May 16, 2011

Guest Post: Rob Walker

Filed under: Great Reads,The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:28 am

Titanic 2012

Many readers know that I am following the new e frontier avidly. Writers whose work I admire, such as Karen McQuestion, have been great friends to me as I explore this territory. I never fail to recommend Joe Konrath’s megaphone of a blog, and I’ve used the Barry Eisler/Amanda Hocking polar opposite decision as the basis for more than one tweet or post title.

So today I am excited to welcome Rob Walker, another whose name belongs in these hallowed halls. Is hallowed the right word? There’s a brashness, a tent revival quality, to those who believe digital reading will decimate books–that books are just the T Rex who doesn’t know the meteor has landed yet. And yet–maybe the prophets are right. I don’t know myself, of course, but I offer Rob’s words, and his evidence of success, as another in the voice this conversation raises.

Enjoy! And in your comments please feel free to proclaim the truth–as you know it.

Rob Walker

eBooks & On Becoming an Indie Author/Publisher

Why Go All Independent Author on Us, Rob? (Part I)

The following few lines taken form my ebook Titanic 2012 might stand in as a metaphor for the condition of Legacy publishing right now. Just replace the idea of a caved-in mine with traditional publishing… (lol):

The day had ended with little to show for and mine superintendent McAffey remained frustrated and upset. He knew from experience it’d take days if not a week to get the men comfortable enough about this section of the mine to even begin to clean up the mess where some timbers had given way. “Hell, amounts to a sneeze,” he said to the man beside him.

“Minor inconvenience at best,” agreed Francis O’Toole.  “Thank God, no one’s been kilt; two injured and off to hospital’s all.”

E-books and the electronic readers like the kindle are suddenly legion at schools, at writers conferences, even at, ironically enough, bookstores. I will never forget at a book signing when a lady pushing a baby carriage stopped by long enough to reach into the carriage and pull out her kindle, which she proudly flashed before us, asking me and my wife, Miranda, “Are your books on Kindle?” We were ready for her, both of us replying, “Yes indeed.”

3 Million plus Kindle e-readers have been sold since December of this year, and Mother’s Day is likely to see a huge number sold as well—perhaps more; at least this is the number I keep seeing in articles in The New Yorker and Newsweek. In other words, the future is upon us and traditional publishing has reason to be concerned even if they don’t know it.  More and more authors are taking control of their content and making decisions that impact the content—what they create.

Traditionally, the working arrangement between publisher and writer has been one of you turn over your creation and the publisher “takes all the risks” as if you are taking no risks in spending months if not years on a manuscript. However, since you are taking “no risks” like those faced by the publisher—business risks—the notion is that you are now passive cargo and worth about 8 to 10 percent of each “unit” sold. Now all decision making is out of your hands, and you are supposed to go write another book in the event the first one sells well. Meanwhile, the publisher’s team—all of whom have pensions and paychecks—make the important decisions of pricing, placing, marketing, packaging, title, down to the font and colors on the cover.

In other words, all decisions are made by committee. Think totem pole and the author is at the bottom, and wasn’t a camel a horse designed by committee? My point is when the book fails, the guy at the bottom of the totem pole is the one blamed as his/her numbers of unit sales is too low. So the business model for the author is pretty bleak, and has been since Guttenberg’s invention of the printing press; ninety nine percent of all novelists in the world cannot live on what they earn as writers. Could you live on eight percent of what you sell without health benefits or pension?

That said, let’s turn now to the business model for the author who is now an Independent Author/Publisher—and for starters, the Kindle contract is not an 8-10% cut but a 70/30 split with the 70 going to the author! Aside from this, the author makes all the decisions to package and price the book, no title fights, no arguments over hardcover vs. trade vs. mass market as none of these designations apply in e-books. The added attraction to doing e-books is control and a sense of freedom.

