Mark Terry

Saturday, October 28, 2006

David Morrell Reviews THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK

October 28, 2006
Yesterday the International Thriller Writers, Inc., newsletter debuted a new column dubbed MASTERS CORNER, in which famous, wildly successful bestselling thriller authors review the work of a new author. I am positively delighted that THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK was chosen for this honor and that David Morrell, author of FIRST BLOOD, THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE ROSE and CREEPERS (he invented Rambo, after all) wrote a rave review about my book. I've been a big fan for years and credit David for teaching me much of what I might know about writing action sequences. Here's the piece:

THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK, reviewed by David Morrell

If you're morbidly fascinated by terrifying viruses like I am, you won't be able to stop reading Mark Terry's debut thriller. It's not that the book is derivative--quite the contrary. It's just that Mark has a degree in microbiology and experience with infectious disease research. I get the sense that he also has first-hand knowledge of what it feels like to be in a smothering "spacesuit" amid the hazards of a Level 4 containment unit.

The tense, slow-motion care that those closed facilities demand contrasts with the break-neck speed that the narrative takes on. The main character, Derek Stillwater, is a troubleshooter for Homeland Security who is summoned to investigate a massacre in which a doomsday virus is stolen from a high-security installation. Engineered by U.S. scientists as an experiment, the virus Chimera M13 kills gruesomely within hours, not the days or weeks usually associated with hemorrhagic viruses like Ebola. With no antidote, the virus is capable of eradicating the entire human race in a matter of weeks.

The book has several disturbing villains. One is the man responsible for the theft of the virus: a presumed-dead, charismatic cult leader who has many identities and was once Stillwater's partner. Another villain is the U.S. government's incompetent bureaucracy, and yet another is the group of arrogant scientists who engineered Chimera M13 just to see what might happen. While this debut thriller is fiction, I suspect that similar research is being conducted by someone somewhere. Inquiring minds and all that.

This is a strong, fast-paced, action-filled novel that vividly dramatizes the perils and ethical issues of bioengineering viruses. The scenes in the Level 4 unit left me literally breathless.

Editor's Note: Morrell is a co-founder of ITW and best-selling author of CREEPERS, just released in paperback.

Okay, I'm glowing. I am. Thanks David. And folks, CREEPERS is a really terrific, well, creepy novel.

Mark Terry

Friday, October 27, 2006

My Muse's Name Is Freddy the Flake

October 27, 2006
Okay. I really haven't named my muse, although Freddy the Flake would be a pretty good name for him. The rest of the time he or she resembles a mafia enforcer named Bruno the Barbarian who sticks a gun to my head and says, "Get ta work, ya bum. Or else!"

Yesterday, though, Freddy was present. Either I have several muses (probably the case, including Donny the Debt Collector, the toughest one of them all), or he (she, it?) has multiple personality disorder.

You see, having turned in the final draft (awaiting "notes") of ANGELS FALLING, the third Derek Stillwater novel, I have until October 2007 to turn in the 4th Derek manuscript, THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS. I'm doing background research on that one, and thinking about it, but I wanted to try to put together a novel proposal for a medical thriller. This would be to write about the first 100 pages then put together a synposis/outline and other things. I'm maybe 38 pages in or so.

So yesterday, when I finished some of my other writing work, I sat down with my research materials for THE UNFOLDING, the tentative title of the medical thriller, and read them through, sat down at the computer, opened the folder for TU and...

Well, stared at the screen, closed it down, pulled out several diskettes, file folders, labeled them, and started working on the rough draft of THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS. I wrote 3 or 4 pages, saved it, went back to the computer and started organizing one of my nonfiction projects.

And a short time after THAT, I opened THE UNFOLDING and promptly wrote 3 or 4 pages.

You see, for a while there, I was telling myself, I'm not going to bother with THE UNFOLDING, let's just concentrate on SHADOWS, Derek's your franchise, you've been thinking a lot about that book lately, the urge, the impetus, the compulsion to write it has been growing... TU isn't working, you can't quite get into it, it's just not there, it's one of those sad stillbirths that you occasionally produce...


I don't understand the creative impulse much. I've thought often about what Stephen King has said when people ask him why he writes horror. His answer has typically been, "What makes you think I have a choice?"

I know with my nonfiction that within a fairly broad range of topics and types of writing, I'm perfectly comfortable and competent.

Novels are a different matter, and not only do the types of novels I write, at least the successful ones, fall into a certain type or category, the types of stories and characters that take off for me aren't infinite. Does that mean if someone threw money at me and asked me to write a 343 page romance novel with a main character who is a Greek accordian player who falls in love with a Serbian freedom fighter with a sex scene on page 45, 92 and 329, that I couldn't? Well... how much money are we talking here?

But you live with a novel for quite some time, so it had better resonate with you. And if it resonates with you, it hopefully will resonate with readers.

Part of my issue with THE UNFOLDING is that it deals with Alzheimer's, a subject I have entirely too much experience with, so it's both personal and painful. Another part of the problem is it's a type of book I've never really tried before, so I'm picking my way through it, trying to find the narrative pulse (and if you don't know what I mean by that, I mean, I'm trying to get the engine that propels the story to run better) and a handle on the main character's motivation.

So... it seems that Freddy the Flake showed up yesterday instead of Bruno the Barbarian. But it's time to go do some paying work now, because I hear Donny the Debt Collector knocking on the door.

Mark Terry

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Who's Buying Your Book?

October 26, 2006
AIMLESS WRITER asked me on yesterday's post if I thought all these drop-ins (I prefer drive-bys) had an affect on booksales. I don't know if my answer was particularly trenchant or wise, but I said what I thought, so if you're interested, go over and read it.

But that got me to thinking about something that I think is important to authors about publishing and bookselling. And it's this: who the hell are we selling to?

The obvious answer is readers and book buyers, but here's the thing--they're what would probably be called "the end-user" in the business world.

We've got to sell our books to our publisher. (And there's often a preliminary step, of selling it to your agent, although money isn't involved in that until later). Then, within the publishing house, your book has to be sort of sold to their sales force--although it's their job to sell the books assigned to them, they're going to do a better job if they're somehow sold on your book and excited about it. It might be possible for a writer to go directly to the sales force, but it's not very common. Your editor at your publisher is the primary sales force to the sales force (got that?).

The publishing sales department then needs to convince the publisher, along with the editor, just how much money and effort is going to get behind your book. There are all sorts of decisions here, and they're pretty much out of the control of you, the author. What will the cover art look like? Will it be our lead title? Will it be at the top of the web page, front page of the catalogue, will it have a full page to itself or a little picture with four or five other books? Will they pony up money to the chains to get co-op and special placement, ie., front table, end caps, and those cardboard things where they place all your books? Will they take out an ad for you in Mystery Scene Magazine, USAToday, or the New York Times or none of the above. Of course they'll send out review copies (called ARCs, or advanced reading copies), but how many? Will they send out 20 to Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal and a few newspapers and review sites, or will they print up 1000 ARCs and flood every review venue in the country along with a press kit and a follow-up phone call or e-mail from your publicist? Will the ARC be boring, looking like a trade paperback with a blank colored cover, or will it resemble your book with cover art? Or even be a hardcover of your book (if you're published in that format?) Will they book you on Larry King Live and the Today show, or will they say, "Let him/her drum up some coverage?"

All of that is determined not only by the budget and size of your publisher, but the excitement of your editor, publisher and sales/marketing force.

Bookstores are another group you're selling to. Didn't realize that? Think about it. 200,000 books published each year in the U.S., give or take, plus they want Stephen King's backlist, as well most of Dick Francis', Sue Grafton's, Janet Evanovich's, not to mention keeping in stock all those Tolstoys, Dickenses and Nora Robertses. They have limited real estate, so they've got to have some reason to stock your book. Those reasons may be: your publisher is a realiable publisher and the bookstore stocks most of their list, but definitely stocks their main titles, they received co-op, you got a good review in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus or The New York Times, or, perhaps, the publisher's sales rep called, e-mailed or stopped by personally and recommended your book.

