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.

www.technorati.com will show you how much you are blogged about. So does www.blogsearchengine.com.

www.news.google.com will let you know how 'in print' you are.

www.bn.com proves that people do critique beyond Amazon. If you write mysteries, also visit www.booksnbytes.com.

www.dogpile.com will give you Internet saturation beyond Google. Also try www.mamma.com.

www.marketleap.com will show you how well your website is doing (and how well your peers are doing) with three different search criteria.

www.groups.google.com will let you know who is talking about you in newsgroups.

www.froogle.google.com will show you who is selling your stuff, and for how much.

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

I'm still waiting for www.jakonrath.google.com, 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 http://www.oclc.org/worldcatdownloads/#top 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: http://www.titlez.com/welcome.aspx also showing high, low, and average.

This one searches more blogs for you: http://talkdigger.com

83 comments:

Bill Peschel said...

And when you're done with this list, you can move off blogger and onto your own Web site. Then you can spend many happy hours redesigning your Web site, adding tip jars and Amazon Associate links, hunting through HTML and CSS books to figure out why your Verdana font won't change to Georgia, d***it, and learning the difference between absolute and relative paths to your graphics, which don't look nearly as cute as the boxed x's that are currently on your pages.

The point behind all that, of course, is to sign up for Site Meter, Feedster, Blogwise and Google Analytics, plus the oodles of programs found on your host server. I see hours of stat-crunching in your future.

Not that I would know anything about that!

emeraldcite said...

Were you just speaking English?

lol

Doolols said...

It's a concern. Just how much self-promotion do you need to do? There is always a time / return tradeoff, and the question is - should you be promoting, or writing. You could promote one book forever, and not get anywhere. Do you, Joe, have a set amount of time you put aside for self-promotion before you say "time to write a book," or do you apportion a certain amount of time per month for each?

Kim H said...

I found that no one is talking about me, however there are a lot of articles out there written by some religious fanatic with the same name as me. Ah well, anyone that knows me knows that's not me. ;)

I couldn't get that zoomba thing to do anything. What is it?

Doolols said...

LOL @ Kim. It's not supposed to - that's the point (of the internet) - it's just a huge waste of time.

I find that my nickname is almost exclusive to me, although translating that into my pen name, or even my real name, might require a little effort :(

JA Konrath said...

I write my books in January. The other 11 months, I'm selling books.

josie said...

I hate that Zoomba thing. It gave me a headache when I stared at it for five minutes when I should be writing!

Doolols said...

WOW - one month writing, 11 months selling. That is some serious marketing, I would have thought half and half, maybe. Are you unusual in that respect? I know you've talked about other writers you know doing hardly any marketing.

Anonymous said...

J.A.,

I think everything you do is cool--helping new writers, the blog, the marketing gimmicks and all, but do you really think you can write the best novel that's inside you in only a month? Dennis Lehane worked on Mystic River for two and a half years. Sue Grafton spends about eighteen months on each of her Kinsey Milhone novels. Maybe if you dig deeper and spend more time on the actual writing, you'll get the bestseller you're looking for. You have some pretty good name recognition already; all you need is a breakthrough book to go with it.

JA Konrath said...

Whether you spend 30 days on a book, or 30 years on a book, has little to do with the book's quality, readability, and success.

Judge the book by the book, not by how long the writer took to squeeze it out.

Melanie Lynne Hauser said...

Damn you, Konrath! (Although - have you tried Find in a Library?!! http://www.oclc.org/worldcatdownloads/#top)

Anonymous said...

"Judge the book by the book, not by how long the writer took to squeeze it out."

Are we writing, or taking a shit? Give me more than a handful of bestsellers that were written in one month (and these no doubt by literary geniuses who, by the way, you and I ain't), and I'll not only eat MY hat, I'll eat the sweatiest, greasiest White Sox cap in your closet.

A novel in a month is for the goofballs in NANOWRIMO or for those content with midlist for life.

All the hype in the world can't make a diamond from a chunk of coal.

JA Konrath said...

"All the hype in the world can't make a diamond from a chunk of coal."

Can I safely assume you're not a fan of my series? That if I spent a year on one, rather than a month, it would race up the bestseller charts?

You'd have to point out where one of my books is specifically lacking, and then explain how time would remedy that situation.

Considering it took Thomas Harris 13 years to write Hannibal, I remain unconvinced that time equals excellence.

Anonymous said...

"...a diamond from a chunk of coal" was not meant to be personal. Just saying that it takes time for something to develop and shine. Of course spending more time on a project won't GUARANTEE success, but cream whipped with a whisk is invariably superior to the aerosol can variety.

Specifically lacking: Sensation and emotion from the heroine. We know Jack's tough, but she needs some intense inner conflicts. Let her bleed. Let her cry now and then. Make her bigger than life, but human. Give her more fears, more secrets. Know her better than you know yourself.

Even in HANNIBAL, Clarice Starling had some major inner conflicts. So must Jack.

JA Konrath said...

In Hannibal, Clarice had no inner conflicts. She was washed up, easily manipulated, needed to be rescued, and reacted rather than acted.

In Bloody Mary Jack bleeds, cries, re-evaluates life, and has a defining, cathartic moment at the end. Has Stephanie Plum or Kinsey Millhone ever had one of those?

But none of that has anything to do with how quickly the books are written.

Rusty Nail, coming out in 2006, took a month to write. Again Jack struggles with insomnia, which is a physical manifestation of the inadequacy she feels in her professional life, and the guilt she feels over not having a personal life.

This leads to an attempt to rekindle her relationship with her ex-boyfriend, and to embark on a friendship with another woman.

