Battles & Browne: Self-Publishing Dynamos

POE-15Authors Brett Battles and Robert Gregory Browne have been friends for years. They are among the savviest authors I know and both have enjoyed considerable success and critical acclaim with their thrillers (Rob’s novel KISS HER GOODBYE was even adapted as a pilot for CBS starring Dylan Walsh).  Now they have ventured into self-publishing, on their own and in joint ventures, and they are both doing extraordinarily well. They have a new co-authored book out (POE) and two new individual titles (NEGLIGENCE by Rob and THE ENRAGED by Brett), so I thought this was the perfect time to catch up with them.

Brett, you are perhaps best known for your QUINN series. Were you worried about your Quinn fans finding your new, self-published books after you left your publisher?
B: Honestly, I was more worried about ANYONE finding my new books. I jumped in to this area 2 1/2 years ago, and while there were success stories then, I had no idea if it would even work or, if it did, last. I didn’t start of putting out new Quinn novels though. Started with some other, new series I’d been working on, and a couple Quinn short stories. About five months into it, I did put out my Quinn prequel novel, BECOMING QUINN, which really took off and told me the fans were still there.
How has your life changed since you made the move? How has it impacted the Quinn series?
B: I’m my own boss now, and I prefer that! I actually am a tougher boss than my old publisher as I demand many more finished novels a year than they did. I’ve always been a fast writer, even when I was traditionally published. It’s just then I ended up having a lot of down time because they only wanted one book a year. Now, I write at least four novels a year, and even try to squeeze in a short or two, or even a novella. In other words, I don’t allow myself to just sit around. My business is writing. If I were in construction or clothing or financial advice or whatever I’d be working everyday, so I feel I should be doing that with writing. So that kind of answers your second part. Instead of One Quinn novel a year, in the past 18 months I’ve release 3. More satisfying for the fans as they don’t have to wait as long.

Robert, you have been friends with Brett for years. I hear he had to drag you kicking and screaming into self-publishing. 

R: Ah, yes. When most of my friends were jumping into self-publishing, I had just finished a book for Penguin that was due to come out in hardcover. Plus, I was writing books under a pen name for a traditional publisher. So I was very much part of the “establishment” at the time. I had high hopes for the hardcover, but that was around the time ebooks were having a huge surge in popularity and hardcovers were dying, so the writing was pretty much on the wall. I saw all the success that Brett and others were having with their self-pubbed work and after the hardcover didn’t sell as well as I hoped (no surprise), I decided it was time to take the leap.NEGLIGENCE-FINAL-20
You had a huge hit with TRIAL JUNKIES. That must have been a stunning, and very welcome, surprise. What was the secret to the successful launch (so we can all steal it for ourselves, ofcourse)?

R: Yeah, that came completely out of left field. I had been told that self-publishing is slow going at first, that you have to give it time to build your audience, that not all of your “traditional” readers will embrace the technology, so to see TRIAL JUNKIES suddenly take off right out of the gate was a pretty amazing experience. Two weeks after it was out I had already sold 20,000 copies and it was still going strong. A month later, it was STILL going strong. Now, a year later, it just hit the Amazon Top 50 and went to #1 in Legal Thrillers again. It’s the book that won’t quit.

As for the secret, there really isn’t one. A week after it was published, I did a three-day free promo, got 46,000 downloads and the bounce when it went back to paid was incredible.
You mentioned that TRIAL JUNKIES benefited from the post-free bounce. Do the free promos still have the same mojo? From what I can tell, they don’t. 
At the time TRIAL JUNKIES was released, I was told that the free promos didn’t work as well as they once did, but it worked wonderfully for that book. But a year later, I think some of the luster has definitely worn off. I recently did a 99 cent promo for TRIAL JUNKIES that helped put it back in the Top 50, but as of this writing, I’m not sure what kind of post-sale bounce it will get, or how it will effect the sequel, NEGLIGENCE.
I’ve been sticking with KDP Select largely because of the Prime library borrows, which bring me more income than Barnes & Noble or Kobo ever did. I think, however, that we may be getting to the point where we’ll have to be shelling out a little more money for advertising on newsletters like Bookbub, which seem to be very effective.
THE ENRAGED FINAL_400w-1You were leery about self-publishing, Rob…but now you’re into it in a big way. You’re even designing your own covers. What made you decide to take such a hands-on approach? And do you enjoy it?