Libraries. Let's not forget them. There are about 10,000 in this country, and if you could just get every one to buy a single copy (many libraries buy multiple copies because books wear out), you'll be doing pretty good on sales. Librarians read Library Journal for reviews (which reviewed DIRTY DEEDS and liked it, boosting its sales, but has ignored THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK--the luck of the draw, back to 200,000 books a year and limited review space). But they don't typically buy through Ingram (the biggest distributor), but through Baker & Taylor, another distributor.

And finally we're talking readers, although there's plenty of room to talk about Sam's Clubs and Wal-Mart and Meijer's, and... but those are distribution deals that have little to do with the author and everything to do with the publisher.

So the point I'm trying to make (I think there's one in here somewhere) is that you probably shouldn't just think about readers when you're doing your marketing, but should in some ways involve your own publisher and editor and their sales force in your marketing plans, as well as the bookstores and libraries. Jacqueline Suzanne was one of the first authors to actually take her tours to the warehouses and distributors.

I keep trying different things. My feeling is the drive-bys are pretty effective. Mailings probably aren't, but they seem to work well once you have a list of people who have actually bought your book, because then they'll know the next one's coming out. Reviews, out of your control (more or less), in the right places can help, but newspaper reviews probably aren't as useful as good reviews in the trades that deal to the booksellers, distributors and librarians. Word of mouth... well, that definitely helps, too.

Something to think about, anyway.

Mark Terry

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Book Tour, Day 4

October 25, 2006
I more or less finished my big book-length nonfiction business report, so today seemed like a good day to spend visiting bookstores. So after I walked Frodo, I loaded up the car, made sure I had my CD's ("Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" soundtrack; "Brushfire Fairy Tales" by Jack Johnson; "Take the Weather With You" by Jimmy Buffett) and hit the road.

Borders Books & Music
8101 Movie Drive, Brighton, MI
They had several copies and gladly had me signed them.

Borders Books & Music
3527 Washtenaw Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI
Another happy occasion, where they had copies right up front on the new paperbacks table. I signed them and away I went, for people who don't like Borders, down the street two blocks to:

Barnes & Noble Booksellers
3235 Washtenaw Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI
They weren't quite a smooth and organized, but they had several copies of THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK and even a copy of DIRTY DEEDS (already signed), so I signed the PITCHFORKs, thanked the guy, and took off in search of the Borders downtown Ann Arbor.

It's at this point that I got lost, the directions from MapQuest being a bit vague. I tried the alternate route, which was equally vague, and finally stopped and asked a jogger, who gave me directions to:

Borders Books
612 E. Liberty, Ann Arbor, MI
I'm reminded of the line from the movie, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," where Sirius Black talks about his animagus form of a dog, saying, "The tail I could live with, but the fleas--they're murder." When it comes to Ann Arbor, I'm inclined to say, "The jaywalkers I can live with, but the parking--it's murder." Anyway, I finally found a place for my truck, found three copies, signed them and headed for:

Aunt Agatha's
213 South 4th Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI
I missed this storey completely, parked about three or four blocks away, asked someone if they knew where it was, she told me she'd never heard of it. Started walking, asked a parking cop (giving somebody a ticket) if he knew where it was, and he didn't. I gave him the address and he pointed up the street and said, "Should be a couple blocks up that way, on the left, then." There's much talk about AA in AA, but they didn't have a copy of PITCHFORK and didn't act particularly interested. I gave them a copy (graciously), ignored the fishy stare of the proprietor and fled (yes, that's how it felt). I feel like three strikes is out when it comes to this store--I've had no luck whatsoever in conversations on the phone or in person three times with various people affiliated with this story. Somebody needs to share with me what the appeal is ... please. It seems like a nice little store, but...

Got lost again (it's a gift) and turned around in a parking lot of a restaurant/hotel, only to find myself going the wrong way down a divided highway. Managing to not get a ticket, arrested or killed, I finally found my way to:

Nicola's Books.
2513 Jackson Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48103
The woman at the counter was very pleasant and they did have a copy of PITCHFORK, which I signed and she went to put it on their autographed copies table (right next to a 'graphed copy of Barry Eisler's THE LAST ASSASSIN).

I then headed over to Chelsea, ate at Chez Wendy's and visited my Mom for a little while. I told her the kids were 13 and 8 and she told me her son Mark was 12, but she couldn't remember how old her other children were, wasn't that awful? She asked me how old Ian was about 4 times and commented that she hadn't been back to her school in a long time. When I asked her what school that was, she told me it was the same one she and I went to.

Ah well. As the great sage and philosopher Jimmy Buffett says, "Breathe in, breathe out, move on."

Drove home only to find a flurry of e-mails regarding copy edits of the nonfiction book.

Mark Terry

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Contest Winners

October 24, 2006
Congratulations to the winners of my first-ever-online-sign-up-for-my-e-newsletter-&-maybe-win-an-autographed-copy-and-money contest. (Really should come up with a different name for the next one.)

Grand Prize Winner of a signed copy of THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK and a $100 gift certificate to the book store of her choice: Mary McNicholas.

Winners of a signed copy:

Jennie Phipps

Nancy Meacham

Sylvia Maeder

Angela Vanschoick

Judy Sorensen

Nancy DeFrancisco

Kerri Penno

Two Winners To Be Named Later (because they haven't responded to my e-mails).

Congratulations and thanks for your involvement.

Mark Terry

Monday, October 23, 2006

One Damned Thing After Another

October 23, 2006
Anybody who's lived long enough--say, older than 12 years of age--has probably figured out that life is one damned thing after another. Your boss is crabbing at you, the bills come due, your kid got an E on a test, your dentist told you you need a crown, you get a flat tire on the way home from the dentist, you burn dinner because you were yelling at your kid, the cable goes out in the middle of your favorite show...

All pretty trivial. Since I write thrillers, the "one damned thing after another" tends to be less trivial. In THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK, for example, terrorists steal a genetically engineered virus, the main character has panic attacks, the FBI agent running the case doesn't want him working it, the Deputy Director of Homeland Security doesn't want him working the case, the terrorists find out he's on the case and try to get him off it, people are lying to him, the cops want him for questioning...

In fiction, "one damned thing after another" doesn't haven't to be as dramatic as Derek's day in Pitchfork--it's just the sub-genre I'm working in.

I was thinking about the 1980s TV show "thirtysomething" in this context. For anybody who is too young, this hit show was about 6 or 7 college friends and their lives as they entered their thirties. The two main characters started an ad agency together, and the story focused on the two of them and their wives and children. The stories tended to rotate around their disagreements with each other, how their marriages affected their jobs, how business would be up, then down (and eventually they went out of business and went together to work for a big ad agency, and their boss loved one of them and hated the other), how the kids get sick, the career woman turned housewife feels inadequate because she doesn't work, how the other wife gets cancer, how their friends sex lives, love lives, careers... how your business isn't going well and you haven't gotten paid in months and your savings are at rock bottom and your furnace goes up...

The show worked, although sometimes critics called it "whinysomething." Which was appropriate, but for those of us who were in our late-20s or 30s, the show worked quite well. (And honestly, you don't find that people whine?) The show was all about "one damned thing after another."

In literary terms we've decided to call "one damned thing after another" conflict.

Conflict can be external--the terrorists and the FBI honchos who don't like Derek in PITCHFORK.

Or conflict can be internal--Derek's panic attacks and self-doubt and superstition.

But your fiction's gotta have it. A novel about a perfectly happy person who has no troubles or conflicts in her life is, well... boring. Would you want to read a book like that?

Would Harry Potter be half as interesting if he was an innocent bystander at Hogwarts, just a new student from a magical family who watches from the sidelines as someone else is stalked by the evil Lord Voldemort?

