Sometimes I wish I was an old man so I could have written a pile of books that are out of print.

What?

That’s right.  I wish I’d written books that are out of print so I could relist ‘em on Kindle, Nook, iTunes and Kobo at rock bottom modern e-book prices.  I’d make a fortune.  Instead I gotta do things the old-fangled way and write more books first!

Not long ago, I felt like I was the Last Of The Mohicans — a writer who’d come up the traditional path from placing short stories in print magazines to finding an agent to selling novels to a Big 6 publisher who produced, printed, warehoused and distributed fat stacks of dead trees.  (The publisher also fielded returns and issued Byzantine, biannual royalty statements).

Now I’m dangerously close to becoming a wild-eyed e-revolutionary.

After some success republishing my short stories online, knowing exactly what New York had to offer, I self-published my fourth novel in October.

Going solo was nerve-wracking, and I’m still wary about the future.  My big evil corporate publisher was good to me.  We sold a lot of books, which led to some nice translation deals and a film option.  Having print editions in stores is a childhood dream fulfilled.

On my own, realistically, my print distribution approaches zero.  That sucks.

But I write science fiction.  A large percentage of sf/f readers are tech friendly, tech savvy, educated early adapters who love their gadgets because they want quick access to new media.

Even readers who prefer dead trees have Amazon accounts.  My grandma has an Amazon account.

Also important:  The last nationwide brick-and-mortar chain in the U.S. is in financial trouble and has survived purely on sales of their e-reader, which is tanking due to their late start into the e-book market, the clunkiness of their e-store, their pricing, and the relentless, predatory schemes of their largest rival — and I don’t mean predatory in a bad way.  Predatory is praise.

More on that in a second.

Some regional chains and independent stores are performing well.  Book sales are also brisk in big box stores such as Target and CostCo, and, oh boy, like most writers I chew my heart out each time I linger at a table stacked with books from heavy hitters like King, Steele, Roberts or Grisham.

At the same time, I feel like I’m living in a PKD or Gibson novel.  For the past few years, most of my fan mail has arrived from people who read on various phones or tablets while charging through their busy futuristic lives.  They find books via e-clubs, e-stores and archaic word of mouth, except to say their word of mouth is virtual and spans the world.

The success of my best 99 cent short story (40,000 sold) led to a book deal with 47North, the e-devils themselves.  You don’t know the POWER of the Dark Side!  Bwah ha ha ha.  Epic thriller Interrupt releases July 23rd.

Meanwhile, the big question was if sci fi fans would respond to a full-length novel of The Frozen Sky as they’d enjoyed the 99c story?

I wanted to find out.  I went all in.

Hiring and managing a squad of professionals for cover art, interior art, e-book and print files, narrating the audiobook and designing specific upgrades for my web site cost $1300.00 and several days of my time.  Then those tasks were behind me.  I own 100% of the book forever (and 25% of the audiobook).

Last week The Frozen Sky hit the mark of 10,000 e-books sold.

My agents are gabberflasted.  So are my friends who are industry pros.

I’m not.  As a newly minted e-revolutionary, I look at outliers on all sides of the market from Hugh Howey to Joe Konrath to John Scalzi — the self-published phenom now landing hefty traditional deals abroad and in North America; the traditionally published journeyman who’s blown the doors off the e-barn in self-publishing; and the prolific contemporary master who dabbled in self-publishing before self-publishing was cool and seems very successfully entrenched with the corporate machine.  By comparison, there’s a lot of room to grow.

Put in perspective, however, 10,000 copies are more than the largest NYC publisher of science fiction expects to sell in hardcover during the entire lifetime of an average title. Quite a bit more.

Here’s the super crazy part.

I launched Frozen Sky at $3.99 because $3.99 seems like more than a fair price for a novel.  In recent months, I’ve also read dozens of blogs and articles about a sea change among e-people who’ve finally rejected the cheap-o self-published dreck and want solid, clean, competently-written novels.

