Here's a list of the last 10 books I've read--with comments.
Extremes by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Sci-Fi. One of the most glamorous extreme sports is the Moon Marathon. But when someone dies during the race in very mysterious circumstances, both the Lunar Police and a former cop turned Reclamation Expert must work together before a plague can wipe out the Lunar colony.
The First Rule by Robert Crais
A Joe Pike novel and quite good. I prefer his Elvis Cole novels, but this is good.
Freudian Slip by Erica Orloff
A very light kinda-romance novel. I think that's how it was marketed anyway. When a top-rated shock jock is shot and winds up in a coma, he finds himself in a kind of purgatory where he needs to improve a woman's life in order to either move on or go back. Very sweet and nicely done.
Deception by Jonathan Kellerman
An Alex Delaware novel and a good one. Some of his recent ones, though good, have seemed a bit by-the-numbers. This one has Alex and Milo investigating the suicide of a teacher that worked at a really ritzy private school. One of the complications is that the LAPD's Chief's son is a senior at the school; the Chief puts pressure on Milo to handle the investigation delicately and not to upset anyone or get the attention of the press.
Bag of Bones by Stephen King
Yeah, every few years, I read this book of a bestselling author whose wife dies and he gets tangled up in a child custody case with a psycho billionaire.
Deep Shadow by Randy Wayne White
I've decided you can never know what to expect when you pick up a book by RWW. They all deal with Doc Ford, but sometimes the books seem like espionage, sometimes like adventure, sometimes like mystery. This one is an interesting thriller involving underwater cave diving, a couple psycho ex-cons, a plane carrying Batista's gold and, uh, a really big reptile.
Pocket-47 by Jude Hardin.
I read Jude's first novel in manuscript form and enjoyed it. (I'll enjoy it even more once it's published and I can read it in book form). A PI novel and I think folks will like it a lot.
The English Assassin by Daniel Silva
An espionage novel featuring Israeli assassin Gabriel Allon. This time he gets tangled up in looted Nazi artwork and a high-level English assassin who is hired to kill various people associated with the case Gabriel is looking into. He's a great writer, although he's not the type I read back-to-back. Terrific, though.
The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
Sadie and Carter Kane discover they are ascendants from the pharoahs. When their father blows up the British museum, he inadvertently unleashes the Egyptian god of chaos and death, Set, who intends to wipe out the planet. Sadie and Carter must join modern day Egyptian magicians (sort of) to stop this from happening. I liked this a lot. I wanted to like it better, but I tended to compare it to Riordan's Percy Jackson books, which I liked a little better. But great fun.
Storm Prey by John Sandford
A Lucas Davenport novel and another excellent entry in this series that has no duds. Three rednecks, hooked up with a cocaine-addicted doctor, decide to knock off a Minneapolis hospital pharmacy, stealing a few million dollars worth of drugs. During the incident, one of the pharmacists is accidentally killed. Davenport's wife, a surgeon at the hospital (Weather Karkinnen) may be a witness. The crooks, who pretty much define "not a rocket scientist" start to panic and kill off anyone who might know who they are, including Weather. Weather, meantime, is involved with a team of physicians who are working to separate conjoined twins. Both story lines are very compelling and I thought it was a really excellent portrait of how a certain type of bad guy operates--instead of just hunkering down and keeping their mouths shut, they start trying to clean things up, making things much, much worse until everything spins out of control.
I'll be heading off to Ohio in a couple hours for my niece's high school graduation open house, and then be in and out all weekend generally having fun and doing things like opening the pool and going kayaking and biking and maybe seeing The Prince of Persia. Then on Tuesday I'm flying to Phoenix for the week and may or may not find something to say (assuming I don't melt into a sticky puddle of Mark in the heat).
Seems to me I've blogged about this before, but it was sort of on my mind. About a year before I went full-time as a freelance writer, my father passed away. He was in his late-70s and I have to say, given his family history and his overall health, we were shocked. Terry's have had a tendency to live into their 90s--both my Dad's parents did, and his grandmother lived to be 99--and my Dad was in excellent health right up until he got the cancer that killed him.
I think there's a connection between my father's death and my turning to full-time writing. Leanne swears up and down there's a definite connection. I don't know. That seems too simple, like something you'd read in a novel. But... It was building anyway, but Dad's death changed my attitude, anyway, suggesting that life was, after all, fairly short and unpredictable, and if there was something you really wanted to do, you'd better figure out a way to make it happen.
I'm sure there are many full-time freelance writers or novelists that didn't require some sort of crisis to motivate them to making the leap.
I'm not giving away secrets. All these people have been quite public about this... Now, I may have the details wrong, but I have a fair number of writing friends, so...
Erica Orloff was working full-time and got sick and started working out of the house, I believe, and just made the jump to freelancing.
Eric Mayer was laid off from the company he was working at.
Tobias Buckell had plans to go full-time as a freelancer when he was laid off from the university where he worked.
John Scalzi was working as a writer for AOL when he got laid off and rather quickly found out that he made more money as a freelancer than working for AOL.
These sort of stick in my mind. I know a lot of other writers, too, and I don't know if they planned to go out on their own and were meticulous and calculated in their approach, or something shoved them out the plane hatch and they caught a parachute on their way out the door.
And this by no means suggests that I think you can't become a full-time writer without some sort of crisis catalyzing the change.
