Sunday, June 30, 2013

Guest Post by Douglas Dorow

Joe sez: Two weeks ago I invited others to guest post on my blog by donating a minimum of $100 to Tess Gerritsen's War on Alzheimer's.

To be honest, I thought perhaps ten people would donate. A hundred bucks is a lot of money, and though I knew my blog got a lot of traffic, I didn't expect there were that many authors who wanted to guest post.

I was wrong. There have been over 150 writers who have donated, which means I'll be hosting guest blogs for months. I'm overwhelmed by the generosity of my blog readers, and you folks have raised over $15k.

Originally, I ended the offer on June 23. But writers have kept donating, and I'm not going to say no to them. Tess's goal was raising $25,000, and right now she's at $21,643.

I'd like to see her hit her goal. So my offer is still good. Donate $100 or more, and you can write a guest blog. Here's what you do:

1. Email me with the heading TESS GUEST BLOG 7/15 (or any date you want), forwarding the confirmation email that you donated.
2. Attach the blog post in MS Word with all hyperlinks already embedded.
3. Attach the cover art to your book as a jpg.
4. Remind me the day before you want the post to go live by sending all of the above to me a second time. If your date is already taken, I'll email you and you can pick a new date.

I'm known for many things, but organization isn't one of them, and sorting out these guest blogs has been a bit daunting. But I'm doing my best, and I promise to get to everyone.

If you've missed the previous guest blogs, they've been fascinating and informative, and a nice change of pace from my spouting off my tired, old rhetoric.

You can read Dakota Madison talking about finding success as a romance writer here:

You can read CG Cooper talking about his Rule of Three here:

You can read Todd Travis talking about fear here:

You can read Patrick Balester talking about how he learned to love e-publishing here:

You can read Shantnu Tiwari talking about publishing cliches here:

You can read Mike Dennis talking about noir here:

And here's today's guest blogger, Douglas Dorow, a retired little league baseball player and Minneapolis thriller author of THE NINTH DISTRICT.

Shall We Play A Game?

In the movie War Games, Joshua the computer asks, “Shall we play a game?” David replies, “What is the primary goal?” Joshua answers, “To win the game.”

The game they’re playing is Global Thermonuclear War where Joshua discovers the only winning move is not to play.

As writers, we’re all playing a game. Like Joshua we’re playing to win, but in our case the only winning move is to play the game.

What’s the game? For most of us, it’s to write stories and get readers to read/buy them. The best thing about this game is that we each, individually, define what Winning is to us. Is it to see our book on a bookstore shelf, or on an online shelf? Is it to see our friends and family read our stories? Is it to make enough money to pay some expenses? Is it to make enough money to quit your day job? Is it to sell enough books to be a best seller?

The other great thing about this game is there are multiple ways to play. You can pursue the traditional path or choose to publish independently or do both.

Most of the arguments you see between writers is where one thinks they’re playing the same game and that the way they’re playing is the right way and the other person is playing it the wrong way. There are also comments by individual writers who are disappointed in how they’re doing. They’ve defined winning in terms of how someone else is doing, or aren’t winning in their own terms. They aren’t being realistic based on where they are in the game.

One thing about playing the publishing game is that I’m not really in competition with anyone but myself. I may compare my results to those of other authors, but it’s not a I win or I lose to them, because I set the criteria for what winning is to me.

The crazy thing about this game is that there are different variations, and when it comes to rules, some are set, some are ambiguous and some are changing.

In the spring of 2010 I was getting ready to enter the publishing game. I was drafting my query letter to send to agents for my thriller, The Ninth District. Then I read a post that Amazon was changing the options of the game, offering 70% royalties and I decided to jump in and play as an indie author.

I’ve published my thriller as an ebook, paperbook, audiobook and in Spanish in order to reach readers in the format they want to read in. I’ve also published on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks… I’ve played the KDP Select game, Free and 99 cents… I’ve reached the kindle #100 and in a couple of categories a few times. The rules keep changing so I keep changing how I play the game. The new game I’m playing is to release more titles; both as the second novel in the series and a companion novella series.

Like all games, to win this game it takes some innate skill, some developed skill and some luck.

Play the game. Have fun. And good luck.

Thanks to Tess Gerritsen for her War on Alzheimer’s, to all those who donated to help her reach her goal, and to Joe for making me aware of it.

I’m a writer because I’m a reader. And I’m a reader because of my mom, Millie Dorow, who taught me to read using Dick & Jane books before I headed off to kindergarten, and who was a victim of Alzheimer's.

Joe sez: I repeat myself a lot, as do most evangelists, because it drills the points home, and I never know when my information will reach someone who hasn't heard it before.

Two of the points I constantly make are:

1. Set attainable goals. Those are goals that don't require anyone else to say yes or no in order to achieve them. "I will write 2000 words a day, finish my novel by November 6, get it edited, proofed, formatted, and live on Kindle by November 25" is a goal. "I will find an agent and become a bestseller" is not a goal, it's a dream. Know the difference and act accordingly.

2. Ebooks are not zero sum. Douglas and I aren't in competition. People won't buy his ebook or my ebook. If they enjoy thrillers, they'll buy both.

At the end of my novel thriller Bloody Mary, a defeated and depressed Jack Daniels is contemplating quitting the police force, but she remembers some words of wisdom her mother taught her.

Life isn't a race we can win. The end of the race is death, and it happens to everybody. There is much that is out of our control. So don't worry about coming in first place. All we can do is run as best as we can.

It's the journey, not the destination.

Whether you think of your career as a race or a game or an endless mountain to climb, you'll be better off if you understand what it is you want, learn how to get what you want, and constantly adapt and experiment and grow from your mistakes.

Right now I'm the #67 bestselling author on all of Amazon. I've made it as high as #3. I've been as low as #2000. It's a journey of highs and lows, of taking risks that pay off and taking risks that fail spectacularly. I've made as much as $130,000 in a month, and as little as $1400. I've watched, mystified, as some of my titles sell 10,000 in a few days and while others (that I think are better) sell 100 in a few months.

There are no guarantees, no shortcuts, no clear paths to success (no matter what your definition of success is). There's only trying your best, writing as much as you can, rolling with the punches, changing and learning, and figuring out how to be happy with where you're at right now, not where you might be tomorrow.

There is also another rule I like: pay it forward.

I don't believe in karma. But I do believe we should treat each other as we want to be treated, and if someone does you a solid, you should pass that along. Every writer should have two outstretched hands. One, reaching for your next goal. The other, reaching behind you to give someone a boost up to where you are. And sometimes all that takes is buying a fellow author's ebook, or making a $5 donation to stop Alzheimer's.

No one said this journey would be fair, fun, or easy. It involves a lot of hard work, a lot of luck, and a lot of perseverance. But it can be rewarding, both monetarily, and emotionally.

Don't stop to simply smell the roses. Water them, too.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Guest Post by Mike Dennis

Joe sez: If you've missed the last few guest blogs, they are worth reading and the comments are still open:

You can read Dakota Madison talking about finding success as a romance writer here:

You can read CG Cooper talking about his Rule of Three here:

You can read Todd Travis talking about fear here:

You can read Patrick Balester talking about how he learned to love e-publishing here:

You can readt Shantnu Tiwari talking about publishing cliches here:

So here's today's guest blogger, Mike Dennis...

First and foremost, I want to thank Tess Gerritsen for donating her considerable efforts toward this drive to eliminate Alzheimer's. That disease took my Mother a few years ago, and I want it eradicated. I feel a cure is near, and maybe Tess' campaign can put us over the finish line.

Then, I want to thank Joe for generously donating space on his widely-read blog. There's no way I could ever get this kind of exposure on my own blog.

