Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Excuses, Excuses

That JA Konrath guy is out of his mind. Doesn't he understand that his attitude is all wrong? How can he expect writers to devote as much time to self-promotion as he is? Doesn't Joe know that:
  • I have a full time job other than writing.
  • I have a family/kids/a husband/pets/plants that need my attention.
  • I'm painfully shy and can't speak in public.
  • I'm not good at sales---that's why I became a writer.
  • It's the publisher's job to sell books.
  • I don't like self-promoting.
  • All I need to do is write a good book, and people will automatically buy it.
  • It wasn't like this years ago.
  • If he keeps spouting this crap, publishers will begin to expect it from me.
  • The only thing that matters in this business is luck.
  • The only thing that matters in this business is talent.
  • I have no power: publishers make bestsellers through huge promotion campaigns.
  • It's terrible that I should even have to consider any of this stuff.
  • Self-promotion doesn't really help anyway.
  • The only reason he says this garbage is to get attention.
  • My agent/editor/fortune teller/pet rock/God told me I didn't have to self-promote.
  • He's setting the bar waaaaaay too high.
  • I can succeed without doing any of this.
  • I can succeed only doing a tiny bit of this.
  • I'm smarter and I know better.
  • My publisher is my employer, not my business partner.
  • He's a jerk, and jerks never give good advice.
  • I need my advance money to pay my bills.
  • This business isn't nearly as hard as he makes it out to be.
  • (INSERT NAME HERE) is a bestseller, and he/she doesn't do any self-promotion.
  • If his books were better, he wouldn't have to self-promote.
  • If his publisher was behind him, he wouldn't have to self-promote.
  • It's funny how clueless he really is.
  • All I want to do is write, and that should be enough.

Did you read Joe's latest blog entry? What crap! He wants me to ask myself the following questions:

  1. What do I think will happen if my book has a poor sell-through?
  2. How long will my publisher keep buying my books if they aren't making money?
  3. Is it easier to sell the first book, or the fourth?
  4. Why am I midlist, and can I do something about it?
  5. Why do so many good books go out of print?
  6. Why do so many good authors get dropped by their publishers?
  7. Am I the captain of my own ship?
  8. Why do I think I'll still have a writing career in ten years? Five years? Next year?
  9. Do I need to think about marketing before I write the book?
  10. What if I can't sell my next book? What should I do then?

I'm never reading Joe's blog again. And I'm not buying any of his books either: Whiskey Sour, Bloody Mary (in paperback June 1) or Rusty Nail (in hardcover and on audio June 30.)

And I'm really not going to buy Thriller - Stories to Keep You Up All Night edited by James Patterson, because he's got a story in that anthology.

And I certainly won't buy him a drink if I see him at Thrillerfest or Bouchercon.

And I'm really going to stop reading his blog because it drives me nuts. Really. I am. I promise.

But first I have to respond to that last asinine entry...

55 comments:

Kalen Hughes said...

Super funny, and sadly, all too common (the good, the bad, and the totally retarded). Lots of it sounds like what I wail in my head even while I’m plotting my self-promotion and creating spreadsheets so I can watch my advance trickle away . . . thank Dog I don’t have to attempt to live on that $ (like that’s even a possibility).

Keep the kick-in-the-ass-reminders coming.

Maybe I’ll be almost prepared when my book hits the shelves next year!

Brett Battles said...

HA! Yeah, I've probably sad a lot of these things...then I stop and I think: "Eh...hey, buddy. This is your career you're talking about. How long do you want it to last."

Thanks for the reminders, Joe. Everyday now I wake up and think what can I do today? And you know what? It works.

Bernita said...

That's a whole HERD of goats, Joe.

Brett Battles said...

...ugh...

Please insert the below words in the appropriate place:

"I've probably SAID a lot..."

Bethany said...

I know i am in the minority (ducking my head)--now that I've turned a new leaf to actually TRY to write for my dreams (seeing my books in print), I don't use any of those excuses anymore. None of them.

And for self-promotion... no one, even if you hire someone, is going to be able to sell you better than yourself. So why not do it right?

