Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Writing Scams

In my previous post, I talked about how important validation is for writers. There are many reasons why.

Writing a book, even a bad book, is a big accomplishment. You spend months, or years, creating an entire universe. It's hard work, lonely, egotistical, empowering, magical, mysterious, fulfilling, and depressing. When you finally write THE END, few things in life compare with that feeling.

Naturally, you want others to recognize your efforts. Perhaps even pay you for them.

Most first books aren't very good. Because personal opinion plays a part, it is harder to judge the quality of good writing. Paint an apple that looks like an apple, and you will be considered a decent artist. Play a song on the piano without messing up, and you will be considered a good musician. Finishing a book does not mean you will be considered a good author.

Most first authors don't know this.

Rather than treat publishing like a business (as they should) some authors treat themselves like artists, and then look for a way to legitimize their efforts. Even neophyte writers know this means:
  1. Getting an agent
  2. Getting published

With most artistic endeavors, there is a learning curve. Writing has one as well, but it is harder to see.

I've written at length about how screwed up the publishing business is. But the business is a result of years of evolution and attrition. As problematic as it may be, it has become a way for writers to prove their worthiness as artists. It proves that there are no easy routes to getting an agent, or getting a book deal.

Authors that break in must meet some minimum requirements. They must tell competent, salable stories, based on the opinions of professionals who work within the industry.

It is hard to impress these professionals.

As such, since publishing became big-business, another type of big-business arose--validating the writer through alternative means.

A book is an intensely personal thing. Rejection is hard. Many new writers cannot get validated through the NY publishing scene, so they seek alternative methods.

Here are a few, and why they are bad.

FEE CHARGING AGENTS - An agent is someone who earns 15% of the rights sales she makes on behalf of a writer. Agents need no license, no degree, no training. Anyone can call herself an agent.

Getting a good agent is hard to do, because they have high standards. Even though they work for the writer, they have all of the control at the beginning of the relationship.

Some authors don't think that they have any choice in the matter--they're stuck with whatever agent accepts them. Read the writing tips on my website for more about good and bad agents.

When a cow is slaughtered, there is a lot of blood and extra bits and pieces that are of no use to the slaughterhouse. But this waste has spawned cottage industries that buy the offal and use it in pet food, fertilizer, and many other things.

This is what happened in publishing.

A bad agent can't stay in business--no sales means no money. But even bad agents were swamped by needy writers, begging to be represented. So the bad agents came up with a plan. They would charge the writers a small fee.

A struggling writer craving validation will happily pay $50 a month (supposedly for costs related to running an agency like Xeroxing, phone calls, messenger service) to have an agent.

Do the numbers. If a fee-charging agent has 100 clients, she's making $5000 a month for doing nothing.

How hard is she going to work to sell your book? Not very hard at all.

The bottom line: never pay an agent money. Visit "Preditors and Editors" "Writer Beware" and "Association of Author's Representatives" to find good agents and avoid bad ones.

WRITING CONTESTS - It's hard to publish short stories. There are only so many markets, and they tend to be picky.

Along came the contest. Pay $5, or $10, or $50 for a chance to win $500.

Do the numbers. If a 1000 authos pay $10 each, the person running the contest makes $10,000. They pay $500 to the winner, and pocket the rest.

The legitimate contests don't charge fees. And there's no guarantee winning the contest will do anything for your career. I could put in a query letter "I won the Randolf Award, the Zimmer Prize, and placed second in the Zamboni Fellowship" and the editor won't care.

The story is what matters, not the number of awards the writer has won.

If you have a good story, submit it to a paying market, or a contest that doesn't charge any fees.

PAID ANTHOLOGIES - Here's another quick scam. You submit a poem, and it gets accepted into an upcoming poetry collection. You get excited, tell all your friends and family, and then get a letter in the mail saying that you can purchase the anthology at $40.

Naturally you buy a copy, and so does Mom, and so does Aunt Grace and your best friend Phil. When you get the anthology, you see it is 700 pages long, and your wonderful poem is crammed on a page with seven others.

Do the numbers. If there are 3000 poems in the book, and each writer in the anthology bought at least one copy, the publisher made $120,000.

Poetry.com was infamous for this scam. They'd also invite writers to awards ceremonies, at staggering costs to the gullible writer, to receive a worthless award along with 1000 other 'winners.'