For those of you who don't know me, which I'm sure is nearly all of you, I'm a crime/noir fiction writer living in the island city of Key West. With the exception of the years 2006-10, when I lived in Las Vegas, I've made my home here in Key West since 1991.

It was during those years that I came up with the notion of Key West as a great noir city, along the lines of Los Angeles, New Orleans, or Miami. It took me a few years of living here to realize it, to peel back the veneer of tourism and sunshine, but when I finally did, I saw a small town where everybody knows your business, including things you'd rather they didn't know.

I envisioned a series of novels (Key West Nocturnes, I eventually called it), each with a different central character, one who is no stranger to crime. Each book would of course be set in Key West, and some of the locales and secondary characters would recur throughout the series, but each book could be viewed as a standalone. The events in one book might be alluded to in another, but there is no principal story arc threading the series. The series instead pulls the reader deep into the shadows and alleys of this town, behind the margaritas and out of the sun, where the tourists never go.

As in most noir fiction, my central characters are driven by the urge to escape, whether it's from their past, from squalid surroundings, from pursuing lawmen, or from personal failure. This frequently opens them up to betrayal and deception, and some may face a narrow range of options. Deep in the collective American psyche is the drive for freedom, for independence, to be left alone, but not at the price of loneliness. These urges find their fullest expression in Key West, the little town at the end of the road, where everyone is welcome, regardless of his/her past, and where anything goes. It's where anyone can become anonymous. This is where the road story ends.

And where my Key West Nocturnes series begins.

The first novel in the series is Setup On Front Street, a tale of a native Key Wester (or "Conch", as they're called) returning home after serving three years in a Nevada prison on a diamond swindle. He comes back to collect his share of the proceeds but finds the money has vanished. It's set in 1991, right after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and everyone in Key West is certain Fidel Castro would fall any minute. This produces feverish angling for position when Cuba finally "opens up", and plays an important role in the novel.

The next two entries in the series are called The Ghosts Of Havana and Man-Slaughter. A fourth novel, The Guns Of Miami is in progress as I write this.

I was very fortunate to have received blurbs on this series from the likes of Max Allan Collins, Jeffery Deaver, Vicki Hendricks, Jonathan Woods, Heath Lowrance, and others. Thank you all.

And thanks again to you, Joe, for your generosity.

Joe sez: Mike is an example of a writer doing everything right. Killer covers, great product descriptions, lots of good reviews, releasing his titles in paper on Createspace as well as KDP. It's only a matter of time before he starts selling in big numbers.

And to that end, here are some of my suggestions:

1. Unless you're selling huge on other platforms, opt out of them and go all in on KDP Select. I'm all for reaching as many fans as possible, but right now Amazon is where the money is.

2. Start making your ebooks free, and use Ebookbooster and Bookbub to promote them.

3. Consider lowering your prices to $3.99 across the board. I'm not convinced the $4.99 price point is worth the extra 70 cents because in my experiments it doesn't sell well enough to make up for it. But don't take my word for it--do your own experimenting if you haven't yet.

4. Short stories can be sold as 99 cent singles.

5. Keep at it. The more you write and publish, the harder it is for readers to ignore you.

6. Though not every writer can do it, writing in different genres can be beneficial. First because it can expand your readership. Second because it's great practice. Third because experimentation is often the key to success. Konrath and Kilborn share some readers, but some readers prefer one to the other. My secret pen names are in entirely different genres. While it is key to be passionate about what you write, if you have the ability to write in other genres, it can't hurt to give it a try.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Guest Post by Shantnu Tiwari

Joe sez: If you've missed the last few guest blogs, they are worth reading and the comments are still open:

You can read Patrick Balester talking about how he learned to love e-publishing here:

You can read Marcus Sakey talking about cover art here:

You can read Dakota Madison talking about finding success as a romance writer here:

You can read CG Cooper talking about his Rule of Three here:

You can read Todd Travis talking about fear here:

So here's today's guest blogger, Shantnu Tiwari...

Greetings folks!

When I was given a chance to guest blog here, I wondered what to write about. Unlike many people who visit Joe's blog, I am a rank amateur, so giving advice to anyone would have been cheeky.

One of my favourite Indie blogs is the Passive Voice, and I remember sometime ago, there was a comment by William Ockham, saying something to the effect that most legacy publishers, when they were trying to trash Indie publishing, used the same few discredited tropes. I can't find that post now, but after having read hundreds of these articles, a clear pattern begins to emerge.

So I will try to compile the list of hackneyed over used excuses legacy publishing uses. Next time you read someone trashing Indie publishing, you can go, “Ahah. S/he used cliché number 1, 3 and 4, but the article would have been better with cliché number 2 as well.”

So without much further ado, here are:

10 Clichés Legacy Publishing Needs To Stop Using

1. Tsunami of Crap

One of the most used clichés. “Oh noes! All this self pubbing means we will drown in a poo of poor self published works! What shall we ever do?”

Also known as Tsunami of Swill, a more alliterative version (thanks to the PG crowd for this!)

2.  Amazon is the Great Evil

Have you ever noticed something? Ever since Amazon became a huge corporation, the amount of sin in the world has grown? So has global warming, and the number of terrorist incidents. Think this is a co-incidence? What are you, stupid? Soon a Great Holy War will be fought, with Amazon on one side, and virtuous and pious people (read: Those who work for legacy pub) on the other. Which side will you choose?

For bonus points: Konrath is the son of Satan. He will be frying you in oil when the Satan daddy takes over.

3. Writers need to be taken care of

And the best way to do so is by taking them hostage. Lock them up with a contract. Take their family hostage. After all, it's for their own good, and for the good of SOCIETY.

Corollary: A corollary of this rule is in agent blogs. There the thinking is:

Oh, look how hard the publishers work to take care of you! Such nice people. So why won't you shut up and sign on the dotted line already? Remember, when the publishers have you between their knees and are whipping you, IT IS FOR YOUR OWN GOOD.”

4. Readers need to be taken care of

Related to the above. Readers also need to be taken care of. We need to tell them what is good for them. They must not read any of this genre nonsense. They must only read what is approved by the Committee of Preserving Culture and Morals.

This is to protect society, of course. Most people are stupid baboons, who if left to themselves, would read stuff they enjoy, rather than the masterpieces the MFAs and English Professors fart out. We need to protect the readers from their own stupidity, so our culture can survive. It is for the children. The children, I tell you!

5. Legacy Pub has done so much for the industry!

You are required, by law, not to give any examples here. Just wave your hands in the air and repeat the statement three or four times.

6. Digital publishing is a fad

Ebooks aren't even books. You can't even smell them. Well, can ya? Unless you can smell it, it's not a book. My two day old underwear is more of a book than your fancy Kindle will ever be.

7.  Ebooks are slowing down

Related to above. Ebooks have slowed by 0.000002% this year. At this rate, they will soon vanish from the world. We will be back to the good ole times soon! In your face, Self publishers!

8.  The only way to do “quality” is to spend years and large amounts of money, that only big pub can provide

Unless you are willing to spend three years writing a book, three years busting your head with agents, and then another two years before the book is published. Books are like wine-- they are better the longer you spend on them.

And you have to spend a gazillion dollars to make your book successful, that only the big publishers can provide. Even God agrees with this:

Thou shalt spend a gazillion dollars and many years preparing thou book. Or thy book shall be a steaming pile of shit.”
The Legacy Pub Bible.

If only these ugly, smelly self publishers knew how hard publishing was.... If only....

9. There are no freelancers

None at all. No freelance editors, cover designers, layout designers, none at all. All freelancers went extinct with the Dodo. You want quality, you come to us. Capiche? If you even think of hiring your own editor, we break your legs, 'k?


Indie publishers will destroy the world.  DESTROY THE WORLD! Civilisation is on its knees, and it is the fault of all those hippy self publishers! We have no time left. We must do anything to stop them. Anything. The survival of humanity is at stake...

