Saturday, November 26, 2005

On Beyond Google

So you're constantly checking your Amazon rankings, and you Google yourself daily to see if anyone in cyberspace has mentioned you.

Welcome to professional writing.

But there's actually MORE you can do to drive yourself nuts.

Here are some new ways to obsess over your public appearance (or lack thereof). Simply search for your name, in quotes (i.e. "JA Konrath") and let the results roll in. will show you how much you are blogged about. So does will let you know how 'in print' you are. proves that people do critique beyond Amazon. If you write mysteries, also visit will give you Internet saturation beyond Google. Also try will show you how well your website is doing (and how well your peers are doing) with three different search criteria. will let you know who is talking about you in newsgroups. will show you who is selling your stuff, and for how much.

Still not enough about you? Visit will give you an accurate appraisal of how much your books (and signature) are really worth. Also try,, and

I'm still waiting for, so I can search my memories for where the hell I lost my keys back in '97.

If anyone has any other cyberspace mirrors (ways to see yourself) that you use, please post them. God knows I don't spend enough time each day dwelling on my career...

Added: Melanie Lynne Hauser has just informed me that you can check if your book is stocked in libraries by visiting and downloading a toolbar.
I played with this for a while, and it works great.

Added: Melanie's husband just forwarded more time wasters to me, this one let's you track your Amazon rank: also showing high, low, and average.

This one searches more blogs for you:

Monday, November 21, 2005

Library Redux

So the great library campaign is reaching fruition. For those who are just tuning in, here's the skinny:

Award winning author Julia Spencer-Fleming and I interviewed each other. We each made a brochure. I had Bloody Mary coasters made and signed them. We're sending this package out to 6500 libraries.

Here are the specifics:

The coaster creation entailed Photoshopping an image (got some help from a friend for $50), I bought 6500 coasters at 12.2 cents each ($800), bought 6500 addressed envelopes ($350), printed 6500 double sided brochures (lazer printer $179, cartridge $80, two toner refils $30, 13 reams of paper, $43).

Plus, postage, which is $2400.

So far, I'm into this for just about $4000. I'm spending roughly 62 cents on each library.

I'm paying for postage, because Julia compiled the library list, which cost her a pretty penny. She's also paying to print the interview (about $350) and she supplied the library labels ($200) and her own brochures.

Libraries do their ordering from catalogues supplied by the publisher, by catalogues supplied by the distributors (Ingram and Baker & Taylor,) and through reading reviews in Library Journal, Kirkus, PW, and Boolist, plus others. Patron requests and word-of-mouth also are a factor.

I earn 55 cents for each paperback sold, $3.44 for each hardcover, and between $5 and $8 for each audiobook.

To earn back my investment, I'm going to need to sell 570 audiobooks, or 7272 paperbacks, or 1143 hardcovers, or any combination thereof.

I have two hardcovers in print, one paperback, two MP3s, two cassettes, and two CDs. I'm also got another paperback, hardcover, MP3, CD, and cassette that I'm including information about, coming out in June of 2006.

So basically, I'm selling fourteen things.

The brochure includes pictures of the book covers, blurbs, ISBNs, ordering info, brief synopses, contact info, and reviews. It took me 8 hours to create, and looks pretty good.

The interview is fun, light, but also imparts some detailed info about each of our series and why we love libraries.

So far, I've signed 3200 coasters. It's taken me three days, three hours a day, and I've gone through five Sharpies.

The printing is a huge pain in the butt, because the brochure is double-sided, but the printer only does single-sided, so everything has to be fed through twice. I spent four hours printing today, and got through 1000 copies. I could have had this done for 6 cents a copy, or $390. I bought a printer, toner, and paper for $332, and I get to keep the printer, so I went the do-it-myself route.

I figure I can be done with the signing and the printing by Thanksgiving.

That still leaves the folding (the brochure is tri-folded) and the stuffing envelopes and adding stamps. I looked into bulk mailing, but to set that up is $300 right off the bat, and postage would be the same.

Besides the 4 grand, I'll be into this project for about 80 hours when I finish.

Is it worth it?

I doubt I'll recoup my money, let alone my time. But I have no way of knowning, because no one has ever hit the library market like this before. I'm in uncharted waters.

This isn't an impersonal postcard. This is actual correspondence from real writers, with readable content. It's funny. It includes a signed coaster. It's presented in an unique way, and it's focused on only two authors, rather than hundreds in a catalogue or review magazine.

This is cheaper than an ad in a big magazine or newspaper. It's direct marketing in it's purest form--selling to a specific target audience that wants to buy books.

