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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.
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