If we don't, the world will end.  Zombies will take over, the sun will set permanently, nobody will get a BJ.  EVER.

If you want to save the world, and still get BJs, you must fight with us! You must join us, or perish, Luke!

Sorry, got a bit carried away there. Anyway, if I missed anything, feel free to add anything to the comments.

My book, The Princess of Persia, is free from 28 June – 2nd July. My other book, the Zombie's Life is in Danger, is also free  28 June – 2nd July.

Come say hello at

Joe sez: Thanks, Shantnu, for making me spit beer on my monitor while laughing. I'm sending you the clean-up bill.

While I've blogged about many of these topics before (and so has Barry Eisler), it's nice to see a humorous take on the current state of the industry.

Remember: when people start making fun of things that those in power say, those in power don't keep their power much longer. And the publishing industry right now has become so predictably irrational it is now a parody of itself. 

So here are my...

10 Ways Legacy Publishing Can Save Itself

1. Get bigger

In times of economic upheaval, disruptive technology, and loss of market share, the smart people start upsizing. You need to spend money to make money, so I recommend hiring more middlemen and gatekeepers, and doubling office space (in Manhattan of course. If you aren't paying at least $40k a month in rent, you might as well move to Jersey...)

2. Lower royalties

It takes dozens, if not hundreds, of people to bring a book to market. So why is the author getting a whopping 17.5% of that?!? The royalties should be divided equally among everyone who has input, from the editor to the editor's intern to the FedEx guy to the FedEx guy's intern (it's NY--everyone has an intern.) If 50 people are involved in making a book happen, the author should only get 2% royalties. After all, without a publisher, the writer has no other options.

3. Raise prices

History has shown that people will pay $25 for a hardcover novel. Since ebooks are an exciting new technology, readers should be willing to pay double for that. If only there was some way for all the publishers to somehow simultaneously agree on setting prices and then forcing Amazon to accept them...

4. Protect paper sales

Even though ebooks are an exciting new technology, they're just a fad. Like pet rocks. Or fast food. Or breathing. Soon paper books will have a resurgence, and the way to hurry that resurgence along is to print more books. It's simple supply and demand. The more you supply, the more people will demand. So print, baby, print!

5. Resist innovation

Research and development costs money--money that could be better spent on printing more paper books. It's a well-known fact that most innovations fail, so it's a much safer and wiser choice to stick with the same business model from 100 years ago. 

6. Advertise more

Everyone knows the only reason people buy books is because they see print ads in the New York Times. But those ads could be cost prohibitive; they are expensive and The Big 5 puts out thousands of books per year. So the simple solution is: buy the New York Times, then cram every page with book ads in between the well-reasoned unbiased press coverage. And because newspapers are a growth industry, it's win-win.

7. Merge

When Random House and Penguin merged to become Random Penguins, the Big 6 became the Big 5. They had the foresight to understand that in a world where indie authors are claiming up to 25% of ebook sales, the way to survive is to combine debt and reassure one another that "everything is OK." Because nothing can quell doubt about the future like joining forces with someone who has the same doubts about the future, and, like you, no viable plans to survive.

8. Keep nurturing

Always remember that authors don't care about being compensated monetarily for their efforts. Writers don't write to earn a living. They do it because they are prima donna artists who need to be validated. Signing a deal with Random Penguins is a lot more important to them than selling a lot of books, because getting the stamp of approval by industry gatekeepers is all writers care about. Some nurturing tips include:
  • Occasionally returning emails
  • Letting the writer see the cover art
  • Insisting on editing changes
  • Allowing no more than ten typos in the final book
  • Discussing marketing options (such as how the writer needs Twitter and Facebook)
  • Discussing advertising* (*a discussion in no way implies a promise)
  • Sending review copies to PW and Kirkus, because we all know that every ebook reader subscribes to those industry magazines
  • Paying authors twice a year* (*unless they haven't earned out their $2000 advance yet)
  • Inviting authors to BEA where they can see how much money publishers are spending to resuscitate a dying industry. And it's lots, brother.
9. Make contracts longer

Everyone knows the longer the contract, the better the deal. And since agents aren't lawyers, publishers can slip in some beneficial clauses that will likely never be spotted or questioned. Publishers are doing authors a favor, and should be properly compensated for their efforts, which means having contracts heavily favored toward their interests. Some clauses could include:
  • Owning book rights forever
  • Owning all subsidiary rights
  • Owning the writer's first born child
  • Owning the writer's organs after death
  • Owning the writer
  • Owning the entire world
10. Destroy Amazon

Amazon sells more books than any other bookseller, and for that reason it must be stopped. After all, publishers are the ones who sell most of their books on Amazon. So it stands to reason that any entity responsible for most of the Big 5's profit should be stopped by the Department of Justice. There is a well known DOJ law that allows the government to intervene when a company like Amazon becomes successful by being better than its competition. Publishers need to get the US government to recognize that Amazon is hurting legacy companies who embrace the time-held traditions of: archaic business practices, zero innovation, tremendous overhead and waste, and the malevolence to nurture tens of thousands of authors to severe depression. 

I believe, if the Big 5 just follow my simple rules, they'll be around for eternity times ten. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Guest Post by Patrick Balester

Joe sez: If you've missed the last few guest blogs, they are worth reading and the comments are still open:

You can read Marcus Sakey talking about cover art here:

You can read Dakota Madison talking about finding success as a romance writer here:

You can read CG Cooper talking about his Rule of Three here:

You can read Todd Travis talking about fear here:

So here's today's guest blogger, Patrick Balester...


I've been reading Joe's blog, A Newbie's Guide To Publishing for over five years now. I first met Joe around that time, and I'll never forget it. I remember it like it was yesterday...I was going through his garbage, looking for something, anything, he had written on, to paste into my fan scrap-book...oh, wait, that was yesterday.

Now I remember! I was attending my first writer's conference, in 2008. It was a cold and windy was Chicago in February, which explains why it was cold and windy. But it didn't matter. I was attending my first conference as a writer (my book was about to be published by Avalon) and I was down by the author tables when I saw him, the man whose Jack Daniels' novels I had been reading for months. I nervously approached, ready to introduce myself and tell him how much I enjoyed his work. He saw me. And before I could say a word, he stuck out his hand and said “Hi. I'm JA Konrath. Have a coaster”, and he handed me an autographed coaster featuring one of his books in the series. I saw him several times over the next two days and he gave me a lot of good advice, never hesitating to answer my questions. Joe convinced me to put the first chapter of my novel on my website, to entice readers to buy the book. What a guy.

Still, some of the lessons he discussed on his blog never really sunk in, and I had to learn them the hard way, mainly because I didn't have as much experience as a writer with new technology. I'm old school, and by that I mean...I'm old. When I was a young lad and first put pen to paper, I used...pen and paper. And not just any pen. Quill pens hadn't been invented yet. My first pen was a sharpened stick dipped in mammoth blood, and my paper was the hide of a saber-toothed tiger.  Needless to say, my first few stories were crap. This is true of any budding young writer. But, a few thousand years passed, some sharp guy in Germany named Gutenberg invented moveable type, and things progressed nicely after that. In no time at all, I had my first computer, and I was producing stories at a rapid pace. They were still crap, but I could pump them out a lot faster! But I got better. Then I got published.

When my cozy mystery novel, In The Dismal Swamp, was published, it came out in hardcover, and I was thrilled. But the publisher was small. I got an advance, made some money, but not a lot. By then, e-readers were appearing, but they hadn't gained wide acceptance yet. My wife got one for Christmas a couple of years ago, and when I tried to help her download books, it took us hours. Downloading software, synching with the e-reader, connecting cables...I thought to myself, what a pain! And this, from a man who used to work as a computer programmer. I thought, this will never be me. I'm sticking with real books!