I do know that a big change in your life often requires a lot of energy behind it to motivate it. Hey, most of us don't want to turn our life upside down.
For that matter, most people are fairly risk-averse--and that's mostly a good thing--and going out and opening your own business, writer or something else, is a risk. Not everybody's interested in that. And that's fine.
So my question is really aimed at you people who have made major changes in your life, whether jumping to be self-employed or something else: was there some sort of crisis that motivated you to make the leap?
Hello Everyone! If you own a Kindle, or have the Kindle app on your iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, computer, or anywhere else you might be able to stash a Kindle app, I would like to alert you to four--yes, count them, four!--novels I have available for the Kindle.
Now all three Derek Stillwater novels are available on the Kindle.
I recently finished reading Rick Riordan's The Red Pyramid, which is a new kids book about Egyptian gods. (I liked it. Probably not as much as the Percy Jackson novels, but it was fun, and showed my total lack of knowledge of Egyptian mythology).
There were a couple things in it I thought y'all would appreciate:
"The Egyptian word shesh means scribe or writer, but it can also mean magician. This is because magic, at its most basic, turns words into reality. You will create a scroll. Using your own magic, you will send power into the words on paper. When spoken, the words will unleash the magic."
"Remember, you are not creating the knife itself. You are summoning it from Ma'at--the creative power of the universe. Hieroglyphs are the code we use. That's why they are called Divine Words. The more powerful the magician, the easier it becomes to control the language."
"No matter what our specialty, each magician's greatest hope is to become a speaker of the Divine Words--to know the language of creation so well that we can fashion reality simply by speaking, not even using a scroll."
I spent 3 hours yesterday at a sanchin-ryu karate workshop (hot as hell in the gym where we worked out). I was working with Master Wolbert along with a bunch of other brown belts and Chief Grand Master Dearman, the man who developed the style, and who has been practicing martial arts for about 55 years (that's not an exaggeration), came over to make some points.
The point he was making that time was that in any art there's really no easy way, no way getting around the hard work, no short cuts. You really can't make it your own until you do the work to learn it as it is.
This resonated with me, because I see it all the time with writers. It's probably the biggest concern about how easy it is for anyone with a completed manuscript to just put it up as a Kindle e-book and slap a $1.99 price on it. (Hey, really, I don't much care what you do as long as it doesn't make my life more difficult. Do what you want to do).
But it's not just that, though. It's everything. We think: if I only change the main character, change the genre, write YA fantasy, that's hot these days, if I change the length, if I change publishers, if I change agents, hell, if I change the FONT, that'll be the ticket.
And once you get published we look for some sort of magic bullet to develop an audience, get our book attention--if I run a contest, give away Amazon gift cards, do book signings, attend Bouchercon, have a website, do a blog tour, run an ad in the New York Times...
Sometimes people get lucky and they slap together a book, the first agent that reads it loves it, a publisher falls in love with it, they throw lots of money at it, word of mouth takes off and the book becomes a phenomenon. Hey, we think, that person took a short cut. That can happen to me.
Maybe it can. People do win the lottery after all.
People also get hit by lightning and survive.
Can you plan for these things?
No, probably not. You have to do the work because there are no (reliable) short cuts.
Some Recommended Reading Re. Publishing and Writing
May 20, 2010
There's been a lot of interesting things to read on various blogs, etc., far more than usual, so here's some links to them, in case you missed any of them.
Angela Hoy has some interesting things to say about author newsletters and book marketing.
Perhaps a dozen times a week, authors ask me some variation of this question:
What is the best way to promote my book online?
It's quite simple, really. This is all you need:
A vehicle to reach that audience
Dean Wesley Smith continues his online postings for Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing by addressing the myth of "Only 300 Writers Make A Living." I also recommend you slog your way through the comments, many of which are very interesting.
This myth is so solid, I hear it repeated over and over again. And just today, a person I follow on Twitter repeated it yet again, sending all her followers to a web site that had some writer say simply “There are only about 200 or 300 writers making a living at fiction.” With nothing at all to back up the statement or even a second thought about what that statement meant if true.
The number is total and complete hogwash. I’m going to lay out some facts. And I will use math and other ugly arguments to show you that this number is a total and complete myth. And I hope to maybe dive a little into why this myth persists. Why beginning writers need it. So hang on. This myth is as ugly as it is stupid.
As some of you might have heard, JA Konrath, after his 7th Jack Daniels novel failed to be picked up by a traditional publisher, made some sort of undisclosed deal with AmazonEncore to come out with a Kindle version followed a few months later with a print edition that may or may not get picked up by other bookstores. Some people think this is the most important shift in publishing since movable type. I don't know if it is or if it'll be just another gimmick that gets noted and passed on, but it's interesting.
Q: Aren't you going to piss off traditional publishers?
A: Traditional publishers had a chance to buy Shaken last year. They passed on it. Their loss. Their big loss. Their big, huge, monumental, epic fail.
Q: Is Amazon going to sell the Kindle version for a lot of money?
A: Amazon is smart, savvy, and pays attention to my suggestions. The Kindle version of Shaken is going to be released for $2.99. Here's the link if you'd like to pre-order.
Q: The Kindle version is coming out four months before the paper version. Why?
A: It's easier to release an ebook than a print book. Print books require printing, shipping, warehousing, pre-orders from bookstores, etc.
