Thursday, March 31, 2011

Guest Post by Scott Nicholson

Scott Nicholson is launching his new thriller Liquid Fear today. He’s also giving away a $100 gift certificate on participating blogs if he hits the Top 100. Buy it at Amazon,, and Smashwords because it’s okay to forget your nightmares for a while or pop by Haunted Computer)

Good Cop, Bad Cop
by Scott Nicholson

I freely admit Joe has been an influence on my decision to enter the self-publishing world (or indie, or, hell, call it “vanity” if you want, I’m vain enough), and I’ve been a frequent visitor here, even though I disagree with Joe on some big points—particularly the rosy eternal-expansion model of six-figure incomes for indie writers.

I haven’t been around as much for the simple reason that Joe is mostly making the case why authors should do it themselves, and I was sold by last summer. Now, with Barry Eisler turning down half a million clams, I think we’re kind of past that debate. That’s about all the evidence most writers will need, because most writers will never reach that level. I mean, like 99.9999 percent of all writers.

Read their recent discussion if you haven’t yet (this interview needs a name, it’s like a bookmark of literary history—let’s call it The Summit), and Dean Wesley Smith makes a good counterpoint, though I am not fully sold on the positions of either. Dean, in particular, seems to think bookstores will remain valid for the next decade or two, whereas I foresee a collapse on the order of what happened to video and record stores.

In our little college town of 15,000 students and about 10,000 full-time residents, we had seven video stores and four record stores five years ago. Today, all we have is Blockbuster, which is a chain on the ropes, and one niche store that combines videos, books, albums, and CD’s, eclectic art for the discerning college hippie. Ironically, we have one other “record” store—and all it sells is classic vinyl albums, mostly on eBay. I think that’s the Bookstore Future—towns might have one weird shop that thrives on nostalgia and the personal touch. We do have a neat indie bookstore owned by former M*A*S*H writer Karen Hall, but it recently cleared away a section to put in a yarn store, not a good sign of the health of paper sales in spite of our recent Waldenbooks closing.

Since Joe, Barry, and Dean already made the point that the time to self-publish was yesterday, I’ll deal with some possible seismic shifts that would concern me if I was set on any specific outcome of the digital revolution. In fact, I was a lot more cynical about the future before I read The Summit, and if Barry has enough faith to walk away from enough money to keep a sensible family secure for life, there must be aspects I have been downplaying or over-inflating. My mantra in my wiser middle age is “Universal truth is nothing but a personal perspective inflated to a wish.”

I’m not sold on the “legacy” label Barry uses for traditional publishing, because my dictionary doesn’t have any definitions to justify it. But “traditional” doesn’t work, either. Which tradition are you talking about? Monks transcribing with quills? Hand-pressed books in the Gutenberg era? The 19th and early 20th Centuries when editors actually helped craft books and build careers? The 1950s through the 1980s, when run-of-the-mill paperbacks would sell 100,000 copies? Last year, when publishers made a number of major, major miscalculations (the Apple bet being the biggest blunder)?

I stick with the term “corporate publishing,” because every single decision will come down to the presumed well-being of shareholders and executives, not you, whether you are a reader or a writer.

We could do this all day, but I don’t want to write 13,000 words that I’m not selling. So I will play some Good Cop, Bad Cop of the Digital Future, and Joe will chime in with his 2 cents.

Good Cop: Joe foresees eternal expansion. He brings up Dark Side of the Moon, selling like crazy today after charting an incredible 736 weeks since its 1973 release, falling off, and then returning to the charts for another decade or so.

Bad Cop: The immortal Eric Weissberg topped the charts the week Dark Side launched. Trivia-question answers like Deodato, Dr. Hook, Anne Murray, Jermaine Jackson, and Edward Bear rounded out the Top 10.

Verdict: A few e-books will sell steadily for the life of copyright; almost all will not.

Joe sez: As I often say, forever is a long time to find an audience. There are few record stores left, and Best Buy probably doesn't sell Dr. Hook. But iTunes still does, and the good Doctor is still making royalties. What the hell was he a doctor of, anyway?

BTW, this from Barry, via Wikipedia:

"A legacy system is an old method, technology, computer system, or application program that continues to be used, typically because it still functions for the users' needs, even though newer technology or more efficient methods of performing a task are now available."

Good Cop: Low-priced e-books will mean more people hoarding and reading more authors and more genres than ever, especially at 99 cents.

Bad Cop: 99 cents is great if you are selling in the six figures on multiple books. Otherwise, you are likely to use up your audience and still be looking for a job.

Verdict: A mix of prices and a broad platform will enhance your survival, because there are multiple audiences, not one single audience. Some want 99 cents, some equate it with crap, some do nothing but cruise for free books, and others like that stamp of corporate approval and are willing to pay for it.

Joe sez: Your best bet is to keep writing good books, keep posting them, and don't be afraid to experiment with pricing. Remember, success always involves luck. But you can improve your odds by being talented, smart, and persistent.

Good Cop: Corporate pricing has opened an incredible window of opportunity for authors who can compete with lower prices and equal quality.

Bad Cop: Most books are not of equal quality, and New York hasn’t even begun to compete—when they do, they can trim their staffs and go to war with a monstrous catalog of hoarded, cheap, and possibly stolen backlist. See Brian Keene’s experiences with Leisure/Dorchester if you don’t believe me.

Verdict: At some point, corporate publishers may organize enough to muscle in with economies of scale. “At some point” will likely be far too late for them and their poor authors who are locked into pitiful royalty rates virtually forever.

Joe sez: I don't believe that legacy publishers, as they now exist, can survive selling cheap ebooks as their main source of income. If they do downsize and start epubbing exclusively, they can expect a slew of lawsuits from writers who want their rights back after going out of print. Leisure is an important case study. Not to be mean, but they were always the low man on the publishing totem pole. When the bottom feeders can no longer make money, how can the bigger companies with much greater overhead?

Good Cop: E-book lending will help books reach potential new readers and expand the writer’s customer base.

Bad Cop: There are already sites illegally “selling” the “lending” rights, which means not only new readers, but new readers who don’t mind ripping you off.

Verdict: As with piracy, the main victims will be overpriced corporate books.

Joe sez: Agreed. Diffuse piracy by offering your ebooks at low prices, in a wide variety of formats. It's all about cost and convenience.

Good Cop: Agents are cruising the Kindle bestseller list and sharking the 99-cent writers, some of whom are thrilled to finally feel legitimate after years of trying to “break in,” so there’s new opportunity.

Bad Cop: I don’t see room for corporate publishers on 99-cent books or proof that those books will sell for significantly more, but I see easy paydays for lazy agents, bad return-on-investment for shareholders, and future lament for authors who make ego decisions instead of business decisions.

Verdict: Remember Boyd Morrison? He lost a ton of e-book audience but has expressed peace with his decision because he knew what he wanted—the hardcover deal. D.B. Henson went big because she wanted to pay off her house. Amanda Hocking plans to pursue both avenues. Some will win, some will lose, like always.

And this is all the proof you need that New York is not looking for quality. Nobody is sitting around reading slush in hopes of finding that great new literary talent (despite what agents say on Twitter when they are busy not reading your submissions.) Good books are largely interchangeable, and this is clearly explained in The Summit. Barry’s gone, but they probably already have a new Barry lined up. Not the same talent, of course, but there’s somebody out there whose agent saw the opening and made a convincing case for a good-looking, charming writer of intelligent, well-crafted thrillers.

No, get it out of your heads that quality is the defining attribute in corporate publishing. Only sales matter. Sales and numbers will always be the most important issue to shareholders. And, remember, it is shareholders who are the boss, not readers or writers or editors or distributors or bookstore owners or agents, despite how some of them act.

Joe sez: Education, research, and experimentation can help you make wise decisions. If an agent comes calling, know what questions to ask. If you don't know what those questions are, you aren't ready to enter the legacy world.

Good Cop: Amazon’s dominance of the e-book market is wonderful because they have been so considerate of writers.

Bad Cop: The royalty structure was designed to lure “real authors” away from publishers and make a joke of the agency model, not “lift up” the value of indie books to $2.99. And they could be working on a switch to a Netflix-type subscription model, as they did with their Prime accounts for movies. Or they could cut royalties to 20 percent after they bankrupt a bunch of publishers.

Verdict: This is about as incredible an opportunity as you could ask for, short of constantly selling content from your own site at full price, but given the complicated system required for that, Amazon is well worth the 30 percent and even the 65 percent. But Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo have been working hard to secure their foundations, which is a good buffer against draconian royalty cuts (remember shareholders?). Worry about the future when the future gets here, and do what’s best for you right now.

Joe sez: Agreed. But there's a long way to go before it gets as bad as the 17.5% currently offered by legacy publishers.

Good Cop: The 99-cent e-book sells well and stimulates algorithms that put your book in front of more potential readers.