Besides, I had already seen the demise of Borders, and I really enjoyed my local bookstore. I didn't want to see them vanish. Independent stores were starting to disappear, which disturbed me, but the smart ones were starting to adapt to new technology, offering free wi-fi, encouraging customers to stay and have coffee while they shopped, and providing good customer service. But I still didn't see how e-publishing would help me.

But then, something amazing happened. My publisher, Avalon Books, was bought out by Amazon's publishing division, Thomas & Mercer in 2012. I got their writer's agreement signed it, and sent it in, but didn't think much more about it. My book went to kindle in September, which was pretty exciting. I told my friends. Then one day, I got my first royalty check from my e-sales. Wow, I thought. It was a good chunk of change.

A month later, Amazon ran a promotion and my book vaulted into the top 100 for mysteries, resting, perhaps for just a few minutes or maybe more, in the top ten! I got my next royalty statement a few days ago, and I suddenly realize I've made more on my book in the past five months than I have in the past five years.

This is the kind of stuff that makes you sit up and take notice. I'm beginning to appreciate the power of e-publishing. Along the way, I've also started to use social media more effectively to promote my book, something Joe has always stressed. Of course, all this would really pay off if I had more titles, but I'm working on that. Nothing cures writer's block like a paycheck, and lately the pages have been flying from the keyboard to my printer.

I'm actively looking for an agent for my nearly completed manuscript. I know I could take the self-publishing route, but I won't...not yet. Joe can do it, because he's paid his dues, he's a top professional, and knows how to edit his own work. I'm not at that level. Maybe someday I will be. But at least I've come out of the cave. Unlike the woolly mammoth and saber-toothed tiger, I intend to be here for a while. And e-publishing is going to help me along the way.

Now, if you're still reading or haven't fallen asleep, time to have some fun! Many of you are big Konrath fans, or you wouldn't be on this page. But are you his number one fan? There's only one way to find out. Take the Konrath Quiz!  And see if your a hardcore fan like me, or just a wannabe.

I'd like to thank Joe for the opportunity to appear on his blog, and tell the world what a great inspiration he's been to me, even though, like the prodigal son, I had to learn some writing lessons the hard way. And if you're still working on that first book, be more like Joe. Your wallet and your career will thank you!

Joe sez: Thanks for the kind words, Patrick. Your quiz made me laugh out loud when you wrote it, and made me laugh again when I clicked on it today.

I'm glad that In the Dismal Swamp is doing well on Kindle. Right now it's at a respectable rank. I haven't read it yet, but I encourage everyone to buy a copy (yes, I buy copies of all my guest posters' ebooks.) It's just $2.99, and if it's as funny as his posts are, it should be a treat.

Since my blog is all about offering unsolicited advice, I'll comment on what I see as a paradigm change in this industry, and give Patrick and everyone reading this my 2 cents about what to do when a manuscript is finished. Here's the in-depth, comprehensive checklist.

1. Get a professional cover, professional editing, professional proofreading, and professional formatting.

2. Self-publish it.

It is no longer necessary to get an agent first and find a publisher. If that is one of your dreams, then you can set your goals accordingly (research agents, send out X number of email queries per week, attend conventions and pitch to them in person) but I've seen that the easiest way to get an agent (and a Big Publisher) in 2013 is to sell a ton of self-pubbed ebooks.

Self-publishing is the new slush pile. Agents and publishers are cherry-picking ebooks that get a lot of sales/buzz/good reviews and contacting authors directly. If Patrick wants to go that route, getting his ebook professionally vetted and getting it live is the way to do that.

In the past, there was a fear that self-pubbing ruined an author's shot at getting an agent. As I said, I've seen the world change since those days. While some agents may claim not to accept anything previously self-published, I bet a dollar to a donut they're trolling the Amazon Top 100 Bestsellers for authors. And if they aren't, they're dinosaurs who wouldn't help you or your book very much anyway.

Ebooks are forever. Forever, of course, is eternity.

But eternity can have a starting point.

Every day you don't self-publish is a day you potentially missed out on sales.

Reread that as many times as needed to get it to sink in.

The sooner you get your ebook live on Amazon, the sooner you start making money, getting reviews, finding fans, and improving your odds at succeeding.

Let me put it a different way. Let's say, because I lead such a healthy life, I'll live to June 27, 2070. My ebooks will continue to earn money after I've died, but I'll only be able to use and enjoy that money for 57 years. IF I self-publish today.

If I self-publish next month, I only have 56 years 11 months to spend that money. If I publish next year, I've only got 56 years to reap the proceeds from that ebook. If it takes me 2 years to find an agent, 6 months to land a publisher, and 18 months for them to go live, I just missed out on 4 years of potential income (not counting the income I'll miss out on because my stupid publisher prices my ebook at $12.99 and only gives me 17.5%.)

Get the point? There is absolutely ZERO reason not to self-publish as soon as possible.

If you feel your book isn't ready for prime time yet, join a writers group or hire an editor. Cover artists, formatters, and proofreaders can also be hired.

And what if your ebook wasn't ready and you self-publish and there are (gasp!) mistakes and typos and errors?

I just did this very thing.

When I released Haunted House, I made a special arrangement with KDP and had a pre-order page up. Hell or high water, I had to get that manuscript live by my promised pre-order date. But the book turned out more complicated than I expected, and real life threw me some curves, and I self-published it just 2 hours before it went live.

It had over 150 errors in it.

As you can expect, many readers were pissed off, and rightfully so. Many reviewers rightly criticized the book for so many errors. And I received many emails expressing disappointment (along with several who went the extra mile and pointed out the typos they found--something I'm always grateful for.)

So I fixed them as fast as I could, uploaded a new version, and apologized in the comments section (if you're someone I irritated, I'm truly sorry). My mistake was inexcusable. I should have given myself more time and done a better job with the proofing.

But guess what? The world didn't end. The book has a 4.2 average rating, and I've sold thousands of copies.

I screwed up, in one of the biggest ways possible, and I survived.

Now I don't recommend doing what I did, and I know for new authors a few 1 star reviews can really hurt sales. Maybe I lost some fans. But it seems like most of my true fans have forgiven me, and eventually this mistake will be lost to time because the updated version is live.

Let me state I do NOT condone self-publishing anything but your best work, professionally vetted. But if you screw up, it isn't the end of the world. You and your book can recover.

What you can't recover from is the days, weeks, months, and years lost if you don't self-publish when you can.

There are no launch dates anymore. No reason to wait for "the right moment." The right moment, in EVERY case, is always: as soon as the book is ready.

An ebook is forever. You want forever to start as soon as possible. Even if your goal is a top NY agent and a Big 5 publisher. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Three and Box Sets

We interrupt the ongoing guest blogs for a bit of talk about Amazon Publishing and collaboration.

If you've missed the last few guest blogs, they are worth reading and the comments are still open:

You can read Marcus Sakey talking about cover art here:

You can read Dakota Madison talking about finding success as a romance writer here:

You can read CG Cooper talking about his Rule of Three here:

You can read Todd Travis talking about fear here:

Today, the Thomas and Mercer imprint of Amazon Publishing is launching two books by me and Ann Voss Peterson.

The first is THREE, the third novel in the Codename: Chandler trilogy. THREE is a sequel to FLEE and SPREE, and it's about a female operative who works as an assassin for the US government. We wanted to do an updated, American version of James Bond, where a woman was the lead. Like Bond, she thwarts plots by evil super villains who want to take over the world, she has lots of cool gadgets, there are many over-the-top action set-pieces, and she seduces men to complete her missions.

While we aren't the first to create a female super spy, I'm incredibly pleased with the way these books have turned out. So much so that we wrote two prequels, HIT and EXPOSED, and Chandler will also be in my next Jack Daniels novel (LAST CALL with Blake Crouch, coming soon).

