Monday, October 31, 2011

Guest Post by Selena Kitt

Selena sez: I’ve always been a proponent of higher ebook prices.

Not the crazy $12.99 more-than-the-paperback prices that legacy publishing is so fond of so they can continue to pay Manhattan rents—but higher than $0.99, certainly. Even for a short story.

That’s right, once upon a time, my short stories were selling for $2.99. And yes, they were selling.

But things changed. The indie market got more crowded. Authors started selling their full-length novels for $0.99 and some even gave them away for free. Blogs popped up everywhere telling Kindle owners where to find free and cheap ebooks.

So I decided to experiment with my prices. I lowered the prices on all my stories to $0.99—that was everything from 3K-15K. Everything else (some of which was priced as high as $5.99) I lowered to $3.99. And I left them that way for three months. A full quarter of ebook sales.

What did I discover?

At first, I found that lowering my price to $0.99 shot me up on a few bestseller lists. That increased my e

xposure, which was great. And I also found that my sales of those $0.99 titles doubled. Stories that had previously been selling 50 a month were now selling 100.

Sounds good, right?

But, of course, at $0.99 I was getting a 35% instead of the 70% royalty I’d been making when I was selling them at $2.99. I was now making roughly $35 a month on a story that had previously been taking in about $100 a month—a loss of $65 a month in income. Multiply that by twenty-five short stories (which is about what I have out there) and that’s a $1650 a month loss.

Worth it?

At first, I thought it might be, given the exposure. The higher you are in the rankings, the more people see your name, the more sales you make, right? But over time, more and more (and more!) indie authors started selling their stuff at $0.99 too, and those lists became overrun with cheap books.

I’d pretty much decided to quit the experiment when I read a comment from Konrath on his blog confirming my suspicion—that authors don’t make money at anything less than $2.99. Which meant, and I’ll quote Joe here:

“My data also shows that novels outsell short stories, even though I've priced my shorts at 99 cents. It stands to reason that if I switch shorts to $2.99, I'll sell fewer, but I bet I make more money. So the next step is to raise novels to $3.99-$4.99 and short stories to $2.99 and see what happens. Assuming I have the guts to do so...”

I’ve now changed all my short story prices back to $2.99, and raised my novel prices to $4.99. I imagine I’ll run this experiment for another three months and see what happens. If logic prevails, I’ll sell fewer books, but make more money.

But as Joe pointed out, doing this takes guts. Moving beyond the magical $2.99 price-point for novels, pushing those higher, to make room for short stories at that price, is a risky proposition. Will the market bear it?

Honestly, I think it will. And here’s why—Kindle readers are tired of $0.99 cheapies. The shine is off the new toy, people have stopped loading their Kindles up with freebies and cheapies, and have started getting more discerning about what they download. Many Kindle readers are starting to shy away from the $0.99 price point because they’ve read some stinkers and don’t want to travel down that road again. What was once a huge draw for Kindle readers—oooh, look, cheap books for my new toy!—has now become the opposite.

Of course, I could be wrong.

Which is why it’s a scary experiment!

Apropos for Halloween, don’t you think?

So let’s kick off this frightening new price point with a $2.99 story very fitting for the season, shall we?

HUNTING SEASON – A Love Blood Story by Blake Crouch and Selena Kitt

For those of you scratching your heads, wondering how in the heck the pair of us ending up writing together, given that our genres are so vastly different, I’ll explain. Back at the beginning of the year, I’d posted some of my sales numbers on Joe’s blog, which at the time were astronomical (I was making $30,000 a month at Barnes and Noble alone!) and Joe jokingly said, “If you ever want to collaborate, let me know!”

I’d just finished reading and reviewing DRACULAS – and being the huge horror fan that I am, how could I resist? I emailed him to say, “I know you were kidding, but I’d love to collaborate with you guys.” And to my surprise, Joe Konrath and Blake Crouch actually took me up on the offer! They were planning a sequel to DRACULAS called WOLFMEN, and wanted me on board, along with a fourth writer (who has yet to be disclosed).

It made perfect marketing sense to cross-pollinate their audience and mine, which were both large, but vastly different.

Of course, no one knew if this great idea would work in practice…

So Blake Crouch agreed to take me out for a test run, and that’s how this story was born. The collaboration process was, I must say, an amazing success, and I couldn’t be prouder of the result. I really think this story is something special—but I’m probably a little biased!

If you want to know more about how HUNTING SEASON: A Love Blood Story was written, what the process was and how things developed, there’s an interview between myself and Blake included as bonus material at the end.

It’s available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble for… you guessed it.


Is it worth it?

You be the judge!

HUNTING SEASON – A Love Blood Story by Blake Crouch and Selena Kitt

This 8,000 (approx) word collaboration by thriller/suspense/horror writer Blake Crouch and erotic romance author Selena Kitt includes bonus interview material with the authors about the upcoming sequel to the Konrath, Crouch, Strand and Wilson bestseller DRACULAS.


He’s a butcher.

She’s the trophy wife of a trophy hunter.

They used to be high school sweethearts, but that was two decades ago, and times have changed.

Meet Ariana Plano...40 years old, miserable, stuck in a loveless marriage to the worst mistake of her life.

Meet Ray Koski...40 years old, miserable, a lonely butcher who can do nothing but immerse himself in the drudgery of his work.

Once a week during hunting season, she brings her old teenage flame game meat for processing. They do not speak. They rarely make eye contact. Some histories are just too painful.

But this week will be different.

This week—a shocking encounter twenty-two years in the making—will change everything.

Joe sez: In November, I'm going to raise some of my prices on shorts, just to see how it goes. In December, I'll do the same with novels.

No gain without risk. I'm on a lot of bestseller lists, and raising prices may make those ebooks fall off, resulting in fewer sales. But will they be so many fewer I earn less money? Only way to find out is to try it.

As for HUNTING SEASON, it was a really fun, very twisted horror story, perfect for Halloween.

And yes, it was worth the $2.99.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Guest Post by Barry Eisler

The Bogeyman and The Axe Murderer

Barry sez: A lot of conversation in and about the publishing world is fixated on fear of Amazon’s purported potential monopoly power—on the possibility that Amazon will eventually enjoy such market dominance as a publisher that it will abuse its position and begin to punish authors, perhaps with extremely low royalties. Which leads to aquestion I’m not sure I can adequately answer, though I find it fascinating:

Why all the fear about what Amazon might do in the future, when legacy publishers are doing those fearful things right now?

Today, Amazon pays self-published authors 70% of the retail price of titles sold on the Kindle Store through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. Legacy publishers, by contrast, pay their authors 17.5%. Now, certainly 17.5% is appallingly low. But if appallingly low royalties are your concern, why would you expend so much energy speculating about a lower royalty that might eventually come to pass, while caring so little about the extremely low royalties in effect today? It’s like panicking about possibly getting sick in the future while failing to treat the pneumonia killing you right now.

