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.


Grant McKenzie said...

Hey Joe: Congrats on your success. I have just released my latest thriller, PORT OF SORROW, on Amazon and I'm pleased to say that it has become my fastest selling thriller so far. And, as you say, once readers read and love it, sales of my other books (Switch, No Cry For Help, K.A.R.M.A. and Angel With A Bullet) pick up, too.
It's still very difficult getting one's name out to new readers, but slowly, with every book, readers are definitely discovering me. Author Ken Bruen called my books "Harlan Coben on Speed" while Lee Child called Switch "a terrific thriller. I loved it." SWITCH will be available as a free ebook as part of a Killer Thriller giveaway beginning on Feb. 20 - so we'll see what happens with that. Wishing you continued success, and hoping some of it rubs off on me.

William Doonan said...

Hey Joe, longtime listener, first time caller. I'm following your advice to the letter. in about 30 days, my genre-bending horror e-book 'The Mummies of Blogspace9' will be out, interactive, and with a cover by your recommended artist. Horror has a new URL! Can I send you a copy for your perusal?

William Doonan

Aimlesswriter said...

Thanks for the information and congratulations on the great sales!
Following your lead, I made my book free this weekend.
This is a test, this is only a test...

Anonymous said...

Yes as a long time kindle owner I have purchased many books after reading a free copy from the 100 list. However, another way you guys get more sales is through other OCD readers like me who cannot read books out of order.

Diane said...

Joe, can you say anything about KDP Select free days versus going "perma-free" (which is setting the novel's price to $0 on other platforms, like B&N, and letting Amazon price-match). Is one more advantageous than the other?

B. Rehder said...

One of my novels—GUILT TRIP—was rubbing elbows with yours and Barry's on the Top 100 freebies for the past few days. My promo has ended. One thing I've noticed after past promos: If I do get a sales bump, sometimes there is a disquieting period of no sales at all before the sales begin.

Ripley King said...

I just got through explaining that to a friend last night, pimping Amazon for all it's worth. Lonely Hero Thing will be free through Tuesday.

And don't forget Smashwords site-wide e-book giveaway week should be sometime in March.

Ripley King said...

@Diane Perma-free is great for the first book of a continuing series. Give that first one away, charge for the other six.

JA Konrath said...

I haven't tried perma-free. But I'll get around to it. ;)

Ewolfe357 said...

Hey Joe,

FWIW, I received an email yesterday from "Getting Rich with eBooks" newsletter which I usually delete unread (I subscribed just to learn the best methods of selling my writing - not to re-package public domain stuff, etc.) and this time I decided to click the link.

It took me to your blog post which eventually led me to download your compilation of blog posts ebook of The Newbie's Guide and 55 Proof.

I now know more about you and your career than any writer I've never read before. :-)

I came back here today, saw the new post and downloaded your free ebooks on Kindle. I was very tempted to buy Origin before I read today's blog, but I still haven't read a novel of yours yet but now with the free ebooks, I'll be able to try you out risk-free and will buy Origin if I like Afraid. (I won't read the JD book yet, because I'll want to start with Whiskey Sour and work my way up to the free one I got today.)

Also, I will be looking to get the free version of Grant McKenzie's "Switch" if I can find where the Killer Thriller giveaway will be on the 20th, after which I'll buy his from the beginning onward. My interest in McKenzie (whom I've never heard of) is automatic and concrete based on Lee Child's recommendation.

Aside from what be of marketing interest to you, I also want to say congratulations on all of your success, and thank you for sharing everything you have so far with writers who aspire to be your peers.

Someday I hope we'll be mutual fans. :-)

Ewolfe357 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Flynn said...

I'm going to try both KDP Select and BookBub for the first time soon. Eager to see what happens.

Walter Knight said...

Dogs will eat anything,and like humans, can digest just abut anything (but not corn).

Now if I can just get dogs to buy and read my E-books.

Grace Brannigan said...

I just put my new time travel romance Treasure So Rare in KDP free for 5 days, trying it out. I have 9 other romances so experimenting to see if there's connection with it doing well and the other books getting more attention. Only began putting the titles up 6 or so months ago, so should be interesting.

