Thursday, December 29, 2005
2. I won't take rejection personally. Each rejection is one step closer to publication. Most rejections have nothing to do with how good the writing is. It's a numbers game. The more I try, the more I'll sell.
3. I will have faith in my work, but always remain open to suggestion and change. The day I stop listening to criticism is the day I stop growing as a writer, and growth leads to book deals.
4. I will keep writing, keep submitting, keep marketing, and never surrender. Ultimately, success in this business rests squarely on one person’s shoulders: Mine.
5. Depression, anger, resentment, envy, disappointment, jealousy, worry, and a sense of entitlement are all a big waste of time and energy better spent writing.
6. 2007 will be here in just 368 days. It will come whether I've reached my goals or not. So 2006 will be the year I reach my goals. I control my destiny, and I will succeed.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
This July, my family demanded some 'together time' so I took them up to a cabin in Michigan. Along the way I did signings. And I brought my laptop.
My two closest friends, whom I've known for 26 years, coerced me into taking a three day weekend off to go on brewery tours. I went with them, but managed to fit in a library event while they were boozing it up.
The kids have been off school for a week, and I managed to do some bonding. But I also did some editing, some writing, some website updating, and a few blog entries.
Am I missing out on life? In a word: Yes. And since misery loves company, I want you to miss out too.
- Can't find an agent?
- Can't sell your book?
- Getting a lot of rejections?
- Stuck on that short story?
- Book not selling well?
- Disappointed by your numbers?
- Haven't finished that novel?
- Unable to find a new publisher?
My question for you is: How much time have you put in?
Remember listening to your grandparents talk about the Great Depression? They used words like "Sacrifice" and "Hard work."
Writing involves sacrifice and hard work. That means denying yourself some things, like friends and family and free time. If you want to make it, you have to put in the hours.
I'm not going to argue that your writing is more important than your children---that isn't true. Family is far more important than career. But if your family loves you, they'll also understand how important your career is, and give you time to pursue it.
If you want to succeed in this biz, be prepared to make sacrifices and find the time to get things done.
Here's a handy list of some things you can sacrifice:
- Going out
- Surfing the Internet
The harder you work, the better your chance at success. This is a business about persistence, not talent. Asimov wrote 400 books. James Reasoner just finished his 185th. How many have you done?
Now I fully expect some vehement disagreement. Replies that speak of values and priorities and happiness and importance, and examples of authors on the bestseller list who take plenty of time off. I'm sure plenty of folks will feel sorry for my family, or for me for not 'getting it.' Some of you will insist you can have your cake and eat it too, and some of you may indeed do that.
But the next time you're lamenting your career, ask yourself two questions: What have I done so far? & What have I sacrificed?
If you've never finished a novel, have only gotten 50 rejections, and plan on using the holiday break to relax, are you entitled to the disappointment you feel about the state of your writing career? Or if you published your book, then did minimal self-promotion, can you really feel betrayed that you sold so poorly?
Here's an axiom that no one likes, me included, but I adhere to it anyway:
"You can always do more."
And the next time you're relaxing, pick up a copy of Who's Who, or crack open a history book, and look at all of the successful, famous people that our society reveres. How many of them are in there for being good parents? For taking vacations? For watching a lot of television? For partying with friends?
Happy Holidays! I gotta get back to work.
Friday, December 23, 2005
I knew in fifth grade, in December of 1979. I was 9 years old.
I wrote a poem called "Cool Santa's Jingle Bells" and read it to my class, and my teachers praised me like praise was going out of style. My parents also heaped on the praise, and I was forced (though not very reluctantly) to read the poem at our Xmas dinner for all the relatives who then (you guessed it) praised me highly.
Was the attention I got for this poem what made me seek attention into adulthood? Maybe. But I really think there's something in me that makes me want to create things, whether I get praised from them or not.
I'd done a lot of writing prior to that poem, though I never considered it writing. I'd put stories down on paper to entertain myself, much as other children drew pictures.
But after this poem, I suddenly realized two major things. First, that my writing could make people other than myself happy. And second, that I was apparently pretty good at it, because it only took me about twenty minutes to write that poem, during a math lesson.
As I grew, I continued to write stories. But when I got a video camera in 1983 I began to make movies, and my passion changed from the written word to the visual expression of it.
The movies quickly became pretty elaborate, and usually involved me murdering my younger brother (they were rip-offs of Friday the 13th.) We had a large back yard, with woods, and after several dumb jokes and some first person POV stalking, I'd chase him into the woods and cut him in half. We accomplished this effect by burying Mikey in the dirt up to his chest, then making a fake chest that he stuck his upper body through. Add some fake legs, stuff his body cavity with animal organs from the butcher and jackrabbit pumps filled with blood, and I'd drive a knife into his chest and pull out his entrails while bloody squirted out from six different hoses and he screamed like crazy.
Ah, my teenage years...
My interest in video lead to film and TV, and to Columbia College in Chicago where I took classes in both, as well as creative writing.
I got A's in film and TV, and C's in writing.
During college I made some pretty good movies and videos. A 16mm film I did called INVADER used everything I knew about SPFX and filmaking and produced a 50 minute epic of car chases, miniatures, chainsaw fights, beheadings, dismemberments, alien vomiting, and even a sex scene. It played in a local festival, and audiences dug the over-the-top horror mixed with humor.
Also in college I did some cable tv, some corporate video, and some theater improv, along with writing. I knew I'd wind up doing something creative with my life.
After graduation, getting a job in Chicago during a recession proved impossible. I'd written a lot up to that point; three screenplays, two plays, four sit-coms, two novellas, and hundreds of short stories.
Since no one would hire me for TV or film (I went to LA for two weeks to try to get agents interested--they weren't) I decided the only venue left open was writing. So I wrote a novel, and got an agent immediately, and you know how the rest of the story goes (if you don't, visit my website.)
But I can trace all of that back to that one poem in 5th grade...
Cool Santa's Jingle Bells
Well, all the cool eleves in town came walking down the street,
Saying "Have a cool Christmas" to everyone they'd meet,
Everyone was waiting for Santa's clock to ring,
So he'd wake up, walk the street, and listen to them sing,
His song wasn't very good, but it wasn't very bad,
It wasn't very cheery, but it wasn't very sad,
"Hiya Cool Santa!" the elves started their song,
"Did you have a good night's sleep, and was it very long?
If not Mr. Groovy, then please get some more sleep,
For you must guide the reindeer, up the ramp, and it is steep,
After you jump the ramp and sail into the sky,
You will say, "C'mon you dudes!" and the reindeer will start to fly,
Man, you are quite a site, in your hipster glasses,
And your sleek black coat, which is leather and made in Frances,
You are the coolest dude of all, bringing toys to boys and girls,
From mini bikes to mini trikes, and hip China dolls with curls!"
Santa thanked the elves for the song that was just right,
Then he yelled, "Have a cool Chirstmas, and to all a cool good night!"
The elves scampered all over, to watch the sleigh take off,
The Ruldolph in his dark sunglasses gave an awful cough,
The neato sleigh went straight down, Rudolph landed on his head,
Then Dasher, Dancer, Prancer... then Santa, was he dead?
The elves ran to the place where Santa's sleigh had crashed,
Prancer was all mangled, Rudolph was all mashed,
But Santa stood up from the pile in the pitch black night,
And then he snapped his fingers and the reindeer were alright,
He got in his sleigh (which now was okay) and yelled as he rode out of sight,
"A very cool Christmas to all you dudes, and to all a very cool night!"
So how about you? What made you decide that your words were so valuable that other people might enjoy them? What set you on this tunnel-vision path of hard work and depression and disappointment?
What age did you know you wanted to be a writer? And why?
- Is it a quest for self-expression?
- Is it fame?
- A desire to work out of your home?
- A need to see your name in print?
- A fire burning in you that forces you to create?
- A need for acceptance?
- External forces?
- Nothing better to do?
- A higher calling?
- A love of reading?
In order to know where we're going, we must know where we came from...
I've posted a link to the four Flash Fiction winners on my website, on the Contest page, for a limited time. If you want to read the stories that won, now is your chance.
Also, remember to download BLOODY MARY for free today at http://promo.ereader.com/free
You have to sign up and give them a credit card number, but you DO NOT get chraged. It's 100% legit. And you can also download WHISKEY SOUR for a measley four bucks. If you read my blog, but haven't read my books, this is a quick and simple way to ease your conscience and pay me back for all of the entertainment and information you've received over the years.
Or, you could just send me the 30 cents in royalties.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
I had almost 600 entries in my Flash Fiction Crime Story Contest, and about 500 in the Audiobook Contest.
I read every entry, but because there were so many I can't reply personally to everyone.
I will say that there were many outstanding stories. Many of the flash fiction pieces are publishable. And many of the folks begging for audiobooks brought a smile to my face or a tear to my eye. Thanks to all who took the time to enter!
If you didn't win, that does NOT mean you aren't a good writer or a worthy person. My personal taste is exactly that---personal. If I had the funds to make you all winners, I would. The competition was tough.