I know from experience that some people will respond to the paragraph above by claiming New York publishers are not a monopoly. After all, don’t the big houses fight with each other over new manuscripts? Aren’t there sometimes bidding wars over a hot new property? And they even poach each other’s employees and authors, too. So of course there’s competition, right?

No. Everything I just described is, relatively speaking, a distraction—Kabuki competition, not the real thing. If the legacy houses actually competed with each other—if they actually strove to attract authors and serve readers and lower costs and improve performance—the publishing world would not be universally characterized by the following:

• An identical, lock-step, onerously low 17.5% digital royalty rate
• The practice of forcing readers who prefer digital to wait, sometimes for over a year, until a title is also ready to ship in paper
• Digital retail prices equivalent to paper ones despite the obvious lower costs of digital distribution
• Byzantine and opaque royalty statements, delivered twice-yearly as much as six months after the end of the applicable reporting period
• Non-compete clauses that attempt to preclude authors from meaningful control over their own professional and artistic destinies
• Morbidly obese contracts delivered months after agreement on high-level deal points, written in unendurable legalese and drawn up in nine-point font on 14-inch legal paper, the only purpose of which is to intimidate authors into not reading the document, and to obscure the meaning of what’s written just in case they do
• Payments tendered months after they’ve come due
• A refusal to share sales data with authors, even though authors have long clamored for such information and the web technology to provide such access was already old a decade ago.

We can argue about whether the system I just described is properly known as a monopoly, or as a quasi-monopoly, or as a cartel. What can’t be argued is that such a system is only possible—indeed, is only conceivable—in the absence of meaningful competition.

So don’t go for the head-fake—the bidding wars, the poaching contests. These are as meaningful between publishing houses as are election contests between Democrats and Republicans; wars between Hapsburgs and Bourbons; arguments between supposedly liberal and supposedly conservative media. The skirmishing on the surface is meaningless by comparison with the cooperation, collusion, and confluence of interests beneath.

Which brings us back to my original question: why are so many authors afraid of a possible monopoly while sanguine about a real one?

I can think of several possibilities.

First, fear is a powerful emotion, and, as Gavin de Becker observes in his superb The Gift of Fear, is by definition related to something that hasn’t happened yet. Once the feared thing has happened, we’re no longer afraid of it. New York’s quasi-monopoly is a longstanding and accomplished fact; therefore, it can’t be feared (though it can be loathed). By contrast, Amazon is relatively new in publishing. Whether it will attain and abuse monopoly power is currently unknown, and therefore is something people can fear. It may be that because of the nature and survival value of fear, the mind ascribes greater weight to potential threats than it does to actual problems, and this difference might explain the skew between fear toward Amazon and acquiescence to New York.

Second, and perhaps related, is the concept of the devil you know. Sure, New York functions as a cartel, but it always has, and people are accustomed to it. It seems normal. Amazon, by contrast, is unknown.So hey, your husband beats you, but it’s been going on for a long time and you’ve survived. Do you really want to divorce and remarry? Maybe the new guy will beat you, too. Maybe the beatings will be even worse. Better to stick with what’s familiar.

Third, and again perhaps related, is Stockholm Syndrome, or what might also be known as a serf’s attitude toward his feudal lords (Mike Stackpole calls it a “house slave” mentality). New York has been abusing authors for so long that a lot of them have come to identify with their oppressors—to think their oppression is desirable and even just. And rather than welcoming a powerful new player as a potential rescuer or reformer, these authors fear the new entrant and fling their bodies over their captors in an attempt to protect them from harm.

For me, that last metaphor really gets to the heart of the matter. Amazon is like an inkblot test of submissiveness to New York, with some authors welcoming a newcomer with the clout to crack the cartel wide open; and others fearing anything that might change their current circumstances.

Well, you know what the inkblot looks like to me. I think you’d have to be in profound denial to believe that Simon and Schuster’s recently announced Author Portal, which will finally give authors the kind of access to sales data they’ve been pleading for, is the result of anything other than a belated attempt to counter Amazon, which provides authors such information as a matter of course. If legacy publishers next clean up their royalty statements, which are currently designed to be as transparent as the Dead Sea Scrolls, the timing and circumstances of that improvement will be no more coincidental than their sudden conversion to the benefits of sharing sales data. I just got my first royalty statement from Amazon, by the way, and it’s the first royalty statement I’ve ever seen that I immediately and easily was able to understand. Amazon also provides its statements monthly, not twice-yearly, so expect legacy publishers to coincidentally change that practice in due course, too.

Will Amazon become functionally the same kind of publishing monopoly the New York houses currently comprise? I don’t know. But it’s silly to argue that you’re afraid solely because you believe Amazon wants to be a monopoly, as though a monopoly motive is itself dispositive. All companies want to be monopolies—a company wants competitors like an army wants a fair fight, like a politician wants a serious opponent, likea lover wants rivals. Without means and opportunity, motive alone is meaningless, and I’m confident that with competitors like Apple, B&N, Google, Kobo, and Smashwords, Amazon will be driven to continue pursuing business practices based on enlightened self-interest. Another thing that will be useful in this regard is more and more authors creating their own website stores, and cross-selling each other’s books on them. The more choices authors identify, create, and exploit, the more motivated Amazon and other publishers and distributors will be to continue to offer favorable royalty splits and to otherwise treat authors well.

Because, remember. If Amazon ever becomes a real monopoly, they could lower those 70% royalties a lot. After all, oppressively low royalties are simply what monopolies do, and Amazon could lower theirs all the way down to, I don’t know, 17.5% or something. And a royalty rate that low would really suck. Damn, just imagining it scares the hell out of me.

Will the New York houses be able to shake off their torpor and rebuild their businesses based on more enlightened practices? It’s hard to say. The same monopoly that protects a company’s profits also withers its strength and adaptability. A company coddled by monopoly is like a fighter who never trains—who never even fights. Will a company like that be able to answer the bell when a real challenger enters the ring? I don’t know.

What I do know is that a vigorous new player just kicked open the locked door of a dark and moribund fortress and is finally letting in some sunlight. If you see a better way than Amazon to reform New York’s previously unassailable quasi-monopoly and all the suboptimal business practices that monopoly has enabled, I’d like to know what it is. In the meantime, I welcome Amazon and any other new entrant that can continue to loosen the legacy houses’ monopolistic grip,and force them to rely on practices beneficial to authors and readers rather than on monopoly rents beneficial only to themselves.

Because, remember. A 17.5% digital split for authors would be a terrible thing. Little better than serfdom, really. We simply can’t afford to let that happen.

Joe sez: I've mentioned many of the things Barry brought up in this essay on previous blogs, but I'd like to add a few things.

