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New Year's Resolutions Part 2

Last year I posted some resolutions for newbie and professional writers, which can be found here:

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2005/12/new-years-resolutions-for-writers.html

I was going to repost it, because those resolutions remain valid and important, but I've been thinking a lot about this career and have a few new resolutions for all writers, no matter their level of experience.

  1. Keep an Open Mind. It's easier to defend your position than seriously consider new ways of thinking. But there is no innovation, no evolution, no "next big thing" unless someone thinks differently. Be that someone.
  2. Look inward. We tend to write for ourselves. But for some reason we don't market for ourselves. Figure out what sort of marketing works on you; that's the type of marketing you should be trying. You should always know why you're doing what you're doing, and what results are acceptable to you.
  3. Find Your Own Way. Advice is cheap, and the Internet abounds with people telling you how to do things. Question everything. The only advice you should take is the advice that makes sense to you. And if it doesn't work, don't be afraid to ditch it.
  4. Set Attainable Goals. Saying you'll find an agent, or sell 30,000 books, isn't attainable, because it involves things out of your control. Saying you'll query 50 agents next month, or do signings at 20 bookstores, is within your power and fully attainable.
  5. Enjoy the Ride. John Lennon said that life is what happens while you're busy planning other things. Writing isn't about the destination; it's about the journey. If you aren't enjoying the process, why are you doing it?
  6. Help Each Other. One hand should always be reaching up for your next goal. The other should be reaching down to help others get where you're at. We're all in the same boat. Start passing out oars.

Happy new year! Now get back to work.

Rant Against Advertising Part 3

As I've said before, I offer advice and opinion based on what works for me. You need to decide for yourself what works for you.

Taking that a step further, you should also analyze what works ON you.

The last few days we've been talking about advertising. I don't believe print ads work. I'm in the minority here, considering advertising is a 200 billion dollar a year business.

I base my opinion on a simple fact: I've never bought a book based on a print ad. Or a radio or TV ad.

Then I decided to figure out why I do buy books. I read all of the mystery zines (and their ads) along with the NYTBR, among other publications. I also get a lot of books free.

I might not be the average consumer, because I spend a lot of time in bookstores, and because I'm in the business. But I am still a fan, and I still buy books, and something must influence by buying.

Here are the last ten books I've bought, how I heard of them, and what led me to buy them:

Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris

How I heard about it: I read Red Dragon as a youngster, because my mother had a copy and said she liked it. I read Silence when it came out and I knew about it because it was reviewed in a magazine I read (a British zine called FEAR.) I knew about Hannibal because I'd been watching for it for 13 years. I knew about Hannibal Rising through Publisher's Lunch and PW Weekly, which I get in my email.

Why I bought it: I hated Hannibal, and hoped this one would be better.

Where I bought it: At Waldenbooks on the day it came out.


Mephisto Club by Tess Gerritsen

How I heard about it: After reading Silence of the Lambs, I picked up every book about serial killers that I saw. I found The Surgeon while browsing the mystery isle at my local bookstore. I was hook, and became a regular reader.

Why I bought it: Rizzoli and Isles haven't disappointed me yet, so I keep buying the books. Plus I owe Tess forever because she blurbed me. Plus I consider her a friend.

Where I bought it: At Waldenbooks the day it came out. I also bought a copy for my wife, since she didn't want to share my copy and read it second.


Dark Gold by David Angsten

How I heard about it: I moderated a panel at Midwest Lit Festival that David was on.

Why I bought it: I like underwater monster stories, and have since I read Jaws (which my mother recommended when I was young.) But the real reason I forked over the money was because David bought a copy of Rusty Nail first.

Where I bought it: At the Midwest Lit festival, at the after-party.


Marley & Me by John Grogan

How I heard about it: Seeing it on the new release table at a Borders I was signing at. Then I saw it mentioned in PW Weekly and PM.

Why I bought it: My wife is a professional pet sitter and loves dogs. Seemed like a good gift.

Where I bought it: The next bookstore I went to--I didn't make a special trip.


The 2007 Guinness Book of World Records

How I heard about it: I read these as a child. I found one in a thrift shop for a quarter. I saw the new edition at a bookstore on the front table.

Why I bought it: For my nine year old. I thought he'd like it as much as I did as a child.

Where I bought it: A Borders, during a drop in signing--an impulse buy.


Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich

How I heard about it: I knew Janet did a Plum book a year. I'd never read Evanovich before (even though people compared me to her) and I learned about the series through fans.

Why I bought it: I was invited to submit an essay to an upcoming book about Stephanie Plum, so I read the whole series, including this one.

Where I bought it: At Waldenbooks, the day it came out (the essay was due that week.)


Survivor by JF Gonzalez

How I heard about it: A bookseller told me about it.

Why I bought it: The same bookseller highly recommended it, saying he was more warped than I am.

Where I bought it: Directly from above mentioned bookseller.


Book of the Dead by Preston and Child

How I heard about it: I worked at Crown Books years ago, and we got an ARC of The Relic. I loved it, and handsold the hell out of that book. Have been a fan ever since. I knew about BOTD by keeping an eye on their website.

Why I bought it: Preston and Child have never disappointed.

Where I bought it: Barnes and Noble, the day it came out.


Paint Shop Pro 8 for Dummies

How I heard about it: Seeing it at Borders in the computer isle.

Why I bought it: I was specifically looking for a book about PSP8. I've been familiar with the Dummies books for years, having bought a few when I first got a computer. I like their layout. I compared several other books to this one before buying, but decided on this one after 20 minutes of browsing.

Where I bought it: I went to Borders for a PSP8 book, and left with one.


Rain Fall by Barry Eisler

How I heard about it: I met Barry at a convention years ago, and we became friends. I know his work well.

Why I bought it: I was out with a buddy, and I made him come into a bookstore with me so I could do a drop in signing. As I was leaving, I saw a Rain Fall hardcover in the bargain bin (sorry Barry!). I bought it and gave it to my friend, telling him it kicks ass.

Where I bought it: The store I signed at. It was an impulse gift.


Conclusions

Three of these purchases were series I already follow.

One was work-related.

Two were gifts of books I've read before.

One was a gift that related to my wife's job.

One was a bookseller recommendation.

One was because I met the author.

One was because I needed a PSP manual.

None were because I saw ads. And since I read Mystery Scene, Deadly Pleasures, EQMM, AHMM, Crimespree, PW, Library Journal, BookPage, Kirkus, and the NYTBR, I see PLENTY of ads. I also see them in conference booklets, and I went to many cons this year.

Now perhaps I'm an atypical book buyer. But as I've said many times before, I do what works for me and on me.

I've bought dozens of books because I've met the author, and dozens more because booksellers or friends recommended them. Many of the books I buy are books I buy intentionally--I go to the store for a specific title. I've bought books in the past by browsing, and I've bought books as gifts and as impulse purchases.

But I've never bought a book, or even been made aware of a book, from a print ad.

As I've mentioned in the threads: ads that announce a book to an already established readership do work, even though they aren't the most cost-effective form of announcing (hell, any fan of Evanovich or Preston and Child or Gerritsen knows to watch their websites and Amazon for release dates or go to the bookstore and ask "When's the next one coming out?")

I've also mentioned that simply being aware of an author's name doesn't mean much. I know hundreds of author's names. That doesn't mean I buy their books.

But that's me. How about you?

List the last few books you've bought, and how you heard of them. Tell me if print ads for books played a part.

What made you aware of a book, and then what made you buy it? Did you make a special trip to the store? Did you use Amazon? Was it an impulse purchase? A gift? A recommendation? Did you know of the author beforehand?

Spill. Show me why you buy.

Thanks, Graham!

If you don't get your daily blog info at www.crimespot.net, you're missing out...

Rant Against Advertising Part 2

I've been thinking about this a bit more, and came up with a few offbeat ideas.

It's human nature that people often spend more time and energy justifying their actions instead of examining them.

In the case of advertising, what if it truly doesn't work, but everyone is so busy trying to think up reasons it must work that they aren't looking at it deeply enough?

"Everyone else is doing it, so we should to."

"What else should we do with a promotional budget?"

"We've advertised many books, and some of them made money, so advertising must have played a part."

"We've been using advertising since our company began, and long before that."

"We know half of all advertising works, we just don't know which half."