For those who don't win, you can still get a free download of BLOODY MARY at http://promo.ereader.com/free on December 23 (see my blog entry below for more info.)
The envelopes please...
- A BLOODY MARY audio cassette goes to Mike Heppe.
- A BLOODY MARY audio casstette goes to Steve Shrott
- A BLOODY MARY audio MP3 goes to Patsy Cavender
- A BLOODY MARY audio CD goes toToni Gibson
500 Word Flash Fiction Crime Story Contest Winners
There were so many good entries it came down to me trying to choose apples over oranges. I wound up picking four winners rather than three as I did for previous contests.
I can't stress how hard this was to judge. What made these four stand out above the others was their last lines. A lot of stories ended well, but these were the four best.
FOURTH PLACE - Jeff Greene for his story LESSONS. You win a signed paperback copy of WHISKEY SOUR.
THIRD PLACE - Margaret B. Davidson for her story POLLY PUT THE KETTLE ON. You win a signed paperback copy of WHISKEY SOUR and a signed Ellery Queen magazine.
SECOND PLACE - Don Hornbostel for his story DEATH CHEER. You win a signed copy of BLOODY MARY.
FIRST PLACE - James Viscosi for his story COLD TURKEY. You win $50, a signed copy of BLOODY MARY, and a character named after you in my fourth book, DIRTY MARTINI.
Congrats! I need you folks to email me with your addresses, so I can get your prizes out to you.
Thanks to all who entered---it has been quite an experience judging these contests.
New contests coming in 2006. Keep an eye on JAKonrath.com for details.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Visit www.ereader.com on December 23rd, and you'll be able to download the entire book for free.
How does it work?
- Visit http://promo.ereader.com/free
- Fill in some basic info (they ask for a credit card, which is used as an unlock code to open the ebook--no charges are made to your card)
- Download free eReader software to read the book (many different platforms available, for PCs, Macs, phones, TabletPCs, etc)
- Download free book
- Open eReader, open book (using your unlock code) and read
It's a clever little gadget. The text is pleasing and easy to read, and there are some cool features. I've never read an entire book on a computer, but this seems like a painless way to do so. I was leery about giving them a credit card number, but my publisher set up this promotion, so the whole thing is legitimate. The unlock code makes it impossible to share the book with others, preventing file swapping and copying, which is a clever way to protect copyright.
But the big question is: Is this the future of books?
I've thought it over, and have come up with a list of pros and cons.
WHERE E-BOOKS HAVE THE EDGE
COST - E-books are cheaper that print books.
SPEED OF PURCHASE - E-books can be downloaded instantly.
SPACE - Hundreds of E-books can be saved on a device the size of a single hardcover.
PORTABILITY - You can't carry a thousand print books around with you, but you can carry a laptop, tablet, or phone.
POTENTIAL - As E-Books evolve, expect pictures, sound FX, internet connectivity, and other cool things to enhance the reading experience.
ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY - No dead trees or harmful pollutants.
WHERE PRINT BOOKS HAVE THE EDGE
COLLECTIBILITY - People like to amass books (and author signatures.)
FEEL - The tactile pleasure of flipping pages is hard to beat electronically.
WORRY - If you drop you book in the bathtub, leave it on the bus, or set it on fire, it's no big loss. Dropping an E-Book would be bad.
LENDING - Lending books is fun, and many people do it religiously.
BROWSING - Going to libraries or bookstores is an event, surfing a website for dowloads is not.
SIMPLICITY - You don't need batteries, or an expensive gadget. You can read a book anywhere, anytime.
GIFTS - Have you ever bought a download for someone you love? Me neither.
READING TO CHILDREN - The bedtime story would be tough to do in front of a PC.
I don't fear that print books will disappear within my lifetime. While electronic reading will grow in popularity--I do more reading on my computer than I do in print, thanks to the Internet--it hasn't reached the point where it is superior to print books.
A song is a product. It can be delivered to a customer on vinyl, cassette, reel to reel, 8 track, CD, MP3, WMA download, and played on a Walkman, and Ipod, a computer, a record player, a home entertainment system, etc.
A book is a product. But for hundred of years, it could only be delivered to a customer as... a book. The product and the method of delivery were the same.
The electronic age brings a new method of delivery. With music or film, the delivery methods have continued to improve in quality, speed, and convenience.
But watching a movie or listening to music are passive activities. Reading is active. It involves not only involvement with the story, but also with the medium in which the story is presented. Holding a book, reading at your speed, skipping sections, rereading favorite parts, putting it down and picking it up, pausing to reflect, imagining the scene, pretending you're the main character, reading the ending first--these are the pleasures of reading that go beyond the product of written words.
Until technology advances to the point where the delivery system allows for the same experience, print books will remain the prefered method of delivery.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
- I will start/finish the damn book
- I will always have at least three stories on submission, while working on a fourth
- I will attend at least one writer's conference, and introduce myself to agents, editors, and other writers
- I will subscribe to the magazines I submit to
- I will join a critique group. If one doesn't exist, I will start one at the local bookstore or library
- I will finish every story I start
- I will listen to criticism
- I will create/update my website
- I will master the query process and find an agent
- I'll quit procrastinating in the form of research, outlines, synopses, taking classes, reading how-to books, talking about writing, and actually write something
- I will refuse to get discouraged, because I know JA Konrath wrote 9 novels, received almost 500 rejections, and penned over 1 million words before he sold a thing--and I'm a lot more talented than that guy
- I will keep my website updated
- I will start a blog
- I will schedule bookstore signings, and while at the bookstore I'll meet and greet the customers rather than sit dejected in the corner
- I will send out a newsletter, emphasizing what I have to offer rather than what I have for sale, and I won't send out more than four a year
- I will learn to speak in public, even if I think I already know how
- I will make selling my books my responsibility, not my publisher's
- I will stay in touch with my fans
- I will contact local libraries, and tell them I'm available for speaking engagements
- I will attend as many writing conferences as I can afford
- I will spend a large portion of my advance on self-promotion
- I will help out other writers
- I will not get jealous, will never compare myself to my peers, and will cleanse my soul of envy
- I will be accessible, amiable, and enthusiastic
- I will do one thing every day to self-promote
- I will always remember where I came from
Did I miss anything? Feel free to post your resolutions.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Is this true? Are the dispirited moans of authors at the convention bar---claiming they remain midlist because they were never 'pushed' onto the bestseller list---based on hard evidence?
Here's what I know, based on my experience.
THINGS YOUR PUBLISHER WILL (PROBABLY) DO FOR YOU
- Print up advance reading copies (ARCs)
- Send these ARCs to reviewers
- Write a press release and send it out
- Have in-house meetings with marketing and sales to brainstorm hooks for your book
- Assign a publicist to you
- Allocate a marketing budget to your book
- Place you in their catalogue(s)
- Attempt to sell the subsidiary rights they've attained
- Edit your book
- Ask you to complete an author questionnaire
- Help you set up some book signings
- Talk about your book to buyers and solicit orders
- Get your books into the hands of distributors and onto bookstore shelves and online stores
Depending on the size of your publishing house, the above list is usually the bare minimum they'll do. And chances are you won't ever know how much they've actually done, because you may not get to see most of it.
If you want to be involved, volunteer. I wrote my own press release and catalogue copy. I've set up my own booksignings. My contacts led to a Korean rights sales. I send out many ARCs to reviewers on my own dime.THINGS YOUR PUBLISHER MIGHT DO FOR YOU
Hyperion and Brilliance Audio did all of these things for me
- Take out ads (about ten so far)
- Print flyers (several hundred)
- Print coasters/bookmarks (20,000)
- Print business cards (1500)
- Invite you to events (BEA, GLBA, UBA, etc)
- Have a booklaunch party
- Send you on tour
- Hire a media coach
- Send extra things to bookstores (coasters and drink mix)
- Provide you with extra ARCs (a few hundred)
- Listen and act on your marketing ideas
- Take you out to dinner
- Get you on local radio and TV (I've been on radio a few times)
- Get you interviews
- Give away free copies of your books (over a thousand)
- Hold contests
- Involve you with various promotions
- Pay co-op to bookstores for displays and prime placement
- Solicit your input on the cover and jacket copy (I wrote mine)
- Work with you on the final product (every year I visit Brilliance Audio and lend my voice to their recordings of my books.)
Do publishers treat every author the same? No. A lot depends on their budget. But even more depends on the author. Is this an author who is actively trying to augment their efforts? Someone who is enthusiastic about promotion? Someone who works hard and offers ideas?
If I sat on my duff and whined about not getting enough attention, chances are I'd be ignored. No one wants to work with a prima donna, or an artiste. But I've found that EVERY SINGLE TIME I spend time and money trying to promote myself, my publishers are there to back me up.
THINGS YOUR PUBLISHER WON'T DO FOR YOU
- Get you on the NYT Bestseller list. If they could, every book printed would be a bestseller.
- Get you on Oprah, Good Morning America, etc. Unless you're a celebrity.
- Take out a lot of ads. Ads don't sell books for unknown authors (have you ever bought a book because you saw an ad?) Ads are best used to announce a new book from an author with a huge fanbase.
