Monday, May 23, 2016

Fisking Porter Anderson

There was so much bad information in this piece, Books’ Prices and Writing’s Value: Careful What We Asked For? by Porter Anderson, including cherry-picking a quote from me. Rather than respond in his comments I went ahead and fisked it.

Porter's nonsense in italics, my common-sense replies in bold.

“The biggest issue is one that will be difficult for us to recover from…the degradation of our worth as creatives.”

Joe sez: Our worth as creatives is dependent upon reaching readers. This meme is damned old I wrote about it back in 2010, The Value of Ebooks.

In that blog post I use real numbers to discuss author earnings, and came to this inescapable conclusion:

The value of an ebook is determined by the overall amount of money it earns, not the list price.

Obvious, right? But let's forge ahead through this...

That line is from a piece here at Writer Unboxed a year ago, in May 2015. Our colleague Heather Webb, in As Writers, What Are We Worth?, was anticipating a groan heard ’round the world.

Last month, when I led a round-table discussion at Berlin’s Publishers’ Forum, our topic was “Re-Thinking Ebook Sales and Understanding the Consumers.” But what drew the biggest response was book pricing.

We're in a world now that thinks it can write just as well as you can. It doesn't need your book. It can write its own. It can publish it. And it can lowball it on Amazon.

Joe sez: This nefarious scheme is called "capitalism" and is evidence of something called a "free market". 

Once upon a time, publishing wasn't a free market. Not everyone with a book had an equal chance to reach readers. Amazon, and other ebook retailers, have democratized the process. Which means consumers now have more choices than every before. And many of those choices are priced according to the market, rather than according to the publishing cartel that controlled pricing with their quasi-monopoly.

“The consumer,” one of our publishers said, “is in perpetual confusion. No way to understand what a single book costs or how to value our authors’ work.” And at the influential publishing house Bastei Lübbe AG, executive board member Klaus Kluge is calling book prices “staggeringly low” in an interview with Sabine Schwiering Tert at Boersenblatt.net.

Joe sez: When technology cuts out middlemen, costs (and subsequently prices) drop.

Publishers didn't drop prices even when they no longer had to pay for shipping, printing, warehousing, distribution, and returns. They suddenly had more money because they didn't have to pay a myriad of middlemen for ebooks. And rather than share that extra income with authors, publishers kept it all for themselves.

So authors like me decided we didn't need publishers, and now publishers feel threatened. Boo-hoo.

In the UK in January, Penguin Random House CEO Tom Weldon told my Bookseller colleague Benedicte Page: “”One of the biggest challenges in 2016 will be e-book pricing: how do we maintain the value perception of our quality content and maximize revenues across all formats for both authors and publishers?”

Joe sez: Allow me to translate: "How do we get people to pay more for ebooks, because if we drop them too low then consumers will buy the ebook rather than the paper book, and paper books are where we have the distribution oligopoly."

A year later, Webb can see clearly now. Here’s what’s happening on a daily basis to authors’ work in the marketplace:

Heather Webb ‎@msheatherwebb - It's awesome when people brag about how cheaply they got your novel for. NOT. They forget we make our living this way. AKA starvation diet

Joe sez: I'll fix that quote so it makes sense. "It's awesome when people brag about how cheaply they got your novel, because others will then seek it out and buy a copy. I wish every fan bragged about my cheap books."

Perhaps, for some odd reason, Heather would rather sell a $14.99 ebook and earn $2.32 in royalties from her publisher (after her agent's cut) than sell four books at $5.99 and earn $3.64. 

Just saw a study done with Lemurs. Even Lemurs know $3.64 is more than $2.32.

When we chat about it, she tells me, “I’ve been noticing this group of readers who troll all the author Facebook pages and websites, Goodreads, etc, for giveaways and they never buy books. They don’t have to. Makes me a little nuts.”

Joe sez: Holy sense of entitlement, Batman! We also need to close all the libraries! Trolls are getting free books there, too! Reading for free is bad, bad, bad! Everyone must pay!

She’s not alone. If we triangulate our German associates’ concern for the “confusion” in the readership about what a book costs today with a nod to London’s PRH chief Weldon’s worry at the highest corporate level with Webb’s lament as she writes, “We can’t lose sight of what’s truly important,” then something bigger than “perma-free” and the per-page-view payouts of Kindle Unlimited comes into view.

Joe sez: What's truly important is the ability to reach readers, and maybe you can make few bucks in the process. More writers are doing this now than any other time in history. Perma-free and KU are tools authors can use to reach readers and make money. Maybe you should learn how to use them rather than waste time whining about how your cheese was moved.

Everybody’s a Critic. An Author, too.

What have we done to the idea of writing’s value? How fuzzy is this math going to get?

Joe sez: Hang on, it's about to get hysterically fuzzy...

That’s my provocation for you today. How are today’s pricing problems affecting what Webb characterized here last year as “our dignity, our value, and the viability of this industry”?

Joe sez: Oh-no, people aren't buying $14.99 books because they're reading cheap and free books instead! Someone help me pick up my dignity!

Books were always commodities of a kind, and buying second-hand romances by the grocery-bagful didn’t start yesterday.

But the Wall of Content, as I call it, is doing more than loom over us. Digital means never having to say you’re out of print. It also means you’re in competition—forever—with everything since Gutenberg.

Joe sez: Using that logic, we've always been in competition with everything since Gutenberg. Readers have always had millions of choices, many for free in libraries, or for cheap via used bookstores. Trying to get your book to stand out among the millions of other titles is NOT a new problem.

But this isn't competition. Bookselling isn't zero sum. Readers tend to read more than one book in their lifetimes. If we're both thriller writers, a thriller fan won't just read me or you. She'll read me and you.

With both the trade and the self-publishing sectors in rampant over-production as they are today, you’re facing a sheer rock face of competition for every glance your book might get, let alone a read, let alone a sale. Your price is in free-fall.

Joe sez: Porter, have you ever been in a bookstore? Notice how it's filled with thousands of books? Do you glance at every single one before making a selection?

There have ALWAYS been other books. But now, for the first time, the cost is coming down so it isn't prohibitive. Rather than $30 hardcovers, which is a luxury price, readers can get new titles for $4.99. And the $4.99 book is just as good as the $30 book. 

Or do you enjoy paying more for comparable products? If so, I've got some $40 per roll toilet paper I'll sell you. It does the same thing as the $1 per roll toilet paper, but if you buy that cheap stuff my dignity will be in jeopardy. You don't want me on a starvation diet, do you?

And we can look to our cohorts in Hollywood for a little guidance here, too. You may not remember what the advent of Blockbuster video and then Netflix did to film. But those of us who watched those developments roll in know. Suddenly there were films everywhere, peopled with actors who are not quite the stars they look like speaking dialog that’s as wooden as they are, in strangely unsatisfying knockoffs of other films.

Joe sez: Translation: When you lose control over distribution, cheap knock-offs abound and eat your lunch.

I'm fine with you calling me cheap. Why should I care? Your lunch is delicious. I bet you really enjoyed it when it was still yours. 

We can’t entirely blame independent authors for this gauzy focus on pricing in books. As the indie insurgence began to impact the trade a few years ago, authors who had never been able to get past the agents and editors, the dreaded gatekeepers, found that they could self-publish in our digital age. But self-selling was a different thing.