No one seems to agree on what makes an effective ad, or campaign. And it's impossible to recoop the high cost of advertising since it seems to be more about promoting brand awareness rather than actually selling products.

Another basic human trait is a deep rooted fear of making a bad decision, being wrong, and looking stupid. This means everyone would rather follow blindly what came before rather than analyze it and come up with alternate ideas and solutions that might fail.

So publishers continue to buy ads. But what if they didn't? Would newspapers and magazines would quickly go bankrupt.

Maybe not. Anyone who reads women's magazines (I write for a female character, remember?) has noticed a trend that has been going on for years: the advertising column. It looks like a feature, and reads like a feature, but is actually an ad. You can tell it's an ad because it usually says "special advertising section" in small letters on the top of the pages.

These special advertising sections usually are an interview, a slice of life, or an explanation of how something works. TV has been doing this for decades in the form of infomercials.

These aren't just ads. They offer content, rather than simply try to sell a product. There's enough information to allow the reader to make an informed decision, plus a little entertainment to make it go down easy.

One of the big reviewing mags (I think it was PW) started a program a few years ago where authors and publishers could pay for reviews. The industry frowned on it, because it seemed ethically wrong.

But what if newspapers and magazines accepted content--paid for by book publishers--instead of ads? What if the NYT ran a full page interview with Michael Connelly, rather than a full page ad, but charged the same? Is that unethical?

Or what if it ran a column by Connelly, writing about his latest book?

Or would it be unethical if Connelly's publisher paid Stephen King to write a review of Connelly's new book, and then paid the NYT to publish it?

What if it ran a full page Harry Bosch short story that was tied-in to the new Connelly book, which the publisher paid for? Or if it printed the first chapter, but again with the publisher paying rather than the newspaper paying (how many newspapers even buy first serial rights anymore?)

Would newspaper/magazine readers prefer this to a ton of ads they just ignore? Or would this blur the line between content and advertising and piss readers off?

I think it would be nice to open a newspaper and not have ads every page. Let the ads stay where they belong--in the classified section, and in the inserts. Inserts work like catalogs, and people like them (try to find a newspaper the day after Thanksgiving--everyone buys them for the sales inserts.)

Speaking of inserts, what if a publisher did that? Instead of some ads in the paper, they could have a mini catalog: "This Winter from St. Martins." Just like Target, Sears, and Home Depot, except it lists upcoming and newly released books. Borders and BN do it. Why not the publishers? Why would they rather blow $50k on a full page ad? The catalog could also include content, like interviews and excerpts and perhaps even coupons. It might be costly, but if there were three dozen books in the catalog, each contributing their share of the marketing budget, it seems doable.

How about smaller magazines. Could they survive without ads?

Let's look at Crimespree, which has become a must buy for many mystery fans and authors. What if, instead of standard ads, authors and publishers paid Crimespree to run little mini essays?

Example: for a set amount of money, the author would get half a page which would feature a picture of the book cover, and a short column on why they wrote the book. It would cost the same as a regular ad (and probably be cheaper to produce--it's just a jpg of the cover and a dozen sentences.) But it would actually offer content, and I'd think it would do a better job selling the books than the standard cover+blurbs. At the very least, it would be more entertaining than a standard ad, and less apt to be glossed over.

I'd buy an ad like that. Plus I'd buy extra copies of the magazine to give to people. And wouldn't it be fun to read what authors think of their own books in their own words?

I have no idea if these things would work, but I'd like to see someone try them. Not only would it make newspapers and magazines more interesting and less annoying to read, but it might actually sell a few books.

What do you think?

Rant Against Advertising

Here is a dirty little secret that even publishers don't know: No one in this business knows what they're doing. Everyone thinks they know what they're doing. But know one knows.

Consider the Skinner pigeons.

Group A pecked on a little lever, and received a treat. As a result, they pecked on the lever when they were hungry.

Group B pecked on the lever, but nothing happened. As a result, they never pecked on the lever.

Group C pecked on the lever, but they only received a treat occasionally. As a result, they pecked on the lever non-stop.

When your actions are rewarded sporadically, you still link your efforts with the rewards, even if there is no direct connection. This is because you're unable to judge the effectiveness of your efforts, since the results are sporadic.

Now consider publishing. Publishers know that in order to make money, they have to spend money. But they aren't sure what to spend money on, because they always get mixed results.

Let's apply this specifically to advertising.

Sometimes publishers buy a huge ad, see a sales spike, and attribute the spike to the ad (even though it may have had no direct connection.)

Sometimes they buy a huge ad, get no sales spike, and wonder why it didn't work. So, like Skinner's Group C, they buy another ad.

Your publisher will keep pecking away, hoping for rewards. Ads are part of their tried and true arsenal. They know they must spend money, so they spend money on ads. But is this a case of ads being beneficial? Or is this just habit?

In my experience (which is flawed like everyone else's) ads don't work for new or midlist writers. An ad as a tool to get people into a bookstore fails because there are too many steps that need to be taken between awareness and purchase.

If you see an author speak, and the book is being sold right there, the distance between awareness and purchase is only a few seconds--the customer takes the book to the register.

People are immune to advertising. They forget it three seconds after seeing it. Even if the ad got them interested in the book, the purchase isn't easy or instant. They have to get in the car, go to a bookstore, find the book, and even then they'll look at it before they actually buy it. The book sells the book, not an ad.

Some say ads reinforce a brand, and customers will remember the product after seeing it several times. That's why the same commercials get repeated over and over within the same one hour time slot.

I believe that content sells. Not advertising.

If you want to reach a specific crowd, visit the specific crowd. If you want to sell books to a demographic, target that demographic with your work, not with your ads.

For example: if you write mysteries about quilting, there are plenty of quilting magazines you can target. Rather than place ads in these magazines, you should write articles for them, or short stories for them. Or give them an ARC and encourage them to review it, or do an interview.

And this is free (or they pay you.)

Branding works when people have a favorable experience with a product, and keep returning to the product to have the same experience. Ads can reinforce a brand, but they don't create a brand. That's why a Stephen King ad works--it's an announcement. But an ad used to sell a product, rather than remind someone of a positive experience with a product, is a lot of money spent on a very small return.

It doesn't matter how many amazing hair dye ads I see, I'm never going to buy hair dye. I'm not the target market. The target market is a very tiny percentage of everyone exposed to the ad, and even if someone is actively looking for hair dye, awareness that a product exists is still a long way away from getting someone to try the product. Especially since the hair dye buyer is probably already brand loyal to something else.

Don't agree? Consider Bouchercon. Every year, attendees get goody bags filled with books. And every year, hundreds of books wind up discarded.

These people are the intended demographic for these books, and they're getting them free, and they're still throwing them away.

Why is this?

A book essentially advertises itself with its cover, jacket copy, genre, and quality of writing. Certain people don't like certain books, so even a free copy won't persuade them to try something new. Why would an ad do so, when the actual product (free) doesn't?

Of course, some free books are kept and read, and new fans are gained. This is because a free book actually offers an experience. An ad only offers the promise of an experience, in a way we've become immune to.

I challenge anyone to pick up a copy of PW, read through it, and honestly judge the effectiveness of the ads. Do they prompt you to buy the book? Do they reinforce branding and name recognition?

They do? Okay---the next day, see how many of those ads you can remember.

Of course, if you're in advertising, or if you're doing this because I suggested it, you may actually retain more than normal. So try this:

Think about the last magazine you read. Can you remember any of the ads? Why or why not? Did any of them reinforce brands? Did any of them make you aware of new products? Did any of them make you rush out any buy something?

I was reading a magazine two hours ago. I can remember four of the articles I read. I can't remember a single ad.

I've experimented with ads, and so has my publisher. I've found that the amount of money it costs to run can be much better used for promotion that produces immediate, tangible effects, such as appearances.

The problem (and even advertisers admit this) is that there's no real idea of what works and what doesn't. And because advertising is used in conjunction with other forms of promotion, there is no way to judge the effectiveness of it.

Save the hundreds of dollars on a trade ad and go to a conference. You still won't sell nearly enough books to justify the cost of travel, but you're a much better (and more memorable) spokesperson for your book than an ad.

Of course, I encourage everyone to draw your own conclusions from your experiences. Try everything at least once. But know why you're trying it, and what you expect from it.

MySpace Redux

Let's talk about MySpace.