- Send you on a huge tour. Tours don't make money. Ever. They are for author egos, building bookseller relationships, and meeting fans, more than selling huge numbers of books.
- Be in constant touch with you. Authors who don't need constant reassurance get more attention than needy authors.
- Sell your book. A publisher can get bookstores to carry your titles, but they can't make customers buy them. Only one person can do that (hint: you)
Your publisher is your partner. Like a marriage, making demands won't help the love grow. But giving, listening, and actively trying to make your partner happy will be mutually beneficial.
Which brings up the next list, one that new authors (and even many pros) don't ever consider.
THINGS YOU SHOULD DO FOR YOUR PUBLISHER
- Make deadlines
- Be courteous, considerate, and enthusiastic
- Be accessible
- Show them your desire to help
- Self-promote by going to conventions, doing book-signings, speaking at libraries, soliciting interviews, maintaining a website, sending a newsletter, and all the other things I preach about
- Be thankful
- Make them money
In fact, the most important thing you can do in your career is make money for your publisher.
Big advances are nice, but it's hard to earn them out. But if you are earning out your advance, it's a good indicator that your publisher is making a profit, which only happens with 1 out of 5 books.
If they make money, you make money.
So what have you done for your publisher lately?
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
- New writing tips
- New marketing tips
- Updated appearances
- New pictures
- New downloads
- New links
- Uncut article After the Book Comes Out (the follow up to After the Big Sale)
- Uncut tour journal
- Updated content on the Super Secret page
What? You don't know what the Super Secret page is? This is a hidden webpage on my site that has cool free stuff, scandalous content, and several surprises. Instructions on how to find it are on my homepage, www.jakonrath.com.
Only a few people have found the page, though some did so by cheating. I fixed it so cheating isn't possible any longer, and it's no longer at the same place it was before.
If you find it, email me, and I'll send you something cool for free.
Monday, December 12, 2005
A first pass is a formatted manuscript, given to the author for a final read-through to check for typos.
This one-of-a-kind item comes complete with my handwritten changes, and will be signed and personalized.
Not only do you get to read the book six months before everyone else, but this sure-to-be-a-collector's-item will certainly sell for big bucks on ebay when I'm dead, and truth be told I'm not feeling very well lately.
To enter, answer the following question:
What is the name of my hero in the Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels series?
All entries will be coated in chocolate syrup and put into a bowl. The first one my dog eats is the winner. (Incidentally, my dog's name is Jacqueline Daniels, named after the hero of my novels.)
You will also get some signed coasters and maybe some other crap I have on my desk. Like this pen.
It always gets a few laughs, because they think I'm kidding.
Work hard for four years, and you can get an engineering degree. In seven years, you're a lawyer. Eight and you can practice medicine. Hard work = success.
Writing isn't like that. You can bust your butt for ten years, working every day, and not earn a dime. A BA in fiction writing means you're eligible for a job at Wendy's. An MFA means you can teach--but is no guarantee you'll sell a book. And why would you want to teach if you haven't succeeded in the field?
So when does a reasonable person say when? After how many rejections should you decide to try something new?
I've talked with writers about the anguish of writer's block. They speak of their WIPs like it is a monumental task to be conquered, a war to be fought, torture to be endured.
This is how you want to spend your free time?
I read a lot of newbie writing, and 90% of it is bad. Could it be improved? Sure. I always spout that persistence trumps talent. But it took me 12 years to sell a book, and the stuff I was writing back in the day was better than much of the newbie stuff I read. Does that mean I'm fostering hope for hundreds of writers who won't sell anything until 2025, if ever?
The odds are against you, moreso than almost any other profession. Very few have what it takes, and even if you do, lady luck may snub you anyway.
Here's a short list of reasons to quit. If you see yourself on here, it may be time to try your hand at something else.
- You've been doing this for more than five years, and haven't sold anything.
- You've got some kind of degree in writing, and haven't sold anything.
- Writing causes you pain.
- You've been working on one novel for five years.
- You're great at starting stories, but never finish them.
- You want to be a writer, but spend all your time going to classes and researching, but never get any writing done.
- You could live without ever writing again.
- You think that writing will make you rich.
- You believe that once you sell a book, it's a cakewalk from then on.
- You truly feel that you have something important to say.
- You think being a writer is cool.
- You're doing it to show your family and friends.
- You want to win awards.
- You believe that editing, rewriting, and revision are for the less-talented.
- You have a thin skin.
- You think that writing will make you famous.
- You think that once you're in print, that will be enough and you'll never want more.
- You think there's a conspiracy keeping you from getting published.
- You don't live to write.
- At the end of your life, if you're still not published, it will hurt you.
If any of the above apply to you, consider doing something else with your free time. While high school sports couches crow that quitters never win, Dirty Harry famously said, "A man's got to know his limitations."
Why torture yourself when you could do something you'd be more successful at?
The cold hard fact is: most of the people trying to get published won't get published, and most of the people who do get published won't be successful.
Which brings me to the most important point of all:
21. If this blog entry made you consider quitting, you absolutely must quit.
If all it did was rile you up, well, welcome to hell. I wish you much success.
I also recommend Prozac, alcohol, and lots of understanding friends.
Friday, December 09, 2005
One way I put numbers in perspective is by turning them into heights.
So far, my family and I have completed 2000 of the 6500 library mailers. It's taken over 80 man hours so far.
2000 envelopes don't seem like much, but it you put them in one big stack, it would reach over 30 feet high. 30 feet of envelopes that had to be stuffed, stamped, labeled, and sealed. And we're not even 1/3 of the way done...
I've written a million words prior to publication. It all resides in a file cabinet. For fun, I stacked it all up---every original story, screenplay, book, (not counting rewrites.) It's over nine feet tall, each page original.
Hyperion printed 22k copies of BLOODY MARY. If stacked, they'd be 1833 feet high, which is 50 feet higher than the Sears Tower.
If you laid my books end to end (Paper and hardback copies of Whiskey, and hardbacks of Bloody) they'd stretch for 11 and a half miles.
When I did that calculation, I got really excited. Then I figured out how many miles the DaVinci Code would stretch---1500. You could drive from New York to Miami with copies of Dan Brown's book lining the highway the entire time.
But I bet Brown doesn't have five full inches of rejection slips...
Thursday, December 08, 2005
a) as long as it takes to tell
b) a predetermined length that automatically fills a slot
If you picked b) you have a much better chance of selling your work.
Short stories usually have length limitations, due to space constraints. It's much easier to find a market for something 5k than 15k.
And whenever you speak of length, speak in terms of word count, NOT page numbers. Someone using hevlecta 10pt single space can cram 700 words on a page, while an arial 14pt double-spacer with a lot of dialog might fit 150. (for the record, use courier 12pt double space, 1 inch margins, unless you know it's okay to do otherwise)
You should find out the writer's guidelines for length for a particular market before you begin--after all, why write anything without knowing who might buy it?
But if I am writing without a market in mind, I try to keep my shorts between 1500 and 7500 words.
If I go over 7500, I cut. And if I've learned one thing, it's that EVERYTHING can be cut.
Why keep it that length? I edited an anthology (coming out next year from Bleak House Books) and I learned that if given the choice between two 3000 words stories, and a 6000 words story, I go with the two.
When you pick up an antho or a magazine, do you read it cover to cover? Or do you skip around, sampling this story and that story? And which stories do you read first?
In my case, it's the shortest ones.
Every word should count in a narrative, and if you can make it shorter, you should. Didn't Hemingway have some kind of comment about, "I apologize for the length, I didn't have time to make it shorter?"
As for novels, there are no rules set in stone, but this is what I've noticed.
First novels have a better chance of selling if they are under 90k.
The reason is wholly monetary. Your publisher will probably lose money on your first book. But a 150k book will cost more to print, more to ship, and less will fit in a carton. Cost of production figures heavily into a publisher's decision whether to buy or not to buy.
Some genres, such as fantasy and historical romance, tend to be lengthier.
If your book is under 60k, it will have a harder time finding a buyer, both through a publisher and through a customer.
Fiction has set prices. Around 6 bucks for a paperback, 13 bucks for trade paper, and 24 dollars for a hardcover. Some are slightly more or less. Bestsellers command higher prices (I've seen a lot of 29 dollar price tags) but then they're discounted 30%.
So chances are your book will be about $24. A consumer will look at a thin 60K word book, and a thicker 100K word book, see they're both the same price, and assume bigger is better.
It's unlikely a publisher will price your book lower because it's shorter, for the same reason Shell sells gas comparable to Mobil--they want to stay competitive.
Are there exceptions? Always. But if you're trying to break into this business, which is hard enough, why stack even more odds against yourself?
Whiskey Sour was 68k. The hardcover was 270 pages, and it was 45 chapters.
Bloody Mary was 71k, 307 pages, 53 chapters.
Rusty Nail was 78k, 289 pages, 54 chapters.
Same font size/style/typesetting for all of them, so why do the numbers seem strange?
The page count/word count ratio changes, depending on how much dialog is in a book. Dialog takes up page space, but involves less words.