No, my friends, he would not.

So no matter what type of novel you're writing, remember, conflict is the key to an interesting story. Don't be too nice to your main characters, don't cut them a break, don't give them a good day. Remember the book of Job in the Bible, where God and Satan use poor Job as a kind of intergalactic football in the Universal Super Bowl. Make your main character miserable--your readers will love you for it.

Mark Terry

Friday, October 20, 2006

What do terrorists want?

October 20, 2006
Since I'm writing books about terrorism and have a main character who is a terrorism expert, I thought I might from time to time make a comment about terrorism.

So having recently read Louise Richardson's "What Terrorists Want," I suppose I've come away with some notion of what terrorists want. So?

Well, if you buy Richardson's definitions, which I do, then terrorists want what she dubs the Three R's. They are:

1. Revenge
2. Reknown
3. Reaction

1. Revenge.
The tricky thing here is that the revenge can be for any number of legitimate or fantastical things. Bin Laden reputedly is out to "get" the US and the west for supposed crimes against the Muslim world committed, say, in Saudi and more clearly in Afghanistan when he was on the side of the mujahadeen fighting the Russians. The US supported the mujahadeen by sending CIA agents, providing money and stinger missles to shoot down Russian helicopters. So why would Bin Laden want revenge for this? Well, in his view we abandoned them after the Russians left. Or something like that. And actually, a bigger issue for OBL is when the U.S. set up shop in Saudi, the "Land of Two Holy Places," because we're infidels and crusaders and should never, ever have troops stationed in Saudi. He believes--correctly, I think--that the only reason we're there is to secure Saudi oil for our own uses.

I think more importantly, when it comes to "revenge," is to remember that it's a self-fulfilling issue. They bomb the World Trade Towers in revenge for something they perceive, rightfully or wrongly, that the US did, so we go chase them out of Afghanistan, killing an awful lot of people in the process. Some of those people were al-Qaeda, but plenty were civilians, and now they have a nice, clearly documented motive to recruit people to their cause with reasons to want to wreak revenge on the U.S.--you killed my (fill in the blank, mother, father, brother, sister, friend, comrade, etc)--so I will get revenge on you.

2. Reknown.
Well, if OBL wasn't well known worldwide before September 11, 2001, he sure as hell was afterwards. There's nothing like being dubbed Most Wanted worldwide with a $20 million price on your head to gain some fame. What's a little more interesting is how many suicide bombers or other arrested terrorists have said, for instance, that they only hoped that they would be remembered afterwards. Or that they hoped to see their face on a wanted poster. Or they want their brotherhood, their fellow terrorists (or freedom fighters or jihadists or revolutionaries) to remember them.

3. Reaction
Richardson notes that terrorists don't act in a vacuum. In other words, they don't commit acts of terror just for the hell of it. (I'm not 100% that's true, actually, but I'll get to that). Terrorists, after all, think they're the good guys, they're the heroes of their own stories, and they have goals and things they want to achieve. They definitely don't want to be ignored. They want something to be happened. (And one of the problems with ignoring a terrorist attack is that they will then do something worse in order to get your attention). In theory, al-Qaeda wants the U.S. out of Saudi, they want to have a country all to their own that's Islamic, and even more so, want that Islamic country to be completely in the traditions of Sharia, the very, very rigid and conservative Islamic tradition.

Which, I have to wonder, didn't they have in Afghanistan under the Taliban? Well, yes, but it didn't stop them from bombing us on September 11, 2001 anyway.

Anyway, there are a lot of ramifications to these and plenty of nuance, but they're something to think about.

As for my thoughts on terrorism just to commit terrorism, here goes:

One of the striking things to me about many terrorists is how it has become a job. There's often talk about how once they have what they want (which in most cases is as likely as colonies on the sun) they'll put down their arms and become integrated citizens. Sometimes it happens. Menachim Begin comes to mind, and I suppose you could even think of Yasser Arafat in that context. But within many terrorist organizations, al-Qaeda, the IRA, et al., they are paid a wage, they are given places to live (even if they're caves somewhere), support is paid out to their families. In other words, they have a JOB. And in most respects terrorists feel they are soldiers in a war. Just like soldiers in any country's military, terrorists have a job. And that can make terrorists seem somewhat self-perpetuating.

And I can't quite get past the notion that there is the old definition of the purpose of terrorism, by, I think Stalin, although I'm not completely sure if that's the source. That is to say, the point of terrorism is to terrorize. And although it's clear many terrorists have goals and believe themselves to be true and correct and fighting a war on behalf of some ideal, no matter how twisted, it seems to me that many of them find excitement and adrenaline and even joy in their bomb throwing and violence.

In other words, some terrorists, for whatever psychological reasons, find pleasure in their jobs.

Mark Terry

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Ramblings of a Disturbed Mind

October 19, 2006
I'm wondering if by posting this if the previous post I did first thing this morning which disappeared will reappear like yesterday's did. (I is a pro-FESS-ional righter. Doo knot tried these @ whom.)

Finished: "What Terrorists Want," last night. It's a fascinating book, although toward the end I felt like she did the quintessential college professor thing and got sort of abstract about what should be done.

Ate at a chinese buffet for lunch today. Does it bother anybody that the chinese buffet is next door to a small animal veterinary practice? And what was that batter-coated glittering red gooey sauce-covered stuff, anyway? It said almond shrimp, but I swear, there wasn't anything inside the batter.

Had one of my good regular clients tell me they were cutting off these short pieces, but they were re-thinking the freelance position and would be back to me at the beginning of 2007 about some good paying feature articles. I assured him that when his predecessor hired me to do this work a year ago he had thought it would end in March, so I've had 7 very lucrative months of work I really didn't expect.

The only concern is that I've cut off one client for next year (and come to think of it, I received a check today that was $50 short, and I need to nag about this) because I was tired of the gig and it didn't pay all that great, one of my best-paying clients had an editorial change and just stopped hiring me, and my regular freelance and book reviewing gig disappeared. That sounds more frightening than it is because I've gotten additional book contracts, a new big client that seems to have a ton of very, very good-paying work for me, and I recently picked up another good-paying client that if I pull off the first job is likely to have plenty more work for me to do.


I prefer to quit than be fired.

In the "be-careful-what-you-wish-for" front, AuthorBuzz took off this week and the response has been far more than I expected, resulting in several hundred people signing up for my E-Newsletter mailing list and/or e-mailing me directly to say they were interesting in a copy of "11 Minutes." This is wonderful, but I've been spending several hours e-mailing out the PDF of the short story this week. For all of you who signed up--thank you very, very much. And if you're wondering why you haven't gotten the story yet, rest assured, I'm working on it.

Anyway, back to work.

Mark Terry

Writing Goals

October 19, 2006
While walking Frodo this morning--it's a damp 50 degrees with a chill wind--I got to thinking about writing goals. Let's see if I can reconstruct how I got to that point. You see, I'm scheduled to interview bestselling author Vince Flynn this afternoon, a guy I interviewed about a year ago. I was thinking about the questions I was going to ask him and thinking about the last interview and something stuck in my mind that he had said, sort of ruminating. I had asked him about his writing schedule, and Vince does a lot of research--a LOT of research. He writes action/espionage, and his books often take place outside the US, and Vince often goes to those countries--like Jordan and Saudi and Switzerland--to do research (yeah, life's tough). And he commented sort of off-hand something along the lines of, "I'd like to try writing two books a year, but I'm so busy with research and promotion I don't have the time. Maybe in two books. I'll probably have made enough money by then to..."

I wonder how much money Vince thinks he has to make to cut back on research and promotion. I won't ask, but it was an interesting concept.

You see, before I started getting my novels published, I always would write out these lists of writing goals, typically around New Year's Eve, and number one on that list was invariably:

1. Get novel published.

Although I don't think "get novel published" is necessarily a given these days, it seems like I'm in good shape for a few years with that goal, and now I need to develop some more writing goals.