Jack also struggles with the guilt surrounding the condition of her mother, as well as her own mortality and the grander concept of what makes life worth living.

This all ties into an underlying theme for the series; how circumstrances are often beyond the control of people--even control freaks like Jack--and the only way to deal with them is accept the cards you've been dealt and try the best you can, regardless of the outcome.

Catharses? Themes? Psyche wounds? Spenser doesn't go there. Not many mystery writers do.

Of course, there are also the requisite jokes and scares, and a plot with more than a few twists.

But again, the length of time it takes to write a novel has nothing to do with the quality of the content, how well thought-out the plot is, or the depth of the characterizations.

Speed is no more an indicator of quality than length is.

Anonymous said...

With that response I felt more passion than I ever felt from Jack. I knew you had it in you.

Also, I think you should reread HANNIBAL. Clarice is severely conflicted by betrayal in her childhood, and her adult life. I don't think she was a victim. She ultimately made a choice, albeit an unpopular one.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I admire your ability to write with such speed. In fact, I envy it. And I can't see the work suffering for it. You still write a damn fine thriller.

A friend of mine has written 90 plus books over the years. Writes VERY quickly. But the books are very well written.

Speed has nothing to do with quality.

Now, tell me, what's the trick?

JA Konrath said...

"Now, tell me, what's the trick?"

Waiting until the last minute.

JA Konrath said...

Clarice didn't make a choice. She was drugged.

Her childhood conflict happened in SOTL, not Hannibal. In Hannibal, a bust goes wrong, and then she self-destructs---in a manner completely unbecoming the character established in the prior book.

Hannibal was a travelogue, and a case where the author fell in love with his creation.

Now if you're looking for passionate writing, you need to read a friend of mine. I'm waiting to read his next book (which he's writing at the last minute), but I'm already prepared to talk him out of the scene where his protagonist cries.

David J. Montgomery said...

Joe, you better not be talking about our mutual friend.

Are you??

Barry Eisler said...

Damn it, I'm supposed to be writing my book! Joe ande David, you've taunted me out of lurking mode...

Love your blog, you bastard, it's distracting me (and David, likewise CFD). And yes, John Rain does cry in The Last Assassin, but then he kills two people immediately afterward. Hopefully the tears and the mayhem balance each other out.

Not everyone's going to like him crying. But the way I know him, he would cry in this scene. So I don't really have a choice. Anyone who has a problem with it, take it up with Rain...

Okay, I gotta get back to the cave.

:-)
Barry

JulieK said...

From what I've read of Stephen King's writing habits, it appears his pace is similar to Joe's. You gonna tell me King is a loss? If his genre isn't your style, that's fine, but prove to me his material isn't as good as it could be.

Character development is critical, just don't bog down an action/thriller/suspense/mystery book with too much of it. That's what Jane Austen's stuff is for.

Barry - sounds like you have the right idea. Killing 2 people then crying? Not really my kind of book. Crying THEN killing? Oh, yeah.

M. G. Tarquini said...

Joe, which of the links will turn up my prison record?

Anonymous said...

Stephen King is, of course, a literary genius. Could his novels be improved? I think some of them could use some pruning (The Tommyknockers comes to mind). His pace is 2000 words/day which, to produce an average size novel (King hardly ever produces an average size novel), would take roughly two months. Two months for a FIRST DRAFT. A first draft is followed by one or two major rewrites and then a polish or two (Kings words from ON WRITING).
Even King can't write a great book in a month.

By the way, Stephen King wrote an excellent review of HANNIBAL for The New York Times Book Review, June 13 1999. Not everyone thought HANNIBAL was a bad novel. Steve and I thought it was pretty swell.

JulieK said...

No argument that Stephen King is a genius, though his past comments indicate he'd be quick to deny the "literary" part of that. And no argument on The Tommyknockers, either, though that's the only one that readily springs to mind. Oh, and Gerald's Game. Just couldn't get into the groove on that one.

I, too, was thinking of the info in On Writing as I wrote my earlier post. SK suggested a story should take no longer than a season to write. Given that Needful Things is 1044 pages, it is roughly 3x the length of Whiskey Sour. Hence my theory that their paces (SK & Konrath) are similar.

Much as I agree with your views on Stephen King's work (don't want to spend too much time lauding SK here on JA's blog), I stand by my earlier assertion that a) fast doesn't necessarily equal bad, and b) character development had better translate into plot development damn quick, at least in this genre.

By the way, Anonymous -- you're not Peter Straub, are you? :)

Anonymous said...

"Fast doesn't necessarily equal bad." I agree. But I stand by the assertion that 99.9% of fiction can be improved with multiple revisions. Maybe Konrath is in the 0.1% whose best work is reeled off with one pass through the ribbon. I doubt it. I think the full of his talent has yet to be unearthed. Most of us mortals can't exhume those deeply buried bones of Character and scrape and brush away the dirt in the aforementioned ridiculous time frame. I'm not saying Konrath's books are bad. I just think he hasn't yet arrived at the depth of character that might propel him up the list, where he wants to be. Mailing out coasters will not do the trick. Time in a chair with pencil and parchment will.

"Character development had better translate into plot development damn quick, at least in this genre." Character development and plot development should be inseparable, in any genre. Character should drive plot, not vice-versa. Plots are finite. Characters are infinite. Only characters can make a work original.

emeraldcite said...

I wouldn't say that Carrie plumbed the depths of King's abilities.

emeraldcite said...

Side note: 2000 words a day would produce 60,000 words after 30 days, the size of Konrath's novel.

I also think it's unfair to compare a giant in the industry to a newcomer. King receives attention from his agent, editor, and publisher like no one else in the industry.