One of the supposed indicators of an SCCWN (acronyms are fun!) is its cost.  So I started highish.

Before Christmas, again having read too many blogs about the crush of self-published material and oncoming holiday promos, I dropped Frozen Sky to $2.99.  It took off.  Presumably buoyed by e-people with gift cards and new gadgets, Frozen Sky ran especially strong through January, so I haven’t bounced it back to $3.99. Too many other titles on the sci fi bestseller lists have psychotically low price points.

Remember, I broke into the industry in mass market paperback.  My royalty per $7.99 print unit of Plague Year is 64 cents.  With e-books, everything is upside down; few production and zero shipping costs; less income to the platform; more income to the author.  Even at $2.99, Frozen Sky earns like a hardcover.  I can’t argue with that.

10,000 e-books plus a couple hundred print books plus several hundred audiobooks equals $24,350.00 minus $1300.00 in one-time expenses.

My family isn’t going to buy Tahiti soon.  Heck, with luck we’ll squeak our kids through college.  Nevertheless, in four months Frozen Sky earned more than the advances of my first two novels combined, and those advances were paid in installments over eighteen months minus 15% commission.

The caveat is Plague Year earned out its advance three weeks after publication.  It’s rambled through eight print runs and has also seen success overseas, not least of which was emerging as a hardcover bestseller in Spain before the global economy imploded.

Frozen Sky may or may not outperform Plague Year in the long run.  Certainly it’s trending well out of the gate.

E-books are a gorgeous setup.

If I want to add a new blurb or tweak one of the maps (minor tasks which would require years to accomplish in New York), I do it overnight.

Readers are happy, too.  They pay a few hundred dollars for a Kindle, an iPhone, et cetera.  Then they can download inexpensive media until their eyeballs hemorrhage.  Writers are well compensated — and none of the e-stores sit on royalties interest free for nine months until finally paying out with obscure, information poor statements that include the eternal, demonic incantation of Reserve Against Returns.  Writers have real time access to detailed sales data.  We’re also paid monthly (30 or 60 days in arrears).  Monthly!

For me, here’s the real beauty:  I spend my time writing.

I love podcast, radio and TV interviews.  Attending book clubs or store events is fantastic.  My job description is I sit alone in a room with my laptop listening to the voices in my head.  The chance to interact with real live people who enjoy the work is gratifying.

(Please let me do more guest blogs, John.)

Analyzing and speculating are among my strengths.  But what I’m not doing as a self-published writer is flogging the Kindle Forums, FB or Twitter with declarations that my book is the greatest product on Earth since canned fried calamari.  Nor do I spamalot my family and friends.  I *do* receive endless spamalots from random people or acquaintances about their books, the worst clocking in at eighteen emails in one month for the same title. Good gracious peanut butter, dude!  I got your first email.  Not for me.  Let it go.

To my relief, Book Town posted a survey of self-published authors with lovely statistics demonstrating that spam doesn’t accomplish much.  The writers who wrote were the writers with the best sales.  The spamalotters were the spammy spammers who spammed, which is good news to me.

I’m a boring person.  I write.  I spend time with my family.  That’s all I have to Twitter about, so for the most part I’ll spare ya.

King Kong Joe Konrath has touted the same mantra for years.  So has my agent, an industry veteran of three decades.  Readers’ word of mouth is the best sales device.  Idle browsing is the other, so it’s important to have a professional-looking product with a genre specific description.  People know what they want.  Build it, and they will come.

What an absolutely gorgeous setup.

I put sweat and blood into writing what I love, sell low, sell a lot, and hear from new fans as nearby as Sacramento or as far off the Netherlands, New Zealand and Japan.  Right now it’s paying my mortgage.

As thanks, this week I’m pricing The Frozen Sky at $1.99.

Welcome to the future.

Jeff

Artist credit for the map of Europa is “Jeff Sierzenga”

Artist credit for the illustration of astro girl’s eyes is “Jacob Charles Dietz”

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