Mark Terry

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hasta la Vista, Baby!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Jon Stewart, Watch Out

August 30, 2008
So, my youngest son, Sean, age 10, provided some political commentary today.

His name for Senator John McCain:

Mr. Stinky Fish Face

His name for Senator Barack Obama:

The Big O

He shortened it to: Mr. B.O.

When shown a photograph of Senator Joe Biden he said: "Who's that? It looks like Senator McCain."

To which his older brother said, "Only younger."

We haven't shown him a photo of Governor Sarah In-Way-Over-Her-Head Palin, but I can't wait.

Mark Terry

Aerial Boundaries

August 30, 2008
Not everyone's cup of tea, but I love it.


Friday, August 29, 2008


August 29, 2008
Back on Monday I wrote on Erica Orloff's blog about sending out a message to the universe that I was going to have an extraordinary week.

So this week my novel The Serpent's Kiss got in book reviewer Dennis Collins' Top 10 Reads list for 2008.

I completed my book-length market research report (2 months ahead of the deadline!)

Picked up one new client definitely and probably a second.

Got an e-mail from a literary agent yesterday about potentially doing some ghostwriting and/or collaborating.

And last night these landed on my front porch:

That would be the Slavik translation of The Devil's Pitchfork (a hardcover, no less!) and the French translation of The Serpent's Kiss. There should still be a French version of The Devil's Pitchfork out in the wild somewhere and the German version of Pitchfork comes out in September.

Not just cool.

Definitely (wait for it)...


Mark Terry

p.s. Hope y'all have an extraordinary weekend.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


August 28, 2008

I finished the book-length biz report today and sent it in and invoiced for it. Ten minutes later (I mean--literally, 10 minutes later!) a literary agent e-mailed me about potentially collaborating/ghosting a book, we talked, we'll see. Probably not this time (although you never know), but my name's definitely in the pile.

So I'm tired. And excited. And I've got maybe one more thing that I HAVE to do today and then I think it's time for a 4-day weekend before I jump into some work for a new client and a couple old clients next week.

So, my best regards for Labor Day and especially all those folks in Florida, Louisiana and Texas--this song's for you.

Mark Terry

Independent Publishers

August 28, 2008
Zoe left me a comment on the bestseller blog post from the other day and I started answering and realized it would make a decent blog post in itself, so here goes:

I'm not sure I would say I'm not a fan of the "indie" way in that my first novel, Dirty Deeds, was published by a small independent press, formerly High Country, now called, I believe, Ingalls Publishing.

In fact, for a year or two I reviewed books for ForeWord Magazine, which is essentially Publishers Weekly aimed at the independent publishing market.

I can't always define "independent press." I someone ironically defined it as not being owned by Bertelsmann, Disney, or Rupert Murdoch. By that definition, I believe Kensington is an "independent press" although by all other definitions Kensington is no more independent than Bantam (part of Random, which is owned by Bertelsmann, which is a Germany-based publishing conglomerate with publishing houses all over the world).

In fact, I think independent publishers are great. Here's my problem with them:

They have no money.
Typically they have poor distribution, ie., they can't get your books into bookstores.
They're understaffed, which means they're slow.

Let's take each one at a time and I'll provide my opinions and experiences. Your mileage may vary.

They have no money.
I gave a talk to some would-be writers several years ago and asked them what a publisher was. Then I gave them probably the only definition of a publisher that anyone needs:

A publisher is someone with money that wants to publish something.

Bantam, for instance, is a publishing house and they have a lot of money. I don't know who's running Bantam these days, but they're part of Random, Inc., which is owned by Bertelsmann. The point being, anyway, that someone up the line has a few billion dollars rattling around in their vaults and they decided they wanted to turn their few billion dollars (or marks or euros, as the case may be) into, hopefully, several billion dollars. (Versus the old joke, How do you make a small fortune in publishing? Start with a large fortune.)

Unfortunately, a lot of indie publishers are underfunded. It's a labor of love and they thought it would be nifty to publish books because they love books and they're enamored with the idea of being a publisher and by golly, maybe they'll even make a ton of money doing it. (In which case, don't try to publish fiction, for God sakes!). So they typically don't pay an advance, or if they do, it's very small because all their money is going into production, and they probably can't afford a really great cover artist so they hire their niece or they use clipart, and then they really can't afford to warehouse your spare books so they use their garage or they try to get you to warehouse them and sell them out of the back of your car on consignment. And then they discover that any ads, mailings, etc. are expensive and what they assumed was a business with very low overhead starts to look like any other business with hidden costs and advanced reading copies are pricey and most aren't reviewed anyway, and a booth at the Book Expo of America costs thousands of dollars and the freelance copyeditor they did (or did not) hire wants more money (or some) and...

Actually, the publishers of Dirty Deeds weren't too bad about this (except for maybe the cover art). They did not pay advances, however and they did encourage me (it wasn't required) to take some copies and hand-sell them on consignment. (I did, 500, and I sold about half until this year I gave up and donated them to an outfit that sends books to troops overseas).

But before Dirty Deeds I had a novel called Blood Secrets, which was picked up to be published by Write Way Publishing, a small publisher out of  Colorado. They were gaining a reputation, they published in hardcover, they had some award nominations, she flipped for real money for classy cover art by one of the top book cover artists and then...