King is an exception to all rules in publishing. He is a phenom, a rare event, a singularity.

In all the years of publishing, he is hard to match even in terms of other bestsellers.

(No, I don't think Brown will demand the kind of loyalty of King readers. Those on the fringes of acceptance often have tight-knit groups of followers. Although Brown is intriguing, I think he is more of a flash in the pan. DaVinci Code was interesting, but all his other books follow that same formula.)

Just anticipating a retort.

Anonymous said...

Yes. Stephen King could produce a salable 60,000 word mystery in thirty days. But he would never leave it at that. He would let it simmer for a few weeks and then start on the rewrite. Then he'd let Tabitha and some other trusted friends look it over and rewrite some more. Then he would let his editor see it and possibly go through another rewrite and polish.
While all this is going on, he's probably knocking out the first draft of his next book...

emeraldcite said...

Stephen King could produce a salable 60,000 word mystery in thirty days.

Moot point. King doesn't have to write anything salable. His stuff is sold before he even writes it.

I'm sure Colorado Kid didn't take him long.

As I said, King is not the bellwether for publishing. Every writer has a method. Search them out and you'll find those who write a very good book in ten years and some who will write a very good book a month.

Keep in mind that good is subjective. I think Harris is a terrible writer. You'd think that in thirteen years you'd be able to cut down the sentence fragments.

Harris can plot, but I think, like Brown, he lacks some basic wordsmithing skills.

But we're still talking bestsellers, the smallest percentage of writers on the market.

Take a look at Holly Lisle's site, she does a number of projects simultaneously and finished manuscripts rather quickly. She has a one-pass method of revision and it works for her.

Vonnegut, I believe, perfects each pages as he goes.

To each writer their own.

I think it comes back to what I think is your argument: that Joe needs to spend more time on his writing in order to draw out character (at least, that’s what I think you’re arguing).

Every writer grows as he or she writes, especially in those series with recurring characters. The first time with a new character is always tough going. Not only does the plot need to advance, but the character need to exhibit qualities that draws the audience into the life of that person. With the next book in that series, some of that ground is already covered, so growth is possible for both the writer and character. By the third and fourth books in a series, the author should start to grow comfortable with that character, his/her actions, and with the style of the novel.

Practice makes perfect. We often look back as readers and are critical of authors who don’t show the kind of depth we’re comfortable with several books into any series. If you go back to first novels (King, Brown, Crichton, Koontz, Grafton pick your author and enter it here ____________), you’ll find that same struggle for all those things.

They weren’t the best writers they could be in those first or second or even third books, but they turned out to be shining stars when you stick with them and wait for the maturity of their prose.

Rant complete…

JA Konrath said...

Rusty Nail was 82k words, written in 30 days, and that was up to the third draft. I start each writing day with editing previous writing, and often I revise as I write.

Then my agent and editor and line editor give their input, and there's more rewriting.

I do about 800 words an hour. In an eight hour day, that's about 16 pages. 30 days, allowing for cutting, can produce a 400 page manuscript no problem.

If it took me an extra three months of staring at my words to figure out that I needed to have more internal conflict, I'd quit writing.

Steven King, while brilliant, is also hit or miss. The Stand was great. Tommyknockers was not as great. The length of time he puts into a manuscript doesn't seem to determine which of his books soar, and which misfire.

Since Sue Grafton takes 18 times as long to finish a book, her books must be 18 times as good as mine?

I'm not buying it.

I'm also not buying that better writing leads to bestsellerdom. I know a lot of brilliant books that are out of print, and a lot of mediocre books that are on the NYT List. Have you tried to read Predator by Cornwell? Then have you read In the Company of Liars by David Ellis, possibly the most brilliant thriller in the last ten years, which didn't hit any bestseller lists?

Writing a book that has a standard publisher push and distribution behind it will not guarantee it finds an audience--even if the book is great.

And publisher publicity campaigns are based on numbers, not how much they love the book.

As for plot versus character--people buy stories, they don't buy protagonists. The story is what happens. The characters are who it happens to. Story is more important.

I'm pleased that my books seem to be improving--at least, that's what people tell me. That's not based on spending more time on them. I'm simply growing as a writer.

But the books won't sell themselves, no matter how good they are. First, people need to be made aware of them. They have to read them.

Which is why I spend so much time and money self-promoting.

The writing is the easy part.

Anonymous said...

emeraldcite,

Not a moot point. My point is dedication to craft, whether said mystery was written by Stephen King or Bill the plumber.

You can't produce a bestseller in thirty days. Can't be done. J.A. Konrath wants to be a bestselling author (tell me if I'm wrong, J.A.), but he wants to spend only 1/12 of his professional life writing. How is growth even possible? Maybe it is, at a snail's pace. At any rate, I think he's in unchartered waters.

What makes James Patterson (king of the sentence fragment, by the way) a bestseller, while Holly Lisle and J.A. Konrath linger on the midlist? Real characters, and tension on EVERY page. Not something Bill the plumber (or even Stephen King) can accomplish in thirty days.

The JD mysteries are good books; but, to break through, there has to be something more. Dennis Lehane did it, but he didn't do it in thirty days and he didn't do it because his publisher encouraged it. He did it from the heart, from the gut.

Sure, every writer is different. But I still maintain that "we will sell no wine before its time." A novel has to simmer like a good pot of chili. And you have to get through at least a twelve-pack before the chili's done.

Anonymous said...

J.A.,

800 words an hour? Is this from a detailed outline or off the top of your head? You seem to be bragging about your speed, but how much pre- and post-production work are we talking about? How long does it really take to finish one of the JD novels?

emeraldcite said...

