Wednesday, June 30, 2010

J.A Konrath, Mystery's Rebel

RHYS: When Joe Konrath burst onto the mystery scene a few years ago we got the feeling instantly that he was someone different. He drove around the country visiting every bookstore and library. He talked about money (which is something we avoid in mysterydom). He stated his intention of making money from his writing (horrors). So when I picked up his first Jack Daniels book, Whiskey Sour, I was surprised: the man can write. The book was witty, fast paced and good.

Now Joe has taken yet another route--shunning traditional publishing to make his own statement by way of e-books. Every author I know is curious about the role e-books will play in our futures, so I'm pleased to welcome J.A Konrath to Jungle Red today to hear all about his fascinating take on our business.

Rhys: Joe, you seem to have assumed the role of rebel writer, creating your own path and your own rules to success. Have you always been a rebel?

Joe: I'm just a guy trying to make a living. It took me 12 years and over 500 rejections before I was published, and once I landed my first print deal I was determined to learn all I could about the business in order to succeed.

I learned--as most authors have learned--that the publishing industry is fatally flawed. A small number of top-brand authors get the overwhelming majority of the marketing dollars, making it nearly impossible for a midlister to succeed. The practice of returns and remainders is archaic and ridiculous. Books are successful based on the amount of coop they get, and there is little a writer can do to improve their station.

So I did what I could. I mailed out letters to 7000 libraries. I visited over 1200 bookstores. I went to over a hundred conventions, conferences, and book fairs, and sent out over 100,000 newsletters.

As a result, my books are all still in print, and I've managed to eek out a career. But I'm one of the lucky ones. Many of my peers are struggling, unable to sell their latest novel, even though they're great writers with decent track records.

Rhys: You are earning a good living from putting unpublished or out of print books on Kindle. Can you talk about that a little?

Joe: I beleive my goal is one that many writers share: to earn money doing something we love. Prior to my first novel, WHISKEY SOUR, selling to Hyperion in 2002, I'd written nine other novels that failed to find a publisher. In 2009, some fans emailed me, asking if I could make my early, unpublisher work available on Kindle. I went to and uploaded my ebooks, which is free.

Now, 14 months later, I've sold 55,000 ebooks, and I'll make over $100,000 this year on books NY publishing rejected.

Rhys: There are millions and zillions of books on Kindle. How do you make yours get noticed?

Joe: Write a great book, have professional, eye-catching cover art, have a good book description, and keep the price under $2.99.

Rhys: Do you think you'll forget about traditional publishing in future and concentrate on the e-book markets?

Joe: I still have several print deals, including one with AmazonEncore, who will be releasing my seventh Jack Daniels thriller, SHAKEN, in October on Kindle, and in print in February 2011.

I'm happy to go where the money is. If a publisher wants to pay me enough, I'd love to work with them. I really like publishers, and they've done a lot for me. But I recently turned down two print offers, and self-pubbed on Kindle, because I felt I could make more money doing so.

I earn $2.06 on a $2.99 ebook. Compare that to $2.50 on a $25.00 hardcover.

Rhys: A question I know has come up in several e-book discussions. How do you handle covers for unpublished or out-of-print books?

Joe: My cover artist is Carl Graves. He charges around $300 per cover, less for multiple covers. You can contact him at Tell him I sent you.

Rhys: Your blog gets a mind-boggling number of visits each day. What do you think they come for? How hard do you work to generate that kind of buzz?

Joe: People on the internet are looking for one thing: content. I try to provide two forms of original content; information, and entertainment. I'm lucky that people seem to be interested in what I have to say, and I work hard to keep their interest by being provocative, controversial, and experimental. I share my numbers. I admit when I'm wrong. I try new things all the time.

It's funny, because I never expected to get all of this attention for my ebook endeavors. I simply want to write for a living. But lately, I've been called "hero", "guru", "an evolutionary figure", "a pioneer", and "the self-publishing messiah." Seriously? I'm just a guy trying to sell my books. I don't want to be the poster boy for self-publishers. I just want to make a few bucks doing what I love. It's flattering to have so many people tell me I'm inspiring them, but I'm much more flattered when someone tells me they really enjoyed my latest novel.

Rhys: What's in your future? Anything else you'd like us to know?

Joe: I'm working on a lot of different books right now. It's great to be busy, and have money coming it. I'm the luckiest guy on the planet. And ten years from now, when ebooks become the dominant form of reading, if history mentions in a footnote that I played a small part in the digital revolution, I'll be amused by that.

Rhys: Thank you for visiting, Joe. We'll be watching your career with interest and we wish you success.


  1. Wow, Rhys wasn't kidding when she said this was fascinating stuff.

    Your candidness is refreshing, eyeopening, and inspiring.

    What a terrific interview.


  2. As an aspiring author, I appreciated seeing the reality of the financial breakdown. Astounding! I have friends who've chosen to go with self-publishing choices like iuniverse, but epublishing has really exploded the choices available.

    It sounds that both self-publishing options require careful consideration of cover art and presentation by the author, but ebooks have the advantage of being 1) immediately available upon reader demand 2) less expensive for the reader 3) more profitable for the author

    Thanks for a fantastic post!

  3. Joe, I'm curious as to what you say to authors/agents who argue that self publishing is a death knell to getting published via a traditional house, ever.
    Sarah - ebooks can be less expensive for the reader, but under the agency pricing model of the big five publishing houses, this is not always true. Self-published ebooks, as in Mr. Konrath's example though, at his price point of $2.99 are both a great deal, and a boon for heavy readers like me!

  4. Hi Joe, thanks for being here today. I've been reading about you all over the Internet!

    Pioneer that you are:), what is your guess on the role of editors and agents in the future? I can see there's probably no holding back the e-book revolution, but do you think the world will be flooded with unedited material that we, the public, will have to sort through? (I believe that's the thought of Nathan Bransford, a literary agent in CA with a big following...)

  5. Joe, you're an inspiration! Not just for the paradigm you're breaking about how to publish, but for your sheer tenacity of refusing to take "no" for an answer!
    Thanks for the interview, junglered!

  6. Thanks for the kind words, all.

    Joe, I'm curious as to what you say to authors/agents who argue that self publishing is a death knell to getting published via a traditional house, ever.

    I say, during the past week on Kindle, I've been making $800 a day.

    That usually quiets them. :)