Monday, June 30, 2008

Speak To Me

As a writer, you're the best representative for your work. That means you're going to be meeting people and talking about your work. A lot.

Since Whiskey Sour was published in 2004, I've spoken to tens of thousands of people in the course of visiting more than 1200 bookstores and attending over a hundred library events, conferences, and conventions.

In most cases, the talk is one-on-one, chatting with a bookseller, fan, or potential fan about my work. I've covered pitching and handselling in previous blog entries.

But in some cases---and these cases are becoming more frequent---I'm speaking to groups of people. This requires a different approach.

If you're like most of the world, you fear public speaking. The very thought of getting in front of a group of twenty, eighty, seven hundred people is enough to induce nausea.

I'm here to say: Get over it, you big baby.

Being asked to speak is a golden opportunity to spread your brand, strengthen your name-recognition, and kick-start the almighty word-of-mouth that we writers all crave. But before I get into the things that you need to keep in mind when speaking in public, let's dispel some of those irrational fears.

Dying in front of a crowd isn't dying in real life. Though having a joke bomb is uncomfortable, and looking out over your intended crowd and seeing people sleeping is a huge kick in the ego, neither of those things is fatal to your lifespan, or even your career. Humiliation isn't that big a deal. You're a grown up, and you need to realize that it isn't necessary for everyone to like you. Who really gives a shit what some stranger in the front row thinks of your speech, your book, or you in general? How is their acceptance going to make you a better person? It isn't.

People want you to do well. This isn't high school, where people are forced to be there. When you speak in front of a crowd, these folks came specifically to hear what you have to say. They're either already fans, or they want some information and/or entertainment. They're rooting for you.

People don't care if you bomb. Have you ever seen a really bad speaker? Have you ever watched someone crash and burn in front of an audience? As a result, did you throw fruit, call them names, or try to physically pull them off the podium? No. You tuned them out. That's all. That's the worst that can happen. If you screw the pooch on stage, people tune you out. You should be used to it. Every time you're in public, people tune you out. Malls, traffic, concerts, events, and everywhere people gather, we ignore each other. People ignoring you while you speak should be no more damaging than people ignoring you on the beach, even though their beach blanket is three feet away from yours.

Now that we've established the worst that can happen is boring a few strangers, here are some ways to make sure you don't bore them, but instead thrill them.

1. Know your audience. I've spoken to third graders, high school kids, high school teachers, college students, grad students, newbie writers, professional writers, library patrons, librarians, booksellers, book clubs, and fans of all types. In each case, they had different expectations of what they wanted from me. In every case, my job was to make sure these expectations were exceeded. If you're unsure what a group's expectations are, ask.

2. Prepare. Once you understand what is expected of you, you need to tailor your speech to their needs. The more of your audience you incorporate in your speech, the better their reaction will be. Then practice practice practice.

3. Act and react. A speech isn't a monologue. It's a dialog, with you doing most of the talking. You need to keep an eye on your audience, and make this an interaction. People tend to dislike being lectured to. But they can be made to feel included by simple things such as eye contact, asking questions, and your responses to their reactions. You aren't talking to an empty room. And audience is an organism that needs care and feeding. DO NOT read directly from your notes, or recite memorized passages. Communication is a two way street.

4. Evolve. If you're a Marx Brothers fan (and you should be) you may have heard that the best bits from some of their most popular movies were refined by performing them in front of audiences. They would change lines from town to town to figure out which got the biggest laugh. As you speak in front of more and more groups, you'll discover what works and what doesn't. Keep what works. Hone what doesn't until it works too.

5. Watch yourself. It's good to encourage feedback at the end of any speech in the form of Q & A, or by simply asking the person who invited you to speak how you did. But chances are you can be lied to, and told you were better than you actually were. If possible, record your performance and watch it later. You'll learn more from that than anything else, by far.


Here are some quickie Dos and Don'ts for public speakers.

DO introduce yourself to members of the audience beforehand. A smile and a handshake helps get them on your side before you go on stage.

DO make sure you stay within the time limit, while still leaving room for questions at the end.

DON'T use speech hesitations like "uh" and "um." It's annoying and unprofessional.

DO use note cards so you keep with your agenda, but don't read from the note cards.

DO thank the audience at the beginning and ending of every speech.

DO stick around after the speech and make yourself available for extra questions, comments, and feedback.

DON'T be a jerk. Ever. Maybe travel was hellish, and you got half the crowd you'd expected, but always remain upbeat, gracious, and professional. One speech leads to another, and even speaking to a crowd of two people can result in future opportunities.

DO dress for success.

DO give your audience a way to get in touch with you after you leave. Mentioning your website is essential.

DON'T oversell your wares. Sure, you want people to buy your books. But this isn't a commercial for them. People want information and entertainment, no ads.

