Tuesday, February 28, 2006

35 Days

35 days after I began, DIRTY MARTINI is complete at 72,044 words.

I need a beer.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Relax, Don't Do It

Everyone has different ways to relax and unwind. When and how often do you:
  • Watch television?
  • Go out to eat?
  • See a movie?
  • Read a book?
  • Surf the Internet?
  • Play sports?
  • Drink alcohol?
  • Do drugs?
  • Attend a museum/concert/event?
  • Listen to music?
  • Sleep more than 8 hours?
  • Post on blogs/message boards/listservs?
  • Have sex (tandem or solo)?
  • Read a newspaper/magazine?
  • Go for a drive?
  • Exercise?
  • Go on vacation?

How many hours per day/week do you engage in the above activities?

And yet you can say with a straight face that you don't have time to write?

Your book won't get finished by itself. Thinking about writing, talking about writing, and writing about writing, are not substitutes for writing.

Writers write. Now move your ass.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


My fourth Jack Daniels book is due March 1st.

I've got about 15k left to write.

It usually takes me about a month to write a book. I began a little earlier than usual for this novel, because February is short a few days, and I had a conference and a few events that took up some of my time.

But I'm still behind schedule. This book required more research than previous books, and for the first time ever I actually got stuck (I needed to figure out how to commit an impossible crime, and then figure out how the police could thwart it.)

I've always been a last minute kind of guy. I'd do my homework on the bus going to school, the day it was due. I was still making edits on my final film project in college ten minutes before the festival ran it. When I give a dinner speech at a conference, I'm usually jotting down what I'll speak about during dessert.

My wife, a fountain of wisdom, patience, and beauty, casually suggested that perhaps I need to begin writing my books sooner than 40 days before they're due. I laughed at her.

"I do my best work at the last minute," I replied.

"You do all your work at the last minute," she countered.

I would have pursued the arguement, but---hey---I need to finish the damn book.

Which I will finish. It will be tight, but I'll burn the midnight oil and get it done. And according to aforementioned wife, who is reading the chapter a day I'm writing, it's my best book yet.

Which brings me to the topic of this blog entry.

How well do you work under pressure?

In the music biz, the second album traditionally sucks. The first was compiled over years of honing, rewriting, and reworking. The second has to be written and recorded in eight months.

Novels are the same. You have years to write your first book. Book #2 needs to be done within a year. And also within that year, you'll be doing a gazillion things for the first book, so you don't actually have an entire year.

The fact is, no matter when you begin your next book, you'll never have enough time, and you'll always feel the heat of the time-crunch. If I'd started six months ago, I can promise I'd still be in the very same situation I am now.

Can you flip your creativity on and off like a switch? Can you force the muse to appear when the pressure is on and the bills need to be paid and the deadline looms ever closer? And can you make sure the book is better than the previous one?

If so, you have a shot at succeeding in this biz.

If not, you may still succeed. But make sure you never sign multi-book contracts, be upfront with your agent and editor about how long it takes you to complete a novel, and don't bite off more than you can chew.

My goal today is 3500 words. That's about 15 pages. I know I can do it, and I will do it.

Can you?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


  • A need for self-expression?
  • Money?
  • An inflated sense of your own importance?
  • Fame?
  • Peer pressure?
  • To change to world?
  • Art for art's sake?
  • A need for attention?
  • To ease the pain?
  • For self-gratification?
  • To forget?
  • To remember?
  • It's better than working for a living?
  • Because it's important?
  • A need for acceptance?
  • Because you can't stop?

Why do you write?

Would you continue to write, if your career never got better than it is now?

Would you continue to write, if your career became worse than it is now?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Jim Crow Publishing

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, a heated discussion is raging about racism in publishing.

Some African American authors are being marketed solely as African American authors, and they're shelved in the African American section of bookstores, even though their books have absolutely nothing to do with African Americans.

In other words, a black author writes a sci-fi novel, or a romance, or literary fiction, and it's automatically catagorized as African American even if it doesn't contain a single black character.

Is this fair? Is it racist?

I encourage the folks already blogging about this topic to post their views here.

I also encourage the regular readers of this blog to visit http://bestsellingauthor.blogspot.com and weigh in on the conversation.

And finally, I encourage folks to post their views about this topic on their own blogs.