I'm assuming 1/3 to 1/2 of these libraries already have something of mine. This will help reinforce my brand, make them aware of my audiobooks, add to name recognition, and perhaps make them take notice of the books they already have sitting on their shelf, which would result in larger orders down the road.

We'll see what happens.

And for all who are interested, here's what the package looks like (I'll add Julia's brochure when she sends me a pdf file)

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Fair Use

So there's been a tsunami of controversy about the new Google Search the Book program, which allows the contents of books to be searched for key words much like the Internet is searched for key words.

How does it work? Try it for yourself. Visit and do a search for "Konrath." You'll be able to find Whiskey Sour, completely searchable.

The Author's Guild says this violates copyright, and that allowing access to content without a royalty is the same as stealing.

I feel differently.

People read me for free at the library, sell my advance reading copies on Ebay, buy my used books on Amazon, and I don't make a cent from these transactions.

I'm also all for them.

Steal me. Download me. Search inside me. Google my complete text. Infringe me.

Just read me.

I remember when Metallica shut down Napster. Three major things resulted from that.

1. Many other peer to peer sharing networks showed up.
2. Sony began selling copy-protected CDs, which load spyware onto your computer.
3. People hated Metallica, and they lost sales rather than received compensation for their lost royalties.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the band Phish, which encourages fans to trade music freely. Phish fans are happy, and enough money flows Phish's way to make them rich.

Here's the thing--I want to be read. The more people that read me, the better off I am. Some of those freebies will translate into sales. Some won't. But they all add to name recognition, to brand awareness, and to more people knowing who I am and what I write.

I wouldn't want anyone to print up editions of my books without compensating me. But I don't mind being Googleable, even if they make some advertising revenue from my books.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Eggs in Baskets and Hatched Chickens

(This post isn't directed at anyone in particular, and you know who you are.)

I've met a lot of authors. Some pre-published. Some seasoned pros. Some somewhere in between.

Most writers have some sort of publicity plan. They're going to set up local signings, or take out some ads, or start a blog, or have a contest, or get some big blurbs, or attend a lot of conferences, or send out postcards, or visit a lot of libraries, or print up 10,000 bookmarks, or pay to promote their website, or teach classes, or try to manipulate their Amazon numbers, or give away lots of free copies or their book, or have a large internet presence, or make vidlits, or all of the above (which is what I did, in one way or another.)

And most writers soon find out that their best laid plans, when executed, don't meet their expectations.

It's hard to sell books. Which is why 4 out of 5 published don't earn out their advance.

A lot of writers I know, when they find out their plans didn't pan out, become discouraged, bitter, depressed, and resentful.

This brings up an important point---one that many authors, both new and seasoned, fail to grasp: If you build it, they won't always come.

Having marketing ideas or strategies is good--enthusiasm and a willingness to experiment with publicity and marketing will help you in the long run. But too many authors think that an ad, or a contest, or a vidlit, or a blog, will automatically sell books. It won't.

There's no single path to success. Some authors do the bare minimum, and sell like crazy. Some try like crazy and still have poor sell-through.

I'm confidant in saying I self-promote a lot. I'm a minorly successful author. I believe I have very good name recognition in comparison to my sales (meaning I'm known by more people than simply those who buy me.) I believe this name recognition is based on all that I have done to promote myself, and that many sales have resulted from my efforts--sales that wouldn't have happened otherwise. My site and blog get a lot of hits. I get a lot of fan mail. My readership is growing. These are all good signs.

But still, as much as I'd like to take credit for the way my career is going, the fact is that luck plays a huge part.

Much bigger authors than me have done much less on the self-promotion front, but sell in much greater numbers. I can say, "Do this, do that, keep trying" but the fact is, none of my efforts have led me to the bestseller lists. James Patterson can say, "Do nothing but write a good book" and his path did lead him to the bestseller list.

For all of our efforts, there's still an X Factor that determines success. Some unknown, unteachable, unreachable thing determines who makes 7 million a book, and who loses their publishing deal due to poor sell-through.

You can increase your odds that Factor X happens by working hard, trying new things, and never giving up, but there are no guarantees.

So why even bother? If it's all up to fate, why spend 80% of your time trying to sell your books?

For me, it comes down to peace of mind. If one of my efforts falls flat, at least I can tell myself that I tried. If my career falls flat, it won't be because I didn't make an effort.

So I recommend that you try. You try everything. You try often. You keep at it, even when nothing seems to work.