Publishers are as interested in change as glaciers, and for good reason—as they “take all the risks”.  This is no more evident than now with the sudden growth of e-readers and e-readership as the big houses like Random House and Penguin and others are warring with over price-setting. They have always controlled the prices, but now suddenly millions of avid readers, rabid readers if you will (Kindle readers can go through forty books in a week) want their books at less than ten dollars—as Bezos, the head of Amazon promised them—“You buy a Kindle, no Kindle book on Amazon [will be] more than 9.99.”

Fact is, Bezos wants the world to have access to any book you or I want “at the moment” or as close to NOW as Whispernet can make it happen. This is why Bezos named his device “Kindle” to “kindle the passion in readers and non-readers alike.”

By using the A-B-C directions at, I now have some 43 novels for sale online via Kindle Book Store on The e-books for out of print titles may require getting a company like to convert an actual book to a scan to doc, and once you have a doc file it must be converted to HTML—which can be the most difficult part of the steps involved. If you already have a doc file of the book in question, you won’t have to send off a book to be scanned. I used Blue Leaf because their prices are three times cheaper than anyone else doing book scanning.

The most trouble involved in the process is converting the file to html and then in reviewing it, correcting the errors that will inevitably come up in the process of conversion—sometimes quite time consuming. However, I have it on good authority that a file can be converted with ease by sending it to a friend who is on gmail. I’ve only just recently learned of this shortcut, but it sounds promising and I will use it in future.

Meanwhile, once the html conversion is complete, once done and placed up on your Kindle dashboard, the rest is smooth sailing. The results in terms of sales are astonishing.  In the old business model with traditional publishing, wisdom has it that you price the book at the top end—as high as the market will bear. However, in the e-book model, the readers expect and demand low end pricing, very low end pricing. They are savvy readers who know that putting a book onto Kindle is a snap compared to printing on paper, paying for paper, warehousing paper, overhead for paper, paying PR people, paying marketing director and his staff, etc. are no longer relevant tasks.  Since all of this “goes away” in the e-book world, the readers expect far cheaper books in the manner Bezos envisioned – and why not?

It is for this reason that I listed most of my forty plus books on Kindle for $1.99 and $2.99. The books at this low end rate are selling like a river flowing, while my three titles placed up by Harper Collins—priced at exactly the same price as the paper books at $6.99—are sitting there like three stones (no sale) while my novels like Children of Salem at $2.99 are my bestselling titles. I earned 400 dollars last month on books priced at the lowest end of the scale, while my hardcover novel in the same month earned zip.  In one year, I earned (after repaying advance, after packager’s 20 percent, after all overhead costs) a mere 141 dollars on my traditionally published hardcover DEAD ON, while in one month, I earned 400 dollars on my lowly $1.99 and $2.99 specials.  What does this kind of economic comparison say about the old way of doing things and the new way of doing things?

Part IIYour Guide to Independent Authorship Found Here will continue tomorrow. Hope to see you back in your seat, ears alert, right here next time for the particulars of getting started in this brave new world of becoming an Indie Author.

Robert W. Walker has taught writing in all its permutations (“All writing is creative writing but not all writing sings,”) from composition and development to a study of the literary masters to advanced creative writing. His first novel was one only an arrogant youth could have conceived — a sequel to Huckleberry Finn (now published as Daniel & The Wrongway Railway, Royal Fireworks Press, NY), but his first suspense-techno-thriller-sf-mystery came in 1979, after college, a novel that won no awards entitled SUB-ZERO.


  1. Interesting interview. Thanks for the follow buttons! I am a new follower GFC. Would love a follow on my blog when you have a moment. Thanks. Donna

    Review on Long drive home by Will Allison going up tomorrow morning.

    Comment by My Life. One Story at a Time. — May 16, 2011 @ 10:08 am

  2. Welcome, Donna! I love your blog–soothing and inspiring to visit.

    Comment by jenny — May 16, 2011 @ 10:52 am

  3. Love your point of view! I love the feeling of a book in my hands, the smell of the paper…and frankly, I use the library a lot because I can’t afford to but books at $25 or so a pop. I also received a Kindle as a gift and have used it — there are a lot of plusses to it, too. I’m not sure we’ll really ever see a complete decimation of the printed book, though.