I joined a while back, did a quickie profile (www.myspace.com/jakonrath), made some Friend Requests, and then basically treated it like email; something to periodically check.

Then, gradually, I spent more time there. I beefed up my page. I began searching for mystery readers to invite as Friends. And I came to realize that it had serious potential as a marketing tool.

My main marketing belief is: The more pieces of paper your name is on, the better.

Your name is on your books, naturally. But it can also be on ads, on short stories and articles, on blurbs, on business cards and coasters and bookmarks, on mailers, on reviews, etc.

Virtual paper (the Internet) works in a similar way. Like Rome, all roads can lead to your website through links and searches. A "hit" is the same as being on a piece of paper.

In the short time my MySpace page has been up, I've gotten over 4000 profile views, and have made about 700 Friends. A few of them probably read my books as a result of seeing the page.

But is it worth the time invested?

Blogs and websites draw visitors with content. Either a surfer is looking for you specifically, or looking for a topic that your site covers, and then they find you.

MySpace is different. The search criteria are more specific. So specific, in fact, that an author can seek out a demographic pretty easily. They can still find you. But you can also find them.

I put a lot of info on my website and blog and hope someone reads it, and likes it so much they buy my books. But with MySpace, I can look for the people who I think would like my books.

In other words, a website has roads leading in to it, but MySpace has roads leading out.

So how does a MySpacer find roads to travel?

The Dumb Way

MySpace is ridiculously easy to surf. You read one profile, and it links to 500 others. So you read one of those, then another, then another, and so on. While surfing, you can request to be Friends with anyone who looks interesting. This takes a long time, and you're not really narrowing down a specific demographic.

It's possible to use the Browse feature, but that only lets you list criteria such as location, appearance, and religion. If you're looking for 40 year old native American women who smoke and live within 50 miles of you and are bi-curious, this feature is for you. If you're looking for fans of Janet Evanovich, browsing won't help much.

A Smarter Way

Fortunately, MySpace also has a search feature. You can search for fans of Evanovich, and then ask these folks to be your Friends (this is only helpful if, like me, you share fans with Evanovich.)

This makes a lot of sense. The MySpacers who list Evanovich (or Grisham, or Patterson, or Child) care enough about those type of books to mention them in their profile. Without too much effort, you can find the names of thousands of readers who love authors similar to you. Many of these could become your MySpace Friends, and a fraction of them will read your books. This seems like a much better way to use MySpace.

The Even Smarter Way

Of course, why should you compile a cadre of readers when others have already done this for you? You can find authors similar to you on MySpace, and then directly contact all of their Friends from their MySpace pages.

A dozen authors can lead you to thousands of fans.

Unfortunately, it's still a pain in the ass to contact each individual MySpacer and send them Friend Requests.

Right?

The Smartest Way

As luck would have it, there's an even easier way to do this. MySpace began as a way for bands to recruit listeners and inform them of upcoming gigs. Bands quickly learned that the key to selling CDs and tickets on MySpace was to find people who like their kind of music and then invite them as Friends.

But most bands do drugs and drink too much, and they aren't up for spending countless hours adding potential fans one at a time. So some savvy programmers invented ways to invite a bunch of Friends at once.

Google "Myspace friend adder" and you'll get dozens of programs used to add Friends in bulk. They can do this randomly, or specifically.

In other words, I can go to www.myspace.com/jeffstrand and send each of his Friends a Friend Request by simply pushing a few buttons. I can also send them each a Message at the same time, perhaps saying "I was surfing MySpace and I saw you're friends with Jeff Strand. I always like to meet Jeff Strand fans."

Mr. Strand has been building his friends list for months, and I vacuumed it up in two days (MySpace administration won't let you make more than 400 friend requests per day.) Thanks, Jeff!

Pretty cool, huh?

But it gets better. When you have a big list of Friends, MySpace lets you send Bulletins to them. Your Friend Adder (I use Badder Adder) also lets you send bulk Messages and bulk Comments to your entire Friend List (or anyone else's Friend List.) You can pimp out the look of your page and add music, pictures, and video. You can add a blog. And even if you ignore your page for weeks at a time, people will still find and and request to be your Friend, which leads to more links, and more links, and more links.

Is MySpace a guaranteed path to success? Hardly. But it's one more weapon in your marketing arsenal, and it has the potential to reach a lot of people--even more than your website, your blog, and your newsletter combined.

Give it a shot. Spend a few days playing around. And be sure to build up your Friend List... I'll be by to steal it next month.

How Good Am I?

As writers, we all think we're better than we actually are.

I call this phenomenon "ugly baby syndrome." We all know people with ugly kids. Do these folks hide their children from the public? No. Proud parents that they are, these people hand out pictures of their ugly little progeny and ask the requisite, "Isn't she cute?" to all within earshot.

It's impossible to objectively view your own creation.

So when we write something, and the writing gets rejected, we all wonder what is wrong with the editor/agent/universe because they obviously don't know quality.

Unfortunately, believing in one's talents also encourages a sense of entitlement.

The fact is, you're never as good as you think you are, and no one will love your work as much as you do. Even you writers who say that you stink, you know deep down that you want someone to contradict your beliefs, to heap praise upon your work because you secretly believe it is worthwhile or else you wouldn't be writing in the first place.

As if this situation isn't volatile enough, we add Factor X to the mix.

Factor X dictates that anyone, at any time, with any degree of talent, can succeed.

There's no real rhyme or reason to success. No universal score keeper decides who gets a break and who still needs to pay their dues. There is no objective measure of talent that dictates the haves and the have nots.

We all try our best. Some make it. Some don't. Talent, experience, and hard work all may or may not be factors.

We all think we deserve success, but not all of us attain success, and there's no way to accurately judge if what we're doing is right or wrong, because we can't be objective, and because there is no clear cut path of right or wrong, no guarantees.

In fact, we might not even consider ourselves successful, even when other people believe we are.

Kind of a conundrum, ain't it? Especially since the business model for publishing, with returns and coop, is hardly ideal.

Unfortunately, all we can do is keep reminding ourselves of these three things:

1. It's our work that gets rejected or accepted, not us.
2. No one in this business really knows what they're doing.
3. All we have control over is how much we try.

On that note, MJ Rose is once again taking anonymous requests to send to the Book Biz Santa.

Ask Santa what you want him to bring you and the winner's favorite charity will get $100 for Xmas. Details at:

http://mjroseblog.typepad.com/buzz_balls_hype/2006/12/santa_baby_plea.html

Pimping

Writers should know how to sell their books.

They should also know when to sell their books. And when to sell their peers' books.

As a writer, you will have countless opportunities to meet potential fans and try to interest them in your writing. Booksignings, book festivals, conventions, conferences, library talks, and speeches all offer opportunities to pitch and sell.

But, sometimes, your kind of book isn't the right kind of book for the person you're speaking with. They may only read historicals, or hate books about serial killers, or enjoy cozies with mystery solving cats, or only read female protagonists, etc.

That's a perfect opportunity to pimp your friends.

The situation arises all the time. You're chatting with a potential buyer, discussing the types of mysteries she reads, and your book clearly isn't her cup of tea. But over the course of the conversation, you realize she'd really like X written by your good friend, so it is your duty to put that book in her hands and talk it up.

I do this all the time, and have sold many books written by many of my peers. I've also gone into bookstores and faced out friends' books, and recommended them to the booksellers, insisting they give it a read.

People genuinely respond to recommendations. When you sell your books, there's obviously self interest involved. But when you sell other books, you come across as selfless and helpful.

I go so far as to approach people in bookstores who are buying a book, and telling them about other books they'd like that are similar.

For example, any time I see someone buying Clive Cussler or Tom Clancy, I pimp James Rollins and David Morrell. If people are buying John Sandford or James Patterson, I pimp Tess Gerritsen, PJ Parrish, MJ Rose, and Rebecca Drake. If someone is holding a Lee Child, I tell them about Barry Eisler, JD Rhodes, Harry Shannon, and Mark Terry. If someone has a Robert B. Parker, I mention Harry Hunsicker and Jeff Shelby. If someone has a historical, I steer them to Tasha Alexander. Chick lit readers get Melanie Lynne Hauser. Evanovich gets Karen E. Olsen and Brian Wiprud. Hiaasen gets James O. Born, Bob Morris, and Tim Dorsey. Grisham or Turow get David Ellis. YA gets Alexandra Sokoloff and Wayne Thomas Batson. And so on, with dozens of other writers that I know and like.