(back to hiding before I get splattered in tomatoes... and I have writing to do).

Jason said...

Keep in mind that the best sales tool is a flat-out KILLER book. All the self-promotion and selling in the world can't help if your goods aren't top shelf. Then once you've written the best book you can, you're free to chew your nails to a quick. Mine, thankfully, have stopped bleeding.

chidder said...

Jason, while I agree that the first step to writing professionally absolutely, positively, unequivocably needs to be the writing of "a KILLER book," I'm afraid I take exception with "All the self-promotion and selling in the world can't help if your goods aren't top shelf."

Sadly, there are plenty of substandard books on the bestseller lists that got there thanks to self-promotion and ad campaigns and, sometimes, simply being in the right place at the right time.

Allison Brennan said...

Jason, I completely agree with you. Write a great book, then be prepared to work it.

Chidder, there are a some bestsellers that don't stick around for the long haul, but those that have 2, 3, or more books and consistently hit the lists is because they have readers who enjoy them and there's broad appeal. If the bestseller repeatedly delivered flops that didn't live up to their reader expectations, eventually their sales would suffer.

And there is luck. But I also believe that perseverence is important. My former critique partner just sold a two-book deal in a sub-genre she was told was dead. She started writing in another genre, then heard that a specific editor was looking for her "dead" subgenre. She sent in a proposal, was asked for a full, and just made a two book deal. That happened because she stuck it out and still listened on the grapevine . . . right place right time? Maybe. But only because she kept going after years and years of rejections.

Jason said...

Chidder -

"Right place at the right time" tends to work more often for non-fiction than fiction. Granted the slew of bestselling religithrillers wouldn't have the same visibility right now if nor for the Da Vinci Code, but this trend is less the rule than the exception. But even Steve Berry and Javier Serra have been writing for years, with Steve slowing climbing the ladder after years of rejections to stardom, and Javier had numerous international bestsellers before hitting with THE LAST SUPPER.

The fact is, for a first author, there's no replacement for a great first book. With such a crowded marketplace and nobody sure what the next trend will be, any editor/publisher would rather put their money behind a book they love than try to ride the current--or future--wave.

As an author, think about it like this. First you write the book, which can take between one month and five years. Then there's an average lead time of 15-18 months from the time you agree to the deal to the time the book is published (my first novel, out next summer, has a lead time of 16 months). So it's likely at least two years from the time you start writing to the time your book is published. Bottom line, by the time you're ready to ride the wave, it will likely have passed.

Mark Terry said...

Yeah, and how come this guy who's such an ass-kickin' self-promoter hasn't managed to get an ARC of Rusty Nail into the hands of someone who not only wrote a review/profile that took up half a page of a newspaper, but got him on bankrate.com, ey? Seems to me you might want your publisher to keep track of people who've reviewed and profiled you in the past, ey? Ey?

Ya know, Barry Eisler and James Rollins also have books coming out in June, and that Thriller collection, not to mention Brad Thor, so there's a LOT of competition for review space and reviewer's time...

JA Konrath said...

The new Eisler and Rollins books are awesome!

Still at the same address, Mark? If not, email me por favor...

Mark Terry said...

Same address.

And I just started reading the new Lee Child novel: The Hard Way.

jamie ford said...

Some people equate marketing and self-promotion to being a book-whore. (No insult intended to actual whores).

That somehow it taints the process. Most of this is just inexperience or fear. Which is probably why the query process is daunting and mysterious to those same folks.

Jennifer Solow goes to her gym and works out in a t-shirt that says "famous author". You gotta love that.

Jason said...

And something tells me "actual" whores wouldn't do much business if they said, "Why should I stand out here on the street corner? I shouldn't have to promote myself."

Jude Hardin said...

"Do I need to think about marketing before I write the book?"

I think this is good advice.

A lot of people start (and finish) their novel having no idea where it might fit on the bookstore shelf.

Guess what? The agents and editors you query will also have no idea.

