Friday, December 21, 2007

New Year's Resolutions Part 3

Every December I do a post about resolutions for writers, and every year I add more of them.


Newbie Writer Resolutions
  • I will start/finish the damn book
  • I will always have at least three stories on submission, while working on a fourth
  • I will attend at least one writer's conference, and introduce myself to agents, editors, and other writers
  • I will subscribe to the magazines I submit to
  • I will join a critique group. If one doesn't exist, I will start one at the local bookstore or library
  • I will finish every story I start
  • I will listen to criticism
  • I will create/update my website
  • I will master the query process and find an agent
  • I'll quit procrastinating in the form of research, outlines, synopses, taking classes, reading how-to books, talking about writing, and actually write something
  • I will refuse to get discouraged, because I know JA Konrath wrote 9 novels, received almost 500 rejections, and penned over 1 million words before he sold a thing--and I'm a lot more talented than that guy

Professional Writer Resolutions

  • I will keep my website updated
  • I will keep up with my blog
  • I will schedule bookstore signings, and while at the bookstore I'll meet and greet the customers rather than sit dejected in the corner
  • I will send out a newsletter, emphasizing what I have to offer rather than what I have for sale, and I won't send out more than four a year
  • I will learn to speak in public, even if I think I already know how
  • I will make selling my books my responsibility, not my publisher's
  • I will stay in touch with my fans
  • I will contact local libraries, and tell them I'm available for speaking engagements
  • I will attend as many writing conferences as I can afford
  • I will spend a large portion of my advance on self-promotion
  • I will help out other writers
  • I will not get jealous, will never compare myself to my peers, and will cleanse my soul of envy
  • I will be accessible, amiable, and enthusiastic
  • I will do one thing every day to self-promote
  • I will always remember where I came from


  • Keep an Open Mind. It's easier to defend your position than seriously consider new ways of thinking. But there is no innovation, no evolution, no "next big thing" unless someone thinks differently. Be that someone.

  • Look Inward. We tend to write for ourselves. But for some reason we don't market for ourselves. Figure out what sort of marketing works on you; that's the type of marketing you should be trying. You should always know why you're doing what you're doing, and what results are acceptable to you.

  • Find Your Own Way. Advice is cheap, and the Internet abounds with people telling you how to do things. Question everything. The only advice you should take is the advice that makes sense to you. And if it doesn't work, don't be afraid to ditch it.

  • Set Attainable Goals. Saying you'll find an agent, or sell 30,000 books, isn't attainable, because it involves things out of your control. Saying you'll query 50 agents next month, or do signings at 20 bookstores, is within your power and fully attainable.

  • Enjoy the Ride. John Lennon said that life is what happens while you're busy planning other things. Writing isn't about the destination; it's about the journey. If you aren't enjoying the process, why are you doing it?

  • Help Each Other. One hand should always be reaching up for your next goal. The other should be reaching down to help others get where you're at. We're all in the same boat. Start passing out oars.

Now 2008 is just around the corner. The above resolutions are all still valid. But even if we're complying with them, we can and should push ourselves harder. So here are some goals, for newbies and pros alike, to help take us to the next level, whatever that level is.

I Will Use Anger As Fuel.
We all know that this is a hard business. Luck plays a huge part. Rejection is part of the job. Things happen beyond our control, and we can get screwed.

It's impossible not to dwell on it when we're wronged. But rather than vent or stew or rage against the world and everyone in it, we should use that anger and the energy it provides for productive things.

The next time you get bad news, resolve to use that pain to drive your work. Show fate that when it pushes you, you push right back. By writing. By querying. By marketing.

I Will Abandon My Comfort Zone. The only difference between routine and rut is spelling.

As a writer, you are part artist and part businessman.

Great artists take chances.

Successful businessmen take chances.

This means doing things you're afraid of, and things you hate, and things you've never tried before.

If, in 2008, you don't fail at something, you weren't trying hard enough.

I Will Feed My Addiction. Life is busy. There are always things you can and should be doing, and your writing career often comes second.

So make it come first.

Right now, you're reading A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. Not A Newbie's Guide to Leading a Content and Balanced Life.

You want to get published and stay published? That means making writing a priority. That means making sacrifices. A sacrifice involves choosing one thing over another.

If you can't devote the time, energy, and money it takes to pursue this career, go do something else.

I Will Never Be Satisfied. Think the last resolution was extreme? This one really separates the die-hards from the hobbyists.

While an overwhelming sense of peace and enlightenment sounds pretty nice, I wouldn't want to hire a bunch of Zen masters to build an addition on my house.

Satisfaction and contentment are great for your personal life. In your professional life, once you start accepting the way things are, you stop trying.

No one is going to hand you anything in this business. You have to be smart, be good, work hard, and get lucky.

Every time you get published, you got lucky. Don't take it for granted.

When something bad happens, it should make you work harder. But when something good happens, you can't believe you earned it. Because it isn't true. You aren't entitled to this career. No one is.

Yes, you should celebrate successes. Sure, you should enjoy good things when they happen. Smile and laugh and feel warm and fuzzy whenever you finish a story or make a sale or reach a goal.

But remember that happiness isn't productive. Mankind's greatest accomplishments are all tales of struggle, hardship, sacrifice, work, and effort. You won't do any of those things if you're satisfied with the status quo.

Who do you want on your team? The kid who plays for fun? Or the kid who plays to win?

If you want 2008 to be your year, you know which kid you have to be.

Monday, December 10, 2007

As The Publishing World Turns: An Advertising Idea

Some things I've noticed recently, and a new idea I might be the guinea pig for.

Visiting the airport in Knoxville, TN, I went into a Paradies Shop. There are over 500 of these stores in over 60 airports. Among other sundries, they sell books.

Apparently, they also rent books.

Paradies has a Read & Return policy. You buy it, keep it for up to six months, and then can return is for a 50% refund.

For travellers, this is a great idea. Read during plane rides and layaways, then get a portion of the money back.

But I'm wondering if there are deals in place with Paradies stores that restrict returns back to the publisher/distributor. Or else a book can sell three or four times, then be returned back to the publisher, and the publisher and author make nada. Unless there is some sort of special contract, I can't see how this can possibly be good for books sales or royalties.

On an unrelated note, I was straightening up my son's bedroom when I found two audio books, "Junie B. Jones Has A Monster Under Her Bed" by Barbara Park and "Dinosaurs Before Dark" by Mary Pope Osborne. My son got these a few months ago, as free toys in a Kid's Meal at Wendy's.

Free books with your burger. Awesome. I'll stick them on his iPod.

This made me think, yet again, about the future of publishing, and how it is increasingly becoming digital. The Amazon Kindle ebook reader was recently released, and it's a pretty cool piece of equipment. But too expensive ($399) to change the publishing industry like iPod forever changed the music industry. For the industry big wigs who read my blog and hang on my every word, here's my criteria for the perfect ebook reader.

1. Backlit, with changeable fonts.

2. Scratch proof and water resistant.

3. Wireless Internet download capability.

4. Comfortable to hold.

5. Intuitive controls and user interface.

6. A few gigs of storage, with the ability to add more.

7. Upgradable software.

8. Color screen.

9. The ability to play mp3 audiobooks.

10. Long battery life and fully rechargeable.

11. Compatible with pdf files.

12. DRM free.

Amazon seems to have gotten a lot of these right, but it's not quite there yet. And publishers still don't seem to understand downloads. The $9.99 price Amazon is charging for hardcovers is too steep for digital-only text content. However, the paperback prices range from $3.96 (for Whiskey Sour) to $7.99 (For Rusty Nail) which I think is more reasonable, but still a bit high for a download.

Give it two years and prices will come down, both for the hardware and the books.

Which brings me to the guinea pig portion of this blog entry.

My own foray into digital publishing has been enlightening. My Free Ebook webpage has had over 4000 hits since I put my ebook Origin on there last winter. I added The List, Disturb, and 55 Proof a few months ago, and began tracking downloads, and have had a combined total of over 1500 so far. I've gotten a good amount of fan feedback on these books, and they've gotten some online reviews.

Their purpose was to hook new readers and get them to buy my print books. Since there is no cost involved for me (other than the time of writing, editing, and formatting) I consider these freebies a smart business move.

But now I'm thinking they could be more.

Many blogs posts ago, I openly wondered what would happen when publishing went digital in a big way. When more books were read electronically than on paper, and people traded the book files freely like they do music mp3s. When you could get a discography of every Stephen King book on a single CD for $14.95, and when you would get book downloads for less than a dollar, or even for free.

A frightening world, for publishers and for authors. How can we make money if someone buys a copy of our latest book for fifty cents and then sends it to their entire email list for free?

One of the things I predicted is that publishing will do what other media did: Use Sponsors and Advertisers.

While McDonalds and Toyota aren't beating down my doors, offering me thousands of dollars to have Jack Daniels (or me) use their products, my ebooks do have room for ads. In fact, each of them contains an ad, at the end, for the Jack Daniels series.

So I got to thinking that maybe I could do more with this space.