While on tour with the Rusty Nail 500, I tag-teamed many stores with many authors. While we pitched to booksellers, we'd invariably run into some customers.

What I did a lot of, during these tag-team drop-ins, is pimp the author I was with. Not that I didn't want to sell my own books, but sometimes I had a feeling the reader would like my companion's books more. Or sometimes I'd be Mr. Selfless, and try to help my friend sell their books. Or sometimes I'd pop my head in while my friend was doing their pitch, and reinforce it, assuring the customer it is a worthwhile purchase.

On many occasions, my friends did the same thing for me.

This holds true for any occasion when there is more than one author present. Yes, we all have an overwhelming desire to sell ourselves, but sometimes it's damn cool to pick up your buddy's book and tell someone, "You'll love this, trust me."

I can't count the number of times I tag-teamed a bookstore and a customer wound up buying both of our books.

As you forge lasting friendships with peers, you'll soon fall into a natural rhythm and be able to sell their books automatically, without even trying.

This isn't a competition. We're all in the same boat, and helping each other is smart business. It reminds me of an old church sermon about heaven and hell.

Hell is a huge banquet, with every possible delicious food imaginable. But everyone seated at the table is miserable, because the only way to eat is with forks that are ten feet long, and no one can feed themselves.

Heaven is also a huge banquet, with delicious food. And heaven also has forks that are ten feet long. But in heaven, everyone is happy, because they're feeding each other.

Feed each other. Pimp your peers.

Reader Expectations

What you bring to the party can often determine how much fun the party is.

Let's look at HANNIBAL RISING, which was released today.

I read RED DRAGON back in 1984, and then SILENCE OF THE LAMBS when it came out in 1988. These books blew me away, and are largely the reason I write serial killer fiction.

Harris scared the crap out of me, and Lecter was the most terrifying character every created. A soulless intellectual sadist, whose manipulations frightened because they hinted at---and eventually revealed---violence and pure evil.

Then HANNIBAL came out. I hated HANNIBAL. In fact, hate wasn't strong enough a word. It was the first book I reviewed on Amazon, and the only book I ever gave one star.

My reasons were simple: Harris had taken the ultimate boogeyman and turned him into a silly hero. By giving Lecter a backstory, and sketchy motivation for his atrocities, Harris turned a terrifying character who haunted two masterpieces into a cartoonish allegory for Epicureanism. Lecter's taste for fine things, and the reveal that he only ate rude people, was not being true to the character in the prior books.

To make matters worse, Harris wasted Clarice as a hero, made much of the book a boring travelogue, added a gratuitous body-building lesbian to the mix, and topped it off with a lidless pedophile who giggled at the thought of pigs eating Lector's feet.

Quite a fall from SOTL and RD. And quite a disappointment for me, and millions of others who wanted to see Will Graham and Clarice Starling team up to catch Lecter.

So I had zero hope for HANNIBAL RISING, but putz that I am, went out and bought it the day it was released.

And it wasn't bad.

Here's the problem I'm wrestling with. Compared to RD and SOTL, HANNIBAL RISING isn't in the same league. It's certainly not scary---I don't think it can even be called a thriller.

Compared to HANNIBAL, it's a much better book, not only the plot, but the actual writing. No cartoonish villains here. No long and boring exposition. And there is an actual plot, and no character rings false (like Barney and Clarice in the previous book.)

Looking back at my feelings about HANNIBAL, much of the reason I hated it so much was that Harris let me down. He failed to meet expectations, and then betrayed his characters. IMO, he also betrayed his readers. It seemed as if Harris had fallen in love with Lecter, and had tried to redeem his character's actions in the first two books by justifying them with unsatisfying backstory and motivation. In HANNIBAL, Harris essentially said that "The shark from Jaws was really a good guy, once you got to know him."

Had I read HANNIBAL without reading SOTL and RD, perhaps I would have admired Harris's gutsy vision of serial killer as good guy. I still don't think HANNIBAL would be a good book, but I wouldn't get angry thinking about the 11 years I spent waiting to see what happened after SOTL.

So I tried to read HANNIBAL RISING without expectations, and pretend that Lecter was a brand new character. This is a trick I also do with the last three Star Wars movies.

It worked, and on it's own terms HANNIBAL RISING is pretty good.

The plot isn't complicated. This is a simple revenge story. An eight-year-old Lecter and his family are victims of war crimes, and he grows up a sociopath and goes after those who wronged him.

The writing is clean and sharp, and often lovely. While there isn't a lot of tension in the narrative, it did hold me. The ending wasn't the catastrophe that HANNIBAL was, and the book even managed to prompt a grin or two.

If this was just a book I picked up without knowing anything about it, I would have judged it pretty good.

So that's how I'm going to rate it. Three stars, pretty good.

Will this give you the thrills and chills of Harris's early work? No. The story is pretty straight forward, and you don't relate to any character, even the abused young Hannibal, because he is is emotionless, pitiless, and not dynamic.

Will it give you more insight into the evil genius that is Hannibal Lecter? No, because I still can't reconcile the Lector of RD and SOTL with the Lector of these last two novels.

Is it awful? No. There's some good writing here, and the story moves along briskly.

HANNIBAL RISING won't rise to your expectations, if you're hoping for a return to Harris's early style. But it isn't bad.

Which makes me to the point of this blog entry. Expectations play a big part in if a reader enjoys a book. If you come in expecting to be thrilled, you might be disappointed. If you come in expecting crap, you may be pleasantly surprised.

I've gotten a few reviews for Rusty Nail, harping on the fact that Jack keeps getting chased by serial killers. How many times can one person be the target of madmen?

Good point.

But in DIRTY MARTINI, I have no serial killers, and now I'm concerned my readership is going to say, "We expected serial killers---where are the serial killers?"

As writers, I believe we owe our readers something. We have to walk a line between giving them more of what they liked, and giving them something new.

We also have to be true to our characters, because once we create a character, that character takes on a life of their own. Hannibal Lecter, or Spenser, or Kay Scarpetta, or Alex Cross, or Jack Daniels, have readers who have specific ideas of how these characters should act, and what types of stories they should be involved in.

I can't expect my readers to give me the same break I gave HANNIBAL RISING. I have to remember why they became my fans in the first place, and respect their expectations.

If you're a writer, you should do the same. Though it really hasn't hurt Thomas Harris's career much...

Formula 209

This is the 209th blog post I've written for A Newbie's Guide to Publishing.

I began this blog as a way to pass along tips, tricks, and facts that I've learned about this business since becoming a published author in 2001.

Since then, this place has evolved into a forum where ideas are openly exchanged, and where newbies (and pros) can ask questions, offer suggestions, and try to be more proactive about their careers.

I've learned a lot from many of these threads, and the many comments that they inspired. And, from the amount of email I get, I know that a lot of other people have learned some things as well.

The problem (if you can call it one) is that there is so much info on this blog right now, it has become overwhelming to search through. New writers looking for specific information, or trying to remember a specific blog post, have complained to me that the blog titles don't adequately describe the content of the posts, and that the archiving system sucks.

The information from a year or two ago is still relevant, it's just damn hard to find.

What this blog needs is some organization. Sort of like a table of contents, so someone interested in PROMOTION can instantly find the fifteen entries that focus on that topic.

Each blog entry also needs a brief description, so surfers can quickly find what they're looking for.

I don't have the time to do this myself. So I'm turning to you folks. If anyone is interested in providing a table of contents for this blog and building the html links so it can be easily surfed, email me.

As a reward, you'll get signed copies of ALL of my books and magazines, and I'll kill you in an upcoming Jack Daniels novel.

Any takers?

Neurotic Author Moment

It's true. It's all true. And I'll validate it for you.

You have no talent.

You're never going to succeed.

Your agent isn't doing shit for you, and you won't find anyone better.

You can't make a living at this.

You're not a real writer.

Your publisher isn't behind you.

Your work-in-progress stinks.

Your peers don't respect you.

The bad reviews are true.

Everyone is doing better than you are.

You're fooling yourself.

You'll never get another contract.

The whole world knows you suck.

Your last book was better.

No one else struggles.

You need to quit, because you don't have what it takes.

Loser.


You done? Got that out of your system? Good.

Now quit being a whiny little baby and go write.

Ebooks!