Well, she overextended, made some strategic mistakes, found herself with $100,000+ in returns and declared bankruptcy. Luckily for me (I think), before Blood Secrets was published, so she just released the rights to me. For other authors, she was unwilling to release the rights because she was hoping to squeeze every penny out of any potential movie or paperback sales in order to get out from under the creditors. I believe the remaining writers eventually sued her, but I don't have details other than a general dissatisfaction for everybody.

They have poor distribution.
In the U.S., bookstores and libraries essentially get their books from two places: Ingram and Baker & Taylor. Ingram mostly handles books for bookstores, B&T mostly for libraries. If you're an indie and you want to get your books distributed by them, you gotta pay and you gotta apply but mostly, remember, Ingram and B&T make their money through volume, so they're not all that excited when a small press applies that's only publishing 5 or 6 books a year and selling 1000 copies.

There are other distributors and it's something of a growing area and the number of small presses appears to be tipping the hands of Ingram and B&T, but distribution is a huge freakin' problem for indies. Dirty Deeds was distributed primarily, I think, by Biblio. Last summer I did a library talk and the bookseller who was selling books there couldn't get copies of Dirty Deeds, so as a result, there weren't any there to be sold. Welcome to distribution issues. (Years back I read a column by a writer who'd had his first book published by Penguin and he asked them at the time why his book wasn't in grocery stores or airports and they told him Penguin books were only at bookstores. As he put it, if you want a Penguin, go to a bookstore or Antarctica.)

Midnight Ink, at least on the surface, seemed to be okay with distribution. Their parent company, Llewellyn, is something like the world's 2nd or 1st largest publisher of new age and tarot books and although booksellers I talked to never heard of Midnight Ink, they almost all heard of Llewellyn. (This pointed as well to a certain branding issue, but that's beyond this post). Still, my books didn't always end up in the bookstores, even when I was notifying them locally, etc. That has something to do with sales, reviews, etc.. Bookstores are funny. If you're a Borders or B&N, et al., and the first book sells, say, 4 copies that they optimistically ordered, they don't seem to say, "Oh, he sold all 4, let's order more." They sit. Then the next book comes out and they look at the computer record and see the last book sold 4 copies, so they order... 3. Or 2. Unless you're a monster success or have been frontlisted on a major publishers catalogue. It's a particularly dispiriting way that booksellers' computer systems have been set up to kill writer's careers and actually sell fewer books, but again, let's not go there today.

Welcome to publishing.

They're understaffed, which means they're slow.
High Country, the folks that published Dirty Deeds, consisted of the Ingalls, one editor and an office manager and a part-time marketing guy.

Typically what happens these days is that once writers and aspiring writers discover there's an indie publisher who accepts unagented manuscripts, they swarm them. And suddenly the (one) editor receives 300 manuscripts a week.

Now, one of the best small presses around is Poison Pen Press, run by Barbara Peters (owner of the Poison Pen Bookstore in, I think it's Phoenix, AZ, although it might be Scottsdale) and her husband Robert (Rosenwald?), who is a businessman. Things may have changed a bit in recent years, but 4 or 5 years ago here's how PPP worked. You sent in a partial, it was sent to a cadre of pre-editors who then took months and months to read the manuscript and/or told you to get lost or to read the full. Then more months passed. Then, if a majority approved it, they send it on to Barbara, who spends months and months reading it before, in my case, rejecting it. In my case, twice, I believe, the entire process took 13 to 15 months. Also, this is a personal take, but one that's sort of a core of truth at most of publishing:

In both cases the pre-editors loved--and I really mean loved; the coordinator, a guy with the unlikely name of Monty Montee, told me he'd never seen a manuscript that received such universal nods and thumbs-ups from the review board--the manuscript, which then went to Barbara who turned it down.

Well, it's her company, she can do what she wants, right?

Compare this to dealing with the big houses via an agent, response time is typically 2 to 4 weeks, with 4 weeks being the most common timeframe. (4 weeks or never, I say somewhat ruefully).

And I never quite know what to make of a small press that demands you not send your manuscript to someone else while they consider it, then take a year to get around to reading it. They argue they don't want to waste their time... but apparently it's okay if the writer does.

Oh well.

So, am I opposed to small presses? No. I'm grateful to them. But at this point in my career, they're not the way to go for a variety of reasons I won't go into here. If your goal is primarily to get published, I think indies are awesome. Are they easier to break into? I used to think so, but I'm not sure that's really true any more. Too many good writers, a lot of them who fell off the big publisher wagon and are looking for a place to land.

If you have bills to pay and are trying to make a living writing (like, say, me), then indies can be a problem.

My suspicion is that we're going to see more and more indies (because the technology and the Internet makes it easy, or at least relatively easier), partly because the big publishing houses don't make enough money to warrant publishing books that sell fewer than 5000 copies (which is most of them). So they're going to publish blockbusters they can make millions off and leave everything else to the indies. And if the indies start making money or have a blockbuster...

The big publishing houses will buy them or throw lots of money at the writer to entice them away.

Mark Terry

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

F-Stop Blues

August 26, 2008
Yes, I'm working on this song. No, I don't look or sound like Jack.