Let's pretend that Amazon will lower author royalty rates on April 1, 2013. How does that prevent any author from taking advantage of the 70% royalty rate until that date? You can make quite a bit of money between now and then. Why worry about then, now?

But there is no set date. Amazon may never lower author royalties. So why would the possibility of something that may never happen prevent you from trying something right now? This isn't bungee jumping, where you can die, or gambling, where you can lose a lot of money. Right now, a system is in place where authors can earn 70%. Anyone who doesn't take advantage of that is, IMHO, irrational.

I see irrationality creeping up in other areas too, concerning Amazon and self-publishing. Authors have flat-out asked me how much they can expect to earn by self-pubbing, as if it is a guarantee of money. When I reply (as always) that luck plays a part, they respond they'd rather wait for a legacy deal and the chance to make it big.

There is so much wrong with that logic I don't know where to begin.

No matter which publishing path you choose, luck plays a part. Having played for both teams, I can tell you that legacy publishing requires a lot more luck than going solo. The more people involved in something, the more chances it has to fail. When you throw in poor royalty rates, dwindling paper distribution, returns, and non-existent marketing budgets, it is almost astronomical that any new author ever makes money.

Which is why most don't.

Holding out for a legacy deal isn't a guarantee of anything, other than an advance.

I'm not going to name names or point fingers, but I've been watching Amazon rankings of some self-pubbed authors who signed legacy deals. I've watched these rankings go from awesome, to mediocre (or worse.)

A notable exception is John Locke, because he kept his ebook rights. The rest have got to feel disheartened, unless they got a huge advance and sales don't matter.

But sales do matter, don't they? That's why we became writers. To be read by as many people as possible.

Right now, this very minute, writers have the ability to directly reach readers, quickly and easily with a great royalty rate.

Luck still plays a part. And this moment might not last forever.

But if you want to make a go at this, there has never been a better time. Missing this opportunity isn't smart. And if you're sitting on intellectual properties, waiting for some legacy publisher to sweep you up and make you a bestseller, you might as well be running for Mayor of Deludedville.

It's a bird in the hand, guys. Make money and find readers now, or hope to win the lottery later. This is especially deluded because those authors who have won the lottery (like me and Barry) are giddy to be able to get away from legacy publishers.

We've seen and heard from dozens of authors who had legacy deals, and are now thrilled to be self-publishing.

But where are those authors who have given up self-pubbing and are now singing the praises of legacy publishers?

Are there any?

Don't you think there is a reason there aren't any?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Guest Post by Blake Crouch


Blake sez: I've just returned from a five day trip to China, where I was invited by a Chinese digital publishing company called Cloudary Corporation to speak at the Beijing International Book Fair.

The trip was an extraordinary experience, and not only culturally where I benefited from a surplus of generosity from my hosts, but from the standpoint of catching a snapshot of the current state of Chinese publishing.

The comparison to American publishing could not be more apt.

Without oversimplifying a complex situation, the Chinese are experiencing almost identical tension between traditional publishing and the advent of the ebook as we are here in America.
They even call their old-school publishers "traditional publishers."

At the forum where I presented, I was involved in a discussion with an American publishing consultant, and three Chinese writers who publish digitally.

I could've just as well been sitting on a publishing panel in America. Different language, same bullet points.

My Chinese counterparts are passionate about all the things American ebook writers are excited about: fair royalty rates, the ability to release books faster, getting paid in a timely manner, and most importantly: creative control.

The audience I spoke to was filled with traditional Chinese publishing stalwarts, who expressed....wait for it...concerns about "gatekeepers" disappearing. In other words, who would bring work of quality to the Chinese readers if there wasn't an elite coterie to separate the good from the bad.

The most classic moment was when Robert Baensch, an exceptionally impressive publishing expert of fifty years who has worked and consulted at all levels of Big 6 publishing told these Chinese legacy publishers that if they don't adapt to the new model afforded them by digital publishing, then "someone will come in, take your job, and do it for you."

Sound familiar? Denial is not just domestic.

On a quick side note, Baensch sees the refusal of publishers across the world to properly embrace and exploit ebooks as an epic "managing" fail.

Here was my second, bigger surprise....the Chinese don't just share our enthusiasm of ebooks. They are beating us in not only volume but creativity.

In China, there are numerous ereaders available, but most of the digital reading public reads on their 780,000,000 mobile phones.

As a writer, what I found most fascinating was the publishing model of Cloudary Corporation, the company that invited me to China.

Cloudary is the largest online community-driven literary platform in China. But they operate in a vastly different manner than Amazon, BN, or Smashwords. Instead of one platform populated by complete books, they aggregate content from a variety of websites, each tailored to a specific genre. And the most popular, most famous, richest Chinese digital writers release content as they write it. They author long, ongoing works, thousands of pages in length, and most popular is a genre of time-travel/fantasy in which young adults go back in time to visit historical moments in Chinese history where they play an integral role in fixing or changing something.

Getting back to the Cloudary model, the Cloudary writers publish portions of their "active" books on a daily basis to ravenous fans, who, if the writer is too slow in releasing the next installment, harangue them on public forums for the next chapter. If the writers don't release new content quickly enough, the fans desert them.

Cloudary has six writers earning more than $1,000,000 RMB/year, (about $200,000 US).

Of course, not everyone is successful. But anyone can begin the process of uploading their work. It's essentially a competition and the readers decide who wins, voting with their pocketbook, with page-views. Readers establish an account, which is docked based upon how many pages they read. When a certain book becomes popular, and heavily-viewed, Cloudary steps in on a partnership basis, where the royalty split is in the ball-park of 50/50. At this level, Cloudary plugs these popular books into various print and film channels to exploit additional sub rights.

But the thing is the big money earner in the most populous, most literate country in the world.

In addition, the mobile phone companies distribute a percentage of the content. Imagine if AT&T or Verizon hosted content and paid us as writers. That's the comparison.

I'm still processing the head-spinning information overload, but I was thrilled and humbled to witness firsthand to what level the largest market in the world has taken ebooks.

What this implies for us non-Chinese speaking writers, I'm still not sure, and I am not encouraging anyone to go pay to have their works translated, so we can skip all the hysterical tweets.

The complexities and challenges of bringing ebooks to such a diverse marketplace will be great.

To say things are different in China is the understatement of the year.

When the Kindle debuts in China, it will be interesting to see how and if it can compete with Cloudary.

Different culture. Different digital reading model.

But the point is they're having the same conversations we are, they're more innovative, they've got a lot more readers, and we would be fools not to begin actively looking for ways to export our work.

Joe sez: I've been blogging about the potential inherent in a world market for a while now. Not just a world ebook sales market, but also a world library market.