As I was walking Frodo, my mind shifted to Joe Konrath's 500 bookstore tour, thinking that even if Joe's crazy (okay, apparently his ambitions show very few limits and his energy in this area is kind of awe-inducing), he did a very smart thing--he set a goal. It was a very ambitious goal, but he set a goal--visit 500 bookstores.

My marketing goals aren't quite as glorious, but I've got a list of 35 or 40 bookstores in the state and I've hit 13 of them so far and hope to make it most of the way through my list by December or so.

But those aren't actually the goals I have in mind now. The goals NOW have something to do with book sales and dollars. That is, like Vince Flynn, I've got some sort of notion of how much money I want to make writing novels (and how much money I want to make writing in general, but that's slightly off topic). Or I sort of do. Because until I get royalty statements next spring I won't really know how to judge.

So is that a goal? It seems somewhat out of my control, actually, and I think it's more useful to have a goal if attaining it is something that is within your control.

Something like:

1. Complete book proposal for medical thriller and send to agent by December 1.

That's on my goal list and I think it's do-able.

2. Complete 4th Derek Stillwater novel by October 1, 2007. That's more than a goal, that's written into a contract.

3. Get a contract for the Jo Dancing novel. Ah, now there's an interesting thing. It's just like my old goal of "get novel published." There isn't much more to be done about that than I've already done. I've written it. My agent is marketing it. It's out there being read by editors. What more can I do there? (Pray?)

4. Write better.

Well, yes. Continue to work on my craft. Listen to what readers say and my agent says and my editors say and try to continually make the work better. Make it more vivid. Deepen the characterization. Pay attention to the little writing quirks we all have and try to fix them. Work on grace and clarity and effectiveness. Do more research.

What are your goals?

Mark Terry

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Selling Books

October 18, 2006
I had a lengthy post on what I'm reading now, but Blogger spat up a hairball and didn't publish it and it's gone. (I hope it doesn't happen again today. I'm having enough techno problems for one day).

Here's what I'm reading, no comments, too lazy:
What Terrorists Want by Louise Richardson
Death Match by Lincoln Child
Crystal Rain by Tobias S. Buckell
Successful Television Writing by Lee Goldberg & William Rabkin

Anyway, on a different topic, I was thinking about all the things I've been doing to promote/market THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK. I sent out flyers to booksellers and libraries, I paid to have the website redone, I've got this blog, my publisher paid to have me on AuthorBuzz (which from Monday's hit counter would suggest it's worth the money), I'm offering a contest, and I'm driving all over town visiting bookstores and signing copies.

I commented on the AuthorBuzz hits to my agent and her response back was, "Hope some of them buy books."

Ah, well, Irene does have a way of nailing things down, doesn't she?

Does any of this stuff actually sell books? I now understand the gentleman who handles the marketing for his wife's books, who commented to me, "I've figured out how to market books, but I haven't figured out how to sell books."

Are they different?

Well, yes and no. Yes, clearly getting your name out there in one way, shape or another will lead to name recognition, which will help sell books. But I don't think there's a direct link. I mean, I'm on a number of author's list who send me postcards and e-mail newsletters and my awareness of them doesn't always, or even most of the time, translate into me going out and buying their books. Far worse, and probably far more important, my awareness of them doesn't even necessarily result in my standing in the aisles of the bookstore, mind blank, looking for a promising read and picking up their books and buying them. Why?

Some just aren't my cup of tea. People sending me postcards for cozies are probably wasting their time. I read some and I enjoy them, but they're not books I search out, generally speaking. I might very well pick up the book at the bookstore just on the basis of their postcard or e-newsletter, but something--some really, REALLY intangible thing--had better catch my attention.

And I don't know what that is. It helps if someone says, "That book's hilarious," or "I really loved that book." A great cover helps, preferably something shiny and bright and potentially lurid. A good title will help. Even an author blurb might help, although I'm increasingly skeptical about those I read. What else?

I don't know. If I get that far I'll read the first line or paragraph. I rarely read a lengthy synopsis of the book, or even the entire synopsis if it's more than a paragraph. Just enough in the first sentence to see if it catches my attention. Is it the character?

I'll tell you what it is sometimes. It's the author's voice. Right there in the first line or two. And if that doesn't work for me then I probably won't buy it.

So many books, you see; and so little time. I was in 5 bookstores yesterday and while I was there it occurred to me that--wait for it...

There are a hell of a lot of books here.

In fact, if the publishing industry were to fold today, I could buy a book a week from Borders or Barnes & Noble or even much smaller stores, and not make it through the books in one of those stores in my lifetime. Probably not even close. Sometimes it seems to me that we should all just stop publishing books now in order to save some trees.

Ah, but an infinity of stories? What a great thing. What other proof can there be of a God except an infinity of stories?

But how do I get people to buy mine? Hmmm?

Mark Terry

What I'm Reading

October 18, 2006
Here are 4 books I'm more or less reading simultaneously, a bad habit I started in the last year.

What Terrorists Want by Louise Richardson
I heard an interview with Richardson on NPR and was intrigued. Also, Derek Stillwater will be facing off against an Al-Qaeda villain in the fourth book, which I will be starting soon, and I wanted to deepen my understanding (which isn't all that deep to begin with) of what makes terrorists tick. In addition, since I'm no longer really reviewing books regularly, I want to expand my reading outside mysteries and thrillers a bit, both to expand my writing and to expand my mind, and nonfiction books are a part of that. It's quite fascinating, although occasionally jargon-ish and depressing. The chapter on "Why Terrorists Commit Suicide," in particular depressed me. Some of it was the stories of how the neighborhoods come to the homes of the families of suicide bombers and throw celebrations, although some post-interviews with the family members have later said things along the lines of, "If I'd known what they were going to do I would have locked them in their bedroom." I was struck, with all of the Bush Administration's rhetoric about Iran, that during the Iran-Iraq War, Iranian solders, who did not even have weapons, would charge through mine fields in suicide waves, to "clear" the mine fields for later-coming troops. As I mentioned to my wife, "We should think about that story a bit before considering going to war with Iran."

Death Match by Lincoln Child.
This is a technothriller and one I've read before, but I got it into my head to re-read it. It's about a very high-tech computer dating service, and one of their "super couples," a perfect match, commits double suicide. The company hires Christopher Lash, a psychiatrist and former FBI profiler, to figure out what's going on. I was trying to figure how Child utilizes point of view, because it starts with the scene of the first deaths, then brings on Lash as the pov character, only rarely presenting the povs of other characters. It seems to me that what he does is only go to other characters when he absolutely has to. What he does do that I found very intriguing from a storytelling point of view is do a lot of cut-aways. There's a chapter that is basically a flashback to a horrible event in Lash's life, and we're led right up to it, then the chapter ends. And it's only later that we find out what happened, but even then he doesn't show us it, he just sort of mentions it. The reason it works that way is because it's backstory and because we're intrigued enough to be looking for it.

Crystal Rain by Tobias S. Buckell
SF of an unusual kind (at least to me). This is Buckell's first novel, although he's published over 20 or so short stories. I've been out of the SF arena for at least 25 years and probably wasn't reading new stuff then, anyway, so I have no idea if this is the way SF has gone. It's more anthropology than science, but Buckell's got a lyrical way of writing and a depth of imagination that's impressive. It takes place on a planet in the very distant future. Apparently at one time it was colonized by people from earth and, just like on earth, various ethnicities drifted off into different areas. The main characters are Caribbean in origin and speak a kind of patois that can take some getting used to. During some sort of intergalactic war of sorts the technology used to create wormholes was destroyed and over the last 300 years or so everybody's pretty much forgotten how to use it and have dropped down to dirigibles, sailboats and steam trains. Their worst enemies are the Azteca, which live on the other side of the Wicked High Mountains. At least two alien races, who have convinced everybody they're gods, are having some sort of war with the remaining humans on the planet as pawns. It's pretty fascinating, even if the backstory is so complex it's a little hard to get a grip on it. I've been nibbling at this a few pages a day.