Seven years ago, ebooks were the Next Big Thing in publishing. Agents sold them for big bucks, publishers tripped all over themselves making sure they acquired the rights, and everyone was expectantly waiting for the day when the printing presses stopped forever because we all would be carrying libraries in the palm of our hands.

Well, it didn't happen.

Ebooks were published, in a variety of downloadable formats. But they never really took off. I blame several reasons:
  1. They were overpriced. Who would pay $15 for a text download when they could buy the paperback for $8?
  2. There was no standardization or universal compatibility. Different gizmos and websites used different formats.
  3. The equipment wasn't user-friendly. Reading on a tiny screen isn't fun, and trying to adjust margins on a PDA is a pain.
  4. Books are warmer. There's something about the feel of a book that people like, and they can drop it in the bathtub or take it to the beach without worrying about losing valuable electronic equipment.

So ebooks have arrived, but they don't seem to be doing much. On my last royalty statement, I believe I sold around five downloads.

But I think the tide is starting to change. People are more at ease with downloading content these days. The devices have gotten better, and less expensive. The Amazon Shorts program is getting customers to read on machines rather than on paper. Sony has released their long-awaited Portable Reader System. Project Gutenberg has almost 20,000 books available online. Google Book Search and Amazon offer searching through the content of books. And there's more and more websites that sell ebooks: www.ereader.com, www.ebooks.com, www.fictionwise.com, www.booksonboard.com, and dozens of others.

What does this mean for writers? Here are my predictions:

I predict that downloadable book sales (text, and especially audio) will continue to grow. People these days are either on their computers or traveling someplace, and both are conducive to reading.

I predict that books will become multimedia things like DVDs, offering more than just text (photos, music, video, interviews with the author, etc.) Print copies may soon be packaged with a DVD which contains a pdf or txt file. Downloads will have extra content, and will drop down in price.

I predict the viral nature of the Internet will help to create print bestsellers. Not necessarily through marketing or advertising, but through actual content. By this I mean giving the book away.

So I'm going to try it.

The savvy may have noticed the two book covers over the links in my sidebar. These covers lead to a new webpage on my site, which offers these books, in their entirety, for free.

I'm not the first person to try this. Matt Reilly released a YA adventure on his website in installments for free. Scott Sigler has been podcasting his books in installments. Stephen King wrote a story online in installments with mixed results. Douglas Clegg has been doing it for years. And there's an author whose name escapes me that will email you a story a week if you sign up for this service.

What I'm doing differently is giving away the whole thing at once. And I have a very specific reason for doing it this way.

I want to see what happens.

I'm a midlist author with a modest fanbase. Will that fanbase embrace the new technology? Will these freebies lead to new fans? Will this result in more website traffic, or publicity, or an increase in my print book sales? Will editors and movie producers start fighting over the rights?

Or am I giving away the milk, ensuring that I'll never sell the cow? Am I alienating my fans by giving them something other than Jack Daniels? Am I diluting my brand? Will I tick off my print publisher or my agent? Am I crazy to give away for free what I toiled over for years? Is this simply an exercise in vanity?

I truly dunno. But I've often thought that the best promotion in the world would be to give away 50,000 books. Get people hooked on the writing, and they'll become buyers. Like drugs.

I can't afford to do that. But I can give away ebooks.

I tried this in a limited way last year, for only a few weeks. Then I chickened out, worried about the many things I've mentioned above.

This time I'm going to stick with it until I'm able to draw some sort of conclusion.

So if you like James Rollins, Michael Crichton, and Preston & Child, check these books out---they're in the same vein. And feel free to pass the word along to others.

I'll be watching my StatCounter, and checking my bandwidth, and seeing what happens. It should be interesting...

Haters

I got this email a few days ago:

Dear Sir:
I find your Book, Rusty Nail, despicable! You must be a very sick person to think up such garbage! Why would you think anyone would want to read such? The cover of your book, and the fly-leaf, give NO indication of such filth inside.
Your publisher should be ashamed to be that hard up for something to publish! He's as bad as O.J. Simpson's publisher!
Barnes and Noble should be ashamed to offer such a book for sale, and your publisher, and Barnes and Noble, should , at the VERY least, warn readers of the content!

With great regret! Carol A.

---------------------------------------

My first reaction was to laugh. While my books have bright, colorful, attractive covers, anyone reading the jacket flaps can easily find references to the filth--er--edgy stuff inside.

Coincidentally, a few days later people started bashing the violence in my books on a popular listserv, bemoaning the graphic violence.

I don't usually defend my writing. If a reader doesn't like something I wrote, the piece failed the reader. It's as simple as that. I'm not perched on their shoulder while they read, saying "This is why I wrote that scene and what I was trying to accomplish" so I see no reason to do it ex post facto.

But this made me curious, so I reread Rusty Nail (I hadn't read it since I turned it in, two years ago) and tried to see if I'd actually gone too far.

I hadn't. While bad things happen in Rusty Nail (snuff videos, torture, mutilation), they happen off-screen. There are no lingering depictions of violence, or even graphic descriptions of anything disturbing. When writing a violent scene, I adhere to 'less is more' and leave the gore up to the reader's imagination.

I am, however, confronted with a business dilemma. Do I want to alienate potential readers and risk sales?

There are two schools of thought here. The first says that safe, homogenous entertainment reaches a broader audience. The second says that unique visions and approaches might polarize an audience, leading to controversy, which leads to a slightly less broad but more passionate audience.

Let's get the integrity issue out of the way: I have very little. Writing is a job. It's a job I love, but I'm never so attached to any of my words that I'll refuse to change them, especially in the face of potential dollars.

So do I want to tone down the violence in my books? John Sandford did it in his Prey series. Ridley Pearson did it in his Lou Boldt series. Jeffrey Deaver did it. Spenser did it. Lots of authors mellow out.

But do they mellow out and then reach a larger audience? Or does the violence of the early books invite controversy, which leads to a larger audience? Does anyone besides me miss Lucas Davenport and Lou Boldt and Lincoln Rhyme chasing psychopaths? Did the serial killers make them bestsellers, or did they become bestsellers after they ditched the serial killers?

It's sort of a moot point. DIRTY MARTINI, coming out in 2007, has no serial killers and no blood. It still has (hopefully) scares, but not of the being stalked and sliced up kind.

What do you think? I know being talked about is always better than not being talked about, but would you rather be controversial re: Thomas Harris or Dan Brown, or universally loved re: Michael Connelly or Robert Crais?

Library Events 101

At some point in your writing career, you'll be asked to appear at a library.

Library events are great opportunities for authors. You get publicity. You get a public forum for spreading your message. And often, you get paid and/or sell some books.

But if you're asked to speak at a library, what is expected, and how should you handle it?

Here's a quick rundown of the basics.

How do I get invited to speak at libraries?

Because you're a savvy author with a hip, informative website, who is constantly attending writing conferences and festivals, you're probably already on the radar of many libraries.

If your email isn't already overflowing with library appearance requests, you may need to grease the wheels a bit.

Network and schmooze. Librarians like books, and often attend book-related events, like booksignings, conventions, and conferences. Meet them, talk them up, offer yourself as a speaker, and give them a business card with contact info.

You can also contact local libraries and offer your services. Check Google, your local Yellow Pages, and www.public-libraries.org.

Once I'm invited, what do I charge?

Some libraries will pay you hundreds of dollars to appear. Some with give you a handshake and a thank you. Most are somewhere in between.

If the library is giving me a stipend (I've gotten as much as $300 for an appearance) then I make sure they get some free stuff from me (books, audios).

I also sign the library's copies. Then they'll hopefully be stolen, and new ones will be ordered. :)

If a library every asks what your speaking fee is, tell them you'll take an average of the last three speakers they've paid. I do free events all the time, but many libraries have event budgets, and must spend them or else risk losing them.

I don't bring up the fee--I let them do that. If they don't bring it up, they're probably not offering one. Which is fine; a free appearance still gives you a publicity soapbox and the opportunity to sell your books.

Who sells books at a library event?

Sometimes the library will have a local bookseller do all of the sales for an event. If that's the case, make sure you get in touch with the bookseller several weeks beforehand, to make sure they know which of your books to carry. If your books can't be ordered through distributors (they're self-pubbed or out of print) work out the split you're giving the bookseller prior to the event (usually 40% off cover price.)

