Diversification in the new Indie landscape

2015Without borrowing too many of the themes expertly highlighted by my esteemed colleague, Russell Blake, in his recent flurry of end of the year, must-read posts (The New Landscape and 2015 Predictions), I want to take a few moments to explore a critical strategy for navigating the new Indie publishing landscape. Diversification.

There’s little doubt that the e-book landscape has changed. From the weakening impact of popular promotional services (if you can even get selected for one of the major services) to a softening of the traditional Indie pricing advantage, most Indies (big and small) have reported a decline in e-book sales and revenue. The launch of Kindle Unlimited remains a key suspect in 2nd half 2014 declines, ironically affecting authors that had taken steps to shield their book portfolios from Amazon by taking their books out of Kindle Select. This is the kind of irony that leaves nobody laughing.

For ebooks, 2014 yielded a seismic shift in the Indie landscape, with after shocks that will be felt long into 2015. 

What can an Indie author do to prepare for 2015? As I sit down to create my 2015 business goals, I look back at 2014, and wonder how I can replicate the year’s sales numbers? Financially, 2014 represented my best year as a writer, and it had little to do with ebooks. That’s not exactly true. It had less to do with ebooks, and more to do with treating the novels as fully exploitable property. It also had to do with seeking completely different opportunities, some of which represented a bit of a risk. 

Before I talk strategies, here’s a brief recap of the basic numbers, which you might find surprising. I certainly did:

Ebook unit sales were down 28.7% in 2014, over 2013—With the addition of 4 relatively successful titles!

Income across all sources was up 51% in 2014 from 2013.

This may have you squinting, because it came as a surprise to me. I knew e-book sales were down, but I hadn’t assembled the full financial picture. This is clearly a business performance I would like to repeat. What did I do differently in 2014, and how will I proceed in 2015?

– I raised the prices of all of my titles, and saw an immediate impact on revenue without a drop in units. I had always hovered in the $3.99 range, with $4.99 the going price for a new release. I bumped that up a dollar in each category. Nothing earth shattering, but it made a difference. I don’t know if these prices will be sustainable in 2015, with the advent of subscription reader services and lower priced “big name” offerings. See Russell Blake’s New Landscape post for an in-depth look. I’ll be watching this aspect closely.

– I started a real mailing list. Prior to going full-time as a writer in the fall of 2013, I handled this task miserably, collecting emails myself. I had “calls to action” at the end of my novels, but they were about as compelling as a cold hamburger. I signed up for MailChimp  and tripled my mailing list using basic strategies found in various Indie help guides. This allowed me to sell a lot of books surrounding each new release, at a good price. When you see over a thousand people on your mailing list click your pre-order link, that’s a good feeling. I sorely wish I had taken this more seriously from the beginning. I’m constantly looking for ways to improve sign-ups. In 2015, I will be giving away free books for readers that sign up.

– Switched Genres. Actually, I went back to my original genre—post apocalyptic. My first novel, The Jakarta Pandemic, launched my early writing career. I wrote four books after Jakarta, all in the covert operations thriller genre. The books fared extremely well from 2012-2013, allowing me to quit my day job, but 2013 marked the beginning of huge resurgence in post-apocalyptic books, particularly prepper-themed books like The Jakarta Pandemic. I started writing The Perseid Collapse Series in late 2013, publishing 3 books in the series in 2014. Trust me when I say, GENRE MATTERS. As a small example, my paper sales are up 210%—all in the post-apocalyptic realm—and the numbers represent 6% of my overall sales. As you can probably guess, I will not stray far from the post-apocalyptic genre in 2015.

– Audiobooks saved 2014. I sold more than 9,000 audiobooks in 2014, most of them in the post-apocalyptic genre, and most of them through pay-per-production deals through ACX. I can’t understate the importance of analyzing your genre and seeing if audiobooks are profitable. My thriller audiobooks (Black Flagged Series) are on a 14 month investment recuperation schedule. I can live with that. My goal is to create viable, long-term income streams. However, my post-apocalyptic (PA) audiobooks earn out within a month, sometimes less than that. Another strong argument for sticking with the post-apocalyptic genre. I won’t hesitate to produce all of my books in 2015.

– Loans through KU/KOLL up 107% over 2013. Not just from Kindle Unlimited. Loans early in the year were strong, though the total numbers were clearly bumped by KU. To date this year, I’ve seen more than 10,000 loans, 60% under KU. Kindle Select has been a benefit for 2014, however, I’m constantly analyzing the landscape, and here’s what I’ve seen and done.