VANITY PRESS - In simple terms, a vanity press is a publisher whom the writer pays to get into print. Vanity presses often have contracts that hurt the writer (low royalties, excessive rights,) make false promises about distribution and sales, and deliver an inferior, high-priced product that you have to pay to warehouse and that you can't get into any bookstores.

A traditional press makes money through book sales. A vanity press makes money off the writer.

PRINT ON DEMAND - POD is a type of press that eliminates the warehouse fees by creating single copies of books to order, using a special photocopy/binding machine.

Some call it a technology, which it is. Some call it vanity, which is can be.

If there is a contract between the press and the author which requires the author to pay money and also discusses rights and royalties, it is a vanity press.

POD books are even more expensive that offset printed vanity books. They aren't returnable, and can't be distributed. They don't look, feel, or even smell the same as regular books. Like vanity presses, they aren't edited edited for content, and they publish anyone with enough money. There is no 'weeding out' process like there is in tradional publishing, and so many bad vanity books have been produced that there's a stigma associated with them--and the stigma is well-deserved.

Some well known POD vanity presses include Xlibris, PublishAmerica, iUniverse, and AuthorHouse. Avoid them.

Many writers want to self-publish. If that's your goal, hire a printer and learn about the business. Paying someone else, either POD or Vanity, to publish your work is a very bad idea.

Real publishers don't solicit authors. They don't send spam offering their services. They don't put ads in magazines. They don't mail you brochures. And they NEVER ask for money.

BOOK DOCTORS - After getting many rejections, a writer might begin to think her book isn't as good as she assumes. She'll want to make it better, but is unsure of how to do so.

Enter the freelance editor. Someone who charges a fee between $2 and $10 a page to 'fix' the book.

Some are legitimate, and can be helpful. Some are scammers who charge a few grand and make the book even worse. Like agents, there is no license, experience, or eduaction required to call yourself an editor.

My advice is to learn how to edit yourself. You should be able to do that anyway. But if you need a second opinion, and are willing to pay for it, get references. Know beforehand what you are paying for.

Some unscrupulous agents have worked with book doctors, selling them the addresses of the writers they have rejected. The rejected writer will receive a brochure in the mail, touting the book doctor's expertise.

Some bad agents will also refer writers directly to a book doctor, for a referral fee. Beware anyone asking you for money.

I have published author friends who successfully use freelance editors. I think your time and money are better spent learning the craft on your own. Take a class. Read books about editing. Join a writer's group.

If you really need a freelance editor, ask around. Getrecomendations from your peers. Don't pick one because they have a splashy ad in Writer's Digest.

SELF-PUBLISHING - I think self publishing is an option open to writers, but it involves a lot of time and effort, plus a lot of money. I'll defend self-publishing, but I do not recommend it--even though I know authors who have done it successfully.

Self-publishing is not vanity or POD publishing. A self-published author retains all rights, and doesn't share royalties with their printer. A self-published author creates their own imprint, gets their own ISBN, copyright, and Library of Congress ID, finds their own distributer, allows for returns, and knows up front the cost and effort going into their business.

I believe it is easier to find a traditional publisher than it is to successfully self-publish, and would recommend writing another book before trying to self-publish a book that has been rejected by traditional publishers.

THE BOTTOM LINE - Don't pay anyone any money for anything. If you do, do so knowing the risks involved. Education is your ally. Research is your friend. Ask questions. Seek answers. Trust your gut. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

The best things in life are the things that are earned, not handed to you. The harder you work for it, the sweeter success is when it arrives. Keep at it. Keep writing. Keep submitting. Never say die.

NY publishing is flawed. It's fallible. It wants to reject you. But it isn't an impossible nut to crack. Visit and sign up for www.publisherslunch.com and www.pwweekly.com. Each week there are new deals made with first time writers. It happens all the time.

The true secret to getting published is simple: Write a book that a complete stranger will pay $25 for.

Monday, October 24, 2005

At What Point Success?

I've been thinking about Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs, and the way human beings treat success, both their own and the success of others.

Are there criteria? Are those criteria universal?

When does an author become 'successful?'

