Thursday, December 29, 2005

Mantra for '06

1. It is inevitable, if I keep trying, that I'll succeed. A professional is an amateur who didn’t quit. Success is simply learning from failure.

2. I won't take rejection personally. Each rejection is one step closer to publication. Most rejections have nothing to do with how good the writing is. It's a numbers game. The more I try, the more I'll sell.

3. I will have faith in my work, but always remain open to suggestion and change. The day I stop listening to criticism is the day I stop growing as a writer, and growth leads to book deals.

4. I will keep writing, keep submitting, keep marketing, and never surrender. Ultimately, success in this business rests squarely on one person’s shoulders: Mine.

5. Depression, anger, resentment, envy, disappointment, jealousy, worry, and a sense of entitlement are all a big waste of time and energy better spent writing.

6. 2007 will be here in just 368 days. It will come whether I've reached my goals or not. So 2006 will be the year I reach my goals. I control my destiny, and I will succeed.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

No Vacation for You

I haven't had a vacation in four years, and I don't expect one next year either.

This July, my family demanded some 'together time' so I took them up to a cabin in Michigan. Along the way I did signings. And I brought my laptop.

My two closest friends, whom I've known for 26 years, coerced me into taking a three day weekend off to go on brewery tours. I went with them, but managed to fit in a library event while they were boozing it up.

The kids have been off school for a week, and I managed to do some bonding. But I also did some editing, some writing, some website updating, and a few blog entries.

Am I missing out on life? In a word: Yes. And since misery loves company, I want you to miss out too.
  • Can't find an agent?
  • Can't sell your book?
  • Getting a lot of rejections?
  • Stuck on that short story?
  • Book not selling well?
  • Disappointed by your numbers?
  • Haven't finished that novel?
  • Unable to find a new publisher?

My question for you is: How much time have you put in?

Remember listening to your grandparents talk about the Great Depression? They used words like "Sacrifice" and "Hard work."

Writing involves sacrifice and hard work. That means denying yourself some things, like friends and family and free time. If you want to make it, you have to put in the hours.

I'm not going to argue that your writing is more important than your children---that isn't true. Family is far more important than career. But if your family loves you, they'll also understand how important your career is, and give you time to pursue it.

If you want to succeed in this biz, be prepared to make sacrifices and find the time to get things done.

Here's a handy list of some things you can sacrifice:

  • Vacation
  • Friends
  • TV
  • Going out
  • Reading
  • Surfing the Internet
  • Sleep
  • Eating

The harder you work, the better your chance at success. This is a business about persistence, not talent. Asimov wrote 400 books. James Reasoner just finished his 185th. How many have you done?

Now I fully expect some vehement disagreement. Replies that speak of values and priorities and happiness and importance, and examples of authors on the bestseller list who take plenty of time off. I'm sure plenty of folks will feel sorry for my family, or for me for not 'getting it.' Some of you will insist you can have your cake and eat it too, and some of you may indeed do that.

But the next time you're lamenting your career, ask yourself two questions: What have I done so far? & What have I sacrificed?

If you've never finished a novel, have only gotten 50 rejections, and plan on using the holiday break to relax, are you entitled to the disappointment you feel about the state of your writing career? Or if you published your book, then did minimal self-promotion, can you really feel betrayed that you sold so poorly?

Here's an axiom that no one likes, me included, but I adhere to it anyway:

"You can always do more."

And the next time you're relaxing, pick up a copy of Who's Who, or crack open a history book, and look at all of the successful, famous people that our society reveres. How many of them are in there for being good parents? For taking vacations? For watching a lot of television? For partying with friends?

Happy Holidays! I gotta get back to work.

Friday, December 23, 2005

When Did You Know?

I'm often asked when I knew that I wanted to be a writer.

I knew in fifth grade, in December of 1979. I was 9 years old.

I wrote a poem called "Cool Santa's Jingle Bells" and read it to my class, and my teachers praised me like praise was going out of style. My parents also heaped on the praise, and I was forced (though not very reluctantly) to read the poem at our Xmas dinner for all the relatives who then (you guessed it) praised me highly.

Was the attention I got for this poem what made me seek attention into adulthood? Maybe. But I really think there's something in me that makes me want to create things, whether I get praised from them or not.

I'd done a lot of writing prior to that poem, though I never considered it writing. I'd put stories down on paper to entertain myself, much as other children drew pictures.

But after this poem, I suddenly realized two major things. First, that my writing could make people other than myself happy. And second, that I was apparently pretty good at it, because it only took me about twenty minutes to write that poem, during a math lesson.

As I grew, I continued to write stories. But when I got a video camera in 1983 I began to make movies, and my passion changed from the written word to the visual expression of it.

The movies quickly became pretty elaborate, and usually involved me murdering my younger brother (they were rip-offs of Friday the 13th.) We had a large back yard, with woods, and after several dumb jokes and some first person POV stalking, I'd chase him into the woods and cut him in half. We accomplished this effect by burying Mikey in the dirt up to his chest, then making a fake chest that he stuck his upper body through. Add some fake legs, stuff his body cavity with animal organs from the butcher and jackrabbit pumps filled with blood, and I'd drive a knife into his chest and pull out his entrails while bloody squirted out from six different hoses and he screamed like crazy.

