Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Guest Post by Robert Gregory Browne

SCARED SHITLESSRobert Gregory Browne

Several years ago, Joe, Barry Eisler, Brett Battles and I all met at Thrillerfest Arizona, when Brett and I were probably two of the greenest guys in the room. We were both flush, however, with the success of finally being accepted by big-time New York publishers after years of trying to get through the gates. And, for me at least, Joe and Barry were far enough ahead of us that I felt a little intimated by them.

Come to think of it, I still do.

Flash forward and here were are, all seasoned veterans of the publishing world, facing the challenges of a new form of delivery which Joe, Barry and Brett have embraced wholeheartedly.

I, on the other hand, have been lagging behind. But when I told Joe that I had finally decided to take the indie plunge, he suggested that I sit down with Brett for a conversation about my current state of mind, which is an equal mix of elation, confusion and abject terror.

Brett Battles: First, I want to congratulate you on finally making the leap into Indie Publishing! Your first indie published book just came out last week, if I'm not mistaken. A mystery thriller called Trial Junkies (currently free on Amazon.)

Robert Gregory Browne: Last Tuesday. So it's been up for a week.

B: Well, it's about time! It's not like I haven't been pushing you to go independent for... well... forever.

R: I know, I know. I've been watching all of you guys jump in—first Joe, then Barry, then you and countless others. There's this great party that's been going on for a couple years now and I'm finally crawling out of bed, getting dressed and hoping I'm not too late for all the fun.

B: So what took you so long?

R: Well, until late last year there was this carrot dangling in front of me called fame and fortune that I wholly bought into. Not that anyone ever promised it outright, but I was told that the book I had coming out soon—after a year of waiting—would likely be my big breakout book that would launch me from the midlist into the big time. This was probably MY fantasy more than anyone else's, but I had high hopes for the book.

B: Right, I remember that.

R: So, while you and everyone else were trying to get me to join the party, I was still stuck in a contract and wedded to the old ideas and the old dreams, relying on other people to make them come true. The problem was that despite all this hope of breaking out big, I wasn’t even remotely convinced it would actually happen. Especially after I went to the RT Writer's Conference last April.

B: Why is that?

R: You were there. Barry. Lee Goldberg. I remember is you and Barry and Lee hovering around your iPad while you were showing them some cover art for your upcoming indie release, and all three of you were rhapsodizing about self-publishing. I mentioned that I had a book coming out in hardcover and you all groaned and gave me this "you poor guy" look that got me thinking, yep, the writing is on the wall.

B: I remember that. But you still waited. How did the hardcover do?

R: About as well as you could expect for a midlist author in this economy, with ebooks starting to dominate the marketplace. I won't deny that The Paradise Prophecy got me some of the best reviews I've had and certainly raised my profile—and who knows, when the mass market comes out next week it may raise it a bit more, but let's just say I'm no longer dreaming of fame and fortune.

B: All right, so that book didn't hit as you expected. Still, that was last summer. What happened between then and now?

R: A lot of soul searching. At that point in my career, I was also writing short legacy books under a pen name, had done a ghosting job and had a couple more potential ghosting assignments lined up. I suddenly realized that I was making a living writing books that I had no real emotional investment in. It was grunt work, I was burned out, and there were times I thought about quitting the business altogether—simply because I wasn’t having fun anymore.

B: We talked several times while you were working on those projects, and it was clear you were very frustrated.

R: Frustrated and depressed. And maybe a little crazy.

B: A little?

R: Okay, a lot. Just ask my agent.

B: Or anyone else who was around you. Trust me, I was one of those on the other end of the line trying to talk you off the edge. Anyway, so you did all this soul searching, and…?

R: All this time, guys like you were taking the digital original world by storm.

B: Digital original—trying to get fancy and coin a term?

R: You know me, I’m always trying to get fancy, but for some reason I’ve never liked the term ebook. But I guess we’re stuck with it. Still, digital originals is kind of how I think of them, because I often compare this current evolution to the fifties, when Fawcett started publishing paperback originals—which were brand new at the time and sold in dime stores—and the publishing establishment screamed that these books were destroying publishing and devaluing the work. Sound familiar?

B: Very.

R: So anyway, I could see that your books were climbing the Amazon charts and you were having great success, so I finally decided I needed to stop fooling myself, stop buying into the ridiculous notion that if I trust others to control my fate, I'll be just fine. It was finally time for me to take that leap.

B:And the result was Trial Junkies.

R:Right. When I sat down to write that book, I was beholden to no one but my readers and myself. And you know what?

B: What?

R: I've never had a better time writing. This wasn't a story that had been "approved" by an editor or a publishing staff or my agent, but one that I had been wanting to write for a long time.I felt free, and I really had a blast writing it.

B: Yep, writing for yourself has a way of making an author feel that way. So now that it's out, how do you feel?