What makes James Patterson (king of the sentence fragment, by the way) a bestseller, while Holly Lisle and J.A. Konrath linger on the midlist? Real characters, and tension on EVERY page. Not something Bill the plumber (or even Stephen King) can accomplish in thirty days.

Patterson is the king of name recognition. While Along Came a Spider was good, Violets are Blue was terrible. No tension, boring, formulaic. Yet, a bestseller.

Patterson continues to be a bestseller because of name recognition. He's not even writing all of his own books anymore. Check them out. They say Patterson, but they're written by someone he hired. It's a "Wes Craven presents" kind of special.

This isn't chili by Patterson, this is selling a brand.

Bestselling isn't a quality of writing, there's a huge luck factor. Look at the list. You'll recognize at least half the names, if not more, from previous bestseller lists. It's the same people. Occasionally, someone will sneak on there.

Look at Dan Brown. Before DC, his books were top bestsellers. What makes this one different? Did he spend more time on it than Angels and Demons? I doubt it. It's the same novel as DC with a different twist.

Being a bestseller is a crapshoot. Either you're on it because you've been before or you on it via word of mouth.

Set out to write a bestseller and you'll be disappointed. Write the best book you can and hope for the best.

Anonymous said...

Name recognition is a huge factor, no doubt. But how many shitty novels would James Patterson have to write to get his name off the list? One? Two? Is the buying public so full of complete morons that they keep buying a name regardless of quality? If so, then why are we wasting our time? Who cares if the man with the name James Patterson on his birth certificate is writing the novels? If they're good, they're good. If not, the buying public (morons that they are), will eventually figure it out.
Does Tess Gerritsen write her own books? Yeah, I guess so. But if not, who cares? The play's the thing.
Yes, you should write the best book you can and hope for the best. My point is: "the best book you can" cannot be written in haste, cannot be written in thirty days, even if you never eat or sleep or take a dump.

You might write a great book and still never be a bestseller. But, if you become complacent on the midlist and simply churn out what's expected, you'll definitely never reach the top.

JA Konrath said...

Bragging? How so?

Writing three pages an hour is hardly fast. I think that's about average.

Asimov wrote 400 books. That's something to brag about.

I have pretty detailed outlines, but don't use outlines for short stories, and still average 800 words an hour.

Rusty Nail required minimal editing. But minimal requires four drafts, plus the line edit and first pass, which means I've read (and changed) the sucker at least six times before publication.

I just did a JD short story in about four hours. It's a little less than 3000 words. No outline needed.

Is it a good story? I think so. I was playing with conventions of genre fiction, putting Jack in a hostage scenario where no matter what she does, people keep dying.

The cliche is the crazed criminal holding a gun to a person's head, and the hero cop saving the day. I wondered what would happen if Jack didn't save the day, and it turned out interesting.

It'll be up on Amazon Shorts soon, provided everything works out.

My goal isn't bestsellerdom, BTW.

My goal is to reach a point where I don't have to spend every waking moment self-promoting.

To do that, I need to establish a guaranteed fanbase that will buy so many copies per title.

How many?

If I'm selling 50k hardcovers a year, plus my backlist, I'd be happy.

That doesn't require spending any more time on craft. That requires selling books.

I'd love to be able to do three or four books a year. Won't happen, for several reasons. Maybe I'll be able to do two a year, if Origin sells.

If I didn't have to market myself, I could comfortably write four books a year.

Keep in mind that Whiskey Sour was my tenth book. I'd written a million words before selling a single thing. While I've only been in the publishing biz for 3 years, I've been writing seriously for 14.

How much better am I supposed to get?

The stuff I'm doing now is much better than the stuff I did five years ago. But the stuff I do today is only slightly better than the stuff I did last year.

But none of that matters. Coke doesn't outsell Pepsi because it tastes better. It's all about the marketing, the brand recognition, the market saturation.

Sugar water is sugar water.

Anonymous said...

J.A.,

"If it took me an extra three months of staring at my words to figure out that I needed to have more internal conflict, I'd quit writing."

Okay. So quit writing. The midlist is too crowded as it is. Your fans'll get over it, somehow.

If you really believe that story is more important than character, then you're a lost cause.

What do you remember about your beloved SOTL? Is it the plot, now rather hackneyed? Or is it Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling and Buffalo Bill?
Thought so.

JA Konrath said...

"Is the buying public so full of complete morons that they keep buying a name regardless of quality?"

In a word: Yes. I worked in a bookstore for a few years. I talked to over 500 booksellers this year, many at length.

People keep buying Cornwell, even though her last three have been bad. They keep buying Patterson, even though he only co-writes most of his novels these days.

"If so, then why are we wasting our time? Who cares if the man with the name James Patterson on his birth certificate is writing the novels?"

No one. Tom Clancy and CLive Cussler are making a fortunre selling books under their names, that they have no involvement in at all.

"If they're good, they're good. If not, the buying public (morons that they are), will eventually figure it out."

Not so far, they haven't.

Readers are consumers. Consumers are creatures of habit. When was the last time you changed ketchup brands?

Someone had a good Patterson experience, so they keep going back rather than try something new--even if the last few books disappoint.

But that's off topic. The topic is: Can a good book be written in 30 days?

I say yes.

And 30 days isn't 'haste.' I don't rush. That's simply how long it takes for most authors.

Stuart Woods writes for two hours a day, and puts out two books a year. Impressive? Not really.

If he writes 500 words a day, for 300 days out of the year, he's got 150k words, which is enough for two novels.

I just do it all at once, rather than string it out all year round.

JA Konrath said...

"What do you remember about your beloved SOTL? Is it the plot, now rather hackneyed? Or is it Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling and Buffalo Bill?"