Bad Cop: It can create a rush to the bottom, make it more difficult for higher-priced books to be seen, and build a sense of consumer entitlement in which the intrinsic value of literature is demeaned.

Verdict: Both will happen. Why should books be any different than what has happened with digital movies, music, and game apps? What’s so special about books, anyway? You can go to any thrift store in America and load up boxes of paper books at 10 cents each, and some they will pay you to haul away.

Joe sez: I'm still experimenting with pricing, but my experiments are getting me more money and more sales than if I stayed at $2.99. Like it or not, 99 cent ebooks are a powerful weapon in an author's arsenal. Just learn how to use them correctly.

Good Cop: There’s one sweet spot for pricing and every author should do the same thing.

Bad Cop: Joe’s sweet spot was $1.99, went to $2.99, flirted with 99 cents, and now seems to be $2.99 again. Guess what? Most of that was defined by Amazon, not Joe (except his influential original pricing). If there was a 90 percent royalty at $3.99, I’d bet that would be his new sweet spot.

Verdict: Don’t worry about what’s best for Joe or for John Locke or for Michael Sullivan or for me (although I have books from 99 cents to $9.99, because I believe there are multiple audiences I don’t want to miss). Try different mixes and see what works best. Your own data will always be the most reliable.

Joe sez: Amen to that.

Good Cop: Joe and Barry are established veterans well-versed in the industry, so their path is good enough for me. I’m convinced.

Bad Cop: Barry walked away from half a million dollars. Joe turned down multiple book offers of guaranteed money. Almost everyone (who wasn’t paying attention to the publishing industry) would call that “dumb.”

Verdict: They both made the right moves, for them, at the right times. But you’re not them. You probably don’t have a huge audience and a solid backlist. Find out what is the right move for you—I hear there are some slots opening in New York.

Joe sez: If you write and release a solid backlist, I like your chances at finding that huge audience. At the very least, you have a better chance on your own than you would going through a legacy publisher.

Consider that I've worked with major publishers and have been given major releases, and in eight years I've sold a few hundred thousand books.

Last month, I sold 60,000 books on my own. I don't know too many legacy authors selling that many.

Good Cop: With the mainstream and well-publicized success of Amanda Hocking and John Locke (and J.A. Konrath before the trade press blacklisted him), “indie publishing” is now legitimate.

Bad Cop: There’s more crap than ever. Last year, I could upload my book and be #3 in the Smashwords queue. I uploaded a book yesterday and it was #1,249 in the queue. Clearly, not all of that is corporate quality, or even legible quality, and it will be harder to separate the wheat from chaff.

Verdict: The best comparison I’ve heard is to the number of websites. Do all those other websites out there that don’t interest you even bother you? Do you even know they exist? Do you care about the NYT bestseller list or do you look at the Kindle Top 100, or just books in your favorite genre? Readers will find a way to find the books they want. And, clearly, readers are better at picking winners than New York is. That’s why New York is belatedly picking books already chosen by readers—another point that proves one book is as good as another for their purposes.

Joe sez: We're pretty good at searching for and finding what we want. Crap has always existed, and always will. But it is still easy to discover worthy media.

Good Cop: People trust a solid corporate brand like James Patterson and will stay loyal even after the tipping point.

Bad Cop: What the hell does that mean? What exactly is a “James Patterson book”? It has no defining element at all except the factory name on the cover. Put them in brown paper wrappers and Patterson would be ranked in the middle tiers of the Kindle list, especially at those outlandish prices. And I used to like Patterson, back when he was a writer.

Verdict: Some corporate authors will make the transition, some won’t. The number of writers making a living will be roughly the same, but half the names will be different. Would we have needed a Stephanie Meyer if Amanda Hocking had happened first?

Joe sez: My prediction is that the bestseller list will drastically change. It's currently fueled by print runs and widespread distribution. People buy bestselling books because they make up the majority of what is available to buy.

That will change when ebooks become dominant. Watch and see.

Good Cop: The future looks great. Expanding sales, better royalties, more markets, more diverse selection for readers, a Golden Age revival of literature, more money shifting to authors and away from corporations, a growth of new ancillary cottage industries for editing and book production, an egalitarian rise in creative entrepreneurship.

Bad Cop: The future sucks. Piracy, hack work, unedited copy., 99 cents rapidly plummeting to free, millions and millions of slush-pile e-books, hoarders discovering they already have more books than they’ll ever read, slower waves of new adopters who will read less and with more resentment because you “took away their paper books,” cut-throat corporate practices that will lead to the Wal-Martizing of literature, and few avenues for any writer to make a sustained living.

Verdict: The future is neither good nor bad. The future doesn’t care. And the future is always changing. Some of both might be true, or it all might be wrong.

Joe sez: I'm going to be very rich. And I won't be the only one.

Good Cop: Sounds good. I’m going to pull that mystery manuscript out of the trunk. Let’s go get a donut.

Bad Cop: Clichés and stereotypes are lame, buddy. But I understand, because you are “indie,” and that makes it okay, because you’re a rebel sticking it to the Man. Plus, you got rejected 700 times. Ha ha.

Good Cop: At least I can write.

Bad Cop: So can anybody with an Internet connection.

Good Cop: Must you always have the last word?

Bad Cop: I’m not bad. I’m just written that way.

Verdict: I had 700 rejections. I was accepted by a corporate publisher. At the time, it was a dream come true and the best move I could possible make. Now, it looks like the biggest mistake of my career. It could be the moves I make today will seem like mistakes in 10 years. Right now, they are working. All I ever wanted was to do this for a living, and I’m doing that, so it’s all gravy from here, even if it only lasts a year.

Joe likes numbers and data, but I am avoiding those kinds of comparisons. While useful on the business front, my spiritual path is about the destruction of ego, and clamoring about ranks and money and other comparative measures does nothing to further my journey. However, here’s a little story about a little novel.

My first book The Red Church did very well for a midlist paperback. The sell-though was an incredible 95 percent (compared to today’s standard of 50 percent or less). It was an alternate selection of the Mystery Guild Book Club, got good reviews, and managed a second printing, but then the corporate publisher was done. In their business model, it made sense to be done, because they had other books to shove in its place. In my business model, it was tragic to have the book dead for five years. I was lucky enough to get my rights back, so now I am grateful the publisher let it go out of print. In the last two months, I have earned more than the book’s original advance. And I have it for the rest of forever.

That, to me, is validation that I made the right decision. I knew it wasn’t dead. And I am so happy that it still feels fresh today and still finds a receptive audience. I hope Liquid Fear is as fortunate.

I am not wed to any specific outcome for the digital era. Worry about the future when the future gets here, and do what’s best for you right now. Indie, self, vanity, whatever—it’s best for me, because I love every single aspect of my cottage industry. I hope you do, too, because it’s much harder to be happy than to sell a million e-books. Good luck.

Joe sez: All I ever wanted to do was write for a living. That's the whole point of this blog; to help writers who also have that goal. I never wanted to be the King of Self Promotion, and never wanted to be the Poster Boy for Self Publishing. While I'm grateful for all of the attention I've gotten, and thrilled at the money I'm making, the thing that matters most to me is watching my wife laugh, cringe, cry, and smile while she's reading one of my stories.

Yes, I quote numbers and figures. But that's a means to an end.

I've already helped someone on their journey.


Every other person I help is just icing on the cake...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Origin 99¢ ebook Charity Experiment

ORIGIN, the technothriller novel I dropped the price on a weeks ago, is currently at #103 in the Kindle store.

Naturally, I'd like to crack the Top 100.

There's a charity called First Book, which buys books for children who don't have any.

If ORIGIN does indeed make it into the Top 100, I'll donate $500 to First Book.

So I'm asking you to help me out. Please spread the word, link to this blog post, buy ORIGIN, gift copies for friends, etc.

I'm curious if a concentrated push at this late stage in the game will work to get it on the list.

The novel is a cross between Jurassic Park and The Exorcist. Here's the pitch:

Thriller writer J.A. Konrath, author of the Lt. Jack Daniels series, digs into the vaults and unearths a technohorror tale from the depths of hell...

1906 - Something is discovered by workers digging the Panama Canal. Something dormant. Sinister. Very much alive.

2009 - Project Samhain. A secret underground government installation begun 103 years ago in New Mexico. The best minds in the world have been recruited to study the most amazing discovery in the history of mankind. But the century of peaceful research is about to end.


Book Description:

When linguist Andrew Dennison is yanked from his bed by the Secret Service and taken to a top secret facility in the desert , he has no idea he's been brought there to translate the words of an ancient demon.

He joins pretty but cold veterinarian Sun Jones, eccentric molecular biologist Dr. Frank Belgium, and a hodge-podge of religious, military, and science personnel to try and figure out if the creature is, indeed, Satan.

But things quickly go bad, and very soon Andy isn't just fighting for his life, but the lives of everyone on earth...

ORIGIN by J.A. Konrath
All hell is about the break loose. For real.

