Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Conference Tips

Bouchercon is this weekend in Madison. It's the biggest gathering of mystery writers and fans of the year.

If you are a writer attending for the first time, you might be wondering what to expect. Or, more to the point, what not to expect. Here's the quick and dirty version:
  • Don't expect to be recognized. Readers don't normally put names to faces, unless you're already famous.
  • Don't expect to sell a lot of books. Even bestsellers don't move huge numbers at events like this.
  • Don't expect anyone to attend your panel to see you. People go to panels based on the topic and the star power. If you're reading this blog, I'm guessing you don't have the star power.
  • Do expect to introduce yourself to as many people as you can. Sit next to strangers at lunch, shake hands, make a good impression. That's the reason you're there, not to drink with your friends.
  • Do expect to schmooze the booksellers. If they don't carry your books, offer them some to sell at a discount (you travel with a box of your books, don't you?)
  • Don't expect to get any writing done.
  • Don't expect this to be worth your time and money. At least, tangibly. It will be fun and exciting, and at the same time sobering and ego-crushing. There are a lot of authors more popular than you are. Remember that you're not here as a salesperson. You're here as an ambassador. Radiate confidence. Spread good cheer. What you do here today may not pay off today, but it may pay off in 2009.

Many writers have a checklist of things they need to bring along. After doing a lot of these conferences, my checklist has narrowed considerably. I have some sort of give-away like flyers or coasters, business cards, and extra books in case the booksellers run out.

Many writers also fear public speaking, and do waaaay too much worrying and fretting and preparing for panels. If you're one of those kind of writers, here's a quick tutorial:

I've been to a lot of conventions, and I've been on a lot of panels. I've seen writers excel at their panel gigs, and I've seen writers fail miserably. A panel is a valuable opportunity to shine. Giving good panel will help fans remember you and your brand, which will lead to selling books. Barry Eisler has some guidelines for moderating panels, and I agree with his points. Many of these apply to being a panelist as well, but not all of them.

Here then is a Panelist's manifesto.

1. Be able to describe your book or series in 20 seconds or less. Whatever topic your panel is about, the ultimate reason you're at this conference is to self-promote. This is your chance to pitch the book to potential readers. Here's my pitch:

"My name is JA Konrath, and I write the Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels thriller series. The books are scary, like James Patterson and Patricia Cornwell, but funny like Evanovich and Dave Barry."

That's all you need. More than that, you'll lose your audience.

2. Once you've pitched your book, stop pitching your book. After you do your 20 second sound byte, stop trying to sell. Your job is to be entertaining. Focus on that. If a question directly pertains to one of your books, that's fine. If you want to make a point using one of your books, that's fine. But less is more. If you ramble too much about your books, the audience will lose interest.

3. Be funny. If you can't be funny, be brief. Studies have shown that if you can't get to the point in ten seconds, you've already lost your audience. (These studies were conducted by me, watching innumerable panels.)

The audience is interested in your answers, but only if those answers are entertaining. When you're on a panel, you're on stage. That means you're meant to perform. If you don't do well in front of an audience, let brevity be the true essence of wit.

4. About that brevity thing. Sometimes your answers may tend to run long. Try to curtail this. You think you're more interesting than you actually are. There can be anywhere from three to ten other panelists, and they all deserve equal time---don't infringe upon theirs.

5. Speak like a professional. Make sure you're loud enough so everyone can hear you. Avoid speech hesitations like um, ah, and uh. Sit up straight. Make eye contact with as many people in the audience as you can. Smile. Laugh. You should only speak if you have something to enhance the conversation. Many writers feel they have to get "their time in." If that time is boring, they're doing more harm than good.

6. Engage the audience. Public speaking isn't a monologue; it's a dialog where half of the conversation (the audience) isn't very vocal. But give and take is happening.

You want your audience to be responsive, to show their interest through body language. Do the people look bored? Get them to pay attention. Is someone burning to ask a question? Stop talking and let them ask it. Pay attention to their reactions and responses. Your responses won't be remembered, but your enthusiasm will be.

Be confidant, not cocky. Never talk down to an audience; always assume they are smarter than you are. Before a panel, I try to shake the hand of everyone in the audience, and hand out a signed coaster. This gets them on my side before I say word one.

7. Look professional. Dress for success. Appearance means a lot. Business casual or nicer. Pay attention to how you're sitting, and what you're doing, the entire time you're on the panel, even if you're not the one speaking. No eating, chewing gum, picking your fingernails, drinking anything other than bottled water.

8. Know the topic, don't read the topic. You will be asked to appear on panels that have nothing to do with your books. This happens. When it does, you need to prepare beforehand and make sure you have something interesting to say about this topic. But DO NOT READ YOUR ANSWER!

It's okay to have notes, but once you start speaking, you must never refer to those notes. Reading is not engaging. Glancing down at a piece of paper is distracting to the audience.

9. Talk when you need to talk, but otherwise wait your turn. When the moderator, a panelist, or an audience member asks you something, you should always respond, but the length of the response should depend on if you truly have something to say about the topic. Just because you have the chance to speak does not mean you should speak.