When the plot involves a new FBI cadet sparring with a maniac to catch another maniac, and includes such jaw-dropping scenes as Lector's escape, Bill's night vision goggles, and a plucky fat girl holding a dog hostage, I'm thrilled.

When the plot involves a detailed and needles description of Italy, man-eating pigs, brain gnoshing, and a ridiculous lesbian sex scene, I'm unhappy.

Same characters in both, but the former was a good story, the latter was a joke.

You think Huck Finn is such a dynamic character, he could sit on a fence and talk for 400 pages and the book would still be good? No--Huck needs to run off with Jim and have an adventure.

We write stories, not characters.

Anonymous said...

None of the adventures would have happened without the characters to make them happen. Character drives plot. No?
Or are the characters simply pawns in an arbitrary universe of the writer's making?

Anonymous said...

J.A.,

I change ketchup brands daily. Today, I'm using Hunt's.

Hey, I'm brainstorming now. I know, I'll use a famous consumer brand to help sell my books.

From now on, my protagonists name is...

Mike Hunt.

JA Konrath said...

"Character drives plot. No?"

Conflict drives the plot. Without conflict, there's no book, just description and a bunch of characters doing nothing.

You can have wonderful characters, like Starling and Lector, but they only shine when they're in a good story.

Read the back of a mm paperback, or the inner jacket copy of a NYT bestseller.

How much of the description is dedicated to the characters, and how much to the plot?

Anonymous said...

So where does conflict come from? Is it some contrived element the author threw in, or is it characters acting and reacting toward opposing forces? Clarice Starling's reactions toward Hannibal were different than any other character in the world. There was no conflict, no story, without the two strong personalities opposing one another.
No one but Clarice could have drawn the info from Lecter that eventually set up the conflict with Buffalo Bill.
Character drives plot.
No character, no conflict.

Mark Terry said...

Why the hell did I bother reading all this?

Okay. Can a good book be written in 30 days. Sure. Will all of Joe's novels take 30 days to write?

Ha! Joe, get back to me on February 8th, 2013, we'll discuss your track record.

For the longest time when asked at book signings, etc., how long it took to write a novel, I would say 7 months if everything went right and 14 if it didn't. The truth is, I don't know. I'll be 42 in January. How long did it take me to write my last novel? Almost 42 years went into it. Length of time at the computer? Oh, I don't know, 4 or 5 months, and it wasn't the only writing I was doing.

I always bring this up. It took William Styron about 22 years to write "Sophie's Choice." It's a work of genius. Clinical depression slowed him down. Frankly, the man was dicking around. It doesn't take 22 years to write a novel. That's what, a sentence a day? Still, it's an amazing novel.

Joe, writing full-time, 8 hours or more, concentrating completely on the book, takes about a month. Lawrence Block has said repeatedly that he goes to an artists colony and cranks out a draft in a week or two, because that's all he's doing at the time.

Length of time spent on actual writing has nothing to do with quality or success. It's a complete red herring to get into arguments about it. Every writer's different; every book is different.

Hey, does that word verification spell tits up your nose?

tjztnoxt

Damn literary Rorschach.

Anonymous said...

To produce 82K words in thirty days, at 800 words/hour, you only have to work about 3 1/2 hours a day seven days a week or 8 hours a day 3 1/2 days a week. Then you get to drink beer and play Donkey Kong and mail out coasters and drink some more beer with bookstore employees and patrons and booze it up at the conferences for the rest of the year. Wow! Being a professional writer is easy! I think I'll be one, by golly. Where do I sign up?

I think it's misleading (and kind of crazy) to hand someone a hardback for $25 and tell them it only took a month to write. Even if you could do it, why would you admit it?

Of course it's possible to produce a first draft in a month. But how much time was spent on plot outlining? Idea brainstorming? Getting to know the characters in your head and on paper before sitting down to write the draft? Then there's the editing process and the rewrites.

True, of course, that all writers are different, some much faster than others. Lawrence Block cut his teeth grinding out forgettable 200 page work-for-hire erotica novels. He wrote that fast because he liked to eat. But I can't imagine that he wrote something like SMALL TOWN in one or two weeks. First draft maybe. Actually, it would probably take an average typist that long just to transcribe the thing.

J.A.,

What is Origin? Doesn't sound like a Jack Daniels book. Are you stepping out of the genre with something new?

Anonymous said...

"I'm not saying Konrath's books are bad. I just think he hasn't yet arrived at the depth of character that might propel him up the list, where he wants to be. Mailing out coasters will not do the trick. Time in a chair with pencil and parchment will."

That comment by anonymous is incredibly short-sighted. Ridiculous in its vindictiveness. Here's the deal: Konrath started out with a 3-book deal. He now has a six-book deal. He earns out his advances. People love his books. He self-promotes, which sells even more books. On top of that, he helps other writers on a daily basis. And, oh yeah, he writes. I wish I could write books as good as Konrath's books. Whether it took me 3 months or 3 years, I wouldn't care. But Joe, I firmly believe that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. It ain't broke.

Now, JA, on your comment:

"As for plot versus character--people buy stories, they don't buy protagonists. The story is what happens. The characters are who it happens to. Story is more important."

I think you're absolutely right, and yet I buy your stories because I want to see what happens to Jack, just like I buy Lee Child's books to see what happens to Reacher. So for me, the characters are more important, and yet you said that story is more important. I don't think these things are mutually exclusive.

And like Mark Terry said, length of time spent writing has absolutely no bearing on quality. You can write a great book in 30 days if that's all you're doing.

I think Joe has proven his point.

Hemingway wrote books in a few weeks. Greg Iles writes his in a few weeks (about double the length of Joe's).

