Sunday, April 30, 2006

3... 2... 1... Contacts

Let's talk about networking and schmoozing.

There's a difference. Networking involves staying in touch with your peers, knowing who is doing what, trading industry buzz and leads and ideas.

Conferences and email are the preferred places to network. Gabbing online, or grabbing a beer and talking shop, will help you learn about the business vicariously---their experience becomes your experience. Writing is a solitary profession, and you should embrace every opportunity to compare notes.

Then, if a peer is putting together a conference, or editing an anthology, or gathering a line-up of authors at the local library, they'll (hopefully) keep you in mind, and you'll do the same.

Schmoozing is slightly different. Agents, editors, booksellers, sales reps, the media, and authors higher up on the food chain are prime targets for schmoozing. The reason is simple: They can do something for you.

Unlike networking, which is based on camaraderie, schmoozing is based on business relationships. The point is to present yourself as likeable, easy to work with, and professional. It isn't necessary to impress your peers. But impressing an editor, or your publisher's sales force, or a chain bookstore buyer, is something that can help you immeasurably.

Hopefully, most of us have reached adulthood with a sense of how to interact with others. But I'm still surprised by how many authors don't have social skills to match their talents. Sometimes it's shyness. Sometimes it's pomposity. Sometimes it's being oblivious. So let's do a quick Personal Interaction 101 refresher.
  • Handshake should be firm and quick.
  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Smile.
  • Listening has more power than talking.
  • Posture shows interest.
  • Compliments, flattery, and flirting in moderation.
  • Asking questions gets more people to like you than stating opinions.
  • Being funny is a plus.
  • Decent clothes, fresh breath, good grooming.
  • Remembering names and faces is important.
  • Be confident, not cocky.
  • Don't monopolize the conversation.
  • No one knows you're shy, so it's easy to fake confidence.
  • Pay attention to people's reactions.
  • Be genuine, be enthusiastic, be nice, and don't overstay your welcome.

I'm sure we all already know that stuff, and probably do most of it already. But it doesn't hurt to keep it in mind when you're networking, and especially when you're schmoozing.

Does this work? Absolutely. I've lost track of the number of opportunities that have fallen into my lap simply because I met so-and-so at such-and-such. I've landed events, publicity, media ops, anthologies, interviews, sales, appearances, blurbs, and so on, simply because I met someone somewhere and didn't piss them off.

I've pissed off a few as well, and while I don't recommend that as an ideal business model, I can honestly say that having detractors is a great way to get people curious about you, and if you're pleasing 100% of the people 100% of the time, you're probably amazingly boring.

On a semi-related note, if anyone is interested in arguing with me, or asking me any questions live, I'm the headliner in the next Writing to Publish chat, happening Monday, May 1, at 10pm Eastern time. You'll need AOL or AIM to join the chat (they are free to download.)

Here's the link:

Hope to see some of you there!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Excuses, Excuses

That JA Konrath guy is out of his mind. Doesn't he understand that his attitude is all wrong? How can he expect writers to devote as much time to self-promotion as he is? Doesn't Joe know that:
  • I have a full time job other than writing.
  • I have a family/kids/a husband/pets/plants that need my attention.
  • I'm painfully shy and can't speak in public.
  • I'm not good at sales---that's why I became a writer.
  • It's the publisher's job to sell books.
  • I don't like self-promoting.
  • All I need to do is write a good book, and people will automatically buy it.
  • It wasn't like this years ago.
  • If he keeps spouting this crap, publishers will begin to expect it from me.
  • The only thing that matters in this business is luck.
  • The only thing that matters in this business is talent.
  • I have no power: publishers make bestsellers through huge promotion campaigns.
  • It's terrible that I should even have to consider any of this stuff.
  • Self-promotion doesn't really help anyway.
  • The only reason he says this garbage is to get attention.
  • My agent/editor/fortune teller/pet rock/God told me I didn't have to self-promote.
  • He's setting the bar waaaaaay too high.
  • I can succeed without doing any of this.
  • I can succeed only doing a tiny bit of this.
  • I'm smarter and I know better.
  • My publisher is my employer, not my business partner.
  • He's a jerk, and jerks never give good advice.
  • I need my advance money to pay my bills.
  • This business isn't nearly as hard as he makes it out to be.
  • (INSERT NAME HERE) is a bestseller, and he/she doesn't do any self-promotion.
  • If his books were better, he wouldn't have to self-promote.
  • If his publisher was behind him, he wouldn't have to self-promote.
  • It's funny how clueless he really is.
  • All I want to do is write, and that should be enough.

Did you read Joe's latest blog entry? What crap! He wants me to ask myself the following questions:

  1. What do I think will happen if my book has a poor sell-through?
  2. How long will my publisher keep buying my books if they aren't making money?
  3. Is it easier to sell the first book, or the fourth?
  4. Why am I midlist, and can I do something about it?
  5. Why do so many good books go out of print?
  6. Why do so many good authors get dropped by their publishers?
  7. Am I the captain of my own ship?
  8. Why do I think I'll still have a writing career in ten years? Five years? Next year?
  9. Do I need to think about marketing before I write the book?
  10. What if I can't sell my next book? What should I do then?

I'm never reading Joe's blog again. And I'm not buying any of his books either: Whiskey Sour, Bloody Mary (in paperback June 1) or Rusty Nail (in hardcover and on audio June 30.)

And I'm really not going to buy Thriller - Stories to Keep You Up All Night edited by James Patterson, because he's got a story in that anthology.

And I certainly won't buy him a drink if I see him at Thrillerfest or Bouchercon.

And I'm really going to stop reading his blog because it drives me nuts. Really. I am. I promise.

But first I have to respond to that last asinine entry...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Holy Sense of Entitlement, Batman!

Why do artists in general, and writers in particular, think the world will bow down and kiss their asses simply because they wrote a book?

Writers want to write. We do it because we love it.

How many people have careers that they truly love? How many people have the opportunity to turn their words into money, their passion in a career?

I love being able to write for a living. But I'm not so shortsighted that I believe writing alone will be enough to guarantee success. I don't consider that writing a "good book" is where my responsibilty ends. That's where it begins.

I don't understand anyone who indulges in creative pursuits and then doesn't expect to have to do anything else in order to support their endeavors. That sense of entitlement is outdated and dangerous.

