Thursday, October 11, 2012

Be Afraid

A few years ago I wrote a horror novel called AFRAID.

I tried to write the scariest book of all time, and lots of people seem to think it is. But it wasn't an easy sell. In fact, it took my agent six months to find a buyer. After many, many rejections, we landed a two book paperback deal with Grand Central.

I got a $20k advance. Not enough to support my family, but enough to keep me in the business. I hoped that AFRAID would be given a wide distribution, quickly earn out its advance, and I'd be able to grow the Jack Kilborn brand (that's the pen name I used). To promote AFRAID, I did a blog tour, appearing on 100 blogs in 31 days. I also did a real book tour, signing at 206 bookstores in 12 states.

Happily, AFRAID managed to find an audience, and quickly earned out its advance. Between March 2009 and June 2012, AFRAID has earned me $75,882. Not too bad.

But all was not rosy.

Grand Central didn't like my follow-up horror novel, LEVEL 6. They didn't like the title, or the story, even though they published the first few chapters of it in the back of AFRAID, under a title I hated, TRAPPED.

So I rewrote TRAPPED, because even though I thought the book worked well, I needed the money.

They didn't like the rewrite, either. I had fans expecting TRAPPED, but apparently they weren't going to get what they wanted.

So I wrote another novel for Grand Central, ENDURANCE. This one they liked, but wanted changes. I told them no, and paid them back the advance I got for the second book.

Telling a major publisher off was pretty much unheard of at the time, and I believe I became the first author to reject a Big 6 deal in favor of self-pubbing. I published TRAPPED and ENDURANCE myself. Had Grand Central been smarter, they could have published TRAPPED and ENDURANCE and perhaps even more Kilborn novels.

So how'd I do on my own?

I released TRAPPED and ENDURANCE in June of 2010. As of last month, TRAPPED has made $137,400 and ENDURANCE $103,200.

I'm happy with the money I've made, and that fans like these titles even though Grand Central had problems with them (they each have over 200 Amazon reviews and average of 4 stars).

And now, after years of watching my self-pubbed books outperform my Big 6 release, I finally have the rights to AFRAID back.

To celebrate, AFRAID is now free on Amazon for the next five days.

Now I'm sure you have questions...

Q: Joe, if AFRAID was still making money for Grand Central, how did you get the rights back?

Joe sez: Sorry to disappoint, but I'm not able to discuss that right now.

Q: Will AFRAID be released on platforms other than Kindle?

Joe sez: Yes, it will soon. I also have an omnibus edition of AFRAID, TRAPPED, and ENDURANCE as an ebook trilogy for $7.99.

Q: Will there be a new print edition of AFRAID?

Joe sez: Yes, also coming very soon.

Q: I like the new cover. It sort of resembles the old cover, so readers who remember that one will be able to identify it. Who did it?

Joe sez: Carl Graves. I think it's better than the one Grand Central did. Last I heard, except in rare and special cases, Carl is no longer doing custom covers. But he is continuing to sell predesigned covers. He's got twenty of them on his website that he's selling for $200 each.

Q: Is there going to be a new Kilborn title coming soon?

Joe sez: Yes. There will be several coming out next year, 2013.

Q: Don't you realize that Grand Central is the reason Jack Kilborn has fans? They introduced him to the world. Don't you feel like you owe them?

Joe sez: I'll always be grateful to everything my legacy publishers have done for my books, and my career. That's why I'll drink a sincere toast to them when they all go out of business. Which, if they aren't smart, will happen a lot sooner than they expect.

The windmill needs the wind to turn. The wind doesn't need the windmill to blow.


RD Meyer said...

Joe - I enjoyed Origin and will read Afraid. I was thrilled to see it'd be available for free on Amazon for the next five days, but when I went there, it kept trying to charge me $3.99 for the book. I'll pay that eventually ifv that's what I have to do to get it, but I'm also cheap and would love to get it for free if I could. What gives?

RD Meyer said...

Never mind - must've just been a temporary glitch. It works now - can't wait to read it.

Alan Spade said...

