Wednesday, May 31, 2006


I'm in a silly mood, because I have waaaaay too much work to do and not enough time to do it, plus I just got my hardcover copies of RUSTY NAIL and they rock and I'm damn happy.

So it's time to goof off.

Here's the game. You have six sentences to add a section to a hardboiled detective story. Sex and violence are good. Funny is good.

Put your six sentences in the comments section. There doesn't have to be any continuity between sections, other than this:

1. The first main character is a Chicago private detective named Skip Fancy.

2. The action all takes place in Skip's office.

3. The second main character is a bombshell named Ilsa. She's trying to hire Skip for something.

Stick to the characters and the setting, but everything else is up for grabs. I'll start:

Skip Fancy was polishing his gun when someone knocked at the door. Normally, Skip liked knockers--they were two of his favorite things--but in this case knockers could only mean one thing; someone was at the door.

"I'm coming!" Skip said. Then he tucked his gun back into his pants and zipped up his fly.

He opened the door and inhaled sharply---so sharply he cut himself, right on that little dangly thing that hung in the back of his throat like a big pink upsidedown exclamation point. What was that little dangly thing called, and what the hell did it do anyway?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Interviewing 101

I've done quite a few interviews, both live and through email, and I always make sure I avoid the Common Interview Mistakes.

What are the Common Interview Mistakes? I'm glad you asked.
  1. Being Long Winded. Trust me, you aren't nearly as interesting as you think you are. Keep your answers short and punchy.
  2. Getting Off Track. Stick to the topic and question, and limit the meandering. Focus, get to the point, then conclude.
  3. Reading Cue Cards. It's easy to go on autopilot when you're asked the same question a thousand times. Remember that this may be the first time your audience hears your answer, so make sure you don't sound like you're repeating something you memorized.
  4. No Enthusiasm. Being upbeat and enjoying the process is just as important as anything you have to say. Your answers won't be remembered. Your attitude will.
  5. Being Boring. The best interviews entertain as well as inform. Infodumps are yawn-inducing. But clever banter, jokes, and controversy are always welcome.
  6. Hesitating. In live interviews, using 'uh' and 'um' all the time is unprofessional, and sounds bad. In print interviews, make sure every word counts. You probably don't need many of those modifiers, that back story, or that description. Cut it.
  7. Not Understanding Image. Too many authors don't consider what kind of image they want to portray. This is a lost opportunity, because a carefully cultivated and maintained image goes a long way to helping you establish your brand. I've worked hard to be known as a tireless self-promoter, as an outrageous personality, and as a writer who combines laughs with scares. Everything I do in the public eye is geared toward advancing these images.
  8. Pomposity. No one likes a person who is self-absorbed, superior, dismissive, or ungrateful. Be nice, and be humble. Your shit stinks. Believe it.
  9. Ignoring Time and Space. I'm not talking about physics. I'm talking about time slots and space considerations. If your radio spot is supposed to last for two minutes, don't have ten minutes worth of things to say. If your interview has to be 800 words, don't give them 2000. Stay within the expected duration.

Interviews are tremendous opportunities for writers. Don't waste them.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


Though the venerable MJ Rose differs in opinion (and makes some good points) I don't believe that print advertising is effective or worthwhile.

My rationale is simple: I don't buy books because I view their ads, so I don't expect anyone else to do so either. Why would I spend money---sometimes a lot of money---using a form of promotion that I don't think is effective?

The trap many new authors fall into is that they realize this business is hard and they feel they must do something. So they indulge in what I call the Unholy Triad:
  1. Send out postcards with their book jacket on them
  2. Have bookmarks made
  3. Buy ads in genre magazines

As far as my experience goes, none of these are effective forms of advertising, and none of them sells books.

Of the three, I believe ads are the least effective, while also being the most expensive.

Those who make their living by creating ads, and publications (including websites) that sell ad space, will tell you ads are effective for several reasons.

As an Announcement - For brand name authors, an ad informs the pre-existing readership that a new book is now available.

JA's Opinion - I slightly agree. If someone is a mega-huge bestseller, then an ad in a large publication (the New York Times, People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly) will help to spread the word.

But that author's die-hard fans will have already known about the book. They'll have viewed the author's website, read genre magazines and reviews, and have been eagerly anticipating it.

If you're a new or midlist author, a big ad won't affect those who haven't heard of you, and your diehard fans will probably already know about the upcoming release.

As a Reinforcement - Advertising is just part of a writer's marketing and publicity arsenal; a prong on the multi-tined fork of book touring, conferences, media exposure, reviews, interviews, etc.

The goal of all marketing is to establish brands, and the more places a would-be customer can see references to your book, the likelier it will be lodged in their subconscious.

JA's Opinion - I disagree. Advertising is so pervasive, we tune it out. The passive nature of print ads makes this very easy to do. Because most ads offer little in the way of actual content (other than an announcement) they are instantly recognized as ads by our subconscious and dismissed.

I'll prove my point. Other than any ads for your own books, can you recall someone else's book ad? If you're a reader, you've seen thousands. You can remember TV commercials from 20 years ago. But can you close your eyes and visualize a book ad you've seen before?

And if you do in fact remember a few, did you buy the books?

As an Introduction - Ads arouse curiosity about new authors and books. If someone is a noir fan, and actively seeks out noir, an ad could make them aware of something they hadn't known existed.

JA's Opinion - I disagree. You can't judge a book by its ad. First of all, ads are biased, and people know this. Ads don't impart any information that would allow the reader to make an informed decision about whether or not to buy the book.

Second, even if the ad did pique interest, there is no forward momentum that will lead to a sale. If you see an effective print ad, what is the likelihood you'll put down the magazine and then rush to the computer or immediately jump into the car and head to a bookstore?