There are plenty of people who produce great work in a short period of time. It's about the focus on the writing. And if writers know their craft, it's not going to take as long to write the book.

There are also plenty of writers who take many, many years to turn out crap. In the end, the characters, the story, the dialogue and the writing are key. The time spent developing those things is not key.

Chili, on the other hand, needs time. But I want to drink the beer after I eat the chili, not before.

Adam

David J. Montgomery said...

Why argue with people who don't even have the balls to sign their name to their comments? If you think Joe's a crappy writer, just tell him. He won't cry. I tell him that all the time. (Well, actually he did cry, but just that one time...)

I think the books are as good as Joe can make them. I doubt they'd be appreciably better if he toiled over them for months rather than weeks. There is no secret to writing a good book -- not time, not rewriting -- and no guarantee that any individual factor will improve the writing. I couldn't write a book in a month, but some people (Larry Block is another one) can.

It's also impossible to extrapolate from one author's habits to another. Rex Stout would write the Nero Wolf novels straight through, one draft, didn't revise, and usually didn't spend much more than a month on one. Yet those books are still in print today and are regarded as classics of the genre.

On the other hand, Dennis Lehane (I use him as an example since he was mentioned above) has been working on his current book, a historical crime novel, for years now. Who knows when it'll be done. (When I asked him about it a while back he said, "There's light at the end of the tunnel... I just didn't know how long the tunnel was.") Will the book be better because it took him 4 years to write it, rather than 1? It's hard to imagine that's true -- and I doubt he'd make that argument.

Ultimately, the only thing that matters is to write the best book you can. How long it takes to do that is up to you.

Anonymous said...

Do my comments sound vindictive? They're not meant to be. I'm offering constructive criticism that J.A. can take or leave as he pleases. Just because I'm not in the "everything J.A. does is wonderful" camp doesn't mean that I don't wish him well.

Who doesn't want to improve? I know I do. A writer can grow stagnant and rot under a statement like "if it ain't broke don't fix it." Complacency is the worst enemy of someone who wants to succeed.

Why should I sign my name? So all those who disagree with me can put me on their hate list?

There is too much vidictiveness in the mystery community, but it's not coming from me. It will never come from me.

I think J.A. is a remarkable talent. Is he capable of improvement? I believe that he is, which make my comments far less insulting than "the books are as good as Joe can make them."

Anonymous said...

"Do my comments sound vindictive? They're not meant to be. I'm offering constructive criticism that J.A. can take or leave as he pleases. Just because I'm not in the 'everything J.A. does is wonderful' camp doesn't mean that I don't wish him well."

To me they sounded very vindictive, yes.

I saw nothing constructive about the criticism, either. I just saw criticism.

Adam

Lori G. Armstrong said...

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but at Mayhem in 2002 Lehane said he wrote Sacred in six weeks. It isn't the masterpiece that is Mystic River, but I think its a great book.

JA Konrath said...

"Greg Iles writes his in a few weeks (about double the length of Joe's)"

Greg is my new hero.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I have to disagree with Joe's story vs. character posts. Character drives the story. Character determines the plot twists, the conflict and everything else that happens.

Great books have great characters, characters we care about, we root for. Without them, you have little more than a bad TV show.

Let's face it, Joe, your books would not be half as strong as they are without a great character like Jack.

Mark Terry said...

Good or even great fiction, whether TV shows, movies, novels, short stories, etc., is:

Interesting people doing interesting things.

Can't have one without the other.

Anonymous said...

"Character is action: The oldest law of writing. It goes back to Aristotle. Plot is just a vehicle in which you see them act."
--Dennis Lehane

Melanie Lynne Hauser said...

You know, Joe, I think you're selling yourself short. To be honest, I do not remember the plot of Bloody Mary. But I do remember the characters, particularly Jack, and that's why I want to read Rusty Nail. To find out what happens to her.

I think people are getting hung up on trying to find some difference between character and plot or story. They're mutually dependent upon each other. Of course the story has to be good in order for me to continue reading a book - that cannot be ignored. But characters, not story lines, are what stay with me long after I read "The End."

A good story makes people finish one book. A good character makes people eager to begin the next one.

Anonymous said...

In fairness, I must admit my previous comments were based on the debut. I read the first couple chapters of BLOODY MARY last night at a book store (I was broke, else I would have brought it home) and it does seem J.A. has made huge leaps toward character development in the sophomore effort.

If he did it in thirty days, more power to him. While it still amazes me, I hereby yield on the time-spent-writing issue.

You're an inspiration, J.A.

Mark Terry said...

Gee, I wonder if "Anonymous" (or is that "anomalous") isn't really Joe in disguise, trying to build up some controversy on his blog.

Hmmm...

Hmm, word verification spells, "Huh, you numbnuts?"

ehenum

Best,
Mark Terry

Anonymous said...

Word verification spells "yo mama."

I'm still not yielding on the plot vs. character issue. Well, maybe a little. Not all stories are character driven, only the good ones.

Not a snark toward anybody, Mr. Adam, just making a statement. No need to bite my head off this time.

Anonymous said...

I like stories that are character driven, so you won't hear any arguments from me.

Adam

Karen Olson said...

People read a mystery series for the protagonist. Otherwise why would people still be reading Janet Evanovich or Patricia Cornwell?

And Joe, I just don't buy it that you don't want a bestseller. Anyone as frenetic as you are about promotion has to want to see your name on the NYTimes Bestseller List. Hell, those of us who aren't or can't be frenetic about promotion want to be there, too. We're lying to ourselves if we say we don't.

Anonymous said...

Do people read Dan Brown's books because Robert Langdon is an interesting character? He seems pretty one-dimensional to me. So why to people buy the books? And why do people even bother to buy anything written by James patterson?

