Wednesday, June 26, 2019

New Punctuation?

So let's talk about punctuation.

Like all writers, I have preferences.

Actually, preferences may not be strong enough a word.

I have rules. Things I do, over and over.

My rules may be a little unorthodox, but they work for me, and my readers don't seem to mind.

I like the Oxford comma. Without it, things can get confusing. For example, consider my favorite blogs: Stomp Out Racism, Children Are Precious and A Newbie's Guide To Publishing.

Obviously the Children blog and this blog are not racist, but without the Oxford comma, it could be misinterpreted.

Sometimes I don't use a comma even when I could and maybe should. This sentence is an example; I could have used a comma after Sometimes, comma, and could.

I often omit commas when using nouns and pronouns. I think Hey Phil! and me too! read better than Hey, Phil! and me, too.

I dig run-on sentences even though they should be broken up into smaller sentences because I believe writing has a beat and a flow like music and sometimes you want that extended guitar solo sentence to get a point across or make the reader feel something.

I like dashes. One of my things is to use a dash to interrupt action--

--then continue the dash on the next line. Breaking the flow can be as effective as a non-stop flow.

I like the semicolon; it's like a super comma that holds the sentence together, unlike a period which brings things full-stop.

Not a huge fan of exclamation marks. I try to limit each novel to a handful and always go back and check to see how many I can remove.

Occasionally I like the exclamation point/question mark jumble. Especially when a character is like WTF?!??!

When time passes in the same scene (I prefer scenes to chapters--savvy readers know I rarely use chapters) and my POV doesn't change, I'll put an extra line of space between paragraphs, or separate them with a centered #  #  # or *  *  *.

Hammet turned to him, a smile playing across her lips. "Do you think you can tame me, Tequila?"

"I can give it my best shot."

*  *  *

Hammett's fifty foot Viking sports yacht was worth about half a million US dollars, according to its former owner, who mentioned that before she killed him.

I don't like speaker attribution.

Speaker attribution isn't punctuation. But it functions in an identical way. Punctuation is used to help us understand the meaning and intention of words and sentences. Speaker attribution--he said, she asked, they screamed--helps us understand who just spoke, in a similar way.

I've used speak attribution for much of my work, because it's easy. People say it is invisible; we view it the same way we view a period, subconsciously noting it and arranging the story we see in our heads accordingly.

But he said really is a waste of space, a waste of words, a waste of time.

The work-around I've used (I've done several stories and novels without any speaker attribution) is to insert action to make the reader aware of who just spoke.

"It's a simple trick." Joe picked his nose and wondered how that got up there. "And it brings extra imagery to the scene."

A part of speaker attribution I particularly dislike is he thought.

In a first person point of view, it isn't really necessary. Depending on the story rules you set at the beginning, internal monologue may have nothing to distinguish it at all, other than the words themselves. Often, limited internal monologue is used, the writer can put it in italics, without needing attribution.

I hope the readers understand what I mean.

But interior monologue in third person POV gets tougher to pull off without interruption.

I'm a staunch believer in "One POV per scene". I don't head-hop in the same scene--unless it is set off properly, usually by using a new scene heading (I prefer to name my scenes by the character, location, and time, rather than by chapter), or in rare cases I separate fast-paced head hopping with the triple hashtag or triple asterix, like I do when time passes.

But when writing WHAT HAPPENED TO LORI (currently free on AMAZON) I encountered a problem I'd never run into before.

I have three main POV characters, and three minor ones. All are in third person.

When you do interior monologue in third person, your choices are italics, or speaker attribution, or both.

Unfortunately, the amount of interior monologue in WHTL was so excessive in this story, that over one third of the book would be in italics, and all the he thoughts/she thoughts was wasting words and space.

These were duplicitous characters who lie to each other, to themselves, and even to the reader.

I had entire pages of italics.

This was the opposite of invisible. It was glaring and obvious and repetitive and it irked me. And on an ebook, where old folks like me crank up the font size to Jumbo because of our failing vision, a page of italics and become four pages of italics, and then it no longer looks like italics.

This wasn't the smooth storytelling I wanted.

So I got to thinking.

We use quotation marks to set off dialog.

Why can't there be a similar mark to set off interior monologue?

So I tried using the tilde. ~

~Will a tilde work to set off inner thoughts?~

It sort of worked. But when I tried to get the advice from some friends on Skype chat, the double tilde drew lines through the words.

That made me think of the formatting problems I could face when releasing an ebook, with page after page of strikethrough words.

Damn coding.

But thinking of coding, made me think of the obvious.

The diple. <

The French use the double diple <<, aka guillemets, to set off dialog instead of using quotation marks.

<Maybe I can write a book using single diples for interior monologue.>

What really sold me on it, though, was how the diples could do more than just show inner thoughts. They became an essential element of the story, with a big twist ending for readers paying close attention.

<That's actually cool.

<Why not give it a go?>

So I went back and adjusted the first 30k words to use diples rather than italics and he thoughts, and then I began to write using diples.

<Wow. It's soooooo easy writing with diples.>

After a few thousand words, using diples became so natural that I wished I'd been doing it my whole life. To be able to pop into a character's head so quickly and easily and obviously made the writing tighter, smoother, and faster-paced.

I still had a problem, though. Would readers find it as invisible as I did?

Just to make extra sure readers knew this was intentional and not some formatting error, I decided to put an author note at the start of the book. Here it is:

AUTHOR NOTE 1

Storytelling isn't static. It evolves.

Movies have been enhancing their artform for over a century. Black and white films became color, which became Cinemascope and 3D and IMAX. Silent films became talkies, which became stereo and surround sound and Dolby Atmos with dozens of speakers. 

Are these just gimmicks? Maybe. 

But they also assist in immersing the viewer in the story.

For the sake of immersion, WHAT HAPPENED TO LORI utilizes some unique punctuation. 

The diple. <

The diple dates to ancient Greek writing. It has been a staple of computer language, and Internet communication, for over forty years. 

Quotation marks announce dialog to the reader. WHAT HAPPENED TO LORI uses the diple to announce characters' thoughts.

<I hope it enhances the story, rather than distracts.

<If not, I hope you can forgive me.

<I also hope you forgive me that this is only half a book. This is the first 90,000 words of a much longer novel. So be warned; it will end on a whopper of a cliffhanger.

<Are new punctuation and cliffhangers just gimmicks? Maybe. 

<But this will pay off. In a big way.

<Trust me; you can't possibly imagine what happens until you read it for yourself.>

And off I went.

Early reader response has been encouraging. People quickly get used to it, and the diples become invisible, just like any good punctuation mark.

But when I pull the Big Reveal at the end of BOOK 2, people will be like "Oh, shit! That's why he did it! I should have guessed it!"

Win-win.

But of course nothing is truly win-win. I fully expect some readers to hate the diples, and to hate the book. Some already have.

I'm cool with that. I get irritated by Cormac McCarthy's lack of punctuation, because it isn't alerting me if someone is speaking so I have to reread the sentence to get the meaning.

I believe the only reason to reread a sentence is to savor it. Not because you can't understand it.

But McCarthy sells a shit ton more than I do, so my opinion hasn't hurt his popularity.

If some people want to hate the diples, it's cool.

If you want to hate the diples, it's cool.

<But I bet you also move your lips when you read to yourself.>

Ha! I jest. You can dislike a new style of writing and your opinion is valid and I won't judge you.

<You pinhead.>

See the potential yet?

When used for lying and hypocrisy, it's so simple. When used to share info with the reader, it's so simple. When used to add tension to a scene, it's so simple.

Read WHAT HAPPENED TO LORI, currently free, and let me know what you think.

<And by all means, try a writing exercise using diples for interior monologue.

<It's a lot more fun than you might think...>

Friday, June 21, 2019

30 Free Ebooks

I'm back in the self-promo game, and I decided to return to ebook marketing with two big ideas.

The first is a promo for my 180,000 word thriller duology, WHAT HAPPENED TO LORI.

I blogged about it at length. In a nutshell, I wrote a very long thriller with some unique punctuation and tried to pace it like clickbait, and then I split it into two books. The first, I released for free. The second will debut on August 30 for 99 cents.

I wanted to see how many readers I can reach by debuting a novel for free, and how many will stick along for the second book if it is super cheap. So far, so good.

My second idea is an offshoot of an idea I had last year. A newsletter swap.

That's when a few promo-savvy authors all put their ebooks on sale at the same time, then link to each other in their newsletters. It's win-win. Writers can reach other writers' fans, and the fans (engaged readers who signed up for the newsletter) get something cheap or free.

When we did it last year, we also had a landing page that we could all link to on social media.

This year, I upped my game.

Instead of doing this with five authors, I've done it with twenty-five.

And instead of every author having to trade cover art, links, and book descriptions, I made a landing page, www.freethrillerebooks.com, and no one had to upload anything, or spend time on formatting newsletters with a lot of extra jpgs and links.

Here's a screenshot you can click on it to visit the site.


All the authors had to do is make sure their ebook was free on Amazon.com from June 21-25 and email me their ASIN, then send out a newsletter and post the URL on social media.

Everyone is sending out their newsletters today and tomorrow. Here is the language I'm using.