There are almost 7 billion people on earth. One billion of them speak English. The other 6 billion can be reached via translation. The worldwide standard of living is constantly going up, giving more and more access to cheap electronics such as ereaders and cell phones.

Authors don't have access to all of those people...yet. But we will. And if we can sell to the smallest fraction of the global market, we'll be making a very nice living.

Soon, Amazon will release a Kindle in India, which has the second largest English-speaking population in the world. And they won't stop there.

It is true that we can't know what new technologies are on the horizon, or what new formats ebooks will take. But the cat is out of the bag. Ebooks are here to stay, in one form or another, and they are going to go global the same way wrist watches, cars, radio, TV, microwaves, and mp3 players did.

There has never been a better time to be a writer.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Guest Post by Jeffrey J. Mariotte

On Never Quitting

I used to think Joe Konrath was full of shit.

Here’s the thing. Since 1980, I’ve worked in the book business. I’ve been a bookseller, a writer, a publisher. Currently I co-own an independent specialty bookstore, Mysterious Galaxy (locations in San Diego and Redondo Beach, CA). The bookstore has never made anybody rich, but we’ve been in business for going on 19 of the most tumultuous years in the history of bookselling, and we’re still going strong.
I’ve worked for two start-up comic book publishers, in different capacities, both of which printed comics and books on paper, and both of them got to be major forces in that industry, and were acquired or partially acquired by much bigger companies with lots of money.
As a writer, I’ve published 45 novels on paper, most from the so-called Big 6 (my main publishers have been Simon & Schuster and Penguin, but HarperCollins and Tor and Warner/Hachette have been in the mix as well). In addition to those, I’ve published more than 100 comic books and graphic novels, a handful of nonfiction books, some short stories. Again, I haven’t gotten rich, but I was working as a full-time writer, having quit the publishing jobs and bought my little dream ranch in the high desert.
And then Konrath—Joe, who had put ungodly amounts of his advance money into promoting his books—got a book rejected and self-published it digitally and said he was actually selling copies. Then he started blogging, bragging about how many copies he was selling, and how he had found a way to make a living as a writer without using the traditional publishers.
See? Full of shit. The industry doesn’t work that way.
Only, he wasn’t. He really was selling books and writing more books and selling those, and making money on this new e-book thing.
I couldn’t see it. I’m a print guy. For decades. I collect books, mostly signed modern first editions. Some of Konrath’s included. Working in publishing, I was responsible for felling dozens, if not hundreds, of trees. Ditto bookselling. Ditto writing. Trees and books went together.
Then last year, the game changed.
I was looking out at 2010 and there were no book contracts on the horizon. The Great Recession had finally clobbered publishing, hard. Editors were getting laid off, lines were being cut. And e-book sales were cutting into print sales, but the big publishers had not yet figured out how to monetize that end of the business. They were treating it like just another format, not understanding that virtually everything about it is different than selling paper books. Those editors who remained were being more cautious than ever about what projects they took on.

With the day job as buffer, I could afford to take some time and write the best book of my career, rather than having to write three or four or five books a year to make ends meet. I did that. I sent it to my agent.k on. My pitches went out, but no offers came back. I was forced—and this is hard to admit, even now—to take a day job again.
It has not yet sold.
I kept working on other projects. I’ve had two novels out this year from Simon & Schuster, one a CSI tie-in novel, one a revised and updated reissue of a teen horror series, now titled Dark Vengeance.
And over there sat Konrath and then Barry Eisler, and my friends J. Carson Black and Scott Nicholson and Lee Goldberg, and some guy with the unlikely monicker of John Locke, and others. The list was growing. These folks were publishing e-books. Self-publishing e-books.
And as an aside, let me just tell you—in the interwoven worlds of publishing and bookselling, the only thing lower than someone who self-publishes is someone who publishes through a “vanity” press, like Vantage or iUniverse. The rule was, if you had to pay money to be published, you weren’t really published. If the only criteria the publisher used before they accepted a manuscript was whether your check cleared, you weren’t really published.
So that Konrath guy—he had to be full of shit.
Because I was doing it the right way, submitting my work to the same big publishers that had published me so many times before, and I was getting nowhere. But he and those others, they were self-publishing and building audiences and selling books.
Okay, I finally thought. I’m a print guy. But I’m a writer, and if that’s what it takes to make it as a writer, then sign me up.
I put out an e-book reprint of my one-and-only small press novel, a horror epic called The Slab. I put out an original thriller that I didn’t even try to sell traditionally, called The Devil’s Bait. I pulled together a collection of short horror fiction called Nine Frights. I did it all myself, even the covers. I self-published.
Now, I’m not here to claim that I’ve had anything like the success that Joe et al have had. I’ve been selling some books, but not boatloads of books.
Nor am I going to claim that I’m giving up on the world of print. I love it too much. My agent is still out with the thriller, and in a few weeks he’ll have another novel to shop.
What I will say is that I want to write, and I want to be paid for my writing. And to that end, I will, as much as possible, try to keep a foot in both camps. Because—you already knew this—Joe was not full of shit, and there is a world over there in e-book-land. There are people there who love to read but who don’t need to hold a paper book in their hands to believe it’s worthwhile. There are people who don’t need to see a publisher’s colophon on the spine—who don’t need a book to have a spine, in fact.
Every bookseller knows writers who have given up. They get a book published, or a few books, and they don’t sell. Offers stop coming, and they stop writing. Who knows what great writing we’ve been deprived of because the business, as it has been established for decades, didn’t see a way to turn a profit on those people?
Some of us are more tenacious than that, or more driven. We write and if we don’t sell we write something else. We don’t quit because we have faith in our abilities, even if the people in New York don’t.
And, it turns out, there’s another way. There are options.
Who knew?
Yeah, okay, Konrath knew. Some others knew. It just took this print dinosaur a while to catch on.
Guess I have to apologize to Joe. Sorry, man. I take it all back. I was wrong.
But you? You were right all along.