Successful Television Writing by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin.
I just bought this and I keep picking it up and reading a few pages here and there. I don't know that I have any real interest in writing for TV. I barely watch it and the only reason I would write for it would be money (oddly enough, the only reason I do a lot of writing that I do). Still, I've written and published short stories and novels and written and published magazine articles, technical articles, trade articles, book reviews and all sorts of other materials, and I have written a very bad rough draft of a screenplay, but never tried anything for TV, so who knows? To-date the book is pretty entertaining, which is probably a good enough reason to read it.

What're you reading?

Mark Terry

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Book Tour, Day 3

October 17, 2006
Just a reiteration of yesterday's blog first--the contest deadline has been extended until October 21. For those of you from AuthorBuzz who got an early jump on me, my apologies.

Now, back to today's book tour. Seemed more tiring than before. I'm sure some of this was the weather, which is pouring down rain, and some of it to the fact that I was hitting the west side of the northern Detroit suburbs, which are sprawling, dense and well-trafficked. So here goes.

Southfield Road, Beverly Hills, MI
Took me a while to get there because of a detour, but once I did I found a couple copies on the front table. All the rest had already been bought. I signed them, then went in search of a birthday present for my oldest son. The woman here who helped me was quite pleasant.

Orchard Lake Road, Farmington Hills, MI
Three copies in the mystery section. I found a clerk at the info desk and he called a manager. They checked the computer and there were two more in the store, but they couldn't find them. After some hunting they found them on a cart ready to be stacked. I signed all five and they were going to put them on the front table (I think). Very helpful and friendly.

Borders Express, Novi Road, Novi, MI
I should have known better. I had a hard time finding this store because, well, this part of Novi has about 20 malls in a square mile. I eventually did, after asking the guy sweeping up the mall parking lot. Ran in, hunted around, then talked to a guy there who checked on the computer and I'm still not in the system. Both of them seemed rather skeptical--I'm not in the computer, so clearly I don't exist. I thanked them for their time and left.

I knew there was another Borders around here, and...

Borders, Crescent Boulevard, Novi, MI
Yep. Five copies in the mystery section. I dragged them up to the information booth and she told me, "Oh, this is the second time today. Somebody came in earlier and asked for this book." I signed all five and they put them somewhere, hopefully on the front table, although that's not a given. Sweet lady, though.

Because I'm directionally challenged, I went back to a Barnes & Noble back in Farmington Hills on Orchard Lake Road.

Barnes & Noble, Orchard Lake Road, Farmington Hills, MI
No books there, but it was in the system, so she ordered a couple copies and suggested I swing by again in another week or so.

So, I signed 12 copies, visited 5 stores, encouraged one that didn't have it to order some, and received puzzled expressions from the fifth store, and I met 9 bookstore workers.

Mark Terry

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Contest and Free Short Story

October 15, 2006
If you've visited my website already, you'll note mention of a contest. Just by entering my newsletter mailing list--which trust me, will be fairly rare--you get entered in the chance to win a $100 gift certificate to the bookseller of your choice or a signed copy of THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK. (1 grand prize winner will receive the certificate and a signed copy, another 9 will receive a signed copy). You will also be e-mailed a copy of my Derek Stillwater short story, "11 Minutes."

Now, on the site it says the deadline for this is October 15th. However, due to some expected online promotion stuff--AuthorBuzz--expected this week, I have decided to extend the deadline until the 21st.

So, sign up and you're entered. And I'll send you a copy of "11 Minutes."

Or, if that's too damned difficult, e-mail me and ask for the short story. I'll send it to you and if I'm organized enough, enter you in my mailing list anyway, which will automatically enter you in the contest.

Since the E-Newsletter is through Vertical Response, if you find in the future that my E-Newsletters annoy you, it's easy to opt out.

And if you've received my e-newsletter but NOT received a copy of "11 Minutes," this is because you were on my earlier list and there's over 700 of you and I never got around to sending it to you. If that's the case, my apologies for not being organized enough, e-mail me, say hello and ask for "11 Minutes." I'll e-mail it right to you.

Mark Terry

Friday, October 13, 2006

The 15% Precedent

October 13, 2006
A gentleman (Robert) e-mailed me earlier this week to compliment Pitchfork and, as many aspiring novelists do, ask a question. No problem at all. He wanted to know my opinion about my publisher and I tried to give him an honest, thoughtful answer, which I won't publish publicly, although let me just say for the paranoid, that Midnight Ink, to-date, seems to be doing very well by me and I'm quite pleased with them. My response to Robert was a bit more nuanced.

Anyway, I was thinking about the advice I gave him about finding an agent, and thinking about the recent blog posts about basketed accounting (also called cross-collateralized or joint accounting) on JA Konrath's site, which seeped over to mine and at Lee Goldberg's blog.

Joint accounting doesn't do writers any favors, and although Joe seems okay with it (although it's no longer in his contracts), Lee is very much against it. So am I, although you can't always get rid of it.

But these discussions put me in mind of something, and I apologize if this seems a bit esoteric, but I hope all writers keep this in mind. You see, it has to do with books contracts, the publishing business, and what the standards are for the various things in your contract.

You see, it's clear from these discussions that joint accounting is desirable to publishers, but not to writers and agents. Yet, publishers regularly include them in their boilerplate contracts, and may in some cases even dig in, and voila, there they are in the contract if the agent doesn't give a damn, the writer doesn't know any better and isn't repped, or the writer doens't have the clout to get it out of the contract.

And part of the agent's responsibility is to point at things in the publishing contract and say, "This isn't acceptable and you know it. This isn't standard for the industry." This could be a certain split over some right, the amount of the royalties, or some language in some of the clauses. Or joint accounting.

And although an lawyer presumably knows enough about contracts to be able to ascertain if the language in a book contract is good, if the lawyer doesn't know what's standard in the publishing industry, then he/she doesn't know if that 8% hardcover royalty is reasonable or not (it isn't) and you should be asking for 10% or 12% or 15% or 20%.

Here's an example that the title of this blog entry is about. Back in the 1980s, when I was unsuccessfully trying to break into this business, the standard agent commission was 10%. Somewhere in that period it shifted to 15%. Agents essentially gave themselves a 50% raise. It wasn't like an agents' union negotiated it. What probably happened was some agent for some client decided he wanted more money and told his client, "Hey, I've been getting you good deals, I'm going to raise my commission to 15%." Or maybe, "I've got a lot of overhead, the cost of business is going up, my rent increased, I've got to pay for fax paper and Internet, and copying expenses--the price of paper, you know--so I'm raising my commission to 15%."

And the client said okay, and all the other clients went along, and pretty soon other agents heard about it and started telling their clients, "Hey, the commission's 15% now, that's standard in the industry." "Standard in the industry" is another way of saying, "Everybody's doing it."

It's one concern I have about the burgeoning market for small presses. Their contracts tend not to be as good as the industry standard, and because they're willing to read unagented manuscripts, many of their writers don't know what they're negotiating, and as a result, they get crappy contracts, although by and large they're thrilled just to have a contract. I was. I've been there. But my agent read the contract I had for Dirty Deeds and told me what she didn't like about it and why, and some of those "whys" were really, really problematic. But I didn't know any better. And High Country had the class to delete the worst clause when asked (retrospectively) so I could market my next novel to someone else.

Anyway, when I was thinking about Joe Konrath's defense of joint accounting, the one issue I didn't hear come up was the idea that if enough writers agree to it, then it will be considered standard practice and we'll all be stuck with it (including Joe) pretty much no matter where you are in your career.

That's a dire prediction, of course. But consider this: would you prefer you or your agent was able to say, "We need this part of the contract changed because it's not industry standard," or would you prefer your publisher say, "This part of the contract stays in because it's industry standard."??????

Just some food for thought.