Yes, I have the F-stop blues.

Mark Terry

How To Be A Bestseller

August 26, 2008
(As if I know).

I had a revelation this morning of sorts. It may be a BS revelation, after all, but it was something of a revelation. I think it struck me in the shower, as many ideas do (why is that, anyway?). I was thinking about various story ideas and what I needed to do today and my reminder from Erica Orloff's blog yesterday that something "extraordinary" is going to happen to me this week and I thought...

It might not be enough to just like an idea.

I imagine most novelists have this attraction to various story ideas for a plethora of reasons and they may sound like, "this really appeals to me," or "I thought it was cool" or "wouldn't it be funny if..." or "this is a really commercial hook."

And I wondered:

I'm really busy. I'm working full time. I've got two kids and school starts next week. One's in marching band and is going to require I pick him up after school every day and he has rehearsals at night twice a week and performances almost every Friday night. I'm taking guitar lessons. I workout at the gym, bike, run, take karate. I'm married so there's a wife to tend to, plus all the various household duties, etc.

In fact, most people are busy and in my experience, most people aren't as organized as I am.

So what sort of story ideas do I have that would convince someone whose life is a cup running over to shell out $25 and stay up late reading it? What would convince them that, even though they're got a PTO meeting to go to, they'll stay in the car 5 minutes reading the book before going in? What story ideas do I have that can convince them is more interesting or entertaining or titillating or whatever than the new lineup on Dancing With The Stars. They're tired, all they want to do is turn off their brain and stop wondering how they're going to get everything done.

What are you offering them?

And it occurred to me: maybe not that much. That, as a matter of fact, just because I think it's a cool idea, it has to be more than a cool idea to get them to read it.

As many of you know, I recently completed a novel aimed at middle grades and I asked a number of people to read the manuscript. By and large, the majority of people did. (Thank you, thank you, thank you.) It even got passed along to one or two people who read it. (Extra thank you). But a couple of people who said they would, well, they never got around to it. (Oddly enough, those tend to be people I actually know fairly well--go figure).

I think that's human nature and I frankly don't get upset about it (rueful and bemused, yes, upset, no). But I think it's indicative of what writers are up against.

So really, how great--really, how great?--is your story? What are you offering them that's better than what they've already got? Because the competition isn't really other books and authors. It's life. It's the whole freakin' universe you're competing with. 

Mark Terry

Monday, August 25, 2008

Pleased As Punch...

August 25, 2008
Does that come from Punch and Judy? Because otherwise, I don't think it makes any sense at all.

Anyway, I'm delighted that reviewer Dennis Collins at listed my novel, The Serpent's Kiss, among his top 10. I'm in mighty fine company on that list. (Blush, blush). Thanks, Dennis!

Dennis Collins

  1. A Thousand Bones - P J Parrish
  2. Big City, Bad Blood - Sean Chercover
  3. Dead Street - Mickey Spillane
  4. Echo Park - Michael Connely
  5. Requiem for an Assassin - Barry Eisler
  6. The Serpent's Kiss - Mark Terry
  7. City of the Absent - Robert W. Walker
  8. Blonde Faith - Walter Mosely
  9. Real Murders - Charlaine Harris
  10. Murder off the Books - Evelyn David

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Senator Joe Biden

August 24, 2008
So, Barack Obama chose Joe Biden for VP. Interesting and not surprising, except...

Biden has a reputation, as it is described in Dana Milbank's "Homo Politicus" for not having a speedbump between his brain and his mouth. So wait for it, he's bound to say something really, really stupid between now and November.

It's going to be interesting.

Now, McCain. (Mr. Inarticulate, a worthy heir to George W. Bush's lack of verbal coherence). What do you think? Romney? My bet is Romney, in an attempt to look young and presidential and possibly help deliver Michigan. (Keeping in mind that McCain will probably be remembered most in Michigan for more or less saying, "Those manufacturing jobs are gone forever, get over it." It's probably true, but I mean, really, is that how you run for office?)

Mark Terry

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Kids--Especially Boys--And Reading

August 23, 2008
Great link here for everybody who has kids. (And even those who don't). Or those who are kids. Hmmm...

Mark Terry

Friday, August 22, 2008

Narcissistic, Gratuitous and Self-Promotional

August 22, 2008
Over on the BookEnds blog, Jessica Faust put out some random thoughts, and one of them was a comment that someone had accused the blog of being "narcissistic, gratuitous and self-promotional" and after giving it some thought, Jessica decided that pretty much described all blogs.

I can' tell you how much her comment amused me. When asked why he blogged, Keith Snyder once commented, "I just like to write about myself."

To Jessica's post I commented that "narcissistic, gratuitous and self-promotional" probably described most novels.

I'm sure it's a comment a lot of aspiring--and even published novelists--will be offended by. This work of mine, this labor of love, this baby is not just a vanity project, it's awesome, it's something the world needs, people's lives will be made better by it, they will be uplifted, enlightened...


And undoubtedly readers will benefit from your work with stronger bones and a glossy coat.

Do you believe that? Do you think the world needs another novel?

Honestly. Do you?

