Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Interactive Ebooks? Almost...

So, I was thinking about enhanced ebooks, and decided to try something that, AFAIK, hasn't ever been done before.

I recently got hooked on playing Escape the Room games. Not just cell phone apps, where you solve point-and-click puzzles to advance the story, but board games that challenge you to follow the clues and get away before the time is up, real-life games where you go into a room with a group of people and a guide and actually tried to escape by following a carefully constructed scenario, and mail-order subscription games where every month you are snail-mailed a mysterious package that you have to figure out.

And I thought: Could something like this be adapted to ebooks?

I came up with a concept. A serial killer is emailing me, author J.A. Konrath, and taunting me to prevent his next crime.

My first, grandiose way of doing this was to have the killer leave clues about the murder in his emails to me. Then readers could solve the mystery like the sleuth in a mystery novel.

But that already exists. It’s called “a mystery novel.” There’s no user interaction. There’s no “solve a puzzle to advance” dynamic that I enjoy in other media. And mystery novels are vicarious, not hands-on and personal.

I rejigged my concept, and decided to have the killer send me cryptic puzzles, which linked to his website, www.StopAMurder.com. If I could solve the puzzles and type in the correct answers, it would bring me closer to stopping him.

If I failed, someone would die.

Since I don't want anyone to die, I decided to enlist my readers to help me.

STOP A MURDER was born, combining aspects of both thriller fiction and interactive games.

Here's how I pitch it:


This is unlike any mystery or thriller book you’ve ever read before. You play the sleuth, and as the story unfolds you will be tasked with solving puzzles to prevent a murder from happening.

In this five-book series, you’ll uncover the mind and motivations of a nefarious killer who is plotting to commit an unspeakable crime.


Each book contains an epistolary collection of emails, texts, and letters, delivered to thriller author J.A. Konrath, by a serial killer. This psychopath is sending detailed, cryptic puzzles and brain teasers that lead to clues about who will be murdered, why, when, where, and how.


Some of the puzzles are easy to figure out. Others are much more devious.


Do you like solving mysteries? Do you enjoy brain teasers or escape-the-room games? Are you good at spotting clues?


Only you can stop a murder. 


Are you smart enough?

Are you brave enough?
Let the games begin…

#1 STOP A MURDER – HOW: Puzzles 1 - 12

#2 STOP A MURDER – WHERE: Puzzles 13 - 24
#3 STOP A MURDER – WHY: Puzzles 25 - 36
#4 STOP A MURDER – WHO: Puzzles 37 - 48
#5 STOP A MURDER – WHEN: Puzzles 49 - 60
STOP A MURDER - ANSWER BOOK

This series works best with an internet connection, using a color e-reader or app to enter answers on the killer's website. A black and white e-ink device will work, but the interface will be smoother if used in conjunction with a computer or smart phone. 

While each book in this series can be read and enjoyed on its own, the experience will be richer if read in order, and if the internet is used.

Over the five book series, you'll need to answer more than seventy puzzles. When you answer correctly, you are rewarded with more clues that can stop a murder and reveal the killer's identity.


Intrigued?

I've released all five books, and the answer book, on all platforms. They're currently live on Amazon, and they will soon be on Kobo, Nook, Apple, and Google Play. There will also be a paper version, with all 70 puzzles, plus answers.

Check out my website for more info.

I did a beta test for this a few months ago, via Facebook (I've killed the old posts to prevent spoilers, but the site is still there for readers to exchange hints and tips.) The overwhelming majority (96%) of readers liked it. Since then, I've radically changed the story, and improved the interface. It's bigger, better, scarier, more fun, and easier to use.

I hope everyone reading this blog gives it a chance. If you do, please leave a review.

Now I'll take some questions.

Q: Joe, does this mean you're blogging again?

Joe sez: I dunno. I haven't really had much to say lately. This project is something completely new, so I thought it was worth blogging about. But in the last six months or so, there hasn't been anything happening in the publishing world that I felt a need to comment on.

Q: Why are you releasing this on all platforms? Are you done with Kindle Unlimited?

