Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Million Dollar Idea

I've written over a hundred short stories, and twenty-eight novels.

Like most writers, I tend to think my work is pretty good. It sells well, and I get a lot of compliments from peers and fans. I think I can tell a good story, and I liberally use humor, violence, action, conflict, and sex.

That said, out of over two million words written, I've only had a few of what I call "million dollar ideas."

I remember reading somewhere, or hearing in in some writing class, that every book's premise should be able to be distilled down to one sentence. A punchy, memorable sentence that makes readers instantly think: I gotta read that.

Some famous examples include:

Little girl is possessed by demon.

Shark attacks New Yorkers.

Scientists clone dinosaurs.

Boy discovers he is a wizard.

Vampires in modern day Maine.

Virgin falls in love with billionaire sadist.

You get the point. A million dollar idea is a succinct hook that hints at the premise and engages the imagination.

My thriller WHISKEY SOUR is not a million dollar idea.

Female cop hunts serial killer who is hunting her. 

It's practically a cliche. We've all seen it, many times. In the case of my book, it is both scary and funny--something not many serial killer books are (I came out before Dexter). And I'd like to think there are a lot of fun scenes and twists to make it worth reading. But it just doesn't make people get excited like "scientists clone dinosaurs."

If I had to be brutally honest and sift through my oeuvre, I think I've only had three ideas that are larger than life. I haven't made a million bucks on any of them, yet. But when I thought them up, I got very excited by them, and I think they are the easiest to pitch:

Government gives serial killers special ops training.

That's my hook for AFRAID. Instead of training soldiers to be killers, why not train killers to be soldiers? And then, release them accidentally on a small, isolated Wisconsin town. Scares and mayhem ensue.

AFRAID has sold well (and is selling much better now that I have the rights back) and I've sold a few movie options but nothing has ever come of it.

I liked this idea of mine even more:

Cop is trapped in a house with a killer, and surrounded by snipers.

I'm crazy about this idea, and the book is spawned, FUZZY NAVEL. Written in real time, Jack Daniels is fighting with her nemesis who has taken her and everyone she loves hostage, and she can't get away because her house is surrounded by gunmen. Scares and mayhem ensue.

I've always thought the best parts of thriller novels is when the main character is in danger. I wrote FUZZY NAVEL where the main character can't get away from danger, no matter what she does. Being stuck in the house with a serial killer would be bad. Being surrounded by snipers would be bad. Both of them at the same time is, in my mind, a million dollar idea.

But the best idea I ever had is the one I never sold:

US government has Satan in underground laboratory.

I pitched this as "Jurassic Park meets The Exorcist." A bunch of scientists are studying the devil--ten feet tall, red, horns, hooves--who was discovered in a coma while they were digging the Panama Canal in 1903. Since then, he's been secretly studied by the best minds in the world in a fortified prison in New Mexico. The book begins with Satan waking up.

My agent tried to sell this to NY publishing on three separate occasions. And I wrote it to be as commercial as possible. It has a bunch of cool monsters, quirky supporting characters, romance, humor, scares, and what's at stake is nothing less than the destruction of the world. I imagined huge Hollywood deals and toy action figures and a parking lot named after the book at Universal Studios.

But no one offered me a contract. The best idea I think I've ever had, and no one wanted it.

So I wound up self-publishing ORIGIN, and have sold over 100,000 copies of it. Currently it has 286 four and five star reviews.

It isn't my bestselling book, but it is the one that gets the most requests for a sequel. People seem to dig it. So much so that a sequel, SECOND COMING, is in the works.

ORIGIN is free on Amazon Kindle from today until March 4. Please download a copy and tell others to as well. And feel free to share your million dollar ideas in the comments section of this blog.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Doom! Destruction! Not...

As I write this, Jack Daniels ebooks currently occupy nine spots in the Police Procedural Top 100 paid list on Amazon.

Admittedly, the highest ranked book is Pushed Too Far by Ann Voss Peterson, where Jack is only in a chapter. But my first six JD ebooks are on there, as is Shot of Tequila (where Jack is a Detective in the 1990s) and The List (where Jack has a cameo.)

I attribute this good fortune to getting my rights to those books back (or in the case of The List and Tequila, getting rejected legacy publishers so I kept the rights), but also to another important promotional element that I've rediscovered.

Namely, the KDP Select program. Specifically, the ability to make ebooks free for 5 days. More specifically, the websites that mention free ebooks and drive traffic to Amazon.

How does this work?

In a nutshell, if you give away a lot of ebooks, and the ebook bouncebacks to the paid bestseller lists, getting it eyeballs. Once people can see your book, they'll buy it.

How many will buy it? This depends on a lot of factors. But as of 11am on Feb. 27, I have sold 21,358 ebooks, loaned 3829, and given away 223,167 so far this month.

Ann is also doing well, having sold 735 copies of Pushed Too Far since coming off the freebie promo three days ago. With borrows, she's averaging over $800 a day, on one title.

Ann and I have taken the same path to get here. We promoted the free ebooks on and

These last few days, I've gotten many frantic emails about Amazon's new policy, which makes writers worried that the free ebook golden goose will soon stop laying eggs.