I really dislike pop up ads, and banner ads, and website ads, in the same way I hate TV commercials. They're intrusive. By contrast, newspaper and magazine ads are passive. You can skip the page and ignore them if you want to.

I have a large collection of paperbacks, and many have ads in the back for other books, some by the same author and some by different authors. Some early ones even have ads in the middle of the book, for cigarettes.

But, for the most part, the advertising potential of books hasn't been exploited. And there's probably a good reason for this. People plunking down good money for a book don't want to read any ads. I agree. I hate paying $10 to see a movie and then have to sit through two commercials. It's not fair.

But I wouldn't mind sitting through commercials if the movie were free.

And I wouldn't mind dealing with a few ads if the book were free. offers four free ebooks. These aren't reprints, or public domain, or available anywhere else. These are brand spanking new. And I'm not making a dime off of them.

The Experiment

While I'm not a huge brand name author, I do have a growing fan base, and people are downloading my freebies at a rate of about ten a day.

Since you're reading this, I assume you're an author. Maybe you've got a book out, or one coming out. Maybe you'd like to reach a specific demographic of fans, namely people who read mysteries and thrillers. And maybe who don't have a big budget to spend on advertising.

Here's what I'm proposing. For ten bucks, you can get a full page ad in the back of one of my ebooks for a sixth month period.

For twenty-five bucks, you can get an ad in all four books for six months.

Here are the rules.

1. All ads must be approved by me.

2. You're responsible for creating your ad and sending it to me as either a jpg or a MS Word .doc file.

3. You'll appear in the ebook of your choice (The List, Origin, Disturb, 55 Proof) for $10, or all four ebooks for $25, for a six month period starting no later than a week after I receive payment via PayPal. Book descriptions are HERE.

4. Ads will appear at the back of the ebooks, and be sold on a first come/first serve basis, which is the order they'll appear in.

5. You aren't buying my blurb or the use of my name, and an ad does not mean I endorse you or your work. But you are free to distribute my ebooks with your ad in them, link to them on your website, and mention that you've bought ad space from me.

6. Tracking the effectiveness of your ads is your job, not mine. While I'm honest about the number of hits and downloads I get, I'm not giving the world access to my tracking sites and meters. I suggest having something in your ad, like a specific coupon code or a unique URL, to judge how many hits you're getting from your ad.

7. All sales are final. But I reserve the right to pull your ad or pull my ebooks at any time, in which case you'll get a prorated refund.

Now lets have some Q & A.

Q: Do you actually think you'll make a lot of money doing this?

A: No. This is an experiment. If it is successful, money may someday come from large companies, not fellow authors. But Sears, Dairy Queen, Sony, Coke, Universal Studios, and Jared The Galleria of Jewelry aren't readers of my blog. Writers are. That's who I can reach, and having book ads in the backs of my ebooks makes logical sense.

Q: What kind of ads will you accept?

A: I dunno until I see some. Obviously, I expect most of them to be book ads. 1-900 sex numbers, POD and editing services, and ads for G*n*ric Vi*gr@ will be turned down. I'm not the one to talk to about the effectiveness of ads, as I don't believe most of them work.

Q: How many ads will each book contain?

A: I have no set number in mind. If people keep buying them, I'll keep selling them. I think it would be kind of interesting, from a writer's standpoint, to see 150 book ads back-to-back. It would sure give you a crash course in what works and what doesn't.

Q: Are you going to tell the people that download your ebooks that they contain ads?

A: Yes. On my website and in the ebooks themselves I'll have a disclaimer along the lines of:

"This ebook was made freely available to you by the generosity of sponsors. These sponsors have placed ads in the back of this book. I encourage you, the reader, to visit these pages. Maybe you'll find something to enjoy."

Q: Aren't you worried about losing credibility in the publishing world with this stunt?

A: As writers, we need to break new ground and try new things. We need to study and question, rather than blindly accept. We need to lead, rather than follow. Else we're just sheep. And sheep don't usually meet with happy endings.

Q: Can I buy ad space in any of your print books, or any of your Jack Daniels ebooks?

A: No.

Q: I work in advertising, and have access to executives at large corporations. Can I try to sell adspace for you?

A: If you know a large corporation who'd be willing to pay me real money to advertise in the back of my four free ebooks, I'd split the money with you 50/50. And if the money is big enough, I'll even try to make the characters in my books use their products. We could also negotiate for additional ad space (front of book, middle of book, two page ads, etc.) Obviously, this will cost a tad bit more than $10.

Q: I'm sold. You have 14,000 MySpace Friends, you get hundreds of thousands of hits a year on your website and blog, and Googling "JA Konrath" gets 140,000 results. I spend more than ten bucks a day on lunch, so an ad in the back of one of your free ebooks seems like a really good deal. How do I try this?

A: Contact me at and we'll talk.

Q: When are you going to start this?

A: It depends. Right now I'm running it up the flagpole to see who salutes. If there's interest, I'll try it. If not, I'll wait until I'm a bigger name and try it again. I know if any NYT bestselling thriller author offered a free ebook, I'd buy adspace in the back, and pay a lot more than $10.

Which brings me to questions I have for you, the blog reader. I'd love you to weigh in on this idea. Is it the future of publishing, or just plain stupid?
Or more specifically:

1. Would you pay $10 for a six month ad in one of my ebooks? Why or why not?

2. Is $10 too much of too little? Is six months too long or too short?

3. Would you rather pay for an ebook with no ads, or get a free ebook that contained some ads? What would you pay for the ad-free version? Assume it's an author you enjoy.

4. Did I cover everything? Did I overlook something?

5. Will this idea work? Why or why not?

Looking forward to your reactions...

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Blog Post Number 300: Your Goals

It's hard to believe I've done 300 posts since beginning this blog.

That's a lot of info about publishing.

Getting published, staying published, and becoming successful, has a lot to do with luck. But one of my core philosophies is that the harder you work, the luckier you get.

Last blog, I asked you folks what your goals for 2008 were, and how you planned to reach those goals.

I got a few responses. Some are brief. Some are detailed. Some are cynical. Some are inspiring.

I encourage you to read each and every one, because the sum is greater than the parts, even though a lot of the parts are dead-on.

You might recognize some of these names. Others, you may not recognize yet.


So let's see what our peers, both newbie and pro, have to say, in the order I received their answers:


1. Your goals for 2008.

Get my next novel on the New York Times bestseller list.

2. How you will reach these goals.

Entitle my next novel "As Seen on Oprah".

But seriously, folks... In 2008 I'd like to do a better job of promoting my new novel (Mean Town Blues, coming from Pegasus in late 2008) than I did my last one (Homicide 69, from Carroll and Graf in 2007). I hope to accomplish this through careful bribery and shameless hucksterism.


1. Your goals for 2008.

Get my two latest novels published by a reputable publisher and get a movie deal for at least one of the two screenplays I've written.

2. How you will reach these goals.

Pray. Don't break any mirrors. Throw salt over my shoulder. Don't walk under ladders. Don't antagonize my agent. Throw a coin into the wishing well--no, make that several coins. Be nice to everyone I meet. Bend over backwards. Give away the shirt off my back. Find a falling star and wish upon it. Think positively. Don't let rejections get me down. Don't give up. Pray.


1. Your goals for 2008.

To write two books: one thriller, one young adult novel

2. How you will reach these goals.

Committing myself to writing 5 pages a day.


My goal for 2008 is to sell more books than I did in 2007, and I hope to do that by writing better books.


1. To make it to 2009.

2. Work my ass off, writing everyday, and hoping, somehow, to get it right.


1. Your goals for 2008.

Given the current state of publishing, I am hoping for the minimum, so my goals are scaled down...lowered expectations. We learn from recent history and are informed by the state of the art. 2007 and 06 have seen tougher and more difficult times for
authors gaining contracts. It almost seems that if you don't have a movie or game tie-in, or a gimmick, or what's the new term for it, a platform, say a novel that has a whale of information about fly fishing, crocheting, farm animals in crisis, a haunted microwave that also explains how microwaves are in fact supernatural, or a dog or cat at the center of the mystery, you are not going to sell your novel. The more serious the work, the harder to sell has always been true, but never as true as today.

It seems editors are prowling for fluff and publising much of it with such titles as The Cat Who Came in From the Executioner's Toilet. In this market, my goal is to find an editor interested in a complex, layered novel (sell at least one in 08) with fully realized characters. Primary goal is to make enough money to support my writer's life and perhaps buy my wife a gift once in a while.

2. How you will reach these goals.

I will pressure my current publisher to get on track with my next work; I will pressure my agent to ferret out editors who are killing to work with me (not always easy to do). And I will remain on the look out for such a person. I have already sent
out multiple inquiries for a new novel, and am hopeful that once the holidays have passed, that singular individual who understands and responds to my voice and purpose will be found.

I will also go to as many writers conferences as I can afford. I am also making inquiries with folks on the other coast, Hollywood, again hoping to find a connect there that might pan out. Much of marketing is a shot in the dark, but one keeps
firing. Never say die.


1. My goals for 2008.

Finish at least two of the six books I currently have in progress.