R: Uh, you would ask that. To be frank, I'm scared shitless.

B: And that’s because…

R: Because now that I've finally dragged myself out of bed, hopped in the car, driven across town and joined the party, I'm suddenly petrified that nobody will ask me to dance. Despite all the success you and Joe and Barry and Lee are having, that doesn't guarantee success for me, and despite moments of elation—when I think I've made the right choice—I have periods of panic where I wonder if I've just cut my own throat. Remember how you felt when Little Girl Gone was first released?

B: Oh, yeah. Not something I’m likely to ever forget. I thought I was going to have a stroke pretty much everyday for two months. Have I done the right thing? Have I ruined my publishing future? Will I make any money? Have I gone insane?

R: Exactly.

B: There were a few nervous months there when I wasn’t sure if I was even going to be able to make my rent (not an exaggeration), but sales continued to grow, and now I don’t worry nearly as much as I use to.I'm sure this stage will pass soon for you, too.

R: I think part of the problem is that, as traditionally published authors, we're kind of trained to "listen to mommy," because she'll always take care of us. We feel we need to follow her lead. But now suddenly mommy's gone and we're on our own and as crazy as it sounds, it's a little unnerving. Until, of course, you look at the situation logically and realize that mommy didn't always know best. Far from it. In fact, mommy is probably far less interested in the relationship than you are.

B: Absolutely. A lot of things changed at Bantam Dell between the release of my third and fourth books—the most important being my two biggest supporters were no longer with the company, and the new folks made it pretty clear I was not a priority. When they passed on my new book proposal, once my contract was fulfilled, it was the best thing that could have happened to me. That book, btw, was Sick, which has gone on to become my best reviewed and one of my best selling books, and has spawned two sequels so far.

R: That seems to happen to a lot of people. Books getting passed on that become great sellers or even bestsellers on Kindle.

B: The key, at least in my mind, is to write the best books you can, AND get as many titles up on your virtual shelf space as possible. Last year I released almost twice as many books as I had in the previous five. The more books you have—as long as they're good—the less any single title has to carry the load. You know this, too. We've talked about it before. I believe you have several books you'll be releasing soon, right?

R: That's the plan. It took forever for me to get my backlist, but we finally got the reversion letters a couple days ago, so that's four books I'll have in addition to Trial Junkies. And I’m already working on Trial Junkies #2.

B: You mentioned what a pain it was getting the rights to your backlist. You want to elaborate?

R: Let's just say that it took a lot of cajoling on my part and from my agent and his assistant to finally get those letters in hand. It was like pulling teeth with slippery fingers. Surprisingly, they approved the reversions fairly quickly—for which I give them tremendous credit—but then it took months and months to finally get the letters themselves. But I remained patient.

B: Why?

R: Because I'm a nice guy.

B: Since when?

R: Okay, since never, but don't tell anyone else that.

B: It’s our secret. So now that you have the rights back, are you planning to release them all yourself?

R: Absolutely. With Trial Junkies going free on Amazon Select starting today, I decided to also release an updated version of Kiss Her Goodbye. And I hope to have the rest out early next month.

B: Kiss Her Goodbye was the one CBS made into a television pilot.

R: Right. A wonderful experience all around, which I wrote about in the new afterword in the book. They did a great job.

B: Yes, they did. So the big question is, are you all-in now? Or are you just dipping your toes?

R: In all honesty, I'm not sure. I was raised in this business with a certain mindset that I'm still fighting against. Like I said, I'm scared shitless because I have no idea how it'll all turn out. Not that I ever knew before.

B: Sure, it's back to the "mom" thing. It's the comfort level and the way we were brought up to think about traditional publishing versus self publishing.

R: Exactly. But with indie publishing I don't need mom's permission. I'm no longer begging her and dad to let me take the car out for a spin.

B: It's a kind of brainwashing. I don't mean that in an evil way. It's just that traditional publishing was the only way to get a novel out there for, well, like forever. Until ebooks came along. It takes a while to deprogram.

R: And I'm still deprogramming.

B: It probably took me six months to get to a point where I was no longer thinking, have I done the right thing?Six, nerve racking, stomach wrenching months.

R: I remember you telling me you couldn't sleep.

B: Yep...for a LONG time.Now, I don't even think about it. I'm just constantly excited about getting my next book done and out.

R: Plus you're writing like a fucking maniac. Book after book. And I'm envious as all hell. How many books have you written over the last year or so?

B: When PALE HORSE comes out in June, that'll be nine in fifteen months... three of which were written prior to 2011, but the rest since then. But the thing is I'm not writing any faster than I did when I had my contracts with Bantam Dell. I just had a lot more down time then…which I now wish I had used to write other books. Lost opportunity.

R: Like I said, I’m envious. And you not only write fast, but you write WELL.

