You Can Become a Kindle Millionaire, Part 17: The Bet

The following is an email exchange between me and Joe Konrath earlier this month:



If I were you, I'd rename all the .357 Vigilante books getting rid of ".357" and "Vigilante" in their titles. The new covers should be generic–maybe a gun or some sort of weapon as the central image–but they should also tie together as a brand. And they should be done by an artist. Maybe a friend (you must have graphic artist friends) or maybe you can hold a contest on your blog. I'm convinced your covers and titles (which scream "Men's Action") are holding back sales of this fun series. 



I'm not sure that changing the covers for .357 VIGILANTE (or the titles) will help. The books are what they are — pulpy, mens action adventure novels from the 1980s. That is their appeal…and their drawback. 



Give me $XYZ. I'll give it to my graphic artist to redo the covers for the Vigilante books. Let me retitle them and do the product descriptions, and I bet your sales go up at least 25% in a two month period (compared to your last two months of sales.) If they don't, I'll give you the $XYZ back, and you get the covers for free. That's how sure I am those books will sell with the right packaging.



You have a deal!

So I sat back and let Joe have his way with my books. Here's the original cover for .357 VIGILANTE:

And here is what he did with it:

Vigilante 1
Here is the original cover for .357 VIGILANTE #2: MAKE THEM PAY:

And here is what he did with it:

Vigilante 2
Here's the original cover I cobbled together for .357 VIGILANTE: DIE MR. JURY, an omnibus collection of all four .357 VIGILANTE books:

Face and logo9
Here's the revamp I did for it last month:

Die Mr Jury1l
And here's what Joe did:

Jury Series
It's only a little past mid-month, but already it's clear that he's won the bet and his repackaging is a success.

Last month, 357 VIGILANTE  sold 59 copies or about 2 copies a day. This month, with the new title and cover, it has already sold 46 copies, or about 3 copies a day. It remains to be seen whether that pace of sales will continue for the rest of the month. But wait…

 .357 VIGILANTE #2: MAKE THEM PAY sold 39 copies last month and now, with the new title and cover, it has already topped that by selling 43 copies. But wait…

.357 VIGILANTE #3: WHITE WASH sold 23 copies last month. So far this month, with the new title and cover, it has sold 27 copies.  But wait…

.357 VIGILANTE #4: KILLSTORM sold 14 copies last month. But with the new title and cover, it has sold 48 copies. That's right, the sales have more than tripled and the month isn't over yet. But wait, it gets even better

.357 VIGILANTE: DIE MR. JURY sold 20 copies last month and now, with the new title and cover, it has sold 47 copies…the sales have more than doubled and the month isn't over yet. What's really surprising about this bump is that the book is priced at $4.99, making it the most expensive of my previously published/out-of-print titles on the Kindle. They aren't buying it because it's cheaper than everything else out there…I believe they are doing it because they think they are getting a great deal, four books for the price of one, a point Joe hammered home on the new cover far more effectively (and clearly) than I did on the old ones.

Based on these results, I quickly reworked the covers of MY GUN HAS BULLETS, THREE WAYS TO DIE and BEYOND THE BEYOND (retitling it DEAD SPACE) to take advantage of what I learned from the bet and from Joe's example.

What did I learn?

1. Your covers should have a clear, simple, striking image that will still pop out when the cover is reduced to the size of a postage stamp.

2. Your covers need to have a consistent, branded look.

3. Don't be afraid to experiment, to rethink everything about how your book is presented: the title, the cover art, the categories its listed under, the way you describe it, the way you've priced it. Just because your book has been posted, that doesn't mean it's been carved in stone and can't be altered. You need to adapt to find your audience. In other words, you can't just post your book on the Kindle and leave it. Your book will continue to need attention and, if necessary, updating to stoke sales.

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.

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.

You Can Become a Kindle Millionaire, Part 14

Three Ways to Die1  Joe Konrath recently changed the covers for some of his weaker-selling Kindle books and saw his sales shoot up overnight. He suggested that I do the same thing for some of my books and I am following his advice. I just changed the covers for my short story collection THREE WAYS TO DIE and DIE, MR. JURY, my compilation of the four .357 VIGILANTE novels. I'm very curious to see if he's right.

I've also updated THE WALK to include the first three chapters ofDie Mr Jury1l   Joe's novel THE LIST… and MY GUN HAS BULLETS to include a chapter of his book SUCKERS.  He's done the same for me. It will be interesting to see if this cross promotion boosts both of our sales. It could be a month or two, though, before we see a spike, if there is even going to be one, since lot of folks download books as impulse buys and then don't get around to reading them for quite a while.