2. How I will reach these goals.

No idea.


My writing goals for 2008:

1. Complete the manuscripts for 3 specific novels. One I'm working hard on, one I'm tinkering with, and one I wrote a proposal for, but think will sell better if I complete it.

2. ANGELS FALLING is scheduled for publication May 2008, so my goals regarding that revolve around specific goals I have for promotion: visit a minimum of 25 Michigan bookstores and sign stock. There are other things in development, but I haven't laid them all out yet.

3. Sign at least one book contract (preferably more) for the completed novels.

4. Hit a specific dollar amount for my writing in total. I won't say it here, but it's a little higher than my 2006 number and better than the 2007 number, which wasn't as good as 2006, but was still pretty good. Hitting goal #3 would help considerably in this. I've already signed a nonfiction business report contract for a good chunk of it, the advance expected in January.


Number one, far ahead of all the rest...

Broaden My Platform: Given the fickle nature of publishing and the increasingly shallow pool of people who buy books, the only way I'll continue to prosper as a writer is to create product for a variety of divergent markets.

How the heck I intend to do all of the above

I currently have two non-fiction book proposals with my agent (one in sports/recreation the other in health/medicine.) We'll whip those into shape and, with luck, have contracts for both in early 2008 and completed manuscripts by the end of the year. In addition to fulfilling my contract with St. Martin's for a fifth book in the Zack Chasteen Caribbean Mystery series, I'll flesh out ideas for a Young Adult novel and a historical novel set in 1870s Florida. And while 2007 was a very good year for my freelance magazine business, I'll continue to place articles in new markets and find more venal, yet lucrative, copywriting projects with advertising agencies in order to pay the everyday bills.

And somewhere along the line I'll: update my Web site and blog more frequently; continue to strengthen ties with booksellers; make even more speeches, book festival panels and bookstore signings than the 120 or so that I did in 2007; and attract gobs of new readers.

In short, in 2008 I'll: Write faster, sleep less, travel to new places and have even more fun than I'm already having.


My goals for 2008: First up, i will have sent off my second, fully revised MS to my agent by the first of the year, so hopefully I'll be celebrating its sale early in 2008. That means I'll be starting my third novel by the end of the month. And finishing it before the end of 2008.

Here's how I will accomplish this goal: Between now and Christmas 2007, I'm working 2-3 hours every day to complete revisions for book #2. For Book #3, I've learned it takes me about two months to write a novel (I'm clearly no Joe!). So, my goal is 4000-5000 words a week. Have a finished draft by the end of the summer, then spend two months revising. Voila. Book #3.

Thanks for making me put this in writing, Joe.


I set a goal about two years ago to finish my first novel by the time I turned 40. Well, I turned 40 this past March, and didn't quite make it. I did finish the first draft in April or May. But I decided something simple like not meeting my goal was not going to discourage me. So I set a new goal of having the novel finished by my next birthday, March of 2008. That means polished, edited, tweaked, and ready to find an agent. I'm still a ways off, and March is coming up fast, but I still think I can do it.


1. Goals for 2008: I’d like to try to take on only those projects that I love and feel passionately about (as opposed to doing favors or going against my instincts when something doesn’t feel right). I’d also like to find new areas of interest – my client list is pretty eclectic, but I’d love to find a great children’s book, or a military thriller, or other types of projects in areas I haven’t ventured into too often.

2. How will you reach these goals: I’m going to try to be more realistic about my time and how valuable it is and really force myself to say “no” if things aren’t right for me. And, I’d like to increase my reading time so that I can look at more things that may be coming over the transom in those areas I’d like to expand into.


Get and develop a website.
Earn at least $500 from my writing.
Finish EVERY story I have started/ideas written for.
Begin at least 1 new novel.
Get an agent for the novel I have completed.


1. Your goals for 2008.

My main goal for 2008 is to continue writing and turning out the best stuff that I can. A long time ago, before I'd sold any of my novels, I was just sitting down to start a new manuscript. When the mail came, I discovered that I'd gotten one back that I'd previously sent out. Depressed and demoralized, I questioned myself. Did I really want to continue in this writing game? Steeling myself with resolve, I vowed to begin this new novel, putting everything I had into it, making it the best that I could make it, even if no one else ever read it but me.

That manuscript was A Killing Frost, and it turned out to be the first of mine to get accepted for publishing. So my goal is to keep that fire in my belly . . . to keep turning out the best prose I can . . . to write in an entertaining and interesting manner.

I also have to continue to promote the new projects that are coming up. A Killing Frost was just released last month in mass market paperback, and I have the first novel in a new police procedural series due out from Dorchester in the spring. It's called Random Victim. I also have a collaborative novel, Dead Ringer, that I wrote with my writing partner, Julie Hyzy that's due out in 2008 as well.

2. How you will reach these goals.

I hope to reach these goals via two words: HARD WORK.


1. Lose 30 pounds.

How? Get on the treadmill as part of my daily routine, not just once
in a while.

2. Improve my marriage.

How? Learn to communicate with my wife more effectively.

3. Write one short story to see if all these ideas in my head can be
translated into something coherent and worth sharing.

How? I'll jot down the random plot points I've come up with between
now and Jan. 1st, then use my lunch hour at work everyday to write until
the short story is complete.


1. Your goals for 2008.

Write better...

2. How you will reach these goals.

Read more!


1. Your goals for 2008.

Well, I have a March deadline, so finishing the WIP before then is my first priority. After that, I need to make some more sales so I can continue to make up stuff for a living. That means writing proposals and/or complete manuscripts. I'd like to write a total of four to five proposals next year (and -hopefully- sell them) and finish a complete that I'm working on in addition to the deadline book.

All the goals I make are for things I can control. As a result, I don't set publishing goals, just writing goals. I've found if I do the writing, the publishing part tends to take care of itself (with the help of my agents).

2. How you will reach these goals.

I write full time, so reaching these goals is a matter of showing up at my computer, pushing my insecurities aside, and putting words on the screen. It's as simple and as complicated as that.


1. Your Goals for 2008.

I really want to get a novel finished and in submission shape so I can get an agent.

2. How you will reach these goals.

I will write as much as I possibly can, as well as I can.


My main goal for 2008 is to finish my eighth book before the end of the year. That'll be the official end of this "just in time" delivery system I've been laboring under, where I turn in a new manuscript five months before the pub date. Much better to have one in the queue and that's what I'm shooting for.

My marketing goals are less distinct. Sometimes I hear other authors say things like "My goal is to crack the NYT printed list," but I don't really think in those terms. Not that I don't want to crack the printed list, and more; it's just that I've broken down into bite-sized chunks the list of things I need to do to achieve my lofty goals, and now I focus day to day on making sure all those little things happen. Over time, they add up. So I guess you could say my marketing goals for 2008 are to continue to do the things I've been doing. Which means, at a high level, appearances, online presence, increasing penetration of the romance demographic (sorry, I had to say it), etc. etc.

More abstract still: to continue to try to gain greater self-awareness and objectivity about the world and my place in it. To continue to try to be the change I want to see in the world (learned that from Ghandi). This one is much harder than the other two, and infinitely more worthy.

How will I reach these goals? Well, I gotta stop sniffing glue, that's #1...

Seriously, the key to achieving any goal is to reverse engineer the goal into steps you can follow every day. The thought of writing a 100,000 word novel is daunting. But if write only 500 words -- less than two pages -- a day, the book will be written in just over six months. Break it down into little pieces, focus on those pieces, stop thinking about the big bad goal. Shit, who can't write 500 words in a day? I'll probably write nearly that many just in this email.

It sounds odd, but focusing too much on the goal once you've figured out what it is is counterproductive. Cops involved in a shooting typically report a telling sequence: surprised, they get their weapon out and shoot instinctively, thinking things like "Die!" and "Go down!" Of course, hitting the other guy is one of the key goals in a gunfight (the other being not to get hit yourself). What's interesting is that, at this stage of the gunfight, the cop can't seem to hit the target. Then, after a second, the training kicks in. The cop stops thinking "Go down!" and instead reverts to the sequence he learned to concentrate on in training: aggressive stance. Gorilla grip. Front sight on the target. Roll the trigger.

And bam, like magic, the bad guy falls down.

Break it down into manageable steps, then systematically follow those steps. Your life could depend on it...

Another way I've heard it expressed is: plan the work, then work the plan.

I could go into a lot more detail, but I have to get in my daily writing...


1) Finish the first part of a trilogy I've just started writing. Get the 500 words per day done.

2) Work hard at getting my YA fantasy novel published.


My goals for 2008:

To somehow achieve the balance of being a loving husband and father while also negotiating the hellish shark-infested waters of the book and movie business, which I love, God help me, but not as much as my wife and kids. Does that make any kind of grammatical or spiritual sense?

How I will reach these goals is by being as nice as possible to my family, while simultaneously pushing the envelope of my writing comfort zone, especially stretching into new genres such as true crime, fantasy, and dark comedy, and also taking regular dosages of Xanax and Belgian chocolate.


