Mark Terry

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

A Couple Observations Re. Kindle E-Book Self-Publishing

September 8, 2010
As I think everyone knows, I and about a million other writers, published and not, have taken advantage of Amazon's Kindle program to self-publish some e-books. Joe Konrath is something of the poster child for this and claims to be making over $100,000 a year and without necessarily criticizing Joe about this, I'm tired of hearing about it and would sort of like to avoid another self-congratulatory blog post about how much money he's making. (I love ya, Joe, I really do. But I swear, you brag to me about how much money you're making doing this again I'm gonna choke ya.)

Technically I've been messing around with this crap for over a year. Here's my Amazon page, you can check the books out yourself. Here are a couple observations/thoughts about the whole deal.

1. In most cases, one book won't do you much good. I suppose there are exceptions, but generally speaking the more e-books you have selling at a couple bucks a piece, the more sales you seem to get overall. For most of a year I had one book up, Dancing In The Dark, and it sold not much. Now that I've got 5 (technically 6), it adds up more. I have plans for at least 2 more to go up before the end of the year, one fiction, one nonfiction (I have to finish it first). I'm proofing the novel now.

2. If it's not selling, there are things you can do about it, like: change the title, change the cover, change the price, change the flap copy, market. Dancing In The Dark had a decent cover, but it looked sort of romantic-suspense-ish. I changed the title to Edge, got another cover, and played with the price. Still not a great seller, but better than it used to be. The flap copy is different (better) as well.

3. Kindles are black and white. People shop on the Kindle in most cases, so your postage stamp cover art needs to look decent in black and white and small. Keep that in mind.

4. It seems to build. Each month now my sales are better and increasing. I don't know if it's word of mouth, if buyers of one come back and buy others, the low prices, or increasing numbers of Kindle owners looking for cheap books. Whatever it is, each month I'm selling more copies and making a little more money. And last month--haven't seen the royalty statement yet, sometime next week--I made enough money to raise an eyebrow and say, "Hmmm...."

5. My best selling books are The Devil's Pitchfork and The Serpent's Kiss. I don't know why, except that it's possible that since both of those books are out of print, that readers of The Fallen, which is available on Kindle through my publisher, are going back and buying them. And hopefully vice versa, people buying Pitchfork and Serpent for $2.99 think Derek's adventures are good enough to pick up The Fallen at the slightly higher price. (And just FYI, I don't know how The Fallen's e-book sales are going, although rumor is, fairly well).

6. I have two books for kids up on the Kindle: The Battle for Atlantis and Monster Seeker. Each sells for 99 cents. I tried a higher price, $2.99 and sales were nonexistent. Now they're merely dismal. Monster Seeker sells a bit better than Atlantis, which is a puzzle to me, although I think the flap copy for Monster Seeker rocks and the flap copy for Atlantis really needs to be redone. I suspect that middle grade and YA Kindle sales in general just plain aren't very strong, although I haven't heard any numbers to support that claim.

Well, that's enough for now.


Blogger Stephen Parrish said...

Actually I like hearing Joe brag about the bucks. It gives me a boner. It's a wanna-be boner, an aspiring boner, but a boner all the same.

7:22 AM  
Anonymous Jim said...

This is perhaps a semi-pointless comment because I have yet to purchase a kindle (nor do I have any variant). I have never even seen one in real life (okay, so maybe I don't get out much? Haven't flown in two years and I would expect to see them used by travelers.)

That lack of having seen one in real life may be the problem. I know people via the Internet who have them, but nobody I know locally has one. I have a prejudice against the idea of reading something on the screen of a hand held device. (My experience with PDAs a few years ago was that they were useful for playing solitaire with one hand while one arm was immobilized during a blood donation, but otherwise not very useful.)

Maybe if I could hold one in my hands, maybe try reading a few chapters of something, I might buy one. There is no way I am going to spend a couple hundred bucks on a gadget that I think I would dislike.

If I were to own one of those devices, I would probably buy lots and lots of books priced the way you have yours priced. I would certainly be willing to risk three bucks on a book by an unknown author whereas I might be hesitant to spring for fifteen bucks on a trade paperback or even eight bucks on a mass market paperback. (I tend to read a lot of genre books -- science fiction, private eye, and thrillers -- but that means that I do purchase a certain number of clunkers, books that I put aside after forty or fifty or sixty pages and never pick up again.)

