I’m very happy about Konrath’s success. It’s encouraging to everybody. If I make 1/10 of what he’s making, I’ll be ecstatic. But there’s sometimes a problem with writers like Konrath or Cory Doctorow touting their success when they’re each in a very unique position. Doctorow advocates giving away books for free permanently because it’s worked for him. What he doesn’t mention is that he also runs BoingBoing, which has hundreds of thousands of readers. He’s the exception, not the rule.
Konrath is doing something similar. He’s saying that his $100,000 month is because of Amazon, not name recognition:
I made $100,000 in three weeks from people who have no idea who I am. If they knew who I was, they would have bought those titles years ago. Because they’ve been available for years.
Don’t get me wrong. I know I have fans. I know I have some name recognition. But the sales they bring are paltry next to the marketing machine which is Amazon.
How do I know this for sure?
Because all of my other books were (until recently) on other platforms, where they did mediocre compared to bestselling authors.
James Patterson is selling well on Kindle, but he’s also selling well on Sony and Kobo and Apple and B&N. On Kindle, I’m outselling many Patterson titles. That isn’t the case anywhere else.
So it isn’t my name or my past that is responsible for this success. Nor is it any marketing efforts I’m doing now, because I’m not doing any. I haven’t visited my Facebook page in six months. I have a fan page but don’t know how to use it. I’ve never bought an online ad. I’ve got Twitter followers, but they’re writers, not fans.
To say this success is not because of his past doesn’t really make sense. Konrath’s name is mentioned in every mainstream article about self-publishing. Every single one. This has led to sales. These sales have led to thousands of “Also boughts,” which have led to lots of reviews. At some point, this process takes on a life of its own, but his success is completely because he’s JA Konrath. It’s hard to make the argument that he’s Amanda Hocking, who suddenly became successful out of nowhere. The reason he’s selling better on the Kindle is because everybody is. His $100,000 month is because of all the Kindle Fires received on Christmas.
Does this matter? A little bit: because it’s somewhat inaccurate information and Konrath is still saying things like:
In the long run, except in the case of bestsellers and huge advances, a writer WILL make more money self-publishing.
This can’t really be stated yet. Some books will find astounding success. Some books will sell nothing – or maybe a few hundred dollars worth of books over time. Non-commercial fiction has a much harder time making a go of it in the world of indie publishing because there’s less of everything catering to it: fewer review blogs, fewer readers. Self-publishing will work for some writers and it won’t for others.
He does temper it with this:
Can you be a successful self-pubbed author?
It depends. How hard are you willing to work, and how long are you willing to wait, before success happens?
Those books that are harder to market will take a bit longer than other ones. And it’s incredibly encouraging to know how many potential readers are out there. Ereaders are thought to be owned by only 5% of all readers (maybe more now post-holiday). If writers can make $100,000 today, what will it be like when 90% of readers have a tablet or reader? In 2012, however, there are arguments for traditional publishing as much as there are for self-publishing.
Commercial vs. Literary
Maybe Konrath is speaking only to authors of commercial fiction. After all, his tagline is “Is it possible to make a living as a genre fiction writer? Yes it is.” But Konrath has become a self-publishing spokesperson, talking about the death of publishing and the rise of independent publishing, so he’s a go-to source on how people should publish. If you publish commercial fiction, then there should definitely be more incentive to go straight to self-publishing. But literary fiction – or writing that’s difficult to market in some way – will have a harder time of it. In a post on Jane Friedman’s blog, the question is asked: Why Isn’t Literary Fiction Getting More Attention?
The morale among literary authors is low. Because even though they know their books are great, the mainstream voice is saying, “But not great enough to be worthy of sales efforts!” The playing field is leveling as reading becomes more digitized, and I’m not the only one who’s saying it. It’s time for literary authors to reclaim a segment of the market.