I keep remembering something Mason Williams (the composer of "Classical Gas") said about how he worked hard on his music and it improved but then he worked on himself and his music improved a lot more. I've been trying to get some balance in what I do. For years, I spent so much time writing that I didn't pursue activities that I'd always wanted to try. Flying, for example. Last March, I made the decision to take flying lessons. Twice a week, I now go to the local airport in Santa Fe, where I fly with an instructor and (this is a very conscious metaphor) "get above it all." My skills are now sufficient that I soloed and am able to take the plane up by myself. By June, I hope to have my pilot's license.

While this might seem to have nothing to do with writing, it actually is pertinent. I think it's possible to get so involved in the publishing world that our imaginations get stuck in the conventional rut that publishing appears to encourage these days. Meanwhile, our lives go by, along with the chance to experience things that spark our creativity. I know that I'll use my piloting experience in a book some day. Meanwhile, it amazes me how refreshed I am after a lesson and how more energetic my mind is as I return to the desk.

Every project should be an adventure, just as our lives should be adventures. If we can make the two come together, there's no stopping us.


1) Complete my novel (sit my ass in a chair and write the thing)

2) Sell a few more stories (make sure I send them out)

3) Get my website up and running (kind of the same as #1)


1. Goals for 2008:

Write more.
Write better.

2. How to do it:

Pay more attention.
Think less.
Go deeper.


My main goal is annex the western third of Canada and rename it Jimvada. The capital will become Bornville. Gambling, outrageous fireworks and sex with farm animals will be legalized. From this stable and fun place to live I will then create an army that will attack countries which have no military or Moslems because it seems like those are the two things that seem to cause problems with invasions. Perhaps Polynesia because they’re protected by France which is the same as no military.

I will reach this goal as I do all other goals. I will train, be ruthlessly determined and then rely on a tremendous amount of luck.

As for publishing

My goal is to have a good launch on Burn Zone in February and build on the strides I made last year. Unless you are lucky, building an audience is a slow, careful process. I also work on improving as a writer every year and learn from the corrections of the previous novel.

The first goal requires some help from the publisher and fate. A few more reviews, a little news coverage and everything starts to roll. The second goal is something I’m serious about and work on not year by year but everyday by listening to seasoned writers I respect, seeing what editors are saying and looking at things from their perspective then by reading good books.

But I’m new to all this so I may be wrong.


1. My goals:
-- Finish writing Book #7 in the Jane Rizzoli series.
-- Lose 5 pounds.

2. How I'll reach those goals:
-- Plant my butt in my chair and write
-- No. More. Martinis.


My Goal for 2008:

To get my “voice” back. And finish a story.


One. Page. A. Day.


1. I only have one writing-related goal in 2008: To finally get that ever-elusive mass market deal!

2. Part of my plan to reach this goal involves...waiting patiently. After all, my agent has sent out three-chapters-and-a-synopsis proposals for two new novels to various editors, along with two novels that have already been published in very tiny print runs as pricey collector's editions. But that's not good enough if I want to be as famous as the mighty J.A. Konrath. So to supplement the stuff that's already floating around, my primary 2008 goal is to--in addition to finishing the already-contracted small press work--give my agent a complete, unencumbered, highly marketable novel to sell.


#1 Goal For 2008

Get my current novel – which is currently on submission – accepted by a legit publishing house.

How I’m Going To Reach That Goal

In this case, it’s up to will of Fate, Karma, unseen market forces, and St. Martins’ Press. I’ve written and re-written, found a legitimate agent who’s doing her job, so all I can do now is control my own attitude. That means not being a pest, not living in a “lottery dream” fantasyland, and not wasting my free time when I could be working on the sequel.

#2 Goal For 2008

Write a minimum of 180 pages of the next book… which may not seem like a lot given your productivity level, but with a toddler at home, another baby on the way, full-time advertising job, and bi-weekly column in Buzz, Balls & Hype, 180 pages will be a stretch (of my wife’s patience to boot).

How I’m Going To Reach That Goal

Write during lunches, write in hospital waiting rooms, write during nap times, give up watching “Project Runway,” and be happy, damn happy with 5-6 hours of sleep a night.

#3 Goal For 2008

World Peace.

How I’m Going To Reach That Goal

Recycle my plastic bags. Not vote for Guilliani.


Your goals for 2008.

1. Sell book I just completed
2. Write new book
3. Grow readership
4. Repeat steps 1-3 for next 30 years

How you will reach these goals.

Beat back distractions with a heavy club.


My Goal for 2008:

1. Finish WIP

How I’m Going To Reach That Goal:

2. Get it written


1/1 - start new novel
12/31 - finish (hopefully not too shitty) a first draft of new novel

1/7 - start researching/writing masters thesis
11/1 - finish first draft of thesis/submit to advisor
12/20 - Graduate from grad school!


I wish I had something witty or pithy, but this is sincere.

My goal is to learn not to struggle so much with the stuff I think I must do and not beat up on myself for the things I haven't done. You can think of many more jobs for the upcoming day than you can complete.

I suppose this is the old stop-and-smell-the-roses advice.

How would I achieve it? Not the slightest idea, except to go for gratitude. I hope to take more time to be grateful for what I have, including my friends in the mystery world.


I had a stroke back in February, which affected my right hand to the point that I type with one hand and haven't put a pen to paper (I'm right handed). My primary goal is not to let that stop me. To accomplish it, I'm going to teach myself to write left-handed and train ViaVoice to understand me so I can really "talk on paper". Of course I'll rehabilitate my right hand as well as possible, but it's
good to have Plan B.

My next goal is to write at least three pages a day. To do that, I'm going to stop worrying about writing crap and just go ahead and do it. If I get something to send out, great, if not, it's practice.


My goals: To continue ploughing on with my latest novel, and to polish, re-polish, re-re-polish (etc.) my previous novel, then submit to agencies

How I'll achieve my goals: I'm going to continue to book computers in the college library each day to polish my previous novel and work on the current one. I'm going to continue to redraft my previous novel until I am completely happy with it, and then when I am, I'm going to send it out to agencies and keep pushing it and staying motivated so that I find that one that says 'yes'.


1. Your goals for 2008.

Sell through EASY INNOCENCE, my 2008 book (coming in March) at a higher level than any of my other novels… get a movie option… foreign rights… and a nice big contract for my thriller, Broken Angel…

2. How you will reach these goals.

Much of it is out of my hands…(ie agents, editors, booksellers, and third parties will determine my ultimate success) so I’m trying to concentrate on what I can do.. which is to write the best book I possibly can.


My 2008 goal is to get the first manuscript published and get an agent, too. My plan is to make submissions to five agents and publishers each week; and while I
am waiting for responses, I will be working on the second and third manuscripts.


1. My goals for 2008 are actually very simple: Write my fourth book and also work on something outside of my normal "zone" of YA literary fiction. I'd like to write a screenplay or develop a video game or put together the big, epic fantasy series I've been plotting in my head for a couple of years now.

2. The old-fashioned way: By putting my butt in my chair and writing. :)


If I were to name a professional goal, I'd say it's to buy more nonfiction. So much of what I do is fiction, which I love, but I also like the challenges of new projects and I like learning new trades, so I'd like to develop myself as a nonfiction editor.

I have pursued several projects this year and I have one book in the hopper that's slated to come out in Summer 08, The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston. I want to use it as a spring board to make more acquisitions.

To be truly successful at this, I am reading more nonfiction to get a sense of what I like. Then I am studing the market around my areas of interest in order to figure out what what books work, so I can have a sense of what books are worth acquiring. And I am studying how to publish those books (package and market). I did this process for graphic novels (my first graphic novel, Shooting War, just published in Nov 07), and now I'm turning my attention to a new area of publishing--expanding my stable of nonfiction projects.


Main writing goal: Complete my first novel TableRappers: Persistent Spirit. (

How: initially release as an audio novel in weekly episodes, build an online community and following, then re-write and release printed version.


My goals for 2008

1. Sign with an agent.
2. Finish the sequel to the novel I’m currently submitting.
3. Write a full-length standalone to start submitting, should I fail to find an agent for the first.

How I will reach these goals

1. By stepping up my submissions and including American and Irish agents as well as British.
2. By improving my writing and increasing my output.
3. By listening to and learning from those who’ve tread the path before.
4. By staying focused and keeping these goals as my top priority.


1) To promote my first novel, In the Dismal Swamp, which is coming out in June 2008.

2) To sell my second novel.

How I will accomplish these goals:

1) By writing to libraries and independent bookstores asking them to buy my book & possibly allow me to do a book signing. Secondly, by running a Half-Marathon. Unusual? Perhaps. But my old home town in Virginia is hosting the second annual Dismal Swamp Stomp 13.1 mile race in April, and since the setting for my book is the Dismal Swamp, I thought it would be a natural tie-in. The race is in April, and I'm going to wear a T-shirt promoting the book, and try to arrange a local press interview beforehand.

2) By submitting queries to as many mystery publishers as I can, I hope to find a home for my second book, unless, of course, my first publisher wants it.