In a nutshell, Amazon is telling its affiliates that they need to derive the majority of their income via sales. Here's the announcement:

"In addition, notwithstanding the advertising fee rates described on this page or anything to the contrary contained in this Operating Agreement, if we determine you are primarily promoting free Kindle eBooks (i.e., eBooks for which the customer purchase price is $0.00), YOU WILL NOT BE ELIGIBLE TO EARN ANY ADVERTISING FEES DURING ANY MONTH IN WHICH YOU MEET THE FOLLOWING CONDITIONS:

(a) 20,000 or more free Kindle eBooks are ordered and downloaded during Sessions attributed to your Special Links; and

(b) At least 80% of all Kindle eBooks ordered and downloaded during Sessions attributed to your Special Links are free Kindle eBooks."

Now, I really haven't really begun using ebook sites to actively promote my freebies until recently. In the case of BookBub, I don't see this as being a problem, because I believe they derive their income from author payments, not from the Affiliate program. But eBook Booster is a service that announces free ebooks on 50+ free ebook websites, and I believe some of these do derive income from links.

I'm not going to speculate why Amazon made this call. Frankly, it isn't my concern, and I don't believe it will effect me. I can still use BookBub, and I'm sure other free ebook websites will figure out some other ways to monetize their service.

Here are some options they have:

1. Stay in the Affiliate program, but only announce discounted ebooks, and don't use Affiliate links if they do announce free ebooks.

2. Charge authors to be listed.

3. Put ads on their websites.

If a site gets a lot of traffic, or has a big email list, there should be ways to monetize it other than through the Affiliate program. The websites that provide this service are essentially aggregators. The largest aggregator in the world, Google, seems to make money. Certainly these smaller sites should be able to as well.

And if not, it won't harm writers. Think it through. If a site closes, and no writer has access to it, no writer can use that site to their advantage.

In other words, even if all of these sites go under, the playing field will stay even.

Well, mostly even. If you're a smart author who has cultivated a fan database, you'll have the advantage by announcing to that base when your ebooks are free. Or if you have a popular blog, or website, or Facebook page, or Twitter followers, you're got a leg up on your peers.

I don't see this as being the end of free ebooks = sales. I see it as a small bump in the road that will resolve itself. Save your panic for something real, like the world ending on December 21, 2012.

Laugh all you want. It's gonna happen. Those Mayans were pretty sharp.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Ann Voss Peterson's Big Regret

Joe sez: And now a word from my frequent collaborator and good friend, Ann Voss Peterson...

Ann: Last May I wrote a guest blog here about my decision to stop writing for my publisher (Harlequin) and self-publish my new thriller instead of submitting it to traditional publishers. In the piece, I shared terms of my publishing contracts and showed how those terms translated into money, using one of my books as an example. I did this not as a complaint, but to give other authors--some who might be thinking of writing for Harlequin--a look at how the numbers stack up.

Plenty of people weighed in on this blog and others, both in support of my decision and criticizing it (some of whom didn't even bother to read the post).

So the question is, after nine months, do I regret my decision?

Let me share some numbers:

Last May 8 through 12 using KDP Select, I gave away 75,420 copies of Pushed Too Far.

In May and June, I sold 11,564 copies, netting me $22,316.30.

I also had 874 borrows during this time for another $1902.30.

So in a bit over six weeks, Pushed Too Far earned $24,218.60 and was downloaded onto 87,858 e-readers. My highest earning Harlequin Intrigue earned me $21,942.16 in the last twelve years.

Verdict: In less than two months, Pushed Too Far became my highest earning book. EVER.

As Joe has said many times, sales ebb and flow, and PTF has been no different. But for May through December of 2012, this one book (Pushed Too Far) has had a grand total of 15,257 (paid) sales and borrows, netting me around $31,179.03.

Of course there's no guarantee. I've known authors who have done better. I've known authors who've done worse. But the question is, do I regret my decision to self-publish?

Are you kidding?

I regret I didn't do it sooner.

Joe sez: Ann paid for a promo this weekend, and I hope to see her hit the Top 100 Free with Pushed Too Far.

Another friend of mine, Melinda DuChamp, has one of her Alice ebooks for free the next few days. and I also have a few titles available. So piggybacking on Ann's guest blog, I'm going to talk a bit about promo and numbers, and also link to these titles I'm discussing.

I used eBook Booster to announce these titles to 50+ free websites. I did it at the last minute, and eBook Booster suggested I put off the free period for a week, because some freebie sites need lead time. I appreciate the concern, but only charges $25 to list the ebooks everywhere, and that seems like the deal of the century. If we're excluded from these sites because we're too late, I'm okay with that. Next time I'll do it in advance. But for $25 I couldn't pass it up.

Bloody Mary by JA Konrath
Free on Kindle 2/22

Endurance by Jack Kilborn
Free on Kindle 2/22 

Shot of Tequila by JA Konrath
Free on Kindle 2/21 - 2/25

A few days ago, when I had three freebies, I was selling 1000 ebooks a day. Since coming off the freebie period, sales have slowed to 600 a day. I find that interesting, considering I'm now selling three more titles.

The "free downloads spurs paid sales" axiom seems to be in effect here. Which makes me even more curious to try making a title permafree in order to improve sales.