So if you visit this blog and are helped by it, I ask you to spread the word.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Another Talk with Ann Voss Peterson

I've collaborated with many writers, including F. Paul Wilson, Jeff Strand, Henry Perez, Tom Schreck, and Blake Crouch.

I'm currently working on a spy novel with Ann Voss Peterson. We previously co-wrote the thriller short story WILD NIGHT IS CALLING, which has sold close to a thousand copies in the past month.

Recently, Ann and I met in Google docs and hammered out a novella, featuring characters from my Jack Daniels series.

The result, a Harry McGlade story called JAILBAIT, just went live on Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords.

Here's the description:

Private detective Harry McGlade is on the prowl, looking for a one-night stand. Or, in McGlade's case, a five-minute stand.

When he finds a sexy lady at his local bar, he thinks he has a chance with her.

But she wasn't alone. There was a guy with her. A guy with a gun whom she was desperately trying to get away from.

When the local mafia becomes involved with McGlade's tryst, things start going bad.

Then they go really bad, when a baby comes into the picture. And the only one McGlade can turn to for help is his old partner, Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels.

JAILBAIT is an 11,000 word novella (about 50 pages long), written by bestselling author J.A. Konrath, and romantic suspense author Ann Voss Peterson (who has over 3 million books in print.)

It's a hysterically funny, and sometimes poignant, look at sex, relationships, pregnancy, and fatherhood. It also has guns and violence and criminals and double-crosses and twists. Ann and J.A. are confident that it will appeal to fans of mysteries, thrillers, and even romance (as long as the reader keeps tongue firmly in cheek.)

J.A. blames Ann for any depth and emotion the story has, because he feels that such sensitivity has no place in a humorous mystery.

Ann blames J.A. for the non-stop barrage of tasteless jokes, because she has much classier standards than that.

This ebook also features a brand new excerpt from FLEE, a spy novel co-written by Konrath and Peterson, which will be available on April 26.

So, in celebration of this release, I invited Ann to a quick Q & A.

Joe: Congrats on the Rita Award nomination!

Ann: Thanks, Joe! It's pretty exciting. For anyone who doesn't know, the Rita Award is the biggest award for romance fiction, like the Edgar for mystery or the Hugo for science fiction. And this year, it's being held in New York City. I'm waiting for the clothing designers to start lining up to dress me for the Awards! Okay, that's just my imagination. Speaking of imagination, let's talk about this crazy Harry McGlade novella we just wrote.

Joe: So the idea behind this story was basically to show you how to use Google docs (which I've used with Blake Crouch for Killers and Barry Eisler for our dialog).

Ann: Now wait, Joe. The spark of the idea ignited before that. It came from your blog. Someone asked if you were going to write a romance. So I challenged you, and the idea took a few strange twists from there.

Joe: I was pretty convinced we weren't going to end up writing a romance. I was also convinced that whatever we came up with wasn't going to be publishable. I thought of it more like an experiment. But then it grew into a Harry McGlade short story, and eventually a Harry McGlade novella, and I'm really pleased with the result.

You've read my Jack Daniels books. What was it like writing in that universe?

Ann: At first, it was a bit like writing fan fic, which I've actually never done. But you did give me free rein to create a few characters of my own to make Harry's life hell. Gotta say, I really enjoyed that.

Joe: The funny thing is, the story doesn't seem like a collaborative effort. It reads pretty much like one of my solo works, even though you wrote half of it.

Ann: What was it like to have someone else messing in Harry McGlade's life?

Joe: Surprisingly seamless. Having someone write for Harry and Jack was fun, and I don't think there were any false notes. You had some really funny lines that readers will probably think I wrote, which proves how good you were at mimicking my style. What did you think of Google docs for collaboration?

Ann: When we started, I really thought I would hate it. It's so contrary to the way I work. My rough drafts are ROUGH, and I never let anyone see them. I rewrite a lot to hone my story. So I was really uneasy with the idea of writing the same document at the same time. But I have to say, it grew on me. It pushed me past my obnoxious inner critic and forced me to just put words down. And I could trust that if I turned the story in a way that didn't work, you would change it in front of my eyes. In summary, it made me stretch, which is always a good thing for writers.

Joe: I'm really stuck on Google docs lately, and how much fun it is. Sort of like hanging out with another musician and starting to jam.

Because it came so easily, we wrote this sucker pretty damn quickly, and it required minimal rewrites once we finished. Do you normally write this fast?

Ann: No. I rewrite 'til the cows come home. Wait, I need to delete that cliche and come up with something better--

Joe: The cliche works fine. Now just open the door and let the cows back in.

At the end of JAILBAIT, we included another excerpt from our upcoming spy thriller FLEE. It's a different excerpt than the one in WILD NIGHT IS CALLING. What do you think of FLEE so far?

Ann: I adore FLEE. It has been such a blast to write. I think Chandler (the lead character) is me, she just lives in another dimension. Well, there might be a few other differences, too.

Or are there?

Joe: When I first met you I had a hunch you were a superspy assassin. Now that you're getting a taste of ebook self-publishing, are you planning on doing anything solo?

Ann: I have a lot of ideas, the problem is choosing which to do first. No, the biggest problem is that I'm loving writing Chandler right now, and we're talking about some sequels, and my imagination is running wild!

Joe: Chandler is such a fun character. Driven, brave, complicated, and at times really vulnerable. We just wrote a pretty steamy sex scene. Well, you wrote the bulk of it. I just added more oral.

Was it odd writing a sex scene with a partner, especially a guy?

Ann: I've never written a sex scene with anyone else before, so I guess you're my first, Joe. It actually went pretty smoothly. I suspect it would have felt a little more odd if we'd written that scene together in Google docs.

Joe: I'm thinking the next two Chandler books will be called SPREE and THREE. It would be cool to write and release them by Xmas. I think ereader sales are going to go through the roof this year. I've made over $40k this month. I can imagine, next January, making $100k a month. Isn't that crazy?

Ann: Crazy? That's fabulous! Let's get these books written!

Joe: FLEE will be available on April 26. The preorder page is now live on Amazon. If you order today, it will automatically be delivered to your Kindle or reading device the exact moment it goes live. It will also be available on B&N, Smashwords, Sony, Kobo, iPad, and in print.

If you were part of the now-ended FREE FLEE promotion, I'll email you a copy several days before the official release.

Now I'll field some questions. If anyone has questions for Ann, please post them in the comments section.

Q: How did you get Amazon to create a preorder page for you?

A: I asked nicely. Don't expect them to create one for you, though, unless you have friends who work there, and 200,000 previous ebook sales.

Q: How much is JAILBAIT?

A: We released it at $2.99, which we feel is fair considering its length.

Q: Is JAILBAIT funny?

A: If you don't laugh out loud, you're either dead or dead inside. But be warned; it's not for the easily offended.

Q: You're doing a lot of collaborations lately. Why?

A: Simple math. I can write twice as many stories with a partner as I can on my own. That means I can extend my virtual shelf space quicker, and also reach new readers through my co-writers' fans.

Plus, it's fun. I really can't express what a joy it is to work with other writers. Everyone needs to try this.

Upcoming releases include BIRDS OF PREY with Blake Crouch (a sequel to SERIAL UNCUT and KILLERS), and BURNERS with Henry Perez (A Jack Daniels/Alex Chapa novella).

Henry and I are also working on a semi-sequel to DRACULAS called MUMMIES, for a Halloween release. Also signed on for that are F. Paul Wilson and Heather Graham.

Blake and I are doing STIRRED, the final Jack Daniels book and sequel to SHAKEN, which also marks the end of his Andrew Z. Thomas (DESERT PLACES, LOCKED DOORS, BREAK YOU) horror series.

I'm also planning on writing WEREWOLVES this year with Blake, and it looks like we'll quite possibly team up on that with two other known bestsellers in the ebook world.

Q: Aren't you doing anything on your own anymore?

A: TIMECASTER SUPERSYMMETRY, the second Joe Kimball sci-fi actionfest (and sequel to TIMECASTER), and CONSUMED, the new Jack Kilborn, are on deck for later this year.

Q: What about that super-secret project you talked about with the NYT bestseller?

A: It's still super-secret. Sorry.

Q: Can I collaborate with you?

A: If your name is Stephen King, James Patterson, or Dean Koontz, yes. If any of you guys are reading this, contact me. I'll help boost your ebook sales.

Q: You haven't posted your self-pub numbers in a while.

A: As of today, March 29 at 8:17am, I've sold 53771 self-published books this month. I'll probably break 60,000 sales for March.

Q: How much money is that?

A: A shitload. The IRS is going to eat me alive.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Guest Post by Mark Coker, Creator of Smashwords

Are you an author? Have you self-pubbed on yet?

If not, you're missing out on making money.

In the past year, I've earned over $15,000 on Smashwords. And my numbers are on the rise.

Though I've have many conversations with owner Mark Coker over the years, I never asked him how he got started, and what he hopes to accomplish.