  • Selling a book?
  • Earning a living?
  • Selling movie rights?
  • Hitting the bestseller list?
  • Having 1000 books in print? 10,000? 100,000? 1,000,000? 10,000,000?
  • Getting on television?
  • Winning awards?
  • Getting ten emails a week from fans? 100? 1000?
  • Having 100 website hits a day? 100,000?
  • Being ranked in the Top 50 on Amazon?
  • Getting paid for speaking?
  • Receiving fan mail?
  • Being known within your genre?
  • Being known by the general public?
  • Earning out your advance?
  • Getting a six figure deal? A seven figure deal?
  • Having your backlist still in print?
  • Being sold in Walmart?
  • Getting on Oprah?
  • Teaching and helping others?
  • Trying your best?
  • Being happy?

I know bestselling authors and self-published authors and many in between. I know writers with a lot of talent who haven't gotten published, and those who have gotten published without a lot of talent. I know that hard work plays a part, but so does luck, and luck favors the prepared.

But most of all, I know that if I ever want to be successful, my definition of success has to change.

The day I no longer need any kind of validation is the day I'll truly be successful.

Does anyone want to validate me on that?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Cinderella Boy

A year ago, I did a guest lecture gig at my alma matter, Columbia College in Chicago, for a graduate writing class.

One of the students, a guy named Marcus Sakey, offered to buy me a beer after class. We went to a nearby watering hole and began to talk shop.

Marcus wrote lit fiction, and was pursuing his Masters in the hope that one day he'd be able to write and sell a book.

I gave him my opinion--an MFA won't sell a book. Only a good book will sell a book. School and study is something you do INSTEAD of write.

I also told him that the market for lit fiction isn't very large, and asked if there were any genres he liked to read.

Marcus liked Dennis Lehane, who writes crime fiction.

"Then you need to drop out of school and write a crime novel," I said.

He picked up the check, and I promptly forgot about him. Until he showed up at an event of mine a few weeks later.

"I did it," he told me.

"Did what?" I asked. I couldn't remember who he was.

"I did what you suggested."

"Which was...?"

"I dropped out of school, stopped writing lit fiction, and am working on a thriller."

"Oh. Uh... that's great."

I'd hear from Marcus occasionally, and every so often our paths would cross. We'd talk about writing, and the publishing business, and the importance of self-promotion, and more often than not Marcus would pick up the check.

I began to like this guy a lot, not just because he kept buying me beer. He was smart, funny, and really dedicated to making it in this business. I soon considered him a friend.

Two months ago, my friend finished his first novel, called THE BLADE ITSELF.

It was good. Damn good.

Marcus queried some agents, and got two big ones interested. He signed with a great agency, who went out with his book a few weeks ago.

A few days ago, Marcus called, saying he'd gotten a modest offer.

The next day, he'd gotten a counter-offer, which was considerably better.

The day after that, he had a two book deal and was earning more money than I am.

I couldn't have been happier than if it had happened to me.

Are you a new writer, unable to break into the publishing world? Take heart. It is possible. Marcus is proof. Within a year, he went from college student to earning a living as a writer.

Look for THE BLADE ITSELF to be released by St. Martin's in January 2007.

Look for Marcus at a writing convention near you. Offer to buy him a beer, and then pick his brain about the publishing business. But don't be surprised if he tries to talk you out of getting that MFA...

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Calling the Guinness Folks...

Advance Reading Copies of RUSTY NAIL will be coming out next month. Bound into the front of each book will be a letter from me:


To my Friends in the bookselling biz—

Lt. Jack Daniels and I want to thank you for kicking so much butt selling WHISKEY SOUR and BLOODY MARY. Your enthusiasm has been the key to the series’ success.

For this book, Hyperion and I are doing something special—something never done before—to show our appreciation.

During the summer of 2006, I’ll be visiting 500 bookstores across the United States.
I’d love to stop by your store and say hello.

If you’re interested in having me drop in, please contact me through my website, JAKonrath.com.

I’m looking forward to seeing many of you again, and to meeting many of you for the first time. Now I’ll open the floor to questions.

Q: Did you really say five-hundred bookstores?

Yes. I wish it could be more—there are so many great stores and great people in this business.

Q: How long will you be on the road?

All of July and August.

Q: Do we find out what happens to Jack’s mother in this book?

Yes. Many characters from WHISKEY SOUR also return, like Phin and the Feebies. Plus, it appears that the Gingerbread Man is back.