Although Konrath is a media- and tech-savvy author who has published with major New York houses (the Jack Daniels series was previously published by Hyperion), he is not a regular NY Times Bestseller brand. Not only is he not a multi-million dollar advance recipient, he makes it clear that the novel he just signed with Encore was rejected by the New York publishing houses. So Amazon had a low bar to jump to secure him for its Encore line.
Nonetheless, this is a significant jolt to conventional publishing economics. Sales of Konrath’s $2.99 ebook will deliver him about $2.10 a copy (Konrath says $2.04; not sure where the other six cents is going…), as much or more as he would make on a $14.95 paperback from a trade publisher, and significantly more than he’d make on a $9.99 ebook distributed under “Agency” terms and current major publisher royalty conventions. And, however one feels about the degree to which pricing is a barrier to ebook sales, one must assume that the $2.99 price will result in a lot more ebook sales than a $9.99 price would. Many times the sales!
We’ve been imagining a split market for ebooks: “branded” ones from conventional publishers being sold in the $10-$15 range and “commodity” ones from lesser-known sources (authors and publishers) at $1.99 and $2.99. Over time, we figured that improved curation of the cheaper ones, plus promotional pricing by the branded ones, would drag the overall pricing down. That’s been behind our concern that maintaining anything close to the current pricing for print will be almost impossible to do over time.
* * *
And I wanted to add one of his comments because it's something that I've thought about but never heard anyone else articulate. In fact, I'm sure--because we did this with our iPad--that when people first buy a Kindle or an iPad or a Nook etc., they immediately buy a bunch of books, particularly if they're $1.99 or something like that. But once they get over that, I suspect most people do what we've done, which is buy books we'll actually get around to reading. Here's Shatzkin's comment:
I think there's a big thing missing from your calculus though, which is * time*. I personally am never without at least two books not started yet in my possession (these are ebooks; I have not read a print book in more than two years.) I can guarantee that I would not read one more book per year if books were free; I read all the books I can right now. I'm not alone. So there is at least one big block of readers -- the *heaviest* readers -- for whom the notion that cheaper means more unit sales is simply not true.
I've actually heard Parnell sing this live. Not only is he a charming guy, he's a find writer and for light, humorous cozies you can't do much better than his Puzzle Lady books. And really, this song just soooooo nails it.
From Saturday. Somebody shot the photos because, frankly, none of us brought a camera or expected this to happen.
Me, with Master Ben Wolbert, receiving the application for sho-dan (black belt).
Top right. Leanne, with Master Ben Wolbert, receiving her promotion from third-degree brown belt to second-degree brown belt. Totally unexpected because her last promotion was in December, so she moved pretty quickly at this level.
Bottom. Ian, with Master Ben Wolbert, also receiving his promotion application for sho-dan.
Ian and I have a fair amount of paperwork to do, filling out questions, getting a couple senseis and Master Wolbert to write letters, then we submit and probably wait. I suspect Ian will get his promotion when he goes to Dragon Camp this summer (although, who knows). In the past all black belt promotions were at events where Chief Grand Master Dearman was present, but the numbers of promotions have made that difficult, if not impossible. But I believe it still requires either a District Master (Master Wolbert, in my case) or one of the Chief Instructors, so mine may require a little more time for all of us to be in the right place and time together. I'll just keep on doing what I'm doing and eventually...
I'm a fairly open-minded reader, I think. I read thrillers, mysteries, SF, fantasy, nonfiction, even some so-called mainstream (literary), middle grade and YA, and I even read Freudian Slip by Erica Orloff, which I suppose is classified as romance or women's fiction (and enjoyed it).
So I got my Shelf Awareness newsletter today and the ad at the top is for a book called Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth. And it says:
The Ultimate Secret. The Ultimate Agent.
The President's Vampire.
Now, really, I'm sold on the pitch there. What a cool idea.
Yeah, I've been thinking about money today. Yesterday I interviewed Jon Land. He's a bestselling thriller author and his newest book is STRONG JUSTICE. He's a really nice guy, too. He's written 28 books (or maybe 29, he's written so many he can't be sure which it is). He's also written screenplays, including one for a produced movie, DIRTY DEEDS, which alas, is not based on my novel of the same name.
So, money. Why am I bringing this up?
When I called him for a scheduled interview, he asked me to hang on for a minute, he was finishing up writing a nagging email to someone who owes him money.
Bestselling author, 28 or 29 books, and he's still nagging people who owe him money to pay up.
I do this in my work-life on a fairly regular basis. The key similarity might be: writer.
Two of my writer/blog buddies, Natasha Fondren and Travis Erwin, have recently bemoaned the fact that they're doing some nonfiction work instead of fiction, basically apologizing or, well, complaining, I suppose, that they've decided to make some money off their writing temporarily (?) instead of following their fictional dreams, pursuing art, creativity, etc. Another writer friend of mine, Tom Schreck, has more or less said the same thing.
Natasha and Travis and Tom, I love you guys, but...
A couple of years ago, the publisher of my first two Derek Stillwater novels, Midnight Ink, let me go. That is to say, I had two more books contracted for and they rather unceremoniously said, "Sayonara, buddy. Good luck."