DO have water nearby if your mouth gets dry. But don't drink so much during a long speech that you fill your bladder.

DO ask if a bookseller will be at the event to sell your books. If not, ask if you can bring your own.

Finally, as more speaking engagements are offered to you, you'll find that you have to set some rates. When you're just getting started, at the very least you can still ask to be compensated for travel expenses. As you become sought after, what you charge is up to you. My current rates are between $300 and $2500 per event, depending on proximity and what is expected of me. If you're unsure of what to request, offer to take an average of what they paid their last three speakers. But always make damn sure they get their money's worth.

58 comments:

Jessica Burkhart said...

I so needed to hear this! Perfect timing, JA. :) I'm printing this post for future reference.

Stacey Cochran said...

Great topic and points as always, JA. I might add to the "Know Your Audience" point (which is huge)

1) Know Your Topic

2) Know Your Purpose, and

3) Know Yourself.

Speaker, Audience, Topic, Purpose.

Nail those four points and you're golden.

Anonymous said...

Join Toastmasters. It will be the best thing you ever did for yourself and your career.

www.Toastmasters.org to find a club near you.

Conda V. Douglas said...

Great post, Joe!

"Evolve" resonated with me. I've been a fitness instructor for years and always need to remember to be continually evolving. Clients don't hear the same phrase after it's been said 3 times, maybe less, in my opinion.

Dharma Kelleher said...

I'm done some public speaking to promote a nonfiction book. But I'm not sure how you go about booking speaking engagements for novels.

Creative A said...

Hey :)

Great post. I thought what you said about it being like dialogue was interesting. I think that, and the bit about notecards, is going to stick with me.

-A
www.headdeskforwriters.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

"I'm here to say: Get over it, you big baby."

I'll assume you mean well, but that's one of the least insightful comments one could make to someone suffering from a fear of public speaking. It borders on dense.

At first, I thought you probably said it for dramatic affect, to grab attention. But no, that sentiment pervades your entire message.

I'm an infrequent visitor to your site, so I don't know your audience. But I suspect I'm not alone in shaking my head at this post.

JA Konrath said...

but that's one of the least insightful comments one could make to someone suffering from a fear of public speaking.

How so?

If you have a fear of public speaking, and you're a writer, you have a choice. Get over it, or stay a recluse and lose sales.

Fears are opportunities to grow.

If you don't want to grow, that's your choice. But we're not talking about a rational fear here. Public speaking won't kill you, and the audience really doesn't care if you bomb.

If you're a writer, get over your fear. Period.

steve in maine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
steve in maine said...

You’re right about the audience wanting you to do well, and I also liked what you said about reacting to the audience. When speakers bury their heads in their notes, the audience knows that nothing surprising is going to happen until it's over. It’s all on auto-pilot. But when a speaker breaks from that routine and says, “What’s that smirk about?” or makes any comment at all, then suddenly you’re in a situation that could change at any moment. It keeps you awake.

Good tip on videotaping, too. I once saw a poet read at Harvard, and right at the start she stuck a pencil in the bun of her hair. During the whole reading, you couldn’t take your eyes off it. Whenever she moved her head, it was like a conductor’s baton. But she couldn’t see what a distraction it was. Videotaping gives you that perspective.

Anonymous said...

You are way out of line here. A genuine fear is a genuine fear.

Afraid of heights?...get over it. Go climb Mount Everest.

Have a fear of confined spaces?...get over it. Lock yourself in a trunk.

Have an "irrational" fear of dwarfs and bearded women?...tough luck. Join the circus.

Give me a break.

JA Konrath said...

Walking alone at night in a bad part of town can be a frightening experience, and rightfully so. That fear is rational.

Being afraid of speaking in public isn't rational. It's silly.

I used to be afraid of going to the doctor and getting a shot, going back to the time I was a child and a nurse giving me a booster shot sneezed, jabbing me three times all the way up my arm.

This fear extended into high school. I almost was kept out of class because I didn't want to get a physical because I knew I had to get a booster shot.

So I forced myself to give blood.

The first time I went, the woman couldn't find my vein, even after digging around for a few minutes with a needle the size of a drinking straw. I held my breath, closed my eyes, and told her she could try the other arm.

The experience was horrible. But I went back and did it again. And again.

I'm not afraid of needles any more.

Overcoming a fear of bearded ladies seems like it would be cake.

Do I have sympathy for people with fears? No. But I don't have sympathy for people in general. We've all got problems. We should deal with them.

I contend that if you want to be a public figure, and writers are public figures, than speaking in public is one of the skills you need.

If you're afraid, keep doing it until you're not afraid.

This blog isn't about hand-holding. Writing is a tough business, and I offer free advice here based on my experience.