Grant McKenzie said...

Thanks, Ed. You can pick up SWITCH for free from Feb. 20-22 on Amazon, plus 5 other Killer Thrillers:

Jude Hardin said...

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

My third Thomas and Mercer title comes out this June, and my fourth (and final for this contract) is currently on submission with them. So, for the first time in a while, I'm writing a novel on spec. It's my longest work to date (80K+), and it's the beginning of a new series.

Should I:

a) Try for another T&M contract

b) Self-publish

c) Submit to Big 6 houses through my agent

d) Buy some equipment and start a landscaping business


Ewolfe357 said...

Thanks for the link, Grant.
With the Lee Child endorsement, I have great expectations and anticipate being a new fan.

Jude, being that I'm unpublished so far, I have no recommendation, but I laughed out loud at option D.


JA Konrath said...

Jude, did you miss the part where I said I made $15k in a week self-publishing?

Why wouldn't you self-publish?

Alan Spade said...

Jude, if you don't want to put all eggs on the same basket, you should do like Joe and self-publish some new titles and keep the others with T&M.

However, I'm not sure how one who self-publish and use KDP Select is not putting all her eggs in the same basket.

It makes other plat-forms irrelevent when we use KDP Select. The more we use it, the more they become irrelevant, until... Until they break apart.

One could argue other plat-forms should obtain exclusive deals with authors by promoting their books. Do what Amazon do.

Perhaps that will come. It's just a matter of weight of the self-published.

In the meantime, we have to ask ourselves : do we want to keep everything in balance and distribute widely ? Or go for immediate money at the expense of concurrence, at the risk of putting all our eggs in the same basket ? Even if concurrence is improving and is helping us to have better technology and a better future ?

Think wisely, my friends.

Grant McKenzie said...

Joe, you have to admit that $15K in a week is the Exception and not the Rule. Until you can become a name that garners reader attention, T&S can put your books in front of a much larger audience than self-publishing can, no? My reviews - especially on Amazon UK - show that I should be selling a lot more books than I am. I have a loyal and excited group of fans - just not enough of them, yet. I would love, love, love to get to your level of success - and I am constantly working towards that by writing great books, but T&S can deliver more exposure for an unknown writer than one can deliver for themselves.

Grant McKenzie said...

I should add that I'm not a T&M author. I am self-published, plus have some books still with Random House, Penguin, Heyne, Midnight Ink, etc. But I have seen some of the sales numbers generated by T&M authors - and I am impressed by what T&M is doing.

Jude Hardin said...

Why wouldn't you self-publish?

I would like to at least see what kind of offers I can get.

frank palardy said...

So what happened to your dogs? You started telling us and didn't finish! Is there going to be an ebook?

Jude Hardin said...

Joe, you have to admit that $15K in a week is the Exception and not the Rule.

That's a good point. Self-publishing requires some money up front, and there's no guarantee you'll ever recoup that money, much less make a big profit.

And every week it seems like I hear about another bestselling indie author who signed with a major publisher...

Still, 70% royalties and keeping all the rights is mighty tempting.

Haku Mele said...

Thank you, as always, for your advice and transparency. I'm not a writer, but I enjoy learning about the world of ebook publishing. I've also learned a great about traditional publishing from your blog.

FYI, although I picked up Timecaster from here, I signed up for BookBub to see how it worked (thanks for the link). I went directly to the site this morning, and there you were, front and almost center in the top row of the all-categories page and far-left, top row of the science fiction section. I just checked my email, and there was my first daily email from BookBub with Timecaster third from the top. The link took me to the Amazon page with the buy button in my face and my only decision whether to send it to my iPhone or Kindle.

I assume you already did all this checking, but I wanted to let you know how easy BookBub made it for someone whose Internet access is primarily through a cell phone to find and acquire your book.

Unknown said...

It doesn't require that much money upfront. Fees for a cover artist and editor and a formatter, if you don't want to do that yourself. They're one-time fees. I think you can make that back. If not, you probably can't get an agent to represent your work either.

