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A Fistful of Blurbs

I just saw a few copies of my newest paperback (Rusty Nail) in a bookstore, and did the standard author thing of picking them up and fondling them while grinning like an idiot. While fondling, I was stuck with a powerful emotion:

I'm the luckiest damn person on the planet.

I felt this because I'm living my dream, and because I'm well published by a smart publisher who knows what they're doing.

But I also felt this because on the cover, above the title, is this quote:

"Thrills, chills, and laugh-out-loud hilarity... Konrath expertly pours on both shivers and fun." - Tess Gerristsen.

I'm thrilled to get this blurb. Not because Tess is a NYT Bestselling author (though that doesn't hurt.) But because Tess is a stellar writer, and I've admired her work for a decade. Having met Tess, I can vouch that she's every bit as cool in person as she is in print. Having her name on my book makes me feel all kinds of cool.

But my happiness gets even happier. If you buy Rusty Nail (and you should) and open the cover you'll find wonderful blurbs by authors Anne Frasier, Alex Kava, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Gayle Lynds, William Kent Krueger, Jack Kerley, PJ Parrish, James Rollins, and Ridley Pearson. Plus favorable snippets from Booklist, Library Journal, PW, and the Midwest Book review.

If you happen to run into a paperback of Bloody Mary, on the cover you'll see this terrific blurb:

"Excellent smart-mouth thrills... my advice: Take an long sip." - Lee Child.

Thanks, Lee!

You'll also see praise from authors James O. Born, Blake Crouch, Bill Fitzhugh, David Morrell, Barara D'Amato, and MJ Rose.

If you move on the the PB of Whiskey Sour, on the cover you'll see the quote:

"Whiskey Sour is the best debut of the year." - Chicago Sun-Times (which is uber-critic David Montgomery)

There are also blurbs from Jay Bonansinga, Raymond Benson, Robert W. Walker, George C. Chesbro, F. Paul Wilson, Steve Alten, David Wiltse, Libby Fischer Hellmann, Andrew Vachss, Barry Eisler, Eric Garcia, Warren B. Murphy, and David Ellis.

Which means I've had 30 writers say nice things about me. That's thirty-one if you count Kay Hooper's remarks about Dirty Martini:

“It’s difficult as hell to balance wit with suspense and horrific violence with humor, but JA Konrath manages the feat deftly in his “Jacqueline ‘Jack’ Daniels” series of thrillers. Jack is a smart, sexy cop with a rocky personal life and a career that pits her strength and skill against the worst kind of evil – and she not only triumphs but does so with humor and style. Spend some time with Jack and the people in her life; I can promise you won’t regret it.”

So I've been extremely lucky when it comes to getting blurbs.

Naturally, I also try to return the favor.

Perusing the mystery section of the bookstore, I found eight books with my blurbs on either the front or back cover, and another four with quotes from me inside them.

Though I'm waaaay behind on my blurbs (I have a TBR pile the height of my desk) I still try my best to blurb everyone who asks. I went into a lot of detail about blurbing on a previous blog post (http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2006/02/secret-world-of-blurbing.html) and I don't want to repeat myself here. Suffice to say, both getting and giving blurbs is an important part of the publishing business.

We all should remember that.

Losing Touch

Way back in 2002, when I was a newbie writer, things seemed a lot more important.

Getting interviewed was a big deal. I always made sure I updated my website the moment I scheduled an appearance somewhere. I prepared several days in advance for booksignings. I kept careful track of where my work was published. Getting an email from a fan would put a smile on my face for hours.

And I saved stuff. Lots of stuff. Newspaper articles about my work, reviews, convention programs, fan mail, flyers from appearances, and so on.

A lot has changed since then. I've done a lot of interviews, and lost track of most. I forget to update my appearance schedule on my website for weeks at a time. I know I have stories in upcoming anthologies and magazines, but can't remember them all, or even some of the titles. Answering fan mail has become work. And I've given up trying to save every piece of paper with my name printed on it.