R: Actually, self-publishing was made for someone like me. My pre-author work involved video production and design, so it was only natural for me to utilize those skills. I really enjoy doing covers—I’ve done several for other authors as well—because it’s a different outlet that lets me stretch a another set of creative muscles.

You have both collaborated on a new, original, self-published ebook called POE… how did that come about? And what was it like working together?

R: For me it was largely painless. I had come up with the idea for POE several years earlier, but had never gotten around to doing anything other than a short synopsis and a couple chapters. I had pitched the idea to Brett at the time and he always loved it, so when we decided to write something together, he suggested POE and I thought why not? But I was in the middle of another book at the time, so he was the one who sat down and fleshed the idea out, wrote an outline we agreed on, then hammered out the first draft. I came in and did a rewrite, then Brett did the final polish. We spent a lot of time on the phone discussing various scenes and character motivations, but we never had any real disagreements. We also found that our writing styles meshed quite well.

B: What Rob said. Painless and fun! Can’t wait until the next one’s underway.

How has the book performed? Will there be sequels?

R: I’m happy to say that the book has been performing well despite little publicity. I’ll be launching into the first draft of the sequel sometime this month.

It seems you both followed up POE almost immediately with new, self-published ebooks. Was that always the master plan behind the timing of the release of POE? Was it intended as a “gateway drug” for draw your audiences to one another’s work?

R: Is there supposed to be a master plan? The collaboration was certainly designed to draw in readers from each other’s camp, but the new books were already planned even before we decided to write POE. Brett puts out several books a year and my own personal plan is to catch up to him at some point.

B: No master plan. Just put out the books when they’re ready.

Are there more collaborations on tap?

R: Well, there’s the new POE, which should be out in time for Christmas, and there’s another idea of mine we’ve considered working on called LINGER, but finding time to get it fleshed out and written is a problem with our busy schedules.

B: LINGER is going to be great when we finally get to it! Can’t wait.

Tell us more about your new books.
B: My latest is Quinn #7, called THE ENRAGED. It picks right up where the last book, THE COLLECTED, left off. There was a bit of a cliff hanger at the end of that. In THE ENRAGED, Quinn sets out to deal with those responsible for what happened in THE COLLECTED. It’s rocket fast, exciting, and, hopefully, utterly satisfying.

R: My book NEGLIGENCE is a sequel to TRIAL JUNKIES. Hutch and his old college friends—who spend a lot of time watching trials at a Chicago courthouse—find themselves embroiled in a case involving the murder of a school girl that leads them to an exclusive preparatory academy that could very well be housing a killer. It’s got a few shocks for fans of TRIAL JUNKIES, but I think they’ll be pleased.

The Mail I Get

Louisiana FeverIn my “The Mail I Get” posts, I’ve shared dozens of examples of the lame pitches I’ve received from inept publicists and clueless authors about their books. Well, now I thought it was time to show you an example of how it’s done right. Here’s an excerpt of a very effective pitch that I got from a publicist today:

My name is Anna Ryan, and I’m representing a uniquely clever, and altogether fun, forensic medical mystery entitled, Lousiana Fever, written by forensic medical expert, DJ Donaldson.  Louisiana Fever is the latest in the Andrew Broussard mysteries. […]Donaldson is known for his medical expertise, and his meticulous attention to scientific detail within his stories. But he’s also known for his colorful characters too.  What I particularly love is how the protagonist–medical examiner Andrew Broussard–is not only an amazing forensic detective, but is decidedly obese and unabashedly loves food (almost as much as I do!) The interplay between him and his gorgeous counterpart, Kit Franklyn, make for a really fast-paced and uniquely clever mystery plot.  Add in the sumptuous New Orleans, LA backdrop and you have a really enjoyable read…

The pitch not only conveys what is unique and interesting about the book and its author, but its shrewdly written in a chatty, personal way that makes it seem less like a press release and more like a recommendation from a friend. The accompanying press release included a blurb from Tess Gerritsen and an punchy lead:

Andy Broussard, the “Plump and Proud” New Orleans medical examiner, obviously loves food.  Less apparent to the casual observer is his hatred of murderers. Together with his gorgeous sidekick, psychologist Kit Franklyn, Broussard forms a powerful, although improbable, mystery solving duo.

All in all, very well done.