Joe sez: The amount of self-promotion I've done as an indie is 1/10 of what I did when I had trad contracts, and now I'm now I'm earning 50x as much money. Self-selling is much easier than being at the mercy of the painfully slow, eternally clueless, archaic, self-interested legacy publishing machine.

When you have no marketing department behind you, when you’re not even listed in a publisher’s catalog or recommended to a Barnes & Noble buyer—and no one’s ever heard of you in the world of books—the one way you might turn the head of a potential buyer cruising Amazon is offer a low price. Or no price. “For free” may be a grammatically deplorable phrase (“free of charge” or simply “free” is correct), but for a time, it had a happy ring among consumers who could stuff their e-readers with books by folks they’d never heard of: today a lot of those free slush-files still remain unread on those e-readers, which have been supplanted by tablets.

Joe sez: I sold nine novels to legacy publishers. Being listed in a publisher's catalog is about as effective a selling tool as putting your book cover on your car bumper and driving around the neighborhood. The only books that actually get marketing money are books that have giant advances. The other 99% of authors get zip. I remember asking various people at various publishers what the value of a book press release was, and no one could tell me. But they all spent time and money on those stupid press releases, laboring under the delusion that they were promoting that book.

As for TBR piles--does Porter think these are a new phenomenon brought about by the digital age? My paper to-be-read pile is bigger than the list on my Kindle (which I still prefer to read on over my tablet, and I'm not alone).

If the trade was aghast at Amazon’s institution of $9.99 as a viable price for the ebook version of a hardcover hit, it’s tempting to mutter “all is forgiven” now. I know many authors who’d love to get $9.99 for their ebooks. Free downloads by the hundreds might feel exhilarating, but your take-home pay? And while it’s popular to hunker down in the bloggoria and shoot the breeze about the “sweet spot” between $2.99 and $4.99, what frequently is not mentioned is frequency: how many of those things do you have to sell at $3.99—even if you’re getting 70 percent—to put together an income?

Joe sez: I've given away hundreds of thousands of ebooks, for free. And I've sold over two million. So I'm pretty pleased with my take-home pay. I also don't know any author who only gives away ebooks. It's a means to a sale, not its own exclusive behavior. If you see a deer licking salt do you think that's what it solely subsists on?

As for how many books you have to sell at $3.99 to put together an income, it's a metric fuckton better to earn $2.70 on a self-pubbed title (paid monthly, and you keep your rights) than it is earning $2.27 on a $14.99 ebook, which is what authors get paid after trad publishers and agents get their cuts.

Guess which pricing point will sell to more customers? You're the one who brought up frequency. Go on, guess.

Indie/hybrid icon J.A. Konrath, doing a terrific job last week at BookExpo America on a panel about authorship, might have surprised some of the fight-club followers of his blog posts when he said, “If you want to reach the most people possible, you sign with one of these big publishers…. [But] most of us don’t get that invitation to the big show.”

Joe sez: Notice I didn't say "If you want to make the most money, you sign with these big publishers." 

Landing a huge publishing deal is like winning the lottery. We would all love to win the lottery. But spending all of your income on lottery tickets isn't a wise financial investment. Chances are you'll go broke long before you win.

The vast majority of authors will make more money by self-publishing. It is only the 1% of the 1% who get huge advances and gigantic marketing campaigns.

Very few authors would turn down a multi-million dollar pub deal, and very few are offered one. 

But a whole lot of authors sell authors sell their rights to publishers forever in exchange for shitty royalties, bad treatment, and no chance at ever making what they could have as an indie.

My quote is about reaching readers with paper books. Signing with a publisher is the only way to do that. It is not my endorsement of publishing deals. If your goal is to reach people via brick and mortar bookstores, fine, but know what you're signing and what you're giving up.

And nobody forced the industry to follow the self-publishing sector in driving the car right on over the cliff. 

Joe sez: Thankfully, a big pile of cash cushioned my car's fall.

For a time, a UK publisher staged a 20-pence promotion on some of the hottest titles of the year. Now, the bigs are in “new-agency” pricing contracts with Amazon that somehow have them charging high “this price set by the publisher” prices for ebooks at the very moment that the industry needs to energize its digital investments, not price them out of reach.

Joe sez: I agree with Porter here. The publishing industry should lower prices.

As painful as pricing issues may be in the marketplace and in authors’ efforts to put together a living, the real question, as Webb has suggested, is what happens in the public mind when pricing goes through the floor?

Joe sez: What happens is middlemen--and publishers are middlemen--are no longer viable. 

"No way to understand what a single book costs or how to value our authors’ work.”

Joe sez: You know who understands the value of authors' efforts? Amazon. Amazon knows exactly the sweet spot for selling books. But rather than allow Amazon to price ebooks to sell, publishers would rather shoot themselves in the feet while whining how unfair it all is. Fail. 

In the readership’s collective mind, the bottom has fallen out. The digital decoupling of price from assumptions of aesthetic and artistic value may, in the long run, prove second only to the Wall of Content, itself, for its impact on publishing’s new context. 

Joe sez: Translation: Readers are figuring out you can get good books for cheap or free, and they're flocking to them. And along with lower prices, readers also love more choices. But neither of these things bode well for the Big 5.

This has happened in other industries, of course. In news, in music, in freelancing, as many of us discussed in a recent look at the Huffington Post’s use of writers it doesn’t pay.

Webb’s phrase was “degradation of our worth” as creative people. A difficult devaluation is under way. 

Joe sez: No one owes you a living. Especially if you think people should pay $14.99 for an ebook when comps are priced at $3.99. 

‘Tis bootless to exclaim, as Marshall McLuhan told us so long ago, “All media work us over completely.” We knew nothing of his genius then. Sadly, we do now.

Joe sez: First of all, I'm pretty sure McLuhan was recognized as a genius back in his time. Also, you're wrong.



Joe sez: The quote you used is about how media is needed to understand society, not about how media prices should be artificially inflated so middlemen can keep their expense accounts. It isn't about pricing, or devaluing, or anything at all to do with the points you're lamely trying to make.

Far beyond all those craft considerations of how to keep your protagonist dry when it rains, this question of how the world sees literature’s value (in every genre), writers’ value, writing’s value, is about as unfocused and queasy a quandary as you’ll find in publishing.

Joe sez: Pricing is extremely simple. You find the sweet spot between selling the most units and making the most profit. The only group that has pricing problems is the group that lost their paper distribution oligopoly to ebooks and can no longer force consumers to pay lockstep high prices because those readers now have a choice.

We’re in a world now that thinks it can write just as well as you can. It doesn’t need your book. It can write its own. It can publish it. And it can lowball it on Amazon, leaving your would-be readers clicking right past your beautiful books.

Joe sez: So maybe you should lower the price of your beautiful books.

Say what? You’re asking an outlandish $9.99 for the ebook it took you four years to write and thousands of dollars to produce responsibly?

Who do you think you are?

Joe sez: I have nothing against $9.99 ebooks. If you can command that price, go for it.

But publishers are charging $9.99 for titles which don't command that price. Readers will pay premiums for bestselling authors. But they won't pay a premium to take a chance on a new author. 

Here's the solution for authors: don't sell your books to publishers who charge $9.99 until you get a giant advance.

Here's the solution for publishers: lower your ebook prices on authors who can't command those prices. There's a sweet spot. I bet, if you ask Amazon, they'll happily tell you what that sweet spot is.

