J.A. Konrath is, arguably, the current “it” boy of self-publishing. So who better to help kick off the new DIY conference at BEA? At one of the break out panels during the show’s inaugural DIY Conference Marketplace, Konrath put it out there succinctly and quickly. After telling the long and winding road he took to becoming a traditional author—it included an agent, 10 books over a 12-year period, and over 500 rejection letters—he said there’s a word for writers who don’t give up: “published.” Konrath, who came to self-publishing after a frustrating turn with an established house, added this: “It’s 2010 now, and my story is archaic. Technology allows us all to get published.”
So it does. In Konrath’s panel, “Advance Your Career with DIY Publishing,” he and two other authors—Sheryl Matthys (Leashes and Lovers) and Maria Murnane (Perfect on Paper)—shared the success stories they’ve had with a variety of self-publishing routes. Konrath was the most specific and evangelical about his success, which he’s blogged about for years on his site, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing. After getting published by Hyperion and hustling on author tours and finding only modest sales, he self-published a number of the books he never sold to publishers as Kindle editions. He priced those books at $1.99, thinking they would be loss leaders to bolster his print sales. Instead he said he made $3,000 on the titles in the first month they were available. Now, he said, he’s selling 220 to 250 Kindle editions per day and that, in July, when Amazon’s royalty rate on titles authors self-publish to Kindle goes up to 70%, he’ll be bringing in roughly $170,000 per year (assuming his volume doesn’t abate) on a bunch of books the New York publishing establishment wasn’t interested in.
Konrath’s Cinderella story was compared with Matthys, who self-published after her agent failed to sell her book in two years, and Murnane, who failed to get an agent, self-published, and is now signed with Amazon’s publishing unit AmazonEncore (which is also releasing Konrath’s lastest book, Shaken).
Murnane’s book, a chick-lit novel about a San Francisco woman who’s life is thrown into turmoil when her fiancé abruptly cancels their impending nuptials, was initially done through Amazon’s BookSurge and, while no details were released on its sales, she spoke about the success she initially had getting the book reviewed through an outreach campaign to Amazon reviewers and book bloggers. Matthys, a former actress and TV news reporter whose non-fiction book grew out of an online community she created for dog lovers—the subtitle of her book is What Your Dog Can Teach You About Love, Life, and Happiness—said she used her PR background to help generate interest in the book, which she published through Amazon’s CreateSpace (which now includes BookSurge). She e-mailed hundreds of thousands of friend and business contact, and referenced a number of radio press appearances she’s done as a result.
While all the authors on the panel referred to years of disappointments trying to break into traditional publishing—and even more hard work spent promoting their books during, and after, self-publishing—the starker figures on the marketplace were made more apparent in one of the morning’s first sessions on the basics of self-publishing: “Publishing Choices: Three Ways to Self-Publish in Today’s Marketplace.” In that session, Diane Gedymin, founder of The Publisher’s Desk (and a former exec at AuthorSolutions), laid out the differences in the three basic tracks of self-publishing—paying a vanity press to publish your book, releasing it yourself (via e-book or POD), or paying a packager (or similar company) to put your book together and publish it.
While Gedymin presented some of the essential things any author needed to keep in mind before publishing—from figuring out their platform to ensuring their cover design is strong—the difficulties of actually selling books were revealed in various statistics throughout her presentation. She opened by stating that 83% of Americans dream of writing a book. And, in traditional publishing—i.e. the “success” stories of those who got contracts with publishing houses—7% of the books publish generate 87% of book sales. This means, she noted, that 93% of all published books sold less than 1,000 copies.
Konrath, who said all authors need to know four things before they publish—to have a very good book, very good cover art, a strong product description and a low price—left the panelists with a more direct nugget on how to succeed as an author. “Don’t publish sh*t,” he said. The quickest way to fail, even in self-publishing, as Konrath explained, is giving the audience bad content. If they buy it, even if they buy it cheaply, and they hate it, they won’t come back.