B: Thanks. I think that's one of my favorite things about indie publishing. When I was with Bantam I was on a one-book-a-yearrelease schedule, and it was killing me. What that really meant was that sometimes it was up to a year and a half or more from the time I'd actually finished all the edits on a book before it hit the stores. Now I’ve hired my own editor andI just put them out as I finish them. I LOVE that. I actually remember what the book is about when people talk to me about it.

R: And it doesn't hurt that you're making very good money at it.

B: Good money. Working toward very good.

R: Which, of course, gives me hope. I was talking to my financial guy a few days back and telling him how much my friends are making through self-publishing. I said, "Some of these guys are pulling in 30-40K a month."

He says, "I'm not surprised."

I said, "Really?"

He said, "Sure, because that's the cut the publisher usually takes. You just never see it."

B: That pretty much sums it up. And ebooks are forever. Traditional publishing is ALL about that first month. But with ebooks, you don't have to fight for shelf space, and even those that have been out for a year just keep going and going.

Even if you have a bad month, or a bad year, next month or next year could be fine.

R: And the playing field is fairly even. Contrary to what some people believe, most readers don't give two hoots who published the damned book. They just want a great read.

B: Yep. And the stigma of "self-publishing," while still there, is quickly disappearing as more and more of authors jump in, and I’m not just talking about previously traditionally published authors, but also authors who’ve bypassed that path altogether.

R: But I suppose we're preaching to the choir here. Joe's been saying this for years.

B: Yes, he has.

R: And I'll be perfectly honest. When Joe first started talking about this stuff, I thought he was nuts. I really thought he'd taken a left turn into looney-ville. Shows you how much I know.

B: Many people thought that. What Joe was saying made logical sense, but it was playing against our brainwashing.

R: But Joe was a visionary and I wish I had even half the foresight he had. Okay, I'm done stroking him now.

B: Thank God.

R: But seriously, he saw something the rest of us were too blind to see. The future. And he seemed to know it was coming fast, and was prepared for it, while the rest of us—especially me—were still thinking about that dangling carrot. We were letting emotion override our common sense.

B: So what are you're expectations now that you're one of us?

R: I'm just hoping I'll make it through the next six months.

B: Don't worry. You'll eventually look back on this moment and think "that wasn't so bad."

R: Promise?

B: I promise.

R: I sure hope you're right. In the meantime I'll think I'll go puke.

Rob’s eBooks

TRIAL JUNKIES—First in a new series
BOTTOM DEAL—A Nick Jennings Digital Short

Brett’s eBooks

THE DESTROYED—Jonathan Quinn Thriller #5

Joe sez: Both Rob and Brett are terrific writers. If you like crime fiction, get them while they're cheap (or free.) I'm going to reiterate some of the advice Brett gave Rob, and add a bit more.

1. I've lost some of my faith in the Kindle Select program since it originated, and as a result I've opted my titles out. Select requires exclusivity, and I found I was making more money via Smashwords, Kobo, B&N, Overdrive, Sony, and Apple than I was through Select lends. 

The other advantage of Select--being able to make your ebook free--used to result in a nice bounce from the free list to the paid list. Lately, the bounce isn't nearly as dramatic. 

Two weeks ago Ann Voss Peterson made her thriller ebook Pushed Too Far free for a week. She gave away 70,000 copies--which is impressive, even beating many of the giveaways Blake Crouch and I had done (giveaways that got us in the Top 100 paid list and made us lots of money.)

Ann never hit the Top 100 paid. She's currently at #158. This is great, and she's thrilled, but she's only allowed to do this once every 90 days, and I don't believe the benefit corresponds to the loss of income from the other retailers.

If you do decide to make your ebook free, go all in. Use the 5 full days allotted, contact as many websites as you can find who announce freebies, and enlist everyone you know to help you spread the word.

2. Get as much content up there as possible. Virtual shelf space is like physical shelf space--the more titles you have, the more chance you have of being seen. The best advertising for your writing is your writing, so write a lot. Also, don't be afraid to experiment. If you write three books in a series that isn't selling well, try something else. Ebooks are forever. You can always go back to your series, or it could always get "hot" a few years from now and start selling like crazy. Until then, try new things.

3. Experiment with pricing, product description, and covers. Change stuff. Analyze data. Share what you've learned with your peers.

4. Bundle. Shorts can be compiled into collections. Novels and be bundled into sets. You and Brett and two other authors could each put a book into a four-novel collection and split the royalties. This is an easy way to increase shelf space without writing more.

5. Don't worry about advertising or marketing--I haven't heard of any instances where it has worked. My rule of thumb is: if it makes me buy a book, I'll try it for myself. I've never bought a book because of a  book trailer, pop-up, Facebook page, postcard, email spam, or print or online ad. I'm also not a big fan of marketing. I've never seen my sales jump because I did a print interview, radio show, or any other type of publicity. Fewer public appearances and money spent to self-promote, and more time at the desk writing. That's the best bang for your buck.