Passing off questions to other people on the panel who might be better suited to answer them is a classy move. Interrupting other panelists constantly with your monologues is bad bad bad.

10. Interrupt when needed. Sometimes a panelist is monopolizing the panel, and the moderator isn't doing anything about it. Sometimes someone says something that screams for a response or a joke. Remember why you're there: to entertain. If you have a joke, say it. If you disagree with someone, start a polite argument then and there. It makes panels more interesting, and more fun.

Lee Goldberg is brilliant with one liners, and he always makes the panel fun. David Morrell isn't afraid to disagree with his fellow panelists, and this always makes the discussion more entertaining and exciting.

11. Help the moderator. Sometimes your moderator will suck. If the ship is sinking because the captain is incompetent, do something or you'll go down with the ship. Start asking questions of your fellow panelists, or of the audience. Interrupt the moderator if she's talking too much about herself, reading bios or questions, seems ill-prepared, can't keep the discussion going, or is otherwise crashing and burning.

Also, if the moderator doesn't say anything about herself (when I moderate, I rarely even introduce myself) it's a classy move to ask the moderator some occasional questions. If another panelist isn't getting a chance to speak, ask her questions to get her to speak. If another panelist is rambling, stop it somehow.

12. Bring copy of your book with you. Many in the audience won't know you, or your books. Having your book next to you will help them find it when they're back in the dealer room. It's subtle, subconscious brand reinforcement, and it links your face to your cover. Some authors don't do this, because they don't like how it looks. My rule of thumb is: If at least one other author has their book propped up, you should too. But you don't want to be the only one with a book, because that looks needy. Consequently, being the only one without a book looks forgetful.

13. Stick around. If you did well, people will approach you after the panel has ended. They'll ask follow-up questions, bring you things to sign, or just want to shake your hand and tell you how much they enjoyed it. Bask in this, and thank them for coming. Also thank the moderator if they did a good job.

14. Get feedback. The best way to know how you did is to watch a videotape of it. You can learn a lot watching yourself. The next best way is to ask a member of the audience whom you trust. Ask how you could improve. Don't settle for less than the truth. We learn from criticism, not praise.

Remember that facts and opinions aren't interesting. Personality, humor, and conflicts are interesting. You're there to sell, but you shouldn't be selling, you should be entertaining. And if you're entertaining, you'll wind up selling.

See you in Madison!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Support the Infrastructure

I was lecturing the other day (I can't remember if it was in a class, online, or to some strangers in the Starbucks restroom) about supporting the system that sustains us.

How many writers have submitted stories to magazines they've never even read, let alone subscribe to?

You write books, but how many books do you buy?

You've got a new book out, or maybe a few, yet you come back from writing conferences empty-handed because you haven't bought a thing.

Yeah, I know books and mags are expensive, especially on a poverty level budget. But how can we truly expect to become part of the publishing industry if we don't support it with our dollars?

Well, here's a chance. Apex Science Fiction and Horror, a digest size journal available by subscription and at newsstands everywhere, is in trouble. They're one of the premeire markets for fantastic literature, but the editor of the mag (Jason Sizemore) got hit with a large printing bill and no way to pay it. How large? Two grand.

Now two grand isn't a lot of money. But most magazines are a labor of love that don't show a profit for the first few years, and Jason has been pumping a lot of his own money into this magazine since the very beginning. He has no more money to pump.

That's where you come in. Visit the Apex blog at and read about the uber-cool raffle that is being held to save the magazine. Lots of incredible merchandise is for sale for only a few dollars. One of the raffle prizes is a three chapter critique from a literary agent.

After you spend five or ten bucks on raffle tickets, go buy a subscription or a few back issues.

This isn't charity. You're getting somthing for your money. Besides the merchandise, you're keeping alive one more potential source for your writing. And with the sad state the short story market is in, we need all the potential sources we can get.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

This is Your Career Wake Up Call

(ring, ring)

Good morning, this is your career. It's time for you to wake up.

You're in trouble.

You've written a good book, or maybe even a few, but you aren't selling as well as expected.

Your publisher is behind you, but they're spending most of their marketing dollars on books that are selling better than yours. That may seem unfair, but it is the way of the world.

You've done signings, but you've never done well at them.

You've got a website and a blog, but even though you seem to be getting some visitors, it isn't translating into sales.

You've gone to conventions, literary festivals, and conferences, but you've never sold enough books to justify the travel cost.

You're doing all the things you're supposed to be doing, but no one seems to care.

Don't you think it's time to quit?

You're never going to be a huge success. A few good reviews and a few fan letters don't mean a thing. This business is about numbers. And yours aren't nearly good enough. You're small potatoes, and you need to recognize that.

You got into this because you love to write. But now you have to deal with deadlines, bad reviews, and overwhelming apathy toward your work. People may think you're doing well, but they don't know the truth. You spend more time promoting than writing, and it never seems to pay off.

You aren't making enough money to justify all of your time and effort.

Don't feel bad. You gave it your best shot. No one could have asked for more. This is a hard business where only a few thrive. Did you really think you would be one of them?