I'm also trying another experiment. I just lowered the price of my first Jack Daniels thriller, Whiskey Sour, to 99 cents.

It is currently ranked at #814 and I've sold 1334 copies this month at $3.99. 

Some may be saying (me included), "Joe, why would you discount a book that is selling well?"

I'd love to drop in rank and hit the Top 100 paid list. It makes more sense to strike when the iron is hot--when the rank is under 1000--then to wait for Whiskey Sour to go back to #2000 or #3000 and then lower the price. I want to make it an automatic impulse purchase, and I'm hoping enough people will buy it to goose it up onto the Top 100.

I have ZERO hope this will work. But what's the point of having all these titles to play with if I don't experiment with lowering prices? 

Whiskey Sour was earning me $300 a day, and I may be pissing that away. But I won't know until I try. Coming off freebie promos for Dirty Martini and Bloody Mary, and having seven titles in the Kindle Top 100 Police Procedural category, I might as well give it a go.

My sci-fi action novel Timecaster, which was free last week (I gave away 18,000 copies), is now enjoying its best ranking ever on Amazon, at #6400. In order to promote the series, I dropped the price of the sequel to 99 cents for a limited time.

BTW, for those keeping tallies, I've sold over 12,000 ebooks this month, the majority at $3.99, had 2200 borrows, and have given away over 120,000, all on Kindle.

I also asked my buddy Melinda DuChamp for a sales update, and she emailed me.

Melinda: "Happy to share, dearie. The two ebooks have made me over $65k in seven months. I'm working on a third, then I'm going to follow your lead and make a trilogy boxed set and a paper version via Createspace. Considering how quickly I wrote these books, this is the highest paid I've ever been as a writer per hour, even with traditional paper sales in the millions under my other names."

Joe sez: I want to stress that Your Mileage May Vary. I don't think there's any magic bullet, secret to success, or guarantees. All we can do is write good books, get good covers, and experiment until we get noticed. The more books you have, and the more you change the variables, the better chance you have at making some money.

If you regularly follow this blog, you know I'm never content. I'm always trying new things, investigating new possibilities, playing with platforms and prices.

If you're new to this blog, looking for the secret to success, here's my tried and true formula:

1. Write a good book.
2. Get a professional cover.
3. Write a terrific product description.
4. Price it right.
5. Keep writing and experimenting with self-publishing until you get lucky.

You may not be successful yet. But yet is the term you need to focus on.

Ebooks are forever. That gives you a lot of time to build a backlist, find an audience, and get lucky. The longer you try, the more your odds improve. And trust me--success is worth decades of discouragement.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Hungry Dogs

I have three dogs.

No, this isn't a blog about my pets. It's a blog about selling ebooks. But bear with me.

When they aren't sleeping, my dogs spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get fed. Even though dogfood is available to them 24/7 in the form of always-stocked dog dishes, they prefer human food.

This is my fault, which goes back to the days when I was poor and hated seeing food go to waste. I still hate wasting food, and giving the dogs table scraps satisfies some base need in me. Plus they're so damn happy to get a french fry every now and then. And why shouldn't they be? It's not like wolf packs in the wild get to eat french fries. 

But my dogs eat more than fries. They eat things that dogs don't normally eat. Lettuce. Pickles. Peppers. Pretty much anything you put in front of them.

Once my dogs are presented with something new, it becomes their main focus, and they devour it. Even when their regular food is available.

It's all about whatever is currently right under their noses. 

You're probably catching on to where this is going.

In the past seven days, on Kindle, I've made about $15k. I currently have two ebooks in the Top 100 Free list--the same ebooks I blogged about two days ago. Dirty Martini and Trapped are #3 and #4, and Timecaster will hit Top 100 later today. I also blogged about four other ebooks by my friends Barry Eisler and Blake Crouch. Both of Barry's ebooks hit the Top 100, peaking at #3. One of Blake's did, and it is still #1 in the UK.

In the past 60 hours, I've sold 2200 ebooks in the US, and had over 400 borrows.


I have a hypothesis.

Back in the time of paper books (I'll call that time the Analogue Years), your exposure to readers was dependent upon your publisher. In order to sell a lot of books, you needed to be in a lot of retail outlets. The more you were in, the more you sold.

So James Patterson, who had 400 copies of his latest hardcover, discounted 40% off, on the New Release table at Borders and Barnes and Noble, sold more books that JA Konrath, whose latest hardcover had three copies, spine-out in the mystery section. In that same mystery section, Patterson had thirty more titles, each with multiple copies, taking up an entire shelf. If the bookstore bothered to stock my backlist, it was only one copy each.

If you walked into a bookstore in 2007, you couldn't avoid Patterson if you tried. Ditto the many other bestselling authors.

I always wondered about supply and demand when it came to bestsellers. Was it that the authors were so popular, they had to be available everywhere in huge numbers because people demanded it? Or was something else going on? Was it possible that the reason bestsellers sold so well was simply that they were available everywhere?

If you're at the airport, looking for a thriller book for the plane ride, and they only have six thriller titles on the shelf, you're going to pick one of those.

You're going to take what is right in front of you, currently under your nose.

