Last year I interviewed Joe Konrath, but somehow that interview never got posted. Most of this is still very relevant, but keep in mind that a lot can change in a year. Still, there’s good stuff in here for all kinds of writers and I didn’t want that to go to waste:
Brian James Freeman: I’ve heard a lot of very large numbers thrown around over the years, but how many books/stories/words did you really write before you sold your first novel?
Joe Konrath: I wrote nine novels before selling Whiskey Sour in 2002, plus over a hundred shorts. I received more than 500 rejections. I’d easily crossed the million word mark before I made a cent.
To talk numbers, Whiskey Sour was a three book deal, $33k per book. I got a second three book deal for $41k per book, and right after I signed it my publisher dropped their mystery line, me included.
That said, my books are all still in print, in multiple printings, and they’ve earned out their advances. My last 6 month royalty check for these was $25k, and naturally the majority of sales were ebooks.
BJF: Many people would have given up, but what drove you to keep writing?
JK: I love writing. I always wanted to make a living doing something I love, and now I’m lucky enough to do so.
BJF: What has been the best part about working with a New York publisher?
JK: Signing a deal was always a reason to celebrate, and I’ve worked with some smart, talented folks.
BJF: The worst?
JK: Poor royalties, no say in title or cover, lots of self-promotion, small marketing budgets, long publication times, short shelf life, returns, coop, and we’re supposed to be grateful to be published. Last I checked, the writer was an essential component in book sales, but we were never paid like we were, or treated like we were.
BJF: Now that you’re one of the best known self-publishers, new authors are always asking you how you did it, and you always say it’s a combination of luck, luck, and more luck. Seriously, how did you do it?
JK: I was in the right place at the right time. When Amazon created the Kindle, I had an extensive backlist that NY publishers rejected. I’d also spent seven years learning how to market and self-promote. Malcolm Gladwell calls it the Rule of 10,000. You have to spend 10,000 hours at something to become an expert at it. I had 10k hours in writing and 10k hours in makerting and publishing. I was also determined to succeed. Put all this together and I was in a good position for luck to strike.
BJF: Do you think the ease with which authors can self-publish will change anything about how New York publishers operate?
JK: No. I don’t think NY will adapt. They’re doing a very good job of making themselves irrelevant.
BJF: How much of a role do you think Amazon.com will play in publishing in the next ten years?
JK: They’re the new kid on the block, with new ideas and a smart way of doing business. Watch to see how many authors they sign in 2012.
BJF: Now that you can self-publish anything you want to write, has that affected what you choose to write?
JK: I did a choose-your-own-adventure type of ebook, and have been doing a lot of novellas and collaborations that would have been impossible to sell a few years ago. That said, I still write commercial fiction, because that’s what I enjoy. If I ever become so self-indulgent that I stop entertaining the readers, please kick me.
BJF: What has been your most successful marketing effort for your own work? Why?
JK: For paper books, I once went on a summer tour and signed at over 500 bookstores. I believe my early touring and internet efforts are a large part of the reason I’m still in print, which turned out to be a big mistake on my part. If I’d let those books die rather than pushed them so hard, I’d probably have the rights back, and would be making a lot more money on them.
As for ebooks, I don’t do much marketing. I try to write good stories, with good covers, good descriptions, and low prices. They seem to sell themselves.
BJF: Your least successful marketing effort?
JK: I once mailed out 7000 letters to libraries and bookstores. That was a lot of money, and a lot of work, and I don’t think it was worth it. I believe ads are a mistake. So are postcards, give-aways, contests, and book trailers. Think about the last book you bought. Why did you buy it? What made you aware of it? Figure that out, and use that strategy.
BJF: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
JK: Doing what I’ve been doing the last twenty. Writing, writing, writing.
BJF: What advice do you have for writers who are just getting started?
JK: This is a business. Act businesslike.
BJF: Finally, if you had to point new readers to just one of your books to get them hooked, which one would you recommend?
JK: Endurance by my pen name Jack Kilborn. It’s scary. Real scary.