"J.A. Konrath here. If you haven't picked up my brand new free ebook, WHAT HAPPENED TO LORI, you can get it by going to www.freethrillerebooks.com. And if you have gotten LORI, thank you, but please go to www.freethrillerebooks.com anyway, because a group of two dozen bestselling thriller authors have come together and we are all giving away free ebooks from June 21 until June 25. So check it out, and share it with your friends, family, co-workers, pets, etc."

I have no idea how this promotion will do, but I'm hopeful. My email marketing provider, Mailerlite.com, sends out my newsletters. They are great to work with, offer simple-to-use analytics, and are half the price of my old service, Vertical Response.

Plus, with Mailerlite, I pay monthly for unlimited emails, rather than buying credits for emails like I did before. That means I can schedule AutoResend campaigns (it automatically resends the newsletter to subscribers who didn't open it a few days earlier) without any extra cost.

Seriously, I love Mailerlite. It's simple to use, really cheap, and their customer service is top notch and available to chat 24/7. If you decide to switch over to MailerLite based on my praise, use this link and I get a referral perk.

After web goddess Maddee at Xuni.com set up the www.freethrillerbooks.com website for me on WordPress, I figured out how to quickly add ebooks with a few clicks. Listing those 30 ebooks took about 45 minutes.

So my future time investment is minimal, my monthly monetary investment is rolled into my monthly newsletter fee, and the other authors don't pay me anything and no one has to do much work to send out bare-bones newsletter.

That's the kind of marketing I love. Free and easy.

But will it work?

I dunno. But I think it's worth trying.

There were some costs setting this up. There were also some obstacles. The Amazon "Add To Cart" button doesn't work for all visitors, and I wasted a lot of time and money trying to get it to work. I had to learn about WordPress and plugins and the Amazon Associates OneLink program. I did a lot of brain-frying testing with HoxxVPN to view the site as someone would in Canada or the UK. And I also paid for help, and wound up scrapping that idea and going in another direction entirely.

But now it is done. And I can use it however and whenever I like. I can change the URL and title and background and do a 99 Cent Erotica promotion, or 10 Free Horror eBooks, or Dystopian Sc-Fi on Sale, or 15 Serial Killer Books That Will Scare You Silly.

Doing newsletter swaps with authors, and having the live URL for linking to social media, is a way to reach many more readers than I can on my own. The sunk costs are paid, and I can maintain it for almost no cost just by renewing URLs once a year.

Feel free to spread the word. And if you are an author with a big newsletter list and are interested in giving this a try, shoot me an email.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Writer's Guide To Dealing With Haters

Hey! An axe!

Let's grind it.

Back in 2013 I wrote a post about critics. Four years prior to that, I did another post about critics.

It's time to revisit.

Like all breakthrough technologies, the Internet has improved life for a lot of people.

We now have a fast and easy way to reach other people who share our interests and ideals. We have unrestricted access to information. We can entertain ourselves, educate ourselves, make some money, improve the world, and make life better.

And then there are the haters.

The first human who invented fire: "Look! I can harness this wondrous new technology that can keep us warm and cook our food to prevent disease and protect us from predators!"

The first critic: "It sucks and you're an asshole."

I understand some fundamental concepts concerning genetics. As a species, we must band together to reproduce. We're wired to seek out each other, to share, to empathize, to help.

But we're also tribal. That means we're fiercely protective of our tribe, and suspicious of others. In fact, we're suspicious of everything, because knowing what is good and what is bad could save us from terrible deaths.

Somewhere along the evolutionary path, hating a rival group of Homo heidelbergensis because they might kill us all and steal our food was beneficial to our survival.

And somehow, in just three hundred thousand short years, that led to people hating one another for their skin color, religion, sexual identity, country of origin, politics they follow, way they dress, sports teams they watch, and art they enjoy.

Everyone has an opinion. And I truly believe all opinions are valid.

Those opinions may not be defensible (XY, you have zero say in what XX decides to do with their bodies.) Or they may be defensible (We are going to destroy the planet if we don't reduce human-caused greenhouse gases.)

No matter your opinion, right or wrong, you are entitled to it, and entitled to shout it out everywhere. Even if you are an ignorant pinhead.

Free speech is required in society. It allows ideas to be exchanged and debated. Asshats who are relentlessly negative, clueless, bigoted, stupid, raised-wrong, and incapable of using logic, reason, common-sense, or facts to form their dumb opinions, must still be allowed to voice those dumb opinions.

And you, as an open-minded skeptic with a thick skin, are allowed to calmly and dispassionately engage and refute those opinions without ad hominem attacks or any other fallacious endeavors.

Unless you are a public figure.

Some public figures should be openly criticized, and should defend themselves. Those we elect to serve us should suffer the slings and arrows of voters with opposing viewpoints, so that they may better govern. Unleash your inner hater to comment on the injustices you perceive due to unequal representation in politics. And, through town halls and public debates and social media, discourse can happen between those who govern and those who elect them.

This is required.

But other public figures aren't allowed that opportunity.

If you play sports, professionally, you will be publicly hated, and so will your team.

If you are an actor or director, you will be publicly hated, and so will the movies and shows you are involved in.

If you make music, you will be publicly hated, and so will your music.

Create YouTube videos that you pour your heart and soul into even though you don't make a dime? Publicly hated.

The down votes and dislikes and mean comments will always follow you, because people have opinions and they believe if a series finale doesn't live up to expectations its just as enraging and terrible and worthy of a petition as the twelve million tons of plastic dumped into the ocean every year.

Unlike the sociopath politician, who probably doesn't want to have to deal with the finicky voters and would much rather govern with absolute control, but must engage sometimes because there are laws in place, other public figures have one rule and one rule only when dealing with criticism.

Shut up and take it.

Some moron can take twenty seconds to write a venom-filled screed that publicly lambastes something you worked on for ten months, and your options are to ignore it, or ignore it.

That seems one-sided and unfair, doesn't it?

I'll watch sports figures getting roasted on Twitter for a bad play, and my first reaction is, "Wow, not a single person slinging the hate could ever play professional sports."

How do I know that is 100% true? Because unless you are in MMA, professional sports players don't trash talk each other. They are respectful in public. Probably because it would bring negative press. But maybe part of it is because they know how much work it takes to become a professional sports player, and there is respect there.

You'll never see me give a one star review to anything. I'm an artist. I know how hard art is. Even art I don't like. Even if the art is demonstrably terrible.

Even though the Internet makes it sooooo easy.

I could spend every waking hour bashing other artists. I could even make a living at it (no one misses you, Roger Ebert.) I could even do it anonymously.

But I don't do that.

Others do, though.

This is because, from an evolutionary standpoint, we are still fighting with other tribes over who gets to hunt in the mammoth breeding grounds. And by fight, I mean face-to-face combat to the death.

But modern technology lets us vent that pent-up aggression instantly and without consequence. And not at people taking our food, but at people who created a prequel we didn't like.

Face-to-face? Ha! You'll likely never meet whomever you are criticizing.

And if they have the temerity to fight back? They can't do that! They're a celebrity! They have to take criticism and not respond, because that's their job!

Welcome to the Internet. Technology that could improve humankind, reduced to a megaphone for schoolyard bullies.

For the insecure, the quickest way to feel better about yourself it to put someone else down. Especially someone who won't defend themselves. This will never change. There will always be haters. And artists will always have to ignore it and never engage with those haters.

That said, I'm a writer, with a blog about writing and publishing, and this blog gives advice based on years of experience, hard work, deep thinking, and how I'm feeling based on what I had to eat today.

So here is the Writer's Guide To Dealing With Haters.

RULE 1: Don't Read Your Reviews

I know that this is easier said than done. Especially when you first put a book out there, and you are desperate for feedback. Resist the temptation to read what people are saying about you. Their opinion of you, and of your story, is none of your business.

RULE 2: Do Not Engage

Okay, you're human, and you accidentally read a 1 star review where some baby compared your book to a giant pile of horse shit except your book would attract more flies. Then this baby goes on to spout a whole bunch of lies about your book that are just plain incorrect.

It doesn't matter. Don't respond. No matter how tempting, you cannot defend yourself. It will always backfire.

RULE 3: Don't Write Negative Reviews

This should go without saying. You shouldn't bash your peers. Or anyone, really, except for politicians. Treat people on the Internet like you would treat them if a friend introduced you at a party. Always.

RULE 4: Pyt

This is a Danish word, sort of a combination of "shit happens" and "no big deal." You don't need to get over it, because it was never a thing in the first place.

We don't have control over how other people act. We do have control over how we react. As a writer, you will get reviews. If something is inevitable, unchangeable, and impersonal, the most you should react is by shrugging, maybe with a knowing little smile.

Pyt.

RULE 5: Haters Gonna Hate

What Peter says about Paul reveals more about Peter than Paul. That bad review has nothing to do with you. Someone with a very small mind and a very unhappy life needs to attack art to feel better about themselves. Who cares? Not your problem. You don't have to deal with them. And it isn't going to hurt your sales, or harm other peoples' opinion of your book.

Do you know why? Because you have bought and enjoyed books that others have given one star. If you don't care, no one else cares.

To sum this up in one sentence; Ignore critics because people suck, be a nice person, and if you run into anything negative, pyt.

Q: But Joe! What if I have legitimate problems with some work of art and I want to protect people from making the same mistake I did?

