You Can Become a Kindle Millionaire, Part 16

I've taken Joe Konrath's advice and have been tinkering quite a bit with my covers…and discovering that it makes a big difference in sales. Here was my original cover for MY GUN HAS BULLETS:

It was the dust jacket on my hardcover and I didn't own the rights to the art, so I asked my sister to create a new cover for me. I loved what she came up with. I thought it looked classy and professional. Here it is:

But I wasn't selling as many copies as I thought I could.  I just assumed people weren't responding to the book. But Joe blamed the cover, he said it was too bleak, too busy, it didn't pop. So as much as I liked that cover, I put the old one up for a while. Sales went up slightly, which got me thinking maybe another change couldn't hurt. So I created a new cover myself using stock photos (which I licensed) and Microsoft Paint It…

 And sales have shot up. I sold 204 copies of MY GUN last month and I am already up to 170 this month. That means I've gone from selling about six copies-a-day to ten. Encouraged, I've changed the cover and title of BEYOND THE BEYOND. Here's the original cover

 Here's the second one I tried:


And here's the one I have now. 

Beyond project3
I sold 70 copies last month…and I am already up to 60 now. I am still not selling as many as I would like, but at least it's cropping up. The new cover has only been up for a few days, so it's too soon to tell how it will pan out. 

Meanwhile, again on Joe's advice, I scrapped the cover of THREE WAYS TO DIE. Here's the original:


And here's the first version of the new one, which was up last month:

Three Ways to Die1

And here's what I've got now, which has only been up for a week or two:

In addition to spiffing up the cover, I also jacked up the price from 99 cents to $1.99. As of today, I've sold 109 copies…so I am on track to sell just as many copies as last month (207) but I'll earn more money. I think the new cover has a lot to do with it.

I've also played with the cover of THE MAN WITH THE IRON ON BADGE. Here's the publisher's cover:

Here's the first one I put up last month:


And here's the revised cover I've got up now.

I sold 160 copies in March, so far I've sold 145 this month. Sales are definitely up.
But that's not the whole story. All of this cover-tinkering was sparked by another experiment, also initiated by Joe, but I will tell you more about that later…

That said, this is shaping up to be my biggest Kindle month ever. As of 7 pm tonight, I have earned $810 in royalties. If sales continue at this rate, and that's a big if, I could reach about $1400 this month. But I will certainly top the nearly $1000 I earned in March.


Screenwriter Denis McGrath talks about his experience freelancing an episode of STARGATE: UNIVERSE.

While I was off over a month trying to generate my story, fixed in stone — all the other targets were moving, and moving rapidly. Earlier scripts were going through production drafts…characters were changing and evolving. Casting, and then shooting, revealed actors' strengths that meant that they got written to more. I had only the barest, fuzziest hold on some of the secondary characters. In a new show, things change rapidly in production, and when you're in the room you absorb those changes in small increments on a daily basis.

Eventually, I begged for more scripts, and got them, and being able to digest six or seven scripts, and see the characters on the page helped me writing my drafts.

It's hard to believe that freelancing was once the rule in TV, and still is in some places. It just packs more pressure on the one or two people who have to make all the stories line up. As a freelancer, my job with my SGU script was to get it to a point where somebody else could "take it over," and see it through production. The better I did, ideally the less they'd have to rewrite.

Except of course it never works out that way, especially in a show's first season. When you're three thousand miles out of the loop of the show that's developing on those soundstages, you just do the best you can, and hope that you don't cause somebody too much work.

It's always hard freelancing an episode of a brand new series, since nobody is entirely sure what the show is or who the characters are…not the showrunners, the studio, or the network. It's trying to hit a constantly moving target. I've done it a few times… on SLIDERS, PSYCH, and on an upcoming summer series I can't talk about yet. There's no question about it…freelancing is hard, but it's not that much easier writing a script for a show that's been on the air for a season or two. Yes, everyone knows the show (including you!)… but it's harder coming up with a story or character conflict that they haven't already done or have in development.

UPDATE: Here's another view on McGrath's freelance experience from the other side of the desk as SG:U producer Joseph Mallozzi saw it.

Thanks for the Memories

Starlog67cover  I put myself through UCLA writing for the The Daily Bruin (along with future X-FILES producer Frank Spotnitz) and freelancing for local and national publications. I also ended up writing a few sleazy novels under the pen name "Ian Ludlow," but that's another story.

What got me thinking back to those days was a blog post by John Zipperer , reviewing the February 1983 issue of Starlog, which was a milestone for me because it included my interview with Star Trek II screenwriter Jack Sowards — and my first sale to Starlog Magazine. I would end up writing hundreds of articles for Starlog (maybe it was less, but it sure felt like hundreds!) over the years that followed, but I can still remember how thrilling it was for me to get that acceptance letter from Dave McDonnell who, as it happened, was just starting what would be end up being a nearly thirty year career as managing editor of the magazine. 