Rusty Nail was more action in it than Whiskey Sour, which had more dialog.
This brings up another point: White space.
Be aware of white space. Readers like dialog. They like looking at a page and seeing a lot of white space. Long, clunky paragraphs are intimidating.
Have you ever watched someone browse? They'll flip through a few pages, and you can see the gears in their heads turning as they think: Do I have time to read this? Will it be fun or a chore? Can I finish it in one or two sittings? Does it have long chapters, or short ones I can finish before I go to sleep or while I take a bath?
Think about your own reading habits. What do you like to see on a page? What makes a book look inviting, before you've even read a single word?
In my younger days, when I needed to buy some classic for some college class, I'd crack open different editions and find the one that was the most eye-friendly. Big font, not a lot of words crammed on each page.
Dialog makes a book more eye-friendly. At least, to my inner reader.
If I have a paragraph that lasts for more than half the page, I try to break it up. If I have a chapter that lasts longer than 15 pages (3700 words) I try to break it up.
Your words should be good, but also be aware of how they look on the page. Are they enticing your eyes to lock onto random bits of dialog or action? Or do they look boring?
Readers skip long paragraphs.
I randomly picked 5 pages from each of my three novels, to see how many paragraphs they averaged per page (by couting the indents.)
Whiskey Sour averaged 16.8 paragraphs per page. Bloody Mary was 13.4. Rusty Nail was 14.4.
Overall, if you open one of my books, you'll see 14.8 indents per full page.
Let's look at some other authors (hardcover editions.) Here are some bestsellers:
ONE SHOT by Lee Child - 16.6 paraphs per page
CHILL OF FEAR by Kay Hooper - 11.4 per page
TO THE NINES by Jaent Evanovich - 13.8 per page
SCARECROW by Matt Reilly - 16.4 per page
VANISH by Tess Gerritsen - 15.8 per page
STONE COLD by Robert Parker - 17 per page
Here are some debuts:
HUNDREDTH MAN by Jack Kerley - 13.8 per page
BAHAMARAMA by Bob Morris - 13 per page
MISDEMEANOR MAN by Dylan Schaffer - 16.2 per page
KILLER SWELL by Jeff Shelby - 14 per page
STILL RIVER by Harry Hunsicker - 11.8
What does any of this mean?
Well, if you write mysteries or thrillers, it means to avoid long paragraphs, and have a lot of dialog.
Besides looking good on a page, this also has the side-effect of making the books move faster.
By comparision, I went through some POD books that I have from previous contests I've judged.
I looked through three of them. They averaged 7.2 paragraphs a page.
Draw your own conclusions.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
I have a writing friend who is so paranoid about losing data that he ftps every chapter to offshore accounts (at least, that's how I imagine it.)
I've lost writing before, and there are few things as painful in life. Here are some tricks and tips and products that will ensure you never have to feel that particular pain.
PRINT - It never hurts to keep a paper copy. If you lose the file, you can always recover the story with OCD software like Abbyy Finereader.
ZIP - Bulky zip drives have lost favor to their keychain flash drive counterparts, which can hold up to a gig on a device the size of a pencil. Just stick it in the USB port and drag 'n drop. (a novel, even a long one (150k), doesn't run more than 1 or 2 mbs, so you can back-up every bit of text on your computer and still have room to spare.
APC - The big name in batteries. This is a combo surge protector/battery back-up that prevents you from losing data during a power outage. Get one.
EMAIL - Having an extra email account, and emailing doc attachments to yourself, can't hurt.
DVD - A DVD can hold 4.7 gigs of data. They cost about 30 cents each, and a DVD burner can be picked up for under 50 bucks. CDRs are even cheaper, and hold 700mb.
FTP - If you have a website, you have a storage locker available in cyberspace under your name. Using an FTP program can allow you to save your writing on your home page (and don't worry, no one can read it there--it's hidden unless you link directly to it.)
OE BACKUP - There are a few tools available for saving your email (I use one for Outlook Express.) Find a program that fits your needs, and then save your email along with your writing. I go through my deleted and sent mail folders several times a day, trying to figure out who said what and when.
FIRE SAFE - This isn't a computer attachement. It is what it is-- a fire safe. Keep your flash drive and DVDs in the safe, in case your house burns down. Put them in a plastic bag first, to protect them from flooding. Paranoid? Talk to anyone who has lost their home to fire or flood. It doesn't hurt to also keep some copies in the car, or at Mom's house.
FILES - NEVER save just one file. I always save in different formats (wpd, doc, rtf, txt) in different places on my computer (C: drive, Desktop, My Documents) under different names.
SECOND HARD DRIVE - Also cheap, you can install an extra hard drive in your computer for less than fifty bucks. It's like having two computers in one case.
SECOND COMPUTER - Networking is a pain to set up, but using the Shared Documents folder can be a lifesaver, and is still the fastest way to transfer data.
NORTON ANTI-VIRUS - Still the leading trojan slayer. MacAfee is also big, as is Panda. Whatever you use (and you must use something,) make sure it offers updates.
Computer running slow? AdAware and Spybot are free tools (available at www.pcworld.com) that clean your computer of spyware, malware, and tracking software. You can also DEFRAGMENT your hard drive, run a DISK CHECK for errors, and use SYSTEM RESTORE if none of that works.
If anyone has any other tips for saving data, lemme know and I'll post them.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
It's pretty easy to do. When I'm creating characters, either protags, antags, or supports, I do a mental checklist of the following criteria:
UNIQUE- What makes this person different from anyone else? Why is this hero the ONLY ONE who could be in your story? Include profession, race, gender, age, and brief description.
GOALS- What are your protagonist’s goals? Dreams? Fears? Things they desperately want?
FLAWS- What personal, internal problem will get in the way of the hero reaching his/her goals? Addiction? Illness? Disability? Neuroses?
QUIRKS- What are the strange, bizarre, personal, or human traits this hero possesses? Habits and rituals?
PERSPECTIVE- First person or third person, and why?
SUPPORT- Who are the supporting, returning characters that assist your hero? Friends? Co-workers?
ENEMY- Your villain should have all of these traits as well. Who will make a worthy opponent for your hero?
EXAMPLE- Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels, Chicago Violent Crimes featured in the novels WHISKEY SOUR & BLOODY MARY, and the EQMMM short stories ON THE ROCKS & WITH A TWIST
UNIQUE- Jack is 46, divorced, unlucky in love but a good cop–she had to be to become a Lieutenant in the male-dominated fraternity of the CPD. Jack has dedicated her life to the Job, but is now at an age where she’s regretting never starting a family.
GOALS- Jack needs to do well in her career; that’s the only time she feels good about herself. But she also realizes, for the first time, that there’s more to life than work, and she wants to broaden her personal life.
FLAWS- Jack has insomnia, due to her fixation with her job. She constantly questions her own actions, wondering if she could have done better. She doesn’t think she’s worthy of love.
QUIRKS- Her insomnia causes her to max out her credit cards watching the late night Home Shopping Network. She worries too much about fashion, and is envious of those who dress better than she does.
PERSPECTIVE- First person for Jack, third person for the villain.
SUPPORT- Overweight partner Det. Herb Benedict, accountant boyfriend Latham Conger, mother Mary Streng, ex-husband Alan Daniels, criminal friend Phineas Troutt, ex-partner PI Harry McGlade, hellspawn cat Mr. Friskers.
ENEMY- In WHISKEY SOUR, a serial killer called The Gingerbread Man is making snuff movies in his basement and wants to make one with Jack. In BLOODY MARY, a maniac is dismembering people and leaving accessories of Jack’s at the crime scenes.
As you can see, Jack isn't perfect. Her problems add a dimension to the stories beyond the conflict which fuels the plot.
How about your characters? I have a worksheet download here if you'd like to try it for yourself.
Friday, December 02, 2005
I gave him my stock answer: torture your protagonist.
The fact is, readers don't want your hero to be happy. At least, not until the end. They want angst, conflict, ruined dreams, dashed hopes, impossible situations, neuroses, struggle, heartache, near death experiences, ruined lives, and pain.
All you need to know about plotting is twofold.
- Give your characters goals.
- Don't let them reach those goals.
For example, let's say we're writing a YA coming of age novel about a 14 year old video game geek named Leroy. His goals: kiss a girl, mend his parents' unstable marriage, and get ahold of Grand Theft Doom Craft 3: Halo and Goodbye and the new GameBox X-Station System. Let's also make his family very poor.
So how do we torture Leroy?
- His parents won't let him have the game, because it is too violent, and they can't afford it
- He asks the cutest girl in school to the dance, and she says yes, but he can't dance
- He bribes the high school bully to buy him the game and system, cashing in his bonds (which are supposed to be for college)
What happens next?
- His parents begin a trial separation
- The bully takes all of his money but doesn't buy him the game
- He needs dance lessons, but no longer has any money (the bully has it)
- His best friend gets the game, but won't let him play
- The cute girl cancels the date
- He tries to get him money back from the bully, and gets beaten up.
