Friday, July 27, 2012

Fifty Shades of Alice in Wonderland

Today I'm interviewing Melinda DuChamp, writer of the recently released ebook Fifty Shades of Alice in Wonderland, currently free on

It has, without a doubt, the best ebook cover I've ever seen. Besides being funny as hell, the cover art instantly announces the subject matter: a light-hearted erotic parody of a famous classic fairy tale.

Where did you get this cover?

Melinda: I'm a regular reader your blog, and I contacted Carl Graves at Extended Imagery, listed in your sidebar. The mushroom is actually real. There are a whole group of mushrooms with phallus in their names. Carl did a great job making it look fairytale-like. Rob Siders at 52 Novels did the formatting. I was very pleased with his professionalism as well. 

Joe: I've read the book. It is very funny, and also pretty hot. 

Melinda: Thank you so much! The original Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was very funny for its time, and the story is a true classic; a girl goes into a magical world and meets talking animals and strange characters. But I'm not sure if all of the humor holds up today. Some of the jokes and the puns are no longer relevant. I tried to keep the same tone, albeit more adult-oriented. So there are some amusing rhymes, and lots of silliness in action and dialog, in my version.

Joe: But this is for adults...

Melinda: This is definitely for adults only. While I kept the clinical terms used to describe anatomy and physical relations work-friendly PG-13, the action is a lot more explicit than that.

Joe: Reading this at work would be... uncomfortable.

Melinda: Thank you! You're sweet.

Joe: I never read Fifty Shades of Grey, but I take it there are a lot of the same types of kinks described.

Melinda: Yes. Some bondage and spanking and toys and four-ways and other fun things. I followed the structure of Carroll's novel, and had Alice run into many of the same characters, but with a modern, erotic spin on them.

Joe: Melinda DuChamp is a pen name. What else have you written?

Melinda: I have over twenty years of experience writing professionally, in many different genres. Name a publisher, I've probably done something with them. 

Joe: How many novels?

Melinda: Over fifty.

Joe: Is this your first self-pubbed ebook?

Melinda: Under this pseudonym, yes. 

Joe: I assume you have some sort of following with that many books under your belt. Why use a pseudonym?

Melinda: My mother reads all of my books, and I decided this one was a bit too spicy for her.

Joe: I haven't read a lot of erotica, but I do have some old, dog-eared copies of Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty trilogy, which she wrote under the name A.N. Roquelaure. I found some of it arousing, and some of it extreme to the point of being a turn off. It went too far with the pain, in my opinion. You've got some BDSM stuff in Alice, but it is more playful than painful.

Melinda: Those are pretty raunchy books, and by the end of the trilogy Beauty had been beaten so many times I felt she needed to be taken to the ER! I wanted Alice to have an edge, and to be arousing, without the intense subjugation and pain that often occurs in many similarly themed erotica novels. Subjugation between consenting adults is fine, but I was never turned-on by being beaten or humiliated to tears. Fifty Shades of Alice in Wonderland has a lot of kinky sex in it, but I find the path to arousal and release more erotic than graphic descriptions of men and women being caned or whipped. But that's just one gal's opinion. Different readers have different tastes, and no one is right or wrong when it comes to their fantasies. 

Joe: Why did you start self-publishing?

Melinda: I've had shelf novels that never sold for various reasons, and it seemed like an obvious way to supplement my income. Now they have become my main source of income.

Joe: Would you go back to legacy publishing?

Melinda: I go where the money is. When my agent gets an offer, I listen. But the offer has to be serious to make me consider it.

Joe: So why call it Fifty Shades of Alice in Wonderland?

Melinda: I'm not above riding on coattails, and I don't believe Ms. James will mind, considering the inspiration for her trilogy. 

Joe: The tagline on the cover says "Inspired by true events." Care to elaborate?

Melinda: A lady doesn't kiss and tell. But I encourage readers to read Alice and pick out which scenes are based on fact, and which are completely made up.

Joe: Will there be a sequel?

Melinda: It depends how well it does. I've done many love scenes in my books, but never a full book of erotica. Alice was fun to write, and I do have some ideas for a follow-up, but this is a business, and I try to pay attention to what readers want. Only time will tell if they want more Alice...

Joe sez: This book really is hot, and it is currently free, so download it and support Melinda in her quest to keep secrets from her mother.