A: Take a good long look in the mirror and keep repeating "Nobody cares what I fucking think" over and over until you go hoarse. Because nobody cares what you fucking think. You aren't protecting others. You're being a petty, selfish dick.

Q: But Joe! What if I'm writing thoughtful, heartfelt opinions, backed up with examples and logic?

A: Save that for reviews of art that you like. Writing positive reviews is encouraged. Hate should not encouraged, ever. You're not marching to save the rain forest. You're annoyed because you feel you wasted some of you leisure time. Get over it.

Q: But I'm allowed to say what I want!

A: Here's a litmus test:

Would you say it directly to the artist's face, live on stage in front of ten thousand people?

If not, don't post it.

Would you say it directly to the artist's face if the artist was a mixed martial arts expert and had their teeth clenched in rage?

If not, don't post it.

Would you say it directly to the artist's face if you knew their mother just died and they couldn't stop sobbing?

If not, don't post it.

Would you say it directly to the artist's face no matter what?

If so, you're a douchebag. Fuck off.

Now go read WHAT HAPPENED TO LORI, by latest novel, which debuted for free.

If you hate it, cool. Write a review anyway. I promise you won't have to say it to my face. :)

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

An Email to Jack on His Birthday

Hey Jack.

Cool name.

My name is Harry McGlade. I heard you've read about me.

The guy who writes about all the awesome shit I do, J.A. Konrath, also known as Joe, told me it's your birthday today.

Happy birthday!

I remember turning 15. Best year of my life. I was on top of the world, and so happy all the time that you couldn't smack the smile off my face with a hockey stick.

Joking. Being 15 sucked sweaty balls.

School was brutal. I was pudgy, short, had a high voice. Got picked on. Had to deal with bullies. My grades were shit, and my merry-go-round of foster parents were always riding my ass about that. I didn't have any close friends, and I had no love life at all. I'd never kissed anyone. Never even had a date. Every day was a living hell.

You couldn't pay me a billion dollars to go back in time and be a teenager again. You know why?

Because you don't have a billion dollars, Jack. And time travel is impossible. You should know that.

If time travel was possible, there would be time travelers everywhere, walking around acting like "Look at me, I'm from the future, and I got an iPhone 37! I can use it to call Moses!"

But we don't see that. Because there are no time travelers. And because Moses isn't real.

Neither is Santa. Hope I didn't spoil that for you.

Where were we? Oh yeah, you brought up time travel billionaires.

C'mon, Jack. You can't come at me like that, bro. Bragging about having all that money and a time machine. That's insane!

(But if you actually do have a billion dollars and a time machine, hit me up.)

WTF was I talking about?

Right. Being a teenager was tough. I bet it's even harder for you. Transgender? Dude, I don't even know you, but I can imagine all the shit you have to deal with.

Actually, I CAN'T imagine it. No one can imagine it, unless they've gone through the same thing.

You're super brave, bro.

When I was your age, I was confused a lot about a lot of things. There was no one who understood me. I liked boys, and girls, and pretty much everyone no matter how they identified, and I didn't understand why. And back then, there was no internet. I couldn't find other people like me. Bisexuals were called faggots and got spat on. There term 'pansexual' wasn't even invented yet. People actually thought gender was fixed. They really believed that who you were attracted to was a choice, like you could turn off what turned you on.

What a bunch of backwards-ass pinheads. And some folks still haven't caught up to modern reality. Sad.

So I got a lot of hate and a lot of weird stares when I was your age. Or people tried to fix me. Like there was something wrong with me. Like my feelings were wrong, because they were different.

Turns out, there was nothing wrong with me. I liked what I liked, and that was fine. I am what I am, and my feelings are just as valid as anyone else's. Problem isn't me. It's the world.

People fear and hate and laugh at and try to change the things they don't understand. It's an unfortunate aspect of human nature. They think we need to look and act a certain way, and if we don't fit that mold, we're freaks.

That's garbage.

I never had body dysmorphia, so I don't know what that feels like. No one does, unless they go through it. I bet it's hard. I lost my hand. And even though its gone, sometimes I can still feel it. Phantom Limb Syndrome, it's called. Weird, huh? But you can't really understand it unless it happens to you.

For the record, I DO NOT recommend losing a hand. Just clarifying that. Had to relearn how to wipe my ass. Took four months. Four dark, messy months.

Worst part? I bite my fingernails. You don't want to bite the brown nail, buddy. Yuck Factor One Billion.

But pretty funny. Gotta laugh at yourself sometimes.

Anyway, the world has gotten a little better since I was your age. There are still asshats everywhere, but there are some good people, too. I've got a BFF named Jack Daniels that you know about. She's pretty cool. Her husband Phin is cool, too, and the dude is smoking hot. They accept me for who I am, and don't judge.

It's hard to find people who don't judge. I bet it's really hard for you. When you were a kid, everyone treated you like a girl. You had a girl name. You still have girl parts and girl hormones, and you know that doesn't feel right, and people don't understand.

And now you're telling people that you're not that girl with that old name, you're someone else. You're really a man named Jack.

Cool name. My buddy, Jack Daniels, would be real proud of that.

Gotta be tough to feel one way when the world sees you another way. Kinda like Bruce Wayne, and when he grows up he realizes he's the Batman. Maybe he's always been the Batman, but the only one who understands him is Alfred. No one else does.

Is it me, or did Bruce and Alfred have a gay vibe? Maybe it's me.

Anyway, I bet people have a hard time trying to understand you. I bet you don't even understand you sometimes.

Or maybe I'm wrong, and you've figured it all out and you've got your shit together and Everything Is Awesome like in the Lego Movie (I couldn't get that effing song outta my head for weeks—I actually thought about suing those little plastic bastards).

If you have figured it all out, let me know your secret. Because I'm 54 years old and I'm still confused about a lot.

But some things I do know. I'll share a few of these things with you, as a birthday gift. Which is great for me, because it doesn't cost me any cash.

I know you didn’t ask for advice, and I get that. I’m an old white guy, and most of the problems in the world are caused by old white guys. What the hell do I know about anything?

Well, I don’t know much about what it’s like to be you. But I know a little about what it’s like being me. Maybe some of it applies.

So let the Harry McGlade Wisdom commence...

Life gets better as you get older. You have more control over things, and you can find where you fit in. Right now you have to put up with stuff. You're not an adult yet. You live at home. You have to go to school. You don’t feel right in the body you have. But when you get older, things change. You aren't forced to do as much, you get to make all your own decisions, and life gets better. I promise.

There are people out there who like people like us. And there are people who love people like us.

Never trust a fart. I just shit myself the other day, in line at the theater to see the new Godzilla. I blamed the smell on the old lady behind me, and then flushed my underwear down the toilet in the movie theater bathroom, which clogged it up and caused a big shitwater flood. Some kid came in and slipped on it and got all soaked with shitwater--dude was wearing white too--and it was so funny I couldn't stop laughing. So, actually, that story has a good ending. Unless you were that kid. But, truth, kid looked like a real d-bag and probably deserved it. Also, Godzilla was fun.

Where was I? Oh yeah, life lessons.

Pets are the best.

There will always be people who don't understand. But there are always people who do understand. Find those people. Those are your people. And the ones that don't understand, forgive them. They don't get it.

Everyone is a consumer. But you also need to give back. Everyone takes. Not everyone gives. Be a giver.

At the same time, no good deed goes unpunished. Sounds funny, but it seems like every time I do something nice, it comes back to bite me in the ass. For that reason, never do anything and expect to be thanked. If you help someone, do it because you feel they need help. Don’t expect anyone to be grateful. Haters gonna hate, no matter how nice you are.

Never buy a burrito from a food cart. You're just paying for diarrhea. Explosive, sudden diarrhea. The kind that fills up your socks. The burrito may smell good, but resist, dammit! It's a hot zone of tasty viruses waiting to turn your colon into a firehose.

Don't litter. People who litter suck.

My life philosophy is this: Learn what you can. Pass along what you've learned. Leave the world a better place because you lived. And have as much fun as possible.

So do lotsa fun stuff. Whatever your thing is, do your thing. I like to fish (Catch and release, and fish don't feel pain. Look it up.) I like some sports. I don't like camping, except the shitting in the woods part. I love media. Not news media. Pop media.

Movies (The Abyss is my fave), TV (Invader Zim, ATHF), music (Neil Diamond and Judas Priest, don't judge) videogames (Adventure for the Atari 2600 is still the greatest videogame ever made and don't fight me on this), and of course, books.

My fave fiction books are The Judas Goat by Robert B. Parker (read that and see how much Konrath stole from that guy), and Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris (Konrath stole a shitload from that guy, too). But a caveat; Silence of the Lambs probably has the WORST depiction of a transgender person ever written. The villain kills women to wear their skins. I'm pretty sure that isn't common in the LGBTIQ community. I've never seen it, and I've seen A LOT.

Best non-fiction books are Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer (that will scare the hell out of you) and Far From The Tree by Andrew Solomon. You should get your parent to read Far From The Tree. Konrath's father was gay (he's dead now) and Joe raised a kid with developmental and behavior disorders, and this book helped Joe understand both his Dad and his son much better.

What other wisdom can I impart on your 15th birthday? I'm full of wisdom. I'm also full of beer and pizza. Chicago has the best pizza. Anyone who tells you different is wrong.

Forgive people who are wrong. Sometimes you'll be wrong. When you are, admit it, and apologize.

