Thursday, December 25, 2008

Resolutions For Writers 2009

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.


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 this to be your year, you know which kid you have to be.


This year I'm only going to add one resolution to this growing list, but if you're writing for a living, or trying to write for a living, it's an important one.

I won't blame anyone for anything.

It's tempting to look at the many problems that arise in this business and start pointing fingers. This is a slippery slope, and no good can come from it.

Do agents, editors, and publishers make mistakes? Of course.

You make mistakes too.

Hindsight is 20/20, so we can all look at things that didn't go our way and fantasize about how things should have gone.

But blaming others, or yourself, is dwelling on the past. What's done is done, and being bitter isn't going to help your career.

So try to learn from misfortune, forgive yourself and others, and make 2009 a blameless year.

Now quit reading blogs and get some writing done.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Writing: The Temporary Career

I'm not going to name names in this post. Partly because it would be mean. Partly because I'm only speculating on the reasons why, and have no real proof.

But I still wanted to talk about something that's rampant in the word of publishing. It's also rampant in other media like radio, TV, movies, and music.

It's Where Are They Now Syndrome.

The scariest thing about WATNS is how quickly it seems to occur. When my first novel, Whiskey Sour, was published in 2004, I did as much self-promotion as I could. Going to writing conventions, signing at bookstores and libraries, I met dozens of writers who also had new books out. Some were debut authors, like me. Some were veterans who seemed like they'd be around forever.

But here it is, a scant four and a half years later, and I can name more than thirty of these authors who didn't publish anything in the past year, and in some cases the past two years.

This boggles my mind.

While everyone is aware of the transitory nature of fame (it's particularly noticeable in Hollywood where A list actors fade into B list actors, and B list actors sometimes have a huge hit that makes them A list) I actually never thought it applied to writers as well.

Well, it does. With one major difference. When you're considered a B list author, you can't even give your work away. There's no straight-to-DVD or movie-of-the-week option like there is for actors who used to be Somebody. There are some smaller presses, yes. And while a lot of them are terrific, their lack of major distribution dollars means even smaller numbers for writers who once were published by the major houses, which means the major houses will be even less likely to give these writers another shot.

In thinking about this phenomenon, I was tempted to rationalize why so-and-so hasn't had a book deal in a while. Yes, numbers follow authors. But maybe there are other reasons too.

Perhaps some authors decided they just didn't want to write anymore. Perhaps some veered off into different territory and couldn't find a home for it. Perhaps some wanted to write, but were out of ideas. Perhaps there were extenuating circumstances like sickness, or some personal or family tragedy. Perhaps some simply take a very long time to write a book. Perhaps work or some other aspect of real life got in the way.


And yet, knowing what a struggle it is to find an agent and get published, it seems odd that so many writers--writers I did signings with only four years ago--would let anything prevent them from writing. This profession requires dedication and sticktoitivness, and the lessons learned early on in the career when rejections are plentiful tend to make a person battle-hardened. Writers, as a species, don't tend to give up easily.

Which makes WATNS all the more troubling.

There are writers who had the brass ring, and want to have it again, but for whatever reason can't seem to grasp it.

Battle-hardened does not equal bullet-proof.

It's tempting to blame the industry, which is flawed for many reasons. A book's success is often a self-fulfilling prophecy; big promotional dollars leads to more orders leads to more sales. Do bestsellers really sell so well because of name recognition, or because when you're at an airport or drugstore and want to buy a book you only have the choice of a dozen titles? If a lessor name writer was given wider distribution, naturally they would sell more books. Yet few are given this push.

But I also personally know a few authors who did get that big push. In some cases, six and seven figure advances and corresponding marketing dollars. And here it is, a few years later, and those books are already out of print.

It's tempting to blame the writer, for producing lackluster work, or failing to self-promote, or being difficult to work with. And yet I've read many out-of-print novels that I believe are just as good or even better than books in their thirtieth printing by name authors who do very little self-promotion. I also know a few successful authors who are real jerks, and that hasn't seemed to hurt their careers.

There's a mentality that once you land a deal with a major house, you're set. But the fact is (and get ready for the kick in the groin) the majority of people who get a major deal wind up as WATHS statistics.

I can look at my extensive personal library, and 90% of those books are out of print, and 60% of those authors haven't published anything in years.

Landing a major deal, in most cases, doesn't signal the start of a longtime career. For many, it's the beginning of the end.

I can guess what many regular readers of my blog are thinking. Okay Joe, now that you've presented the problem, tell us what we can do to fix it like you always do.

Well, frightening as it is, this is one problem I can't fix.

I'd love to be able to point a finger and conclusively say, "This is why she's still being published, and this is why he isn't." But I can't. There are no traits or commonalities that can accurately predict success or failure.

After a certain level of competency is reached, who gets published and who doesn't is pretty much based on luck. This is true for newbies, and remains true for writers who have been in the biz for years.

All we can do is persevere, and keep writing and self-promoting and doing our damnedest to survive. Because, depressingly enough, this career is more about survival than success.

But, as I've been saying for years, the harder you try, the luckier you seem to get.

So if anyone with WATNS is reading this, remember that giving up isn't an option. Yes, you've gotten some bad breaks. Yes, this business is woefully unfair. Yes, it doesn't make any sense at all. But the same dedication that got you published that first time must be used to get you published again.

I know we all believe that once you "make it" there is no longer any struggle, the fears go away, and the opportunities are boundless.

But the truth is the struggle never ends, the fears are always there, and every opportunity that comes along should be appreciated as the gift it actually is.

So the rules, for newbie and pro alike, are the same.

1. Write the best book you can.

2. Try your best to get it into the hands of as many people as possible.

3. Repeat.

That's all we can do. Beyond that, it's all luck.

Just don't forget rule 3. The longer I'm in this business, the more I think it's the one that separates the haves from the have nots.

Now quit your whining and get to work.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Just Plotting Along

Whenever I teach I'm asked by newbies how to write that boring middle section of the book, the part between the electrifying opening and the dramatic conclusion.

"You mean the plot?" I always reply.

Sayings and axioms abound about plotting, and I'll paraphrase a few here. Elmore Leonard said the famous "Don't write the parts people skip."

Other oft-heard quotes are, "Write a great beginning and a great ending and string them as close together as possible" and "Chase your characters up a tree, then throw rocks at them."

Ellery Queen and Raymond Chandler are credited with variations on "When things get boring toward the middle, kill somebody" and "When it slows down have two men burst into the room with guns."

All of these sort of touch on the central idea of plotting, namely, conflict. But none are really helpful except in the most general sense.