If you want to become a lawyer, there's a lot you have to do that you won't like. There is also a lot that will be expected of you. The same goes for any profession.

If writing is your profession, how can you honestly expect the rules to change? That simply writing a good book will guarantee all of your ducks will line up?

Once you try to sell something, you become a salesperson. There is NO OTHER WAY TO LOOK AT IT.

You don't want to sell your book? Keep it in a drawer. Print up copies for your family and friends. Bequeth it to your children. I applaud you for your integrity and lack of compromise.

But if you WANT TO GET PAID, that requires you to sell your book. And you don't simply sell it to your agent. You sell it to your publisher, your publisher's sales reps, your publisher's marketing department, your distributors, your regional buyers, and finally, your customers.

If you want to be a writer, LEARN HOW TO SELL.

You don't have to, of course. You can leave that up to other people. You can take a hands-off approach to your career, and hope it all works out. Many have done so.

Many have also failed. Many more have failed than have succeeded.

But some do succeed. I think about these people a lot.

I think about Jack Canfield, handselling the first Chicken Soup book at mall chain stores, popping balloons to get people's attention.

I think about Janet Evanovich, every year loading up her bus and travelling cross country to meet 1000s of fans.

I think about David Morrell, who manages to tour and attend every major writing conference every year and still be co-president of ITW.

I think about Barry Eisler, who considers his publisher a business partner instead of an employer, and gets treated the same way in return.

I think about David Ellis, who has a great publisher (Putnam) but still sent out over 200 ARCs with handwritten letters in order to get more reviews for his last book---a tactic that paid off.

I think about Mitch Albom, and his relentless radio campaign which started an empire.

I think about Tim Dorsey, who just did his 400th event.

I think about James Patterson, Clive Cussler, Nora Roberts, and Tom Clancy, who release several books a year because they know the more you have out there, the more that will sell.

I think about Julia Spencer-Fleming, who hasn't let winning every major award in the mystery field stop her from relentlessly self-promoting. Julia's books are huge critical successes. But she refuses rest on those laurels.

I think about MJ Rose, who has applied her advertising experience to the book world with tremendous results.

And there are dozens more. None of them ever said, "All I need to do is write a good book, and the rest will be taken care of." What they said was, "Write a great book, then do everything within your power to make sure that people read it."

Of course, there are also stories about those who became huge successes without considering the sales aspect of the business. Those who simply write a book and then wind up on the bestseller list without doing anything else.

It happens. They got lucky.

I also hope to get lucky. But I think that getting lucky is damn hard work.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Self-Promote or Die

Julia Spencer-Fleming sent me a link to a blog written by Tor editor Anna Louise, all about how books do or don't make money:

The Reader's Digest Condensed Version: Publishing books costs a lot of money, and it isn't easy to make a profit.

JA's Interpretation: Better get cracking on that self-promotion, or risk never working in this town again.

I know I sound like a broken record, but I really don't understand why some authors think that simply writing a good book is all a writer needs to do, and the rest will be taken care of by the publisher. That's shortsighted at best, suicidal at worst.

But here's an interesting by-product of self-promotion that rarely gets talked about: It goes on in your absence.

I haven't been my usual gung-ho self this past week, have neglected the blog and website, and haven't done any appearances since April 7. But looking at the number of hits my blog and website have been getting, looking at my Amazon rankings fluctuate, and looking at the number of emails I continue to get, you couldn't tell I've been MIA.

People still seem to be dropping by, still seek me out, and still buy my books, even without me playing the cheerleader. I even had some spikes in sales and website hits while being incommunicado.

While I'm sure this would eventually drop off, it's reassuring to think that I can take occassional breaks and not worry about losing everything I've tried to build up. This may sound obvious, but I haven't been on vacation in several years because I'm so paranoid about missing opportunities to promote myself.

Maybe I'll take a vacation this year---after my 500 bookstore tour...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Writing Full Time: The Good and the Bad

Good: You get to write for a living.

Bad: Writing is a small part of being a writer, and many other things actually take up most of your time.

Good: You can work when you want to.

Bad: It's hard to force yourself to work when you're in your own house with all your cool stuff, like the Internet and DVDs and books and video games.

Good: You don't need to dress for work.

Bad: Three days without bathing and even the dogs will avoid you.

Good: You get to see your name in print. (Check out the June 2006 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine featuring my short story SUFFER, featuring Jack's buddy Phineas Troutt in a nasty snuff film tale, currently available in bookstores and newsstands everywhere.)

Bad: Your name is sometimes followed by "predictable, hackneyed, cliched, and formulaic."

Good: You have fans.

Bad: You have detractors. And for some reason, they usually have bigger mouths than your fans.

Good: You have a megaphone to share your self-promotion tips with people, at cool places like New Works Review.

Bad: Shouldn't you be out self-promoting instead of writing about it?

Good: You get to do cool online interviews for places like CHICAGO WRITES.

Bad: You don't get as many as you'd like. And why hasn't Entertainment Weekly called yet?

Good: You receive a lot of email.

Bad: You spend a lot of time answering email.

Good: People are already ordering your next book.

Bad: But not many.

Good: You're living your dream.

Bad: Ain't nothing bad about that!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Property Values and Writing

Publishing is really all about real estate.

Your in-house publicist works with sales (the reps who sell to 5 main buyers--libraries, chains, indies, department stores, convenience stores/airports) and marketing (advertising, event planning, appearances, touring, media, coop) to coordinate the amount of money spent to promote your book. A publicist usually doesn't have any power--sales and marketing do--and major decisions are made above her head.

The amount of money a book receives for publicity depends on many things, such as print run, competing titles in the catalog, previous sales, and in-house enthusiasm. I've been told that each book released in a quarter receives a pro rata share of the promo money, depending on how big the print run is.

Print runs are determined by orders. I've heard that a publisher takes orders, then doubles the figure, and that's the print run. That doesn't make much sense, but it would explain why 50% is considered an acceptable sell-through.

Writing a book in and of itself isn't going to generate any media. The author, much like the book, needs a hook.

I've done many alcohol-related events, to tie in to my book titles. I'm visiting 500 bookstores this summer, which will help generate some buzz.

My publisher has done many things for me. Lots of ARCs, big pushes at BEA, tours, awards dinners, library and bookselling conventions, point of sales stuff (free whiskey sour mix shipped witht he first ARC). They did a booklaunch party for me that went very well. They've done several ads in NYTBR, Bookpage, PW, and some mystery publications. Most importantly, they've always kept me in the loop, and have encouraged my participation in coming up with ideas.

