Monday, October 24, 2011

Unanswerable Questions?

Keith here.

Is there one universe or many? What is the meaning of life? What happened to Jimmy Hoffa?

There are some questions that just cannot be answered.

As readers of this blog know, I am undertaking an experiment in e-publishing. My first two novels, both published in trade paper, did fine (and continue to sell). But I couldn't resist climbing aboard the ebook express and so I uploaded my latest effort, Drop By Drop: A Thriller, onto,, Smashwords, and Apple's iBookstore. Generally, all seems to be going well. While I miss bookstore signings, the fact I have already made more in royalties on Drop than on my last traditionally published book provides some solace.

But in the world of e-publishing, mysteries abound. There are questions for which I have no answers. Here are four:

1. How do people find out about an ebook original? I tried a little experimental advertising of Drop By Drop -- sales were not affected. Drop was greeted by a bunch of online reviews which definitely helped. Lately, there have been fewer. Still, sales have not gone down and are even trending upward. My experience is not unique. I have spoken to a couple of friends whose books were made available on the Kindle with little uptake. Only months later did their sales zoom. Why? They don't know. There's an invisible hand at work, I guess.

2. Living as I do in Silicon Valley, a few miles away from 1 Infinite Loop (Apple HQ), many readers tell me they have purchased their copy of Drop from the iBookstore. I also read about authors selling scads of books on So here's the question: Why do I sell 20 times more books on Amazon than Barnes and Noble's and 9 times more than on Apple's iBookstore?

3. The United States has about 312 million people. The United Kingdom has about 64 million or about 20% as many. According to estimates, 750M paper-and-ink books were sold in the US in 2010 and 229M in the UK or about 30% as many. I did some Googling. According to these links, US ebook sales were $441M in 2010 and in the UK were £180M or about 60% of the US total. So why am I selling 80 times more books on this month than on

4. My second book, Smasher, made it onto a national bestseller list and was optioned for film. Reviews in paper-and-ink newspapers and mystery and publishing magazines were great. Drop By Drop was reviewed only in online publications. Smasher sells for $2.99 and Drop for $3.99. Nevertheless, Drop is selling 14 times more copies than Smasher on so far this month. How come?

Attention: there may be a Nobel Prize in store for whoever can answer the first question of this post, but all you get for answering any of the four ebook questions is my thanks and appreciation.


Vicki Doudera said...

These questions are right up there with the other great unanswerables, such as: What happens to half of all pairs of socks?

Congrats on sales of "Drop," Keith. Your experience certainly gives the rest of us food for thought.

Shannon said...

The answers, my friend, are blowin' i the wind. But whatever you're doing, keep it up!

Robin Allen said...

Even with all the unsanswerable mysteries, your success is encouraging!

Keith Raffel said...

Vicki, Shannon, Robin, thanks for giving some thought to my questions. I guess as Churchill said of Russia, it's "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."

Beth Groundwater said...

Man, those are tough questions, Keith, and anyone who has the answers could probably make a mint from all of us authors who are puzzling over similar issues.

Darrell James said...

Keith- I get the feeling that if you solved the "universe question" first you'd have the answer to the four eBook questions. I promise to give it all some thought after three or four glasses of wine on the patio tonight.

Sebastian Stuart said...

and now amazon is publishing direct, it just paid someone 600k for her book. definite shakeout happening in the industry. You're definitely riding the wave -- congrats!

Alan Orloff said...

Lots of questions, and with each passing day, it seems more crop up. Please keep us updated on your ebook successes--some of us are taking notes!

Jess Lourey said...


That's always my answer when I'm unsure. I'm thrilled with your success, though!

Keith Raffel said...

Beth and Sebastian, not making a mint or even $600k - yet. Alan and Jess, if you put your heads together, I'll bet your 400 points of IQ could come up with some good answers. Darrell, between glasses of cabernet, maybe you could put Diana on the case.

Lois Winston said...

Hey, Keith, anyone from Jersey can tell you where Jimmy Hoffa is. Or was. Someone obviously dug him up from under the goal posts one night before they demolished Giants Stadium.