Joe sez: Like many self-pub writers, I've made less money since KU was introduced. That said, I believe Amazon is still the biggest game in town. But for this project, the books are only about 7500 words each, even though they take several hours to complete. It doesn't make fiscal sense to put them into KU, because I'd be getting paid pennies even though readers are getting many hours of entertainment. Also, as you'll see when you begin to read this series, I spent a great deal of time and money on these STOP A MURDER books. I'll never recoup my investment in KU.

Q: There has been a lot of talk about KU scammers. What are your thoughts?

Joe sez: There will always be scammers. It's unknown if scammers are hurting the KU payout, since payouts are decided after a pay period ends. It isn't a zero sum game when the pot is created after the month is over. And the pot keeps climbing higher. I've heard the All Star Bonuses have been affected, which ain't good.

Q: How about visibility?

Joe sez: Scammers are certainly taking up bestseller spots. I'm sure that hurts. How much? I dunno. I've never seen any studies about how many ebooks are sold based on bestseller list presence. Having increased visibility is no doubt helpful. And my own buying habits on Amazon have me occasionally scanning the bestseller lists to see if there is anything that piques my interest. But I'd need to see data that differentiates sales between books on and off the bestseller lists to fully understand how much of a boost those books get. Data Guy, you got any ideas? Does being #100 on a list really boost sales as opposed to being #101 and off the list?

Q: Didn't you promise the next Jack Daniels book would be out, like, ten months ago?

Joe sez: I did. And I'm a jerk. But it will be out soon. So will the next two Phineas Troutt books. All three books are basically finished. I just need to do rewrites.

Q: I noticed that all of your Jack Kilborn titles are now JA Konrath titles. What happened to Kilborn?

Joe sez: Konrath is the bigger brand, so now all Kilborn books are Konrath books. But I am still going to continue that horror line, and have several horror books coming out next year. They'll just be published under the Konrath name.

Q: What happened to your bad movie blog?

Joe sez: My son, Talon, and I are still watching bad movies. He's in college, and I'm just waiting for him to put our notes online. We'll get back on it. And eventually compile the reviews into a book.

Q: You've got the STOP A MURDER series, and three more novels out by the end of the year. What's next?

Joe sez: I'm putting the finishing touches on a children's rhyming picture book, and I still need to finish the TIMECASTER trilogy, do sequels to THE LIST and ORIGIN, and finish the horror novels I've already potted out (THE GREYS, CLOSE YOUR EYES).

Q: Will there be more Jack Daniels?

Joe sez: Yes. Jack will be back in the upcoming novels OLD FASHIONED and SHOTS. Not sure which will come out first. I hope to get everything I've mentioned above done by the end of 2018... unless STOP A MURDER does well. Then I'm dropping everything and doing a sequel. I already have something in mind.

Q: And what about this blog?

Joe sez: If writers have a topic they'd like my opinion on, ask me in the comments.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Ebooks Sales Slowing? Yes and No

Joe sez: This blog originally appeared in 2010. It's extremely prescient about the future of ebooks, but that isn't the reason I'm reposting it.

I'm reposting because I got my very first DMCA Takedown notice.

Blogger has been notified, according to the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), that certain content in your blog is alleged to infringe upon the copyrights of others. As a result, we have reset the post(s) to "draft" status. (If we did not do so, we would be subject to a claim of copyright infringement, regardless of its merits. The URL(s) of the allegedly infringing post(s) may be found at the end of this message.) This means your post - and any images, links or other content - is not gone. You may edit the post to remove the offending content and republish, at which point the post in question will be visible to your readers again.

Apparently my infringement, according to the website Lumen, was including an Amazon link to author Lexi Revellian.

https://www.lumendatabase.org/notices/14128844

Lexi was originally mentioned as one of the laundry list of authors below. I've since removed her name and Amazon link from this post, but this has brought up some interesting points.

1. Linking to an Amazon page is in no way a copyright infringement.

2. I'm pretty sure all authors want as many websites as possible to link to their books.

3. I don't think I know who Lexi is, but this was seven years ago and I may have forgotten. I have no idea why, seven years after the fact, she or someone working on her behalf, would complain to Blogger about a very old fair use post of mine that was supportive of her work.