If the author is getting at least as much income from the sale as he would from a dead tree edition, then we're both ahead. I do have a pricing problem when they are asking ten bucks (or sometimes much more) for a book. There's no printing cost, no shipping cost, no bookstore overhead -- and the author certainly isn't getting six or seven bucks royalty -- so how do they justify that kind of pricing (other than in the case of books with very limited markets, such as a local history book that might have been prohibitively expensive in a printed version).

7:46 AM  
Blogger wartex8 said...

Lots of good advice :)

8:04 AM  
Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

Actually, YA is one of the bestselling genres digitally, mostly because both teens and adults read it avidly.

I still think there's an element of SEO to digital books. The books I have that can be found by searching for a specific and small niche with a keyword sell best, which annoys me I can't TELL you how much, considering my ONE series I'm actually proud of gets outsold daily. *sigh*

By the way, you can track your sales via RSS feed on Novel Rank. It's only an accurate figure if you don't sell more than one book per hour, so it has limited use. I just like to sign into Google Reader and have a nice little checkup of what I've sold and what my rankings are. /sarcasm/ It's great for the ego, and it's good to have a new way to torture oneself./sarcasm off/

8:54 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Ah, this week's first "boner" comment. Stephen, I thought we'd get that over on Natasha's FB page yesterday.

Hey, I'm just jealous. Green-eyed, bad-to-the-bone liver-shriveling jealous. (Of Joe, not your wanna-be boner).

9:56 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

At the moment the Kindle self-pubbed royalties for books $2.99 and up are 70%, which is more than I get on the hardcovers that sell for $25.95. So for a lot of writers, yeah, it's a big deal.

I have a Kindle, but I've only seen a couple "in the wild" but when I saw one I asked if I could look at it. The Kindle is a good reading experience and a fantastically too-easy book-buying experience.

9:58 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Yeah, SEO probably is a factor. I already check my Amazon Kindle records each morning to see how they're doing. Kind of exciting, sometimes.

9:59 AM  
Blogger Kath Calarco said...

Congrats on your Kindle success. That rocks! Sure, it's not like Konrath's alleged numbers, but this is a case of "size doesn't matter." It's the quality that counts. ;-)

P.S. I sold my Kindle. Tried it; didn't fulfill my reading experience. I know, I know. I'm not hip or one of the cool kids. Just a throwback to the sixties, preferring paper over plastic.

1:46 PM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

I have a Kindle and have to say it has not altered my purchasing one iota. I buy more books--but they are all household names, my online pals, or books in the mainstream. There are too many fabulous writers, like Margaret Atwood or Neil Gaiman or whomever that I still haven't read all of, too many classics, for me to mess around "discovering" self-pubbed talent. That could change, but my Kindle, for me, is just like a trip to B&N . . . I'm still buying what's shelved, just in a different way. And I think outside of WRITERS, that may hold true--I kind of think I'm an average consumer in that way. I don't view the Kindle as a brave-new world for PUBLISHING just a simpler way for me to get books I read instantly and carry them around with me.

5:38 AM  
Blogger Jon VanZile said...


I'm curious why you said YA books are one of the best selling digital. I checked this out—I have a vested interest, after all—and it looked like MG (especially) and YA (to a lesser extent) don't sell well at all on any digital platform. On the Kindle store, only five YA books are in the top 100 paid, and three of them are Suzanne Collins, who is a genuine crossover (so it's not kids buying these). One of the others is Stephanie Meyer's Twilight ... same thing there. Once you get out of these books, the drop is rapid in terms of overall ranking. Even Rick Riordan's best ranking is #176, and that's actually not a lot of books sold.

I'm not trying to be argumentative here, because I would love to be convinced that MG and YA books actually are selling well digitally. But by any measure I checked, even anecdotally (I can't think of any YA blogger who talks up Kindle, any YA author who is one of the highly touted Kindle success stories, or even any kid who owns a Kindle), digital publishing isn't doing much of anything in MG and YA.

6:04 AM  

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