You're welcome to disagree with the advice. You're even welcome to post anonymously and state I'm wrong. I'm not afraid of that one bit. :)

Anonymous said...

Joe, the following comment and question are offered with the greatest of love and respect...but...

You are the biggest self-promoter in publishing I 've encountered, and you've been doing it for several years now. So, what were the sales numbers for your last hardcover?

You probably won't answer that question, and I don't blame you. But the proof is in the pudding. After all, If you're gonna sell snake-oil, at least prove that your own bald spot is going away.

JA Konrath said...

I say this with the greatest love and respect as well, Anon:

Read my blog.

If you did, you'd know that I've stated on many different occasions that the single most important factor in success is luck.

Self-promotion doesn't get you on the bestseller list. You need a large print run and publisher marketing dollars for that.

All I have promised is that the more you self-promote, the more books you'll sell, and the harder you work, the luckier you get.

That's not snake oil. That's truth.

If you learn to speak well in public, you'll sell more books than if you never learned to speak well in public. Good luck arguing otherwise.

By my count, my efforts have resulted in around seven thousand extra book sales that I'm directly responsible for. Out of several hundred thousand books in print, that's not a great percentage. But this is the tangible results of my efforts.

The intangibles are harder to figure out. For example, I get a lot of speaking engagements. These usually come to me as the result of something I've done in the past. These lead to paid gigs, and more book sales.

A sticky website and MySpace page requires effort up front and a certain amount of maintenance. I can't know for certain how many books my Internet presence (including this blog) has helped to sell, but I do know I get a few hundred thousand hits a year.

I don't offer any false hopes or empty promises here. I simply share what I've learned, and explain how and why it works.

As for my hardcover numbers, I really can't see the value in full disclosure to someone who doesn't sign their name to their posts. Am I a bestseller? Not yet. Do I make a living writing? Yes. Have I earned out my advance? Yes.

Will I continue to sell? Time will tell. But if you're going to bet on a horse, it's always smart to bet on the one determined to win.

Niteowl said...

Public speaking won't kill you,
Oh sure, you can be rational about it. No one has ever died of public speaking. But there is always that nagging thought, "Do you really want to be the first one?"

But then again, it'd probably be fantastic for sales. Also, you'd never have to do public speaking again.

steve in maine said...

I knew where you were coming from with that comment and first reply, JA, and your opening paragraphs about the audience's views offer good insight to help hold off the usual doubts, but I think the misunderstanding came from how anonymous, in his first post, didn't say that fear of public speaking isn't without its cost or that it's a rational fear. The worst fears rarely are. I think he just felt that it was like hearing someone saying, "Oh, haven't you quit those cigarettes yet?" when they've never been there to the same degree.

E.B. White once said, about his own fears of simply being in public, that "Nobody who has never suffered my peculiar kind of disability can understand the sheer hell of such moments.”

Still, anonymous should know that this is a site about the publishing business, not being a writer. There's thousands of writers, from Blake to Anne Tyler, who could never give a reading, and there's all sorts of books like "The Courage to Write" that outline this in detail.

What you're saying, and I hope anonymous knows, is that you're fine with that - you're just pointing out that these days you need to do as much promotion as you can, and one shouldn't limit oneself in any way, whether in business or in life.

Some people can do public speaking and are great at it. Some people, like Whitman, were horrible speakers, but still kept at it. And some choose, whether they feel it's their choice or not, not to take the stage. I'm one of those, and I'm fine with that. The amount of time and energy it'd take to get beyond that point wouldn't be worth it for me, and I'd never enjoy it as a performer should, so I wouldn't have much to offer an audience in that way. But I really admire those who do it well.

steve in maine said...

For a couple more tips, the worst of the fears come before the reading. When you have no outlet, and it’s all building up. But once onstage, you have an outlet, and you can use all that nervous energy to energize your talk.

If you flub up on a word, don’t go tense, but laugh at it. No one likes to see someone feeling tense because of them. In the same way, don’t start off your reading by telling everyone you’re nervous.

You can learn a great deal from watching bad speakers. Just like with a novel, if someone isn’t holding your attention, ask yourself why. And then go and watch the best speakers and see how they do it.

Here’s an old pro – Lawrence Block. Look at the enthusiasm he carries, especially once he puts down the book and starts talking to the audience.

http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=3580

Anonymous said...

I've been a writer for almost 20 years. I also have a pretty significant anxiety disorder. Leaving the house is frequently very difficult. Book signings can be torture. I'm dog-sick for two or three days before fantasy conventions. But I do them anyway.

I do better with audiences than people, having gotten over my fear of audiences back when I was getting a degree in music. It's tough to be a musician if you can't perform. These days, the same could be said, albeit to a lesser degree, of writers.

