Friday, March 25, 2016

More Advantages to Self-Publishing

Today my ninth Jack Daniels novel, RUM RUNNER, launches.

Incredibly, I haven't released a solo book since 2010, when SHAKEN came out. Got to say, it feels good. And I'm not done with Jack yet. Which brings me to this blog post.

On this blog, I've written hundreds of thousands of words touting the advantages of self-publishing over traditional publishing. Keeping your rights, higher ebook royalties, and having control over pricing, presentation, and content are the three biggest reasons.

Here come a few more.

Crossovers. I really enjoy it when intellectual properties visit each other's universes. Back when Who Framed Roger Rabbit? came out, I was giddy with joy during the Donald Duck/Daffy Duck piano duel. One of the first comic books I ever bought was Superman Vs. the Amazing Spider-Man. Sonic and Mario in the same game? Sign me up. Mulder and Scully from The X-Files on The Simpsons? Fangasm!

So naturally I've been a huge proponent of crossovers in my own fictional worlds. My thriller HAUNTED HOUSE combined characters from ORIGIN, THE LIST, AFRAIDTRAPPED, and ENDURANCE. When I developed my Kindle World, I had the opportunity to work with F. Paul Wilson again, and his character Repairman Jack got to brawl with, and sleep with, Chandler from the eponymous series I created with Ann Voss Peterson in our short novel FIX. Blake Crouch's villain Luther Kite figures prominently in STIRRED, and in my upcoming novel LAST CALL.

And yes, that's a link. After years of pushing back the release date, you can finally pre-order LAST CALL.

My characters often show up in Ann Voss Peterson's Val Ryker series, and I've done crossover novels with Iain Rob Wright and Jude Hardin, and have co-written too many short stories to count.

Legacy publisher aren't big on crossovers. Rights are tricky. While some crossovers do exist, publishers looking to build an author's brand seem to want to focus on that author and that brand, rather than split time and profits with another author or publisher. The non-compete and first option clauses that are still boilerplate in legacy contracts also make a crossovers difficult or impossible.

If you want to share universes, going indie is the easier way to do it.

Especially if you want to attempt what I just did, and write three stories that crossover with each other and take place during the same 48 hour time period. More on that in a moment.

Novellas. In a paper world, books have to be a certain length. In a digital world, they don't. So a twenty-thousand word story that is too long for magazines and too short for a print book has no barrier to entry.

WATCHED TOO LONG by Ann Voss Peterson and yours truly, is only 20k words. And it takes place in Ann's Val Ryker universe, but follows a side story that occurs in RUM RUNNER.

So you can (and should) read RUM RUNNER, then read WATCHED TOO LONG to see what happened to Jack's daughter, Samantha, when Jack asked Val Ryker to babysit.

Release Dates. WATCHED TOO LONG comes out today. And in two weeks, WEBCAM by my horror pen name, Jack Kilborn, will be released. You can pre-order it. Releasing three novels (LAST CALL comes out May 25) and a novella within two months is something much easier to do as an indie than if you were with a publisher. Publishers usually won't release more than one title a year. And release two titles on the same day? Unheard of.

WEBCAM also crosses over with RUM RUNNER and WATCHED TOO LONG. The hero, a cop named Tom Mankowski (HAUNTED HOUSE, THE LIST) winds up in Jack's novel, and she winds up in his.

While each of these stories can be read and enjoyed as a standalone, part of the fun of writing them was hoping readers would explore all three, to see where and how they crossover. But there aren't any spoilers of cliffhangers, so if you only want to read one or two, it isn't necessary to read all three.

I had a ball doing this, and I hope it shows in the writing. Being able to release four connected stories, one a collaboration, in such a short period of time, is something that I couldn't ever do when I had legacy contracts. Plus I keep my rights, make better royalties, and have final say over cover art, price, and design.

I'll be releasing paper versions of these shortly. And for the first time, I'll be self-pubbing the audio versions. The guy reading is one of my favorite singer/songwriters, going back to 1986 when I bought his first album. On cassette,which dates both of us. To be able to work with him is surreal, in the best way possible. I've spent endless hours singing his songs, and now he's reading my books. Fangasm.

Now some Q & A with myself.

