You Can Become a Kindle Millionaire

My friend author Joe Konrath has done extraordinarily well selling some of his unpublished books on the Kindle, making $1250 in royalties this month alone. That's very impressive. And since its free and easy to upload your book to Amazon for sale on the Kindle, I'm sure that Joe's success is very exciting and encouraging news to a lot of aspiring writers out there. But I suspect Joe's success is the exception rather than the rule. That said, he is encouraging others to follow his lead. He writes:

The average advance for a first time novel is still $5000. If Kindle keeps growing in popularity, and the Sony Reader opens up to author submissions like it intends to, I think a motivated writer will be able to make $5000 a year on a well-written e-novel. Or more. All without ever being in print.

[…]Robert W. Walker, has written over forty novels. Most of them are out of print, and the rights have reverted back to him. If he digitized and uploaded his books, and priced them at $1.59 (which earns him 70 cents a download), and sold 500 copies of each per month (I sold 500 of Origin and 780 of The List in May), he'd be making $14,000 a month, or $168,000 a year, on books that Big NY Publishing doesn't want anymore.
Even if he made half, or a third, or a fifth of that, that's decent money on books that he's not doing anything else with. Now, all of us aren't Rob, and we don't have 40 novels on our hard drives, especially 40 novels that were good enough to have once been published in print.
But how long do you think it will be before some unknown author has a Kindle bestseller?

Joe is making a lot of assumptions based on the admirable success of his own Kindle titles. It's a big, big, BIG leap to think, just because his book has done well, that Robert W. Walker (or any other mid-list author) will sell 500 copies…or even 50 copies…of his out-of-print books on the Kindle each month. 

But just for hell of it, I decided to follow Joe's advice and put my out-of-print 2004 novel THE WALK and a short-story collection THREE WAYS TO DIE up on Amazon for sale on the Kindle and see what happens. 

So far, after only a few days on Amazon, sales of those Kindle editions have been brisk. For instance, today THREE WAYS TO DIE was ranked as Amazon's #30 bestselling Kindle short story collection and the 40th top-selling hard-boiled Kindle mystery. 

Pretty impressive, huh? 

And it's paying off in the wallet, too, my friends. I've already raked in ten dollars in royalties. So I spent today at the Bentley dealership checking out the car I'm going to buy at year-end with my Kindle royalties.

I do not mean to belittle Joe's success on the Kindle. It is truly impressive and its a reflection of his considerable promotional skills (as well, I'm sure, of the quality of the books themselves). But do I think the vast majority of published, as well as unpublished, writers can easily achieve the same success he has with Kindle editions? No, I don't.

But I would love to be proved wrong. I'll report back at the end of the month on how my Kindle sales on these two titles are doing.

(Incidentally, several of my MONK and DIAGNOSIS MURDER books are also available on the Kindle. Although the MONK books sell very well in hardcover and paperback, the Kindle sales are miniscule…and keep in mind that my MONK books, unlike those that an unknown writer might put up for sale on the Kindle, benefit from the huge advertising, promotion, and brand awareness that goes along with a hit TV series)

UPDATE 6-11-2209: Joe Konrath has updated his Kindle sales figures and they are pretty impressive. Here's a sample:

On April 8th, I began to upload my own books to Kindle. As of today, June 11, at 11:40am, here is how many copies I've sold, and how much they've earned. 

THE LIST, a technothriller/police procedural novel, is my biggest seller to date, with 1612 copies sold. Since April this has earned $1081.75. I originally priced it at $1.49, and then raised it to $1.89 this month to see if the sales would slow down. The sales sped up instead. 

ORIGIN, a technothriller/horror occult adventure novel, is in second place, with 1096 copies sold and $690.18. As with The List and my other Kindle novels, I upped the price to $1.89. 

SUCKERS is a thriller/comedy/horror novella I wrote with Jeff Strand. It also includes some Konrath and Strand short stories. 449 copies, $306.60.