Ah, my teenage years...

My interest in video lead to film and TV, and to Columbia College in Chicago where I took classes in both, as well as creative writing.

I got A's in film and TV, and C's in writing.

During college I made some pretty good movies and videos. A 16mm film I did called INVADER used everything I knew about SPFX and filmaking and produced a 50 minute epic of car chases, miniatures, chainsaw fights, beheadings, dismemberments, alien vomiting, and even a sex scene. It played in a local festival, and audiences dug the over-the-top horror mixed with humor.

Also in college I did some cable tv, some corporate video, and some theater improv, along with writing. I knew I'd wind up doing something creative with my life.

After graduation, getting a job in Chicago during a recession proved impossible. I'd written a lot up to that point; three screenplays, two plays, four sit-coms, two novellas, and hundreds of short stories.

Since no one would hire me for TV or film (I went to LA for two weeks to try to get agents interested--they weren't) I decided the only venue left open was writing. So I wrote a novel, and got an agent immediately, and you know how the rest of the story goes (if you don't, visit my website.)

But I can trace all of that back to that one poem in 5th grade...

Cool Santa's Jingle Bells

Well, all the cool eleves in town came walking down the street,
Saying "Have a cool Christmas" to everyone they'd meet,
Everyone was waiting for Santa's clock to ring,
So he'd wake up, walk the street, and listen to them sing,
His song wasn't very good, but it wasn't very bad,
It wasn't very cheery, but it wasn't very sad,
"Hiya Cool Santa!" the elves started their song,
"Did you have a good night's sleep, and was it very long?
If not Mr. Groovy, then please get some more sleep,
For you must guide the reindeer, up the ramp, and it is steep,
After you jump the ramp and sail into the sky,
You will say, "C'mon you dudes!" and the reindeer will start to fly,
Man, you are quite a site, in your hipster glasses,
And your sleek black coat, which is leather and made in Frances,
You are the coolest dude of all, bringing toys to boys and girls,
From mini bikes to mini trikes, and hip China dolls with curls!"
Santa thanked the elves for the song that was just right,
Then he yelled, "Have a cool Chirstmas, and to all a cool good night!"
The elves scampered all over, to watch the sleigh take off,
The Ruldolph in his dark sunglasses gave an awful cough,
The neato sleigh went straight down, Rudolph landed on his head,
Then Dasher, Dancer, Prancer... then Santa, was he dead?
The elves ran to the place where Santa's sleigh had crashed,
Prancer was all mangled, Rudolph was all mashed,
But Santa stood up from the pile in the pitch black night,
And then he snapped his fingers and the reindeer were alright,
He got in his sleigh (which now was okay) and yelled as he rode out of sight,
"A very cool Christmas to all you dudes, and to all a very cool night!"


So how about you? What made you decide that your words were so valuable that other people might enjoy them? What set you on this tunnel-vision path of hard work and depression and disappointment?

What age did you know you wanted to be a writer? And why?

  • Is it a quest for self-expression?
  • Is it fame?
  • Money?
  • A desire to work out of your home?
  • A need to see your name in print?
  • A fire burning in you that forces you to create?
  • A need for acceptance?
  • External forces?
  • Nothing better to do?
  • A higher calling?
  • A love of reading?
  • Boredom?
  • Other?

In order to know where we're going, we must know where we came from...


I've posted a link to the four Flash Fiction winners on my website, on the Contest page, for a limited time. If you want to read the stories that won, now is your chance.

Also, remember to download BLOODY MARY for free today at

You have to sign up and give them a credit card number, but you DO NOT get chraged. It's 100% legit. And you can also download WHISKEY SOUR for a measley four bucks. If you read my blog, but haven't read my books, this is a quick and simple way to ease your conscience and pay me back for all of the entertainment and information you've received over the years.

Or, you could just send me the 30 cents in royalties.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Short Story and Audiobook Contest Winners


I had almost 600 entries in my Flash Fiction Crime Story Contest, and about 500 in the Audiobook Contest.

I read every entry, but because there were so many I can't reply personally to everyone.

I will say that there were many outstanding stories. Many of the flash fiction pieces are publishable. And many of the folks begging for audiobooks brought a smile to my face or a tear to my eye. Thanks to all who took the time to enter!

If you didn't win, that does NOT mean you aren't a good writer or a worthy person. My personal taste is exactly that---personal. If I had the funds to make you all winners, I would. The competition was tough.

For those who don't win, you can still get a free download of BLOODY MARY at on December 23 (see my blog entry below for more info.)

The envelopes please...

  • A BLOODY MARY audio cassette goes to Mike Heppe.
  • A BLOODY MARY audio casstette goes to Steve Shrott
  • A BLOODY MARY audio MP3 goes to Patsy Cavender
  • A BLOODY MARY audio CD goes toToni Gibson
Again, thanks all who entered! Email me your addresses so I can mail you your freebies.

