Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Amazon Encore Take Over Two Of My Books!
As of this week, I am no longer self-publishing The Basement and Once Bitten, my two eBook bestsellers that between them have sold almost a quarter of a million copies on Kindle alone.
After selling close to half a million eBooks over the past twelve months I’m now taking a step back from self-publishing. I’ve spent twelve months promoting, marketing, plugging, Facebooking and tweeting and I’m exhausted. It’s time for someone else to do the hard work so that I can do what I do best – write.
Amazon Encore is now publishing my vampire novel Once Bitten, including for the first time a paperback version, and my serial killer novella the Basement, which topped the UK Kindle charts for several months and sold more than 150,000 copies.
Then early next year Amazon’s new imprint 47North is publishing my three Jack Nightingale supernatural detective series – Nightfall, Midnight and Nightmare.
Most of what follows recently appeared on Joe Konrath's blog, but it's worth retelling here.
Self-publishing was always an experiment for me. In fact I was one of the first authors to self-publish on the Kindle – I put up my book Private Dancer back in 2005. I hardly sold any and months would go by without a single sale.
But everything changed for me in the summer of 2010 when Amazon opened its first Kindle store outside of the US and allowed us Brits to buy from Amazon.co.uk. The new store, plus the fact that the Kindle was about to become the most Christmas-gifted item of all time, gave me the impetus to start self-publishing.
Exactly twelve months ago I put up three more eBooks on the Kindle through Amazon’s KDP platform, books that my UK publisher Hodder and Stoughton had turned down. There was a vampire story (Once Bitten), a serial killer novella (The Basement) and a science fiction murder mystery (Dreamer’s Cat).
It’s been a resounding success. I don’t know of any UK-based author who has sold more self-published books. (Though fellow Brit Lee child of course was one of the first to hit the one millions sales mark).
Over the last twelve months I sold 155,662 copies of The Basement through the UK Kindle store. Mainly at the Amazon minimum (75p plus 11p tax in the UK) but over the last couple of months the price has gone up to £1.49 (about $2).
Over the same period I sold 82,583 copies of Once Bitten and 19,810 copies of Dreamer’s Cat. The Kindle success spilled over onto the other eReaders and by the summer I was selling tens of thousands of copies a month on iBooks.
My earnings were much better than I expected when I first signed up with KDP. My best month in the UK (January) netted me an Amazon check for £11,295 and my worst month (February) produced £5,236.
My sales in the US were much lower – just 5,197 copies of The Basement and 2,397 copies of Once Bitten over the year. But earnings were more consistent, around $1,200 every month. I realised fairly quickly that low prices don’t necessarily equate to higher sales in the US so I kept my prices at $2.99 and above.
I pretty much tried everything to boost my US sales. I blogged, I tweeted, I gave away free copies, I posted on the Kindle US forum (not a pleasant experience, it has to be said). Nothing worked. Even a guest blog on Joe’s site only shifted a few dozen extra copies.
That’s why I’m so excited about the Amazon Encore deal. Yes, I’ll get a lower royalty rate (they don’t pay the 70 per cent royalty on Amazon Encore books, no matter what the price they sell at). And yes I lose control over the marketing and pricing. But I’m hoping that Amazon’s marketing expertise will kick in and hopefully replicate my UK success in the US. Their massive database knows which customers like vampire stories and which prefer serial killer stories. They’ll be able to offer my books to the right customers, hopefully at the right price. I’ve seen them do it several times in the UK, where the Amazon imprints have launched American writers into the UK Top 10 in a matter of days. It’s as impressive as hell, they can do in hours what it takes me weeks to do. If they can do that for me in the US then the sky’s the limit. Say the US market for Kindle eBooks is five times that of the UK’s – if that’s the case then there’s no reason that Amazon Encore couldn’t sell a million copies of The Basement and Once Bitten. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
But one of the fascinating things for me about my whole Kindle experiment has been the support I’ve received from my UK publisher, Hodder and Stoughton. I’ve been with them for more than twenty years, ever since they paid a six-figure sum for my books The Chinaman and The Vets. It was that advance that launched my career as a full-time writer and changed my life forever.
Not only were Hodder supportive of my eBook experiment, they also joined in and cut the price of one of my thrillers to 49p. The book, Hard Landing, is the first in my Spider Shepherd undercover cop series – and over the last 12 months Hodder have sold more than 120,000 copies. It spent weeks at the top of the Kindle UK chart and only recently dropped out of the Top 100. And not only that, there was an immediate boost in sales of all the other books in the series – and they were selling at £4.99 each. Over the year they sold more than 35,000 Spider Shepherd eBooks at that price.
But the really big surprise for them came this summer when they released the latest book in the Spider Shepherd series – Fair Game. Sales of the paperback were twenty per cent up on the previous book at a time when the UK thriller market as a whole was well down.
It’s become clear that my success with eBooks has fed through to my legacy publishing books in a big way. But it’s also clear that my publisher is keen to help me build on that success. So this year I have signed deals to write five more books for them in return for an advance of close to US$750,000.
I know there are those who’d say that I’d make more money doing books myself. But I’m not so sure.
Publishers publish. That’s what they’re good at. They find writers, they help shape their stories, and they sell them. All that’s changing is the method of selling stories, from paperbacks to eBooks. The big publishers are like oil tankers, it takes a lot of effort to make them change their direction and speed, but once they have moved they have one hell of a lot of momentum. Yes, I can arrange the editing myself, design covers, market, promote and publicise. But that’s hard work and it’s not what I’m good at. I’m a writer. I write. And I’d rather concentrate on writing and let my publisher get on with publishing.
Yes, the industry is changing. Yes, sales of paperbacks are down and sales of eBooks are rising. Without a shadow of a doubt the eBook market will dominate in the future. But I think what we have seen over the past year has been a bubble, a bubble that is now slowly deflating. Not a bubble in sales – but a bubble in the performance of self-published eBooks. A year ago, when I started my eBook experiment, it was relatively easy to get three of my books into the Amazon Kindle UK bestseller list. And they stayed there – for months. Only last month did they leave the Top 50. But an eBook I released last month – optimistically titled The Bestseller – went into the Top 10 but didn’t stay there for long. And most of the eBooks that were doing so well earlier this year have pretty much disappeared from the bestseller lists. The self-published authors who were shouting that the traditional publishing industry was dead and that the future lay with them are now seeing their books dropping out of the Top 1000 and sales slowing to a trickle.
In their place we’re seeing the old faces starting to dominate the bestseller list – Lee Child, Stephen King, Michael Connelly, PD James. The usual suspects. And among them are the Amazon-published authors benefiting from Amazon’s marketing muscle.
Why is it happening? I don’t know. It might be that the marketplace is changing, it might be that Amazon has changed the way it compiles its bestseller lists. But the cause doesn’t matter – it’s the effect that counts. And I think that bit by bit we’ll see the legacy publishers tighten their grip on the eBook bestseller lists, and the self-published books will find it harder and harder to make any sort of impression.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that I’m far from being the typical self-publisher. And what works for me probably wouldn’t work for a writer who has never had a traditional publishing deal or who is only just getting started. But I’m happy enough now to get off the self-publishing treadmill and let someone else do the hard work. I’ve got books I want to write!