Thursday, May 20, 2010

J.A. Konrath's original Kindle novel

Three of the writer's blogs I check out every day are filled with comments about J.A. Konrath's decision to publish his next novel first on Kindle. This is an interesting story with important implications for the future of publishing. Novelist Jason Pinter wrote a piece for Huffington Post that looks at many of those implications.

Jason Pinter:

Jason PinterBestselling Thriller Writer
Posted: May 18, 2010 11:34 AM

The Konrath Effect: Will New Technology Ruin Talented Authors?

A long time ago, I ran a poll on Twitter asking who some of the greatest living novelists were in a certain genre. I offered a few well-known authors as examples. I received many responses, all valid, many of them wonderful talents. One self-published author, however, responded to me with great annoyance. Annoyed that he had been left out of my initial tweet as one of the greatest living writers in that genre. When I asked his rationale for inclusion on the list, he told me that as an e-publishing phenomenon, his current success was equal to, if not greater than many authors I'd mentioned. The author in question has never been published by a traditional publisher, and has instead listed many of his unpublished works online for free. One of his free e-books broke the Amazon Kindle top 100. For that, he declared himself a revolutionary, and took offense to my neglecting his genius.

I bring this up because on May 17th, it was announced that J.A. Konrath (aka Joe Konrath, aka Jack Kilborn) reached a deal with Amazon Encore to publish the 7th book in his Jack Daniels mystery series. Hyperion had published the first six installments in the series, which have seen a reasonable amount of success and been nominated for several awards. To his credit, Konrath has made himself into something of an internet and social networking behemoth. He maintains a hugely popular blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, in which he opines quite openly and honestly about his career trajectory, ups and downs, the peaks and valleys, with frank and often valid criticisms of the publishing industry. According to Konrath, he and his agent shopped the 7th Daniels book, Shaken, only to find no takers. For most authors, having a book rejected might mean it never seeing the light of day or selling a single copy. However over the last few months Konrath has blogged about the enormous success he's had publishing nearly a dozen of his previously unpublished novels, novellas and short story collections on the Kindle, Nook and iPad. Books that had been rejected dozens of times, but were now on pace to earn him upwards of $100,000 in royalties in 2010 alone.

I use these two authors as examples of two sides of the self-publishing coin. It is clear that many methods of traditional publishing are undergoing seismic shifts. The notion of self-publishing does not carry the same stigma it did just a few years ago. Yet there is a danger in self-publishing that becomes clear when you compare these two authors, and how they got to where they are. I wonder, with the incredible ease in which authors can now publish their rejected manuscripts online, whether fewer authors are going to take the time to hone their craft, get good at what they do, and achieve their full potential. Will new technology stifle budding talent?

for the rest go here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jason-pinter/the-konrath-effect-will-n_b_579455.html?view=print

25 comments:

Brian Drake said...

Ed,

The fact that so many authors are reacting to Konrath's announcement means that he's indeed rattling cages.

On one hand, I agree with Mr. Pinter. The lazy and frustrated will take the easy way out whenever possible (and not just with writing). However, Mr. Pinter called this "ebook revolution" a free market exercise, and the free market will solve the issue as to whether or not a writer hits or misses. This free market will give those writers who are not "ready for prime time" (to use an overworked phrase) the biggest and loudest rejection they have yet to hear or will probably ever hear. People are not going to spend money, even the pennies charged for an ebook, and stay silent when they feel ripped off. They WILL post negative reviews; on the other hand, they will also praise real talent. It's like the jazz clubs and comedy clubs with their open mike nights: you can stay on stage only as long as the audience will let you.

So, ultimately, a writer worthy of the name will be forced into making sure a manuscript is up to snuff, and if that includes paying a freelance editor to review the manuscript, then that's what it means. The National Writers Association charges a very small fee for such a service, so there is no excuse not to take advantage of what they provide.