500 Word Flash Fiction Crime Story Contest Winners

There were so many good entries it came down to me trying to choose apples over oranges. I wound up picking four winners rather than three as I did for previous contests.

I can't stress how hard this was to judge. What made these four stand out above the others was their last lines. A lot of stories ended well, but these were the four best.

FOURTH PLACE - Jeff Greene for his story LESSONS. You win a signed paperback copy of WHISKEY SOUR.

THIRD PLACE - Margaret B. Davidson for her story POLLY PUT THE KETTLE ON. You win a signed paperback copy of WHISKEY SOUR and a signed Ellery Queen magazine.

SECOND PLACE - Don Hornbostel for his story DEATH CHEER. You win a signed copy of BLOODY MARY.

FIRST PLACE - James Viscosi for his story COLD TURKEY. You win $50, a signed copy of BLOODY MARY, and a character named after you in my fourth book, DIRTY MARTINI.

Congrats! I need you folks to email me with your addresses, so I can get your prizes out to you.

Thanks to all who entered---it has been quite an experience judging these contests.

New contests coming in 2006. Keep an eye on for details.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 19, 2005

E-Book vs Paper: Which Will Win?

Interested in reading BLOODY MARY, but you're super cheap?

Visit on December 23rd, and you'll be able to download the entire book for free.

How does it work?
  1. Visit
  2. Fill in some basic info (they ask for a credit card, which is used as an unlock code to open the ebook--no charges are made to your card)
  3. Download free eReader software to read the book (many different platforms available, for PCs, Macs, phones, TabletPCs, etc)
  4. Download free book
  5. Open eReader, open book (using your unlock code) and read

It's a clever little gadget. The text is pleasing and easy to read, and there are some cool features. I've never read an entire book on a computer, but this seems like a painless way to do so. I was leery about giving them a credit card number, but my publisher set up this promotion, so the whole thing is legitimate. The unlock code makes it impossible to share the book with others, preventing file swapping and copying, which is a clever way to protect copyright.

But the big question is: Is this the future of books?

I've thought it over, and have come up with a list of pros and cons.


COST - E-books are cheaper that print books.
SPEED OF PURCHASE - E-books can be downloaded instantly.
SPACE - Hundreds of E-books can be saved on a device the size of a single hardcover.
PORTABILITY - You can't carry a thousand print books around with you, but you can carry a laptop, tablet, or phone.
POTENTIAL - As E-Books evolve, expect pictures, sound FX, internet connectivity, and other cool things to enhance the reading experience.
ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY - No dead trees or harmful pollutants.


COLLECTIBILITY - People like to amass books (and author signatures.)
FEEL - The tactile pleasure of flipping pages is hard to beat electronically.
WORRY - If you drop you book in the bathtub, leave it on the bus, or set it on fire, it's no big loss. Dropping an E-Book would be bad.
LENDING - Lending books is fun, and many people do it religiously.
BROWSING - Going to libraries or bookstores is an event, surfing a website for dowloads is not.
SIMPLICITY - You don't need batteries, or an expensive gadget. You can read a book anywhere, anytime.
GIFTS - Have you ever bought a download for someone you love? Me neither.
READING TO CHILDREN - The bedtime story would be tough to do in front of a PC.

I don't fear that print books will disappear within my lifetime. While electronic reading will grow in popularity--I do more reading on my computer than I do in print, thanks to the Internet--it hasn't reached the point where it is superior to print books.

A song is a product. It can be delivered to a customer on vinyl, cassette, reel to reel, 8 track, CD, MP3, WMA download, and played on a Walkman, and Ipod, a computer, a record player, a home entertainment system, etc.

A book is a product. But for hundred of years, it could only be delivered to a customer as... a book. The product and the method of delivery were the same.

The electronic age brings a new method of delivery. With music or film, the delivery methods have continued to improve in quality, speed, and convenience.

But watching a movie or listening to music are passive activities. Reading is active. It involves not only involvement with the story, but also with the medium in which the story is presented. Holding a book, reading at your speed, skipping sections, rereading favorite parts, putting it down and picking it up, pausing to reflect, imagining the scene, pretending you're the main character, reading the ending first--these are the pleasures of reading that go beyond the product of written words.

Until technology advances to the point where the delivery system allows for the same experience, print books will remain the prefered method of delivery.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

New Years Resolutions for Writers

One more year passed and you're still not where you want to be? Make 2006 the year that 2005 should have been. Here are some resolutions for the unpublished, and the published.

