Thursday, June 27, 2013

Guest Post by Patrick Balester

Joe sez: If you've missed the last few guest blogs, they are worth reading and the comments are still open:

You can read Marcus Sakey talking about cover art here:

You can read Dakota Madison talking about finding success as a romance writer here:

You can read CG Cooper talking about his Rule of Three here:

You can read Todd Travis talking about fear here:

So here's today's guest blogger, Patrick Balester...


I've been reading Joe's blog, A Newbie's Guide To Publishing for over five years now. I first met Joe around that time, and I'll never forget it. I remember it like it was yesterday...I was going through his garbage, looking for something, anything, he had written on, to paste into my fan scrap-book...oh, wait, that was yesterday.

Now I remember! I was attending my first writer's conference, in 2008. It was a cold and windy was Chicago in February, which explains why it was cold and windy. But it didn't matter. I was attending my first conference as a writer (my book was about to be published by Avalon) and I was down by the author tables when I saw him, the man whose Jack Daniels' novels I had been reading for months. I nervously approached, ready to introduce myself and tell him how much I enjoyed his work. He saw me. And before I could say a word, he stuck out his hand and said “Hi. I'm JA Konrath. Have a coaster”, and he handed me an autographed coaster featuring one of his books in the series. I saw him several times over the next two days and he gave me a lot of good advice, never hesitating to answer my questions. Joe convinced me to put the first chapter of my novel on my website, to entice readers to buy the book. What a guy.

Still, some of the lessons he discussed on his blog never really sunk in, and I had to learn them the hard way, mainly because I didn't have as much experience as a writer with new technology. I'm old school, and by that I mean...I'm old. When I was a young lad and first put pen to paper, I used...pen and paper. And not just any pen. Quill pens hadn't been invented yet. My first pen was a sharpened stick dipped in mammoth blood, and my paper was the hide of a saber-toothed tiger.  Needless to say, my first few stories were crap. This is true of any budding young writer. But, a few thousand years passed, some sharp guy in Germany named Gutenberg invented moveable type, and things progressed nicely after that. In no time at all, I had my first computer, and I was producing stories at a rapid pace. They were still crap, but I could pump them out a lot faster! But I got better. Then I got published.

When my cozy mystery novel, In The Dismal Swamp, was published, it came out in hardcover, and I was thrilled. But the publisher was small. I got an advance, made some money, but not a lot. By then, e-readers were appearing, but they hadn't gained wide acceptance yet. My wife got one for Christmas a couple of years ago, and when I tried to help her download books, it took us hours. Downloading software, synching with the e-reader, connecting cables...I thought to myself, what a pain! And this, from a man who used to work as a computer programmer. I thought, this will never be me. I'm sticking with real books!

Besides, I had already seen the demise of Borders, and I really enjoyed my local bookstore. I didn't want to see them vanish. Independent stores were starting to disappear, which disturbed me, but the smart ones were starting to adapt to new technology, offering free wi-fi, encouraging customers to stay and have coffee while they shopped, and providing good customer service. But I still didn't see how e-publishing would help me.

But then, something amazing happened. My publisher, Avalon Books, was bought out by Amazon's publishing division, Thomas & Mercer in 2012. I got their writer's agreement signed it, and sent it in, but didn't think much more about it. My book went to kindle in September, which was pretty exciting. I told my friends. Then one day, I got my first royalty check from my e-sales. Wow, I thought. It was a good chunk of change.

A month later, Amazon ran a promotion and my book vaulted into the top 100 for mysteries, resting, perhaps for just a few minutes or maybe more, in the top ten! I got my next royalty statement a few days ago, and I suddenly realize I've made more on my book in the past five months than I have in the past five years.

This is the kind of stuff that makes you sit up and take notice. I'm beginning to appreciate the power of e-publishing. Along the way, I've also started to use social media more effectively to promote my book, something Joe has always stressed. Of course, all this would really pay off if I had more titles, but I'm working on that. Nothing cures writer's block like a paycheck, and lately the pages have been flying from the keyboard to my printer.

I'm actively looking for an agent for my nearly completed manuscript. I know I could take the self-publishing route, but I won't...not yet. Joe can do it, because he's paid his dues, he's a top professional, and knows how to edit his own work. I'm not at that level. Maybe someday I will be. But at least I've come out of the cave. Unlike the woolly mammoth and saber-toothed tiger, I intend to be here for a while. And e-publishing is going to help me along the way.

Now, if you're still reading or haven't fallen asleep, time to have some fun! Many of you are big Konrath fans, or you wouldn't be on this page. But are you his number one fan? There's only one way to find out. Take the Konrath Quiz!  And see if your a hardcore fan like me, or just a wannabe.