While I myself have a pair of manuscripts making the rounds in New York, I am going to put a collection of short stories up for the Kindle market as an experiment (and, if nothing else, to build an audience), and you can bet I'm probably giving this project MORE attention than I would one of the other books.

Because I know an audience can be worse than an editor.

Keep up the great work on the blog. I visit often.

Matt said...

Hack Writer Emails Book, You Pay Now.

See also: crappy bands and myspace

Brian Drake said...

And you've written what, Matt?

Anonymous said...

Brian,

Why does Matt have to be a writer to have an opinion?

TL

Dave Zeltserman said...

Ed, I don't see this is as the significant event it's being made out to be. If amazon had outbid NY for a book, especially a book from a bestselling author, then that would be significant, but in this case they're taking a book that as Konrath said in his press release the traditional publishers passed on. Konrath has been self-publishing other books on kindle that he couldn't sell, and this amounts to little more than the same.

Richard R. said...

This makes me begin to think - and it's not the first time - that the e-book will become the domain of the 2nd and 3rd level writers. Whether that's true, if it becomes the general perception, that will hurt the e-book market. Not that I'm bothered by that. As a book lover (the kind with covers that you turn physical pages) and an old fuddy-duffy, if it's not ink-on-paper, I'm not buying.

Brian Drake said...

TL, Matt's opinion hardly fits the definition.

As Andrew Vachss has stated, there are better actors, artists, singers, writers, et al., than just those who have been "discovered".

RJR said...

I agree with most of what's been said to downgrade the importantce of this event. Many authors who can't get published, or can't anymore, will be utilizing electronic publishing to get their work--which may NOT be worthy of publication--out there. I'd much rather sell to a small press.
As far as anyone garnering $100,000.00 in royalties from the Web . . . naaaaaah.

RJR

Richard S. Wheeler said...

This is a cautionary tale. In 1959 Allen Drury wrote a splendid, best-selling, Pulitzer-winning novel, Advise and Consent. After that he rejected Doubleday's editing and insisted that his subsequent novels be published as he wrote them. They got fatter and duller and drearier, and soon Drury's numbers plummeted and the reviews became withering. He ended up a nonentity. Publishers' services, including editing, copyediting, story evaluation, critiquing, and packaging, are critically important and always will be.

Brian Drake said...

Richard,
You've backed up a point made in my first post, and it's a point that cannot be emphasized enough. But one does not have to solely on New York editors for quality editorial service. There are many options available.

Kenneth Mark Hoover said...

I don't care how you spin it, there's a reason it's called Vanity Press.

And, yes, I am a published writer (novel, fifty short stories and articles, member of SFWA and HWA) since apparently that's the only people some feel (erroneously) are qualified to have an opinion on this subject.

Yes, the business is changing by leaps and bounds. The models are all being questioned and, frankly, it's long overdue. But I don't see how throwing out hackery in handfuls, without any editorial control whatsoever, is a model that will hold up, for either writers or readers, in the long run.

Editors, agents, and legitimate publishers are necessary gate-keepers for the common weal. They are there for a reason and they do an invaluable job. Know why so many wannabe writers flee to self-publication? Because their stuff isn't good enough to get published anywhere else. Reminds me of the old Harlan Ellison story I heard at a convention: A writer called him up one day and wanted advice on why he couldn't get published. Harlan told him, "Because you're writing crap. Stop writing crap and you'll start selling stories."

Later, the writer said that was the best piece of advice he ever got.

Like I said, it's called Vanity Press for a reason, guys.

Matt said...

Would the Continental Op read a Kindle or iPad on the train to Poisonville? Dunno.

"Hack Writer Emails Book, You Pay Now" (which should be read in Kahn Souphanousinphone's voice) is simply my distilling of Ed's more graceful and insightful query to the group. But it holds true more often than not.

Certainly there will be a few excellent outliers rising up from the kindle/e-book publishers.

But I'm not sure these exceptions merit demolishing my favorite booksellers in order to put up a modern Tower of Babel.