Joe sez: This is a ballsy post by Jeff because it goes against basic human nature. One of my truisms is that people would rather defend their beliefs to the death before opening their minds and considering alternatives. Jeff is entrenched in the world of paper, yet is willing to pursue other options. That isn't easy to do, and kudos to him.
He's not asking me for advice, but that never stopped me from giving it, so here it is.
1. Change your self-pub covers. They look homemade, and are probably limiting your sales.
2. Obviously I think searching for a legacy publisher is a waste of time, but even if that is your goal, there is no reason why you can't self-pub those as ebooks while your agent shops them around. There have been many cases of self-pubbed ebooks being picked up by publishers, and you could be making some money on these titles right now. Amazon in particular is buying a lot of self-pubbed titles for their imprints, and they are incredible to work with.
3. Read the post I did with Blake Crouch about how to save indie bookstores. Not a single bookstore has taken us up on our offer, and I know many authors willing to do the same thing Blake and I are suggesting.
4. Start self-pubbing your out-of-print backlist. It's buried treasure, just waiting to be unearthed. The more self-pubbed ebooks you can release, the more virtual shelf-space you occupy, the easier you are to find.
5. Raise the prices on your novels to at least $2.99. Various mounting evidence, along with insider info I can't go into, has convinced me $2.99 ebooks are pretty much always more profitable that 99 cent ebooks. I know that "insider info" comment smacks of bullshit, but I've been talking numbers with certain entities who have proof of this.
I don't believe there is a race to the bottom, and even though ebook prices will go down, pricing a novel between $2.99 and $5.99 seems to, according to my super-secret sources, generate more income than the 99 cent price point.
Now, you shouldn't take my tight-lipped word for it. But you should, as I have always encouraged, experiment with price points. Raising your prices $1 per month (November $1.99, December $2.99, January $3.99) then comparing figures, is a smart idea. It takes some guts, but you've already shown you have guts.
Recently, Blake Crouch and I raised all of our novel prices to $3.99 on Nook. Amazon will probably be next, once we sort through the data. We've also agreed that Stirred, which will be released at $2.99 on November 22, will go up in price after the initial launch.
And to those who whine, "But Joe, you said $2.99 is the perfect price point!" reread my previous comment about keeping an open mind and considering alternatives.
Paper books won't ever go away completely. But they will become a niche market. The legacy paper publishing industry can't survive on a niche market, and they haven't shown authors any value when it comes to the ebook market (and certainly nothing worthy of keeping 52.5% royalties.)
I'll continue to warn authors against pursuing legacy deals until I see substantial change. But so far, no change has come, other than the pathetically laughable announcement that they're finally sharing sales figures with authors.
Are you fucking kidding me? After decades of purposely obtuse, criminally slow royalty statements, they've actually chosen to allow authors to see how many books they're selling? Atta boy! How very progressive!
Correct me if I'm wrong, but shouldn't this have been available to authors TEN YEARS AGO, when Nielsen Bookscan was launched?
How about just saying, "Sorry we've treated you thousands of authors so unfairly for the last decade in regard to your numbers, but now we're willing to release this data you already should have had."
There are multiple reasons publishers have been obtuse with sales figures. Because keeping authors in the dark suits a number of purposes, not the least of which is maintaining control over them. Because it is easier to hide the money that way. Because they themselves are so poorly run they often may not know how many they've actually sold. Because authors have never been treated fairly in other aspects of the biz, so why treat them fairly in this instance.
The fact that they decided to announce this in a big way is like a celebrity going on national TV and proclaiming, "I know I've said some shit in the past, but I really don't hate minorities anymore! Really!"
Ack. Fail. What a comedy of errors.
But I've gone off on a tangent...
Whichever path you choose to walk, keep an open mind and consider your options. That goes even if you are doing both legacy publishing and self-publishing. There are always more options to consider, more experiments to try. Don't get tied down to ideology, tradition, or loyalty.
You are the author. You are the essential component in the reader/writer relationship. Treat yourself accordingly.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Guest Post by Adam Pepper

In July, I self published my dark urban fantasy novel, SYMPHONY OF BLOOD: A Hank Mondale Supernatural Case. The process leading up to this decision caused me to rethink my entire worldview on writing.

I’ve been circling the periphery of the publishing business for over a decade. I’ve had two agents, written five novels, accumulated hundreds of rejections but failed to land a mass market deal. I have had some success in the small press and built a loyal, grassroots following but I’ve always aspired to more. I wanted to be in the bookstore, front and center. I came from the school that always measured success by the size of your publisher. I was taught to start at the top and work your way down, no matter what you were trying to publish. Always aim high. Never settle.

The pecking order was easy to see, especially for genre fiction. New York publishers on top. Then other major publishers. Next, the reputable small presses. Then the niche and micro presses. And way, way, way at the bottom was self publishing. The place for wannabes without the talent to succeed. They were chumps, worse than hacks. At least a hack could write for a check. A self publisher was the bottom feeder.

These beliefs were so deeply ingrained in my thinking they weren’t easy to shed.

I’ve known Joe Konrath since before his first novel was published and I’ve always liked and respected him. I’ve been reading his blog since it began. But when Joe started talking up self publishing, I snickered. Then, my snickers changed to, “well it works for him but it won’t work for me.” What Joe calls Stockholm Syndrome, I know all too well, because I had a nasty case of it! Many of my friends and colleagues still suffer from it. It’s not easy to dismiss an entire mindset. Especially when you’ve built everything around it, your hopes, dreams, career aspirations—your entire identity even. You’ve invested countless man-hours into achieving it. And suddenly, you scratch your forehead and realize, “Wow. Konrath may have a point!”

People tend to focus on the extremes, and they do so at the expense of their own career. We aren’t all going to be Hocking or Locke any more than we’re going to be Patterson or Connolly. Most of us won’t win lotto either.

You don’t plan a career around winning lotto.

Make no mistake about it, playing the slush game, trying to rise above the mountains of manuscripts, getting past the intern, then the junior people, then the senior people, all of whom--no matter how well intentioned--are human beings who are overwhelmed and inundated with submissions, bring their own personal biases and subjective tastes to the table and generally treat slush with equal parts horror, humor and contempt.

It’s lotto, plain and simple.

I’ve seen many friends land deals and I’ve been nothing but happy for their successes, but I won’t concede they were better writers than me. Their work simply resonated with one person in a position of power who was able to make it happen. The question that I asked myself wasn’t how can I be the next Konrath or Locke, but simply what was best for my career? Put the preconceived notions aside and truly be objective. I’ve watched this industry and see what goes on. There’s no vast conspiracy to see Adam Pepper fail; there’s merely apathy. The only person I can truly count on to build my career is me.

I remember reading an interview with literary agent Scott Hoffman where he compared authors who submit to the slush pile to a desperate girl sitting by the phone waiting to be asked to the prom. At the time it infuriated me. He was calling me a loser. What the hell else was I supposed to do? To me it was just another insider who had no clue what it was like to be on the outside breathing steam on the glass trying desperately to get noticed. In fairness to Hoffman, I was in a bitter state of mind and I don’t have the quote in front of me today. But now, that’s sage advice. Why passively sit around praying for a break when you can take it upon yourself? Why play the slush lottery when you can stack your own deck? For the first time since I’ve been in this game, writers truly don’t need an agent or a publisher to succeed. Authors need an audience. And the audience is out there, reachable and eager to be captured.

Getting caught up in rhetoric. Choosing sides. Prognosticating. None of that means a thing to me. Selling books and reaching readers does.