Why should you bother? Especially if you aren't African American?

Don't you remember that old adage?

When the Nazis came for the Gypsies, I did not speak out because I was not a Gypsy.

When the Nazis came for the homosexuals, I did not speak out because I was not a homosexual.

When the Nazis came for the Jews, I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

When the Nazis came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Your Own Personal Censor

How far is too far in writing?

I've read some pretty disturbing books. Horror writers Ed Lee and Jack Ketchum are known for not pulling punches, and their prose is often gag-inducing.

Bret Easton Ellis gained notoriety for American Psycho, and for good reason--it was revolting. Samuel Delaney almost destroyed his award-winning sci-fi career writing about the reprehensible anti-hero Hogg.

Books about racism (The Turner Diaries), illegal information (Anarchist's Cookbook, How to be a Hitman), and sadism (Justine, still as disturbing as it was a hundred years ago) push and then step over the boundaries of what is considered acceptable.

Yet there is something attractive about being a literary bad boy. About being able to shock using words.

Have you ever gone too far in your own writing? Is there a such thing as too far? What are things that shouldn't ever be written about? Are there any?

I'm bringing it up because the new issue of the wonderful online magazine Hardluck Stories is now available. The editor of this issue approached me, asking for a horrific crime story.

How horrific? I asked.

As horrific as you can make it.

So I gave him one.

I'm not a fan of purple prose, especially when describing blood and guts. So I tried to write a disturbing story without any description at all.

THE CONFESSION has no exposition, no speaker attribution, no description. It's all dialog.

But don't let that fool you. This isn't for the faint of heart. You've been warned.

Check it out for free at www.hardluckstories.com.

And then ask yourself---how far would you take your own writing?

Added Disclaimer: I'm serious about the warning! This isn't like my other stuff. It's really ugly. If words have the power to offend you, don't read it!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Future Tactics

The way to climb Mt. Everest is one step at a time.

The way to build the pyramids is one stone at a time.

Yet some writers believe that they can write one book, and it will catapult them past the pyramids, past Everest, to the top of the charts, with no dues paid, no steps taken, no stones lain.

It happens sometimes.

So does being struck by lightening while being attacked by sharks and simultaneously winning the lottery.

Luck occurs. But it favors the prepared.

This is a marathon, not a sprint.

The only way to win a marathon is to push yourself as hard as you can. Everyone else is simply trying to finish. To win takes something special.

It all begins with setting and achieving goals. Aim too high, you fail. Aim too low, and you won't even attain last place.

How are you training for this marathon?

My questions to my fellow writers, both newbies and published:
  1. What have you done today to further your career?
  2. What will you accomplish by the end of this week?
  3. What are your goals for the end of the month?
  4. On December 31, what will you have accomplished to win this marathon?

Greatness involves a plan. Have you thought about yours?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Talking 'Bout Your Reputation

Let's talk about reputations.

Writers have three.

The first, and most important, is your reputation with your fans.

The majority of this depends on the writer's books. Well-written, well-liked books will earn you a good reputation among your fanbase. And fans talk.

A writer's public persona, when meeting fans, is also important. Treating fans well can go a long way to helping a writer's career. Treating them badly can cause serious harm.

Some of your most important fans are booksellers and librarians. These are uber-fans. Give them uber-thanks.

The second reputation a writer must uphold is within the publishing business. What do agents and editors think of you? Honest, loyal, trustworthy, never complains and always makes deadlines? Or a whiney, hard to work with, conceited, spoiled brat?

The amount of time you survive in this business has to do with how many books you sell, but it also has to do with how well you get along with your key contacts in the industry. Being a jerk can come back to haunt you. I've seen this happen to friends of mine.

Finally, you'll have a reputation among you peers. This is the reputation that you have the least amount of control over.

Luckily, this is also the group that you don't need to worry about impressing.

Don't get me wrong---it's important to have some good contacts in this business among your peers. Being able to talk shop, let your hair down, and help each other with marketing, publicity, editing, etc., is a wonderful thing.

But you will have peers who don't like you. Always. And they'll talk behind your back. Or blog behind your back. Or both. Or worse.


Part of it is human nature. People talk about each other. Especially people in the same profession. No one is universally liked. If you think you are, you're wrong.

