Friday, August 27, 2010

On Beyond Ebooks

I'm loving the ebook revolution.

Obviously, I enjoy the money I'm making (close to $500 a day).

But it's more than that. I'm able to do things I never could have done in the traditional publishing world.

Not only can I release ebooks when they're finished (rather than waiting a year), and have much greater control over the content, cover, and title, but I can also play with the format and do new, interesting things.

With TRAPPED, I released two different versions of the novel in the same ebook download. The author's version and the uncut version. It's pretty cool to show fans all the stuff that was cut, added, and changed, and let them decide for themselves which one they prefer.

With SHAKEN, coming out in October, Amazon is also releasing a dual ebook. SHAKEN takes place during 1989, 2007, and 2010, and jumps around in time. I had a ball writing it, and showing Jack at various stages in her career while she chases the same bad guy over the course of twenty years. But along with the author's preferred version, the SHAKEN ebook will also come with a linear version. If people want to read the book chronologically, rather than go back and forth in time, they can. And even cooler, it reads well in both versions.

Eager to romp in this new digital playground, I have two more projects that will be released in September.

One is secret, and I'm not going to mention the title or the subject yet. But I will say it is a horror novel. And I will say I'm writing it with three of my peers. Those peers are F. Paul Wilson, Jeff Strand, and Blake Crouch.

When I was working on TRAPPED and ENDURANCE, I followed the same formula as AFRAID. In nutshell, I took a handful of characters and dropped them into a terrifying situation, then followed each of their journeys as they fought an insurmountable evil. No chapter breaks--just direct cuts from POV to POV.

It occurred to me that I could write a book in this style with other authors, and it would be a snap. Instead of me writing every character on my own, each of us could control a character, and the book will follow each storyline until they all converge. It's the exact same formula as AFRAID, TRAPPED, and ENDURANCE, except we can write it in 1/4 of the time, and it will benefit from four unique inputs.

I've worked with Paul, Jeff, and Blake on projects before. We're all having a blast putting our heads together and writing this outrageous, horrifying, over-the-top horror epic.

The thing is, this couldn't have happened in the print world. We would have had to get all of our current print publisher's approval (because of no-compete and first look clauses), had to have found a buyer, and had to have toned down some of the violence (this sucker is violent!) But doing this on our own, we have complete control, don't have to answer to anybody, and can write a novel just for the sheer joy of it. Then we can release it immediately after completion, and get the lion's share of the royalties.

I also am playing with the ebook format in another way. Remember the Choose Your Own Adventure novels from the 80's?

I wrote one with Harry McGlade (from the Jack Daniels series) as the hapless hero.

At the end of each section, you decide where Harry goes next. This results in hundreds of variations, and over a dozen different endings. This interactive format is perfectly suited to ebooks, where clicking on a link and being instantly transported to it is easier than flipping through a dead tree book, looking at page numbers.

The book is ridiculously entertaining to read, and I don't think I've ever had more fun writing something. Because the humor is so offensive, I never would have been able to sell this to a traditional publisher.

But with Kindle, I can really utilize the format to do things that publishers can't, and won't, do.

It's beyond liberating. As a friend of mine said, "Joe, you're finally unbridled." Which is what it actually feels like. I can run free, do what I want, and connect with readers on my own terms. I'm not restricted by anything, including my imagination.

Ebooks are more than just putting your run-of-the-mill stories into a digital format. They can actually do more than print books, and offer artists new, exciting opportunities. And we haven't even broached on the "enriched ebook" possibilities with audio and video.

I'm thrilled to be a writer in 2010. It's too cool.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Doers and Waiters

"It will be interesting to see what happens."

"No one can predict what will come."

"The publishing industry is changing."

"Let's wait and see."

I've seen these comments, and variations of them, quite a bit lately, all over the interwebs.

People seem to believe things are getting shaken up. And the overwhelming majority of them respond to this call to action by waiting around to see what happens.

This is a trait of human nature. No one wants to be the first to do anything. Because it's scary being first. You could be wrong. You could look foolish. You could make a mistake. You could lose money, or burn bridges, or destroy your reputation.