Sometimes they'll ask you to bring your own books. If it's a big library event, with lots of authors, ask a local indie to attend and sell books.

My indie orders extra books for me and sells them to me at cost---a 40% discount, plus they count toward my royalty.

If you're doing a solo library event, bring the books yourself. You won't be able to accept credit cards, but feel free to take cash and checks (bring change with you).

It's always a crapshoot as to how many books you bring. The most I've every sold at a library event is 30. I usually bring 20 paperbacks and ten hardcovers. Sometimes I'll also bring magazines that features stories of mine, and I'll give a free mag to anyone who buys a book.

For libraries, I usually charge attendees a flat $20 for hardcovers, and $5 for paperbacks--the goal is to be read, not make $$$---even though you can make a few hundred bucks selling books at a big event.

What should I do to publicize the event?

List it on your website, blog, MySpace, newsletter, etc. Ask the library if they'll list the event in the local paper. Offer to drop off flyers a week before the event for the library to pass out to patrons. And suggest more than one author attend.

With library events, the more authors there are, the bigger the draw. Keep that in mind if/when you begin soliciting libraries---they're more amicable to having an event if you can get some of your writing friends to join you for it. It becomes a bigger deal and will likely get more publicity and a bigger crowd.

For that reason, get know the local authors near you and make sure to share speaking opportunities.

What do I do when I'm at a library event?

You'll be expected to sing for your supper. Have a speech planned, and know what it is you're going to talk about (platform, baby.)

Prior to going on, work the audience. I introduce myself to everyone who came, shake their hands, and give them a free signed coaster (a flyer or a bookmark also works.) This gets them on my side before I go on stage.

If you're afraid of speaking in public, or you suck, you have a choice: get better, or don't do it. I've seen authors do their careers great disservices because they felt they were a lot more interesting then they actually were.

Keep it funny. If you can't be funny, keep it moving.

I've found that readings--unless they're uber short--bore people. For libraries, my standard schtick is to do a Q&A with myself that I culled from email questions. That way I can get all the obvious ones out of the way (why do you write for a female hero, where do you get your ideas, why JA and not Joe, why do you mix humor and scares, why did you become a writers, etc.)

Save time for questions at the end, but don't expect anyone to ask any. People have to be goaded into participating.

For more public speaking tips, visit http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2006/03/conventions-panels-you.html

Events usually last between one and two hours. It should go without saying that you need to be gracious, thankful, on time, prepared, and easy going. Whenever you appear in public, you are a spokesperson for your brand. People come to these things wanting to like you. Don't give them any reasons to draw a different conclusion.

What if no one shows up? What if I don't sell any books? What if the event goes badly?

Welcome to the writing biz.

I've had library appearances where eighty people showed up and I made a few hundred bucks. I've also driven 200 miles one-way to greet a throng of two people.

Remember that there's no such thing as a bad experience if you can learn from it. No one said this was going to be easy, fair, or fun.

But, like all promotion, the more you do, the better you do. I've been on local TV and radio, been invited to attend conferences and festivals all expenses paid, gotten interviews, and have made some pretty good money, all because I've done library events. The intangible benefits can be substantial.

Plus it's never a waste of time to meet librarians, because they have big hearts. It has to do with thier excellent circulation.

And yes, you can use that joke.

Thanksgiving for Writers

I'm thankful that I'm a writer.

I'm thankful I have fans.

I'm thankful I can make a money at this, and that people actually pay me for my words.

I'm thankful for the support of fellow writers.

I'm thankful every time I see my name on a book spine, on a byline, in an interview, or on a blurb.

I'm thankful that I'm slightly less neurotic than I was last year.

I'm thankful for my publishers and my agents.

I'm thankful my family and friends support my dream.

I'm thankful I have the opportunity to help newbies get what I've got.

I'm thankful for my creativity.

I'm thankful my career is going well.

I'm thankful for booksellers and librarians.

I'm thankful for those who want to review me, interview me, and publicize me.

I'm thankful that the writing is still its own reward.

------------------

If you can't find anything to be thankful for, why are you still in this business?

When things get tough, remember how lucky you are. Also remember that no one is forcing you to do this.

You take out what you put in.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Your Daily Motivational

Write.

Even if you have other things to do.

Even if it sucks.

Even though it's hard.

Even though there are no guarantees.

Even if no one else cares.

Revise.

Even though it's difficult to be objective.

Even if you think you got it right the first time.

Even though you hate it.

Even if you're sure it's a waste of time.

Submit.

Even if it's to a small, non-paying publication.

Even if you feel you're not ready.

Even if you hate rejection.

Even if you know you'll never be accepted.

Repeat.

You're a writer. Act like one.

Distractions

Being a writer these days is the career equivalent of ADD.

Years ago, in the days of typewriters (note to newbies: a typewriter was a device like a computer, but without a monitor, memory, or Minesweeper) writers could sit down at their desk and just write. Then, when they finished writing, they could write their next book.

These days, not so much. Temptations and other work-related activities abound for the writer. There are dozens of opportunities to slack-off without even getting out of your chair.

  • Writing blogs
  • Checking for replies on blogs
  • Checking for replies to your replies on blogs
  • Computer games
  • Checking email
  • MySpace
  • Surfing the net
  • Message boards
  • Checking Amazon

And then there are the other requirements of the job:

  • Booksignings
  • Touring
  • Interviews
  • Conventions, conferences, and festivals
  • Library and school talks
  • Stock signings
  • Newsletters
  • Mailings
  • Websites
  • Blurbing

And, of course:

  • Other job
  • Family
  • Recreation

After finishing my 500 bookstore tour on August 22, I've managed to write 25 blog entries, visit 104 additional bookstores (I'm up to 608), do 19 events, and 7 interviews.

Writing? Who has time for writing?

Even when I do manage to sit down to write, the siren song of the internet calls, begging me to stop mid-sentence and research something, or check the blogosphere for mentions of my name, or catch up on my email.

So, in order to meet my 4000 word a day quota, I've had to get tough.

First, I don't automatically say yes to every speaking invitation I receive.

Second, I only turn on the internet when I take my breaks, every 1000 words.

Third, I keep working until I get my quota, even if that means I don't sleep.

When you're a writer, it's easy to forget the writing part. What are some of the things you do to stay on task?

How the Hell Am I Doing?!?

If you've got a book on the shelves, you're probably haunted by an omnipresent question:

Am I doing OK or not?

In almost any other job, you get evaluated. There is a pay scale that usually correlates to years of experience. The harder you work, the likelier you are to be promoted. You're constantly getting feedback on whether you're doing well or not.

This isn't the case with writers.

There are reasons for this.
  1. Every book is unique, and treated differently than every other book, so comparing yourself to other authors does little to no good.
  2. You get very little feedback from your publisher, and when they do give you feedback, it's usually sugar-coated, vague, or even a lie. You never know for sure how happy they are with you, or how disappointed.
  3. You don't have access to all of the sales numbers, and those you have access to don't tell you much about your publisher's expectations and if they've been met.
  4. Everything you do to promote seems to have very little effect, and there's no direct correlation between hard work and success.
  5. Royalty statements and advance checks aren't effective evaluations because they don't list expectations.

In short, writers don't have much control over their careers, and they're kept in the dark about so much that promotion seems almost pointless.

A better business model would have the publisher keeping the writer in the fiscal loop. They tell you how much money they've spent on everything, how many books need to sell before the book makes money, and how many books need to sell to make them happy.

But very few publishers do this. And often our agents can't even tell us if our publishers are happy with our performance. Often our publishers can't even tell us, because sales has a different answer than production who has a different answer than accounting.

Like pornography, success has no specific definition, but we supposedly know it when we see it.

Since writers already have a right-brained artist mentality, the lack of specific goals and appropriate feedback can quickly and easily add to the neuroses pile.

We all want to do better, but we really have no idea how we're doing now.

We all have worries, but no way to quell them.

We search for answers, but only find more questions.

So how the hell are we supposed to function in this septic environment?

Here's your mantra:

1. Live in the present, and don't worry about the future.

2. Try your best, because that's all you have control over.

3. Learn as much as you can about this business, and set goals accordingly.

Unfortunately, there still aren't any pats on the head. So when you're looking for acceptance and approval, look to the readers rather than the industry professionals. Look to peers rather than at your royalty statement. Look to family and friends.

It's an imperfect business in an imperfect world, but worrying about it won't chance a damn thing.