Because if some weird selective strain of Ebola wiped out every novelist and publisher in the world today, I could still go to the local library or Borders store and read a novel a day that I've never read before and do so for the rest of my life without repeating myself.

That isn't to say the world might not benefit from your novel. Or want your novel. Or hell, the world is filled up with narcissistic, gratuitous and self-promotional things. Did we really need a film remake of "The Beverly Hillbillies"? Was the 4th Indiana Jones film necessary? What about this lovely little low-keyed film coming out today called "Death Race"? Does the world need that?

Uh, no. Need doesn't have a lot to do with it.

Try to keep the reader in mind. Entertain yourself. Try not to delude yourself.

Mark Terry

p.s. And what is the deal with that chick's hair?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Panning For Gold

August 21, 2008
At this point in time, I've got a nonfiction book proposal being read by an agent. I have a middle-grades novel manuscript out in the ether, I'm trying to wrap up a book-length business report, I'm in the middle of editing an issue of a technical journal, and I have two assignments due at the end of September, one a trade journal article, the other a couple profiles and directories to pull together.

So I'm also looking for work, sending out queries.

But I'm also trying to figure out what to do for the fiction and nonfiction book thing.

I've got a file going on a nonfiction book topic that is out there, way off my areas of expertise about a Dutch ship that sailed to Australia in the 1600s and had some very bizarre things happen to it and its crew. It actually might make a better historical novel, but this sort of falls into the this-is-so-weird-it-caught-my-attention category. I don't know if I'll actually do anything with it, but it's interesting.

I've got about 200 pages of a novel that takes place in China done and it's more or less stalled. I don't know what the problem is, but I can't seem to bring myself to work on it. Either it's an orphan or I'll get inspired in the future to finish it. I don't know.

An idea for a character and a setting (Galveston), but no real plot, at least not yet.

A handful of novel ideas, including a police procedural I haul out every 6 months or so and tinker with. A tech thriller that I tinker with from time to time as well.

And I've had an idea for another middle-grades novel and last night I started it. It was fun and at the moment, that's more or less what I'm looking for until some of these other things gel.

Of course, there are multiple things going on here. One is that I'm looking for the idea that inspires me the most. In fact, the idea for this book is one my son had, but I discussed his idea for it (since he "borrowed" my idea for iWolf, which I was calling I, Wolf) to see how different our ideas were and he's cool with me running with it. I'm also, naturally, hoping that whatever I dig into might be publishable. This is becoming a bigger and bigger concern for me because I'm getting tired of writing novels that don't get published. Yeah, you, too? Well, imagine that you did get novels published for a while and then it stopped for a bit. Trust me, it gets harder after that point, not easier. In theory it's easier because you know it can be done, but you're perceived a little differently by publishers at this point and there are both pros and cons to that perception.

Anyway, we'll see what happens.

How about you? What's on your plate?

Mark Terry

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Goals & Faith

August 20, 2008
I wrote this post in November 2006 and it's just about true now as it was then. (Except the screenplay part. That was a passing fancy). Enjoy.

Mark Terry


Goals & Faith
November 22, 2006
I'm going to make an assumption that the majority of the readers of this blog are people who are writing novels but aren't yet published. I know some readers are already published. If you're in that first category, I imagine that you have been through a fairly typical experience of having been repeatedly rejected by agents, repeatedly rejected by publishers. I've been there. Although I don't often advertise the fact, I have something like 10 unpublished manuscripts laying around. It puts me in a big club--Jonathan Kellerman, Stephen King, Joe Konrath and a whole bunch of others who have a trunk full of unpublished (and probably unpublishable) manuscripts.

I'm here today to tell you that you can make it. That if you have the goal of eventually getting your novel published, that yes, persistence and constantly trying to improve your craft will eventually win out and you will get published. I believe it and you need to as well.

I'm quite confident that any of you CAN get published. I'm not as confident that you WILL get published. That's up to you, mostly. Luck definitely plays a factor, but you can mitigate luck by working the odds in your favor--be persistent and learn to write well. Changing CAN to WILL is tougher and only you can control that.

Then you're on to your next goal, aren't you?

Which is kind of where I'm at today. After spending most of two decades wanting to get published and making my living as a writer, I'm now regularly getting published (novels as well as nonfiction), and I'm making a living (quite decent) as a writer. My dream come true in so many, many ways.


I, naturally, want more. Seems to be human nature. Not just more money (which would certainly be nice, but is not required), but my goal is to make a living as a novelist. Another goal is to publish more than one book a year, perhaps the second under a pseudonym. I might write at some other time about this compulsion to write more than one novel a year, but since I don't completely understand it myself, it will just have to wait for another time. I have gotten it into my head lately that I would like to write a screenplay. After all, I have 10 or so unpublished novels sitting around, most of which are perfectly good stories just not told well enough, and I might have the writing chops now to figure out what I did wrong and be able to do some of them in a different format. Maybe. We'll see. My initial approach to that is to read a number of screenplays to see if I can get that type of storytelling straight in my head.

Anyway, I was having a down moment yesterday for no other reason than because a writer is often his or her's own worst enemy, and I was thinking, well, the Derek Stillwater novels are doing reasonably well and you have a good career going even if some of these clients are driving you nuts, and this ISN'T going to happen, and this ISN'T going to happen, and you're kidding yourself with the screenplays, and...