Joe, congratulations on you being able to get back the rights of Afraid ! Time to celebrate, I guess. On my tiny scale, I did also get back the rights of a short stories compilation in november, 2011 (from a small publisher). But it must have been very much tougher with Afraid.

Morgan Drake Eckstein said...

Your publishing stories always make me glad that I never succeeded at getting any legacy publisher interested in my work.

Patrick R said...

Very interesting, and congratulations. I look forward to hearing more. Meantime, might I ask:

1) Will the new Kilborn titles come solely through you self-pubbing or perhaps might Amazon be involved?

2) How does that horror push balance against your drive with techno-thrillers, having previously noted the relatively high levels of sales for List & Origin?

3) And, following recent posts, how's your thinking going on Select? Pricing levels, too? Thanks, again, for this post.

4) Free for five days, so it's on Select? How does that work with plans to release elsewhere - just a matter of waiting 90 days?

Thanks, again, for the post.

Anonymous said...

Joe -

As always, thanks for sharing your professional insight. Can't wait to hear about the story behind the reversion of your rights.

-Brian O

Joshua James said...

Thanks Joe!

A question, however... how are you able to offer it for free for five days on Amazon? Would love to know if you can share and thanks again!

Colin M said...

Congratulations Joe!! I absolutely loved all 3 books -- very scary and creepy. I can't wait for the story on you getting your rights to Afraid back. Best of luck.

Disappointing to hear about Carl Graves. I'm hoping you can find someone as good and pass their name on.

Darlene Underdahl said...

Got it, thanks. That was very nice.

I’m starting to think, beyond basic grammar and story structure, there’s no correct way to write. Someone (lots of people) run away from a difficult tale, blubbering insults. Bad things happen to good people, and some writers explore that. I’m glad you do.

J.R. Pearse Nelson said...

Hi Joe, great news you got the rights back for another book. It'll be fun to see what you can do with it now that you can put up the omnibus edition, too. Best of luck with your free promotion of Afraid.

Carl does amazing covers...can you clarify? Is he out of custom covers for good, or just too swamped to take work right now?

Unknown said...

Congrats on getting your rights back. I'm considering starting an epublishing shop utilizing many of the concepts you outlined in your February post

I'll be interested in not only how you got your rights back, but if you think it may lead to an industry trend!

Thanks for your attempts to bring some transparancy to the industry!

Check out my ePub concept

JA Konrath said...

@ Patrick

So far, my plan is to self-pub only. Amazon publishing is releasing three of my titles with Ann Voss Peeterson in the upcoming months.

My bestselling ebook is The List. But that has been available a year longer than Trapped and Endurance.

Select was the only way to get AFRAID free on Amazon. After years of the book being held hostage by Grand Central, I really wanted the freedom to give it away, so I opted in for 3 months.

Jacob Chastain said...


Internet riots... suck...

Anyway, it's interesting that you are listing it at 3.99. Crouch finally convince you enough to experiment with that price point more?

I was just trolling your books, his, Nicholson, and others checking out the pricing you guys decided on individually. It's an interesting dynamic.

Also, for my own newest release, a supernatural horror novel I released on the 3rd, I did the free promo to get exposure and see how it went. And while I gave away far less than the 20,000 and 30,000 giveaway stories that weep success on this blog, I have had steady sales since its release.

At $3.99 I made over $60 bucks in two days, and went into occult best seller lists. Not bragging money, but since I am brand new, and in relation to the fact that I have another novel coming November, and at least three in 2013, I'm seeing a bright, hell of a future. Just dropped the price to 2.99 for experiment sake. So far I have had an increase in sales.

I never expected to sell what I am at the moment at first. Well, maybe I kind of did if I positioned it right, but still...

I can't believe authors still fight this.

Best of luck with AFRAID. It's a hell of a read and deserves the best of sales.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on the new releases and the reversion of rights on AFRAID (can't wait to hear how you pulled that off!). I bought the paperback of AFRAID when it came out. Loved the book. Scary and well-written, absolutely riveting. Although I cursed you every time I turned a page and thought, "I'll just read one more chapter. Oh..."

