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NaNoWriMo

Since you're a writer, you probably know that November is National Novel Writing Month, where thousands of authors, both newbie and pro, sign up at www.nanowrimo.org to try and write 50k words in 30 days.

Those familiar with me, or with this blog, know that I write pretty fast. In fact, I've written two books this year. The first, AFRAID, is a horror novel that will be coming out in January 2009 (more on that soon.) The second, FUZZY NAVEL, is book #5 in the Jack Daniels series, coming out in June 2008.

November is pretty busy for me. I've got to go to Delaware for a book festival, Wisconsin for Murder in Muskego, and Indiana for an ILF meeting. I also have two novellas due for anthologies that invited me, and one of them is 10k words.

So, naturally, I signed up for NaNoWriMo.

I have a specific reason for doing this. My contract with my publisher is complete when I turn in Jack #6 in March 2008. I'd like to also have Jack #7 done by that time. That way, if I don't get the offer I'm looking for, I'll have a complete manuscript to shop around. I believe a finished book is a better bargaining chip than a proposal or an outline.

Being between contracts is a scary time for a writer, and it can often last weeks or even months. So I'm going to write Jack #7, set it aside, and then in February write Jack #6, which my publisher is expecting.

I figure I have 24 free days to get 50,000 words done. I don't have an outline for this book, but I do have a pretty solid idea that should be fun to write.

And just to make it interesting, if I don't make my quota, I'll shave my head and post a video of it on YouTube.

Who says writing isn't exciting?

Watch this blog for bi-weekly progress reports.

The Art of the Soft Sell

Writers suck at selling.

It's understandable. Most writers are better at expressing themselves on paper than in person. They tend to be shy, or introverted, or lacking confidence, or even lacking basic social skills.

Put a writer in a situation where he is forced to sell the books he spent so many hours creating, and many conflicting emotions boil to the surface.

I've seen writers at booksignings, and conventions, and fairs, sitting behind stacks of their novels, and I can read their thoughts:

  • I don't want to be here.

  • Why won't anyone buy anything?

  • This is humiliating.

  • This isn't why I became a writer.

  • Doesn't anyone know I'm here?

  • The organizers really screwed this event up.

  • Don't I have fans?

  • It's the publisher's job to sell books, not mine.

  • I'm bored.

  • I stink at this.

  • Why do people keep saying no?

  • I hate pimping myself.

  • It's the booksellers job to sell books, not mine.

  • I can't sell a book to save my life.

  • I'm petrified.

  • No one likes me.

  • I'm exhausted.

  • I'm not a salesman, I'm an artist.

  • I hate being pushy.

  • Why is everyone ignoring me?

  • If I get asked where the bathroom is one more time, I'm leaving.

So these writers avoid doing events where they're forced to sell books. They believe they aren't good at it, and it's much easier to give up than to learn a new skill set which will help them succeed.

The fact is, pretty much anyone can handsell books. Booksignings don't have to be traumatic failures. I've blogged extensively about this before HERE, so I'm not going to repeat myself. Instead, I'm going to offer some suggestions based on things that I've learned about human nature.

Selling is Flirting

Going up to a stranger in a bar and saying, "Wanna fuck?" isn't the best strategy for success. It might work occasionally, but you'll annoy more people than you entice.

The secret to getting anyone interested in you, whether it is as a date or as a purchase, is pretty straightforward.

1. Make eye contact and smile.

The way you look and act will give people a silent signal that you're friendly and approachable. If you're well groomed and dressed, and your body language shows you're relaxed, non-threatening, and interested, then you're already halfway there.

2. Ask questions to develop a common ground.

If someone is in a bookstore, or at a writing conference, chances are they're there because they like books. There are a hundred questions you could ask, from "Enjoying the conference?" to "Do you like thrillers?" Keep asking questions until you get more than monosyllabic answers. The secret to drawing a person out is finding what they truly want to talk about. And everyone has something they want to talk about.