Jude, I think where the opportunity is for indie authors is with the trad pub picking up the print rights while you retain your erights. But, you don't have to put all your eggs in one basket either. Good luck, you're in a nice position that any option is probably a good one, just one might be more lucrative than another.

Anonymous said...

Every author should have both trad and indie books to offer. If you are 100% in one camp, purse the other as well.

For me I make $15k in the first year of an indie release, but $25k in advance money for a trad deal. So indie-wise I come out ahead in Year One, but back to even after Year Two. Year Three onwards the indie book is the better revenue source, but you can't buy those at Walgreens. Your math may vary.

A few related notes: We keep hearing Joe talk about having a large volume of books to offer. I have 12 full length novels, and only with the latest release have I seen some huge numbers ($500 per day for a month). Perhaps that is roughly critical mass?

With so many books on sale, I can always move one to Select Free in a given month. Add in a monthly BookBub (for a $0.99 title) and you have the beginnings of a solid (low cost) marketing plan.

Also, having a newsletter/email list to alert readers to new releases is key - and it seems having 500 dedicated readers/buyers on there is more fuel for the fire. Imagine having 5,000.

So while Joe's sales seem astounding to us all, when you have dozens of titles the math becomes a bit more achievable. Hang in there everybody!

TK Kenyon said...

Dear Joe,

So great that you're blogging again. I find your posts so inspiring and generous.

TK Kenyon

NWA said...

I'm looking for a writer's circle. I write spy thrillers; anyone have lead?
Many thanks.

Jude Hardin said...

I do have a couple of self-published things out there. My short story RATTLED is free through Friday. It's a thirty-minute read, and I would love to get some more reviews on it.

Darlene Underdahl said...

Love your eBooks and your posts. I also love Blake Crouch and Barry Eisler. I can’t wait to get the laundry done so I can get back to Abandon (Crouch). I talk you guys up to everyone I know.

Merrill Heath said...

Jude, it looks like another indie is going trad -

If I were you, I'd self-publish some work but also continue to cultivate the relationship with T&M. I don't know anything about the details of your contract but I have to believe they are going to do a lot to promote your books that they publish. That should also help with the sales of your self-published books.

I don't really see the benefit of going with a trad publisher unless it's for the print version only, with you retaining rights to the ebook versions. I've heard of several self-published authors working that deal, so it's not as far-fetched as it was a year ago.

Mark Edward Hall said...

Douglas Doro, it looks like The Ninth District is getting a pretty respectable boost from your free promo. By the way, I downloaded it. Looking forward to checking it out.

Unknown said...

Diane said:

"Joe, can you say anything about KDP Select free days versus going "perma-free" (which is setting the novel's price to $0 on other platforms, like B&N, and letting Amazon price-match). Is one more advantageous than the other?"

I can speak to this one in my own fashion. Sales of the rest of my continuing erotic series have increased dramatically since making Volume One of my series perma-free on Amazon.

There are many other romance and erotica authors of series that are benefiting from this strategy as well. Ruth Cardello comes to mind and has been mentioned here on Joe's blog before.

I cannot speak to how well this works outside of the romance/erotica genres, but I would imagine it is comparable. Hook the readers with a good story line and good writing and a certain percentage will most definitely keep reading. ;-)

As with anything - your mileage may vary and by self-publishing - you have the control to experiment with what works best for you.

Summer Daniels

Unknown said...

Jude, I'll check it out. I've read a couple of your books.

Unknown said...

Yep, nice boost from the promo. I need more content/books out there. Thanks for the download. I hope you enjoy it.

Alan Tucker said...

Jude, did you advertise your freebie story anywhere? I picked it up from your comment, but don't remember seeing it elsewhere.

It used to be that ENT would pick up the freebies themselves, but Amazon has put the clamps down on the bigger sites offering only the free titles and they now have to showcase a mix of free and bargain deals. As a result, it's become much harder to get listed with the big boys (ENT and POI).

My latest will be free 2/28 and 3/1 and I've applied for Bookbub's ad for it, as well as asking for ENT and POI listings. I'm hopeful the downloads will be brisker than when I tried after Xmas with only one review. *fingers crossed*

Jude Hardin said...