6. Pay attention. The more you know, the better off you are. Subscribe to the free daily versions of Publisher's Lunch and PW Daily even though they are biased toward the legacy industry. Read Passive Guy, Kris Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith, David Gaughran, Bob Mayer, and Mike Stackpole to understand how the industry is changing. Read Mike Shatzkin to see how some people are fighting to keep the industry how it is. 

7. Ignore the pinheads. It was brave to take this leap into the unknown. Most people aren't brave. So they will ridicule, deride, debase, vilify, disapprove, mock, judge, and even lie because the are desperate for you to be wrong. Fuck 'em. The best defense is being right and living well.

8. Do for others what others have done for you. Be successful, and teach other writers who to do the same.

The world needs heroes. Be one.


I.J.Parker said...

Congratulations and best wishes to Robert Gregory.

I never had a moment's doubt about this move. What I did have was an unhealthy attachment to my agent. She delayed my venture by a whole year and that has made a huge difference between success and just hanging on. It's taking another year and more delays to get my e-titles from the agency so that I can manage them myself. Note that the relationship is now so broken that I have no chance of getting my rights back from the big six! All I've taken away from traditional publishing are great reviews, and I need those now.
As to making a financial success out of this (I have seven novels up, plus a lot of short stories), that hasn't happened yet. I blame it on the delays while the world was changing and on the fact that my subject doesn't guarantee the sort of sales you guys command.

But I am a lot happier.

And Joe: ditto on Select!

Adam Pepper said...

We spend so much time on the Xs and Os and the dollars and cents that we forget what's most important. Our own happiness and finding our work joyful and rewarding. That's the real beauty of indie publishing!

Merrill Heath said...

Great interview, Rob and Brett. It's always nteresting to hear the angst you previously published authors go through. I've never been traditionally published, so I don't have that experience personally. But my father was and I witnessed firsthand the frustration and struggles he went through.

Now I'm publishing Dad's novels as ebooks and working to get some of my own books out there. My goal is to publish 20 books in 5 years - 8 of Dad's and 12 of my own.

As Joe said, I plan to experiment a little to see what works best for me, then focus on that type of writing. It's kind of like fishing for crappie: you go along the bank trying different spots until you find their bed, then you get lots of hooks in the water.

Good luck, Rob. I'm sure you'll do very well "out on your own."

M.F. Soriano said...

Great post. I especially appreciate Joe's advice at the end. There are plenty of self-publishing success stories out there now, and I'm grateful for the inspiration they provide, but I'm more hungry for practical advice on ways to build an audience.

On the flip-side, I'm a little worried about the 'crank-em-out approach' so many authors are taking with self-publishing. I write pretty slow, and reading about Mr. Battles finishing 9 books in 15 months is pretty terrifying. Is my slow writing pace an insurmountable handicap in the self-publishing field? Is there any way to minimize that handicap, or do I just need to write faster? And won't the 'building-an-audience problem' get bigger as more and more books flood into the market?

Joseph D'Agnese said...

Thanks to you both for a great interview. Congratulations, Rob.

I just looked up your websites. Can we add them to the post?

Rob: http://www.robertgregorybrowne.com/

Brett: http://www.brettbattles.com/

Marie Force said...

Welcome, Robert! Wishing you many, many sales!

Joe, I'm with you on Select losing it's value. I had a five-day freebie over Mother's Day weekend that saw 55,000 downloads and was the no. 1 free book for all of Kindle for four of the five days. It went back on sale and has sold about 600 copies. Whereas over the holidays, I had a five-day freebie that had 44,000 downloads and went back on sale to 5,000 paid sales and several weeks in the Kindle Top 100 for a book that had been out since November 2010. Not sure what they changed, but it's definitely not as valuable as it once was. I don't think I'll do it again.

Brett Battles said...

Don, everyone writes at their own pace. I wouldn't change what works for you. The most important thing is to write a GOOD book, not a rushed one. My pace is just naturally what it is, so I go with it. If yours is slower, that's fine. Yes, you want to build up your virtual shelf space, but you don't want to do it with sucky material.

Amber Dane said...

What a great sit down and just what I needed to hear today. Plus Joe’s addition at the end is appreciated. So much to learn, do,etc..But in the end we can only hope we do the right thing and I always need that reminder of why I write when I get so bogged down with what to or what not to do (marketing)for my 1st novel debut. Thanks for the pep!

Anonymous said...

It might not be nice of me to say so, but it's nice to know I'm not the only one who is scared shitless about self publishing. I've written novels, but I just don't dare put them out there. I throw up just thinking about making my manuscripts into eBooks, I'd probably die if I self-published too soon!

Congrats to you for having the courage to do so though.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Don, believe me, I marvel at Brett's ability to write fast and do it at a such a high level of quality.