If you've read FLEE and SPREE, you should pick up THREE. It's my longest book (Ann and I had so much story to tell this wound up an whopping 150,000 words long--and trust me, it's all action) and it also is a nice end to the trilogy. All three of the main characters have full arcs (thank you Joseph Campbell) and it functions as an epic as all of the books take place during a single week. And what a violent, sexy, funny, insane week it is.

But if you haven't read the Chandler novels, don't buy the individual ebooks yet.

You read that right. I'm asking you to not buy my ebooks. Because Thomas and Mercer, in their willingness to listen to my ideas, has done something both unusual and innovative.

First, some background.

Way, way back in ancient history, authors vied for shelf space in brick and mortar bookstores. Bestsellers got the most. Publishers paid coop money to have these books featured on the new release table, in large numbers and at a 40% discount. They also paid to have them prominently placed throughout the store; face-out on end caps, in the store window, near the check-out registers, on kiosks and promo tables, and multiple copies (usually of the author's entire backlist) in section.

I had eight books published by major NY publishers. When they were published, the bookstores only carried a handful of copies, spine-out in section, no discount, no promo. There were some exceptions (I've made some terrific bookseller friends who kept my books stocked and hand sold lots of them), but for the most part I'd maybe have three books on the shelf compared to three hundred by James Patterson.

I couldn't find readers, because they couldn't find my books.

Then this Kindle thing came along, and shelf space changed. Rather than having multiple copies of bestselling new releases stacked to the ceiling, commanding attention, every ebook has a single page. And that page is forever. It doesn't get sold and disappear, hoping to be restocked.

In other words, it was no longer about how many copies of a single title an author had. It was about how many titles an author had.

Virtual shelf space is all about how many pages you have on, not about how many physical books are on the shelf.

I first started experimenting with this by publishing three short story collections, JACK DANIELS STORIES, HORROR STORIES, and CRIME STORIES. I combined all of these into 65 PROOF, an omnibus of all my shorts up to that point. Then I pubbed some of the stories individually. I was using the same content to maximize shelf space.

Blake and I did this with our Lucy and Donaldson stories. We did SERIAL, then SERIAL UNCUT (with more story added), then KILLERS and BIRDS OF PREY, then KILLERS UNCUT (which is KILLERS plus BIRDS OF PREY), and finally SERIAL KILLERS UNCUT which combined everything into one massive tome.

One work became six different ebooks, all with their own Amazon page, their own reviews, and potential to hook different customers, demographics, and genre readers.

We maximized shelf space on a single property.

When I got the rights to AFRAID back, I combined with with my other two Kilborn novels, TRAPPED and ENDURANCE, and sold it as a trilogy for a discounted price.

I did the same with my Jack Daniels series, making ebook sets out of the first three books in the series, and the second three books in the series. For the curious, the first set has sold 371 copies this month at $9.99, and the second set has sold 1117 copies--proof that readers hooked on a series will seek out a bargain and happily buy a box set.

So if you haven't bought any of the original Chandler novels, don't. Because Amazon released the CODENAME: CHANDLER COLLECTION as a box set.

That's a 350,000 word epic filled with sex and action and cameos by some of our older characters (Jack Daniels, Harry McGlade, Tequila, Val Ryker, David Lund) for less than the price of a paperback.

I believe this is one of the first compilations Thomas and Mercer has done, and it is currently discounted--priced to sell at only $4.99.

But it's more than simply a bargain. Three ebooks now are four ebooks, maximizing shelf space, which improves exposure, which increases the chances of one of these titles being discovered.

The more titles you have, the more chances you have to be seen and bought. The more you are seen and bought, the more you'll be read. The more you'll read, the more fans you'll accrue who seek your books out.

It's like a big pyramid scheme, at a global scale, lasting for eternity. The more ebooks you have available, the likelier your chance of success.

You can combine stories or books into a single volume, split off stories and books into separate volumes, and even join forces with other authors. If you've never started my Jack Daniels series, or Blake Crouch's Luther Kite series (they finally meet in STIRRED) then you can get the first book in each of our series as a double novel called BEGINNINGS: DESERT PLACES & WHISKEY SOUR.

A brick and mortar bookstore has a limited amount of real estate. If major NYT bestsellers take up 40% of the shelf space, it's hard for browsers to find your books among all the multiple discounted copies. Even more challenging, paper books have expiration dates. If your book doesn't sell within a few months, it gets returned.

But a virtual bookstore has infinite shelf space, and eternal sales potential. One title = one web page. The more titles you have, the more chances for browsers to find you. Use different BISEC categories and different keywords to maximize searching potential.

Just remember that readers HATE to buy the same title multiple times, so make sure your product descriptions are clear and don't purposely try to confuse.

The more titles you have, the better off you'll do. It's fine to have one title selling two hundred a month. But having ten titles selling thirty a month is better for your pocketbook, and your future (the more titles, the more visibility, the more potential fans).

Success involves luck. Luck is all about odds. You can't force success, but you can increase your odds.

I've heard writers bemoan the fact that this new ebook revolution favors those who can write quickly.

If you can't write quickly, learn to. No one owes you a living. No one said life was fair, fun, or easy. And no one is forcing you to be a writer. If you can't write fast, then in all likelihood you won't make as much money as those who do. That kind of complaint is akin to, "But I can't hit a slider or a curve ball, so Major League Baseball won't hire me!"

We all have real lives that interfere with our writing time. We all write at different speeds. We all have challenges to overcome. But here is something I don't say enough, but every writer needs to know:

The ebook revolution has made publishing a lot easier. But it hasn't necessarily made success a lot easier.

In the past, to break into legacy publishing and make a living, you had to bust your ass. You STILL have to bust your ass.

So go bust it. And if this blog has helped you, support me and my guest bloggers by buying our books. It's always cool to pay it forward.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Guest Post by Todd Travis

Joe sez: With almost two hundred guest posts promised, I'm going to be blogging more frequently. I don't have a choice, because if I leave each post up for two or three days, it'll take 3 years to fit everyone in.

As a compromise, I'm going to link to the last seven guest posts at the start of each new guest post, so everyone's visibility is maximized.

You can read Marcus Sakey talking about cover art here:

You can read Dakota Madison talking about finding success as a romance writer here:

You can read CG Cooper talking about his Rule of Three here:

And remember, if you want to do a guest post for this blog:

1. Email me with the heading TESS GUEST BLOG 7/15 (or any date you want)
2. Attach the blog post in MS Word with all hyperlinks already embedded.
3. Attach the cover art to your book as a jpg.
4. Remind me the day before you want the post to go live by sending all of the above to me a second time.

And now here's Todd Travis:

Todd: First I’d like to thank Joe for all he’s written on this blog, I mean freakin’ every word ever writ here, also for highlighting TessGerritson’s War on Alzheimers and, lastly, for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts with you all. Thanks, dude.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I’d like to talk to you about fear.

I’m the author of the self-published novel CREATURES OF APPETITE, a serial killer thriller about a demented madman and the emotionally fractured federal agents pursuing him. And while I’m at it, I should probably mention that it is now FREE on Amazon for the next five days (June 24-28th).

I've loved to read since I was a wee lad. While a dedicated fan of many different authors, by far my biggest influences are Stephen King and Thomas Harris. I always wanted to write about the kinds of things that really scare me. This book, published in February and just updated with a new edition last month, was my first stab in that direction. 

I hope that you can check it out.

Whew… okay… I said that. Now.  Here’s my deep dark secret confession.

Are you ready?

Out of all the scary things I've written, nothing was more personally frightening to me than what I wrote in the three paragraphs following the words “I’d like to talk to you about fear.”