Then, because they were publishers, although they released all the rights to me for the 2 remaining books, The Fallen and The Valley of Shadows, they declined to release the rights to The Devil's Pitchfork and The Serpent's Kiss. They may have had some thoughts of squeezing a few more pennies out of them, or, being publishers, they just hold onto everything on principle, a kind of we-don't-intend-to-actually-do-anything-to-make-money-out-from-these-but-just-in-case-something-happens-and-you-become-famous-or-something-we're-going-to-hold-onto-as-many-rights-as-we-can-because-they're-ours-dammit!
So we waited a while, then nagged them about it, we being myself and my agent. At that point Midnight Ink decided to release the print rights and some of the foreign rights--but not all, because they were still marketing to some foreign rights markets, though not all.
More time went by. I got contracts for the two remaining Derek Stillwaters with another publisher, Oceanview, and The Fallen was published in hardcover and as an e-book, at least on the Kindle, although I'm not sure of its availability in other formats.
I decided, since Midnight Ink basically let The Devil's Pitchfork and The Serpent's Kiss go out of print, that I should make them available as e-books on the Kindle. I already had one book available on the Kindle, Dancing In The Dark, then The Fallen, let's get more out there--let's use up some digital shelf space, so to speak. After all, no reason to leave money on the table.
So I threw that out to my agent and she commented that she didn't think the e-rights had reverted to us. So, once again, trotting back to Midnight Ink, we asked. And while we were at it, since you haven't made any foreign sales in two or more years, why don't you release those while you're at it.
They released the foreign rights, but told us that the e-rights were still in play and they had submitted them to Amazon and B&N. Well, okay, at least they were doing something about it, although, rather like my agent, they only seemed to do these things when I prodded them to. My agent responded with a fairly pointed note that we needed to negotiate the split on e-rights, then, and in her opinion it should be 50/50. Silence for quite some time, to the point where I threw up my hands and said, "To hell with it." I made other plans to do some other e-book things.
Then, on the very day I contacted Judy Bullard to do some artwork for an e-book, I got a letter in the mail from Midnight Ink indicating they were releasing the e-rights to The Devil's Pitchfork and The Serpent's Kiss. However, they pointed out, they were not releasing the rights to the cover art or the electronic files, although if I wanted to discuss it with them, I could.
I did not. I immediately contacted Judy again and asked her to pull together some cover art for The Devil's Pitchfork and The Serpent's Kiss. I would prefer them to be somewhat similar to the original cover art (I love the cover art for the original The Devil's Pitchfork and like the cover art for The Serpent's Kiss), but I definitely wanted the same color scheme. Judy came through very nicely, as you can see above. I then contacted my computer-savvy friend Natasha Fondren to pull together the e-files. Once we got that taken care of, I uploaded it all to Amazon and waited.
Then I got an email from Amazon requesting proof that I actually had the rights to the e-books. I had the letter, I scanned it, I sent it off, they said, "Yup, okay," and now in a day or two The Devil's Pitchfork will be available to all you Kindle owners or anyone with an iPhone or iPad or computer with a Kindle app on it. The Serpent's Kiss will be available on Kindle soon as well.
See? Isn't this simple and straightforward? All you have to do is jump through hoops and be persistent and patient. Yes, the publishing world can be really annoying.
Yesterday's post on e-publishing somewhat skirted the question: should you self-publish, e-publish or paper?
Here's my answer.
I'm uneasy about people who couldn't convince an agent or an editor that their work was good enough to publish, going ahead and publishing.
Hey, it's your life. Do what you want and let the market make the final decision.
Depends on the type of thing you're publishing. Fiction, maybe not. Nonfiction if it's a niche market, absolutely.
It's almost impossible to develop a readership self-published, although that's up in the air now that you can self-publish for e-books.
Publishing is transitioning into a different business model, you might as well get in on it now, rather than wait for traditional publishing to implode on itself.
E-publishing is likely to kill any possibility of the work being traditionally published.
E-publishing is likely to kill any possibility of the work being traditionally published. Talk all you want about e-books, but they're still only 3% of the market and although Joe Konrath is making money doing it, tons of people aren't.
It's your life, do what you want. Don't look to me for permission.
A fool and his money are soon parted.
Depends on what you expect out of it. A career? Probably not. Something to sell to friends and family? Sure. An ego boost? Get a manicure or a nose job. Extra income? Get real.
I'm sure most everybody here is aware that the publishing industry, such as it is, is standing on the brink of an abyss. Some would argue that the publishing industry has been on the brink of an abyss since the Gutenberg Bible was published, and they're probably right.
At the moment, after at least a decade of rumors and predictions, the e-book appears to be taking off. Yes, it's only about 3% of the market so far, but that doubled in the last year or so. Even the defenders of current big publishing think e-books will come to about 50% of the market; others think print's dead, just hasn't laid down yet, and within 5 to 10 years it'll go the way of VHS and vinyl record albums.
A number of traditionally published novelists have started putting up their work on Amazon and other bookstore as e-books, self-publishing basically for the Kindle and others. JA Konrath is a leader, although Lee Goldberg, Robert W. Walker and many, many others are experimenting with it. Some are just placing out of print books and in-between books that never found a home, while others are placing their entire works up there.
Me, too. DANCING IN THE DARK is an example. And since my former publisher decided to do nothing with THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK and THE SERPENT'S KISS, I will shortly have those up as e-books as well. Although THE FALLEN is out in hardcover, it's also available on Kindle as an e-book. I also have at least three more books I expect to have coming out soon as e-books, including THE BATTLE FOR ATLANTIS, a children's book that almost found a home with Random House, but was turned down after much consideration.