Here's the solution for everyone who feels they are being devalued: go do something else. The world will never value your work as much as you do. Find a different career where your genius will be appreciated.

If you need me, I'll be here, with no expectations, but somehow still managing to eek out a living in the shadow of this daunting and scary Tower of Content...

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Harlequin Settles

In 2012, Ann Voss Peterson wrote a blog post about Harlequin’s contract terms.

TL;DR - Harlequin allegedly leased ebook rights to a company that it also owned, which effectively reduced author royalties from 50% to 3% for contracts signed in 1990-2004. Several months after the blog, a group of authors filed a lawsuit against Harlequin.

Since then, Harlequin has been acquired by HarperCollins. And to their credit, HC just settled this suit, to the tune of 4.1 million dollars.

Some agents and authors called Ann a whiner for taking issue with this. Their views seemed to be that authors should just shut up and be grateful for whatever crumbs their publishers wanted to toss them. Or that Ann and hundreds of other authors weren't taking responsibility for signing contracts with those terrible terms.

I've blogged at length about unconscionable contracts. Prior to the ebook revolution, writers had no choice but to eat the shitty clauses, or pound sand. But unless authors speak out and share information, and rally when things get bad, one-sided behind-closed-doors deals will remain the norm, and everyone will assume that's just the way things are and can't ever change.

According to Wikipedia: Unconscionability is a doctrine in contract law that describes terms that are so extremely unjust, or overwhelmingly one-sided in favor of the party who has the superior bargaining power, that they are contrary to good conscience. Typically, an unconscionable contract is held to be unenforceable because no reasonable or informed person would otherwise agree to it. The perpetrator of the conduct is not allowed to benefit, because the consideration offered is lacking, or is so obviously inadequate, that to enforce the contract would be unfair to the party seeking to escape the contract.

Unconscionability is determined by examining the circumstances of the parties when the contract was made, such as their bargaining power, age, and mental capacity. Other issues might include lack of choice, superior knowledge, and other obligations or circumstances surrounding the bargaining process.

As of yet, no one has taken on the whole of the publishing world, where one-sided, boilerplate clauses would be laughed off the negotiating table in any other industry. The overwhelming majority of newbie authors have no bargaining power, no choice, and very little clue. What reasonable person would take a $5k advance for a book they worked a year on, against never making another dime off of those rights, forever? That five grand is the highest interest loan, ever. And you pay for life.

I'm not a lawyer, and nothing on this blog even comes close to constituting legal advice, but I don't know why some savvy, hungry firm doesn't start looking hard at publishing contracts, because there's money in them thar hills.

This move by HarperCollins is a step in the right direction. I'm not privy to the circumstances of this settlement, but this is undoubtedly a victory for Harlequin authors, and for all authors who never thought they could budge the status quo.

Authors as a group tend to have a "don't rock the boat" attitude. And with good reason; rock the boat, and the captain kicks you out.

But if you say nothing, nothing changes.

In this business, as in life, no one is going to just hand you anything. Because none of us deserve anything. You have to work hard, and fight for whatever you can get. Fighting for something when the outcome is uncertain is a scary thing. That's the definition of bravery.

Bringing this suit was gutsy. These authors faced being blackballed by the largest romance publisher in the world, but took that chance because it was the right thing to do.

If every legacy pubbed author had that attitude, we could do away with "next option" and "non-compete" clauses, raise ebook royalties, and make boilerplate term length ten years, rather than the author’s life plus seventy.

I don't blame any author for signing any contract. This business feeds on hope, and writers are especially vulnerable to being taken advantage of. If I had to do my career over, I still would have signed the same deals I originally did, even though I had to do quite a bit to get my rights back.

Happily, self-publishing has finally given us a choice. We can walk away from deals. We finally do have bargaining power.

And if we don't like the contracts we signed a decade ago, we can hire a lawyer.

Those Harlequin writers who brought the suit found a firm to handle it on contingency. That firm is banking seven figures from this settlement.

So if you're unhappy with your contract terms, it can't hurt to email a few of your peers with similar contracts, and run it past a lawyer or two. I have a feeling this Harlequin settlement is just the beginning...

Friday, April 15, 2016

Do Ebook Preorders Work?

So I've been trying out Kindle preorder pages for some new books (including my latest horror thriller  WEBCAM, which launches today), experimenting to determine if this is a smart way to run my self-publishing business. Here are the pros and cons I've encountered.

Preorder Pros

1. Deadlines. I wanted to light a fire under my ass and get some work done. On one hand, why invite extra stress into your life? On the other, consider what motivates you.

I believe the biggest motivator for an artist is inspiration; that spark that compels you to create. Even if it never sells. Even if no one ever reads it. We become writers because we love storytelling.

The biggest motivator for someone self-employed is (usually) money. I own my own business, and my boss is usually a workaholic jerk.

But lately he's been slacking off.

Like most writers, I've never lacked for ideas, and I keep files of potential book ideas, some with partial outlines, that I'll get to someday. But I found I was in the middle of two novels, RUM RUNNER and WEBCAM, and as much as I tried to self-motivate, I wasn't putting in the time I would have had I been creatively inspired or fiscally needy.

In other words, I was dragging my ass and not getting the words down to the degree I'm capable of.

Back in the stone age when I had legacy contracts, writing life was filled with deadlines. Get the manuscript finished by date X. Get the redline returned by date Y. Get the outline for the next book done three months later. You kept to that schedule out of contractual obligation, and a little bit of fear.

For the first few years of my self-publishing career, I was writing and publishing as fast as I could. No stress. No fear required.

But lately, I haven't been pushing myself. So after a lot of thought I decided to give myself deadlines. Tough deadlines, but within my abilities.

As a result, I've written and published over 100,000 words since January. For me, those deadlines for preorders were the motivator I needed.

2. Sales. I've had many writers ask me: What's the best time to launch a new book? My answer has always been the same: When it's finished.

If your book is ready to be unleashed upon the world, there's no need to wait. Let people buy it as soon as they're able to. I recall peers of mine sitting on completed, polished, formatted manuscripts because they wanted to release books the old-fashioned way: with a launch date.

The launch date is a relic of legacy publishing. The point was to get as many people to buy your book the day it came out, to make a run at the bestseller lists.

I am not, nor have I ever been, a NYT or USA Today bestseller.

Now, there is still something to be said for making a big impact on Release Day. But since I'm exclusive on Amazon, and since Amazon's algorithms seem to reward steady sales over sales that peak and fall quickly (which is one of many insights to glean from Authorearnings.com and is broken down succinctly at selfpublishingadvice.org), I decided not to fret too much about building up to a book launch day.

At the same time, if a book is going to be out on a certain date, why make people wait to buy it? And if fans want to buy something right now, why make them wait until later, when they could possibly forget?

3. Buzz. I believe that sales are about what you have to offer, not what you have to sell. The goal is to find people looking for the kinds of books that you write.

So, when I'm pimping a title, I usually only do it around launch day, or if the book is on sale.

A preorder page gives me more opportunities to make announcements on Twitter, or to send out a newsletter. Rather than beat fans and potential readers over the head saying "Buy my book!" over and over, instead I'm offering them new information  with each announcement.

Hey, I've got a new preorder title!

Hey, my new book is out today!

Hey, my book is on sale!