If I were you, I'd self-publish some work but also continue to cultivate the relationship with T&M.

T&M has been great. I would definitely work with them again.

Jude, I'll check it out. I've read a couple of your books.

Thanks, Douglas!

Jude, did you advertise your freebie story anywhere?

No, I didn't. BookBub, and most of the blogs, limit themselves to novels, I think, and there are other requirements, like a certain number of reviews, etc.

So far, I have 100 downloads on, and a handful on the international sites. I even have one from Japan, so this might be the beginning of something big!


D.S. said...

I think your advice is good, Joe!

My story "Taken Away" has been free with KDP Select for 2 days now, on a 5 day promotion.

So far it's reached #3 on the Amazon Kindle free charts for Science Fiction Short Stories, #32 in the UK and #2 in Germany on the same chart.

It's still got 3 days to go!

This book wasn't even -on- the charts, as it had not sold before this promo.

I mentioned the freebie on social media sites the day before, and also submitted it to as many sites as I could via the links at the free site

I could not submit my promo information to all of the sites listed there, as some need a lead time of up to 2 weeks, so be warned.

Also, some have a requirement of a certain number of reviews for your eBook - mine had no reviews when I started the promotion.

Doing the freebie on a holiday/long weekend ("Family Day" here in Canada, and "President's Day" in the USA) seems to have been helping, too.

It's going to be interesting to see where this title ends up after the promotion is over!

Thanks, Joe.


Julia Gabriel Author said...

I made my second book, Cupcakes & Chardonnay, free on KDP Select last week for the first time. I will definitely use KDP Select again. I don't think there's any other way I could have made a new book as visible on Amazon as that did -- overnight. My book quickly made it into the top 50 free books for its genre (contemporary romance) and the book has been selling steadily since. For me, KDP Select is about advertising (on the world's largest bookstore, no less) and exposure and less about immediate sales. Marketing any product is a long-term game.

Gary Ponzo said...

You have three dogs? No wonder you don't have time to blog anymore.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Jude said, "That's a good point. Self-publishing requires some money up front, and there's no guarantee you'll ever recoup that money, much less make a big profit."

My costs to self-publish both ebook and print:

1. Cover art (okay, I don't pay for this because I do it myself, but still, it's not expensive.) Maybe $200-600?

2. My time.

3. Some promotional slots on websites. Mostly free, one that cost $90.

So for being self-employed, my major investment in my business is time. Find anyone else who is self-employed and risks such little investment.

Self-publish, Jude. I highly doubt you'll lose any money.

Jude Hardin said...

You forgot about formatting and editing, Rob.

A comprehensive edit by someone who knows what they're doing--the kind of edit you'll get at a publishing house--is going to cost $2000 minimum. Cover art $500. Formatting $300.

Then, by everyone's admission, you have to depend largely on luck to ever make a profit. Meanwhile, you could have an advance in hand, enough money to pay the rent and buy groceries while you write the next book.

I might self-publish, but I don't think it's quite the no-brainer you and Joe make it out to be. I prefer to keep my options open.

Stella Baker said...

Enjoyed your Pocket 47 and many of your posts here. Wanted to share that costs of creating a professional eBook product are not as high as you state (though, of course, you could spend that much.) I’ve done two now. For anyone this might help:

I outsourced the first one 4 Gigs of Trouble completely. Total cost (for BOTH paper and eBook formats) was $1975; single highest cost was for professional editing, done by someone who has worked for the Big Six (and still does on contract). I did keep cover cost low by selecting the graphic components (from stock photography) and having a clear idea of what I wanted the finished product to look like. Because I did my ‘homework’ the graphic artist was able to create a cover and back cover (paperback ed.) in two hours (costing under $200). Formatting was by the superb 52 Novels.

