Sunday, March 24, 2013

Joe Answers Your Questions

I get a lot of email. So much that I really can't answer it all.

Well, I suppose technically I could answer it all, but it would cut into my writing and/or leisure time, and as much as I appreciate people writing me (and I do), I have to prioritize and email is at the bottom of my list.

So I'm going to answer emails in this blog post. Not specific ones, but amalgams of the kind of email I get on a regular basis. If you've emailed me before, and I haven't replied, here's the answer you were seeking...

Q: Thank you, Joe. You've inspired me to self-publish.

A: You are welcome, and thanks for telling me. Even though I might not reply, I do appreciate you reaching out. It makes me feel like I'm contributing to the world.

(Sidenote: The meaning of life is simple. Learn what you can. Pass along what you've learned. Have as much fun as possible. The goal is to leave the world a better place because you existed.)

It frankly boggles my mind how many people can trace their self-publishing journey to something I said or did. I look at the Kindle bestseller lists and smile because I see so many folks who have emailed me for advice (back when I used to answer email) and are now selling well.

If I have helped you, pay it forward. Pass along the info to someone who needs it, and share your numbers and knowledge with me and the rest of the world, so we can learn from you. As I've said, you should always have two hands outstretched. One, reaching for your next goal. The other, pulling up people behind you so they can get where you're at.

Q: Can you read my ebook and/or blurb me? I've attached a copy.

A: Thank you for the ebook. It's kind of you to send it. But my time is limited, and I'll never be able to read everything I'd like to read. I've promised people I'd blurb them, and never got around to it, so rather than keep disappointing people who are counting on me, I've stopped blurbing.

Q: Help! My book isn't selling! What should I do?

A: I'll be honest. I have no idea why some books sell, and others don't. If you've already done the Four Important Things (written a great book, gotten a great cover, have a great book description, and priced it reasonably) there's really not much else to do, other than wait for luck to strike.

You can try promoting in these ways, but I don't recommend them all:
  • BookBub.com and ebookbooster.com--which I do
  • Facebook and Google ads--which I've never tried 
  • Twitter and Facebook--which I use sparingly, but remember it is about what you have to offer, not what you have to sell
  • Blogging--which I don't believe sells books
  • Blog Touring--which I've had some success with
  • Cultivating fans--have a newsletter, get active on GoodReads, Shelfari, etc.
Also, don't forget to experiment. Change prices. Try giveaways. Change covers. Change the book description. 

The best advertisement for your writing is your writing. Write a book that people want to read. Then another. Then another. Keep at it until the world can't ignore you anymore.

Some writers hate the idea that luck plays a big part in success, but it does. But I've found that the harder you work, the luckier you get.

Q: I read your old blog posts, and you recommend things that you now advise against. What's with the hypocrisy?

A: As new data comes in, I change my mind. 

It is one of Joe's Axioms that people would rather defend their beliefs to the death instead of admitting they might be wrong. I try to admit when I'm wrong, and I adjust my beliefs accordingly. I think the ability to learn and adapt can only help while seeking success.

Q: Why are you so down on publishers, and those authors who choose the legacy route?

A: This blog has documented all the reasons I believe self-publishing is preferable to legacy publishing, ad nauseum. It used to bother me when I saw writers signing bad contracts (hint: they're all bad unless you are a huge bestseller) and I believe that writers make bad decisions because they aren't edumacated. So I try to edumacate them, and adopting a controversial tone helps get this blog more traffic, thus making people more aware of the topics I discuss.

But frankly, it is none of my business what other writers do. If you want to sign away your rights, forever, for 17.5% ebook royalties, forever, knock yourself out. I no longer have a horse in this race. I got all of my rights back, and my six week Kindle total is $116,000, which is more than the first three-book deal I signed. For those same books. 

Do whatever makes you happy, and follow whichever path you think is best. But do yourself a solid and research all of your options. Writers never had options before. Now we do. You owe it to yourself to learn as much as you can before deciding which route to take.

Q: What about diversification? Why not self-publish some books, and legacy-publish others? Isn't that the best of both worlds?

A: I do diversify, by publishing with Amazon. I can't disclose the royalties they give me, but it is much better than what any legacy publisher offers. 

But legacy publishing? If you can get a Hugh Howey deal and keep the ebook rights, go for it. Or get E.L. James comparable money. If not, going with a legacy publisher isn't diversification. It's simply a bad business decision. 

Q: OMG I love your books! What order should I read them in?

A: Thanks for the kind words. I write every book as a stand alone, so they can be read in any order, and still enjoyed.