Look at agent Andrew Wiley. He published ebook versions of his clients' books, presumably because Random House wouldn't negotiate higher royalty rates. In response, RH stopped dealing with Wiley. Yesterday, Wiley announced they'd come to an agreement, and RH would once again be the publisher.

Wiley acted, and on the surface, it looks like Wiley caved in and lost.

That's why most people wait. They watch, and wait, and watch, and make comments about those who are actually DOING something. Some support the doers. Some belittle the doers.

But the actual doers are few and far between.

While I understand how difficult it is for people to take chances, I also have to wonder how these waiters view themselves.

Don't they know that waiting around doesn't make you successful? That the rich, the famous, the ones that society remembers and reveres, are the doers?

In the case of the current publishing climate, most of my professional peers, and all of the Big 6 NY publishers, are playing the waiting game. Rather than jumping into these scary new waters, they're at most dipping a toe in.

No chance taking. No commitment. Just waiting until they can be sure.

But there's a problem with waiting around to be sure. By the time you are sure, it might be too late.

I believe that if you aren't failing, you aren't trying hard enough. Sitting around and letting other people decide the fate of something important to you makes zero sense.

Sure, it's scary and risky to put your money where your mouth is, and to back up your opinions with action.

But history is written by those who do. Not those who wait to see what happens.

Wiley did it. For a month. I wish he'd stuck to his guns, but I applaud him for at least giving it a try.

What about you? What have you tried lately? What have you failed at lately?

As Meister Eckhart said, “The price of inaction is far greater than the cost of making a mistake.”

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Publishers Weakly

According to this article, well known industry mag Publishers Weekly is going to "embrace the self-publishing phenomenon" and begin listing self-published titles in a quarterly supplement.

They are books and that is what PW cares about. And we aim to inform the trade.

On the surface, it seems they're actually acknowledging this red-headed stepchild of the publishing world. They even claim they're going to review at least 25 self-pubbed books per supplement. Perhaps those indie authors who fought so long and hard for respect will finally get some recognition from the industry that spurned them.

Intrigued? Interested? Willing to give it a try?

All it takes is $149 for the processing fee.

For that fee, PW will print your title, author name, ISBN, and a brief description, in their supplement. The fee does not include a review.

We briefly considered charging for reviews, but in the end preferred to maintain our right to review what we deemed worthy. The processing fee that guarantees a listing and the chance to be reviewed accomplishes what we want: to inform the trade of what is happening in self-publishing and to present a PW selection of what has the most merit.

They used the phrase "inform the trade" two different times, as if to hammer home the point that their magazine is there to serve the industry. At the end of the article, they even say, "books are our business."

Actually, this little venture seems more like "authors are our business." If PW truly believed in the worth and merit of self-pubbed books, and that their subscribers needed to know about this "phenomenon", then shouldn't they list these titles for free? If the trade really wants a compendium of self-pubbed ISBNs, surely this list will only make them more eager to sign up for another PW subscription, right?

But instead, I can't see this as anything other than trying to separate a writer from her money. The chance of being reviewed is dangled there like a carrot on a stick, but there are no guarantees. Which seems even less appealing than Kirkus Discoveries, which began offering a paid review service for indie authors a few years ago, and endured considerable flack for it.

The part that really makes me set my jaw, however, is this paragraph:

The entire PW editorial staff will participate in a review of the titles being considered for review, and we'll likely invite a few agent friends and distributors to have a look at what we've chosen. No promises there, just letting some publishing friends take advantage of the opportunity to see the collection.

Ugh. And this article was written by George W. Slowik Jr., the president of PW.

Making indie authors pay for nothing more than a few sentences in a quarterly supplement (not even the actual magazine) is pretty pathetic. But saying that agents will see this, under the guise of making no promises that they will, is really yucky.

The $149 fee also comes with a six month subscription to the digital edition of PW, which is normally $90. No word about getting a partial refund if PW folds before the six months is over. But if they're this needy for cash, and willing to go in this direction to get it, I don't have high hopes.

Which reminds me--I haven't gotten an issue of 8-Track Tapes Weekly in quite some time...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Guest Post by Libby Fischer Hellmann

Libby is an old friend and one of the first writers I met once I became published. Like me, she's currently dipping a toe in the Kindle world.