So here's what I do.

1. Give the characters at least two goals. A story goal, and a personal goal.

In my Jack Daniels series, the story goal is for Jack to catch the bad guy. Her personal goals are fixing her relationships and getting a good night's sleep.

There's something inherent in the human brain that desires order and completion. We want to fit all the puzzle pieces together and live happily ever after. So the first step on this journey is deciding where to go. This is the first stitch on the way to completing the quilt, and it gets the reader's attention and makes them subconsciously want to see it through to the satisfying conclusion.

2. Don't reveal everything at once.

It's natural, once you have a great idea, to want to spill everything immediately. But suspense, and reader interest, is piqued by the opposite--only give a little at a time. Ask questions, but don't answer them until later.

Questions keep the pages turning. The obvious question, "What happens next?" is what both your characters and your readers should be thinking.

In my book Afraid, both the reader and the main characters have no idea what is attacking the town until the second act; all they get are glimpses and pieces. Figuring things out is a lot more satisfying than being spoon fed.

3. Prevent the characters from reaching their goals.

The boring middle part of the book shouldn't be boring at all. This is the part where the author really gets to antagonize his main characters, heaping more and more conflict on them.

What is the absolute worst thing that can happen to your character? Make it happen. What will be impossible for them to overcome? Do it.

Along with being genetically wired to desire completion and order, we also like there to be a struggle before all is well. Adversity, conflict, and tragedy allow for admirable human attributes such as courage, love, and perseverance to blossom. We like winners, especially underdog winners. So heap on the abuse.

4. Subtext is subtext.

Sure, you may have an important theme to the work. Yes, you may love the written word and want to be as eloquent as possible. Of course you want to explore human nature, make the reader think about deep issues, and create realistic characters with complex motivations.

But don't do any of that at the expense of the story, dammit.

A story, in it's purest form, is: "Here's a mess, clean it up."

We're storytellers. Not charactertellers. Not themetellers. Not poets. The goal of a story is to present a problem, then solve the problem.

Are there exceptions? Sure.

But don't base your career on an exception.

We've been a species of storytellers as long as we've had a written history, and probably longer. The Epic of Gilgamesh is over 5000 years old, but the basic formula still remains the same.

Here's a mess, clean it up.

But Joe, you want me to follow a formula? Aren't formulas cliche and derivative and the work of hacks?

Not if you do a good job.

My wife hates going to the movies with me, because I always whisper to her what is going to happen next. It's not that the movies are the work of hacks. It's just that the more you understand about the storytelling process, the better you can predict it.

Of course, once you're able to predict it, you can do the unpredictable.

This isn't about muses or inspiration or magic or creativity. It's more like architecture than art. Yes, you can be dynamic and expressive and imaginative, but there are still rules.

Learn the rules.

Monday, December 01, 2008


If you're a writer, there are many hurdles to overcome.

You have to commit to writing whenever you can, and then bludgeoning that prose into the best it can be.

Then you have to diligently search for an agent, and for a publisher (or several agents and publishers, as few writers stick with one.)

You must seek out new markets while maintaining relationships with old ones.

You have to keep in touch with the public through online social networks and face-to-face.

You must battle criticism, self-doubt, and apathy, and stay current with industry happenings.

And all the while, your only true boss is you.

So unless you have a great deal of self-control and determination, you will undoubtedly slack off once and a while.

A few weeks probably won't hurt. A few months won't help. A year or longer and you'll be rebuilding your career from the ground up.

Not an easy task for writers. There are so many failures for so few successes, and not many ways to truly measure the impact of your efforts. This means that success or failure is largely arbitrary, based on your personal goals, And those goals can change. This can result in lesser efforts, which almost always yield lesser results.

So how do you maintain the discipline required to succeed? Especially when success seems so elusive?

1. Set Goals. The only goals worth setting are those you have control over. Getting published or becoming a bestseller are not goals. Those are dreams. Goals are sending out ten queries in December and writing five pages a day. These are doable, and the first step to keeping on track.

2. Make Time. All the goals in the world won't mean anything unless your prioritize them. That will probably mean sacrificing other things to devote yourself to your goals.

3. Regiment. Any long-term goal requires determination, implementation, and repetition. We don't have to force ourselves to do things we love. And while we may love some aspects of writing, there are certainly things we don't enjoy. You are your own boss, and your boss has to be a hard-ass.

4. Reward. The more realistic goals you make and shoot for, the more productive you'll become. When you do reach a goal, celebrate by rewarding yourself. It might be with something simple, like a cup of coffee when you finish two pages, or something big, like a trip to Paris when you finish the book. But all work and no play is a sure way to burn out.

5. Heal. You'll have setbacks, guaranteed. And these setbacks may make you want to ditch your goals, your regimen, and the whole silly business. There are many ways to overcome adversity, such as ignoring it, working through it, commiserating with friends, mourning, reflecting, and reinventing yourself. But, ultimately, the only thing that heals wounds is time, so forgive yourself if it takes a while to get back on the horse. And if you never do get back on, this wasn't the career for you in the first place.

If you choose to write (or if writing chose you) then you have to be relentless in the pursuit of your goals. If you settle for less, your expectations will be met. Demand more from yourself.

The winners are the ones who never gave up. Be a winner.

Now get back to work.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Top Ten Reasons Books Are Better Than Sex

10. With books, it's socially acceptable to read both men and women.

9. A book never has to ask "Was it good for you?" --- and then lie and say it was.

8. You don't have to shower after reading a book, except maybe Ann Coulter.

7. The pope says you can have books before marriage.

6. You don't have to get a book drunk first.

5. Books last longer than three minutes.

4. If you don't like what you see between the covers, you can toss it aside and find another book right away.

3. With books, length isn't important.

2. A book can make you sick, but not the kind of sick that requires a trip to the clinic.

1. You can have a new book every night, and they don't get jealous.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Everyone's A Critic

As newspapers and periodicals fold, downsize, and decline in popularity, it's getting harder and harder to get books reviewed.

Reviews sell books. Not necessarily because a book critic recommends it, but because a review makes readers aware a book exists. If a reader is looking for the next book by a certain author, or is looking for a certain genre or type of book to buy, reviews serve as a reminder or a spotlight, sort of like advertising, but with relevant content.

But as the Internet continues to infringe upon print, more and more people are reading reviews online. And the majority of these reviews aren't from paid critics, but from laypeople with blogs, or who post on websites like Shelfari or Goodreads or

While I mourn the gradual demise of professional print reviews, I embrace this new form of critiquing books. And I'm not the only one. I've lost count of the number of Harriet Klausner reviews (Amazon's #1 reviewer) I've seen on books, some even on the back covers.