Until now...

Joe: What made you decide to create Smashwords?

Mark: Smashwords is my answer to what’s broken in Big Publishing.

The path to here was unexpected.

My wife (a former reporter for Soap Opera Weekly magazine) and I wrote a novel, Boob Tube, a roman à clef about the daytime television soap opera industry.

The book was repped by Dystel & Goderich, one of the top literary agencies in New York. Despite their great enthusiasm and effort, they were unable to sell the book after two years. Publishers questioned the commercial potential of a novel that targeted soap opera fans. Previous soap-related novels had performed poorly.

As you might imagine, after putting our lives on hold for four years to research, write, revise (and revise and revise and revise) and edit our book, we were disappointed to have publishers deny us a chance to reach readers.

The more I reflected on our predicament, the more I realized we were not alone. I imagined there were millions of other writers around the world much more talented than us who faced the same problem. I imagined the loss of thousands of literary masterpieces – cultural treasures that would never see the light of day. If you love and cherish books as I do, you can’t help but mourn the tragedy of this lost potential.

I decided Big Publishing was broken. Big Publishing is in the business of publishing what it thinks it can sell, not what is good. Big Publishers operate in the rear view mirror. They try to acquire books similar to what was selling yesterday, and then they release the book in 12-18 months.

“Commercial potential” is a myopic, misguided and ultimately destructive prism through which to measure a book’s value. Never mind that publishers, despite their best effort, can’t accurately predict which books will become hits. Readers decide that.

Big Publishing is unable to take a risk on every author, and as a result they say no to books readers would want to buy.

I decided the world needed a new approach to publishing, one that was faster, cheaper and more democratized. I realized there was an opportunity to solve this problem with technology.

My background here in Silicon Valley is in technology marketing. Over my last 20 years, I’ve come to appreciate what happens when technology collides with ossified industries and business models. Technology hits like a wind-driven fire through an overgrown forest. The impact is sudden and traumatic, but from the ashes sprouts healthier and more vibrant ecosystems.

My idea was simple. Wouldn’t it be cool, I imagined, if I could create an online publishing platform that would give any author, anywhere in the world, the freedom to publish what they want? I’d give readers the freedom to curate the books. And I’d turn the compensation model upside down so authors became the primary economic beneficiaries of their work.

This is what we created with Smashwords. We put the printing press online, and made it freely available to anyone as a self-serve tool. Smashwords allows me to take a risk on every author.

Joe: What drives you to stay on this path?

Mark: I’m on a mission to turn publishing upside down. Big Publishing was squandering the future of books. Their practices limited book availability, encouraged high prices to consumers, fostered lower quality celebrity books, reduced diversity, and failed to adequately compensate authors. Most importantly, readers were denied access to the diverse riches of authors’ minds.

I’m also an entrepreneur. I’ve always been drawn to startups that have the power to effect positive social change. With Smashwords, I see an opportunity to create a large, valuable business that generates significant social and economic value for our authors, publishers, readers, and retail partners.

Joe: Are ebooks going to become the dominant format for books? If so, how long will it take until it happens?

Mark: Indie authors are a leading indicator of where publishing is going. Ebooks already outsell print for most indie authors. Brick and mortar bookstores are in decline, and this is both a cause and a result of the move to online book buying, among other factors. When book shelves go virtual, the playing field between big publisher and indie author is leveled. Actually, I’d go one step further and say that the move to indie ebooks actually tilts the playing field to the author’s advantage. Big Publishing can’t compete against indie ebooks because their expenses are too high and production schedules too slow.

To appreciate the dramatic growth of ebooks, the numbers from the Association of American Publishers provide a useful point of reference. According to the AAP, ebooks as a percentage of overall trade book sales in the US reached about 8% in 2010, up from 3% in 2009, 1% in 2008, and ½ of 1% in 2007. Yet these numbers dramatically understate what’s really happening.

The AAP numbers reflect what the 12-14 large publishers who contribute to the data are doing with ebooks, but the data doesn’t capture small presses and indie authors. The numbers also don’t reflect unit volume. Since ebooks are priced less than print, the unit market share for ebooks is greater than the revenue numbers would indicate.

Large independent publishers like Sourcebooks that have embraced ebooks are already seeing 1/3 of their revenues coming from ebooks. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sourcebooks begins deriving over 50% of their unit volume from ebooks with the next nine months.

Joe: Whenever I upload a new title to Smashwords, I'm put in a queue that is often several hundred titles long. How many ebooks does Smashwords now publish, and how many do you think it will have published five years from now based on current trends?

Mark: We reached a new milestone last week: We now publish over 40,000 books, and we released 5,300 of them in the last 30 days. In 2008, our first year in business, we published 140 books. By 2009, we reached 6,000. By the end of 2010, we were at 28,500. We’re on track to reach 75,000 books by the end of this year, which means we’ll almost double in nine months what took us three years. Within five years, who knows. 250,000? 500,000? I’m hesitant to guess. We’ve been doing this for three years now and I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of the possible.

Our Meatgrinder conversion engine burns red hot 24 hours a day. Not only are we converting these 5,000+ new titles a month into nine different ebook formats, we’re also converting a multiple of that for our 16,000+ authors who are constantly upgrading their existing Smashwords books with better formatting, better book cover images and other tweaks. A couple years ago, most Smashwords authors would get full multi-format conversions in 5-10 minutes from upload. Today, the queue is running 5-7 hours.

It’s ironic how author expectations have changed with the advent of ebooks. We’ve gone from a world where authors were previously content waiting years for their book to appear in print to today where a 5 hour wait is unacceptable. And I agree! We have a plan to scale our conversions systems so we can get back under 10 minutes.

Joe: Can the Big 6 save themselves?

Mark: The era of Big Publishing is over. I wrote the other week at the Smashwords blog about the imminent author uprising against Big Publishing. Some authors are beginning to realize that much of what they were taught about the path to authorship is a myth. The rules have changed.

Many writers today still cling to this old idea that they’re not a real author until they’ve been blessed by the Holy Father of Big Publishing. Screw that. Why should authors subject themselves to this false religion of Big Publishing? Big Publishing as we know it is dead.

Sure, some of the Big 6 will survive, but they’ll do it by getting smaller or consolidating. Their expense structures are unsustainably high. Manhattan sky rise rents add absolutely no value to a book, only expense.

Ebooks, led by indie authors and mainstream author defections to indie, will accelerate the demise of Big Publishing. Authors are already asking, “what can a publisher do for me that I can’t do for myself.” The next big questions is, “Will a big publisher limit my success as an author?” You’ve answered that question for months here on your blog. It’s a question Big Publishers don’t want their authors asking, because the answer reveals the mirage of Big Publishing.

Big Publishing was built on a model of scarcity. They controlled the printing press, they controlled access to distribution, and they limited supply. In the old print world, if a writer wanted to reach a lot of readers, they had to bow subservient upon the altar of Big Publishing.

What a difference a few years make. Thanks to the Internet, self-publishing and ebooks, the tools to publish and distribute have become fully democratized.

Authors can publish directly to their readers with self-published ebooks. Every major ebook retailer wants to carry self-published ebooks, and Smashwords is a primary enabler of this. The retailers are smart. They realize their customers don’t care what publisher name is in on the virtual spine. It’s all about the quality of the book.

The future of publishing belongs to authors, though I still see great opportunity for agents and publishers.

The opportunity for agents is to help the most commercially successful authors – traditional and indie– become even more successful. Agents will help the biggest authors navigate these dual worlds of traditional and indie – worlds that can coexist.

The opportunity for publishers is to more cost effectively do for authors what authors cannot or will not do for themselves. Just because an author has the power to be their own editor, book doctor, cover designer, production department, printer, distributor, sales force, marketer and accounting department, doesn’t mean they should assume all these roles. We’re already seeing the emergence of publishing service providers who specialize in these tasks above. Smashwords is obviously an example on the distribution side.

So in other words, the publishing professionals now working at the Big 6 still have a very bright future. There will be more authors and books published than ever before, and these authors will partner with professionals who can assist their success.

Joe: I talk numbers all the time. I regularly give complete strangers access to my personal finances. I never expect the same from anyone else, but I gotta ask: has Smashwords begun turning a profit for you?

Mark: Smashwords turned modestly profitable six months ago, and we’ve been running profitable ever since. This was a big milestone for us because it means we’ve created a sustainable company with lasting value.

We did this without taking outside investment and without charging upfront fees for services. We’re reinvesting the profits back into the business by adding staff and scaling our technical infrastructure so we can better serve our authors, publishers and retailer partners. For 2011, we’ll run it at just above break-even. I don’t earn a salary yet. Maybe next year.

Joe: You have competitors. Scribd. Overdrive. Google Books. Nook and Kindle take a portion of your potential sales. What are you doing to make Smashwords a Brand, rather than a Distributor? And what do you think of your competition?