But, luckily, sometimes things do work. I believe the failures outnumber the successes in marketing, but when the successes do happen, they make it all worthwhile.

Plus there's the unknown, cumulative effect of your efforts. You might have only gotten three people at your signing, but several hundred saw the sign promoting it. Factor X can come into play in small ways--you meet a TV producer at a convention, someone discovers your blog and wants to do a newspaper story on you, your website contest leads to a foreign rights sale. Your efforts yield more than book sales. They lead to word-of-mouth, brand awareness, and name recognition.

So next time you have a brilliant marketing idea, don't put all your eggs in one basket and count those chickens before they've hatched. The best stock portfolios diversify. Sometimes the sure-thing falls flat, and it's the penny stock that makes you rich.

If you know that a lot of your efforts will fail, you'll be a lot happier at the end of the day.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Hey there, Author, checking your Amazon sales rank 15 times a day---why don't you try to be proactive rather than reactive and use some of Amazon's features to your advantage? Why be Amazonymous when you can actively influence your own sales? allows authors to set up their own bio page. It's free. And after the first of the year, it will also allow you to contact readers who have bought your book through Amazon.

Mine is here. allows people to download a short story of yours for .49 cents. I'll have a new Jack Daniels story up there in a few weeks. It's great for fans who are anxiously awaiting your next book, and it is also a cheap way for a potential buyer to give your writing a try without plunking down the big bucks. Plus, you make money--every download earns you 20 cents---which is pretty good considering a paperback sale only nets an author 55 cents. allows you to create a list of books that are similar to yours, and which comes up when people do searches on those authors. This is a list of recommended reads that appears in the sidebar when popular authors are searched. One of mine is here. reviews are more than just a way to give your author peers a pick me up---you thoughtful comments about their books can lead their readers to you. So release your inner Harriet Klausner and go review some books. This is especially important if you believe in karma.
Don't know what Amazon rankings mean? Neither does anyone else. For a quick and dirty explanation, check out But my own experience and experiments don't necessarily agree.

I do know that Amazon is supplied by the distributor Ingram, and a call to 615-213-6803 can let you know how many books Ingram has shipped for this year and last.

Want to make money from Amazon? You can join Amazon Affiliates at and get a few cents every time someone orders your book through your site. If you want to link to Amazon, I also suggest you link to other bookstores as well, to give your surfers a choice of where to buy. I personally do not link to Amazon, becuase I've found that indie bookstores dislike it.

So what are you waiting for? Get into the Amazone.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Everyone is the hero in their own movie

I've gotten a lot of private emails lately about the way some folks in the mystery community treat other folks. By a lot, I mean about twenty in the past few days.

Some of the people writing are pros. Some have new book deals. Some are unpublished.

All have the same theme---what's with all the negativity?

Being a professional writer means you are a public figure. Like all public figures, people will openly form opinions about you and your work. Some will like you. Some won't.

The President is often the most loved and the most hated person in the country. That's just the way it goes. I'm sure he doesn't take it personally. Neither should writers.

I make it a point not to take cheap shots. I rarely defend myself. If I do defend myself, it is to make a point--it's not to change anyone's mind. There are few certainties in life, but one of them is: "You'll probably never change anyone's mind."

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and all opinions are valid. As the title of this entry says, everyone is the hero in the movie of their life. Everyone feels justified in what they say and do, and everyone is offended when the world doesn't agree with them.

The problem with judging others is that it reeks of insecurity. Throughout your life, there will be many people you don't like. Many will fail to meet up to your standards. Many will screw up. Many will attack you. But how helpful do you think you are being when you call them on it? A wise man told me over breakfast, "If someone cuts you off in traffic, and you honk and give the guy the finger, how much do you really believe your actions will change that person's behavior?"

The answer is: not at all. Insulting someone doesn't ever help the issue. Even if you feel your insult is justified.

The Internet is one of the most amazing inventions of mankind. It allows for instant communication. Unfortunately, there is also a lack of accountability. People can say things that they wouldn't have the guts to say to a person's face. They can post anonymously, or under false names. They can lie. They can troll.

So here are some Internet rules that I try to follow:
  1. Try not to hurt others.
  2. If you feel you must hurt others, be a man and own up to it.
  3. Try not to reply to those who hurt you, because you aren't going to change their mind.
  4. Be the person your kids will be proud of, whether you have kids or not.

I'm not bringing all of this up for any specific reason, and this blog entry isn't aimed at any specific individual.

And to the anonymous guy insulting me on another blog--I have a pretty good idea of who you are, and I just called Ingram and checked the sales of your last book. Ouch. No wonder you're so angry.

