Interview with Author Scott Nicholson

Scott NicholsonIndie author Scott Nicholson has sold over 200,000 books worldwide. Check out Scott’s box set, Ethereal Messenger: Three Novels, which is free until March 11. For more books, see Scott’s Amazon page (Prime compatible).

The prolific best selling writer has written scripts, short stories, comics, and novels in the thriller, horror, supernatural, and children’s genres, garnering him a massive following. A few of his books have hit the Top 100 Paid Kindle Bestsellers List and quite a few have made it to the Top 100 Most Downloaded Free Kindle Books List.

Scott has a large presence online, as well as in the indie book world. He can be found at his website, personal blog, and indie book blog. Scott’s blog posts often focus on the reader’s perspective in the indie writer’s world. His work, both fiction and non-fiction, is rich with personality, opinion, and humor.

When Scott was kind enough to agree to do an interview, I leapt at the opportunity to learn more about his opinions on literature and the industry. A special thanks to Scott for the interview, which is posted below.

1) You probably get asked all sorts of questions in interviews. What are the top five questions you wish interviewers would ask you?

Scott1. Where is the body and what did you do with the money?
2. Are you the only writer on Earth who hates cats?
3. Why aren’t you the next Stephen King yet?
4. You’re kidding, right?
5. Are you ready to reveal the secret to inner happiness?

2) What events in your life most influenced you to become a writer? What drives you to continue?

ScottI like discovery and possibility, the sheer act of creation. On the practical side, I like that writing is so darned difficult as a career. That keeps it fun and ensures you have to keep working hard, no matter your level.

3) You’ve described yourself as a dreamer in the past. Is that an integral personality trait for a good writer?

ScottI don’t know what works for others. I only know what works for me, and I only know that half the time. Dreaming works!

4) Do you feel that offering free books is a sustainable way for an author to make a living?

ScottNo one knows the answer to that question. Right now, it is amazing to be able to reach hundreds of thousands of readers at little to no cost. How that turns into careers later, we will see. There’s no guarantee, but writers were never promised a living anyway.

5) Where do you envision yourself in 10 years? What do you see as the future of book publishing?

ScottTen years. I can’t see that far. The past 10 have been remarkable and I never thought some of those things would happen, so I am reluctant to make any predictions for myself. I have already met most of my writing goals, but now I am making new ones.

As for book publishing, I believe it has already happened. We will live in a digital world where supply will expand to meet demand and content will be cheap or free. Printed books will be collector items for hobbyists. That means a lending library, ad-supported books, limited-edition and expensive hardcovers, and probably some writers still making a living selling a ton of books for a dollar each. I just don’t see a $10 ebook in the future, except for technical or niche non-fiction. Certainly, digital is the new pulp fiction, and there’s plenty of it.

6) Do you feel that hardship and struggle is necessary for the growth of a writer? What has your personal experience been?

Scott: I don’t know. Some people seem to have it easy, knock out a few chapters and get the big fat book deal. But most writers I know spend 10 years breaking in, and then they look like “overnight successes.” The digital age has allowed a lot of people to appear successful who aren’t really writers. But we’ll see who is left standing when times get hard again. And they will, sooner or later.

7) What are the top five to ten factors that led to your current success? Which was the most important?

ScottPersistence. I run on a business model of blind faith and blind panic. I believe in my message. I believe in who I was made to be. I work to fulfill that promise or talent or genetic trait or whatever name you care to give it. I measure the day by how well I treated people, not how many books I sold.

8) With the book industry as it is now, do you think that you would have the same success if you had been published by a publisher instead of self-publishing? Why or why not?

ScottI have been published in multiple ways. Mass market, small press, magazines, online, and now ebooks. I just don’t see how the publishing industry can compete in an era where content is cheap or free. Corporations aren’t built that way. There is only one reason for a $15 novel—the publisher wants to make money off of you. That’s the only reason. It costs virtually nothing to produce, and the publisher adds almost zero to the value of the ebook, yet is charging five times what most authors would charge. Editing, covers, and even marketing are easily purchased today. Publishers just don’t much, unless they go to ad-supported ebooks where their economies of scale could work in their favor.

9) What are the things you’ve found that are different in actual practice from what people think about publishing and selling books? What most surprised you?