People are looking for information and entertainment. At the same time, anyone who has ever spent more than ten seconds studying the effectiveness of advertising knows that repeated exposure is pretty much essential. So having a non-abrasive way to tout my work by offering new information each time I do (rather than those writers--you know who you are--who think their followers want to see the exact same ad three times a week for an entire year) seems to me to be a more effective, and less irritating, way to self-promote.

This is why you rarely see me doing a straight-up promo blog post, and instead put the promo in an informative piece about how promos work.

Preorder Cons

1. Deadlines. I intentionally didn't give myself much leeway in my deadlines, in order to push myself harder. On one hand, I've hit both of my deadlines. But WEBCAM launched today in a less-than-ideal version.

Allow me to explain.

Amazon allows preorders because authors asked for them. I was the first ever, back in 2010, when I worked with DTP to get the first self-pubbed preorder page for DRACULAS.

Since then they've streamlined the process. You can submit a book for preorder in KDP, and you must submit the final manuscript 10 days before the on sale date.

But that 10 day period isn't set in stone. After you submit a final 10 days prior to the launch, you have 7 more days to upload newer versions. Typo fixes, tweaks, that sort of thing.

At 72 hours prior to the launch day, KDP locks you out and you cannot upload a new file until the book goes live. So if you're one to cut it close, beware.

I'm one to cut it close. Ten days prior to launch I uploaded a barebones text version of the novel. Then I tweaked for a few days, then asked my book designer, 52 Novels, that I wanted some special design work done, and needed it by the 12th. He squeezed me in, and did an awesome job making the ebook look beautiful. But I'd given him the wrong date. I had actually needed it by the 11th.

See, the day starts at midnight. So 11:59pm CST on April 11 was the last moment for me to upload the new version.

As such, those who preordered got the still readable text version, but without all the gloss and style that the designed version has.

My bad.

Amazon may send out an email blast telling those who preordered that there is a prettier version now available, but this is a professional boo boo on my part that I should have been on top of.

So if you cut deadlines close, you might want to give yourself some breathing room.

2. Sales. While slow and steady sales help your book attain, and keep, a decent ranking on Amazon, nothing beats a book launch without preorders for getting the best initial rank.

But how much does getting high ranks and showing up on bestseller lists help raise sales?

I dunno.

I submitted RUM RUNNER - A Jack Daniels Thriller for preorder on February 1, to launch March 25.

I submitted WEBCAM - A Novel of Terror by Jack Kilborn for preorder on March 12, to launch April 15.

I submitted LAST CALL - A Jack Daniels Thriller for preorder on March 12, to launch May 28.


I published WATCHED TOO LONG - A Val Ryker Thriller on March 23 with my co-author, Ann Voss Peterson.

RUM RUNNER, WATCHED TOO LONG, and WEBCAM are all interconnected. They take place during the same time frame, and characters from each story appear in the other stories.

In the back matter of each book, I link to the others using Booklinker, which I detailed in a previous post.

The idea was to build momentum with four new releases (three novels and one novella, WATCHED TOO LONG) and team it with KDP Countdown sales and a free BookBub ad to get some momentum going.

The jury is still out on whether it worked or not. Let's talk numbers.

RUM RUNNER had 2236 preorders at $4.99.
WEBCAM had 637 preorders at $4.99.
LAST CALL has had 1662 preorders at $5.99.
WATCHED TOO LONG wasn't available for preorder. It's a 20,000 word novella priced at $2.99.

So far, RUM RUNNER has sold 3300 copies, so it's made about $12k in sales 21 days, and 350,000 KENP reads (which at $.0045 per page is $1575). Not counting preorders, it is averaging 45 sales and 16700 KENP reads per day, which means it is steadily earning $232 daily.

So far, WATCHED TOO LONG has sold 400 copies, with 26,350 KENP reads. It has been out for 24 days, and has earned $958. Sales are steady, and it is averaging $40 a day. I'm pleased with that, but wonder if that couldn't have been more if we'd done a preorder page.

When I have data on WEBCAM and LAST CALL, I'll do an update.

But then the data gets weird.

The BookBub ad for free RUSTY NAIL (the third Jack Daniels thriller) cost $450. I gave away over 60,000 ebooks.

Prior to the ad, it had been getting about 4000 KENP reads per day. In the 10 days after the ad, it had 234,000 reads, earning $1053. Since then is has averaged about 8000 page reads a day.

But a rising tide lifts all boats. Sine the launch of RUM RUNNER and WATCHED TOO LONG, I've been averaging 150,000 KENP reads per day.

Prior to the launch, I was averaging 50,000 KENP reads per day. My KENP income is $675 a day.

Prior to the launch, I was selling about 70 ebooks per day. Since the launch, not counting preorder sales, I'm averaging 180.

I'm curious to see how WEBCAM will add to this.

3. Unknowns. Because I have so much happening at once, I don't know what to credit for tripling my KDP income. I think the preorders played a big part, but so did the BookBub ad, the discounts, the booklinker bibliographies, and possibly other intangibles like the Easter holiday, and the long gap since my last solo novel.

As per usual, I don't know what worked and what didn't. I can only guess.

CONCLUSIONS

Preorders seem to be a smart move. They're a more stressful way to release a book, but it's a healthy stress and it pushes you harder. The extra money and buzz is worth it.

BookBub still works, even for freebies.

Putting out a new release while discounting other titles seems to raise the series up in both KENP and sales. It's 21 days after RUM RUNNER was released, and sales are steady with no sign of decline.

Novellas don't sell nearly as well as novels, but I already knew that.

I haven't gotten any reader input yet on how I intertwined the novels, other than a few reviewers who seem confused by it rather than pleased.

I don't know how long this income bump will last. It remains to be seen how WEBCAM and LAST CALL do, and I'm still not quite back at the KDP levels I was at prior to the Kindle Unlimited subscription service.

Besides butting booklinker links in the back matter of these new titles, I also put in new complete bibliographies based on my biblio ebook. How much this has helped sales, I dunno. But that biblio is averaging 10 downloads a day from people who obviously want to know what to read next.

Jack Kilborn doesn't sell as well as J.A. Konrath. I'm thinking of ditching Kilborn completely, and rebranding all of my titles as Konrath. I'd really like to hear your comments on that. Good idea? Bad idea?

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Webcam

So my new Jack Kilborn horror novel, WEBCAM, comes out in a few days.

It involves a maniac stalking models on the website www.HotSororityGirlsLive.com.

For fun, I asked my web designer to put something on that URL. Check it out. :)


Friday, April 01, 2016

New JA Konrath Preorder

In my last post, I told you I'm experimenting with ebook pricing.

My results have been surprising, to say the least.

If you've been a long time follower of this blog, you know that way back in 2009 I advocated for $0.99 ebooks.

Years passed, and I pushed prices up to $2.99, then $3.99, and my current Jack Daniels novel, RUM RUNNER, has been performing well at $4.99.

Just to see if it made any difference, I listed the tenth JD thriller, LAST CALL, at $5.99.

And people really love the higher prices. To the tune of 10x as many sales every time I go up a dollar.

Crazy, right? I know it sounds counter intuitive, but data doesn't lie. Who would have thought that fans actually want to pay more money?

Well, actually, the Big 5 have been saying that for years. And as much as I hate to admit it, I think they're right. I've been devaluing my titles. 