As an Incentive - A print ad that provokes action, such as a coupon, sale announcement, or contest, offers value. Ads like this give to the consumer, rather than take from them, and are effective.

JA's Opinion - I agree, if the ad is for a grocery store or Wal-Mart. No one has effectively used coupons to sell books.

Every once and a while a publisher will cut the price of a book (like $4.99 paperbacks or $15 hardcovers) as an incentive to buy, but that's a point of purchase incentive.

Publishers will also occasionally have big contests to launch books. Win money, or a trip, or a car. Considering how rarely this is done, I can't imagine they're having huge successes with this gimmick. I believe that people buy books because they like the books, not because they could win a cruise.

In my experience, getting people to enter a contest is difficult, because there is no momentum between ad and action.

Ads as Status - Big splashy ads, or a large ad campaign, tells readers that this is a big book which the publisher is behind, and they should see what all the buzz is about. If an author seems to be everywhere, they must be good, and they will be talked about.

JA's Opinion - The amount of hype it takes to impress a reader is beyond anyone's capacity, unless you're Dan Brown.

But I do think it is important to get your name in as many palces as possible. Instead of ads, do interviews, articles, and shorts stories. These are free (or they pay you) and you can still get a piece of the buzz pie.

Who are Ads Really For? - I think that ads are so pervasive in this world not because they work well, but because they appeal to the vanity of the advertiser, and offer a false sense of empowerment.

Author X has a book coming out. She places ads because she feels she has to be doing something. Publisher Y wants to impress Author X, so they take out some big ads to show her that they're behind her.

Lots of money gets wasted, both on creating and placing these ads, and this budget gets tacked onto the Profit and Loss statement for this book.

My publisher placed several ads for BLOODY MARY in mystery magazines, including The Strand, Crimespree, Ellery Queen, and Alfred Hitchcock, to the tune of a few grand. That meant I'd have to sell over 1000 books beyond what I would have normally sold, as a direct result of the ads. I don't think this occurred.

I liked the ads a lot (here's one at and really appreciated my publisher's efforts. But it wasn't cost-effective, and I wouldn't ever ask them to do this again.

Should You Ever Buy an Ad? - Well, I just did.

I know, I know---I just spent this entire blog railing against print ads, so why would I buy one?

Here's the story: The mystery zine Crimespree, run by the always charming Jon and Ruth Jordan, is putting out a special issue for Thrillerfest. This issue is being given away free, as a promotional item to get new readers interested in the magazine. That means everyone at Thrillerfest will get a copy.

Jon is reprinting a funny article by me, tweaked for the Thrillerfest audience, to put into this issue. So he's giving me free publicity.

For him to afford to give out magazines gratis, he needs authors to pay for ads. So me placing an ad is quid pro quo.

Plus, having an ad in conjunction with my article will perhaps help me stand out a smidgen while surrounded by all of those superstar authors. Or not.

I thought at length about the kind of ad I wanted to put in Crimespree. What would be memorable? What would get people talking and get them curious about my books?

This is what I came up with:

It took about ten minutes to put together, at no cost to me, and I think it's funny, effective, and unusual enough to stand out.

Will it sell piles of books?

I'm not holding out much hope.

But I think it will get a few second glances, and a laugh or two.

And if any author reading this is interested, I can do a similar ad for you, for the small fee of nine hundred dollars. Because without advertising, you might as well just flush your career down the toilet...

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Work Ethics

Let's talk for a moment about successful people.

They have a commonality, whether they're Brittany Spears or Michael Jordan or Bill Gates or Nora Roberts. It isn't genius, or talent, or luck, though they may have some of that.

No, the thing that most success stories have in common is: Hard work, perserverence, and sacrifice.

Nobody gets handed a successful career. There are failures beforehand. Adversity. Set-backs. Mistakes. Learning curves. Hurdles to overcome. Refusal to give up.

Not too many bestselling authors debuted at #1 on the List. It was a gradual climb, over many years and many books. Lots of writing. Lots of promotion. Lots of persevervence and dedication.

I have life-long friends in Corporate America, and I find it interesting how many parallels there are between their careers and mine. We'll talk about long work weeks, and travel, and business politics and gossip, and competition. What happens in the publishing undustry happens in the engineering industry and the finance industry.

For my friends in the corporate world, I composed this list:

JA Konrath's 12 Steps to Success

1. Sleep is for babies and old women.

2. If you have anything left in the tank at the end of the day, you didn't work hard enough.

3. Fate is a future you didn't change.

4. There's a word for someone who never gives up... successful.

5. No one became rich or famous by being a good parent.

6. There's more to life than work, I've heard.

7. Vacation is a perfect opportunity to work hard in a different location.

8. If your boss doesn't push you as hard as you push yourself, your boss sucks.

9. If you don't take the credit, someone less deserving will.

10. Work smarter and harder.

11. You don't win races without facing some injuries.

12. Pain is temporary, chicks dig scars, and you need to stop reading blogs and get back to work.


The list was meant to be tongue in cheek, but looking at it now, it isn't as silly as I'd intended it to be.

Obviously, this isn't a recipe for leading a balanced, fulfilling life. But it isn't a bad course to follow if you're consumed with desire for success at the cost of everything else. And it's probably the course that Brittany, Michael, Bill, and Nora followed.

Everyone is looking for that edge, that way to get to the next level. In publishing, the buzz is all about high concept, hooks, marketing, publicity, promotion, advertising, and coop.

Somehow, good old-fashioned hard work got left in the dust.

You need to write a good book. You need to have a good agent. You need to have your publisher behind you.

But most of all, you need to bust your ass. And if it isn't busted yet, you only have one person to blame for your lack of success.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


My name is JA Konrath, and I have trouble answering my email.

It sneaks up on me. I'll miss a day of replies. Then two days. And by the end of the month, I have 380 emails in my Inbox that need to be answered.