Her books are a lot of fun. If you're a mystery fan, I highly recommend them.

In the interest of fostering an open dialog, I asked her to come up with some reasons why authors should stick with traditional print publishing. This is her response.

Libby: I am a traditionally published author with six crime fiction novels out. I am an indie author with a two novels and a collection of short stories out (Joe wrote the foreword for one of them, btw). In fact, it was Joe, a good friend, who pushed me to do my short story collection for Kindle and Smashwords. I’ve written about e-books on my blog, and I tell every author I meet to put their backlist on Kindle and try to keep the e-rights to their future works. (Which is getting harder to do).

I participate on the Kindle Boards, the Amazon Kindle and Mystery community threads, (Love the Secret Book Club), and I see the handwriting on the wall, er, screen. I am incensed that publishers are only giving their authors a 25% royalty for e-books. I do not agree that just because a publisher releases an author’s book in print that they are automatically entitled to the e-rights. I think the prices publishers charge are outrageous (None of my e-books, at least the ones I control, are more than $3.99). I agree with Joe that the major publishers are clueless about the future, and that many will be forced to downsize to adapt to this Brave New E-World.

So, when Joe asked me to make a case for traditional publishing in this climate and on this blog, I hesitated. Given everything that Joe’s written and done, was I crazy? A masochist? Do I WANT to get beat up in the comments section? Um, in a word, no. But… the more I thought about it, I decided I did have some points to make.

In one of his recent blogs, Joe talked about the “tipping point,” the point at which authors and agents will no longer need publishers. And that’s the key. We are not yet at the tipping point, and, while we may be in a few years, for now, I still want to be traditionally published. Here’s why:

If a publisher gets behind a title, you can’t beat their marketing support and promotion. They saturate the media with information and hype in a way most individual authors can’t. Even if you’re not one of the “chosen,” publishers send out ARCs for review – which I believe is still the best ways to start generating “buzz.”

As much as I appreciate Amazon reviews, a review from the New York Times, or NPR can make a huge difference in sales, in both DTB and e-books.

Publishers still underwrite author tours, which while they aren’t as effective as they used to be, are worth doing, mostly because of the local media that can be generated from the visit.

Publishers are beginning to understand the world of book blogging and are trying to catch up. And when I see an ad of someone’s book on a bus or subway or billboard, I might gnash my teeth that it’s not mine, but it makes a difference in my awareness.

Traditional publishers’ distribution networks are broad, deep, and in some cases, even creative. As much as we focus online for our book info, when you see a book in the bookstore, at the airport, in Costco, or the grocery store, it makes an impression.

The more impressions, the more apt a consumer is to buy. Publishers make those impressions possible in ways that a computer screen can’t. Sure, you can see a book being talked about by several bloggers on Twitter, you can read an interview with the author on line, you can see their blogs on other blogs, but seeing the product in the “real” world is different. You can touch it, thumb through the pages, read the 69th page, even the last line, and make up your mind whether you want it.

And if the publishers’ sales reps are enthusiastic about a title, they can make a difference in the numbers that are available. I’m not saying that can’t happen with e-books; we’ve seen how a cascade of recommendations can catapult a book into Amazon’s best-seller lists; just that we’re not at the “tipping point” yet. Most readers still do not have Kindles or Nooks or iPads.

Publishers offer a built-in editing service. Yes, there are books out from major publishers where the editing sucks. Yes, there are authors who refuse to be edited, or editors who are afraid of touching other authors’ work. But, for the most part, an editor at a publishing house makes a book better. They have for me.

The way I see it is that you have one chance to impress readers, whether you’re traditionally or e-published. Your book HAS to be the best you can possibly make it. If not, no one will buy Book Two. Unless a third party (not a relative or friend) who knows what they’re doing takes a look at it, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Traditional publishers have that third party. And you don’t have to pay for it.

Over the years, I’ve been to hundreds of bookstores. In some cases, they have hand sold my books and helped my numbers. They have hosted me when there were thirty people, and when there were less than three.