With this in mind, I quickly put my coming-soon eleventh Jack Daniels thriller up on Amazon for pre-order.

Keep in mind that this isn't the final cover. I just slapped this together to get some of that primo pre-order cha-ching. 


I'll probably change the colors a little before it goes live. And maybe use a font other than Comic Sans.

But, at this point, it isn't about professionalism. This is a money grab, pure and simple. Which is why the ebook version of SCREAMING ORGASM will be priced at $39.99.

Pre-order now! And be sure to follow my example. Every writer reading this needs to price their ebooks between thirty and fifty dollars each. You fans will thank you for it.

Trust me. I'm a trendsetting pioneer with this self-pub shit. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

More Advantages to Self-Publishing

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

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

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

Here come a few more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now some Q & A with myself.

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

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

Q: Is Blake Crouch writing LAST CALL with you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Will you be doing more Jack Daniels novels?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 19, 2016

Fisking Lee Child

I like Lee Child. He's a generous guy, pleasant, smart, and a decent writer.

But Lee has aligned himself with the pinheads of Authors United, and though his views differ enough to be considered on their own merits rather than instantly dismissable like the majority of AU alarmism, Child's continued anti-Amazon stance is getting boring.

Yes, I know he wants to defend the crumbling establishment that has made him a gazillionaire, and suck a few more bucks out of it. But be honest that's the intent. Don't spout self-interest under the guise that Amazon is bad for readers, or writers, or the world in general.

I'm very open about my pro-Amazon bias. Amazon has allowed tens of thousands of authors who were screwed or spurned by the legacy publishing industry to make a few bucks. It has brought down the price of books, allowing more readers to enjoy them. I've personally benefited from Amazon's policies, but so have the majority of readers and writers. And the only reward I get for my pro-Amazon activism is thousands of thank yous from writers who have self-pubbed and can now pay bills with their writing income.

Who is thanking Lee? Doug Preston? Scott Turow? James Patterson? It's good to have friends. I'm sure it's rosy at the top, and those megasellers want to keep it that way. But at some point you maybe need to do some soul searching and admit your success is fueled by a corrupted, archaic machine that is ultimately bad for society and culture. And luck, of course. A lot of luck.

Which brings me to Child's piece in The Guardian, Lee Child on Amazon’s real-life bookshops – and why we should be worried.

Don't you love that title? I mean, just think of how terrible the world would be with--gasp!--more bookshops!

The stuff of nightmares, it is. Let's fisk.

Child: In December, Amazon US released its 2015 in-house all-format all-category bestseller list. They also published other lists, for bestselling paperbacks on Amazon in 2015, regardless of publication year and a Kindle list too. Then the newspaper USA Today came out with its own industry-wide all-sources version. What was the difference? Two words: The Martian (good movie, but the book was better). It was number four on USA Today’s list and number four on Amazon’s Kindle list – but it was number 16 on Amazon’s physical book list. There were other titles in the same anomalous situation. Why?

Joe sez: Don't get me started on the WTF factor of bestseller lists. USA Today compiles a list based on surveys of polled outlets. Since publishers don't release actual sales figures to the public (or even to their authors, according to the many who have called for--and won--audits), comparing paper sales of The Martian on USA Today's list and on Amazon's list is apples to oranges.

But for the purpose of this post, let's say that both USA Today and Amazon have bestseller lists that accurately reflect true sales figures.

Child: Because, even now, for most books and most people most of the time, the biggest spur to purchase a physical book is seeing that actual book in a physical place.

Joe sez: That's one interpretation. While I fully believe in the power of the point-of-purchase sale, and I personally believe shelf space and distribution are what has created the name-brand bestselling authors who have dominated bestseller lists for decades, there could be other interpretations of the discrepancy.

Maybe the publisher of The Martian didn't pay Amazon as much co-op as it paid other retailers, so it wasn't as prominently displayed on Amazon.

Maybe people on Amazon prefer buying ebooks, which is evident in The Martian's #4 standing on the Kindle List. (Which would beg the question, where did The Martian fall on USA Today's ebook bestseller list, and why?)

Maybe some publishers paid Amazon more co-op than The Martian's publisher, and so their books had better placement on Amazon and thus sold better.

Maybe some Amazon published or self-published books--which aren't tracked by USA Today--sold better on Amazon than The Martian did.

As I said, I know point-of-purchase is a real thing. Because that's how I believe I've sold two million books. Readers have no idea who I am. I'm not a name brand. But my books are visible on Amazon, and visibility sells books on Amazon the same way it does in airport bookstores.

Child: Because for most people most of the time, reading is a take-it-or-yawn-leave-it activity. Books are not quite distress purchases, but neither are they exciting enough for enthusiastic online hunting. (Again, for most people most of the time, which I’ll stop repeating now, but only if the e-fanboys agree to discuss the real world, not their pretend version. Deal?)

Joe sez: No deal.

Lee, for your audience--like the audience of most mega-bestsellers--book buying may be a take-it-or-yawn-leave-it activity. I won't argue with that. But you're a rare bird. You're the 1% of the 1% of the 1%. Your books are everywhere, so you sell everywhere, and I don't doubt that the vast majority of your buyers are those who read occasionally, picking up a book while on vacation, or for a long flight, or as a gift for the in-laws.

I also have no reason to doubt that the majority of book buyers are casual readers. I can believe that a few hundred bestsellers per year sell far better than their few million competitors, and that most books sold are bought by those who buy fewer than five books per year.

But the majority of authors don't subsist on those type of readers. We make a living from the solid core of medium-to heavy readers, who go through more than a few books per year. This may be a fraction of your audience, but it's still a billion dollar slice of pie to split up among us.

As a legacy fan-boy, you seem to think that unless an author is making an eight figure deal, they're a hobbiest. That is not the "real world" as known by the tens of thousands of our peers who are making a few bucks for the first time ever. Your world is a fairy-tale that you seem to think is the norm (or worse, that you somehow earned).

Congrats. You got really lucky, and won the publishing jackpot. Enjoy it, but stop talking down to us e-fanboys who are making ends meet, because you come off sounding entitled and elitist.

Child: So why would a physical book be number four on one list and 16 on another? Nothing sells physical books better than physical displays in bricks-and-mortar locations.

Joe sez: I can agree with this. It would sure be great if I could get some of that love. Bookstores tend to boycott me, however.

But your argument hasn't even attempted to show why paper sales are somehow better sales than ebook sales for anyone other than the 1% of 1% of 1%. "We" don't need to be worried about this phenomenon. You and Patterson do. And even then, not really. You may lose your eight figure advances as the publishing industry changes, but I'll bet you'll still be able to pay the electric bill if your paper sales disappear.

Child: Millions of people passed by bookshop windows or airport bookstalls, and saw The Martian, and some vague impression clicked in and they said, “Oh yeah, that’s supposed to be cool”, and they bought a copy, and enjoyed it. Same for the other anomalous titles. That is still how books get sold.

Joe sez: No. Nope. Nuh-uh. This is how paper bestsellers get sold.

None of my books have sold this way. Granted, I've only sold two million, not half a billion. And I'm as much of an anomaly to most self-pubbed authors as you are to me. But you're using The Guardian to preach to the Everyday Joe (unless I'm wrong and The Guardian's circulation is limited to members of Authors United), and Everyday Joe simply doesn't have your concerns. The vast majority of writers can't relate, and readers just don't care. Both the casual and the power reader find their books however they find them, and will continue to do that even if the retailers change and the format changes.