I know that some authors hire companies to scour the Internet for examples of piracy. These companies dish out DMCA notices like drunks throw out beads at Mardi Gras.

As mentioned by Blogger in the email above, they remove posts regardless of merit. Which means anyone can accuse anyone of copyright infringement, and Blogger (along with many other Internet companies) err to the side of the accuser.

Certainly everyone can see what a bad thing this is. Guilty until proven innocent didn't work for the court system, and it shouldn't work for the Internet.

4. I have no idea if Lexi is using any services to protect her copyrights, because I have no idea why I got this notice. But I will offer some blanket advice to all authors who think about using one of these services:

Piracy doesn't harm authors. I have written ample posts about this topic.

Hiring companies to police the Internet, looking for evidence of copyright infringement and sending out DCMA notices, does hurt authors. Lexi had an Amazon link to her website, that even seven years later still gets traffic. Now her link is gone. That can't be helpful for an author. And I can guess I'm not the only blogger who is getting notices like this. How many writers, thinking they're combating piracy, are actually limiting their own reach?

Probably a lot. So I'll say it again:

It's a waste of time, and money, and also potentially career-damaging, to fight piracy. I say this as someone who has been pirated a lot for over a decade. People pirate me. And I don't care. And there is absolutely no verifiable evidence that ebook piracy harms authors.

If you're concerned about piracy, make sure your ebooks and audio are easily available and affordable.

But, as I said, you shouldn't be concerned. People are going to share files. It's part of the human condition. Anti-piracy laws are about as successful as anti-drug laws.

The enemy is obscurity, not people reading your work for free.

Now here's the original December 2010 blog post:

Am I the only one who noticed this from Publishers Weekly?

"Facing some harder comparisons, e-book sales posted their slowest growth rates in 2010 in October. Still, sales jumped 112.4%, to $40.7 million, from the 14 publishers who reported results to the AAP’s monthly sales program."

The article is HERE.

Now, a few things struck me when I read this.

First, probably because I'm a writer and have an overactive imagination, I pictured editors in NY clinking champagne glasses with the toast, "The ebook bubble is bursting, thank Gutenberg, and soon we'll be able to get back to what we do best; selling paper."

I realize that reporters and writers of the news have to attribute meaning to numbers, and that hooks and spin are necessary to make facts interesting. But the way PW prefaced these numbers, and called the article "E-Book Growth Slows" gives me a pretty good idea what their focus is. PW serves the publishing industry. The publishing industry is very uncomfortable about ebooks. Here's a nice fact to ease the publishing industry's collective mind.

Except it's a myopic, self-absorbed, and flat-out misleading fact.

This shows that ebook growth has slowed for 14 REPORTING PUBLISHERS.

That doesn't mean ebook growth is slowing for Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, or the tens of thousands of indie authors self-publishing.

My numbers have been steadily climbing for 21 months, and in the last six weeks I made $26,000.

Yesterday, I mentioned Amanda Hocking, who is selling 1200 ebooks a day.

In the past, this blog has mentioned Zoe Winters, Karen McQuestion, and Selena Kitt. Selena Kitt made $120,000 this year on her Kindle ebooks.

But these are all outliers, right?

No, they're not.

Mark Coker, who runs Smashwords, recently interviewed his star author Brian Pratt on HuffPo. Brian has earned $25,000 in three months.

If you check over on Kindleboards, Michael Sullivan sold 7500 ebooks in November. The thread also lists 14 other authors who sold more than 1000 ebooks last month.

Here are the names of these authors. Keep an eye on them. I only expect their sales to go up.

David McAfee
Nathan Lowell
Ellen Fisher
Valmore Daniels
David Dalglish
Terri Reid
Victorine Lieske
Richard Jackson
Karen Cantwell
Margaret Lake
HP Mallory
KA Thompson
Beth Orsoff
Tina Folsom
Bella Andre
Ty Johnson
Vicki Tyley
Marilyn Lee
Felicity Heaton
LJ Sellers
Jeremy Bishop

PW or AAP didn't poll any of these writers and ask if their growth was slowing down. They certainly didn't ask me.