Mark Terry

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Book Bitch Likes Derek Stillwater!

October 12, 2006
Super book lover website had a review of THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK. They like me, they really like me!

Also, if interested, there's a contest on the site to win a copy of THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK and other books this month. Here's the review:

THE DEVIL’S PITCHFORK by Mark Terry: Is there a scenario worse that terrorists gaining access to nuclear weapons? What if they had a man made virus that packed the worst characteristics of Ebola, hepatitis and bubonic plague? Chimera M13 has the potential to destroy humanity. One man stands between extinction and salvation, Derek Stillwater, a troubleshooter for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security who specializes in biological and chemical weapons. Stillwater, however, has his own problems with panic attacks and self doubts that hinder his effectiveness. He has no choice but to follow his instincts while scientists work on a vaccine in Washington, D.C. He just might have a chance in hell of ending the madness-if only the government's most experienced immunological researcher hadn't become infected. One of the better books of this sub-genre. Recommended. 10/06 Jack Quick

Mark Terry

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Royalties, Basketing and Money 101

October 11, 2006
Check out Joe Konrath's blog today for his discussion of royalties and earning money as a writer. It's pretty good. But make sure you then read the comments section, especially the first comment by PJ Parrish about basketed accounting.

Basketed accounting is when you have multiple books and you essentially don't start receiving royalties on any of the books until the advances for all the books in the contract have paid for. I essentially agree with PJ, although it's not always possible to get this eliminated. Contracts can be tricky and everything's up for grabs, but agents, authors and publishers don't always have the same priorities.

I liked this comment from Joe:

"Building up an author's fanbase with modest print runs and a solid backlist is a safer way to make money. Slow and steady wins the race. And it stands to reason that if your backlist is earning money, there will be more money available to promote your recently released title. Once you're in a royalty situation, you're no longer a gamble--you're a sure thing."

Or, as PJ has said on her own blog, it's a marathon, not a sprint.

So anyway, check out what Joe has to say. It's an education.

Mark Terry

p.s. Cherye, The Serpent's Kiss is scheduled for July 2007.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Book Tour, Day 2

October 10, 2006
Hit some more bookstores in the area today.

Borders Books & Music, Woodward Avenue, Birmingham, MI
They had 3 books. I brought them up to the info desk and they seemed glad to see me. Had me sign them and noted that they had already sold 5. They were putting the remaining books either at the front table or at the Of Local Interest section. I gave them some brochures, as well.

Barnes & Noble on Main Street, Royal Oak, MI.
The toughest thing here was finding parking. Finally made it to the store and they had no copies. I introduced myself at the information desk and he put in an order for them. I gave him a copy of PITCHFORK and although he wasn't interested in thrillers, said he would leave it for the next shift, who did.

Barnes & Noble, John R, Troy, MI.
Again, they didn't have any copies of PITCHFORK, although they had four copies of my last novel, DIRTY DEEDS, probably left over from a signing I did there a year ago. I introduced myself to the lady at the info desk. She pulled PITCHFORK up on the computer and said, "Nope, haven't ordered any." Nor did she offer to order any. I asked her if she liked thrillers and she said yes. So I gave her an autographed copy of PITCHFORK and said, "If you like it, maybe you'll consider ordering copies." Thanked her and left.

Borders Books & Music, 14 Mile Road (Oakland Mall), Troy, MI
Hunted around and found two copies on the shelf. Took them to the info desk and asked to sign them. She asked the manager who said sure and asked if there were any more in the store. I said I hadn't seen them, but I was going to ask them to check. They did. There were four more, but they didn't know where. So they hunted around and found them on one of the carts, getting ready to be put on the main table. So I signed all 6, they put stickers on and off we go.

So, 4 bookstores, 6 bookstore workers, gave away one book. Also, it seems apparent that B&N, although the book is in their system, isn't necessarily carrying it, so by showing up and asking they're ordering copies. This might require another run at those stores in the future.

On the THIS-IS-SO-COOL front, I got an e-mail from my editor at Midnight Ink with the mock-up of the cover art for THE SERPENT'S KISS, the 2nd Derek Stillwater novel. It's not at all what I expected it to be, but it's seriously cool anyway. I really like it. When I get time and permission, it'll go up on the website, but probably not for a while.

Mark Terry

Book Tour, Day 2

October 10, 2006
Hit some more bookstores in the area today.

Borders Books & Music, Woodward Avenue, Birmingham, MI
They had 3 books. I brought them up to the info desk and they seemed glad to see me. Had me sign them and noted that they had already sold 5. They were putting the remaining books either at the front table or at the Of Local Interest section. I gave them some brochures, as well.

Barnes & Noble on Main Street, Royal Oak, MI.
The toughest thing here was finding parking. Finally made it to the store and they had no copies. I introduced myself at the information desk and he put in an order for them. I gave him a copy of PITCHFORK and although he wasn't interested in thrillers, said he would leave it for the next shift, who did.

Barnes & Noble, John R, Troy, MI.
Again, they didn't have any copies of PITCHFORK, although they had four copies of my last novel, DIRTY DEEDS, probably left over from a signing I did there a year ago. I introduced myself to the lady at the info desk. She pulled PITCHFORK up on the computer and said, "Nope, haven't ordered any." Nor did she offer to order any. I asked her if she liked thrillers and she said yes. So I gave her an autographed copy of PITCHFORK and said, "If you like it, maybe you'll consider ordering copies." Thanked her and left.

Borders Books & Music, 14 Mile Road (Oakland Mall), Troy, MI
Hunted around and found two copies on the shelf. Took them to the info desk and asked to sign them. She asked the manager who said sure and asked if there were any more in the store. I said I hadn't seen them, but I was going to ask them to check. They did. There were four more, but they didn't know where. So they hunted around and found them on one of the carts, getting ready to be put on the main table. So I signed all 6, they put stickers on and off we go.

So, 4 bookstores, 6 bookstore workers, gave away one book. Also, it seems apparent that B&N, although the book is in their system, isn't necessarily carrying it, so by showing up and asking they're ordering copies. This might require another run at those stores in the future.

On the THIS-IS-SO-COOL front, I got an e-mail from my editor at Midnight Ink with the mock-up of the cover art for THE SERPENT'S KISS, the 2nd Derek Stillwater novel. It's not at all what I expected it to be, but it's seriously cool anyway. I really like it. When I get time and permission, it'll go up on the website, but probably not for a while.

Mark Terry

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Writing Biz

October 9, 2006
Ah, the glamorous life of the writer. We all get into this because we love to write, right? So today I:

9:00--headed off to the UPS Store, manuscript of ANGELS FALLING in hand, to make two copies, copy boxes and a variety of other office supplies that I needed.

10:00--gym, to lift heavy objects for a while

11:00--Back home. Sort through my life, check email, eat lunch, walk the dog.

12:30--write cover letters for manuscripts (one to publisher, one to agent), prep manuscripts to go in the mail tomorrow. Today is Columbus Day. No mail. No work for the wicked government employees and people who otherwise work for better bosses than I do. Slave driver!

1:00--write check to webmaven to cover her latest invoice

1:15--finally get around to organizing my receipts from the Washington DC trip and submitting a reimbursement voucher to the folks who sent me there.

1:35--go through the last issue of the technical journal I edit and send off an email to my layout person and the exec director regarding which articles need to be submitted to PubMed, which part of the TOC should go up on the website, and can I please have a PDF of... oh yeah, and a gentle reminder that the check was supposed to come within thirty days of blueline approval which was, uh, about 37 days ago. I get an email back telling me they're out of the office for the Columbus Day holiday.

1:45--blog (hey, finally, some writing!)

2:00--better try to finish Appendix C.

Ah, writing, writing, always writing.