Look at how many other writers you know. How many of them make a living at it? How many are bestsellers? Five? Maybe ten? Out of the five hundred you've met? Doesn't that tell you something?

Why torture yourself for years to come with dreams that will never be fulfilled? Why force yourself to visit one more bookstore, one more conference, one more event? Aren't you frustrated? Don't you realize that every other author has this same problem? You're all desperate and struggling, no matter how much bravado you show the public.

You'll never make a difference, and you'll never be happy.

Quit now, and save your sanity.

You'll never... hey, wait, don't hang up!

You have to listen to me! I'm the voice of reason! I'm cold, hard logic, telling you that you suck! You need to realize...


We apologize for the preceding announcement. That wake up call was not for you.

You may go back to sleep now.

Dream big.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Five Habits of Highly Neurotic Authors

Admit it---if you write for a living, or strive to write for a living, you're probably a basket case.

Part of the problem is that writing is such a fickle profession. It's impossible to break into, with a tremendous failure rate.

Another part of the problem is that artistic types tend to be right brained, which means they are moody at best, psychotically bi-polar at worst. Selling your art comes with a lot of egotistical baggage, some of it good, most of it bad.

Here are five traits I've noticed in writers. Do any of them describe you?

Depression - Rejection hurts. It never stops hurting. Unfortunately, rejection is a part of the business. Being told that our work and our efforts aren't good enough can really play hell with the healthiest of egos. Especially if it is long term.

My Advice - Allow yourself to hurt. Go ahead and get down on yourself. Commiserate with friends. Stay in bed. Drink too much. Then move on. Never dwell for more than a day on being rejected. Instead, jump back on the horse and try again. I've heard JA Konrath was rejected 450 times and had 9 unpublished novels. If he can do it, so can you.

Insecurity - It's easy to believe that you aren't good enough, that you'll never succeed. After all, the odds are against you. Why even bother finishing that book? It won't sell anyway. Besides, your mother/spouse/teacher/writer's group told you it isn't any good. It's best never to submit anything. And if you are published, it's best to never promote yourself. Because, ultimately, you're just going to fail.

My Advice - Confidence isn't the absence of insecurity; it's never allowing insecurity to prevent action. It's never easy to show people your story, or speak in front of a crowd, or give an interview. But that doesn't mean the world has to know. You can fake confidence, and no one will know it isn't the real thing. And, strangely enough, faking confidence usually leads to real confidence, and there's really no difference between the two. Be the person you want to be, not the person you fear you are, and you will become that person.

Obsessiveness - Of course you check your Amazon ranking four times a day. Of course you torture yourself over how soon you should send a follow-up query to an agent or editor you haven't heard back from. Of course you Google yourself. Of course you travel everywhere with a laptop/Blackberry/PDA/Cell phone that allows you 24 access to the Internet so you can see if anyone has responded to your comment on Backspace. This is your career, and you're entitled to obsess about it--even if that obsession turns you into one of BF Skinner's pigeons, pecking at a lever hoping for a treat.

My Advice - I spent two months on tour, with limited email access. I survived. Cut the umbilical cord and realize that your career will continue without you watching over it every second of the day. Not every person who talks about you needs a personal response, and a few jackasses writing snotty reviews on Amazon won't hurt your sales. Walk away from the computer every once and a while. You'll feel much better.

Egomania - At one point or another, we all feel very good about ourselves. Maybe it's after writing something we love, or getting a good review, or signing a contract, or seeing our name in print. Beware the sense of entitlement that can piggyback on this pride; the feeling that good things are happening because you truly deserve it, or because you're better than everyone else.

My Advice - Chances are, if you're an egomaniac, you don't know it. Some signs to watch out for are:
  • In conversation or correspondence, the topic is almost always about you.
  • Anyone has ever called you 'smug,' 'condescending,' or 'unsympathetic.'
  • You believe that your success has nothing to do with luck.
  • You know that you're better than other writers.
  • You truly believe your way is the only way.

If you find yourself thinking or acting like this, plan on quickly losing friends and having the world collectively cheer when you fall on your ass. Don't confuse confidence with cockiness---people respond to humility much more than they resond to superiority.

Obliviousness - None of us are born understanding the dynamics of writing and publishing. We often do the same thing over and over again, hoping for different results. We refuse to listen to the advice of others. We have goals but haven't fully thought out how to meet them. We think that publishing is something that it actually isn't. And we hope it will all work out anyway.

My Advice - Learn all you can about the craft and business of writing. So many writers I meet, even bestselling pros, are amazingly naive, and content to stay that way. You're not doing yourself any good with your head in the clouds. Figure out how the industry works, and where your place is within it. Set attainable goals. Expect reasonable results. Try different things and learn from your failures and successes. Ignorance isn't bliss---it's death.

Speaking of learning about the business, MJ Rose's Buzz Your Book - The Class is starting soon. The online, one-on-one, marketing class MJ created with Doug Clegg is back due to popular demand. One time only in 2007 from Jan 8 to Feb 18th. It's for all authors who want to augment their publisher's efforts with grassroots marketing. Class size is limited. Visit for information.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Time to Make Time

Timing is everything.