Booksellers are some of the most knowledgeable, thoughtful people I know. They steer me to wonderful stories, introduce me to authors I might not have considered. I would hate to lose their expertise. Traditional publishing helps booksellers – not as much as readers buying books, of course – but for now, until the “tipping point” arrives, they are an indispensible part of the book landscape. Happily, some have already created e-stores; I hope more do. We need to keep hearing their voices.

If you’re an author who wants to recognized with an award or nomination, traditional publishing still has the big ones. The Pulitzer, the Booker, Penn/Faulkner, the Edgar, etc. stipulate a DTB, not an e-book alone. That may change; other awards might take their place, but for now, that seems to be the case.

OK. This is way too long as is, but I hope I’ve offered some perspective. At least another voice.

Fire away… Oh, and if you’re looking for some great e-books, I sure hope you’ll check mine out.

Joe's response:

Indeed, publishers can do a great job supporting books. Even ebooks. My friend Henry Perez is a perfect example. His ebook, MOURN THE LIVING, was free for three days on Kindle, because of his publisher. When the free promotion ended, it became the #1 paid bestseller on Kindle, and is currently #15. His previous title, KILLING RED, also broke the top 100.

Henry is selling A LOT of ebooks. He couldn't have done this on his own, because authors can't release ebooks for free on Amazon.

But not every ebook gets this treatment, and not every ebook that is lucky enough to get this treatment hits #1.

Support by publishers is terrific, when you can get it. I've certainly gotten some support, and it has helped.

But how much has it helped? I contend I've done more for building my own buzz than my publishers have done, and my publishers have done more for me than most authors get in terms of support.

Choosing a traditional publisher because you hope they'll support you isn't really a good bet, since most books don't get much of a push. Even ARCs have become rarer, with some publishers offering free e-galleys but nothing printed.

Plus, what are you giving up to get support? Are the sales generated by an ad in Romantic Times worth trading 70% royalties for 8%? Will you make up the lower royalty profit in volume? In my experience, probably not.

Libby is right. A traditionally published book can reach many more eyes than a self-pubbed one. But there are two issues that need to be addressed.

1. Right now, the tipping point hasn't come. So bookstores are still the main way to reach readers. However, that point will come. And soon. Do you want to sign with a publisher if the distribution system collapses?

2. Selling 10,000 books at $6.99 each earns the author $5600. Selling 3000 ebooks at $2.99 each earns the author $6000. Selling a lot of books is great, but you can make more money selling fewer books without the need for widespread distribution.

Again, I agree with Libby, but only to a point. As I've mentioned ad nauseum, I wrote nine novels before I landed a book deal. Since then, my books have required very little editing, because I learned craft and structure on my own through trial and error.

While some writers can be helped immeasurably by professional editing, the majority of my peers require very little once they turn their manuscript in.

Yes, newbies pretty much need it. Some pros do too. But some folks don't need it as much, and certainly not to the degree that the industry ballyhoos it.

Again, Libby is right. For now.

I personally hope we always have bookstores. I love them. But my numbers have shown I can earn more money without being in bookstores. In fact, I wish my books were out of print.

Being a professional writer means making a living. The majority of professional writers do that through publishers and booksellers. But currently, the majority of my income is coming from one bookseller: Amazon.

That's doesn't mean I don't value brick and mortar stores. It just means I'm trying to make a living.

I hate awards, and I say this having been nominated for many and having won a few. I despise the nepotism, favoritism, and self-important aggrandizement of organizations that give awards, and question the value they have to book sales.

A chosen few dictating the best of any given category is ludicrous, as if "best" is a quantifiable, objective trait.

That said, some believe awards are helpful, and I'm willing to entertain arguments to that bend.

The industry hasn't reached its tipping point yet. But I have.

I fully expect the industry to reach the same conclusions I've reached. But it might take some time.

Until then, weigh your options, experiment, and choose your course of action wisely... because you might be tied into your choice for longer than you think.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Changing Face of Publishing

Things seem to be happening quickly in the publishing world. Quickly and, unfortunately, not optimistically.

I'm currently in Florida, having just spoken at a mystery writer convention. They flew me here to talk about ebooks. And people were excited to hear what I had to say, both newbie authors, and professionals.

It seems like a lot of people are being dropped by their publishers. In the past week, I've personally spoken to six authors this has happened to.