I always used to consider myself a slow writer, but then I faced several very tight deadlines in a row and discovered that I can actually write very fast, without losing quality, when I need to. I simply don't spend so much time second guessing my work.

It took me four years to write my first book. Trial Junkies was written in about three months or so, and that was with the house being remodeled and racket around me all the time.

The more you do it, the more you learn to focus and the faster you get.

Stant Litore said...

Joe, your blog is an inspiration. Robert, good luck and congrats on the transition!

Barbra Annino said...

Great post! And as usual, great advice.

Thought you'd want to see this agent's post:



Sean Black said...

Great post. Brett puts many of us to shame and Rob is a phenomenal talent who will do brilliantly in this brave new world. Kudos to you both.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

Congrats on taking the plunge, Rob!

I found the transition from legacy to indie to be a sleepless mix of fear and mourning, as well. But as Brett said, you'll get through it.

And life on this side is fabulous.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Thanks, Ann!

And Sean, I'm definitely not paying you enough. Expect the next check to be much, much larger. Or would you prefer gold?

Kiana Davenport said...

@Robert Gregory Browne...welcome to the club! Your life will change radically! Obviously, it already has. Change is always good. Stasis is death. I read your first book, it was excellent. As Joe says, just keep writing.

@Joe...thanks for your input on the KindleSelect Program. I've only got two collections up, a new one soon, but I've been wondering about the wisdom of having removed my books from Smashwords, Kobo, B&N, etc. A lot of indie writers are wondering. So your thoughts are helpful and making us think twice about the program.

Write on, you guys!

Sheri Hart said...

Really enjoyed today's post. Rob and Brett -- I miss both of you over at Murderati but am glad it's because you're busy writing more books.

Thanks for the opportunity to try your new book, Rob. I was so intrigued by the Paradise Prophecy premise, but admit I was turned off by the ebook price. It's still on my TBR pile, though.

Thanks for sharing your honest feedback about the Kindle Select program Joe.

Mark Terry said...

I think you'll probably be happy with it. I have been. I find, more than anything else, that the chance to write what I want to write and know it will be published - that I'm writing for me and my readers, instead of my agent and a potential editor/publisher - is both liberating and fun. (Admit it. You were writing to please your agent first, weren't you? Even a little bit?)

An unpublished writer friend of mine asked me last night if I was still writing and I said yes and mentioned I'd gone the indie route. He seemed shocked. I said it was pretty much all financial. Why should I let someone else publish for me and give me 8% (yes, that's the e-book and hardcover royalty via my last legacy publisher) when I can do it myself and get 70%?

I also remind myself that when legacy publishing was the way to go, that's the way I went. Now that indie publishing is, at least for many authors, the way to go, that's the way I'm going. If it changes in 2 or 5 or 10 years, I'll change too.

As it's been pointed out, in terms of evolution, it's not survival of the fittest, it's the one that's most able to adapt.

Steve said...

Great post, guys. And I totally feel you on the "scared shitless" thing. It seems to be pretty common these days.

I'm curious about something I hope Rob can expand upon. Rob, you say you've got the reversion letters from Macmillan, which is great. Congratulations! But the Macmillan contracts I've seen specify that there's a five-year minimum wait after publication before the writer can even *ask* for reversion. Was that the case for you? If so, how did you get around it? (I could be wrong, but I believe your books with Macmillan came out post-2007.) If Blake pops in, perhaps he could address this, as well, since I believe he's been dealing with the same thing.

Thanks for the insights!

Rob Cornell said...

Congrats on the release, Rob. If I'd known you were going to make it free..grumble...grumble... :)

Know what I especially love about authors I like going indie? I can afford all your books right when they come out. It's also nice to see you guys succeed and give hope to those of us who are skipping legacy publishing to go right into indie.

Jill James said...

Robert, congratulations on your new book and venture into the indie world. Off to get your new ebook. Oh, sorry. Digital original. Love that!!

Rob Gregory Browne said...

@Kiana -- Thanks so much for the kind words!

Steve -- I'm not sure what all of my contracts with SMP say, it's been a long while since I checked, but I highly, highly doubt it was five years. I believe the window was closer to six months or a year, and sales had to fall below a certain threshold. But then my agent and agency are very good at negotiating.

Whatever the case, SMP was actually pretty quick to say yes to all four books. It just took a SEVERAL months to finally get those letters. I was going crazy.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

@ Mark, I'm glad to hear you're having success with indie publishing. It certainly does make me feel better when others succeed.

@Jill, thanks for the download and I'm glad you like the term. I think it fits.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

@Sheri, thanks for the kind words. And, yeah, I hear you about PP's ebook price. Kinda scary. Fortunately, it's coming out in mass market in a couple weeks at a lower price, so hopefully those who still enjoy paper will take a look.