    Comment by Judy — May 16, 2011 @ 10:52 am

  4. I think Judy’s got a wonderfully balanced view–truly appreciates the virtues of both media. I personally hope this is always true…

    Comment by jenny — May 16, 2011 @ 10:59 am

  5. Wow, this is really a lot of food for thought. I’ve been an “I will go the traditional route” aspirant for decades, with no luck, and am now cautiously toeing toward the e-route…maybe… I will definitely be sharing this link. Thanks for the insights.

    Comment by Savvy — May 16, 2011 @ 11:52 am

  6. I’m very excited to see what happens next for you, Savvy!

    Comment by jenny — May 16, 2011 @ 12:02 pm

  7. Hey – that looks like a great book!

    Comment by Alison DeLuca — May 16, 2011 @ 12:59 pm

  8. Publishing on Kindle is easy. Selling on Kindle is much harder. I’ve sold 333 “units” in 2 years. Considering each unit sells for 99 cents and I get 70-35% of that, I’m not exactly rolling in cash. But if you’re good at marketing you can make some decent spare cash with it. Not enough to quit your day job, but to help pay some bills.

    Comment by Paul Madden — May 16, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

  9. Great and informative post, Jenny! Fascinating to hear Rob’s comments. I can attest to the demand for ebooks increasing. In March, I was at the Tucson Festival of Books, and 1 out of every 5 questions had to be “is this available for (insert e-reader brand here)?” What I’ve been interested to notice is that readers are not dividing into camps – it’s not only e-reader OR traditional book. Dedicated readers use both, and look at e-readers as a way to have access to their books in more formats and more places. I love watching the publishing paradigm shift, and think publishers in both formats need to adjust their current models to suit the future.

    Comment by Chantelle Aimée — May 16, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

  10. I appreciate hearing your balanced point of view, Paul. It is interesting that the Kindle landscape–like the print landscape–seems to be shaping up similarly: there are some who are mega hit producers, and many, many more who are solid or just have some sales. But insofar as it’s harder and harder to be a midlist author, digital publishing seems to open that avenue up again.

    Comment by jenny — May 16, 2011 @ 2:33 pm

  11. Welcome, Chantelle! I really appreciate hearing the picture of the future you paint. I would love it to go just as you say–with room for both!

    Comment by jenny — May 16, 2011 @ 2:37 pm

  12. Hello all — lurking here, HA. As to Titanic sounds like a good book, I discovered a new review up at Amazon today that says it all. If you get a chance, check out my reviews. On the subject of SELLING ebooks there are two places you ought to have a look-see at. One is of course Joe Konrath’s Newbie’s Guide to Publising, and the other is a thread I began on “What Moves Kindle Bks. off the Shelf” a KDP – kidle community forums. Right beside your Reports for your kindle title click on community…then scroll to author/publisher voice of…click on that….the forums then come up. Many deal with great ideas for pushin a book and mine has been a recommended Amazon/Kindle 101 Class for some time now….and the thing has gone to 73 pgs, closing in on 39,000 views, something like 1050 or more replies. Love to see y’all there.

    Rob Walkabout Walker

    Comment by Robert W. Walker — May 16, 2011 @ 3:03 pm

  13. Very cool article, Rob! I must admit to fumbling around with any publicity for my book INHUMAN CONDITION. Although it has recieved really great reviews, I am usually at a loss to know what to do about it. I’m a solid bottom-of-the-list seller. Thanks for giving me some great ideas – look forward to the next installment!
    –Kate Thornton

    Comment by Kate Thornton — May 16, 2011 @ 4:06 pm

  14. Hiya Kate! Just wanted to give a shout out for INHUMAN CONDITION–this is high on my TBR pile, but I have read other of Kate’s short fiction and it is GREAT.