I have no doubt that bestselling authors have a lot of fans. But it's one thing waiting for the next Harry Potter book to come out, and its another seeing the latest Patterson on the new Release table and picking it up because it is there.

I'm not knocking Patterson. The guy is a genius, on several levels. But how many fans have read every Patterson book vs. every Potter book? 

Now let's do some Digital Thinking.

I have fans. I know this, because I get lots of email from people who claim to be fans, and my book reviews are largely complimentary. 

It could be that the 2600 sales and borrows I had in the last 60 hours are from fans. People who know my work and love it. Even though these ebooks have been available for years, perhaps these sales are all by fans who recently got Kindles for Valentine's Day and are now stocking up on my titles.

But I don't think that is the case. I didn't see a huge Xmas bump this holiday season. If these were new Kindle owners buying my work, I think I would have had a ton of sales over the holiday season, but my sales now are 100% better.

So what am I doing differently? I have no new releases out. Yes, I self-pubbed my Jack Daniels series for less money than my previous publisher had, but during the first few days those sales were steady, not explosive like they've been.

What's changed has been making titles free using the Kindle Select program.

To wit: there are millions of people with Kindles, and the majority of them haven't heard of me, haven't come across my titles, haven't read me before. So by getting three ebooks on the Top 100 Free list, I am making myself known to them. 

I am a tasty, free morsel directly under the nose of hungry readers. And they snatch it up.

Not all will read the free ebooks they download. But I still benefit, because the more ebooks I give away, the higher the bounceback will be on the paid bestseller lists. And when I'm on the paid lists, I'll be seen be those who have never seen me before.

Also, I have a hunch some people are reading the freebies immediately. This is why my sales are booming. A rising tide lifts all boats, and some people snatching up the freebies are also buying some of my other ebooks.

Whiskey Sour is #529. Bloody Mary is #411. Rusty Nail is #1121. Afraid is #586.  Endurance is #1439.

Last week, most of these were ranked at #10,000 or higher.

I believe it is all about being seen. Once you are under a reader's nose, some will buy. 

Some who buy will become fans, and buy more. 

This results in more sales, more reviews, more visibility.

Visibility is the key. 

Amazon is very good at making ebooks visible. The bestseller lists, direct emails, Customers Also Bought, Hot New Releases, Movers and Shakers, Kindle Daily Deal, various ads and click-throughs--there may be no company in the history of the world that makes finding products easier than Amazon makes it.

So how can you help Amazon make your books visible?

1. Publish books with Amazon Publishing. They do a lot to announce their ebooks to readers.

2. Use KDP Select to make your ebooks free. I suggest using all five days at once. The more ebooks you give away, the higher the bounceback.

3. Have a lot of IPs. The more ebooks you have available, the more virtual shelf space you take up, the likelier it is for a customer to see one of your titles.

4. Cultivate fans. Have a newsletter, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, so people can follow you and get the announcement when you put something new on sale. But remember this will be supplementary, not primary, and no one will follow you if all you're doing is advertising. 

5. Announce via third parties. I found to be effective in helping me give away freebies. So is Pixel of Ink.

6. Keep at it until you get lucky.

I can't stress #6 enough. It is easy to get discouraged with promotion, because it may not get the results you seek. You have to have the right book in the right place at the right time, and cross your fingers.

If you have a lot of ebooks, and consistently sell poorly, it is time to pressure check your work. Is it good enough? Do you know because your writers' group thoroughly vetted it, or because your sister loved it? Did you make the cover yourself? Are you priced too high? Does your product description sing? Do you have typos or formatting errors?

If you are convinced you are doing everything right; keep doing it. Eventually you'll have so many great books that the world can no longer ignore you.

Remember that my best selling ebooks--The List, Origin, Trapped, Endurance, Shot of Tequila--which have sold over 600,000 copies, were rejected by publishers.

Good books will find their audience. Ebooks are forever, and that's a long time to get discovered.

Keep at it.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Ebook Parts

I've been self-publishing ebooks on Kindle since April, 2009, and was making my own work available via free pdf since 2005.

I've learned a bit about putting an ebook together. Not the actual nuts and bolts of it. For that I use Rob Siders at He's an artist when it comes to laying out ebooks. I pay extra for his premium service, where every chapter has its own, distinctive header, he uses multiple fonts and sizes and colors, the first paragraph has a large dropdown letter consistent with print, and there are many other bells and whistles make the ebook look better than 99% of what is now available.

But that's not the focus of this blog post. Today I want to talk about the parts of an ebook. Specifically, what should be included, and the order these things should go in.

When someone downloads one of my ebooks, this is what they see in the order they see it:

1. Cover art. That should be at the very beginning, like a paper book.

2. If it isn't a compilation, the very first page should be the product description. AKA the back jacket copy.

Why? Simple. People often download ebooks, then forget what they are about. Reminding the reader on the first page why they bought the book makes it easy for them to remember, and helps them figure out what to read next. It's the equivalent of picking up a paper book from your TBR stack and reading the back or inner flap copy.

If it is a compilation, it should contain hyperlinks to each of the books in the collection, followed by the product description for the first book in the collection.