Loans for my Black Flagged series have always lagged behind my PA work, and after a brief Kindle Unlimited boost, they dropped significantly with overall e-book sales in October. My PA work held steady. That gave me enough of a push to take the series out of Select and widen distribution. I’ve heard nothing but good things about iBooks and Kobo, and these rumors proved true. The numbers haven’t reached the break-even point compared to Select, but the trends are positive, and I don’t think this will be a decision I regret. With that said, my post-apocalyptic books will stay in Select for now.

– Kindle Worlds. This has been the biggest surprise of the year in many ways. I started out writing one novella for Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines world. Blake reached out to me in February 2104, asking if I’d be interested in writing in his world—how do you refuse one of your favorite authors? You don’t, especially if you love the Wayward series as much as I do, and found yourself in between projects. I took two weeks to write a 23K world novella, discovering a story arc for a three novella series. I wrote the next two installments in August, once again taking a break between novels. In October, I was contacted by Kindle Worlds and asked to combine the three into an omnibus, which they’ve featured prominently on the Kindle Worlds page.

Shortly after that, I was asked to write a novella for A.G. Riddle’s Atlantis World, which I published in early December. To date, I’ve sold close to 5,000 novellas through Kindle Worlds, establishing a new, unexpected income stream. Sales have been steady, tied to the success of the original series. Not a bad deal at all when your novella shows up on the first or second page of “also boughts” of books consistently ranked in the top hundred paid Kindle titles.

This is my ultimate diversification story. Not only do I receive numerous emails from Blake Crouch’s fans, who have found my work through the novellas, but I’ve managed to strike an incredible deal. Through working extensively with the excellent folks at KW (one gentlemen in particular), I successfully pitched my series as one of their worlds.

On February 3, 2015, The Perseid Collapse Series launches as one of their Kindle Worlds. This would never have happened if I hadn’t decided to take a chance on Kindle Worlds. I’m not telling everyone to run out and write in Kindle Worlds, but I took a chance on this, and it paid off in a way I never expected when the journey began. It’s hard to beat that, but I’ll offer a few more areas to explore.

– Foreign Translations. I’ve dabbled unsuccessfully in this for a few years, but finally managed to attract the attention of Amazon’s foreign translation unit, Amazon Crossing. My first novel will launch in Germany on January 6, 2015, and I hope this represents a new frontier for my books. I’m waiting to see how this novel fares in the German market, and will evaluate the possibility of paying for the translation of follow-on novels. It’s an expensive venture, one I’d prefer to leave in Amazon Crossing’s hands, so I hope Die Jakarta Pandemie does well enough to attract another offer in 2015.  

Live Connections. I attended two conferences this year. BEA in New York City and Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach. At BEA, I met several fantastically helpful authors—all several stratospheres more successful than Steven Konkoly. They’ve all helped me in 2014, one of them in particular. I don’t want to name names, but TR gave me the idea to pitch my series as a Kindle World, and she’s been instrumental in pursuing the foreign translation market. Not only did I meet authors, I had the pleasure of hanging out with the talented crew behind the scenes at KDP, Createspace, Audible, Kindle Worlds and Amazon publishing imprints. I fully intend to repeat this circuit. 

New Series in 2015. Can you guess which genre? I plan to write a three book series in 2015, leaving room for other projects. I don’t know what these projects might be, but that’s half the fun. I’m good for about 450K words in a year, so that leaves me some wiggle room, if not an entire fourth novel.

WHAT AM I MISSING? What are you planning to do differently in 2015, or the same? 




  1. Claude Bouchard says:

    Excellent post, Steve. I also upped my prices on two occasions during 2014 and saw no volume declines. Now to work on many other aspects to boost sales and revenues. It’s a nasty job but my boss is a helluva great guy. 🙂 Happy Holidays and a marvelous 2015 to you and yours.

  2. Matt Patterson says:

    I truly needed this!!!! Thank you Claude for sharing and thank you Steve for the insight! Sitting down and doing my business goals for 2015 – the timing couldn’t have been better. My boss? He overthinks a lot, but has a good heart.

    • Steven Konkoly says:

      My pleasure sharing, Matt. My boss overthinks a lot too, which is why I leave about 100K words open for spontaneous opportunities. Who am I kidding? Those 100K words are accounted for, just not as strictly. Have a great 2015.

  3. bidinotto says:

    Great post, Steve. Your output is awesome, in quantity and quality. I hope in 2015 to ramp mine up to about 10% of yours! But your other points are intriguing and fodder for much thought. Thanks so much for sharing them.

