Thursday, September 29, 2005

A Word From My Better Half

During a quiet moment in our household, my wife put her hand on my shoulder, looked into my eyes, and said,

"I hated your last blog entry."

I asked why.

"I couldn't tell if you were bragging, or whining. Sounded like a little of both."

For those who don't know my wife, she's a wonderful person and I'm lucky to have her. It's doubtful I could have weathered a decade of rejection without her constant support. So when she says something, I take notice.

"My blog is all about the publishing industry" I told her. "I'm just showing how busy a professional writer is."

"Do you remember all those years you weren't published? How much you whined about that? Now you've got what you've always wanted, and you're still whining."

"I'm behind in everything, and I wanted to let people know why."

"See? You're whining again."

"Maybe I'll go whining to a divorce attorney."

"I won't divorce you until you make more money."

Such is love.

But I would like to use this instance to bring up a point never mentioned on blogs--the importance of a significant other.

Writers are perhaps more insecure than the general population. We need support networks. My primary support has been my wife. She's my first reader and editor, the one I talk to about every aspect of this business, the one whose opinion I value most. It can't be easy living with a writer--especially me. But my wife is always encouraging, always there for me, and always has a wonderful sense of humor about everything.

I often say during library speeches, "The single most important thing any of you can do to get published, is marry my wife."

It gets a laugh. But it's true.

So, go on. Go give that significant other a big hug and tell them how much they mean to you. They've felt every rejeciton, just as you have. They've been a part of every victory. In many ways, they're living the publishing life too.

Thanks, Maria!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Not Enough Time in the Day

It's finally happened. I've reached the saturation point. I officially can't keep up with everything.

I've been wrestling with a really big trojan (the virus kind, you dirty bird), and got a few days behind in my computer stuff.

Here's my to do list:
  • Answering 362 emails
  • Visiting my Message Board
  • Updating my wesbite
  • Updating my events calender
  • Making Bloody Mary coasters
  • Finalizing content for the Library Promotion
  • Rewriting an older novel to submit under a pseudonym
  • Creating a Flash website and a promo campaign for above pseudonym
  • Judging a Writer's Digest short story contest
  • Judging the contests I'm holding on my website
  • Working on a children's book with an illustrator friend
  • Catching up on 8 blurbs I've promised people
  • Teaching a writing class at the local college
  • Reading 23 stories/novel excerpts from people who want my opinion
  • Working on two new short stories
  • Going to seven events in the next ten days

I'm not complaining at all--I just wish there was a way to clone myself so I can catch up.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Libraries #2

So here's the deal.

The multi-talented and multi-award winning Julia Spencer-Fleming and I will be sending out promo packages to more than 6300 libraries in 28 states.

For those who haven't read Julia yet, she writes the highly entertaining mystery thriller series featuring the unlikely team of Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne and Episcopal priest Clare Fergusson. The action takes place in the Adirondack town of Millers Kill, NY.

Four books so far, beginning with the wonderful IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER. Her latest, TO DARKNESS AND TO DEATH, is her best yet, and all the action takes place in a single day--a nifty high-concept idea that I'm going to use for FUZZY NAVEL, Jack Daniels #5 (after DIRTY MARTINI, which I'm working on right now).

Buy Julia's books. You'll like them. And check out her website, She's one of a handful of authors who is as insane about self-promotion as I am.

Included in out library package will be:
  1. A two page interview with me and Julia
  2. A double-sided brochure for the Miller's Kill series
  3. A double-side brochure for the Jack Daniels series
  4. A postcard/coaster from each of us, autographed

Now let's crunch numbers and see how this works.

Printing costs will be about $300 each. Shipping will be about $2300, and envelopes about $200. I'm sprining for shipping and envelopes, because Julia is the one who painstakingly gathered all of the library addresses.

So I'll be into this for about $2800.

I make 55 cents on a paperback sale, $3.00 on a hardcover sale, and about $6.00 on an audiobook sale.

Through my efforts, I'll need to sell 5090 paperbacks, or 933 hardcovers, or 466 audiobooks to break even. Or some combination thereof.

That seems very doable. If only one out of six libraries buys an audiobook, I've made back my investment.