Rather than read the NYT Book Review section, more and more readers are deciding what to buy based on blogs they read, or the average star ratings on Amazon. This grass roots type of reviewing is less like advertising, and more like word of mouth, which readers of this blog know I prefer.

But it comes at a cost. Because the world wide web makes it possible for everyone to post their opinion, many people do just that. And because the Internet offers distance and a certain amount of anonymity, many people see no problem with viciously ripping apart books they don't like.

On one hand, everyone has an opinion, and all opinions are valid.

On the other hand, you'd think reading some online reviews that the author being described is an illiterate pinhead, barely capable of stringing words together, who hates his fans and should have never been published in the first place and should be monetarily liable for the time the reviewer wasted reading the first two chapters.

I'm all for personal expression. And the Internet is truly a bottom-up (as opposed to top-down) way to communicate. We no longer have to rely on professionals, or corporations, for our news or entertainment. We've become a world where everyone can be famous, where all opinions can be heard.

This mentality has lead to uploading videos on YouTube, sharing pictures on Flicker, being able to create and edit our own encyclopedia with Wikipedia, posting news and op-ed on blogs, publishing ourselves on our websites, creating our own flash movies and games, and basically becoming the creator rather than being content with staying the consumer.

Unfortunately, for everyone who desires to create, there is someone who seems compelled to destroy.

The number of 1 star reviews on, and on the movie site, frankly astound me. Apparently it's easier to hate something, and there's a lot more to hate, than I ever imagined.

The reality is, most movies and books don't suck. There are some bad ones, sure. But each had to meet some minimal standards in order to get produced. Books released by major houses are acquired because the house believes they have some value, and will make some money. Many people are involved in a book's creation.

Yet the cavalier, dismissive attitude of many online amateur critics is a symptom of a larger problem within society, compounded by the fact that there's no accountability.

The problem I'm speaking of can be summed up in a single word: haters.

Haters tend to be quick with opinions, actively judge without fully understanding what they're judging, and have little concept of the effort it takes to create a story, film, book, TV show, or any other form of media.

Rather than create anything on their own, which is probably too difficult for them to do, they enjoy the sound of their own whining while tearing down what others have created. Because the Internet doesn't require accountability, they write things they'd never say face-to-face, which makes them cowards as well.

Personally, haters amuse me. In most cases, it's obvious these folks are clueless. Authors should NEVER EVER respond to haters, because it legitimizes them. No good can come from responding, and the fleeting satisfaction you'd get from calling someone "a waste of carbon" even if they truly are a waste of carbon, is a loss, not a victory.

But I urge anyone who has ever publicly lambasted a book, movie, TV show, song, whatever to consider these criteria before rushing to your one-star review.


1. Opinions change, including yours. Have you ever seen a movie, hated it, then caught it again and realized it was pretty good? A myriad of things can affect whether or not you enjoy something that has nothing whatsoever to do with anything intrinsic in the work.

2. Art is labored over. It involves time, effort, and often love, usually from many people involved in its creation.

3. Make an effort to understand art before you begin to cut down art.

4. You're a big stupid unhappy idiot, and no one likes you, and not a single person gives a shit about your snide comments or unhelpful opinions, and if you could pull your head out of your ass long enough to realize that fact you would do the world a favor and eat a bowl of Ambien and then go for a swim. Also, you smell bad.

Don't be a hater. If you dislike something, go ahead and voice your opinion, but be thoughtful in that opinion, and respect the artist. No one likes a whiner. Don't be one.

Now I challenge anyone who has ever given a negative review to defend that review or remove it. Or are you too cowardly to do so?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Back Up!

First things first, the winners of the AFRAID free book contest were posted on my forum, in the AFRAID CONTEST heading,

Now, in the spirit of Halloween, I want to talk about the scariest thing that can happen to writers:

Losing our writing.

Data corruption, hard drive failure, viruses, operating systems failing to boot, power outages, and computer crashes can all cause our words to disappear forever.

My computer recently crashed, big time. It has crashed before (thank you Bill Gates) but I've always managed to recover data. But this was the mother of all crashes, my hard drive became corrupted, and I lost everything.

Luckily, because I was expecting this to happen eventually, I backed all of my writing up, so I didn't lose anything other than a few emails.

So here are my tips for all writers, for both before and after a crash, so they may never lose data to system instability.


You will lose data one day. It is inevitable. But if you plan for the eventuality, your data loss will be minor. Here's what all writers need to do.

1. Buy a UPS Back Up. There are many makes and models (I use an APC), but they start at only $40 and all writers should have one for their desktop. These are basically glorified power strips, that not only protect against power surges that could fry your computer, but also have a battery in them so they guard against power outages. Even if your electricity goes out while you're working on something, you'll still have time to save data.

2. This is a free program that saves 2GB of your data off site. You set it to automatically save at a predetermined time of day, and even if your house burns down, you can get your data back.

3. MS Word. The latest version of this, and pretty much all word processing software, has Autosave and Autorecover functions. This means that your work is saved automatically while you're writing it, in a separate spot from where it is normally saved. These shadow copiues can often be recovered even when your original copies are lost.

4. External HDD. Back up to an external hard drive, in case your primary drive fails. If you don't have one, look into partitioning your hard drive. Your operating system is probably installed on your C: drive. If C: becomes corrupted, your data on it--even back up data--could be lost. But if you create a, E: or F: partition, and back up to that, your data should be safe even if C: becomes unstable. But having an entirely separate drive is a better way to go.

5. Hard Copies. Keep printed copies of all your work. Printing work in progress also helps witht he editing process, as going at a hard copy with a red pen is still the preferable way for editors to work.

6. Pen Drives, CDs, and Email. Have a pen drive on your keychain, and to back up your writing there in case someone breaks into your house and steals your computer and extrenal hard drive. Burn CDs and DVDs of all your important files. Email your strories to yourself, or to a family member,

7. Backup Now. Vista, for all its flaws, does have an easy, automatic way to back up files. The Backup Now feature enables users to automatically save any of their date once every 24 hours. At Drive>Properties>Tools you'll find this feature. Back up to a different partition, or even better, and external HDD.

8. Why pay for Norton Antivirus when Avast is less buggy, offers just as much protection, and is free? And while you're protecting your computer from trojans, viri, and worms, also protect against spyware and adware by going to and downloading the free programs Spybot and AdAware.