I’ve always had the talent and the drive, now I have the opportunity. Digital books and the internet truly are the great equalizers. Self publishing wasn’t made for Konrath and Eisler, it was made for me. The guy who played by the rules, followed every guideline, submitted to every market, and never got a shot from New York. Now, here’s the chance to drive my own carriage instead of waiting for my editor in shining armor.

It took a long time to realize this. But I’m glad I have. SYMPHONY OF BLOOD has been out just two months. It’s been in and out of the top 100 Dark Fantasy ebooks on Amazon and the reviews have been great. The response from book bloggers has been positive. There’s been a nice presence on GoodReads and Library Thing. So far so good.

I have plans for two more indie books by holiday season. One of them is currently on submission with a big six house. I’m going to pull it and publish it myself. Sound insane? It does to me too. After all, I’ve spent the last decade building relationships with industry people in hopes of launching a career. There aren’t many editors in NY who give me the time of day, but this one does. I’m very grateful for the interest he’s shown in me. But I’ve reassessed everything. What gives me the best chance at success? If the editor was truly interested, he would’ve asked me to the prom by now, and I’m done waiting by the phone. It’s my career. After a decade of chasing a dream that was totally out of my control, I can’t tell you how incredible that feels.

Joe sez: Adam was one of the first horror writers I became chummy with, while doing the convention circuit back in 2003. I dug his first book, Memoria, but Symphony of Blood was terrific. When I read it, years ago, I was sure it would get picked up by a major house. It's a cool horror noir novel with a cool hero and a cool monster, and it has a huge twist in the middle that throws readers for a loop.

(Side note--it's 99 cents on Kindle right now. Buy it.)

But it didn't sell. Adam, like many other authors I know, was screwed by the system. Because the system, as it exists, eventually screws everybody.

The only authors still pursuing legacy deals are:

1. Those who have never had them, so their views are all rosy and idealistic. As Adam said, they're waiting for that phone to ring. In the past, there was no choice. Now, it's rather pathetic.

2. Those who have had legacy deals, and have convinced themselves it's the only way to make a living. As I've said before, this is Stockholm Syndrome. The publishing industry does not care about authors. They also are inept when it comes to making books profitable. Why are you still dancing with an abusive partner? Unless they're paying you HUGE money, I can't think of a single reason.

Yes, this is a lottery. Luck plays a huge part.

But you can get lucky on your own terms, by self-pubbing. Or you can get lucky based on the whims and trends of an industry that treats authors poorly, makes lots of bad decisions, and has a terrible profit track record.

In other words, you can put your fate in the hands of the readers, or a group of dinosaurs who are making themselves extinct.

Side note: I just had a one hour conference call with Amazon yesterday about the November 22 release of STIRRED, and it blows me away how smart these folks are. It was unlike any conversation I've ever had with any Big 6 publisher. Amazon truly understands that an essential part of making money is treating authors fairly. They pay much better than the Big 6, listen to and implement authors' ideas, and understand numbers on a near-savant level.


Reread that sentence above. Now compare that to a Big 6 publisher, who only makes a profit on 1 out of 5 books they publish.

Now, there is no one-way ticket to success. Any way you go, you'll need luck. But legacy publishing involves a lot more luck and doing it on your own, or signing with Amazon, and legacy publishers can actually worsen your luck.

I just got my royalty statement for AFRAID. It has made $60k since 2009.

The two books Hachette rejected, TRAPPED and ENDURANCE, have made $160k since 2010.

My book TIMECASTER, published by Berkley, has failed miserably, saddled with a high ebook price and a terrible, generic cover. I begged them to sell it for $2.99. I begged them for a different cover. I begged them to put J.A. Konrath on the cover, since I have a huge fanbase. My pleas fell on unsympathetic ears, and the sales suck.

And don't even get me started about how much money I'm losing on my Jack Daniels books--try a few hundred thousand dollars per year.

Figure out what your goals are, and pursue them. But pursue them logically, armed with information, and don't be afraid to change your goals if the information changes.

Being naive, or having Stockholm Syndrome, shouldn't be among your goals.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Guest Post by Rob Siders of 52 Novels

It’s wonderful that Joe has opened his doors to the independent publishing community so that he can take a much-deserved break. I imagine that much of what will be written here while Joe’s on hiatus will be from authors chronicling their journeys and giving advice on what worked for them.

My angle is from the other side of that... the services side. At my ebook design shop, 52 Novels, we see a lot of manuscripts and work with a lot of authors. As a result, we’ve gotten feedback on what’s worked for people, and we give frequent advice on how to put your best foot forward when becoming an independent author/publisher.

It’s no longer enough to simply write a great book. You’ve also got to think about your ebook as a core part of your marketing, rather than simply the thing that your marketing is designed to move.

Here’re some of the things we often advise:

1. Make sure your manuscript is in publishable shape

This seems elementary, but you’d be surprised by the number of authors we work with whose manuscripts aren’t ready... typos, incorrect punctuation, missing modifiers, characters whose names change (sometimes more than once). The story can be fine. And the book may have been rewritten, multiple times perhaps, to solve the sag in the second act. But it’s critical for anyone entering this business to ensure that their product is tested.

We’re well aware that an author may have read his or her book a hundred times. But we’ve made enough ebooks --- nearly 400 as of this writing --- to know that seeing them on an ereader for the first time reveals things the author missed on paper or while staring at the manuscript on their computer monitor. Even the pro authors we work with tell us they find things on their device that they’ve never seen before. The better you handle the editing on the front end, however, the less you have to worry about things on the back end.

Some ideas:

  • Find or form a writer’s group. Some of the best story and structure advice I’ve ever gotten has come from my peers.
  • Ask five people you trust to read the book. Give them each a new red pen and require them to drain the ink barrel.
  • A good copyeditor is worth every penny you’ll spend, so hire the best one you can afford.
  • Set up a crowdsource editing project using Amazon Mechanical Turk.
  • Use a service like ErrNet to proofread your book. It’s fast, inexpensive, and will help you spot things you may have overlooked.

Because your book is at the center of your marketing, you cannot rush this. The temptation to engage in “just in time publishing” is great. Resist.

2. Make sure you think about your book’s packaging as a whole

One of the things I like best about making books for Joe is that he understands the book-as-centerpiece concept. Completely.Passionately. As such, when he sends me a new manuscript to work on, it’s usually just one of several components that become a new Konrath/Kilborn/Kimball product.

For example, take SERIAL KILLERS UNCUT. It’s an extreme example, but I think it works well here. The book itself is the culmination of several different stories, plots/subplots, and character arcs that intertwine between a couple of universes that Joe and co-author Blake Crouch created over nearly a decade.

To keep all of these datapoints straight, Joe and Blake created a network of collateral material that enhance the reader’s experience beyond simply reading the epic novel.