ScottI hate to talk about money, but as I said above, you start realizing how little of the money went to writers under the old system. You can make a decent living off a pretty small number of sales if you don’t have the fat overhead and the big executive office and the board of directors and shareholders and a legal department.

10) How has your past work in the publishing industry helped you with your writing and publishing methods?

ScottPublishers forced us to become our own marketers, even when we only made 8 to 10 percent of the money. Now we know how to market better than they do. It is that simple, and that obvious.

11) You often promote your work by offering it for free. Should all indie authors consider this method?

ScottAs I said, I don’t know what works for other people. If you like risks, try it. If you are stuck, try it. If all you want are readers, try it. If you think you are a genius whose work is worth $10 and no less, then don’t try it.

12) What do you think qualifies an indie author as successful? What would it take for you to consider yourself a great success?

ScottAgain, I don’t know that for other people. “Success” is a terrible word because of what we have done to it. The newspapers only write about indie success as the lottery winners. You know, the millionaires. Because reporters are too damn lazy to tell the real story—lots of people are building happy, creative, and productive careers at home in the digital era. Not just writers, either—graphic designers, freelance editors, book formatters, marketing sites, and careers yet to be invented.

So there’s the level of success where you can blab about how much money you made and how amazing you are and how you proved everyone else is an idiot, and there’s the level of success where you make your dreams work and get to follow your own path.

13) You base a lot of your stories on local Appalachian legends. What are the more famous legends that you still have left to tell? Which one will you be writing about next?

ScottI want to do a third book in the Littlefield series, following The Red Church and Drummer Boy, but I am writing more thrillers these days. After I’m dead it will look like the first 10 years were the supernatural phase, then the thriller phase, and then probably I will write self-help books for bitter, failed old geezers like me.

14) You work with other writers often. What author, living or dead, have you always dreamed of collaborating with?

ScottI actually did finish a story started by Edgar Allan Poe, which was cool. Of course, most people would love to write a story with Stephen King, even though it would be intimidating. But I think it would be fun to go back and forth with Mark Twain.

15) As a horror writer, was it difficult for you to break into the children’s genre with Duncan the Punkin?

Scott: I didn’t really break in. I sent some of the children’s books off to agents, but of course they “only respond if interested.” So I just published them myself. I’ve always written in multiple genres and fields. It was just the horror that got published first, so people tend to associate me with horror. That’s less important in the digital age, because books are found in a different way now. While “brand” is important, my brand has become “a little bit of everything”.

16) Which of your many novels do you think is the absolute best?

ScottThe Red Church has the best craft and plot and accessibility, but As I Die Lying is probably the boldest. Of course, that means it sells the worst!

Interview with Indie Pioneer & Superstar Author J.A. Konrath (+12 Free Books – Feb 1 & 2)

Please Note: At the end of the interview is a list of J. A. Konrath titles that are free on February 1st and 2nd. I’d strongly recommend them – He’s hit #1 in the past and also has hit the Top 100 with numerous titles. I’d recommend them even at $3 and $5. At free there’s absolutely no reason not to get them.

Who is J. A. Konrath? Why should a Kindle owner/normal reader care?

(by switch11) J. A. Konrath is an indie pioneer and has played a much bigger part than people realize in the rise of indie authors -

  1. To Put it Bluntly: We readers wouldn’t be getting good books from good indie authors in the $1 to $5 range if not for the contributions of authors like J. A. Konrath.
  2. Firstly, by sharing his numbers he’s delivered a huge dose of confidence to other indie authors – It’s changed their reality and their sense of what’s possible. J.A. Konrath earned over $500,000 from ebooks in 2011. Those numbers give other authors the confidence to strike out on their own.
  3. Just to stress that again: There’s nothing that gives authors more incentive to go straight to readers (and offer more value for money to readers) than finding out that J. A. Konrath is earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by going straight to readers.
  4. Secondly, he’s stuck with ebooks. J. A. Konrath and John Locke are two authors (amongst several) who’ve refused to sign ebook deals with Publishers and have thus saved us readers from the insult of having to pay $8 per ebook (we are saved from having to subsidize the inefficient print book business).
  5. Thirdly, he’s shared what works for him. The J. A. Konrath Guide to Publishing blog is full of great advice and also has great examples of indie authors who are doing great by going straight to readers. This is the rarest thing: Someone successful who’s sharing that wisdom for free.
  6. I’ve been blogging about Kindle and ebooks and indie authors since December 2007 and there’s no doubt in my mind that J. A. Konrath has done more for indie authors than any other author. In the midst of a flurry of authors who thought the end goal was to strike a deal with Publishers, he is one of the few indie authors (alongside others like John Locke) who realized that offering readers the best value for money is the right thing to do (and also the smartest).
  7. Fourthly, J. A. Konrath saw the trends and acted on them before almost everyone else. There’s a pretty good chance that following his blog and his thoughts will benefit authors and readers as we continue to see cataclysmic changes in books and publishing.