If you followed any of the above suggestions, recovering your writing should be a snap. But if you were lackadaisical in your safety protocol, there are still ways to hopefully recover your lost words.

1. Read Iris. I love this OCR program. If you have a copy of your writing printed out, you can use this and a scanner, and it translates the typed words into a text file. No more retyping.

2. System Restore. If you can't boot your computer, you might be able to get things started again using this function. Tap F8 repeatedly when you start your computer, and rather than booting it will give you the option of starting in Safe Mode, or doing a System Restore to an earlier time (or loading Last Known Good Configuration.) Windows does this automatically, so before you run to the Geek Squad, try this out.

3. Startup Repair. If Vista doesn't start, it tries to fix itself by loading Startup Repair. If this won't load, there are repair disks available for free online (of if you have a hard copy of Vista you can use the install disk.) If this can't repair your computer, it will allow you to run the command prompt, and you can run a check disk which will try to fix itself. First type in C: (or whatever drive is buggy), then "chkdsk /r" without the quotes.

4. Active Boot Disk. This is free. You burn it onto a CD, and it functions as an operating system from your CD drive. This means you can try to repair your HDD, or even remove files from it, even if you can't launch Windows.

5. Spybot and AdAware. If your system caught something bad, you can clean it using these free aforementioned programs.

If you've never listened to another thing I've ever said, trust me on this: when it comes to losing your writing, and ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Use as many of these as you can. And if you have any ways I missed, put them in the comments to share with others.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Contest and Stuff

A few announcements to make on behalf of me and some good friends, and then a chance to win cool free stuff.


WOLFSBANE & MISTLETOE, edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni LP Kelner. This werewolf/Christmas anthology is available at bookstores everywhere, and has a novella by me, which I promise is a lot of fun. Plus, it's a NYT Bestseller. :)

BLOOD LITE, edited by Kevin J. Anderson. This humorous horror anthology has a funny/gory story I co-wrote with F. Paul Wilson. Go get it.

THE SPY WHO CAME FOR CHRISTMAS, by David Morrell. I was lucky enough to get an advance reading copy, and this book is terrific.

THE NEW WRITER'S HANDBOOK VOLUME 2, edited by Philip Martin. This is a good collection of essays about writing and publishing, including one by me. If you're a newbie or a pro, it's worth buying.

AFRAID, by Jack Kilborn. For the three of you in the world who don't already know, I'M JACK KILBORN. If you live in Europe or Australia, you'll be able to buy this in hardcover or trade paperback on November 13. If you live in the US and are a diehard collector and demand a hardcover edition, visit The rest of you must wait until April, when the US paperback edition is released.


My friend MJ Rose is teaching her Buzz Your Book class one time only next year. If you sign up and tell her I sent you, she'll donate $25 to Locks Of Love, which is the reason I'm growing my hair long.

My friend Henry Perez, whose first novel Killing Red is coming out in '09, finally joined the 21st century and got himself a website. It's at He also has a thoughtful blog. Be a good web friend and trade links with him. Henry's a good guy, and also a good person to know. Plus he promised to buy me a beer for every person I send over.

MURDER AND MAYHEM IN MUSKEGO. I'll be there in Wisconsin, along with a bunch of other authors, November 7 and 8. It's a lot of fun, and afterward we all drink. You should go. Trust me.


Jack Kilborn's UK publisher, Headline, kindly sent me a few hardcovers and trade paperbacks of AFRAID, just in time for Halloween. In turn, I want to share these with you, my loyal fans.

There will be two contests.

To win an AFRAID hardcover (two of them are available) go to my forum at, sign up if you haven't already, and post something in the AFRAID CONTEST thread. The instructions are there.

To win an AFRAID trade paperback (three available), post a comment in this blog stating what makes you afraid. It could be one word (such as "spiders") or it could be more detailed.

You can enter both contests as often as you like. Winners in both categories will be judged on creativity. In the case of a tie, my wife will pick the winners. If I get a lot of entries, I reserve the right to give away more than five books.

On your end, if you do win a copy, you have to promise to review it online absolutely everywhere.

Fair enough? Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 19, 2008


We writers are a needy bunch.

Perhaps because the only way we can measure success is by the approval of others.

The act of writing is often fulfilling, but by its very nature self-indulgent. And after spending time in our own heads, we need others to validate our efforts because we can't objectively judge them ourselves.

Success in this business requires acceptance from agents, editors, and readers. From the first two, we seek this acceptance by submitting, rewriting, and editing manuscripts, and all too often we get rejection letters for our efforts.

As for readers, we naturally want to reach as many as possible, and get as many of those to like us as possible. But because reading, like writing, takes place in a person's head, there often isn't any indication of how much acceptance we're actually receiving.

So we seek it out. We Google our own names, and check our Amazon rank and reviews, and track our website hits, and count our blog comments, and obsess over royalty statements, and accumulate MySpace friends, and hope that all of this will somehow make us less neurotic and more confident.

But it doesn't make us more confident. It makes us ashamed. We wonder why more people don't like us, at the same time despising why we consistently seek out their acceptance, and hating ourselves for doing so in the first place.

This blog is not going to show you how to be less needy. If you're a writer, that's impossible.

But it is going to tell you something all writers need to know.

It's okay to be needy.

So you can stop feeling bad that you crave approval. You can stop thinking you obsess too much over your career. You can stop worrying that you're some lone freak, feeling small and weak while everyone around you overflows with confidence.

Everyone picks their nose. Everyone masturbates. And all writers are needy.

Neediness is wired into the artistic temperament. Not only does it make us strive to succeed and improve, but once you truly stop caring about what other people think you become both insufferable and a lazy writer.

So go ahead. Embrace being needy. Seek out the approval of others, and when you find it, enjoy it.

And when instead of approval you find scorn, envy, bitterness, and hateful attacks, remember that they're only opinions---opinions that come from whiny, unhappy, nose-picking morons who masturbate waaaaaay too much.

Now I encourage you to leave a comment here, and then forgive yourself when you check back 17 times today to see if anyone responded to you.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Conference Culture

I'm off to Bouchercon this weekend, and figured it would be a good time to talk about conferences.

The fact is, not many books are sold at these things. I can play the schmooze game as well as anyone, and over two thousand fans will be at Bouchercon, many of them who know and like me, but if I sell more than fifty books over the weekend I'll be surprised.

So why go? When this trip is over, my expenses will be well over a grand. Is it really worth my time and money?

In a word, yes.

Even though many writers attend Bouchercon (and the many other annual writing fairs and conventions) to sell books, that isn't the main goal. It's nice when it happens, but these appearances are more about goodwill than sales.

