Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Rusty Nail 600

Since the Rusty Nail 500 ended in late August I've visited Wisconsin four times, Michigan twice, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. I've done sixteen events, and dropped in 86 bookstores.

That brings the total number of bookstores I've visited to 590.

Today I'll visit four more, and tomorrow I'll be in Wisconsin again for Murder in Muskego along with David Morrell, Tess Gerritsen, Blake Crouch, John Connolly, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and Libby Fisher Hellmann, among others. Come if you can.

During my Wisconsin trip, I'll visit six more stores, which will make my 500 tour reach 600.

That's a lot of bookstores.

I get asked a lot, "Was it worth it?"

This question is wrong. The correct question should be, "Is it worth it?" Because the tour will never truly end.

I may never do something as intensive or dramatic as 600 stores in six months. But as long as I'm writing books, I'll be stopping in bookstores. Because it is worth it.

As much as I'd rather be doing other things.

Which brings up today's blog topic: excuses.

As people who get paid to lie for a living, writers are experts at rationaliztion. There are always reasons we didn't make the deadline, didn't answer the email, didn't do that last booksigning.

In my last blog entry, I stressed the importance of setting goals that you have control over.
  • Stay at a signing until you sell ten books.
  • Meet thirty new people at a conference.
  • Write 2000 words a day.
  • Drop in 100 bookstores.

These goals are attainable, because they are specific and depend upon a direct effort on your part.

But even if we set goals like these, we usually factor in for comfort. Selling ten books at a signing is easier than selling twenty. Visiting 100 bookstores is easier than 150. We rarely push ourselves to our limits.

This is sad, because we can only learn our limits by going beyond them.

Unfortunately, that involves a lot of time and energy. So we aim low in our goals. We do the barest minimum, and then make excuses. We justify our actions.

In short, we say "can't" when we really mean "won't."

A lot of people think I enjoy self-promotion. They think I'm good at it because I have some sort of self-promotion gene. They tell me, "I can't do what you're doing."

They're wrong on all counts.

I never knew what I was capable of until I pushed myself. And I pushed myself not because I enjoy it, but because I'm ambitious and determined to succeed. I work hard at it. I work so hard at it, I've been accused of setting the bar too high. I've been accused of doing the publisher's job for them. I've even been accused of bringing about change for the worse in the publishing world, where publishers demand that authors self-promote. I've made some people very angry.

If you feel that way, who are you really angry with? (Hint: check a mirror.)

I believe that all writers should push themselves. Your goals should be out of your comfort range. You should quit limiting your potential and instead see how far you can go. This doesn't just apply to writing. This applies to life.

Stop saying "can't" and watch how far it takes you. It took me to 600 bookstores.


Anonymous said...

Sometimes, Joe, you have to stop and think, "Is this what I really want to be doing?" What I mean by that is - of course I want to remain a published author and of course I want to always write. And I work damn hard at both.

But if, at some point, the only way I can attain the former is to visit 600 bookstores in 6 months, I'd have to ask myself if this is what I really want my life as a published author to be like. And I'm quite certain my answer would be "no." Doesn't mean I'm not working hard, mind you - but it does mean that there's a point when you have to see what it is you're REALLY doing - and at that point it's more traveling salesman than author, and many people aren't cut out to be traveling salesmen. At that point your job description has changed. A lot.

It's a truth that all authors' lives aren't the same - some authors will be published, and remain that way, with little or no effort on their own, and while it may not seem fair to the rest of us, it's a fact. Others will have to do more work. Still others will have to do a LOT more work - and at some point you have to do a gut check, and decide if this is really what you want your life to be like. I'm sure the answer will be different for everyone.

JA Konrath said...

I agree, Melanie.

There is no one telling us how hard we have to work. There isn't even anyone telling us that we have to be authors. We could be doing many other things--things that are more enjoyable and rewarding.

But if you do want to be a writer, you owe it to yourself to do everything you can in order to succeed. That means pushing yourself. That means knowing your limits because you've tested them. That means doing things you hate (being a travelling salesman) to do things you love (writing.)

As Devon said, we all have to ask ourselves how badly we want it. Everything has a cost.

Anonymous said...

Joe, I've just read your first book and while I enjoyed it I got the impression that it was written in a relatively short time. It could have been twice as long and I think I would have enjoyed it even more. So, if your self-promotion is coming at the expense of that critical finished product, I say write more and travel less. If the product's 50% better, you could spend 50% less time on the road (and more time with your family), and get the same sales and most likely more. So if I may say so, please allocate more time to what you're best at : WRITING.

Just gave Whiskey Sour a strong recommendation on Amazon, and it's there for all to see.

Wish I could be in Wisconsin tomorrow.....sheesh, Tess, John Connolly and you all in the same place??? What a trip. Best of luck Joe.

Anonymous said...

Hi Joe,

Just out of curiosity, have you compared your sales before and after the tour? Is there a significant jump in sales for your previous titles? I know that it's impossible to get a near accurate tally of the figures but I'm hoping that you could share with us some numerical data to obsess over.

