Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Henry Perez on Ebooks

I've known Henry Perez for years, and have had the pleasure of seeing him leap into the publishing scene and make a nice, big splash. I asked him to blog about his recent Kindle experience, since he managed to hit a milestone I haven't reached yet.

If you're interested in what it's like to be a new published novelist, check out his blog at http://henryperezbooks.blogspot.com.

Here's Henry:

I Dipped a Toe in the E-book Ocean…Then My Publisher Gave Me a Push

My name is Henry Perez and I’m a number 1 bestselling Kindle author.

I’m the author of two thrillers, Killing Red and Mourn the Living. Both feature a Chicago newspaper reporter named Alex Chapa who has a habit of getting into trouble with some very bad folks, pissing off important people, and breaking big stories.

It seems like a relatively short time ago, three years, four at most, that I stood in a Borders and held a Sony Reader in my hands for the first time. I remember how that night I told my wife that I had seen the future of publishing.

But I had no idea…

If you had asked me then I would have told you we were still five to ten years or so away from the point where e-books would begin to have a significant impact on the publishing business.

Obviously, I was wrong.

Back in early 2008, Joe and I were each asked to write a short story for an anthology titled Missing. We had often discussed the possibility of writing something together, so we asked the publisher if we could collaborate on one long story instead of two shorter ones. We got the okay, and that story became Floaters, a 14,000 word novella that featured my protagonist Alex Chapa teaming up with Lt. Jack Daniels.

I had a great time writing it, but I didn’t give Floaters much thought after that, as I was busy working on the final revisions on my first novel, Killing Red. Then, in the summer of 2009, Joe approached me with the idea of putting Floaters up on Kindle. By then he was beginning to have some success in the e-book market. I liked the idea, so we each added short stories with introductions, as well as an interview, in order to give the reader more bang for their buck, and launched it in May of that year.

I didn’t see it as a money-making opportunity, necessarily, but more as a way to introduce readers to my work in advance of the release of Killing Red, which was due out in early June.

It turned out to be both.

From the beginning, the sales numbers for Floaters have been steady, and growing. I’ve received many emails from readers who purchased Killing Red after reading Floaters. It worked out exactly as I had hoped, and we began planning a follow-up. Originally, the idea was to have a new Chapa-Daniels novella ready to launch this past July, but other projects and time constraints pushed the date into this fall.

That was no big deal as far as I was concerned. After all, as a conventionally published author, original e-books were primarily a way of generating publicity while making available material I cared about that publishers wouldn’t handle (like novellas). Though I have long believed in the great potential of e-books, I remained unsure of just how big an impact they could have at this time for a relatively new author like me.

Then a lot of things changed all at once.

Mourn the Living, my second thriller, was released on August 3. For two weeks its Amazon numbers, both for the print version as well as the Kindle, were okay. I assume the same was probably true for the retail numbers, but that’s only an assumption at this point.

But on the morning of August 16, when I checked my Amazon numbers, I saw that the e-book version of Mourn the Living was now available as a free download. I knew this was coming—sort of—I knew my publisher planned on doing that as a promotion, but I did not know when, or on which site.

The real shock, however, came when I looked at the book’s rank—number 12 among the freebies. An hour later it was ninth. By midday Mourn the Living was second on the list, and later that afternoon it reached number one.

I was thrilled. What a great way to introduce an unknown author to some of the world’s most dedicated readers. I only wish my publisher had done that with Killing Red. For the next three days, Mourn the Living remained at number 1 on the free download list. The Kindle version of Killing Red (not a freebie) also spiked during that time. All the while, however, the Amazon ranking for the print versions of both books improved only slightly.

When I checked my Amazon numbers on the morning of August 19, I immediately noticed that Mourn the Living was no longer available as a free download. For a moment I thought, Well, that was fun while it lasted.

Then I scrolled down to check my rank—Number 1 on Amazon’s list of bestsellers, ahead Stieg Larsson’s three novels, and Eat, Pray, Love, and Carl Hiaasson, and James Patterson. Number 1 in Books > Literature & Fiction. Number 1 in Books > Suspense, etc. You get the idea.

Mourn the Living held the top spot for several days. During that time, the e-book version of Killing Red moved into the top 100, then the top 50. Floaters also moved up into the top 250.

Over the next week, Mourn the Living was mentioned on numerous blogs, tweeted about, and my inbox traffic jumped from 2-3 pieces of reader and writing business email per week, to 4-6 per day. There was something viral going on, maybe not a full blown pandemic, but something significant.