You can get in in the US and the UK.

Also worth noting is this ebook was only released a few days ago, and is already on the Top 100 free list in the UK, and close to the Top 100 in the US. It got there without any name recognition, publicity, promotion, marketing, or advertising. I tweeted about it earlier today, and got in touch with Melinda to request this interview after I'd read the book (my cover artist showed me the cover last week) but it was already at its current rankings before I did so.

It is apparently possible to make a splash and get noticed while being a complete unknown. All you need is a good cover, good book description, good book, and a good price ($2.99 normally, free until Monday.)

We'll see if these freebies lead to future sales. If they do, I may soon be writing Fifty Shades of Snow White...

Friday, July 20, 2012

Harlequin Fail Part 2

Three authors have just filed a class action suit against Harlequin. Here's the full complaint.

It's about time.

For those who read a guest post by Ann Voss Peterson last month, you were aware Ann wrote a book that Harlequin published, and she made 2.4% royalties per copy sold. One of the reasons for this was:

First, while most of my books are sold in the US, many are sold under lower royalty rates in other countries. In this particular contract, some foreign rights and -ALL ebook royalties- are figured in a way that artificially reduces net by licensing the book to a "related licensee," in other words, a company owned by Harlequin itself.

Now I'm not a lawyer, but I'm pretty sure this means Harlequin contracts state they'll pay authors 50% for foreign and ebook royalties. This 50% is based on the amount they receive. But then they took those rights and sub-licensed them to another company for 6%, which means the author got 3% of the wholesale price, not 50%.

Confused? Here's an example.

Harlequin has an ebook it lists for $3.99. It sells that to Amazon at a wholesale price of $2.00. The author should make $1.00 for each $3.99 ebook that Amazon sells.

But instead of selling direct to Amazon, Harlequin sells the ebook to Company X for 12 cents. So the author only gets 6 cents. Company X than sells the same ebook to Amazon for $2.00, but because they are a sub-licensing company, they don't have to pay the author anything.

Sub-licensing is common. My publisher, Headline in the UK, sold book club rights to my novel AFRAID. The book club paid Headline a flat fee, and HEADLINE gave me 50% of that fee, according to my contract. The book club wasn't required to pay me royalties on each book club edition is sold. Just like Company X isn't required to pay authors anything.

This is all fine and legal. So why are authors suing Harlequin?

Because Harlequin and Company X are the same company.

In other words, it is sub-licensing the rights it holds to itself. Then it only has to pay the author 3% instead of 50%.

That's seems pretty shitty. It also doesn't seem like something a judge or jury will casually dismiss, even if Harlequin made sure it kept the two companies separate through an umbrella company.

No publishing company would ever sub-license rights for a paltry 6%, unless it was selling the rights to itself. Does Harlequin really expect a judge to believe that it sells a $3.99 ebook and only makes 6 cents? And according to the complaint, the 6% was not equivalent to the amount reasonably obtainable from an unrelated party, as required by the publishing agreements.

Ya think?

Hey, Harlequin! You poor dears are getting ripped off by sub-licensing e-rights for only 6%! How about I give you 9% for all of your e-rights sub-licenses? I'm a nice guy willing to help out, and you'll make more money!

What? You won't do it? Why not? I'm giving you a waaaaay better deal!

Do publishers have such a sense of entitlement, and do they believe that authors are so beneath them, that this is a fair and honest business practice?

Hopefully, not only will Harlequin have to pay its authors what it owes, but the judge will slap huge damages on the bastards.

Here's how Harlequin responded to the suit:

The publisher wishes to make clear that this is the first it has heard of the proceedings and that a complaint has not yet been served.

"Our authors have been recompensed fairly and properly for their work, and we will be defending ourselves vigorously," said Donna Hayes, Publisher and Chief Executive Officer of Harlequin.

Now that's not much for me to fisk. But it still reeks of bullshit.

this is the first it has heard of the proceedings

Huh? Again, I'm no lawyer, but I'm pretty sure that before a class action suit is filed, the plaintiffs and their lawyers approach the defendant and request to settle. That's Law School 101.

Our authors have been recompensed fairly and properly for their work

I'm not sure what Donna's definition of "fair" is, but I'll guess a jury won't think it is fair that a writer earns 6 cents on a $3.99 Harlequin ebook sale when that same ebook would earn a non-Harlequin author 70 cents on a 3.99 ebook.