1. Finish my edits for Isle of Fire before Christmas.

2. Spend as much time with my family as I can.

3. To work on my next writing project, but not under contract. I know this sounds odd, but I really want to explore this new fantasy realm I'm creating. I don't want to have to churn it out in 4 months.


1. Your Goals for 2008.

Now that I've completed my first large project, my first goal is to edit it into a readable story. Not that my writing is bad, but the whole thing is pretty piecemeal and needs to be edited. I did realize about two-thirds of the way through my story that it would be better cut down into a short story than expanded into a novel.

My second goal is to write and edit three other short stories. While I am well aware that publishers aren't terribly excited over short stories, I believe that these four ideas are all better shorter and will attempt to sell them as a collection.

A full-length novel is also being planned as a collaborative effort. One of my goals is to at least get this outlined, if not partially written by the end of the year.

2. How you will reach these goals.

My biggest writing problems are procrastination and distraction. I have learned through the NaNo challenge that it is possible for me to stay focused on the task at hand and actually force myself to write even when I didn't feel like it. I also know that it's possible for me to churn out large chunks of text in a short period of time and actually have the finished product be readable.
Now that I know that I am capable of writing something worthwhile, I can use what I've learned and apply it to my writing projects.

1) Take the same schedule I had this past month and use it to plan and write.

2) For me, editing while writing is a form of procrastination. I spend so much time editing one paragraph that I get bored with the story and stop writing. (I have a short attention span) So, I will write first just to get the story down, then go back and do the major editing later.

3) Ignore all the people who think it's "cute" that I'm writing stories, and that it's a phase I'll grow out of (sure, a phase that's lasted 25 years... hee.). They were wrong when they said I couldn't complete NaNo. They're wrong when they say that I should just stick with my day job, even though none of them have read anything I've written.

4) Keep writing. I normally write almost every day anyway, so that's not much of a stretch.

5) Keep reading your blog so I get all the good tips. :D


Iintend to write two more novels in 2008, edit the two I wrote this year, and get another one published.

On the non-writing front I’ll take more martial arts classes and try not to break any bones.


I think a "goal" has to be something I can hit or miss based on my own personal efforts. So whereas I have a wish list for 2008 - a president from the same planet as me, a Yankees sweep of the Dodgers in the World Series, my new apartment to be finished - about the only thing actually within my control is to write a book - for 2009 - that's as good as or better than the previous twelve.

The way I'll try to do that is give myself time ... I don't use an outline and depend on letting the story evolve organically, and my worst enemy is rushing. So I'll slow down and think carefully.


My writing goals for 2008.

Simple: I'm determined to write the novel that's been lurking in the quirked corners of my mind for 3 years. And there's about 10 short stories (my first love: writing short stories) stuffed in there as well. Out, out, damned stories!


My goals for 2008:

Drop enough weight to get down to 200 lbs, and get back into writing something. Anything.

I plan to reach these goals by watching my diet, excercising more, reading your "Newbie's Guide To Publishing", and badgering you constantly for advice and approval. Good luck with that.


My goals:

* Finish writing my third and fourth books for my MG series

* Get a brand new project to my agent

* Try writing a screenplay

* Publish 50 new magazine articles and at least 10 in magazines I've never queried before

* Decide on which MFA program to attend (choices, choices!)


Goal for 2008:

I want to challenge myself as writer and make the fourth book in my series really spectacular. Take everything up ten notches. That sort of thing.

What I'm going to do to achieve this:

1. Take a research trip to Istanbul (where the book is set)

2. Figure out ways to make my characters do the things they think they would never do

3. Meet daily word-count goals (I shoot for 2K a day)

4. Get into a good routine of writing during the day and reading great books at night


My goals for this year:

1. 2 first-draft novels
2. 1 edited novel
3. Start trying to sell edited novel.

How I am going to accomplish these goals:

1. Write minimum of 1 hour per day or maximum 4 hours per day (not counting Sunday--I need at least one relax day, and vacation when my stepfamily shows for a vacation).
2. Do a minimum of 3-4 edits on novel (done in part of my writing time).
3. Start researching agents and/or publishing houses.
4. Also, if I cannot get the first novel published I am going to post it on my site. And, then go to the next one. I have promised myself that I will not get all worked up about rejection. I have other problems that are more important like Wegener's Granulomatosis. (Flannery had lupus--blood disease and I have WG blood vessel disease.)


My Goals For 2008

1. To find new ways to promote myself and my work. I'll do this by watching, asking, thinking, trying, failing, and learning.

2. To get a contract for Jack Daniels #7.

3. To keep up with my email, my website, my blog, my MySpace.

4. To never settle for less than my best, in every aspect of my personal and professional life.

I can't control the publishing industry. But I can control certain aspects of my place within that industry, through hard work and perserverence.

There's a word for a writer who never gives up. Published.

There's also a word for a published writer who never gives up.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

NaNoWriMo Day 25 - On Goals

So did I make my 50k goal, or will I be shaving my head?

Sorry to disappoint, but I won't be doing any shaving. Because I cheated.

I did get 50k words. And they're 50k pretty good words.

But they're for two different stories.

Halfway into the Jack book, I launched into a side story and just rolled with it. This became its own novella. For those who read my novels, it's a Harry McGlade story. With zombies. Which is why, obviously, it can't be part of the Jack novel.

Anyway, because it's an odd length (20k words) it's going to be damn hard to sell. After I edit it, I think I'll look into one of those publishers who do overpriced limited edition hardcovers.

So I technically didn't write 50k of one novel, but I did do 50k with the same characters (Jack is in this too) so I'm going to compromise. Instead of cutting my hair, I'll cut my nails. There's enough crap on YouTube to bother videotaping it.

For those who want to cry foul and demand a head shaving, I encourage you to start one of those online petitions, like the one used to get Family Guy back on the air. Get 1000 people to sign it, and Marcus Sakey can shave my head in front of a live crowd at Love is Murder in February. If 1000 people really want to see me bald, who am I to argue?

That said, I enjoyed the pressure NaNoWriMo put on me, and I may do it again. In fact, I encourage all writers to try it, whether they end up with a novel, or part of a novel and a novella, or even a bunch of crap that will never see print.

That's because writing is about setting, and reaching, goals.

Stories don't write themselves. They take a considerable time commitment. Often that commitment is hard to justify. But writers, real writers, make writing a priority. They make the time and the effort.

This is a business about pushing yourself, because many times there's no one else pushing you. Unless you're lucky enough to have a deadline, the pressure is mostly self-induced. NaNoWriMo helps to put on some pressure. Pressure = words on a page. And that's what writers do. We write. Anything that helps us write is worth trying.

Speaking of goals, my anniversary is coming up. This is my 299th blog entry for A Newbie's Guide To Publishing. Over half a million people have visited this blog since it began in 2005. I'm grateful to each and every one of you for believing I have something to share with the writing community.

I'd like to make my 300th post something special, and since much of this blog is about setting and reaching goals, I'd like to open up my blog to my readers.

I want to hear what your goals are for 2008.

Whether you're a pro or a newbie, a long time reader or a recent visitor, please email me at and tell me:

1. Your Goals for 2008.

2. How you will reach these goals.

If you're a lurker, but never comment, this is the perfect time to introduce yourself. If you're a long time reader, I ask you to help me spread the word. We're all part of the same community. We all have goals. Let's share them and inspire each other.

And please provide your answers email here, not in the comments section here. I'll put all of your goals (and my goals) in my 300th post in week or so.

Thanks again for reading.

Monday, November 19, 2007

NaNoWriMo Day 19 - On Crap

So far this month I've written 26,000 words.

Unfortunately, only 10k of them have been the novel.

The other 16k have been a magazine article and two novellas for upcoming anthologies. I also managed to sneak in a few online interviews.

Am I worried I'll have to shave my curly locks?

A little. Assuming I won't get much done on Thanksgiving, that means I have ten days to write 40k words. That's 16 pages a day. It's doable, but won't be easy.

Which makes this pretty exciting. I'm guessing it will come down to the wire.

Setting goals and challenging yourself, both artistically and with deadlines, is part of being a writer. I think it's a fun part.

The book itself is going well. It's coming together nicely, albeit slowly. I just wrote my first ever sex scene for the series (which is on the kinky side--I think Barry Eisler will approve) and the plot is shaping up to be the most fun of all the Jack books.

Which brings me to the topic of this blog entry: Writing Crap.

It's important to give yourself permission to write crap. Writers write. They get words on the page. Spend too much time thinking, questioning, judging, dismissing, and second-guessing, and you'll never get anything finished.

However, you should NEVER settle for crap.

Though Cherry Bomb is my 6th Jack Daniels book, it's actually my 17th novel. I can say, with some certainty, that my first six novels were crap. Everything since then has, in my opinion, worked. And each book I write seems to come a little easier, involve a little less rewriting, to get it to the point where it works.

So what makes a book work?

It's hard to pinpoint why some novels work better than others. It's even harder to judge your own writing objectively. Obviously, there are craft issues you can be aware of, like narrative structure, rising action, character realism, linear progression, and pacing, among many others, but being aware of them and knowing if they're working in you book are two different things.