- The cute girl is going with the bully to the dance
- Leroy confides in his Dad, who boxed Golden Gloves in high school, and he gives him some lessons
- Leroy confides in him Mom, who shows him how to dance
How can things get worse?
- Leroy sucks as a fighter
- Leroy sucks as a dancer
- Leroy sucks as a matchmaker
- Leroy overhears that the bully is going to go 'all the way' with the cute girl after the dance, whether she wants to or not
- GTDC3:H&G is having a high score contest, and the winner gets $10000 dollars
How will this end?
Come on. You know how it's going to end.
His friend lets him finally play the new game, and Leroy gets a great score and sends it to the contest folks. Then Leroy goes to the dance stag, walks in on the bully making unwanted advances on the cute girl, cleans his clock, dances with her, gets a kiss, goes home to find out Dad has moved back in.
And, of course, the prize people show up with a check for $10000.
Or maybe the parents don't get together, and Leroy doesn't win the money, but he realizes that growing up means you don't always get what you want.
The point is, if you keep thinking "How can I make this worse?" plotting takes care of itself.
If you've ever read a book with a surprise twist, it was probably the result of the author thinking, "What would no one expect could happen next?"
If we wanted to add a twist to the story, we could have the cute girl be a secret videogame addict, and she wins the contest and gives Leroy back the money he lost to the bully. Or the Dad, in a fit of overcompensation after leaving home, buys Leroy the game system. Or the bully turns out to be Leroy's brother, because Leroy's Dad is a cheater, which is why Mom kicked him out.
And if you're truly stuck, use my tried and true Jump Start the Plot Trick: "And when I answered the door... there were zombies!"
That always works.
Saturday, November 26, 2005
Welcome to professional writing.
But there's actually MORE you can do to drive yourself nuts.
Here are some new ways to obsess over your public appearance (or lack thereof). Simply search for your name, in quotes (i.e. "JA Konrath") and let the results roll in.
www.technorati.com will show you how much you are blogged about. So does www.blogsearchengine.com.
www.news.google.com will let you know how 'in print' you are.
www.bn.com proves that people do critique beyond Amazon. If you write mysteries, also visit www.booksnbytes.com.
www.dogpile.com will give you Internet saturation beyond Google. Also try www.mamma.com.
www.marketleap.com will show you how well your website is doing (and how well your peers are doing) with three different search criteria.
www.groups.google.com will let you know who is talking about you in newsgroups.
www.froogle.google.com will show you who is selling your stuff, and for how much.
Still not enough about you? Visit www.ebay.com will give you an accurate appraisal of how much your books (and signature) are really worth. Also try www.half.com, www.abe.com, and www.alibris.com.
I'm still waiting for www.jakonrath.google.com, so I can search my memories for where the hell I lost my keys back in '97.
If anyone has any other cyberspace mirrors (ways to see yourself) that you use, please post them. God knows I don't spend enough time each day dwelling on my career...
Added: Melanie Lynne Hauser has just informed me that you can check if your book is stocked in libraries by visiting http://www.oclc.org/worldcatdownloads/#top and downloading a toolbar.
I played with this for a while, and it works great.
Added: Melanie's husband just forwarded more time wasters to me, this one let's you track your Amazon rank: http://www.titlez.com/welcome.aspx also showing high, low, and average.
This one searches more blogs for you: http://talkdigger.com
Monday, November 21, 2005
Award winning author Julia Spencer-Fleming and I interviewed each other. We each made a brochure. I had Bloody Mary coasters made and signed them. We're sending this package out to 6500 libraries.
Here are the specifics:
The coaster creation entailed Photoshopping an image (got some help from a friend for $50), I bought 6500 coasters at 12.2 cents each ($800), bought 6500 addressed envelopes ($350), printed 6500 double sided brochures (lazer printer $179, cartridge $80, two toner refils $30, 13 reams of paper, $43).
Plus, postage, which is $2400.
So far, I'm into this for just about $4000. I'm spending roughly 62 cents on each library.
I'm paying for postage, because Julia compiled the library list, which cost her a pretty penny. She's also paying to print the interview (about $350) and she supplied the library labels ($200) and her own brochures.
Libraries do their ordering from catalogues supplied by the publisher, by catalogues supplied by the distributors (Ingram and Baker & Taylor,) and through reading reviews in Library Journal, Kirkus, PW, and Boolist, plus others. Patron requests and word-of-mouth also are a factor.
I earn 55 cents for each paperback sold, $3.44 for each hardcover, and between $5 and $8 for each audiobook.
To earn back my investment, I'm going to need to sell 570 audiobooks, or 7272 paperbacks, or 1143 hardcovers, or any combination thereof.
I have two hardcovers in print, one paperback, two MP3s, two cassettes, and two CDs. I'm also got another paperback, hardcover, MP3, CD, and cassette that I'm including information about, coming out in June of 2006.
So basically, I'm selling fourteen things.
The brochure includes pictures of the book covers, blurbs, ISBNs, ordering info, brief synopses, contact info, and reviews. It took me 8 hours to create, and looks pretty good.
The interview is fun, light, but also imparts some detailed info about each of our series and why we love libraries.
So far, I've signed 3200 coasters. It's taken me three days, three hours a day, and I've gone through five Sharpies.
The printing is a huge pain in the butt, because the brochure is double-sided, but the printer only does single-sided, so everything has to be fed through twice. I spent four hours printing today, and got through 1000 copies. I could have had this done for 6 cents a copy, or $390. I bought a printer, toner, and paper for $332, and I get to keep the printer, so I went the do-it-myself route.
I figure I can be done with the signing and the printing by Thanksgiving.
That still leaves the folding (the brochure is tri-folded) and the stuffing envelopes and adding stamps. I looked into bulk mailing, but to set that up is $300 right off the bat, and postage would be the same.
Besides the 4 grand, I'll be into this project for about 80 hours when I finish.
Is it worth it?
I doubt I'll recoup my money, let alone my time. But I have no way of knowning, because no one has ever hit the library market like this before. I'm in uncharted waters.
This isn't an impersonal postcard. This is actual correspondence from real writers, with readable content. It's funny. It includes a signed coaster. It's presented in an unique way, and it's focused on only two authors, rather than hundreds in a catalogue or review magazine.
This is cheaper than an ad in a big magazine or newspaper. It's direct marketing in it's purest form--selling to a specific target audience that wants to buy books.
I'm assuming 1/3 to 1/2 of these libraries already have something of mine. This will help reinforce my brand, make them aware of my audiobooks, add to name recognition, and perhaps make them take notice of the books they already have sitting on their shelf, which would result in larger orders down the road.
We'll see what happens.
And for all who are interested, here's what the package looks like (I'll add Julia's brochure when she sends me a pdf file)
Saturday, November 19, 2005
How does it work? Try it for yourself. Visit http://print.google.com/ and do a search for "Konrath." You'll be able to find Whiskey Sour, completely searchable.
The Author's Guild says this violates copyright, and that allowing access to content without a royalty is the same as stealing.
I feel differently.
People read me for free at the library, sell my advance reading copies on Ebay, buy my used books on Amazon, and I don't make a cent from these transactions.
I'm also all for them.
Steal me. Download me. Search inside me. Google my complete text. Infringe me.
Just read me.
I remember when Metallica shut down Napster. Three major things resulted from that.
1. Many other peer to peer sharing networks showed up.
2. Sony began selling copy-protected CDs, which load spyware onto your computer.
3. People hated Metallica, and they lost sales rather than received compensation for their lost royalties.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the band Phish, which encourages fans to trade music freely. Phish fans are happy, and enough money flows Phish's way to make them rich.
Here's the thing--I want to be read. The more people that read me, the better off I am. Some of those freebies will translate into sales. Some won't. But they all add to name recognition, to brand awareness, and to more people knowing who I am and what I write.
I wouldn't want anyone to print up editions of my books without compensating me. But I don't mind being Googleable, even if they make some advertising revenue from my books.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
I've met a lot of authors. Some pre-published. Some seasoned pros. Some somewhere in between.
Most writers have some sort of publicity plan. They're going to set up local signings, or take out some ads, or start a blog, or have a contest, or get some big blurbs, or attend a lot of conferences, or send out postcards, or visit a lot of libraries, or print up 10,000 bookmarks, or pay to promote their website, or teach classes, or try to manipulate their Amazon numbers, or give away lots of free copies or their book, or have a large internet presence, or make vidlits, or all of the above (which is what I did, in one way or another.)
And most writers soon find out that their best laid plans, when executed, don't meet their expectations.
It's hard to sell books. Which is why 4 out of 5 published don't earn out their advance.
A lot of writers I know, when they find out their plans didn't pan out, become discouraged, bitter, depressed, and resentful.
This brings up an important point---one that many authors, both new and seasoned, fail to grasp: If you build it, they won't always come.
Having marketing ideas or strategies is good--enthusiasm and a willingness to experiment with publicity and marketing will help you in the long run. But too many authors think that an ad, or a contest, or a vidlit, or a blog, will automatically sell books. It won't.
There's no single path to success. Some authors do the bare minimum, and sell like crazy. Some try like crazy and still have poor sell-through.