Mark: Smashwords is an ebook distributor, so I want Smashwords to become the largest, best and most trusted brand in ebook distribution. I recognize there’s a knee-jerk inclination among some authors who are inclined to disintermediate the distributor. I believe in distribution.

I wake up every morning asking myself how I’d compete against Smashwords, and then I go to work to turn Smashwords into that business. There’s no room for complacency. I’m seeing more and more competitors coming on the scene. Like a poorly plotted book, most will fade away before you ever hear about them because they fail to appreciate the expense, technical complexity, and secret sauce that goes into creating what we’ve created. It’s not easy to make money in this business. The margins are slim.

Our most formidable competitors are the direct publishing platforms operated by the retailers such as Amazon’s KDP, B&N’s Pubit and Apple’s iTunes Connect.

Our opportunity, and our challenge, boils down to a simple question: Are we adding value by serving the interests of authors, publishers, readers and retailers?

For readers, our opportunity is to make books they want to read available and discoverable.

For authors and publishers, our opportunity is to help them maximize their distribution reach while minimizing the time, effort and expense of achieving that distribution. At Smashwords, you format a file once, upload it, then we distribute it the major retailers. We offer centralized control over metadata and pricing, and we aggregate sales reporting and payments from one centralized console. For this distribution service, our commission is only 10% of the retail sales price. I think over the long term, more self-published authors and publishers will realize it’s smarter to outsource distribution than build and manage their own distribution infrastructure.

For retailers, our opportunity is make Smashwords-sourced ebooks higher quality, better-vetted and more profitable for them than ebooks sourced from their own publishing platforms. Take Apple for example. Apple earns a 30% commission on every sale, whether that book comes from their own platform or from one of their authorized aggregators like Smashwords. Although Apple operates their own platform, they actively encourage authors and publishers to work with aggregators because we add value for both the author/publisher and Apple. Same thing with our retail partners Sony and Diesel (where we help power their publishing platforms) and Kobo. A Smashwords book is more profitable to a retailer than one sourced from their own platform.

If we can make ebooks more profitable for authors and retailers, we have a place in the future ebook ecosystem.

I don’t view Scribd as a competitor. I view them as a great potential partner for us. They’ve created a very cool social reading platform, and someday you might see us distributing our books to them.

Overdrive is not yet a big player in our niche of serving indie authors and small presses. They might become more of a competitor in the future. I’ll do my best to make this an unprofitable niche for them or any other potential competitor. Have I mentioned I’m competitive?

Google: I’m perplexed by them. I’d love to support them and distribute to them, but to date they’ve refused to treat indie authors with the same respect as does Apple, B&N, Sony and Kobo. Unlike their competitors, Google is reluctant to give Smashwords authors and publishers agency or agency-like terms. That’s a deal-breaker for us. We’ve got over 30,000 books ready to ship to Google the moment they give us a green light. Same thing with Amazon.

Joe: I think you’re one of the coolest, most dynamic personalities in the current publishing climate, and I’m regularly impressed with all you continue to accomplish. What continues to motivate you?

Mark: Wow, Joe, I think the same of you. The revolution motivates me. 16,000 authors and publishers have entrusted their precious babies to Smashwords, so I don’t want to let them down. I’m committed to accomplishing good things for our authors, publishers, readers and retail partners.

The Smashwords people see today is the not the Smashwords they’ll see next month or next year. We’re constantly evolving. We have a very aggressive roadmap. Our mission will remain the same, but our ability to accomplish the mission and serve our authors, publishers and partners will only increase.

Joe: You (tragically) die tomorrow, and are tasked with writing your own epitaph. What do you say?

Mark: Thank you for that “(tragically)” part. Leave it to the mind of a horror writer. Next thing I know, you’ll start imagining my mangled body pulled from the gears of a Big 6 printing press. In a true soap opera twist, however, at the end of the story the mangled meat is revealed to be that of someone (or something?) else.

How about, “Dang it, I wasn’t done yet! To Lesleyann, my wife, I love you more than I’ve ever loved another person. To my family and many friends, thank you for believing in me. Your love, trust and confidence helped me achieve my wildest dreams. I hope I helped you realize some of your dreams as well. Sorry about my tragic unexpected departure. It was not part of my plan. Dream on.”

Friday, March 25, 2011

Depression and Writers

I get a lot of email, and though I try to read it all, I can't reply to everyone.

Here's one I replied to, reprinted with the author's permission.

It think it's important for reasons I'll disclose afterward.

So here's Kiana Davenport...

"Dear Joe Konrath...this may never reach you. You must have millions of fans. Nonetheless, I need to write and express my gratitude to you.

My last three novels were pretty good sellers. Scribners, Ballantine, you know the drill. A few years ago, sales dropped drastically, no more royalties, the recession hit and I started living on my meager savings. Other than that all I own are 3 acres of land here, which in this market no one wants to buy. I don't even own a house.

I studied Creative Writing at university, but for years I was a fashion model in NYC, lived it up and never saved a dime. Then I went back to writing, prepared to scale down and live modestly. But as you know, things got even worse with the economy. It took me four years to write the most recent novel for which a NY publisher offered me less than HALF my previous advance. A depressing figure, to be paid out in fourths through 2013! By then I could be dead, and it won't even pay my bills. I was so desperate I accepted. Now I have to wait another year for the book to be published.

Agents and editors were admitting we're in a 'dying industry.' With dwindling publishers, rock-bottom advances, I didn't see any reason to write anymore, which is what I LIVE for.

Unemployment is staggering here, I couldn't find a job. I sold my good clothes and jewelry, made out a will leaving the land to my daughter. I felt I'd rather die than scrape and starve. (I'm a good swimmer, I'm half Hawaiian, I know how to swim to exhaustion, then unconsciousness.) If I couldn't make a living at what I love to do - publishers and bookstores folding left and right - I felt I'd rather pack it in. I was dead serious, I've never been afraid to die. Its a Hawaiian thing - we always have one foot in the other world.

At first friends thought I was kidding, but then they saw me making plans, they watched me begin to withdraw. Then one day a friend came to my house and said two words. "JOE KONRATH." That's what she said. "This man is going to save your life."

I had never heard of you. She forced me then and there to sit down and start reading your blogs.

I read for two days straight.

You were my epiphany. You were telling me there was life beyond print publishing. In fact a WHOLE NEW WORLD in digital. You led me to the revolution. I started reading your books. So far I have loved SHOT OF TEQUILA and TRUCK STOP. They're tough, fast-paced and humorous, and now and then poetic. I'm still reading.

Most importantly, within one month, following your example, I had uploaded onto Kindle my first indie ebook, HOUSE OF SKIN - PRIZE-WINNING STORIES by Kiana Davenport. All the stories I could never get published in NY as a collection. I kept my price low as you suggested, $1.99. Reader reviews have all been 5 stars.

Its selling well. I may never be a bestseller like you, but I am a HAPPY WRITER AGAIN. In fact, I'm ecstatic. My book is mine. My cover is mine. I can write what I feel, not what a publisher demands. I'm now working on my second collection of stories and a new novel. I am digital for life!

Joe, I hope you can go to Kindle and check out HOUSE OF SKIN...I owe it all to you. I kid you not, you saved my life. I am your fan, and have never said that to anyone, not even Norman Mailer. I read everything you write, I take your advice. I thought your recent interview with Barry Eisler was brilliant, shocking and prophetic as hell. I have recommended it to everyone, everywhere, Facebook, Twitter, etc. I'm just building a website and will highly recommend you there as well.

Again, I want to say a million Mahalos! Thanks! For giving me back my deep joy in writing, and my life. I so glad I didn't take that swim. With my alohas from Hawai'i..."

Joe sez: Well, first of all, I'm not deserving of her gratitude. I'm just a writer sharing what I've learned, which is something we all should be doing. I don't have millions of fans, and though she said kind things about my writing, having bought and read a few selections in HOUSE OF SKIN she's much better than I am.

And of course I didn't actually save her life. Kiana did that all by herself. It's a nice thing for her to say, but it was her own inner strength that kept her going, not the stuff I blog about.

As you might expect, I was humbled, touched, and ultimately concerned by this letter. Artists by nature are temperamental, and depression is common in this business.

When Hyperion dropped my Jack Daniels series, I was pretty much a mess. I'd worked like a dog to make sure those books sold. And they were selling. Still are. But I was counting on that next advance to feed my family, and when it didn't come I felt devastated. Worthless. Helpless. It made no sense (still doesn't) and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it.

There are few worse feelings than trying your best and it not being enough.

I wound up getting another contract a few months later, for much less money. And I kept a brave face in public, downplaying how badly I felt.

I know for a fact I wasn't the only one who had to go through something like that.

Over the years, I've lost count of the conversations I've had with writers who had similar experiences to Kiana and me. Tales of rejection. Of bad luck and stupid publisher decisions. Of getting the shit end of the stick, over and over and over.