What else?

Learn to forgive yourself. I'm still working on that. I've done a lot of stupid shit. Like, a whole lot. But torturing myself with regret is pointless. I've made mistakes, but I've learned from them, so I guess I had to make them, even though they hurt like hell.

Life hurts like hell sometimes.

When you feel bad, talk to someone about it. And if you're feeling really, really bad, talk to a professional. A doctor. I've popped so many Zoloft in my life that when I piss on a flower bed, the flowers starting singing like a Disney movie. But the correct, prescribed meds can help with depression. So can a good shrink. No shame in that. We all need help sometimes.

Wear sunscreen. If you don't get the reference, Google Baz Luhrmann.

Never give up. You know Konrath wrote ten books and got over 500 rejections before he got published? He spent a decade of his life feeling like a failure because he couldn't sell anything. But he kept at it, he never quit, and eventually Whiskey Sour sold to a big publisher in New York.

And now Konrath has sold more than 3 million books, and the ungrateful asshole doesn't pay me a single dime. Bullshit, right? I'm the best thing in those books! Everyone knows that!

What other gems can I bestow upon you on this happy day of your birth? Did I mention pets are awesome? Did I talk about poo enough times? Poo is funny when you're 2 years old, and it's still funny when you're 102 years old. Hell, I'm wearing a diaper right now. Not for any medical reason, but the bathroom is like fifteen steps away from my desk.

I think that's everything I know.

Konrath is going to send you a Dropbox link, which has all of his books. You know I'm in more than just those drink books, right? Shit, have you read Banana Hammock? That whole book is all me! Timecaster? The Chandler series? I'm in all of those, and more. If you want the whole list, check my website.

When you get the Dropbox invite, accept it, and you can download all the .mobi files of all the books for free, then sideload or upload them to your Kindle or preferred reading device. I'd give you instructions, but you're 15. Figure it out yourself, smart guy.

And that's it from me. Your parent emailed Konrath and said you read his books and your birthday was today. Pretty cool parent. But that cool parent probably didn't expect me to write you instead of Joe. Especially me swearing and talking about the Hershey squirts every four sentences.

But you've read my books, so nothing in this email should shock you. Might shock your parent, though. Tell them not to be pissed at me.

Lemme know you got the Dropbox link, and if you have anything to pass along to Konrath, I'll tell him.

I'm raising my beer right now and toasting your transition, if that's what you decide to do. I'm guessing it won't be easy. But it wasn't easy for the Batman either. It wasn't easy for me growing up pansexual, or losing my hand. It wasn't easy for Konrath, dealing with all those rejections. It wasn't easy for that d-bag kid at the movie theater who got soaked with shitwater.

If life were easy, nothing would have value. It's the hard stuff that makes us realize how strong we are.

And you're strong. You're stronger than I'll ever be.

Happy birthday, Jack.

Cool fucking name, brother.

Best,

Harrison Harold McGlade


Joe sez: I've posted this email with the permission and encouragement of Jack and his parental unit.

If you aren't familiar with my work, and couldn't grasp the context, it's written in the POV of one of my characters, Harry McGlade, who happens to be in a few dozen of my books.

Jack chose to call himself Jack because he likes another one of my characters, Jack Daniels. Which is the coolest thing one of my readers has ever done. I wept when I heard that. I'm teary-eyed right now.

When I began this blog in 2005, I decided it would be about writing and publishing. I didn't want it to ever get political or personal. Different people have different viewpoints, and everyone is entitled to their opinion, and whether I agree or disagree with your ideologies has nothing to do with the focus of this blog.

But, you see, this blog post IS actually about writing.

I'm a 49 year old white straight male. When I grew up, the media was full of white, straight males. I was represented in books, movies, music, on TV, in comics, and pretty much everywhere.

I have never known what it feels like to be discriminated against. And I don't know what it would be like to grow up without seeing anyone similar to me in the media.

When my father was 49, he was diagnosed with cancer. He died at 50. Dad was openly gay toward the end of his life, but for most of it he was closeted. He married a woman because that's what he thought he was supposed to do. His doctors, his church, his parents, treated homosexuality as a bad choice, as a sin, as a mental disorder.

Back in 1972, my father went to a university to get “help” for being queer. Aversion therapy, they called it. They showed him a slide show, and whenever a homosexual act was depicted on the screen, they literally shocked him with electricity.

Disgusting and barbaric? Yes. Did it really happen? Yes.

My father was told by EVERYONE that his sexual preferences were wrong, and he believed them. He went to this “treatment” in the hope he could get “better.”

Many years later, we all know that homosexuality is not a choice, and it is not a disease, and there is nothing wrong with being queer. It’s natural, healthy, and should be viewed positively. Dad eventually embraced being gay, married a great guy, and lived happily for years before cancer took him.

My father was born with those feelings, and they were normal, and I understood why he divorced my mother, and I had a great relationship with him. But society made him afraid, ashamed, and feeling like he needed to be fixed. No one ever told him he was normal. They treated him differently. They made him feel bad about himself. And when he was growing up, he had no positive representation in the media.

After my father died, the main character in my thriller series, Jack Daniels, discovered her father was gay. I did this to honor my dad.

There are some who say that a straight white guy shouldn't write about anything other than straight white guys. I can understand this viewpoint. As I mentioned, I truly don't know what it is like to be discriminated against. How can I truthfully and honestly represent what I can never understand?

That said, I also wrote a book about Satan imprisoned for a century in an underground government facility. I have never been imprisoned for a hundred years. And I have never met Satan. I write about serial killers, and cannibals, and active shooters, and cops, and veterans, and scientists, and clones, and I am none of these things. I make shit up for a living.

As my career has advanced, and I've become older and hopefully wiser, I've tried to show more diversity in my books. My readers are diverse, and they want to read about more than white cis guys. So I try to write positive characters from different of points of view and walks of life. I write about people of colors and races that don't match mine. I write about people with different gender identities. I write about people with disabilities. I write about people with a variety of sexual preferences.

In short; I write about people.

So, for National Pride Month, I'm giving everyone reading this blog a writing exercise.

See? I told you this was about writing.

Your homework is to look at your Work In Progress and ask yourself, "What am I showing my readers?" And, more specifically, "What am I showing my readers who aren't representative of me?"

Look for diversity. Look for stereotypes. Look at the positive role models, and the negative role models, in your words.

Consider who is reading it, and what they'll think.

Because guess what? The LGBTQ+ community reads books. People with disabilities read books. People of color read books.

If you white cis guys want them to read YOUR books, maybe you should think about your characters a bit more.

And for those who aren't white cis guys, for people everywhere on the gender spectrum, for people of of all races, colors, cultures, and religions, for people with illnesses and disabilities, for women, and for the LGBTTQQIAAP community; we need to hear your voices. I think I'm a pretty good writer, but I'll never be good enough to really understand your struggles, your triumphs, your perspectives. You need to write books to enlighten people like me about what it's like to be you. Also, please feel free to write about white straight guys, even if you aren't a straight white guy.

And for all you bigots, for people who hate others because they are different, for all the bullies, for the haters, for the homophobes, for the misogynists, for everyone who nurses prejudice in public or secretly, for those who make fun of people who are different so they can feel better about themselves, I have a message for you, too. Hate speech is protected by the First Amendment. We need to hear your small-minded ideas. We need you to express your fears and insecurities by lashing out at those who don't agree with your ideologies.

Ha! Kidding! You bigots can fuck off. Keep your hateful little circle jerk to yourselves. You can come sit at the adult table again when you've opened up your small, petty minds to a concept called equality.

We've come a long was since 1972. But we have a long way to go.

Everyone deserves acceptance. Everyone deserves representation.

And most of all, every writer should have a fan as cool as Jack.

Happy birthday, bro. I agree with Harry McGlade. You're braver than I'll ever be.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Trying Something New and Different

I recently wrote what I believe is my best work. It's an epic gearshift thriller duology, and took more than a year to plan and write.

Me, the guy who wrote SHAKEN in 9 days, spent twelve whole months carefully crafting a story.

I was so jazzed at the final result that I gave it to my agent to sell, thinking I had a big, marketable bestseller with a huge hook and unpredictable twists and water-cooler-talk potential. A book that would generate lots of buzz and word of mouth and sales.

My agent sent it to 47 North, Thomas & Mercer, Simon & Schuster, Harper, Tor, Blackstone, Kensington, and Del-Rey.

They all rejected it.

Admittedly, this surprised me a bit. Not a whole lot, because I know this series isn't easy to pigeonhole.

First of all, it's long. Over 180,000 words for the duology. Paper costs money to ship and print, and a 500 page hardcover book could be prohibitively expensive for the publisher, and the reader, who would be shelling out $30+ (twice, once for each book in the series) in a shrinking hardcover market for an author who has never had a NYT bestseller.

Second, I invented a new type of punctuation for this series. I think it's pretty invisible, and it makes telling this story much simpler and smoother, but it is still pretty odd, possibly even haughty.

Third, the first book ends on the mother of all cliffhangers. That might piss off readers, and reviewers, who would have to wait a year to see how everything turns out.

Fourth, it's a gearshift thriller. Gearshift narratives are always risky. Not an easy sell.

Fifth, even though I've sold three million books worldwide, I've been a bit outspoken about legacy publishers, and some of them might be stoking resentment.