I took more control over the second book The Postman Always Shoots Twice because I needed to drive production costs as low as possible. I audited PhotoShop and InDesign classes at my local community college. Created the cover during PhotoShop (and had instructor help polish to make it professional); learned how to format for eBooks and print during InDesign. Aside from the software (which I bought at high discount through college affiliation), my time was about the only real cost for formatting and cover. Still paid for professional editing, as that is one thing I cannot do myself. Total cost for eBook production (not including PS and ID software): $961. I’m working with a new company for paperback edition. I’m anticipating modest out of pocket expenses.

I realize not everyone will want to be this hands on, but even outsourcing everything can still be done with professional results for around $2000. (Length of book, type of book, etc. will effect final cost of course.)

Jude Hardin said...

Enjoyed your Pocket 47 and many of your posts here.


single highest cost was for professional editing

Sounds like you got a good deal. Do you have a link, so we can take a look at this editor's services?

outsourcing everything can still be done with professional results for around $2000.

That sounds about right. My estimates might have been a little high.

Just for fun, let's say you could have had a $100K advance (per book) instead of self-publishing. With your total sales so far, and your projected sales over the next few years, would it have made sense to take the advance? Or, would you have still chosen to self-publish?

Ann Voss Peterson said...

Jude, I think you're romanticizing traditional publishing. But if you want to find out for yourself, do it. You only have one life, and if you would regret not trying, by all means try.

The publishing world is much different than it was, but if you don't get the money and terms you're envisioning, so what? Turn down the contract and self publish.

But it seems to me you're looking for validation, and I'm not sure why. You're published with a fabulous publisher. You have a top agent. What more do you hope to get?

You don't have to answer me, but you should know the answer yourself. And whatever the answer is, go for it, just don't sign away your creative life for a handful of beads.

Stella Baker said...

When I did the first book, I got a list of editor recommendations from 52 Novels and also checked some I found surfing the web. I requested sample edits at several different companies, and liked the quality and “vibe” of Jon VanZile at Editing for Authors
Jon also edited my second book and I recommend him without reservation.

One thing I learned with the second book: even with a great editor, it’s still useful to have a nitpicky, eagle-eyed bibliophile read the manuscript, after it’s been professionally edited. I have a librarian friend who can spot a grammar gaffe or misspelling with one eye tied behind her back. For Postman, I formatted the “final” version and emailed it to her Kindle, so she could read it as a paying reader would. She found five or six words for me to fix (out of 65,000), which I did before uploading to Amazon. No book of any length is ever COMPLETLELY free of all errors, but between my editor and my friend, I’m very satisfied that Postman holds its own with Big 6 productions.

Your just for fun question is a toughie: take a zero from your number (100K) and it’s an easy answer: no. I’d self-publish, hands down. But 100k per title, peanuts to folks like Joe, but not to me. Based on my sales right now and projected for the next 2-3 years…yep, I’d take a single book deal for that. Why? Because it would be an interesting experience and I’d give up the future of one title to have that experience. I would not take a series deal, even at 100k per title, because I like being in control of my own product. I like the business aspects as well as the creative writing aspects. And I’m at the stage of my life that I do this because I WANT to, not because I have to in order to put food on the table. (I will not be buying equipment for a landscaping business.)

Here’s a nickel worth of philosophy from an old librarian and young writer (me): life’s about the journey, my friend. Take yourself wherever YOU want to go.

Ewolfe357 said...

I hope I'm not butting in, but it sounds to me like Jude is considering if it's worth giving up what could be a sure and good thing in exchange for something potentially less financially rewarding with the added downside of a lot of additional labor.

I think Joe loves to write and he loves to self-publish. Some writers might just want to stick with writing and let publishers do the publishing.

Someone asked me why I'm not publishing my work and the first thing I said was, "I'm a writer, not a publisher. I still have to learn publishing, marketing, promoting, etc. I'll do that when I'm done with my current projects."

My thinking is, if my self-published work is as good as people tell me, then maybe if I'm lucky, a publisher will pick it up and then I'll be able to just focus on writing and not have to wear additional hats that don't come naturally to me, and which are jobs that I don't really want to have if I don't need to.

In Jude's case, I've read his reservations as being at least financially practical, but perhaps there's the labor factor as well.