For my part, I've gotten over forty interviews, sold over thirty short stories (which is the best advertising), visited a few dozen conventions, signed at several hundred bookstores, and tried to get my name out in cyberspace through my website, blog, and generally being a loudmouth.

My sales are decent, but not spectacular. This summer, I'll have about 170k books in print with three titles, HB and PB.

I've gotten some big reviews (PW, Kirkus, Booklist, LJ), but no huge ones (ET, People, NYT) and very few smaller (towns of less than 1 mil) reviews. That's where I'd like to see a bigger push made, because I think that people in the smaller review markets have a greater percentage of readers per capita, and I am pursuing this angle with the new book, sending out ARCs myself.

If the point of this is to sell books, where does real estate come in?

I'll get to that in a moment. First, let's talk about branding.

The word "branding" has been used a lot in publishing. So has "name-recognition." These basically mean that we want "JA Konrath" to be the same as "Coke." People see the bright covers, see the drink title, and automatically know they'll have a few laughs and a few scares reading it.

This happens in three steps.

1. People pick up my books out of curiosity--they've never heard of me before. Or they've heard of my through word-of-mouth or publicity.

2. People pick up my books because they've read me before.

3. My books become an automatic purchase as they are released.

The majority of my sales are still 1 & 2. The secret to 3, I'm convinced, is simply surviving long enough, with a backlist still available, to amass large numbers of books in print. The more books out there, the more chances for people to find them.

Allison Brennan's publisher released three PBOs in three consecutive months, and this strategy was a double-edged sword---along with getting a lot of books in print at once, it also capitalized on the publicity of a trilogy being released so quickly. Win-win. Of course, it could have backfired. if the first book wasn't any good, no amount of publicity would get readers to buy #2. Since the first book was good, each successive book has debuted higher on the NYT list.

Many bestsellers can become self-fulfilling prophesies. A publisher believes it has a big book, so the reps tell the buyers that this one is getting a large print run and a large push. The buyers anticipate demand from the publicity, and order many copies and are told to sell them word of mouth.

This sometimes backfires. I remember seeing huge stacks of Tom Wolfe and Salman Rushdie books in stores, and bookseller friends have told me the copies sold vs. shipped was ridiculously low.

But the primary factor in book sales, and the point of publicity and marketing, is ultimately real estate.

The more space you take up on a bookshelf, the better store position, the more books you have in stores, the more stores you're in, the likelier you are to sell. It's like Monopoly. Prime property, and ultimately the most property, wins the game.

The goal is to reach the point where you aren't only stocked, but restocked. You want to have permanent space on those shelves. You want to be there when someone goes looking for you, or if someone is just browsing. It's like tenure. That's what branding really does for you.

If you don't sell well, your books will go out of print, and your patch of real estate gets smaller. Smaller space=less sales, and the death spiral has begun.

Slow and steady used to win the race, with publishers carrying midlist authors for many books before the broke out and began selling in large numbers.

These days, there's more competition for space. More books are being published, and they're given less time on the shelves.

Which is why, as authors, we must do everything we can to fight for real estate.

The chains tell their stores when to pull books from the shelves and return them. But there's a loophole. The stores aren't run by computers--they're run by people. If people like your books, they'll keep them on the shelf, even when they are told to return them.

Which is why I'm visiting 500 bookstores this summer. To meet the people. To secure the real estate.

Time will tell if I'm right or wrong.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Damning You With Praise

When you're a kid, if your parents were any good, they'd ooh and aah over the construction paper artwork you brought home, and put it on the refrigerator.

As you get older, the praise tapers off. Not only from your parents, but from the world in general. Grades take the place of gold stars on your homework, and the few things that you get praised for require harder and harder work.

Finally, as an adult, praise comes in the form of money. A better job, a raise, a promotion. "Atta boys" are reduced to softball games. Criticism is the primary motivator for self-improvement. Which is fine, because you can't get better unless you know what you're doing wrong.

Writers, and most artists, tend to have gotten stuck in the childhood phase of needing approval.

Art, by definition, requires an audience. So writers are forced to seek approval. Friends and family. A writing group. Agents. Editors. Reviewers. Critics. Fans. Peers.

And if the artist gets lucky, approval arrives in the form of praise, money, or both.

So does criticism. The publishing world isn't a big refrigerator, and many people aren't interested in giving you gold stars. There will be fan letters and awards nominations, but there will also be bad reviews and people who dislike your work.

It doesn't take a psychiatrist to figure out that a career that requires the continuous approval of others isn't the best way to mental health. Which is why many creative types tend to be a little on the wacko side.

If you're a writer, can you ever feel good about yourself and your work? Can you take pride in a book that never got published? Can you see the worth of a novel that got critically panned?

Or do the fans, the awards, and the money make you somehow better than the rest of the world? Does the fact that you have half a million books in print and a six figure contract function the same way as your picture on the fridge?

Both are slippery slopes, and neither leads anywhere worthwhile. The more people you allow to have power over your feelings, the less in control of your feelings you are.

Here are some rules I follow to stay even-keeled.

  • Celebrate success. Whether it is signing a book deal or finishing a short story, you're allowed to feel good about yourself and your accomplishments.

    Beware-Feelings of entitlement.

  • Let Praise Wash Over You. It's great to have fans, but don't believe your own hype. Having lots of strangers love you doesn't make you a better person.

    Beware-Getting a big head.

  • Listen to Criticism. But don't take it personally. Ever. Good critcism is meant to help you improve, not hurt you.

    Beware-Those who have agendas. They're easy to spot. They are either insulting you, or praising you while asking for money. Remember that money flows toward the writer.

  • Have Smart Goals. Smart goals are ones you can control. Everything else isn't a goal---it's a wish. Wishes don't lead to happiness.

    Beware-Setting unattainable goals.

  • Use Your Support Group. We all need an "atta boy" once and a while. Get this from people you're close to, people you care about. No one else matters.

    Beware-Relying on anyone too much.

  • Allow yourself to be disappointed. Then get over it. Allowing failure to consume you will ruin your career. Take a day or two to feel crummy, then move on.

    Beware-Licking wounds instead of working.