Some of the energy and buzz about it reminds me of about a decade ago when iUniverse came along with its print-on-demand publishing. There was a lot of talk about how it was going to kill traditional publishing. It didn't. And I think--myself included--many traditionally published authors were rather disappointed in the result. They are rarely if ever available in brick-and-mortar bookstores, which didn't surprise me much. But their prices were problematic. My book, CATFISH GURU, was priced at $17.95 for a trade paperback, easily $4 to $5 above market price.
One of the interesting things about e-publishing at the moment is that the "publisher," i.e., the writer, can set the price. And a lot of us are fooling around with it, setting prices like 99 cents, $1.99, $2.99, $3.99. The rationale being that low prices will convince people with Kindles or other e-readers to give it a shot, what's the worse they're going to be out of, a buck or two?
Of course, one of the potential downsides is if you get enough good books selling for a buck or two, readers are going to be reluctant to shell out $9.99, $14.95 for a book, let alone $25.95.
Just like the iUniverse trend, there's an argument that a tremendous amount of shit is going to get published. Some publishing critics argue there's already a tremendous amount of shit being published. I confess, when I popped over to Smashwords to investigate e-publishing through them as well as through Amazon, I was a bit staggered when they indicated they had published more than 253 million things. Think about that number for a moment. Almost every single man, woman, and child in the United States, publishing a book or novella, or something.
How can you possibly sort through all that crap?
Except, you know...
I was having a conversation Saturday with a friend of mine when a woman came up to us and she had read DANCING IN THE DARK on her Kindle and we got to talking about book publishing and e-books. I surprised myself by saying something along the lines, "Well, I suppose it'll result in a lot of crap being published, but I suppose the market will sort itself out."
It will. Books that are good or at least that appeal to a lot of people ("good" is a difficult thing to define) will probably become popular. Writers will be able to develop a following and be able to experiment with different approaches to books and pricing. Readers, well, readers will do what they always do, which is to say, be completely unpredictable about where their tastes will wander.
Is this good? Well, go back to "good" being a difficult thing to define. Some people think the big publishers are going to crash and burn in the next 5 or 6 years. I was at first a little skeptical, but I keep trying to reconcile my understanding of business economics with a publishing industry that's contracting. Or let me describe it this way: even if, optimistically, only 50% of the market goes to e-books, and the big publishers can make it work with whatever pricing model they settle on... for now let's say the agency model actually gets settled and a typical e-book is priced around $9.99 to $14.95. That's mostly profit. Publishers can talk all they want about their overhead for sales, marketing, layout, art design, etc., but they're full of crap, because if they only do e-books, they no longer have to pay for paper, ink, printing, warehousing, UPS/shipping, returns....
Which is where, as far as I'm concerned, the wheels start coming off the business model. Let's say a big publisher says, "Yes, we've still got 50% of the market in paper."
Except, you know, your hardcover book is being published for $25.95 and their expenses are extremely high compared to e-books--all the things I mentioned above. But now, they've got part of their products that they're only selling as e-books, so instead of the profit margin being highest for bestsellers in hardcover, they're finding that their profit margins are highest for writers who are only available in e-books because the expenses for paper, etc., are non-existent. So publishers will be forced to look at their paper books and discuss how to make them worthwhile... probably by increasing the prices, to cover the fact that they're spending even more money on warehousing and paper because their bulk orders are smaller...
Here's an example. I'm the editor of a technical journal, and I have been for about 10 years now. This year we decided to primarily shift the journal over to a digital format. This saves the organization a very large amount of money, thousands and thousands of dollars. But because we knew there were people who still wanted paper, we offered it to them for a modest increase in their dues--something like $15 a year. The organization has something like 1700 members and everybody except for about 180 people went with just the digital format. We send them an e-mail saying it's available, they click on the link in the e-mail, it takes them to the website, they type in their PIN and click to download the PDF directly to their computer.
But the fact is, there's still 180 people who are paying more to get the paper version mailed to them. And we have a board meeting in a couple weeks and I recently wrote my annual report and one of the topics for discussion is this: do we raise the price for the paper version?
Because not only do we want to get away from it, but it's a weird cost fluctuation because your postage per unit goes up, your printing per unit goes up, etc.
So where do I expect book publishing to end up in 5 to 10 years?
I don't know. Honest to God, I don't know. But I'm hard-pressed to come up with really good arguments to JA Konrath's opinion that in 5-6 years paper publishing will be dead. Unless the big NYC publishers get creative with e-books, I can't quite get a grip on how they're going to be able to continue to support their huge overhead based on the current model.
I also wonder what will happen if a major bestselling author--Stephen King or Mitch Albom or Dan Brown, etc.--decide, "Hmmm, I can get $3 million for this book through Random House by selling 1.2 million copies in hardcover, or I can self-publish it myself as an e-book with a 70% royalty, and even at a $9.99 price point, if I sell 1.2 million copies my income will be closer to $7 or $8 million. Hmmm....."
Apparently I'm getting a reputation for my research. Okay, fair enough, I guess I do try to do a lot of it.
As several of you know, I'm working on the 5th Derek Stillwater novel, which primarily takes place in Russia. (Also in Baltimore, and in southern Italy, so yeah, I rather wish I had a ton of money to make trips to research these).