I've also spoken to three authors whose publishers are releasing "enriched" ebooks of their upcoming work, involving video, interviews, and extras.

I'm sensing a shift. And this shift will likely prove fatal for many of the parties involved.

If, as I suspect, publishers are going to print fewer books, that will result in a death spiral. Fewer books printed means fewer sold in bookstores, who will no longer be able to stay open. Without bookstore orders, publishers will print even fewer books. And so on.

Publishers might be looking at enriched or enhanced ebooks as their new big-ticket items to replace hardcovers. But the major ebook retailer, Amazon, isn't set up for video. Kindle isn't even able to do color yet. That leaves Apple, and according to my numbers Apple is a very small part of the ebook market. I sell 200 ebooks a day on Kindle. On iPad, I sell 100 a month.

Enriched ebooks seem expensive, and I don't see the money pouring in yet.

But if print goes the way of the dodo, publishers will have to rely on ebooks. Plain old non-enriched ebooks. And if they keep offering authors 17.5% royalty on the cover price, they soon won't have any authors to publish. After all, authors can get 70% on their own. And it doesn't take 18 months to release it. Plus the author gets to pick the price, cover, and title.

I know an author whose book debuted on the extended NYT bestseller list, who was told that more than half of her sales were Kindle sales. If this author had self-published the title and sold it at a reasonable price (other than $9.99 set by the publisher) I bet the ebook sales would have been quadruple.

My friend Henry Perez currently has the #1 ebook on Amazon, Mourn the Living. His publisher was savvy enough to give it away for free. As a result, his first thriller, Killing Red, is selling very well, and broke the top 100 Kindle downloads. The novella we wrote together, Floaters, is also selling better than it ever has in the past 18 months.

Update: The freebie promotion for Mourn the Living has ended, and Henry is currently the #1 overall paid Kindle Bestseller. Take that, Stieg Larsson.

And yet, even though Henry kicking ebook ass, this success doesn't appear to translate to his paperback sales--they're both ranked in the 200,000s and 400,000s.

We might be looking at the beginning of the end of print.

Naturally, people are bemoaning this. Here are some of the things I've heard so often, they're becoming cliches:
  • I love print books
  • I'll never get rid of my book collection
  • I enjoy seeing a book on the shelf
  • I like the tactile experience of paper
  • Print books don't run out of batteries
  • Ebooks hurt my eyes
  • Ereaders are fragile and too expensive
  • I love the smell of paper books
But these protests and professions of love apparently aren't being followed up with ACTUALLY BUYING PRINT BOOKS. All these folks are complaining and insisting that print will be around forever, yet I've read from several sources that ebooks are currently 8.5% of the total book market. By the end of the year, they may be over 10%.

A growing ebook market means a shrinking print market. Those who want print to stay had better start buying more books.

Writers also seem to be defending the status quo. Very few believe, or want to believe, that the old gatekeeping system is crumbling down. They insist that publishers will somehow adapt.

Maybe publishers will adapt. Maybe bookstores will survive. Maybe print will persevere.

But it's important to look at this coldly.

It doesn't matter what writers, publishers, readers, and bookstores say they want.

It matters what they're doing.

Right now, readers are voting with their wallets. They're making the ebook market grow at an incredible rate; up 6% in just 12 months. That's over a 200% sales increase in ebooks.

Publishers are publishing fewer books, dropping authors, and seem to be pushing forward with ebooks with no real business plan. They price their ebooks too high, give authors too small a royalty, and are adding movies that can only be played on devices that people aren't using to read on, like the iPad.

Bookstores are selling fewer and fewer books, and are trying to get into the ebook market to save themselves.

And writers, brainwashed through years of Stockholm Syndrome, continue to have faith in a broken system that seems ill-equipped to weather the oncoming tsunami.

Everyone may want things to stay the same.

But you can't always get what you want.

Friday, August 06, 2010

The Beginning of the End?

Dorchester just announced it is cutting its mass market paperback line and focusing on ebooks.

A few months ago, Medallion announced the same thing.

I've heard, through sources who asked not to be named, that sell-through for paperbacks is as bad as 20%. In other words, out of ten printed, only two sell.

Now what's going to happen if more publishers follow this business model?