  • Leave Your Name Alone. Checking Amazon ranking, Googling yourself, checkign newsgroups and blogs for mention of you, searching for reviews---this is all external validation by stangers and meaningless.


  • Don't Compare Yourself to Others. Everyone has a different journey, and there is no competition. Coveting the advances, awards, print runs, and movie deals of your peers isn't going to do you or them any good.

    Beware-The green-eyed monster.

  • Remember Who You Are. Once you become a public figure, many people will say many things about you. None of them will know you as well as you know yourself. Praise and criticism are external, but true pride comes from within.

Strive to be the kind of person that you admire.

Thanks to Jude, Chidder, Jeri, and J. Carson Black for their suggestions in adding to this blog entry.

Humor Me

I've been told that death is easy, but comedy... that's hard.

Actually, it's not as hard as you might think.

Laughter is simply our brain reacting to discord and fear.

Discord is something unexpected, inappropriate, unusual, or exaggerated.

A fat guy on a little bicycle is funny, because our minds see the absurd dichotomy of a large man and a small vehicle.

Fear is the distance and disconnect associated with bad events that we don't want to happen to us.

A fat guy on little bicycle, peddling very fast because he's on fire, is funny because we can picture ourselves being on fire and it's not a pleasant image.

Conversely, the fat guy in the Burn Ward, getting his dead skin brushed off by a heartless nurse, is not a funny image. Unless the fat guy is also a clown. Clowns are funny.

Just about every joke you've ever heard is based on these principles. Knock knock jokes go for the unexpected. Puns are all about substituting meanings. When Moe hits Curly with shovel, we're secretly glad we're not Curly. Or Moe. Or anyone in that gene pool.

Whenever there is some kind of tragedy, jokes spring up as a way for people to deal with it. When horrible things happen, humor is used to lighten the situation and to increase the distance between the affected and the observer.

The trick to writing humor is observation. What is a normal situation, and how could that become absurd?

The trick to writing humor in fiction is to use these absurd observations to add to the suspense of the scene, and to forward the story.

Here's a scene that I cut out of DIRTY MARTINI. I think it's amusing, but it took away from the action rather than added to the action. This was right after several police offers have been horribly killed. Jacqueline Daniels, the hero, is at the crime scene with Police Superintendent O'Loughlin (a woman), Rick (an FBI Agent) and Harry McGlade, who needs a favor from Jack.


I couldn’t tell if she was kidding or not, but even though I didn’t agree with our new Superintendent, I was starting to like her.

But damn, she needed some fashion tips. Hadn’t this woman ever heard of shoulder pads? Her blazer made her look like the humpback witch from Snow White.

"Hey, you. The chunky one in the suit. You look like you’re in charge."

The Super eyed McGlade as he strutted over. He waved a piece of paper at her.

"This is how much the city of Chicago owes me for that space suit."

"Six people have died," O’Loughlin said evenly.

"You don’t owe me for them. Just the suit."

When she didn’t take Harry’s receipt, he stuffed it into her jacket pocket.

"Now about this liquor license," he said to me. "The mayor of this toddling town has refused to let me open a bar because of some silly misunderstanding that happened between me and one of his ugly nieces. I hit it to get on the family’s good side, but she was a real cave troll. I needed two Viagra and still had to prop a Hustler on her back." McGlade grimaced. "She had a beard, Jack. It was like kissing my grandfather, except with tongue. So I don’t call her the next morning, mostly because my face is chapped raw, and she goes crying to Uncle Big Shot and now I’m persona non grata."

Rick asked me, "Who is this guy?"

"That’s Harry. He’s a kindergarten teacher, works with special needs kids."

"He’s annoying me," the Super said. "He needs to go away."

McGlade grinned at O’Loughlin in a way I’m sure he thought was endearing.

"You look like you haven’t been laid in the last decade. Put in a good word for me with the mayor, and I’ll step up to the plate." He squinted at her chin. "Got a razor at your place?"

The Super called over two patrolmen, and had McGlade arrested. He offered up some prime examples of current urban colloquialisms as they carted him off.


Now let's analyze the jokes in this scene.


I couldn’t tell if she was kidding or not, but even though I didn’t agree with our new Superintendent, I was starting to like her.

But damn, she needed some fashion tips. Hadn’t this woman ever heard of shoulder pads? Her blazer made her look like the humpback witch from Snow White. Humorous image, comparing a bad blazer to a cartoon witch.

"Hey, you. The chunky one in the suit. You look like you’re in charge." Absurdity--you don't speak to authority figures like this.

The Super eyed McGlade as he strutted over. He waved a piece of paper at her.

"This is how much the city of Chicago owes me for that space suit."

"Six people have died," O’Loughlin said evenly.

"You don’t owe me for them. Just the suit." Fear--making light of a tragic situation by downplaying it.

When she didn’t take Harry’s receipt, he stuffed it into her jacket pocket.

"Now about this liquor license," he said to me. "The mayor of this toddling town has refused to let me open a bar because of some silly misunderstanding that happened between me and one of his ugly nieces. I hit it to get on the family’s good side, but she was a real cave troll. I needed two Viagra and still had to prop a Hustler on her back." Inappropriate, rude, absurd image.

McGlade grimaced. "She had a beard, Jack. It was like kissing my grandfather, except with tongue. Absurd image. So I don’t call her the next morning, mostly because my face is chapped raw, and she goes crying to Uncle Big Shot and now I’m persona non grata." Hyperbole--exaggeration for comedic effect.

Rick asked me, "Who is this guy?"

"That’s Harry. He’s a kindergarten teacher, works with special needs kids." Discord--Harry is obviously a selfish pig, not a Kindergarten teacher.

"He’s annoying me," the Super said. "He needs to go away."

McGlade grinned at O’Loughlin in a way I’m sure he thought was endearing.

"You look like you haven’t been laid in the last decade. Put in a good word for me with the mayor, and I’ll step up to the plate." He squinted at her chin. "Got a razor at your place?" Absurdity--he won't get his way by acting like this, but is too dumb to realize it.

The Super called over two patrolmen, and had McGlade arrested. He offered up some prime examples of current urban colloquialisms as they carted him off.


I didn't mind cutting this scene, because it didn't add to the story much. The bit of story I had to convey was that McGlade needed Jack to help him with the mayor. Everything else was extraneous. So the scene was axed.

It's okay to go off on small tangents, but in this case it was taking away from the scene rather than adding to it.