Getting the right book in front of the right editor at the right moment is what sells books. Sure, talent is a factor. So is an awesome manuscript. But let's face it: NO book has ever been wanted by everybody. Houses turn down books all the time that later go on to huge success. And after a book is published, there are so many intangible things that happen---things that you never could have planned for---that come down to being in the right place at the right time.

But what happens when you have no time?

I've heard about writers who have things called "day jobs" and "families" and apparently these can take up a lot of time. So can "vacations" and "leisure" and "sleep."

But how can you fit any of that in when you're:

  • Writing your next book
  • Revising your previous book
  • Answering email
  • Updating your website
  • Doing your blog
  • Touring
  • Going to conferences and conventions
  • Visiting libraries
  • Dropping in bookstores
  • Sending out your newsletter
  • Doing interviews
  • Establishing a web presence
  • Networking
  • Schmoozing

Well, the answer is: you can't.

Which is why I'm so behind in everything. I still have 567 emails to answer, dating from July to present. I promised two people short stories for upcoming anthologies. I have a bunch of signed stuff to mail out. I'm writing two books and a screenplay. I promised 25 people I'll link to their blogs but haven't yet. I'm teaching a class on Thursday, going to Michigan this weekend, have an internet chat on Monday, going to Madison next weekend (when I'm debuting a book at Bouchercon), teaching a two week class after that, doing a library event the next weekend, going to Milwaukee the next weekend, going to Kansas in November, followed by Muskego, followed by an event in Joliet and an event in Schaumburg, and then it's time for the Holidays, which is when I start doing booksignings.

I'm not complaining. Nor am I alone in this dilemma. All writers have to somehow figure out how to budget their time.

I'd love to say that I have a magic formula that reveals the secrets of staying organized and ahead of the game, but I don't. Often I don't know what I'm doing tomorrow.

But I have picked up a few tricks that might help you, the author, make things a little easier.

  1. Write it down. Friends of mine use a PDA or day-timer. I have a calendar that I write down important dates, such as appearances and deadlines. I often don't know what I'm doing that day until I look at my calendar.
  2. Prioritize. Travel and appearances come first. Then making deadlines. Then booking appearances. Then doing interviews. Then writing. Then blogging. Then answering email. Then mailing stuff out. Then updating my website and blog.
  3. Focus. The hardest part about working from home is that you're at home, and there are plenty of other things you can be doing, like watching TV, reading, sleeping, or establishing a bond with your children. Work time means work time. Everything else should happen after work.
  4. Apologize. The world doesn't care how busy you are. They only care that you missed your appearance or deadline, never mailed then the book your promised, and don't reply to fan mail. I say "I'm sorry" so often that people think it's my first name. Being thankful, gracious, courteous, and apologetic can go a long way to turning someone's bad experience with you into a good one.
  5. Take a break. Burnout happens. If you push yourself harder than you should, your efforts will suffer. The better you treat yourself, the better work you'll do.
  6. Turn things down. This one is tough. I'm lucky to be at a point in my career where I'm invited to speak at events. It's wonderful to be wanted. But that four hour trip to do a library in Podunk where seven people who up may not be the best use of your time and effort. When you're starting out, take everything that's offered to you. But after a few years, try to be choosy. Your sanity will thank you later.

Where do family, day jobs, vacations, leisure time, and sleep fit into the time plan? That depends on you. I'm often at odds with other writers who believe they can't even begin to attend to their career before little Timmy is tucked into bed, they've watched Monday Night Football, they've had a full eight hours of sleep, they've baked themselves brown in Bermuda for two weeks, and they put in 40 hours at their job. And that's fine. But if you want a writing career, you need to make some time for it.

That, ultimately, is the secret. You'll never find time to succeed in publishing. You have to make time. And like most things in life, the more you put in, the more you get out.

And speaking of making time, here's an assortment of things I should have mentioned in earlier blog posts but haven't:

THESE GUNS FOR HIRE, an anthology of kick ass hitman stories that I edited, will debut at Bouchercon. Here's the cover:

You're invited to the booklaunch party. It's just a block away from the Bouchercon Madison Concourse Hotel at Cafe Montamarte, 127 E. Mifflin St, Thursday Sept 28, 8pm-close. Twenty of the authors in the anthology will be there, signing copies. It is the don't-miss event of Bouchercon. Be there.