Being a writer has lost much of its luster. Writing is no longer a dream. It's a job.

Mostly, this is good. I no longer obsessively Google myself or check my Amazon ranking. I trust that folks will find my interviews online without me having to link to them. I've given the same speeches and talks so often that I don't have to meticulously prepare beforehand. Instead of seeking out venues for my short stories, many venues seek me out.

But I sometimes miss that naive enthusiasm. I miss being excited by every little good thing that happens. I even miss obsessing over things I thought were really important but turned out not to be.

Wide-eyed wonder can't hold up against hard won experience.

But then Fed-Ex dropped off a box of my new paperbacks (Rusty Nail, the third Jack Daniels book) and I set one on my desk and glanced at it while I worked. Every time I saw it, I smiled. And I kept smiling for the rest of the day.

Things may not be new or fresh anymore, but they're still pretty damn cool. I just needed a reminder. Why plant roses if you don't stop to smell them every so often?

And on that note, here are three recent interviews:

http://ambasadora.livejournal.com/115992.html#cutid1

http://eijohnson4u.blogspot.com/2007/05/bestselling-author-ja-konrath-he-is.html

http://www.horrorview.com/Interview%20Files/KonrathInterview.htm

http://poesdeadlydaughters.blogspot.com/2007/02/chat-with-ja-konrath.html

I'll also be in the upcoming anthologies:

Tales From the Red Lion

Until Someone Loses an Eye

Chicago Blues

Perfectly Plum

Thriller

Buy them all, along with the paperback of Rusty Nail if you were too cheap to spring for the hardcover...

Submission

I'm submitting right now. Or rather, my agent is submitting my new novel to a dozen publishers.

Submitting manuscripts to publishers is one of the main reasons writers have agents. Agents know publishers, and the types of books they're looking for. They also know how to get the best deal.

These days, submissions are electronic. No more making copies and Fed-Exing or messengering them around NY. Agents send electronic files, and the editors print them up. This saves time and trees, and hopefully shortens the response time.

Responses do take time. Depending on the buzz around the book (your agent should have talked it up to editors before sending it to them) and the star-power of the author, it may take a few days to a few weeks (in some cases, even months) for the editor to read and respond.

Hopefully, a publisher will make an offer. This usually involves an editor bringing the manuscript to an acquisitions meeting, where her peers (fellow editors, bosses, marketing people, sales people, accounting people) decide whether or not to try to acquire a book.

These meetings (called "ax" meetings) rarely result in offers. Even if an editor adores a book, the house can still vote no. This depends on a variety of factors: author sales record, publisher sales record with similar books, new and passing trends, buying habits of chains, and many other things. I've heard that 4 out of 5 books brought to ax meetings die there. So even if the editor thinks your book is wonderful, there's still a 80% chance they won't offer a contract.

In the meantime, the author waits. Chewing fingernails. Jumping whenever the phone rings. Dreaming of huge deals and fearing no deals at all.

If you aren't normally neurotic, being on submission will make you so.

So what should this neurotic author do while waiting for the yes or no?

1. Write. You're a writer. That means you put words on paper. You shouldn't stop doing this just because you're anxious.

2. Talk. Bottling all of this anxiety up isn't healthy. Share it with family, friends, and peers.

3. Leave your agent alone. Bugging her constantly, asking for updates, is annoying. If she has good news, she'll call. Assume that no news means she hasn't heard anything yet.

4. Relax. This is easier said than done, but be Zen about it. You've done all you can. It's out of your hands. Worry, stress, prayer, hope, wishes, and dreams aren't going to do anything for you. Don't try to control the situation, because you have no control over it.

I won't sugarcoat it. Being on submission is awful, right up there with being between contracts. The unknown is scary, especially when this is how you make your living. That's why politicians spend so much money on election campaigns. Not having job security is terrifying. So is rejection.

Which is why you need to get back to work.