I'm with Joe. It's better to have an idea of your market before writing the first page.

terry said...

like anything else, balance is the key. spending all your time on just writing or just promotion won't work. that said, i think you could put a little more time into the writing half, joe. after i started reading your blog, i looked for your book, and after reading a few pages and skimming it, i was disappointed. i'm an avid fan of your blog but not your books. i should be a fan of both.

Mickey Edwards said...

Joe, we get the point!

Self-promotion is good!

Authors who say otherwise are deluded! And mean!

Post about something different! Your blog is jumping the shark!

Justin R. Buchbinder said...

Joe,

Perhaps you can write a post about how you generate an idea for a NEW book. I'd love to get inside of your head - see what news article, what TV show, what rambling nitwit on the streets of Chicago (i think that's where you reside?) suddenly gives birth to a character/event/story.

Plus it'll get you to stop posting about self-promotion.

I mean, c'mon, I just scheduled a booksigning and had bookmarks printed for a story I haven't even written yet because of you!

Christine said...

You crack me up Joe. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sigh again.

I wish I could only promote and write, and not have to have the other jobs that pay the bills. Gotta do what ya gotta do.
My first royalty check is forthcoming... and I'm using it for promotion. Really. Promise.

JA Konrath said...

after reading a few pages and skimming it, i was disappointed.

Which book was this, Terry, and what disappointed you about it? Always eager to learn.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Repeat after Joe...self promotion is good...self promotion is good!

Got it!

Jude Hardin said...

You can't please everyone, Joe.

I stopped about halfway through Stephen King's latest (CELL). I don't know why, really, just didn't squeeze my trigger I guess. I doubt he's very concerned.

Sometimes I'll skim through a new release and like it, but not enough to shell out the dough for hardcover. It's all a matter of taste, and every palate is different.

Mike H said...

As always, thanks for the tips, Joe. I'm storing them away for when I actually have a book to promote.

Devon Ellington said...

Clever post. Funny and true.

Back to my writing now . . .got to have something written before you can promote it!

Anonymous said...

"Post about something different! Your blog is jumping the shark!"

I agree! Okay to put up an occasional reminder, but after a while it gets really old. Like that old guy that screams at kids to GET OFFA MY LAWN!! Eventually, the kids just ignore him.

Bernita said...

Um...just a reminder.
It's Joe's blog.
He can post about anything he damnwell wants to.
If you know it all already, you don't have to read.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but like Joe's books his blog should be geared to making his 'fans' happy. That's what all this is about anyway, isn't it? Appealing to the lowest-common denominator?

Bernita said...

New "fans" may pop up every day and may not have read the backlist...er... archives.

JA Konrath said...

Perhaps I should change the name of my blog to "The Newbie's Guide to Playcating to the Lowest Common Denominator."

I also like "How to Make Your Fans Happy" since that's been the constant, redundant message in practically every one of my posts for an entire year.

We all know that appealing to more people is much easier than appealing to less people. Which is why there are many more hits than misses in the art and media worlds.

Just dumb it down. You'll lose the intelligenicia and the literati, but the unwashed masses will be happy. That's all you need to do, and you too can be James Patterson or Dan Brown.

Of course, you'll have to compromise your high standards, your integrity, and your love of the written word in order to do so.

Let's clarify a few things.

1. This blog is about helping writers. If fans drop by, that's fine. If the blog helps me gain new fans, that's fine. But it certainly isn't about me pleasing my fans. That's what my books, and email, are for.

2. When writers disagree with me, and address points where they believe I'm wrong, that means there's still plenty of interest in whatever particular topic is currently being discussed. The amount of email I've been getting, and the hits this blog had been getting, over the past week tells me that some folks still want to debate self-promotion. If going with the flow is also known as jumping the shark, I'm guilty.

3. Books appeal to individuals, not denominators. The more individuals you appeal to, the wider your audience. This is a lot harder to do than to write whatever the hell you want to and impressing your old writing professor. A lot harder. Which is why you've never done it, Mr. Anon.

Don't you wish you could appeal to that 'lowest common denominator'? All writers do.