Who's in this anthology? Here's the author list:

Jeff Abbott - Seize Your Future
Raymond Benson - Another Rock 'n' Roll Hit
Michael A. Black - The Black Rose
Lawrence Block - Keller's Designated Hitter
Jay Bonansinga - There's Somebody Here Wants to Talk to You
Ken Bruen - Punk
Reed Farrel Coleman - Bat-Head Speed
Max Allan Collins - Guest Services
Sean Doolittle - The Professional
David Ellis - The Shining Knight
John Galligan - Man Hit
Victor Gischler - They Always Get You
Ed Gorman - Beauty
Mitchell Graham - The Lourve Cafe
Jeremiah Healy - The Confessional
Libby Fischer Hellmann - Detour
Julie Hyzy - Strictly Business
Rob Kantner - Dead Last
JA Konrath - Bereaved
William Kent Krueger - Absolution
Benjamin M. LeRoy - Letters from Home
Lisa Mannetti - Everybody Wins
David Morrell - The Attitude Adjuster
Monica J. O'Rourke - Bloodshed Fred
P.J. Parrish - Gutter Snipes
M.J. Rose - Not Shy, Not Retiring
Jeff Strand - Poor Career Choice
Paul A. Toth - Nice Kids Carry Guns
Robert W. Walker - Pet Project
Brian M. Wiprud - When You're Right, You're Right

Bleak House is also having a pretty cool Bouchercon scavenger hunt. If you buy THESE GUNS and get 15 author signatures, you can show it to any of the participating book venders at the conference and get a free Bleak House book. How cool is that?

And check out the cool new website and blog at

While you're clicking on links, you should also head over to Spinetingler and check out their featured article. Elizabeth Krecker and MG Tarquini rode along with Barry Eisler and me on part of our summer tour. It was a good time had by all, and strangely informative as well. Want to do a book tour? Read the article first.

If you're jonesing for a fun story about the agony of writing, visit and read one by yours truly. Let me know if you recognize yourself.

If you're a techno-geek but also a cheapskate, head on over to and download a copy of Bloody Mary for free. If you haven't read me yet, you no longer have any excuses.

And finally, I did a podcast for Chicago radio station Q101. It turned out sweet. Check it out at

If you're still waiting for me to answer an email, or add your link to my blog, I'll be getting to those soon. Sorry it has taken so long. :)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Worry By Numbers

When I'm not checking my Amazon rankings every ten minutes, or Googling myself, I call Ingram.

Ingram is a distributor. They're the one (I believe) that supplies Amazon with books, along with many chains and independent stores who special order from them. You can call their automated stock status number at 615.213.6803 and punch in an ISBN to listen to sales figures from this year and last year.

One of JA's big publishing rules is to never compare yourself to other writers. It isn't productive, and can drive you nuts.

Since it's my rule, I'm allowed to break it, so I spent a half hour on Ingram comparing my numbers to numbers of my peers.

This is hardly scientific, and not an accurate indicator of how many books I'm selling vs. how many they are selling. The big box stores (Walmart, Costco) aren't supplied by Ingram, and the chain stores get most of their stock and most of their orders through their own warehouses.
Still, publishing is all about numbers, and I wanted to see if my Ingram numbers were decent or crummy compared to people in the same genre.

Here are my results. These numbers are all for this year only, and are already suspect because many of these books were released at different times during the year. But this isn't science, it's petty envy, so we'll go with what we have.

I'm also going to mention coop, which is front of store placement. The paperback of Bloody Mary received coop. Rusty Nail did not.

WHISKEY SOUR paperback (PB) - 994
BLOODY MARY (PB) - 675 (coop)
RUSTY NAIL hardcover (HC)- 1395

Just looking at these figures, I was surprised that my older paperback was outselling my new paperback. But I know it isn't---this is just the Ingram sales. The chains have already stocked many copies of Bloody Mary, and sold these rather than ordering from Ingram. Figuring that this would be the same situation for other authors, I began to check their numbers.

AUTHOR #1 hasn't hit the NYT list yet, but is on track to. Like all the other writers in this half-assed study, they write a mystery/thriller series. Here's how their backlist and new hardcover have sold so far this year.

Book #1 (PB) - 960
Book #2 (PB) - 655
Book #3 (PB) -641
Book #4 (PB) - 979 (major coop)
Book #5 (HC) - 2087 (major coop and discount)

AUTHOR #1's latest hardcover has gone into several printings. They aren't in any big box stores, so these numbers are mostly indies, Amazon, and special orders.

AUTHOR #2 has been on the NYT list with their last three paperback originals (no hardcover releases.) These books were all released within a short time of each other.

Book #1 (PBO) - 3147 (major coop)
Book #2 (PBO) - 2683 (major coop)
Book #3 (PBO) - 2303 (major coop)

AUTHOR #2 has damn good numbers, especially considering that this author IS in the big box stores, and is already well stocked by the chains. If we were trying to be scientific about this, being in a big box store means that Ingram numbers amount to less of a percentage of total sales than those authors who aren't in big boxes.

AUTHOR #3 got about the same size advance as I did, and is on the same publishing schedule as I am. No big box stores, and not much coop as far as I know.

Book #1 (PB) - 164
Book #2 (PB) - 288 (minor coop)
Book #3 (HC) - 585

I know that AUTHOR #3 had a much larger first printing of his first novel than I did, but I sold better.

AUTHOR #4 just had their second book in the series come out. This author got a smaller advance and print run than I did, but is still with a big publisher. No coop, far as I know.

Book #1 (PB) - 153
Book #2 (HC) - 352

AUTHOR #5 just had their second series book come out. This author got a smaller advance and print run than I did, but is still with a big publisher.