    Comment by jenny — May 16, 2011 @ 4:19 pm

  15. Great post Rob! It’s so exciting to be in the wild, wild west of epublishing days.

    Comment by Johanna — May 16, 2011 @ 4:44 pm

  16. Thank you, Rob. I have books on Kindle, but am struggling with the promo. Maybe you could talk about that, too. I know you’re a genius with the boards and discussion groups. They overwhelm me.

    Comment by Donna — May 16, 2011 @ 7:22 pm

  17. Great insight, Rob. I’m so glad I went the e-book route. I’m having a great time. I get to make all of the decisions, and making much more per book than the traditional way. If I’d gone with that way, I’d be waiting for a release date, in about 9 months, and forget getting two books out in a year, alone three or four.

    Thanks for reinforcing the indie process.


    Comment by Rick Murcer — May 16, 2011 @ 8:09 pm

  18. I’m glad to hear about your success, Rob. My Indie publishing experiment is off to a slow start — but I figure I still have over a year before I would have gotten the book out traditionally, so plenty of time for things to take off (fingers crossed).

    Kris Bock
    Rattled: romantic suspense in the dramatic and deadly southwestern desert
    Read the first three chapters:
    paperback $7.99, e-book $2.99:

    Comment by Kris Bock — May 16, 2011 @ 9:06 pm

  19. Glad to see you Johanna, Donna, Rick, and Kris! More promo tips to come from Rob, and yes, the so-called slow build can be the best kind of all, I think.

    Comment by jenny — May 16, 2011 @ 9:30 pm

  20. Couple of quick things you can do – have someone you trust implicitely, a great reader, to read your book’s description to be sure not a single lettr has been letf out or missspelled like this and that it is compelling as all get out. Should read as the most important story you ever tell, the short story about your story.

    In chat groups, on facebook, twitter, kindle community forums and boards…Put it out there how you came to the fascinating TITLE of your book…how special your title is to you personally….how long you worked with said title and the fact with Indie publishing no one can change it on you…excetpt YOU. So no title fights, hehehehe.

    Also sometime or other put it out there about your SETTING – discussion point, how your book’s setting is key to the story, fits it like a glove, could not be told any other place. You’d be surprised how many people, learning of your Setting alone and how much it means to you (even if it is Iowa…I think only Ed Gorman can make Iowa fascinating for me)…My own settings take on a life and character of their own. Speak of your passion for the locations (more than one?) in your book (repeat title)

    Also sometime or other challenge people to dare to become extras in your Work in Progress – from waiter to victim, you put out a casting call for names you might use and abuse in your fictional tale with the caveat anything could and might well happen to them. My last book had like 15 such extras in the book…they were all warned that nobody survives in Bayou Wulf except the lead, Dr. Abe Stroud. I also made it clear that their death would be brutal and at the hands or rather claws and teeth of werewolves with Cajun accents.

    Many more ideas at my KDP thread “What Moves Kindles etc.” on kindle community forums, 39,000 views and not one rancorous comment, all positive, people helpling people.


    Comment by Robert W. Walker — May 16, 2011 @ 11:08 pm

  21. I’m so pleased to hear of you success, Rob. Last year was amazing for me as well. I was almost ready to give up writing novels, then I refocused on e-books and now my Detective Jackson series is a bestseller on Kindle. It’s paying the mortgage too. It’s all about price and accessibility.

    Comment by L.J. Sellers — May 17, 2011 @ 12:36 am

  22. I think that the more traditional publishing resists the inevitable change of the new e world, the more they jeopardize having any place in it. Thanks, Rob for such an informative and honest appraisal of the indie process.

    Comment by Karyne — May 17, 2011 @ 10:02 am

  23. Rob: Thanks so much for the encouragement. I’m in the process of editing and revising a self published book as well as one whose rights reverted to me from a major publishing house years ago. When this is done I plan on making them both available as ebooks. Might even create a series out of the latter. Will I make a ton of money? Probably not, but I’ll know that regardless of whether a publisher decides the ‘material is right for them’, there will be readers out there and that I’ll have a voice.