And these authors I listed aren't the only ones with growing sales--I'm just too lazy to gather more info. If you're an indie author who sold more than 1000 ebooks in November, post in the comments section and I'll add you to the list.

But then, indie sales don't amount to much, right? After all, 1000 ebooks a month isn't a lot. Not compared to what Big NY Publishing does.

Actually...

Whiskey Sour, by all counts my highest selling and most successful books, has sold 60,000 copies since 2004. That means it has averaged 770 copies a month since its debut.

1000 copies a month seems pretty damn good to me.

But then, these are indie authors. It's not like there are any professional authors jumping on this Kindle bandwagon. Except for maybe:

Robert W. Walker
David Morrell
Raymond Benson
Libby Fischer Hellmann
Blake Crouch
F. Paul Wilson
Marcus Sakey
James Swain
Paul Levine
William Meikle
Scott Nicholson
Simon Wood
Parnell Hall
Joseph Nassise
Tom Schreck
Henry Perez
Jeff Strand
Lee Goldberg
Mark Terry
Harry Shannon
Richard S. Wheeler
Ruth Harris
Don Pendleton
Jeremy Robinson

There are many more, but I'm tired off adding all the links.

However, I do want to post this final one, because I think it's pretty damn cool.

This is the latest book by bestselling author LA Banks.

I met Leslie at a writing convention in New Orleans, and we traded stories about how we'd gotten screwed in our careers, which lead to me talking about ebooks.

If you look at the cover (designed by my cover artist, Carl Graves at Extended Imagery), you'd think this is her newest Big NY Print Release.

Nope. Ms. Banks is self-pubbing this one, just in time for Xmas, for $3.99. You can buy it on Kindle HERE.

So... perhaps there is a reason ebook sales are slowing for those 14 publishers mentioned in PW.

Perhaps sales are slowing because more readers are buying indie books. Or because more professional writers are going indie. Or because publishers are too self-absorbed to notice anything happening outside of the insular world they've built for themselves.

But what do I know? I'm an outlier.

Here's a fun game, though. You know the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon meme? We can also play the Six Degrees of JA Konrath with self-pubbed Kindle authors.

Of the names I listed in the blog, I'm one degree of separation from at least 80% of them. The rest, I'm probably second degree.

You hear that, NY Publishing? You truly want to slow the growth of ebooks?

Shut me up.

I'm willing to be bought off. Pass around a collection envelope, like you do for employee birthdays. For a million bucks, I promise I'll never blog about ebooks, or help another writer, ever again.

Here's my Paypal button. Maybe we can do business.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

How Good is Good Enough?

Bear with me while I work out some doubts.

Last month I published GRANDMA?, a YA comedy horror novel I wrote with my nineteen year old son, Talon.

A lot of the writing was rewriting his prose. He's young, he's still learning, and his stuff wasn't up to the standards I've had since I was first published in 2003.

As I was rewriting his scenes, I got to thinking. I wrote bunch of novels before WHISKEY SOUR was published. I self-pubbed most of those early books in 2009, with zero changes, because they were good enough for prime time. I knew they were good enough, because my agent represented them.

A few of them, three in particular, I'd never deemed good enough. So they've been sitting in my attic in a plastic bin, having been written before I owned a computer.

While cleaning out the attic, I took a look and decided these three were, in fact, pretty good. Not great, but I'd grade them each a solid B.

They all feature the character of Phineas Troutt, who is the current husband of Jack Daniels, and has appeared in eight JD novels, a handful of short stories, and my TIMECASTER series. Phin was the protag of my very first novel, DEAD ON MY FEET, written when I was 23 years old. Literally half my life ago, as I'll turn 47 next month.

I reread it, and decided I could do a quick polish and self-pub it and its two sequels without spending a lot of time and energy on them.

But, as I'm polishing, I find I'm doing a lot of rewriting.

Which brings us to the title of this blog post: How Good is Good Enough?

DEAD ON MY FEET is going to sell a certain number to my diehard fans, who buy everything I put out.