Book #1 (PB) - 247 (minor coop)
Book #2 (HC) 521

AUTHOR #6 is a NYT bestseller, and has been for many books. This author is in the big box stores.

Book #1 (PB) - 606
Book #2 (PB) - 429
Book #2 (PB) - 350
Book #4 (PB) - 317
Book #5 (PB) - 2273 (major coop)
Book #6 (HC) - 3179 (major coop and discount)

AUTHOR #7 made the NYT list once, but hasn't in the last few books. These are all paperback originals. These are in the big box stores.

Book #1 (PBO) - 0 (out of print)
Book #2 (PBO) - 275
Book #3 (PBO) - 183
Book #4 (PBO) - 179
Book #5 (PBO) - 193
Book #6 (PBO_ - 564
Book #7 (PBO) - 1898 (minor coop)

AUTHOR #8 is a NYT bestseller. The sixth book in the series was just released in hardcover yesterday. The latest paperback has been out for 2 weeks. These are in the big box stores.

Book #1 (PB) - 412
Book #2 (PB) - 336
Book #3 (PB) - 324
Book #4 (PB) - 372
Book #5 (PB) - 1333 (major coop)
Book #6 (HC) - 2865

AUTHOR #9 is a big top 5 NYT bestseller. Ten books in the series so far. The first book was just rereleased this year with major coop. In the big box stores.

Book #1 (PB) - 3256 (major coop)
Book #2 (PB) - 298
Book #3 (PB) - 244
Book #4 (PB) - 292
Book #5 (PB) - 307
Book #6 (PB) - 1620 (major coop/dump box)
Book #7 (PB) - 1394 (major coop/dump box)
Book #8 (PB) - 1495 (major coop/dump box)
Book #9 (PB) - 4454 (major coop/dump box)
Book #10 (HC) - 9065 (major coop and discount)

AUTHOR #10 is a NYT bestseller with eight books so far. Like Author #9, the publisher paid for coop in a dump box (a big cardboard display with the books face out.

Book #1 (PB) - 657 (major coop/dump box)
Book #2 (PB) - 708 (major coop/dump box)
Book #3 (PB) - 653 (major coop/dump box)
Book #4 (PB) - 619 (major coop/dump box)
Book #5 (PB) - 731 (major coop/dump box)
Book #6 (PB) - 778 (major coop/dump box)
Book #7 (PB) - 9005 (major coop/dump box)
Book #8 (HC) - 5788 (major coop and discount)

AUTHOR #11 started at the same time I did, had a bigger advance and more coop.

Book #1 (PB) - 249
Book #2 (PB) - 383 (major coop)
Book #3 (HC) - 797 (major coop)

AUTHOR #12 started at the same time as I did and had a seven figure advance and a huge marketing campaign.

BOOK #1 (PB) - 261
BOOK #2 (PB) - 404 (major coop)

AUTHOR #13 started at the same time I did, with a big publisher.

BOOK #1 (PB) - 253
BOOK #2 (HC) - 195

AUTHOR #14 started a year before me, won a bunch of awards, lots of coop.

BOOK #1 (PB) - 1118
BOOK #2 (PB) - 570
BOOK #3 (PB) - 1227
BOOK #4 (HC) - 1716

AUTHOR #15 started the same year as I did. Major publisher, no coop that I noticed.

BOOK #1 (PB) - 664
BOOK #2 (HC) - 1262

We can analyze these numbers however we choose, but we really can't make any blanket statements because this is hardly a controlled experiment and we can't get even a rough estimate of how Ingram sales factor into overall sales. I can make a few assumptions, however.

1. Coop sells books, and it seems to have a trickle down effect on Ingram.

2. Major bestsellers don't move a lot of backlist titles through Ingram, unless coop is involved.

3. Discounts sell books.

Now comes a chicken/egg/cart/horse dilemma. Do the books that sell well have a demand that fuels the supply, or does supply fuel demand, or a bit of both?

In many cases, aside from the newest paperback and hardcover, the first book in the series seems to sell the best. I'd say this is a result of browsing, as coop wasn't involved except in one case. Those who get hooked on the series will move through the next few books in the series, and then when the new book comes out, all of these fans that have acrued over the years buy it, causing a bestseller. Which leads to:

4. The longer you survive, the better you'll do.

I can also glean another assumption out of these numbers, because I know AUTHOR #1 and this person does almost as much self-promotion as I do.

5. The author can make a difference.

Getting your name out there, and meeting fans and booksellers, can only help your cause. Being discovered by browsing isn't going to lead to bestsellerdom--look how few books NYT authors sell without coop behind them.

But if a bookseller recommends you, or fans seek you out, you'll have a better shot of lasting longer in this business. Your best shot at success is having a publisher willing to plunk down major coop bucks, but if you build a steady fanbase and your backlist continues to sell, your publisher might very well decide to push you to the next level. In fact, they may be waiting to push you to the next level.