Imagine turning down the contract, busting your ass at something you're not naturally skilled at, and then feeling really stupid knowing what your bank balance could have looked like.

For what it's worth, I'd say take the contract (if it's good) and then do some concurrent ebook publishing to see how it goes so you'll be in a better position to decide at the end of the new contract with some comparison stats in hand.

Jude Hardin said...

But it seems to me you're looking for validation, and I'm not sure why. You're published with a fabulous publisher. You have a top agent. What more do you hope to get?

Hi Ann. I'm not looking for validation. You're right. I already have plenty of that. What I want is enough money to live on for a while so I can keep writing full time. I'm not trying to romanticize anything. I know the harsh realities of the publishing business, and I'm not going to sign any contracts unless the terms are decent.

Jude Hardin said...

I requested sample edits at several different companies, and liked the quality and “vibe” of Jon VanZile at Editing for Authors

Jon VanZile and Erica Orloff are friends of mine, and I'm glad you had a positive experience with their service.

Jude Hardin said...

In Jude's case, I've read his reservations as being at least financially practical, but perhaps there's the labor factor as well.

Not at all. If I owned the rights to a bunch of backlist titles, like Joe and some of the others who comment here do, then I would self-publish them in a heartbeat.

And I'll self-publish my new one, if I don't get the right offer.

Amber Jaeger said...

Wait! You are saying kdp select is good? Because I thought before you said it was bad...

Ripley King said...

This is a business. Writing fiction is an entertainment business, and you can edit yourself into print.

I spent two years learning the finer points of editing. Whatever it took to make myself a professional in every sense of the word. I also learned to format myself, and my cover art kicks ass. I've spent zero dollars, and have sold more books in the last month, than I did in the last two years.

I made it to the pro level, only to watch as publishing imploded. Joe has it right, but doesn't see it from all angles.

I'm a pro-published author, who couldn't survive the market as it exists today.

I can't afford outside services, so worked hard to learn the craft as a business.

Readers are paramount. Publishers now look for authors who can market themselves. But I want more. I want a story well told. Edited to a fine point.

I'm an indie author. I don't spend money to make money. I make money. I'm what I need to be.

This is what it takes, and I'm there.

Forgotten Books said...

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Jude Hardin said...

According to a recent article in PW, Amazon and other retailers might eventually start selling used ebooks.

Any thoughts on how that might affect self-publishing? Seems like it might be especially damaging to authors with significant backlists.

Merrill Heath said...

I'm curious to know what a "used ebook" is and how they intend to sell it, as well as who will be allowed to sell it.

Unknown said...

Hi Joe,

I just wanted to let you know that I love your blog -- and not that you need the plug or anything, but I've mentioned your blog on mine at The entry is called "The Business of Writing" and your blog's at numbered paragraph 3. I wish you continued success!

Ewolfe357 said...

Merrill asked:

I'm curious to know what a "used ebook" is and how they intend to sell it, as well as who will be allowed to sell it.

An article answers:

"...essentially, if you own an ebook, you would theoretically be able to put it up for sale on a secondary market."

Rob Gregory Browne said...

"According to a recent article in PW, Amazon and other retailers might eventually start selling used ebooks."

I read that article and laughed. The writer is purely speculating, based on a patent application. He has absolutely no clue what Amazon plans to do.

This, to my mind, was simply a troll article, meant to solicit hits for PW and get the writing community in an uproar.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

"You forgot about formatting and editing, Rob."

I format the book myself and a friend—another writer who has a keen eye for story and character—edits for me and I do covers for her. Quid Pro Quo.

But even if you do pay for editing, you're still talking about a thousand to fifteen hundred a book. That's a very small investment for the potential return. At 70%, you're likely to make that back fairly quickly.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

"Formatting $300"

I don't know who's paying that for formatting, but they're getting ripped off.

Here's a tip. Write and format your manuscript in Word or OpenOffice exactly the way you'd like to see it in your ebook. Then import it into Calibre and convert it to mobi and/or epub.

It's that simple. Works fine for me. Costs me about an hour of my time.