I've never been to Russia, nor can I afford to go there for research. So I've got a Frommer's travel book on Moscow and St. Petersburg, I've got an English-language map of Moscow, and I've spent tons and tons of time on the Internet.
Then I got really lucky. I was scanning around on the 'net looking for ex-pat websites for people who live in Moscow. I ran across one run by a woman named Tamara Smith who blogs about the ex-pat family life in Russia. I sent her an e-mail asking her if she could answer some questions for me. She said yes and I asked her if she could, in particular, read 2 chapters of my WIP and tell me what I got wrong. She said sure.
And she wrote me an extensive email in response telling me tons of little details I don't think I ever would have gotten from the Internet (like billboards. In Russia it's illegal to have people in ads for alcohol and cigarettes--hence, no Marlboro Man.)
Then Tamara blew me away. She was familiar with the area I was talking about, so she went out for a walk with her digital camera and took photos of the areas those 2 chapters took place at and made comments. I. Am. Stunned.
This woman's getting acknowledged big-time in this book. And if I can figure out how, I'll send her copies of all my books in gratitude.
Now, Slyakat. What's that?
The book takes place in early April. She wrote this:
"The accumulated snow would be brown, really dirty in April. It's called 'slyakat,' dirty slushy brown snow."
There must be a patron saint of writers looking over me.
(There is, it's St. Francis de Sales. I suspect St. Jude might be more appropriate--the patron saint of lost causes; of course, Derek Stillwater wears a St. Sebastian medal, the patron saint of plagues).
The other day, instead of my usual sanchin-ryu (karate) workout which tends to be going over everything I know a couple times, I took the ninth form, Empi-uraken, and just focused on it. In all, I think I did it about 13 times in a row at different speeds, trying different things, trying to make sure I didn't lose my balance on the spin (easier said than done) and that what I wanted to do is what my body actually did (also easier said than done).
For the last month or so, my guitar teacher has been having me write music, primarily, I think, to develop an understanding of chord progressions and how to develop solos. But I did a progression in A and he suggested I develop a solo based on the A major scale. It became obvious that although I had worked on major scales, I didn't really own the concept. So I pretty much tossed the developing-a-solo idea out the window and just practiced the A major scale all week. And in yesterday's lesson Gary and I agreed that it was a good time for me to really master various scales, particularly since I was in a mood to do "woodshedding," which means to hone certain skills (presumably by going out to the woodshed where you can have some privacy and concentrate on what you're doing). Most amateur musicians (and maybe pros) would rather do just about anything than scale exercises for a couple weeks, but I've been this route before and understand that in order to get to the next level in my guitar playing I need to really master these. So probably for the next couple weeks the only thing I'll be playing are scales. I did something similar last year with barre chords. It was worth the tedium (and I would probably benefit from another round of it as a refresher, actually).
Is there something similar with writing? Maybe. There's a concept in most arts and trades that it requires 10,000 hours to master something. In writing many people say 1 million words. I'm pretty much in agreement, although there are definitely some people that need less (and apparently some that need more, perhaps an infinity more).
I'm not sure there's an equivalent in writing to doing scales, but I think there's a lot to be said about sitting your ass in a chair and writing something, whether it's a blog, your book, a short story, and not just knocking it off, but applying some real concentration to the job of improving your skills. In fact, the intention to make it better, to really put a critical eye to what you do, learn to rewrite, tear things apart and see if maybe writing a scene all in dialogue or all in prose or cutting out all the adverbs or writing it from a different point of view, IS woodshedding for writers--or perhaps "wordshedding" is more appropriate.
What do you think? Is there woodshedding for writers?
The PR person with my publisher asked me to write down some of the things I've done to promote my books over the years and to include any thoughts. I'll do it here with a very cautious reminder that your experience may vary. One of the things that's important, I've found, is to place your marketing efforts within the context of your publisher's distribution capabilities, your publishing history, and the amount of money, time, and energy you can afford to spend on marketing, which may or may not be based on how large your advance was or whatever your professional and economic circumstances are.
--book signings. It's better if your publisher or publicist can set them up. Bookstores are leery of authors who do it themselves, because they figure you're self-published. Also, some of the chain stores have policies against book signings, or they just don't want to commit to an unknown entity. Book signings are hit & miss. Keep in mind they're not really about selling books--they're about getting your name out there, meeting readers, getting your signed books onto local author or front tables. Hundreds of people show up to see celebrities and buy their books, i.e., Sara Palin, Bill Clinton, Whoopie Goldberg, Chelsea Handler, Lee Child, Robert Crais. Until you're some sort of celebrity, whether as a writer or as something else, your turnout is likely to be fairly modest. Publishers may or may not help with this. Sometimes they put out signage, sometimes they don't; sometimes they order your books, sometimes they don't; sometimes they announce your presence, sometimes they don't; sometimes they put you in a good location, sometimes they don't; sometimes they forget you're even coming; sometimes they act as if they wish you'd go away; sometimes they welcome you & treat you like a celebrity; sometimes they promote the signing in a newsletter, on their website, in a local newspaper, sometimes--most of the times--they don't. From the POV of a bookstore, they want you to come in and sell books for them. In fact, one of the ironies for me in how bookstores treat authors is THEY MAKE MORE MONEY PER COPY SOLD THAN YOU DO. So why don't they act like it? Don't know.