3. Sugarcoat your pitch.

The secret to selling is to make it seem like you aren't selling. No one likes being sold. Luckily, you aren't there to sell books. You're there to meet people who are actively looking for the types of books that you write. The key is to find out what they like, and make them aware your books fit the bill.

4. Make physical contact.

The easiest way to do this is to hand them a copy of the book, or hand them a flyer or bookmark. A handshake is usually welcome too. The impact of physical touch is powerful, and connects us as human beings more than anything else does.

5. Make it personal for them, but not for you.

During those seconds or minutes you're with a potential buyer, they should feel like they're the center of your universe. But because more people say no than yes, you can't actually let them be the center of your universe, because the constant rejection will tear you apart. If someone has no interest in you or your book, you can't take it personally. You also can't take it personally if someone really gets a huge thrill out of talking to you. This is a vicarious relationship, no emotional investment required or desired.

6. Learn to recognize interest.

Some (most) people don't want to be bothered with you, or your book. This doesn't mean they're horrible people, and it doesn't mean you suck. Almost every person has developed defenses to ward off annoying sales pitches. Avoiding eye contact, ignoring you, offering clipped or rude replies, sneering---these are all consumer equivalents to a rattlesnake shaking his tail. Let them pass and seek out someone more receptive. You're not there to waste time, yours or theirs. You're there to meet people who will love your writing. After you've shaken off the fear and tried this for a few hours, you can get pretty good at sizing up who is will give your books a shot.

How does this work in real life? Here are some pastiches drawn from the thousands of times I've done this. Each of these is 100% true.


Example #1 - The Browser

Our hero (me) is standing next to a huge pile of his books, by the front entrance of the bookstore. A man walks in, ignores me (most people do), and walks straight to the New Releases where he picks up James Patterson's latest. I walk up to him, arms at my sides, holding my newest novel.

ME: Patterson fan?

MAN: Hmm? Oh, yeah.

ME: I love the Alex Cross series. Do you have a favorite?

MAN: No, I pretty much read everything he writes.

ME: Do you like other thriller writers?

MAN: I like Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, Lee Child.

ME: (smiling) I love Lee Child. He blurbed my second book.

MAN: You're a writer?

ME: (holding up my book) Yep. This is me. My books are a lot like Patterson's, with the action of Child. They're about a Chicago cop named Jack Daniels. Fast reads, a lot of dialog, a lot of suspense. (hands the book to the man)

MAN: Which one is the best?

ME: The latest one is the best. But it's a series, and a lot of people like to start at the beginning. It goes Whiskey Sour, Bloody Mary, Rusty Nail, Dirty Martini. You're sensing the theme.

MAN: I used to drink Rusty Nails in college.

ME: Where'd you go to school?

MAN: U of I.

ME: I used to party down at that campus, in the 90's.

MAN: (walks over tot he table, picks up Whiskey Sour) This is your first?

ME: That's it. If you're interested, I'd love to sign a copy for you.

MAN: Let's do it. (hands me the book.)

ME: Can I make it out to you?

MAN: Me. My name is Ryan.

ME: Hi, Ryan. I'm JA. (shake his hand, then sign his book "Ryan, Don't Read and Drive, JA") Thanks, Ryan. You'll like it. I promise. And since I have a character named Jack Daniels (I sign a coaster and hand it to him) it's a law that I have to give out drink coasters.

MAN: Thanks. (goes to register to buy my book, the new James Patterson forgotten)


Example #2 - The Interested Party

Our hero (me again) is at a multi-author event where we're all lined up at a table, waiting for people to approach us. Some folks do, but the majority of the customers are at the bookseller tables, or wandering the room.

I get up and walk around, introducing myself and passing out signed coasters. Then I head for the bookseller table and see a woman staring at one of my novels.

ME: I've heard that guy sucks.

WOMAN: (looks at me, then my nametag, then smiles) You're the author.

ME: (holding out hand) JA Konrath, nice to meet you. (shakes) What's your name?

WOMAN: Mary.

ME: Do you like thrillers, Mary?

WOMAN: I read a little bit of everything.