The answer is simple.

Plot, baby, plot.

Good plots sell books. The story is supreme.

If character sold books, than literary books would be on the bestseller lists.

Anonymous said...

Pardon me, but didn't Brown STEAL the plot?

Anonymous said...

Will the real Anonymous please stand up.

For sake of clarity, I'll call myself Captain Anomalous. Thanks for the new handle, Mark.

I'll say it again. Plots are finite; characters are infinite. A well-drawn character will move the plot forward. A flat character will be moved around like a piece on a Monopoly board.

There are plot driven mysteries that sell, no doubt. Robin Cook comes to mind. But the books I like to read, the best books in my opinion, are the ones with characters you feel like you know by the end. Characters with real motivations, fears, desires. Flesh and blood on the page.

I think Alex Cross is real, as is his pal Sampson. And Patterson's villains come across as multidimensional too, in my opinion. I haven't read Dan Brown yet, strictly on some perverted priciple of my own making, so I can't comment on his work.

The thing is, in mysteries, we see the same plots over and over (with variations here and there); the characters' actions and reactions, their unique voices, dreams and motivations, bring to life what John Gardner calls the "fictional dream." Plots get stale pretty quick. A good character can stay fresh through an entire series of novels.

Is Dennis Lehane wrong? Stephen King? Sue Grafton? I don't think so. Character rules, baby. Plus, to me, it's simply more fun to work with characters that spring to life on the page. Who wants to work around cardboard cutouts all day?

Capt. Anomalous

Anonymous said...

OK--

Just to make this even more confusing. I'm Adam, but I post anonymously, signing all my posts as Adam.

I took issue with something another "Anonymous" said. Totally disagreed with him (on the grounds that his constructive criticism of Joe wasn't constructive(. That "Anonymous" is now "Captain Anomalous." Perfect. Everyone got it now?

I, Anonymous Adam who disagreed with Anonymous Captain Anomalous, now agree with Anonymous Captain Anomalous that character is infinite and plot is finite.

So like certain politicians, I can now say I disagreed with Anonymous before I agreed with him.

Adam

Anonymous said...

I'm the third anonymous, who made the Dan Brown stealing comment. Only because this is a small industry and you never know who's reading.....

Anonymous said...

If readers don't care about the characters, don't care what happens to them, then plot is irrelevant.

Drama is character driven. Melodrama is plot driven. In melodrama, the actions are forced (by the author). In drama, the characters are proactive and seek their own directions. They CAUSE story to happen. Motivation is the key.

Why does Jack Daniels, a forty-something year-old detective, chase the Gingerbread Man into the sewers? One might say, "She's a cop, it's her job." Okay, then why doesn't she transfer to a cushy desk job? Why does she risk her life on a daily basis? Was she inspired by too many Dirty Harry movies? I don't think so. Something deep inside propels Jack forward. Something in her character (not the author) forces her to act.

How many pairs of shoes does Jack have in her closet? Which are her favorites? If the author doesn't know the answers to questions like this, then Jack is likely to disappear when she turns sideways.

We want to know the intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual sides to a character, including her warts. As readers, we might not be all that interested in what type shoes she wears, but SHE cares, and so should the author. The author's knowledge of character will come through and make that character real.

What could possibly motivate Hannibal Lecter to eat a census taker's liver (with onions, and fava beans, and a nice Chianti)? Lecter's motives weren't explored until the book HANNIBAL came out, but one has to suppose that Thomas Harris knew them all along. Knowledge of those motives made SILENCE OF THE LAMBS extremely visceral to millions of readers.

If readers don't care about the characters, then plot is irrelevant.

If you want plot to drive your story, just be aware that your audience will quickly forget you after reading THE END.

Capt. Anomalous

JA Konrath said...

Whiskey Sour was a safe book--safe int he sense that I was trying to make a sale. I'd gotten too many rejections for bending genres and writing unclassifiable fiction, so I purposely wrote something cookie-cutter.

My first novel was called DEAD ON MY FEET, about a private eye who was dying of cancer. No one wanted to touch it--to much angst, too much inner turmoil.

Going deep into Jack's psyche might have turned editors off, so I just skimmed the surface. Later books could go deeper, because I had a multi-book contract, and could take more risks.

As for bestsellerdom--no, that's not a goal. As long as I'm living comfortably, I'm not gunning for a spot on the list. Nor am I gunning for any awards.

I simply want the career to support itself, rather than me constantly supporting it. Then I can (hopefully) relax.

As for plot vs. character, it's important to do both well.

But if I took Jack and had her chasing down a car theif rather than a mass murderer, it wouldn't be as dramatic or as compelling.

Books are about 'what happens next.' Of course, what is happening is happening to characters that the reader cares about. But interesting characters need interesting things to do, or else they ain't readable.

And, oddly enough, the word verification spells out mktrycrzy...

Anonymous said...

J.A.,

I would love to read DEAD ON MY FEET.

Is there any way you could post it as a download on your website? It sounds like something worth reading, and it seems a shame for it to linger in a drawer.

Capt. Anomalous

Mark Terry said...

"...the word verification spells mktrycrzy..."

Guess I'd better buy a Lotto ticket today.

eozxqskl today

Eeoooh, you rascal?

Best,
Mark Terry

Kim H said...

On the plot v character, I agree with those that say it takes both. But there are some books that lean one way and some books that lean the other and honestly both can be done well.

Take Harlan Coben for example (because I worship the ink he writes with). I've read all his books, series and standalones. His series leans toward character. I remember a lot about Myron, Win, Esperanza and Myron's parents. I can tell you all about Myron's sports injury. I can describe him physically. Can I remember the plot of any of the Myron books? Maybe one, but that's it. And I've read them all.