People who often say they'll call you back, don't usually do so. I wonder if it's the same with people who say they'll order more books. :)

Anonymous said...

Actually, Joe, I think it's less a question of "how much" - because I don't know a single author who's lazy and not willing to work his a** off - and more a matter of "what?" And more importantly, I think, to all of us - "at what expense to my writing, which is, after all, the reason I wanted to do this in the first place?"

Again - the answer is different for all of us, but I don't think it's simplified in quanties, i.e. - how much are we willing to do? We're all willing to do quite a lot, for the most part. More than we ever dreamed we'd have to. But I think for most of us there's a tipping point where it isn't at all the career we envisioned, and then we have to pull up and figure out if it's right for us.

And again, even the definition of a typical writer's day is so different, depending on so many things outside our control (sales, effort from our publisher, expectations, etc.). But we don't know what that day is going to shape up to be, until we've been at this a while.

Stacey Cochran said...

Hi everyone,

I need your advice.

So, I'm querying like 450 literary agents between now and December for my fourth novel, and I decided to make a short video regarding the process.

There are so many well-established authors (and editors and agents) who read this blog regularly, and any feedback you can offer regarding my query package would be appreciated.

Check Out My Package

Tom Schreck said...

Hey Joe!

I went to the Book House in Albany--one of your tour spots-- and I got talking to the owner about my novel ON THE ROPES and I said--"you know my friend Joe Konrath stopped here this summer,"

Before I could finish she said (Susan Novatny) "Oh yeah he was alot of fun!"

Then she took me in the back and showed me stacks of ARCs, showed me the return pile, and then showed me her orders from Ingram and stuff on her computer.

She offered to host a signing for me and gave me lots of advice on approaching bookstores.

So--I'm considering this Number 1 on the "ON THE ROPES" tour.

Oh and, by the way, though she didn't actually say it-- her eyes were telling me that she thought you were sexy...

Anonymous said...

Some people are just never going to be able to visit 500 bookstores or hang around a bookstore until someone buys 10 copies of their book. (Which sounds like a poor waste of time to me, frankly.)

Everyone has to promote in their own way. I think creativity is a more important component of promotion than going beyond the comfort zone.

I do, however, think it behooves an author to really stretch his or herself when it comes to the product. It's simply easier to promote something that is worthwhile, well thought out, original and sparkling than something that is hastily thrown together.

Ensuring quality of product must come before promotion of that product. ALWAYS.

Anonymous said...

You gave me a blog topic, thanks! But you left out a reason that you gave sometime, somewhere. I can't find it! I wanted to quote you on my blog, but I can't remember. It really resonated with me.

Unless I'm remembering wrong, you said something along the lines of your career being too important to you to leave in the hands of your publisher.

I really liked that. Darn, what did you really say? Guess I don't have to worry about accidental plagarism!

Unknown said... know, Joe, your advice has absolutely nothing to do with visiting 600+ bookstores. It has to do with passion! Really, the advice you give on your blog and on your website may be about the writing life. But it could be about any life. As a matter of fact, it's about life itself. It's about passion!

I think you should turn all of these columns into a book of inspiration. I've read many books on the writing life by authors: the most recent Stephen King's and David Morrell's. But I think yours would be a stand out. Armed with your ability not to take yourself seriously while taking your work seriously, yours would stand tall on that shelf of life. And a title? PASSION!


JA Konrath said...

Anon--Whiskey Sour took about three months to write, and six months to rewtite 13 times, so nine months total. The reason it took so long was because I had a fulltime job at the time. WS was intentionally short (70k) to mimic the trend in the market---fast paced, losts of action and dialog, can be read in one sitting. Longer wouldn't have been better IMO. Though what's that show bix axiom; always leave them wanting more?

My later books, which most believe are better, each took about a month to write. Short stories take me a day or two. I just did a screenplay in six days.

None of these were rushed--that's just how fast I write, even before I did any promotion.

Better is not proprotional to less self-promotion. I can name six books better than mine that didn't do as well.

Ms. Bonkler--I don't have tour numbers yet, but I know that dozens of stores I've visited have sold out and reordered. This is a good thing.

Melanie--very smart response. I often wonder what my tipping point will be, and when (or if) it will come.


Anon 2--Some people are just never going to be able to visit 500 bookstores or hang around a bookstore until someone buys 10 copies of their book. (Which sounds like a poor waste of time to me, frankly.)

They're never going to, but that doesn't mean they can't. They simply won't.

The goal is to get as many fans as possible. Some fans will seek you out, but not as many as you'd think. Spending time in bookstores, handselling, offers readers a rare opportunity--to meet an author, and be introduced to something they probably would have overlooked.

Books are sold one at a time. It is never a waste to recruit new fans. And often these fans will then introduce your books to their friends and families, and continue to read your series forever. So your ten books sold may result in 100 sold over the next few years.

Creativity is important in promotion only if it works. I've found that the only thing that really works is word-of-mouth. That's why I spend so much time meeting booksellers and fans.