J. A. Konrath has played a key role in the rise of authors and readers and here’s an interview with him (Meaghan did the interview).

Interview with J. A. Konrath Part 1: The Questions He Wishes He Would be Asked

[This and rest of the interview is by Meaghan] We started off the interview with Joe by asking him the questions he longed to be asked by interviewers. His response was intriguing:

1) Why do you blog about the publishing industry?

Joe: I blog because it sometimes encourages intelligent discussions, which help me hone my goals and learn more about how the industry works. In order to attract visitors to my blog, I share things I’ve done (things that have worked and things that haven’t), including sales figures. Some people like what I have to say. Some don’t. I get a lot of thank yous, and a lot of criticism.

2) Does it bother you when people criticize you?

Joe: No. I often get misquoted, or my words are taken out of context. Lots of people form opinions without bothering to read my blog. That’s silly. But it doesn’t bother me, either. Everyone has an opinion, though the uniformed ones are difficult to defend.

3) Will you ever stop blogging?

Joe: I once made an open offer to the publishing industry. I’d never blog again if they paid me a million dollars. The offer still stands. And based on the number of comments and emails I get, a million is a bargain. The Big 6 have lost a lot of business because of my blog.

Interview with J. A. Konrath Part 2 – Our Questions for Mr. Konrath

These are the topics and questions we most wanted to hear Mr. Konrath’s thoughts on.

4) What influenced you to begin writing?

Joe: I love telling stories, which grew from a love of reading stories.

5) In your blog post entitled “Interview with my cover artist Carl Graves” you discuss the importance of cover art. How much of a difference do you feel that your covers make in your sales?

Joe: I’ve seen sales improve by 100% and more just by getting better covers. Some I’ve my covers I’ve changed as many as four times.

6) In Selena Kitt’s guest post on your blog, she discusses the pricing of eBooks. Where do you feel that the ideal price for both authors and readers lies?

Joe: Under six bucks. Ebooks should cost less than paper. They are intangible, can’t be resold, and cost pennies to copy and distribute. The value of a book is how much money it earns the author, not its list price.

7) What would you say are the main factors that have led to your success? Which of these can be used/learnt by any writer?

Joe. This is a business. Act like a professional. Write a lot. Keep at it until you get lucky.

8) Do you feel that authors can make a decent living from selling $1-3 eBooks? How many authors do you think would be able to make a full living from books if ebooks (and in particular low-priced ebooks) became the norm?

Joe: Every author has their own goals to follow, their own road to walk. Some will make a living. Some won’t. It’s like any other career. Hard work and talent are helpful, but luck is needed to succeed.

9) What role do you believe that publishers, both small and large, have left to play in the world of books?

Joe: If I worked for a publisher right now, I’d be posting my resume on Monster.com.

10) You saw/predicted what was happening in the eBook world probably before anyone else. What led you to envision this future world of ebooks? Why were you willing to take such risks and go all-out with what you thought would happen/what you saw as the future?

Joe: I was just as surprised as anyone. I was lucky that I had a lot of novels that were rejected, and I self-published them as ebooks for Kindle to see what would happen. What happened was I started to make a lot of money.

11) What role do you feel Kindle owners have to play? Do you think they value authors’ work? how much power/say do you think they have in what happens?

Joe: Readers are all that matters.

12) Given your insights into book publishing and self-publishing, and given that most people would keep that knowledge for themselves and use it as a strategic advantage, why do you share them so freely? Are you not, in a way, creating more competition for yourself?