Newbie Writer Resolutions
  • I will start/finish the damn book
  • I will always have at least three stories on submission, while working on a fourth
  • I will attend at least one writer's conference, and introduce myself to agents, editors, and other writers
  • I will subscribe to the magazines I submit to
  • I will join a critique group. If one doesn't exist, I will start one at the local bookstore or library
  • I will finish every story I start
  • I will listen to criticism
  • I will create/update my website
  • I will master the query process and find an agent
  • I'll quit procrastinating in the form of research, outlines, synopses, taking classes, reading how-to books, talking about writing, and actually write something
  • I will refuse to get discouraged, because I know JA Konrath wrote 9 novels, received almost 500 rejections, and penned over 1 million words before he sold a thing--and I'm a lot more talented than that guy
Professional Writer Resolutions
  • I will keep my website updated
  • I will start a blog
  • I will schedule bookstore signings, and while at the bookstore I'll meet and greet the customers rather than sit dejected in the corner
  • I will send out a newsletter, emphasizing what I have to offer rather than what I have for sale, and I won't send out more than four a year
  • I will learn to speak in public, even if I think I already know how
  • I will make selling my books my responsibility, not my publisher's
  • I will stay in touch with my fans
  • I will contact local libraries, and tell them I'm available for speaking engagements
  • I will attend as many writing conferences as I can afford
  • I will spend a large portion of my advance on self-promotion
  • I will help out other writers
  • I will not get jealous, will never compare myself to my peers, and will cleanse my soul of envy
  • I will be accessible, amiable, and enthusiastic
  • I will do one thing every day to self-promote
  • I will always remember where I came from

Did I miss anything? Feel free to post your resolutions.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Truth About Publishers

You've been hearing it for years: Once you're published, your publisher won't help you market or promote. After the ink on the contract dries, you're on your own, left to sell your books with zero help from the folks who just plunked down big bucks to publish it.

Is this true? Are the dispirited moans of authors at the convention bar---claiming they remain midlist because they were never 'pushed' onto the bestseller list---based on hard evidence?

Here's what I know, based on my experience.


  1. Print up advance reading copies (ARCs)
  2. Send these ARCs to reviewers
  3. Write a press release and send it out
  4. Have in-house meetings with marketing and sales to brainstorm hooks for your book
  5. Assign a publicist to you
  6. Allocate a marketing budget to your book
  7. Place you in their catalogue(s)
  8. Attempt to sell the subsidiary rights they've attained
  9. Edit your book
  10. Ask you to complete an author questionnaire
  11. Help you set up some book signings
  12. Talk about your book to buyers and solicit orders
  13. Get your books into the hands of distributors and onto bookstore shelves and online stores

Depending on the size of your publishing house, the above list is usually the bare minimum they'll do. And chances are you won't ever know how much they've actually done, because you may not get to see most of it.

If you want to be involved, volunteer. I wrote my own press release and catalogue copy. I've set up my own booksignings. My contacts led to a Korean rights sales. I send out many ARCs to reviewers on my own dime.

Hyperion and Brilliance Audio did all of these things for me

  1. Take out ads (about ten so far)
  2. Print flyers (several hundred)
  3. Print coasters/bookmarks (20,000)
  4. Print business cards (1500)
  5. Invite you to events (BEA, GLBA, UBA, etc)
  6. Have a booklaunch party
  7. Send you on tour
  8. Hire a media coach
  9. Send extra things to bookstores (coasters and drink mix)
  10. Provide you with extra ARCs (a few hundred)
  11. Listen and act on your marketing ideas
  12. Take you out to dinner
  13. Get you on local radio and TV (I've been on radio a few times)
  14. Get you interviews
  15. Give away free copies of your books (over a thousand)
  16. Hold contests
  17. Involve you with various promotions
  18. Pay co-op to bookstores for displays and prime placement
  19. Solicit your input on the cover and jacket copy (I wrote mine)
  20. Work with you on the final product (every year I visit Brilliance Audio and lend my voice to their recordings of my books.)

Do publishers treat every author the same? No. A lot depends on their budget. But even more depends on the author. Is this an author who is actively trying to augment their efforts? Someone who is enthusiastic about promotion? Someone who works hard and offers ideas?

If I sat on my duff and whined about not getting enough attention, chances are I'd be ignored. No one wants to work with a prima donna, or an artiste. But I've found that EVERY SINGLE TIME I spend time and money trying to promote myself, my publishers are there to back me up.


  1. Get you on the NYT Bestseller list. If they could, every book printed would be a bestseller.
  2. Get you on Oprah, Good Morning America, etc. Unless you're a celebrity.
  3. Take out a lot of ads. Ads don't sell books for unknown authors (have you ever bought a book because you saw an ad?) Ads are best used to announce a new book from an author with a huge fanbase.
  4. Send you on a huge tour. Tours don't make money. Ever. They are for author egos, building bookseller relationships, and meeting fans, more than selling huge numbers of books.
  5. Be in constant touch with you. Authors who don't need constant reassurance get more attention than needy authors.
  6. Sell your book. A publisher can get bookstores to carry your titles, but they can't make customers buy them. Only one person can do that (hint: you)

Your publisher is your partner. Like a marriage, making demands won't help the love grow. But giving, listening, and actively trying to make your partner happy will be mutually beneficial.

Which brings up the next list, one that new authors (and even many pros) don't ever consider.