I Talk, You Pay

I've been asked this question so many times I'm surprised I haven't blogged about it before.

If you're a writer, you're probably going to be asked to speak in public at some point.

The first few times this happens, you'll be flattered. So flattered, that you'll happily speak for free, or for the opportunity to sell three or four books to the crowd afterward.

As your star rises, you will be offered more and more speaking opportunities. In fact, you may get so many requests that you can pick and choose which ones to accept.

You'll pick the ones that are nearby and easy to get to. You'll pick the ones that will have the biggest crowds. You'll pick the ones where you were invited by a friend, or someone in the biz whom you owe. But first and foremost, you'll pick the ones that pay.

Being paid to speak is a wonderful thing. It validates your success. It gives you a forum where you're obviously appreciated. And most of all, it helps defer the cost of promotion, which is costly indeed.

But when someone contacts you and asks, "How much do you charge?" most new writers don't know how to answer.

Let's take a few scenarios.

1. A nearby library asks you to speak.

When I'm approached by a library within easy driving distance (less than 2 hours) I always ask if they offer a speaking fee.

Some libraries have budgets for speakers, and need to spend these budgets or else they lose them. Some libraries have no budgets, and can't pay anything at all.

If they don't offer a set dollar amount upfront, but instead ask what your fee is, I tell them to average the last three fees they've paid previous speakers, and I'll accept that.

This price can vary. I've spoken at libraries for a handshake. I've spoken at libraries for a tote bag. I've also spoken at libraries and gotten as much as $1200. The average is between $50 and $150.

Ask if you should bring books to sell (get these books from your local indie at a 40% discount, so they go toward your royalties.) I usually sell books to library patrons at a discounted rate (five bucks for paperbacks, twenty for hardcovers) and always bring some free giveaways for patrons, and some free books for the library.

2. A far away library asks you to speak.

I usually forgo the speaking fee, and instead ask for travel expenses. I do this because I figure I'm being taken someplace where I wouldn't normally go, for free. So I'll ask for gas or airfare, plus hotel if I'm staying overnight.

Many libraries will also throw in a free meal, which is always welcome. :)

3. A writing conference or convention asks you to speak.

Again, I usually do this for travel expenses, plus free admission to the event (including food if they have it.) I prefer the conference to handle flight/hotel details, rather than reimburse me later, because it makes things easier come tax time.

Could you ask for a fee on top of this? Sure, if you're big enough star. Some NYT writers ask for first class travel, accommodations, plus anywhere from $3000 to $50,000 to speak.

I'm not there yet. Someone paying for my travel is enough to get me someplace. If they insist on a little something above that, I won't turn it down.

Sometimes, I'll be invited to speak someplace (a book fair, a bookstore manager meeting) and won't be offered any sort of fee or travel expenses. I may still go, depending on the value of the event. Wouldn't you fly anywhere for a chance to speak to three hundred bookstore managers, or get a sound bite on the ten o'clock news?

If you're keynoting an event, receiving an award, or teaching a class, you aren't out of line to ask for them to cover expenses. After all, they want you, and you're there to work, so you should be paid for your efforts.

At these events, there is usually a bookseller who has your books available for sale. Be sure to contact them a few weeks prior to the event, to make sure they've got your books. While at the event, make sure you meet them and say thanks, and offer to sign their remaining stock.

4. Your publisher books a speaking engagement for you.

If you're lucky, your publisher may send you someplace to speak, usually at an industry convention like BEA or ALA or GLBA.

They may pay. They may not. It depends on their marketing budget for your book.

If your publisher does get you in front of a group of industry professionals, I say go, even if they don't pay your way. They can open doors you can't, and it's worth your time and money.

If they do pay, watch the expenses. Don't soak them for expensive room service or pay-per-view movies. This isn't a free vacation. It's a business trip.

If they don't pay, you can always ask your publisher for books to take to the event. Give away every last one they send you, and have them send the books to the hotel, not your home, so you don't have to travel with them.