Now here's a scene in WHISKEY SOUR that made the final cut. Jack is overburdened with work, trying to catch a serial killer, and she's forced to deal with the FBI. I wanted to parody the almost preternatural detecting power FBI agents often have in books, so I made my Special Agents, Dailey and Coursey, so by-the-book they were absurd.


"For example," Coursey took over, "our suspect is a male Caucasian, between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-nine. He's right-handed, and owns a station wagon or truck. He's blue collar, probably a factory worker, possibly in the textiles industry. He is an alcoholic, and prone to violent rages. He frequents western bars and enjoys line dancing."

"Line dancing," I said.

"He also wears women's underwear," Dailey added. "Possibly his mother's."

I felt a headache coming on.

"As a juvenile he set fires and committed relations with animals."

"With animals," I said.

"There's a high probability he's been arrested before. Possibly for assault or rape, probably on elderly women."

"But he's impotent now."

"He may also be gay."

I lifted my coffee cup to my lips and found it was empty. I lowered it again.

"He hears voices."

"Or maybe just one voice."

"It could be the voice of his mother, telling him to kill."

"Maybe she just wants her underwear back," I offered.

"He may be disfigured or disabled. He might have severe acne scars, or scoliosis."

"That's a curvature of the spine," Dailey added.

"Is that a hunch?" I asked.

"Just an educated guess."

I thought about explaining the joke to them, but it would be wasted.

"He may have been dropped on his head as a child," Coursey said.

He probably wasn't the only one.

"Gentlemen," I wasn't sure where to begin, but I gave it a try. "Call me a skeptic, but I don't see how any of this is going to help us catch him."

"First of all, you should start staking out western bars."

"And local textile factories that have hired someone with a criminal record within the last six months."

"I could stake out the zoo, too," I said. "He may be sneaking in at night and committing relations with animals."

"I doubt it," Coursey furrowed his brow. "The profile says he's impotent now."

I rubbed my eyes. When I finished, the two of them were still here.


This scene was kept in, even though it is a slight diversion from the plot, because it adds conflict to the story. Jack is forced to work with these guys, and they are hindering her from doing her job. Unlike the humor in the first scene, where I was being funny just to be funny, the humor in this scene has a point and adds to the suspense and tension of the story.

Here's one more scene, from RUSTY NAIL. Harry McGlade has been kidnapped, along with Jack's friend Phineas Troutt. Phin wakes up tied to a chair, with Harry tied up behind him.


A sound, a low rumble, comes from behind him. Phin can’t turn far enough to see. It comes again, louder.


"Hey! Wake up!"

"I’m awake. I’m awake."

More snoring.

"Goddamnit, McGlade, wake up!"

"Huh? What’s happening?"

"We were drugged at your wedding."

"I got drunk at my wedding? There’s a shocker."

"Drugged, McGlade. We were drugged."

"Is that you, Jim?"

"It’s Phin. Wake up and tell me what you see."

A long pause. Phin wonders if the moron fell asleep again.

"I’m in a chair, tied up. Looks like some kind of factory or warehouse. There’s a cargo docking bay off to my right, but the door is closed."

"What else?"

"We gotta get out of here, Phin. If I don’t get this tuxedo returned by tonight, they’re charging me for another full day."

"Concentrate, Harry. What else is around you?"

"There’s some kind of office in the corner. Door closed, no lights. On my left... holy shit!"

"What is it?"

"This has got to be some kind of bad dream."

McGlade yells in pain.

"Harry? You okay?"

"I bit my tongue to see if I’m dreaming. I don’t think I am. Or maybe I bit my tongue in my sleep..."

"You’re not asleep, Harry. Tell me what you see."

"I think my tongue’s bleeding."


"Okay. I see a long steel table. Got a bunch of equipment on it. And some stuff, new in boxes."

Phin doesn’t like the sound of that.

"What kind of stuff?"

"A blow torch. A power drill. A set of vice-grip pliers. And a chainsaw."

This has gone from bad to worse.

"Maybe they’re building a birdhouse," McGlade says.


Again, the humor adds to the suspense of the scene. McGlade's attitude isn't the attitude of someone who is about to be tortured to death, and that is funny. But their situation isn't funny, and that's why the humor works. Something horrible is going to happen.

And later, something horrible does happen. And again I use humor, or rather my characters use humor, in order to deal with the horror.

Is humor needed in books? Does it make them better? Should you include humor in your work?

My answer is a resounding maybe.

Real life is humorous. People laugh all the time. Studies have shown that laughter, and smiling, are ridiculously healthy activities. Comedy has been around for thousands of years, and for good reason: People enjoy it.

Laughter brings people together, and laughter can make your reader enjoy your writing more. People like to be around those who make them laugh, and your characters are no exception.

Humor can make your hero more relatable, empathetic, likeable, charismatic, sympathetic, important, and identifiable.

Humor also can set a tone, capture a mood, make the reader more of a participant in the story, and become something you're known for, like Dave Barry, Janet Evanovich, and Carl Hiaasen.

Whether humor is right for your story depends on the story you're telling. Steven Speilberg knew this, and wisley cut the pie-fight scene from Schindler's List. But I believe that most stories can be enhanced by humor, even if humor isn't the main goal.

James Rollins is known for his over-the-top technothrillers. My favorite James Rollins book, ICE HUNT, features a brash loudmouth commando named Kowalski, who has some incredibly funny lines and scenes. His new one, BLACK ORDER, also has several laugh aloud moments, and this adds to the book rather than hurts the tension, because you become more attached to the characters and more fearful for their lives. Plus, it's fun to laugh.

Barry Eisler's first novel, RAIN FALL, wasn't without it's wry moments. But in recent titles, most notably KILLING RAIN and THE LAST ASSASSIN, Rain's friend Dox supplies a great deal of humor, much of it riotous. Besides being funny, Dox helps the reader to better empathize with Rain by showing a softer side of him.

Two of my favorite new writers, Jeff Shelby and Harry Hunsicker, walk the line invented by Robert B. Parker and use liberal amounts of humor mixed in with the tension and violence. Because of this, their characters are more instantly likeable than the darker, brooding heroes that populate noir and hardboiled ficiton.

One of my favorite writers, David Ellis, has an incredibly dry sense of humor in person, but this has been mostly absent from his legal thrillers. His most recent, EYE OF THE BEHOLDER, features a first-person narrative and several very funny lines and observations. Because of this, I identified more closely with his hero, and became more afraid for him than I had in any of the previous novels.