I'm confidant in saying I self-promote a lot. I'm a minorly successful author. I believe I have very good name recognition in comparison to my sales (meaning I'm known by more people than simply those who buy me.) I believe this name recognition is based on all that I have done to promote myself, and that many sales have resulted from my efforts--sales that wouldn't have happened otherwise. My site and blog get a lot of hits. I get a lot of fan mail. My readership is growing. These are all good signs.
But still, as much as I'd like to take credit for the way my career is going, the fact is that luck plays a huge part.
Much bigger authors than me have done much less on the self-promotion front, but sell in much greater numbers. I can say, "Do this, do that, keep trying" but the fact is, none of my efforts have led me to the bestseller lists. James Patterson can say, "Do nothing but write a good book" and his path did lead him to the bestseller list.
For all of our efforts, there's still an X Factor that determines success. Some unknown, unteachable, unreachable thing determines who makes 7 million a book, and who loses their publishing deal due to poor sell-through.
You can increase your odds that Factor X happens by working hard, trying new things, and never giving up, but there are no guarantees.
So why even bother? If it's all up to fate, why spend 80% of your time trying to sell your books?
For me, it comes down to peace of mind. If one of my efforts falls flat, at least I can tell myself that I tried. If my career falls flat, it won't be because I didn't make an effort.
So I recommend that you try. You try everything. You try often. You keep at it, even when nothing seems to work.
But, luckily, sometimes things do work. I believe the failures outnumber the successes in marketing, but when the successes do happen, they make it all worthwhile.
Plus there's the unknown, cumulative effect of your efforts. You might have only gotten three people at your signing, but several hundred saw the sign promoting it. Factor X can come into play in small ways--you meet a TV producer at a convention, someone discovers your blog and wants to do a newspaper story on you, your website contest leads to a foreign rights sale. Your efforts yield more than book sales. They lead to word-of-mouth, brand awareness, and name recognition.
So next time you have a brilliant marketing idea, don't put all your eggs in one basket and count those chickens before they've hatched. The best stock portfolios diversify. Sometimes the sure-thing falls flat, and it's the penny stock that makes you rich.
If you know that a lot of your efforts will fail, you'll be a lot happier at the end of the day.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
www.amazon.com/connect allows authors to set up their own bio page. It's free. And after the first of the year, it will also allow you to contact readers who have bought your book through Amazon.
Mine is here.
www.amazon.com/shorts allows people to download a short story of yours for .49 cents. I'll have a new Jack Daniels story up there in a few weeks. It's great for fans who are anxiously awaiting your next book, and it is also a cheap way for a potential buyer to give your writing a try without plunking down the big bucks. Plus, you make money--every download earns you 20 cents---which is pretty good considering a paperback sale only nets an author 55 cents.
www.amazon.com/listmania allows you to create a list of books that are similar to yours, and which comes up when people do searches on those authors. This is a list of recommended reads that appears in the sidebar when popular authors are searched. One of mine is here.
www.amazon.com reviews are more than just a way to give your author peers a pick me up---you thoughtful comments about their books can lead their readers to you. So release your inner Harriet Klausner and go review some books. This is especially important if you believe in karma.
Don't know what Amazon rankings mean? Neither does anyone else. For a quick and dirty explanation, check out www.fonerbooks.com/surfing.htm. But my own experience and experiments don't necessarily agree.
I do know that Amazon is supplied by the distributor Ingram, and a call to 615-213-6803 can let you know how many books Ingram has shipped for this year and last.
Want to make money from Amazon? You can join Amazon Affiliates at www.amazon.com/associates and get a few cents every time someone orders your book through your site. If you want to link to Amazon, I also suggest you link to other bookstores as well, to give your surfers a choice of where to buy. I personally do not link to Amazon, becuase I've found that indie bookstores dislike it.
So what are you waiting for? Get into the Amazone.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Some of the people writing are pros. Some have new book deals. Some are unpublished.
All have the same theme---what's with all the negativity?
Being a professional writer means you are a public figure. Like all public figures, people will openly form opinions about you and your work. Some will like you. Some won't.
The President is often the most loved and the most hated person in the country. That's just the way it goes. I'm sure he doesn't take it personally. Neither should writers.
I make it a point not to take cheap shots. I rarely defend myself. If I do defend myself, it is to make a point--it's not to change anyone's mind. There are few certainties in life, but one of them is: "You'll probably never change anyone's mind."
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and all opinions are valid. As the title of this entry says, everyone is the hero in the movie of their life. Everyone feels justified in what they say and do, and everyone is offended when the world doesn't agree with them.
The problem with judging others is that it reeks of insecurity. Throughout your life, there will be many people you don't like. Many will fail to meet up to your standards. Many will screw up. Many will attack you. But how helpful do you think you are being when you call them on it? A wise man told me over breakfast, "If someone cuts you off in traffic, and you honk and give the guy the finger, how much do you really believe your actions will change that person's behavior?"
The answer is: not at all. Insulting someone doesn't ever help the issue. Even if you feel your insult is justified.
The Internet is one of the most amazing inventions of mankind. It allows for instant communication. Unfortunately, there is also a lack of accountability. People can say things that they wouldn't have the guts to say to a person's face. They can post anonymously, or under false names. They can lie. They can troll.
So here are some Internet rules that I try to follow:
- Try not to hurt others.
- If you feel you must hurt others, be a man and own up to it.
- Try not to reply to those who hurt you, because you aren't going to change their mind.
- Be the person your kids will be proud of, whether you have kids or not.
I'm not bringing all of this up for any specific reason, and this blog entry isn't aimed at any specific individual.
And to the anonymous guy insulting me on another blog--I have a pretty good idea of who you are, and I just called Ingram and checked the sales of your last book. Ouch. No wonder you're so angry.
(My son wanted me to mention that)
There were four black and whites already at the 7-Eleven when I arrived. -- WHISKEY SOUR
"It would be so easy to kill you while you sleep." -- BLOODY MARY
The sound begins. Again. -- RUSTY NAIL
No security cameras this time, but he still has to be careful. --DIRTY MARTINI
"She sure bled a lot." -- ON THE ROCKS
"His skull is shattered and his spinal column looks like a dutch pretzel." -- WITH A TWIST
Mitch couldn't answer me with the barrel of my gun in his mouth, so I pulled it out. -- STREET MUSIC
"I want you to kill the man that my husband hired to kill the man that I hired to kill my husband." -- TAKEN TO THE CLEANERS
The woman twisting the tube into my penis has cold hands. -- FORGIVENESS
"That's gotta be where the money is." -- THE SHED
Hudson closed his eyes and swallowed hard, trying to stop sweating. -- THE AGREEMENT
There's an art to getting your ass kicked. -- EPITAPH
"I want you to kill my wife." -- SUFFER
"Let me get this straight--you want me to murder you tonight?" -- REDUX
"Eat it." -- FINICKY EATER
The mark knelt next to a garbage can, two hands unsuccessfully trying to plug nine holes in his face, neck, and upper body. -- LIGHT DRIZZLE
"No thanks." -- THE BAG
Rust from the crowbar flaked off, coating my palm with orange dust. -- BASKET CASE
Voice Module 195567 Record Mode: Is this thing working? -- SYMBIOS
Some are stronger than others. Why? What makes a first line good or bad?
Feel free to post some of your favorites.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Other things on the agenda:
- Catch up on my email.
- Finally do the library mailing.
- Judge all the contests on my website, and update it with tons more content.
Then I'll be Officially Caught Up, just in time to write my next Jack book.To Bloggers: If you link to my blog, but I don't link to yours, let me know and I'll correct the situation.
To Newbie Writers: Don't start your stories with setting. I'm judging a magazine contest, and 9 out of 10 stories begin with the shining sun or the wet rain. I don't read much farther. Start with dialog and action, and let the setting come out through the story.
To Maria: I love you.
Sunday, November 06, 2005
MoM is a 60 table banquet lunch with over 500 guests. Each author gets his own table (except for Shelby, who had to share with another author) and 90 seconds to stand up and address the entire room.
Some writers, sadly, are much better writers than talkers. Those I listed above don't have that problem (buy their books), and the conference quickly became a game of 'who can get the biggest laughs.' And there were some big ones. My favorite was Lee, waxing philosophically about his recent proctological exam, and possibly turing that into a mystery series. I offered to co-write, and proposed four titles:
MURDER IN AN UNHAPPY PLACE
IT ONLY HURTS IN THE END
HEY, WHERE'S MY WRISTWATCH?
HE STOLE MY CARS, THEN WRECKED 'EM
Laughs translated into sales. I sold out of paperbacks, and moved quite a few hardcovers. Those who spoke poorly, sold poorly.
Message from Joe: Learn to Speak in Public. Now.
There's a lot of buzz circulating about Dean Koontz's speech, and how he offended many attendees. Personally, I didn't find the remarks offensive---Koontz was purposely trying to be humorously insulting, in order to get a certain Japanese CEO to drop his name from a movie title. His goal was to dishonor the guy. The problem was in the set-up and the execution. Koontz just wasn't very funny. George Carlin is a lot more offensive, but gets away with it because he's funny.