It got me thinking. For every writer popping open the champagne because they just got a new deal, there are dozens who have gotten screwed. And no doubt some of them thought about swimming out to sea. While my depression never got that severe, I certainly wouldn't want to relive those dark, depressing, frightening months without a publishing contract.

But I never have to feel that way again. None of us do. We don't have to rely on a gatekeeper's "yes" or "no" to dictate how we feel about ourselves. We don't have to put all of our eggs into the legacy publishing basket anymore. Hell, we don't have to put any eggs in there at all.

For the first time ever, writers have a choice.

Choices are empowering. Having the ability to control our futures, even with something as simple as self-publishing an ebook, means we aren't helpless anymore.

That's a very good thing.

Kiana's latest advance for her upcoming novel is a shame. And though she says her self-pubbed ebook collection is selling well, her current rank is so-so.

HOUSE OF SKIN is $1.99. I already bought a copy.

I'm asking you to buy a copy as well.

Let's see how low we can get her Amazon ranking. Right now it's #134,555.

I'd really like to see it crack the Top 1000.

Help me spread the word.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Interview With My Print Book Creator Cheryl Perez

"Ebooks will replace print! Print is dead!"

Lots of people attribute that quote, and that perspective, to me.

They're mistaken. I've never said that, and don't believe it.

Print will always be around. It just won't be the dominant reading format anymore. Ebooks will.

That's not to be said there still isn't money to be made in print.

Now, I don't believe signing a legacy deal is a smart thing to do. They can certainly exploit your print rights better than you can on your own, but as print accounts for a smaller and smaller portion of the market, and as more readers gobble up ebooks, it makes no sense to sign a deal for what will ultimately become a subsidiary right.

But that doesn't mean you're ebooks shouldn't be in print. They should.

I use for this. So far this month (March 23 at 6:00am) I've made $2531 on my print versions of my ebooks. That averages out to over $41,000 a year.

I price these 9" x 6" trade paperbacks at $13.95, and on each Amazon sale I earn between $3 and $5.

On bookstore sales (these books can be ordered by bookstores and libraries) I earn between $1 and $2--which is about the same royalty rate I'd make on a trade paperback with a legacy publisher.

I believe anyone who has an ebook that is doing well should also offer a print version to fans.

The problem is, it's a huge pain in the neck. Even if you have the cover art and the manuscript formatted for Kindle, you need to re-format it as a print pdf, and create spine art and back cover art.

This isn't easy. Which is why I hire someone to do it.

Cheryl Perez has formatted and designed ten of my CreateSpace books. She just finished two more for me (Suckers and Banana Hammock) doing the interior formatting, spine art, and back cover art, for a very reasonable price. She took the cover art I already had (done by Carl Graves) and extended the design to make an entire book jacket.

So if you already have cover art and an ebook, Cheryl can do the rest.

If you've never used CreateSpace before, it is similar to Amazon's self-pubbing program for Kindle. You set up an account, add your book information, and can begin selling print copies through and other retail outlets as quickly as a few days later. CreateSpace is free to use, but I opt for the Pro Plan ($39 per book, which gives me higher royalties and lower costs if I buy copies to sell on my website.)

I asked Cheryl to do a quick Q & A, and she also said she'd hang around to answer extra questions in the comments section.

Joe: What is your design background?

Cheryl: I have been a graphic designer for more than 15 years. During that time I have created materials as vastly different as a ten-foot long trade show mural, festival posters, and full page magazine ads. I’ve designed books for smaI’ve also designed the print versions of Shot of Tequila, Jack Daniels Stories, Trapped, Origin, Endurance, as well as Shadow Walker by L.A. Banks, My Soul Fainted Within Me by Shonda, and Draculas, by Blake Crouch, Jack Kilborn, Jeff Strand, and F. Paul Wilson. I am also currently working on books for a number of other clients.

Joe: What things do authors need to be aware of if they want to use a print on demand service to publish their books?

Cheryl: There are a many book sizes available for POD, so look at trade paperbacks, and choose a size that works best for your manuscript. I don't do any editorial work. So make sure your text is ready for print, including checking your spelling, grammar, and punctuation, as well indicating obvious chapter breaks, before you submit it to be layed out.

Joe: What should writers be looking for in a book designer?

Cheryl: Someone with experience in layout and design, who understands how the final product should look. A general knowledge of publishing is also helpful. Over the past several years I've spent a great deal of time around publishing and have worked with authors is various capacities. As with any business, good communication is obviously a key. I work with the author to establish a clear sense of what they’re looking for, then keep them informed during the process of preparing their work for publication.

Joe: What are your predictions about the future of publishing?

Cheryl: I see publishing moving more and more into ebooks and print on demand. There will still be brick and mortar stores, but the retail model will shift away from the big box stores that have dominated the market for the past two decades. A majority of authors will be able to control their careers to a far greater extent than ever before. Authors who establish a presence now within the fast-expanding ebook market will have a significant advantage down the line.

Joe: How do interested authors get in touch with you?

Cheryl: You can email me through I’m pretty good about responding the same day.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Another Update on The List Experiment

From March 1 to March 16 at 3pm, my ebook The List, priced at 99 cents and fluctuating in rank between #13 and #23, earned $5647. It averaged $375 a day. It peaked at $525 a day.

During the last 57 hours, The List, priced at $2.99 and currently ranked at #39, has earned $4092. It is averaging $1723 a day.

What does this mean?

Hell if I know. There's probably a formula in it somewhere. But I'm 100% sure I'll make a lot more money in 28 days at $2.99 than I did for the 28 days it was 99 cents. However, I wouldn't be making the current figures if I hadn't priced it at 99 cents.

Am I the only one with a headache?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The List Experiment Update

On February 15 at 7:30pm, I dropped the price of my ebook The List from $2.99 to 99 cents.

It has now been that price for a month. So I'm raising the price back up to $2.99. The price change should take effect sometime tonight.

The List peaked as high as #15 on the Kindle bestseller list. It is currently at #23, and selling more than 1500 copies a day. In the 28 days it was 99 cents, it sold about 20,300 copies. It took 9 days to reach the Kindle Top 100, and has been there 20 days. Each copy sold has earned me 35 cents.

The total I earned during the 99 cent experiment was roughly $7100.

Now we'll see how long The List can stay on the Top 100, and how much I'll make in the next 28 days.

When The List hit the Top 100, I lowered the price of Shot of Tequila to 99 cents. It went from a rank of about #2400 to a rank of about #600. It turned out I was earning about the same at both ranks, so I went back to $2.99 a few days ago, and dropped the price on Disturb. Disturb was ranked around #1200. Now it's ranked at #251.

I dunno if Disturb can crack the Top 100 or not. If it doesn't by the time The List drops to #90, then I'll put it back to $2.99 and drop the price on another, better-selling ebook. I believe Origin, Endurance, or Trapped could hit the Top 100 at 99 cents.

The concept of putting items on sale has served retailers well. I'm thinking that my new sales strategy will always have one or two novels at 99 cents, and then rotate the titles monthly.

It should be fun to watch what happens for the rest of March. If The List sells 500 copies a day at $2.99 for the next seven days, I'm make as much as I did in the previous twenty-nine.

We'll see...


So I'm looking at the latest New York Times bestseller list, and their combined print and ebook bestsellers for the week ending March 5th.

John Locke and Amanda Hocking aren't on it, despite selling thousands of ebooks per day.

Neither am I.

The NYT has decided that indie book sales don't count.

On the 5th, my ebook The List was outselling Nancy C. Johnson's Her Last Letter, which did make the NYT list. Johnson is an indie (way to go Nancy!) but apparently the NYT doesn't have anyone on staff that can confirm that.

What are those people called?

Oh, yeah. Reporters.

So, am I angry at the NYT for snubbing me?

Hell, no. I'm amused.

Want to see something even more amusing?

Ain't life funny?

I'm outselling the NYT, plus I have a better star rating.

The same can be said about Slingo. And let's be honest. When it comes to integrity, Slingo also has the NYT beat.

Anyway, I don't want this blog to be about how stupid, backward, and ultimately irrelevant the NYT has become.

I don't want to waste my time raging against a dinosaur who continues to ignore the fact that the meteor has already hit the earth.

I don't need to have my name appear on a faulty, bullshit bestseller list to feel good about myself or my accomplishments, and I don't need recognition from a bunch of morons who would rather try to maintain the fading status quo than report the truth.

Instead, I would like to post a bestseller list of my own.

There are quite a few popular newspapers in the USA. Newspapers that sell many, many copies.

Here is Joe's Top 10 List of Bestselling Newspapers

1. USA Today (Arlington, Va.) 2,528,437
2. Wall Street Journal (New York, N.Y.) 2,058,342
3. Times (Los Angeles) 1,231,318
4. Post (Washington, DC) 960,684
5. Tribune (Chicago) 957,212
6. Daily News (New York, N.Y.) 795,153
7. Inquirer (Philadelphia) 705,965
8. Post/Rocky Mountain News (Denver) 704,806
9. Chronicle (Houston) 692,557
10. Post (New York, N.Y.) 691,420

I love unbiased reporting, don't you?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

1846 and 1762

One thousand eight hundred and forty-six. That's how many self-pubbed books I'm selling daily.

