us is carrying a crystal ball around.)

Secondly - writers have, in part, been turned into machines by the machine itself. The freedom to BE an artist has been taken away from the traditionally published in so many ways, both seen and unseen, that it would take me too long to list them here. Their limbs have been hacked off to fit them into boxes publishers believed readers wanted to buy. Hard to be an "artist" when your hands are tied. Or missing.

So the movement into becoming an artist again, toward thinking about creation instead of survival... it's coming. Depending on what happens in the next ten years, you'll find that the scope of the author will grow much wider than it's ever been. And the reader will finally, finally have the REAL power of deciding.

But right now, most writers benefiting from this gold rush are reacting like squirrels whose nuts have been few and far between. Can you blame them for being a little anxious?

As for being grateful... I'm grateful with every breath I take, every single moment of the day. I'm blessed to wake up every morning, I'm doubly blessed to currently be making (more than) a healthy living writing. I won the freaking lottery when it comes to the time and place I was born alone and I'm fully aware of it.

But it's hard to know, in this situation, who to be grateful to for the opportunity. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the major distributors who have allowed self-pubbed authors to access readers through a backdoor? Smashwords? (I am actually quite grateful to Mark Coker and his team - he really has a clear vision and he's a good guy). It's hard to be grateful to Amazon et al. Esp when they've proven, at least to me, that they'll cut your heart out for their bottom line in an instant. And should we ever expect anything more from a corporation?

The people I'm grateful to are my readers. And I'm grateful for writers like Joe who are trying with every breath to wake other authors up out of their publishing-house-induced stupor and include them in the growing number benefiting from the current "gold rush." A selfish man would want to, as you say, stay Mr. Moneybags and count his pennies in a back room like Scrooge McDuck. He wouldn't be shouting from the rooftops to share the wealth.

J. E. Medrick said...

Bowerbird, I always enjoy reading your prose. I picture you as a big, black crackle sitting up in the rafters and watching everyone with mischief in your eye and a laugh in your throat. Always makes me smile :)

As for me, I have seriously considered (even before you mentioned!) what is "enough" for me. At $500/month, I could live comfortably. At $1,000/month? I wouldn't know what to do with myself!

If I made a million dollars (I'd buy YOU a green dress!... but not a real green dress, that's cruel.) I would definitely move - and save, because I plan on having kids.

At $10 million? That's where superhero antics come in, for sure ;)

J. E. Medrick

John Ling said...

I am really worried by the comments in this blog and what seems to be an implication that the main character in the story is sexually violent. The prejudice that gay men are predators is so prevalent in our society that I tend to pretty strongly react to this representation--especially from someone who says he defends gay rights.

Jeanne, without giving the story away, it's actually the opposite of what you think it is. It's really about predatory violence committed *against* gay men.

So do give the story a chance. You may not end up agreeing with what the main character's reaction does, but he's most certainly not a violent predator...

JA Konrath said...

but he's most certainly not a violent predator...


He's simply making the best out of a bad situation. I would do the same.

Jeff M said...

That cover is fantastic. Best eCover I've seen.

It practically drags your finger to the purchase button.

Unknown said...

If you self-publish via Kindle, will traditional publishers then not touch you? In other words, will self-publishing destroy your chances of ever getting a traditional hard-copy book deal with an old fashioned publisher?

In the alternative, do authors who self-publish via Kindle ever, via their strong Kindle sales, attract the attention of traditional publishers and land big book deals? Do traditional publishers ever trawl Amazon to see what self-published Kindle books are "hot," and then snap them up for traditional publication? Or is that a myth?

Tara Maya said...

R, it's not a myth. Read through the comments on this blog for the past two weeks and you'll find examples.

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate (US)
The Unfinished Song: Initiate (UK)

Nicholas La Salla said...

Self published authors get attention from major publishers more often than you would think. The trick is to think like a professional and act like one -- if you do that, eventually other professionals will take notice.

Now, if you're successful enough selling your own books to attract the attention of a traditional publisher, then you must be making at least decent money on your own, so I'm not sure why one would bother giving up all your rights, but that's another can of worms entirely.

This blog post is interesting because it sees Barry doing short stories and selling them on Kindle. I bet his sales beat the crap out of 5 cents a word and a month's visibility in the dwindling short story market.

Has anyone seen any big successes from individuals posting novellas? I'm thinking of combining a few novellas of mine and publishing them as a collection.

- Nick

John Ling said...

Self published authors get attention from major publishers more often than you would think. The trick is to think like a professional and act like one -- if you do that, eventually other professionals will take notice.


A few years ago, a friend of mine self-published a memoir about her struggle with an illness called Neurofibromatosis. When it became a bestseller at our local book chain, all the publishers who had previously rejected her came running and were soon jostling to pick up the rights.

Publishers are always attracted to successful platforms, and self-publishing has to little to no stigma if it helps you achieve that.

boros1124 said...

Why do not the books are available in Hungary? If you can not find a book from the top online bookstore (, you'll find anywhere. Nevertheless, there may be that somewhere in the Hungarian translation. Do not know such a thing?

Ecommerce Website Developer said...

In the alternative, do authors who self-publish via Kindle ever, via their strong Kindle sales, attract the attention of traditional publishers and land big book deals?