Keep on keeping on, my friends.

Internet Stuff

Gotta run to Milwaukee for Murder in Muskego. In the meantime, here's some stuff I'd like you to check out.

My agent, Dystel and Goderich, is now blogging. No snarkiness here. Just professional, smart advice about the publishing industry, without any ego trips.

Link to http://dglm.blogspot.com/ and feel free to post comments and questions. They have a celebrity guest blogger this week. :)

Are Internet interviews boring? Judge for yourself. Visit Apex Digest at http://apexdigest.livejournal.com/15802.html and check out the loudmouth smartass they've recently interviewed.

Afterward, read his Phineas Troutt short story SUFFER. Phin is a recurring character in the Jack Daniels series, and has stories in Amazon Shorts (A Six Pack of Crime), Thriller by James Patterson, and These Guns for Hire edited by that funny guy, I forget his name.

Finally, join the revolution and visit legendary wrestler Lance Storm's Site, and become part of his famous Book Club.

Kudos to Lance for promoting literacy in general, and thriller fiction in particular. Previous featured authors include David Morrell, F. Paul Wilson, Janet Evanovich, Lee Child, Gail Lynds, and Dave Barry.


The Rusty Nail 600

Since the Rusty Nail 500 ended in late August I've visited Wisconsin four times, Michigan twice, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. I've done sixteen events, and dropped in 86 bookstores.

That brings the total number of bookstores I've visited to 590.

Today I'll visit four more, and tomorrow I'll be in Wisconsin again for Murder in Muskego http://www.ci.muskego.wi.us/library/murder_and_mayhem.htm along with David Morrell, Tess Gerritsen, Blake Crouch, John Connolly, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and Libby Fisher Hellmann, among others. Come if you can.

During my Wisconsin trip, I'll visit six more stores, which will make my 500 tour reach 600.

That's a lot of bookstores.

I get asked a lot, "Was it worth it?"

This question is wrong. The correct question should be, "Is it worth it?" Because the tour will never truly end.

I may never do something as intensive or dramatic as 600 stores in six months. But as long as I'm writing books, I'll be stopping in bookstores. Because it is worth it.

As much as I'd rather be doing other things.

Which brings up today's blog topic: excuses.

As people who get paid to lie for a living, writers are experts at rationaliztion. There are always reasons we didn't make the deadline, didn't answer the email, didn't do that last booksigning.

In my last blog entry, I stressed the importance of setting goals that you have control over.
  • Stay at a signing until you sell ten books.
  • Meet thirty new people at a conference.
  • Write 2000 words a day.
  • Drop in 100 bookstores.

These goals are attainable, because they are specific and depend upon a direct effort on your part.

But even if we set goals like these, we usually factor in for comfort. Selling ten books at a signing is easier than selling twenty. Visiting 100 bookstores is easier than 150. We rarely push ourselves to our limits.

This is sad, because we can only learn our limits by going beyond them.

Unfortunately, that involves a lot of time and energy. So we aim low in our goals. We do the barest minimum, and then make excuses. We justify our actions.

In short, we say "can't" when we really mean "won't."

A lot of people think I enjoy self-promotion. They think I'm good at it because I have some sort of self-promotion gene. They tell me, "I can't do what you're doing."

They're wrong on all counts.

I never knew what I was capable of until I pushed myself. And I pushed myself not because I enjoy it, but because I'm ambitious and determined to succeed. I work hard at it. I work so hard at it, I've been accused of setting the bar too high. I've been accused of doing the publisher's job for them. I've even been accused of bringing about change for the worse in the publishing world, where publishers demand that authors self-promote. I've made some people very angry.

If you feel that way, who are you really angry with? (Hint: check a mirror.)

I believe that all writers should push themselves. Your goals should be out of your comfort range. You should quit limiting your potential and instead see how far you can go. This doesn't just apply to writing. This applies to life.

Stop saying "can't" and watch how far it takes you. It took me to 600 bookstores.

Why Do You Do What You Do?

When you do any sort of promotion, you need to judge its cost vs. benefit.

Of course, it's rare to actually recoup your time/money investment in any kind of promotion, let alone profit from it. But authors know they have to build brands, and you have to spend money to make money.

That doesn't mean you have to be stupid about it.

Before you do a single thing to promote your book, ask yourself this question:

What is it you want to accomplish?

The more specific your answer, the better job you have of attaining your goal. "Selling 30 books" is provable. "Building name-recognition" is not.

When you've decided on your goal, the next question you need to ask is:

What works on you?

So many authors pursue self-promotional venues without actually thinking about them. There are reasons for this:

1. They know they have to be doing something to promote their book, and it's better to do something than nothing.

2. Everyone else is doing it, so it has to have some merit.

3. They've given zero thought to expectations and return on investment.

The problem with people in general, and the publishing industry in particular, is that very little time is spent analyzing why they do the things they do.

Human nature tends to lean toward self-preservation. This means that people spend more time trying not to look stupid, and justifying their actions, than they do actually thinking about options.

Why do authors go on tours when it's obviously cost ineffective? Why do publishers buy huge ads that could never pay for themselves? Why do authors continue to hire publicists when their fee is never justified by books sold above and beyond what would have been sold anyway?

Because that's the way things have always been done, and humans would rather make excuses for wrong behavior than figure out better mousetraps. No one wants to make decisions, because that requires culpability. So we allow decisions to be made for us by following the same ineffectual paths, and then spend our energy rationalizing their failures.

When I do any sort of promotion, I follow this formula:

1. Decide what you want to accomplish.

2. Decide how much you'll pay to accomplish that, and be able to defend your decision.

3. Figure out a way to judge the effectiveness of your effort.

If that's too complicated, save your time and money and don't promote.

How to Handle Success (Everyone Else's)

Sometimes it seems that everywhere you look, other writers are doing better than you.

Though writers tend to work in solitary, the community is pretty tight-knit and gossipy. Blogs, conferences, Publishers' Lunch, PW Weekly, email, and cell phones, all conspire to spread good news almost instantly.

Even if you're the humblest, happiest, and most down to earth writer on the planet, certain thoughts always creep into your brain. Thoughts like:

  • Why did she win the award?
  • Why did he get the movie deal?
  • Why did she get a three book contract?
  • Why did he get invited (and paid) to speak?
  • Why did she get the huge marketing campaign?
  • Why did he get the million dollar deal?
  • Why is she a lead title?
  • Why is he with the better publisher?
  • Why did she get on TV?
  • Why did he hit the NYT bestseller list?
  • Why is she on all the panels?
  • Why is he getting all the press?
  • Why did she get the huge print run?
  • Why did he get into Walmart?

And so on. And these questions are inevitable followed by: and not me?

After all, you're the better writer. Your book is better. You've struggled longer. You've worked harder. You've written more. Hell, you deserve it more. Why did that writer get it and not you?

I've long preached that comparing yourself to other writers is a one way ticket to despair. It's a no-win situation that can't possibly help you. If you're doing better than your peers, it's easy to develop a sense of entitlement, superiority, and egomania. If you're doing worse than your peers, it's easy to become bitter, angry, and depressed.

Here are some things to keep in mind, which might help curtail the poisonous envy:

There will always be someone doing better than you.

Luck plays a big part, no matter how hard you work or how talented you are.

There is no such thing as karma, no one is keeping score, and no such thing as destiny or fairness.

The writers you wish you were all wish they were someone else.

The only writer you're competing with is yourself.

Anyone can make it.

The last one is the most important. Your goal should be to maximize your opportunities, minimize your weaknesses, and keep at it until you're the one that makes it.

And quit comparing yourself to other writers. It's like comparing yourself to lottery winners, or people who have been run over by cars. No one deserves it.

Now get back to work. Luck isn't going to happen surfing the net, reading blogs.

Perpetual Touring

The traditional book tour, whether publisher-financed or author-financed, usually begins when the new title is released, and lasts a few weeks or maybe even months. Then, traditionally, the author takes a break from promoting and writes their next book.

This is an archaic, and ineffective, way to tour. Before I get into why, let's pinpoint the reasons for touring.