In other words, Harlequin authors make only 9% of what the other authors make.

I suggest Donna Hayes back up her statement and stand by her words. Immediately, and retroactively, going back to when she was originally hired by Harlequin, she should take a 91% salary cut. Who cares what other publishing CEOs make annually? If Harlequin is fair in paying its authors 91% less than the rest of the industry, it should pay its executives accordingly.

If you'd like more info about the case, visit

Monday, July 16, 2012

Zero Sum

I've blogged about the so-called Race to the Bottom before, a few times.

The argument du jour seems to be that if publishers do collapse, then all the current bestsellers will have their ebooks available for $4.99 or less, and that will be the end of self-publishing. I've blogged about an eventual bestseller shift, which we can argue is happening, has happened, or will happen, depending on which stats you want to support.

But now I think it's time to put them together, as well as do some Q&A.

1. Ebook sales aren't a zero sum game. A sale of one ebook doesn't preclude the sale of another, because this is a burgeoning global market with hundreds of new customers introduced daily, and people naturally horde more than they need. 

Let's say there are currently 100 million ebook readers, and 1 million ebook titles on Amazon. In ten years, there will be billions of ebook readers (following the path of mp3s). But there won't be a corresponding 100 million ebook titles available--there aren't that many people writing ebooks, and never will be.

If I can currently sell a few hundred ebooks a day in the US alone, what will happen when ebooks become popular in India, China, Japan, Europe, Russian, and South America? There will be a bigger demand than unique supply, and I believe my position will improve.

2. Legacy bestsellers now may not be bestsellers in the future. If all Lee Child ebooks were $3.99, an avid reader could buy and finish them all in a month. Then what? Wait six months for him to finish another, and not read a thing until then? I think not.

Let's say the reader then went on to other bestselling thriller writers in the same vein as Child. How many current NYT bestsellers write series thrillers? I have no idea, but I'd guess a few dozen, tops. But does likign Child mean liking all NYT thriller bestsellers? I'm sure there are readers who love Child but don't like Brad Thor or Vince Flynn, but even if all an avid reader read was bestselling thriller authors who did a book or two a year, they would eventually run out of books to read.

BTW, I know a few avid readers. They lust for more authors to discover, and get excited when they read an unknown gem and find out that author has twenty more books in the series. I'm one of those types. I've read all Ed McBain, Mickey Spillane, John D. MacDonald, Robert B. Parker, and still managed to find new gems by Jeff Shelby, Brett Battles, Harry Hunsicker, and Jude Hardin, written in the same vein and style. 

If bestsellers like Child and Thor came down in price, it wouldn't matter to me much, because I already have read all of Child and I don't care for Thor. But if Child were $3.99 instead of $12.99, I can easily see myself buying his latest AND a few others. The money I'd save would be spent just the same.

Ever go into a store to buy a big ticket item, expecting to may more than you did? Let's say you research an over and find it for $699. When you go to the store, it is on sale for $499. And they also have a great toaster oven for $99. You probably wouldn't have bought the toaster oven originally, but now that you're saving money on the oven, the toaster oven becomes attractive.

If all ebook prices came down, more ebooks would be sold across the board.

3. The reason bestselling authors are bestselling authors is because of distribution. Nora Roberts is available EVERYWHERE books are sold. So, by default, she sells a lot, because readers wanting that particular type of book have no other choice--they buy her, or nothing.

When publishers collapse, Nora will have the exact same amount of shelf space and exposure as any indie author. Sure, there will be some name and brand recognition for a while, but that will fade when not being constantly reinforced by massive print distribution.

It also remains to be seen how Nora will price her ebooks when her publisher goes bankrupt. Will she stay at the $9.99 price point she's selling at now? If so, I predict fewer sales. If she does price reasonably, then the reader with $9.99 to spend can buy one of her ebooks and one of my ebooks with change left of.

The market is getting bigger. People with ereaders tend to buy and read more. And authors can make a very nice living selling 100 ebooks a day for $2.99 each. Across multiple platforms, on a global scale, I see this as not only possible, but likely for decent, prolific authors. 

And as far as bestsellers go, they tend to fade when distribution changes or dries up.

Mickey Spillane (whose books I love) has sold over 225 million books. 