There can be a pretty pessimistic, gloomy bastard of a dark angel on my shoulder from time to time, and I'm better off telling that prick to fuck off and go away.

Which is what I did this morning while fixing my breakfast of Corn Flakes and toast. I started getting into the "what are you wasting your time for" thought processes, and thought:

"This is bullshit. You didn't get to where you are now thinking this way. You were convinced it would happen, you were willing to work hard and do what needed to be done until you achieved your goal, no matter how long it took."

Ahem. Get it?

So I told myself, "Just do it. Work on these things. You'll get there."

And I'll see YOU THERE when YOU get THERE.

Mark Terry

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Come For The Writer...

August 19, 2008
Stay for the monkey.

Hey, if I had anything to say, I'd say it.

Mark Terry

Monday, August 18, 2008


August 18, 2008
My friend Erica Orloff and I had an e-mail conversation this weekend about violence in fiction. She calls it "torture porn" and we both agree that there are limits and that a lot of it bugs us. To read her thoughts on it and my over-long comment, click on the link.

But that's not what what I'm writing about today.

I got to thinking about this because of the author in question (Not Erica, but JA Konrath). I, like many of you, have favorite authors. You probably have a bunch that, when their books come out, you've either ordered them in advance from Amazon or you rush out to the bookstore on the first day or first week and pick up their books.

Even, maybe, if you haven't liked their last couple books. This could be because the books sucked, or as I've noticed in myself recently, I've changed and seemed to have grown out of some authors. (A topic for a different day, I think).

Stephen King is an example of this for me. I still respect him a lot, but I don't really read his new books too often. From time to time he'll get one out where I think, "Hmmm, that sounds interesting" and I'll go pick it up, but I used to buy his books in hardcover as soon as they came out.

Ridley Pearson, same thing.

A better example for me is James Lee Burke. When I discovered him around his 4th book or so, I ate them up, hunted down his earlier books and couldn't wait for the next. And abruptly, I stopped. In this case I can pinpoint it. He started another series featuring a Texas Ranger, and I reviewed it. And for some weird reason, it killed James Lee Burke for me. Part of it was the realization that Burke was using pretty much the same tricks and they were suddenly transparent to me. But there may have been other reasons.

What I'm getting at here is that sometimes I feel a loyalty to an author and I buy their books for reasons that don't necessarily have anything to do with the book. I felt that way about Tom Kakonis, who wrote a couple brilliant thrillers than wandered into some areas I didn't enjoy, but I kept buying his books because I felt I owed him--we'd corresponded a bit when I was trying to break in. 

This is more common now with blogs and the Internet because we feel like we know the writers when they respond to an e-mail or respond to a blog comment. But I've been going through an odd period in my reading life where authors and genres I used to obsess about aren't satisfying me the way they used to. I don't think it's the authors, I think it's me. I'm changing and so are my reading habits. And yet, I'll pick up a book by them...

Even when maybe I don't want to.


Mark Terry

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Women Of A Certain Age...

August 17, 2008
We watched the Olympics last night. The winner of the women's Marathon was Constantina Tomescu-Dita, who, as it turns out, is 38 years old.

We also watched some swimming and watched the amazing Dara Torres get the silver in the 50-meter splash & dash. Dara is 41 years old (older than the combined ages of the gold and bronze medalists!).

To which I can only say, Women Of A Certain Age...

You Rock!

Mark Terry

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Early BIrd, Or...

August 16, 2008
...a day in the life of a freelance writer (so far).

Yes, it's Saturday. Yes, last week I was on vacation. Vacations are funny things for self-employed people because you always end up paying for it later.

I've got a big project due on November 1. My goal is to have it done on September 1. Why? Well, first, I'd like to get it out of my hair. And second, I'd really like to get paid for it and sooner rather than later.

So, today...

7:00-get up, shower, eat breakfast

7:45--at my desk, writing

8:30--re-setting my router because the Internet's not working

8:35--back at my desk, writing

11:00--go grocery shopping with Leanne

12:30--unload and put away groceries

1:00--go out to Mexican restaurant for lunch. Eat too much.

2:00--back home. Screw around with the Internet for a while, blog.

2:45--take a 15-minute break before commencing upon the house cleaning

Glamorous, huh?

Mark Terry

Friday, August 15, 2008

Think About Yourself

August 15, 2008
Halfway through August? What happened to this month?

Anyway, before I went on vacation I shot out some statistics about book publishing in the nonfiction arena. Jude commented that unless we had particular expertise or an MD or PhD in a particular area, we weren't qualified to write these books.


I respectfully disagree.

Yes, if you read Nathan Bransford's blog (you should), his post on "platform" suggests that if you're not the world's leading expert on any particular subject, you don't have enough platform to write a nonfiction book. My problem with that is the notion that there's only one leading expert on any given topic, and what that means about some really amazing nonfiction like "The Hot Zone" by Richard Preston, who is not, as a matter of fact, the leading expert on the Ebola virus. He's just a very good writer with a strong interest in science. Bransford suggests that if you're not a celebrity chef with a TV cooking show, you shouldn't write a cookbook. If you're not the head of the Human Genome Project, you shouldn't write a book on genetics. If you're not a soldier, you shouldn't write about the military. He also hints that this is starting to happen in fiction.