I've had several authors privately speak to me over the years about my telling the writing community how fast I can write. These authors believe that if I share with the world that I can write a book in 30 days, the book can be viewed as somehow lesser.

If anyone who takes a year or more to write a book wants to compare fan letters with me, bring it on. :)

JA Konrath said...

That's great, Stacey!

Anonymous said...


I'm going to comment here re: your query package because I think it will be beneficial to the other new writers who may be reading this blog.

I used to work in editorial for Bantam Dell and I'm currently the editor of Demolition Magazine so I've seen thousands of queries in my time and I've also sent out my fair share with almost a 60% favorable response rate and here's a few things I've learned.

1) Start small. Instead of working with 450 literary agents, start with 25. Do some research, find the agents you really want to work with and be able to tell them why you want to work with them.

2) Customize your query letter. The bulk of the letter can be the same, but the first paragraph should include information about why you chose this agent. Know who they represent, know who they've made recent sales to, and know what kind of books they're looking for right now.

3) Go email first. Instead of wasting the postage for so many letters and SASE, look at which of the big agents will accept a one page email query letter. I've found that almost all of the major agents will accept an email query if it's brief and entertaining.

4) Don't include the bio and pic. unless you're a celebrity, nobody cares what you look like or what you've done. I know you've had some good stories published in good magazines so def. include that info in your query letter but that's it.

5) Instead, include the first five pages of your manuscript. Again, I've found that this is about the maximum number of pages an agent will glance at with a query. Any fewer and I don't think the true style and voice comes across, but any more and I think it becomes imposing.

I hope this helps and good luck with the agent search.

JA Konrath said...

Pat--I'm an inspiration to dozens.

Bryon--Ah, the e-query. So much has changed since I was on the query-go-round. Email may be the way of the future, or even present.

I like Stacey's bio/pic, because it's different. It's also what I did to get many agent offers.

Ultimately the book will sell the book. Stacey is trying to get their attention first. And I think he will.

Unknown said...


Here's another way to 'think outside the box' when it comes to selling one's book:

Author Courts Book Clubs And Boosts Sales
Romance Novelist John Shors Makes Personal Calls And Visits To Book Clubs,

Shors is the author of "Beneath A Marble Sky," a romantic novel about the building of the Taj Mahal. The book got decent reviews, but didn't sell much until he added a note to the paperback edition.

"I came up with the idea of putting the letter in the back of the paper back, with my e-mail address, and inviting book clubs to invite me to their evenings," Shors explains.

That same perseverance and stubbornness is driving sales of about 1,000 a week. Shors simply refused to let a book he spent five years writing, die on the shelf.

Stacey Cochran said...

Bryon and JA,

Thanks so much for the suggestions. Everything you've said is reasonable and makes perfect sense.

I agree with it, and I appreciate it.

I probably should have clarified somewhat about my querying. This is not the first time I've queried agents, and I wouldn't recommend starting with 450 to anyone for the first time.

I actually submitted my first manuscript to a publisher in 1989, and since then I've probably sent somewhere between 500-1000 query letters specifically to literary agents. Between the years of 1996 and 2004, I queried pretty much one at a time.

That's what I would recommend for people who have never sent queries before.

Start with one at a time (10-20 at most) and see what happens.

My case is a bit extreme because I've been doing this for so long, have written ten novels without publication, and because I know most of these agents (at least by name and by what they've sold).

With each novel, I start with the agents I know, have met, or would prefer to work with. That number is usually between 50 and 100.

Once I've queried those, then I go after the rest.

My motto is "Leave no stone unturned."

I'm prepared to self-publish every novel I write and can sell enough copies to break even, but before self-publishing, my goal is to query every agent and editor in New York and then around the rest of the country.

There aren't really that many; less than a thousand. And you can query a thousand people in six months.

If everybody passes, then I self publish and keep moving forward. So far, I've put out three books like this, and I have like 7-8 more that are done and in manuscript format.

Thanks again so much for your feedback. I appreciate it.


Anonymous said...

Hey, JA. Have you ever thought of trying to get the kind of platform top non-fiction writers have? You'd be a natural for a radio or cable TV show about mysteries, and clearly a lot of people love the genre and would watch/listen. I've always wondered why no one had a program like that...

Maybe you, or some of the Killer Year folks, could try it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Pat Mullen. You might find it easier on yourself to try and do connect with readers by telephone conferences. Author John Shors is showing what is possible by this technology.

Another good example is Donna Woolfolk Cross and her novel Pope Joan. The hardcover version of her book only went through one printing, then without fanfare it went out of print. She vowed that a book she spent seven years researching and writing would not fade into obscurity and that the paperback would be different.

So there are sample questions at the end of her book along with the address to her website and an open invitation for her to speak with book groups. She's spoken with well over 1500 groups and her novel is in its 17th printing.

I'm not saying for you to stop going to bookstores or doing library signings or public appearances, but imagine how much more time you'd have if you could simply devote an hour in the afternoon or evening talking on the phone to a room of twenty readers and not have to incur travel time.