Unlike JAK, I do have sympathy for people who find public speaking difficult. I know how exhausting it can be to have to muscle your way past mis-firing neural endings to do things that should "come naturally". But there's a difference between sympathy and acceptance. If we agree--and I think most writers do--that the ability to speak well and to engage an audience can be a valuable promotion tool, we have defined a choice: develop and use this tool, or choose not to and accept our limitations.

One of my writing friends is VERY anti-promotion. She will not attend conferences, speak in public, or do book signings. She abhores schmoozing. She realizes that all of this will probably limit her success, but she's fine with that.

ec
www.elainecunningham.com

Christine Fletcher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christine Fletcher said...

I've always been afraid to talk on the telephone. Terrified. Problem is, I'm a veterinarian, so I have to be on the phone every day. And I have to do it well. It took me years to develop strategies to improve, and if it wasn't absolutely required, I wouldn't have done it.

Those strategies have paid off in ways I never would have imagined. Now that I'm published, I can do more by way of self-promotion than I would have ever thought possible. The phone is still tough, but it's manageable.

Your tips on public speaking are spot-on, Joe. I taught college part-time for ten years, and the same principles hold. When I started teaching, I just thought of every lousy professor I'd ever had, and then did the opposite.

steve in maine said...

Great post, Elaine, and I’m right with you on how you feel. I've even thought of taking up drinking, but that's probably a worse writer's hazard than being afraid of public speaking. (By the way, nice site, too, with interviews and all, and I’ve heard good things about the New Jedi Order series.)

And good story, Christine. I like what you said about doing the opposite of your worst professors. It reminded me of this bit by James Dickey:

“I went around and listened to some other fellows give readings, and I thought, ‘Damn it, this is the dullest damn hour I ever spent in my life.’ So I set about to design a kind of reading that I would like to listen to.”

T. Coraghessan Boyle has said much the same. “That’s the old school, where a reading is a dignified sharing of new work. Well, I don’t care if the audience is six hundred Saul Bellows, I’m going to knock them dead with a comedy routine. I’m out there as a missionary for literature, because if people laugh and enjoy themselves, they might actually do something as bizarre as read the book.”

Anonymous said...

Sure, I could give my name. But you still wouldn't disclose any numbers. Seven thousand extra copies over the course of 4 or 5 published books...a major publisher would laugh at that, because that's nothing.

You've traveled thousands of miles, spent thousands of dollars, and the result? You're now forced to publish under a pen and being pushed a step back into paperback original. With that kind of progress, where do you think you'll be five years down the road?

Sounds like your making your living more as a public speaker than as a writer. I know you've put together your little formula of writing a book in one month and then spending eleven months promoting, but I for one refuse to spend 23 or 24 bucks on a book that clocks in at barely 200 pages. Give me value for my dollar. Joe, at least take six months and really write something worthy of success. Stop trying to be Janet Evanovich. Personally, I think this blog and the endless promotion are actually hurting your brand. People like a little mystery. If I wasn't personally interested in the book world, I would have never heard of you, or most other writers for that matter. Discovering a new author is mostly accident. Take the time to write something a publisher can get excited about and throw money behind. That's the only place hard work pays off.

I honestly don't like saying all this. I wouldn't want to hear it myself. Might hurt a little. But you are the one putting yourself out there with this blog and all the home-grown advise. I firmly believe this networking crap on the internet is useless. I know you'll strike back with something clever and let the air out of what I say, and that's fine. But I do not believe hard work and luck are related. Luck is luck. JA Konrath is a hardworker. But go ask Jack Kilborn what that's worth to him.

Rob said...

Anon: Sounds like you have a bit of frustration about your own career you need to deal with.

Why so hostile?

If Joe is earning out his advances, that's a pretty good sign he's doing well.

JA Konrath said...

Boy, I love my blog.

Sure, I could give my name.

No. You couldn't. No more than you can speak in public, apparently.

Seven thousand extra copies over the course of 4 or 5 published books...a major publisher would laugh at that, because that's nothing.

It's 7000 more than I would have sold sitting on my ass and doing nothing.

I've yet to have a major publisher laugh at my efforts. In fact, many editors read this blog. But I'll keep my ears open for chortles.

You've traveled thousands of miles, spent thousands of dollars, and the result? You're now forced to publish under a pen and being pushed a step back into paperback original.

Yeah, it's awful to have two book contracts. I hate being forced to make more money.

With that kind of progress, where do you think you'll be five years down the road?

Wow! You're right! Maybe, in five years, I'll be unlucky enough to have sold 18 books instead of only the 9 I've currently sold.

Sounds like your making your living more as a public speaker than as a writer.

Nope. 97% of my income is from writing.