    • Steven Konkoly says:

      Thanks, Robert. In terms of daily word count, I’m writing less than before, but since I do it every day, I come out with 2X the words at the end of the year. Any more than that would see a quality drop. I’d like to see 20% from you…gets another Bidinotto book on the market late 2015-early 2016. 😉

  4. Rachel Aukes says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, Steve. My 2015 plan is similar to yours. My focus will be in the apocalyptic genre, and I plan to leverage collaborations and temporary bundles next year. I have three novels and a couple short stories planned right now.

    • Steven Konkoly says:

      Rachel, looks like you have a nice head start in the genre. Will you continue the Deadland Saga, or shift to a new series? I think I’m finding that 3-4 books is the sweet spot for a series…for me. After that, I start to drift. Sounds like a solid plan. Do you publish the short stories yourself, or in a compilation?

      • Rachel Aukes says:

        My Deadland series will end with book 3. We must have similar styles and energies–I find storylines tend to be wrapped up in ~3 books. I’ve never been one for neverending series.

        All three new novels I’m writing in 2015 are standalones with series potential (including the collaboration). Two are apocalyptic, and one is post-apocalyptic, and I’m pretty excited to get started on them.

        As for the short stories, one is for a bundle with other authors while the other is for a wattpad exclusive. I find the Kindle Worlds an interesting model, and want to do a bit of research to see if I’d be a fit. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences!

  5. Sever Bronny says:

    Fantastic post, Steven, thank you for sharing your insights! I think hedging your bets with Select by having some in and some out is definitely the way to go. There is so much variety and so many variables in tactics that we each must experiment on our own to see what works.

    I look forward to seeing next year’s conclusions 😀

    Congratz on all your success, well earned!

    • Steven Konkoly says:

      Thanks, Sever. Genre has everything to do with my decision to keep one series in Select. I see good numbers, with little decline. If that changes, I’ll reevaluate. I agree about the tactics. So many out there, that it’s almost too overwhelming to try them all.

      • Sever Bronny says:

        That’s why it’s so critical to share what we learned. I gave away my entire marketing campaign on my blog. We are each other’s mentors, and we stand on the shoulders of gentle giants (Blake, Howey, etc). It’s an exciting time to be an author, isn’t it? There are no excuses as we are responsible for our own destinies.

      • Steven Konkoly says:

        I’ve learned far more from others than myself (if that even makes sense) during the past few years. Marketing plan on your blog? I’m headed there next. I guarantee I’ll find something useful. Thanks, Sever.

  6. Patricia Wilson says:

    As a fan I can appreciate your reason behind raising the price of your books by a dollar. I don’t see any problem with that. Look how much we pay for a movie ticket and we can’t take the movie home with us. I had far rather be entertained by a Steven Konkoly book that spend my dollars on a movie anyway. I can run a whole Steven Konkoly movie in my head. However, I am a little concerned with the price boost of one of my favorite writers. His books are fantastic and the price was just right till he raised them to $8.00. I’m thinking his decision was probably based on pressure by whoever manages his sales for I noticed no decline in his sales. Personally I will continue to buy his books because he is a great writer and he really has only four novels and two novellas at this time. Were he a more prolific writer I might have a problem with it. Also, the length of a book is a big determining factor in the price I am willing to pay but still I have a limit. Take for instance a favorite historical author whose ebooks are priced at $20.00. I hesitate to purchase his latest because I’m thinking I can wait and pick up a used paperback in a few months. Is this too much information from just a reader. Sorry, Steve. Maybe I should mind my nose.

    • Steven Konkoly says:

      Patricia, your input is invaluable. I’m very sensitive about pricing, from a business perspective and a reader perspective. Honestly, I’d balk at an $8 price for an ebook, unless it was one of my “tried and true” authors. I still pay that for some of my favorites, but if they launched 3-4 books per year, I’d have the same reaction. By raising my prices a dollar, I’m pushing against the top edge of what most Indies charge for ebooks. I wouldn’t feel comfortable charging more at this point in my career. I also adjust the prices based on length. My next release, Dispatches, will be shorter than the rest of the Perseid Series books, so I’ll launch it at a lower price. I try to be fair to my readers. Thanks for sharing your viewpoint, Patricia. Without reader input, we’re just a bunch of authors guessing what might work. 😉

      • Patricia Wilson says:

        I will gladly bend over and receive my due punishment but, as you extend that foot toward my posterior consider my age. Then again, at my age I should know better. I apologize for having criticized a talented writer for the price of his books. I am ashamed of myself for I have just learned that he has recently signed a book deal and has no control over the price set for his books. While I remain loyal to certain favorite indies I am at the same time very proud of the writer I was so blindly critical of. Like the old saying goes, open mouth insert foot. In the future I vow never to make negative comments concerning a good writer. I will continue to be thankful for the dedicated writers who share their talents so graciously with the likes of me. Please forgive me.