Joe also talks about some of the lessons he's learned along the way. I'll post the stats from my experiment at the end of the month.

25 thoughts on “You Can Become a Kindle Millionaire”

  1. I’m considering it with an unpublished manuscript of mine, but I, too, am skeptical. Not that it’ll sell some copies–it might–but that Joe’s somehow representative. First, he already has a pretty decent-sized readership. Second, he’s got a large following on his website/blog. Third, his followers on his website/blog have already had the opportunity to download some of his e-books and Joe produces a ton of chapbooks, short stories, etc., that he gives away as it is.
    In other words, Joe’s audience is a little bit unusual.
    Still, interesting…

  2. Joe’s early success with Kindle sales is because:
    1) he has a fan base already established interested in seeing his previously unpublished books. 1000 of these readers would account for his early royalties.
    2) the novelty of it
    3) the low cost, especially in comparison with other Kindle thriller books
    4) the relatively smaller competition
    Over time as more and more books flood onto Kindle, most midlist authors’ books will be lost within this vast ocean of books, and it will really by only the bestsellers that will sell–there will just be too many books there for anything else to be noticed. Joe’s enthusiasm for Kindle/e-books is a bit ironic–in an e-book only world, the only books that will sell will be established bestselling authors, the midlist will die, and there will be little hope of newer authors breaking out.
    Independent bookstores currently give the midlist the best chance of breaking out because they’re the ones recommending and handselling the lesser known authors, and helping them develop readers.

  3. Hey Lee- very interesting info for all us wannabe authors. The way I see it, at $1.59 a pop, there might be a few folks out there who might purchase something by a complete unknown just out of curiosity. I don’t have a kindle, but with bargains like the ones you mentioned, I might get one soon. Overall, I’m just amazed at how fast the publishing industry is changing.

  4. Mr. Konrath is a gifted and inveterate promoter. It is only natural that he reap a good Kindle sale on books he’s pushing–for a while. $1250 a month for–two months? Three? Let’s await the rest of the story three months, six months, and a year from now. And let’s see whether these unpublished novels have enough quality to attract repeat purchases. If the numbers hold up month in and month out, I’ll tip my hat to him. If the numbers don’t hold up, then he’s living in fantasyland.
    I have a number of novels in the Authors Guild back-in-print program, which sell steadily without promotion.

  5. “Although the MONK books sell very well in hardcover and paperback, the Kindle sales are miniscule.”
    Any idea why this is? Maybe the demographics of the audience for novelizations? Do you know what your target demographic is?

  6. Wow. Fantastic. At last. There’s an honorable way for a good but unpublished writer to publish who does not catch the eye of a good agent.
    My belief is that there WILL be Kindle million-selling authors, and one of the really exciting parts is that by lowering the cost of books greatly, this should stimulate sales a lot. It also means that those writers who write a series will always have the backlist in print, which is just excellent, obviously.
    I feel truly blessed that such a new opportunity has opened up.

  7. Comparing e-book sales to sales of the same book on paper misses the point of the experiment, I think. The idea is not to replace the paper books, it’s to boost sales of them by giving readers a cheap taste of the author’s other work.

  8. “the Kindle sales are minuscule.”
    Don’t you suppose that Kindle sales are minuscule for almost every book at this point?
    It’s such a new technology…I only know two people who own them.

  9. My kindle books are selling at the rate of approximately $3,000/mo retail to buyers, $1000/mo to me. Joe’s absolutely right in that it’s an untapped goldmine.
    Just for grins, I wrote a book and stuck it on Kindle under a penname. The product page only had a cover photo, product description and price; no book reviews, no customer reviews. I was, however, very careful to add a number of good tags so readers could find it. Amazingingly, it has been selling very well, priced at $4.76.
    Part of the reason sales are exploding is because buyers don’t even need the Kindle any more, they can download from the Kindle store onto iphones and iPod (touch).
    Authors and publsihers who don’t get on board and figure out how to make it work will be left behind.