I know you've put together your little formula of writing a book in one month and then spending eleven months promoting, but I for one refuse to spend 23 or 24 bucks on a book that clocks in at barely 200 pages.

I'll mourn that lost sale.

Give me value for my dollar. Joe, at least take six months and really write something worthy of success.

Perhaps you should take six months and overcome your fear of speaking in public.

I truly hope one day I'll be "worthy of success." Because we all know success is an entitlement that only the very best writers deserve.

Personally, I think this blog and the endless promotion are actually hurting your brand.

Yeah, promotion is a terrible way to get people to discover your books.

People like a little mystery.

Really? Then they won't mind that my books are all under 200 pages long.

If I wasn't personally interested in the book world, I would have never heard of you.

You've proven your point. Promotion doesn't work at all.

Take the time to write something a publisher can get excited about and throw money behind. That's the only place hard work pays off.

Yeah, write a good book and it will leap into reader's hands.

You're baiting me, right? You really can't think that.

I honestly don't like saying all this. I wouldn't want to hear it myself. Might hurt a little.

When I'm done crying I'll thank you for your powerful insight.

But you are the one putting yourself out there with this blog and all the home-grown advise. I firmly believe this networking crap on the internet is useless.

You can believe whatever you want to believe.

Personally, I think that beliefs are BS unless facts back them up.

I do the things that I do because they work.

Your mileage may vary, but my methods and advice aren't "useless".

Do as I do and you'll sell more books. Period.

I know you'll strike back with something clever and let the air out of what I say, and that's fine. But I do not believe hard work and luck are related.

And that cuts to the heart of it. You truly want to believe there's something inherent in successful books that makes them successful, and you're relating success to how "good" the book is based on how "hard" the writer worked on it.

We can agree to disagree here. I find your argument naive.

There are no universal criteria for what makes a "good" book.

What it? Awards nominations? I've had a bunch, won a few. Fans? I'm always behind answering my fanmail, because I get a lot. Good reviews? I've had my share. Sales?

Ahhh. If it's sales, then The Davinci Code is the best book ever written.

Actually, sales are tied into print run, which is tied into marketing dollars, which is set by the publisher.

But you can believe whatever makes you happy.

Luck is luck. JA Konrath is a hardworker. But go ask Jack Kilborn what that's worth to him.

JA Konrath is both lucky and a hard worker. The harder he works, the luckier he seems to get.

As for Jack Kilborn, he's pretty happy with the deal he's gotten, and he was nice enough to share his money with me.


Thanks for your post, and I hope you stick around. It's refreshing to have people disagree with me, especially those who are passionate and literate, and you are both.

Anonymous said...

Rob:

Earning out a modest advance is really meaningless on the scale that Joe is currently on, otherwise there would be no need for the switch to a pen name. Major publishers generally make a nice profit long before the advance earns out. Big bestsellers like Stephen King and Patricia Cornwell never earn out.

My comments actually have nothing to do with my career, believe it not, which I'm sure you wont. I happen to like Joe a lot. I've met him, and he's a great guy. I wish him all the luck in the world and hope he is soon the richest writer on the planet. He's got loads of talent and he's smart, and, well, he'll disagree with me here, but he deserves success. Saying otherwise is to say I didn't deserve that big promotion at work.

And Joe, I'm pleased you find my presence refreshing. I'm just trying to be honest with you. I hate most blogs because they are typically a love-fest.

Anonymous said...

I first heard of J.A. Konrath in an article about the experience he and M.J. Rose were embarking upon: 500 blog reviews vs the 500 Bookstore Tour--which sells more books? I never did heard how that turned out, but I followed a link to this blog and was impressed by the breezy, humorous writing style. There's no better advertisement for an author's writing than . . . his writing. So I bought the first book and enjoyed it enough to keep reading. I've also bought "A Sixpack of Jack" from Amazon Shorts, as well as another collection of short stories. So. That's three hardcover sales and two ebook sales right there. Plus, I've recommended the stories to other readers, some of whom have bought books. I've even seen a few blog post recommendations by some of these folk. And so it goes. Viral marketing is a wonderful thing.

Promotions works. Readers can't read books they've never heard about.

ec
www.elainecunningham.com

Anonymous said...

The DaVinci Code? That was not about quality or self-promotion. That was all about a once-in-a-lifetime hook and a once-in-a-lifetime launch from his publisher.

But he had the right material to support his publisher's efforts. Do you really think Fuzzy Navel would have similar impact if Hyperian gave it a similar launch?

Anonymous said...

Earning out a modest advance is really meaningless on the scale that Joe is currently on, otherwise there would be no need for the switch to a pen name.

Tell that to J.D. Robb.