It will also sell a number of copies to my casual fans, who buy some of my stuff (for example the thrillers, but not the horror, or the erotica, but not the sci fi).

It will also sell a number of copies to those who have never heard of me, and it will serve as an introduction to my work. Some of those readers may become fans, and some of those fans may become diehards who read/buy everything.

Every book is a billboard for your entire backlist. If that book is enjoyed, it will lead a certain number of readers to your other books.

Does everyone see where I'm going with this?

DEAD ON MY FEET will sell to diehards, and some casual fans, and some new readers. It's good enough that the diehards won't be disappointed. Maybe some of the casual fans will, since it isn't quite up to par with my latest JD novels, and maybe they won't read the sequels. And it might not quite be good enough to prompt new readers to read more of my backlist, but there are books of mine that I consider grade A that also don't prompt new readers to read more of my backlist.

Finding readers is a crapshoot. Keeping readers is a crapshoot.

When I look at my wife's reading habits, I'm even more perplexed. My wife reads 3 to 5 novels a week. When she finds a new author, she'll read every book by that author.

Even the disappointing books.

In fact, Maria will stick with an author for three mediocre novels before she finally gives up on them.

Talk about rewarding mediocrity. But she isn't the only one who does this. There is a lot of stuff that I find so-so that is insanely popular.

I like to consider my novels above average (I'm sure all writers feel the same about their work, so there is a disconnect somewhere). But let's say my books are, indeed, average.

Why should I try to do better?

If a Grade B book will only result in slightly fewer readers over the next ten years, why should I put in weeks and weeks of effort to make it a Grade A book? Why not just put it out there, and spend those weeks writing a new book that I'm sure will please more people?

I consider DISTURB to be my weakest novel. Not only is it short, but it lacks the humor found in my other books. It's a straight medical thriller, and I wrote it by numbers rather than put my personality into it. But it still sells reasonably well, and has an Amazon average rating of four stars.

Many times, in the past, I've thought about doing a rewrite of DISTURB to beef it up, make it better. But why should I? Would it sell enough extra copies to be worth the effort?

I've been planning on spending the rest of the month to whip DEAD ON MY FEET in Grade A shape. But I could release it tomorrow as a Grade B novel, not lose very many readers in the long run, and use those two weeks to work on my next Grade A novel.

On the surface, this seems like a no-brainer. Release those three old books with minimal work, and use that time I've saved to write new stuff. I'll make more money in the long run, and the only downside is that some readers won't be as pumped about the Phin books as my other books. I'll do okay with DEAD ON MY FEET, but fans are waiting for the next Jack Daniels book, and getting that out two or three weeks earlier would mean two or three weeks of quicker income.

Ebooks will theoretically earn money forever. But I won't live forever. I have an expiration date. Why not get paid a few weeks sooner, as well as save three weeks of work (and by extension, three weeks of my life.)

And yet, I just can't do it.

I suppose the same reason that got me into writing--the desire to tell a fun story--prevents me from releasing a book that isn't as good as it could be.

On the other hand, my favorite books of mine are the TIMECASTER series. I love writing those. But they're the weakest sellers in my backlist, so the long-awaited third book in that trilogy keeps getting pushed back. If I was writing mainly to please myself, shouldn't I be working on that now?

So what's the answer? Please readers? Please myself? Please the tax man?

Hemingway said that stories are never finished, they're simply due. But somewhere between endless rewriting and going live there is a sweet spot where the story is good enough to go out into the world and stand on its own.

I don't want to release something I don't think is ready. I feel I have one chance to hook readers, so I should show them my best.

But, at the same time, I'm probably wrong about that. My success is based on luck. Not on how good I think my own books are.

There is so much mediocrity in the world, and mediocre things can, and are, popular. Why try harder?

Every author secretly thinks their books are uniquely special, but the vast majority of books don't sell. I haven't been blogging regularly for eight months, and I still get urgent emails from authors, wondering why their sales are slumping. They ask if it's their covers, or if the market is crashing, or if they aren't doing the right kind of marketing.

But none of them ever ask if they self-pubbed too soon, before the book was Grade A. Writers are a pretty insecure bunch, but I've never met one who blames their sales on their bad writing.