Then they come up with excuses as to why they don't sell a lot of books. "It was too smart for the genral public." "The reviewers just didn't 'get ' it." "My publisher wasn't supportive enough." "My writing transcends genre." "I follow my muse, not the trends."

Which brings us back to point #1: This blog is about helping writers. I relate my experience and offer my advice. Like all advice, take what works, disregard what doesn't, debate what is unclear.

Jude Hardin said...

Some of us really appreciate what you do here, Joe. You know that, right?

I try to ignore the boneheads and backstabbers. I think they just try to get attention by pissing people off. I love a good debate, but I have to turn a deaf ear when the mud slinging starts.

If you don't like Joe's blog, don't read it. Pretty simple, eh?

Maybe Anon should finish that sophomore year before insulting other people on the internet.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I'll buy you a drink Joe. Maybe even bring a little secret ingredient for it...

And some pom poms to go along with your cheering posts.

BTW, anyone who hasn't read the last issue of Crimespree should get a copy - Joe's article in it is hilarious.

chidder said...

Jason and Allison, re my "right place at the right time" comment:

It had nothing to do with anticipating the fickle marketplace -- it had everything to do with surrendering yourself to the fact that we can't anticipate the marketplace.

But we make our own luck, and we do that by (as you noted, Allison) perseverance and getting as many at-bats as possible. It doesn't matter what the next big genre is; if we're not doing everything we can to get our books on the market in the first place, it's all moot.

Hence, the right place at the right time.

Allison Brennan said...

Makes sense, chidder! I mis-understood the comment in context.

I agree that following the market is virtually impossible, because once something "hits" you have no idea how long it's going to last, and you might be able to write fast, get an agent, and get an editor, but the book is still going to take a year to get on the shelves and the "trend" may be on the downsize, or there's a glut.

Do you know how many times I was told the romantic suspense market was dead or dying? Yet that's what I sold because that's what I like to write . . . and have done well. If I tried to follow the trends, my voice wouldn't have been real.

Jason said...

I agree with Allison, though I disagree that's necessarily a good idea to begin "marketing" before you write. Every author, I believe, has their own voice, and once you try to tailor that to what you "think" will sell, you drain it of originality. Granted you should ask yourself, before you write, whether it's a book that anyone else will want to read (i.e. just because you want to write a novel about a toilet plunger named Bob doesn't mean someone will shell out $24, $13 or $8 for it). There are so many proven genres out there that chances are there's a market, big or small, for your work. Most people tend to write what they love to read. You love mysteries, create a new P.I. series. You love fantasy, create a new race of Elves. You love romance, there have to be a few positions that haven't been covered to death. I've loved thrillers since I was a wee lad, so when it came time to write, starting a thriller series, but imbuing it with what I felt was my own voice and characters was a natural fit.

Jude Hardin said...

Good point, Jason. I'm working on a mystery (a PI novel, as a matter of fact) even though I know they're a tough sell at the moment. It's what I like, and I think my voice fits that genre. I have no intention of trying to "follow the market."

But--and this is a very important but--I do think it's important to know your genre and have a good idea of where your book might fit in at the stores before you write the first page. Otherwise, when finished, you're likely to describe your novel as "you know, it's a romantic suspense-mystery-horror-literary-science fiction-humor-urban fantasy-chick lit sort of thing, only with a twist."

One of the first things editors and agents want to see in a query letter is genre. If you don't know, then it's not likely that they're going to take the time to find out.

S. W. Vaughn said...

OT: Joe, thanks for the heads-up on ThrillerFest. I am right now pestering the hell out of one of my freelance clients who's three months late on payment so I can go -- even though it means (shudder) I will have to ride a plane for the first time in my life...

Hope to see you there!

JA Konrath said...

Granted you should ask yourself, before you write, whether it's a book that anyone else will want to read

That's what I meant.

Following trends won't do much for you. But studying the demographic, learning about the market, figuring out why it appeals to you---that is marketing before you write a single word

moonhart said...

Wow. Jason.