Here's a possible scenario.

1. Fewer paperbacks are published. Publishers either eliminate their paperback lines, or begin publishing more selectively, in smaller numbers, to cut costs and losses.

2. Bookstores have fewer books on their shelves, and sell fewer books as a result. Which means less money to the publishers.

3. Publishers downsize, since the ebook market, though growing, doesn't bring in the same money as print does. In order to maintain positive cash flow, they bill their accounts to pay up.

4. Their accounts--bookstores and distributors--can't pay up. They don't have the money to pay for the books they've sold--which they bought on credit. So they begin returning other books on the shelves to get credit for those.

5. Now there are far fewer books on the shelves, which means far fewer sales.

So when publishers stop printing as many books as they are now, the delicate balance will shift.

What does this mean to you, the author?

The main reason we need publishers is for distribution. We can't get into Wal-Mart or Borders on own own. They can. So we accept 8% royalties in order to sell a lot of books. But if publishers are no longer printing books, there is ZERO reason to sign with them, because they no longer have that advantage. Especially when we can earn 70% royalties on our own.

If you do sign with a publisher, make sure it contains a clause that states they MUST release it in print, or revert the rights back to you. Make sure there is specific wording for "out of print" that doesn't include ebook sales.

But, if you do sign with a publisher, do you think you'll ever get your rights back?

Let's say I'm running a publishing company. I see ebooks are the future, and I've got three new authors coming out in print. I gave these authors healthy advances, and there's no way they'll earn out these advances with print sales.

Their contracts state the only way they'll get rights back is if the books go out of print. But if I'm making all of my money on ebooks, and I'm still not close to earning back the advance money I gave the author, I simply can't allow the books to go out of print.

What should I do, as a publisher? If a book is selling very few print copies, but a lot of ebook copies, what are my options?

Now, we all know that publishers are honest, and their accounting is always truthful. But what if, when facing bankruptcy, some unscrupulous publisher (as opposed to all the honest ones) decide to artificially keep a book in print in order to keep earning ebook royalties?

Here's an imaginary example.

Joe Blow gets a $50k book deal with Publisher X. Publisher X cuts the print run because they're having some money trouble, and ships out 30k copies. The book does so-so, and has a 30% sell-though. Of those 9000 copies sold at $6.99 each, Joe Blow earns $5040.

So the publisher is in the red for $45k (probably more, but we'll stick to the advance..)

However, the book is doing well as an ebook, and has sold 5,000 copies. And unlike the print books, which dwindle down to a few hundred per year, the ebook stays strong.

5,000 ebooks sold, at $6.99 each, equals $6,100 in royalties.

Let's look at the royalty numbers for the first few years.

Year 1
Print: $5040
Ebook: $6100

Year 2
Print : $1020
Ebook: $7,200

Year 3
Print: $302
Ebook: $9,000

Year 4
Print: $51
Ebook: $12,500

Now the publisher has a problem. Joe Blow has earned out $41,213 of his $50,000 advance. By year 5, he'll certainly earn it out. But his book is pretty much out of print, which means the publisher has to revert the rights back to the author, on a book that is earning money.

The publisher may be reluctant to do that, for obvious reasons. So what should Publisher X do?

Maybe, incredibly, they sold more print books in Year 4 than they originally thought. Maybe they tell Joe Blow they owe him $1500 for print sales--which is enough to say the book is still in print, and then they still have the rights.

Will Joe Blow ever get his rights back?

Now let's look at what would happen if Joe Blow never sold the book at all. He self-pubs at $2.99, earning $2.04 royalty per book.

Using the same sales figures as above, let's see what he makes.

Year 1: $10,200

Year 2: $12,039

Year 3: $15,049

Year 4: $20,901

Looks like Joe earned $41,213 through his publisher, and $58,189 on his own. Plus he still owes the publisher $8787 on his advance.

Chances are, Joe will earn out his advance in Year 5, and then make a steady $10k per year off of this title, through his publisher.

If he'd kept the rights, he'd be making $20k in Year 5, and every year after that. But my numbers assume he'd sell the same number of books at his publisher's $6.99 price as he would at his own $2.99 price--which is doubtful. The $2.99 price will sell a lot more, based on my experience.