And, yeah, it was tough to give up Murderati, but I was pretty burned out at the time...

Karen Woodward said...

Another great post! Thanks Brett and Robert for sharing your experiences.

Joe, thanks for the tips. I paraphrased your eight points on my blog and, as I proofread my post, it hit me that they were like Eight Commandments For The Indie Writer.

Something else to print out and tack up on my wall!

Miriam Minger said...

Love the cover of your ebook and wish you every success, Rob. Really enjoyed the post and, as ever, Joe's comments afterward. Okay, time to get back to writing.

Timothy Hallinan said...

Great interview, great follow-up. One of the points that's made here is one that I don't hear often enough, which is that epublishing can change a lot faster than tradpub because so much of it is controlled largely by one corporate entity. I love ebooks, love writing them, love putting them up, love the luxury of being able to follow the numbers. But I'm always slightly uneasy about the sheer clout Amazon has. It won't prevent me from doing indie books, but it does keep me on the balls of my feet.

Steve said...

Thanks for the scoop on the reversion timeline, Rob! Sounds like something my then-agent and I should have dug our heels in about back in the day. But then again, that was seven years ago, and who knew what was coming down the pike?

Anonymous said...

Joe, since this post is about "converts" (traditionally published authors who are leaping to digital), I was wondering what your thoughts are regarding the following:

I have several genre books in print with traditional publishers. I sell well enough to prevent rights reversion but not well enough to get much attention from my publisher. They're all available as over-priced ebooks.

I have a new book that my agent couldn't sell and am hoping to use it as my first indie pub. I've noticed many folks posting here talk about having X number of books to self-pub in a short time. I don't. Everything I've written in the past decade has been under contract except this new one.

Question: this book was part of planned trilogy. Is it better to wait to indie pub until the second is ready to pub shortly thereafter or pub the first now and hope readers don't mind however long it takes me to get the next one up? (I'm talking series work here, not stand-alones). My gut tells me a reasonable time-lag shouldn't matter, but I worry I'm thinking in legacy terms.

Does having those legacy ebooks up (at dumb prices) help me in terms of exposure in the same way several market-priced ebooks seem to help indie authors?

obviously, you're not my agent/accountant/marketer--or me!--but I'd love your opinion.

James R. Tuck Dark Urban Fantasy Author said...

I am writing furiously to self publish. I have 6 releases through traditional publishing (The Deacon Chalk series from Kensington) 2 on the shelves, 2 coming out end of summer, 2 not until 2013.

But they are all written and done.

Now I am out of contract (except a first look clause for one book) and ready to step into the indie publishing gig.

I write fast. 80,000 words written and revised in a little over 2 months. So creating content should be no problem.

Thank you for the inspiration.

Adonis Marrero said...

You're on a roll, Joe. Yet another and informative blog post. Thanks for sharing your experience on the Kindle Select program. Regardless of how big Amazon is, exclusivity will still hurt sales on other online stores.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Some great points in this piece - enjoyed it greatly. Thanks.

Janet Dawson said...

Great interview. I really like the term digital original.

Anonymous said...

Nobody here mentions the writers who make that move and earn shit. I am posting this anonymously because I am one such writer, and thoroughly ashamed of my stupid fucking self. I bought into the Konrath line, followed all the suggestions, did the best I could, but am now regretting the 15-30 grand I lost on each MS. And which agent/house will have me now?

Anyone want to give me back the shitload I spent for covers, formatting, blah blah, proofing, instead of the steady advances I used to get? No, I thought not.

Happy lottery, guys! If you're not signed to amazon, it's no better than the trad publishing lottery. Only winners tend to post here.

Jude Hardin said...

Best of luck with it, Rob! I'm sure you're aware that some of us have signed with Amazon imprints, so that might be something to think about as well.

Anonymous said...

Nobody here mentions the writers who make that move and earn shit. I am posting this anonymously because I am one such writer, and thoroughly ashamed of my stupid fucking self. I bought into the Konrath line, followed all the suggestions, did the best I could, but am now regretting the 15-30 grand I lost on each MS. And which agent/house will have me now?

It's hard to believe anonymous stories either good or bad, but why wouldn't an agent or house want you if you were a midlist writer before. Lots of publishers have never heard of Konrath so I doubt they remember you, so why would they hold it against you?

Plenty of small publishers are publishing backlists and other previously published titles, there's no reason they wouldn't do yours even if they were previously published.

Rob Gregory Browne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob Gregory Browne said...

I realized that wasn't Wayne who had made the statement, but yet another Anonymous.


With all due respect, I personally know several authors who have made the move and they are making more money per month than they did with some of their entire advances for multiple books.

Believe me, I wouldn't have made this leap if I had seen others do it successfully. I do like to pay my bills.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Maybe I shouldn't have had that cortisone shot...

Believe me, I wouldn't have made this leap if I HADN'T seen others do it successfully.