Telling you about my book and ask you to read it scares the bejeezus out of me. Seriously, I very nearly canceled this Guest Post. That was not something I'd anticipated when I decided to self-publish. I mean, I write about serial killers, mass murderers, ghosts and Bigfoot, why would just writing about what I've written scare me? I used to get into fistfights in dark alleys in my younger years and yet this gives me so much anxiety that I want to rip my own arm off? WTF?!

Not that I regret self-publishing, oh hell no. It's been one of the most satisfying creative experiences I've had and I'm going to keep on doing it, it's like getting a tattoo, once you start, you can't do just one. It's awesome. You get an idea, write it and, when it’s ready, it can be published with a push of a button.

And therein lies the rub. Through Amazon, we get to be our own bosses, we choose the covers, we control the content and the copy. It's completely and totally cool. But with the butter comes the bitter … as SP authors, we are in charge of everything. We are the President of the company, the Treasurer and the Sales & Marketing Director. As your own publisher, it's all on you to get the word out there.  

And the tricky, scary part for me has been … how the hell do I do that? 

It's easy for me tell you about the great books written by other writers (and I'd note that while King’s book ON WRITING is justly famous for its awesomeness), I can rattle off a long list of books I love by other authors.

But it's easy to be a fan when there's no skin in the game. The challenge for me is doing it for my own work … how to accomplish that without sounding like, well, an egotistical dick? Of course the number one thing a writer should do is to focus on writing the best books one can.  But we're not just writers any longer, we are now also publishers. It's on us to spread the word on our work.

Which scares the holy hell out of me for some unknown reason. Fear is a helluva thing. 
Fear keeps one from finishing the novel you always wanted to write, from sending that manuscript you actually did finish to a publisher, fear keeps you from putting all your creative chips in the pot by publishing a book on Amazon for fear that readers will hate it, that they’ll laugh and ridicule you …

But fear can also be a powerful motivator. Fear is why I wrote a book, after all, afraid I’d get hit by a car and never even try to realize my dream of being an author, that the stories I had bouncing around in my head would never see the light of day, fear of failure makes me work harder, fear forces me to face my mistakes and fear makes me bust my freaking butt to do the best I can.

There's a great free ebook called THE FLINCH, which is all about leaning into the pain, grabbing your fear and holding it tight. Facing it. Making fear your friend, not your enemy. So I'm doing that with you now.

Whereas some folks are afraid of heights, some are scared of zombies and others of lawyers and hip-hop music, me, marketing my own work, that kinda shit scares me. Other than facing it, I don't know what the best answer is in terms of cracking that riddle. But I’d love to hear what everyone else thinks on the subject. I'm also a little afraid, too. Maybe it’s just me, after all. We'll see.

Meanwhile, I’ll end by humbly sharing with you my newest self-published book, THE LIVING AND THE DEAD, a collection of horror stories that I hope you'll enjoy.

Now excuse me while I go chew my arm off … 

Joe sez: One of the greatest journeys in life is learning to conquer fear and truly not give a shit. 

I had 500 rejections and wrote 1,000,000 words before I made a dime. Every time the mailman came I was a wreck, because I knew he was bringing more rejections. And he did.

But that gave me a terrific opportunity to conquer my fear. After the first hundred rejections, it got easier. After 500, I was immune to the emotional effects of rejection.

When I was a child (4 or 5) the nurse sneezed while giving me a booster shot, and she jabbed me with the needle three times in a line, like a sewing machine. Needles freaked me out after that, and did until high school, where I decided I would keep giving blood until I overcame the fear.

If you're afraid of promoting, I wrote a long blog post about it called What Works: Promo for Ebooks. Since then, I've changed my mind about ads (I use BookBub and EbookBooster), but my other advice still stands. 

As writers, we're expected to be our own promotional advocates. But it isn't about what we sell. It's about what we're offering people who like the kind of thing we write. 

Being brave doesn't mean being unafraid. It means being able to act when you are afraid. Not easy to do, but nothing worthwhile is easy.

I think I'm a pretty good writer. I have empirical evidence to back that up in the form of thousands of reviews and critiques by professionals I respects and admire. That doesn't make me an egomaniac. It makes me self-aware. Because once upon a time, I wrote shit (some may say I still do). 

But one doesn't need to brag about their books in order to sell them. Once just needs to make others aware of them, in a humble, informative way. Here's a blog about how I used to do it, with some modest success.

So pick up Todd's books, and if you have any advice on book promotion or overcoming fear of publicity, leave it in the comments.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Guest Post by Carlos Cooper

Joe sez: With almost two hundred guest posts promised, I'm going to be blogging more frequently. I don't have a choice, because if I leave each post up for two or three days, it'll take 3 years to fit everyone in.

As a compromise, I'm going to link to the last seven guest posts at the start of each new guest post, so everyone's visibility is maximized.

You can read Marcus Sakey talking about cover art here:

You can read Dakota Madison talking about finding success as a romance writer here:

And now here's Carlos Cooper:

Carlos: First, a huge thanks to Joe. I know you hear it all the time, but I’ll say it again. You give indie authors a glimpse not only into the struggle and pain of writing, but also what can be. You da man.

About me: I've read Joe’s blog since the fall of 2011. I even wrote him a post to say thanks. At the time I was trying to figure out how to self-publish my first novel, Back to War (currently FREE until 6/24/13). I have no idea how many hours I spent scouring posts and comments, picking up nugget after nugget. I was a free info whore and my wife hated it when I stayed up late reading in the dark with my iPad.

If there's one theme I've taken from Joe it's keep experimenting. With that thought in mind, I self-published my first novel. It was more of a passion project at the time as I wanted to give back to the Marine Corps for changing my life. I still owned a small business and never really thought that I would 'qualify' to be a professional writer. Dumb ass. To my surprise the book started selling. I stuck with Amazon mostly for simplicity and their awesome customer service. For me it worked.
So as I struggled with my property management business, I watched my book sell thirty copies one month, then ten the next, then twenty seven the next…you get the picture. As a big believer in residual income, I was intrigued. I wasn't doing much other than running the occasional Select promo and answering the rare email.

It wasn't until after I’d gotten out from under my company that I thought seriously about writing full time. One book that told me I could be an author was You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) by Jeff Goins. At that time last summer, I was really trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. That book hit me right between the eyes. Finished it in less than a day and WHAM…I was an author.

I buckled down and wrote book two of the Corps Justice series, Council of Patriots, in just over two months. Published it on Amazon and all of a sudden sales of the first book doubled. Hmmm…

I released the third book, Prime Asset, in three episodes (once again experimenting) and experienced another large boost to my other titles. That's when I realized something amazing. As a big believer of KDP Select freebie promotions (it's the only way I built my small yet loyal readership and actually got visibility) I always used my freebie days to max effect. Results varied when I only had one title. What I realized was that I could do a five-day promo each and every month because I had three books in the series. I started calling it The Rule of Three when other authors asked what I was doing. Throw in a couple short stories and I was seriously boosting the number of potential readers I could get in front of.

I've used The Rule of Three since February of this year. My sales keep growing. I'm finding new readers. Readers are engaged and telling me what they do and do not like. I'm growing as an author.

I also found out something else that Joe mentions. When readers like a book (yes, even a freebie) they'll go buy your other books. That fact is affirmed for me every month as each of my Corps Justice titles sell almost exactly the same number of copies as their brothers. Simply put, it works.

Important things that I've used and recommend for The Rule of Three to work:

1. Use all 5 freebie days at once. It’ll give you a better chance at hitting the Top 100 Free list. Unless you're a big dog like Joe, the days of using one or two days and seeing a huge boost are gone.

2. Have three or more titles even if they're short novels or short stories. Series work for a reason. If you can connect with a reader they will want more.

3. Do what Joe sez: Write a great book, design a hot cover and keep writing.

I’ll apply The Rule of Three concept to my new series The Chronicles of Benjamin Dragon. I released book 1, Benjamin Dragon – Awakening, at the end of May. Now my job is to hurry up and write the next two. In my mind I won't have a chance until then.