A lot of it is fan mail. A good deal of it is other authors, asking advice. Some of it is people asking for me to do an appearance.

I always answer the important stuff immediately, such as from my editors and agents. But the other stuff I always put off until it's overwhelming.

I'm not complaining. I much prefer it to getting no email at all. MUCH.

But if you've emailed me in the last month and haven't heard back, I want to tell you it isn't because I'm ignoring you.

Well, not ignoring you specifically. I'm ignoring everybody equally, so don't feel as if I've signalled you out for snubbing.

And I will get to replying. Eventually.

But this ongoing problem of mine made me think about my professional weaknesses. I can rattle off my strengths easily, as I'm sure more writers can name theirs---we all seem to know what we're good at.

But perhaps it is more important to find out what we're not good at, and strive to improve these things.

Timely answering of email is one of my flaws. Remembering names is another (I sometimes forget the names of my children---I'm awful with names.) Being impetuous (rather than careful) is yet another which has gotten me into trouble before.

These problems can be fixed, if I work at them. And having identified them, I'll make an effort to change. I'll set aside specific times to answer email. I'll pay more attention to names. I'll try to slow down and think before acting impulsively.

What are your professional weaknesses, and how will you fix them? And is it possible to turn a weakness into a strength?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Today's Motivational

Are you discouraged, depressed, angry, or overwhelmed by your writing career?

Check all that apply to you:
  • You can't find an agent.
  • Your agent can't sell your book.
  • You can't finish your book.
  • You can't sell your short story.
  • Your book isn't selling well.
  • Your publisher isn't doing anything to promote you.
  • You got a bad review.
  • You didn't get any reviews.
  • You had a poorly attended signing/event/appearance.
  • You're not making enough money.
  • You're not making any money.
  • Your family and friends aren't supportive.
  • You keep getting rejections.
  • Your career is stagnant.
  • Your career is on the down swing.
  • You don't have a career.
  • You don't see any results from your efforts.
  • You no longer make an effort.
  • You're trying your best and nothing is working out.

If any of these apply to you, what's the solution? To keep banging your head against the wall, with no end in sight? To give up and move on? To completely change the way you're doing things? To celebrate small victories, and try to learn from failures?

No. No. No. And no.

Take a hint from poorly written characters and look at what you're doing. You're reacting.

Each of the above complaints is a reaction to something.

Reaction is passive. In fiction, passive is a no-no.

Be active.

The results of your actions are out of your hands--you have no control over them. But you have 100% control over what your do.

You got into this business for a reason. Reaching that goal involves action, not reaction.

Getting discouraged, depressed, angry, or overwhelmed isn't going to get you closer to your goal.

But writing, submitting, and promoting will get you closer. Even if you don't immediately see the results.

Don't psych yourself out of the game. A thousand mile journey begins with a single step.

As long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other, the finish line isn't simply possible.

It's inevitable.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Tess Gerritsen's Blog

Not that she needs my help, but if you haven't checked out Tess's blog lately, she's finally entered the 21st Century and upgraded to a new look that allows readers to post comments.

Visit her at and say hello. Link to her too. Tess is a rarity in this profession: A bestseller who is gracious, generous, not the least bit conceited, and actually takes the time to interact with her fans.

And remember: No one tell her that she's entered a black hole that will absorb hours and hours of her writing time. Mum's the word.


I have a dirty confession to make.

When my agent was shopping my first Jack Daniels book around to publishers, she compared it to Janet Evanovich. When Hyperion bought the series, they compared it to Janet Evanovich. I also began comparing my books to Evanovich's, because hers had a female lead and were funny, as were mine, and many people told me they were similar. Reviewers mentioned it. Blurbers mentioned it. My publisher thought enough of the comparison to make my book covers brightly colored, easily mistaken at a distance for those of the Divine Miss E.

I'd always intended to read Evanovich. Really. But as my career took off, I spent all my time reading for blurbs, or to help newbies, or the books of my friends, and I never got around to reading any Janet. Even though I continued to compare my books to hers.

I recently had an offer from Benbella books to write an essay about Janet Evanovich for an upcoming book. I like Benbella (they are releasing a collection of James Bond essays this summer, which includes a funny one by me) so I said yes.

In order to write this essay, I thought it prudent to read the Stephanie Plum series. Which I've been doing. And it has shocked me. Why?

Because my writing is awfully similar to Janet Evanovich's.

If someone reads Janet's books, and then my books, they could easily think I was imitating her. But I'm not. It would be a neat trick, copying someone I've never read.

Still, some of the similarities are eerie. Stephanie's screwed-up life is similar to Jack's, her Grandma Mazur is similar to Jack's Mom, her partner Lula is similar to Jack's partner Herb, Ranger is similar to Phin, and the goofy characters and the dialog strike similar chords.

I wondered how this could be. First I considered evolution, and common ancestors.

When I was younger, I read Robert B. Parker, and Ed McBain, and John D. MacDonald, and Rob Kantner, and Dave Barry, and Lawrence Block. If I was imitating any writing styles when I first started out, it was their styles. Perhaps it was the same for Ms. Evanovich. If she's a Spenser fan, that could be the link; we both imitate Parker. What's strange is that when you read Parker's Sunny Randall books, they seem like much more of a rip-off of Evanovich than my books, but in reality they are just a female version of Spenser.

Perhaps there are only so many ways to create likeable series characters. They should be flawed, somewhat neurotic, have goofy larger-than-life sidekicks, and the same goals and dreams that all people have. It is possible, even likely, that similar books can arise independent of one another.

The Jack books have some Robert Parker type wisecracks in them. They also have some Thomas Harris scares and some Richard Stark noir. But ultimately, they are Konrath. At this point in my career, my style is my own, and I like to think it's pretty distinguishable. And, hopefully, some new writer is reading my stuff and imitating the hell out of it.