Jealousy or envy may come into play. You're getting more money. Better reviews. More press. More awards. More publicity. More exposure. Maybe you're a better writer, and they resent that. Or maybe you're a crummy writer, and they resent your success even more.

Sometimes personalities just clash. Oil and water won't mix, no matter how hard oil tries.

Hearsay abounds. Stories get twisted around. It's easy, while at the convention bar, to take a cheap shot at someone who isn't there, especially when everyone else is doing it.

Writers, for all their creativity, can be a pretty bitter bunch.

Should you worry about this? The back-biting? The name calling? The rumor mongering?


It isn't your job to impress your peers, because they aren't the ones buying your books. Your job is to impress your fans and your publisher.

The bigger a writer gets, the more people who will hate him. Look at all of the criticism Dan Brown, James Patterson, and Patricia Cornwell get. Some writers actually get angry when you mention one of these names to them. Get a room full of writers together, mention "Patterson" and "Art" in the same sentence, and watch the sparks fly.

Kind of makes you wonder, doesn't it? Maybe being hated isn't so bad...

Do I talk about other writers? Sure. But not in public.

Well, not really.

I've made some cheap shots about Cornwell's last few books, and I'm vocal about my hatred of Hannibal by Thomas Harris, but other than that, I keep my criticisms close to my chest. And there's a reason for this.

What Peter says about Paul often says more about Peter than it does about Paul.

Or, to put it in simpler terms: If you spend a lot of time spouting shit, people are going to realize you're an asshole.

So the next time you're Googling your name, and you come across some nasty comments, be proud. You've pissed some people off! Congratulations! You're on your way!

As Oscar Wilde said, "The only thing worse than people talking about you is people not talking about you."

Now get out there and please some fans.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Secret World of Blurbing

I blurb a lot of books.

I do this for three main reasons.
  1. A lot of authors have blurbed me, and I feel I need to return the favor.
  2. I know how hard it is for new authors, and I want to help.
  3. It can't hurt having my name on millions of covers.

It isn't easy to solicit blurbs, even though it is on the author's shoulders to do so. I've been turned down many times (sometimes in a very mean-spirited way,) but I've also managed to snag a few dozen blurbs from well-known, and bestselling, authors.

I've personally blurbed over fifty books. Does that make me a blurb-whore? How important are blurbs anyway? Do they work? Do authors really read the whole book before they blurb? Do they blurb books that suck? Do they exaggerate? Do they lie? How do you turn down a request for blurbs?

I have an article about how to solicit blurbs on the TIPS pages of my website called Blurbs 101. If you're looking to get blurbs, I explain how.

For this blog entry I'd like to talk about it from the blurber's POV, rather than the blurbee's.

So now, in the interest of full disclosure, I will make myself a pariah in the publishing world. I will truthfully answer what no other author will dare answer, and it will probably come back to haunt me.

I'm going to tell the truth, even though it makes the industry, and me, look bad...

(Did you get tingles reading that? I did.)

  • Did you ever blurb a book you didn't read?

    I try to read every book from beginning to end, even though I know for a fact that many authors will blurb something they haven't read. Sometimes all they'll read is the back jacket copy. I can't really blame those authors for that---it's hard to find the time, and the bigger the author, the more blurb requests they receive.

    But you noticed I said 'try.' Does that mean there are actually some books which I haven't read completely but still blurbed?

    In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that yes, indeed, I have blurbed a few books that I wasn't able to finish because of time constraints (my deadlines vs the blurb deadline.) In that case I'll read as much as time can allow, and if I like it, I'll blurb it.

    Is that wrong? Hypocritical? Unethical? Yeah, probably. But I'm man enough to admit it. Most authors do it and will never admit it. It's so well-known in the industry, that when pros ask other pros to blurb, there's an automatic assumption that the book won't be read.

    Rest assured that if you're an author I've blurbed, and you're reading this, I did in fact read your entire book. :)

  • Have you ever blurbed a book you didn't like?


    Well, not really.

    When I teach, I'm a harsh critic. When I read, I'm pretty easy. If something was good enough to get published, then it obviously had some merit, and I can usually find that merit---even if I have to slog through some bad prose to get to it.

    I concentrate on the good, and offer a blurb based on what I liked. After all, this isn't an impartial review. This is to impress the publisher, and help the author find an audience who does like this sort of book.