Check his Kindle ranking now, only six years after his death. Lots of indies are outselling him. Even though Al Collins is doing a great job continuing the Mike Hammer series. 

Check ranks on some Louis L'Amour titles. He sold over 300 million books. Mediocre kindle sales.

Sidney Sheldon has sold more than Stephen King. Look at Sidney's rankings on Amazon these days. He also is still producing books after his death, via ghost writers, but he's nowhere near the powerhouse he once was.

Harold Robbins has sold 750 million books. More than twice JK Rowling. And many of his Kindle titles are less than $2.99. Check his rankings. Mine are better in many cases. One of the best selling authors of all time, but he isn't in the paperback racks anymore, and that means no more bestsellerdom.

4. There is already a tremendous abundance of choice, not only with media in general, but ebooks in particular. I believe Amazon has over 1 million Kindle titles for sale. Yet people still find me, and I was hardly a bestseller in print.

If bestselling authors all dropped their prices, I believe I'd sell more ebooks, not less, because more people would buy ereaders and have more money to spend on content. There's enough room for 300 cable TV channels, and four billion videos on Youtube.

Sure, some YouTube videos won't be watched, just like some ebooks won't be read. But quality does seem to eventually find an audience. Maybe not to smashing success, but authors don't need smashing success. They need 100 sales a day at $2.99 to live very well.

What do you need to do to reach that 100 sales a day?

1. Write good stories. As many and as fast as you can. They should be edited, proofed, and well formatted I use for formatting, and they do better work than any of the Big 6. The more you have out there, the better you'll do.

2. Make sure you have a great product description and a professional cover. My cover artist, Carl Graves, has 24 new covers on sale on his website for $200 each. A bunch of them are awesome, and $200 is a great deal (he charges me $500). Check them out, first come first serve, at

3. Find the sweet spot between price and quantity sold, where you make the most profit. Currently I'm $3.99 for novels, $2.99 for novellas (over 10k words) and story collections, and 99 cents for short stories. But this isn't set in stone.

4. Experiment with different ways to promote. Some things I've tried to varying degrees of success are giving away free ebooks to get reviews, announcing sales on ebook websites, having sales, making titles free for a limited time, partnering with different platforms, and guest blogging.

What don't I bother with?

1. Advertising. It doesn't work on me, so I don't use it on other people. That's a cardinal rule of mine. I only use something or believe it works if I do it as a consumer.

2. Social media. Occasional tweets of Facebook announcements are fine. At most, once a week. Maybe once a day if you have a new release, but end it after a few days. Otherwise people get sick of you.

3. Publicity. I've already blogged that getting my name in the press doesn't lead to sales. You probably don't need a publicist. 

4. Spamming. I have a newsletter, and use it a few times a year. I don't use it everytime I upload something new to Kindle. And I don't pimp my work on other peoples' blog or forums unless invited to do so, or there's a section for it.

I want to end this blog entry by telling writers: Don't Be Afraid. Yes, the future will be different. Yes, things will change. But there will always be a need for storytellers, and if you hold onto your rights, you'll be in a good position to exploit those rights no matter what the future holds.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

99 Cents

So is 99 cents a good price for ebooks? Does it devalue them? Are we in a race to the bottom where consumers will always expect cheap and free? Or are 99 cents sales smart ways to find new fans, climb up on bestseller lists, and lower rankings?

I've blogged about the race to the bottom before, and explained in detail why I believe the notion is wrong.

I've blogged about the value of ebooks, and how I discovered that low prices are best.

I've experimented with 99 cent ebooks and did well with it, hitting the Kindle Top 100 Bestsellers, then reverting the price back to $2.99 and making lots of money. I did the same thing two more times, and each time I cracked the Top 100, but didn't make as much.

Now it's a year later, and I'm trying it again. But rather than one ebook, I'm making all of my ebooks 99 cents for a limited time (as of now, until Monday July 9).

So if you wanted to stock up on Konrath ebooks on Amazon, Nook, or Kobo, now is the time.

Also, I asked my buddies Blake Crouch and Scott Nicholson to do the same thing.

Right we have over 100 titles at 99 cents.

Feel free to buy lots, tweet it, tell your friends and family. If an ebook isn't 99 cents, try waiting a few days. Some titles haven't switched to the new price yet.

When the sale ends, I'll be blogging about how many ebooks I sold, and if it was worth it.