Oh, and $2,000 for an New York quality edit? What's a New York quality edit? I'm not sure I know. I've had good editors and I've had bad editors with the big six. It all comes down to the luck the draw.

Ripley King said...

@Joe Joe has it right, but doesn't see it from all angles.

That came out wrong. Joe knows this business. That's a given to all who come here to learn. The changes he sees are constant, and he strives to keep ahead of the curve. He shares what he knows to all who come here, and he's still learning.
That's what I should have said. "And he's still learning." Joe has it right, and he’s still learning.

The heat of the post. My bad.

The point I was making is the same point Joe has made in the past, which is write a better book.

To those who worry about investing heavily in this business, and not recouping your investment, those worries have merit. However, I’m a firm believer that all writers should invest in themselves, first. Learn the craft, and then learn the craft from a business POV.

Not all of us can spend money to make money, but we can make our own luck. When we invest in ourselves first, we maximize our luck.

Each book you give away using Joe’s advice is a reader, not a writer. It seems to me he’s advocating a rifle approach to marketing, rather than a shotgun approach.

Jude Hardin said...

I don't know who's paying that for formatting, but they're getting ripped off.

You can pay less than $300 for formatting, or you can pay more. Joe says he gets the premium service from 52 Novels, which is $750.

If you can do everything yourself, that's great. Most people can't, at least not with professional looking results. I think your covers are first-rate, Rob, but not everyone has that talent.

Alan Spade said...

Rob said :" "According to a recent article in PW, Amazon and other retailers might eventually start selling used ebooks."

I read that article and laughed. The writer is purely speculating, based on a patent application. He has absolutely no clue what Amazon plans to do."

I agree. Wait and see on that one. How will Amazon allow DRMed ebooks of big publishers to be copied for resale ? It seems incoherent.

The whole thing seems to be just a scarecrow to me.

Sharper13x said...

Re: the conversation about production - one thing that I don’t understand. What is the big deal with this stuff?

I have no natural abilities with computers. Basically a helpless fool who needs help the first time anything goes wrong.

That said… formatting? Just use Scrivener. I know this program has been talked about before, but… it boils down to just one button.

How easy is it? When I read over my day’s work on a WIP, I make it into an ebook to read it in bed on my iPad. It has a clickable ToC, all the bells and whistles and looks great (other than being unfinished and filled with typos). Time spent making the book? Under one minute.

BTW the read-in-bed draft also has a cool cover that even the digitally-challenged like me can design with pixelmator ($39 dollar app.) Judge the quality for yourself here

Judge the covers

When it’s time to publish, that same button can create a perfect file for the paperback, Kindle, e-pub, ibook, and anything else.

Anyway, the software costs $40. And seriously, if I can do it, so could your cat.

Just saying.

Jude Hardin said...

Most of the DYI covers and formatting I've seen scream "self-published" and "amateur." If you can do it as well as a major publisher, great. If not, I would recommend hiring professionals.

Sharper13x said...

I agree, but that doesn’t mean it’s that hard. Especially for certain genres. I’ve also noticed that the quality of most Indie writer’s covers are jumping up. They may very well be paying a lot for them, I don’t know, but if you look at all those covers in the sigs on Kindle Boards, etc… for the most part, much better than a year ago.

But certainly, one of the changes in the rapid evolution of diy publishing has been that the tools you need are cheaper and easier to use, even from just one year ago.

Anonymous said...

"I read that article and laughed"

I'm not sure I'd laugh to fast.I see Amazon potentially setting up a deal as follows. It sells a "new" ebook to a customer for $2.99. Amazon makes 30%, 90 cents. Later, the customer can sell the "used" ebook back to Amazon, say for 50 cents. Amazon then makes the used copy available for purchase on the product page as a "used" copy, say for $2.00. The new customer purchases the used copy because it's cheaper (simply a click on "Buy Used") On that sale, Amazon makes $1.50, which is more profit than it got on the initial sale. Sure, it may lose the opportunity to sell another new copy, but the used copy makes it more money anyway.

Obviously there are legal issues but the logistics of working it into Amazon's store would probably be very simple.

Stella Baker said...