    Publishers love blurbs. It gets them excited and enthused. I haven't seen any hard data about whether blurbs sell books, but I know for a fact that the more blurbs you get, the happier your publisher is.

  • Have you ever given an over-enthusiastic blurb?

    Of course. That's the point. Blurbs have to be over-the-top raves, or else they have no use. Exaggeration and hyperbole are expected. Blurbs are sales pitches for someone else's work.

  • Isn't that lying? Aren't you worried that your fans will see your name on something, buy the book because of it, and then get mad at you for recommending it?

    In all honesty, I do feel I have an obligation to my fans, and that my name has some value. But I have to weigh that against authors who need help.

    The author usually wins.

    But before you scream at me about integrity and values, I urge you to hate the game, not the playa. This is the way the system is set up. This is how 90% of authors operate. They won't admit it. Ever. They'll take this secret knowledge to the grave with them. They won't even discuss it privately with close friends after several drinks. They'll even post responses on this blog saying I'm evil and of course they only blurb things that they truly love.

    And they're lying. Except for a very select few, who don't blurb anything at all.

    I hope my fans will realize that taste is subjective, and that I may like something that they may not like, but that shouldn't have any reflection on the books I write.

    I really hope they realize that.

  • Do you ever turn down books for blurbs?

    Sort of. It's tough saying no to people. I know how hard this business is. But sometimes I simply don't have time to get to something, and the next thing I know the book is in print and I missed the opportunity to blurb them.

  • Have you ever missed an opportunity to blurb on purpose, because you started the book and didn't like it and were chicken to tell the author that their book was crummy?

    Yes. But in other cases, I really did run out of time.

    If you're reading this, and I said I'd blurb your book but didn't, it's because I ran out of time. :)

  • Aren't you worried you'll be labeled a blurb whore like (insert big name author here)?

    If everyone knows (big name author) is a blurb whore, why does he/she keep getting blurb requests? Why is his/her name plastered on every other book?

    I promised myself I'd help new writers. That means blurbing.

    It also means doing a blog about the realities of blurbing.

  • Would you ever take money for blurbs?

    I've heard unconfirmed stories of bestselling authors who sell blurbs, some for as high as 50k. I wouldn't ever do this, because my goal is to help other authors, not profit from them.

    Apparently even JA has a scruple or two.

  • Have you every signed your name to a blurb you didn't write?

    No. But I've seen other authors do this. They'll tell the blurbee to write a few sample blurbs, and then the blurber will pick the one to sign his name to. No kidding. I have actual proof that this happens.

    I wouldn't do this. I'd also never blurb a book sight unseen. If I've blurbed the book, I have a copy of it. Some authors will give a blurb without even requesting the manuscript. I always ask for the manuscript, and always try to read the entire thing.

    Again, I'm not as amoral as some blurbers out there. But remember---their amorality is based on trying to help their fellow authors. Think gift horses and mouths.

  • Don't you think that after this blog post gets around, you'll never be asked to blurb again?

    In all honesty, I can guarantee that after this post goes live, several authors will email me, asking for blurbs.

    That's just how the business works, folks.

    I might lose some credibility by speaking the truth. But I might gain some credibility by speaking the truth.

    The bottom line is: I'm eternally grateful to the people who have blurbed me, and will continue to support them and tout their praises because they've done me a huge favor, and I'd never dare question if they actually read my books or not.

    I hope the folks I've blurbed feel the same way about me.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


I have a writing friend who shall remain nameless, and we once had an agonizingly long discussion about potential.

I believe that if you set your mind to it, the sky is the limit. Success isn't about intelligence or talent---it's about a refusal to give up. Recent studies have given my hypothesis some support:

My friend believes that your own potential is capped by your own personal limitations. A man with no legs will never win the world record for the long jump. A man with below average intelligence will never tie together Newtonian physics and quantum mechanics. No matter how hard they try. To coincide with that, if you're born into a privileged environment, you can become President even if you have below-average intelligence.

We reached a compromise of sorts. All a person can do is try to live up to their limitations. That might be enough to succeed in some things, and might not be enough to succeed in others. Luck always plays a part, but you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

So where does this leave writers? Is this a call to throw away your pens and stop trying? Or is it a call to work to your potential, because it may be enough to succeed? And how do you actually know what your potential is, and if it's enough to make it in this business?