As for Janet---the first nine books in the series are a lot of fun. If you like Jack, check them out.

Monday, May 15, 2006

A Discouraging Word

You ever notice how when someone says, "I never do this" it means they are just about to do whatever it is they're speaking about?

Well, I never quote my email. Until now.

I get a lot of email of the, "Joe you're an inspiration" variety. I love getting this type of email, because it means I'm not just screaming into the wind. I used to joke that I was an inspiration to dozens. I now hear from dozens a month.

But this email really threw me, and I'm not sure how to react to it:

I just read your entire ‘tips’ series on your site (including the video). Very informative and entertaining. This should be required reading for anyone considering writing as a career.

Thank you, sincerely, thank you for sharing your experience, and for the sheer volume of useful, real-world information about writing and the publishing industry. Based on what I have learned, I have decided to burn my own book before it is even finished (I will have to print it out first), and as a replacement, take up Everquest as my life’s pursuit.

I will also pick up copies of all your books, as payment in kind for the sage advice on my career path. It was well worth it.

signed, A Future Fan, and Former Almost-Writer

A few things hit me at once when I read this.
  1. I just crushed someone's dream.
  2. Am I really that scary and discouraging when I talk about this business?
  3. That was a really well written letter, and this person probably has talent.

It's not a matter of opinion when I talk about how difficult publishing is. This business is brutal to get in, and brutal to stay in.

Though I only landed an agent 7 years ago, a lot has happened in the industry since then. Silly as it sounds now, when I was breaking in the Internet was still on the fringe of mainstream. Most agents and authors didn't have websites. There were no bloggers giving advice, telling me how the system actually worked. There were no huge writing websites or forums. The only way to talk to pros was through snail mail that took months.

For the newbie writer, the Internet is manna from heaven.

But is this information empowering, or discouraging? Do you require a certain amount of ignorance to slay the dragon, because you'd never even attempt it if you knew every single fact? Or is being forewarned being forearmed?

I've said before that wasting your life on impossible goals only leads to anger, frustration, discouragement, and depression. But in this society, we idolize people who beat the odds. We love the underdog stories, the "you'll never walk again" guy who wins in the Olympics, the "you're an awful singer" who winds up on MTV, the "rejected 500 times" guy who lands a three book deal. And we idolize these people for a reason--they we able to defy the odds and reach their goals, and didn't let anything stop them.

It's important to know your limitations. But it's also important to pursue your dreams. And don't let me, the Internet, or the publishing industry discourage you from trying.

You can do it. I'm proof.

Friday, May 12, 2006

2006 Genny Award Winner!

The observant among you may have noticed a new award in my sidebar.

The 2006 Genny Awards for Best Blog have been announced, and I'm a winner!

My attitude toward awards is well known--I'm honored to be nominated, and happy to get them, but I don't think they do much.

However, some people think they are a big deal, even if they've never heard of the award before.

That's why, twenty minutes ago using Photoshop, I created the Genny Awards. (Genny stands for disingenuous.)

Naturally, I gave myself the first award.

The judging was tough, and there was probably some stiff competition, but the outcome was never in question.

I'd like to thank myself, for winning, and for creating the Genny's. I'd also like to thank you, my faithful blog readers, for not voting for me, because there is no voting for the Genny's. Anyone who wants one, gets one.

In fact, you all deserve a Genny Award for Best Blog of 2006.

If you want a Genny, feel free to steal the Genny image, and you too can be a Genny winner. I'm easy that way.

Let me know you're a winner by posting a response to this blog and placing the image on your website.

If enough people win, I'll make a fake website that you can also link to.

Congratulations all 2006 Genny winners!

Promotion: A Biased Account of Cost vs. Benefit

I had a long chat recently with a friend of mine who shall remain nameless (check out his highly acclaimed John Rain series.)

This friend is extremely savvy when it comes to promotion, and one of his methods is to analyze cost vs. benefit.

Cost can be measured monetarily, or measured by the amount of time something takes, because time=money.

Benefit can be the tangible immediate return on investment (book sales) or an intangible, longer-term benefit, such as building name-recognition, brand awareness, or contacts for use further down the road.

Before marketing, advertising, promoting, or doing any publicity, the writer should figure out if their efforts are truly worth the time and money involved.

This is a sound philosophy. When combined with my personal philosophy of "don't do what doesn't work for you" it turns into a savvy marketing and publicity plan that can be tailored to any writer's budget and availability.

Remember that one of the keys of building name recognition is word-of-mouth. People talking about you is more important than any single thing you or your publisher can do. When promoting, one of your goals should be to encourage world of mouth.

Also remember that momentum is important. After any sort of publicity, promotion, marketing, or advertising, the chance of a sale diminishes as time passes. Out of sight, out of mind. The best promotion has immediate effects; usually a sale.

Here are a few things many writers do, with my comments. Your mileage may vary.

Placing Ads in Newspapers, Magazines, Programs
Monetary Cost: Ranges from free to $50,000 for full page NYT ad.
Time Cost: Variable, depending on if you're creating your own ad.
Benefits: Intangible. No one in the multi-billion advertising world can say for sure that ads work. They do reinforce brand awareness, and announce the arrival of new products. But unless the brand is already established, their effect on consumers is negligible.
Word of Mouth Potential: Small.
Momentum: Small. Going from reading an ad to rushing to a bookstore is unheard of.
Does it work for JA? I have never bought a book after seeing an ad. Because of this, I don't normally buy ads. But if my publisher pays for them, or if I get a good deal from a niche mystery magazine like Crimespree, then the benefits outweigh the cost. I'd personally never pay more than $200 for an ad.
How much to spend: 5% of your promotional budget, 2% of your time.