Joe: There is no competition. I price my novels at under $3.99. At that price, a reader can buy me and Blake Crouch, and Scott Nicholson, and Lee Goldberg, and a few others, and it’ll still cost less than a hardcover of Stephen King’s.

13) How do you feel about being cast in the role of the doomsayer of print books?

Joe: I’ve done dozens of posts telling writers, publishers, and bookstores how they could potentially thrive in an ebook-centric world. That’s proactive optimism, not reactive pessimism. Some listen. Some don’t. But it is none of my business what people do or don’t do.

14) You recently interrupted a hiatus from your blog to post “Book Country Fail” Do you feel that most authors, especially newbies, are informed enough about the Big Six muscling their way into self-publishing?

Joe: You can never be too informed, and good messages are worth repeating.

15) Now that events like book signings are becoming rarer, and things like blogs and social networking are becoming stronger, do you feel that the connection between authors and readers is stronger or weaker?

Joe: I answer dozens of fanmails a week. I think the connection is stronger than ever.

16) How much does having a relationship with other authors matter to you and how much of a difference would it make for new authors?

Joe: Writers don’t have water-cooler conversation. Our professions are solitary. It’s great to compare notes and trade tips. Tough to excel in a vacuum.

17) You work with other authors often. Do you find the collaborative process to be inspirational? When did you begin doing this type of writing?

Joe: Collaborating is terrific fun. Plus it expands your virtual shelf space with just half the work. I have many writer friends, so collaboration was inevitable.

Free Kindle Books from J.A. Konrath for Feb 1st and 2nd

These are Free only on February 1st and February 2nd, 2012.

  • ***Shot of Tequila by J.A. Konrath. Price: Free. Genre: Mystery, Hard-Boiled, Police Procedurals. Rated 4.5 stars on 36 reviews. 270 pages.
  • *Jack Daniels Stories by J.A. Konrath. Price: Free. Genre: Mystery, Police Procedurals. Rated 4.5 stars on 10 reviews. 316 pages.
  • Horror Stories by J. A. Konrath. Price: $0. Genre: Horror. Rated 4 stars on 28 reviews. 296 pages.
  • Suckers by Jack Kilborn, J.A. Konrath, and Jeff Strand. Price: Free. Genre: Thriller, Comedy. Rated 4.5 stars on 27 reviews. 246 pages.
  • BIRDS OF PREY – A Psycho Thriller by Blake Crouch, J.A. Konrath, and Jack Kilborn. Price: Free. Genre: Thriller. Rated 4.5 stars on 11 reviews. 147 pages.
  • *Ultimate Thriller Box Set by Konrath, Crouch, Black, Goldberg, Nicholson. Price: $0. Genre: Thrillers. Free until February 3rd.
  • SERIAL KILLERS UNCUT – The Complete Psycho Thriller (The Complete Epic) by Blake Crouch, Jack Kilborn, and J.A. Konrath. Price: Free. Genre: Thriller, Serial Killers. Rated 4.5 stars on 14 reviews. 432 pages.
  • 65 Proof. Price: $0. Genre: Thriller Stories. 622 pages. Rated 4.5 stars on 10 reviews.
  • **Be the Monkey by Konrath & Eisler. Price: $0. Genre: Self-Publishing. Rated 5 stars on 17 reviews. 100 pages.
  • Crime Stories by Konrath and Kilborn. Price: $0. Genre: Crime Stories.
  • Planter’s Punch. Price: $0. Genre: Novella, Women Sleuths, Police Procedurals.
  • **The Newbies Guide to Publishing (Everything a Writer Needs to Know). Price: $0. Genre: Writing Advice, Self-Publishing. Rated 4.5 stars on 27 reviews. 1088 pages.
  • Truck Stop. Price: $0. Genre: Novella, Psycho Thriller. Rated 4 stars on 40 reviews. 76 pages.

Thank you for reading the interview. Please leave questions if you have any and we’ll forward them on to Mr. Konrath.

A Quick Look at Indie Authors currently in the Kindle Store Top 100

This is a list of authors who have self-published their books and made it to the Top 100. Unless otherwise specified the books are rated 4 stars or 4.5 stars.