Nora Roberts is a prolific writer--so prolific that apparently her publishers were concerned that she was putting out too many titles each year. (::whimpers in envy::) So she started a new series under the name J.D. Robb. Only after several best-selling books had been published did it become widely known that this was a pen name.

There are many reasons to use a pen name. One of the main ones is branding. The J.D. Robb books are futuristic police procedurals. They have a little more plot than most of her books and a lot more violence. So yeah, they are a bit different in terms of style, vocabulary, and topic, but it's handy to know that if a book says J.D. Robb on the cover, you're getting an Eve Dallas book. For a prolific writer, it might make a great deal of sense to associate a signiture character with one name and write something else under another.

Writers who work in more than one genre frequently use pen names to differentiate between (or among, as the case may be) their different books. Again, branding. If there's a distinctly different readership, pen names can be a good thing. If you're writing steamy urban fantasy, for example, you may want to write middle reader historical novels under a different name.

I've run into a lot of people who assume that pen names indicate the author has "something to hide." This may be true in many cases, but it is not universally applicable.

ec
www.elainecunningham.com

Rob said...

What Elaine said.

And I'll add: I really don't think you know enough about Joe's career to be making the arguments you are. It sounds like you think he's failing in some way, but you have no evidence to back that claim up. Other than Joe has a pen name. In which case, I repeat, "What Elaine said."

From what I understand, the Kilborn novel is horror and wouldn't necessarily appeal to all readers of the Jack books. If gaining new readers in a new genre is not success, please sign me up for a little failure.

Anonymous said...

Tell that to J.D. Robb...

All of those books clearly state on the cover...Nora Roberts writing as J.D Robb.

And Joe has said himself the switch was because of his sales record. Can't be a good sign.

Persephone said...

I just found the newest JA Konrath novel in the main paperback display at my local B&N for the first time recently. Could be this is new, or maybe they were there before only I hadn't noticed them until I started reading this blog, don't know. In whichever case, that's a tough display position to get into these days, isn't it? I'd call that a kind of success. :)

There is a certain romance about the anonymity and mystery writers used to be able to enjoy. A lot of us were probably drawn to that and would prefer it that way. Maybe one can still pull it off, I don't know. Speaking for myself, I do not feel irrationally terrified of public speaking. Dying in public seems so awful because of the word of mouth that would come from it, which I think is a rational fear, especially today, as WOM can spread farther and faster than ever before via blogs and so forth. It seems like, for good speakers this is a huge plus, but for poor speakers it actually could be detrimental. In any case, many thanks for the useful tips!

JA Konrath said...

otherwise there would be no need for the switch to a pen name.

I think you're confusing why I'm used a pen name for Afraid. Under my current JA Konrath contract, I can't release any competing books using "JA Konrath" so a pen name was my only alternative.

It's also an issue of branding, as Elaine said. Afraid is a horror novel. My other books are comedy thrillers. There will be some cross-over, but it's a different demographic.

As for it being mass market paperback, I'm fine with that. They're planning on a larger print run than I've ever had before.

Do you really think Fuzzy Navel would have similar impact if Hyperion gave it a similar launch?

As Davinci Code? Hell no. I agree that it was a once in a lifetime hook.

But could it be on the NYT List with a big publisher push? Yes, I believe it could. The books on the List are the ones on the bookstore New Release table at 20% off. This involves coop money. I'm not getting any of that money, so you won't see me on the List.

I'm damn happy with how Fuzzy Navel turned out. It's a fast, fun book, and it has more action than any other two summer thrillers combined. I wrote it to be non-stop, and that's what the early reviews are calling it.

I hate most blogs because they are typically a love-fest.

Conflict is important on a blog. While I don't object to being adored, it doesn't make for interesting reading. That's why my posts here take firm stances and are in-your-face. I like it when folks disagree.

That said, there have been a lot of smart and interesting comments so far, and those comments are appreciated as well. :)

JA Konrath said...

And Joe has said himself the switch was because of his sales record.

You'll have to point out where I said that, and quote it in context.

I'm pleased with my sales record. The problem, if there is one, is that bookstores buy new books based on previous sales figures.

If my publisher wanted to make a run at the List, they'd have to increase my print run, and get bookstores to order more copies by discounting and explaining the large marketing campaign behind the release.

If my new publisher released the book under JA Konrath, there would be some obvious brand confusion, especially since it is an entirely new set of sales reps, and the tendency would be to order in quantities compatible with my previous paperback sales. That could limit pre-orders, and also compete with the JA Konrath paperback title being released that year.

That said, I was the one who wanted a pen name. And I think a pen name will give me the opportunity to be launched in a bigger way than my previous books.

But the "JA Konrath" name will be around for a while, because it's making money.

Anonymous said...

The problem, if there is one, is that bookstores buy new books based on previous sales figures.