It wasn't just a way to put myself through school…it was my real education. What I learned from all the screenwriters, directors,  network executives, producers, studio heads and actors that I interviewed for Starlog, Newsweek, American Film, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and other publications shaped the career I have today. They taught me what I know. 

I am still amazed at all the people I got interview…like George Lucas, William Friedkin, Richard Donner, Lorenzo Semple Jr., Robert Zemeckis, Richard Maibaum, Wes Craven, Peter Hyams, Stephen J. Cannell, Steven Bochco, Richard Marquand, Glen Larson, Tom Cruise, Roger Moore, Roy Huggins, Johnny Depp, Fred Silverman, John Lithgow, Brandon Tartikoff, Grant Tinker, Bud Grant, Norman Lear, Martin Landau, Gene Roddenberry, Kurt Russell, John Korty, Paul Verhoeven, Harlan Ellison, Irvin Kershner, Dan Curtis, Wolfgang Petersen, William Shatner, Timothy Hutton, Roy Scheider, Michael J. Fox, Roger Corman, Ray Bradbury, Darren McGavin, Chevy Chase, John Carpenter, W.D. Richter, Raquel Welch, to name just a few (some of whom, like Cannell, Silverman, Huggins, Larson, Corman, Hutton and Scheider, I would later end up working with as a writer/producer. Only two of them, Cannell and Huggins, remembered that we'd met years before when I was a reporter, but that's because I interviewed them multiple times). 

And I knew how lucky I was even as it was happening. I still have many of audio cassettes from those interviews. One of these days I should get around to digitizing them before they erode away forever…

You Can Become a Kindle Millionaire, Part 15


This was my best month of Kindle sales since I began this venture in June. This month I sold about 1360 books and made about $975 (click on the image for a larger view of my royalty statement as of 9:47 pm, March 31st)

I sold 575 copies of THE WALK, earning $420, which is actually slightly down from February, when I sold 573 copies in 28 days, but it's still my best-selling title.

My friend Joe Konrath, who did amazingly well this month, strongly urged me to drop my new covers for MY GUN HAS BULLETS and BEYOND THE BEYOND because he felt they were the reason my sales weren't so good. So I took his advice and temporarily restored the original covers. The result? MY GUN sold 167 copies in February with the new cover (or roughly six copies a day) and sold 204 this month (or roughly seven copies a day) with the old cover. BEYOND sold 85 copies this month (about 3-a-day) and sold 73 this month (about 2 copies a day). My take? It's a wash. Even so, I'm thinking about creating two new covers for the books and seeing what happens. 

Joe also suggested that if I dropped the Jack Webb cover for THREE WAYS TO DIE and replaced it with something bolder, I would see sales go up. Last month, I sold 140 copies of THREE WAYS, or 5-a-day. This month, with the new cover, I sold 201 books, or 6.5 copies a day. My take? It's up, and I like the new cover better anyway, so I'm sticking with the change.

The spike in sales this month came from releasing the Kindle edition of THE MAN WITH THE IRON ON BADGE mid-month, priced a $2.99, a dollar more than my other books. I sold 160 copies, earning $166.95. What's encouraging about this is that I earned more selling 160 copies of BADGE than I did selling 204 copies of MY GUN, which was priced a dollar less. It tells me that raising my prices to $2.99 across the board in July to take advantage of Amazon's new royalty rate may actually increase my profits rather than reduce them.

I also started offering "preview chapters" of Joe's books THE LIST and SUCKERS in THE WALK and MY GUN HAS BULLETS (and he did the same for me) in an experiment to see if the cross-polination/cross-promotion gooses our sales. But it's way too early to judge how that test is working.

But I've accepted a challenge and a little wager from my buddy Joe, who is proposing a radical approach to boosting sales of my VIGILANTE novels. I'll tell you more about that development later…but it should be very interesting, as well as a lot of fun.

UPDATE: Romance writer Ellen Fisher shares her Kindle royalty report and her sales experience.

More of Me

There's a new interview with me up on the Cinema & Fiction blog. Here's an excerpt:

Mystery, crime and detectives are a recurring element in your writing. What do you find so appealing about this type of writing?

I guess on a basic level, the great thing about mysteries is they have a lot of conflict and forward momentum. The story is driven by a need to solve the mystery — that gives you somewhere to go, a ticking clock, and built-in conflict. 

You have written for TV and written novels. What do you think are some of the major possibilities and limitations of these different forms of writing?

As you say, they are very different kinds of writing. In scripts you have to show, not tell. Character and story have to be revealed only through action and dialogue. A screenplay is a blueprint, a working document for other professionals, like costume designers, location managers, and of course actors and directors. A book is very different. You can go into people's heads to tell stories and reveal character. You have to set the scene in great detail all the time. You are the director, the location manager, the actor and the director. You're creating a complete world with no limitations all by yourself. That can be exciting and daunting at the same time. I've encountered many screenwriters who simply can't write a book and many authors cannot write scripts. I've only met a few who can do both. They are different ways of telling a story and also different ways of thinking of story.