(My son wanted me to mention that)

First Lines

First lines are the most important lines in the story. Here are some of mine from stories and books I've sold:

There were four black and whites already at the 7-Eleven when I arrived. -- WHISKEY SOUR

"It would be so easy to kill you while you sleep." -- BLOODY MARY

The sound begins. Again. -- RUSTY NAIL

No security cameras this time, but he still has to be careful. --DIRTY MARTINI

"She sure bled a lot." -- ON THE ROCKS

"His skull is shattered and his spinal column looks like a dutch pretzel." -- WITH A TWIST

Mitch couldn't answer me with the barrel of my gun in his mouth, so I pulled it out. -- STREET MUSIC

"I want you to kill the man that my husband hired to kill the man that I hired to kill my husband." -- TAKEN TO THE CLEANERS

The woman twisting the tube into my penis has cold hands. -- FORGIVENESS

"That's gotta be where the money is." -- THE SHED

Hudson closed his eyes and swallowed hard, trying to stop sweating. -- THE AGREEMENT

There's an art to getting your ass kicked. -- EPITAPH

"I want you to kill my wife." -- SUFFER

"Let me get this straight--you want me to murder you tonight?" -- REDUX

"Eat it." -- FINICKY EATER

The mark knelt next to a garbage can, two hands unsuccessfully trying to plug nine holes in his face, neck, and upper body. -- LIGHT DRIZZLE

"No thanks." -- THE BAG

Rust from the crowbar flaked off, coating my palm with orange dust. -- BASKET CASE

Voice Module 195567 Record Mode: Is this thing working? -- SYMBIOS


Some are stronger than others. Why? What makes a first line good or bad?

Feel free to post some of your favorites.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Cleaning House

I've got a brief stretch of free time before holiday booksigning madness, and have several goals for this period. The first was to clean my computer--yesterday I made back-ups of important data then reinstalled Windows. It's amazing how fast everything runs now.

Other things on the agenda:
  1. Catch up on my email.
  2. Finally do the library mailing.
  3. Judge all the contests on my website, and update it with tons more content.

Then I'll be Officially Caught Up, just in time to write my next Jack book.

To Bloggers: If you link to my blog, but I don't link to yours, let me know and I'll correct the situation.

To Newbie Writers: Don't start your stories with setting. I'm judging a magazine contest, and 9 out of 10 stories begin with the shining sun or the wet rain. I don't read much farther. Start with dialog and action, and let the setting come out through the story.

To Maria: I love you.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Conference Culture

I'm in California, at the sixth annual Men of Mystery Convention. Like all good conferences, it was both productive and fun. Besides getting to meet readers, I hung out with fellow scribes Barry Eisler, James Rollins, Sean Doolittle, Dylan Schaffer, Jeff Shelby, Lee Goldberg, Tod Goldberg, and many others.

MoM is a 60 table banquet lunch with over 500 guests. Each author gets his own table (except for Shelby, who had to share with another author) and 90 seconds to stand up and address the entire room.

Some writers, sadly, are much better writers than talkers. Those I listed above don't have that problem (buy their books), and the conference quickly became a game of 'who can get the biggest laughs.' And there were some big ones. My favorite was Lee, waxing philosophically about his recent proctological exam, and possibly turing that into a mystery series. I offered to co-write, and proposed four titles:


Laughs translated into sales. I sold out of paperbacks, and moved quite a few hardcovers. Those who spoke poorly, sold poorly.

Message from Joe: Learn to Speak in Public. Now.

There's a lot of buzz circulating about Dean Koontz's speech, and how he offended many attendees. Personally, I didn't find the remarks offensive---Koontz was purposely trying to be humorously insulting, in order to get a certain Japanese CEO to drop his name from a movie title. His goal was to dishonor the guy. The problem was in the set-up and the execution. Koontz just wasn't very funny. George Carlin is a lot more offensive, but gets away with it because he's funny.

Had Koontz spent more time showing he was the underdog, and established that he wasn't racist and did all of this to right an injustice (rather than because he simply wanted his way, which is how he came off), I think the story would have gone over a little better.

Or perhaps Mr. Koontz should simply retire this particular anecdote.

Of course, when you sell 300 million books, chances are you don't care too much about the opinions of your peers. In fact, I've only sold 100k books and I don't care too much about the opinions of my peers either. But, while I'm often inappropriate in public, I'm never hateful. Many thought Dean was.