Here's what I know:

  1. Talent is inborn and unchangeable. But craft can be improved.
  2. There are many paths to success.
  3. You can improve your luck by working hard.
  4. You'll sell more by getting out there than by staying at home.
  5. Editors and agents consider talent and a book's merits, but they also consider craft and an author's merits.
  6. You need to learn your limitations, and the only way to do that is by going past them.
  7. Comparing yourself to others doesn't do anybody any good.

Can everyone who writes a book sell that book? Statistics tell us no. Will every book published become a hit? Again, no. Is it possible to become a number one bestselling author? Yes, but you have better odds becoming an Olympic medal winner.

Daunted? Don't be.

All huge goals are simply a series of smaller goals. The pyramids were built one stone at a time. A mountain is climbed one step at a time. A bestseller is sold one book at a time.

No matter your physical condition, if you want to run a marathon, there are things you can do to improve your chances of finishing. You can train every day. Buy the right equipment. Eat the right foods. Work out. Devote a lot of time to this pursuit. Recruit others to help you. Dedicate your life to it.

A lot of writers refuse to dedicate their life to pursuing success. Which is fine. They feel that many writers attain success without dedicating their life to it (see #7) so why should they?

No one is forcing you to work 80 hours a week. You don't have to learn to speak in public. You don't have to learn how to pitch. You don't have to visit bookstores and conventions. You don't have to get an agent. You don't have to improve your craft. You don't have to have a website or a blog. You don't have to do anything at all but write a book. And you might attain success by simply doing that.

But your chances improve if you do other things to reinforce that.

Fate is a future you didn't try to change. The people we admire in our society are the ones who succeeded despite the odds. The ones who faced adversity and won. The ones who picked themselves up by the bootstraps and went on to fame and fortune and glory.

Only you can decide what you must do in order to be a writer.

History will tell you whether you were right or wrong.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Writers, Start Your Sales Pitch

You're a writer. Why should you need to know about sales?

At a recent writing convention, I moderated a panel about publishing, and asked four editors the question, "What is the difference between an author who does nothing and an author who actively tries to sell their own books?"

The answer: Night and day. A self-promoting author may sell twice as many as a wallflower.

But yet, so many authors are inadequate at making sales. It's embarassing, or beneath them, or uncomfortable, or not their job.

The fact is, all authors should learn how to effectively sell. In fact, you (or someone on your team) has to sell your books six times before you get paid. First, you sell it to an agent, then your agent sells it to an editor, the editor sells it to the publisher, the publisher sells it to the sales team, the sales team sells it to the book buyer, the book buyer sells it to the customer.

If someone isn't buying somewhere in that chain, the book will fail.

Now get ready to hit your print key, because here is the key to successfully selling your work:

The secret to sales is to not make it selling.


Concentrate on value, and what you have to offer. Focus on the experience you're giving, not the cost.

Sales isn't about looking for buyers; it's about finding the people who are looking for your product even though they don't know it yet.

Be funny. Be confident. Be genuine. Be memorable. Be enthusiastic.

In person, I've found the best trick to sales is listening to the customer. Not only their needs and wants, but what they had for breakfast, how their brother in Duluth is doing, and what their favorite TV show is.

Pitch your book like you'd recommend a movie to a friend. This is what it's about, and why you'd like it.

Which is more effective:
  1. This is a book about a guy named Bill who goes on a journey of self-discovery while battling an evil force that's invaded his home town.
  2. Did you like the Matrix? It's like the Matrix written by Stephen King, with giant flesh eating monsters and an ending that you'll NEVER see coming.

Whenever I sell a book, I always use the line, "You'll like this, I promise." This assurance takes the uncertainty out of a purchase, and makes the customer feel like I'm doing them a favor, rather than they're doing me a favor.

Lots more detail about selling is available on the TIPS section of my website.

On the Internet and through snail mail, I've found the best selling tool is to offer freebies---advice, information, stories, signed stuff, and laughs. Give the buyer a reason to keep reading. If it's just an ad, you'll be ignored. But if you're giving them something they want, they won't even realize it's a sales pitch.