Until then, here are some links:

J.A. Konrath

Blake Crouch

Scott Nicholson

Monday, July 02, 2012

Exclusivity and Free

I'm back from a two week vacation, and today I'm discussing the merits and problems with exclusivity and free ebooks with Blake Crouch, and his brother Jordan.

Blake and Jordan have a new ebook horror-thriller out called EERIE, which is currently free on Kindle.

Download it. It's a great book.

For the sake of experimentation, EERIE didn't debut on Kindle. In fact, it has been available for several weeks.

Here are the Crouchs to explain why.

JORDAN: Blake and I shared a room for five years while we were growing up. Bunk beds, one closet, and a single dresser. When our father finished the basement, he built a second, even smaller bedroom with no windows and a door that locked, behind which my older brother disappeared and was never heard from again. Twenty years later we find ourselves sharing another space. This time, it's the page.

I guess it should come as no surprise then, that our first book together is about siblings trapped in a house. EERIE [free on Amazon today] follows an estranged brother and sister as they try to uncover the mystery of the violent presence that inhabits the upstairs bedroom.

Here's this pitch:

From newcomer Jordan Crouch and Blake Crouch, author of the Top-10 Kindle-bestsellers Run, Stirred, and Fully Loaded, comes Eerie, a chilling, gothic thriller in the classic tradition of The Shining and The Sixth Sense.


On a crisp autumn evening in 1980, seven-year-old Grant Moreton and his five-year-old sister Paige were nearly killed in a mysterious accident in the Cascade Mountains that left them orphans.


It's been thirty years since that night. Grant is now a detective with the Seattle Police Department and long estranged from his sister. But his investigation into the bloody past of a high-class prostitute has led right to Paige's door, and what awaits inside is beyond his wildest imagining.


His only hope of survival and saving his sister will be to confront the terror that inhabits its walls, but he is completely unprepared to face the truth of what haunts his sister's brownstone.

Although I’ve been writing for close to ten years now, it’s always been as a personal outlet, not a serious professional endeavor. I’m really excited to say that’s about to change. This book represents a lot of firsts for me. My first novel, my first collaboration with Blake, and my first foray into self-publishing. So in the spirit of the blog, I'll talk about the experience with the collaborative process as the Newbie that I am.

I've read Blake's stuff for as long as I can remember: the good, the bad, and the humiliating high school creative writing projects. It’s not lip-service when I say that he’s one of my favorite writers. So, when the opportunity to work together presented itself in November of last year, it was an easy decision. We already had the basic idea for what would become EERIE, and over the next few months, we sequestered ourselves inside a Google Doc and hammered out the first draft.

If you've never used Google Docs before, here's what you need to know: it's a word processor that allows multiple users to edit the same page in real time. Like a big dry-erase board. As a collaborative tool it’s great, but for two brothers, it’s the creative equivalent of sharing a room again. There's nothing more humbling than watching a sentence you just carefully arranged disappear word-by-word and be replaced by another thought entirely.

That's the license we agreed to give each other. If something felt wrong or lacking or just plain stupid, strike it. Sometimes it hurts, but the price of collaborating is giving up a certain amount of control. Of course, that's easier said than done, and diplomacy did not always prevail. But on the few occasions when we resorted to the nuclear option, we always ended with something better than we had before.

Writing is an intensely personal endeavor. If you can make it work with someone else, it’s awesome. If that person is your brother, well that’s pretty special.

BLAKE: This was my fourth collaboration. I've written extensively with Joe, and then with Joe, Jeff Strand, and F. Paul Wilson, for Draculas. I collaborated with Selena Kitt on our short story Hunting Season. But this was different. My brother has been a writer for a long time and got a degree in creative writing from UNC-Wilmington. I'd always wanted to collaborate with him, because he's one of my most important sounding boards in the writing process. We finally hit upon an idea we were both very excited about, and though there were some speed bumps along the way, we persevered, and are immensely proud of the final product. It's essentially a monster-under-the-bed story, something that plays upon every child (and inner child's) greatest fear.

I've rambled on at length on this blog about collaboration, so I thought I'd share my experience on EERIE from the perspective of its publication.