Q: But I thought…

Shhh. Don’t spoil it for new readers.

Q: So if I want you to drop by my store, I just have to email you?

I’ll try my best to honor all requests. I love booksellers. That’s why I thank so many of them in my acknowledgements. In fact, two of the main characters in RUSTY NAIL are named after booksellers.

Anyone who sells twenty or more copies of my novels gets mentioned in DIRTY MARTINI, the fourth Jack Daniels novel. The one who sells the most will get to be the villain in FUZZY NAVEL.

Q: What does “JA” stand for? Are you a woman or a man?

I’m sorry, no more questions. See you this summer!

All best,

JA Konrath


Is 500 stores in 61 days really doable? That's only about 8 stores a day. In densely populated areas, I can hit 15 a day. In rural areas, I can visit at least 5. These are drop-ins, not full-fledged events. Half hour schmoozing, then on to the next.

I see three main problems ont he horizon.

1. Planning. Even wiyh my trusty GPS, I've got to have a route planned. That could take some time.

2. Travel. The US is big. Real big. And there are long unpopulated stretches that would interfere with my quota.

3. I may die of exhaustion.

In July, I visited 106 bookstores in 11 days. I could have done more, bcause 8 of those were events that lasted several hours. But I probably could not have been more tired.

So can I do it? Is it even possible? Will my family forgive me for being gone an entire summer? Will it generate some buzz and publicity? Will it sell books?

The future will reveal all.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Sandy Tooley Part Deux

Lots of animosity out there in cyberspace toward the self-published, which I don't exactly understand.

If you personally feel that those who self-publish are deluded, wasting their time, and are only in print because they have no talent to get a regular publisher contract, you're entitled to your opinion. But to insult them under the guise of being 'helpful' isn't helpful at all. It's hurtful, and doesn't serve any purpose.

Sandy Tooley is a success. Her books are selling. She has many loyal fans. If you decide to self-publish, she's an example of how to do it the right way. Full Moon Publishing has been around for a while, and is in no danger of fading away.

Sandy emailed me yesterday with these comments:

"I grilled my mother before her death and she assured me I am legitimate. No milkman involved.

Anonymous explained exactly why I submitted review copies and cover letters under a fictitious name: I wanted my books reviewed based on their merit, not PRE-judged as something self-published and unworthy of a read. My books have won numerous awards as well as a short story being a finalist for the Derringer Award.

As to memoirs, they are very hard to sell, as told to me by a number of publishers when I tried to find a home for the memoirs of a 78 yr old woman. Of course, if it is the memoirs of Paris Hilton's dog, it's a very easy sell. The six major conglomerates who control what gets published don't always base their selections on talent.

There was a time when a writer had to be published in hard cover to warrant credibility. Then times changed and they decided mass market paperbacks weren't so bad. Self-publishers were always there to kick around but now we have POD-published writers as the new can on the block to kick down the street.

I have been in the publishing business now for seven years. The only thing that hasn't changed is the stigma. As I mentioned in my interview in this month's issue of Crimespree Magazine, if this were any other business--filmmaker, home builder, software creater, recording artist--where the person chooses to learn the business and do everything on his own, he would be heralded as an innovative, self-motivated, free-thinking individual.

The other important point I have learned is the amount of money to be made when you own all your rights and control all facets of the business. I always tell other writers to first try to find an agent or publisher because doing it yourself isn't for the ill-prepared or faint at heart."

If you don't read Crimespree, and you're in the mystery business, pick up a subscription. It's a great mag.

I also happen to agree with Sandy's points.

Art is a popularity contest. The greatest artists are the ones that sell the most. Many artists were failures in their lifetimes, Van Gogh and Mozart come to mind. But their popularity caught on, and they became revered.

However, their work was just as good during their lives--it hasn't changed.

What makes an artist legitimate? Since art is subjective, there's only one true measure of an artist's success... the number of people who buy the art.

Sandy has over 20,000 books in print. In my eyes, that's a success.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Stuff They Don't Teach You

Over the weekend, I had a chance to attend a signing with Rob Kantner. I'm a big fan of Rob's, and have been for years, and was fortunate to write the foreword to his collection of mystery short stories TROUBLE IS WHAT I DO. Buy it. It's awesome.