So many small presses email me, thinking that a long synopsis will make me rush out and buy their books. They jump right into it: "Here's a excerpt from the latest release from BuyMe Press."

Where's the romance? Where's the foreplay? Where's the sense of fun?

When I send out newsletters, the majority of the text is about giving. Here's a contest you can enter. Here are some free books. Here are some people I'm naming characters after. Here's a free short story. And finally, here's where you can find out about my new release.

In my library mailing, the libraries received content. An interview with two well-known authors. A signed coaster. Reasons why their patrons will want these books, and an easy way to order.

Look at this blog. Look at my website. How much of it is devoted to promoting my writing, and how much of it is devoted to informing and amusing people?

But yet, I'd bet that practically everyone who visits here knows the names of my books.

Is that good selling? You tell me.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Are Awards Their Own Reward?

All of the arts have awards, and writing has more than its share. The Pulitzer and Nobel Prize are the most well-known, and then the Booker Prize and the National Book Award. Organizations give awards, conferences give awards, and they can be judged by peers or by fans.

There's something exciting about being nominated. It not only reinforces an artist's efforts and intentions, but this type of recognition can lead to more publicity and exposure, increased book sales, and it makes the publisher happy.

But I don't believe it ultimately makes the writer happy.

In the mystery, thriller, and horror genres, there are about a dozen or so highly regarded and sought-after awards. They include the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, Dilly, Gumshoe, Derringer, Raven, Ellery Queen Reader's Choice Award, Stoker, Barry, Thriller, Shamus, Dagger, Nero Wolf, Love is Murder, and others.

I've been nominated for several of these. And I've won a few.

Sometimes you get nominated by your writing peers or fans. Sometimes you get nominated by submitting your stories and books yourself. Sometimes your editors will submit your work.

For a few recent awards, neither my publisher nor I have submitted my work to the judges for consideration. This is at my request.

While I feel honored to get on final ballots, and while I feel very grateful when I win, I've found that my feelings tend to be even more pronounced when I don't get nominated, or if I'm nominated and then I lose.

The highs don't make up for the lows.

It gets even more complicated. At the conference I attended over the weekend, I won an award, and I felt bad about winning. It's not that I don't appreciate it---I'm deeply honored. But I looked at the folks who didn't win and felt terrible for them.

Anyone who knows about my many rejections knows I'm an expert at having my hopes crushed. And I hate to see it happen to other writers almost as much as I hate to have it happen to myself.

The ultimate value of an award remains elusive. Letting a handful of judges with various tastes judge the merit of one's work may say more about the judges than the work. Nepotism and popularity often come into play while voting. Personal opinion plays a large part. And the self-congratulatory and semi-incestuous nature of some awards and awards committees tends to exclude the deserving (if there is such a thing), and embrace the familiar.

Looking at past winners in the above categories reveals two truths. A small percentage of popular authors keep being nominated for awards, and many of them keep winning. These authors are usually bestsellers. But the larger percentage of winners and nominees don't ever achieve bestsellerdom.

And many bestsellers never get nominated for awards, which really makes my wonder.

I don't believe that winning an award is a good indicator of future sales, or even a good indicator that the work is truly the best that genre has to offer.

Art is subjective, and I often read books that I believe are much better than the award-winners, yet were never nominated.

As any psychologist can tell you, allowing your happiness to be dependent on what a group of people dictate is not in your best interest.

What if you win an award one year, then lose the next year? What does that tell you about your work?

What if you get nominated year after year, but never win? Or what if you never get nominated?

The system breeds more stress and disappointment and frustration than it does happiness.

So, if I have a choice in the matter, I don't put my work up for award consideration.

Sour grapes on my part? I don't think so. I'm just trying to protect myself from a situation that I have no control over. I can influence my sales, and that leads directly to money in my pocket. I can't influence the awards I win and lose, and that leads directly to ulcers.

That said, for the 2005 Edgar Awards best novel, I'm pulling for VANISH by Tess Gerritsen. It's about time the Edgar committee realized what the rest of us have known for years---she's one of the best in the biz.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Love is Murder in Chicago

I go to a lot of writing conventions. One of my favorites, Love is Murder, is happening this weekend, Feb 3-5, in Chicago, Illinois at the Rosemont O'Hare Wyndham.