With the dawn of KDP Select last December, exclusivity has become an increasingly divisive and provocative aspect of self-publishing. There are essentially five viable platforms--KDP, Pubit!, Smashwords, Kobo, Sony, and Apple (no, I didn't forget to mention Diesel. On the latter platform, I've sold a grand total of 1 book in my entire career, and I have a feeling that's more than most.)


For EERIE's initial release, Jordan and I decided to try the Pubit! Nook First program. This is Barnes and Noble's interesting take on exclusivity wherein, by invitation, they offer you merchandising and promotion in exchange for releasing a new work straight to their platform for a 4-week period. After that period, you're free to publish everywhere.

I don't know what other writers' experiences with Nook First have been, but for the most part, Jordan and I were pleasantly surprised. We sold about 1500 copies of EERIE (@ $3.99) in May for Nook, which I know is far more than we would've sold on Barnes and Noble on our own. There were some disappointments, however. Despite huge sales on a handful of days, our sales rank was wonky. It never seemed to correlate to a corresponding low rank. Even on days where we sold 400 books, our rank never dropped below 2000. I have no doubt this cost us many, many sales, a good chunk of money, and kept the book from every appearing on the BN bestseller lists. A real shame, because the marketing triggers that Pubit! pulled worked in a big way. The tech just wasn't there to support them, and their tech support staff just couldn't be bothered to give a damn.

But that aside, Pubit! clearly has some real marketing power, and the smaller window of exclusivity (as opposed to KDP Select's 90 day commitment) is a definite plus. When Pubit!'s tech support decides to follow the model of Kobo and Amazon and treat writers as customers instead of entities to be ignored, Pubit! could become a force.


Also in May, I had the opportunity to drop my best-selling title RUN into a Kobo promotion involving email blasts, coupons, and prominent placement on their landing pages. I could not have been more pleased with the results. RUN reached the top 10 on Kobo's overall list, stayed there for several weeks, and the rest of my catalog sold well in response. When you consider the size of Kobo's market share, the fact that I sold more books on Kobo in May than I did on Pubit! is astounding. It was only a few hundred dollars shy of beating Amazon for May, and it did beat Pubit! again in June. Even better, Kobo did not request exclusivity. Their writer-relations people are some of the friendliest, most proactive, responsive people in the business. Suggestions and requests I made last year were taken to heart. It's no secret that Kobo is on the verge of unveiling their own platform (Writing Life). If there is a company that could one day compete with the mighty Amazon, it's these guys. They're inventive, have far, far reaching plans to bring writers what could become the slickest digital publishing platform ever created, and they get that writers are customers. They listen. Best of all, my titles continue to sell and rank highly on Kobo's bestseller list, a month after the promos ended. I cannot say the same for Barnes and Noble. There is no other platform (aside from Amazon) where I've seen this level of "stickiness." If someone asked me what's keeping the majority of my titles out of KDP Select, I would have to say these guys.


KDP Select opinion pieces are a dime a dozen. Amazon is still, hands down, the most lucrative platform for me. Even though the transition from free to paid sales appears to have weakened as of late, success stories like Ann Voss Peterson and Robert Gregory Browne are convincing enough for my brother and I to roll the dice and drop EERIE into KDP Select. I say this as someone who has had great success with free titles: they still make me nervous. I get the excitement of giving away 70,000 ebooks. The prospect of making new fans. But free, in the long run, is dangerous. It sets a bad precedent and level of expectation in the minds of readers. Am I a hypocrite for saying this while EERIE is free? Maybe. But if all the platforms did away with free, I'd be okay with that. As writers, we cannot keep going to that well. It will dry up. Kindles may be able to hold a gazillion ebooks, but readers can't read that many. The key is not being downloaded. It's being read.

This post is not going to end with a definitive conclusion on freebies and exclusivity. I'm uncomfortable with both concepts, even as I play the game. My sense is that the people who survive and continue to do well selling ebooks will be those who experiment, take risks, and adapt. We've said it before, but what worked yesterday, may not work today, and the possibility of a game changer (like KDP Select) is constantly looming.

JOE SEZ:  I predicted that ebook retailers would seek exclusivity back in 2009. It's an obvious conclusion to draw when retailers compete. If there is a commodity that people want, and it is only available at one place, they'll shop at that place.

The author is the brand. I've lost count of the emails I've gotten from Nook and Kobo ereader owners who are wondering when Shaken and Stirred (both published by Amazon) will be available on their devices. That's one of the reasons my ebooks are DRM free--so readers can convert to other formats like epub to read on devices other than Kindle.