  1. Simon Wood – Accidents Waiting to Happen is $1 and at #3, The Fall Guy is $1 and at #52. 
  2. Pat Gragg – The Rose Killer is $1 and at #6,
  3. Courtney Milan – Unlocked is $1 and at #9.
  4. J Carson Black – Darkness on the Edge of Town is $1 and at #10, Dark Side of the Moon is $1 and at #97. 
  5. Erin Kern – Looking for Trouble is $1 and at #15,
  6. Michael Prescott – Shiver is $1 and at #18, Mortal Pursuit is $1 and at #28, Stealing Faces is $1 and at #55, Riptide is $1 and at #92. These books seem to be ebook versions of previously published books. However, they are published by the author and should count as self-published.
  7. Emma Jay – Eye of the Beholder is $1 and at #23.
  8. Carol Grace – Lonely Millionaire is $1 and at #32. This is rated only 3.5 stars.
  9. Peggy A. Edelheit – The Puzzle is $1 and at #35, Without Any Warning is $1 and at #91.
  10. Joan Reeves - Jane ‘I’m Still Single’ Jones is $1 and at #52, Just One Look is $1 and at #82.. 
  11. Cathy Wiley – Dead to Writes is $1 and #57.
  12. Christian Cantrell – Containment is $1 and at #78. This one’s really worth checking out.
  13. Kelly McClymer – The Fairy Tale Bride is $1 and at #94.

Some highlights – Each of the books is at $1. There are 13 indie authors in the Top 100. There are 20 books by indie authors in the Top 100.

What’s really interesting is that except for Simon Wood and J Carson Black and Christian Cantrell these aren’t the usual suspects. Very few of these indie authors have made it to the Top 100 before or have shown the usual signs of indie superstardom. Amazon has made them the chosen few for some reason that escapes me.

With Sunshine Deals earlier in the month, and this huge boost to indie titles now, Amazon is sending the Big 6 a message.

Could it be anything to do with a possible July announcement of the new Kindle Tablet and/or the new Kindle 4?

Why is Amazon suddenly making a huge push with these particular indie authors? There are so many indie authors who worked hard and clawed their way to the Top 100 or the Top 200 – Why not focus on them first?

How do you review a John Locke novel?

Read Saving Rachel and thought of writing a review but don’t really know how to write one. I really liked it. It was a quick read – perhaps just 1.5 to 2 hours. It was fun. It was likable. However, it’s not something that’s going to make it to the Top 100 list of best books you’ve ever read.

It was like watching a movie with one actor you really like and then realizing that the movie wasn’t all that good but it was fun because of that one actor (both Larry the Cable Guy and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson seem to specialize in this – making totally unmemorable movies that are quite a lot of fun to watch).

At the end of the novel it was abundantly clear why so many people love John Locke (his novels are fun and are a good read and are full of twists and turns and some genuinely funny moments) and why so many people dislike him (it’s hard to imagine his books winning any literary prizes, plus some of the things are beyond unbelievable).

If it’s possible (and it probably is) to give a novel 5 stars on fun and value for money and 1 star on lasting significance – Saving Rachel fits the bill perfectly. It’s like The Hangover in book form. It’s not going to help you understand the meaning of life (or the meaning of anything) but it’s still fun enough for you to feel the time is well-spent.

Thoughts on an indie author going with a Publisher

This post is about Amanda Hocking’s $2 million book deal with St. Martin’s Press. There are various perspectives in this post - None of them are what you’ll find in any of the articles that seem focused on talking about how happy they are for Amanda Hocking.

Please Note: I’m incapable of pretending that the financial success of one indie author is more important than what’s good for readers. So please excuse the lack of effusive congratulations to Ms. Hocking. It’s absolutely great an indie author found success, and that’s it.

If one of the indie author superstars gets snapped up by a Publisher it might be great for her and we might be happy she got rewarded for her hard work – But is it really good for reading and for readers?

As a reader, and as an ebook/eReader/Kindle blogger, my main concern/hope/aim is that the revolution in Publishing succeeds. That eReaders and eBooks and new Publishing companies and indie authors and Platforms overturn the existing monarchy in Publishing.

