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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.

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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.

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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.
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