So what's the moral of the story? First, listen to Joe. He knows what he's talking about. He's been there. 

Second, write a lot of good books. Be prolific. Series sell and they bring new readers back for more. 

Third, max out freebie promotion using The Rule of Three.

Thanks again for all the wisdom, Joe. Now back to writing…

Joe sez: I'm glad Carlos is building an audience, and I love his covers. They look like one of the Big 5 put them out. Also, thanks for serving our country in the Marines. 

My experience with freebie promos varies. Sometimes I can hit the Top 100 the first day with no promotion at all. Other times I use and to get my books up there. I haven't seen any verifiable connection between how many ebooks are given away, how quickly they're given away, and how the title bounces back to the paid list.

Sometimes I give away a lot of ebooks in a few days (50k or more) and I have a nice bounce back. Sometimes I wind up exactly where I was before the promo. But these freebies are getting read, because people are reviewing them. So hooking a reader with a freebie is possible, and can boost backlist sales.

Remember that selling books isn't a goal. It's a hope. Goals are things within your control, and you can't force people to buy or read you. 

I've said many times that promotion isn't about selling books to people who don't want them, it's about making people aware of books they're actively seeking. 

Also, it bears repeating that I'm just one guy with unique, subjective experience. No one knows everything, me included. What works for me may not work for you at all. All writers need to amass as much information as possible--even if it is contrary to what I say--and figure out what works for them.

A final note: if someone on this blog has a freebie, even if it isn't your preferred genre, download it to help them out. As writers that's the least we can do to help one another. I also encourage readers of this blog to buy ebooks that they're interested in, by both my guest bloggers and by me.

Currently my Codename: Chandler trilogy, co-written with Ann Voss Peterson, is available for $1.99 a title. And if you pre-ordered THREE (which will be released on June 25) you will get it for the $1.99 price.

That's over 350,000 words of over-the-top action, sex, and humor (the series features appearances by Jack Daniels and Harry McGlade) for less than six bucks. 

So check out C.G. Cooper, and if you have a little money left over, check out Chandler. (And don't forget to try Marcus Sakey for thrillers and Dakota Madison for romance.)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Guest Post by Dakota Madison

Why I Decided to Write Romance Novels

By Karen Mueller Bryson aka Dakota Madison

I've been independently publishing my work (fiction and non-fiction) since 2002. That was long before eBooks and the rise of indie publishing. As a part-time author, I produced what I thought was a significant body of work (all while working full-time and going to school part-time to complete my doctorate and eventually earn tenure). The one thing I wasn't able to do, though, was sell a significant number of books. Despite all of my marketing efforts, I was never able to sell more than a few hundred copies of any of my books. I liked to joke that I earned enough money selling books to take my husband out to lunch at Subway once a month but it’s not far from the truth.

In the fall of 2012, I was getting extremely frustrated with putting out what I thought were interesting books, getting a number of glowing reviews, doing tons of promotions and books tours and still not achieving any significant sales.  So after seeing the success of books like Easy by Tammara Webber and Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire (new adult contemporary romances that I absolutely love), I decided to reinvent myself and become the romance writer, Dakota Madison.

In November 2012, I joined National Novel Writing Month and decided to try my hand at writing my first romance novel, STILL FINE AT FORTY (which is currently on sale for $0.99 for summer beach read season).  I loved the process of writing a book in a month so much that I didn't stop. I decided to challenge myself to write 12 Novels in 12 Months.  It’s now seven months later and I've written seven more romance novels (all of which have either been published or will be published this summer). The most interesting thing about this venture into the romance genre is that I've spent very little time on marketing and have made more money than I ever thought possible. (My first published Dakota Madison romance, MATCHPLAY, made several thousand sales the first week it was released before I had time solicit reviews or even begin to market it!) I’m no longer joking about making take-hubby-to-Subway money. My Dakota Madison romance novels have made pay-the-mortgage money.

My lesson learned: No amount of marketing will sell books if you’re writing stuff no one wants to read and 
no marketing is necessary if you’re writing stuff that people want to read.

So as long as people still want to read romance novels, I’ll continue to write them!

Joe sez: There are many reasons to want to be a writer, and often these reasons overlap. Some just  want to be read and don't care much about the money. Others want to make a living.

If your goal is to quit your day job and pay your bills, you're going to have to come to the realization that this is a business. That means writing for the market.

I've said, and even blogged about, having no integrity when it comes to this profession. I'm a hack, a whore, a guy whose muse is the almighty dollar.

That isn't to say I don't love what I write, or work hard to craft good stories. But when I'm writing, I write for a certain demographic that I believe will enjoy my work. I stick to genre conventions, and give readers something recognizable. I learned how to do this by reading a whole bunch of books, and watching what sells.

If your books aren't selling, change genres. I have two super-secret pen names where I've experimented with different kinds of ebooks. One is successful. One isn't. I've written mysteries, thrillers, horror, humor, sci-fi, espionage, and even paranormal romance. My sci-fi doesn't sell well. I have no idea why, because I think it's a lot of fun to write and to read. But I have to heed those numbers if I want to have a career. Eventually I will finish the Timecaster Trilogy, but only because I'm also writing things that do sell well enough that I can occasionally be self-indulgent.

All the marketing in the world won't help a book succeed if no one is interested in that book. If you have weak sales and you want to make a living, maybe it is time to try something else.

Remember the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, hoping for a different outcome. If you want a different outcome, you have to do something different.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Guest Post by Marcus Sakey

Joe sez: First of all, I'm blown away by how many people have contributed to Tess's War on Alzheimers. You folks have raised over $12,000. As a result, I have over 100 guest posters in the upcoming months/year. 

Many have asked about the scheduling and length of their blog posts. There is no length, and I'll try to accommodate the date you want. Here's how to do it:

1. Email me with the heading TESS GUEST BLOG 7/15 (or any date you want)
2. Attach the blog post in MS Word with all hyperlinks already embedded.
3. Attach the cover art to your book as a jpg.
4. Remind me the day before you want the post to go live by sending all of the above to me a second time.

If there are any overlapping dates, the first one to send me their full blog post as described above gets that date, and I'll inform any other people that date is taken.

Here's the first guest blog for Tess--from my good buddy Marcus Sakey, who is even more talented than he is generous.

Take it away, Marcus...

Marcus: Hi all!

First, a bit of pre-business—Joe let me guest blog because I had an idea I wanted to write about, and he’s a friend.  But because it’s a hell of good cause, and I love the spirit of the thing, I just donated $500 to Tess Gerritsen’s amazing War on Alzheimers.

That means I get five guest blogs, right, Joe? 


Earlier this year I had the good fortune to get the rights back to my first two novels, The Blade Itself and At the City’s Edge.  A frequent question we’re all asked is which of our books is our favorite, and I can honestly say that answer is whichever I just finished.  But Blade was my first, and so it will always have a warm place in my heart.  And City’s Edge came out at a time when I was in the process of switching publishers, and as a result, it got sort of lost in the shuffle—no malice on anyone’s part, just one of those things.

So as you can imagine, I was delighted to get them both back in my hot little hands.  Both are now available on KDP, and for the next few days, The Blade Itself is free—please, go, help yourself.

To reach this point, over the last two months I’ve been working to convert them to e-book format (thanks to 52 Novels. for some great work), proof them (thanks Kristina), and design new covers.  It’s that last part I want to talk about.

Before I was a novelist, I worked in design and advertising for a decade.  For that reason, I’ve always had strong (and if you’ll forgive, well-founded) opinions on how the book covers should look.

Which is where the trouble came into paradise.