But if you really need a chronology, here it is:

SHOT OF TEQUILA by JA Konrath
SERIAL KILLERS UNCUT by JA Konrath and Blake Crouch 
WHISKEY SOUR by JA Konrath
BLOODY MARY by JA Konrath
THE LIST by JA Konrath
RUSTY NAIL by JA Konrath
DIRTY MARTINI by JA Konrath
EXPOSED by JA Konrath and Ann Voss Peterson
HIT by JA Konrath and Ann Voss Peterson*
NAUGHTY by JA Konrath and Ann Voss Peterson*
JACK DANIELS STORIES by JA Konrath
PUSHED TOO FAR by Ann Voss Peterson
FLEE by JA Konrath and Ann Voss Peterson
SPREE by JA Konrath and Ann Voss Peterson
THREE by JA Konrath and Ann Voss Peterson*
FLOATERS by JA Konrath and Henry Perez
BURNERS by JA Konrath and Henry Perez
FUZZY NAVEL by JA Konrath
CHERRY BOMB by JA Konrath 
SHAKEN by JA Konrath
STIRRED by JA Konrath and Blake Crouch
LAST CALL by JA Konrath and Blake Crouch*
TIMECASTER by JA Konrath
TIMECASTER SUPERSYMMETRY by JA Konrath
TIMECASTER STEAMPUNK by JA Konrath*

The Jack Daniels books also cross over with several books with my frequent collaborator Blake Crouch, and my pen name, Jack Kilborn. These include:

DESERT PLACES by Blake Crouch
LOCKED DOORS by Blake Crouch
BREAK YOU by Blake Crouch
AFRAID by Jack Kilborn
TRAPPED by Jack Kilborn
ENDURANCE by Jack Kilborn
HAUNTED HOUSE*
*coming soon

Q: You keep bragging about all the money you're making. I think you're a liar.

A: I don't consider it bragging. I post my numbers to show what is possible.

Before I started blogging, writers were pretty much kept in the dark about money. No one knew what anyone else made. As such, there was a lot of suspicion, misinformation, envy, and floundering.

I was one of the first writers to openly talk about earnings. I felt this transparency was necessary in order to show my peers the difference between self-pub and legacy.

Now, lots of writers openly discuss money. I like to think I played a part in that. 

And while I'm not perfect, I don't lie. There's no reason to. If I wasn't making a lot of money, I'd be honest about it.

Sometimes I use this blog in an attempt to instigate change, because there are certain things about this industry that should be changed. But I don't make shit up to prove my points. I draw conclusions after having experience, I don't fake experience to pimp an agenda.

Q: If I self-publish, how quickly will I make as much money as you do?

A: Believe it or not, I get asked this on a weekly basis.

Read my blog, going back to 2005. I worked for twelve years and wrote a million words before making a dime, and it took another ten years for me to be making this much money. I've got over fifty ebooks. And I'll cop to a bit of egotism and say I've never met anyone who ever worked harder in their career than I did.

So the snide answer would be: Bust your ass for twenty years, with very little reward.

But that answer is actually bullshit. Because every writer has a different path to follow. Maybe it'll take you sixty years. Maybe you'll get rich with your first book. I have no idea.

It comes down to luck. Keep at it until you get lucky. And if you can quit, then quit. If toiling in poverty and obscurity is making you pop Prozac like Pez, and this career makes you hate your life, do something else.

I write because I love it. I never did it for money or fame. The fact that I have money now is a wonderful windfall, and I'm grateful and happy to have gotten lucky. (BTW, some peers of mine think I'm perhaps the unluckiest writer in the world, considering how hard I worked for so long without getting a break).

Don't write hoping to quit your day job. Don't compare yourself to me, or anyone else. This is your journey, and it will be unique to you.

(Sidenote: Envy is poison. So are jealousy, guilt, worry, and regret. If you catch yourself doing any of these, try to stop.)

Q: I read something on the Internets where people were badmouthing you. Here's the link.

A: One of the greatest journeys in life is overcoming insecurity and learning to truly not give a shit. 

I don't Google myself, don't read reviews of my work, don't look for fights, and don't try to correct every pinhead who misquotes me, misrepresents my arguments, takes things out of context, or is just plain wrong.
(Unless they do it on my blog. Then I'm happy to go at it for a bit.)

The point is, I'm no longer in high school. I don't care what people think of me. This is not an easy attitude to develop, and sometimes I may fall a little short, but I'm proud of not caring, and I think the world would be a better place if more people adopted this stance.

Q: I found your ebooks on a pirate site.

A: Awesome. Then you can get them for free.

My views on piracy are well documented on this blog. I don't believe it hurts sales, and in fact it might actually help them. DRM is a blight on digital media, the anti-piracy groups are scaremongers who can't prove their points, and information (media included) wants to be free.

If you fear piracy, do more research. File sharing will always exist. The reason the Internet was invented was to share.