God save us all, if that's the truth.

I still believe we need writers and good ones, to make sense of things.

Anyway, my point here is that if you're going to write nonfiction, and for the moment let's put aside nonfiction books and consider shorter nonfiction like magazine articles, it helps to have some expertise. When my brother quizzed me about writing because his oldest son wants to be a writer, asking me what I thought about English degrees, what I said was Tobias Buckell would be a better person to ask (they're friends, my brother and Tobey) because Tobey had an English degree and is a writer. I have a degree in microbiology. I said that I was ambivalent about the English degree. My brother, Pete, laughed and said that's exactly what Tobey said.

I commented that the advantage of having a degree in something besides English was it more or less automatically gave you something to write about. An English degree doesn't, necessarily, do that, and in fact, because you haven't necessarily been exposed to things like computers and science and business, but instead spent most of your degree reading and writing about works written by dead white guys, it might make it a little bit harder for you to write about the things people are primarily interested in paying for. 

I'm not slamming English degrees, exactly. They have their place and their role and their value, but I know an awful lot of good, professional writers who bypassed that path.

I'm wandering again.

Here's an example. Topics I could comfortably write about without having to do tons of research:

clinical diagnostics

Why? Because in my 44+ years on the planet I've had hands-on experience with all of these things. That doesn't mean I wouldn't have to interview an expert. Or 3 per article, as is often the case. But it means that, just by hanging in there, I've gained first-hand experience on a number of things, any of which I can write about.

I'm sure you can, too.

And you might consider making a list, because it's a great way of seeing that, as a matter of fact, you might have more of a "platform" than you thought you had. Enough to declare yourself an "expert" and get a book contract? Not necessarily.

But it's a place to start.

Mark Terry

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Vacation's Over, Boo-Hoo

August 14, 2008
Home again. Had a good vacation--as you can see, we apparently picked up an alien, but aside from that, good. Weather was so-so. Couple days rainy, one day cold, several days gorgeous. We managed.

So, we:

Played horseshoes.
Played tennis.
Played pool.
Played ping-pong.
Fished (Sean caught 14!).
Made S'Mores.
Went out for pizza.
Grilled chicken, burgers, ribs.
Ate: chips, crackers, popcorn, ice cream, cookies, above-mentioned S'Mores, candy orange slices (a vacation thing), plus a lot of other things.
Had a beer or two.
Watched the director's cut of "The Lord of the Rings" over 4 days.
Watched "The Incredibles."
Watched "Bullet-Proof Monk."
Watched the Olympics. I tend to favor odd sports like women's weight lifting (48kg division, all these 100 pound women lifting 230 pounds); badmitten; fencing; judo (didn't see enough of it, actually); sculling; and of course, women's beach volleyball because, well, I'm a guy. Gimme a break.
Slept in longer than expected on most days.
Read: The Kill Artist by David Silva; Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by JK Rowling; started Lean, Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich.
Did a little bit of work, but less than expected (or as little as I could get away with).
Obsessed about writing and agents (but less than I expected to).

Pretty much everything a vacation is supposed to be, I think. Now back to work.

Oh yeah, two checks were waiting for me when I got home. A real bonus.

Mark Terry

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Something to Contemplate

August 6, 2008
I'm going on a hiatus. Tonight I'll be chaperoning a cabin of 11 boys at marching band camp, then tomorrow I'll be trying to wrap up some work before going back to the camp for a performance. Then Friday we're taking off for a vacation and unlike last time, I'm not going to blog about it. I will, unfortunately, be taking my laptop, checking e-mail, and perhaps even working some (well, definitely some), but I'm going to try hard to get out of a work mindset.

Gee, you're missing me already, aren't you?

Anyway, while I'm gone, I wanted to provide some very basic statistics about the publishing industry. I got the raw data from some agent's website yesterday, but verified it from Bookwire today, although their most recent statistics are from 2004. Still, I doubt they have changed significantly.

Let me put it bluntly:

75% of the books published in the U.S. are nonfiction

People writing novels outnumber nonfiction book proposals by 10 to 1.

Let me say it a little differently:

Even though you stand three times the chance of getting a nonfiction book published than a novel, ten times the number of people writing nonfiction books are writing novels.

You can go to Bookwire and check the numbers yourself, but here are some old raw data.

In 2004, 195,000 books published in the U.S.

25,184 were adult fiction
21,516 were juvenile

That's about 24%.

The rest, in as much as they are described, are nonfiction of some sort.

Mark Terry

Coming to a bookstore...

August 6, 2008
Apparently the German translation of The Devil's Pitchfork will be published in Germany in September. As far as I can tell (my German is rusty), the title has been changed to The Poison of the Angels, or I suppose, The Angel's Poison.

I like the cover.

And I hope I actually get copies. The French version's been out a while and I have yet to get copies--typically the foreign publishers ship them to the agent who handled the deal, in this case the foreign rights person at Llewellyn, and then they send you and your agent copies. Given that they kicked me out the door, who knows?

There will be a Slovak edition out, too, but as far as I can tell, there's no Amazon in the Slovak Republic, or maybe I'm just not looking in the right place.