I'm hoping that the personal touch---which includes a signed coaster and information on how to enter a library contest---will prompt those librarians who have never ordered my books to give them a try, and those librarians who have ordered my books before to buy the newest book in larger numbers, or more copies of my backlist.

Though I only have two books out (with the third coming in May) I have an astonishing 16 products available to purchase. They include:

Whiskey Sour:
Unabridged cassette 978-1-59355-487-7
Unabridged CDs 978-1-59355-489-3
Unabridged MP3-CD 978-1-59335-479-7
Unabridged Download 978-1-59335-976-2 Through OverDrive
Hardcover 1-4013-0087-1
Paperback 0-7868-9072-X

Bloody Mary:
Unabridged cassette 978-1-59355-491-0
Unabridged CDs 978-1-59355-493-4
Unabridged MP3-CD 978-1-59335-866-2
Unabridged Download 978-1-59335-088-5 Through OverDrive
Hardcover 1-4013-0089-8
Paperback 0-7868-9074-6

Rusty Nail:
Unabridged CDs 978-1-59355-497-2
Unabridged MP3-CD 978-1-59335-867-9
Unabridged Download 978-1-59335-658-0 Through OverDrive
Hardcover 1-4013-0088-X

So I should be able to at least break even, don't you think? I don't believe many libraries hear from authors directly, and I'm hoping this will spur them on to give me and Julia a shot.

Your thoughts?

I haven't included the Adobe and Microsoft Reader text download editions in the brochure, because I'm not sure libraries use these. Can some librarian reading this let me know?

Even if I don't see any immediate results of this campaign, it can't hurt getting my name and book titles in front of librarians. They may not order immediately, but when the next Ingram r Bake & Taylor catalog comes around, maybe the they'll be more apt to buy me.

Plus, I'll write the expense off.

When I get the complete package together, I'll make it available on my website for download, so people can take a look.

On an unrelated note, I'm somewhat sad to see yet another audio format rendered obsolete during my lifetime.

First 8-tracks. Then vinyl. Now, finally, cassettes are going the way of the dinosaur. According to Brilliance, my audio publisher, stores are no longer going to stock books on tape---only on CD and MP3. So Rusty Nail will be without a cassette release.

On another unrelated note, my books are now in 6 foreign countries: Japan, France, Russia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Thailand. The markets I really want to crack--England, Germany, and Australia--remain elusive.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


In the wide wide world of self-promotion, what role do libraries play?

A significant one, I believe.

I do perhaps two dozen library events a year. Sometimes the crowd is large. Sometimes only a few people show up. Sometimes they pay me a lot of money. Sometimes I just receive a warm thank you. Sometimes I bring my own books and sell a bunch. Sometimes a bookseller attends the event and only sells a single Whiskey Sour paperback. But I never feel my time has been wasted.

Every library I've visited has publicized the event somehow, whether it's just a mention on their website and newsletter, or a flyer campaign, or even cable TV and radio spots.

Some of my biggest, most enthusiastic fans are librarians.

About 1/5 of all of the email I receive from fans are from people who have discovered me in a library.

There are over 10,000 libraries in the United States. Some of them have ordered as many as fifty copies of my hardcovers.

I've never been treated poorly at a library; they're always happy to have me.

Library events, unlike bookstore events, aren't dependent on sales to be successful. As a result, they're always more fun.

Last weekend I conducted a writing workshop at the main library branch in Rockford, IL. The turnout was decent---about 20 people. Some of them bought books. Some of them showed up just to meet me, because they were fans. All of them were nice people, and a pleasure to meet.

Yesterday I did a half hour conference call with a book group that meets at a library in Akron, OH. It was too much fun, and I didn't even have to shower beforehand.

I have author friends who don't bother with libraries, because they don't feel it's worth their time and effort. That's crazy.

Libraries are the hubs of many communities. When promoting, writers must be ambassadors, spreading good will, recruiting a fan base. It isn't always about selling a lot of books. Sometimes it's about getting your face and name out there. Libraries are a perfect venue for this.

For one of Lawrence Block's book tours he visited libraries exclusively. He considered the tour very successful.

These reasons, and more, are why I devote a lot of time and energy to library events. And starting next month, I'm also devoting a lot of money to libraries as well.