Q: So, just to be clear, today we can buy RUM RUNNER and WATCHED TOO LONG, and we can also pre-order WEBCAM, which comes out on April 15 (as if taxes aren't scary enough) and the long- awaited LAST CALL, which comes out on May 25.

A: That is correct. I urge every single person reading this to buy these books, and gift copies to everyone they know. Is that too much to ask?

Q: Is Blake Crouch writing LAST CALL with you?

A: He is not. Blake has two TV series currently in production, and will be spending the summer touring with his excellent new thriller, DARK MATTER. If you see him on one of his many stops, give him a sloppy kiss from me.

Q: So does LAST CALL have Luther Kite in it?

A: It does. Blake has given me permission to use his characters Luther and Lucy (from SERIAL KILLERS UNCUT).

Q: Why are you releasing so many titles in such a short time frame?

A: Because I can. And because I'm curious how it will work out. For decades, publishers have insisted on the "one book per year" route for most authors. The justification for this varies. Some say that too many new titles too quickly forces them to compete with each other and results in lost sales. Some say the windowing of hardbacks to paperbacks requires a full year, in order to suck the high cost of hardcovers out of as many fans as possible. Then the cheaper paperback (supposedly) pimps the newest hardcover release. Some say it is because publishing takes so damn long (often 18 months after the contract is signed before the book hits the stores) and publisher's schedules are so booked they can't possibly squeeze any more releases in.

I think this is all bullshit. When I like an author, I want to read as much as I can by that author. I believe many readers share my sentiment. So releasing four titles in 60 days will be an interesting experiment that has the potential to show if I'm correct or not.

Q: Who is the mystery rock star reading your book?

A: We haven't made the announcement yet. But he's been a professional musician since the 1970s, and has released over a dozen albums. Also, the plan is for me to do the voice of Harry McGlade on these four titles.

Q: Do these books be have to be read in any special order?

A: No. Even though they interconnect, they're all standalones. The real challenge was to make sure that reading one didn't spoil the others, and to make sure the characters had good reasons for being in each other's stories.

That said, if you insist on doing things chronologically, here's the order I suggest: RUM RUNNER, WATCHED TOO LONG, WEBCAM, LAST CALL.

Q: Will you be doing more Jack Daniels novels?

A: Yes. I'm also going to do sequels to THE LIST and ORIGIN, and finish the TIMECASTER trilogy.

Q: I notice RUM RUNNER is $4.99, and LAST CALL is $5.99? Are you raising prices?

A: Yes. Next week, all of my novels are going to be changed to five or six bucks. I have a few reasons for this, which I'm happy to discuss.

When I first started doing this self-pub thing, I had no idea it would wind up being my main source of income. Back then, I priced ebooks at 99 cents because free wasn't an option. It was only when I started making serious money that I considered self-publishing as a career, rather than as a form of self-promotion.

I raised priced to $2.99 when Amazon switched to 70% royalties. Then I kicked it up to $3.99 and have been there since.

But Kindle Unlimited is changing the game. As more and more readers move to the subscription model, ebook sales are dropping. This is purely anecdotal, so I don't know if it's a widespread thing. I also don't know if the drop in sales directly corresponds with a rise in KENP royalties. My KDP income is down about 25% from last year, but that could be attributed to me not releasing a solo book in so long. Will raising ebook prices help counter that drop? Only way to know is to try.

Amazon has a Beta service called KDP Pricing Support, which recommends the sweet spot for ebook prices to maximize income. I don't know if this recommendation takes KENP into account, but it suggests $5.49 for genre ebook novels.

Also, I'm watching how Amazon is pricing their imprint titles, and seeing $5.99 - $7.99. Amazon is all about data and algorithms. Unlike the Big 5, which prices ebooks high to protect their paper oligopoly, Amazon's incentive is divided. They no doubt want to make a profit, but they also are fine with postponing profits to grow their customer base. But if Amazon truly wanted to incentivize Kindle ereader sales they'd make every A-Pub book 99 cents. Or free. Or even $3.99, as I'm currently doing.

But they seem pretty consistent with six to eight dollars for their newer releases. I can't help but feel that they know something I don't. So I'll give it a shot.

If you haven't picked up my series yet, now is the time. The first eight books are either free or under two bucks each for a limited time. Grab them before I jack up the prices.