  • Want to know when Luther Kite makes his first appearance? Go to the Cast of Characters page and follow the internal link to Kite’s first time on stage in Part Two. Every major character has an entry on the Cast of Characters page that’s clickable to their first appearance in the book.
  • Curious about how Jack Daniels got her start hunting down serial killers? Check out the full story chronology --- for both Joe’s and Blake’s books --- in the back matter.
  • Because SKU takes place in periods before, after and concurrent to Joe’s and Blake’s related work, head to the Storyline Endnotes section to find out what happened before or after events in this book.

But these things aren’t the true brilliance of this collateral material. What makes this stuff so great --- from a business perspective --- is that it’s driving readers to buy other books by Joe and Blake.

So, you’re probably asking “what if this is my first or second book?” At minimum you should think about some of the things you find in paper books: an author bio, acknowledgments, a dedication, a one-sheet hype page, blurbs. (A quick story on blurbs... a legacy-published author with whom I worked recently is indie publishing her first Young Adult novel. She asked her beta readers --- tweens and their parents --- to blurb the book. Brilliant!)

If you’ve got a few short stories, clean them up and include them as bonus content (and then publish them as stand-alones later so you can link to them from a bibliography in subsequent ebooks you publish). If you’ve started another book, polish the first chapter or two and add that content as a teaser.

Maybe you’ve got a friend who’s also publishing a first book. Team up and swap out teaser chapters to include in your back matter. Better still, find TWO friends who are publishing for the first time and trade out space at the back. (There’s an added benefit here in that the more you have at the back of the book, the bigger your free sample will be at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. But that’s a technical discussion for another time.)

3. Consider adding POD to your product mix

With the tidal wave of independent ebook publishing well upon us, it sounds a little odd saying you should also add print to your product mix. If you consider readership on the whole, there’s a wide swath of book buyers who still go exclusively for paper, and many more who buy paper in addition to ebooks. Even with the release of the Kindle 4 at $79 for the ad-subsidized model, the death knell of paper has yet to be rung.

If you can afford it, don’t leave paper sales on the table.

4. Don’t cut corners on your cover

Joe’s dedicated a lot of space at the Newbie’s Guide to this topic already, but I have to give my full-throated endorsement of this. Your cover must --- no ifs, ands or buts --- be the enticement to your sales page. In short, find a designer who gets what an ebook cover is supposed to do: look fantastic and entice a buyer when it’s the size of a postage stamp.

Some things to consider when evaluating a cover scaled to a small size:

  • Is the title legible at that scale?
  • Does the cover tell a story?
  • Does the design echo the book’s theme/tone/mood?
  • Would I want to learn more about this book based on a 5 second glance?
  • If the book is part of a series, does the design effectively and consistently convey the author’s or the series’ brand?

Please indulge me a moment and click through to my Web site’s Recent Projects page. Scan the collection of book covers, all done by different designers (although some are represented more than others). The image dimensions for those covers are all roughly the size you’ll find in search results at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. While you’re there, jot down some notes about the ones you like while considering the questions above. Something might not be to your personal liking, but the ones that stand out to you likely answer the questions above with a “Yes.”

5. Finally, make sure your product description --- the copy that appears on your product page--is working on your book’s behalf.

This also seems elementary, but I find a lot of books whose covers appeal to methat fail to convert me to a buyer because the product description falls flat. Amazon gives you 4,000 characters to write your sales copy. Use every last one of them! A two sentence plot synopsis and a nugget from your About the Author copy might be all you can come up with… and it might not be enough to sell someone who’s on the fence about sampling your book, let alone on the fence about buying it.

These days, I buy ebooks almost exclusively. As a result, I don’t spend a lot of time in book stores like I used to, combing the stacks reading jacket copy.

In a digital store, your Web site product description is your jacket copy.

With ebooks, I’ll take a chance on an author I’ve never read if they can sell me from their product description page. I don’t care where they were born or where they live or that they used to sell Pop-Tarts door-to-door before they started writing. Sell me on your story. Convert me to a sale. Convince me I should spend $3 on you, Unknown Author.

Rob Siders runs 52 Novels, an ebook design shop. Kindle. ePub. POD. Amazon. Barnes & Noble. Apple. Kobo. Smashwords. CreateSpace. Lightning Source. Follow us on Twitter. Like us on Facebook.

Joe sez: I'm the reason Rob got into this biz. He did a favor for me years ago, put a bug in my ear to keep him in mind if I ever needed anything techy. When some readers complained about my Kindle formatting errors, I turned to Rob and he learned how to create perfect (and wonderfully artistic) ebooks.

Now it is his fulltime job.

Rob is very busy, but he's worth waiting for. Amazon is using him to create the ebook for Stirred, and I've gotten emails from Amazon's tech staff asking, "How'd he do that effect?"

Lots of people can help you format a readable ebook. But Rob's work goes beyond that, and turns your ebook into something beautiful.

But don't take my word for it. Try him for yourself.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Hiatus Part Deux

So two days after asking people for guest posts and I've gotten over a hundred.

Unless I stay on hiatus for a year, I'll never be able to post all of these. I doubt I'll even get to post 1/3 of them, and they keep coming.

This is unfortunate, because there is a lot of good information in these posts that writers could benefit from.

Which got me to thinking about the obvious solution: These should be compiled into an ebook.

Over one hundred ebook authors writing about their personal publishing journeys. We'd all want to read that.

I don't have the time, or the energy to do such a project. The compiling and editing would be a nightmare. Plus, there's no way to split royalties on a $2.99 ebook among 150 authors. Sending monthly paypals to 150 people for 8 cents each is ridiculous.

That said, it would be a shame if all this info wasn't available.

So I had an idea. I called up my ebook designer, Rob Siders of 52 Novels, and asked if he'd be interested in compiling this collection.

Rob told me he was interested. Here's how we'd do it:

I'd write the intro, and put a few pieces in there, so it would be an ebook edited by J.A. Konrath & Rob Siders. So far, no one has written the definitive tome on ebook self-publishing. This could be it.

Rob does amazing work, and he's going to put in dozens of hours on this project, and he deserves to be paid. I'm not going to pay him, because I'm not going to make any money on this. I'm just the figurehead.

So this is my proposal. I think this ebook should be priced at $2.99, and Rob keeps the money.

If you're a writer who sent me a guest blog, I'm sure part of the reason you did it was to reach my readers and publicize your ebook.

An ebook collection would work in the same way. You get the exposure and links to your titles, Rob gets paid for the untold hours he has to put in, and I don't have to disappoint anyone.

I don't pay people for guest blogs. And I've always allowed people to repost my blog entries on their blogs (or in their how-to books) for free, so I'm not asking you for anything you weren't already willing to give away.

I'll make zero money on this, but my name is pretty well-known, so you'll get your article in front of a lot of eyes. Your article, plus links to your ebooks and your websites and blogs.

