J.A. Konrath is one of the biggest names in self-publishing, and his blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, is all but required reading for independent authors. When we talked to Konrath at the beginning of this year, he had just enjoyed a very successful month, moving more than 18,000 e-books on Kindle and made about $42,000 online, including sales on SmashWords, CreateSpace and Barnes & Noble, for the month of January. As Konrath puts it on his blog, “ ‘Amazed’ is no longer strong enough a word.”
Read more of the Best Indie Books of 2011.
Compare that to the previous year, as Konrath reports that he made $2,295 via Kindle last January and was “amazed” then that he could pay his home’s mortgage on “books NY rejected.” Kirkus talked to the author of the popular Jack Daniels thriller series about the latest installment, Shaken, his publishing deal with Amazon Encore and the simply outstanding sales he’s experiencing online.
(Ed note: This interview first ran March 2011)
What went behind your decision-making to release Shaken like you did on Amazon Encore, first as an e-book, followed by print?
A couple of years ago, I was published by Hyperion, and Hyperion dropped its mystery line, including my series involving Jack Daniels, so the series was without a home. Now my agent wanted me to shop the series around a little bit, but at that point, I’d already sold a book to another publisher under my pen name, Jack Kilborn, so I put Jack [Daniels] on the backburner for a while. My agent showed the seventh Jack Daniels to three other publishers, and no one wanted to pick up the series in the middle…In the meantime, this Kindle thing came along…
I looked at how to get my books up on Amazon…I realized I could list books myself and it didn’t cost anything…I thought, I’ll price them really cheap, consider it a loss-lead, the whole point is for publicity anyway—the idea is you want to gain fans, and the only way to gain fans is to be read. Well, I made enough selling those cheap e-books that first month to pay my mortgage, like $1,500. As a writer, I was shocked. I didn’t think that many folks had that many Kindles and cared. Months passed, I put up more books on Kindle and started selling in bigger and bigger numbers, $2,000 per month, $3,000, $5,000…
Then Amazon Encore got in touch with me, the actual publishing arm, they take books people self-published and put marketing muscle behind them, release as both e-books and print and give them a second life. I thought it was neat that they were interested in my books, but I was already making a nice chunk of change. I’d written my books and still had the seventh Jack Daniels, so I asked, would you guys be interested in that? They were.
Tell us a bit about how the e-book format has allowed you to frame your story differently?
The reason Shaken was a good match with Encore was that it allowed me to release two versions at once—Shaken bounces around three different time periods in Jack’s career, back in ’80s when she first became a cop, couple years ago, then modern times. In all three time periods she was chasing the same bad guy. The narrative is jumping around in time, following this villain for different crimes in different scenarios, and weaving them all together…The e-book has the author-preferred version, and you can also read the book chronologically.
You released the Kindle version last fall  and are releasing the print book in February —what are you learning from this experience about the mix of print and e-book?
The e-book that came out in October  has done very well and is selling like crazy, and now I’m anxious and curious about the print version. Once people get a dedicated e-reader, they don’t go back to print. It becomes separate markets. I got my first Kindle six months ago, and I’ve bought 200 books. Now, I’ve always been a big reader, but I don’t think I’ve ever bought 200 books in a six-month period before.
In the case of Shaken, it’s easier to release the e-book than print—the typing, setting, publicity, marketing, that takes a long time to do for print. What I find amusing about whole thing is that publishers have been windowing the e-book sales, releasing the e-book sales after print. We did the exact opposite.
What other factors help move books online?
Amazon listened to me—Shaken was released for $2.99 with no DRM. That’s how I sell my e-books. On my own, I’ve sold about 120,000, maybe 130,000 now—I’m selling 720 per day. And these are the books that New York rejected.
A low cost for a good book, that’s what e-book readers want—it’s like a buffet table. Are you going to go and have just one slice of pizza? No, you’re going to have several, a burger, some goulash. I have 19 e-books on Kindle myself. You can buy all of them for less than the price of two hardcovers.
The e-book market is just taking off. Do you have any projections for 2011?
E-books are only 11-12 percent of the book market. Will they completely knock print off? No, print will always be around. Are they going to be the dominant format media is read on? Yes, they have to be. It’s just too easy and too cool and too much fun to use a narrator. The books are cheaper, you can store a billion of them, buy them instantly, surf what you’re looking for on your sofa, adjust font size...
According to the bell curve on adopting new technology, right now we’re still in the early adopter stage. At about 35 percent adoption, that’s when bell curve really takes off. I don’t know if it’ll hit 35 percent this year, but I expect a big bump at the holiday season.
You’ve also cultivated an online community of self-published authors, many of whom guest post on your blog. What are some insights you’ve gained from them?
My blog has always been about what I’m doing and what the publishing industry is doing, and things I’ve tried that work and didn’t work. When I tried the Kindle experience in April 2009, I started blogging about it and did something no one else does—putting what I sell and make on my own versus [through] various publishers. It didn’t take long to start beating my publishers’ sales. My blog is for writers and writers read me, some are inspired enough to try it, and some are kicking my butt in sales.
The question that constantly gets asked is am I selling so well because I had a traditional publishing background? Because I had a backlist? The answer is no. It helps, certainly, but based on the e-mail I get, my self-published books are helping to sell my traditional published books and not the other way around. If it were my backlist, there are many other authors, friends, I’ve told they need to do this…they have bigger backlists, in some cases bigger fan bases, so why am I outselling them? It obviously has nothing to do with my print background. Look at all these new authors with no traditional publishing background who are outselling me. Obviously, you don’t need a print backlist to do well on Kindle. You just need a good book at a low price with a good cover.