When we writers go anywhere, we become ambassadors for our writing. Projecting an image of success and confidence, while being gracious, funny, and accessible, does more than get a few people to part with their money. It helps establish a brand.

Word of mouth is the ultimate selling tool, and anytime you have a chance to speak in public, you're able to spread your message to others, who in turn (if they like you) will spread it to others. Being talked about favorably, even by those who haven't read your books and have no intention of reading your books, will lead others to read your books.

Ultimately, bookselling is a popularity contest. And befriending as many people as possible is in every writer's best interest. To do this, we must go where the people are.

There are other benefits of attending conventions as well. Networking with peers is a nice way to blow off steam and have fun, but it also results in meeting people who can potentially help your career. Conferences are great for establishing and solidifying work friendships. Then down the road, when someone is looking for stories for their antho, or you're looking for a blurb or an intro to an editor, the time you spent at the bar buying rounds of drinks will more than pay for itself.

The things to keep in mind, to help maximize your time at the convention, can be reduced to a simple list.

1. Stay in public. Hiding in your room between panels is not why you came here. Go where the people are.

2. Be friendly. A smile goes far, and kind words go even farther.

3. Meet people. Try to introduce yourself to as many people as possible. Sit with strangers, chat in elevators, ask fans questions, approach authors you like and buy them beer. The only time you should be alone is in the bathroom.

4. Promote yourself. All writers should have a 20 second pitch, that they can launch into when asked. Wait to be asked. Have business cards or something similar to hand out to people.

If you can keep those four things in mind, you'll have a productive conference. You'll also have some fun.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Writing anything requires a certain amount of investment from a writer. Time, naturally. But a story also contains little bits of who were are. Writing a book is a substantial commitment, professionally, and often emotionally.

When the story is complete, the investment remains. We want it to be read. To succeed. To endure.

But sometimes our best efforts don't sell. Sometimes it's the writing. Sometimes it's the market. Sometimes it's some weird combination of circumstances that lead to rejection. (In fairness, weird combinations of circumstances often lead to acceptance as well.)

Which brings us to the point of this blog entry: When do we give up on something we've written?

That's a tough question. Is it time to abandon a piece after ten rejections? Or a hundred rejections? Six months? Three years? Does the time we spent writing it play a part in this decision? Does how much we personally like the story factor in?

The point is, we eventually need to give up. We need to stop dwelling on what didn't sell, and focus on something new that might sell.

Almost every writer I know has a shelf novel. Almost all of them have short stories that never say print. In some cases the writers admit this is a good thing. Work that doesn't get published often has specific reasons it wasn't published.

But sometimes we can't point to any particular reason. Sometimes we're 100% certain that a particular piece is gold, and can't understand why it didn't sell.

While rejection is tough, clinging to something because you're emotionally invested in it isn't a smart career move. It's better to move on to something new. Even if you're sure it's good.

So what do you do next? Assuming you've sent you book/story to everyone, reworked it several times, and still struck out, what your next course of action?

1. Grieve. Depression is an obvious response to rejection. You're allowed to wallow in it, as long as the wallowing doesn't last for more than a day or two. If it lasts more than a week, then you probably really are the untalented whiny loser you think you are, and should chose another profession.

Winners don't mope. Winners chalk it up to experience and move on.

2. Put it away. Distance yourself from the project by getting it off your desk, computer, and out of sight. Stick it in a drawer and promise you won't take it out for at least a month. Then you can peek at it again with fresh eyes, and maybe you'll gain a new perspective on it. Maybe it isn't as good as you thought. And if it is, well, rejection is part of this profession. Get used to it.

3. Write. Writers write. You're a writer. So write something else.

4. Post it. We write because we want to be read. If you have a story or book that you can't forget about, no matter how hard you try, make it available for free on your website. Downloads, email installments, audio podcasts, newsgroups and message boards---the whole World Wide Web is waiting to read you.

That's pretty much a lie. Very few people on the Web will actually care about the stories you post. But it can't hurt, and maybe you'll get a few encouraging emails. There's also the small possibility you will get a lot of reads. Stranger things have happened. At the very least, you're getting more reads than if the story was in a drawer.

5. Publish it yourself. By which I mean DO NOT PUBLISH IT YOURSELF. If you really have to, visit and use them. Don't get an ISBN. Don't try to list it on Amazon or get brick and mortar stores to carry it. Print up some copies for friends and family and leave it at that.

I've written scads about the perils of self-pubbing and POD, and I say DON'T DO IT. REALLY. I'M SERIOUS. THESE CAPITAL LETTERS SHOW YOU HOW SERIOUS I AM.

6. Network. The conferences, book fairs, and conventions you go to are great places to meet other writers and gossip about who is sleeping with whom and who just lost their agent and who is drinking too much.

They're also great places to find out who is editing which upcoming anthology. I've had several rejected tales that were magically resurrected because a peer contacted me, asking to submit something. Often they didn't ask. Often I asked them, after buying them a beer.

Having a few unpubbed stories in a folder isn't always a bad thing. When the right place meets the right time, you can pull them out. But this involves keeping an ear to the ground, and staying active in the community.

7. Read. Want to know what's selling? Buy and read what's being published, and you'll know what editors are looking for.

That doesn't mean jumping on the latest trend and writing a carbon copy--though a lot of writers aping The DaVinci Code and Harry Potter did okay with that. It actually means knowing what types of stories websites, periodicals, and publishers, are looking for.

Books and stories are bought by editors. Editors are people, with tastes. Appeal to their tastes.

8. Get over it. Yes, you spent a lot of time putting those words on the page, and they're dear to you. But put it in perspective. They're only words on a page. Even if those words did sell, you'd still have to move on and write something new.

Dwelling on past work, whether it was published or not, won't do anything for your future. I know too many writers who have been tinkering with a story, book, or manuscript for much longer than they've needed to. A better scenario is to abandon that albatross and begin a new project.

Conclusion. The publishing world, much like life, often isn't fun, fair, or easy. Don't blame the industry. That's just how it works. If you want to blame someone, look in the mirror. You're the one who chose this. If you're miserable, it's your own fault.

Also, if anyone reading this is editing an anthology, I'm pretty sure I've got something uniquely suited for it. Send me an email, and I can get it to you right away...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Artistic Anguish

Many writers say you have to write every day.

That's BS.

"Write when you can" is a good rule of thumb for newbie writers trying to break in, or those who have busy lives and need to micro-manage their time.

My personal motto is: "Write before it's due."