    Comment by Vivian — May 17, 2011 @ 11:54 am

  24. I’ve never heard of that gmail shortcut by sending a file to a friend. I wonder if you have yahoo and gmail accounts if you can send it back and forth to yourself instead of to a friend.

    Morgan Mandel

    Comment by Morgan Mandel — May 17, 2011 @ 6:04 pm

  25. I’m not ready to self-publish, but I can see many benefits to it, especially if you have a large backlist of novels. You’re doing away with the middleman, namely a publisher, and making books more affordable for readers.
    Writers who can’t get their books published in the traditional way have an opportunity for exposure as well. Lots of pluses.

    Jacqueline Seewald
    THE TRUTH SLEUTH–coming May 18th from Five Star/Gale

    Comment by Jacqueline Seewald — May 17, 2011 @ 6:57 pm

  26. Rob, you’re my guru as far as Kindle is concerned. Speaking of out-of-print books, of my 8 mysteries on Kindle, THIRTEEN DIAMONDS, first published in 2000, has been my bestseller for months. Only in the last few days does my newest book, FORGET TO REMEMBER, appear to be taking over top spot. After much trial and error, since I’m not Grisham or Grafton, I’m pricing all my books at .99.

    Comment by Alan Cook — May 17, 2011 @ 7:03 pm

  27. Alan – I would reThink placing all your titles at 99c. I just have done a small percentage at 99c just to entice readers to buy into my 2.99 titles. A big difference in your CUT now — your 70/30 for a sale at 2.99 is lost at 99c. At the lower price you get 35/65…so that Amazon sees it as worth their while….Since you are talking about 8 titles, think more like two at the lower price. I have mine on a scale. 99c, 1.99, 2.99, 3.99. Actually, when Amazon made it anything less than 2.99 as the lower percentage points, I placed all my titles at 2.99 and then later selected titles not doing well and those I dropped. Five of nearly fifty, a small percent.

    Wow, I am so pleased that my article has helped youZ guyZ. You all need to find my marketing thread that has gone now to 39,500 views, 1100 comments, and 75 pgs. You find it this way. Go to your Reports. Right beside reports is Community. click on comm. and scroll down to voice of the Author/Publisher….this opens on the various forums. Find mine under “What Mioves Kindle bks. off Shelves” with the move misspelled.

    Rob Again…like gum on your shoe…

    Comment by Robert W. Walker — May 17, 2011 @ 8:40 pm

  28. Rob,

    You are always helpful in giving us instruction and inspiration. Thanks!

    Comment by June Shaw — May 17, 2011 @ 11:59 pm

  29. hey, Rob, *my* novel, “Conflict of Interest” IS set in Iowa! But readers are still finding it interesting (it’s getting 4-5 star reviews on Amazon). Betcha I could keep your interest. :)

    As for the rest of it, excellent post, of course. Looking forward to the next installment. Can always use additional pointers for increasing sales.

    Conflict of Interest
    a crime novel by Lauryn Christopher

    Comment by Lauryn Christopher — May 18, 2011 @ 7:02 pm

  30. Rob, is there a way to get to the Kindle community thread if you’re not the one who put up the book? Both of mine are coming out in 2012, but I don’t have the rights. My publisher does. I’d love to read the thread, though, since I’d like to be as informed as possible before it all goes live. Thanks! (And thank you, Jenny, for having Rob on today.)

    Comment by Jaden Terrell — May 19, 2011 @ 10:59 am

  31. Hi, Jaden :) Welcome!

    Comment by jenny — May 19, 2011 @ 9:36 pm

  32. JADEN — write me at and I will get a direct url for you….else check my facebook page where I have posted it.


    Comment by Robert W. Walker — May 20, 2011 @ 12:11 pm

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