Brian James Freeman

Author, Editor, Publisher

Tag: Joe Konrath

Author Joe Konrath on Writing and Publishing and his 10,000 Hours

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 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.

Christina Peaden Writes Book About The Carnival Triumph Hell Cruise… Can She Launch A Career?

I don’t know if Christina Peaden thought of herself as a “writer” one month ago, but she certainly took advantage of a huge opportunity to make a name for herself with her first published project: Triumph over Calamity.

triumph over calamityAccording to an article over at the Houston Chronicle website (Galveston woman already published book about Triumph), Christina Peaden kept a journal about her family’s recent vacation on the Carnival Triumph, which as you probably know ended in spectacular failure.

When Christina finally got home, she decided to self-publish her journal as an eBook on Amazon to give one person’s account of what happened. The Houston Chronicle claims “at least 850 people have already purchased it,” although they don’t state where that number comes from. I would assume from the author since doesn’t really release sales information.

So, assuming Christina picked the 70% royalty rate (and why wouldn’t she have?) and assuming those sales numbers are true, she’s made $1,768 in sales in the first seven days. Not bad for a 80 page journal she had been writing anyway.

I have no idea how well the book is written and edited. I’m also not sure why she used the clunky and hard-to-remember pen name C.A. Peaden. She’s giving her real name to the media and it’s a perfectly good name for an author. Maybe she feels her publishing name needs to be gender neutral, but that’s more of a “genre problem” so that doesn’t really explain it.

Christina’s marketing angle for her book is that faith in God will help you triumph over any circumstances. Whether or not you believe what she believes, I’m sure you can recognize there is a HUGE market for books promoting that view. There are also ample opportunities for speaking tours, etc. What I’m saying is, she has a chance here to launch a serious career if she makes the right moves.

I have no idea who Christina Peaden is. I don’t know if she’s charismatic or if she speaks well on camera, but I do know she saw she could be the “first to market” with a first-hand account of what happened during a major news event that recently consumed the American public’s attention. If she has the right internal make-up and she plays her cards right, she should be able to use this as the launch to something bigger.

By “internal make-up,” I mean, does she have a natural instinct for self-promotion and marketing and a natural drive to build on this opportunity, or did she essentially just get lucky by thinking, “Hey, I should publish my journal for other people to read!”

Author Joe Konrath, for example, has a natural drive to self-promote that courses through every decision he makes for his career. Most authors don’t know how to market their work the way Joe does on a very instinctual level. He’s always thinking of new ways to promote himself. Selling his work just comes naturally to him.

The difference between Christina Peaden being a one day story and Christina Peaden being a well-known inspirational writer for years to come might hinge on her ability to “make something” of this first publication while there’s still time. Strike while the iron is hot.

Ultimately, what Christina probably needs right now is a high level publicist who can prep her properly and make some media events happen fast while there’s still interest in this story. (And for all I know, maybe she already has a publicity team hard at work on her behalf.)

So what do you think? Will the publishing world be talking about Christina Peaden a year from now? Or will she fail to capitalize on this huge opportunity?

(P.S. If you have the time, go and read all of the customer reviews of her eBook on Amazon. It seems her view of the cruise isn’t universal and some of the other passengers are writing their own rebuttals via their reviews/comments, which are just as interesting to read in many cases.  For extra credit, check out how many of the reviews are written by people who have never reviewed anything else on Amazon. It’s almost as if there’s a PR battle being waged in the review section for this book.)

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