ME: Then you'll love me. My books are funny, like Janet Evanovich or Carl Hiaasen, but they also have some scary parts, like James Patterson when he wrote his own books. Who do you read?

WOMAN: I love Evanovich. My whole family loves her.

ME: Me too. I haven't read Thirteen yet, but I read the other twelve. Is it worth picking up?

WOMAN: I liked it. I laughed a lot.

ME: Does she finally choose between Ranger and Morelli?

WOMAN: No. That drives me nuts.

ME: I agree. But would you recommend it?

WOMAN: It's not as funny as some of her earlier books, but it's worth reading.

ME: My books are funnier than Janet's.

WOMAN: Really?

ME: (handing her a book) It's about a female cop named Jack Daniels. Her personal life's a train wreck, but she's really good at her job. Lot's of humor. If this book doesn't make you laugh, you can mail it back to me and I'll send you a check for seventeen thousand dollars.

WOMAN: (laughing) You sold me.

ME: Great! Can I sign a copy to Mary, or is this for someone in your family?


Example #3 - The Reluctant Fan

Our hero (moi) has just finished speaking at some event, and it went well. People laughed in the right places, and several people approach me afterward.

FAN: I love your books.

ME: Thanks!

FAN: I get them at the library.

ME: I love libraries.

FAN: I do too. But sometimes there's a waiting list. I hate waiting. When is the new one coming out in paperback?

ME: In about eleven months.

FAN: I'm a huge fan. Can you just give me a copy?

ME: I wish I could. But these books don't belong to me. Does anyone in your family like to read?

FAN: Everyone does. My mom loves your books.

ME: You could always buy the copy for her, then you can read it beforehand. Does she have a birthday coming up?

FAN: Yes. Next month.

ME: (hands over a hardcover) A personalized book makes a great gift. And you can always tell her you spent six hours in line to see me, and got the last one.

FAN: (smiling) Okay, you sold me. Her name is Andrea.

ME: With an "A"?


Example #4 - The Gawker

Our hero is in the middle of pitch, and a few folks have stopped to watch what's going on. First, I step back, inviting them into the circle. I hand each person a coaster, making eye contact without pausing in the spiel. The spiel is something along the lines of:

"I'm an author, and I write thrillers about a cop named Jack Daniels."

If the gawkers are mostly women, I mention that Jack is short for Jacqueline. If they're mostly men, I leave that part out.

"The books are laugh outloud funny. If you're drinking something while reading, it will come out your nose. But they're also scary--they'll make you lock your doors and windows. Similar to James Patterson, but with more jokes than Janet Evanovich."

I pick up some of my titles and hold them up.

"They're all named after drinks. There are four in the series so far, and a fifth is coming out next year. I'd love to sign some copies for you. They make great gifts, and great investments. After you get a signature it will sell for triple on eBay."

I hand out some books so people can take a look. A few of them ask me to sign them immediately.

Now let's see if I can anticipate the backlash to this article by placing myself in the shoes of skeptics using a whiny Q & A format.

Q: I'd never do this. I'm a writer, not a huckster like you.

A: I believe that people will enjoy my books. In order for them to do so, they first have to read them. I'm the most qualified person to make people aware of this. I also have the most vested interest in this happening.

Q: I hate sales. Salesmen are pushy, slick liars who want to take your money by preying on your insecurities and weaknesses.

A: Don't think of it as sales. Think of it as finding new fans. Which you'll do. You'll also impress the booksellers, and maybe even your publisher. And, for the record, try not to let your publisher hear your views on selling. Personally, I think sales people are the coolest folks on the planet, and I fully appreciate my reps.

Q: I couldn't do what you do.

A: Yes you could. You simply don't want to, and have made up excuses for yourself instead of trying.

Q: I've tried, and I'm no good at it.

A: Try harder. Being lazy, afraid, or embarassed isn't a good reason to quit. Failure is a learning experience. Figure out what went wrong, then try to do better next time.

Q: Maybe you should write better books, and then they'd sell without you having to do this.

A: The best written book in the world will always sell more copies if the author promotes it.

Q: How often does this work?