"You love romance, there have to be a few positions that haven't been covered to death" ????????

Really? And here I thought that romance actually had something to do with the relationSHIP between a man and a woman-- not just relations.

Guess I need to burn that RWA card.

moonhart

Jude Hardin said...

I read somewhere that romance accounts for forty percent of all fiction sales.

That's a staggering number.

I think it pays to include romance elements, regardless of the genre you're working in. Even old James Patterson usually includes a sex scene or two.

Apparently, erotica is one of the hot markets right now. Any advice on writing hot sex scenes, anybody?

Karen Syed said...

The problem with this is that there are so many NY published authors, and even some indy authors who are out there preaching that an author's job is to write a book--not even a good book--and it is up to the publisher to market and promote it while they write another book--good or not. These folks spreading this myth are very quick to say that if you have to spend any of your own time or money that your publisher isn't a good one or legit...acckk!

Jason said...

Apologies, Moonhart. I wasn't trying to trivialize or demean the genre, merely using stereotypes commonly associated with the genres I mentioned to essentially tell people that, when writing, they should follow their hearts. And I know that relationships are what romances are at their core.

When I wrote the post I remembered a quote from Janet Evanovich when asked why she stopped writing romances, where she said, "Because I ran out of positions." I'm certainly not Janet, so I'm sorry if that came off as glib.

Karen Syed said...

My last post was about the initial entry and not June's. In regard to the percentage of romance titles, I think should be attributed to cross marketed titles. How many authors like Sparks, Evans, and Steel get lumped in with a number of genres. All three of these authors write fiction--mainstream--and yet are probably sold and counted as romance and their sales alone will jack those ratios up. Same thing with a lot of other authors who write mainstream.

Jude Hardin said...

That was my point, Karen. Whatever genre you're writing in, it pays to include a strong romance element.

SEX SELLS!

It's a no brainer.

Jude Hardin said...

Hey Joe,

Why aren't you in NYC this week, promoting like hell?

Jeri said...

Coming late to the comment party, as usual.

I wonder if some of the self-promotion "controversy" has less to do with the promote/don't promote argument and more to do with HOW promotion is done. Sometimes I get the sense, Joe, that it's Your Way or the Highway. Any author who doesn't do a 500-bookstore tour should feel ashamed.

Every situation is different. Some of us choose to spend that time writing more than one book a year, which does more to keep our name in readers' minds than anything. I realize this isn't an option for you, Joe, but for many people, esp. in the genres I work in (sf/f and romance), this is standard practice. Many of us write for more than one publisher, or hope to.

I'm a strong proponent of self-promotion, but I believe each of us has to tailor it for our own situations. What you call "excuses" are sometimes just a different way of doing things, a way that we might have found to be more effective than the methods you use for yourself.

Your blog and site have been phenomenal for providing the ideas, the rationale, and the motivation to self-promote. I still say you're the single most valuable resource for new writers on the web.

But dude, seriously, chill out. Don't let the naysayers get you so defensive. We love ya, man.

Karen Syed said...

I think Joe, does a great thing. He is like the Snap On Tools guy who drives through town every once in a while to let you browse through the tools, decide what you want or need, and then buy what suits your needs. It's also very much like editing. You get suggestions and then you have to decide what works for the book and what doesn't. If it doesn't you should have a clearly defined reason why not, but if it does, then you run with it and let the good times roll.

No one will ever agree on everything, but Joe sure gives us a damn lot of things to consider and if someone chooses not to pay attention or utilize his experience, so be it.

If I did half of what Joe does I would be laying in a gutter having a stroke...he exhausts me, but my company is way stronger since the first time I met Joe and saw firsthand what a whole lot of committment can do for you.

chidder said...

On the subject of self-promotion, you might want to check out this article in by Rose Fox, published earlier this month in Publishers Weekly:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6328436.html

It's deals with PR in fantasy and science fiction writing, but the content remains germane to what's being discussed here.

chidder said...

The last few letters of the URL got left off in my last post. Sorry about that. Just click this link.

Erich Haught said...