Casey Moreton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob Gregory Browne said...

@Jude. Thanks, and yes, I hear you on the imprints. that's always a viable route.

JA Konrath said...

I am posting this anonymously because I am one such writer, and thoroughly ashamed of my stupid fucking self.

Nothing to be ashamed of. Post a link to your ebooks and we'll offer you some advice. I'd like to compare your legacy books to your self-pubbed ones on price, cover art, and description, and maybe we can figure out what's up.

So you turned down a contract to self-pub, eh? That's still pretty big news. Tell us who you are and who made the offer.

Patricia Ann Preston said...

Every time I come over here and read one of your posts, I want to stand up and cheer!!!

Jim Self said...

I've seen Barry refer to you several times as a marketing genius, and make references to different things you've done to get attention and sell books. What was he talking about? I'm 100% with you about writing being the best advertising, but I'm also worried that it won't work for a new writer like myself and that I'm just being lazy.

Jim Self said...

"Nobody here mentions the writers who make that move and earn shit. I am posting this anonymously because I am one such writer, and thoroughly ashamed of my stupid fucking self. I bought into the Konrath line, followed all the suggestions, did the best I could, but am now regretting the 15-30 grand I lost on each MS. And which agent/house will have me now?"

How did you spend $15,000 on an ebook? I've never heard of such a thing. Joe's giving you the benefit of the doubt, but it sounds like you're trolling. If not, no offense. Are you talking about lost advances? It's not too late to submit your books to publishers.

"Anyone want to give me back the shitload I spent for covers, formatting, blah blah, proofing, instead of the steady advances I used to get? No, I thought not."

If you were getting 15-30k in advances, that means you're a good enough author to make it as an indie. How long have you been at it? And why can't you get more contracts?

"Happy lottery, guys! If you're not signed to amazon, it's no better than the trad publishing lottery. Only winners tend to post here."

If this were true, don't you think Joe would be stormed with these kinds of comments? And even if he filtered them out, don't you think it would be all over other sites? This is what really makes me think you're trolling, combined with you repeating the most common legacy arguments against self-publishing.

Anonymous said...

This is the best post I've read in ages, because the tips at the end are so good.


Anonymous said...

The tips Joe gave at the end are so good.

I'm not too eager to sift through the blog archives, as I don't read fast and even if I did read fast, it is a chore to sift through the posts and put them all together.

It's nice to have all the tips in one place.


Got any more?

David Alastair Hayden said...

Good tips at the end. Kindle Select did wonders for me but the returns are fast diminishing. My first book leaves Select tonight and I don't think I'll be renewing unless Amazon offers something more than just borrows and free promotions.

I'm doing a little bit of advertising on Goodreads. A $30 campaign. Just a tiny experiment. And only because it's a site full of readers.

Anonymous above sounds like a troll, or a very impatient writer. Took months and Kindle Select for my books to start selling, what with having only two, one in YA Fantasy and the other in Adult Fantasy. There's no way to spend $15k on making an ebook. Has to be about lost advances. I'm just not buying it.

wannabuy said...

"Nobody here mentions the writers who make that move and earn shit."

Actually, Joe has talked quite a bit on 'luck' and other issues that might keep an author obscure.

But if you have been receiving $15k to $30k advances, you're a name who as sold. Did you follow Joe's and David Gaugran's advice?

And why the lost money? Ebooks are forever. Look into a new cover or better editing or correcting the genre the book sells in. If you have prior books (pretty much required for the $15k to $30k advance), you have a built in audience you haven't exploited.


Sean Black said...

Perhaps the key factor in a lot of this is patience, something I've had to acquire. It's hard to get a foothold however you publish. It takes time and hard work and keeping at it when you're dispirited, as well as delivering your best work on a consistent basis. Rob has been on that journey and now it's going to pay off but most writers would admit, perhaps especially those who have gone the trad route, that you can have your dark moments. It's the keeping going that counts. That's why I don't believe that this is a temporary blip for those who focus on their work and listen closely to their readers. I'm in the situation where my thrillers are trad published by Bantam in the UK and published by my own digital imprint in North America. Neither route is easy but the one thing I do have in the States is control, and that comes with a number of benefits, one of the most important being the psychological boost of knowing that I am to a degree in charge of my own destiny. There's a lot of focus in these discussions on royalty splits but writers shouldn't underestimate the value of control versus impotence - it's much healthier for a start.
Oh, and Rob is now No. 3. Way to go, buddy!

adan said...

the "interview" got more and more interesting as it went along, then boom, joe ends with his views on some very important things -

loved the list of things to consider/remember

thanks you guys ;-)

JA Konrath said...

#2 on the Top 100 free list.

Congrats, Rob.