A: It's possible to sell dozens of books to strangers during your visit, depending on foot-traffic and length of stay. I average one book sold for every eight people I approach.

Q: That doesn't seem worth my time.

A: Since 2004, I've handsold several thousand books. Every single time you sell a book to someone who wouldn't have otherwise discovered it, it's worth your time.

Q: Selling isn't my job. Writing is my job.

A: Being self-employed is like being the CEO of your own company. It's a really lousy CEO who focuses on production with total disgrard for who is buying the product. A better approach is to study every aspect of what your company does, and implement ways to improve things wherever possible.

Q: I know a lot of authors who sell a lot more books than you do, and they don't do any of this crap.

A: People win the lottery every day. That doesn't mean it's wise to invest your retirement savings in scratch-off tickets.

Q: How am I supposed to handsell books when I have a fulltime job/family/sick cat/hang nail/grandiose sense of entitlement/fear of public speaking/sweating disorder?

A: I don't know of any goal worth pursuing that doesn't involve hard work, sacrifice, and commitment. Becoming a writer isn't easy. Staying a writer is even harder. How hard you work at it tells a lot about how important it is to you.

Charging

Last year I was on the road for more than ten weeks, promoting my books.

It wasn't easy on me, or my family. Much of that time, I was touring. But a good amount of it was spent speaking at events, giving lectures, teaching classes and seminars--things not directly related to selling my books.

Sure, my books were usually available for sale after these events, and I usually moved a few copies. But I wasn't there to talk about my series. I was there to talk about agents, and editors, and publishing. This wasn't book promotion. It was teaching.

I liked doing this. Even if I wasn't paid. Even if I didn't sell a single book after the event.

I still enjoy it, but my wife laid down the law and told me that I couldn't do any more events unless I was monetarily compensated for my time.

I could understand her reasoning. While I still feel that helping new authors is something all writers should do, she pointed out that I spend a lot of time and money driving around and lecturing. So I decided to begin charging for most of my appearances.

I expected that this would limit the amount of events I did. But, strangely, I still wound up doing a lot of traveling. A lot of organizations and libraries have budgets for these things, and were happy to get me.

It made me rethink my prior attitude.

I once believed I owed the world a karma debt, and had to help everyone I could. When someone asked me to speak, I was flattered. Money wasn't important.

But then I realized that money was important. I'm a professional writer, and I get paid for doing that. If I'm being approached as an expert on the publishing world, and headlining events where I speak for two, three, or four hours, what's the difference between me and a professional speaker? And don't professional speakers get paid, just like professional writers do?

I certainly wouldn't write a book and let someone publish it for free. Yet I'll drive hundreds of miles, and speak to crowds of people at paying events, for free.

It made no sense. So now I charge.

I'm still grateful to be published, and still flattered to be asked to speak at events, but I'm no longer going to spend an evening driving to some remote location, lecturing my heart out, all for the opportunity of selling three paperbacks.

My time, and my lectures, have value.

It only took me four years to realize it.

Keeping Up

There isn't enough time in the day.

Strange as it sounds, the longer I'm in this business, the more I realize the importance of time management.

Way back in the 90's, when I was working 40 hours a week in a restaurant and trying to balance that with a family, leisure time, and writing, I longed for the day when I sold a book and could quit my job and spend my days in front of my keyboard, pounding out stories without having to cram it into my schedule.

But things haven't really changed. Life is still a balancing act, and even though I now prioritize writing I still have to find time to do it, even though it's my main source of income. October is almost halfway over, and I'm looking at my upcoming appearance schedule, with four out-of-state trips in the upcoming weeks, and am wondering when I'm going to have time to write three novellas and a novel by March, do line edits on two other novels, and get a head start on one more novel before my current contract is up.

I wish I could say I've discovered some time-budgeting secret which allows me to get things done, but I'm actually terrible at scheduling, awful at planning, and subscribe to the "don't sleep until it's finished" school of commitments. Those who know me are aware that I write down upcoming deadlines and events on a cheap picture calender, and I often don't know what I'm doing on any given day until I wake up and look at said calender.