Just bought the triple-play, and downloaded your freebie too. Best wishes with the sales!

And thanks for being a font of knowledge on the subjects of both (the futility of) promotion as a midlister, and, more recently, indie publishing. I too am soon to make my leap from legacy. Can't wait!

p.s. Gutted to hear that Carl Graves is getting out of the custom cover business. He was #1 on my indie wish list! :-(

William J. Thomas said...

Congrats Joe on getting the AFRAID rights back. One of my prize possessions is a signed trade paperback of AFRAID I won from you through a writing contest on your old forum. You know, the good old days of trad. publishing! (You never did finish judging that very last contest by the way...LOL!)

I loved AFRAID and TRAPPED...and am about to dive into ENDURANCE. Can't wait.

Librarian X said...

That's great news, Joe (and I think I know how you got your rights back). Afraid was my first exposure to your work and it scared the hell out of me at the time.

Just please make sure that your omnibus version makes in onto Overdrive when you can - I'll buy it too even though I already have bought the individual books for the library.

And more Kilborn books? Yes, please.

Bob Farley said...

Hm, I thought I got it free. It was listed for $2.99. Turns out that's what I paid. I must have misread the dates. Oh well, it's only money.

JA Konrath said...

Hm, I thought I got it free. It was listed for $2.99

That's odd, Bob. Return it and try again. On Amazon it's free, and I just downloaded a copy to make sure.

Aric Mitchell said...

Great news, Joe. I've been waiting to read AFRAID for a while now. I had a chance to buy the print copy at Hastings a few months ago but passed it up because I didn't want to feed the beast. I'm still not certain I'll get the free download, instead preferring to purchase the book outright, but only because I dug TRAPPED so much. And as much as I liked that one, I think ENDURANCE is my favorite. Question: When is the next novel-length Kilborn going to make an appearance?

TK Kenyon said...

I would raise a glass to my trad pub, too, but my traditional publisher already died.

Congrats on getting your rights back.

TK Kenyon

RABID: A Medical Thriller, available for Kindle for the first time.

Shannon F. said...

Since Carl Graves is no longer doing custom covers, do you have a recommendation for another cover artist?

BTW, thanks for all the great info on your blog. It's very helpful to have your BTDT experience to learn from.

Karen Woodward said...

Thanks Joe! Downloaded Afraid and will pass the news along. :)

JF Brown said...

"The windmill needs the wind to turn. The wind doesn't need the windmill to blow."

Great quote and great simile. It's a "keeper" for me.

Sheff said...

I am an illustrator/designer and I'm curious as to why Carl Graves stopped doing custom covers. One of the reasons I decided to start writing was that I could design my own covers and illustrate my own stories.

Jill James said...

Joe, loved Origin, may have to go get Afraid. Love your saying at the end of the post.

Randy Morris said...

Joe - I would be interested to hear your thoughts on making e-books permanent freebies in order to get people to purchase your other books. I did it for one of my short history articles and it seemed to spike sales for my paid history articles. Any thoughts? Do you have any plans of trying this yourself at any point?

Tracy Sharp - Author of the Leah Ryan Series said...

Got it. Woohoo!

Geoff Wakeling said...

LOVE the fact that you basically told them to 'Get Stuffed'.

Just downloaded 'Afraid', looking forward to reading it! :)

Unknown said...

LOL... I just about jumped out of my seat when I saw you were offering it on Amazon I even stopped reading your post long enough to download it to my Kindle asap!

Jim Self said...

Congrats Joe, I'm sure it feels great to have that title back. May it earn you a gazillion dollars and fans.

Anna_esq said...

Congrats on getting your rights back! Just downloaded the free e-book from Amazon and put it on my 'to read' list on Goodreads. Just in time for Halloween ... a really scary story! Thanks!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Congrats and thanks, Joe! You're such an inspiration. :o) I'm passing along the news.

bettye griffin said...

Not able to discuss how you got the rights back to a book still performing well? Hmm...Could it be a case of knowing where the bodies are buried?