  1. Make deadlines
  2. Be courteous, considerate, and enthusiastic
  3. Be accessible
  4. Show them your desire to help
  5. Self-promote by going to conventions, doing book-signings, speaking at libraries, soliciting interviews, maintaining a website, sending a newsletter, and all the other things I preach about
  6. Be thankful
  7. Make them money

In fact, the most important thing you can do in your career is make money for your publisher.

Big advances are nice, but it's hard to earn them out. But if you are earning out your advance, it's a good indicator that your publisher is making a profit, which only happens with 1 out of 5 books.

If they make money, you make money.

So what have you done for your publisher lately?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Massive Website Update

I've been neglecting my website for my blog, so today I did a really big update. Some of the new stuff includes:
  • New writing tips
  • New marketing tips
  • Updated appearances
  • New pictures
  • New downloads
  • New links
  • Uncut article After the Book Comes Out (the follow up to After the Big Sale)
  • Uncut tour journal
  • Updated content on the Super Secret page

What? You don't know what the Super Secret page is? This is a hidden webpage on my site that has cool free stuff, scandalous content, and several surprises. Instructions on how to find it are on my homepage,

Only a few people have found the page, though some did so by cheating. I fixed it so cheating isn't possible any longer, and it's no longer at the same place it was before.

If you find it, email me, and I'll send you something cool for free.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Super Holiday Super Contest

If you, or someone you know, liked WHISKEY SOUR and BLOODY MARY, this contest is for you. You'll win a signed, bound first pass copy of RUSTY NAIL.

A first pass is a formatted manuscript, given to the author for a final read-through to check for typos.

This one-of-a-kind item comes complete with my handwritten changes, and will be signed and personalized.

Not only do you get to read the book six months before everyone else, but this sure-to-be-a-collector's-item will certainly sell for big bucks on ebay when I'm dead, and truth be told I'm not feeling very well lately.

To enter, answer the following question:

What is the name of my hero in the Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels series?

All entries will be coated in chocolate syrup and put into a bowl. The first one my dog eats is the winner. (Incidentally, my dog's name is Jacqueline Daniels, named after the hero of my novels.)

You will also get some signed coasters and maybe some other crap I have on my desk. Like this pen.


When I speak in public, I often tell the newbie writers in attendance that this business is horrible, and they should quit.

It always gets a few laughs, because they think I'm kidding.

Work hard for four years, and you can get an engineering degree. In seven years, you're a lawyer. Eight and you can practice medicine. Hard work = success.

Writing isn't like that. You can bust your butt for ten years, working every day, and not earn a dime. A BA in fiction writing means you're eligible for a job at Wendy's. An MFA means you can teach--but is no guarantee you'll sell a book. And why would you want to teach if you haven't succeeded in the field?

So when does a reasonable person say when? After how many rejections should you decide to try something new?

I've talked with writers about the anguish of writer's block. They speak of their WIPs like it is a monumental task to be conquered, a war to be fought, torture to be endured.

This is how you want to spend your free time?

I read a lot of newbie writing, and 90% of it is bad. Could it be improved? Sure. I always spout that persistence trumps talent. But it took me 12 years to sell a book, and the stuff I was writing back in the day was better than much of the newbie stuff I read. Does that mean I'm fostering hope for hundreds of writers who won't sell anything until 2025, if ever?

The odds are against you, moreso than almost any other profession. Very few have what it takes, and even if you do, lady luck may snub you anyway.

Here's a short list of reasons to quit. If you see yourself on here, it may be time to try your hand at something else.
  1. You've been doing this for more than five years, and haven't sold anything.
  2. You've got some kind of degree in writing, and haven't sold anything.
  3. Writing causes you pain.
  4. You've been working on one novel for five years.
  5. You're great at starting stories, but never finish them.
  6. You want to be a writer, but spend all your time going to classes and researching, but never get any writing done.
  7. You could live without ever writing again.
  8. You think that writing will make you rich.
  9. You believe that once you sell a book, it's a cakewalk from then on.
  10. You truly feel that you have something important to say.
  11. You think being a writer is cool.
  12. You're doing it to show your family and friends.
  13. You want to win awards.
  14. You believe that editing, rewriting, and revision are for the less-talented.
  15. You have a thin skin.
  16. You think that writing will make you famous.
  17. You think that once you're in print, that will be enough and you'll never want more.
  18. You think there's a conspiracy keeping you from getting published.
  19. You don't live to write.
  20. At the end of your life, if you're still not published, it will hurt you.

If any of the above apply to you, consider doing something else with your free time. While high school sports couches crow that quitters never win, Dirty Harry famously said, "A man's got to know his limitations."

Why torture yourself when you could do something you'd be more successful at?

The cold hard fact is: most of the people trying to get published won't get published, and most of the people who do get published won't be successful.

Which brings me to the most important point of all:

21. If this blog entry made you consider quitting, you absolutely must quit.

If all it did was rile you up, well, welcome to hell. I wish you much success.

I also recommend Prozac, alcohol, and lots of understanding friends.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Stacking Numbers

We're bombarded with numbers every day, but they really don't mean much.

One way I put numbers in perspective is by turning them into heights.