I have to hand it to Joe, he has been the trailblazer when it comes to exploiting all the possible potential out of selling books on the Kindle. And he's been right more than he's been wrong…and has had the success to prove it. He's on track to earn more than $40K this year in Kindle royalties from stuff that was in a drawer. 

But he's also realistic. He offers some very sobering advice on his blog this week to aspiring authors who think they can follow in his footsteps and by-pass entirely the struggle to get an agent and have your book bought by publisher. Bottom line: you probably can't.

You Can Become a Kindle Millionaire, Part 13

Kiindle 2-28

My Kindle sales for February we up a tick from last month. THE WALK sold 573 copies in 28 days vs 536 in  31 days in January. MY GUN HAS BULLETS sold 167 copies and THREE WAYS TO DIE sold 136. Last month, BEYOND THE BEYOND, priced at $1.99, sold 71 copies so I lowered the price to 99 cents for February to see if I could jack up sales a bit…and sold 85 copies. I went from selling about 2 copies a day of BEYOND to 3, hardly worth the price cut,  so I'm going to raise the price back to $1.99. I debating whether to raise the price of THE WALK to $2.99 to take advantage of the new Kindle royalty formula…but I am afraid what I will lose in sales volume will not make up for the increase in my royalty per book. (Click on the image for a larger view of my full royalty statement) 

My overall royalties were $777 vs. $775 for January. If my sales continue at this pace, I could earn close to $10,000 this year from the Kindle. But thats nothing compared to how my friend Joe Konrath is doing. As of February 24, he'd earned $2750 last month in Kindle royalties on nine titles…if he keeps that up, he's going to earn $33,000 this year from Amazon on his out-of-print and previously unpublished manuscripts alone. Click on the image below to see his royalty statement in detail: 


You Can Become a Kindle Millionaire, Part 12

January was my best month yet in sales & royalties for my out-of-print books on the Kindle (click on the photo above for a larger, and clear, image of my royalty statement). THE WALK remained my best-selling title with 536 copies sold. MY GUN HAS BULLETS was a distant second with 164 copies sold. And coming up third was THREE WAYS TO DIE, my collection of previously published short stories, with 148 copies sold.

I lowered the price of my .357 VIGILANTE books from $2.89 to $1.99 and sales went up. It seems to me that Kindle readers are more inclined to take a chance on books if they are priced under two bucks.

All told, I made $775 in Kindle royalties this month…and all found money on out-of-print books that were boxed up and forgotten in my garage (I really do owe Joe Konrath a drink for getting me into this back in May). I credit the jump in my sales to all the people who got Kindles as Christmas gifts and were eager to test drive their new toy for as little money as possible. I suspect my sales will slowly decline once the novelty of the Kindle wears off, but  THE WALK has already sold 50 copies in the first two days of February, so maybe I'm wrong (by the way, THE WALK has already sold more copies on the Kindle than it ever did in hardcover). 

I'll be curious to see how my MONK books did on the Kindle during the same period…but it will be some time before I get my royalty reports from Penguin.

BEYOND THE BEYOND continues to sell poorly, or at least below my expectations, so I lowered the price in late January to 99 cents and sales immediately went up…though not by much. I'm hoping I can use the book as a "loss leader" to draw people to my other ebooks.

All of these Kindle editions of my out-of-print books have also been available for two months now as ebooks on Barnes & Noble (via Smashwords) and I have sold less than half-a-dozen… COMBINED. Clearly, B&N and the Nook have a long way to go to catch up to the Kindle.

You Can Become a Kindle Millionaire, Part 11

S640x480  Author April Henry has started making her out-of-print books available on the Kindle and has some great short-cuts for authors who haven't made the leap yet. Here's an excerpt from her blog:

What you need 

-An Amazon account, which you already have if you have bought something from Amazon.

-The words. With luck, you still have the Word file that you submitted to your publisher. And again, with luck, they had you make changes on the file and re-send, rather than someone at the publisher someplace making changes. I’ve been proofing my old Word files before I post them on the Kindle. Nothing like not looking at something for five plus years to see typos.
And if you don’t have the words? You can scan in the book or manuscript […]For one book, I used and because I didn’t ask for anything fancy and didn’t ask for my book back, it only cost $12.15, plus $4.75 to mail them the book. Then they emailed me a word file.

A cover image. My husband made me some new ones, using photos from The photos were inexpensive, and my husband worked for free.

Her covers look really good, her books are priced right, and she got an established reputation as a mystery/thriller writer. I think her Kindle editions will do real well.