I was short on pens, but Bill Castanier and Don Austreng both stepped up and gave me theirs. Thanks, guys! Afterward, Robin Agnew and Jamie, who run Aunt Agatha's Books, took us out for a beer.

While in Michigan, I also did a talk for the Deadwood Writer's Group at a Barnes and Noble. Met some cool folks, went out for a beer afterward.

Upon my return, I did a signing with some of my peers in Skokie, and afterward went out for a bite. Courtenay, the manager at the restuarant, overheard us talking shop and gave me a bundt cake because she loves to read. I gave her a copy of the December Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, which features my Jack Daniels story WITH A TWIST.

I just learned that for RUSTY NAIL, I'll be visiting 500 bookstores on my tour. A letter from me explaining the tour will be printed in the ARCs, coming out next month. This in contrast to a friend of mine, who called this morning to tell me his second book of a two book contract was in danger of being dropped, because the numbers for his first book weren't as high as expected. His book has been out for less than two months. Is that scary, or what?

With all of this fresh in my head, I made a list of some things about the writing business that you won't find in any How-To book:
  1. Talent has very little to do with success in this business.
  2. No one knows what will sell.
  3. Just because something is publishable, does not mean it will be published.
  4. Sometimes the unpublishable gets published.
  5. The writing business has more than its share of pettiness. But it also has more than its share of well-wishers.
  6. We tend to think of our successes as things that were earned, rather than the result of luck---but it actually is luck.
  7. Overestimating your own importance, or underestimating the importance of others, doesn't do anybody any good.
  8. Getting free stuff is really cool.
  9. It's necessary to work hard, but that doesn't guarantee anything.
  10. Few things compare to the joy of seeing your name in print.
  11. Helping others is almost as cool as getting free stuff.

I also got a call today from an MWA member, asking if I wanted to renew my membership. It's $100 for a year. I've been a memeber for three years, but can't come up with any good reasons to renew, other than 'everyone else is doing it.' Your comments?

Saturday, October 08, 2005

"Self-Publish" Isn't Always a Bad Word

Whenever anyone asks me if they should self-publish, I always tell them no. There are numerous reasons why this is true, the all-encompassing one being a learning curve.

I believe that getting published is something you earn, not something you buy. Searching for an agent and an editor, getting rejected, learning about the business, understanding the importance of structure, rewriting, and editing---all of that helps writers grow. Plunking down 400 bucks for a POD press is like giving a ten-year-old a Driver's License. Things worthwhile in life should be difficult to acheive.

But there are exceptions. Sandy Tooley is one of them.

Sandy began her own publishing company, Full Moon Publishing, and she works harder than most writers who are published through the big houses. Her books are attractive, professional, and damn good reads.

I caught up with Sandy at a recent event, and asked her about what it takes to be successully self-published. Newbie writers take note--this is a far cry from Xlibris, and proof that there are no quick-fixes to making it in publishing.

JA: Tell us a little about your books.

SANDY: I combine mystery with paranormal, fantasy, a little sci-fi, and sometimes horror. My Sam Casey series features a Native American detective who can hear the dead speak. My Chase Dagger series (written as Lee Driver) features a hottie male detective assisted by an 18-year-old shapeshifter. She can shift into a hawk or wolf. Shapeshifting is part of Native American mythology.

JA: Why did you create Full Moon Publishing?

SANDY: Fifteen years ago agents weren't too comfortable with cross-genre plots. I was told to pick one--mystery or fantasy--but don't combine them. I couldn't pick, didn't want to pick. After doing the query letter two-step for five years and rewriting my first book three times, I started researching self-publishing. In order to write my kind of book it was evident to me I would have to publish it myself.

JA: What are the differences between starting your own publishing company, and using a POD press like PublishAmerica or I-Universe?

SANDY: For starters, the first is the true self-publisher. A writer who goes with a POD publisher pays a set-up fee but that is as far as his monetary investment toward the publishing phase goes. The writer who owns his own publishing company obtains a business license, purchases a block of ISBN numbers, obtains a Library of Congress number for each book, decides which printer to use, what type of design to put on the cover, whether the book will be a hardcover, trade paperback, or mass market paperback, and determines whether to use a distributor, order fulfillment house, or handle his own stocking, orders, and invoicing. He basically is a small business and operates as a small business whether he is producing widgets or books.