Mark Terry

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Searching for the Tipping Point

October 7, 2006
My agent and I were in the midst of a flurry of emails yesterday. Well, maybe not a flurry, but we back-and-forthed a bit. I was to email a PDF of DANCING IN THE DARK, a novel I wrote under a pseudonym, to an editor at a publisher with affiliations with a company whose logo is a big rodent head, who would forward it to the appropriate...

Anyway, somewhere in the midst of all this she said something about all the hullabaloo with another publisher whose logo is a flightless water bird, and they decide to reject. Huh? I ask. There was a hullabaloo?

Then I find that the flightless water bird publishing house's imprint apparently had indicated last week that they were very excited about DANCING and were probably going to make an offer, then we get a rejection along the lines of, "although it is very well written and I really enjoyed the story, we decided not to make an offer because this is a type of book we've had problems selling in the past."

Ahem. You have problems selling well-written engaging stories with strong female main characters?

Anyway, that's not the point. Usually I let rejection comments flow off me like, er, water off a flightless water bird's ass, but I e-mailed my agent to say, "I'm trying to figure out what the tipping point is. (I can guess what is it, actually: Mark Terry's last book sold 400,000 copies. You interested in his latest?) I mean, early in my career I wasn't even getting the 'it's well written, blah, blah, blah' but now all my rejections seem to be: 'well written, great story, just not today.' Do you get this a lot?"

My agent commented that yes, this was common and 400,000 copies sold would probably be a very good tipping point. She also noted that although all publishers do this, some are worse than others.

I noticed that yesterday Robert Gregory Browne talked a little bit about a screenplay he wrote that had huge buzz and five major producers bidding on it, then everything fell to pieces and the script didn't get picked up.

This is a freaky business, folks. It's completely subjective--except for the money. And I don't think I'm being crass and money-fixated (and if I am, so what?) when I say, if Rob had already been the writer on a couple scripts that got turned into produced movies that grossed a billion dollars or so, that script probably would have been picked up. Or if THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK (in your local neighborhood bookstore--pick up your copy today!) climbed up on the bestseller lists and sold 400,000 or 1,000,000 copies (and no, I don't know what the actual tipping point would be. 50,000? 100,000? No clue.) that the flightless water fowl publisher wouldn't have hesitated to pick up DANCING. And perhaps rodent head imprint will anyway.

I'm reminded, however, of when Stephen King left his long-time publisher (which, come to think of it, had a flightless water fowl as its imprint), it was big news and the publisher of one of the major houses even went to King's agent's office personally to pick up the manuscript of BAG OF BONES to read himself. Yet... did all of the publishers involved make a bid? Probably. High bids? Well, clearly not.

So what's the tipping point? Is it sales? Is it a really terrific book they can't put down?

My goal has always been to write the un-rejectable manuscript. The story so strong, so well-written, so compelling, that the editors/publishers read it and say, "Ooh-ha, this is it, we HAVE to publish this book." I haven't done it yet, but that's the goal. Hell, it's probably an unrealistic goal, right? The perfect novel? The one that starts a major bidding war among publishers and movie makers, the one that creates its own buzz, is snatched up at bookstores on the day it arrives, the one readers crave, love and talk about, that moved them, inspired them, maybe even changed their lives. The one they remember with affection 30 years later.

But in today's commercial publishing market, would that do the trick?

I wonder.

Mark Terry

Friday, October 06, 2006

Ask Me Something

October 6, 2006
I'm drawing a blank today, so let's interact. Ask me something. Best topics are writing, publishing, agents, biotechnology, terrorism. If you really want to get me going, ask me about the Republicans and politics.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Mark's Book Tour, Day #1

October 5, 2006
Today was the day I began my so-called "book tour," if you want to call it that. Essentially I've got a list of the bookstores in the state of Michigan and I'm going to try to visit most of them and sign stock if they've got it and ask them to order books if they don't. Joe Konrath's Tour 500 Record is safe from me. I might hit 50 this year, but 500 is incredibly unlikely. Hey, maybe next book.

Borders Express at Great Lakes Crossing was my first stop. They, unfortunately, did not have any of my books. Nor was I in their particular system. However, the two women who were running the story were fabulous and enthusiastic and gave me the corporate phone number to call to get into the system. I gave one of them--a big thriller fan-a copy of THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK and signed it for her and we chatted for a minute, then I was off, only minutes away to:

Borders. Also at Great Lakes Crossing, where my publisher was supposed to be paying co-op to have the books on the main table. Only there weren't any there. Or in the local authors section. Or in the new paperback section. There was one copy in the mystery section. I took it to the information desk, introduced myself, asked her if I could sign it and if there were more in stock. After checking the computer, she said there were more in stock, she wondered where. After some hunting she found four more copies way up high on shelves, you know the ones you have to reach by ladders, waaaaayyyyy up there. She brought them down, asked me for ID (polite about her paranoia, anyway) and allowed me to sign three of them. The other information desk lady bought a copy right there, and I signed it for her. The two unsigned copies (I don't get it, but who's to argue) went back into the mystery section, and two of the signed copies went back up on the front table, or on the front Local Authors section. I said hello to two other employees and gave them brochures. One of the guys said, "Oh yeah, I saw that book. I think we sold it." [There's a business model thing going on here that makes me want to slit my wrists, but I'll discuss it at a later date]. I said thanks and left. Had lunch, then went to:

Barnes & Noble in Rochester Hills. They didn't have any in stock. I waited in line at the information desk (which was unmanned) with a few other people until the woman showed up. I let her handle the other folks, then introduced myself, told her I was a local author, and showed her a copy of the book. She looked it up to make sure it was in the B&N system (it was) and told me she'd order a couple copies for the store. I thanked her and asked her if she was interested in a copy of the book to read or give to someone interested in thrillers. She said no. Since she acted a lot like she wished I was anywhere but standing by her, I politely said thank you and left the store.

Borders in Rochester Hills. Here I got my first real kind of eureka! moment. Right there on the front table were 4 copies. I picked them up, took 7 or 8 strides over to the information desk and introduced myself to the two gents working there and asked if it would be okay to sign them. One of them said yes and asked if I had a good pen for it. I held up my ballpoint, but he said he'd go get their fine-point felt and handed me some Autographed Copies stickers. I also told him I hadn't had a chance to see if there were any other books in the store. He said he'd check. It turns out they'd sold one already. I signed the books, put the stickers on, thanked them kindly, put the books back on the front table and drove home. They acted as if authors showed up every day to sign stock, and maybe they do.

So far so good. Compared to the many book signings, luncheon talks and library talks I've given over the years, this feels remarkably stress-free and productive. The whole thing, including lunch probably took 2-1/2 hours and I met nine booksellers, visited four stores, sold one book, gave away one book, and signed seven.

Mark Terry

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Dreams of the Awake

October 4, 2006
I wrote yesterday about point of view, and how I had been more conscious of this because of Robert Gregory Browne's comments on this. Rob weighed in to say now he felt insecure about it and I commented back that I had been thinking about it because of comments he made on his blog. A literary Catrch-22, I suppose.

All of which makes it sound as if writers are conscious of every little detail, of the depth of our characterizations, the distance of our POV, the percentage of dialogue, etc., as we write.

I doubt it.

As I write "I doubt it" my brain is saying, "Well..."

Here's the thing. When I write my first drafts, I'm writing a story as it occurs somewhere in my head. I don't really "see" it like a movie, not exactly, but I do, well, "see it." A part of me, a very integral part of me, is not sitting in the chair at my desk typing at the computer. A part of me is off wherever the story is, in the case of ANGELS FALLING, in a Colorado resort being held hostage by a group of terrorists. (Although sometimes I'm in the PEOC in the East Wing of the White House, or at Guantanamo Bay, or in the cockpit of a Navy jet over the Gulf of Mexico--it's a far more exotic life than a basement office in a Detroit suburb might suggest).