Last month was my most successful yet on the Kindle...THE WALK led the pack of my out-of-print titles, selling 515 copies. As of today, I've sold 116 copies of THE WALK, and the other titles are selling briskly too, so it looks like January could be pretty good month. It's not a pot of gold, but it's found money. Since May, I've earned a little over $3000 in royalties from the Kindle on out-of-print titles that were earning me nothing, so I can't complain.

You Can Become a Kindle Millionaire, Part 10

My friend Joe Konrath, who inspired me to put my out-of-print novels on the Kindle, has posted a fascinating and informative account of his Kindle ebook sales and royalties. He compares how the Kindle versions of his Hyperion-published books are doing compared with his "self-published" Kindle titles. Here's an excerpt, but I recommend you read the whole post:

My five Hyperion ebooks (the sixth one came out in July so no royalties yet) each earn an average of $803 per year on Kindle.

My four self-pubbed Kindle novels each earn an average of $3430 per year.

If I had the rights to all six of my Hyperion books, and sold them on Kindle for $1.99, I'd be making $20,580 per year off of them, total, rather than $4818 a year off of them, total.

So, in other words, because Hyperion has my ebook rights, I'm losing $15,762 per year.

Now Hyperion also has my print rights, and my Jack Daniels books are still selling in print. But they aren't selling enough to make up the $15,762. Especially since all of them aren't regularly being stocked on bookstore shelves.

According to my math, I'd be making more money if my books were out of print, and I had my rights back. 

[…]Ebook rights began as gravy. I can picture a day when the print rights are the gravy, and authors make their living with ebooks.

Yes, it's still far off. And yes, print publishing is in no danger of going away anytime soon.

But I don't think I'll ever take a print contract for less than $30,000 per book, because I'm confident I could make more money on it over the course of six years than I could with a publisher over six years.

I wouldn't take this as a rallying cry to turn away from NY publishers and rush to the Kindle. Joe is a special case. Before "self-publishing" his Kindle titles, he'd already established himself with a series of hardcovers and paperbacks from major NY publishers. He also did a 500-store, multi-state book-tour and attended countless conventions. Joe selling thousands of ebook editions of his previously unpublished work is a very, very different situation than an unpublished writer hoping to accomplish the same feat.

As for myself, my Kindle sales are still going strong, though not Konrath-strong. 

 THE WALK has sold 1760 copies in 4 months @ $1.99 each, for a royalty of $1204.

has sold 236 copies in 4 months @ $.99 each, for a royalty of $82

has sold 254 copies in about 3 months @ $1.99 each, for a royalty of $175

has sold 69 copies in about 3 months @ $1.99 each, for a royalty of $48.30

I've also got out-of-print editions of TELEVISIONS SERIES REVIVALS, UNSOLD TV PILOTS, and my four .357 VIGILANTE novels that have been released on the Kindle at various times over the last four months. 

All told, my combined Kindle royalties from June 1 to 11:23 pm Oct 13, are: $1750. 

It's not enough to make me follow Joe's example and turn away from anything less than a $30,000 advance from a major publisher, but I'm very pleased. It's hardly a fortune, and clearly the lion's share of the royalties are from just one book, THE WALK, but it's found money. And it's gratifying to me to see THE WALK, which was out-of-print, on track to reaching more readers, and making more money for me, in a Kindle edition than it ever did in hardcover.

UPDATE 10/14/09: Joe posted this important disclaimer in the comments to his post:

I do not think that ebooks are able to replace the exposure, or money, you'd get with a print publisher.
To All New Authors: JA says try the traditional route first. Find an agent. Land a deal with a big NY house. Ebooks aren't there yet.
I'd hate to think some writer gave up on their print aspirations because of something I've said on my blog. I suggest you keep up the agent search. While I have no doubt others will be able to sell as many ebooks as I have, and probably many more, I still haven't made anywhere near the money I've made by being in print. Plus, everyone's situation is unique, and no writer should compare themselves to any other writer.

You Can Become a Kindle Millionaire, Part 9


My third month of Kindle sales has ended (click on the picture of the Amazon Royalty Report for a larger image). 

My out-of-print novel THE WALK , priced at $1.99, is my biggest selling Kindle title (not including my MONK books, of course). I sold 444 copies in June and 373 copies in July. This month, I sold about the same, 380 copies, earning me a royalty of $266.  I have sold 1197 copies of the Kindle edition so far.

Sales have actually ticked up a bit for my short story collection THREE WAYS TO DIE.  I sold 69 copies this month at 99 cents each, for a royalty of  $24… that's up from 40 copies in July and 54 copies in June. So sales of both of my "premiere" Kindle titles have remained more or less steady.

In mid-July, I added two more of my out-of-print novels and one non-fiction book to my list of Kindle editions.