I believe that humor for humor's sake doesn't work. But if used to add to the story, to enhance a scene, and to develop characters, humor is something that is greatly appreciated by readers, and it can make a book even better.

So how do you know if you're funny or not?

Humor is subjective. Very subjective. Some people like the droll wit of Oscar Wilde. Some people wet their pants watching Rob Schneider get kicked in the groin (who are these people and how can we stop them?) It's entirely possible that something you think is funny will fall flat. This will happen. Even the best comedians have jokes that bomb.

There are three steps to figuring out if your joke is funny or not.

1. Do you find it funny? Chances are, you won't laugh at your own jokes (I rarely if ever do.) But I use the above criteria to recognize where jokes fit into the narrative, and can make a guess if it works or not.

2. After writing a joke, I test it by giving it to readers. My wife. Mom. Writing friends. Close friends. Agent. Editor. None are afraid to tell me, "That's not funny." They'll also tell me where they laughed. Or I'll watch them read and ask them.

3. If the readers are laughing, or if they aren't, figure out why. It's very much a process of evolution. Sometimes the idea behind a joke works, but the timing is off. Or the wording is off.

The more you learn, the better you get. My test is: If one person laughs, and one doesn't, it stays. If no one laughs, it goes.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Barry Eisler Naked!

Besides being a lawyer, a former CIA agent, and a great thriller writer, Barry Eisler is one of the most infuriatingly opinionated people I know.

What's so infuriating about his opinions is that he backs them up with a great deal of knowledge and logic, so it's nearly impossible to win an argument with him.

Want to try? Barry's brand new blog, The Heart of the Matter, focuses on politics and language, and the art and science behind both. Check it out for a refreshing change of pace from all the writers out there blogging about how hard publishing is.

Barry says: If you're interested in politics, language, and what's going on in the world, as I am, I hope you'll enjoy reading and participating in discussions on my new blog, The Heart of the Matter.

The first post, "France in Denial," about French labor laws and street protests (some of which I saw there last week while I was promoting the Rain books) is up on HOTM now; you can find it at:

Stop by and say hello and I hope you'll come back often.

Joe says: Spread the word. Barry's one of the good guys.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Elements of Dialog

Dialog is one of the most important componants of story, for many reasons.
  • It relays important information and moves the story forward
  • It shows what a character is thinking, feeling, doing
  • It can be funny, scary, sad, dramatic
  • It breaks up the visual monotony of large, clunky paragraphs
  • It reads quickly
  • It can be the most memorable part of a narrative

But what makes good dialog? What are the things to do and to avoid when writing dialog?

Here are the rules that I personally use.

1. Make it sound natural. People talk differently than they write. Writing is slower, more deliberate, and more thought goes into it. Speaking is looser, freer, less constricting, and less precise. Record some dialog in natural settings--at the mall, on the phone, on the radio. Then transcribe what you heard. You'll notice a big difference between the spoken word and the written word.

2. It shouldn't be too natural. In real life, people use speach hesitators (um, uh) and repeat themseves a lot. They also can talk for mintues at a time without a break. In your narrative, you need to cut to the chase, and trim all of this extraneous stuff. Briefer is better.

3. It has to have a point. Stories are built around conflict. It should be in your dialog as well. Two people discussing the weather happens all the time in real life, but there's no place for it in a novel (unless the book is about an evil weatherman.) Dialog needs to propel the story forward. Keep it moving, and use it to reveal things about the plto and the characters.

4. Speaker attribution only when needed. Dialog tags are distracting. They interrupt the flow and cadance of the words. Use 'he said', and only use it sparingly. Tags like yelled, shouted, screamed, sobbed, laughed, usually aren't needed. Neither are adverbs. Said loudly, softly, cruelly, jokingly, stupidly---that gets old really quick. Using action instead of tags to denote who is speaking is a better way to do the scene.

5. Remember the scene. Where are these characters talking? The environment, the situation, the position of their bodies, the action; all of this is important, but not as important as you think. Less is more. Give the reader just enough information to imagine the scene, and then get on with the story. Over-describing every detail is annoying, and bad writing.

6. Avoid dialect. Some authors are great at dialect. You aren't one of them. Avoid creative spelling, which makes words unrecognizable, just so the reader knows your character is Italian, or Southern, or from Bahston, because the reader has to look at a word three times to realize you mean Boston.

7. Avoid funky punctuation. A few exclamation points is fine. More than a few a chapter is overkill. Ditto italics, apostrophes, and double punctuation. Know wha' I'm sayin'??!!??!?

8. Different characters speak in different ways. A cop wouldn't speak a line the same was a criminal would. While you should avoid dialect, it's okay to use improper grammar or vocabulary if it sounds authentic. Write like people speak, even if it ain't right.

9. Read it aloud. When you've finished a scene, read it out loud to see if it works. If you're tripping over the words, the character would be too. If it doesn't sound natural, it won't read natural. After reading it aloud, you'll find that you can take words away pretty easily.

Bringing it all together. Here's a brief snippet from Bloody Mary which hits all of the points mentioned above. Read it in your head once, then read it aloud. Look for what's on the page, as well as what is deliberately left off the page.


The apartment was air-conditioned, neat, nicely furnished. An entertainment center, crammed full of state-of-the-art equipment, sat next to a wide-screen TV.

Colin stood about Benedict’s height, but rail thin. He wore an oversized Steelers jersey and a thick gold chain around his neck that seemed to weigh him down.

“Business must be good.” I eyed his place, annoyed that the crooks always had better stuff than I did.

Colin shrugged.

“Colin?” A woman’s voice came from one of the back rooms. “Who’s there?”

“No one, Mama. Stay in your room.”

“Mama know you deal?” I asked.

“I don’t deal. That’s all a big misunderstanding.”

I fished through the pockets of my blazer and took out a folded head-shot of Davi McCormick.

“Do you recognize this woman?”

I watched Colin’s face. He glanced at the photo without changing his expression.

“Never saw her.”

“She called your cell phone a few days ago.”

“Don’t got no cell phone.”

I read the phone number to him.

“Don’t got that phone no more. Lost it.”

“When did you lose it?”

“Couple weeks ago.”

Herb bent down, reaching for Colin’s foot.