Colin M said...

Number 1 in free horror and number 5 in free fiction in one day!! Go Joe!

Bob Farley said...

Blogger Bob Farley said...

Hm, I thought I got it free. It was listed for $2.99. Turns out that's what I paid. I must have misread the dates. Oh well, it's only money.

11:05 AM
Blogger Joe Konrath said...

Hm, I thought I got it free. It was listed for $2.99

That's odd, Bob. Return it and try again. On Amazon it's free, and I just downloaded a copy to make sure.

11:44 AM

At the risk of incriminating myself, I figured out the problem was user error. Returned the wrong book, downloaded the free book. Thanks.

Sharper13x said...

Okay, Joe, "Afraid" has got me. Started reading it last night and yes, it freaked me out. The pacing is really excellent. The suspense is beautifully set up from moment to moment. And I really like the way you work humor into it. The early eating of the popcorn as wink/nod to genre. Very clever.

It's also a very strange emotional juxtaposition when it makes you chuckle, then dread, then get really uncomfortable and a little disturbed for the reveals.

Congratulations on finding a constructive outlet for your evil mind. And thanks very much for the book! :)

Kathy said...

I read Afraid when it was first released. I went on to read Trapped and Endurance. Enjoyed all three, as well as Origin and The List. Looking forward to your new releases. Keep 'em coming!

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Congrats and I wish you big success with AFRAID as an indie book! I agree the KDP Select bet works well for the first 90 days -- particularly going into the holiday season. I had a total of 50,000 downloads on my political thriller after using two Select periods... it's calmed down now but the campaign wrap-up should mean bigger numbers.

Thanks for all you do, Joe. Sharing your information helps us all. Off to download AFRAID now. If I get scared I may be reaching for your hand! I'll try not to scream...

Anonymous said...

Best argument ever that this blog is a true inspiration to the independent author. Thanks Joe. And congratulations.

Anonymous said...

Joe! I read your review of the laptop steering wheel desk, and then most of the other reviews of it and literally laughed until I cried.

Is this a real product or a joke? I thought, the latter -- but then one of the reviews seemed for real, and that guy had reviewed other real products.

Probably I could answer this question myself by reading more, but I need to get back to work!

Also (forgive me for asking, but after the laptop desk I am wondering...) is the story about Grand Central etc. for real? Little, Brown was my first pubisher, too...

Anonymous said...

And if it is true -- HUGE congrats on having the guts to do it on your own, and even more for making so much money doing it! Bravo, you!

Kiana Davenport said...

Congratulations, Joe. You deserve all the success in the world.

The burning question with A LOT of us still struggling to get back our rights from legacy publishers is...HOW DID YOU GET YOUR RIGHTS BACK?????

If you can't divulge that info, please explain why it's confidential. Thanks.

Kiana Davenport, THE SPY LOVER

Kiana Davenport said...

PS...It was not listed as free when I went to the site. But bought it anyway.

Stlll waiting for that ORIGIN sequel! Kiana

J. R. Tomlin said...

"appearing on 100 blogs in 31 days. I also did a real book tour, signing at 206 bookstores in 12 states."


One thing about you, Joe. You are seriously one of the hardest working authors I know of. Or used to be--since you don't have to work THAT hard any more. I'm willing to bet you don't miss it either.

Anonymous said...

Hi Joe!
Thank you for recommending a cover artist and book designers on your site. Is there any professional editor you recommend? Many people offer their editing service online but how do I know they're good at what they do? My manuscript is probably full of typos, grammatical and punctuation errors that I don't see, and I need to hire a good editor.
Mrs. Thomas

August McLaughlin said...

Thanks so much for this post and your whole blog.
A friend of mine recommended it, as my agent brought up self-publishing as an option for me–-not as a last resort, but as the potential best strategy. (Round one of publishers gave largely positive reviews, but passed. I think me and my book are too risky for big publishers to take on. They want to see that it sells.)

Any thoughts on self-publishing as a route to a big contract with a publishing house--assuming the contract pays more than self-publishing ends up facilitating?