And thanks for reading. I'd love to hear in the comments from authors who experiment with pricing, and/or with crossovers.



Great post as usual Joe. I had a beer with Eric Devine and Vincent Zandri the other night and we were discussing this very thing. Indy self published works. Love it. I've been doing it for awhile now thanks to your advice but have caught the big fish yet, as they say. I'm hoping to hook a Grade A agent soon with one of two new unpublished books Serial Disturbances and Ghostwritten. Both outside of my comfort zone but very mature and different from my usual over the top pros. I need to raise my profiler. Feel kind of like a needle in a hay stack at right now. I look forward to reading the new ones from you Joe. Best!

Christy said...

I've been noticing this with Kindle Unlimited ever since they came out with KU2 last summer. KU has always cannibalized sales, but at least readers had an incentive to purchase during bargain promotions, so they could get the audiobook for $1.99. In KU2, if they borrow the book, they can get the audiobook for $1.99, so there's never an incentive to purchase. Since I don't have the giant backlist that you do--and that you really need, nowadays, to make KU2 feasible--I noticed my income dropped 50% with KU2. I had to leave Select and go wide, to continue to make a living. Now, Amazon is only about 55% of my income. With the new KU2 rules, and with more ad blogs advertising links to distributors other than Amazon, it's actually possible to make wide work--and work better than Select, which is a first. Amazon's dip into the subscription model has left the door wide open for the other retailers to really get into the game.

Donna White Glaser said...

I'm excited to watch how layering the launches of these separate worlds works out for you. I think it's genius. I think a lot of us have felt the drop in sales and as usual, instead of bitching about it, you've come up with an innovative approach to tackling the issue. Good on you! I'm also really looking forward to reading Rum Runner--it sounds like it's based up in my neck of the woods. Northwestern Wisconsin. Hayward, maybe? I got the download of RR last night and was all Whoo hoo! A new Jack!

JA Konrath said...

Hayward, maybe?

I call it Spoonward, which is a Hayward/Spooner portmanteau. That way I can get away with stuff. :)

Joshua Simcox said...

This is where you shine. Don't wait six years to do it again.

Donna White Glaser said...

Nice. That's a lovely area. Can't wait to read it.

ABEhrhardt said...

I am encouraged to see your pricing comments; I think readers will be okay with paying a reasonable amount for your books - and other books - if they get the value of a good story. And I've been perturbed by the race to make everything so inexpensive there's no margin of safety.

A $5.49 recommendation from the Amazon pricing beta service sounds quite reasonable - I followed the steps and got a 2.99 recommendation for my (one) novel; it must be at least partly based on comps and sales - that seems way too low for me.

Meanwhile, the most important career move still seems to be 'write more books.'

Thanks for the information and the advice and your example.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Being a long time comic book geek, I absolutely love Crossovers. Since the Griffin and Price series I write is already a collaboration with another author, James A. Moore, we've been experimenting with crossing over some of our other characters, like Jim's monster hunter Jonathan Crowley with my Occult Detective, Carter Decamp. Jim and I are currently working with half a dozen other horror writers on a big round robin crossover of a slew of occult detective types. And of course, because of your Kindle World, I was able to have my private eye Wade Griffin meet Jack Daniels in VIRGIN ZOMBIE. I want to write another Konrath Kindle World story soon, when I get a little time. So yeah, love crossovers.

Kriley said...

Glad to see a new blog post, especially one this informative. I love the crossover ideas and releasing so many works at once. Good luck with all of them!

Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of novellas and love that they are more possible now. It means I can read a whole story and not have my whole day disappear. A lot of my stories end up being novella length too, so that's nice for me. The idea of crossing over in novels sounds cool. I hadn't thought about doing it with books.

Unknown said...

Cool info on pricing. I'm in DC and have been attending Robin Sullivan's Meetup seminars. She'll be interested in your change of pricing strategy since she mentioned how you had been so insistent on the lower pricing in the past.

Long time lurker, first time (I think) commenter. Thank you for all the great info here!

Unknown said...

Just got my copy of Rum Runner, which I will read as soon as I am finished the paperback I started earlier today.

Looking forward also to the sequels to Origin and The List.

Keep up the great work!

Joe Flynn said...