Anyway, this is pretty cool, actually.

Mark Terry

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I Would Like To Offer Representation...

August 5, 2008
Over on the BookEnds blog, agent Jessica Faust confesses to not being able to quite explain why she agrees or does not agree to represent an author. It made me wonder if I were an agent, what I might think. So here's today's challenge.

Look at your bookshelf and pick  5 or 10 books more or less at random, and tell me, if you were an agent in a tough market, based on your limited time and resources, what books you would and would not represent it they were a manuscript that crossed your desk. (Pretend they're a first novel, not someone with a track record or a known name). Here we go:

Bag of Bones by Stephen King. Yes, I would, but I would have some doubts about the length. Might suggest the author make some serious cuts to the first 100 or 150 pages before I offered representation.

Cold Springs by Rick Riordan. Probably not. I would recognize that it was good, the writing good, but it just didn't work well enough for me. "Didn't quite connect with the story," might be how I would respond.

"Billy Straight" by Jonathan Kellerman. Probably not. Although I recognize the strength of the writing and the concept, I have some difficulties with the subject matter.

"Hugger Mugger" by Robert B. Parker. An amusing, well-written P.I. novel with a backdrop of horse racing. Yes, I would represent this.

"Shark River" by Randy Wayne White. Absolutely. I'd snatch it up.

"Blasphemy" by Douglas Preston. I would have to really debate about this. The technology is interesting, as is the locale, and the ending is strong and thought-provoking, but the book sags in the middle, runs on too long, and tends to be preachy. My agreement to represent this book would depend on how the market was for tech thrillers at the time.

"Utopia" by Lincoln Child. Absolutely. I'd snatch it up in a minute, though I might suggest he cut the prologue before I market it.

"L.A. Requiem" by Robert Crais. Yes, though I might have some misgivings about his mix of first-person and third-person narrative, yet the crispness of the writing, the depth of the characterizations and the overall strength of the story would win me over.

Now, let me say for the record that I own and enjoyed all of these books (some more than others). And I think Rick Riordan's a good writer and I thought "Cold Springs" was a decent book, but if I were an agent and this manuscript crossed my desk, I don't think I would represent it. Over on the BookEnds blog I also mentioned "Bloody Mary" which is also a book I probably would not agree to represent.

What do you think?

Mark Terry

Monday, August 04, 2008

Speaking of Violence...

August 4, 2008
So, we were balancing our checkbook (okay, Leanne was balancing the checkbook) online and we noted a $50 check from DirecTV that didn't match up to our check numbers. And we don't have DirecTV.

So I went to my credit union today to bring this to their attention. And they tell me that someone at DirecTV must have misfiled it and I needed to contact them and straighten it out.

To which I glared in disgust and amazement and said, "Let me get this straight. I have to go to a company that I have no relationship with whatsoever and get them to straighten out my banking problem because my bank says it's not their problem."

She nodded, apparently understanding that this was not a completely satisfactory response. I stomped out and went home and got on the phone with...

Wait, wait, wait. Have you tried to get through to Customer Service at DirecTV? If you don't have an account with them, how exactly do you get past their automated response system that only has a single response: "What is the 10-digit phone number for this account?"

Swearing and telling the voicemail system that you don't have a f***ing account does not seem to get anywhere. Eventually, however, they roll you over to some person in Bangalore, India who tried to listen to me, told me it must be a case of fraud and she would transfer me, but if that didn't work, I should try calling Customer Service (which is what I thought I'd been doing when she picked up the damned phone!). So I get transferred to Fraud (I don't think it's fraud, I think it's incompetence), and get put in a seemingly terminal hold pattern for 15 or 20 minutes. Periodically it tells me I can leave a voicemail message by dialing #1 (but only sometimes, not all the time, because I tried it and it didn't always click over). When I finally do that, I'm told that the Fraud guy's voicemail box is full. If I could have left a message, it would have been filled with expletives.

So I slam down the phone and curse and glower for a while, then I try again, eventually getting  yet another moron in Bangalore, India who tells me it sounds like fraud, then puts me on hold for approximately 15 minutes and tells me he doesn't know what to do about it, but he'll transfer me to Fraud.

And then transfers me to Law Enforcement, which only takes calls from law enforcement agencies. To which I curse and hang up and give up for the day. Two unpaid hours of my workday that I'll never get back. To whom do I send the bill?

Tomorrow I will go back to the credit union and tell them they are welcome to fix this problem themselves and give them the phone number to DirecTV's so-called Customer Abuse department and I'll be glad to sit and wait while they do it, but if they don't, they otherwise need to close out all our accounts with them, since this is the second time this sort of thing has happened and clearly they are incompetent by letting people steal money from my account and doing nothing about it.


Mark Terry

Sunday, August 03, 2008

On Violence

August 3, 2008
My oldest son had expressed an interest in seeing the movie "Rambo" even though he hasn't seen any of the earlier movies or even read the book "First Blood" which I have on the shelf. I was moderately interested, so I queued it up on NetFlix and Friday night we started to watch it.

I say started because about 30 minutes in we had to pause the movie and put the solar blanket back on the pool between thunderstorms. After that pause, my wife, who declined to watch, asked how we liked it. I said, "Violent" and Ian agreed. Leanne commented that there was no obligation to finish watching it and I asked Ian if he wanted to. He said no. So I shut down the flick and dropped it back into its sleeve to be returned.