“I think you dropped something, Colin. Well–-lookee here.”

Herb held up the bag of powdered sugar.

“Dog, that ain’t mine!”

Herb made an innocent face. “I saw it fall out of your pocket. Didn’t you, Jack?”

“I don’t even deal that shit, man. I just distribute the herb.”

“Where’s your phone, Colin?”

“I told you, I lost the phone.”

Benedict dipped a finger into the baggie, then touched his tongue.

“How much you think is here? Eight, ten grams? That’s what–-thirty years?”

I moved closer to Colin. “We found the arms. We know she called you.”

“What arms? I don’t carry, man. I’m low-key.”

“Where’s the phone?”

“I don’t know.”

Colin looked frightened. Though I couldn’t arrest him for possession of a known confectionary, I decided to push my luck.

“You know the drill, Colin. On your knees, hands behind your head.”

“I don’t have the phone! I swear! You need to ask your people!”

“What people?”

“Cops. When I got arrested last month, they took my phone. I never got it back.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Herb was dipping back into the baggie for another taste. I stepped between him and Colin.

“You’re saying we have your phone?”

“I had it with me when I got booked, and when I got sprung no one knew anything about my phone.”

I had a pretty good internal BS detector, and Colin was either a much better liar than I was used to, or he was telling the truth.


Will I win a Pulitzer for that dialog? No--the comittee sadly passed. But it did do all of the things I mentioned dialog should do.

I wrote this over two years ago, and looking at it now I'd tweak a bit here and there. But it still works as a scene. It sounds right. The reader can picture what's happening, and who is talking, even though it is under-described and there are four different characters. The story is being moved forward, and at a quick pace. Plus, I threw in a bit of humor to make it go down a little easier.

Dialog can be the most fun, and the easiest, part of a story to write.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Am I Evil? Yes I Am.

My friend Lee Goldberg referenced my previous post, The Importance of Being You, on his wonderful blog A Writer's Life.

Apparently, I've irked some anonymous mystery writer by having the gall to say that writers should try very hard to earn out their advances and make money for their publishers, even if it means spending a lot of their own time and money to do so.

I like Lee, and I appreciated his level-headed and thoughtful response to the matter. Mr. Anonymous, however, needs an extra-large reality enema.

He wrote Lee the following:

How can you be friends with Joe Konrath? He's the anti-Christ. In his own way, he is as bad or worse than Lori Prokop. The advice he gives to aspiring writers is just terrible and, worse, he's doing everything he can to undermine his fellow professionals. How, you ask? He's perpetuating the myth that you should devote all or part of your advance to promotion, that you should devote yourself to making sure that the publisher makes money (even if it costs you). What he's doing is legitimizing the damaging corporate mindset that authors should pay for their own promotion without any investment or reimbursement from the publisher. We're supposed to live off our advances, not kick them back to the publisher for advertising and promotion. Joe's latest moronic blog post was so infuriating I almost put my fist into my laptop screen. Of course his publisher loves him. But professional writers should fear him. He's cancer.

For the record, I'm not a Cancer. I'm an Aries.

And though I don't agree with everyone's opinion, I certainly respect their idiotic ideas, and their bone-headed right to poorly express them.

I long-windedly (go figure) responded to this anonymous author on Lee's blog. Here's my final take on the subject:

I'm the president of my own company. The brand my company sells is "JA Konrath."

In order for my company to make money, I need to invest my own time and money up until the company reaches a critical mass and can run itself.

The time to invest my money is at the beginning, because most businesses fail within the first few years.

It's my name on the books. It's my brand. If my sell-through isn't good enough, there will be no more books. Bye-bye writing career.

I'm supposed to let my success or failure rest in the hands of my publisher? They're my co-investor. They're not my enabler. They're not my boss.

The philosophy, "If you earned out your advance it wasn't high enough" is a bad one. This isn't an us against them contest, with them being your publisher.

This is a partnership. If your partner is making money, you're making money.

An advance isn't free money. It's money based on potential book sales. It's like a non-returnable loan. Your publisher is betting you sell X number of books, and giving you your share in advance.

If you got zero advance, and sold X number of books, you'd get the same amount of money. It would just be later rather than sooner.

Spending your advance money on selling more books is a way to ensure you get into that royalty phase even sooner.

Does this make your publisher happy? Of course. They gambled and won.

But so did you. Because you get a higher advance. A bigger print run. More promotional dollars. Your backlist stays in print. Your sales reps push your books harder. You're talked about in-house. Everyone wants to be a part of a winning team.

I didn't have a book tour for my first book. But I spent a lot of money, and worked hard to sell it.

Did my publisher notice? Yes. They gave me a book tour for #2. I went to 11 bookstores on the West coast, all expenses paid. Damn nice hotels too.

Did I hang out at these nice hotels during my free time, ordering room service and pay-per-view porn? No. I visited 95 more bookstores while on that tour, and then another 100 on my own.

Did my publisher notice? Yes. The new tour is 500 bookstores, and they're paying.

How is this a losing proposition for either of us? If they make money, I make money.

My publisher does a lot for me, but I have more at stake than they do. They have 200 other authors, all writing books, all who are getting a piece of the promotional pie.

I should just write the best book I can, and then cross my fingers and hope it sells?

Sorry. The best product in the world will fail if no one buys it.

I should nag my publisher to spend more money on promoting me? They already spend a bunch. They are the ones investing the big bucks. They are the ones taking all of the financial risk.

There's no guarantee that big promotional dollars=success. Jim Huang had a great keynote speech about promotional dollars, which can be found at

There's no guarantee that wonderful writing=success. I've read a lot of wonderful books by authors who can no longer sell their latest because their previous numbers were bad.

The only guarantee I have is: The harder I try, the more books I sell. This I know for a fact, and I've proven it time and time again.

Best case scenario, my books catch on, all the money I spent will come back to me in royalties and multiple printings and larger advances down the line. I'm investing in a stock that I'm betting will go up.

Worst case scenario, I fail. But I won't be bitter, and I won't blame my publisher or the universe for the way the cards fell.

If I fail, I want it to go down swinging. I want to know that I did everything within my power to launch my career.

I can understand why authors don't like this philosophy. I'm saying that success isn't all luck or talent. I'm saying that the author can, and should, play a major part in selling their own books.

So I pose this business model, and authors are afraid they'll have to adopt it as well?