3. Title page. Include author name.

4. Hyperlinked table of contents. Links should go to every part of the ebook mentioned here, except the cover art.

5. Dedication, if any.

6. The book, with hyperlinked chapters.

7. Any extras. A short sample of the next book in sthe eries, or an author afterword, or Q&A, etc.

Avoid long excerpts/too many excerpts. Readers don't like to think they have twenty pages left of the novel, and then it abruptly ends and all that is left is extras. They feel cheated. So skip long excerpts unless it is for the direct sequel.

8. Acknowledgements, if any. Why put that in the front matter when people skip over it and it takes up sample space? When people download a free sample to try, they should get the book, not stuff they have to skip.

9. About the author or bio.

10. Bibliography. I used to have hyperlinks in my bibliography, then stopped because the URLs kept changing and were tough to keep track of, and I had to keep updating it for different platforms. But YMMV.

11. Ads. A one page add, with small cover art, of your other books. Or, if you have writing buddies, swap ads with them. In this case, a URL is advised.

12. Copyright page. Why put that in the front matter when people skip over it and it takes up sample space?

And that's that. Some of this may seem obvious, but I don't notice too many authors putting the book description in front, and traditional front matter in back. I also don't see a lot of hyperlinks. Ebooks make it easy for readers to find their place and jump around, so we all should take advantage of this technology.

As for how a beautifully formatted ebook looks as done by Rob Siders, I've got six free examples for you.

For the next five days on Amazon (Feb 15 - 19) you can get these six books that Rob formatted. Three are by me, two are by Barry Eisler, and one is by Blake Crouch. Coincidentally, Barry and Blake managed to get the rights reverted to their work at the same time I did. How's that for lucky?

BTW, Blake did the formatting for Grab himself. No Rob Siders premium formatting on that. So that's a good opportunity to see the difference between premium layouts and bare-bones.

Dirty Martini by JA Konrath

Trapped by Jack Kilborn

Timecaster by JA Konrath

Snowbound by Blake Crouch

A Lonely Resurrection by Barry Eisler (Previous Published as Hard Rain)

Inside Out by Barry Eisler

BTW, I'm also running an experiment with this free promotion that you folks can follow along with.

A peer (I lost his name in my ebook pile, but if you're reading this I'll link to you here) said he had some success using So I thought I'd give it a try.

BookBub is an opt-in service that uses its website and various social networks to make subscribers aware of ebooks that are free or on sale. Authors pay a modest fee to have their book announced to as many as 600,000 members.

I paid for Trapped to be announced to BookBub's Horror members on the 16th (100,000 members), and Timecaster to be announced to its Sci-Fi members (110,000 members) on the 17th.

So we'll see how much momentum these ebooks can generate on their own (rank, units given away) and then see if BookBub gives them a boost. If I see a big increase in downloads due to BookBub, I'll change my long-held stance that advertising isn't effective.

Regardless, I encourage everyone reading this blog to download the above ebooks. First, to see how good Rob Siders layout work is. Second, because these six books are lots of fun, and they are free.

If you don't have a Kindle, download the free Kindle app for your computer, smartphone, or tablet. Rob's layouts also look great on other platforms (Kobo, B&N, Sony, Apple, etc.)

So let the grand experiment begin...

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Amazon Numbers

So after a six month hiatus where I spent very little time experimenting with my sales, I got back on the horse and started playing around with KDP Select.

Some folks may remember last year, when a KDP free period for my ebook The List lead to me earning $100,000 in six weeks on Amazon.

I haven't been able to replicate that experience, but I have been pleased with the numbers I've gotten in the last few weeks due to KDPS.

In January, I made The List free for a five day period. Prior to that, it was ranked around #10,000. When I did the promotion, I managed to hit the Top 10 in Free, and gave away over 35,000 ebooks.

Since coming off the free promo, The List has sold 623 copies at $3.99, and had 742 borrows (I assume at $1.80). So it has made over $3,000 in 12 days, or about $250 a day. It is currently ranked at #1974, and is #39 in the Top 100 Police Procedural category.

I'm happy with this. After hearing lots of writers moaning about how KDP Select is no longer working, I'd argue it worked pretty well for me. A title that was off the bestseller lists is now on several of them, and selling steadily. While $3k isn't $100k, I've still paid my mortgage, health insurance, and several utilities in twelve days with only one title. Who could complain about that?

Emboldened by this modest success, I put another title in KDP Select, Afraid.

Afraid was ranked around #9000 before I began. I gave away about 16,000 copies, and have sold about 400 copies since it came off its promo. It is currently ranked around #7000.

I don't know why Afraid didn't do as well as The List, but I don't think the free period was a failure. The numbers after the free period more than made up for the five days it wasn't for sale, and it did improve my ranking and get me on the Occult Top 100, where it remains. It wasn't on a bestseller list prior to the giveaway. And of course, there is an intangible benefit to potentially gaining new readers via freebies who become fans and later buy my work. But this is impossible to measure.

Then I tried another title, under one of my pen names that I haven't copped to publicly. I gave away over 20,000 ebooks, and since January have made over $17,000.

This amuses me on several levels.

First, it puts an end to the nonsense that "Konrath sells because he's a name author and known" because this pen name is unknown to everyone.