I'd like to thank Joe for the opportunity to appear on his blog, and tell the world what a great inspiration he's been to me, even though, like the prodigal son, I had to learn some writing lessons the hard way. And if you're still working on that first book, be more like Joe. Your wallet and your career will thank you!

Joe sez: Thanks for the kind words, Patrick. Your quiz made me laugh out loud when you wrote it, and made me laugh again when I clicked on it today.

I'm glad that In the Dismal Swamp is doing well on Kindle. Right now it's at a respectable rank. I haven't read it yet, but I encourage everyone to buy a copy (yes, I buy copies of all my guest posters' ebooks.) It's just $2.99, and if it's as funny as his posts are, it should be a treat.

Since my blog is all about offering unsolicited advice, I'll comment on what I see as a paradigm change in this industry, and give Patrick and everyone reading this my 2 cents about what to do when a manuscript is finished. Here's the in-depth, comprehensive checklist.

1. Get a professional cover, professional editing, professional proofreading, and professional formatting.

2. Self-publish it.

It is no longer necessary to get an agent first and find a publisher. If that is one of your dreams, then you can set your goals accordingly (research agents, send out X number of email queries per week, attend conventions and pitch to them in person) but I've seen that the easiest way to get an agent (and a Big Publisher) in 2013 is to sell a ton of self-pubbed ebooks.

Self-publishing is the new slush pile. Agents and publishers are cherry-picking ebooks that get a lot of sales/buzz/good reviews and contacting authors directly. If Patrick wants to go that route, getting his ebook professionally vetted and getting it live is the way to do that.

In the past, there was a fear that self-pubbing ruined an author's shot at getting an agent. As I said, I've seen the world change since those days. While some agents may claim not to accept anything previously self-published, I bet a dollar to a donut they're trolling the Amazon Top 100 Bestsellers for authors. And if they aren't, they're dinosaurs who wouldn't help you or your book very much anyway.

Ebooks are forever. Forever, of course, is eternity.

But eternity can have a starting point.

Every day you don't self-publish is a day you potentially missed out on sales.

Reread that as many times as needed to get it to sink in.

The sooner you get your ebook live on Amazon, the sooner you start making money, getting reviews, finding fans, and improving your odds at succeeding.

Let me put it a different way. Let's say, because I lead such a healthy life, I'll live to June 27, 2070. My ebooks will continue to earn money after I've died, but I'll only be able to use and enjoy that money for 57 years. IF I self-publish today.

If I self-publish next month, I only have 56 years 11 months to spend that money. If I publish next year, I've only got 56 years to reap the proceeds from that ebook. If it takes me 2 years to find an agent, 6 months to land a publisher, and 18 months for them to go live, I just missed out on 4 years of potential income (not counting the income I'll miss out on because my stupid publisher prices my ebook at $12.99 and only gives me 17.5%.)

Get the point? There is absolutely ZERO reason not to self-publish as soon as possible.

If you feel your book isn't ready for prime time yet, join a writers group or hire an editor. Cover artists, formatters, and proofreaders can also be hired.

And what if your ebook wasn't ready and you self-publish and there are (gasp!) mistakes and typos and errors?

I just did this very thing.

When I released Haunted House, I made a special arrangement with KDP and had a pre-order page up. Hell or high water, I had to get that manuscript live by my promised pre-order date. But the book turned out more complicated than I expected, and real life threw me some curves, and I self-published it just 2 hours before it went live.

It had over 150 errors in it.

As you can expect, many readers were pissed off, and rightfully so. Many reviewers rightly criticized the book for so many errors. And I received many emails expressing disappointment (along with several who went the extra mile and pointed out the typos they found--something I'm always grateful for.)

So I fixed them as fast as I could, uploaded a new version, and apologized in the comments section (if you're someone I irritated, I'm truly sorry). My mistake was inexcusable. I should have given myself more time and done a better job with the proofing.

But guess what? The world didn't end. The book has a 4.2 average rating, and I've sold thousands of copies.

I screwed up, in one of the biggest ways possible, and I survived.

Now I don't recommend doing what I did, and I know for new authors a few 1 star reviews can really hurt sales. Maybe I lost some fans. But it seems like most of my true fans have forgiven me, and eventually this mistake will be lost to time because the updated version is live.

Let me state I do NOT condone self-publishing anything but your best work, professionally vetted. But if you screw up, it isn't the end of the world. You and your book can recover.

What you can't recover from is the days, weeks, months, and years lost if you don't self-publish when you can.

There are no launch dates anymore. No reason to wait for "the right moment." The right moment, in EVERY case, is always: as soon as the book is ready.

An ebook is forever. You want forever to start as soon as possible. Even if your goal is a top NY agent and a Big 5 publisher.