I don't believe in muses, any more than I believe in writer's block. I heard a fellow writer once say, "No one ever gets farmer's block." I agree. If your job is to be creative, performing on cue is a must.

And please don't overplay your own importance.

A famous writer once said, "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."

She didn't ask for comments, but I'd offer, "Being trapped in a burning car seems a bit worse."

Writers tend to do two things really well: whine and inflate their own importance.

Who was that famous guy who spent an entire day anguishing over a semi-colon placement? Am I the only one who thinks this is ridiculous? And we're supposed to look up to him as some sort of ideal for artistic integrity?

Tell you what--spend two minutes fretting over the punctuation mark, then spend the other eight hours of the day volunteering at a soup kitchen. Then you'll have my admiration.

Writing IS NOT HARD. Laying bricks is hard. Curing disease is hard. Fighting in a war is hard.

Writing is sitting on your butt and stringing words together.

And what's with these writers who think all they have to do is write? They really, truly believe it is a publisher's job to sell the books, and all they have to do is turn in a decent manuscript.

Look, I'm the first person to admit that self-promotion is expensive, exhausting, time-consuming, and difficult. I'd much rather sit in my house and write books instead of doing all the travelling, lecturing, signing, and Internet busywork that currently occupies most of my professional life.

But name any other job that is 100% fun. Tell me who loves every second of their 9 to 5 day.

Imagine an executive saying, "It's not my job to take meetings" or a chef who insists "I won't cook vegetables."

Here's a shout out to all of my writing peers: We're entertainers. We're the folks who tap dance on the street corner for money. We should consider ourselves lucky to have this job, and be willing to do whatever we can to keep this job.

Save the drama for that journal your kids will throw away when you die, and realize how good you really have it.

And the next time you think that writing is hard, or that you don't want to self-promote, or that your precious words are the most important objects in the world, gimme a holler. I'll stop by with some matches and a can of lighter fluid and I'll help you readjust your priorities.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Casting Your Net

I just joined a few more online billboards.

This means, besides my blog and website, I'm maintaining 12 other hubs on the Internet. If you're curious, here are all the links:

Joe's Amazon blog:
Joe on Facebook:
Joe on CrimeSpace:
Joe on Goodreads:
Joe on ITW:
Joe on LinkedIn:
Joe on MySpace:
Joe on RedRoom:
Joe on Shelfari:
Joe on Squidoo:
Joe on Twitter:
Joe on Wikipedia:

Some require more maintenance than others. MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter lead the pack, needing to be updated almost daily. Others, such as Goodreads, Shelfari, RedRoom, and Crimespace, are fine to check up on once a week. The resy are mostly sites I can visit once a month. Squidoo and Lijit can be set up to practically run themselves.

Of course, the more time you spend on each of these, the more effective it becomes as a billboard.

At this point, I'm fine with having a toehold in each of these communities. People join them looking for books, or friends, or just something to entertain or inform, and I've made it easy for them to find something that fits the bill: Me.

That's the first step. But to truly take advantage of Internet relationships, the next step involves time. Time to seek out people on these sites. Time to announce yourself on them. Time to respond to those who have contacted you.

But is it worthwhile?

As the world continues its race into a digital future, it is becoming more and more common to have relationships with people you never actually meet in real life. And unlike real life, these relationships often have less baggage and more leeway. You aren't required to do as much, give as much, or be as responsible with online friends as with real life friends.

And yet, your online friends can vastly outnumber your real life friends, and they can also be a gigantic feather in your self-promotion cap. They can help spread the word. They can buy your books.

I've mentioned many times that people are searching for two things on the Internet: Information and Entertainment. While a visual medium, the net is still all about words. You enter words into Google. You read words in response.

Who better to blaze a trail in this frontier than people skilled to use words?

Your words, in the form of communication and correspondence, are a very effective way to garner supporters online. Your words, when advising and entertaining, will help to keep these relationships going, and are also helping to build relationships with people who you don't even know exist.

The majority of folks who visit my blog and website and billboards are lurkers. They stop by. They read. And if they like what the read, they often buy my books. All without ever letting me know.

It's great to have cheerleaders, linking to you, mentioning you, corresponding with you. But it's also great to have a silent audience who doesn't ask for more than the time you've already given creating a blog or homepage or billboard.

So I don't mind maintaining these billboards. And as more social networking sites spring up and gain popularity, I'll go there as well. I want to be where the people are. I have information and entertainment to give them, but it is only useful to them if they know it exists.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

No Dues is Good Dues

When I first became published, I joined every writing organization I could think of. I wanted to meet other writers, to learn about the industry, to be invited to exclusive gatherings, to have the opportunity to be included in anthologies, to get my name and bibliography in mailing lists and newsletters and on websites.

I eventually let all of my memberships lapse, with the sole exception being the International Thriller Writers.

The reason for not rejoining these organizations was a purely selfish one--I didn't feel that they were worth the seemingly ever-increasing dues I had to pay. I believe writing organizations are supposed to help writers, but I couldn't really point to anything helpful being done for me or for my career.

Networking with fellow industry professionals is a wonderful experience, but I discovered I could do that without spending several hundred bucks a year in membership fees.

I've never really understood the importance of awards, and have found some of them to be nepotistic and self-congratulatory.

The organizational newsletters and websites that listed my books also listed 3000 other books, making me wonder about their effectiveness.

I kept up my ITW membership because that organization did help me and my career, namely by putting one of my stories in a high-profile anthology. They did other things as well, but that was a biggie and it earned my loyalty .

Then just yesterday, ITW sent out an email that said, in part:

From the beginning, ITW was not – and was never intended to be – a writer’s organization like most others. Our purpose was not to collect dues, publish newsletters, and have a convention once a year where we get together and talk about what fine fellows we are. We are a group of published writers who have banded together to promote our genre in an innovative, effective way. With that in mind, the Board of Directors decided in July that dues are inconsistent with our mission, and we have voted to eliminate all membership fees for qualified, active members.

Well color me impressed.

With this one decision, ITW has made me believe there is an organization that truly wants to help me and my career. But it's done more than that. I've long stood fast to the belief that volunteering is masochistic, and no good deed goes unpunished. However, if the ITW decides it needs me for something, anything, they've got me, no questions asked.

For the first time in my professional life I feel proud of being part of writing organization. And it's a really nice feeling.

To learn more about the ITW, visit

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Myth Of The Good Book

No, we're not debunking the bible here. We're talking about the pervasive idea that if you write a good book, it will sell. The writer doesn't have to have an Internet presence, or make any public appearances, or do any marketing, self-promotion, or publicity. All the writer needs to do it write a good book and it will magically find an audience.