Child: Research bears it out. Physical eyeballing is way ahead of any other prompt, be it word of mouth, spam, social media or other kinds of advertising.

Which is a problem for Amazon.

Joe sez: Sure. Except for, you know, the billions of things they sell due to people physically eyeballing Amazon.com. You may have heard the Internet terms surfing and browsing. One does not need to be standing in a shopping mall to impulse buy.

In fact, you may have noticed that Amazon is pretty good at recommending items for customers to buy. The airport kiosk has your latest, a Stephen King, a Nora Roberts, a James Patterson, and whoever took over for poor, dead Michael Crichton. This limited selection ensures that you'll sell a fuckton of paper. I'm sure you like that a lot. I sure would.

But I'm stuck with Amazon, which democratizes that limited shelf space into equal unlimited space for all writers (except for that co-op thing, which we'll get into shortly).

Amazon doesn't have a problem, here. Brick and mortar stores do. Because they have limited space.

You know this. And this is a big reason why you're concerned about Amazon opening 300 stores. Because Amazon could attempt to democratize physical shelf space the same as it has done with virtual shelf space, and that would mean readers would have more than you and six other old white guys to choose from (No disrespect to Ms. Roberts, but old white guys have dominated the bestseller lists for decades.)

Child: Classically it uses books to hook customers and then data-mine them. But it gets only dedicated book buyers.

Joe sez: I have no doubt Amazon is data mining me. Google data mines me. Apple data mines me. My own government data mines me, except they're trying to arrest people without due process rather than sell them stuff. But I don't understand your "dedicated book buyers" comment.

Amazon does get the heavy readers who buy more than a few books a year, and Amazon certainly has loss leads and incentives to get customers to shop for more than just books--they do call themselves "The Everything Store".

Sure, there are more cases of someone grabbing a Red Bull and some M&Ms in an airport and also grabbing your latest paperback at the same time than they are of seeking out a specific Konrath title on Amazon, but what's your point? You sell more so your way is better? You sell more so your way is what the Common Man really prefers?

I think you sell more because you're everywhere. And you're everywhere because you got lucky and won the Big Pub Lottery and could plug into a gigantic distribution network that allows casual readers to find you.

That doesn't make airport impulse purchases the better way to sell books, or the only way. But it certainly discriminates against the vast majority of authors.

Some shoppers look for something specific, like a predator on a game trail. Some graze and devour whatever is in front of them. Most of use do a bit of both. But there is no superior way to buy a book.

Child: Browsing on Amazon isn’t great as a casual experience: fatigue sets in.

Joe sez: Have you ever gone to the mall on Black Friday? You really want to argue fatigue?

Child: (How do you make something totally invisible? Put it on page 17 of an internet search.)

Joe sez: How do you force a midlist legacy author to take a day job? Don't give her a six figure marketing budget.

You're being either myopic or intentionally disingenuous. I'll wager Amazon has allowed many more authors to reach readers in the last five years than the Big Publishing has since 1950.

True, Amazon hasn't created another Lee Child. But I think most people will settle for a hundred Hugh Howeys instead.

Child: And Kindle hasn’t taken over the world. It has settled into a solid niche, like those tiny tubes of toothpaste – essential for travel, but no one uses them at home. (Down, fanboys! Real world!)

Joe sez: Ah, the real world. Do you even remember what that was like, Lee? Worrying about bills? Self-promoting to reach fans? Being paid twice a year and budgeting to make that money stretch?

I like your toothpaste tube analogy, though, even though you intended it to be insultingly dismissive. There are a lot of companies making a lot of money selling travel sized toothpaste. And it may be a niche, but I can subsist in that niche, along with tens of thousands of my peers.

Of course, I really don't believe it's a niche. I believe it's a shadow industry that is a lot bigger than you and your cronies think. It may not have hurt your bottom line, yet. It may never. But my career path doesn't require paper books to fail for me to succeed. My path doesn't require paper sales at all.

Here's a simpler way to explain it. Is it better to have ten people feast until they're stuffed, or for a whole village to eat enough to not starve?

Right there is the difference in our ideologies.

Child: So there is no way for Amazon to replicate that happy, random encounter with a physical bookstore window. Yes, there are bots and algorithms, but those casual millions of three-books-a-year people never see them: they don’t buy books online.

Joe sez: You're proving my point, here. Other than incorrectly romanticizing the selling process of paper books (I debunked paper infatuation way back in 2010), you're preaching to a crowd of a hundred authors, and the bloated industry that has made them rich. The majority of writers don't agree and don't care. Neither do readers. Because those casual three-books-a-year readers will find those books elsewhere if the current paper source dries up, or they'll do something else with their leisure time, like Angry Birds.

Your argument is like saying people truly enjoy the experience of going into a 7-11 and impulse buying a Twinkie. Lots of people certainly do that. But it is far from the only way people choose to snack. And if the Twinkies were gone, these people will find something else to eat, or search elsewhere.

Child: Which is a defeat for Amazon. It prides itself on going where the customers are, and doing what the customers want. And it needs to. Its growth demands all the customers there are.

Joe sez: You have the first part backwards. Amazon's strategy thusfar has been to lead customers to it, not to go where the customers are.

Child: So now, rumour has it, Amazon plans to open another 299 physical bookstores (it already has one, in Seattle). The rumours are denied – or at least, not confirmed – and at first glance they appear economically insane. At the best of times, books are low-velocity, low-margin items, and commercial rents are geared to the opposite – clothes, handbags and other high-profit stuff. But then, for 20 years Amazon has proved willing to eat losses, and investors have allowed it to.

So, what if? And suppose those 300 stores were only the start? We’d quickly approach a de facto monopsony.

Joe sez: And here were go again. I'm so tired of debunking this one. And I'm also tired of repeatedly stating that the Big 5 are a de facto oligopoly; a cartel that fixes prices and censors books. But as much as I debunk the monopoly/monopsony argument, no one has ever challenged my accusations about the Big 5.

Child: Amazon would become the only practical route to market for 1,400 US publishers and a million US self-publishers, for either digital or paper product.

Joe sez: Currently Amazon is the only practical route for millions of self-publishers. Your point?

I've blogged about this before, but can't find the link. In a nutshell, once a company becomes powerful enough to dictate terms for consumers or suppliers, it still has powerful incentives to play fair. That's why Wal-Mart, when it opens in a new town and destroys all the Mom and Pop stores, doesn't raise prices when the competition is killed. If they did, it would allow the Mom and Pops to return and compete. So they have to keep prices low.

The same thing works with suppliers in a digital world. We're not talking oil barons owning a limited amount of land. We're talking the Internet. If Amazon starts screwing authors (you know, maybe like slashing their ebook royalties to 17.5%--who would do something so awful?) then that's just asking for competition to step up and lure authors away with better terms.

And unlike the Big 5 cartel who don't compete on terms (for us mere mortal writers they only compete on the size of advance), Amazon isn't ever going to go the oligopoly route and collude with competitors. Amazon wants to have the widest selection, and they don't want to share. They incentivize authors with Kindle Unlimited in order to offer readers the widest selection. This alarmist notion of "Amazon Will Slash Your Royalties" has no basis in reality.

Or does it? Let's see what Lee digs up...