  10. The reason unknown authors can’t get anyone to read their books is because prospective readers have no way to know if there’s any reason to try. Simply throwing the book up on the Kindle wth a low price won’t make any difference, especially when everybody is doing it.
    I forsee that the Kindle will become the new graveyard for all the self-published slushpile rejects who formerly engorged the coffers of vanity presses.

  11. I’d published 7 books the traditional route (including one now available from the publisher as a Kindle edition) before going the Kindle route with my new novel, Finding Juliet. Like JMH above, I tagged it up, priced it low, and I also created a discussion on the book’s Kindle Store page in which I posted two chapters for readers to see if it’s worth a buck to them. It took almost no time, and it sold around 20 copies in the first few days. I agree it’s unlikely to be a game-changer for most authors, but it’s fun to play around with. If you’ve got a book you’re proud of, might be a decent way to connect with some readers.

  12. Just think how many books Joe could have sold over the years had he put as much time and energy into becoming a better writer as he did in promoting himself.

  13. Lee, I’ve actually been wanting to purchase and read your Monk novels for my Kindle, but I like to read series books in order, and the first one in the series isn’t Kindle-fied yet!

  14. Whatever else they do, known and honored publishers such as HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, Viking, Norton, Doubleday, New American Library, etc., provide a modicum of security for a book buyer. Publishers spend a great deal of money on each title, editing, refining, and packaging it. Not all books published by such houses are good, but at least they have been vetted and edited, and that is a comfort that new stories from unknown sources on Kindle lack.

  15. I know several authors doing better than I am with Kindle sales. I’m not the only person making money off of this.
    Currently, I’m averaging around $90 a day. Not huge money, but I think it’s pretty amusing I’m paying my mortgage with previously written books.
    Will it last? Probably for a while. All told, I’ve sold maybe 3500 Kindle ebooks. According to my best guess, there are close to one million Kindle owners, and the new Kindle DX isn’t even out yet, which could add another half mil to the list. I could sell 200 Kindle books a day, and it would take me 750 days to reach ten percent of Kindle owners if there is zero further growth.
    But I’m guessing there will be further growth, and that my numbers will go up before they go down. And as Jim said, that doesn’t even include the millions of iPhone and iPod owners.
    As for your own sales, Lee, Peter is right. A low price point is a decent place to start, but like any other book, the public needs to know it exists before they can buy it. There are 300,000 Kindle titles, so the odds are they won’t find you just by browsing.
    There are Kindle blogs, forums, and newsletters, and Amazon has lists and community forums. Can’t hurt to join a few, explain who you are and what you write.
    Eventually, publishers are going to catch on to this. Some already have. AFRAID, a horror novel I wrote under the name Jack Kilborn, was $1.99 on Kindle for the month of April. It was downloaded over 10,000 times, plus another 1000 times on Sony Reader. That’s a lot of downloads for an unknown author.
    SERIAL, a horror novella I wrote with Blake Crouch (and which is free) has been downloaded 17,000 times on Sony and Blake’s site. We don’t have the Kindle numbers yet, but it has been the #1 download for over two weeks.
    I made very little money on the Amazon Shorts program, and my books have been among the bestsellers there for a few years. I figure I made a few hundred bucks, tops.
    But the whole Kindle thing took me by surprise–especially since these are books I’ve been giving away for free. By last count, I’ve had over 23,000 downloads of my free books on my website. I put them on Kindle because Kindle owners asked me to do so because the formatting from pdf to Kindle is a pain in the ass.
    So I charged a small fee, just to see what happened.
    I don’t know what the future holds, but I do think that this is the beginning of a trend that will only get bigger. The possibilities and opportunities it offers authors are staggering.