It makes no difference the years of experience or the amount of success a writer has had, many still believe this.

It's baloney, of course.

As I've said many times on many forums, "good" is subjective. There's no universally accepted standard for "good" because everyone has an opinion. Editors and agents, who believe they know what "good" is, still represent and publish books that fail more often than not. We've all read crappy books that are big hits, and we've all read wonderful books that are now out of print.

"Good" is a really poor indicator of sales potential.

But the myth still persists: Write a good book, and it will sell.

Instead of poking holes in this concept (I'm privy to the "You can write the best book in the world but people won;t buy it if they don't know it exists" rebuttal), maybe we should look at why so many writers feel this way.

1. Naivete. If a writer is only responsible for writing a good book, they don't need to know anything about this mysterious business known as publishing. This offers the artist a nice, insulated cushion from real life, where they feels they only needs to worry about writing the best book they can and everything else will be taken care of for them.

2. Stubbornness. It's a publisher's job to sell books. Period. The writer writes, and nothing else. If the writer does their job, the publisher will promote the heck out of it, and the book will find a wide audience.

3. Fear. It's a scary business, and self-promotion is expensive, time-consuming, and difficult. It's much easier for an author to focus on writing than learn the skills needed to become a salesman. Writers get rejected often enough by agents and editors. They shouldn't have to risk getting rejected by readers as well.

4. Envy. We all know a few indefatigable writers who are constantly promoting their brands. We don't like to think that perhaps we should be promoting our books with equal vigor, instead clinging to the belief that the book should sell itself based on its own merits. It's much easier to attack someone else than blame ourselves.

5. Bad results. Perhaps the writer has tried to self-promote, had a bad experience, and now refuses to do anything else. This is a shame, because we all swallowed some water learning how to swim. Practice makes perfect.

Now let me make it clear that writers do need to write the best book they possibly can. That should go without saying. But in a world with so many forms of entertainment competing for our time and money, in a world where 200,000 new books are published every year but only 1 out of 5 makes a profit, in a world where selling a first book is difficult, but selling a second book is impossible if the first one didn't do well...

Obviously, it is in the writer's best interest to make an effort in selling their books.

Here are some things to remember about self-promotion.

1. People are looking for information and entertainment. They aren't looking for ads or commercials.

2. Sales isn't about selling a book to someone who doesn't want it. It's about finding people who are looking for your type of book and offering it to them.

3. Books sell one at a time, and every effort you make has intangible benefits.

4. Think about the last ten books you bought and why you bought them. These are the strategies you should use when selling your books.

5. Set attainable goals. Becoming a bestseller isn't a good goal, because it is largely out of your hands. Going to three writing conferences and introducing yourself to 100 new people is within your power.

6. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Self-promotion is about planting seeds, and these often take a long time to grow. The longer and harder you work at this, the better you'll do.

7. Believe in your book. You have to believe that you did, indeed, write a good book, and that others will enjoy it. If the words ont he page don't speak to you, they won't speak to others, and nothing you do to self-promote is going to change that...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Interview with Jason Starr, author of The Max

I've known Jason Starr for years. He's one of the most likeable, and most respected, mystery authors working today.

His new novel, The Max, is co-written by the equally talented and likeable Ken Bruen.

The Max is available today, from Hard Case Crime, the publisher that specializes in classic and current noir and surprised the world when it released Stephen King's The Colorado Kid a few years ago.

JA's advice: If you love mysteries you must buy every title by Starr, and by Bruen, and by Hard Case.

I caught up with Jason during a White House briefing. Neither of us were there to meet the President--we just go because they have an awesome free snack table. Since I brought along my tape recorder as a prop to fool the Secret Service, I decided to use it to ask Starr a few questions about The Max in particular and self-promotion in general.

JA: Damn, this cracker dip is tasty. Is that dill? I think it's dill. So what's the new book about?

Jason: It's called THE MAX and it's the third crime novel I've co-written with Ken Bruen in what we are now calling "The Bust Trilogy." The previous books are BUST and SLIDE and they're all published by Hard Case Crime.

JA: I already said all of that in the intro. But you hadn't actually read that at the time of the interview, so please continue.

Jason: In THE MAX our two main protagonists, Max and Angela, are imprisoned in different parts of the world--Max at Attica and Angela in a prison on the Greek island of Lesbos....and that's just the opening. We introduce a lot of new characters in the book and Laura Lippman makes a cameo as herself and there's a character, a charming con man who's a dead ringer for Lee Child. You don't have to read them in order but I think it's a good idea and, hey, they're only 6.99 each so all three are less than the price of the average hardcover. How can you go wrong?

JA: I like Lee Child. He's dreamy. I bet he works out. What's your collaboration process with Bruen?

Jason: Well, Ken and I write solo novels as well of course and our individual styles are so different the big challenge is always to make it seem like the books are written by a single author. So we alter our styles--I write in Ken's style and he writes in my style. Then we'll go back and forth and polish it a few times until we think it's seamless.

JA: Do you leave each other's prose alone?

Jason: We don't switch off writing chapters, each of us work on all the chapters, and we send them back and forth over the Internet. It took some trial and error but we've reached the point where even we aren't sure who wrote what. Ken wrote me the other day saying he re-read part of The Max and complimented me for a particular line and I wrote back, "You wrote that, Ken." And he wasn't even drinking at the time.

JA: What are you doing to promote this book?

Jason: This is it, Joe. All your readers better buy this f'in' book or we're screwed.

JA: All my readers? I hope you've got at least eight copies in print.

(Jason and I both chuckle, then I start choking on a shrimp ball and the Secret Service has to give me the Heimlich.)

Jason: But, seriously, we promote these books differently than our solo books. Hard Case Crime gets a ton of media coverage because they're a niche publisher with a strong fan base. But they can't afford to send their authors on tour and we need to promote our solo books as well. So we do a handful of bookstore events (the launch party for THE MAX is at the Mysterious Bookshop in New York on Thursday Sept. 4 at 6:30 and all of your readers are invited), but otherwise it's a lot of blogging, a lot of promotion on My Space and Facebook, interviews, fan conventions etc.

We're fortunate that Hard Case (ie publisher Charles Ardai) has gotten us some great publicity though. Although the books are mass market paperbacks, many major newspapers have reviewed the books and BUST even made Entertainment Weekly's Must List.

JA: Nice. The only time I was in EW was when I cut out a picture of my face and glued it on top of Brendan Fraiser's. It didn't fool too many people.

What kind of promo doesn't work for you?