Readers pay less than they used to, authors gets more than they used to, and platforms get a brand new billion dollar business. A win-win-win for everyone except middle-men.

If readers can pay less and authors can get more – Why not embrace it?

Looking at it from that perspective, this deal is a disaster. It’s Publishers stealing away solid talent.

We readers have obviously gotten to the stage where we can get indie authors into the top 10 (Amanda Hocking, John Locke), and even to #1 (John Locke). However, if Publishers can just steal them away, then it weakens the appeal of self-publishing.

A new author wonders -

  1. Appeal to readers, and let them choose me and make me a success.
  2. Appeal to publishers, and let them pick me and make me a success.

If authors who take route 1. and succeed all sign up with Publishers, then authors will start thinking that 1. is just a stepping stone to 2.

Thoughts on Amanda Hocking getting a $2 million, 4 book deal

It’s great for her. It’s great to see an indie author succeed. From her blog post it seems clear she isn’t letting success go to her head. That she’s making an effort to explain, to an extent, why she signed the deal.

At the same time, there’s no way to avoid the fact that it’s a huge win for Publishers.

It’s selfish, but she was such a great example that an indie author could make it. Now that’s gone – because she’s turned into an example of ‘Even if an indie author can make it, the bigger prize is a Publisher deal’.

What message does it send to indie authors if an indie author earning over $100,000 a month still signs Publisher deals. There is probably a good message - Being Indie can get you success. There is probably a bad message (from a reader perspective) – Publishers are the best option, no matter what path you take.

Money and Stability

These two lines from her blog post are very telling -

I honestly didn’t do this for money. But let’s not forget that as much money as I’ve made, James Patterson made $70 million between June 2010 and July 2010.

If you were an indie author doing well and you got offered $2 million, my sincere advice to you would be to take it. It’s the absolute best thing for you. $2 million, even after taxes, will buy you quite a few years. If you get $2 million guaranteed, and a 1% chance to make heaps of money like James Patterson, you should absolutely take it.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s good for readers or for reading.

An alternative way to look at it would be -

  1. James Patterson has to sell X books to make $70 million a year.
  2. How many books would an indie author have to sell to make $70 million a year. Is there any way to do it without traditional Publishers? Probably not.

I suspect that’s what it comes down to. A shot at earnings tens of millions of dollars a year via a Publisher deal is more tempting than the prospect of struggling as an indie author and making millions of dollars a year.

Is Amanda Hocking still Amanda Hocking with a $10 or $12.99 book?

Let’s say St. Martin’s Press advances $2 million and puts $3 million more total into marketing and promotions. That’s $5 million which it figures it will make back. Do we really think it will sell $1 and $3 ebooks like Amanda Hocking used to?

We will probably get paperbacks at $10 each, and ebooks at $7 each. What makes St. Martin’s Press so sure it can sell a million Amanda Hocking books at $10 and make a profit? Will Amanda Hocking at $7 or $10 still be in the Kindle Store Top 10?

Will Amanda Hocking at $10 still be Amanda Hocking?

It’s certainly worth thinking about.

The way for readers to fight back is rather interesting

So we lost a battle. We elevated an indie author to indie superstar status and Publishers whisked her away.

What does it tell the Platforms and Readers?

  1. That 35% of books under $3 isn’t good enough. Make it 50% or 70% and Publishers will find it impossible to compete.
  2. Find new indie authors. There’s a never-ending supply.
  3. Grow bigger. If printed books weren’t 90% of the market there wouldn’t be such a big temptation for indie authors to sign deals with Publishers.
  4. Be aware that some indie authors will not stay indie.
  5. Pay more attention to the indie authors outside the Top 20 – especially the ones that make it into the Top 100 and the Top 1,000.

This deal is going to mark a very interesting milestone. In 2 years indie authors will turn back and think – There was a time, just 2 years ago, when indie authors seriously thought that once their brand was established they should sign a book deal.

It’s amusing, isn’t it. You do all this work and build up a customer base and get total freedom and 35% of sales. Then you sign a deal and give that up. Perhaps it’s the promise of $2 million now and another $5 million in royalties. Perhaps it’s the promise of reaching the 90% of the market that is printed books. It’ll be interesting to see if these promises are fulfilled.