Child: The history is worrying. Amazon has already tried to use its power in a punitive fashion, as if determined to hurt publishers financially.

Joe sez: Uh, no it hasn't. Anyone who followed the Hachette nonsense on this blog knows what that was really about; publishers wanting higher ebook prices. Which has harmed publishers, and lots of authors (though not Lee Child because he sells buttloads of paper books.)

Child: All kinds of fees and “contributions” are required. “Pay to play” was openly the name of the game, until Amazon’s lawyers suggested a less explicit description. One publisher resisted, and a senior Amazon executive boasted: “I did everything I could to screw with their performance.”

Joe sez: As if Amazon invented co-op. C'mon, Lee. Stop being disingenuous. Publishers have always paid to play. Hint: the reason your books are front and center at Barnes & Noble is because your publisher paid out the ass for it. I don't hear you bitching about those "contributions".

Child: Already, self-publishers have only “terms and conditions”, which change capriciously – so far only to Amazon’s advantage. Is it good public policy to allow one corporation to have total power over a nation’s published output?

Joe sez: Give me "terms and conditions" over the greedy, moronic, inept fuckers who wanted my rights, forever.

You keep demonizing Amazon for things that Big Publishing has already done, and done to a much worse degree. They had total power, and the exercised it lockstep, and fixed prices, and kept millions of books from reaching readers, and screwed authors.

Amazon can never have total power, because they don't own rights, and they can't censor other sales outlets for authors. The Big 6 could and did censor, because they controlled distribution.

You said earlier that the Kindle is niche. So pick an argument, Lee. Does Kindle cater to only a small percentage of the book market, or does it command total power over everything published?

And why, exactly, should we be worried if Amazon opens 300 bookstores? Didn't you say that readers prefer that "happy, random encounter with a physical bookstore window"? What's wrong with 300 more windows?

Oh... wait. I know.

Those are 300 windows that your books won't be prominently featured in unless your publisher pays for it. And how could your poor publisher hope to afford that when they keep giving you eight figure advances?

My my, this is a dilemma.

As for me, who has had zero physical premise in brick and mortar bookstores since Shaken was published in 2010, I'm hoping Amazon does start opening stores and giving those casual readers a broader choice than that same handful of old white guys. And I'm not worried about Amazon having "total power" because, unlike you, I have an understanding of how Amazon works. Every Amazon imprint, every section, functions as its own company. It has to bid for co-op just like publishers do. That's how it avoids any DOJ problems. Amazon will sell used products alongside new ones, for less, via third parties. Amazon allows third party vendors to sell things that Amazon doesn't even carry. Consider that. If you're really worried Amazon will boycott your publisher, Amazon will still offer your publisher's titles on Amazon.com via third parties.

Probably not at the discount you'd like, though.

Amazon won't ever have "total power" because it competes with itself. It wants to sell everything to everyone. Even at the expense of its own profits and shareholders.

The Big 5 want to sell certain books to certain people in certain ways. They want higher prices, and will collude to get them. Except for 1% of 1% of 1%, they pay they authors much less than Amazon does. They keep rights. They demand unconscionable clauses like non-compete and next option.

Amazon has allowed me a career. But I'm only pro-Amazon for as long as they are pro-author.

I said "pro-author" not "pro-Joe."

The Big 5 are not pro-author. They are pro-Lee Child.

That's awesome for you. But--down legacy fanboy!--the rest of us live in the real world.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Konrath's Advice For Indie Booksellers

I just sent out a newsletter to 10,000 people on my mailing list. Some of those people have been on that list since I first started in this biz, back in 2003.

I haven't sent out a newsletter since 2014, so I wasn't too surprised to get this reply from an indie bookseller:

One of the first rules of marketing is know your audience.

It is not the best technique to send an email soliciting orders for Amazon and their related products to Independent Bookstores. This is not the way to win friends and garner bookseller support.

Knowing that you are putting your personal efforts into Amazon guarantees that your titles are  special order upon request only for my store.

Fair enough. I appreciate the response. I also understand it.

But I'm pretty sure this bookseller doesn't understand me. Or the majority of authors who are self-publishing.

I considered replying, but don't see how any good could come from it. She owns a bookstore. She competes with Amazon. She doesn't want to get email from authors who publish through Amazon. If I reply, even graciously, I don't see a way to mend the broken fences she perceives.

Which is a shame. Because I want her store to thrive. And I'd like to help her bookstore thrive. But because I publish my paper work via Createspace and Thomas & Mercer, indie bookstores don't want to have anything to do with me.

This is disappointing. I've always loved bookstores. I’ve signed at over 1200 bookstores in 42 states. I’m pretty sure that’s more than just about any other author.

Then my publisher dropped my series.

Amazon picked the series up, which allowed me to have a real career in this biz. Since working with Amazon, I’ve sold over 2 million books.

Yet, even though I have a lot of fans, the majority of independent bookstores refuse to stock my paper books. Because of my relationship with Amazon. Because they believe I'm a traitor, who has sided with their enemy.

It reminds me a lot of professional sports. Being from Chicago and growing up a Bulls fan, our biggest rival in the 80s was Detroit. The Pistons' Dennis Rodman was the king of all jerks, constantly committing cheap shot after hard foul. What an asshat.

Until he was on our team. Then he was awesome.

For us. Once he moved to Chicago, he lost a lot of Detroit fans.

Detroit shouldn't blame Rodman for the move. The Worm went where he had to go, in order to continue playing. He didn't betray the Motor City for the Windy City. He did what was best for his career.

Right now there are tens of thousands of indie authors. They'd love to be stocked in your bookstore. They'd love to do signings. They're selling very well as ebooks, and I can guarantee some of them would sell well in paper, to your customers.

But first you have to give them a chance. And to do that, you need to stop blaming them for their career choices.

That above email said my books would only be ordered upon special request in her store. I'd bet good money they weren't stocked in the first place.

The above email also took me to task about one of the first rules of marketing. Well, what is one of the first rules of retail? Isn’t it stocking items that customers want to buy?

In my novel DIRTY MARTINI, I thanked over three thousand booksellers, by name. But once I signed with Amazon, these booksellers considered me the enemy, and refused to stock my books.

Is that the way to compete with Amazon? By driving your customers to Amazon.com because they can't find what they want at your bookstore?

Years ago, I made an offer to indie bookstores. That offer still stands. I'd love to work with you. I'd love to help you make money off of my work.

For those too lazy to follow the link, here's some of my TL;DR suggestions:

Remember why people shop indie. You probably got into this business because you love books. And your customers keep coming back because of your knowledge, recommendations, suggestions, and carefully curated selection.

Well, there are over a million books, written by tens of thousands of authors, that you aren't able to recommend or sell to your customers, because they're self-pubbed and Amazon-pubbed and you won't stock them. Your customers missing out on reading new authors, and you're missing out on those sales.

The shadow industry of self-publishing is growing, while legacy publishing shrinks. And now there are rumors that Amazon is going to start opening bookstores nationwide.

If you sell indie books, you can beat them to the punch.

Hold author events. A booksigning still draws readers. But you need to give people a reason to attend other than just a signature. Perhaps an exclusive short story from that author, free to everyone who buys a book. Perhaps a $30 admission includes a book, coffee, a signed t-shirt, plus an ebook download. Give your customers something they can't get elsewhere.