As I write, I try to get the hell out of my own way. I try to get the story down and not worry too much about things like technique and grace. Over the years I have trained my brain to describe actions in a reasonably efficient, graceful, effective manner, and I'm not thinking too much about it. I'm trying to imagine more thoroughly, to puzzle out the story, to get important details... does the catwalk quiver and shake as Derek crawls along it; how much pain is he in from the various assaults he's experienced; what is the taste of adrenaline like and how does his fear manifest itself; is the air filled with dust from various explosions, can he see, does it make his eyes water, his sinuses clog, does it make him sneeze? What is the bad guy thinking as he conducts what is most assuredly a suicide mission? What does he feel? What is it like to take an MP-5 in hand and threaten the most powerful people in the world with their own deaths?

All those things and more are what I'm trying to EXPERIENCE as I write my first drafts, hoping to create that metamorphosis that a writer and reader cherishes--my dreams transferred to paper so the reader can experience them. And I want them to be as effective as possible so the reader's experience is a memorable, powerful one.

It's later, when I'm re-writing, tweaking, polishing, that I'm thinking things like:

Did the POV shift? Do I need more internal dialogue or less? I used "main" three times in that paragraph. Use something else. I've used "slammed" too many times. Use something else. Is that character responding too much like that other character? He seems like a cardboard cutout--at least tell us his hair color and something about how he's dressed or his nicotine craving or his stomach pains.

The first I think is art. It's magic and it's totally addictive. The latter is also art, but it's even more craft, the attention to a million details that have no written rules, no objective guidelines, no real way of saying, "Yes, that works, it's perfect."

So I and all these other people writing about writing try to suggest that it's more than a gut reaction, that there are rules. And some of it is logical and some of it is a gut reaction based on reading thousands of books and writing millions of words and internalizing what works (we hope) and what doesn't.

But the dreams... they're glorious, aren't they?

Mark Terry

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Deep Point of View

October 3, 2006
As I'm wrapping up my final draft of ANGELS FALLING, the third Derek Stillwater novel, I keep thinking of Robert Gregory Browne's comments that he writes from deep point of view. That means that although he may use multiple points of view, all observations are from the point of view character.

Essentially I do this as well, although the distance I have from the narrative varies more than I want it to. That is to say, I try to keep the observations in the narrative to seem as if they are coming from the POV character, but sometimes I wander out into a more omniscient pov. (Hell, sometimes I've noted that I've wandered into other character's pov's unintentionally, and I have to change that--shame on me).

Chapter 75 began this way:

Robert Mandalevo stood up and walked toward where Maria was sprawled on the floor. Pablo Juarez glared at him, gun raised. "What are you doing?"

Mandalevo gestured to Maria. "She's injured. I'm going to help her get comfortable. May I?"

* * *

All right. Nothing wrong with that and the narrator doesn't get in the way of the story. It's rather minimalist. Sometimes what they do and say is all you need, but often you need more, so in my rewrite it went like this:

Robert Mandalevo stood up and walked toward where Maria was sprawled on the floor. It occurred to him that leaving that chair might be the bravest thing he did in his entire life. He knew by rising to his feet he was painting a bull's-eye on his chest. He briefly thought of his daughters and kept walking.

Pablo Juarez glared at him, gun raised. "What are you doing?"

Mandalevo gestured to Maria. Everything about his body language and tone of voice was neutral and non-threatening. At least he hoped so. "She's injured. I'm going to help her get comfortable. May I?"

* * *
Often my rough drafts don't have enough. As I'm going through I'm writing what I see in my head, but not digging deep enough into the pov character's mind and emotions. I'm better about this with my main character, Derek Stillwater, but in subsequent drafts I find I have to work harder to bring the other characters' hearts & minds into the story. Of course, you can get a great deal of information about the characters by what they say and do and I try to have that be the primary conveyance of thoughts and emotions--just like in real life. There's a balance to be made, too. If you've got too much internal thoughts and emotions going on, it tends to slow the story down, and if you're not careful what you're doing, the reader can get so bogged down in what the character is thinking and feeling that they lose the thread of the story. You get so caught up in the character's feelings about his daughters and the argument he had with his boss and that time he burned himself camping when he was 9 years old that you lose track of the fact he's in a hostage situation being threatened by a psychopath with a hair trigger.

Don't do that. Keep your focus on the story. That advice will serve you well.

Mark Terry

Monday, October 02, 2006

National Book Festival

October 2, 2006
As mentioned earlier, I was in Washington DC the last few days. I had plans to go to Bouchercon in Madison, WI, but a client was hosting a conference in DC and since at the moment I make more money from them than I do my novels, off I went to DC, family in tow. I took 3 copies of THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK, thinking I might offer them to booksellers as a hey-here-I-am, or to somebody who asked me what was going on with the books.

Then I found out there was the National Book Festival, or Festival of the Book, and I thought it might be possible to talk to the booksellers there or...

The NBF took place on Saturday, September 30 from 10:00 AM to I believe 6:00 PM. There were a bunch of big white tents set up on the Mall between basically the Capitol and the Washington Monument. That's in between the Smithsonian Castle and the Air & Space Museum on one side and the National Museum of Natural History on the other side. There was a big tent for Mysteries/Thrillers where guest speakers were going to speak and sign books. The guests were Harlan Coben, Vince Flynn, Scott Turow, Michael Connelly, Kathy Reich and others. Each of them had a 50 minute scheduled appearance.

There were other tents: Childrens, History, Teens/Young Adult, Fiction & Fantasy, etc. Each had their own guest speakers scheduled to talk and sign books. There was a big tent for book sales, which is where I made the initial approach, only to find it un-opened. There were, however, 3--coincidence?--readers/book buyers waiting at the front. It was clear to me by this point that there was no way I was going to get to the booksellers here, busy as they were, and it wasn't even clear to me that those present were even booksellers, but volunteers who knew how to run a cash register. Anyway, I turned to the three people, introduced myself, showed them the book and asked them if they would be interested in a free book. They were, so I signed copies of Pitchfork for them, chatted a minute, and went about my tourist-y way. Good karma, at the least, I hope.

Now, later on in the day, when we had trooped from the Capitol to the White House to the Washington, WWII and Lincoln Memorials and into various museums, we wrapped up our day by slipping into the book sales tent.

What I discovered immediately was that the books for sale were exclusively those published by the invited speakers. In most cases, they were only the current books by those authors. For instance, they had Michael Connelly's "Crime Beat" and "The Lincoln Lawyer," but there weren't any of his other books, like "The Black Echo."

Now, I think the idea of a NBF is probably a good idea, and there were certainly a fair number of folks down at the Mall checking things out. How many? Well, a lot, though to be honest, I was expecting larger crowds. I've seen bigger crowds at county fairs and significantly bigger crowds at rock concerts and sporting events. Still, thousands of people showed up over an 8-hour period to be around authors and books, and that's a positive thing.

I was dismayed to find that the only books being sold in the book sales tent were by guest authors. And that's not sour grapes by someone who wasn't invited and may never be. It seems like a massive lost opportunity and a disconcerting promotional plum for people who are already selling more books than anybody else anyway. Yes, if you're going to draw a crowd, you need big, brand name authors. But still...

I was also thinking how damned cerebral this thing was in many ways. C-SPAN's Book TV was there handing out book bags and bottles of water, and the Magic School Bus was there and they had a merry-go-round, but what I thought they needed was a rock band, and not the Rock Bottomed Remainders, but somebody good to bring in another 10,000 people, some of whom might wander over to the books.

I note that Janet Evanovich turns her signings into a party with caterers and a band, clearly wanting the word "fun" to be associated with the name "Janet Evanovich."

And where the hell was the food? There are cafes in the museums and a couple blocks further out there are restaurants, but we only saw one tent offering "Chinese Fare," as well as the usual snack trucks around. What? They needed another big tent tied into cookbooks and food books that was like a taste festival.

So it was interesting. But it seems to me that it was aimed so clearly at book lovers, that it missed an opportunity to create book lovers out of people who might have come for the fun and stayed for the books.

Mark Terry