This should go without saying, but DO NOT ask your publisher for a speaking fee. You might, however, ask them to compensate you for expenses after the fact, even if they originally said no to your request. Save your receipts, and give them a detailed rundown of what you did. Wowing a group of booksellers will get your publisher excited about you, and make them freer with the checkbook.

Conclusion

How much are you worth? It depends. Certainly your time is worth something. But when you're building a career, every chance you have to speak is time well spent. Even if it's a small crowd. Even if you don't sell a single book.

You never know which events are going to be stellar, and which are going to lead to even bigger events. I try to do as much as I can afford, both in terms of time and money. Getting paid is nice, but any opportunity that you have to speak in front of a group is an opportunity you should try to take.

Just remember: Before you start wondering how much you're getting paid, be sure that you're worth whatever they're offering. Hone your public speaking skills before you get in front of a crowd, or you may soon find yourself without any offers.

More Green Eyed Monsters

See? I told you I'd get back to multiple blog entries per week.

I've blogged about the dangers of envying peers before, but I feel it's time to take a closer look at this topic.

For the uninitiated, success in this business comes largely from luck. Yes, you can write good books. Yes, you can promote like crazy. But the magic balance of the right book at the right house at the right time remains largely beyond the control of the writer.

In some cases, success if the result of hard work and talent.

In some cases, success comes when the publisher isn't expecting it.

In some cases, success comes because a few key people at the publishing house force it.

But in most cases, it's an unrepeatable combination of events that leads to a whole bunch of folks buying your book for some unforeseeable reason.

Lately, I've been watching the success of some of my peers. By success, I mean:

1. Lots of books selling.
2. More money/bigger contracts being offered.
3. More opportunities presenting themselves for more sales and more money.

Publishing mimics most other facets of life, in that the more successful you are, the more successful you are. Why this is true is beyond the scope of this blog.

What is within the scope of this blog is how we, as writers, should react when someone we know lands the big deal that we would ritually sacrifice our entire family for.

I believe that envy and jealousy are useless, because they dwell on things that have to do with other people, not with us.

Unfortunately, part of being a writer is being imaginative. It's super-easy to imagine a million dollar movie deal, a #1 bestseller slot, and a seat on Oprah (on her show, not on her personally.)

We all have the lottery dream; the huge life-changing success that transforms our lives and ourselves.

When this dream actually happens to someone we've heard of, or someone we know personally, it's a natural reaction to wonder: Why not me?

But just because the reaction is natural doesn't mean it's correct. Or healthy.

Your critique buddy, who just signed a contract for more money than you've made in your whole life, simply got lucky.

It doesn't matter how hard they worked to get this deal. And it REALLY doesn't matter how hard they worked compared to you.

They got lucky.

Besides, that's their life, not yours. Envying it won't make you a better person. Wishing for it won't compel the forces that control the universe to make things fair. Dwelling on it won't make your books sell more copies.

So how do we handle it when everyone around us is flourishing and we must deal with tragedy after tragedy?

Remember the following:

Life is a race with yourself. The only person you should be comparing yourself to is you. Every time you write, speak in public, or promote yourself, it is within your power to do better than the previous time.

No one deserves success. If you believe there's some grand scorekeeper who is keeping track of how hard you're struggling, you're wrong. Luck determines who wins the lottery. Stick your sense of entitlement in your ear.

Luck favors the prepared. All you can do is try your best. The more you do, the more chances you'll have to succeed.

No one is ever satisfied. This may sound odd, but even those writers who you are convinced live lives of splendor and fortune still want more out of life. The secret isn't about getting more. It's about being happy with less.

So how should you react when your peers are living your dreams?

There's only one reaction that's acceptable.

Be happy for them.

Celebrate the success of others. It should never make you feel bad about yourself. Someone else doing well means that good things actually do happen in this very tough business, and one day they might happen to you.

Especially since you work a lot harder and you're a lot more talented. :)
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