Colt’s Wild Ride To Print

Colt54 (Small)My friend Jude Hardin’s highly acclaimed Nicholas Colt mystery novels have followed an unusual publishing path. In this informative guest post, Jude talks candidly about that journey and the hard lessons he’s learned, culminating with the self-publication this month of his latest novel in the series, COLT (and be sure to check out his fantastic DEAD MAN tale, FIRE & ICE). 

In the spring of 2011, when my debut thriller POCKET-47 received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, I figured I was on my way. Suddenly, I was getting inquiries from a variety of big-name industry professionals who were interested in my book and my future.

I was a published author, and I was getting noticed. After years of trying to break into the business, these were two of the best things a writer could ask for!

But, with a hardcover print run of 3000 copies, and a $9.99 price tag on the ebook version, it quickly became apparent that the book wasn’t going to take off as well as it should have. The distribution just wasn’t adequate; there was no co-op placement in bookstores, and there weren’t a lot of readers willing to shell out ten bucks for an ebook by an unknown author.

That PW review did help me land a top New York agent, though, so I had high hopes for the second book in the Nicholas Colt series. My agent and I discussed strategies to move forward, and we decided Amazon’s Thomas and Mercer imprint might be the best way to go. Ebooks were quickly gaining traction in the marketplace, and Amazon’s promotion of them was second to none.

So we submitted the manuscript.

It sparked the editors’ interest, and I ended up signing a four-book deal with an option on a fifth. CROSSCUT was scheduled to be released June 2012, and SNUFF TAG 9 the following November. With Amazon’s backing, I thought these and subsequent titles would sell well enough to allow me to write full time. Once again, I was on my way.

Once again, good things!

Unfortunately, even with solid promotional efforts from Amazon, the sales of my Nicholas Colt titles have been lackluster so far. The books have earned out their advances, but they haven’t sold well enough for T&M or other publishers to offer the kinds of publishing deals I’m interested in. KEY DEATH comes out later this month, and I’m hoping things will pick up when it does.

But of course I’ve learned that there are no guarantees…

So, in an effort to give the series an extra shot in the arm (and with all of my contract obligations to Thomas and Mercer fulfilled) I have decided, for the first time, to self-publish a novel.

COLT went on sale May 30. It’s a prequel to the series, the events taking place three years before those in POCKET-47. Here’s the story:

October 21: just an ordinary day, unless you’re a former rock star…

The sole survivor of a plane crash…

A private investigator working out of a camper..

For Nicholas Colt, October 21 is an unlucky day. A day for nightmares. It always has been, and this year is no exception.

Someone is brutally murdering the offspring of an anonymous sperm donor, and Colt’s missing client is next on the list. With less than four days to find the young man—and, with a pair of drug-addicted study partners, a violent motorcycle gang, a stalker ex-girlfriend, and a host of other obstacles standing in his way—Colt faces the most challenging and deadly case of his life.

By self-publishing, I have control of the price, and I can participate in free giveaways and other promotional tools like BookBub. I have another completed novel that falls on the other side of the Nicholas Colt timeline, and I’m planning to self-publish that one early 2014.

Does this mean that I’m finished with publishers altogether? Not at all. It just means that writers have more viable choices now than ever before.

And that, my friends, is a very good thing indeed.





Giving it Away

0316 Goldberg ecover JUDGEMENTLooking for some action? The Kindle edition of JUDGMENT, the first book in the JURY SERIES, is free for the next five days on the Amazon store. Here's just some of the critical praise for my first published book, originally released as .357 VIGILANTE back in the 1980s…

"This is straight-up men's adventure material {…] So look out, folks! Here comes justice with a big freaking gun!Bruce Grossman, Bookgasm 

"Judgment  has an amped-up, neon-bright,'burning rubber down the main drag doing sixty while blaring Motley Crue so loud you can't even think' sort of quality. And that's how I like it." –Post-Modern Pulps 

"Generous helpings of sex and violent action, along with some smart-aleck dialog. But if you're a fan of Robert B. Parker, Dirty Harry, or the Die Hard movies, you'll have a very good time,"  –J.A Konrath, author of THE LIST and AFRAID 

"Lee Goldberg's The Jury Series serves vengeance hot with loads of action and plenty of suspense to keep you turning the e-pages. Vigilante justice was never so much fun,"  –Joel Goldman, Bestselling author of "Motion to Kill" 