  1. To meet booksellers. A bookseller you schmooze is a bookseller who will potentially handsell you.
  2. To reinforce media exposure. And vice versa. You get reviews, interviews, and local newspaper/radio/tv coverage when you have a new book out, as the new book is the hook/spin/platform for the publicity.
  3. To announce a new book to your old fans. A book tour is a way to meet your fanbase, remind them you have a new title out, and encourage them to meet you in person.
  4. To make new fans. You'll sell books to people who have never heard of you before, and might not have ever heard of you had it not been for your tour.
  5. Signed books sell better than unsigned books. An autograph is a perceived value, and the signed copies will often be face-out on the shelf, which is more exposure.

In essence, a book tour is all about spreading the word. As I've mentioned many times before, it's doubtful your tour will pay for itself in books sold, even if you're a bestseller. But it still remains the most effective way to inform the world about your books, because you are your book's best salesperson, whether you like it or not. The more people you can reach, the better your book will do.

Which brings us to the current book tour model. Touring for two months, then disappearing for ten months.

Considering how important book sales are to your career, isn't it odd that you're only spending 1/5 of your professional time meeting people? And that this time is all bunched together, rather than spread out? Wouldn't it make more sense to do as much touring as possible, even as late as six, eight, or ten months after your book has been released?

Now, I know what you're thinking.

JA, if I tour all year, when will I have time to write?

JA, I can't afford to tour all year.

JA, won't I get overexposed if I tour all year?

JA, I have a family/fulltime job and don't have that much time to travel.

JA, isn't this just me doing my publisher's job?

JA, you're damn sexy.

Let's address these thoughts.

JA, if I tour all year, when will I have time to write?

If your books don't sell, you'll have all the time in the world to write, because you'll no longer be able to get a contract.

Writing a good book is the most important thing you can do for your career. But if no one knows about your books, it doesn't matter how good it is--it will flop. I spend about 90% of my professional time promoting. But I write pretty fast, and writing is my fulltime gig.

So how much time should you spend? I say, half your time.

Is that too much? Give up TV, surfing the Internet, and 1 hour of sleep per night, and that gives you an extra 1200 hours a year.

Everyone has something they can give up or cut back on to make more time. It's just a question of wanting it bad enough. If you don't want it bad enough, why are you reading my blog?

JA, I can't afford to tour all year.

No kidding. Not only is it financially draining, but it's incredibly hard. But you don't have to. Perpetual touring isn't about being on the road 365 days a year. Perpetual touring is about making sure you have a continuous bookstore presence. This can be done by:

  • Visiting bookstores on your vacation.
  • Visiting every bookstore within 100 miles of your home.
  • Taking weekends to visit nearby states.
  • Visiting bookstores when you are at conferences and traveling.
  • Not ever dismissing opportunities.

I'm guessing that there are many stores within driving distance you haven't visited yet. Why haven't you? And why haven't you visited your local stores more than once?

The holidays are almost upon us. Why don't you have a local signing for the day after Thanksgiving, or the weekends before X-mas?

There are always opportunities to visit bookstores, and they don't have to involve spending a lot of money. Out of all the mystery writers who went to Bouchercon, how many signed at the 7 bookstores stores in Madison? I did. Out of all the thriller writers who visited Thrillerfest, how many signed at the 25 stores in Phoenix? I did. You can too. Pull yourself away from the bar, stop going to panels that won't teach you anything, and work the town.

JA, won't I get overexposed if I tour all year?

The more exposure you get, the more exposure you get. I don't know of a single author who became overexposed by visiting bookstores.

JA, I have a family/fulltime job and don't have that much time to travel.

Make the time. Or don't. No one is forcing you.

You don't have to do any bookstore visits at all, and you still may become successful.

And that knocking sound in your engine may correct itself without you doing anything.

And that growth on your lung may just disappear on its own.

And a rich uncle you never knew you had may die and bequeath you his fortune.

But it's probably smarter to be a little proactive.

The more bookstores you visit, the more books you'll sell. Guaranteed.

JA, isn't this just me doing my publisher's job?

Of course. Writers do all the work, and Big New York Publishing exploits us and makes zillions of dollars from our efforts, and we should be grateful for the opportunity to be exploited. Every time a book is successful is because the writer is brilliant, and every time a book flops is because the publisher didn't do anything to promote it.

Or not.

Look, it's really very simple. Every book you sell, you make more money. The more money you make, the more your publisher will continue to sell your books. How hard is that to understand?

You can bemoan the hard work all you want, but what job isn't hard? You thought all you had to do was write and that was enough? Well, you were wrong. There's no Santa Claus either. Welcome to real life.

JA, you're damn sexy.

I know. It's a curse.

Can you define Perpetual Touring again?

Perpetual Touring is continuing to visit bookstores year round, not just after a new book is released. For example, this year alone I've visited 68 bookstores after my 500 bookstore tour ended, and several dozen before my tour began. I'm also planning on visiting 30 more before the end of the year.

Why should authors Perpetually Tour?

  1. Your backlist may be even more important than selling your current title, because your backlist is what grows your audience.
  2. It is potentially more valuable to visit bookstores after the coop has ended, because signed books will be moved to an endcap, giving you free coop space.
  3. If you limit your publicity to 2 months a year, you're missing 10 months of opportunity to find new readers.
  4. Visiting the same bookstore more than once will give you the chance to meet new employees, and touch base with old friends.
  5. Touring year round means there is never any time for the booksellers to fully forget about you, and that you'll have constant spikes in sales.
  6. Selling the book is almost as important as writing the book, and deserves a large amount of your time.

The bottom line: if there's a bookstore nearby, there's no reason you shouldn't stop in. And if it's been several weeks since you've been in a bookstore, you need to correct that right now. Even if it's a bookstore you've been in already. Even if it's a bookstore that doesn't normally carry your books. Even if you don't have the time or the money or the energy or the desire.

Get thee to a bookstore. You'll thank me for it later.

Community and Commitment

I had my ear pierced yesterday, and afterwards met my friend Marcus Sakey (The Blade Itself, coming Feb 2007 St. Martins) for dinner.

Marcus is part of a new wave of writers who know a tremendous amount about publishing, even though their first book isn't out yet.

I didn't know squat about this business before I signed my first contract, four years ago. All the How To books were out of date and lacking practical information about even the most basic things, like how to do booksignings or how a publishing company works. There were no blogs about the business. Writing conferences existed, but I never thought to attend them. Not many writers even had websites yet.

Prior to that contract, my writing was also done in a vacuum. No networking. No contacts. I was a slush pile success, and didn't get any help or advice or encouragement from anyone in the biz, peer or pro.

I learned about publishing the old-fashioned way, by making a lot of mistakes. In hindsight, I should have asked more questions, and gotten in touch with those more experienced. I should have reached out and made friends. Because, simply put, friends make this business a whole lot easier.

Networking, talking shop, commiserating, schmoozing, offering advice and help, and even reading and commenting on manuscripts, all can accelerate the learning curve for everyone involved. Marcus realizes this. So do many other new writers. And as a result, his expectations are more realistic, his goals more grounded, and his X-Factor--that elusive luck all writers need in order to succeed--is tuned for maximum potential.

I met with Marcus for dinner so we could critique and brainstorm. We're each working on projects, and we read each other's prior to the meeting, so we could discuss ways to make each stronger.

I do this with several other authors as well. It's win-win. Not only does it reduce the rewrite time, but it accelerates the learning curve because you can learn as much critiquing as you can being critiqued.

It was a productive dinner for both of us--we each found ways to make our projects stronger, and we found them much quicker than if we'd been working solo.

Midway into the evening, Marcus commented on my new piercing, and mentioned he didn't see me as the earring type. And he's right, I'm not the earring type. I got an earring as part of my Halloween costume, and will remove it on November 1st.

Marcus immediately understood, as if it made perfect sense to permanently modify your body for a costume accessory. He recognized the value of committing to something fully, even if it didn't make a lot of sense. I had a costume idea, and I didn't pursue it half-assed. I went all-in (using a poker term.) I had a goal, and did whatever was necessary to reach that goal.

So what does this lame and sketchy analogy really mean?

If you're a writer, it's important to learn as much as you can about this business. But before you even do that, you have to have the commitment. You can't be afraid of your friends and family thinking you're silly for pursuing you goals. You can't write once a week, take an occasional writing class, and believe that will be enough to land you a contract. And you can't do zero promotion, thinking that all you have to do is write a good book and leave it to your publisher to sell it.

In other words, stop making excuses and go pierce your damn ear.

Okay, lecture over. Now I have to go rinse with the sanitizing solution...
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