I gotta say, it's seductive to think I could self-pub these three books instantly, make some money, not worry about the anticipated three star average (I encourage writers to not look at their reviews, and I usually don't), and immediately move on to something I know will sell better.

But I won't do that. I'll put in the time and make these books better. Money is nice. Having more time is nice. However, the nicest thing of all is having pride in my work.

I'm pretty sure I'm just as deluded as everyone is. I don't deserve to sell as well as I do. So I've decided to always give it my best shot, because if my sales ever slow I don't want mediocrity to be a possible culprit.

However, I'm willing to admit that might be a stupid attitude, for many reasons.

What do you think?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Joe's Got a Movie Blog

Those of you who have been paying attention have probably been wondering why I've only done two blog posts in the last six months.

It's because there isn't much more I can say about the publishing industry.

From 2005 until 2009, my blog was all about self-promotion, landing an agent and a publishing deal, and working with publishers to make your book a success.

From 2009 until 2016, my blog was all about self-publishing, and why legacy publishing was no longer the best choice for most authors.

I've blogged, at length, about changes and controversies in the publishing world, and did my part to inform (and hopefully entertain) authors of all experience levels.

But, lately, nothing in the industry has piqued my interest enough to blog about it.

And I miss blogging.

I will continue to blog sporadically on NEWBIE'S GUIDE, if something cool happens. Or something uncool happens. I created this blog to advocate for authors, and I will continue to do that.

I have also begun a new blog.

I'm a huge movie fan, and have about five thousand titles in my home library. As you might guess, not all of them are good. Some, in fact, are terrible.

I'm going to be blogging about the terrible ones.

My son, Talon Konrath, and I have launched THE BEST WORST MOVIES EVER BLOG. Several times a week we're going to be watching bad movies and sharing our thoughts.

Unlike this blog, the movie blog is meant to primarily entertain. If you're a fan of bad movies, you'll no doubt see some titles you recognize. If you don't understand the appeal of bad movies, I hope you'll check it out and learn why you need to seek out and see many of these amazing films.

So far we've got nine posts live, and plan on at least a hundred more by the end of 2017. It's a rough job, but we're committed to it.

Please take a look, and as always, thanks for reading!

Monday, January 16, 2017

New Konrath Zombie Novel GRANDMA

Randall just wanted to have a fun summer vacation with his family, visiting Grandma at her cabin on a lake in the Wisconsin Northwoods.

Then everything went horribly wrong.

Join fifteen-year-old Randall, and his younger brother Josh, as they fight for their lives on the eve of an elderly undead apocalypse.

GRANDMA? - The Complete Novel
She won't bake you cookies...

Forget everything you've ever read about zombies. But that's probably impossible, because you know you've read a lot. So maybe just put aside your preconceptions, because this living dead epic will make you remember why you fell in love with this genre in the first place. Part scary, part funny, this is a living dead Armageddon like you've never seen before.

This book is over 60,000 words long. It also includes a Q&A with the authors on the creation of the novel.


Only $3.99 on Kindle!

Joe: So, after four years of writing, GRANDMA? - Attack of the Geriatric Zombies!: The Novel is finally available. $3.99 on Amazon Kindle. $9.99 for the paper version. How does it feel?

Talon: I feel exuberant.

Joe: What took so damn long?

Talon: Someone other than me in this blog post… Nah, I’m kidding. This was a grueling process. I lost track on how many times I rewrote this book. Being in high-school didn’t help much either.

Joe: So how much of this is you, and how much of this is your kind and tolerant father working his magic to make you look good?

Talon: The story, the plot, the characters and a lot of funny things are me. The wonderful, eye-pleasing writing is my father.

He also wrote a lot of funny things.

Joe: We're launching a blog called The Best Worst Movies Ever Blog, where we both make humorous comments about bad movies and try to convince more people need to watch them. A big part of the blog is Talon's 20 Second Review, where you post a YouTube video listing five reasons to see the movie.

What are five reasons, in twenty seconds or less, that people should read GRANDMA?

Talon: I'm glad you asked...


So what are you blog readers waiting for? Buy a copy!