Going to Writing Conventions and Conferences
Monetary Cost: Ranges from free to $1500 for overseas travel
Time Cost: High. Travel is the second most time-consuming promotion.
Benefits: Intangible and tangible. Networking is important, and meeting fans is essential. If you do well on a panel, you'll sell some books, but you'll never sell enough to cover the expense of the trip. Depending on your marquee value, you may be invited to attend for free, or may even get paid.
Word of Mouth Potential: Medium to high, depending on how hard you push yourself.
Momentum: High. Do well on a panel, you'll have a line of people buying books.
Does it work for JA? I attend a lot of conferences, and whenever I do, a group of authors wind up at the bar openly wondering if it is worthwhile to attend a lot of conferences. The consensus: You should attend some. You can learn a lot, and help build a brand, and meet many key people. But if you're going to 15 cons a year, at $500 each, you might want to spend some of that time and money elsewhere.
How much to spend: 35% of your promotional budget, 25% of your time.

Monetary Cost: Ranges from a penny each up to $20 for T-shirts.
Time Cost: Small to medium, depending on how much of the printing you do yourself.
Benefits: Having something to hand out to audience members during a talk is essential. So is having something on the goody table at cons. These reinforce the brand, but they don't make people rush out in a buying frenzy.
Word of Mouth Potential: Small.
Momentum: Medium. I've seen many people in the dealer room at conferences, holding my coaster or flyer, and buying my book.
Does it work for JA? I give away chapbooks that I make myself (about ten cents each), signed coasters, and occasional flyers. None of these lead directly to sales, but they supplement my appearances by showing customers and fans my book jackets, blurbs, or writing samples. Many fans also keep them.
How much to spend: 5% of your promotional budget, 5% of your time.

Postcards and Letters
Monetary Cost:
Between 35 and 85 cents each to print and send.
Time Cost: Small to medium, depending on how much of the printing and mailing you do yourself.
Benefits: Reinforces brand, alerts customers to new book, sometimes gives author appearance information.
Word of Mouth Potential: None to medium.
Momentum: Medium. A letter can make a librarian or bookseller pick up the phone and order a few copies.
Does it work for JA? I've never bought a book because I received a postcard, so I never send postcards. In fact, I'm frankly staggered at what a bad idea it is sending postcards out. A slick postcard costs 60 cents to print and mail. An author gets 55 cents royalty on a paperback sale. Even if I do buy their book (and I don't) they're still losing money. Why would anyone think this is effective?
But... I do send letters to libraries and bookstores. They're inundated with postcards, but a personally signed note is always welcome, and can lead to sales. Sending to sellers rather than individual customers means your small investment can pay off in large numbers.
How much to spend: 10% of your promotional budget, 10% of your time.

Website and Blog
Monetary Cost: Free to $3000 set-up cost, then about $100 a year.
Time Cost: Small to medium.
Benefits: You must have a website. The bigger, the better. I've gone into this on previous blogs, and on Basically you want a lot of info, a lot of links, and a lot to make it sticky.
Word of Mouth Potential: Medium to High. Being a successful blogger has little direct effect on book sales, but becoming well known is key to branding.
Momentum: Medium. The Internet allows for clicking directly to sales via Amazon and other online retailers. I sell a good number of books this way.
Does it work for JA? Yes. I get lots of hits, lots of feedback, and lots of new fans because of my website and blog. After initial set-up costs, maintenance and updating is minimal in both time and money.
How much to spend: After initial start up costs, 5% of your budget. 10% of your time. If you can be your own webmaster, it will save you a lot of money, but you'll need to invest more time.

Speaking Events (Libraries, Colleges, Book Clubs, Writing Groups)
Monetary Cost: Free or you get paid.
Time Cost: Medium. This is usually an all day time expenditure. Possibly two days if travel is involved.
Benefits: It's important to do these, but it may be a loss leader if you spend three hours on the road to speak to a crowd of four people. Often these events are very good for selling books, and many times you get paid to speak, or compensated for travel expenses.
Word of Mouth Potential: Medium to high, depending on size of audience.
Momentum: Medium to high, depending on how good a speaker you are.
Does it work for JA? Yes. I believe that fans I meet in person are fans for life. I do as many as my schedule allows.
How much to spend: 5% of your budget (for travel.) 15% of your time.

Book Signings and Drive-Bys
Monetary Cost: Medium to high, if you finance your own tour.
Time Cost: Medium to high, depending on how many stories you visit.
Benefits: Meeting the booksellers is one of the most important things you can do in your career. They can handsell your books. They can put you in key display spots without coop. They can keep your books in stock even though they've been told to return them. Meet and schmooze the booksellers.
Word of Mouth potential: Medium to high, depending on how good of an impression you make on the bookseller.
Momentum: Medium to high. Sometimes a bookseller will make a display on the spot, and I often sell books just by stopping in for fifteen minutes.
Does it work for JA? Yes. This is what I spend the most time doing, and it has the most tangible and intangible benefits. While you won't dazzle every bookstore employee you meet, you only need to impress one out of ten, because that one can sell dozens, to hundreds, of books.
How much to spend: 38% of your budget, 30% of your time.

Writing Short Stories and Articles
Monetary cost: Tiny, for postage, and you usually get paid.
Time Cost: I don't count this as marketing time. I count this as writing time.
Benefits: Huge. Getting your stories into magazines, anthologies, and online, is the best form of advertising, bar none. You can reach large audiences, and hook them with your words. This is a key way to establish a name for yourself.
Word of Mouth Potential: Small. While short stories can lead to book sales, they aren't usually gabbed about.
Momentum: Small to medium. Reading a great short story may make a reader seek out an author, but there's a delay between the reading the the book purchase.
Does it work for JA? Yes. I write a lot of stories and articles. Each is like building another road that leads to Rome, or in this case, me. The more roads, the more traffic.
How much to spend: 3% of time and 2% of money, mailing these out. Don't count writing time as promotion time, even though these work as promotion.