Second, I don't consider this title one of my better works, but consumers talk with their wallets and apparently I'm not a very good judge of which of my books are worthy and which aren't.

Third, Holy Shit I Made $17k In A Few Weeks!

When I got my Jack Daniels titles back earlier this month, I put Bloody Mary up for a five day free period, ending yesterday. It hit #2 on the Top 100 Free list, and I gave away 42,000 copies. Currently is is ranked #693, and I've sold 150 copies and loaned 70 in a 15 hour period. So Bloody Mary is currently earning me $35 an hour.

One of the things I've always believed is that a rising tide raises all boats, and it is nice to see that confirmed by Bloody Mary. It's the second in the Jack Daniels series. While it was free, it buoyed the sales of the first in the series, Whiskey Sour, to the tune of 450 sales and 100 loans.

Whiskey Sour, which went live on Feb 4 and didn't get fully integrated into Amazon's website until the Feb 11, has earned me $1400 in nine days. It is currently ranked at #850.

Whiskey Sour, Bloody Mary, and the third in the series, Rusty Nail, are all on the Top 100 Police Procedural bestseller list, hanging there with The List. They're also on a few other bestseller lists.

As we all know, the more bestseller lists your title is on, the more exposure it receives, which results in more sales.

I also tried KDPS with my horror novel Endurance. It was ranked about #11,000. It is now at #1808 and on several bestseller lists after giving away 12,000 ebooks. It came off promo on Feb 11, and has sold about 60 copies since then. Not huge, but 30 a day at $2.70 profit per sale is $81 a day, and I can live with that.

Why is Endurance ranked better than Afraid when Afraid had more giveaways? I have no idea. Afraid seems to be selling a bit better than Endurance overall, but they are 4000 apart in ranking. If I had to guess, Afraid somehow missed getting the bounceback from the freebie period that my other titles got. For the uninitiated, the "bounceback" is the phenomenon that sometimes occurs when an ebook does well on the freebie bestseller lists, and when it is once again for sale it bounces over to the paid bestseller lists, usually lower down.

Sometimes bounceback works. Sometimes it doesn't. I don't know why.

But I do know that it was worthwhile pulling my ebooks from the other platforms to play around with KDPS, because I seem to be improving my sales and borrows by doing so.

I don't like the fact that Amazon demands ebooks in KDPS be exclusive. I think customers, and authors, would be better off if Amazon allowed KDPS ebooks to be nonexclusive. It would mean more ebooks in KDPS program, which is good for Amazon customers. It would also mean authors could earn more money, freeing up their time to write more books.

That said, having playing around with KDPS for the last five weeks, I've increased my Amazon sales by at least 50%, possibly more.

I'm also pleased at how my Jack Daniels books are doing, now that they are under my control. I released two trilogy compilations at $9.99, which have sold 184 copies. The six novels have had 1073 sales at $3.99 ($2.70 profit each) and 208 loans ($1.80 each).

So my Jack books have earned me $4500 in nine days, or $500 a day. And I believe they are just getting started.


The KDPS freebie bounceback still works, though not always, and not as effectively as it once did. I see a general pattern of: the more ebooks you giveaway, the more you sell when the giveaway has ended. But there are some instances where not a lot of giveaways helps boost sales tremendously, and some cases of lots of giveaways only resulting in a minor sales and ranking boost.

The goal, of course, is to keep experimenting. I know that experimenting is annoying when results can't be explained or repeated. But if you have a lot of titles, KDPS is certainly something you should play around with.

Of course, your mileage may vary. A lot. I now have over fifty titles, so taking a few off other platforms to experiment with KDPS doesn't hurt me much. I'm not going to go all in on KDPS because I don't like the exclusivity aspect. As a result, the majority of my ebooks are available on all platforms, and eventually I will get my Jack Daniels ebooks on Kobo and B&N and Sony and Apple and Smashwords. I don't like to exclude fans because they chose a different ereading device. I also personally know authors who have made a ton of money with these other etailers, and I did very well on Kobo in December. So I'll be back.

In my previous post, I tried to drive home the point that this is a business. You are the CEO of your own company, and your IPs are your assets. One of my goals is to maximize the profits these assets can generate. This is impossible to do by remaining static with your sales strategy. Besides utilizing all platforms and playing with KDPS, you can also be playing with prices (lowering and raising), playing with bundling (my Jack Daniels and Jack Kilborn three packs are doing well, and I'm about to release a dual ebook of Whiskey Sour and Desert Places with my frequent partner in crime Blake Crouch), playing with singles (if you have a short story collection, break that up into individual stories for 99 cents each), translating into other languages, selling foreign and audio rights, and selling to Amazon Publishing.

I like Amazon Publishing a lot. They keep raising the bar and getting smarter, and I like releasing a book or two annually with them because they can really promote a title and sell a ton of copies. Right now, A-Pub has five of my titles (Shaken, Stirred, Flee, Spree, Three) and I'd be willing to do more with them. One of the wonderful things about working with Amazon Publishing is how author-friendly they are. They're a joy to work with, and they actually listen. It's like having an equal business partner. I feel like I have some control there, and that puts me at ease.