So while I was a little disappointed I didn't get a big offer, deep inside I knew that if a publisher did go for it, they likely wouldn't have any idea how to make this series a hit.

But I think I have an idea that could work. Maybe being solo and nimble and fast can be a big advantage, like a tiny mammal in a world if dinosaurs. I can make changes instantly. I don't form decisions by committee. I don't need 18 months to prepare a release. I can slip this in just in time for summer.

These publishers don't share my vision.

But I believe there's an audience out there for this series. A potentially large audience.

I just need to figure out how to find that audience.

BOOK 1 is currently available on Amazon.

Then, at the end of summer, I will release BOOK 2.

Of course, BOOK 2 can be pre-ordered right now on Amazon.

Click on the covers for more info.

               

Now let's have a quick Q and A:

Q: What's the pitch for BOOK 1?

A: Here's the jacket copy:

Three people.
Each has a secret.
Each has an agenda.
All three are liars.

One of them committed a terrible crime.
One of them is on the run.
More than one of them is a killer.

These three people are about to find out what happened to Lori.
And they're going to wish they never did…

WHAT HAPPENED TO LORI – BOOK 1: GENESIS
Is she dead? Or is it much worse?

ABOUT THE BOOK
What Happened To Lori is a gearshift thriller series comprised of two 90,000 word books. This unconventional thriller bombards the reader with intriguing questions and eye-popping scenarios, pulling you deeper and deeper into a complex--yet highly entertaining--web of mystery, secrets, sex, double-crosses, lies, voyeurism, torture, and deceit, leading up to the biggest mind-blowing twist in modern genre fiction.

Book 1 sets the scene, introduces the main characters, and pulls you into a wicked plot involving a missing woman who is presumed dead, her obsessed grieving brother, her off-kilter ex-con husband, and the mysterious mercenary her husband hires to replace her...

You may think you have it figured out.

You're probably wrong.

What Happened to Lori will stay one step ahead of you right until the epic, unexpected, universe-shattering conclusion.

Welcome to the modern thriller. It will blow your mind.


Q: Why not release both parts at once?

A: There's a copywriter term known as the curiosity gap. Essentially, it's the discrepancy between what someone knows and what they demand to know. The goal is to keep someone engaged without boring or discouraging them.

If you know your sex terms, its like edging.

So I'm literary edging.

That's what I tried to do with WHAT HAPPENED TO LORI. How we read and absorb information has fundamentally changed in the last twenty years, with the rise of the Internet and social media. I wanted to write a book that used traditional narrative structure, with conflict, rising action, and resolution, and full character arcs, and good vs evil, and engaging storytelling, and do it in a thoroughly modern way.

But I also wanted it to function as literary clickbait. Episodic TV has become the norm, with story arcs that aren't resolved until the season finale. We surf the net, going from site to site, our dwindling attention spans eager for new tibits of information.

Why not try this style with books?


Q: You said it's a gearshift novel. What's that?

A: BOOK 1 is a Did He Do It? love-triangle thriller with some unconventional elements, like the punctuation and the structure.

BOOK 2 is absolutely insane, and goes someplace wildly unpredictable. The story shifts gears, hence the term gearshift. A few movies that do this are Something Wild, From Dusk Till Dawn, Full Metal Jacket, and Psycho. These films begin with the viewer thinking they are headed in a certain direction, and then they turn on a dime and become something... different.


Q: What do you mean it has unconventional punctuation?

A: You'll understand it when you read it. I hope it catches on. It makes writing a whole lot easier, and much less intrusive for the reader.


Q: Are you doing that clickbait curiosity gap thing right now by not telling us what you mean?

A: A little. I'll give you a different example. Speaker attribution is intrusive. Saying "she said" after a line of dialog is supposedly invisible to the reader, but it's also a waste of the reader's time, and a waste of words on the page. Why should we have to read words to understand who is speaking?

I don't use speaker attribution in WHAT HAPPENED TO LORI, but that's not what I'm referring to here. There are ways around speaker attribution that don't involve new punctuation.

In LORI, I did something else. Something I've never seen before.


Q: And you think readers are going to like this?

A: Some will. Some won't. In fact, I expect that some people will absolutely hate this book. Hate it more than any book they've ever read. Because of the punctuation. Because of the structure. Because of the cliffhanger. Because I keep posing more and more questions and trickling out answers like crumbs to the starving.


Q: Sounds like more clickbait talk.

A: In a way, it is. I've written and sold decent thrillers since 2003. I wanted to try something more provocative. More modern. More catchy.


Q: So I'm guessing readers will be able to order Book 2 for around ten bucks, right?

A: Book 2 is available for $4.99, which is about average price for an ebook.


Q: In your titles you have (Mind-Blowing Twist Thriller Duology). That sounds like title stuffing.

A: It's not. I purposely named this series Mind-Blowing Twist Thriller Duology. I think it's catchy and will stick.


Q: Do you have a marketing plan?

A: I do.


Q: Didn't you just do a blog post about marketing plans not working?

A: I did. But it ain't science if you aren't constantly testing your hypothesis. Here's my plan for Lori.

1. Publish BOOK 1 for free on Nook and Kobo, and for 99 cents on Amazon (since you can't publish free books on Amazon.)

2. Price match on Amazon so it becomes permafree.

3. Write this blog post to explain what I'm doing.

4. Put the links for the books on my website.

5. Write a blog with a deeper explanation, and spoilers, on www.WhatHappenedToLori.com. I'm using a blog instead of a webpage because it will allow for comments, and I'm hoping people will want to discuss this series because it's so insane.

6. Send out my newsletter touting BOOK 1 for free. Anyone who wants to write a review of BOOK 1 can send me a link to their review with the email header LORI REVIEW before July 31, and I will send them BOOK 2 for free, before it is released to the public. So you will get the juicy, secret deets before the rest of the world, and all you gotta to is write a review.

7. Mention on Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit. Advertise with Ebook Booster, Goodreads, BookBub, Twitter, and Facebook.

8. Do a newsletter swap with several other authors. More on this in an upcoming blogpost. I've done successful newsletter swaps in the past (that's where you get some authors together, everyone puts their books on sale at the same time, and everyone promotes everyone else's books in their newsletters.) I've come up with a simple and innovate way to make this much easier for all involved, and infinitely repeatable with minimal work.

9. Keep doing ads and newsletter swaps and asking for reviews, maybe do some podcasts and Facebook videos, until as many people have heard of this series as possible.

10. See what happens. If I get a lot of pre-orders for BOOK 2 and make a few bucks, I can put a pre-order link for a spin-off series in the backmatter of that and continue writing books in this literary universe. It's a fun, albeit complicated, world to write in.


Q: What if this bombs?

A: If the sales suck and the books are poorly received and reviewed (which I would guess is mostly because readers hate the cliffhanger at the end of the first book) I can just unpublish BOOKS 1 & 2 everywhere, and publish solely on Kindle Unlimited as a single, super-long novel for $6.99. That would be like starting from scratch, eliminating all ranks and all reviews. All I've wasted is a few months and a few hundred bucks in ads.


Q: What if you're getting a lot of downloads and leaving money on the table?

A: I can raise the prices on one or both books whenever I choose to.


Q: Do you actually think this will work?

A: I dunno. I can't even guess. It all comes down to luck. But if I fail, it will be my failure on my terms.

I've released dozens of books, and I always release them the same way. Here's a chance to do something different. Something that no publisher can do. Something I've never seen any other self-publisher try.

Plus, this story is uniquely suited to this sort of release.

So I'll give it a shot, stay diligent, and cross my fingers.

Please read WHAT HAPPENED TO LORI BOOK 1 and review it. Even if y ou hate it. I am curious who is in CAMP HATE, and who chooses CAMP LOVE.

You can help by spreading the word. Get on social media and tell your followers that WHAT HAPPENED TO LORI BOOK 1 is free.

You can upvote my Reddit post here.

See those square symbols beneath this blog post, next to the comments? Please click on the t and the f to share this blog post on Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Your Book Marketing Plan Won't Work

So you wrote a book.

Hooray.

Now you should celebrate. Enjoy the moment. I suggest craft beer. My go-to is barrel aged stouts, invented and perfected by Goose Island. But Prairie Artisan, The Bruery, Alesmith, Founders, Stone, Central Waters, Epic, Boulevard, Oskar Blues, and Avery also work well. More suggestions welcome in the comments.

Now, after celebrating, you are creating a marketing plan.

You're nervous, but you've been an avid student, devouring everything you can on how to sell books. And you've discovered a lot of chatter about a lot of things, including:

SOCIAL MEDIA

The catchall go-to for all authors. You have two Facebook pages, a personal one and a public one. You're on Twitter. You're on Instagram and Tumblr and Pinterest and Flickr and Reddit and 4chan and 8chan and Kboards and Goodreads and Blogger and you are constantly posting new and interesting content because you're smart enough to know that yelling "BUY MY BOOK!" doesn't sell anything.

Guess what? Posting new and interesting content doesn't sell anything either.

When was the last time you actually bought anything because someone liked it on Facebook? Or retweeted a product link?

Your social media isn't going to sell much for you. This blog gets millions of hits a year. You're one of them.

How many books of mine have you bought? Can you name any? What's the latest one?