Things I Avoid:
  • Paying a Publicist. If you're a fiction writer, I haven't seen any evidence that justifies hiring a publicist. They can get you on the radio, but unless it is NPR or some huge syndicated show, I don't think this is worth paying for. I've done some radio, and haven't seen any effects. And I give good radio. You can set up events yourself without a publicist.
  • Paying for Internet Ads. Banners, pay-per-click programs, Google ad words, search engine submissions, paid search engine rankings, advertising on websites, etc. I don't think this is effective. In fact, I think it annoys people. If you have a good website, people will link to you and find it automatically.
  • Bulk Mailing to Fans. Besides the aforemetnioned postcards, I occasionally get newsletters, and sometimes books, because I belong to organizations like MWA, SinC, and HWA. Authors will buy mailing lists and send their junk mail to everyone on the list. I think this is a big waste of money. I've never bought a book that I heard about through the mail. But mailing free stuff to fans who request it is a great way to spread goodwill and word of mouth. If you're going to send a newsletter, use the Internet. It's a lot cheaper. And most people are annoyed getting something they didn't sign up for.
  • Paying Amazon. Amazon has several programs that can suck money from a writer's pocket. Buy X get Y is one. If You Like X, Here's Y is another. I know authors who have tried this with miserable results. Amazon has a lot of free programs that can help steer people to your books. Amazon Shorts, Amazon Connect, Amazon Lists, Amazon Reviews. Use those instead. And remember that Amazon is a very small piece (less than 5%) of the bookselling pie.
  • Mucho Freebie Crap. I give away signed coasters. My publisher makes these for me, so it is cost effective, and I sign them, which is unique and collectible. But while people seem to enjoy them, coasters don't sell books. Authors who invest big bucks in bookmarks, pens, food products with advertising wrappers, mugs, and clothing with book covers on them, are wasting their money. Have you ever bought a book because you saw the title on a pen? Neither has anyone else. A flyer is much cheaper, and offers much more information that can lead to a sale.
If your promotional budget for a year is $2000 (which really isn't much) here's how you should break it up:

  • $100 on advertising
  • $700 on attending conferences
  • $100 on booksmarks/flyers/give-aways
  • $200 on letters to bookstores and libraries
  • $100 on your website costs
  • $100 on speaking events (For gas. You'll spend much more than this per year, but you'll be compensated for much of it)
  • $760 on booksignings (travel)
  • $40 on postage for queries

If you spend 1000 hours a year on self promotion (which is close to three hours a day, which really isn't enough) here's how to break it up:

  • 20 hours creating and placing ads
  • 250 hours attending conferences
  • 50 hours on bookmarks/flyers/give-aways
  • 100 hours on letters to bookstores and libraries
  • 100 hours on websites and blogs
  • 150 hours on speaking events
  • 300 hours on signings
  • 30 hours sending out short stories and articles

Things get lopsided when you have more time and money to invest in promotion, because certain categories max out at how much you can do. You can never do too many appearances (unless they are all in the same area.) But you can print too many flyers.

Balance is the key. Try different things, figure out what works and what doesn't, and spend your time and money accordingly. Promotion is an organic process that changes and evolves. Some writers don't even believe it is necessary at all. Some writers spend a lot of time and money doing the wrong things, and become discouraged. Some writers swear their way is the only way, and your way sucks.

Only one thing is certain: Like everything in life, you get out what you put in.

Now go get 'em, tiger.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Whose Space? My Space!

Melanie Lynne Hauser, writer buddy, just dropped me a note to let me know her publisher suggested she open a account.

Not wanting to be left out of a hot new trend that all the kids are doing and has been featured on TV, I signed up for an account of my own.

I quickly learned three very important things:
  1. There are a lot of people in the world with too much free time.
  2. Cyberstalking has become a whole lot easier.
  3. I have no friends.

Well, actually, I have two friends. One is Mel, and the other it Tom, the guy who invented who automatically becomes your friend when you sign up.

Tom seemed nice, but I deleted him to make room for the hordes of JA Fans waiting to sign up to see my pictures and videos and read my MySpace Blog. It doesn't matter that the pictures and videos are already available on my website, or that my MySpace Blog is simply a link to this one. What matters is that there are 77 million people on MySpace, and I want a piece of that.

So I turn to you, my loyal blog readers. Do you want to be my MySpace Friend?

If you already have a MySpace account, visit my page at and become my friend. Possibly even my Best Friend Forever. Then I'll do the same. Won't that be cool?

If you don't have a MySpace account, what the hell are you waiting for? It's free, takes about ten minutes to set up, and puts you in touch with like-minded people in a close, intimate way that doesn't involve actually ever meeting them in person.

This is the future, whether you like it or not. Get with the program, deadbeat, and make some damn friends.

While you're there, also become Mel's friend. She's lonely.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


What's this theme thing?

I consider the term theme to be interchangeable with allegory: a symbolic representation of ideas through a narrative.


Actually, it isn't that complicated. Look at fairy tales. Little Red Riding Hood is all about not talking to strangers. Beauty and the Beast is about how looks don't matter when it comes to love. Cinderella is about avoiding a life of hard work by marrying the right guy. And so on.

Sometimes themes in narratives are intentional. Sometimes they're subconscious. Sometimes they are in the eye of the beholder, and have nothing to do with the original intent of the artist.

Having a strong theme in your work is one more thing for the reader to latch on to, identify with, ponder, and enjoy. Human beings strive for meaning, and search for answers. When meaning and answers are also entertaining, they are a lot more palatable, and substantial. Like food that tastes good and is also good for you.

The majority of my writing touches on a recurring theme. It's hidden under jokes and action, but it's there.

In the novels, Jack is never the one who ultimately finishes off the villain. She plays a part in chasing the bad guy, but she isn't the one that kills him.