  7. A.O. says:

    Hi Steven,

    When you say your ebook sales were down, but income was still up in 2014 compared to 2013, do you include audiobooks and other ancillary income to that or are you just talking about ebook revenue? If that’s just ebooks, then it’s a fantastic result despite falling sales numbers!

    • Steven Konkoly says:

      AO, I’ll need to rewrite the sentence to be clearer. I meant income across all sources. Yes, it would be a fantastic result if I could have made money despite falling unit numbers. At some point, I’ll drill into the data and determine the monetary comparison by ebooks only.

      • A.O. says:

        I figured it had to be that, but it’s still impressive, and drives the point home: diversify your revenue stream! I’m doing that with audiobooks, and I hope to move into other areas. Thanks for this post, it’s extremely helpful.

    • Steven Konkoly says:

      I’m glad you found it helpful. I hope the audiobooks boost your revenue. I had trepidation signing the first pay per finished hour contract, even with a track record of sales in my first post-apoc novel. I had signed a traditional production deal a few years back, where I only saw 15% of net (they took all the risk with no idea how it would sell—brave souls). That audiobook sold thousands of copies, which emboldened me to pursue audiobooks as a pay for production deal. Good luck in 2015.

  8. cAROL says:

    I’m replying as a reader. This is my third attempt to leave a reply so delete others today. I found this post extremely interesting and very informative about how the Amazon thing works for Indies.
    As far as pricing – my limit is 9.99 and have only paid more maybe two times – but I do not hesitate to go up to 9.99 for fiction. Once you’ve got a fan base, they should understand that it’s time to make a living so you can give us more. I do look at size. I want to spend some time with a book. I read several hours a day but Kindle Unlimited has no appeal for me. I’ve never “borrowed” a book or loaned a book. If I want to share a book, I gift it. If I want to read it, I buy it. The receiver can always turn it into credit. I’ve never bought an audio book. I do read translations from a Finnish author. Pursuing that area should prove lucrative, but only, if you’ve got a skilled translator. If German sales go well, that will open up a whole new world for you.
    I’m glad to see you planning so painstakingly. That helps assure future reading for your fans.
    I hate to see you restrict yourself to post apocalyptic fiction; although, your PA is better than the traditional hardcore. Your writing is very descriptive. You do action scenes well, extremely well. You’re amazingly descriptive. I cherish detail. You create very real characters. You have very intricate plots. Your skills lend themselves to other than spy or PA. Spy novels, even yours, are not for me. I bought Jakarta because it was about a flu pandemic, not because it was PA. I like reading about pandemics – nonfiction or fiction. Amazon marketing brought it to my attention but I don’t remember how. Their marketing must have gone beyond PA. I think I found it searching for flu books.
    In terms of long term planning………..look at Amazon Prime Video.
    Jakarta would make a great movie. Perseid would make a great series. Amazon can walk you through it. I think this is their second year in producing original video. Amazon Original Video is producing a series on Harry Bosch created by one of my favorite authors, Michael Connelly. Check it out. What they produce, is decided by Amazon Prime members. This would really create the revenue.

    Glad you are planning. Just don’t put any limitations on yourself. Concentrating on PA is self limiting, but I don’t want to stop reading about the family featured in Jakarta and Perseid. I really appreciate you.

    • Steven Konkoly says:

      Carol, I always enjoy reading your perspective on writing—from a reader’s point of view. I need more of this. At the moment, I don’t feel like I’m constraining myself, though I would love to sneak out to a cabin in the woods (maybe a spa resort would be better) and finish the last book in the Black Flagged series. I love the intricate, nuanced covert ops/espionage storytelling. I predict one more year and one more solid PA series before I’m in a position to truly write “whatever” I want. I have a ton of ideas in different genres—horror, YA dystopian…the stories will get out there at some point. Thank you for the encouragement.

      I’ll have to check out the Amazon Original Video. I’ve watched a few, and enjoyed them. I think I saw a few pilots, but didn’t realize you could vote on them. Intriguing. I’m checking this out today. Perseid, or Jakarta would make a great series.

  9. Randall J. Morris says:

    Thanks for the breakdown of your year. I still write but just as a hobby for now as I’m working on getting my law degree. I’m trying to get my second 70K word novel done before next semester starts back up. I also raised the price on my first novel (working on a three book series: Minor Demons, Middle Demons, and Major Demons) from $3.99 to $4.99 and saw no decline in sales. Sales of non-fiction are pretty consistent from year to year as well. I’m at a little over 600 books sold for the year and I’m totally cool with that because it’s just a fun hobby that makes a small side income for now and it’s close to double what I sold in 2013. I respect people like you that are writing like crazy and selling in the tens of thousands. It takes guts and lots of dedication. Congrats.