Sure, maybe some of you have, and you'll comment that you have. But for every comment I get, there are thousands of hits from those who don't comment, and don't buy shit. I track my sales when I do a new blog post. The needle doesn't move.

THE HARD TRUTH ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA

You're not going to sell a lot of books on social media. While social media does help inform fans that you have a new book out, or something priced cheap, it won't amount to many sales.

That's not to say you should ignore social media. But it isn't going to cover your car payment. Stop thinking it will.

HOW-TO BOOKS

There are a shitload of How To Become An Amazon Bestseller books for you to spend your time and money on, and you may think that reading them will give you some secret insider knowledge of how to sell a million ebooks.

Those books are full of shit.

First of all, check the book's Amazon ranking. Then check the other books that author wrote, and their rankings.

If they aren't in the Top 1000, their advice isn't working.

Second, if you know how to write a bestseller, why aren't you writing bestseller after bestseller? Why are you writing How-To books?

Makes no sense.

THE HARD TRUTH ABOUT HOW-TO BOOKS

There is no book you can read that will help you improve your sales to a degree that was worth the time and money you wasted on it.

Feel free not to believe me. Feel free to tell me about the book that helped you sell a zillion copies. But beware: I'm gonna check your rank and post it and make you feel stupid.

ADVERTISING

Throw money at the problem, right? Nevermind that all advertisers acknowledge that success is sporadic, efforts require constant tweaking and diligence that could be better spent writing, and the only difference between advertising and gambling is that gambling has a better return on investment.

I mean ALL advertising. Can it work sometimes? Sure. Is it worth the risk, the time, the money, the emotional investment?

I say no.

THE HARD TRUTH ABOUT ADVERTISING

You're doing well if you break even. And while you can crow about the intangibles of "finding a new fan who buys your whole backlist" the fact is that any serious attempt to explode your sales using ads will require you spending a LOT of time tweaking them, and a LOT of money buying them.

I've spent tens of thousands on advertising over the years. NOTHING is guaranteed. They all require a lot of thought and effort. And all the effort you spend on ads is less time you spend writing.

MARKETING SCIENCE

Why are books special snowflakes? Why not treat your book like any other commodity and sell it using a good old business plan? Do a SWOT analysis. Use Strategic Thinking. Identify your target audience and reach them using a combination of advertising, give-aways, contests, publicity, and identifying influencers that you can partner with.

THE HARD TRUTH ABOUT MARKETING SCIENCE

You are someone's target audience. You are actively marketed to every day of your life; online, on TV, while you commute, listening to the radio, shopping, dining out, travelling, pretty much every waking hour.

How many books do you buy based on any of the above?

Answer: few to none. Which brings us to...

PUBLICITY

If you can get on NPR and get your book reviewed in People Magazine and get Jay-Z to retweet you and get a guest spot on Johnny Carson you can sell a lot of books.

THE HARD TRUTH ABOUT PUBLICITY

If you manage to do any of the above--and you probably can't--but if you can, you WILL sell some books... in the short term. Once the publicity ends, your sales will go back down. Look at any viral sensation for confirmation. When was the last time you bought a PSY album?

Smaller publicity like local radio or podcasts or blog interviews really don't move the needle much, and they aren't worth pursuing. You don't need a publicist. You don't need a press release.

SO WTF? HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO SELL BOOKS!?!

Luck.

THE HARD TRUTH ABOUT LUCK

No one can predict what will sell. If they could, every book would be a hit.

Everyone can tell you why a book sold well after it has already sold well, pointing to various things that were done that they claim led to the book's success. They are full of shit.

NOTHING guarantees success.

Not quality.

Not past success.

Not a big advertising budget.

Not a big marketing budget.

Not publicity.

Not social media.

Not any sort of plan that you read anywhere.

You can write the Best Book Ever, do Everything right, spend a Fortune, and not even come close to making any sort of money.

SO HOW DO I IMPROVE MY LUCK?

That's the question, isn't it?

I've driven myself half-insane trying to figure out how to sell ebooks. And I've sold a lot. But, like many, my sales have slowed down over the years. I used to make $800k a year. Now I make less than half of that.

Why?

Well, the reason I broke out and made major money was due to pure luck. Amazon created the Kindle and allowed authors to self-pub with DTP (now KDP). I was uniquely suited to exploit this new type of media because I had ten shelf novels that publishers had rejected, and I now had the opportunity to self-publish them while undercutting traditional publishers on price. Then, as ebooks grew in popularity, I got my backlist back and was able to leverage a whole lot of cheap books into a whole lot of money.

I still make a lot of money. But when Amazon introduced Kindle Unlimited, my income cut in half, and has never recovered.

Luck again. Amazon giveth and Amazon taketh away.

I have gotten some decent publicity in my time. It never moved the needle on sales.

I've had a very popular blog. It never moved the needle on sales.

I've experimented. A lot. I've done interactive ebooks (Banana Hammock and Stop A Murder), I tried Kindle Worlds (now defunct), I've had three pen names, I've combined some of those pen names so I had a consistent brand, I tried starting two ebook businesses, I've done book tours, I've done blog tours, I've traveled to 42 states, I've collaborated with over a dozen authors, I've tried many different genres (thriller, sci-fi, erotica, mystery, horror), I've done short stories and novellas, I've edited an anthology, I've done audiobooks, I've advertised, I've had some big publishers, and I've won a few awards. Plus, I think I write pretty good books.

And all that really counted was Amazon inventing the Kindle, and me luckily being perfectly suited to exploit that new opportunity.

Luck.

It came down to luck.

And now I have a giant backlist, and Amazon is so well run it continues to recommend my books to readers, and I still make a great living.

More luck.

But...

It is possible to improve your luck and sell a bit more than random chance.

While I've poo-pooed all of the above strategies, they aren't all entirely bad. None are a magic bullet. None will guarantee sales. But if used cautiously, in moderation, you can give your sales an occasional boost.

Here are the things you need to do, in order of importance.

WRITE A LOT OF BOOKS

The bigger your backlist, the better. And if the books are quality (great writing, great covers, great descriptions) then that will help. Pricing also helps. I have found that I make more money going exclusive with Kindle Unlimited than I do going with with other publishers. I've found that the best price point is between $2.99 and $5.99, depending on length and age (newer is more expensive).

HAVE A NEWSLETTER

You may no longer need a webpage as an author. More important is having a Facebook page and a Wikipedia page. But you should be allowing people to sign up for your newsletter. And you should be sending out one newsletter a month.

What should you put in your newsletter?

ANNOUNCE SALES, NEW RELEASES, and PRE-ORDERS

You should have a social media presence, at the very least Facebook and Twitter. And you should engage people with enlightened conversation and content on these platforms. But every once and a while, mention when you have a book that is on sale, free, available for pre-order, or recently published.

The people who follow you want to know that. So tell them on social media, and with your newsletter.

ADVERTISING IN MODERATION

Why is it the authors who claim to make a killing by advertising their books are the ones selling books about how to advertise?

You should certainly experiment with AMS, boosting Facebook posts and Tweets, Google Adwords, Ebook Booster, BookBub, and any others that are out there. But here's the caveat; before you use any ads, look at other writer's ads and then check the sales rank of their books using those ads that you want to try. If GuaranteedEbookBestseller.com offers you a one-time only deal of advertising on their site for $99, check to see what books they are promoting, and check their ranks. That'll tell you how well that service works.

BE CONSISTENT

My career has been all over the place, and I've tried so many new and different things. I've learned from my many failures, and if I had to do it all over, I'd tell my younger self:

"One brand, one genre, stop experimenting, stop being a perfectionist, and just write five good books a year in the same series. Make sure they are professionally edited and formatted, have great covers and descriptions, keep length under 75k words, and make sure they have updated, clickable bibliographies in the back matter, pre-order pages for the next release, and newsletter sign-up forms."

That's it. That's the sum total of my years of knowledge and experience.

Doing that, along with a minimal social media presence and some moderate advertising, and maybe you can attain a following and make six figures a year.

Maybe. It still comes down to luck.

Stop worrying. This is all out of your control.

Stop trying to find the answer. There is no answer. No answer, no logic, no reason, not even any scientific cause and effect.

It's all luck.

So focus on the writing. It's the only thing you have true control over.

Keep writing good books until you get lucky.

That's your marketing plan.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

On Writing Shit

Back when I was on the conference circuit giving speech after speech about how to get published, I'd always preach that the most important thing a writer can do is, "Don't write shit."

It's 2019, and I may be ready to take back those words.

On axiom that I haven't considered taking back (yet) is that I never do anything that doesn't work on me.

That's worth explaining.

More than a decade ago, in the early noughties (so nice to finally have a word for the 2000s), I used to attend a lot of conferences, conventions, and book fairs, and every author seemed to be armed with an endless cache of bookmarks. Naturally, these bookmarks had info about the book they were selling; cover art, description, a blurb or two, links to the author's website.

Some were self-printed and looked cheap. Some were slick and professionally done; either the author shelled out some bucks, or the publisher did.

In any case, these giveaways had a time cost and a monetary cost, and a lot of authors used them to promote. The freebie tables were full of them. They served as a conversation starter and ice-breaker when meeting potential fans, and maybe some readers took them home and used them to remember which books they wanted to buy.

Maybe. But I doubt it.