"As stunning as the report of a .357 Magnum, a dynamic premiere effort […] The Best New Paperback Series of the year!" West Coast Review of Books 

This is a really entertaining thrill ride of a story with plenty of sex, violence, humor, social commentary, and great action scenes. Highly recommended. –James Reasoner, bestselling author of "Dust Devils"

Get on The Fight Card

FF1Bill Rabkin and I aren't the only ones who had the idea of reviving the "men's action adventure series" on the Kindle. The incredibly versatile Mel Odom has teamed up with several of my good friends to launch not one, but two original ebook series… the western Rancho Diablo (with James Reasoner and Bill Crider, all writing under the pseudonym Colby Jackson) and now  Fight Card (with Paul Bishop, both writing under the pseudonym Jack Tunney).  

The series is inspired by the "fight pulps" of the 30s and 40s, which are totally unknown to me and, I am guessing, most readers out there. And that's a good thing, because Fight Card doesn't handily fit into any particular existing genre, with the possible exception of "damn good fun," which makes it unlike anything else out there for $2.99

Here's how Paul Bishop describes Felony Fists, the first book in the series:

Los Angeles 1954

Patrick “Felony” Flynn has been fighting all his life. Learning the “sweet science” from Father Tim the fighting priest at St. Vincent’s, the Chicago orphanage where Pat and his older brother Mickey were raised, Pat has battled his way around the world – first with the Navy and now with the Los Angeles Police Department.

Legendary LAPD chief William Parker is on a rampage to clean up both the department and the city. His elite crew of detectives known as The Hat Squad is his blunt instrument – dedicated, honest, and fearless. Promotion from patrol to detective is Pat’s goal, but he also yearns to be one of the elite.

And his fists are going to give him the chance.

Gangster Mickey Cohen runs LA’s rackets, and murderous heavyweight Solomon King is Cohen’s key to taking over the fight game. Chief Parker wants wants Patrick “Felony” Flynn to stop him – a tall order for middleweight ship’s champion with no professional record.

Leading with his chin, and with his partner, LA’s first black detective Tombstone Jones, covering his back, Patrick Flynn and his Felony Fists are about to fight for his future, the future of the department, and the future of Los Angeles. 

How can you possibly resist that? I know I can't. The second book in the series, The Cutman, is also available.  

(My one piece of unsolicited advice for Mel and Paul is to rethink the covers…the series title is buried in tiny type under an armpit and is totally unreadable in thumbnail, which is how most ebook buyers are going to encounter it.)

Amazon Launches 47North Imprint with THE DEAD MAN

The Dead Man Face of EvilToday, Amazon announced the launch of their new sf/fantasy/horror imprint 47North…and one of the premiere titles is THE DEAD MAN series. Our kick-off is coming in just a couple of weeks…in a very big way…and we can't wait!

UPDATE: Publisher's Weekly also wrote about it. Here's part of what they said..

Amazon has added another genre to its publishing stable, with the launch of 47North, a science fiction/fantasy/horror imprint that will publish original and previously published works from new and established authors as well as out-of-print books. “We are especially happy to have a diverse list at launch, and look forward to publishing across a wide range of subgenres,” said Victoria Griffith, publisher of Amazon Publishing’s west coast group.
47North has signed 15 titles at launch with its first title coming from Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin, the authors of Successful Television Writing and who have written and/or produced scores of highly successful network television series, including Diagnosis Murder, Spenser: For Hire, and Baywatch. Their digital-first novel, Face of Evil, will be published this month; four more installments will also be published in October, with a new adventure following each month thereafter. A print compilation of the first three novels will publish in January 2012.

Man Undercover

Watch Me Die Final Jeroen Ten Berge is a terrific cover artist. He' s done the covers for my books WATCH ME DIE and THE JURY SERIES…as well as the books coming out of Top Suspense, to name a few. Author Joseph D'Agnese interviewed Jeroen on his blog. Here's an excerpt:

How do you describe the work you do? Are you a designer, an illustrator, or what? (It might help if you tell us what your training/background is.)