G. M. Frazier said...

Joe, you really should do a separate blog post about your experience with, and ultimate evaluation of, KDP Select. I decided to give this program a try largely because of some of your earlier posts about it. My first "free weekend" was back in February and the result for the rest of the month was a huge increase in sales for not only that title, but my others as well. I don't know if Amazon changed their algorithms or what, but later "free weekends" on my other titles, as well as the final giveaway on that first title last weekend, have resulted in absolutely no change in sales. Hence, I don't plan to renew any of my titles in KDP Select.

Karen Woodward said...

"Joe, you really should do a separate blog post about your experience with, and ultimate evaluation of, KDP Select."

I'd be interested in this too!

* grins * if you're taking suggestions, that is. ;)

bettye griffin said...

I'll be enrolling my next backlist title in Select just to see if it makes any difference. I was not willing to remove my other titles from other outlets to offer them exclusively on Amazon, nor was I willing to offer the brand new title I published in March for free. I feel I can afford to be generous wtih a backlist title.

My latest eBook, Isn't She Lovely?, was reviewed in the USA Today romance blog last week, and I saw only the slightest bump in sales. But one can hope...

Michael Seeley said...

Joe, what are some of those websites that announce freebies?

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Thanks for the congrats, Joe. It's been holding steady there all day, with about 30,000 downloads so far. I'm hoping I'll hit 40,000 by tomorrow night.

I'm also wishing I could edge past the spy in the bridal gown to make it to #1, but it doesn't look as if it's going to happen. But hey, I'm very happy right now.

Also found out I'm #11 in the UK, so good times.

Stuck in the Stone Age said...

Congratulations, and many thanks for this conversation. Hope it motivates others to take the self publishing route. It's so important that you've highlighted the myth of fame and fortune that traditional publishers have brainwashed us with.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Thanks, Stuck, I'm glad you enjoyed the conversation. I think I should make it clear, however, if I haven't already, that it wasn't really my publishers who had me seeing visions of fame and fortune.

Yes, they raved about the book and told me they thought it could well be my breakout book, but they were very careful never to tell me that it was my ticket to the big time. They know as well as anyone that this business is all a crapshoot.

It was mostly me, however, dreaming about fame and fortune. I got caught up in the fantasy and hoped it would come true, even while I suspected that, because of the economy and the fact that the book was being released in hardcover that such a hope was unlikely to come to fruition.

And the truth is, only a handful of people ever achieve that dream. The rest of us are just happy to be able to make a living doing what we love. Hopefully an even better one now that indie publishing is an option.

Very Dumb Government said...

I finished my nonfiction book a year and a half ago, and after looking at the traditional and the self-publishing, I have to say that it makes much more sense to go the self-publishing route. I've work almost forty years without a guaranteed income. I've always worked for myself, and self-publishing allows me to do that.

Corporations are a big pain in the neck, and I don't play well with them, and I never have. I was able to see my children more, but there were times when I needed more money, so I just gave myself a raise by working harder.

Maintaining a steady sales is the hard part for me, but since I'm in sales anyway, it is just a matter of time before I figure it out.

But I'm a bit of a weirdo in that I don't even like to list by book on the normal sales channels such as Amazon, B and N, or Smashwords because of formatting issues. Yeah, I may be weird, but I actually sold more books from my website. In fact, I didn't sell but one book on Amazon, and none on the other platforms. I unpublished them, and just sold from my own website. I did better, but the numbers are still small.

I may try Amazon again, but I really like selling them off my own site better.

Most contracts are just nonsense and they always favor the publisher so there's really no point in using one. If the book is good, it is just a matter of keeping the hook in the water.

I liked this article as I've worked for myself for over 40 years and I have never regretted it.

Jim Devitt said...

Thanks Joe, You always have great insight and have helped me in my journey. You have been a huge influence in how I've approached publishing. I've nominated you for the Illuminated Bloggers Award. Congrats.

Autumn Jordon said...

Congrats on the new release and the jump into the indie world. I've found Joe to be on target, so I'm sure you are going to do very well.

I can't wait to read Trail Junkies and, as middle america and avid reader, I'm glad you kept your price responsible and not try to get rich on a few downloads. (Slapping head--What is NY thinking w/ 14.99 for ebook? duh! Well there is one born every minute.)

BTW, I enjoy your tweets.

Autumn Jordon
tweeter as Ajordon

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Autumn said: "I can't wait to read Trail Junkies and, as middle america and avid reader, I'm glad you kept your price responsible and not try to get rich on a few downloads."

Thanks, Autumn. As a reader, I too, am outraged by the price of books currently being set by publishers. And because I don't have to deal with the overhead publishers deal with, I'm able to set my books at a price that is reasonable, but at 70% royalty also pays me a living wage.

By offering readers entertainment at an affordable price, I'm beating out many of the name brand authors whose ebooks have been set at $12.99 and above.

It makes no sense to alienate the very readers you're trying to attract.