I say this because I've been the recipient of hundreds of bookmarks, pressed into my hands by eager authors, and they never made me buy a book. I never even used a bookmark in my life; I dog-ear paperbacks and use the jacket flap for hardcovers to mark my page. So when I got a bookmark, it went into the garbage.

As the years went on, I began confronting authors about bookmarks. Partly because I was a know-it-all prick in my younger days, but partly because I was genuinely interested in human nature and helping other writers.

Whenever someone handed me a bookmark, I'd ask, "Have you ever bought a book because someone gave you a bookmark?"

Some authors told me they did. But at least half of them would go wide-eyed with self-realization, and I got the chance to witness their moment of "Why the hell am I doing this if it doesn't work on me?"

Bookmarks don't work on me, so I don't give them away.

I don't click on Facebook ads, so I don't buy Facebook ads.

I've never gone out of my way to go to a booksigning, so I no longer do booksignings.

And so on. I'm not saying that these things don't ever work for other authors. But if it doesn't work on me, I don't do it.

The converse is also true. We all need to pay a lot more attention to why we buy books. How did you hear about it? How many steps between your awareness and the point of sale? What were the factors that lead to you buying? And so on. Someday soon I'll do a more detailed post about how we convince ourselves to buy stuff.

But today I want to talk about writing shit.

It seems like a no-brainer, right? If you own a restaurant, your food can't suck. There are other things that contribute to a restaurant's success; location, decor, pricing, service, cleanliness, menu, etc., but the one thing a restaurant needs to do is serve decent food.

At least, it makes sense to believe that.

It also makes sense to believe that your book has to be good. We all work hard on our writing, and I've never met a writer who doesn't care what readers think. We want to entertain and impress. We want to make lifelong fans.

And that starts with a good book.

Or so I used to believe.

I had a very popular post ten years ago debunking the so-called Tsunami of Crap. TLDR: there are billions of books to read, a few more million shitty ones won't destroy reading as a pass-time.

I still believe this. But I've begun to refine it.

Going back to the restaurant analogy, I am blessed to live in an area where good eateries abound. I have favorites, depending on the food type. Every so often, I have a mediocre meal or experience at a place I normally enjoy, and I usually give the joint a second chance. If I have two bad meals, I don't ever go back.

But I'm beginning to believe that this doesn't translate to readers and books.

People are creatures of habit. I just went to jury duty, and while waiting to be called I sat at a table off to the side. A woman joined me, and we spent three hours on our respective Chromebooks, then left for the lunch break. When I returned, I purposely changed tables, moving one to the right, because I know that people always return to the seat they had earlier and I like to consciously break that evolutionary quirk of human nature.

The woman who sat with me earlier sat with me again. Not because I'm a thrilling table-partner--we didn't really talk. But she saw me as her reference point, and sat in what she thought was her old seat, not even knowing she was one table--about twenty feet--over to the right. Another juror approached us and mentioned we'd moved over a table because he came back and was irritated his old table had been taken.

Interesting, ain't it?

We are creatures of routine and habit. We gravitate toward the familiar, because it is safe.

So now I'm going to tie all of these disparate points together.

My wife, Maria, reads a lot more than I do. She loves thrillers, and goes through 3-5 per week, getting most of them on Kindle Unlimited. If an author she likes isn't free on KU, she will spend up to $6.99 for the ebook. But never more than that. She has favorite authors whose ebooks are released by publishers for more than seven bucks, and she won't read them until they are on sale.

She's been doing this for years, like clockwork.

Not coincidentally, she is my audience. Both literally--I write books intended to please her--and figuratively, because Maria represents my average reader.

So while I normally tailor my efforts to things that work on me, like never giving away bookmarks, I've taken to tailoring book-related stuff to things that work on my wife.

And I've noticed an interesting habit of hers.

When Maria is reading a mystery series, she keeps reading it.

Forever.

She will audibly complain, at midnight in bed while finishing a novel on her Kindle, about how shitty the book she just finished was...

...and then she immediately gets the next book by that author. If it isn't for sale yet, she'll preorder it.

Like me, she'll give a restaurant two tries before walking away forever. One bad meal is a fluke. Two bad meals means we'll never go back. But with books, her capacity to endure and even devour bad writing is eye-opening.

Maria doesn't abandon authors.

Maybe she keeps hoping they'll go back to writing the way they use to write, when they first hooked her.

Maybe she reads so much that she forgets who wrote what and when she sees a familiar name she reads it because she forgot the last few experiences were bad.

Maybe it's just easier to ride with the devil you know than the one you don't.

Actually, I'll ask her.

Joe: Hey babe, why do you continue to read an author if their last book was bad?

Maria: Because I like their characters.

Joe: What would make you stop reading an author?

Maria: Too expensive. Multiple bad books.

Joe: How many bad books before you quit an author?

Maria: I dunno. Four.

Joe: Have you ever actually quit an author?

Maria: No. Wait, yes. One. He became too expensive. And he changed genres.

Joe: You read about five book a week?

Maria: Yeah.

Joe: How many are sub-par?

Maria: Two.

Joe: And you keep reading those authors anyway?

Maria: Yes. I forgive them. They had a few crummy books, but I hold out hope the next one will be better.

My takeaway: My wife has read thousands of books, and the sole author she abandoned was because he dropped out of Kindle Unlimited. She kept reading him even when he switched to a genre she didn't enjoy, and kept reading him even though his quality went down. Ultimately though, price was the ultimate reason she left him.

According to her numbers, 2/5 of the books she reads are below average, and she STILL READS THOSE AUTHORS!

Mind officially blown.

In most cases, it takes me 2 to 3 months to write a 80k word novel. About 1/3 of that time is rewriting/polishing/fixing/tinkering/making it better.

But I'm beginning to think I'm wasting a full 1/3 of my writing time.

My first drafts are pretty good. They're lean, and fast, and the character arcs and plot rarely need tweaking. The rewrite polish is mostly spent on housekeeping stuff; adding color, exploding certain scenes, adding more drama to the climax, salting in a few more jokes, changing word choices, putting in a few more clues or callbacks.

And sometimes a book is short, say around 60k words, I'll spend time expanding some scenes or adding a few to beef it up to 70k+, because I want to give good value to the readers who still pay for my stuff rather than read it via KU.

So I spend a full 1/3 of my time as a writer trying to make a grade B book into a grade A book.

I think I'm wasting my time.

Why write longer? Why write better? What's the benefit?

Readers will forgive me if I phone-in a book. Or four. Especially with a series. As long as my first 12 are solid, I could probably make the next 6 mediocre, or even shitty, and most of my fanbase will stick with me.

Now, I'm not talking about releasing a book with errors in it; plot problems, story problems, typos, formatting probs, and so on, even though Maria forgives authors for those indiscretions, and according to here they happen in about half the ebooks she reads.

I'm talking about releasing a book that would average 3.7 stars from readers, whereas if I spent an extra month on it, I could average 4.2.

Seems like a gigantic waste of time. And speaking of...

I just spent an ENTIRE YEAR writing a novel. Not SHOT GIRL, which took three months (1/3 of which was spent polishing it). I'm talking about a book that hasn't come out yet.

I'll blog more about this epic 180k word novel in a future blog post, because it challenged me more than anything I've ever written, and I refused to settle for anything less than a perfect translation of the story I saw in my head.

But now that I've finished that giant novel, I'm wondering if I wasted an entire year. Rather than torturing myself to try to get something perfect, I could have done four novels that were great. Or six novels that were pretty good. Or eight novels that were mediocre. Or ten novels that were shit.

And if I'd done ten novels that were shit, that likely would have made me the most money out of all the options above.

I can't explain how big of a mindjob that is to me. It is so counter-intuitive to everything I've learned as a writer, and everything I've learned about self-promotion.

Better isn't actually better.

More is better.

Faster is better.

Flash beats substance.

Loyalty trumps all.

Because we no longer need gatekeepers, were are the guardians of our own quality. And the reader I count as representative of my core audience is pretty much telling me that I don't have to try so hard, because she'll repeatedly forgive me.

This almost always bears out with Big Name Authors. Authors who have been around for twenty years and always appear on the bestseller lists. Some of them--not all, but some--get terrible reviews by readers on the latest books. Comments about "phoning it in" and "cashing a check" and "not the series I loved ten years ago."

Yet the books keep selling. A three star average doesn't stop a bestseller.

So does that mean McDonald's wins? Quantity over quality? Mediocrity over excellence? Cheap and fast over a richer experience? Are we such creatures of habit that we'll stick with a writer in decline just because we had happy memories of a book of theirs they wrote in 2003?

Well, hell, I think so. Much as I hate it.

And not just because Maria feels that way. I realize I do the same thing. I just ordered the new Thomas Harris novel, even though the reviews have been bad, and even though I didn't enjoy his last two books. But I loved his first three, so I'll continue to buy him.

And, newsflash, the new Thomas Harris is every bit as jawdropping as the reviewers are saying.

But will I buy his next one? Yep.

I've been to 42 states, and the best hamburger in the country is at The Assembly, which, gratefully, is close to my house. I'm a burger connoisseur. I've eaten them everywhere.

I've been to The Assembly four times this year.

But we've gotten fast food burgers at least twenty times.

Fast and cheap and mediocre beats teriffic.

Have you ever stuck with a TV series even though it dropped in quality?

Sure you have. We all do.