There is a very specific reason for this. In my personal philosophy, life isn't about reaching goals; it's about chasing goals. You can't always win, because sometimes things are beyond your control. All you can do is try your best, and find ways to live with yourself if your best isn't good enough.

In other words: You're more than your goals.

Jack doesn't realize this yet. But she's slowly learning.

To remind her of this, I surround Jack with characters who all live to serve their base needs---needs that Jack normally forsakes in search of a higher sense of self.

The secondary characters in my books--Phin, Harry, Mr. Friskers, Jack's Mom, and Herb--all have their basis in the Freudian id.

--Phin values his needs and comfort over all.
--Harry chases fame and money and shirks responsibility.
--Mr. Friskers is angry and demanding.
--Jack's Mom seeks sex and attention.
--Herb eats too much.

Jack, however, represents superego. Her quest to become better, and her ultimate acceptance of the fact that she might not, are the primary elements of her character. She doesn't get the bad guy, but she tries to live with herself anyway.

Addressing this theme by spelling it out is obvious and preachy, and neither of those things are desirable in a narrative. So I use allegorical action to convey the theme.

The insomnia Jack struggles with is representative of her lack of control over her life and goals.

The good night of sleep she always has at the end of the book isn't because she's reached her goals---it is because she's accepted that the goals are out of her control. Punishing yourself isn't the answer. Which is why the last line of each novel relates to theme.

At the beginning of each book, Jack is 100% committed to catching a killer. This is her primary need, and the motivator that drives the plot.

During each book, Jack interacts with people who indulge themselves rather than deny themselves, as a subconscious reminder to Jack that perhaps her priorities are skewed.

At the end of each book, Jack forgives her failures and embraces life. In other words, catharsis in the form of the final showdown leads to a temporary reprieve from the neurosis, and an acceptance that perhaps her peers have the right attitude.

So the theme of the novels is: Try the best you can, because trying is all you can do. But if you try too hard, life isn't worth living at all.

Why did I pick this theme?

I didn't. It picked me. Anyone who regularly reads this blog can see how my quest to become published, and my attitude toward this career, are tied into this philosophy. It's what I struggle with, and what I aspire to.

I'm passionate about this topic, and hopefully some of that passion comes through in the writing.

Do you have any themes in your book? What messages are you imparting to your readers? What philosophies or issues are you planting in their minds? What are you trying to say? How do you convey these ideas without beating your audience over the head with the obvious?

Saturday, May 06, 2006


Let's talk about bad guys.

Some of my favorite books have villains that are just as memorable as the hero.

But what makes a good antagonist? Other than being in competition/conflict/opposition to the hero, what are the traits an adversary needs to have?

Here are a few things your villain should be:
  • Charismatic. The reader should be attracted to the villain in some way, even if it is a car-wreck type of attraction.
  • Powerful. The villain should be more powerful than the protagonist. Underdog stories are as old as the bible, and show no signs of losing public favor.
  • Motivated. A villain should have goals, dreams, desires, and reasons for doing what they do.
  • Cruel. Bad guys do bad things. That's what makes them bad.
  • Active. Like heroes, villains shouldn't be passive. The need to be doing things, moving the plot along, rather than simply reacting to things.
  • Realistic. If the reader doesn't believe the villain, the tension is gone.

Many crime novels don't have strong villains. Either the bad guy isn't revealed until the end, or the story dwells more on the protagonist's journey.

This is a missed opportunity to engage and excite the reader. Good vs. Evil is conflict in its purest form, and any sports fan can tell you that competition is a lot of fun.

Take a look at your WIP. Does it have a villain? Does the villain embody the traits listed above? How can your villain be improved?

Who are your favorite villains, and why?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Another Link in the Chain

Let's talk about Internet links.

The astute among you might have noticed that once again my "Blogs I Read" list has gotten longer. And though I haven't updated it in a while, the link list on my website has a few hundred links on it.

Am I doing this because I'm a generally nice guy who likes to help other writers out?

Naturally. I love you. You know that.

But there are some ulterior motives at play as well.

Anyone who has installed or similar trackers on their site can view where web traffic comes from. About 50% of my website and blog hits come from links. The rest come from searches or direct hits.

Considering I get a few thousand hits a week, half of my visitors coming from other sites is a substantial number.

So it pays to trade links with others.

But more people link to me than vice-versa. Why? I often get traffic from sites I've never heard of. Why are people linking to me and not asking for a link in return?

On the information superhighway, content is key. If you have a large amount of information on your website or blog, people link to it for both personal reasons (so they can find the site later) and for selfish reasons (because they want more people to visit their website, and links are a form of information.)

Besides being exceedingly generous (and modest) one of the reasons I link to so many people is because my site then becomes a hub for Internet surfing. I can come here and then visit a few dozen blogs from this central location. I'm guessing that other people do the same thing.

But links do more than direct traffic. They also play a large part in search engine ranking. The more links you have going in and coming out, the larger Google, Yahoo, MSN, and the rest of the engines think your site is. That means higher rankings for searches. Key words and meta tags are important in ranking, but so is site size and links.

If you're curious as to how many people link to your blog, visit and punch in your blog url.

You can also check your website and blog popularity and search engine saturation at

What's helpful about both of these is that besides checking your own sites, you can check the sites of your peers. While I strongly believe that writers don't have to compete with one another (my fans can be your fans, there's no exclusivity) and I also believe that comparing yourself to other writers is a bad idea, checking the rankings of those in your peer group can tell you if you need to spend more time on internet promotion, or if your time would be better spent elsewhere.

If your numbers are low, remember that more links and more content are the keys to traffic. Being entertaining and/or controversial also helps. So does being generous, likeable, and helpful.