JA: What are some of the challenges of running your own press?

SANDY: Getting the books into the stores and promoting the titles are the two challenges. A couple years ago Ingram, who is one of the major wholesalers to bookstores, decided to cut out most of the small press accounts. A small press had to have a certain minimum amount of sales to Ingram to be in their system. Many of the large chains order only through Ingram and if your book isn't in their system, you won't find it in their stores. A small press usually means small press run. I have a 3,000 press run on hardcovers so it is logical that I am not going to have a $250,000 marketing budget. I have to be careful where I spend my dollars, what ads to place, what mailings to conduct. I knew early on that I wasn't going to be able to travel the country to promote my books so I focused most of my marketing efforts toward libraries.

JA: How much of your time do you spend writing vs. publishing and promotion?

SANDY: I use an order fulfillment house so I don't receive the orders nor do I process them or chase people for unpaid bills. They handle it all. Months before a new title comes out I do a lot of work getting my mailing lists targeted, ads produced, postcards mailed. I try to keep my publishing expenses separate from my author expenses (conferences, travel) so I haven't quit my day job. I work three to four days a week at a retail store. If I could take that 32 hours and donate it to writing, I'd get a lot more books written. Unfortunately, I spend more time at my part-time job than I do publishing, writing, or promoting.

JA: Your books are very attractive, on a par with the major publishing houses. How do you handle layout and cover art?

SANDY: When I was researching self-publishing, I visited bookstores, checking out the display books, determining what motivated me to pick up a book. Was it the color? The design? The title? I knew I was going to publish hardcovers so I focused on dust jackets, the layout, how the plot was described on the inside flaps. I also knew I was going to write a series so I wanted one constant on the jacket that would tell people this was a book in the Sam Casey or Chase Dagger series. Enter my graphic designer in Santa Fe, NM. He chose a medicine bundle for the Casey series and a dagger for the Chase Dagger series.

While I looked at books that attracted me, I also looked at books that didn't thrill me, trying to determine if the color was unappealing or the cover art too graphic, not graphic enough. Just by looking at the cover the reader should know a book is a mystery, not a travel guide.

JA: How do you go about getting reviewed?

SANDY: Connie Shelton has a great book titled, Publish Your Own Novel. She had a list of the major and secondary reviewers. Some of the major reviewers only review hardcovers, which also helped in my decision to publish hardcovers. Also, Connie stressed the importance of getting the review copy into the major reviewers hands at least four months prior to publication date. This is probably one of the major mistakes made by publishers. They fail to adhere to submission deadlines. There are many great secondary reviewers who only want the finished copy. I usually do a 100-200 print run of POD trade paperbacks of the new hardover which I send out to reviewers and independent mystery bookstores.

JA: Why do you publish under two names?

SANDY: Another suggestion Connie made in her book was to use a fictitious editor name because authors don't usually send out their own review copies to the major reviewers, nor should correspondence to Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and other vendors come from the author. And there are one or two of the major reviewers, mainly large newspapers, who will not review a self-published book.

JA: Have you ever thought of giving up the press and going the traditional publishing route?

SANDY: I keep making a plus and minus list. On the one hand it would have to be enough of an advance so I can quit my day job. The one book a year is a tough pace to keep if you still work 32-40 hours a week. I know some people do it and I'd love to know how (must only be men), between the cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry...and I don't even have kids to take care of. On the other hand, I own all the rights to my books. I have sold the audiobook rights and large print rights. There are writers I love who have been cut by their publishers. It's frightening knowing if those great writers can't survive the budget cuts, how would a newbie fare?

JA: What's next for S.D. and Lee?

SANDY: I need my head examined for starters. I'm working on the fourth book in the Sam Casey and the Chase Dagger series plus I'm working on a new young adult mystery series, all simultaneously. Being a gemini, I keep thinking I can split myself into two or three people and still keep my sanity. I am entertaining the idea, though, of sending out my young adult mystery to a traditional publisher.

JA: Thanks, Sandy!

If anyone has more questions, contact Sandy through her website, www.sdtooley.com. And be sure to pick up her books to see how to do self-publishing the right way.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Still Life with Hate Mail

Another busy weekend. I dropped into the Great Lakes Booksellers Association convention, and had a chance to meet some wonderful book folks, and then dropped in the Joliet Authorfest, and got to meet more wonderful book folks. For more about Joliet, visit author Randy Richardson's blog. Randy's first novel, LOST IN THE IVY (a murder mystery centering around Wrigley Field) just came out.