--direct mail (postcards, brochures, letters). Yup. Done it. Expensive. Time-consuming. Most marketing experts indicate direct mail (i.e., junk mail) has a 1-2% recognition rate. That doesn't mean 1-2% will buy your book. It means 1-2% will register the mailing. The rest will throw it out and forget completely about you. I don't recommend it unless you can really afford it.
--conferences--expensive. If you go, go to hang out with other writers and readers. With any luck you won't receive a signing time opposite Mary Higgins Clark, Stephen King or Harlan Coben. If you do, smile, be pleasant, and be thankful for the one book you sell. Can be decent exposure, but I doubt it's worth the investment in time. I'd like to go to ThrillerFest, which is in New York City, but I calculated the cost of airfare, hotel, conference fees, food, parking, etc., and came pretty close to $2000. I can't possibly justify it at this time. Plus, Mark Terry's going to be largely unnoticed when there are 400 thriller authors with names like Harlan Coben, Barry Eisler, David Morrell, Steve Barry, Gayle Lynds, etc. Smaller cons can be kind of fun and a little more intimate--Magna cum Murder in Muncie, IN in the fall keeps the numbers down around 350 or 400, so the ratio of writers to readers is actually kind of cool. Still... go to hang with people, not sell books.
--TV, radio--yep, done some of that. In my area there's a cable access show, Cult-Pop, that focuses on books, primarily SF and Fantasy, although if Jim Hall and Jerry Jesion, like your books, they'll have you on. It's seen by about 20,000 people in southeastern Michigan and they're probably all book people, so being on that show gives your book a bump. I've done some radio and stuff like that, too, and it's harder to quantify, but if all it means is a phone call, it can read a lot of people without wasting a lot of time. Local NPR or PBS might be interested, particularly if you're not a large market and they have some sort of local arts programming. Local cable access is a real possibility. Again, I'm not sure there's a direct link between exposure and sales, unless someone's seeing you while they're on Amazon.com, but the more name recognition the better. Of course, it'll bite you in the butt if your books aren't available wherever the people who see your exposure shop, which a lot of times isn't bookstores, but Wal-Mart, Meijers, Kmart, etc. Nothing you can do about it, but be aware of it.
--Public speaking. I've done a fair amount of it. I'm comfortable with it. I don't like to over prepare and I prefer to shift it into something resembling a conversation, so I like a lead-in that moves to a Q&A. In preparation for the possibility an audience won't have questions (it happens), I've put questions like, "How long does it take you to write a novel?" on a postcard or notecard and put them in envelopes, so if there's no questions, I can hand them out and ask people to open them. Here are places I've done public speaking:
--libraries--libraries are wonderful places, but library-goers are not necessarily book buyers, although libraries are. Some libraries will bring in bookstores to help sell books. I've done regular library book stuff and I've done workshops like, "Freelance Writing For A Living." This latter was the best attended and they paid me to do it, and I managed to sell a couple books in the process. I'm looking into doing more workshops along the lines of, "Write and Get Your Novel Published" with another writer or two, but I've been busy lately.
--schools--can be kind of fun, though teenagers, etc., are not really going to buy many books, although I find them an interesting, engaging audience. I've never really done younger groups, although a lot of people can. My books aren't appropriate for them.
--Rotary Clubs. I did quite a few of these at one time. They're generally enjoyable. Rotarians are local business owners that typically are civic-minded. Their meetings are mostly at lunch although sometimes breakfast or occasionally dinner. They're often at a restaurant. A meal is always involved. You typically go, eat lunch, listen to their business meeting stuff which can be a bit surreal the first couple times, give your talk, and try to hand-sell some books. They don't want you directly selling for your talk, so my talks generally revolved around my research. Sales are all over the board and have no correlation to size of the group. I've done a Rotary with 75 people there and sold 3 or 4 books and did one with 17 people there and sold 15 (they were big book readers). Rotarians are busy, though. The lunch meetings in particular, people come in, chat, eat, listen, and head back to work in a hurry. If you're uncomfortable making small-talk with people you don't know while eating, this can be a miserable experience, but Rotary Clubs, Elks, Lions, etc., are all a possibility. They're generally always interested in someone who can come in and talk. And usually you get a free lunch, so you won't go away hungry.
--Contests. I've done it once or twice. It generates a lot of traffic on your website. The majority of the people who do it are hard-core contest enterers, rather than readers. It depends on how you structure it. I gave away Amazon gift cards and people were kind of odd about it. At book signings I've tried doing raffles and giving away gift cards for the store I'm in. For a small store it works great. For a large store, people act like you're asking them to sign up to give away a kidney, so I stopped doing it. Stephen Parrish is doing a treasure hunt/contest and making sure it's linked to clues in his books, so presumably people who are doing it are actually buying his books. I'll be curious to see how it works out ultimately.
--Websites, blogs. Gotta have a website. Period. Offer lots of freebies to read. Update regularly. Have links that make it easy for people to buy your books. Look for other author websites and see what you respond to. Blogs--well, I like blogging and I did a blog tour for this book, which to me worked out terrific. Not everybody likes to blog or does it regularly. Some are just kind of boring. Mine might be, too, but my focus tends to be a very unvarnished view of the writing world, so people who come for happy-smiley-face encouragement that writing novels will solve all their problems and give them strong bones and a glossy coat are probably disappointed; but the people who come back seem to like the raw data and the honesty. My problem--like today's entry--is I tend to write posts that are too long. I think shorter posts work better, and I promise to try a shorter one soon!