However, I believe there's something instinctive, something perhaps even intrinsic to the novel, which can tell the writer if it actually works.

We all have moments when the writing is flowing, the loose ends are all coming together, and we feel that this collection of words and sentences and scenes is coming together as a pleasing, cohesive whole.

Sometimes we're wrong. What works for us actually doesn't work for readers. But sometimes--and I think experience plays a part--we're right, and we can actually feel the process working instead of worrying if its working.

Now there have been intelligent, thoughtful posts all over the Internet this month, about the number of awful manuscripts that NaNoWriMo is going to unleash upon the world.

My friend Marcus Sakey, who is as meticulous with his writing craft as he is talented (which could be a knock, but in his case it's high praise) recently wrote this on The Outfit blog:

Look at it this way: would you participate in National House Building Month if you had to live in the result? Of course not, because a house takes care to build.

I agree. But I also believe if you've been building houses for years, and know what it takes to build a good house, that each one you built can be done better and faster.

Here's the thing though: You don't have to build a house in a month.

Maybe you just build the frame. Or the foundation. Or the living room. Or maybe you do build the house, but it is pretty shoddy. There is no law that says what you build you have to keep. You can change the house, fix it, add it it, make it better, before you move in.

My first six houses were lousy. Uninhabitable. But I learned from them. So when I built the seventh, I got an agent. And when I built the tenth, I got a book deal.

Don't spend your time worrying that your writing sucks. The writing will tell you that later. Or the world will.

You just have to get the words on the page, and trust yourself.

It gets easier the longer you do it.

And it should go without saying that when you do finish that book, don't assume it's ready to submit. Get feedback. Rewrite. Put it away for a month and attack it with fresh eyes.

Your first house may not sell. Your tenth might not either. But you will get better. And in this crazy business, that's all you have control over.

Keep at it. Set goals and reach them. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to turn off the Internet, take a handful of amphetamines, and bust my ass.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

NaNoWriMo Day 13 - On Speed

As expected, I've gotten very little writing done because I've been travelling. My three day trip last week went into five days because of car trouble. So here I am, at Day 13, with 3400 words.

I've got some catching up to do.

The most I've ever written in a day is 9,000 words, and I've had two day totals of about 15,000, so I know I can still reach the 50,000 goal and save my lovely curly locks from the trimmer.

I've always been able to write fast, and stay focused for long period of time. But I never stopped to ponder why. I certainly don't think I'm more talented, creative, inspired, or dedicated than any of my peers, pro or newbie. But I haven't met many writers who can crank out the words as quickly.

So before I get started on my novel this morning, I thought I'd write a few words about speed, endurance, and staying focused.

1. Sit Your Ass In The Chair

The first step is to actually sit at your desk, your Word Processing program open on your computer. Now be a good dog and STAY, getting up only to eat, hit the john, and attend to any bleeding children.

2. Limit Distractions

The biggest attention temptation for a writer is the Internet. Besides email, chat, and games, there's also the dreaded research, which begins at Google or Wikipedia and then, an hour later, devolves into you reading about something entirely unrelated to your book.

Phone calls, nonessential communication with family members, stretching your legs, or doing anything "to get the muse started" is time that should be spent writing.

3. Write

You shouldn't worry if it's crap. Give yourself permission to write crap. The goal is to get words on the page. Write them, even if they suck. Inspiration is bullshit. Writing is a job. How often does your 9 to 5 job inspire you? Yet you do it anyway. When working, the motivation is the paycheck. With Nanowrimo, the motivation is getting to 50k. Get there, even if you think you're producing garbage. You can always edit in December.

If you are stuck, staring at a blinking cursor and pulling out your hair, here are some tricks:
  • Read what you wrote the day before. That can give you a launching point for getting into the next scene.
  • Spice it up. Usually, being unable to decide what happens next means you don't have enough action or conflict. Give your hero more problems to deal with. I don't care what kind of book you're writing, you can always introduce more characters and plotlines to make things harder for your protagonist. When God gets bored with earth, he sends in a tsunami.
  • Skip around. Much of getting stuck happens when you're pushing for something to happen, but you can't seem to get there. You know what I mean; the big scene that came to you fully-formed, but you haven't gotten to the point in the story yet. Who says you need to write in order? Do the scene you're itching to do--you can connect it to the rest of the book later.
  • Free yourself. Often you get mired down in outlines, plans, details, and expectations, which can bring your story to a dead end with no hope of moving forward. Allow yourself to change your original plans. Narratives often go in places we didn't expect, and may not even like. Roll with it. Change things. Go in different directions, even if that means your book becomes something different.

4. Fight Fear With Action

Fifty thousand words in a month is a scary thing. It's easy to obsess about word count, worry that everything you've written is garbage, and spend so much time questioning your ability to finish that you're wasting valuable writing time. The best way to combat fear is with action. Every time you feel the need to doubt yourself, or check your word count, force yourself to finish the page. The doubts usually go away for a while. When the come back, be aware of them, and finish that page.

In short, less thinking, more writing.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have 46,600 words to write in 18 days, so I'm getting started...

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

NaNoWriMo Day 6 - On Plotting

Okay, I'm a wee bit behind.

Because I was at the Delaware Book Festival from the 1st to the 4th, I didn't get started on the new Jack book until yesterday morning.

So far, I've got about 3200 words done---about 13 pages. Not bad, but I'll need to step it up if I want to reach my 50k quota. Especially since I promised two author friends I'd read their current manuscripts, and next week I'll be in Wisconsin and Tennessee for four days, and I still have a 10k novella due, along with a short story collaboration that I'm working on with F. Paul Wilson, which has always been a dream of mine since I've been reading him since 1982 and I think he's a God so I don't want to screw it up.

It's going to be a busy month.

That said, in my free time I've been thinking a lot about the new novel, and even though I don't have an outline for it I've already got a pretty good idea of what I want it to be about. Which begs the question: What is plotting and how is it done?

I've talked with many authors, both newbie and pro, who have difficulties with plotting. Personally, I think it's the easiest part of writing. I believe the main goal of plotting is to make the reader want to know what happens next. To do that, there are some pretty simple tricks that anyone can master.

1. Give your character a goal. All narratives require a quest of some sort. It could be a quest to catch a killer, or get a boyfriend, or find self awareness, but in every case the story begins with the hero deciding upon the goal and beginning the quest.

2. Don't let your character reach her goal. The plot then comes down to making it difficult for the character, throwing obstacles in her way. Other characters with opposing goals, the environment, and turns of events can all conspire to make reaching the goal more difficult.

3. Use what you've got. If you're stuck, reread what you've already written. Chances are, your subconscious has already planted something in the manuscript that you can build upon. The car trouble alluded to in chapter 3 can become a huge problem in chapter 8. The sneeze in chapter 1 can become the flu in chapter 11. The argument in chapter 4 can become divorce papers in chapter 9.

4. Think about the worst thing that can happen. After you've written a character for a few dozen or hundred pages, and have gotten to know her like a family member, you're going to better understand her goals, fears, and motivations. Think about the most horrible thing that can happen to her, then make it happen.

5. Overcome the obstacles and reach the goal. That's it. You've written a narrative. Congrats.

If you're struggling to write what happens next, or you're stuck in the boring middle section of the book, go back and seed it with more goals and obstacles and foreshadowing. And try to avoid being obvious or overt. While all stories follow the narrative structure, good writers make the structure invisible.

Happy writing!

Monday, October 29, 2007


Since you're a writer, you probably know that November is National Novel Writing Month, where thousands of authors, both newbie and pro, sign up at to try and write 50k words in 30 days.

Those familiar with me, or with this blog, know that I write pretty fast. In fact, I've written two books this year. The first, AFRAID, is a horror novel that will be coming out in January 2009 (more on that soon.) The second, FUZZY NAVEL, is book #5 in the Jack Daniels series, coming out in June 2008.

November is pretty busy for me. I've got to go to Delaware for a book festival, Wisconsin for Murder in Muskego, and Indiana for an ILF meeting. I also have two novellas due for anthologies that invited me, and one of them is 10k words.

So, naturally, I signed up for NaNoWriMo.

I have a specific reason for doing this. My contract with my publisher is complete when I turn in Jack #6 in March 2008. I'd like to also have Jack #7 done by that time. That way, if I don't get the offer I'm looking for, I'll have a complete manuscript to shop around. I believe a finished book is a better bargaining chip than a proposal or an outline.

Being between contracts is a scary time for a writer, and it can often last weeks or even months. So I'm going to write Jack #7, set it aside, and then in February write Jack #6, which my publisher is expecting.

I figure I have 24 free days to get 50,000 words done. I don't have an outline for this book, but I do have a pretty solid idea that should be fun to write.

And just to make it interesting, if I don't make my quota, I'll shave my head and post a video of it on YouTube.

Who says writing isn't exciting?

Watch this blog for bi-weekly progress reports.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Art of the Soft Sell

Writers suck at selling.