You want to meet some great authors? How about David Morrell, Judith Guest, William Kent Krueger, Barry Eisler, Libby Fischer Hellmann, David Ellis, Robert W. Walker, Raymond Benson, Barbara D'Amato, and dozens of others. Plus agents, editors, cops, lawyers, reviewers, and librarians.

If you're a mystery or thriller fan, an unpublished writer, or a new writer looking to make some connections and find a few blurbs, Love is Murder is one of the most intimate, laid back, and fun conferences of the year. Plus, you get to spend quality time with your good friend Joe.

Check out www.loveismurder.net for more info.

Conventions can be expensive, but they are immeasurably valuable in getting your name out there, and if you're savvy, and use them wisely, they can be the biggest bang for your promotional buck.

Here's what I do:

1. Pick the conventions that you'll benefit from most. As a mystery author, Bouchercon is essential for me. Malice Domestic, while a fun mystery conference, caters mostly to cozy writers, and I write thrillers, so I don't attend that one. You have to be choosy. And if time is an issue, you can always attend for a single day, rather than the entire con.

2. Register in advance. This will assure you get on a speaking panel, and that you pay the lowest price (most cons have early bird pricing specials). It will also make the hotel fee and plane fare less of a burden if the registration has been paid for months earlier. Most convention costs are between $50 and $175 (for the three day conventions). If money is tight, save in advance. Have a jar that you put extra change in. Give up smoking or gum or dessert, and put the money you would have spent on that towards a convention. Try to get your publisher to go halvsies with you.

3. Priceline.com and Expedia. Hotels usually offer discounts for convention-goers, but you can almost always get a better deal by using Priceline or Expedia. Priceline lets you name your own price. I recently stayed in Muncie for Magna Cum Murder for $30 a night, when everyone else was paying $95.

It also isn't necessary to stay at the hotel the convention is being held at. It's convenient, but if you can save major money by staying at a nearby hotel, do it. At Bouchercon I didn't stay at either of the convention hotels ($220 a night). I stayed a mile away ($50 a night), and also had a roommate to split the costs (so it came out to $25 a night). Often the person running the convention can put out the word that you’re looking for a roommate.

Airfare can also vary dramatically. Join the internet discount programs for all the major airlines (they send you weekly internet fare specials). I just flew from Chicago to NY for $49 each way.

4. Pack food and alcohol. Restaurants and bars are a great place to meet and schmooze, but you don't need to eat and drink there. Packing a sandwich can save you a $20 lunch. Packing a bottle of rum or a case of beer will cost less than if you spend the night drinking in the bar, and then you can invite people up to drink in your room, which will make you very popular.

I can't stress enough how much meeting and greeting is done at conventions. And if you tell a group of authors/fans/convention goers that "I've got a case of beer on ice in my room" people will follow you, and love you for it.

5. Make the convention count. Pass out business cards to everyone. EVERYONE. Bring flyers for the goodie table. Bring hand-outs. Bring chapbooks. Make sure you know the bookseller beforehand, and that they have your book. Bring extra copies of your book, just in case. Get the extra copies from a local bookseller, rather than from your publisher, because then they count towards your sales. A local indie store who likes you will order copies and sell them to you at cost--a 40% discount off cover price.

6. NEVER sell your own book unless the bookseller is out of stock. And if they are out of stock, offer to give the bookseller copies on consignment---assuming you got them at discount--- and pass the same discount off to the seller. You DO NOT want to make money selling books yourself. You want the bookseller to make money, so they like you and keep ordering your books and handselling them.

7. Carry a copy of your book around with you at the con. Hand it to people to look at. Try to meet as many people as you can--that means sitting down with strangers at lunchtime, joining conversations when you don't know anyone there, speaking to authors you've never met or even heard of, and smiling the whole time.

A successful convention won't just boost your sales, it will boost your word-of-mouth. People will talk about you afterwards. You'll be discussed in bookstores, in libraries, and on newsgroups.

If you prepare for your panels and are engaging, informative, and funny, that is the best advertising you can ever have. If you meet people and seem genuinely interested in talking to them, you'll be remembered.

You must be part entertainer, part salesperson, and part ambassador at a convention. If you plan carefully, a convention can be the best thing you do for your career.

And plan on taking a day or two off after the convention ends---you'll be exhausted.