Perhaps they won’t be fulfilled because there will be hungrier indie authors who will have good, polished books at $1 and these authors’ $1 books will slowly whittle down the market for $10 books.

Authors should be trying to get their books to readers for less, not more

Here’s the most unrelated quote ever (from Linus Torvalds) -

Why? Because _users_ are the only thing that makes software useful. Software isn’t useful on its own. You cannot say “this is the right thing to do” unless you take users into account.

In the end, it’s about readers and the craft of writing.

It’s very human to wonder whether a Publisher can take you to the James Patterson level of $60 million a year.

However, here are a few questions -

  1. Is it better for readers to get Publisher published books for $10, or indie author books for $3? Perhaps it’s the former because of more polish. Perhaps it’s the latter because of higher value for money.
  2. Is it better for the craft of reading to have Publishers? Perhaps it is. Perhaps we need these gatekeepers and polishers and providers of intangible yet necessary things.
  3. Is it better for reading and readers that middle-men get 90% of what readers pay? Perhaps it’s necessary. Perhaps distillation and quality control and curation really does require 90%.

We don’t really know the answers.

 The Revolution in Publishing will go on

Boyd Morrison signed a book deal (this was a long time ago) and it seemed interesting – An indie author does well in the Kindle Store and manages to win the grand prize of getting a Publisher deal.

At that time it really did feel like a Publisher deal was the best an indie author could win.

Amanda Hocking signs a book deal and it seems puzzling. That fact in itself shows how far we’ve come.

We now have the first few indie authors who don’t really need Publishers – a few of them are choosing to go with them nonetheless. If John Locke and the other remaining indie superstar authors also sign Publisher deals, then we might have to wait for the third generation of indie superstars.

We’re close to hitting the point at which it just becomes ridiculous for an indie author to sign a Publisher deal. The point at which Publishers simply can’t offer Indie Authors what readers and platforms can. My gut feeling is that we will hit this point when 25% of the book market is ebooks and when authors get a 50% cut from the platform – and that we will reach this point by mid 2012.

Why indie authors have no option other than to price books at $1

The Kindle and the Nook have created a very interesting opportunity for indie authors. An opportunity that, unfortunately, most indie authors aren’t recognizing.

This post will stick as much as possible to ‘what works for indie authors’ and throw in a little bit of ‘why I think it works’.

In a nutshell, what works is – Writing a really great book that’s worth $10 and selling it for $1 in the Kindle Store and giving it away free elsewhere.

We’ll look at -

  1. Numerous examples of indie authors for whom $1 books have worked.
  2. Possible reasons why $1 books work.
  3. The competitive landscape.
  4. The alternative, and whether the alternative really is more lucrative financially.

It’s tough – In effect, the lesson is to sell your $10 book for $1. What author is going to like that?

But reality doesn’t really care for anyone’s feelings or for how we would like things to be. I’d like to be able to subsist on ice cream sandwiches and orange juice – but it’s just as unrealistic as an unknown indie author trying to make $3 or $5 or $10 work.

Examples of Indie Authors that sold $1 books and found success

Indie authors really should research each of these – Karen McQuestion, John Locke, Sam Landstrom, Boyd Morrison, Amanda Hocking, John Rector, Nancy C. Johnson, D. B. Henson, Victorine E. Lieske, Heather Killough-Walden, J. R. Rain, Larry Enright.

A lot of these are currently in the Kindle Store Top 100. Each of them has at least one book at $1.

Consider this post covering Top Indie Kindle Books of 2010. Each of those authors had one or more books at $1 at some point of time – Karen McQuestion, Vicki Tyley, D. B. Henson, Christian Cantrell, J. R. Rain.

It’s not a mere coincidence that there are a dozen or so indie authors who have hit the Top 100 with $1 books.

How many indie authors can you point out that are in the Top 100 or have hit the Top 100 without at least one book at $1?

If every single Top 100 hitting indie author has $1 books and there are close to zero examples of indie authors with books over $1 hitting the Top 100 then it might suggest that $1 is the all-powerful determinant.

Why $1 is so powerful

Firstly, a Kindle owner is doing you a huge favor by reading your book, which you think is the best book in the world and totally worth $10, for $1.