My novel MY GUN HAS BULLETS, priced at $1.99,  sold 65 copies this month, earning me a royalty of $45.50. That's down from last month, when it sold 95 copies in 17 days earning me $65 in royalties. The sequel,  BEYOND THE BEYOND, is also down, selling 21 copies as compared to 29 copies in 14 days in July. 

TELEVISION SERIES REVIVALS was only out for two days in July, selling 17 copies at $2.39 each, earning me  $14.28. In its first full month of sales, however, it sold a mere 16 copies, earning me $13.44. That's a steep drop…and yet its consistently listed as the #1 bestselling TV reference book in several Amazon categories (History, Direction & Production, Guides & Reviews) on the Kindle. Clearly, that isn't saying much.

This month, I made several more of my out-of-print titles available in the Kindle format. 

I added Unsold TV Pilots: The Greatest Shows You Never Saw on August 2, priced at $2.39. I've sold 28 copies for  royalty of $24.36. Those sales are pretty weak…and yet that book is consistently listed as the #2 bestselling book in three categories:  TV reference, TV direction & production and TV Guides & Reviews.  TV reference books clearly don't sell well on the Kindle.

I added a Kindle edition of my out-of-print 1985 paperback .357 Vigilante: #2 Make Them Pay on Aug 5, priced at $2.99.  I've sold 25 copies for a royalty of $25.26 . On Aug 19, I added .357 Vigilante #1, also priced at $2.99. I've sold 21 copies for a royalty of $22.05

All together, I earned $436.45 in royalties on my out-of-print books in August, up from $375 in July. As I've said here many times before, that's found money on material that wasn't earning me a dime before, so I am very content with those figures.

I intend to add the two remaining books in the out-of-print  ".357 Vigilante" series to the Kindle in the next month or so, even though, as you can see, there really isn't much of a financial incentive to do so. 

You Can Be a Kindle Millionaire, Part 8

The second month of my Kindle experiment has ended and here are the results:

(Click on the image for a larger view).

All told, I made $375 in royalties selling three out-of-print novels at $1.99 each, a short story collection at 99 cents, and an out-of-print, non-fiction reference book for $2.39 .

sold 444 copies in June and 373 copies in July. My short story collection THREE WAYS TO DIE sold 54 copies in June and 40 in July. So sales of both titles have dropped in their second month on sale. 

Still, I'm very happy to have sold 817 copies of THE WALK to readers who missed the book the first time around in hardcover. At this rate, it won't be long until I've sold more copies of THE WALK on the Kindle than the book sold in print.

On July 14, I added my novel MY GUN HAS BULLETS to the Kindle Store. It has sold 95 copies in 17 days at $1.99 each, earning me $65 in royalties. On July 17, I added the sequel, BEYOND THE BEYOND, which has only sold 29 copies at the same price, earning me $20. 

Two days ago, I added TELEVISION SERIES REVIVALS. I set the price for that one at $2.39, just to be daring. It has sold 17 copies so far, earning me $14.28.

(All those titles are also available on Scribd and Smashwords, but so far I've earned less than $10 in combined royalties from both sites over the last two months. They can't compete with Amazon and the Kindle).Myguncover1

This month I did slightly better than last month, but I also added three more books to the mix. 

So far, I have earned nearly $700 on out-of-print books that I thought were long past their earning potential for me. That's not a lot of money, but it was enough to buy me a Kindle and leave plenty of money left over to buy books for it (I'm still not earning anywhere near what Joe Konrath and John August, my inspirations in this endeavor, are making with their work…but I am thankful to them both for showing me the way). 

I've said this before, but I don't think the Kindle is the wave of the future for authors or publishing…at least not yet. Not even for self-publishing. There just isn't enough money in it for original works to make a living at it or simply a decent wage.

But not all authors care about making money. Some are in it "for the art" and just to reach people. They are happy giving it away for free…or for next to nothing. Well, let me tell you something, the "free" and $1.99 Kindle books that I have sampled so far have been, for the most part, unspeakably horrendous shit. There's a reason most of these authors can't find publishers for their work. It's stuff so awful you can't even give it away. The Kindle won't change that. The novelty of downloading crap, even when it's free, will pass quickly.

I do think, though, that for authors with out-of-print books sitting in their drawers earning nothing but dust that publishing on the Kindles makes a lot of sense. I don't see the downside. It's found money. And it's fun to watch the royalties and sales click up in real-time (yes, it's a new way to procrastinate!)

I was surprised to discover, once I got my Kindle, that my out-of-print books that I posted myself are better formatted than some of my in-print titles posted by my publishers. I will be talking to my publishers about it.