Stephen, your covers absolutely do stand up as professional. I hadn't heard of Pixelmator; looked into it and, sadly, not even my cat will be able to use it as it is a Mac only program. (I'm a Windows girl.) Anyway, it appears to be quite similar to PhotoShop, though perhaps a bit easier to use...and certainly a lot cheaper! (Tho I got my PS really cheap student/faculty rate.) I'm starting to get pretty good with InDesign, but just for fun I'll have to look into Scrivener. Ah. I think I have a warped sense of what is fun.

Sharper13x said...

@Stella Baker

Thank you very much! And, not to sound like a commercial, but as a techno-illiterati, getting an iMac last summer was the best investment I think I’ve ever made. My first book (pre-Mac) was difficult and expensive to produce. But between Scrivener and Pixelmator (about an $80 investment total)… I just wish I could write faster. Still hire an editor, though. No substitute for humans there.

Mean Teacher said...

Joe, you have done an incredible service making your wealth of experience available to writers, and the generosity of spirit that entails really boggles the mind of a selfish bastard like myself. A lot of your insights and predictions seem spot on. There is, however, one major issue that worries me. The lack of quality control inherent in self-publishing is quickly creating a glut of bad writing that Kindle users have to sift through in order to get to the good stuff.

People familiar with the horror genre will know that the huge success of writers like King and Straub in the 1970's caused a glut of lesser writers to get deals, resulting in major downturn in the genre that lasted through the 80's. Publishers couldn't give horror novels away.

Wven though the ebook and KDP are revolutionizing publishing, I don't think the laws of supply and demand have changed.

John said...

@Stella and @Jude...

Joe - apologies for taking this further off topic -

BUT 'editing for authors' charges $.055 per word for development editing - that's $5,000 for 90,000 words. Really?

I was seeking a suitable development editor recently - found one - but not at that cost!

Anonymous said...

"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."

No, no, and no.

Amazon probably has the worst search engine of any online book side, and considering that's pretty bad.

All right well it may not be as bad as, but it's nothing compared to abe, alibris, bookfinder, many others.

It's actually famously terrible, among book dealers and collectors. You can't find what you're looking for. If Amazon were to make a decent search engine that worked, they would take over the internet. But as it stands, no. Those comments are silly.

Anonymous said...

I've been a bookdealer and collector for 25 years. I was there when Amazon first started off and have used them since day one (as well as many others onlnine).

Your statement is out of date by at least 5 years. I have found Amazon very good at what they do.


Anonymous said...

correction: "online"

Anonymous said...

You don't agree with me? Well then your comments are silly too.

Everybody who disagrees with my stance regarding the Amazon search engine is simply wrong.

Like I said, if Amazon made an actually decent search engine they could really rule.

And I know what I am talking about, believe me, I'm right about most things.

Unlike many of you I am extremely knowledgeable about search engines.

Anonymous said...

JA Konrath:

What you promote here is bad advice for some writers because for some types of books it's impossible, and you owe it to writers to warn them.

It only works for writers like you "because certain readers of romance, crime, sci-fi, fantasy, erotica and other genre fiction are voracious readers and the most gluttonous are willing to take to forums and chatrooms to review new novels. Cheap books appeal to core readers, who can often get through several a week, and this combination created a new publishing economy...But the next Hilary Mantel or Ian McEwan will not self-publish, because the hardcore of fans necessary to make this approach work doesn't exist for literary fiction (it's too baggy a term to attract fans in that sense)."

Anonymous said...

To increase the proliferation of ebooks and sales even more, offer really cheap, and even free, eReaders:

Anonymous said...

"And I know what I am talking about, believe me, I'm right about most things.

Unlike many of you I am extremely knowledgeable about search engines."

hey anon 2:57 troll much?

D. K. Janotta said...

Hi Joe,

Thanks very much for this post. It's an eyeopener for me, as I'm just starting out as an indie author. Can anyone tell me who ENT are please? I've seen 'ENT' mentioned on this comment list as somewhere to announce free ebooks, but I've had no luck when I googled 'ENT'. Thanks in advance and good luck everybody.


D. K. Janotta.