  16. Great advice, Joe. I posted to some Kindle forums this morning and my sales tripled within the hour. I’ve now earned $30 in royalties so far this month. I was looking at Bentleys, but now I think I’ll aim higher 🙂

  17. Yes, the market for Kindle books will grow, and I know there will be opportunity for entrepreneurial types to get in…
    I will be publishing an author’s book on Kindle and Sony Reader in a bit. It is a book for the horror / exploitation audience (the Fangoria crowd)and we plan to target that market heavily and tie it into as many online venues as possible – a YouTube video, Facebook, twitter and so forth.
    We are taking our time to create as marketable a package as possible with great cover art and packaging.
    2 months later it will come out POD. That edition will have “extras” you can’t get in the Kindle version.
    I’ll let you know.

  18. Lee, it also helps that I have eight titles that I’ve uploaded myself.
    If you put Iron-On, Beyond, and Bullets on there, the Ludlow books, and some of your non-fic, it would give you many more chances to be discovered on Kindle. Then one sale leads to the next, domino style
    Also, have a bibliography page in your Kindle books, so readers have a checklist of all your titles.
    Finally, link to them on Internet billboards, social networking sites, in your email signature, newsletter, etc.
    The more you do, the more you sell. Then the more you sell, the more you sell…

  19. Joe,
    I would put MY GUN HAS BULLETS and BEYOND THE BEYOND on Kindle, but I don’t think that I have the final, copy-edited manuscripts on disc…and I am not going to go to the expense of scanning the books.
    Unfortunately, the Ian Ludlow books were all written on my Kaypro (in CPM!) and/or typewriters and I don’t think I have the final, copy-edited manuscripts for those, either. And even if did, I’d have to scan them page by page…
    As for BADGE, we are still actively trying to sell the reprint/paperback/sequel rights, and doing a Kindle edition would harm my chances.

  20. I agree that scanning/formatting is a pain in the ass.
    You might try to find some intern or newbie writer who will do the scanning for you for a few bucks, or in trade for a manuscript critique.
    I noticed The Walk is near the top 1000 Kindle bestsellers, which I guess to mean it’s selling about 10 to 20 copies per day.
    That’s around ten bucks a day, or three grand a year, for a book you weren’t doing anything else with.
    Even if it cost you a few hundred bucks to scan and put up your previous titles, you’d still come out way ahead of the game.
    And unlike print, which has a shelf life, ebooks have an infinitely long tail, and sales can actually increase as the years go by.
    As for Badge, are you sure a Kindle version would hurt your sequel chances? If it sold 10,000 copies on Kindle per year, wouldn’t that help sequel chances?
    In fact, if it sold 10,000 copies on Kindle, would you even need a print version? Why not put the sequel directly on Kindle as well and earn a steady 7k per year on it?
    Two of the novels I put on Kindle are on track to sell around 10,000 to 15,000 copies per year.
    While it’s all too early to predict how things are actually going to turn out, this seems to me like investing in a new stock before it breaks out. The early investors, who get in at the beginning, make the most money.
    Ask your agent, but listen with a grain of salt–it isn’t in an agent’s best interest, or a print publisher’s best interest, for authors to begin uploading their own books to Kindle, for obvious reasons.
    Keep us posted how this is going for you.

  21. Lee, if you send me the book, I’ll scan it into a WORD file, here, at the university. I’ll do 20 pages a day until it’s finished, for free, you pay the postage. Why? I’m grateful for all the info on your blog.

  22. pay close attention, folks.
    konrath is making money
    selling books that he has
    been giving away _free_…
    people could get the books
    for absolutely nothing, but
    they are instead buying them,
    simply to get them in a format
    that is more convenient for ’em.

  23. Excellent post. I’ve published two books to Kindle, and both are selling well (not as great as Joe, but I’m an unknown author).
    The platform can only grow (my sales tripled when Kindle put the app on iPhone and iPod Touch back in March). It’s blue sky from here . . . the biggest challenge for me is marketing in a networked world . . . but then again that’s the challenge for the big publishers as well. The playing field is being leveled.


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