I used to believe that publishing was all about spaghetti theory: publishers would throw books at the wall to see which one sticks. But now I'm thinking it is more like growing a garden. Careers are cultivated. Some may grow like crazy without much help. Some may die no matter how much help they are given. But the longer the garden stays alive, the more attached the gardener becomes. The more attention the gardener pays, the bigger the garden gets. In the end, the prize roses get the best fertilizer---but it can't hurt to do a little fertilizing on your own.

Oh, and tend to your own garden, no matter how nice your neighbor's is.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Books for Troops

Whether or not you support the war in Iraq, you should support the men and women of our armed forces stationed there.

My friend Doug Hansen, whom I've known since 7th grade, is now in Iraq. In a recent email he mentioned that he bought a bunch of my books to pass around---apparently his unit is starved for entertainment.

I told him that I'd send him more books for the troops for him to distribute. Then I got to thinking---how cool would it be if his unit became the best read bunch of soldiers in the entire US military?

We all have extra books lying around, taking up space. Many of us are writers, and we have extra copies of our novels. I'm asking you to send a few to:

SFC Douglas Hansen
C Co / 163 MI Bn
COB Speicher
APO AE 09393

Postage won't cost much (it's considered domestic rate), and you'll be helping boost morale in a big way. Feel free to include a note or a letter telling them to get home safely.

Please pass this address around. I think it would be incredibly cool if Doug got so many books he began a US library in Baghdad.

Whoever sends the most books to Iraq (be honest) gets signed first editions of my first three novels, in hardcover. Post the number you've sent on, or email me at You have until the end of the month to get your books mailed.

Thanks for your help.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Driving Traffic

Let's talk about traffic. Not rush hour bumper-to-bumper traffic, but Internet traffic.

If you're an author, the more people who know who you are, the better off you are. Name recognition is essential to building a brand. The road to the bestseller lists isn't paved with people who stumble upon you while browsing in a bookstore. It's paved by people who know who you are and seek you out. There are probably dozens of books published every year. How can you get attention for yours?

One way to increase name recognition is to have a web presence. Everyone is online these days, as evidenced by the amazing success of, which has shown as that no matter your age, sex, race, or location in the world, you can still be stalked by Internet predators.

There are many ways to drive traffic to your website. Let's look at a few.

  1. Search engines. I don't recommend EVER paying to be listed on a search engine, because all of the important ones will list you for free if you have a large enough site with a decent amount of information on it, lots of links going to and from your site, and correct meta tags. There are plenty of sites who offer to list your URL on 40,000 search engines for only $9.99. That seems like a bargain, but when was the last time you used or to look anything up? Save your money.

  2. Links. Remember that old shampoo commercial, where the woman told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on? Wasn't that annoying? Why do I remember that stupid commercial from 20 years ago, but can't remember important things, like math, or the names of my children? Anyway, my point is that links do the same thing for your website. The more people who link to you, the better off you are. The secret to attracting links is to have decent content, or naked pictures of Britney Spears. Trading links also works. Just make sure you're trading links with other websites, not just trading links with yourself, which is pretty stupid.

  3. Blogs. Every week, I hear someone talk about how blogs are on the way out. And I wish that guy would shut up. The fact is, more and more people are communicating through blogs. That may mean a smaller piece of the blog pie for you, so you need to concentrate on two things: links and content. If your blog is about something more important than your favorite food (pizza) and which Simpsons character you'd most like to be (Krusty) then people will seek you out.

  4. Newsgroups and Listservs and Message Boards. Or any public forum where you meet like-minded individuals band together for trolling and occasional flame wars. The key to successfully establishing a presence on these forums is to contribute intelligent points in a polite and logical manner. But nobody does it this way. So stick with trying not to embarrass yourself, and make sure every message you leave has a link to your website.

  5. This is the Internet equivalent to passing notes in class, but with the added benefits of loud music and lots of links to pornography. I don't spend a lot of time at MySpace, by once a week I check my stats. People are visiting my MySpace page, and many of them are inviting me to be their friends. Some of my new friends even want to MIRL (meet in real life) usually near a Cash Station. It looks like this is here to stay, and it's free and only takes a few hours to set up, so you might as well give it a shot. Then invite me to be your friend, and we'll MIRL.

  6. Paper. I'm a firm believer (okay, a flabby believer) that the more pieces of paper your name is on, the better you'll succeed in publishing. Because of this, I write a lot of short stories and articles, do a lot of mass mailings, and pass out a ridiculous number of coasters and business cards. Each of these lists my website URL. It never ceases to amaze me how many authors don't have a website, or have one but don't list it on their books. You should put your URL on everything. Mine is on the bumper of my car, on every ad and flyer, and even on my checks. Every piece of mail I send out gets a rubber stamp on the back. I always mention my URL in newspaper and radio interviews, on panels, and while meeting strangers in public parks.

Remember, you're largely responsible for getting your name out there. And you should be, because after all, it is your name. To direct traffic to your site, make sure you have some interesting content that people want to read, and as many ways as possible to let the world know that your website exists.

Or you could just change your name to Nora Roberts. I'm a fan of both approaches.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


The thriller writing community is a pretty helpful bunch. We blurb each other, trade advice, volunteer our time, buy each other drinks, and often pimp each other when new projects come out.