In October, another author and I will be sending out several thousand personal letters to libraries. Most libraries order books through distributor catalogs, patron requests, and by reading industry mags like PW, Kirkus, Booklist, and Library Journal. By targeting these libraries directly, we're hoping to stand out amoung the 250,000 other books published every year, and improve our sales to this larget market.

Is it worth investing a few grand? Time will tell. I'll keep you posted, and supply more details as this crystalizes.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Long Weekend

On Friday, Sept 9th, I had the pleasure of attending the Midwest Literary Festival in Aurora, IL. I gave an opening speech, following the mayor, and buried somewhere in my talk were the Top Five Reasons Books are Better than Sex:

5. Books last longer than three minutes.

4. If you don't like what you find between the covers, you can toss it aside and find another book right away.

3. With books, length isn't important.

2. A book can make you sick, but not the kind of sick that requires a trip to the clinic.

1. You can have a new book every night, and they don't get jealous.

Also at MLF, I had the opportunity to see some very cool authors, including Melanie Lynne Hauser, Steve Alten, Jay Bonansinga, Tina Jens, David Ellis, and many others. Great time, good crowd, I'll be back next year.

David Ellis and I then spent the weekend in Michigan, doing a library event in Romeo County with luminaries such as William Kent Krueger, P.J. Parrish, Julia Spencer-Fleming, M.G. Kincaid, Michael Koryta, Lee Meadows, anf Terence Faherty. Great panelists, great crowd.

The next day we took the show over to the Kerrytown BookFest, with equally wonderful results.

Last night Dave, P.J. and I did an event at Schuler's Books in Okemos, which was well-attended and a lot of fun.

Mr. Ellis and myself also managed to drop-in 15 bookstores in Michigan, for drive-by signings. One of my running jokes was to point Dave to the remainder table whenever we entered a new store and say, "Sign those first."

And then, karma showed up to smack me in the face.

There, in a Border's Outlet store, were three hardcovers of WHISKEY SOUR... for $6.99.

I've been remaindered.

I went through all the stages of grief:
  • Denial (that's not my book...)
  • Anger (I thought I sold out the print run!)
  • Bargaining (if my publisher gave me a few more months, I would have sold them.)
  • Depression (Boy do I suck.)
  • and Acceptance (It happens to everyone, sooner or later.)

Naturally, I bought all three copies.

Dave was merciless the rest of the trip.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Final Thoughts

It's like a train wreck---I keep trying to turn away, but can't.

I stated earlier that I'm not going to defend myself, and I won't. All opinions are valid, and I appreciate everyone sharing them.

There were many folks who emailed me rather than posted. Thank you as well. Here's the final tally:

26 people think I'm fine with how I'm doing things. Thanks for the support, but if I'm hurting people's feelings, that isn't fine at all. I'm not concerned with the people who view me peripherally and find me obnoxious. Someone once said, "The people who don't like you are never going to like you. The ones who do like you will forgive you."

But if I did hurt your feelings, it wasn't intentional. And again, I apologize. My goal is to be entertaining, not to traumatize my peers.

7 people think I'm the anti-christ, and should be put to death. Fair enough. Even though I'm sure he doesn't want my endorsement, I'd like to express my appreciation to Charles Benoit, who had the cajones to rip me a new one and sign his name to it. Very cool. I much prefer someone saying that to my face than talking behind my back. If you can stomach standing next to me, I'll buy you a beer at B'Con 2006.

8 people think I need to tone it down a little, or maybe more than a little. You may be right.

7 people urged me to seek help for a drinking problem, and one even offered to sponsor me in AA. Thanks for the concern. I did a little Googling, and according to this test I have a low dependence on alcohol. I also lack any of the symptoms of alcohol addiction. B'Con was the first time I've gotten annihilated in public since college.

4 people asked me for blurbs, even while in the midst of all of this controversy. I'm way behind in my reading, but dammit, I will read your books, and if I like them I'd be thrilled to blurb them. Thanks for the vote of confidence.

2 people complimented me on the fact that I helped raise $8000 for charity at the auction.

Why is it when I act like a loudmouth on a panel and drink too much that's grounds for excommunication from the mystery world, but when I work my butt off and do some good, no one cares? Rhetorical question.