So far, my family and I have completed 2000 of the 6500 library mailers. It's taken over 80 man hours so far.

2000 envelopes don't seem like much, but it you put them in one big stack, it would reach over 30 feet high. 30 feet of envelopes that had to be stuffed, stamped, labeled, and sealed. And we're not even 1/3 of the way done...

I've written a million words prior to publication. It all resides in a file cabinet. For fun, I stacked it all up---every original story, screenplay, book, (not counting rewrites.) It's over nine feet tall, each page original.

Hyperion printed 22k copies of BLOODY MARY. If stacked, they'd be 1833 feet high, which is 50 feet higher than the Sears Tower.

If you laid my books end to end (Paper and hardback copies of Whiskey, and hardbacks of Bloody) they'd stretch for 11 and a half miles.

When I did that calculation, I got really excited. Then I figured out how many miles the DaVinci Code would stretch---1500. You could drive from New York to Miami with copies of Dan Brown's book lining the highway the entire time.

But I bet Brown doesn't have five full inches of rejection slips...

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Size Does Matter

How long should your story be?

a) as long as it takes to tell
b) a predetermined length that automatically fills a slot

If you picked b) you have a much better chance of selling your work.

Short stories usually have length limitations, due to space constraints. It's much easier to find a market for something 5k than 15k.

And whenever you speak of length, speak in terms of word count, NOT page numbers. Someone using hevlecta 10pt single space can cram 700 words on a page, while an arial 14pt double-spacer with a lot of dialog might fit 150. (for the record, use courier 12pt double space, 1 inch margins, unless you know it's okay to do otherwise)

You should find out the writer's guidelines for length for a particular market before you begin--after all, why write anything without knowing who might buy it?

But if I am writing without a market in mind, I try to keep my shorts between 1500 and 7500 words.

If I go over 7500, I cut. And if I've learned one thing, it's that EVERYTHING can be cut.

Why keep it that length? I edited an anthology (coming out next year from Bleak House Books) and I learned that if given the choice between two 3000 words stories, and a 6000 words story, I go with the two.

When you pick up an antho or a magazine, do you read it cover to cover? Or do you skip around, sampling this story and that story? And which stories do you read first?

In my case, it's the shortest ones.

Every word should count in a narrative, and if you can make it shorter, you should. Didn't Hemingway have some kind of comment about, "I apologize for the length, I didn't have time to make it shorter?"

As for novels, there are no rules set in stone, but this is what I've noticed.

First novels have a better chance of selling if they are under 90k.

The reason is wholly monetary. Your publisher will probably lose money on your first book. But a 150k book will cost more to print, more to ship, and less will fit in a carton. Cost of production figures heavily into a publisher's decision whether to buy or not to buy.

Some genres, such as fantasy and historical romance, tend to be lengthier.

If your book is under 60k, it will have a harder time finding a buyer, both through a publisher and through a customer.

Fiction has set prices. Around 6 bucks for a paperback, 13 bucks for trade paper, and 24 dollars for a hardcover. Some are slightly more or less. Bestsellers command higher prices (I've seen a lot of 29 dollar price tags) but then they're discounted 30%.

So chances are your book will be about $24. A consumer will look at a thin 60K word book, and a thicker 100K word book, see they're both the same price, and assume bigger is better.

It's unlikely a publisher will price your book lower because it's shorter, for the same reason Shell sells gas comparable to Mobil--they want to stay competitive.

Are there exceptions? Always. But if you're trying to break into this business, which is hard enough, why stack even more odds against yourself?

Whiskey Sour was 68k. The hardcover was 270 pages, and it was 45 chapters.

Bloody Mary was 71k, 307 pages, 53 chapters.

Rusty Nail was 78k, 289 pages, 54 chapters.

Same font size/style/typesetting for all of them, so why do the numbers seem strange?

The page count/word count ratio changes, depending on how much dialog is in a book. Dialog takes up page space, but involves less words.

Rusty Nail was more action in it than Whiskey Sour, which had more dialog.

This brings up another point: White space.

Be aware of white space. Readers like dialog. They like looking at a page and seeing a lot of white space. Long, clunky paragraphs are intimidating.

Have you ever watched someone browse? They'll flip through a few pages, and you can see the gears in their heads turning as they think: Do I have time to read this? Will it be fun or a chore? Can I finish it in one or two sittings? Does it have long chapters, or short ones I can finish before I go to sleep or while I take a bath?

Think about your own reading habits. What do you like to see on a page? What makes a book look inviting, before you've even read a single word?

In my younger days, when I needed to buy some classic for some college class, I'd crack open different editions and find the one that was the most eye-friendly. Big font, not a lot of words crammed on each page.

Dialog makes a book more eye-friendly. At least, to my inner reader.

If I have a paragraph that lasts for more than half the page, I try to break it up. If I have a chapter that lasts longer than 15 pages (3700 words) I try to break it up.

Your words should be good, but also be aware of how they look on the page. Are they enticing your eyes to lock onto random bits of dialog or action? Or do they look boring?