If you're looking for some stuff to read, I highly recommend the following:

PALE IMMORTAL by Anne Frasier. Anne writers damn good thrillers. Here's a video to give you an idea of what the book is about.

THEY by David Morrell. It's an Amazon short, and it may be the best 49 cents you'll spend this year.

PRESSURE by Jeff Strand. This is the scariest book of the summer. It will freak you out, guaranteed.

THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK by Mark Terry. A great technothriller. It combines the deadly science of Robin Cook and the machismo of Tom Clancy.

DON'T BE AFRAID by Rebecca Drake. A terrific debut by a terrific new author. Fans of Anne Frasier will enjoy this book as well, and you should all be fans of Frasier.

CONFESSIONS OF SUPER MOM by Melanie Lynne Hauser. Too cheap to buy hardcover? This delightful debut is now available in trade paper. If you enjoy super heroes, chick lit, or humor, pick this up---I really enjoyed it.

THE FINAL STORM by Wayne Thomas Batson. Wonderful YA fantasy that combines Paolini with CS Lewis. My son loves these books.

THE PRESSURE OF DARKNESS by Harry Shannon. I loved this book. It's a killer mix of Lee Child heroism and James Bond villainy.

JAMES BOND IN THE 21st CENTURY by Glen Yeffeth. Speaking of Bond, here's a smart collection of essays about everyone's favorite secret agent, including one by yours truly. I analyze the value of Bond's favorite gadgets, and cram more jokes into 2000 words than humanly possible.

THE HARROWING by Alex Sokoloff. A creepy ghost story about some teens playing with forces they don't understand. You'll throw away your Ouija Board once you start reading.

SACRED COWS by Karen E. Olson. A very fun and exceedingly clever debut, now in paperback.

THE PERFECT FAKE by Barbara Parker. A terrific stand-alone mystery about forgery, with some fun thrills and a dash of romance.

JAMAICA ME DEAD by Bob Morris. Big laughs for the small budget. Morris is funny, and so are his books. This is his second, now in paperback. If you like Hiaasen or Dorsey or me, pick this up.

STILL RIVER by Harry Hunsicker and KILLER SWELL by Jeff Shelby. These two tied for best mystery debut of 2005. Both are now available in paperback. Pick them up, then pick up their new hardcovers NEXT TIME YOU DIE and WICKED BREAK. Good stuff.

If you don't read James O. Born, well, you should. Start with WALKING MONEY.

Plus, Tess Gerritsen has a new one, THE MEPHISTO CLUB, but I haven't read it yet because it isn't available until next week. How much do I want to read this? On my 500 bookstore tour, I begged no less than 300 booksellers for an Advance Reading copy. No one would give me one. I even offered several of them cash. Guess I'll have to wait until the 12th of this month.

And finally, if you're looking to become a romance writer, and like your romances spicy, pick up THE COMPLETE IDIOT'S GUIDE TO WRITING EROTIC ROMANCE by Alison Kent. Is it good? Let's just say that Alison has a staggering four titles currently available for pre-order on Amazon. Four titles coming out in the next five months! Eat your heart out, Nora Roberts.

I'm curious to get some of your recommendations. Who should I be reading?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

JA Konrath Saves Publishing

Good news! I was rummaging around in the attic today, and came across this old brass oil lamp. I gave it a good buffing, with the intent to sell it on eBay, but after only a few minutes a genie magically appeared. He gave me six wishes (normally genies only give three, but I gave him a really good buffing.)

Being the unselfish guy that I am, I have decided to use these six wishes to save the publishing industry. By happenstance, this also saves the bookselling industry, and manages to save midlist authors as well.

Here are my wishes:

1. Eliminate returns. Returns cost too much money, both in the printing and the shipping, and this cost is absorbed in the price of the product. If there were no longer returns, the prices of books would drop. It would also mean that stores don't stock double the amount of bestsellers that they expect to sell. This extra shelf space could then go to smaller midlist books that aren't normally stocked.

2. Eliminate offset printing. If the major publishers used POD technology, there would no longer be a need for warehouses or distributors. Another drop in price. Plus, books never go out of print. Authors have the potential for royalties indefinitely.

3. Bigger royalties for authors, to correspond with the smaller pricetag on books.

4. Extra content on books without extra cost. Books could come packaged with the audio version and Palmreader version bundled with the print version on a single DVD. It could also include interviews, pictures, perhaps even video.

5. Equal discounts. The indies pay the same amount as the big box stores, no matter how many are ordered. That will mean a drop in the sales at big box stores, but it would be a boom for the indies and the chains.

6. Bookselling is taught in college. How much would it benefit authors, bookstores, and people who love to read, if you could major in book sales? Book stores could hire people with specialized degrees, people who were extremely well-read and know the dynamics of the book business. I've met booksellers who have literally handsold thousands of books. What if every bookseller was like this?

The genie assured me that these wishes will come true, but he hemmed and hawed a bit about how long it was going to take.

I have faith, though. Lots of faith.

In the meantime, I'm searching my attic for another lamp, because the music industry is really a disaster.