Traditionally, cover design has been considered a rarified art form, something handled by talented but invisible people at a publishing house.  While an author might provide some suggestions, they aren’t part of the design process, and pretty much never communicate directly with the artists.  Not only that, but because of the volume of books a publisher puts out, the process tended to be a little simplistic.  It goes something like this:

  1. Give ideas.
  2. Get a design back which may or may not incorporate those ideas.
  3. Do you absolutely hate it?  If so, maybe, maybe, you can go back to step one.
  4. If you don’t hate it, but don’t love it, then maybe you can make a few requests—change the color, swap the font, try a different blurb.
  5. Live with it forever.
This is different than the process I was used to.  Working in graphic design companies, it was understood that for any project, an artist would come up with ten or so sketches, which would be turned into three to five roughs, which would be pored over, reviewed, considered, mashed-up, swapped around, and finally turned into one single polished piece.

In my humble, that’s not how you get a great design.  The bar needs to be set higher than “I don’t hate it.”

To be clear, I’m not running down my old publishers.  They were good folks, all of them, and worked hard.  It was just that the system they used was different from the one I wanted.

So as you can imagine, I had a ball working with designers this time around.

I’ll talk about my second novel first.  As I mentioned, it was released under the title At the City’s Edge.  That was not my choice.  It’s an okay title, but not a great one.  Amongst other things, it seems very earnest, like a gritty social novel that’s going to make you feel bad about yourself, when in fact it’s a straight-ahead thriller that hopefully will keep you up past bedtime.

So my first move was to change the title.  What a liberty!

I renamed it Accelerant, the title I’d always wanted.  It’s a double meaning; in addition to the sense of velocity, it refers to a chemical agent used in an arson, which is one of the threads of the book—there are a rash of fires devastating Chicago.

With that in mind, I wanted the cover image to be suggestive of flame without being too on the nose.  I didn’t want any special effects infernos or buildings exploding; I wanted something that spoke to the larger themes of the book, while still being a grab-you-by-the-retinas image that stood out on an Amazon list.

A tremendous graphic artist named David Drummond brought it all together for me.  I love this cover: it’s evocative, sophisticated, and thrilling.  It plays to the essence of the story without trying to recreate it.  

But the cover for The Blade Itself is the one that inspired this article. 

My debut novel is the story of two men, once best friends and accomplished thieves, now rivals.  One of them has built a new life for himself; the other, newly released from prison, is willing to do anything to make a score of his own.  It’s about the way our sins not only follow, but form us; how we can be both tortured and tempted by the worst in our natures.  More than that, it’s about how very vulnerable we all are, how our neat little lives can easily be taken apart by anyone who has the will.

I wanted the cover to convey that mood: a sense of things out of balance, of the world going very wrong.  I wanted an almost vertiginous feeling to it, so that looking at it made you uncomfortable.

For this one, I worked with a designer named Mark Ecob.  After a few rounds, we had narrowed it down to three possibilities:

All three are strong.  The second is probably the most direct a representation of what I had asked for.  And it’s a grabber, with a nice polish and sophistication.

But I was heels-over-head about the first one.

Thing is, it’s kind of crazy.  First of all, it’s a definitely uncomfortable, maybe too much so.  Sure, I love it, but I’m a bit strange—would regular folks be put off by it?  More than that, in case you didn’t notice, it’s missing a few things. 

Like the title, and my name.

Of course, because I’m publishing this through KDP, I knew that both of them would be right beside it.  And my bet was that other people looked at Amazon the same way I do—the cover grabs your attention, the words seal the deal.

Still, it seemed like an enormous risk.  But here’s where the new dynamic of publishing offers some incredible opportunities.  Instead of being given one cover I had to live with, I had three dynamite options.  And since this is a brave new world, I decided not to make the call myself. 

I put all three up on Facebook, and I let my readers decide.

I’ll admit, it was scary.  I knew which I wanted.  I was confident that it was more important to have a really strong image that leapt off the page than it was to have my name and the title on it.  In fact, my bet was that by skipping them both, I would be lending more intrigue: that delicious, “what the hell?” feeling that makes someone click.

In the past, I had begged my publishers to let readers weigh in on what they did or didn’t like.  And they had always refused, mostly, I think, because they shared the fear I just enunciated.  What if the readers chose wrong?

But here’s the thing.  The readers can’t choose wrong.  If your point is to make something appealing to people, then whatever it is that’s appealing to them is, de facto, right. 

Not only that, but people are smart.  They have taste and style and opinions.  Especially book people.

To my great delight, the experiment worked.  While all three images had supporters, the first was the winner by far, not only in the number of votes, but in the intensity of response. 

People who voted for the second wrote, “Number two, I like it.”

People who voted for the first wrote, “Holy shit!  Number one!”

If there’s a lesson to be drawn from this, I think it’s that.  Yes, put in a lot of work and thought up front.  Don’t settle for the first thing that comes your way.  But more than anything, remember that the people you’re trying to appeal to are your greatest resource when it comes to knowing what will appeal to them.

Seems simple when you say it that way, huh?

Both books are now available on Amazon.  Accelerant is $4.99.  And through Saturday, June 22nd, The Blade Itself is free for the taking. 

I hope you will. 

And I’d love to hear your thoughts one the cover design process—what grabs you?  What kind of a cover just makes you click on it?

Joe sez: First of all, pick up both of Marcus's books. Thrillers don't get any better (his thriller Good People is currently being made into a movie with James Franco and Kate Hudson--how Franco got the part over me is unclear...)

Second of all, Marcus and I had the same frustration with our covers. IMO, the original Jack Daniels covers that my publishers used--while striking and well done--were Janet Evanovich-alikes, leading readers to think these books were funny cozies. The books are funny, but also scary and dark--themes not portrayed on the cover. They didn't scream thriller that will rattle your nerves. I've always believed my sales suffered as a result, as a lot of people who would have enjoyed them saw the covers and avoided them thinking they were silly fluff, and a lot of readers expecting silly fluff got serial killer mayhem that turned them off.

So when I got my rights back, I was thrilled to be able to change the cover to what I originally envisioned--something darker that says this is a thriller while still conveying the playfulness in the book.

When I signed with Amazon Publishing, they did something so outrageously original that it blew my mind:

They actually test marketed their cover art.

Before they chose a cover for my German edition of Shaken (called Mr. K), they actually created several covers and got a focus group to comment on which they liked best.

This, of course, has been done in other businesses for decades. Harold Lloyd did the first Hollywood test screening in 1928. Asking customer opinion is an invaluable tool of marketing, and can help make the final product more successful.

Leave it to Marcus (who, besides being a TV host and writer, also ran his own company in a previous career and knows a ton about marketing) to make Facebook his focus group. A brilliant idea.

When he asked my opinion, I immediately picked his favorite choice. In fact, I told him if he didn't use it, I would.

I also told him he didn't need to limit himself to one cover. I've changed covers as many as four times for a single title. If one doesn't work, try another and see if it boosts sales. 

One of the biggest advantages of being self-published is our ability to change something instantly. And this sort of experimentation leads to understanding what sells.

More writers should be doing what Marcus did here. I've seen a lot of newbies with--to be blunt--mediocre covers that they love and insist are awesome.

Maybe your cover really is awesome. But until you ask the opinions of the masses (not your Mom or best friend) you won't ever truly know. And if your sales are stalled, it may be because a cover that looks awesome to you looks to others like someone with mental challenges and impaired vision accidentally discovered Photoshop while drunk.

Get a second opinion who isn't emotionally invested in you. That's the only way it will be honest.

In conclusion: buy Sakey's books, and learn from his very valuable lesson. 

If all of my guest blogs are this good, the Newbie's Guide to Publishing will become a treasure trove of must-read info for writers.

Well, moreso than it already is... ;)

Marcus set the bar high with this blog. I can't wait to see what you other folks can do.