So how much money is Joe Blow losing in the long run by signing with a print publisher? Will Joe ever get his rights back when "creative accounting" comes into play?

Now, I know this scenario takes a lot of liberty with reality. None of us can imagine a future where publishers would knowingly fudge numbers. And we all know that print will remain the dominant force in publishing for years to come, even if publishers are printing fewer books and even dropping their print lines completely.


Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The High Cost of Self Promotion

I've done a lot of self promoting.

I've been to all the major mystery writing conferences, many multiple times. I've visited over 1200 bookstores. I've spoken at hundreds of libraries and book fairs.

I never really wanted to do any of it. The conventions were fun, but also a lot of work. I tended to try my best to burn as brightly as possible, and anyone who knows their astrophysics knows what results from that; burn out.

But I refused to get burned out. I believed the only thing keeping me in print was my never-ending effort to get myself in front of people.

Things have changed.

In the last few months, I've turned away over a dozen speaking engagements. Most of them offered to pay all expenses--flight, hotel, food. Some even offered a decent stipend on top of that.

I would have cut off my own legs to have had opportunities like this, back at the start of 2010.

So why am I being all hermit-like now?

Because I believe I've found a better use of my time.

My goal has always been to sell as many books as possible, with the hope of making a decent living at it. In the recent past, I'd identified certain things that I felt I needed to do, in order to reach that goal.

The most expensive, and time consuming, of these things, was travel.

As far as I'm concerned, nothing beats face time. Meeting a bookseller, a fan, a potential fan, is really the best way to promote yourself. A handshake, a smile, a joke, a thank-you--I've personally done this to over twenty thousand people. I felt it was my duty to. If I didn't, I might go out of print. If I went out of print, I'd lose my income, and my dream of writing full-time.

Consider that last observation. I was worried about no longer being able writing full time, so I'd become a full time traveling salesman. A full time ambassador, visiting thirty-nine states to spread goodwill and brand awareness.

But something has changed recently. A big something.

I don't feel the need to stay in print anymore.

In fact, I wish my books were out of print, so I'd have the rights to them back. (by my estimate, I'm losing around $100k per year because publishers have seven of my backlist titles and are pricing them too high for the ebook market and giving me a fraction of the royalties I could earn on my own.)

Since the rise of ebooks, I've been making more money that I ever have being traditionally published. This is steady money, and seems to be growing.

Face time isn't required for me to be able to sell ebooks. So I promised my wife I'd stop traveling everywhere, and do the thing I always said I'd do: write full time.

A funny thing happened. Once I cut down on traveling, I was able to get more writing done.

So far, this year, I've written four novels. By the end of the year, I'll squeeze in one or two more.

I'll be able to earn a lot more on new work, than I would promoting old work. Better yet, rather than trying to seek out publicity, it seems to be coming to me. I've gotten dozens of emails from people who recently read about me in Newsweek. When I spent a summer visiting 500 bookstores, Newsweek didn't call me. But sitting on my butt, doing my little ebook thing, is getting me a lot more exposure for a lot less effort.

Ebooks have given authors a choice. For decades, there was only one game in town--traditional print publishing. I studied that game, learned how to play, and had some modest success. But it was hard work.

Recently, I've been studying the new game in town, ebooks, and I haven't looked back. I can make more money, do less traveling, and spend more time doing the thing I wanted to do in the first place; write.

Now, some of my peers think that refusing speaking engagements is a mistake. I should be grateful people want to see me.

I am grateful. But the math just doesn't work.

I've turned down thirteen speaking gigs. Figure, with travel, each one took an average of four days.

That means I'd have given up over fifty days.

I can write a book in fifty days.

What's better for my career; face time with thousands of people, or a new book that will be potentially earning money forever?

NY Publishing didn't want more than a book a year from me. And a book a year was about my limit, considering all the promo I did.

Now I'm able to focus on the thing I love--the writing.

Out of all the cool things about the ebook revolution, this may be the coolest.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Guest Blogger Stacey Cochran on “Sequels” and eBooks

Stacey was one of a few who took me into his house when I was on tour with the Rusty Nail 500. He's probably the only guy on the planet who has more rejections than I do, and his persistence and dedication to getting his work read is an inspiration to all. He's also one of these "pay it forward" type of writers who extends both hands in helping others and shining the spotlight on them.