--Social media. You know what it is--FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter, CrimeSpace, LinkedIn, Plaxo...
--Facebook. I like it. I started out wanting to just keep it to friends and family, then started linking up with old friends and a lot of writers. I don't know if that's good or not. I don't think it works if you're constantly trying to sell people something, but when I announce book signings and things it goes out unobtrusively to a lot of people. It's a giant time-suck, though; beware the addictive nature of it.
--Twitter. Well, I hate Twitter. I've tried it for fiction and I've tried it for nonfiction. I've written about it professionally. I still think it sucks and hope it goes away. But that said, a number of writers seem to use it effectively. It seems to me that the people who use it successfully are on TweekDeck or something similar, & when they tweet it automatically gets pushed to their Twitter account, their Facebook page, their blog, their Amazon blog, their... etc.
--All the others. Well, somewhere out there in the ether I'm on all of those, but it's obvious I can't keep up with all of it. Facebook and Twitter are the 5000-pound gorillas.
--Drive-by signings. This means you visit any bookstore anywhere near you, find out if you have books there, and offer to sign them. This is a good use of your time IF the stores actually have your books. Considering calling ahead and asking. Your reception by bookstores may vary. Some will ask for ID (I know, strange). Most will say yes, then put an AUTOGRAPHED COPY sticker on the cover & put the book someplace out front or in the Local Author stack. I also recommend you do this for at least one book simply so you get some idea of how distribution issues can affect your life as an author. It's an education, trust me.
--Book fairs. Sometimes these are great. For a while there was a mystery bookstore in the area, then it went out of business and did a book fair a couple times a year at a church. They didn't get enormously high traffic, but the people that came did so to buy books and to meet the author and buy their books. So 20 people might come through, but almost all of them bought your book. The problem was that if you were invited back 4 months later, the exact same people came through and they already bought your book.
--street fairs, etc. One of my local towns had a street fair, sidewalk sales thing, & a local bookstore offered to let me stand outside their tent and try to hawk my books. I didn't sell many. I stood out front and handed out book marks and asked people if they liked mysteries or thrillers or whatever I was selling at the time (mystery, at that time) and got a lot of head shakes and blank stares, but I did give away a lot of bookmarks.
--book groups. These are sometimes formal, sometime informal. Usually women, they read a book, get together and talk about it. Then they have cookies and punch and go home. I've done this once or twice. It's a pleasant enough evening and I sold a few books. Depends on the types of books you're writing, but not a bad way to get your name known.
--newspaper, online & magazine interviews & profiles. The best you can do to set these up is to send out press releases. It's nice when it happens. Be gracious, smile, and don't wince too badly when the local newspaper report gets everything wrong or wildly misquotes you.
--creative stuff. Years back I had a contract for a novel called Blood Secrets. The publisher had a long lead-time for the pub date, which kept shifting around. Finally she locked in on about 14 or 15 months in the future. Personal websites were somewhat new at that point, so I got a high school class to design a website for me. Then I wrote a 12-chapter novella that was a "prequel" to Blood Secrets. The idea was to publish a chapter a month, serializing the novella, leading up to the publication of the book. So I did. It was called Name Your Poison. I was gaining readers (around the same time Stephen King did something similar, so I got a little bit of media attention). I promoted it on ListServs like DorothyL. It was working. Then around month 6, my publisher went bankrupt and cancelled the publication of Blood Secrets and returned the rights to me. Eventually I wrote another novella called Catfish Guru featuring the same character, Theo MacGreggor, and through a series of coincidences, ended up publishing it for free via iUniverse as a book called CATFISH GURU. The point of this is that there are a lot of creative things you can do to promote a book--and some of them might work, and some of them might get hit by a hurricane or a meteorite. Roll with it. That's book promotion.
--AuthorBuzz & email newsletters. Two different things, really, but I forgot to mention them before. AuthorBuzz is an online ad campaign run by author MJ Rose. It costs now something like $1500. I've used it twice. Once my publisher did it & once I did it. As you may have noticed, my sales for the two previous books were not setting the world on fire. I would rank it up there with direct marketing of sorts, and again, the statistics are probably about the same. And that 1-2% doesn't mean SALES, it means that people pay attention to the ads.
--Email newsletters are cheap and effective. On your website, make sure you have somewhere to collect email addresses. Mine email newsletter is handled by my website designer she uses Vertical Response, I believe, although Constant Contact is another common one. Several authors I know just type something into the body of their email and send out bulk emails. I'm the secretary for our schools' band boosters & that's what I do, but VR, CC & others like it allow you to put pretty graphics to it & track click-through rates, etc, but you pay for it. I primarily use mine when I know I've got a book coming out. Some people use theirs regularly--Mary Reed & Eric Mayer send one out about every month or so & it's a little bit like a blog post, doesn't necessarily market (often doesn't, in their case). I'm inundated with emails about damn near everything on the planet, so I don't jump to send stuff out like that to people, but if there's a big announcement like the pub date of a new novel, I use it.
--Standing on your roof and shouting really loudly, "My book's for sale! My book's for sale!" Well, it doesn't hurt and it's at least as effective as everything else on this list.