Thanks again. You've a new reader to add to your many. Cheers!

Mira said...

Love the Windmill quote! It's great and incredibly on point. I'd like to make that into a t-shirt.

So telling that your books did better self-publishing than your first book did with Legacy.

I think this is very cool, your promotion.

I'm afraid that I won't buy your book, because I can't read horror. It keeps me up at night, I think it's real, I have no censor that can tell me the difference between reality and the scary scenarios in books. Which is too bad, because I'd enjoy your humor.

I also don't read violent books, so I may never read a book you write, Joe, which sucks, because I like your writing style. But, regardless, you have my support!

On the other hand, let me know if you write a Romance. I won't keep my fingers crossed, I'll read that in a flash. ;)

V. L. Smith said...

Joe, I assume you've seen or already know about Amazon's announcement that Hachette, Harper Collins, and Simon & Schuster have settled an antitrust lawsuit about e-book prices. I just got the email this morning! It seems I am entitled to a (surely minor) settlement from them. I look forward to receiving it, even if it won't amount to $1.00.

Unknown said...

Hi Joe,
Very good of you to offer 'Afraid' free for the five days. I love reading your posts about the Big 6 and the experiences you've had with them.
You're an inspiration to all of us who are trying to make something out of our writing.
Andy Goodman

Sam said...

Great stuff... On the subject of free books--

I noticed a couple weeks ago that the "Top 100 Free Books" list has been dropped from the bookstore on the Kindle Fire. It was replaced with a "Select 25" list, which means that 4 of 6 lists on the bookstore splash page are picked by Amazon's editors. (The two remaining lists that don't require a nod from Amazon for your book to appear are "Bestsellers" and "Children's Picture Books.")

I've wondered if this is why my recent free promotions don't bring in near the amount of downloads they used to.

Patrick R said...

Hi Joe

Thanks for your answers. Wondering how you've experienced the response - numbers, rankings, etc - for Afraid so far with Select. Different game and outcomes from your other titles, say a year ago or less? Dramatically different but still v good/good, or just noticeably so but not a concern? Thanks, again.

Patrick R

Adam Geen said...

Congrats, Joe!

Just picked up the freebie too so thank you!

Grant McKenzie said...

Great stuff, Joe. I was also published by two of the Big 6 (Random House and Penguin) and managed to get the U.S. rights back to my thrillers SWITCH and NO CRY FOR HELP, which I've now published on Amazon. I've also just self-published K.A.R.M.A., and getting great reviews on all three - especially in the UK. Author Ken Bruen kindly called me "Harlan Coben on Speed", while Lee Child called Switch "A terrific thriller."

Archangel said...

like kiana said... how did you get your rights back, or if you cant say, is there a gag on the process via the pub?

JA Konrath said...

I may be able to discuss how I got my rights back soon.

Or maybe not. :)

I don't mean to be cryptic, but there are still a few balls to juggle before I know for sure. It is entirely possible that I'll never be able to say anything about it beyond stating, "We reached an agreement we can't discuss."

I'm a man of my word, and if I give my word not to talk, I won't.

T. Roger Thomas said...

Just a quick note to let you know that I really enjoy reading your blog. As long as you keep publishing, I will keep coming back to read more.

Aric Mitchell said...

Normally, I don't care if I get a response or anything, but on the Jack Kilborn thing I'd really like to know. When are we gonna see another Kilborn novel??? I started AFRAID Thursday night and am digging it thus far. There's a horrific energy to your Kilborn stuff that I connect with.

Dave said...


Thanks for making your book free. I'm eager to give it a read. Any book that quotes Leonard Cohen at the start can't be half bad! I see your book is doing very well on the Kindle charts, so congrats!

True story: I wrote a book of poetry a few years back, a "chapbook." It was a early self-published volume, little more than letter-sized pages printed at Kinkos and folded over, and a card-stock cover fastened with staples. I had referenced Cohen in a poem, and since he is one of my fav authors, I sent him a copy. He wrote back to me, personally!

Thanks for your candor and sharing your experiences as a writer - it does help us less established writers out here.