So rather than offer answers with today's blog, I'm asking a question:

How do you budget your time and stay on schedule?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

That said, here's a bunch of stuff that I've been meaning to mention but haven't had the time to:

Friday Oct. 12, at Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago from 5pm-8pm, I'll be hanging out with a bunch of other authors at the booklaunch party for CHICAGO BLUES, a collection of noir short stories that all take place in the Windy City.

If you're a Midwesterner, try to be there. It's going to be a lot of fun. If you're not from the area, you should still pick up a copy of CHICAGO BLUES. It's edited by the incomparable Libby Fischer Hellmann, and features some of the biggest names in thriller writing, including Sara Paretsky, Stuart Kaminsky, Barbara D'Amato, as well as talentless hacks like Marcus Sakey, Sean Chercover, Brian Pinkerton, Kevin Guilfoile, and yours truly, who contributed a brand new Jack Daniels short called OVERPROOF.

While you have your credit card handy, I also suggest picking up the sci-fi horror anthology GRATIA PLACENTI, which features a short story by me that is just plain wrong. Seriously, this is a warped, twisted, gross tale that I may someday regret, so get it now before I retract it. This book was edited by Jason Sizemore, who runs Apex Digest, which is a magazine you should be reading.

For you newbie writers who need a dose of inspiration, grab a copy of HOW I GOT PUBLISHED edited by Ray White and Duane Lindsay. This terrific collection contains essays by over 90 published offers (including me), explaining how they got their lucky breaks. Learn about the starts of Christopher Moore, John Lescroart, Stuart Woods, JA Jance, Chris Grabenstein, Thomas Perry, Dave Barry, CJ Box, and friends of mine like Barry Eisler, David Morrell, F. Paul Wilson, Lee Goldberg, Mario Acevedo, Raymond Benson, Steve Alten, Troy Cook, Jeremiah Healy, Sandra Balzo, Zoe Sharp, Laura Bradford, Michael A. Black, Jeff Shelby, Simon Wood, William Kent Krueger, and MJ Rose, among others.

Speaking of MJ, her Buzz Your Book class is coming up. If you're a new author, check it out. You can even ask your publisher if they'll cover the cost; many have.

Buzz your Book - the online marketing course- will be given only one time only in 2008. January 8 through February 7th. This isn't a theoretical class. M.J. Rose works one-on-one and online via email with each student on a marketing plan that includes an hour of brainstorming time. Again this year, Matt Baldacci---VP Marketing & Publishing Operations from ST. Martin's Press---will be the special guest lecturer and available via email for a whole week for Qs & As.

Sign up is very limited and open now and they're starting to fill up. If you are interested, please visit http://www.writersweekly.com/wwu/courses/marketing.html.

If you aren't published yet, there's a great opportunity to meet agents and editors this November in New York.

Looking for an agent? Want to meet dozens face-to-face?

With only agents on the program, the Backspace Agent-Author Seminars (November 6 & 7, Radisson Martinique, NYC) http://allagents.bksp.org/index.htm
are a terrific opportunity to network, ask questions, talk about your work, and listen and learn from the people who make their living selling books.

Tuesday, November 6:

Emmanuelle Alspaugh, Rachel Vater, Paul Cirone, Scott Hoffman, Michael Bourret, Jennifer DeChiara, Jennie Dunham, Jessica Faust, Michelle Brower, and Liza Dawson with Daniela Rapp (editor, St. Martin’s)

Wednesday, November 7:

Laney Katz Becker, Janet Reid, Stephany Evens, Caren Johnson, Alex Glass, Lucienne Diver, Jennifer Unter, Miriam Goderich, Kate Epstein, Joe Veltre, Elisabeth Weed, Deborah Grosvenor, Paige Wheeler, Miriam Kriss, and Jeff Kleinman with Brenda Copeland (editor, Hyperion)

There's still time to register, for one day or both. Attendance limited to 150. And trust me when I say the best way to get published is to meet agents in person. This is well worth the time and cost of flying to NY...
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