Everything I know says I need to stop spending so much time rewriting. And I also think I spend too much time in the planning stages of writing; working on outlines, making sure I have enough twists, cleverly seeding in clues for the big "a-ha!" moment.

I am wasting my time trying to turn "good enough" into "great." Which, ultimately, is a subjective, arbitrary notion, because I've struggled to make books as perfect as I can make them and there are those that still don't like what I've done. I get one star reviews, same as every other author.

Which begs the question; if I get one star for something I worked my ass off on, it's not like that reader could give me less than one star if I didn't work as hard on it, so why am I bothering?

So... should I just write shit?

There are books I've picked up, self-pubbed and legacy-pubbed, and I can't even get through the first few pages without cringing because the writing is bad.

And I mean objectively bad. I mean being able to take a red pen and point out why the sentence doesn't work and why the paragraph isn't needed and why the story doesn't actually start until page 15.

But many of these authors outsell me.

There's also a good chance that I'm wrong. What I consider "objectively bad" is really subjective, because I'm a huge pile of neuroses and riddled with envy. If something is that popular, it can't be bad.

Can it?

I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I published a book less than a grade C. I'd feel lousy. I love writing, and I wouldn't want to release something I wasn't proud of.

But I could live with Bs. I was fine with getting Bs in school. Why put in all that extra work to turn a B into an A when I won't lose readers for a B?

This moment really hit home for me two years ago, when I rewrote my first three novels. I blogged about it.

In a nutshell, I created a character named Phineas Troutt when I was in my early twenties, and wrote three novels with him as the protagonist. They didn't sell to publishers. Years later, I used Phin as a supporting character in my Jack Daniels books, which did sell.

All of my other early rejected books found their way onto KDP, and some of them have earned a lot of fans and a lot of money. So I thought I could release my first three novels with minimal work and make a quick buck.

It didn't work out like I'd planned.

When I began to polish them, I realized how shitty they were. I was young and didn't know what I was doing. So I rewrote all three, and because it was Experienced Joe fighting with Newbie Joe over what could stay and what needed to be fixed, it took me longer to rewrite them than it would have taken to write three books from scratch.

I'm proud of the rewritten books. I think they are among my best work.

But they didn't sell as well as my Jack Daniels books.

My time would have been better served writing Jack Daniels instead.

I am 100% convinced that I could have self-pubbed my original novels with minor changes and made the same amount of money as I've currently made on those books. The reviews would be justifiably bad, but it would have benefited my career because I'd have new six books out instead of three, and the three new JD books I would have written would have sold more copies, and the three old Phin books I didn't rewrite would still make a few bucks and my fans would forgive me.

What does this mean for writers?

Do we write books that are good enough and then move along, or do we hold onto those books until we can make them better? If all signs point to readers being forgiving and sticking with authors, shouldn't we be listening?

I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to test my hypothesis.

SHOT GIRL took three months. Lots of research, lots of planning, a good deal of polishing.

CHASER is my next Jack Daniels book.

I'm going to start writing it on July 1 and see how quickly I can finish, and I'm not going to follow my normal routine of taking a month to make it better. I'll get it proofed and get that sucker out there and see how it compares in sales and reviews to my other books.

This isn't unusual for me. I wrote SHAKEN in nine days. Amazon published it without a single change.

I think I need to get out of my own way, stop letting perfect be the enemy of good, and see what happens.

Let me take a moment here to bring up a salient point; I'm an established writer with a fanbase and over 70 books that have sold over three million copies worldwide and have tens of thousands of positive reviews.

I like to think that I've written some good, even great, books. My numbers bear this out. Longtime fans will stick with me if I write something so-so.

But what if the first book of mine that a reader discovers is so-so? Will they go on to read more of my work? Or does it end right there?

I have no idea. And I'm not sure how to test this idea, other than write a mediocre stand-alone under a pen name and see how it does.

That seems... counterproductive.

Which probably means I won't be able to release something I'm not happy with under my own name. My ego won't allow it, even though my brain says it's the smart move.

What do you guys think? Spend a lot of time to make something a little better? Or stop wasting time trying to turn a good book into a great book and hope your fans are as forgiving as my wife?


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Let's Ban All Firearms... Or Not


What a long, strange trip it's been.

I began this blog over fourteen years ago, in March of 2005. I shared my experience with the traditional publishing world, and in 2009 dipped my toe in the self-publishing world, and then became an evangelist for the self-pub revolution.

It's been head-spinning to watch how the publishing climate has changed since I last blogged regularly. Advertising has become practically essential for self-pubbers to keep their heads above water. Marketing via social media is mandatory.

I have thoughts on ads and marketing, but those thoughts will be for an upcoming post. And I will begin to post regularly again about publishing, marketing, advertising, and promotion.

Today I want to talk about guns.

I've never used my blog for political reasons. I'm not about to start doing that. I don't care who you vote for, but you should vote. And before you vote, you should inform yourself about the candidates you both support and oppose.

It's almost impossible to see both sides of something. And it's extremely easy to assume someone is a bad person because you don't agree with their opinion on a certain topic.

Politicians LOVE this flaw in human nature, and exploit the hell out of it.

Be smarter than that. Seek out different viewpoints, not the echo chamber. Spend more time listening and less time trying to shout about how correct you are and how those who disagree are wrong and stupid.

Today, May 21 of 2019, we have so many important topics that need to be discussed. Racism. Gender discrimination. Abortion laws. Climate change. Us-Vs-Them politics. #MeToo. Net neutrality. Fake news. Public shaming.

All of these topics are important.

But lately, I've been fixated on guns.

For as long as I've been alive, America's love/hate relationship with firearms has been a polarizing political issue.

My views on this are centrist. I own guns in Illinois, which has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation. I keep my guns locked in a safe. The only time I use them is at the gun range. I've taught my family, and countless friends, how to shoot, and the rules of gun safety.

I also believe that we would benefit from stronger gun laws. Being for the Second Amendment doesn't mean I want someone with a history of mental illness to be able to walk into a department store and walk out with an M16 and five thousand rounds of armor piercing bullets.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I just published my twelfth Jack Daniels novel, SHOT GIRL. It was a tough book to write.

In it, a diminished-capacity ex-cop has to defend a retirement community, using only her .38 revolver, against an active shooter with a modded fully-automatic weapon and a duffel bag of fifty-round drum magazines. During a hurricane.

Of course it's during a hurricane. It's a JA Konrath book.

When I wrote WHITE RUSSIAN last year, I knew it was a set-up for the above scenario in SHOT GIRL. But I didn't realize how much all of the gun research I needed to do would mess with my head.

It's terrifying how easy it is to acquire a gun. An unstable person with a little bit of smarts can do a whole lot of damage in a short amount, and no other method of murder comes close.

While SHOT GIRL is a thriller, meant to entertain, I also used it as a vehicle to inform. About gun safety. About gun buying and selling. About gun laws, on state and federal levels. I detail Homeland Security's instructions on what to do if you are in an active shooter situation. And I present both sides of the gun debate--I believe fairly--without taking sides.

I want you more than entertained. I want you woke.

None of the events I detail in SHOT GIRL are real. Though active shootings have become epidemic in the US, and around the world, the ones I refer to in my book are wholly fictional.

But they are based on fact.

I don't offer a solution to our gun problem in SHOT GIRL. I leave that for you, the reader, to ponder. But I am certain we have a problem. And I do believe the situation I describe in SHOT GIRL is likely to happen.

I get paid to make stuff up. And I really wish I the things I wrote about in SHOT GIRL were all make-believe.

They're not.

Active shootings are happening on almost a daily basis. My parents, children during the Cold War, had Atom Bomb Drills. Today, our children have Active Shooting Drills.

This is a very scary, and very real, part of our everyday life. And we need to be more informed on the topic. We need to know why this problem exists. We need solutions other than "ban all guns" or "arm everyone."

What we have to do, as a people, as a nation, is elevate the level of our discussion about firearms. We need to listen to those we disagree with, and try to come up with compromises that help all of us be safer.

I wrote SHOT GIRL to scare the hell out of you, no matter what you believe about guns. I want it to provoke discussion. I want it to open some eyes and some minds. I want H.R. 820 to pass in the Senate, and I want people who disagree to tell my why they want to shut down H.R. 820.

Were you even familiar with H.R. 820 before I mentioned it? If not, why not? Why isn't every American talking about it right now?

Let's have this elevated discussion. With our families. With our friends. And with those who oppose our views.

Because if we don't, the stuff I wrote about in SHOT GIRL--an active shooting situation that will threaten almost a thousand people--will inevitably happen.


Jack is a retired cop who knows and respects firearms. A recent victim of gun violence, she is confined to a wheelchair, getting physical therapy in a rehab facility, and teaching handgun safety and Second Amendment history to the elderly residents.

A thousand miles away, a very disturbed individual with a modified 9mm pistol, a thousand rounds of ammo, and a singular obsession--to make history as the biggest mass murderer ever--decides to make that fantasy a reality.

It has been said the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

Jack is about to find out if that's true.

SHOT GIRL by JA Konrath
America has 300 million guns. This is the story of one of them.

SHOT GIRL is available in Kindle Unlimited, and is also for sale as an ebook and a paperbook.

Please read it, and review it, and share it, and discuss it.

I'll be back to blogging about publishing next week.