Start publishing. If you're an indie store beloved by authors, ask those authors for a story to put into an anthology, which you can then publish in print and as an ebook. Or ask favorite authors with out-of-print backlists if they'd like to partner with you to re-release those books. Amazon became a publisher. Why can't you?

I have over twenty book-length works available. If you'd like to publish any of them and sell them out of your store, contact me. I'll give you an 85% royalty, send you my already formatted interiors and covers, and you can print and sell as many as you'd like. Or I can do the printing, and ship them to you signed, and give you the same 40% discount the major NY Publishers give you per book.

And I'm just one author. Imagine doing this with a hundred authors. Your own imprint, selling books the chains don't sell, signed copies that Amazon doesn't sell, for a higher profit margin than you get anywhere else.

Nobody wants to see the Indies disappear. There is a tremendous opportunity here, but it starts with taking the emotion out of how you view self-published authors and looking at it with an eye to what customers want.

What they want hasn't changed. They want your advice about which books to read.

You just need to figure out how you can best serve them in this brave, new world.

Joe sez: I wrote that blog pose five years ago, and it's still ahead of its time.

Not a single bookstore has taken me up on my offer.

But they're more than happy to email me about my lack of marketing savvy.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Attack of the Bibliography!

I noticed an Amazon trend a few months ago. Some third party indie publishers were creating Kindle bibliographies for bestselling authors who had a lot of titles.

I thought it was interesting, but probably not necessary. Amazon makes it pretty simple for readers to find books. Why should readers have to buy an ebook to get a list of ebooks to buy?

But more and more of these bibliographies began to pop up.  I took a closer look at the trend, and realized why.

Amazon customers were searching for series titles in order. So to find them, they would type in something like "JD Robb series in order" or "Nora Roberts series" or "JD Robb books chronological".

If you search for any of those, you get four different bibliographies by different publishers offering their $0.99 checklist of JD Robb/Nora Roberts titles.

So I had myself a think.

I have two pen names--Jack Kilborn and Melinda DuChamp.

I operate under the assumption that most of my ebooks are bought and read by readers who haven't heard of me (or my pen names) previously. They're browsing, find a title, and buy it. If they like it, the hope is that they'll seek out other titles.

One way I do this is to have a bibliography in the back of my ebooks. But this is problematic; links are tied to a specific region, like the US or UK or Canada, so I haven't been using links, just a static list. This makes it harder for readers to instantly buy one of my other titles (every step introduced between the desire for a purchase and the actual purchase loses some potential customers). It's also problematic when, like me, you have 60 ebook titles with more coming out every year, which requires updating the bibliography in every single title.

Maybe readers who try me and like me will Google me and find my website. But that takes an extra step. More likely, they'll search for me on Amazon, perhaps with the term "JA Konrath series in order", and maybe they'll start the series from the beginning. Or maybe they won't. Or maybe they'll miss a title. Or maybe they'll give up in frustration because it isn't immediately apparent to them which books of mine tie in together, and the order they should be read in.

So I published this, for free on Amazon.

The long and search-intensive title is:

"J.A. Konrath Books in Order: Jack Daniels Series in Reading Order, Jack Kilborn, Codename: Chandler, Melinda DuChamp, Complete Pen Name Chronological Bibliography".

The link is: http://www.amazon.com/Konrath-Books-Order-Chronological-Bibliography-ebook/dp/B01BD0167G

I also made free downloads available in my website, as Kindle and pdf files.

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

The Reading Order ebook has links in it, to make it very easy for readers to immediately download any of my titles, in order.

Q: But Joe, earlier you said that was a problem, because links are tied to a specific Amazon store. What if an Amazon.ca reader downloaded the book? Does your ebook have links for Canada too?

Joe sez: Sort of. I took a shortcut. There's a very cool, and free, service called Booklinker.net. You put in an Amazon link, and you can create your own URL.

For example, for my upcoming 9th Jack Daniels novel, RUM RUNNER (being released March 25), I created this universal URL:

http://getBook.at/rumrunnerebook

That link is clicker specific. If you are from Canada and shop at Amazon.ca, it will take you to the RUM RUNNER Amazon page in Canada. If you are in England, it'll take you to Amazon.co.uk. And so on.

Pretty cool, huh? So rather than have a gazillion links for each ebook title, I only have a single, Booklinker link.

BTW--if you haven't pre-ordered RUM RUNNER yet, please do.

Q: Okay, so you've got a bibliography, and it has links for all of your ebooks at all Amazon stores worldwide. But how did you make it free? Does Amazon allow free ebooks?

Joe sez: No, Amazon doesn't allow freebies. But it does price-match with other retailers who do offer freebies.

So I used the fine services of Draft 2 Digital. In about ten minutes, I set up an account and uploaded the READING ORDER ebook as a free ebook, and D2D distributed it to Apple, Kobo, Scribd, Nook, and Inktera, and they all went live within 24 hours. It was fast, simple, and free to do, and the D2D folks were accommodating and responsive.

I also created a Google Books account and uploaded it there, also for free.

Then I went to me Amazon page for the READING ORDER ebook and clicked on tell us about a lower price at the bottom of the Product Details section.

I started this on February 2. Once a day I'd tattle on myself, clicking on that link and reporting the free links from Apple, Nook, etc. Six days later, Amazon price-matched my book, so it is now free.

Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.ca aren't free, because first I wanted to see how the US experiment went. But now I'm doing the same thing with those stores, and I expect they'll be free soon.

All in all, not too much work. A few hours at most to compile the book. I paid 52novels.com to do the formatting, and Extended Imagery to do the cover, so there was a cost involved.

Q: Was this effort worth the time and cost?

Joe sez: I have no idea. I saw a trend. It made sense to follow it, because I understand why it's happening. Aggregation is a form of information, and it has value. So much value that some readers are willing to pay for compiled information that they could otherwise get for free.

Amazon is very good at collecting data, and very good at recommending books to readers. But there are many ways to skin a cat. The fact that these "reading checklist" books seem to be so popular shows that some readers want aggregation in ebook form. I've even seen some ask for pdf form, to print out. Why miss an opportunity to connect with fans and potential fans if this is how they prefer to find you?

Media industries are filled with cautionary tales about companies not listening to customers. One that springs to mind is Napster. Rather than study and learn from consumers who were trading digital files, they tried to shut it down with lawyers and cries of copyright infringement. As a result, Apple--a computer company--is now the biggest music retailer in the world. If the record companies had listened to what consumers wanted (easy to download digital files) they could have made billions.

If some readers want a handy ebook checklist to make sure they get all of my work, it makes sense to give it to them.

My approach seems like the best way for me to give it a go. It works for all Amazon stores, it will allow new fans (and longtime fans) to easily find and read all of my ebooks in order, and it should be easy to maintain and update as I release new titles.

But if anyone has any suggestions or better ideas, I'm all ears.

Visibility and discoverabilty seem to be the biggest hurdles for authors to overcome. Remember, sales isn't about selling something to someone who doesn't want it. It's about informing people who are looking to buy the type of things you're selling.

You want readers to be able to find you in as many ways as possible. And once they find you, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to read you. Every extra step they have to take--even if it's just one extra click--will lose you some customers.

If someone likes your kind of books, you should be very easy to find and acquire. If you have more than twenty titles, that might mean you should consider a reading order checklist.

Thoughts?