    • Steven Konkoly says:

      Congratulations, Randall. Law school and writing? My wife is an attorney, and based on her stories from law school, I have to give you credit for squeezing out any additional time or brainpower to write. That’s nothing but guts and dedication…that’s really how it’s done. I wrote at 4 in the morning when I had a “regular” job, gradually building up my portfolio of books. Before you know it, you’ll have your degree and three books. Not a bad place to be. Best of luck to you.

  10. John Ellsworth says:

    Just a terrific post. i learned SO much by reading it. I’m in my 12th month of publication and this was exactly what I needed to read at the exact time. I’ll be taking a look at your books and reading you. The info on audio is also greatly appreciated. We’re looking at that right now, but I don’t want a royalty-share deal so we’re working to put together enough $ to pay up front. I believe that’s the only way I’ll feel good about it. Also thinking of doing it myself–but my wife hates that idea and so, well…

    Thanks again.

    • Steven Konkoly says:

      I think you’re smart to save $ and pay up front for audio. I know it’s a kick in the shins, but you’ll be glad you did it, especially if audiobooks do well in your genre. That’s the only thing you have to investigate. Trust your wife’s instincts! I had the same idea until my wife made me listen to one of my voicemails. I do not have a narrator voice.

      Congrats on a killer first 12 months. You have quite selection of popular and well reviewed legal thrillers. You’re doing a hell of a lot better than I was doing in my first 12 months!

  11. mackaybell says:

    So, my take away is that all the different ways you use Amazon services to make money proves the New York Times is right: Amazon hates writers. Or did I get that backwards?

    • Steven Konkoly says:

      I get confused as well. 😉 This NYT phenomena was one of the top reasons that I decided to do a 2014 recap. Nothing but doom and gloom about Amazon screwing authors and the entire Indie industry collapsing. End of days talk. Would I prefer that Kindle Unlimited paid me a more for borrows of my books? Of course. Is it the end of the world as we know it if they don’t? Will the value of books deteriorate to the point where I have to give them away free and hope to peddle t-shirts on my website? No. Like you said on TPV. This is more like a complicated market place than an Indie firing squad wall. I’m optimistic about 2015, but I feel alone at times…and I’m fine with that.

  12. ChloeG says:

    Found you on TPV, glad to have your insight on how diversifying is working for you. I’ve considered audiobooks a number of times, but every time I go look at the ACX site and read about whispersync, I balk. Why does anyone buy an audiobook for $15+ when they can get an e-book plus an audiobook for (looking at your prices) $7? It looks to me like, at $2 per sale and 40% royalty, they would never pay out. Do you just not see the cannibalization of sales that I would have anticipated?

    • Steven Konkoly says:

      Great question, Chloe. I’ve seen a small deterioration in royalty per sold unit, which I assume can only be explained by whispersync. Royalty per book has slipped from $7 to $6 since the spring. 75% of my audiobook sales in a given month come from Audible member credits, which payout at a steady rate. About 15% come from Audible members purchasing outside of the credit system…and this is where I see a lower, $5 royalty average. I try to look at whispersynch as a combined sale. At $4.99 an ebook and $1.99 (most at 50%+ for royalties) for the audiobook, I’m seeing $4.48 per customer for the group that takes advantage of whispersynch. Not great, but workable if you look at it as a combined sale to once customer. I hope that made sense…it’s early.

  13. DeNifty1 says:

    Your books are an awesome read. Just to put your mind more at ease the increase in price isn’t a big deal to me. Anything under $6 I tend to just buy unless it is a novella then I tend to not want to spend more than $3 unless I have read the author. I do like the fact that you want to stick to 3-4 books in a series. I spent more then I would like on the Silo series and wished I had just waited till the omnibus but I have to give it to Hugh he is an awesome storyteller as well. The Amazon Worlds idea is pretty cool as well and I am glad you got into that. That would seem to be an awesome way to generate even more sales as well.

    • Steven Konkoly says:

      Thank you for reaching out with kind words. Really appreciated. I think 3-4 books in a series is the sweet spot for readers and writers, unless you’ve created an expansive Game of Thrones-like world.

      Yes, Hugh is fantastic. His Silo series has captured the imagination of millions…hundreds of thousands. I’ve lost track. I got interested in Kindle Worlds through Blake Crouch, who is another stellar story-teller, and wrote a three part series (3 novellas) for his Wayward world. Genesis is the omnibus for those three, which comes in at novel size. Too much fun.

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