I think that is all that needs to be said. Personally, I'm sick of hearing about myself---which may be a first. But here's a caveat to all who read:

The mystery community is pretty tight, but not so tight that secrets can't be kept. I've learned that there are people who have disliked me for years, and I've never known.

I'm not alone in my ignorance. If you think you're universally liked, guess again. People talk. Gossip. Bitch. Moan. Complain. Point fingers. There are people who don't like you, and chances are you'll never hear about it.

Watch your glass houses, folks.

Love and success to all, even to the ones who can't stand me.


Thursday, September 08, 2005

How Much is Too Much?

I'm looking back on Bouchercon with mixed emotions.

There were many good parts. I was able to touch base with dozens of writers and friends. I had a signing line for a solid hour. I emceed the charity auction and helped raise over eight grand. I gave away over a hundred free drinks at the ITW table. I moderated a standing room only panel and got some big laughs.

But I also heard many negative things about me, some of them from good friends. Those include drinking too much and acting inappropriately, showing off, being loud and obnoxious, trying too hard to be funny, and crossing the lines of good taste.

I've been thinking about these comments---the bad ones. I haven't been focusing on the good ones, because you can't learn from praise. Criticism, however, is a great teacher.

In my profession, being viewed negatively isn't helpful. Public appearances are a time to shine, to make friends, to spread good-will.

While I don't recall insulting or offending anyone personally (though I was drinking Absinthe on the last night of Bouchercon and can't remember much of anything,) I can honestly say that it's never my intention to hurt anyone, ever. Shock them, perhaps. But not anger them.

If I pissed you off, I apologize.

My attitude toward conventions is a simple one; be entertaining. This doesn't mean get up on a table and yell "Joe Joe Joe!" And it doesn't mean push other people out of the limelight so I can step in with my sound bite. But if there's an opportunity to say or do something funny, I always take it, and don't consider the consequences.

When I'm at conventions, I'm a performer.

During the panel that I moderated, I talked very little about my own books. I didn't even introduce myself. I spent most of the panel trying to make the audience laugh.

I received many compliments on that panel when it was over. A day later, I still had people coming up to me, saying that the panel I moderated was the funniest they'd ever seen.

But I also found out that one of my panelists thought it was terrible. "There goes Joe, doing his stand-up comedy routine again," was their comment. And another author came up to me and sarcastically said, "Didn't you do the exact same thing at another conference?"

Well, yeah. It's called a routine. Was I that bad?

I'd kept an eye on my audience and they seemed to be enjoying it. They were laughing and smiling.

I also made sure that the panelists had ample time to talk about their work, and about the topic at hand (the difference between thrillers vs. mysteries.) I even made the audience say the panelists' books out loud, several times each, so they'd remember their titles.

In my mind, we were entertaining for an hour, got some information out there along with the laughs, and the panelists did a great job.

But at least one of the panelists didn't think so. And word-of-mouth got back to me, and I found out that many other authors shared that view. I'm gaining a reputation among my peers as Mr. Obnoxious. And that's not a moniker I particularly like.

On one hand, I know I'm reaching some fans, and making a lot of people laugh.

On the other hand, I'm alienating some fellow writers, who think I'm an unbearable egomaniac with a drinking problem.

While I'm not going to defend myself, I would like to mention that the average conference panel is not a non-stop thrill-ride. I can safely say that I've seen the panelist who disliked my performance on many other panels, and this person always does a wonderful job. But I can't for the life of me remember any of those panels, their topics, or a single thing this person said.

Panels have very little substance to them, very little about them that is memorable.

People remember my panels. I'm not saying that because I'm stuck on myself. I'm saying that because that's what I work very hard to accomplish, and that's what I hear afterward.

The rule in performing is simple: be anything but boring.

So what percent of the population am I allowed to piss off in order to be memorable? Or should I tone it down several notches, and try to act more like a responsible adult?

The only thing I'm 100% sure about is: I'll never drink Absinthe again.

I'd like to hear from folks in general, and folks who went to Bouchercon. Feel free to post anonymously. Feel free to post hearsay. I'd like to hear some negative things about myself.

That's the only way I'll learn.