It's understandable. Most writers are better at expressing themselves on paper than in person. They tend to be shy, or introverted, or lacking confidence, or even lacking basic social skills.

Put a writer in a situation where he is forced to sell the books he spent so many hours creating, and many conflicting emotions boil to the surface.

I've seen writers at booksignings, and conventions, and fairs, sitting behind stacks of their novels, and I can read their thoughts:

  • I don't want to be here.

  • Why won't anyone buy anything?

  • This is humiliating.

  • This isn't why I became a writer.

  • Doesn't anyone know I'm here?

  • The organizers really screwed this event up.

  • Don't I have fans?

  • It's the publisher's job to sell books, not mine.

  • I'm bored.

  • I stink at this.

  • Why do people keep saying no?

  • I hate pimping myself.

  • It's the booksellers job to sell books, not mine.

  • I can't sell a book to save my life.

  • I'm petrified.

  • No one likes me.

  • I'm exhausted.

  • I'm not a salesman, I'm an artist.

  • I hate being pushy.

  • Why is everyone ignoring me?

  • If I get asked where the bathroom is one more time, I'm leaving.

So these writers avoid doing events where they're forced to sell books. They believe they aren't good at it, and it's much easier to give up than to learn a new skill set which will help them succeed.

The fact is, pretty much anyone can handsell books. Booksignings don't have to be traumatic failures. I've blogged extensively about this before HERE, so I'm not going to repeat myself. Instead, I'm going to offer some suggestions based on things that I've learned about human nature.

Selling is Flirting

Going up to a stranger in a bar and saying, "Wanna fuck?" isn't the best strategy for success. It might work occasionally, but you'll annoy more people than you entice.

The secret to getting anyone interested in you, whether it is as a date or as a purchase, is pretty straightforward.

1. Make eye contact and smile.

The way you look and act will give people a silent signal that you're friendly and approachable. If you're well groomed and dressed, and your body language shows you're relaxed, non-threatening, and interested, then you're already halfway there.

2. Ask questions to develop a common ground.

If someone is in a bookstore, or at a writing conference, chances are they're there because they like books. There are a hundred questions you could ask, from "Enjoying the conference?" to "Do you like thrillers?" Keep asking questions until you get more than monosyllabic answers. The secret to drawing a person out is finding what they truly want to talk about. And everyone has something they want to talk about.

3. Sugarcoat your pitch.

The secret to selling is to make it seem like you aren't selling. No one likes being sold. Luckily, you aren't there to sell books. You're there to meet people who are actively looking for the types of books that you write. The key is to find out what they like, and make them aware your books fit the bill.

4. Make physical contact.

The easiest way to do this is to hand them a copy of the book, or hand them a flyer or bookmark. A handshake is usually welcome too. The impact of physical touch is powerful, and connects us as human beings more than anything else does.

5. Make it personal for them, but not for you.

During those seconds or minutes you're with a potential buyer, they should feel like they're the center of your universe. But because more people say no than yes, you can't actually let them be the center of your universe, because the constant rejection will tear you apart. If someone has no interest in you or your book, you can't take it personally. You also can't take it personally if someone really gets a huge thrill out of talking to you. This is a vicarious relationship, no emotional investment required or desired.

6. Learn to recognize interest.

Some (most) people don't want to be bothered with you, or your book. This doesn't mean they're horrible people, and it doesn't mean you suck. Almost every person has developed defenses to ward off annoying sales pitches. Avoiding eye contact, ignoring you, offering clipped or rude replies, sneering---these are all consumer equivalents to a rattlesnake shaking his tail. Let them pass and seek out someone more receptive. You're not there to waste time, yours or theirs. You're there to meet people who will love your writing. After you've shaken off the fear and tried this for a few hours, you can get pretty good at sizing up who is will give your books a shot.

How does this work in real life? Here are some pastiches drawn from the thousands of times I've done this. Each of these is 100% true.

Example #1 - The Browser

Our hero (me) is standing next to a huge pile of his books, by the front entrance of the bookstore. A man walks in, ignores me (most people do), and walks straight to the New Releases where he picks up James Patterson's latest. I walk up to him, arms at my sides, holding my newest novel.

ME: Patterson fan?

MAN: Hmm? Oh, yeah.

ME: I love the Alex Cross series. Do you have a favorite?

MAN: No, I pretty much read everything he writes.

ME: Do you like other thriller writers?

MAN: I like Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, Lee Child.

ME: (smiling) I love Lee Child. He blurbed my second book.

MAN: You're a writer?

ME: (holding up my book) Yep. This is me. My books are a lot like Patterson's, with the action of Child. They're about a Chicago cop named Jack Daniels. Fast reads, a lot of dialog, a lot of suspense. (hands the book to the man)

MAN: Which one is the best?

ME: The latest one is the best. But it's a series, and a lot of people like to start at the beginning. It goes Whiskey Sour, Bloody Mary, Rusty Nail, Dirty Martini. You're sensing the theme.

MAN: I used to drink Rusty Nails in college.

ME: Where'd you go to school?

MAN: U of I.

ME: I used to party down at that campus, in the 90's.

MAN: (walks over tot he table, picks up Whiskey Sour) This is your first?

ME: That's it. If you're interested, I'd love to sign a copy for you.

MAN: Let's do it. (hands me the book.)

ME: Can I make it out to you?

MAN: Me. My name is Ryan.

ME: Hi, Ryan. I'm JA. (shake his hand, then sign his book "Ryan, Don't Read and Drive, JA") Thanks, Ryan. You'll like it. I promise. And since I have a character named Jack Daniels (I sign a coaster and hand it to him) it's a law that I have to give out drink coasters.

MAN: Thanks. (goes to register to buy my book, the new James Patterson forgotten)

Example #2 - The Interested Party

Our hero (me again) is at a multi-author event where we're all lined up at a table, waiting for people to approach us. Some folks do, but the majority of the customers are at the bookseller tables, or wandering the room.

I get up and walk around, introducing myself and passing out signed coasters. Then I head for the bookseller table and see a woman staring at one of my novels.

ME: I've heard that guy sucks.

WOMAN: (looks at me, then my nametag, then smiles) You're the author.

ME: (holding out hand) JA Konrath, nice to meet you. (shakes) What's your name?

WOMAN: Mary.

ME: Do you like thrillers, Mary?

WOMAN: I read a little bit of everything.

ME: Then you'll love me. My books are funny, like Janet Evanovich or Carl Hiaasen, but they also have some scary parts, like James Patterson when he wrote his own books. Who do you read?

WOMAN: I love Evanovich. My whole family loves her.

ME: Me too. I haven't read Thirteen yet, but I read the other twelve. Is it worth picking up?

WOMAN: I liked it. I laughed a lot.

ME: Does she finally choose between Ranger and Morelli?

WOMAN: No. That drives me nuts.

ME: I agree. But would you recommend it?

WOMAN: It's not as funny as some of her earlier books, but it's worth reading.

ME: My books are funnier than Janet's.

WOMAN: Really?

ME: (handing her a book) It's about a female cop named Jack Daniels. Her personal life's a train wreck, but she's really good at her job. Lot's of humor. If this book doesn't make you laugh, you can mail it back to me and I'll send you a check for seventeen thousand dollars.

WOMAN: (laughing) You sold me.

ME: Great! Can I sign a copy to Mary, or is this for someone in your family?

Example #3 - The Reluctant Fan

Our hero (moi) has just finished speaking at some event, and it went well. People laughed in the right places, and several people approach me afterward.

FAN: I love your books.

ME: Thanks!

FAN: I get them at the library.

ME: I love libraries.

FAN: I do too. But sometimes there's a waiting list. I hate waiting. When is the new one coming out in paperback?

ME: In about eleven months.

FAN: I'm a huge fan. Can you just give me a copy?

ME: I wish I could. But these books don't belong to me. Does anyone in your family like to read?

FAN: Everyone does. My mom loves your books.

ME: You could always buy the copy for her, then you can read it beforehand. Does she have a birthday coming up?

FAN: Yes. Next month.

ME: (hands over a hardcover) A personalized book makes a great gift. And you can always tell her you spent six hours in line to see me, and got the last one.

FAN: (smiling) Okay, you sold me. Her name is Andrea.

ME: With an "A"?

Example #4 - The Gawker

Our hero is in the middle of pitch, and a few folks have stopped to watch what's going on. First, I step back, inviting them into the circle. I hand each person a coaster, making eye contact without pausing in the spiel. The spiel is something along the lines of:

"I'm an author, and I write thrillers about a cop named Jack Daniels."

If the gawkers are mostly women, I mention that Jack is short for Jacqueline. If they're mostly men, I leave that part out.

"The books are laugh outloud funny. If you're drinking something while reading, it will come out your nose. But they're also scary--they'll make you lock your doors and windows. Similar to James Patterson, but with more jokes than Janet Evanovich."

I pick up some of my titles and hold them up.

"They're all named after drinks. There are four in the series so far, and a fifth is coming out next year. I'd love to sign some copies for you. They make great gifts, and great investments. After you get a signature it will sell for triple on eBay."

I hand out some books so people can take a look. A few of them ask me to sign them immediately.