Rob would be asking for non-exclusive rights, meaning you could use your piece elsewhere, and you could have it taken out of the collection at any time.

What do you folks think?

Thursday, October 06, 2011


I have screamed into the wind for a long time.

Screamed so loud, some have heard me.

But I'm tired of screaming.

I'm taking a hiatus from blogging for an indeterminate time. This indiestry (just coined that term) is sustainable without me.

However, I am going to open up this blog to writers, and let other people do the screaming for a while.

If you'd like to write a guest blog, email me your piece.

It has to be about sharing what you've learned about publishing. Blatant self-promotion won't win you a spot. Neither will praising me, shameless sycophantic behavior, or posts focusing on you and your books.

Describing your writing journey, whether you're experiencing success or failure, is what will be helpful to readers of this blog.

That's what I'm looking for. Sure, you can slip in some links to your book. But I want you to show what you're doing, and explain if it is working. Shoot for under 1200 words. You can be confrontational, or funny, or even act like a dick, as long as it is real.

I'll read everything emailed to me, but I'll only respond if I'm interested in running your piece. My lack of response doesn't mean you suck. It means I'm overburdened and can't post everything I'm being sent. Don't bug me asking if I liked it, or if I'll use it. I'll use what I use.

As for my loyal readers, I'll be back. Eventually.

In the meantime, I want you to take my place. Do what I do. Preach what I preach. Or preach the opposite of what I've been saying, as long as you back it up with logic and evidence.

Show me, and the world, whatcha got.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Race to the Bottom Part 2

Back in August, I wrote a post about the supposed race to the bottom with ebooks, refuting some nonsense written by an establishment bonehead.

This meme won't die. People are still convinced that new ebooks are going to be priced at ten cents, and writers will starve, and this will cause a second Great Depression where banks will close and people will be forced to buy Kindles with food stamps, and then the earth will enter another ice age where all the bunnies will freeze to death.

Lots of doom and gloom here.

Barry Eisler has a non-ebook post on his blog about establishments, and how people within establishments serve one of two functions: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work to sustain the organization itself. The latter are those who wind up running the organization.

Publishing is a perfect example of this behavior. This industry began as a way to bridge the gap between readers and writers. That was its goal. But somewhere along the line, legacy publishers began to worry more about sustaining themselves than connecting readers with books.

That's one of the reasons power corrupts. You begin to believe your own hype, which leads to a disconnect between your decisions and their results. If you have the power, you must be infallible, right? And even really stupid business practices, such as treating your content providers badly, allowing full credit for returns, never doing focus groups or pre-release testing, using purposely obtuse accounting practices, windowing titles, DRM, erights grabs, the agency model, etc. can't possibly hurt you, because You Da Man.

Publishers began to really believe that they were essential. And they managed to convince a lot of unpublished authors of the same thing. There are a whole bunch of people in the publishing industry, and trying to get into the publishing industry, who are confusing acceptance by that organization with what the original goal was: getting books in front of readers.

But publishers have always been middlemen, even though they had a lock on distribution and a filter on content. And middlemen tend to eventually get streamlined out of the Circle of Money.

Their locks and filters are now disappearing, and this is naturally scaring them. It's also scaring a lot of the brainwashed writers who work in the industry, or have been struggling to break into the industry. No one wants to believe the god they've been worshiping is about to die.

Enter the memes. Publishers, and their supporters, keep trotting out the same old BS about how the future will be bleak without them.

"You'll be nothing without me!" is the mournful whine of every jilted lover.

One meme is that the lack of gatekeepers will result in a tsunami of crap. Another is that writers can't succeed on their own. The meme I want to focus on is that continual price dropping will result in all ebooks being free and no writer able to make a living.

Let's look at some of the flaws in the race to the bottom meme.

1. There are still plenty of ebooks priced over $4.99 on the bestseller lists. Check any genre list, and they're there. So while it is true people would rather pay less than more, there are plenty of people willing to pay more. But, as we'll see, not too much more.

2. The sweet spot for ebooks may be changing. I've been charging $2.99 for novels because I've been making a lot of money. But I may be doing myself a disservice and leaving some money on the table. The goal is to find that perfect point that balances sales and profits. That means experimenting. In the past, I've been against charging more, because my own experiments showed it didn't work. But I've now seen other authors who it is working for, and that encourages me to experiment some more.

3. Some people may be conditioned to avoid lower-priced ebooks. Maybe they got burned on a shitty 99 cent novel. Maybe they equate higher price with higher quality (something we're all guilty of.) As long as there are folks willing to pay more for something they perceive is better, some authors will be able to charge more.

Another way of putting it: even if all ebooks are fungible and created equal, there can still exist a spectrum of prices. Take Blu-Rays. Some are $4.99. Some are $39.99. How new something is, how popular it is, the extras it has--people will pay more for these things.

4. If all ebooks become free, we'll still make money. There has been a lot of talk about subscription models, or ebooks funded by ads. Either way, the content creators (the writers) are still the essential part of the business. We'll find a way to get paid.

5. Legacy publishers aren't helping anyone but themselves by pricing ebooks $9.99 and over. This high price is to protect print sales, and suck as much money from readers as they can before the house of cards collapses.

Readers don't want to pay $9.99. They've been very clear about this for several years. The $9.99 boycott, and associated 1 star reviews, is still widespread. As a result, books priced at $9.99 or higher don't sell as many copies as they could, and the author misses out.

$9.99 isn't the sweet spot.

6. There can't ever be a true race to the bottom, because books aren't in competition with each other. This isn't a zero sum game. Never has been. When readers find something that interests them, it is never either/or. If they find two books to be interesting, they read both books. And since ebooks are cheaper than paper, and it has been widely reported that those with ereaders buy and read more, the pie is actually getting bigger. We can sell to a smaller percentage of ereaders and still make a killing.

Sure, we all have limited leisure time. We all have limited lifetimes.

But if you like reading, you fit it into your life. Just like you fit anything else you like into your life. I've never met a single reader--and I've met thousands--who said, "Well, I can read this OR that, but I'll certainly never have time to read them both, because time is finite."

That "not enough time" meme is bullshit.

Now, we're still in the early adopter phase of ereader sales. The prices haven't sorted themselves out yet. Which is why experimentation is essential. As self-pubbed writers, we need to try different price points, and compare notes, in order to find that sweet spot. I just released a 35k word novella, EXPOSED, for $2.99. My next novel will be $3.99.

Lower prices may sell more copies, but they leave money on the table because people would have paid more. Higher prices may have a larger profit, but they also leave money on the table in missed sales.

Your goal, as a self-published writer, should be to keep an open mind, and always remember this is a business, not an ideology.

The is no race to the bottom. It's just a bunch of scared people who need to regurgitate false memes in order to feel safe.