I know a lot of authors losing money hand over fist with high advances and poor sell-through, and then blaming their publishers for their lackluster sales.

Does the publisher make the author pay back the advance if the book doesn't earn out? Does the author lament the money lost by the publisher, not only on the advance, but on the production costs, the promotion, the publicity, the market, the advertising?

No. Authors scream "gimme gimme gimme" and whine how the publishers aren't doing enough. They whine that they didn't get enough co-op. Or frontlist catalog copy. Or not enough reviews. Or no tour. Or no advertising.

But they don't try to fix any of these things themselves. And they don't shoulder the financial loss, which can be considerable.

This is the preferable business model? If so, it needs to be changed. Then maybe more books would actually be profitable, which would benefit everyone.

Scary thing, though, taking your fate into your own hands. Even scarier, backing it up with your own money.

You can disagree with me. You can even hate me.

But I'm really not the one you should be angry at, am I?

The whole "I'll just write good books and my publisher will sell them" is an archaic philosophy, and the only authors who should be afraid of self-promoting are the dead weight ones already losing money.

Take some responsibility, for your sales, and for your career.

And if you have a problem with me, Mr. Anonymous, don't go whining to Lee Goldberg like some high school drama queen loser and question his opinion of me. This back-biting and name-calling hurts the mystery community, and publishing in general.

Debate is great. Open exchanges of ideas, and the disagreements they provoke, can be helpful.

But your opinions were concealed as insults, and then you gave Lee permission to post your muck-raking, as long as he didn't use your name, because heaven forbid anyone hold you accountable for your opinions.

Next time, be a man. You don't like what I have to say? Post on my forum. You can even do so behind your cloak of invisibility, so no one knows your real name and what a weenie boy you are.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Importance of Being You

Your opinions are correct, and worth more than the opinions of others. True or false?

True, of course. Unless there's something DSM-IV at play, your opinions are all about what works for you. While you might not always know what's best for you, you think you know what's best for you, and there's nothing wrong with standing behind that.

It's impossible to live life without making decisions, without making choices. And hopefully, you have experience or logic to back up these choices, because it's important to examine and attempt to understand why you do the things you do.

People write for many different reasons. Some want to express themselves, to be proponents of art and culture, to share their ideas and philosophies. Some want the acceptance, the exposure, the accolades, the fame, the notoriety. Some want the money, the job, the income. Some want to entertain, enthrall, delight. Some want to provoke. Some write for a combination of reasons, or for other reasons entirely.

And each reason is valid, for the writer.

The mistake that a lot of writers make is believing their reasons are the best reasons, or the only reasons, or the right reasons.

The reasons you write are the right reasons---for you. They might not be right for other writers. And they certainly aren't universally important, nor should you expect them to be.

But some things are universal.

I write because I love it. But once I try to sell my writing, my personal reasons for writing come into conflict with the business of writing.

In publishing, compromises will be made. Always. Once money comes into play, the reason you write becomes twofold---your original reason, and your obligation to your publisher.

Your publisher is buying your work because they believe they can make money from it. This is capitalism. Your publisher will expect things from you, to help them in their efforts. Contracts, deadlines, editing, rewriting, publicity, promotion, marketing, advances, subsidiary rights---all of these suddenly come into play.

My writing philosophy is simple: Make money for your publisher.

I do this by not only doing a lot of self-promotion, but by also considering my audience even before I sit down to write a single word.

This means compromises. This means understanding the system writing exists in (the publishing business) and weighing it against the many reasons I wanted to become a writer.

Successful writers seem to understand this balance, and the trade-offs required. They realize that their books are products as well as art.

By 'successful' I mean that they are making money for their publisher. You don't have to be an NYT bestseller to do this. All you have to do is earn out your advance.

You can earn out your advance by doing a lot of self-promotion, by working closely with your publisher, by spending a lot of your advance money on marketing, and by writing good books.

The definition of 'good' is subjective, and opinions vary. My definition of good is simple: A good book is something that a complete stranger will pay money for---enough complete strangers to earn out your advance.

What makes a book 'good' has nothing to do with anything inherent in the book. If you think you've just written a masterpiece, someone somewhere will disagree with you.

Many writers scream about how terrible certain NYT bestsellers are. How their books are crap, and how they are much better writers than Danielle Steel or Clive Cussler or Dan Brown.

Many writers scream that popular culture is a cesspool, appealing only to the lowest common denominator.

Many writers talk of art, and standards, and culture.

Many writers blame their publishers for their failures.

Many writers insist that talent alone will ensure success, and the unwashed masses need to accept them for what they are.

Many writers need to get a clue.

Dismissing successful authors serves no purpose. Though your opinion of their writing might differ from the public's opinion, it might help to try and understand why certain authors become successful.

This isn't a competition. No writer is better than any other writer. And your opinion, though valid, is subjective.

If you want to believe you're better than Stephen King, you're entitled to that belief.

But publishers won't believe that, until you sell more books than King. And all of King's fans will think you're an idiot.

The higher the horse, the bigger the fall. The reasons you write, and your books, are not more important or better than anyone else's reasons for writing, or their books.

Write for whatever reason you want to write. But disregard the business, and it's successes, at your own peril.

Opinions may vary, but numbers don't lie.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Submit to Submission

You've been tinkering with a short story for a while. Maybe you aren't sure how to market it. Maybe you've never submitted a story anywhere before. Maybe it has already been rejected a few times. It's sitting there on your hard drive, doing nothing.

It's time to send that story out.

I just got a rejection. This week, I'm going to submit the story someplace else, and I encourage you to share in the submission process with me and do the same.

April 3-7 is now officially "I Submit Week." Your job is to find a market for your story and submit that sucker by Friday.

So polish it up. Make sure it conforms to submission guidelines. Write a query. Squelch the fear and self-doubt.

Then send that puppy out there.

The market doesn' t have to be a paying market. It can be to a fiction website. It can be a small publication. It can be to a contest (unless you have to pay---don't pay to submit anything, ever!)
You don't even have to have a story in mind. Five days is more than enough time to whip something up.

If anyone needs advice on queries or markets, I'll be around.

Need more incentive? I'm still working on the rewrites to DIRTY MARTINI, to be published in June of 2007.

The first five people who submit stories will get characters named after them in this book. I'll plug you right into the rewrite.

Now move your butt---your writing won't get published on its own.