Which brings up an interesting point. If you're going to talk in public, be aware that you might not get the reaction you expect. Whether that dictates what you say or don't say is up to you. Just be prepared to face public opinion when you're finished speaking.

Conferences are essential for writers, and at conferences you'll be asked to speak. Unlike signings, where you'll meet a few dozen readers, you can meet hundreds at a con. You don't want to turn readers against you.

Next weekend, I'll be with Dave Ellis, Blake Crouch, Melanie Lynne Hauser, Libby Fischer Hellmann, Gregg Hurwitz (who I just saw at MoM) and others, at Murder and Mayhem in Muskego.

Coming up next year is Love is Murder in Chicago February 3-4, Sleuthfest in Florida March 3-6, and the first annual Thrillerfest, June 29-July 2 in Arizona.

Thrillerfest is put on by the International Thriller Writers, and this con is quickly getting some very big names to attend. Get your tickets now, while they're still available.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

What I've Learned So Far

This is the age of instant communication, and because of that the author/reader relationship extends beyond the pages of a book. Authors spend a lot of time and money on websites, making it easy for fans to get in touch. Email, message boards, authors chats, blogs, and pod casts all make contacting your favorite writer practically instantaneous.

I believe that being approachable and accessible is necessary in this business, and I spend a good deal of time making sure I'm able to be reached, and that I reply to those who reach me.

My website took a great deal of time to set up. I used to update the content weekly, but now it's once a month, and mostly limited to appearances and news.

My blog is where I have a chance to air my thoughts about publishing, and I spend a lot of time here, posting and replying.

I run several contests, and the latest one just ended. It was a short story contest, and I had over a hundred entries, which thrills me.

Email is still the preferred method of contact, and I get between 30 and 50 emails a week from fans.

Snail mail is almost non-existent. I've gotten around ten fan letters in the past two years, compared to thousands of emails.

All told, I spend about ten hours a week connecting with fans. I feel it is time well spent.

But is there anything in my career which I don't consider worthwhile?

It is coming up on my three year anniversary---three years ago, this November, I landed my first book deal. I went into this business green, and I know quite a lot now. Like all new authors, I had many misconceptions that were quickly dispelled.

Here are some things I've learned:

Write a good book. While this is a no brainier, so many new writers blame everyone but themselves for their lack of publication credits. If you want to succeed, you have to learn the craft.

Readers are more important than peers. When I first got published, it was incredibly important for me to be accepted by the mystery community. Now, not so much. I treasure the friends I've made, and will continue to make more, but I'm no longer worried about seeking approval.

Kiss ass. Start with the folks on your team--your agent and publisher. Then pucker up for booksellers, and fans. Be thankful, be gracious, and be vocal in both. If you're fun to work with, you're ahead of the game. If you spread warmth, it will be returned to you. Spreading venom has the same effect.

Give back. If you've had any degree of success, send the elevator back down. Talk to new writers. Offer advice. Teach. Give blurbs. Post publishing tips on your website.

Have a plan. Don't expect anyone to help you, guide you, or take care of you. Learn as much as you can, set goals, and figure out how to reach those goals.

Stay grounded. It's very easy to get caught up in the hype. Get real. You aren't curing cancer. You're an entertainer--don't think that you're more than that.

Don't volunteer. It's very easy to get used. I'm all for helping out within the writing and publishing community, but I've gotten burned a few times. Know what is in it for you, and be clear about what you're getting in return.

Don't compare yourself to other authors. Someone is always going to have more money, larger print runs, more fans, and better deals. Competition is healthy, but it should be with yourself, not with others.

Don't listen to reviews. You will anyway, but don't take it personally. Not everyone will like your books. Not everyone will like you. It isn't important what people are saying, as long as they're saying something.

Don't go to awards ceremonies. Losing isn't a big deal. What hurts is having fifty people come up to you and say, "Sorry you lost."

Be approachable. Both in person, and in cyberspace. If someone reaches out to you, reach back.

Learn to turn it off. I'm still struggling with this. Being a writer defines me as a person, and I can't seem to ever get away from it. I've had one vacation in three years, and during that vacation I did booksignings. Know when to relax. And when you learn how, teach me how.

Cherish family and friends. After you become a writer, there won't be many people who knew you 'before.' The ones who did are special. Never let them forget how special they are.

Don't worry. No matter how much you do, how hard you try, luck still plays a huge part in success. As Barry Eisler just told me, the most you can do is to try your best. Then, no matter how luck factors in, you'll at least have no regrets.

So far, I don't have any regrets. I wish the same to all of you.