Readers skip long paragraphs.

I randomly picked 5 pages from each of my three novels, to see how many paragraphs they averaged per page (by couting the indents.)

Whiskey Sour averaged 16.8 paragraphs per page. Bloody Mary was 13.4. Rusty Nail was 14.4.

Overall, if you open one of my books, you'll see 14.8 indents per full page.

Let's look at some other authors (hardcover editions.) Here are some bestsellers:

ONE SHOT by Lee Child - 16.6 paraphs per page
CHILL OF FEAR by Kay Hooper - 11.4 per page
TO THE NINES by Jaent Evanovich - 13.8 per page
SCARECROW by Matt Reilly - 16.4 per page
VANISH by Tess Gerritsen - 15.8 per page
STONE COLD by Robert Parker - 17 per page

Here are some debuts:

HUNDREDTH MAN by Jack Kerley - 13.8 per page
BAHAMARAMA by Bob Morris - 13 per page
MISDEMEANOR MAN by Dylan Schaffer - 16.2 per page
KILLER SWELL by Jeff Shelby - 14 per page
STILL RIVER by Harry Hunsicker - 11.8

What does any of this mean?

Well, if you write mysteries or thrillers, it means to avoid long paragraphs, and have a lot of dialog.

Besides looking good on a page, this also has the side-effect of making the books move faster.

By comparision, I went through some POD books that I have from previous contests I've judged.

I looked through three of them. They averaged 7.2 paragraphs a page.

Draw your own conclusions.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Have a Safe and Secure Holiday Season

A recent computer problem made me re-evaluate the need to back up my writing.

I have a writing friend who is so paranoid about losing data that he ftps every chapter to offshore accounts (at least, that's how I imagine it.)

I've lost writing before, and there are few things as painful in life. Here are some tricks and tips and products that will ensure you never have to feel that particular pain.

PRINT - It never hurts to keep a paper copy. If you lose the file, you can always recover the story with OCD software like Abbyy Finereader.

ZIP - Bulky zip drives have lost favor to their keychain flash drive counterparts, which can hold up to a gig on a device the size of a pencil. Just stick it in the USB port and drag 'n drop. (a novel, even a long one (150k), doesn't run more than 1 or 2 mbs, so you can back-up every bit of text on your computer and still have room to spare.

APC - The big name in batteries. This is a combo surge protector/battery back-up that prevents you from losing data during a power outage. Get one.

EMAIL - Having an extra email account, and emailing doc attachments to yourself, can't hurt.

DVD - A DVD can hold 4.7 gigs of data. They cost about 30 cents each, and a DVD burner can be picked up for under 50 bucks. CDRs are even cheaper, and hold 700mb.

FTP - If you have a website, you have a storage locker available in cyberspace under your name. Using an FTP program can allow you to save your writing on your home page (and don't worry, no one can read it there--it's hidden unless you link directly to it.)

OE BACKUP - There are a few tools available for saving your email (I use one for Outlook Express.) Find a program that fits your needs, and then save your email along with your writing. I go through my deleted and sent mail folders several times a day, trying to figure out who said what and when.

FIRE SAFE - This isn't a computer attachement. It is what it is-- a fire safe. Keep your flash drive and DVDs in the safe, in case your house burns down. Put them in a plastic bag first, to protect them from flooding. Paranoid? Talk to anyone who has lost their home to fire or flood. It doesn't hurt to also keep some copies in the car, or at Mom's house.

FILES - NEVER save just one file. I always save in different formats (wpd, doc, rtf, txt) in different places on my computer (C: drive, Desktop, My Documents) under different names.

SECOND HARD DRIVE - Also cheap, you can install an extra hard drive in your computer for less than fifty bucks. It's like having two computers in one case.

SECOND COMPUTER - Networking is a pain to set up, but using the Shared Documents folder can be a lifesaver, and is still the fastest way to transfer data.

NORTON ANTI-VIRUS - Still the leading trojan slayer. MacAfee is also big, as is Panda. Whatever you use (and you must use something,) make sure it offers updates.

Computer running slow? AdAware and Spybot are free tools (available at that clean your computer of spyware, malware, and tracking software. You can also DEFRAGMENT your hard drive, run a DISK CHECK for errors, and use SYSTEM RESTORE if none of that works.

If anyone has any other tips for saving data, lemme know and I'll post them.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Creating Dynamic Characters

No matter what genre you write in, chances are you'll be writing about characters. And you'll probably want to have characters that the reader can identify with, sympathize with, and root for.

It's pretty easy to do. When I'm creating characters, either protags, antags, or supports, I do a mental checklist of the following criteria:

UNIQUE- What makes this person different from anyone else? Why is this hero the ONLY ONE who could be in your story? Include profession, race, gender, age, and brief description.

GOALS- What are your protagonist’s goals? Dreams? Fears? Things they desperately want?

FLAWS- What personal, internal problem will get in the way of the hero reaching his/her goals? Addiction? Illness? Disability? Neuroses?

QUIRKS- What are the strange, bizarre, personal, or human traits this hero possesses? Habits and rituals?