Had Koontz spent more time showing he was the underdog, and established that he wasn't racist and did all of this to right an injustice (rather than because he simply wanted his way, which is how he came off), I think the story would have gone over a little better.
Or perhaps Mr. Koontz should simply retire this particular anecdote.
Of course, when you sell 300 million books, chances are you don't care too much about the opinions of your peers. In fact, I've only sold 100k books and I don't care too much about the opinions of my peers either. But, while I'm often inappropriate in public, I'm never hateful. Many thought Dean was.
Which brings up an interesting point. If you're going to talk in public, be aware that you might not get the reaction you expect. Whether that dictates what you say or don't say is up to you. Just be prepared to face public opinion when you're finished speaking.
Conferences are essential for writers, and at conferences you'll be asked to speak. Unlike signings, where you'll meet a few dozen readers, you can meet hundreds at a con. You don't want to turn readers against you.
Next weekend, I'll be with Dave Ellis, Blake Crouch, Melanie Lynne Hauser, Libby Fischer Hellmann, Gregg Hurwitz (who I just saw at MoM) and others, at Murder and Mayhem in Muskego.
Coming up next year is Love is Murder in Chicago February 3-4, Sleuthfest in Florida March 3-6, and the first annual Thrillerfest, June 29-July 2 in Arizona.
Thrillerfest is put on by the International Thriller Writers, and this con is quickly getting some very big names to attend. Get your tickets now, while they're still available.
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
I believe that being approachable and accessible is necessary in this business, and I spend a good deal of time making sure I'm able to be reached, and that I reply to those who reach me.
My website took a great deal of time to set up. I used to update the content weekly, but now it's once a month, and mostly limited to appearances and news.
My blog is where I have a chance to air my thoughts about publishing, and I spend a lot of time here, posting and replying.
I run several contests, and the latest one just ended. It was a short story contest, and I had over a hundred entries, which thrills me.
Email is still the preferred method of contact, and I get between 30 and 50 emails a week from fans.
Snail mail is almost non-existent. I've gotten around ten fan letters in the past two years, compared to thousands of emails.
All told, I spend about ten hours a week connecting with fans. I feel it is time well spent.
But is there anything in my career which I don't consider worthwhile?
It is coming up on my three year anniversary---three years ago, this November, I landed my first book deal. I went into this business green, and I know quite a lot now. Like all new authors, I had many misconceptions that were quickly dispelled.
Here are some things I've learned:
Write a good book. While this is a no brainier, so many new writers blame everyone but themselves for their lack of publication credits. If you want to succeed, you have to learn the craft.
Readers are more important than peers. When I first got published, it was incredibly important for me to be accepted by the mystery community. Now, not so much. I treasure the friends I've made, and will continue to make more, but I'm no longer worried about seeking approval.
Kiss ass. Start with the folks on your team--your agent and publisher. Then pucker up for booksellers, and fans. Be thankful, be gracious, and be vocal in both. If you're fun to work with, you're ahead of the game. If you spread warmth, it will be returned to you. Spreading venom has the same effect.
Give back. If you've had any degree of success, send the elevator back down. Talk to new writers. Offer advice. Teach. Give blurbs. Post publishing tips on your website.
Have a plan. Don't expect anyone to help you, guide you, or take care of you. Learn as much as you can, set goals, and figure out how to reach those goals.
Stay grounded. It's very easy to get caught up in the hype. Get real. You aren't curing cancer. You're an entertainer--don't think that you're more than that.
Don't volunteer. It's very easy to get used. I'm all for helping out within the writing and publishing community, but I've gotten burned a few times. Know what is in it for you, and be clear about what you're getting in return.
Don't compare yourself to other authors. Someone is always going to have more money, larger print runs, more fans, and better deals. Competition is healthy, but it should be with yourself, not with others.
Don't listen to reviews. You will anyway, but don't take it personally. Not everyone will like your books. Not everyone will like you. It isn't important what people are saying, as long as they're saying something.
Don't go to awards ceremonies. Losing isn't a big deal. What hurts is having fifty people come up to you and say, "Sorry you lost."
Be approachable. Both in person, and in cyberspace. If someone reaches out to you, reach back.
Learn to turn it off. I'm still struggling with this. Being a writer defines me as a person, and I can't seem to ever get away from it. I've had one vacation in three years, and during that vacation I did booksignings. Know when to relax. And when you learn how, teach me how.
Cherish family and friends. After you become a writer, there won't be many people who knew you 'before.' The ones who did are special. Never let them forget how special they are.
Don't worry. No matter how much you do, how hard you try, luck still plays a huge part in success. As Barry Eisler just told me, the most you can do is to try your best. Then, no matter how luck factors in, you'll at least have no regrets.
So far, I don't have any regrets. I wish the same to all of you.
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Writing a book, even a bad book, is a big accomplishment. You spend months, or years, creating an entire universe. It's hard work, lonely, egotistical, empowering, magical, mysterious, fulfilling, and depressing. When you finally write THE END, few things in life compare with that feeling.
Naturally, you want others to recognize your efforts. Perhaps even pay you for them.
Most first books aren't very good. Because personal opinion plays a part, it is harder to judge the quality of good writing. Paint an apple that looks like an apple, and you will be considered a decent artist. Play a song on the piano without messing up, and you will be considered a good musician. Finishing a book does not mean you will be considered a good author.
Most first authors don't know this.
Rather than treat publishing like a business (as they should) some authors treat themselves like artists, and then look for a way to legitimize their efforts. Even neophyte writers know this means:
- Getting an agent
- Getting published
With most artistic endeavors, there is a learning curve. Writing has one as well, but it is harder to see.
I've written at length about how screwed up the publishing business is. But the business is a result of years of evolution and attrition. As problematic as it may be, it has become a way for writers to prove their worthiness as artists. It proves that there are no easy routes to getting an agent, or getting a book deal.
Authors that break in must meet some minimum requirements. They must tell competent, salable stories, based on the opinions of professionals who work within the industry.
It is hard to impress these professionals.
As such, since publishing became big-business, another type of big-business arose--validating the writer through alternative means.
A book is an intensely personal thing. Rejection is hard. Many new writers cannot get validated through the NY publishing scene, so they seek alternative methods.
Here are a few, and why they are bad.
FEE CHARGING AGENTS - An agent is someone who earns 15% of the rights sales she makes on behalf of a writer. Agents need no license, no degree, no training. Anyone can call herself an agent.
Getting a good agent is hard to do, because they have high standards. Even though they work for the writer, they have all of the control at the beginning of the relationship.
Some authors don't think that they have any choice in the matter--they're stuck with whatever agent accepts them. Read the writing tips on my website for more about good and bad agents.
When a cow is slaughtered, there is a lot of blood and extra bits and pieces that are of no use to the slaughterhouse. But this waste has spawned cottage industries that buy the offal and use it in pet food, fertilizer, and many other things.
This is what happened in publishing.
A bad agent can't stay in business--no sales means no money. But even bad agents were swamped by needy writers, begging to be represented. So the bad agents came up with a plan. They would charge the writers a small fee.
A struggling writer craving validation will happily pay $50 a month (supposedly for costs related to running an agency like Xeroxing, phone calls, messenger service) to have an agent.
Do the numbers. If a fee-charging agent has 100 clients, she's making $5000 a month for doing nothing.
How hard is she going to work to sell your book? Not very hard at all.
WRITING CONTESTS - It's hard to publish short stories. There are only so many markets, and they tend to be picky.
Along came the contest. Pay $5, or $10, or $50 for a chance to win $500.
Do the numbers. If a 1000 authos pay $10 each, the person running the contest makes $10,000. They pay $500 to the winner, and pocket the rest.
The legitimate contests don't charge fees. And there's no guarantee winning the contest will do anything for your career. I could put in a query letter "I won the Randolf Award, the Zimmer Prize, and placed second in the Zamboni Fellowship" and the editor won't care.
The story is what matters, not the number of awards the writer has won.
If you have a good story, submit it to a paying market, or a contest that doesn't charge any fees.
PAID ANTHOLOGIES - Here's another quick scam. You submit a poem, and it gets accepted into an upcoming poetry collection. You get excited, tell all your friends and family, and then get a letter in the mail saying that you can purchase the anthology at $40.
Naturally you buy a copy, and so does Mom, and so does Aunt Grace and your best friend Phil. When you get the anthology, you see it is 700 pages long, and your wonderful poem is crammed on a page with seven others.
Do the numbers. If there are 3000 poems in the book, and each writer in the anthology bought at least one copy, the publisher made $120,000.
Poetry.com was infamous for this scam. They'd also invite writers to awards ceremonies, at staggering costs to the gullible writer, to receive a worthless award along with 1000 other 'winners.'
VANITY PRESS - In simple terms, a vanity press is a publisher whom the writer pays to get into print. Vanity presses often have contracts that hurt the writer (low royalties, excessive rights,) make false promises about distribution and sales, and deliver an inferior, high-priced product that you have to pay to warehouse and that you can't get into any bookstores.