Peter L. Winkler said...

The platitudes that agents and editors are the noble gatekeepers saving us by rejecting the dross and giving us only the finest gold is demonstrably untrue.

Just yesterday I read that one of the actresses on MTV's show "The Hills" got a contract to write a dating guide for girls. Somebody comes up with a mildly amusing web site like Stuff White People Like and publishers chase them with money. A trash mouth like alleged comic Sarah Silverman got $2.5 million to put her name on a book. Res ipsa loquitur.

Brian Drake said...

Not all of us write "crap", as I myself have published seven short stories, so I've crashed the gates. I see a handful of ebooks as a way of building an audience and demonstrating to a publisher that I can make it rain (ie, earn money), which may help me win out when it's between me and another guy who've written similar books. Aside from Konrath, I don't know any other writer who intends to abandon traditional publishing, even if the reason is because some want to sit on panels at Bouchercon or hang out with other pros we've been reading for ages. I promise you Max Collins or Ed or anybody else will not buy a self-pubber a beer.

I have to wonder why established writers are so angry about this. It can't be because somebody's trying to get in without being "initiated"--if so, I'll skip Boucheron. If the industry is indeed as hard up as described, any back door entry should be welcome. And you have my permission to make as many gross "back door entry" jokes as you want.

Dave Zeltserman said...

Writers here are simply pointing out that Konrath's significant event as he calls it is not a significant event, but little more than his self-publishing yet another book on the kindle and a lot of hype on his part. I don't see anger here or elsewhere towards writers who want to self-publish ebooks, but I do see fear, with the fear being this is a direct assault on bookstores and the only chance we really have of building a career in this business. Most published writers understand how hard this business is, and further, without dedicated bookstores handselling us there's little chance of making it. And I think most of us fear where the ebook stores are heading--swamps containing 100s of thousands of self-published books, most being given away for free or sold at marginal prices by desperate writers, making it impossible for anyone other than the biggest names to make a living at this.

Richard S. Wheeler said...

I entirely agree with Mr. Zeltserman. My dread began years ago with the flood of print-on-demand titles generated by vanity presses. It was not competition I feared, but a fever swamp of bad books that prospective buyers could not distinguish from more readable ones offered under the auspices of legitimate trade publishers. In other words, I have feared that the flood of junk both on Kindle and from print-on-demand houses may discourage widespread book reading. My solace is that familiar publishing brands are becoming more important than ever. Those who want some assurance of quality are finding refuge in such familiar names as Doubleday or Simon and Schuster or Bantam or New American Library or Penguin. The flood of junk spreading like oil in the Gulf of Mexico may actually strengthen established houses that select and refine what they publish.

Brian Drake said...

Richard & Dave,
Believe me, I understand. How do you think I felt with the idea that real books might not be around forever? I had visions that by the time I cracked through, my work would be reduced to ones and zeros and I wouldn't be able to line my shelves with my books or go see them in a store and there would be no copies to sign for people and nothing to point at and say "Look what I did!" and who the heck wants that?

But instead of being afraid you should seize the opportunity. Get your back list stuff up on Kindle and build your audience. I'm sure you both have material laying dormant. I'm learning that Kindle readers are *eager* readers and they want quality material; they will praise good stuff and loudly attack bad stuff (which is why I'm not worried about slush as those writers will be found out). This is nothing to be afraid of and it can only help get your names out more which can only help your regular book sales.

My efforts with Kindle will allow me to show solid sales to agents and publishers, much like I have to prove a track record when I join a new company (I'm a salesman). They have to see that I can produce before they'll invest in me. If I can show that same track record to publishers, half the battle is won.

Dave Zeltserman said...

Brian, my fear isn't for myself, but for future of publishing + books + writers in general. In my own case, I think I'm okay--one film deal looks like it will be going into production soon, another deal looks imminent, I'm getting good foreign deals, my books seem to be getting some acclaim and traction here as well as being well reviewed (last 2 books on WP's best of the year list, see today's Boston Globe).