Anonymous said...

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Here is a sample of their work.

Walter Knight said...

Finally someone in an election year promising 'free stuff' delivers. Thanks, Joe.

custom stickers said...

A great thing for this year. I read your story and found it full of deep thinking and logical. Waiting for some more updates.

Unknown said...

i think that you need not to afraid regarding selling books. you can sell books in form of eBooks online and there is no need of third party or agent. if you like my suggestion then please reply.

Alexandra Rowan said...

I'm glad I never gave up the sights to a lot of work....basically because I knew I could make more publishing them on my own than a traditional publisher ever could.

Unknown said...

I'm sure glad I held onto my rights. I never would have made as much publishing with them as I have by doing it on my own....

Anthea Lawson said...

lol @ the spam comments above!

And woohoo Joe on getting Afraid again. ;)

I highly recommend Kim Killion at hotdamn designs. She mostly does romance, but also has done some suspense covers, and also does covers for my YA fantasy series. Great work - check her out.

Anonymous said...

Be Afraid. This woman had her entire Kindle account wiped by Amazon without explanation!

Be Afraid. In Amazon no one can hear you scream!

Peter MacKenzie Hammond said...

I'm just diving into this world. Glad I found you and this blog!

Alan Spade said...

Anon 10:33 said : "Be Afraid. This woman had her entire Kindle account wiped by Amazon without explanation!

Be Afraid. In Amazon no one can hear you scream!"

The article anon mention is entitled : "Outlawed by Amazon DRM". The problem is, you are more likely to buy without DRM with Amazon than with Kobo or Nook, for example.

Why ? Because you are more likely to buy an ebook from a big publisher with Kobo and Nook. Because Kobo and Nook displays more prominently big publishing ebooks. Ebooks with DRM in the majority of cases, so you'll not be free to do what you want with them.

With Amazon's indie ebooks DRM-free, you can easily copy them on your hard drive. I advise to do just that.

The bigger issue is to stockpile all your ebooks on your e-reader and nowhere else, because if you do that even with a Kobo or an iPad, you can lose them all if you lose your electronic device.

Cloud technology is not so sure either because it depends on your account, and the company which own the servers can change its policy at any time. We have hard drives, we have USB keys, we have everything we need to save our ebooks, provided they are DRM-free.

mohanmekap said...

IN DARK days, people naturally seek glimmers of hope. So it was that financial markets, long battered by the ever-worsening euro crisis,

Anonymous said...

Alan Spade says:

"We have hard drives, we have USB keys, we have everything we need to save our ebooks, provided they are DRM-free."

Do you know if it is illegal to remove the DRM?

And if you reload the DRM free ebooks on your Kindle, can Amazon still wipe them off?

Megan said...

So glad I stumbled upon this blog--very well put, my friend! A joy to read.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this post Joe. Its a great encouragement to fledgling writers such as myself.

Merrill Heath said...

Joe, hope you'll come back to this post and let us know how sales are going on Afraid. Thanks.

Jody said...

Once upon a time, I bought back a paperback original due to be published by Avon Books -- who does that? Sure glad I did! Just brought it out MYSELF and it happens to be free AND about Halloween.

Yes, I'm preening.

(The free Kindle can be found here:

deconet said...

If you go with your instincts then you can achieve your goal and find your path for sure.
custom exhibition design

Unknown said...

It is nice to hear that it worked out well for self publishing, I am trying it myself and will have my first one out late January, I am glad to see you stuck to your guns, it gives those of us inspiration to go it on our own also.

Unknown said...

It is nice to hear that it worked out well for self publishing, I am trying it myself and will have my first one out late January, I am glad to see you stuck to your guns, it gives those of us inspiration to go it on our own also.

Unknown said...


I've just found your blog and was compelled to read this post. To me, the inspiration stemming from this blog post is unbelievable. Sometimes, even writers tend to shy away from the big guys, and I love how you dealt with the publishers so well. Congratulations on your well-deserved profit! I'll definitely be reading more on your blog.

-Lucy at