Then, let's look at Coben's standalones. Those, I think, lean toward the plot side and away from the character side. I remember the plot hook from each book (husband thinks dead wife is alive, man wakes in hospital to find out his wife is dead and child is missing, wife picks up prints from the photohut and an old pic of her husband is in there, etc). Can I remember any of the character names? Nope. What they looked like? Nope. Anything about them? Nope.

And his standalones are just as fantastic as his series, which are more character-driven.

While both plot & character have to be there for the book to work, they don't have to be present in equal amounts. Not every villian has to be Hannibal, not every heroine Clarice, for the book to be great.

Anonymous said...

Good point, Kim. Every character should be unique.

I know that some popular novels are plot driven. As a character, Perry Mason was as flat as they come. And look how well that series did.

I still think multidimensional characters are more interesting, though. Give me Travis Magee over Perry Mason every time.

There's an excellent essay on the subject at www.screenwriter.com/LawrenceKonnerw.html. He's talking about screenplays, but everything he says can be applied to novels as well.

Capt. Anomalous

Anonymous said...

Kim,

I enjoy Harlan Coben's Bolitar books, but they didn't make him a bestseller. It was his standalones that made him a bestseller. That's why he keeps writing those types of books.

Another example of how plot trumps character every time.

Plot, baby, plot.

Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't mind reading Konrath's first book either. But I doubt that he will ever post any book on the internet for free. There's no $$$ in it for him.

I think Konrath is trying to be the next Stephen King. He's going to release all of his previously unpublished works under a pseudonym, a la Richard Bachman.

What he forgets is that Richard Bachman didn't have a fraction of the success that Stephen King did. I think King barely made any money from those books. It just gave him satisfaction to see them in print.

If Konrath isn't going to publicize his psuedonym books, than what makes him think that anyone is going to read them? It would make marketing extremely difficult. And Konrath's strength is marketing.

Plot, baby, plot.

Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

PlotBabyPlot, the myopic psychic. You have a 900 number, PlotBabyPlot?

Plot trumps character every time?

Hogwash.

But I've said enough about it. If you google "character driven vs. plot driven" you'll get about 1.5 million hits.

Go read and learn, PlotBabyPlot.

Capt. Anomalous

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Yes, it's obvious that both plot and character are important, but my point is that character DRIVES the plot.

Our goal as writers, I believe, is to get the reader invested in how our characters will react to certain conflicts. Their reactions, in turn, push the story forward.

Rather than forcing them to adhere to plot machinations, it's important to let them define the twists and turns by their actions. And conflicting characters, obviously, create obstacles for our hero by THEIR actions.

If these characters are made of cardboard, then the story will be as flat as they are.

Yes, chasing down a car thief might be less interesting than chasing down a murderer, but if he's a compelling car thief and his actions take the story in an interesting direction, you might have one helluva book.

Anonymous said...

rob gregory browne,

Amen, brother. You hit the nail on the head.

Capt. Anomalous

JA Konrath said...

I have zero problems with people posting without using their real name, but too many people posting as anonymous is getting confusing.

You don't have to play nice (censorship sucks) but from now on you have to register.

I have no desire to be Steve King. Being unable to leave the house without being recognized would suck.

I have many free short stories on my website, and also have full novels from time to time. ORIGIN was available free for several months, and had over 1000 downloads. I took it down, revamped it, and am now trying to sel it. If it doesn't sell, I'll put it online again.

Mark Terry said...

Now I thought we'd worked out that anonymous thing. We've got:

Captain Anomalous
Adam Anomymous
and
Anonymous.

I do think that if a fourth anonymous should start posting, though, for the sake of clarity, they should pick a different anonymous alias, perhaps Mr. X or X Man or something like that. Perhaps you need to put some fine print down here, Joe. (and perhaps I need to go back to work).

Word verification: leptcqw

Leaping cocktails!

David J. Montgomery said...

I have no desire to be Steve King. Being unable to leave the house without being recognized would suck.

Leaving the house is overrated.

Plot Baby Plot said...

Captain Anonymous,

Say whatever you want about character, but people remember a good story first. A good character is a by-product of the story -- not the other way around. People may remember the character of Sherlock Holmes, but I really wouldn't want to see Holmes in a story that wasn't a mystery. It wouldn't work.

Plot, baby, plot.

David J. Montgomery said...

Separating plot and character is like separating the chocolate and the peanut butter in a Reese's. If you take away one or the other, you no longer have the whole.

Where you choose to place your emphasis, as a writer or a reader, depends on your personal taste. Some people prefer the chocolate and some the peanut butter. But neither element is universally more important than the other. (And ultimately, both of them are necessary for a good story.)

Some readers would prefer, if they had to choose, a fascinating character in a so-so story, while others would prefer wooden characters in a dynamic plot. Neither, however, is inherently superior to the other.

Arguing about it reminds me of those old Miller Lite commercials. (It was a sad day for the out-of-work C-list celebrities when those went off the air.)

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Once you bring the readers into the debate, all bets are off. There's no accounting for taste. Authors whose writing I absolutely hate (and who shall remain nameless) are loved by others, and I'll be damned if I can tell you why.

But to my mind, a GOOD or GREAT book needs good or great characters -- and BECAUSE those characters are great, they're likely to take us on a great ride.

Did I say "great" enough times?

I personally have yet to read a story with cardboard characters that holds my interest.

But maybe that's just me.

I don't bedrudge anyone for liking cotton candy. It just isn't my idea of a real snack.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I think I've coined a new phrase. Bedrudge.