Stacey is currently doing a blog tour for his latest ebook, CLAWS 2. It's $2.99. You should check it out.

Now, here he is...

STACEY: Thanks, Joe, for having me at your place in the midst of my CLAWS 2 Blog Tour. For folks unfamiliar with me, CLAWS 2, or a Blog Tour in general, you might check out my website for more info.

The goal of a Blog Tour is for an author to visit a number of blogs over a set period of weeks in order to promote and spread the word about his/her book. I launched CLAWS 2 on July 1 as an eBook-exclusive available through the Kindle store and have managed to set up 18 “tour stops” with blog proprietors for the months of July and August. It is one of the most cost-effective forms of marketing I’ve ever used, and so far July has been my most successful sales month in a year.

What I need: 1) customers to buy my book, 2) customers to write reviews of the book, 3) other bloggers to host me during August and September.

If you can host me on your blog, drop me a note as a comment or via my website. We’ll set it up.

CLAWS 2 Cover

Amazon Link:


So I thought I would write today about my observations regarding sales numbers for CLAWS 2 and CLAWS. The main point that I’d like to make for newbies is that I have seen a dramatic increase in sales of CLAWS with the launch of CLAWS 2.

Joe could probably speak to this subject as well, as he is the author of a great series of books.

As naïve as it sounds, I had not considered that CLAWS would see any bump with the release of CLAWS 2. When I wrote these novels five years ago, my main reason for doing so was that I thought it would look cool. To my knowledge, no one has ever published a series of novels so similarly titled. Of course, filmmakers do it all the time (Nightmare on Elm Street, SAW, Friday the 13th, JAWS, Piranha, etc.). With writers, the fashion seems to be to change up the titles around a catchy theme (drinks, alphabet, colors, numbers, etc.), but no one just calls their series TITLE 1, TITLE 2, TITLE 3, etc.

I thought it would look cool, and I’d never seen it done in the publishing world. That was the height of my expectations and rationale.

So far in July, the original novel (released in summer 2009) has actually outpaced the new book at a roughly 5:4 ratio. When these novels spiked in July, CLAWS actually peaked in the 100s overall in the Kindle store whereas CLAWS 2 reached only #213.

It’s worth noting that the price-point for the books is different. CLAWS has been at 99 cents all along, and CLAWS 2 is at $2.99. Some folks are likely hearing of me for the first time and so are willing to give the 99-cents book a shot before purchasing the new title.

Whatever the case, the books have worked in tandem to drive up overall sales in a way that I simply did not anticipate.

I’ve had a number of folks ask me if there is a CLAWS 3 in the works. The truth is I outlined some preliminary notes back in 2006 for a third book regarding spotted leopards in the American Southwest and the border fence issue.

What I’d like more than anything else is to sell the series to a major publisher. I could easily write a CLAWS 3, 4, and 5, and it’s likely that such a filmable series would get optioned and could see move adaptation.

I may have to find traditional success with another novel altogether before I’m able to sell the CLAWS series. Or I may not be able to sell it at all. That definitely seems to be where we’re at with it now.

The sales numbers for my eBooks have been nothing short of a career break-through since May 2009 when I launched CLAWS.

If there’s a lesson to be taken from this, it is that readers will buy closely-linked series books in tandem. For newbies considering how to develop a career, it might be worth thinking through how you might publish a series of books and exactly what kind of series seem to do well with publishers.

Thanks so much for your time and for reading, and thank you, Joe, for hosting me today at your blog.


Author Photo

Stacey Cochran was born in the Carolinas, where his family traces its roots to the mid 1800s. In 1998 he was selected as a finalist in the Dell Magazines undergraduate fiction competition, and he made his first professional short story sale to CutBank in 2001. In 2004, he was selected as a finalist in the St. Martin's Press/PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Contest. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife Dr. Susan K. Miller-Cochran and their son Sam, and he teaches writing at North Carolina State University. His books include CLAWS, CLAWS 2, Amber Page, The Colorado Sequence, and The Kiribati Test.