The violence in "Rambo" is intense. Right from the beginning, which shows actual news footage of killings and dead bodies in Myanmar (Burma) to the point where we left off, which is when the bad guys came through a village shooting, raping and machete-ing everyone in sight. Limbs were lopped off, blood sprayed, children were beaten to the ground and shot point-blank in the face and as far as I could tell, little if anything was left to the imagination. 

I am not necessarily overly-sensitive to violence in movies. A lot of it depends on tone and to my mind, the necessity of it. I found the opening 20 minutes of Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" to be almost unbearable, but honestly in keeping with everything that went on in that movie. There was no attempt to sugarcoat the horror of war. These men were in hell and Spielberg didn't want to suggest otherwise.

I think Stallone was probably attempting the same thing.

Sometimes I have no problems with that. Sometimes it bothers me a lot. Honestly, when it bothers me, I'm glad. I haven't lost that. I'm not so desensitized that a depiction of violence doesn't bother me.

And yet, Saturday night we went to see The Mummy III and there were sword fights and one guy gets sprayed with acid and one guy is drawn-and-quartered (mercifully not shown) and several people are blown up and shot and burned and two get crushed to death...

One could argue that I'm desensitized to violence because this didn't particularly bother me. The tone is different, of course, and we're in a comic book. (You would have thought we were in Batman, as well, but apparently the filmmakers were trying to break the comic book out of the comic book genre).

So, in novels, how do I feel? I'm not phased by it, usually. Actually, there have been exceptions. I wasn't able to read any of Rob Walker's novels due to the level of violence in them, and Rob's a terrific writer. I have problems with the violence in JA Konrath's book, although I think I have problems with his for different reasons than I do in Rob's novels.

And what about my own? Good Lord, how many incidences of torture are there in my own, The Devil's Pitchfork? A whole family of four, although the description is afterward. Derek's torture of a terrorist (unsuccessful) to get information out of her. Derek's resultant torture by a psychotic doctor using a malicious form of acupuncture. And knife fights and gun fights and other things.

Certainly the violence didn't bother me. Or did it?

Well, here's the thing about the violence in The Devil's Pitchfork and if there were actually enough readers to debate this sort of thing, I would suggest that I wrote this with Abu Ghraib very much in the air. I also spent a lot of time debating how to handle (or even if to handle) the scene where Derek uses a plastic bag to suffocate a terrorist in the interest of getting information out of her. (It accidentally killed her). I waited for editors or my agent to tell me it was too much. Nobody did. No reader has ever suggested it was too much. Also, when I continued on into The Serpent's Kiss, there were a lot of repercussions for Derek for his actions. That was very important for me.


I don't know. I hope it's because none of it was gratuitous. I hope that it was handled with a certain degree of nuance. And maybe this is key. Derek Stillwater has problems with violence. When my wife read the books she commented to my son that Derek was flaky. He asked her what she meant and she said, "He's seen too much."

And done too much, I would add.

But I do find that the older I get, the more problematic I find how violence is often depicted. I don't know why it bothers me more than it used to. Maybe I'm just afraid I am getting desensitized to it.

How about you? What movie or book was too much for you?

Mark Terry

Friday, August 01, 2008

Show Me The Money

August 1, 2008
I've recently re-upped my access to the Writer's Market and I was wandering through looking at different things yesterday when I decided to download a piece called "How Much Should I Charge?" by Lynn Wasnak. There's a pretty awesome chart included and I thought I'd list some things of interest here and let you think about them.

Type High Low Average
PR for businesses $180/hr $50/hr $89/hr

Movie novelization $15G/book $3G/book $6,750/book

Original screenplay $106,070 $56,500 $81,285

Book proposal writing $10,000 $500 $4,512

Fiction book writing $40G $525 $14,203

Ghostwriting (as told to) $80G $5,500 $22,800

Ghostwriting (no cred) $100,000 $5000 $36,229

NF book writing (own) $50,000 $4000 $17,909

Annual reports $15,000 $500 $6,147

Brochures, fliers for biz $15,000 $300 $2,777

Newsletter writing (4-pp) $125/hr $30/hr $5000/hr

Computer manual writing $165/hr $60/hr $105/hr

Trade journal feature  $3/word 17 cents/word 95 cents/word

Consumer magaz. feature $3/word 14 cents/word $1.28/word

Well, in my experience, those numbers are about right and I'm glad to see that the numbers I was suggesting to potential clients for a few things that came up this year were right on the, er, money. I think the fiction novel writing numbers are interesting and need to be taken in the context of regular working writers rather than the million-dollar-babies that are outliers. The numbers for trade journal and consumer magazine features seem to be pretty accurate, although low can be a little bit lower and the average strikes me as being lower on both. I'm still looking for the $3/word payment, but I've made as much as $1 per word (which was nice, no doubt about it). I would also suggest that anyone who writes a company's annual report for $500 needs to be taken out behind the bar and shot in the head, because they're too stupid to live.  

So yes, there actually is quite a bit of money to be made in some areas of writing if you can break into them.

Mark Terry