This is an average of the 12 days and nine hours (March 13, 9am) my books have been for sale this month.

For those who are interested in numbers, here is how the 22848 books sold breaks down:

603 books
$1457 earned

648 ebooks
$1047 earned

14485 ebooks @ 99¢ (14 titles)
$5070 earned

7014 ebooks @ $2.99 (14 titles)
$14,238 earned

Which means that so far this month I've earned $21,812.

In other words, I'm making $1762 a day, or $73.44 an hour, or $1.22 a minute, or about 2¢ a second.

If this rate stays steady, in a 365 day period I'll earn $643,130.

Of course, I don't expect this rate to stay steady. I expect it to go up. Just like it has consistently for the last two years.

Ereaders will keep coming down in price. Many more will be sold. Plus I'm going to put ten new ebook titles up by Xmas.

Certainly I can't be the only one blown away by these numbers. Especially considering the route it took to get here.

In April 2009, I made $607 self-pubbing.

In April 2010, I made $4041 self-pubbing.

For April 2011, I'll likely make $52,860.

Now, let's see how I analyzed my data last year in June.

I guessed that if I could sell 5000 ebooks a month (which I thought was doable), I'd be able to earn $120,000 a year.

I also predicted there would be more indie writers in the Top 100 (at the time, I believe I was the only one), and some would wind up do better than I'm doing.

Turns out I underestimated both how many I'd sell, and how many other writers would sell. (And it really tickles me to see my reaction 12 months ago.)

Now there seems to be a lot of worry on the world wide web about ebook prices "racing to the bottom." I'm pretty sure my latest figures contradict that, and I think the worry is based on a skewed sample.

You can't study the Top 100 ebook bestsellers on Kindle and apply those ratios to the other 900,000 Kindle ebooks for sale on Amazon. Data always falls into a bell curve. The Top 100 won't apply to the rest of the ebooks that are for sale.

I've sold over 14k ebooks for 99 cents so far this month, and have made $5k. The majority of these sales (11781) are from The List, which is currently #17 on the Top 100.

But my $2.99 backlist, while not as high profile as the Top 100 books and not selling as well, has earned me almost three times as much money as my 99 cent ebooks.

I think that's a pretty good argument for $2.99 still being a viable price point overall. It just doesn't seem to be a viable price point for cracking the Top 100.

But even then, there are a few $2.99 indie ebooks in the Top 100. And soon I'm going to raise the price of The List back to $2.99, to see what happens.

Should be interesting...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Guest Post by Zoe Winters

Years ago, Zoe Winters used to comment on my blog, objecting whenever I mentioned that self-publishing was a bad idea.

I was correct. Back then, it was a bad idea. But Zoe firmly believed I was mistaken and she dove into self-pubbing full-force, evangelizing it with a zeal normally reserved for religious fanatics. It used to annoy me a bit, because Zoe was spouting off her opinions as facts when she'd had no experience in traditional publishing, no real success at self-publishing, and no data to back up her strong opinions.

And then a funny thing happened. The landscape began to rapidly shift. Self-publishing became a viable way to make money, and Zoe was perfectly positioned to capitalize upon this.

Which she did, selling thousands and thousands of ebooks, making a nice chunk of change, and then eventually self-pubbing print and audio editions.

She's got great covers, a great website, and a great blog. And I really dug her Zoe Who? video.

So here's Zoe...

What Next?
by Zoe Winters

Joe asked me if I’d like to blog at his place, but I wanted to talk about something a little different. What I want to talk about and what excites me now is... what next?

For a lot of indies “what next” is obviously an agent and a large traditional publishing deal. I’m sure if I ever did well enough, it’s theoretically possible someone could offer me a deal large enough to take. But even as I type that I’m a little doubtful. I “really” love self-publishing. The more I do it, the more I love it.

One of the major things I’ve learned is that we are all on our own publishing journey. And we all get where we’re going at different speeds and in different ways. It’s important that wherever you are, you learn to keep your eyes on your own paper and focus on where you are and what the next step is for where you want to go. And also take the time to smell the roses and appreciate the ability to produce your own work. Because that’s something that for most of the past century has not been a very popular concept. (But something that was long overdue to make a comeback.)

If you’re focused on what someone else is doing or maintaining some imaginary status, you will lose your freaking mind. Trust me on this one. It seems totally obvious, but when you get out there it is SO hard not to get sucked into all the drama and ego and blah blah blah and comparing yourself with what everyone else is doing for good or ill.

One of the best decisions I’ve made recently is to back off the indie rah rah train. My focus should be on building my platform for romance. When people think “Zoe Winters” I’d really rather them think: “Paranormal romance author, and I think she’s indie”, not “That loud-mouthed indie author, I don’t remember what she publishes. I think it’s some romance crap or something.” And I really want to avoid: “That crazy bitch”, as the first impression.

My primary focus in life right now needs to be: “How am I going to get these two characters into bed without being totally lame about it?” It’s great that I have these epic important goals, huh? That Zoe Winters is a girl with her priorities in the right place!

Beyond focusing more on the actual fiction than the peripheral publishing debates, I’ve started to expand what I’m doing a little bit in a couple of different areas. One of them is marketing and building a stronger connection with my platform of readers.

I used to hate book trailers to the degree that you would think they had personally offended me and my momma. I think it was because I didn’t “get” what they were for. Most people seem to agree that book trailers do not sell giant numbers of books to totally new people to your work. And they’d be right. Also, they cost either an arm and a leg or a ton of time. Or both. But I think they’re great for connecting with your current readership and can be a lot of fun.

Here is the book trailer for my recent release, Save My Soul, put together for me by the amazing Michelle Davidson Argyle:

Book Trailer: Save My Soul by: Zoe Winters from Zoe Winters on Vimeo.

Another project I’ve been working on, is getting audiobooks out the door. I don’t get a lot of time to read for pleasure, but with audio I’m able to “read” while cleaning, cooking, driving, exercising. It’s really a pretty awesome way to fit stories in. Listening to audiobooks, I started to think how cool it would be to have my own work packaged that way. Initially, I thought maybe I’d sell well enough someday that I could license those rights.

I ditched that idea pretty early because I’d have little or no say over who did the narration. Having listened to so many audio books, I am pretty particular about who reads to me. And having listened to James Marsters narrate the Dresden Files, and Jim Frangione narrate J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, I’m pretty hung up on male voices reading to me for the most part.

Instead of trying to license those rights to an audiobook publisher, I decided to go to an audiobook production company that works with indies, Perfect Voices. They will produce, edit, and distribute the audio, while I get a much larger cut of the proceeds than I’d get going traditionally.

I got 10 great auditions and chose Chet Williamson, who I absolutely adore. His comedic and dramatic timing is great. His pacing is great. Some of his interpretation of the text and characters is better than it played in my head, which makes me look like a more awesome writer than I am. And that’s always good. So I’m very excited about this new audio frontier.

This is the result:

And that was way more verbiage than you probably wanted about what I’m up to. I’d like to eventually do well enough that I could do limited edition signed and numbered hardcovers. I love the idea of putting together a hardcover that is so well-done that it goes back to “bookmaking as an art”. I think I need a much stronger and larger platform to make that viable, but it’s definitely on the list of stuff I’m hoping to do some day in the future.

And, of course, if you happen to read paranormal romance you can find the latest book, Save My Soul at Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords.

Thanks for reading!

Joe sez: One of the things I like about Zoe is that her product--books, website, blog, trailers--is indistinguishable from what the Big 6 are doing. She doesn't look like an indie author. Not one bit. The effort she's put into her writing career is impressive, and something all of us should strive for.

She's also making it her goal to write 365,000 words this year. That kind of commitment marks her as a pure professional. And in this current Gold Rush ebook climate, I'm betting it will pay off for her.

I'm actually doing a (gasp) book signing today in Peru, IL at the Waldenbooks in the mall, from 2pm-3pm with Henry Perez, so I won't be around. (I know, I said I wasn't doing any more signings, but this is a favor to my bookseller buddy Greg Swanson.)

But I've asked Zoe to stop by and answer any questions anyone might have. I'm sure she can hold down the fort in my absence.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Guest Post by Selena Blake

I asked Selena Blake to do a guest post back in January, and she did, but I haven't had a chance to post it until now. At the end of her post there's an update on her sales figures.

The Times They Are A-Changin'
By Selena Blake

Like so many authors, I’ve been reading Joe’s blog with a great deal of fascination. And dare I say, skepticism. For six months now I’ve wondered if Joe was for real or just pulling my leg. In my defense, you know what they say about something that sounds too good to be true.

At the same time, I was hopeful that his success wasn’t a solitary event and that his background in traditional publishing wasn’t solely responsible for his current success.