My point exactly.

JA Konrath said...

The problem, if there is one, is that bookstores buy new books based on previous sales figures.

My point exactly.

Which means my new publisher would have to justify their print run to booksellers.

That isn't to say my sales figures are poor. It's to say that if I want to sell in bigger numbers, a pseudonym is one alternative. The other is a large marketing campaign. Guess which is cheaper...

Anonymous said...

Joe, so what's your new pen name and what are the upcoming titles under that name? I supposed you'll have to disclose it sooner or later since you'll be promoting the books.

Rob said...

I found this interview with info about Jack Kilborn, Joe's alter ego:

http://www.thrillerwriters.org/2008/06/contemplating-ja-konraths-fuzzy-navel.html

Anonymous said...

Joe, can you give us some of the specifics of how a pen works? I'd actually like to see a separate post on this. For example, if a Jack Kilborn novel is sent to LJ for review, does the accompanying information disclose that Kilborn and Konrath are the same; or does it pretend that the book is a "debut?"

JA Konrath said...

I have no idea how a pen works.

With Kilborn, we're not trying to actively hide the fact that it's me, but all the copyright info is in Kilborn's name.

If a reviewer goes on the Internet, she can easily discover that Kilborn is Konrath. If not, there won't be anything in the promo material that says it's a pen name, and I believe my publisher is treating it as a debut.

In other words, I'll promote Kilborn, and the website will link to me, but the average person in a bookstore won't be able to tell I'm Kilborn by looking at the book.

I don't know if this is how it normally works or not, as I've never done this before.

Gunslinger said...

That isn't to say my sales figures are poor. It's to say that if I want to sell in bigger numbers, a pseudonym is one alternative. The other is a large marketing campaign. Guess which is cheaper...

You are really dancing around my point. But that's fine.

Sure, I could give my name.

No. You couldn't. No more than you can speak in public, apparently.


Please. Now who's baiting who?

Anonymous said...

Tell that to J.D. Robb...

All of those books clearly state on the cover...Nora Roberts writing as J.D Robb.


They do NOW, yes. But when the series started, they did not. All the earlier books have been reprinted with new covers at least once, so you can find the 'writing as..." designation on all the titles, but the first edition mass market paperbacks had only the J.D. Robb byline.

I've been following this series through all 25 books and several short stories, so I'm quite confident of the facts. But for reference,here's a clip from NR's website:

More than a decade ago it wasn’t public knowledge that the genius behind J.D. Robb was best-selling author Nora Roberts, but readers were immediately taken with Eve Dallas’ integrity, strength and heart and her burgeoning relationship with the mysterious Roarke...

J.D. Robb was a product of numbers: by 1995, there was a surplus of Nora Roberts’ titles to be released by her publishers and she continued to create more. Reluctant to publish romantic suspense books similar to what she was already writing under a pseudonym, Nora had been playing with the idea of a strong, idealistic woman on the NY police force in the future. J.D. Robb was born.


ec
www.elainecunningham.com

Anonymous said...

What is the first line of Afraid?

Gunslinger said...

The big thing I've noticed about writers' blogs is that they fizzle out and disappear. Maybe they get burned out or don't have time or don't have much to say. The writing life is boring. Aside from publishing gossip, which is only interesting to the publishing crowd, what's there to talk about? Even you only post every week or so now.

JA Konrath said...

You are really dancing around my point. But that's fine.

I became Jack Kilborn for several reasons. It was my decision, based on my understanding of how the publishing business works.

The first reason was that I wasn't allowed any competing JA Konrath titles. The second was that horror is a different demographic than mystery. The third is that a pseudonym will allow me to have a larger print run.

My books are all still in print, and earning royalties. They're successful. But I want to be more successful. I wasn't forced to become Kilborn. It was an opportunity to earn more money, and have a publisher try a new approach.

Please. Now who's baiting who?

What's wrong with baiting?

gunslinger said...

okie-doke

Anonymous said...

"The third is that a pseudonym will allow me to have a larger print run."

Joe, I'd be skeptic that a "debut" horror novel will printed in larger initial quantities than your other series. Did your publisher actually give you hard numbers?

Anonymous said...

The other thing to remember about print runs is that once you get above 10,000, the "bulk" discounts largely disappear. Phrased differenly, a publisher can print an intial 10,000 copies and then a 2nd 10,000 (if the market demand is there) for about the same cost as 20,000 upfront copies.

The print run doesn't drive market demand. Actually, the opposite is true, meaning that demand will drive additional printings if the demand is great enough.

JA Konrath said...

Phrased differenly, a publisher can print an intial 10,000 copies and then a 2nd 10,000 (if the market demand is there) for about the same cost as 20,000 upfront copies.