Here are the reasons -

  1. You might be one of the 80% of self-published authors who are merely dabbling.
  2. Your book might be an utter waste of their time. 
  3. The Kindle owner is picking your book out of 810,000 books.

You are a complete unknown. There’s a 3% chance your book turns out to be a great read and a 97% chance it turns out to be a total waste of time. So the reader is giving you a big opportunity.

The least you can do is price your book at $1 (the lowest possible price) in the Kindle Store, and free outside the Kindle Store.

It doesn’t matter what you think your book is worth. It doesn’t matter that you have to worry about finances and survival. If you want your book to get a fair chance you have to minimize friction. You can’t do anything about the time readers spend on your book (though there might be a solution for that). You can do a lot about the price readers pay.

At $1 you are minimizing the friction.

$1 is also important because everyone is cutting prices

Lisa Gardner is at #1 in the Kindle Store with a $1 book. NY Times bestselling author Julianne MacLean is at #54 with a $1 book. Lots of bestselling authors are offering $2 books to promote their new releases.

Lots of mid-list authors like J. A. Konrath are selling their books at $3. Lots of backlist books are being sold at $3.

You can get Stephen Carpenter, who wrote the screenplay for Ocean’s Eleven and is developing a mystery series for NBC, for $3.

You can get Philip Roth at $2 and $3.

How could your $3 indie book possibly compete?

You don’t really have a choice. Your book is a complete unknown and competing against known authors at low prices. $1 and free are your only ways to differentiate.

The myth that a $3 book will make you more money

Don’t mean to pick on an author but will take the example of Elisa Lorello to contrast. Hopefully she doesn’t mind because she’s already signed a deal with Amazon Encore.

Her book, Faking It, has the most beautiful cover, and is very highly rated. It’s gotten 4 stars across 125 reviews. Consider the premise -

What happens when a writing professor and a male escort become friends? Thirty-four-year old professor Andi Cutrone has broken up with her fiancé in Massachusetts, moved back to her native New York, and wants to be a better lover. So after meeting Devin, a handsome, charming escort, she proposes an unusual arrangement: lessons about writing in exchange for lessons about sex. 

That’s a pretty compelling premise. At $3 you think a few times and read the reviews. At $1 you click the button instantly.

Its sales rank is 2,692. That’s probably 50 to 100 sales a day. Which translates into $100 to $200 a day in earnings. Not bad at all.

What if the book was at $1? Could it perhaps be at #20 in the Kindle Store instead of #2,692?

My argument is that it would have a very good shot. There are currently 18 books by indie authors in the Kindle Store Top 60 – assuming Amanda Hocking, John Locke, Stephen Carpenter, Nancy C Johnson, Victorine E. Lieske, D. B. Henson, Heather Killough-Walden, Larry Enright, and J. R. Rain are all indie authors.

Elisa Lorello would have a very good shot at being at around #20. That would mean 1,000 to 2,000 sales a day. At 35 cents per $1 copy sold a thousand sales a day would generate $350. That’s more than the $100 to $200 a day she’s getting by pricing her books at $3. More importantly, a lot more people would know about her book and a lot more would buy it and read it.

Would you prefer 1,000 sales a day of your book or 100 sales a day?

Forget the money and forget the $2 per copy sold versus 35 cents per copy sold. If you’re starting off as an indie author, your challenge is to find readers. If you find readers and your work is good, they will pay $3 for your later books – as they are doing for Amanda Hocking’s books.

First, you have to get them to read your book. And $1 is the only option.

After writing about this for the last 2 years it’s still strange that indie authors don’t get it. It’s super simple -

You have to offer a book worth $10 for $1 to get people to take a chance on you.

You have to minimize friction and make buying your book the path of least resistance.

There are 18 books in the Top 60 that are from indie authors. Each of the indie authors has at least one book at $1. In fact, apart from Amanda Hocking’s books (which are the continuation of a series with the first book at $1) each of them is at $1.

There isn’t really any option other than $1. Even bestselling authors are beginning to realize this. It’s high time indie authors realized this. Those who realized this 2 years ago now have book deals. Those who realized this last year are now in the Top 100 and a few are even making tens of thousands of dollars a month. The window of opportunity is closing down. This is your last year of taking advantage of the $1 magic.

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