I think self-promotion is important, especially to the smaller guys. A big name will promote itself, sure, but everyone else is fighting for attention. Your publisher will help some, your magnetic prose help get some more, but you yourself -- your own promotion, presence, and charm -- will help even more. It is a very rare genius whose work, and work alone, is enough to carry her to the top. Everyone else must cultivate fans or risk being replaced by someone who will.

Kalen Hughes said...

Do you know how many times I was told the romantic suspense market was dead or dying? Yet that's what I sold because that's what I like to write.

Same for me and historical romance. Guess I must know a few “positions” that haven’t been done to death (yes, you will continue to be teased about that unintentional slight for a while, Jason).

Listen to the "trends" and they'll tell you historicals are dead and paranormals are HOT, but turn that rock over and you'll discover that historicals are a solid 40% of the romance market and paranormals are just 10% of the market . . .

I also want to point out that Allison has made the brilliant move of using her book cover as her blogger "face". I so intend to copy that move in a few months when I have my cover. *GRIN*

PJ Parrish said...

Hey Joe and friends,

Just back from NYC Edgar festivities where, as usual, the talk in bars, banquet rooms and bathrooms is always about the same old things -- what is hot in acquisition trends, what is dying on the shelves, and what authors you'd swear are golden are really sweating bullets.

I won't go into the negatives I heard cuz it's too damn depressing. But, for what it's worth...

Jude, you're on to something. Sex never goes out of style but geez, I kept hearing over and over that books with strong elements of sex, relationships and emotions -- be they thrillers, mysteries or whatever -- are on every pub's wish list. One experienced editor told me the hottest books right now are the polar opposites of erotica and Christian fiction. Huh!

But as others here have said, if you aim for what's hot, you are doomed because A. Whatever you turn in NOW is 18 months away from the shelves in a moving-target market and B. If you write false to your author-nature, your cynicism can be smelled a mile away.

You gotta write the best book you can. And if you can't write good sex? Shoot, it's like REAL sex: Don't try to fake it cuz it won't be satisfying for you OR the reader.

Going to blog about this on my own blog tomorrow (www.pjparrish.blogspot.com) But now am going to go grab a nap!

Jason said...

Very true, P.J. (BTW I was at the Black Orchird the other night, sorry I didn't get a chance to introduce myself). The same rules for writing sex scenes go for writing most everything else. If your dream is to write literary fiction, don't write romantic suspense because you think it's "hot." Editors will know you don't have the passion (no pun intended) for it that others do, and can tell you're "faking it." Bottom line, be true to yourself and be true to your voice.

Mary R said...

My take on A Newbie's Guide: great site, one of the best sources on the web about how to promote yourself as a writer, but the Konrath guy is so into proving that his way is the only way to be successful that he sometimes comes across as a troll on his own site!

Stacey Cochran said...

Death is the only excuse I'll accept to keep a writer from writing.

Write on, motherfucker.

Stacey

Amra Pajalic said...

I've found that since I started seriously dedicating myself to a writing career five years ago I'm operating at a loss. As an aspiring novelist and published short story writer I've submitted short stories on average 20-30 times a year, entered hundreds of competitions, subscribed to different publications, attended conferences, done courses, joined writing groups.

Looking at the money and time I put in versus the successes(200 + submissions and dont't want to think about money versus 10 publication credits, 4 review mentions, two media features)I have to tell myself that I write for the love and not for the money because this is what I HAVE to tell myself at this point. I have to remove myself from the success equaling publication equation in order to keep trying.

But I need to change this thinking in order to make a career as a novelist. I need to switch on my brain and think about self-promotion, longevity, building an audience and marketing. And this is where Joe's blog comes in.

Repetitive, yes. Necessary, fuck yes.

PS It goes without saying that a lot of the stories submitted in the beginning were different shades of diarrhoea, hardened into developed turds, and then fertilised into soil from which something life-like bloomed.

PPS While I will always write what I love and not for the market it's not all or nothing. There is a balance of writing fiction you love and believe in, while also ensuring it is marketable and assisting its success.