If I was in a different position, perhaps I wouldn’t feel this so acutely. But I write books that are harder to market and I’m not exactly finding astounding success – though miles ahead of where I was when I published POD-only in 2006. But the reason that publishers were unwilling to take my books on is the same reason that it’s harder to find footing in indie publishing. I’ve written crime fiction and science fiction – harder to brand me that way.
The good news: this will change. Literary fiction is where all of self-publishing was 5 years ago. This site began in the POD era, and post after post said, just you wait until more people have ereaders. That’s happened and self-publishing has broken through. But literary readers were very likely more snobbish about reading on an ereader because literary books are packaged differently – the paper its printed on, the cover. It’s more of an object to be owned than a supermarket paperback. So commercial readers were the first to adopt the new technology. My guess is this changed in a big way this last holiday season with more and more people getting a Kindle Fire who may never have wanted an ereader in the past.
Still, there’s a way to go where self-publishing is a viable route for all types of writers. A comment on the Jane Friedman piece asks:
Why do literary books get reviewed in newspapers, but genre books get reviewed on blogs?
“Serious” books are the ones that get reviewed in mainstream media. And the mainstream media refuses to review self-published work. What propelled Amanda Hocking to success was the genre blogosphere. Konrath says that we’re in an era where Kirkus and such outlets are less necessary – but this isn’t necessarily true for all types of writers. This time will come, which is amazing. But his message that self-publishing can be more profitable needs to be tempered. It’s a great avenue for some writers. Eventually, it truly will be better for all writers to self-publish. And really: it’s a great time to be a writer in general because it’s even possible to make this prediction.
Update: JA Konrath responds (?) – or at least addresses what’s talked about in this post:
You’d think all of this publicity has lead to increased sales of my ebooks.
You’d think wrong.
I’m obsessive about numbers, as anyone who reads this blog can tell you. So when I appear in some major periodical, I watch my Kindle numbers, looking for the big spike.
I never see a big spike. In fact, I hardly ever see a small spike.
Huh? WTF? Does that make sense? We all know that publicity leads to sales, right?
I’m getting a name for myself in the self-publishing world. I get millions of hits a year on this blog. When people discuss self-pubbing, my name often comes up.
But the people who visit this blog, and discuss my self-publishing efforts, are writers.
Writers aren’t buying my fiction. They aren’t buying my non-fiction either–I have an ebook called “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing” and it is among my lowest-selling titles.
The people who buy me are readers, and the vast majority have never heard of me. Readers find me on Amazon, because Amazon has made it easy for my books to be discovered.
I don’t think you can say all those articles have such little value based on immediate sales. It’s not the clicks that matter, it’s the publicity – and A LOT more people have heard about you than other writers.
At some point – as it is with you, Locke, and Hocking, the Amazon engine becomes an amazing monster and takes on a life of its own. But those Guardian articles have no doubt helped you. Even if 100 people buy books based on this blog and whatever press you’ve gotten, that helps. And it’s probably more in the thousands.
So I’m not sure if writers should avoid publicity and hope some Kindle magic happens. For the up-and-comer, any mention is useful – especially if books aren’t taking off on their own. If nothing else, getting a review or being talked about in some way can be fuel to write more.
About the Reviewer: Henry Baum
Author of The American Book of the Dead, which won Best Fiction at the DIY Book Festival and the Gold IPPY Award for Visionary Fiction. Largehearted Boy says it's "reminiscent of Philip K. Dick and Haruki Murakami, a book that boldly explores the future and defies genre." Also the author of North of Sunset, winner of the Hollywood Book Festival Grand Prize, and The Golden Calf - first published by Soft Skull Press, with editions in the U.K. (Rebel Inc.) and France (Hachette Littératures). Henry was a finalist along with Alan Moore and Dr Brooke Magnanti for his novel " God's Wife" at for Best Writer at The Erotic Awards London UK in 2013. He lives with his wife Cate Baum in Los Angeles. He is the founder of SPR. Visit henrybaum.com for more information.