But I'm pretty convinced ebooks/Kindle offering writers any sort of panacea is illusionary. How many ebooks now are on the kindle store? 500,000? How many of those are self-published and/or being given away free or for a nominal charge? And it's only going to get worse with no barriers, financially or otherwise to self-publishing. The Kindle store will (if it hasn't already) become a swamp where it will be impossible for any writers other than the biggest names to stand out. Of course, there will always be a tiny number of exceptions. Just as maybe 0.001% of self-published books have had success, probably this same ratio will hold true for the self-published ebooks, but this will basically be the death to new writers. I can't see any future for the Kindle store other than it to eventually resemble the book section at a Walmart, where because of all the 100s of thousands of self-published ebooks filling up the store, the only books that will have any visibility and make money will be from the biggest named authors.

There may have been a small window where self-published writers giving away their books or selling cheap on Kindle might've gotten a few thousand copies sold/given away, and the money they made on those would amount to less than you'd get selling your book to a tiny press. Even with Konrath it sounds like mostly hype--especially given how many books he put up there--when you look at how much he claims he made per book it still amounts to a poor deal--and even those numbers are greatly skewed, because a good number of those sales are because of his platform and his becoming a rallying point for the self-published on Kindle. Once the market matures his numbers will revert back to the norm--actually, far lower than the norm since he will be competing with 100s of thousands of desperate writers who will be giving their books away free.

I don't see this as giving new writers (outside of a very tiny percentage) any chance at all of proving themselves or breaking into a career. I see this only as the complete death of the midlist and an impossible barrier for all but a tiny number of new writers to ever break through. But I hope I'm proved wrong.

Richard S. Wheeler said...

Mr. Drake,

I looked into putting my reverted titles on Kindle. Not easy, since many are pre-electronic or in DOS versions of several early word processors such as WordStar and WordPerfect, neither of which can be used on Kindle. They can be scanned and converted, all for fancy fees that would bring the costs up higher than I'd ever hope to recover through sales. And many are steadily earning anyway, through the Authors Guild backinprint program. In the case of my series books, I've given my publishers the right to continue them in electronic editions rather than seeking reversions. That keeps the series together and the royalty checks come twice a year.

I agree with Mr. Zeltserman that the Kindle market is fast becoming a swamp and sales of titles by unknowns will plummet. That is a shrewd assessment. My plan, at age 75, is to write well if I still can and not worry about gleaning dimes and quarters from old titles.

That said, good luck with your own program.

Brian Drake said...

Well, Dave, you offer excellent food for thought and make some strong points. Not enough to change my mind (even though I don't think you were trying to), but certainly enough to make the whole process interesting to watch. If nothing else, the project isn't costing me anything but time, so it's still worth it to see what might happen.

And, hey, if you're right, you're right--but we'll still find a way to set the world on fire.

Matt said...

For the record, it’s pretty terrific for Dave Zeltserman and Richard Wheeler and authors at their level of publishing experience to take time and share their ideas with a bunch of folks they don’t know and who may or may not even be fans. Props, too, to Ed for providing the blog.

It’s a little like attending a micro writer’s workshop.

I’m sure they’re as busy as anyone when it comes to writing and promoting their material. So their time and guidance here is very much appreciated.

Reminds me when I was in the Army. It was the late ‘90s, and we were getting ready to go overseas for a non-combat situation. Our more seasoned NCOs took precious time away from their families and friends and jobs and personal business just to meet with us new guys and share their experiences and advice.

Some advice we took. Some advice we ignored. A few of us FNGs thought we knew better. You can probably guess how that worked out... :)

Either way, it’s appreciated.

Anonymous said...

The Kindle is a sewer flooded with every self publishing swine in the world. That is a fact and that will only get worse as more and more authors start throwing their out-of-print backlist books up on Kindle.

(Many of those books are out of print for a reason, eh?)