I'm not talking about cost per unit, though the CPU is much lower at 100,000 copies than it is at 10,000.

I'm talking about the discount to the bookseller or distributor for buying in large quantities. Hence the 20% off on the New Release tables.

As for how many copies of Afraid will be printed, we'll see... :)

JA Konrath said...

Did your publisher actually give you hard numbers?

LOL. You mean publishers actually tell the truth with print runs? That would be a first.

steve in maine said...

Got the new ITW newsletter today, JA, and just wanted to say I enjoyed your interview.

http://www.thrillerwriters.org/

Gabrielle said...

Fantastic advice, J.A. For anyone who likes to read old books... everyone raise their hand, please... Aristotle's "On Rhetoric" in any modern English translation has terrific ideas on knowing your audience, preparing a format, etc., that still works thousands of years later.

Stacey Cochran said...

The first reason was that I wasn't allowed any competing JA Konrath titles.

Are you not allowed to publish under "Joe Konrath" with another publisher as per your contract with Hyperion?

Seems like that'd be a better name to use for Afraid.

Jude Hardin said...

You're now forced to publish under a pen and being pushed a step back into paperback original. With that kind of progress, where do you think you'll be five years down the road?

There's nothing wrong with paperback originals, anon. Plenty of fine authors have made careers with them.

Chris said...

You know, with pen names being indicative of a failing career, I seriously feel sorry for that "Richard Bachman" guy.

As for promotion, I first heard about Joe from his interview in Writer's Digest around the time Whiskey Sour was released. Since that time, I've bought all of his books, as have other people I've shown them to.

So, I guess self promotion doesn't pay off. Well, at least it doesn't if you don't actually, ya know, DO it.

Anonymous said...

You know, with pen names being indicative of a failing career, I seriously feel sorry for that "Richard Bachman" guy.


The Bachman name sold a tiny amount of books before it was revealed he was Stephen King.

As for promotion, I first heard about Joe from his interview in Writer's Digest around the time Whiskey Sour was released. Since that time, I've bought all of his books, as have other people I've shown them to.

Only writers and wannabe's look at Writer's Digest. I find tons of info on writers because I specifically go looking for it. The average reader only discovers a book exists because they walk into a bookstore, browse past a display and physical pick the book up pick with their hands.

JA Konrath said...

The average reader only discovers a book exists because they walk into a bookstore, browse past a display and physical pick the book up pick with their hands.

I can't even remember the last time I bought a book while browsing. And I've questioned readers many times, in person and on this blog, and browsing doesn't account for many sales.

The majority of sales are because people have heard of the book or the author. Think about the last ten books you bought. How many of them were from browsing with no prior knowledge of the author or title?

And, if memory serves, Thinner did pretty damn well for Bachman, prior to the discovery it was King.

Chris said...

I personally only "buy by browsing" when I have a gift card and no pressing buying decisions to make. I will nearly never spend my own money on authors I don't know.

Other than that, it's either authors I already enjoy, authors I've heard good things about (generally in relation to authors I already enjoy), or, as with how I came to read Joe, authors whose names have piqued my curiosity through some means or another. There's a lot of word of mouth, and a good deal of research, before I delve into new authors.

The fact is, if people picked books just by browsing, then Joe would likely be a whole lot richer (King - Konrath - Koontz... gotta love book stores without a separate "Mystery" section). Heck, I'm planning on legally changing my name to "Stephanie King" just to get more of those spillover buys (and I'm a guy).

As for "Only writers read Writer's Digest": Well, duh! I'm not saying that he broke the bank from that interview, but I assume that I'm not the only one who picked up W.S. because of it.

For the sake of argument, though, let's say I was the only one to buy it. That's still one more person buying his books than would have bought them if they didn't read the interview. Same with his presentations, speeches, signings, etc. Every one of those gets more people interested, which is always a good thing.

In my estimation, even if they only sell a "paltry" 7,000 extra books, that's still 7,000 that wouldn't have sold without it. And who knows how many additional buys that means in the future.

Ultimately, nobody will tell you that you should or shouldn't self-promote in front of crowds. Do I think it will affect your bottom line? Yeah, I do. Maybe not today, when you miss the sales on the 10 books. But it could tomorrow, when the 20 people those 10 would have told about you aren't buying any.

JA Konrath said...

The whole point of branding is one sale=many sales.

I handsell a book to someone who likes it, and I just sold them six books in my series, plus any others I'll write in the future, plus books that the person will give as gifts, or encourage others to buy.

Handselling one book could mean twenty sales, or much more. I've handsold to radio folks and gotten interviews because of it, to librarians and gotten speaking gigs, and so on. Handselling has gotten me in front of GMs and DMs and all sorts of folks who have helped me sell a lot more than the copy I handed to a customer.