Mourn the Living stayed in the top 10 for more than a week, in the top 100 for over two weeks. The Amazon numbers for the print versions of my books also improved significantly.

So how did all of this happen? Well, first, it speaks to the awesome power of Amazon. There’s never been anything quite like it in publishing. The opportunities that it affords a writer or publisher to connect directly with readers is unlike anything in the history of publishing.

Second, there is now a definable e-book community. It is large, enthusiastic, and growing exponentially. I say “enthusiastic” because I’ve noticed how many of my Kindle readers have made a point of identifying themselves as such in emails. It’s a community that is plugged in, turned on, and hungry for the next big book or new author discovery.

Now, none of this is meant to suggest that authors should turn their backs on conventional publishing. On the contrary. I’m not one of those who claims to know for certain that the publishing industry will collapse in two, or three, or (insert your own number) years.

The big publishers in New York have the power, resources, and personnel needed to continue to dominate the industry. That may well require a significant change in their business model, but they also have the ability to develop and implement that. Consider that it would have been far more difficult, if not nearly impossible, for me as an individual to achieve the results my publisher got out of a promotion on Amazon.

Ideally, authors should a have a foot in both conventional publishing and e-books, including Amazon exclusives—especially Amazon exclusives. The good news is that being rejected or dropped by New York publishers is no longer a death sentence, not for a book, a series, and certainly not for an author.

Every author, regardless of their success level, now has a powerful outlet for their work. E-books are more than just a tool, though, they represent an important and necessary market for every author. Miss out on the e-book readers, and you’re missing out on the future.

A year ago, I looked at Amazon as a sort of safety net, in case a future book of mine didn’t find a nice home in New York. Three months ago, I thought of it as a viable option, in case a future book of mine didn’t garner the sort of offer I wanted from a traditional publisher. Today, I see it as a vital market, one that I’m certain I will write for directly in the not too distant future. Any other approach would be foolish and short-sighted.

It’s amazing how one’s outlook can change in just a matter of days.

As for that future I thought I saw a few years ago—it’s here, and it’s a lot bigger and much more exciting than I could have imagined.

Joe sez: A few things jump out at me when I hear Henry's story.

The first one is: His publisher had no idea what they were doing. They spent a few bucks to get Amazon to release Mourn the Living as a freebie, but they did it for just four days--one of the shortest free periods I've ever seen since watching the Kindle boards. This was not a vote of confidence on their part.

The fact that it jumped straight to the #1 Paid Bestseller list is impressive, and not a feat I've seen repeated too often. If it was that easy, then every publisher would do that with every book.

This is yet another instance of the Spaghetti Theory so many publishers subscribe to--throwing a bunch of ideas at a wall and seeing if any stick. This one stuck, and it resulted in a decent amount of sales, along with an instant fan-base that Henry will be able to tap into for future books.

I disagree with Henry that NY Publishers will continue to dominate. In fact, this shows why they won't dominate. They simply have no idea what works and what doesn't. You would think that having a #1 Kindle Bestseller would have caused his publisher to somehow capitalize on the notoriety, or follow it up somehow. Perhaps with ads. Perhaps with longer coop. Perhaps by beefing up his Amazon page with an interview, or a video clip. Perhaps by mentioning it on their freakin' website.

Nope. Epic fail. Kensington is not ready for an ebook future.

The second thing I find intriguing is how little his print numbers jumped in rank, even though he had two ebooks in the Top 50. The gap between ebooks and print seems to be widening.

Henry hasn't gotten his numbers yet, but I have no doubt he sold thousands of ebooks. And his rankings on both Chapa titles are still holding firm. While Henry was lucky that his publisher did this promotion, he now needs them less than they need him. He will always be a #1 Bestseller, and the fans he's accrued will no doubt buy more of his work, because he writes good books. He's the brand, not Kensington.

Third, it's pretty obvious but worth mentioning that if readers like something, they buy more. Floaters has sold a modest 200 copies a month since we released it last year. In August it sold over 500 copies, all thanks to the boost Mourn the Living gave it.

Why am I selling 250 ebooks a day? Because I have 27 different ebooks for sale on Amazon.

The more ebooks you have, the more you'll sell.

I'm thrilled Henry is making money and finding readers. And at this point in time, going through a traditional publisher is the only way to make a splash as big as he did.

I've known for years that publishers create bestsellers. Only they have the money, connections, and distribution networks to get books in front of a lot of eyes at once.

But give it time. Amazon is smart, and they're doing a lot right. Plus, authors are figuring this new frontier out faster than publishers are. We've already seen some self-pubbed bestsellers. I have no doubt we'll see some of them hit #1 in the near future.