A traditional press makes money through book sales. A vanity press makes money off the writer.
PRINT ON DEMAND - POD is a type of press that eliminates the warehouse fees by creating single copies of books to order, using a special photocopy/binding machine.
Some call it a technology, which it is. Some call it vanity, which is can be.
If there is a contract between the press and the author which requires the author to pay money and also discusses rights and royalties, it is a vanity press.
POD books are even more expensive that offset printed vanity books. They aren't returnable, and can't be distributed. They don't look, feel, or even smell the same as regular books. Like vanity presses, they aren't edited edited for content, and they publish anyone with enough money. There is no 'weeding out' process like there is in tradional publishing, and so many bad vanity books have been produced that there's a stigma associated with them--and the stigma is well-deserved.
Some well known POD vanity presses include Xlibris, PublishAmerica, iUniverse, and AuthorHouse. Avoid them.
Many writers want to self-publish. If that's your goal, hire a printer and learn about the business. Paying someone else, either POD or Vanity, to publish your work is a very bad idea.
Real publishers don't solicit authors. They don't send spam offering their services. They don't put ads in magazines. They don't mail you brochures. And they NEVER ask for money.
BOOK DOCTORS - After getting many rejections, a writer might begin to think her book isn't as good as she assumes. She'll want to make it better, but is unsure of how to do so.
Enter the freelance editor. Someone who charges a fee between $2 and $10 a page to 'fix' the book.
Some are legitimate, and can be helpful. Some are scammers who charge a few grand and make the book even worse. Like agents, there is no license, experience, or eduaction required to call yourself an editor.
My advice is to learn how to edit yourself. You should be able to do that anyway. But if you need a second opinion, and are willing to pay for it, get references. Know beforehand what you are paying for.
Some unscrupulous agents have worked with book doctors, selling them the addresses of the writers they have rejected. The rejected writer will receive a brochure in the mail, touting the book doctor's expertise.
Some bad agents will also refer writers directly to a book doctor, for a referral fee. Beware anyone asking you for money.
I have published author friends who successfully use freelance editors. I think your time and money are better spent learning the craft on your own. Take a class. Read books about editing. Join a writer's group.
If you really need a freelance editor, ask around. Getrecomendations from your peers. Don't pick one because they have a splashy ad in Writer's Digest.
SELF-PUBLISHING - I think self publishing is an option open to writers, but it involves a lot of time and effort, plus a lot of money. I'll defend self-publishing, but I do not recommend it--even though I know authors who have done it successfully.
Self-publishing is not vanity or POD publishing. A self-published author retains all rights, and doesn't share royalties with their printer. A self-published author creates their own imprint, gets their own ISBN, copyright, and Library of Congress ID, finds their own distributer, allows for returns, and knows up front the cost and effort going into their business.
I believe it is easier to find a traditional publisher than it is to successfully self-publish, and would recommend writing another book before trying to self-publish a book that has been rejected by traditional publishers.
THE BOTTOM LINE - Don't pay anyone any money for anything. If you do, do so knowing the risks involved. Education is your ally. Research is your friend. Ask questions. Seek answers. Trust your gut. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
The best things in life are the things that are earned, not handed to you. The harder you work for it, the sweeter success is when it arrives. Keep at it. Keep writing. Keep submitting. Never say die.
NY publishing is flawed. It's fallible. It wants to reject you. But it isn't an impossible nut to crack. Visit and sign up for www.publisherslunch.com and www.pwweekly.com. Each week there are new deals made with first time writers. It happens all the time.
The true secret to getting published is simple: Write a book that a complete stranger will pay $25 for.
Monday, October 24, 2005
Are there criteria? Are those criteria universal?
When does an author become 'successful?'
- Selling a book?
- Earning a living?
- Selling movie rights?
- Hitting the bestseller list?
- Having 1000 books in print? 10,000? 100,000? 1,000,000? 10,000,000?
- Getting on television?
- Winning awards?
- Getting ten emails a week from fans? 100? 1000?
- Having 100 website hits a day? 100,000?
- Being ranked in the Top 50 on Amazon?
- Getting paid for speaking?
- Receiving fan mail?
- Being known within your genre?
- Being known by the general public?
- Earning out your advance?
- Getting a six figure deal? A seven figure deal?
- Having your backlist still in print?
- Being sold in Walmart?
- Getting on Oprah?
- Teaching and helping others?
- Trying your best?
- Being happy?
I know bestselling authors and self-published authors and many in between. I know writers with a lot of talent who haven't gotten published, and those who have gotten published without a lot of talent. I know that hard work plays a part, but so does luck, and luck favors the prepared.
But most of all, I know that if I ever want to be successful, my definition of success has to change.
The day I no longer need any kind of validation is the day I'll truly be successful.
Does anyone want to validate me on that?
Saturday, October 22, 2005
One of the students, a guy named Marcus Sakey, offered to buy me a beer after class. We went to a nearby watering hole and began to talk shop.
Marcus wrote lit fiction, and was pursuing his Masters in the hope that one day he'd be able to write and sell a book.
I gave him my opinion--an MFA won't sell a book. Only a good book will sell a book. School and study is something you do INSTEAD of write.
I also told him that the market for lit fiction isn't very large, and asked if there were any genres he liked to read.
Marcus liked Dennis Lehane, who writes crime fiction.
"Then you need to drop out of school and write a crime novel," I said.
He picked up the check, and I promptly forgot about him. Until he showed up at an event of mine a few weeks later.
"I did it," he told me.
"Did what?" I asked. I couldn't remember who he was.
"I did what you suggested."
"I dropped out of school, stopped writing lit fiction, and am working on a thriller."
"Oh. Uh... that's great."
I'd hear from Marcus occasionally, and every so often our paths would cross. We'd talk about writing, and the publishing business, and the importance of self-promotion, and more often than not Marcus would pick up the check.
I began to like this guy a lot, not just because he kept buying me beer. He was smart, funny, and really dedicated to making it in this business. I soon considered him a friend.
Two months ago, my friend finished his first novel, called THE BLADE ITSELF.
It was good. Damn good.
Marcus queried some agents, and got two big ones interested. He signed with a great agency, who went out with his book a few weeks ago.
A few days ago, Marcus called, saying he'd gotten a modest offer.
The next day, he'd gotten a counter-offer, which was considerably better.
The day after that, he had a two book deal and was earning more money than I am.
I couldn't have been happier than if it had happened to me.
Are you a new writer, unable to break into the publishing world? Take heart. It is possible. Marcus is proof. Within a year, he went from college student to earning a living as a writer.
Look for THE BLADE ITSELF to be released by St. Martin's in January 2007.
Look for Marcus at a writing convention near you. Offer to buy him a beer, and then pick his brain about the publishing business. But don't be surprised if he tries to talk you out of getting that MFA...
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
To my Friends in the bookselling biz—
Lt. Jack Daniels and I want to thank you for kicking so much butt selling WHISKEY SOUR and BLOODY MARY. Your enthusiasm has been the key to the series’ success.
For this book, Hyperion and I are doing something special—something never done before—to show our appreciation.
During the summer of 2006, I’ll be visiting 500 bookstores across the United States.
I’d love to stop by your store and say hello.
If you’re interested in having me drop in, please contact me through my website, JAKonrath.com.
I’m looking forward to seeing many of you again, and to meeting many of you for the first time. Now I’ll open the floor to questions.
Q: Did you really say five-hundred bookstores?
Yes. I wish it could be more—there are so many great stores and great people in this business.
Q: How long will you be on the road?
All of July and August.
Q: Do we find out what happens to Jack’s mother in this book?
Yes. Many characters from WHISKEY SOUR also return, like Phin and the Feebies. Plus, it appears that the Gingerbread Man is back.
Q: But I thought…
Shhh. Don’t spoil it for new readers.
Q: So if I want you to drop by my store, I just have to email you?
I’ll try my best to honor all requests. I love booksellers. That’s why I thank so many of them in my acknowledgements. In fact, two of the main characters in RUSTY NAIL are named after booksellers.
Anyone who sells twenty or more copies of my novels gets mentioned in DIRTY MARTINI, the fourth Jack Daniels novel. The one who sells the most will get to be the villain in FUZZY NAVEL.
Q: What does “JA” stand for? Are you a woman or a man?
I’m sorry, no more questions. See you this summer!
Is 500 stores in 61 days really doable? That's only about 8 stores a day. In densely populated areas, I can hit 15 a day. In rural areas, I can visit at least 5. These are drop-ins, not full-fledged events. Half hour schmoozing, then on to the next.
I see three main problems ont he horizon.
1. Planning. Even wiyh my trusty GPS, I've got to have a route planned. That could take some time.
2. Travel. The US is big. Real big. And there are long unpopulated stretches that would interfere with my quota.
3. I may die of exhaustion.
In July, I visited 106 bookstores in 11 days. I could have done more, bcause 8 of those were events that lasted several hours. But I probably could not have been more tired.
So can I do it? Is it even possible? Will my family forgive me for being gone an entire summer? Will it generate some buzz and publicity? Will it sell books?
The future will reveal all.