By trash talking the Kindle as some kind of a sewer grate where most books sluice through into the drainage ditch and a few gems get caught in the bars you are ignoring the when and where that you are making this post.

This is the internet and if there is one thing that the internet is good at it is reaching millions (billions?) of people.

As eBooks become the norm and devices like the iPad become something everyone has in their possession you don't need to be that 1% of the people who stick in the bars to make a massive amount of cash selling books on the Kindle.

Konrath's books aren't moving Stephen King numbers -- he will only sell about 45,000 books in the remainder of 2010, but those 45,000 copies will bring him about $100,000.00 in straight cash paid out by Amazon directly to his bank account via direct deposit on a monthly basis.

This is a lot better than many authors are doing. I have read reports that Leisure press is offering as little as a $2500.00 advance on a first novel. You could make that same $2500 on the Kindle from 1200 sales.

What would Leisure do to an author whose book sold 1200 copies? They (and every other publisher) would drop them down a dark well and seal over the top.

The internet combined with devices like the Kindle, nook, Sony reader, iPad and more will make it possible for a writer with even a tiny following to make a grand living sitting at home writing instead of doing the full time job and writing on weekends thing that many mid-list authors are doing now.

The internet is a big place. Kindle makes it smaller.

Dave Zeltserman said...

If it's too good to be true it probably isn't.

Think about that, okay?

The internet mixed with ereaders is going to solve writers problems, right? Okay, so how many books do you think self-published and midlist writers have been selling on average at internet bookstores (let's leave out ebooks for now)? Not a hell of a lot--most internet sales still go to the biggest names.

I understand some midlist and self-published writers had some early success on the Kindle, but I have to think that's more the newness of it and them being able to take advantage of lack of product, at least early on. Guess, what, there's no lack of product anymore. There's over half a millions up there now, and many more are going to be following, and a lot of them are going to be given out free by desperate writers. The ebook stores are quickly resembling a mix of amazon's bookstore and iUniverse self-published store. But this is all going to be different now because ereader owners have an insatiable demand for books and they're on the INTERNET reaching millions, right?? As this market matures, whether it's ereader or paper books, readers selections will revert back to the norm, which is buying/reading the biggest, most hyped names.

Look, you want to drink Joe Konrath's Kool-Aid and buy his hype that all authors can make it with enough hype because it's the internet and this time it will be different, go ahead. I choose to look at it differently and what seems more obvious to me--that he's selling false hope to 1000s of desperate unpublished writers as way to build his own platform.

And if you have this awesome power to predict the future and be able to tell me how many more books Joe's going to be selling the rest of the year, please for God's Sake, help a struggling writer out and predict for me where the Dow is going to be next week, or better yet, the score of the next Celtics - Magic game.

Anonymous said...

I love Ed Gorman and his novels and the blunt question is: How much money are you making?

If you are pulling in hundreds of thousands a year from your books currently in print you can afford to ignore the nook and the Kindle and the iPad and let your publishers decide when and where your products will appear in print and when and where they appear as eBooks then more power to you!

If you aren't making at least $200k a year then you need to get your act together and grab all those fantastic old books of yours (many of which I'm sure I own in the traditional dead tree format) and find someone who can turn them into Kindle books and throw them up onto Amazon.com.

As of July 1st the ratio changes for Kindle books to where the author gets 70% of the sale and Amazon gets 30% of the sale.

At the minimum of $2.99 I think it is obvious that someone with such a huge and varied backlist as Ed Gorman could (and should) be making fat bank off his old books on the Kindle.

The internet is your friend. Be sure to feed it bits and bytes.

Anonymous said...

Folks seem to forget that many writers from Poe to Hemingway, from Joyce to Crane self-published their early work before they had enough of a following to warrant the attention of the mainstream commercial publisher.

E-books such as the Kindle offer that for many others writers shut out by New York literary elite or academic world, which publish those with connections rather than talent.

This new medium will allow new voices to emerge - some will be notable, most will not be.