Now let's see if I can anticipate the backlash to this article by placing myself in the shoes of skeptics using a whiny Q & A format.

Q: I'd never do this. I'm a writer, not a huckster like you.

A: I believe that people will enjoy my books. In order for them to do so, they first have to read them. I'm the most qualified person to make people aware of this. I also have the most vested interest in this happening.

Q: I hate sales. Salesmen are pushy, slick liars who want to take your money by preying on your insecurities and weaknesses.

A: Don't think of it as sales. Think of it as finding new fans. Which you'll do. You'll also impress the booksellers, and maybe even your publisher. And, for the record, try not to let your publisher hear your views on selling. Personally, I think sales people are the coolest folks on the planet, and I fully appreciate my reps.

Q: I couldn't do what you do.

A: Yes you could. You simply don't want to, and have made up excuses for yourself instead of trying.

Q: I've tried, and I'm no good at it.

A: Try harder. Being lazy, afraid, or embarassed isn't a good reason to quit. Failure is a learning experience. Figure out what went wrong, then try to do better next time.

Q: Maybe you should write better books, and then they'd sell without you having to do this.

A: The best written book in the world will always sell more copies if the author promotes it.

Q: How often does this work?

A: It's possible to sell dozens of books to strangers during your visit, depending on foot-traffic and length of stay. I average one book sold for every eight people I approach.

Q: That doesn't seem worth my time.

A: Since 2004, I've handsold several thousand books. Every single time you sell a book to someone who wouldn't have otherwise discovered it, it's worth your time.

Q: Selling isn't my job. Writing is my job.

A: Being self-employed is like being the CEO of your own company. It's a really lousy CEO who focuses on production with total disgrard for who is buying the product. A better approach is to study every aspect of what your company does, and implement ways to improve things wherever possible.

Q: I know a lot of authors who sell a lot more books than you do, and they don't do any of this crap.

A: People win the lottery every day. That doesn't mean it's wise to invest your retirement savings in scratch-off tickets.

Q: How am I supposed to handsell books when I have a fulltime job/family/sick cat/hang nail/grandiose sense of entitlement/fear of public speaking/sweating disorder?

A: I don't know of any goal worth pursuing that doesn't involve hard work, sacrifice, and commitment. Becoming a writer isn't easy. Staying a writer is even harder. How hard you work at it tells a lot about how important it is to you.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Last year I was on the road for more than ten weeks, promoting my books.

It wasn't easy on me, or my family. Much of that time, I was touring. But a good amount of it was spent speaking at events, giving lectures, teaching classes and seminars--things not directly related to selling my books.

Sure, my books were usually available for sale after these events, and I usually moved a few copies. But I wasn't there to talk about my series. I was there to talk about agents, and editors, and publishing. This wasn't book promotion. It was teaching.

I liked doing this. Even if I wasn't paid. Even if I didn't sell a single book after the event.

I still enjoy it, but my wife laid down the law and told me that I couldn't do any more events unless I was monetarily compensated for my time.

I could understand her reasoning. While I still feel that helping new authors is something all writers should do, she pointed out that I spend a lot of time and money driving around and lecturing. So I decided to begin charging for most of my appearances.

I expected that this would limit the amount of events I did. But, strangely, I still wound up doing a lot of traveling. A lot of organizations and libraries have budgets for these things, and were happy to get me.

It made me rethink my prior attitude.

I once believed I owed the world a karma debt, and had to help everyone I could. When someone asked me to speak, I was flattered. Money wasn't important.

But then I realized that money was important. I'm a professional writer, and I get paid for doing that. If I'm being approached as an expert on the publishing world, and headlining events where I speak for two, three, or four hours, what's the difference between me and a professional speaker? And don't professional speakers get paid, just like professional writers do?

I certainly wouldn't write a book and let someone publish it for free. Yet I'll drive hundreds of miles, and speak to crowds of people at paying events, for free.

It made no sense. So now I charge.

I'm still grateful to be published, and still flattered to be asked to speak at events, but I'm no longer going to spend an evening driving to some remote location, lecturing my heart out, all for the opportunity of selling three paperbacks.

My time, and my lectures, have value.

It only took me four years to realize it.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Keeping Up

There isn't enough time in the day.

Strange as it sounds, the longer I'm in this business, the more I realize the importance of time management.

Way back in the 90's, when I was working 40 hours a week in a restaurant and trying to balance that with a family, leisure time, and writing, I longed for the day when I sold a book and could quit my job and spend my days in front of my keyboard, pounding out stories without having to cram it into my schedule.

But things haven't really changed. Life is still a balancing act, and even though I now prioritize writing I still have to find time to do it, even though it's my main source of income. October is almost halfway over, and I'm looking at my upcoming appearance schedule, with four out-of-state trips in the upcoming weeks, and am wondering when I'm going to have time to write three novellas and a novel by March, do line edits on two other novels, and get a head start on one more novel before my current contract is up.

I wish I could say I've discovered some time-budgeting secret which allows me to get things done, but I'm actually terrible at scheduling, awful at planning, and subscribe to the "don't sleep until it's finished" school of commitments. Those who know me are aware that I write down upcoming deadlines and events on a cheap picture calender, and I often don't know what I'm doing on any given day until I wake up and look at said calender.

So rather than offer answers with today's blog, I'm asking a question:

How do you budget your time and stay on schedule?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

That said, here's a bunch of stuff that I've been meaning to mention but haven't had the time to:

Friday Oct. 12, at Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago from 5pm-8pm, I'll be hanging out with a bunch of other authors at the booklaunch party for CHICAGO BLUES, a collection of noir short stories that all take place in the Windy City.

If you're a Midwesterner, try to be there. It's going to be a lot of fun. If you're not from the area, you should still pick up a copy of CHICAGO BLUES. It's edited by the incomparable Libby Fischer Hellmann, and features some of the biggest names in thriller writing, including Sara Paretsky, Stuart Kaminsky, Barbara D'Amato, as well as talentless hacks like Marcus Sakey, Sean Chercover, Brian Pinkerton, Kevin Guilfoile, and yours truly, who contributed a brand new Jack Daniels short called OVERPROOF.

While you have your credit card handy, I also suggest picking up the sci-fi horror anthology GRATIA PLACENTI, which features a short story by me that is just plain wrong. Seriously, this is a warped, twisted, gross tale that I may someday regret, so get it now before I retract it. This book was edited by Jason Sizemore, who runs Apex Digest, which is a magazine you should be reading.

For you newbie writers who need a dose of inspiration, grab a copy of HOW I GOT PUBLISHED edited by Ray White and Duane Lindsay. This terrific collection contains essays by over 90 published offers (including me), explaining how they got their lucky breaks. Learn about the starts of Christopher Moore, John Lescroart, Stuart Woods, JA Jance, Chris Grabenstein, Thomas Perry, Dave Barry, CJ Box, and friends of mine like Barry Eisler, David Morrell, F. Paul Wilson, Lee Goldberg, Mario Acevedo, Raymond Benson, Steve Alten, Troy Cook, Jeremiah Healy, Sandra Balzo, Zoe Sharp, Laura Bradford, Michael A. Black, Jeff Shelby, Simon Wood, William Kent Krueger, and MJ Rose, among others.

Speaking of MJ, her Buzz Your Book class is coming up. If you're a new author, check it out. You can even ask your publisher if they'll cover the cost; many have.

Buzz your Book - the online marketing course- will be given only one time only in 2008. January 8 through February 7th. This isn't a theoretical class. M.J. Rose works one-on-one and online via email with each student on a marketing plan that includes an hour of brainstorming time. Again this year, Matt Baldacci---VP Marketing & Publishing Operations from ST. Martin's Press---will be the special guest lecturer and available via email for a whole week for Qs & As.

Sign up is very limited and open now and they're starting to fill up. If you are interested, please visit

If you aren't published yet, there's a great opportunity to meet agents and editors this November in New York.

Looking for an agent? Want to meet dozens face-to-face?

With only agents on the program, the Backspace Agent-Author Seminars (November 6 & 7, Radisson Martinique, NYC)
are a terrific opportunity to network, ask questions, talk about your work, and listen and learn from the people who make their living selling books.

Tuesday, November 6:

Emmanuelle Alspaugh, Rachel Vater, Paul Cirone, Scott Hoffman, Michael Bourret, Jennifer DeChiara, Jennie Dunham, Jessica Faust, Michelle Brower, and Liza Dawson with Daniela Rapp (editor, St. Martin’s)

Wednesday, November 7:

Laney Katz Becker, Janet Reid, Stephany Evens, Caren Johnson, Alex Glass, Lucienne Diver, Jennifer Unter, Miriam Goderich, Kate Epstein, Joe Veltre, Elisabeth Weed, Deborah Grosvenor, Paige Wheeler, Miriam Kriss, and Jeff Kleinman with Brenda Copeland (editor, Hyperion)

There's still time to register, for one day or both. Attendance limited to 150. And trust me when I say the best way to get published is to meet agents in person. This is well worth the time and cost of flying to NY...