That said, here are some questions I'd love to get your answers to:

  1. Did you discover this blog through a link?
  2. Do you regularly visit this blog through a link, a web search, or a direct URL?
  3. Do you ever visit any of the blogs I've linked to on this page?
  4. Do you link to me and I don't link to you, or would you like to trade links? If so, let me know and I'll add you to this blog.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

So You Wanna Write About Handguns

I'm not a gun expert. But I've fired a few and have learned some things about them. Here's a smattering of definitions, explanations, and notes:

  • Guns are loud. Even little ones. Louder than firecrackers. If you don't have ear protection, it seriously hurts.

  • Silencers aren't real. Nothing can silence a bullet. There are things called suppressors, which can be used to muffle the sound of a bullet firing. It's still as loud as a hand clap. Suppressors are illegal for public citizens. Suppressors work on semi-autos and rifles, but not revolvers or shotguns.

  • A revolver is an old West/Dirty Harry type of gun. It generally holds five or six bullets in a cylinder. Suppressors don't work on revolvers because the cylinder is open to the air, so the noise isn't trapped.

  • Semi-automatics are sometimes called autos, even though they aren't true automatics--those are machine guns where holding the trigger will fire multiple times. Semi-autos are also known as auto-loaders, because when a bullet is fired, the brass cartridge is ejected and the next bullet is forced into the chamber. Instead of a center rotating cylinder, they have a clip that goes into the grip.

  • A clip is not a magazine. A magazine has a spring inside that forces bullets into the chamber, behind the hammer, as the gun is fired. A clip simply holds bullets.

  • Full metal jacket means the slug is encased in metal and doesn't expand when it hits the target. Slugs normally expand into a mushroom shape when they hit something. This flattening out means the bullet stops within a target, transferring the maximum amount of energy. FMJ go through targets. Hollow points fragment within the target, causing lots of damage.

  • Cocked and locked is a term that means there's a bullet in the chamber, the hammer is cocked (pulled back) and the safety is on. The gun won't fire like this. But if you flick off the safety, you're ready to shoot.

  • Double action weapons don't need to be cocked each time they are fired--pulling the trigger will set up the next bullet to be fired and also cock the hammer back. Single action weapons need to be cocked each time a bullet is fired--there is no automatic recocking.

  • Cocking a handgun involves chambering a round in a semi-auto, and/or pulling the hammer back. When this is done, the trigger moves back, making for an easier and shorter trigger pull.

  • Caliber refers to how wide the barrel is, and what bullets it will fire. A .22 is a very small bullet (point twenty-two inches wide.) The slug is about the size of a BB (22LR is slightly longer.) The only part that fires is the top part of the bullet. The bottom part, called the cartridge (often called brass) holds the charge. This brass can be packed with different amounts of grain for faster or slower velocity. Pull the trigger, the hammer releases on a spring, smacks into the back of the bullet (center fire for most handguns) which ignites the powder, causing it to explode and expel the slug.

  • A bullet consists of a slug and a cartridge. The slug is what fires. The cartidge is what stays in the gun, or is ejected. If you've ever seen a movie where the slow-motion bullet looks like a bullet that just came out of the box, it's wrong---only the top part of the bullet is the projectile.

  • Rifling is a corkscrew pattern inside the barrel. When the bullet is fired, this causes it to spin, and become more stable and accurate.

  • Semi-automatics can jam. If a gun isn't clean, it can jam a lot. Jamming occurs when the cartridge isn't ejected properly after firing, or if the next bullet doesn't load properly. Either the empty casing, or the new bullet, gets caught in the eject port. This can be cleared by pulling back the slide.

  • Loading clips is time consuming and hard on the fingers. The spring inside a clip is powerful, and it takes some force and some time to get the bullets in there. For example, a nine-year-old probably wouldn't have strong enough fingers. You can buy speed loaders which pull back the spring, making it easier and faster, but even then, reloading a 13 round clip will take at least 30 seconds to a minute.

  • Guns and bullets are heavy. Sticking a 9mm in your front pocket is not a smart idea for many reasons, one of which is it will pull down your pants.

  • Glocks don't have hammers, or thumb safeties. They have an extra lever on the trigger that needs to be pressed before they fire.

  • Someone unfamiliar with semi-autos wouldn't be able to fire one, at least not quickly. If there's no bullet in the chamber, pulling the trigger will have no effect. The first round needs to be chambered by pulling back the slide. Depending on the gun, the safety may need to be switched off, or the hammer may need to be pulled back if there's a round already chambered.

  • Aiming isn't easy. It isn't unreasonable that a person firing a gun for the first time could miss a target from only fifteen feet away, or closer.

  • Cordite smells like firecrackers.

  • Dehorning a gun means it has all of the sharp edges taken off, so it doesn't catch on clothing or the holster.

  • Bluing, chroming, and Parkerizing are finishes that protect against rust.

  • Teflon coated, or cop-killer bullets, aren't real. Or, more precisely, Teflon isn't what makes bullets penetrate armor and bullet proof vests. Bullets that can do that are armor piercing bullets, made out of harder metals. Teflon simply reduces the wear and tear on a gun.

  • A Saturday Night Special is any cheap gun, usually used to commit crimes.

  • A zip gun is a homemade gun, which usually fires a single shot. All a person needs is a pipe and a striking mechanism to shoot a bullet.

  • Holding a gun gangsta style, sideways, is a really easy way to miss a target.

  • Always treat every gun you encounter as loaded.

Any questions?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Chat with JA Tonight

I'll be doing a live chat about publishing tonight at Writing to Publish.

It's at 10pm Eastern Time, 9pm Central Standard Time, and and hour or two earlier if you're out west someplace.

You need AIM or AOL to join in the fun. AIM is free at

Here are the links to the room:



We'll be chatting for about 2 hours about writing and publishing. CWI and CUI will be encouraged, if not mandatory.

Hope to see some of you there, asking me deep and probing qustions such as:

Is it important to self-promote?


Where do you get your ideas?