Q: But aren't you worried that piracy is costing you money?

A: So far it hasn't. Because the best, and only, way to compete with piracy is with cost and convenience. I make my work available cheaply and easily. Even though I am widely pirated, it hasn't hurt my sales.

Q: Aren't you devaluing your books by pricing them so low?

A: The value of a book isn't its cover price. It's how much money the book earns the author.

Some writers think if they spent a year writing something, it should be priced high.

You can price however you want to. If you want to charge $99.99 for an ebook, and you can get people to buy it, go for it.

I think I've found the current sweet spot between units sold and profit per unit, which is under five bucks per title. Your mileage may vary. But keep in mind that ebooks are forever. Very few other careers allow you to keep earning money on time you already spent. You put in 40 hours a week at your day job, get paid for that week, and then you need to work the next week to make more money. A writer can put in 40 hours, write a story, and it will someday be earning money for his grandchildren.

Q: My agent sold some foreign rights to my ebook. Should I take it, or keep the rights and self-pub?

A: If it's a buttload of money, take it and run. If it's not much money, negotiate to put an expiration date on how long they keep the rights, something under ten years. Then the rights will come back to you, and by then you'll hopefully have enough money to translate it and self-publish it.

That goes for US rights as well. Big bucks, take it. Small bucks, try to keep the e-rights, or try to limit the contract term.

For the first time ever, writers have the power to say no and walk away from bad deals. Use that power.

Q: You talk trash about legacy publishing, but they are the ones who gave you a career. That's why you're making so much money now.

A: This is a faulty assumption that I've debunked many times. In a nutshell, I'm selling well because my ebooks are visible (lots of titles on lots of bestseller lists). While I have fans (thanks!) the majority of my sales are from people who haven't heard of me.

So far this month I've sold over 10,000 copies of Whiskey Sour. That was legacy published in 2004. From then until I got my rights back, Whiskey Sour sold about 35,000 ebooks.

So in 24 days, on my own, I've sold about 1/3 of what my publisher took nine years to sell. And these sales are obviously new readers, because all of my fans have already bought Whiskey Sour.

Besides, if I had such a great legacy platform, wouldn't I have been a bestseller years ago?

Q: Can I interview you? Would you speak at my conference/book fair/convention?

A: I've pretty much stopped doing interviews, except when I'm feeling particularly generous (usually if I'm reading email while drinking.) I've found that publicity doesn't boost sales, and that I often get misquoted or have things taken out of context.

Plus, it is a time suck. Ditto travelling. While it is nice to be asked, and even nicer to be offered lots of money (I've turned down speaking gigs for $20k), I value my privacy and my time too much, so I no longer do public appearances.

Thanks for asking. And good luck with your article or conference.

Q: Can I do a guest blog for you?

A: I've promised many people I'd let them do a guest blog, and then I've let them down by not following through. While I don't mind being asked, and I may even respond and say yes, the chances of you doing a guest blog is low. I apologize if I said I'd do it, and I didn't. Usually there is a reason for it (I forgot, time got away from me, I read your blog post and didn't like it).

One of my flaws is a criminally short attention span for certain things, which means I often forget email promises.

If I did promise you a guest post (or anything else) then the best way to make sure I keep my promise is to keep emailing me until I either:
  1. Fulfill the promise
  2. Respond and tell you I can't fulfill the promise
  3. Put you in my spam folder and block your email addy
And once again, I'm sorry.

As a corollary, emailing me repeatedly because I didn't respond to you the first time is an easy way to join my spam folder.

Q: Can you help me with...

A: Here's the thing: no one ever helped me. I did it all by myself, figured it all out alone, and continue to do so.

And actually, doing it yourself is the best way to learn. While it may seem daunting, and even overwhelming, I'm sure you can manage. There's nothing magic about me, anyway. I'm just a guy who worked hard and got lucky. You can do the same. 

Q: Will you ever do a sequel to...

I have lots of sequels in the works.

THREE, HIT, and NAUGHTY are all Chandler ebooks coming this summer.

LAST CALL is a new Jack Daniels/Luther Kite novel, coming by summer. (I know I said STIRRED woud be the last one, but fans keep asked for more, and who am I to say no?)

HAUNTED HOUSE is a new Kilborn, featuring characters from AFRAID, TRAPPED, ENDURANCE, ORIGIN, and THE LIST, coming out next month.

ORIGIN and THE LIST will also have proper sequels, hopefully in 2014. 

TIMECASTER STEAMPUNK is scheduled for 2014.

My super-secret pen name will also have a sequel coming out this year. 

Q: I am the king of Nigeria. Can you assist me in depositing 25 million dollars into your US bank account?

A: I emailed you my bank info last week! Where's my millions?