I've been in the publishing industry for over ten years now. A few years ago I decided it was time to try my hand at getting published. As a long time fan of ebooks, I worked out a marketing plan and career path that started with publishing digitally. I found a well recommended ebook publisher in my genre, submitted and had an offer four days later. They really liked the book and my series concept. Though that publisher bought five books from me and most of them sold well, my background is in marketing and I always thought I could reach a larger audience.

When my publisher gave me one reason after another as to why my books wouldn't/couldn’t be distributed through venues such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords, I was aghast.

Distribution is key, in my opinion.

I started my independent publishing journey with one novella that I really liked but wasn't quite right for the publishers I'd submitted it to. After playing the waiting game for over three years I published Surprising Darcy to Amazon and Smashwords in August of 2010. That was about the time I found Joe’s blog. And shortly after, Pubit came on the scene. I was making around $300 a month total, which to me was fabulous! That's a car payment. But I still thought I could do better.

I had to build my list of books on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. When my contracts were up with my publisher in the autumn of 2010, I took the books back.

I released the first book in my series, The Cajun’s Captive, on December 29, 2010. That same day I published another short story from my “early publishing days” and gave it a new title, Just a Little Taste.

In mid January I released my fourth self published ebook, Bitten in the Bayou, which is the second in my series.

At the time of writing this, I’ve sold just over 12,000 copies in less than a month.

12,000 copies. That number truly blows my mind. Actually, I almost fell out of my chair.

Now, instead of just paying the car payment, royalties from January’s sales will cover ALL my expenses. That’s an incredibly beautiful and humbling thought. And I’m terrified that I’ll wake up tomorrow and it will all have been a dream. I imagine a great many of the authors Joe has allowed to guest blog here lately feel that way, even though Joe keeps telling us, we’re not dreaming.

If you’re looking for an anomaly, of those 12,000 copies about 11,000 sold via Nook. Not Kindle. I sold a little over 1,000 copies on the Kindle in January. My numbers at Kindle get a little better each month and I like to think of that platform as my steady seller.

With numbers like this, I’m rethinking that original career plan. And the marketing plan too. And even the books I write. Where I once planned on digital publishing being my introduction to the industry and would later go after print contracts, I’m now much more focused on writing novels and letting them just be ebooks. Ebooks are real books.

Do I still want a publisher in addition to self publishing? Yes. Why? To further increase my audience and for the dedicated staff. These days I’m much more concerned about working with people who understand and embrace this new frontier, those who are keen on exploring and taking risks. I’m interested in working with publishers who understand that distribution and promotion are very important. I want to partner with companies that are aggressively pursuing all options and who understand that publishing is a business. An ever evolving business.

Do I have any interest in “traditional publishing?” Not really. Not the way traditional publishing has been defined for the last few decades. I think we are at a point where the rules are being rewritten, new lines are being drawn in the sand, and publishers as we used to know them are changing forever. What an exciting time to be an author.

If you’ve read Joe’s blog for any length of time, you’ll have noticed his comments on the downward spiral of these “traditional publishers.” I’ll let Joe speak for himself, but I believe that publishers need to “get with the program” if they’re going to survive.

Getting with the program, in my opinion, means embracing digital publishing, becoming more flexible and offering their backlist books in e-formats. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that digital needs to completely replace print publishing, I know that I haven’t bought fiction in print for quite a while. I still like a full color cookbook for my collection or perhaps a lovely coffee table book, but my purchasing habits have changed. As have the purchasing habits of millions of other consumers.

the times they are a-changin’. I remember the days when ebook authors were looked upon like second class citizens by friends, family, consumers, and writing organizations. I’ve watched this little corner of the market grow from a time where there were only a handful of digital publishers and we readers were still waiting to get our hands on an actual ereading device. Over time more epublishers cropped up and we ebook fans waited for ereaders to hit a lower price point, somewhere between $100 and $150. For years, experts agreed that if we could get a popular ereading device at a low enough price point, digital books could really take off.

Guess what? We’re there.

The question is where do we go from here? Continued education of the public. I met a lovely reader on Twitter the other day who did not know Kindle has an app for the PC. When I mentioned that to her, she downloaded it and I sent her a complimentary copy of The Cajun’s Captive. She loved it and has since spread the word about me and my books.

I had another reader email me asking what the Kindle is. Yes, there are still folks who don’t know what the Kindle is. As authors (and ebook fans,) it’s our duty to educate them, write good books, and spread the word.

If you think you’d like to give it a go, here are some of my observations. I’m by no means an expert so take them with a grain of salt.

1. Be Professional
To me, it means looking at your writing like a business. Making sound business decisions. That may mean hiring a professional cover artist and editor. Spending money (when you really need to!) to make money, as LJ Sellers did.

2. Publish Clean Copy
It’s not enough to write the book. You need to polish it. Luckily, most of my current releases had been previously published which means that I polished them a lot before I sent them to my editor where they went through three more rounds of editing. I got to keep those edited copies. As Joe says, have your betas and fellow authors proof your work. I’m lucky enough to have two editors as friends.

3. Use Professional Cover Art
The saying goes: never judge a book by its cover. But we all do it anyway. Why would you want to submit a small, fuzzy, hard to read cover to sell your book? You wouldn’t roll in the mud before going into a job interview would you?

4. Promote
I’ve done plenty of it. I’ve joined message boards, yahoo groups, Goodreads, Shelfari. I have a website and a blog and a newsletter. I offer free reads. I’ve joined sites within my niche where I’ve met readers, shared book recommendations and purchased advertising. I also write guest blog posts like this one. And in February I’m going on a blog tour. I have profiles on all the major social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Shelfari, Myspace, Bebo, Linkdin) and of course, Amazon. The key is interacting, I think. Subtle promo, not drive by promo.

5. Advertising
I’m a big fan of having someone else do my promotion for me while I’m sleeping. So I’ve had advertisements on half a dozen sites over the years and I’m looking to increase this in the future.

6. Distribution
I’ve always felt that distribution is important. When I look at the most successful companies, the ones who pay attention to getting their products into the hands of their customers as easily, efficiently, and cost affectively as possible are generally at the top of the list. With so many options available to us now, making your books available on as many platforms as you can makes sense to me.

7. Be willing to change
Along with the brand new cover art that graces all my current books, I changed the descriptions on many of them as well. I’ve even changed the blurbs more than once. The great thing about digital publishing, in my opinion, is the ability to craft a description that gets more attention. It’s being able to go back and adjust your key words, change your title or cover if you feel you can do better. Adjust your price points. Or even, updating your book.

8. Grow your readership
That sounds trite, doesn’t it? But what I mean, and what I’m trying to do, is meet new readers. Introduce myself to them. Become friends with them. Discover what THEY want to read. Publishers often think they know what readers want and authors often feel like readers should want something out of the ordinary. Independent publishing gives you the flexibility to try something new. To give readers what they say they want.

9. Have a plan
Just like businesses have a business plan and many professionals have a career plan, I recommend having a career plan and a marketing plan. Both of these will help keep you focused and they’ll provide guidance along the way. But don’t carve these into stone. As I mentioned, I had a career path and marketing plan developed way back when. Now I’m readjusting that to include self publishing. And perhaps even a POD anthology of my Stormy Weather series.

10. Writing Another Great Book
The key here I believe is to always be learning, always improving your craft. As Joe mentioned here, there are plenty of popular authors who weren’t the best writers in the beginning. But time and knowledge will allow you to write a better book. And when you write a better book, that should help you sell better.

There it is. My publishing journey thus far and my observations, for what they’re worth, on self publishing.

By the way, I no longer think Joe is pulling my leg.

What about you? Are you a self-publishing convert? A disbeliever? Or do you just feel more secure going the traditional publishing route? What do you think are key aspects of doing well as an independently published author?

Joe sez: To date, Blake has sold 23,000 ebooks. Which is impressive. I expect she'll begin to sell as well on Amazon as she is on Nook, and will eventually work her way up to a six figure annual income, selling 99 cent titles.

While I agree with much of what she has to say, I think advertising is pretty much a waste of money (any time I've done it I haven't noticed an uptick in sales, let alone one big enough to justify the cost of the ad.)

And while having a business plan is fine, it's important to differentiate between what you can accomplish on your own (writing and uploading an ebook, getting killer cover art) and what requires luck (selling 23,000 ebooks, making the Nook bestseller list.)

A goal is something you can attain through hard work. Dreams are things that require crossed fingers.

Luck is ALWAYS a factor in success, no matter how you publish.

That said, since January 1st I've profiled more than 15 authors who are doing extremely well self-pubbing, and I've turned down requests from many others who want to guest post.

Seems like a lot of writers are getting lucky with ebooks.

That doesn't mean everyone will hit the jackpot. But I'm convinced is better off going solo than trying to work through legacy publishing.

So if you're an author, what exactly are you waiting for?