That said, I'm a prolific writer and I can put out several books per year. I also like having complete control over my assets. A diverse portfolio is wise. Putting all your eggs in one basket is asking for trouble.

Control is something I don't talk about enough on this blog. After a decade of having very little control over my IPs, I now can run things they way I see fit. Not only will this earn me more money, but it has the wonderful side-effect of freeing my from all of my stress. I'm in the lucky position of having no one able to make me unhappy.

I got into this business in 2002. Now, for the first time, I'm master of my own destiny, captain of my own ship. The freedom to make my own decisions is, in many ways, more important to me than money.

As always, when you run your business, you need to set your own attainable goals. "Attainable" means they are within your power. Anything that requires the "yes" or "no" from someone else isn't a goal, it's a dream.

Finishing my next book by the end of March and getting it live is a goal.

Selling my series to Hollywood is a dream.

I have no dreams. Zero. I'm much happier being in control of my career, and having attainable goals. If money magically appeared at my doorstep in the form of a big deal, taking it would be contingent upon how little I had to be involved. I've played the game where someone else has power over me, and I didn't like it. I won't ever put myself in that position again.

As a self-published author, your freedom to make your own choices is an incomparable strength. Use that freedom to try different things, and learn from your failures and successes. A company is only as good as its CEO.

Be a good CEO.

Friday, February 08, 2013

How To Sell Ebooks

I just hit a milestone that is hard for me to grasp. As of January, I've sold over one million ebooks.

That's a lot of ebooks.

The question I get asked more than any other is: How can I make my ebooks sell more copies?

That's actually not the right question to ask. Because there is nothing you can do to make people buy your ebooks, except maybe hold them at gunpoint or kidnap their pets. 

This business isn't about what you have to sell. It is about what you have to offer. And luck plays a big part.

But I've found you can improve your odds. Here are some things I've done that have seemed helpful.


I can't overemphasize how important a good cover is. Hire a professional. And keep these things in mind:

1. At a glance, it should convey the type or genre of the book you've written.
2. It should be readable in grayscale.
3. It should be readable as a thumbnail.
4. Your name and the title should be large and clear.

There are other little tips that I recommend. Usually legacy book covers have a lot of writing on them, and that makes them subconsciously identifiable as professional. Taglines. Blurbs. "By the author of Whiskey Sour". That sort of thing. 

Your artist should know what vectors are, and the rule of three, and the importance of the color wheel, and all the other tricks used to make a cover pop.

If your sales are slow, consider getting a better cover.


Did you know you can add basic HTML to your book description on Kindle using Author Central? I didn't. But I do now, and I'm using it to make my ebook pages better. 

Once your cover gets a browser's attention, you need a good book description to reel them in. Read back jacket copy on some of your favorite mass market paperbacks to get a feel for it. You can also add blurbs, reviews, a bio, past books, and more.

Make sure there is plenty of white space. I don't like big, blocky paragraphs, and I assume others don't either. Use bold and italics when needed, but don't overuse them.


This should be a no-brainer, but every book you publish should be well-written. It should also be well-edited, and well-formatted.


You're going to have to experiment with this one. I have my novels priced at $3.99, my novellas and short story collections at $2.99, my trilogy sets at $9.99, and short stories at 99 cents.

Some of my peers sell for more, some for less. It's all about finding that sweet spot between unit sales and profit. I like my ebooks to be impulse buys, so I keep the prices low. Your results may vary.


The more books you publish, the greater your chances at finding readers. Besides new titles, you can also combine and split up titles to maximize your virtual shelf space.

I have box sets. I have single short stories that are also part of collections. I have joined forces with other authors, each of us putting a title into a set.

I also love to collaborate. That's an easy way to swap fans and increase readership


My take on Twitter and Facebook is similar to my take on advertising. Maybe it'll bring in some sales, but I haven't found it brings in enough to justify the time and money spent.

I have 10,000 followers on Twitter. They don't follow me because they are anxiously awaiting news of my next published book, They follow me because of what I have to offer. Namely, information.

Sure, some of them may buy my books. But this number is minuscule compared to the number of people who have never heard of me before, and discover me for the first time surfing an ebook retailer.

My ebook The List has sold over 200,000 copies. In December it was featured in Kobo and earned $3,000 that month. In the last week, this book has earned me $2500 on Amazon.

I self-pubbed The List in 2009. This is not a new book. I don't advertise it. I don't blog about it, or tweet, or send out email blasts.

It is being discovered by people on their own. Kobo certainly gave it a boost by featuring it, but it was luck Kobo decided to do so. The List just came off a 5 day free period on KDP Select, which no doubt got it some attention, but that was zero cost to me and didn't involve me tooting my own horn anywhere.

I've done things in the past to increase my sales. Blog tours. Sending out review copies. Visiting bookstores. And I saw some success doing these things. But that success pales next to simply being discovered by strangers who haven't heard of you before.

Kobo and Amazon make it easy to find ebooks you like. Their user interfaces are surprisingly smart. Instead of pimping the books you've got, spend time writing more books to publish, then let their algorithms do their thing.


It's no secret that about 90% of my sales have been on Amazon. But 10% haven't. And that 10% equals a lot of money when you've sold a million ebooks.