So how effective is exclusivity as a sales tool for Amazon? I've had people email me who bought a Kindle just to read Shaken. But how many more of my fans are annoyed because they own a different ereader that doesn't allow for a one-click purchase of Shaken? How many sales are lost?

My guess is: a lot. Shaken and Stirred have done well, but Blake and I have done better on self-pubbed projects.

For me to be exclusive with a retailer, I have to know the sales I'm going to lose will be made up for with increased sales on the exclusive platform. Long term, that's risky. After the big initial sales push, sales will even out, and years from now the lost sales will really rack up.

This is a related dilemma I'm having with foreign sales. My agent has been great in selling foreign rights to my self-pubbed ebooks. But do I want to give up future sales (which I'd have if I kept my rights and translated the ebooks on my own) for immediate sales?

I've been nudging Amazon for years to release titles in epub format. Let Nook owners buy my ebooks on Amazon. And let Kindles read epub format. I think that would make more money for everyone.

But until that happens, we're going to have retailers jockeying for market share, and one of the ways to do that is to have exclusive brands (ie authors).

A lot of people ask me my opinion about KDP Select, and I made it known that I have opted all of my titles out of it. I dislike Amazon's desire for exclusivity, because it limits my readership.

Back in January, it was possible for an ebook to be released free on the KDP Select, then bounce over to the Top 100 paid bestseller list. This is still possible, but a lot harder to do, and I'm not sure it justifies removing a title from other platforms to do it. I'm also not sure it does what Amazon wants it to do: lure customers to the Kindle platform. If Amazon wants to sell more Kindles, it should have as many ebooks in the KDP Select program as possible. But when authors like me opt out, that hurts readers.

A lot of people also ask me if it is a good idea to sign with one of Amazon's publishing arms. Blake and I hit the #1 Bestseller spot because of the push Amazon gave Stirred, something I haven't been able to do on my own. But was it worth the sales I lost on other platforms?

I don't believe so. 

If Amazon wants me back in KDP Select, they'll have to offer more. And if Amazon Publishing wants another book from me, they'll have to offer more. Exclusivity, and signing away rights, isn't how I see the future. Authors should be able to keep their rights, and exploit them in as many ways as possible.

I might be missing some important parts of this story. No doubt Amazon is crunching numbers, and they probably know how to find that sweet spot among ebook sales and freebies and Kindle sales and Prime memberships. But I know I'm not the only author they are disappointing, and in the long run that won't be good for them. 

Like Blake, I'll soon be doing a thing with Kobo, and I hope to replicate his results. I like that Kobo doesn't demand exclusivity. They want to please their customer base and make their website a worthwhile place to shop.

That's the line a retailer has to walk. Bringing new people to your online store (and ereader) while also making your current customers happy. Exclusivity might bring in new customers, but it will also irritate your current customers as more and more authors leave the platform.

Amazon is THE place to shop online. The shopping experience is better there than anywhere else. They make shopping easy, fast, and enjoyable. It's understandable that they want to sell more Kindles and Prime memberships. It's understandable that they don't want people buying Nooks or Kobos. But if KDP Select was non-exclusive, and Amazon sold epub, that would benefit all authors and all consumers, and irritate nobody.

It is in my best interest, as an author, to try as many things as possible, and for many platforms to succeed. I want the whole world to read my ebooks. And I don't care what ereader they read them on, or what store they buy them from.

Kobo gets that. Amazon sort of does. B&N, not so much.

As I've said in the past, the only two parties needed are writers and readers. The retailer who treats its writers and readers well will flourish. You do this by learning what these groups want.

So I'll make it real easy:

Readers want as many titles available as possible, without DRM, in multiple formats. They want to get ebooks with one-click. They want lower prices, and free ebooks. They want a fun, easy, fast place to shop. They want to have titles recommended to them, either by algorithms or other readers. They want to be able to contact and interact with each other, and with authors. They want to be listened to and have their needs and concerns met.