PERSPECTIVE- First person or third person, and why?

SUPPORT- Who are the supporting, returning characters that assist your hero? Friends? Co-workers?

ENEMY- Your villain should have all of these traits as well. Who will make a worthy opponent for your hero?

EXAMPLE- Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels, Chicago Violent Crimes featured in the novels WHISKEY SOUR & BLOODY MARY, and the EQMMM short stories ON THE ROCKS & WITH A TWIST

UNIQUE- Jack is 46, divorced, unlucky in love but a good cop–she had to be to become a Lieutenant in the male-dominated fraternity of the CPD. Jack has dedicated her life to the Job, but is now at an age where she’s regretting never starting a family.

GOALS- Jack needs to do well in her career; that’s the only time she feels good about herself. But she also realizes, for the first time, that there’s more to life than work, and she wants to broaden her personal life.

FLAWS- Jack has insomnia, due to her fixation with her job. She constantly questions her own actions, wondering if she could have done better. She doesn’t think she’s worthy of love.

QUIRKS- Her insomnia causes her to max out her credit cards watching the late night Home Shopping Network. She worries too much about fashion, and is envious of those who dress better than she does.

PERSPECTIVE- First person for Jack, third person for the villain.

SUPPORT- Overweight partner Det. Herb Benedict, accountant boyfriend Latham Conger, mother Mary Streng, ex-husband Alan Daniels, criminal friend Phineas Troutt, ex-partner PI Harry McGlade, hellspawn cat Mr. Friskers.

ENEMY- In WHISKEY SOUR, a serial killer called The Gingerbread Man is making snuff movies in his basement and wants to make one with Jack. In BLOODY MARY, a maniac is dismembering people and leaving accessories of Jack’s at the crime scenes.

As you can see, Jack isn't perfect. Her problems add a dimension to the stories beyond the conflict which fuels the plot.

How about your characters? I have a worksheet download here if you'd like to try it for yourself.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Avoiding Plodding Plotting

I did a speaking thing the other day, and afterward a bright and talented young author expressed that plotting was difficult for him.

I gave him my stock answer: torture your protagonist.

The fact is, readers don't want your hero to be happy. At least, not until the end. They want angst, conflict, ruined dreams, dashed hopes, impossible situations, neuroses, struggle, heartache, near death experiences, ruined lives, and pain.

All you need to know about plotting is twofold.

  1. Give your characters goals.
  2. Don't let them reach those goals.

For example, let's say we're writing a YA coming of age novel about a 14 year old video game geek named Leroy. His goals: kiss a girl, mend his parents' unstable marriage, and get ahold of Grand Theft Doom Craft 3: Halo and Goodbye and the new GameBox X-Station System. Let's also make his family very poor.

So how do we torture Leroy?

  • His parents won't let him have the game, because it is too violent, and they can't afford it
  • He asks the cutest girl in school to the dance, and she says yes, but he can't dance
  • He bribes the high school bully to buy him the game and system, cashing in his bonds (which are supposed to be for college)

What happens next?

  • His parents begin a trial separation
  • The bully takes all of his money but doesn't buy him the game
  • He needs dance lessons, but no longer has any money (the bully has it)

And then?

  • His best friend gets the game, but won't let him play
  • The cute girl cancels the date
  • He tries to get him money back from the bully, and gets beaten up.

Now what?

  • The cute girl is going with the bully to the dance
  • Leroy confides in his Dad, who boxed Golden Gloves in high school, and he gives him some lessons
  • Leroy confides in him Mom, who shows him how to dance

How can things get worse?

  • Leroy sucks as a fighter
  • Leroy sucks as a dancer
  • Leroy sucks as a matchmaker
  • Leroy overhears that the bully is going to go 'all the way' with the cute girl after the dance, whether she wants to or not
  • GTDC3:H&G is having a high score contest, and the winner gets $10000 dollars

How will this end?

Come on. You know how it's going to end.

His friend lets him finally play the new game, and Leroy gets a great score and sends it to the contest folks. Then Leroy goes to the dance stag, walks in on the bully making unwanted advances on the cute girl, cleans his clock, dances with her, gets a kiss, goes home to find out Dad has moved back in.

And, of course, the prize people show up with a check for $10000.

Or maybe the parents don't get together, and Leroy doesn't win the money, but he realizes that growing up means you don't always get what you want.

The point is, if you keep thinking "How can I make this worse?" plotting takes care of itself.

If you've ever read a book with a surprise twist, it was probably the result of the author thinking, "What would no one expect could happen next?"

If we wanted to add a twist to the story, we could have the cute girl be a secret videogame addict, and she wins the contest and gives Leroy back the money he lost to the bully. Or the Dad, in a fit of overcompensation after leaving home, buys Leroy the game system. Or the bully turns out to be Leroy's brother, because Leroy's Dad is a cheater, which is why Mom kicked him out.

And if you're truly stuck, use my tried and true Jump Start the Plot Trick: "And when I answered the door... there were zombies!"

That always works.