Thanks for the tip on KDP pricing support. I'll be checking that soon. I feel comfortable keeping my longer novels at 4.99 but if readers are OK with 5.99, I wouldn't want to leave money on the table. For the last six months, page reads have been my primary revenue stream, and overall revenue has been better than ever.

Jill James said...

As always, great information to make wise decisions in this business. Thanks!

Mark Terry said...

Yeah, yeah, yeah, still on my agenda for this year. Going well. I'm kicking myself.

D. C. Chester said...

"When I like an author, I want to read as much as I can by that author."

My hippie aunt introduced me to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. in 1972. After reading "Breakfast of Champions" I tracked down everything I could find from Vonnegut.

As for Dr. A... Found "Nine Tomorrows" and then spent about a bazillion years tracking down everything Asimov.

Binge reading works for me.


C.J. Carella said...

(Just got Rum Runner via KU, btw).

I have done a lot of price experimentation. Currently offering full-lenght (100,000+ words) novel at $3.99, any novels shorter than that at $2.99, and short-story to novella lengh at $0.99. I might try a higher price point in the future, but right now I'm worried about messing with a good thing. And I'm finding that deep discounts still work when trying to grow an audience.

I released my last novel for an introductory $0.99 price for 12 days. It was the first of a new series/genre, and wanted to use the discount marketing websites like AwesomeGang and Fussy Librarian to promote the book release. Not sure how or why, but it was a huge success. I sold over 3,000 copies at the promo price, and when I raised it to my customary $3.99, the high rankings helped sell another 3,000 copies the rest of that month(not counting over 2 million KENP pages read during the same period). KU accounted for well over 60% of sales, and a much higher ratio during the low-price period.

Admittedly, during the same month I also scored a Book Bub promo for my first novel (after seven attempts), so the new novel might have benefitted from that. Still I'll definitely keep releasing new novels at a low price for a week or two. I found doing it manually instead of using a Kindle Countdown Deal worked out better because my international sales (which were also at the discounted price) also shot up markedly - I ended up making more money from the UK alone than I normally did from the US in a 'normal' month.

Walter Knight said...

I did a crossover combining my "America's Galactic Foreign Legion" series with "Breaking Bad." (America's Galactic Foreign Legion - Book 21 - Breaking Very Bad) I'm told it's legal if you're work is a spoof. Maybe. There are hundreds of "Breaking Bad" spinoff products for sale on, and I doubt they all got permission.,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_.jpg

Chris Walters said...

Thanks for the great post, as usual! You have informed many of my choices in self-publishing, including releasing my first e-book, Age of Mystics, today. I can not thank you enough for the education you provide to those of us looking at our options.

Chris Walters

Anonymous said...

What does KENP mean?

Anonymous said...

"Only 40 Self-Published Authors are a Success, says Amazon"

How about fisking the above article?

Nicola said...

Great post. Thanks! I have decided to self-publish due to the lack of constraints on wordage. My novel falls short of the 80,000 - 90,000 word count traditional publishers want and my story is told in full under that. I have had it critiqued professionally just to make sure I wasn't missing anything - I wasn't. It is now with an editor and I am really excited to get it finished and on the market for readers by the end of the year. Hopefully it will excite readers as much as it excited me to write it. All the best and have a great week.

William J. Thomas said...

Very interested in hearing how the price increases affect your sales. And looking forward to reading all your new releases! The rock star? It's either Elvis Costello or Chris Isaak.

C.J. Carella said...

>> Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Only 40 Self-Published Authors are a Success, says Amazon"

How about fisking the above article?<<

I don't think it deserves a fisking, honestly.

Just off the top of my head, the Amazon Kindle All Stars pays prizes to their top 100 KU authors based on pages read. To get to the _bottom_ of the list, you need to have about 2.5 million pages read, which amounts to $10,000-12,000 in earnings, depending on the per-page payout on a given month. That means a hundred people are making at least $10,000 a month, which may not be Stephen King money but certainly well above the median income in the US. And that's the top hundred among people enrolled in the KDP Select program. So, actually, there are a lot more than 40 people 'making it' in self-publishing. The author seems to think there are 40 people selling 200,000+ copies a year and then people selling a couple hundred books a year, and nobody in between.

Anthony Bergs said...

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