Writers want their work to be available as widely as possible, in multiple formats. They don't want exclusivity. They want to be able to interact with their retail partners and publishers easily and promptly, and to be treated well. They want high royalties, and the ability to control price (including the ability to make their ebooks free). They want data that can help them optimize their pricing and sales, and platforms that make accounting and joint-accounting a cinch. They want to be paid promptly. They want the ability to work directly and outside the box with retail partners and publishers and try new things. They want a stable platform where titles disappear immediately if removed and appear immediately if added, and where sales and rank are updated quickly and accurately. They want more bestseller list categories (like Top 100 Female Police Procedurals Priced at $2.99) and more BISEC categories. They want to be listened to and have their needs and concerns met.

A while ago I blogged about about active ebooks. Go read it. This is what authors want.

Blake, why the hate for freebies?

BLAKE: I don't hate freebies. But why will readers buy ebooks if there are more freebies to download than they could possibly read in their lifetime?

JOE: Because that's human nature. We collect. We horde. We buy more than we can ever use. That doesn't mean we reach a point where we stop buying, or acquiring. We all have To Be Read piles. Ebooks have made them easier to attain and manage.

BLAKE: More than we can ever use. That's what worries me. If a TBR pile is suddenly 1000 books instead of two dozen, and my book is #899 in the pile, what are the chances I will be read? If someone downloads my book for free, but never reads it, they won't become a fan and buy the rest of my paid catalog.

JOE: There are a few things happening here. First, there's a difference between being owned and being read. That difference has always been there (and I say "owned" instead of "bought" to include freebies, and even though ebooks are essentially a licence and not a purchase). We all own more media than we'll ever be able to experience. The whole concept of the "cloud" plays into this. Why own anything if it is all always available to access?

But the cloud is still a concept that hasn't entirely caught on. People do like to own media. More people will own us than read us. It'll always be that way. There's no guarantee a book owned will be read, even if that book was bought. Adding more choice to the equation doesn't matter. We've always had a lot of choice.

BLAKE: But if I pay money for that book because I heard about it and found it through reviews or whatever, the chance that I'll read it is better than if I just grabbed one of 20 freebies listed on Pixel of Ink.

JOE: We read what we want to read, free or not. I've bought $30 Blu-Ray disks that sit unwatched on my shelf for 5 months, and instead I've surfed YouTube for free for 90 minutes. But YouTube didn't stop me from buying. And I'll watch the Blu-Ray eventually.

That's a human mentality. We want to be able to access media whenever the mood hits. So maybe we'll stock up on freebies for a rainy day, and maybe that rainy day comes and maybe it doesn't, but I don't see it limiting or hurting sales.

We have paper bestsellers because of a lack of choice. Only so many titles can fit on the shelf at Costco. More choice is a good thing. 

BLAKE: You don't think there's a segment of customers, possibly very large, who have so loaded up their Kindles since Christmas and KDP Select came into being, that they don't actively shop anymore, because they have so many titles they want to read?

JOE: You've been to my house. How many books do I have? Video games? Movies?

BLAKE: You've got a few.

JOE: I've got tens of thousands. And this morning I was on Amazon and I bought 5 new Blu-Rays, two ebooks, and a video game.

My rule is: I only use marketing strategies that work on me. Which means I think a lot about my buying habits, and my media habits. While I'm sure there aren't many people out there with tens of thousands of books, movies, and games, I'm also sure the principle of what I'm saying is widespread: having enough doesn't inhibit acquiring more.

If someone gets your ebook for free, it doesn't mean you lost a sale. They may not read it, but they might never have bought it either. And people may be downloading a lot of free titles, but not reading them. Free, however, is a way for a customer to try you without any risk. Even if only a small percentage of freebies get read and make readers into fans, I believe that's still worthwhile.

BLAKE: So you think the free model is viable for the long haul? You don't think it trains people NOT to pay for books.

JOE: You know my belief on this. Eventually, all media will be free, and artists will be paid by advertisers. People can't be trained to pay more. That doesn't work. They'll get it for as little as they can get it for, and that ultimately means free. Rather than fight that, I'm happy to give consumers what they want. So I've made my titles free, I have no issues with file sharing, and I'm looking forward to a future where ads are in ebooks. But that's the topic for another blog.

My final point is: don't fight what the customer wants. If customers want free ebooks, give them free ebooks. So far it hasn't hurt my sales, and I don't expect it to.

Readers are very good at vetting, at finding what they want to read, free or paid. Our jobs as writers should be feeding those readers in any and all ways that we can. If you find readers, the money will follow.