I consider myself a designer first. However, illustration is a skill I almost always use to assist me in creating the design I have in mind. In some cases an illustration becomes the key element of a design. The Scientist & The Sociopath is an example, but the Serial-series covers I created for Blake Crouch and Joe Konrath are also illustrations, as is Suzanne Tyrpak’s Vestal Virgin cover. I also use stock photography, sometimes my own. Several of the covers I designed for Marcus Sakey feature my photos, as do several of Blake’s covers. 

I guess I was fortunate to have studied graphic and typographic design at the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague in the early- to mid-1980s. There was a strong focus on teaching the principles of design and typography, taught by people such as Gerrit Noordzij, one of the greatest type designers of his generation. There was, however, equal attention paid to illustration and photography. The philosophy was very much, "Why ask someone else to make an illustration or photograph for your design if you can do it yourself?"  In retrospect I can see that graduating the year before Apple MacIntosh was introduced to the Netherlands helped as well. Knowing how lead type works, and why there are certain rules of design helps me on a daily basis. That said—I have worked on an Apple for more than 20 years now, and would consider a career change if I had to go back designing old school.


Mid-list Riches

There's an interesting article at Publishing Perspectives on what a goldmine self-publishing ebooks has become for midlist authors. But that's not news to anybody who has been reading this blog, is it? The article concludes:

There was a time when self-publishing produced little to no revenue, and doing so was often the last resort for a project that had been rejected by everyone it had been put in front of. Now, in the post digital revolution, the model has been turned upside down. Authors are going to e-books first based on earning potential and a quick time to market. If they do well, then they leverage their sales for larger advances and favorable contract terms. Of course self publishing is not for everyone, but at least for those that decide to go this route, they won’t have to be that one in a million outlier—if they can achieve the e-book midlist status, they stand a good chance of telling their boss, “I quit, I’m going to stay home and write for a living.”

Locke Cracks Million Mark

Amazon announced today that John Locke has become the first self-published author to sell one million ebooks on the Kindle, joining a very select group: Stieg Larsson, James Patterson, Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Charlaine Harris, Nora Roberts and Suzanne Collins. 

“Kindle Direct Publishing has provided an opportunity for independent authors to compete on a level playing field with the giants of the book selling industry,” said John Locke. “Not only did KDP give me a chance, they helped at every turn. Quite simply, KDP is the greatest friend an author can have.”  

“It’s so exciting that self-publishing has allowed John Locke to achieve a milestone like this,” said Russ Grandinetti, Vice President of Kindle Content.  “We’re excited to see Kindle Direct Publishing succeeding for both authors and customers and are proud to welcome him to the Kindle Million Club.” 

John Locke, of Louisville, KY., is the internationally bestselling author of nine novels including "Vegas Moon,” "Wish List,” "A Girl Like You,” "Follow the Stone,” "Don't Poke the Bear!" and the New York Times bestselling eBook, "Saving Rachel." Locke's latest book, "How I sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months," is a how-to marketing guide for self-published authors.

Hocking on Hocking

There's a great interview with self-publishing superstar Amanda Hocking in the New York Times today. She comes across as very natural, likeable, and surprisingly level-headed about her success, which came to her surprisingly fast once she put her books on Amazon:

…Hocking uploaded “My Blood Approves” to Amazon and, about a month later, to Smashwords, a service that makes her books compatible not only with the Nook but also with less popular devices like BeBook and Kobo. (When, in October 2010, it became possible to self-publish directly on Barnes & Noble’s site for the Nook, she did so.) It’s a surprisingly simple process in each case — much like signing up for Facebook. She took the e-leap because she thought that even if she sold her vampire books, there was going to be a reaction against them before they made it into stores.

The first day, she sold five books. The next, five more. “I took screen shots a lot,” she said. Then she uploaded another novel and sold a total of 36 books one day in May. “It was like: 36 books? It’s astounding. I’m taking over the world.”

Soon she started selling hundreds of books a day. That June, she sold 6,000 books; that July 10,000. “And then it started to explode. In January, it was over 100,000.” Today, she sells 9,000 books a day.

Hocking is at a loss to explain the phenomenon. “I’ve seen other authors do the exact same things I have, similar genre, similar prices” — like many self-published authors, she prices her books radically below what traditional publishers charge; typically hers cost between 99 cents and $2.99 — “and they have multiple books out. And they all have good covers. And they’re selling reasonably well, but they’re not selling nearly as well as I am.”

The problem is, now everybody thinks they can be Hocking…or John  Locke…and don't seem to realize that they are exceptional cases.