While at GLBA, I mentioned to some Hyperion folks that I saw WHISKEY SOUR remaindered, and if it would be possible to purchase copies. I was told that WHISKEY has not been remaindered yet. Instead, 499 copies have been sold at a discount because they were slightly damaged, had torn covers, etc.

So I'm still full price, baby!

On another note, I received my very first Hate Email today. It needs a little set up.

I wrote a Harry McGlade short story called WHELP WANTED, in which Jack's obnoxious ex-partner must track down a stolen Sharpei. Harry, being an idiot, finds a Collie instead, and tries to pass it off as the Sharpei. It doesn't work, and Harry eventually stumbles across the right dog and unites it with its owner.

This is broad comedy, about as subtle as sitting on a hot stove. You can download a free pdf file by going HERE.

Here's how the story ends:


There was more playful wrestling, and he actually kissed his dog on the mouth.

“Kind of unsanitary, isn’t it?” I said.

“Are you kidding? A dog’s saliva is full of antiseptic properties.”

“I was speaking for the dog.”

Thorpe laughed. “Friendship transcends species, Mr. McGlade. Speaking of which, where’s that Collie you found?"

"It's back at my apartment."

"See? You’ve made a new friend, yourself."

"Nope. I’ve got a six o’clock appointment at the animal shelter. I’m getting him gassed."

Thorpe shot me surprised look.

"Mr. McGlade! After this whole ordeal, don’t you see what amazing companions canines are? A dog can enrich your life! All you have to do is give him a chance."

I mulled it over. How bad could it be, having a friend who never borrowed money, stole your girl, or talked behind your back?

"You know what, Mr. Thorpe? I may just give it a shot."

When I got home a few hours later, I discovered my new best friend had chewed the padding off of my leather couch.

I made it to the shelter an hour before my scheduled appointment.


Now whether you found that final line amusing or not, I'm guessing you still recognized it as a joke. It had the set-up. It had the defying of reader expectation. It had the absurd image. It had the familiarity.

In short, it was recognizable as comedy.

This is the letter I received:

I just finished listening to your short story that was included on the Bloody Mary CD I purchased and am appalled by the ending. I work for a non profit no kill dog rescue - how could you write something like that. It's ideas like that - that give others the idea it's OKAY to just dump a dog off. Do some research before you write something as awful as that we have had more than 100 golden retrievers come through our organization in the past year maybe those people read your book and thought that it was okay to just dump and dog and never try to work with it. I will NEVER read or purchase another one of your books. I usually give my Books on CD to our local library this one goes in the trash.


My initial reaction was disbelief. It's well known in the mystery/thriller community that you don't kill animals, because a certain segment of the popululation hates that. Which is fine with me. I've got two dogs (that I rescued from shelters) and while I try not to censor myself while I write, I can understand why hurting animals in stories is distasteful.

But apparently you also can't joke about killing animals. WHELP WANTED has zero violence. It's a parody of the private eye genre. And not only were no animals harmed in the writing of the story, no animals were actually harmed IN the story---it was just alluded to, as a joke.

I was halfway into an apologetic letter, when I realized that I wasn't sorry at all. That's how WHELP WANTED should have ended. It was a story about AKC show dog owners, and how obsessed they are with their pets. After 4000 words of describing people loving dogs, I wanted it to end on that sarcastic note---a complete about-face---which shows Harry for the jerk he is.

So instead of apologizing, I sent this email:


I'm posting your letter anonymously on my blog. Is there a rescue shelter website you'd like me to add that my readers can visit?

Harry McGlade, the protagonist of that story, is an obnoxious idiot. Surely you must have picked that up, listening to the whole story. No one would ever imitate Harry, nor would any stupid thing he did give anyone ideas.

Would you feel better knowing that after Harry's dog was euthanized, he ate it so nothing went to waste?


For those of you who would like to know more about helping animals, go to www.petfinder.com, www.animalshelter.org, and www.aspca.org. There are a lot of loving, wonderful pets out there that need a home, so next time you're thinking of adopting, go to a shelter.

Also, pound for pound, dogs have more protein and half the fat of beef.