I like dealing with Amazon. They are so smart, so motivated, and do so much right. They're the one to beat, and their online store is the best in the world.

I also like dealing with Kobo. They're dedicated, hungry, and also extremely smart. If you haven't visited lately, you should. They're doing some really cool stuff, making the shopping experience easier, better, and more fun.

Smashwords continues to raise the bar, innovate, and blaze new trails. Coker is one of the smartest men in the biz. I've done well with Smashwords.

I'm just now uploading my titles to Apple, so I don't have anything to report yet. But I'm not a fan of their iBookstore. It's clunky, not fun to surf, and lacks the ease of Amazon and Kobo.

B&N's PubIt program is easy to use, but I'm not impressed with their online store. Still, I've made some good money there.

Createspace is very easy to use, their books look great, and they integrate into both Amazon and B&N with ease.

Overdrive caters to libraries, and I'm making some money there, but they aren't easy to upload to. In fact, I'm not even sure they have opened up their site to self-pub yet.

As a writer, you should be on as many of these platforms as possible. The more places your books are available, the better.

Competition is good, because it makes everyone try harder, forcing them to raise their game to higher levels.

As a result, I haven't gone all in with Amazon. I don't like the exclusivity aspect of KDP Select. Amazon customers would have more choices, and authors would make more money, if it wasn't exclusive.

I also don't like proprietary formats. I think Kindles should read epub, and Nooks and Kobo ereaders should read mobi files.


My feeling are mixed on this issue.

One one hand, my agent has been amazing selling the foreign rights of my self-pubbed ebooks. I'm in more countries than I'd ever been in during my legacy years.

On the other hand, every right you sell is one you can't exploit yourself.

I've translated two works into German myself, at significant cost (a novel can cost $4k or more), but I'm in the black and set to earn profits forever. Forever is a long time.

But even though I'm doing well with ebooks, I'm not prepared, nor do I have to contacts, to translate every one of my fifty IPs into ten languages. I also don't have the 8 million dollars that would cost.

So my current solution is to sell foreign rights, but limit the term to three or four years, then they revert. That way I can make easy money now, and have the option of do it myself later without losing those rights forever.


If you want foreign deals, audio deals, movie and TV deals, or even a legacy deal, you probably need an agent.

But I don't recommend searching for one until you've sold a lot of ebooks. 50,000 is a good number. And I said sell, not give away for free.


There isn't a single thing I'm saying here that you should automatically believe. Don't trust me, or any other so-called expert. Instead, try things out for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

Many newbies reading this don't understand what it is like to have a publisher controlling your book. Many even welcome that opportunity.

I couldn't be happier having complete control over my intellectual property. Being able to change covers, prices, titles, content, quickly and efficiently, is invaluable to me. I can publish instantly, on all platforms, and reach more readers than publishers can.

This is a business. You need to adopt a businesslike attitude.

Businesslike doesn't mean tweeting every ten minutes, begging your 27 followers to buy your book.

Businesslike means looking at numbers and understanding what they mean. Hiring out for things you can't do yourself, or hiring out when your time becomes so valuable you need to. Learning how to repeat cause and effect.

I have an accountant, a financial planner, and an assistant. I hire out for cover art, formatting, and proof-reading. I use a close-knit group of bestselling authors as editors. I discuss strategies with peers, often try new things that fail, and am constantly trying to prepare for the future by watching trends, predicting what will happen next, and analyzing my own habits.

Self-awareness is something everyone claims to have, but few people do. If you want to sell ebooks, look at why you buy ebooks.

When was the last time you:
  • Bought an ebook you saw in a tweet?
  • Clicked on an Internet ad?
  • Followed a Facebook ad?
  • Bought an ebook because you got a postcard in the mail?
  • Bought an ebook because you got an email about one?
  • Read a free ebook?
If you can figure out why you buy what you buy, not just with ebooks, but with every single thing, you'll learn a lot. 

Use that knowledge. And if it works well, write about it so I can learn it too.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Under New Management 2

I have self-published my Timecaster science fiction novels, as well as my Jack Kilborn series.

They are priced on Amazon Kindle at $3.99 each, and the trilogy compilation is $9.99. They will soon be available on other ebook platforms, as well as in print.

Here are the covers and links.

Now here's a fun clip of one of my favorite songs from my youth, covered by the Donots. Love the visuals.

We're Not Gonna Take It. :)

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Under New Management

I have self-published my first six Jack Daniels thriller ebooks with new covers, introductions, and formatting.

They are priced on Amazon Kindle at $3.99 each, and as trilogy compilations for $9.99 each. They will soon be available on other ebook platforms, as well as in print.

Here are the covers and links.

Now here's a fun clip of Japanese superstar Toshiro Mifune, who often played a masterless samurai, doing his thing.

How You Like Me Now? :)

Monday, February 04, 2013

Cover Art Blowout

I've been busy as anything lately, and am still busy, but I'll get back to blogging soon, and also have some guest posts.

In the meantime, my cover artist is having a sale on pre-done covers. They're hot, and he has about 15 of them left.

He's charging $200 each, which is a steal. You supply your name, title, and tagline, he sends you the finished cover immediately after payment.

Act fast before they're gone.