Jason: I'm not sure how much radio interviews have done for me. I've done a lot of them and I've never seen a big bump in sales. I'm not talking about NPR, I'm talking about local radio. I'm just not sure it's the best way to target the book-reading audience.

JA: I concur. Never had much success with radio, though I dig it.

Jason: I think any publicity is good publicity and the key is to do what you feel comfortable doing. It's all about finding that comfort zone where you can thrive.

JA: Boxers or briefs?

Jason: Come on, Joe, you know I go commando.

JA: I tried that once. it was sexy, until I chafed. Who do you like to read?

Jason: Most of my reading these days is books I'm asked to blurb and my friends' books. Luckily I've been blurbing some excellent books and my friends are great writers. I heartily recommend Alison Gaylin's new novel Heartless and Ken Bruen's standalone Once Were Cops. I recently read your story in the Thriller anthology and it kicked ass. All your stuff kicks ass.

JA: Yes. Yes it does. Didn't the new Indiana Jones movie suck?

Jason: Didn't see it yet, but I'll take your word for it.

JA: I was really excited about it, because the trailer was awesome, but then I went to see it and didn't like it. Also, theater popcorn makes me retain water. I suspect that's Lucas's fault.

What's next for Jason Starr?

Jason: My latest hardcover from St. Martin's Press, THE FOLLOWER, is due out as a mass market paperback on December 2. I'm really excited about this because it's my eighth novel, but my first mass market paperback (the others have been in trade).

JA: I liked The Follower, but now I'm annoyed I bought it in hardcover when I could have waited and gotten it cheaper. What else is on the horizon?

Jason: Next year I have a few books out. St. Martin's is publishing my new thriller in the spring and I'll be posting a lot on this over the coming weeks at Later in the year, DC Vertigo will publish my original, full length graphic novel (more details TBA at the Bouchercon convention in October on the graphic novel panel). I've been working on this graphic novel (with a wonderful artist in Italy) for the past two-plus years.

JA: You've been busy.

Jason: Also next year, in the fall, Hard Case Crime will publish the first American edition of my novel FAKE ID. I wrote FAKE ID several years ago and it's a hard-hitting crime novel in the Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford tradition, but set in the present day.

JA: Now you're just showing off. Lemme have that party info again.

Jason: Everybody's invited to the launch party on Thursday Sept. 4 at 6:30 pm at Otto Penzler's lengendary The Mysterious Bookshop on 58 Warren Street in New York City.

JA: Will Bruen be there?

Jason: Yes. And Alison Gaylin will launch her latest, Heartless, at the same event, and there will be drinks and food and we're giving away lots of door prizes including bottles of booze and a 50 dollar store gift certificate.

JA: Drinks? Now I gotta go...

Sunday, August 24, 2008


In my unending quest to remain relevant in a digital world, I learned a bit of Adobe Flash and created a game to promote the book Afraid by Jack Kilborn.

It only takes a few minutes to play, and is hopefully worth a smile or two.

Do flash games and video trailers and expensive interactive websites help sell books? I remain unconvinced. But I had fun putting this together, and dumber things have gone viral.

Let me know if you reached level 18...

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Part of being human is trying to figure out what in our pasts have led to our present.

That means we often attribute significance to past occurrences and what we believe led up to those occurrences. After all, hindsight is 20/20.

Looking at successful people, we can make observations about their histories, compile similar data, and draw conclusions about what makes a successful person.

But unlike science, which uses controlled experiments that are repeatable, it's impossible to have a control group for a person's life. Good things that happen may indeed be a result of hard work and effort, or it may be the stars aligning. It's usually a little of both.

While an astute student of human behavior can find commonalities among the success stories, these are often vague rather than defined, and if repeated under similar conditions do not always result in success for other people.

When you add exceptions--people who do something other than what the majority do--to the mix, it becomes downright impossible to predict success.

Which brings us to writing.

We're supposed to write a good book, but the term "good" is subjective. Then we're supposed to promote it, even though only a small percentage of books actually become bestsellers, and bestselling authors may not do a lot of promotion.

Because there are no guarantees, no controlled way to study and repeat success, and not even a universal definition of "good", the majority of us spin our wheels in relative obscurity, while a select few make it big and then tell the rest of us exactly how they did it, even though they're often attributing significance after the fact, which simply isn't good science.

So what's a writer to do? Work hard self-promoting even though the odds are against it paying off? Struggle to write a good book, whatever that means? Study the market? Ignore the market? Listen to bestselling authors? Listen to their publisher?

Readers of this blog know my feelings about luck. It pervades the publishing industry, and life in general. I've blogged before about maximizing the potential for luck by working hard, but without specific instruction that's like a coach at half time telling his team that in order to win they have to play better.

So here's some specific instruction.

1. Study the situation. That means learning everything you can about writing and publishing. Read about it, talk to people in the industry, and seek answers.

2. Set attainable goals. Once you have a rudimentary understanding of how publishing works, you can figure out how to leverage your standing within it. Keep goals to things within your control.

3. Learn from both failure and success. Try things for yourself, try them again, and revise and evolve.While you can't control the experiment, you can test and hone tactics.

4. Don't compare yourself to other writers. No good can ever come of this. Ever. Writers aren't in competition with each other for contracts or fans, and one person's success doesn't hinge on another failing. Envy is poison.

5. Value yourself. If you don't have enough confidence to believe you're worth more, no one is going to give you more.

6. Bust your ass. If you aren't driven to succeed, you probably won't. How bad do you want this? If the answer is: really bad, then you have to prioritize accordingly.

7. Forgive. You'll make mistakes. People will screw you. Circumstances may conspire to keep you down. Regret, guilt, worry, and self-pity are all just as poisonous as envy. Let the past stay in the past and move on. You're better than that.

8. Dream. That's why you became a writer in the first place. It's the one thing you have complete control over, and the one thing that will keep you going when everything else is going to hell. The day you stop dreaming is the day you stop trying.

Did I miss anything?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fix Your Billboard

I've been housekeeping for the last few weeks, tweaking my website, blog, and various online billboards.

An "online billboard" is a place on the Internet where you have a little bit of property people pass through.

I've been collecting online intersections lately, and have found I own a few beyond the obvious blog and website:

Joe on MySpace:
Joe on Facebook:
Joe on Wikipedia:
Joe's Amazon blog:
Joe on Shelfari:
Joe on Goodreads:
Joe on CrimeSpace:

Are writers really expected to keep up with all of these online billboards? Has it become part of our job description to maintain and stay active in all of these social networking forums?

Well, no. Unless you want to attract more readers.

As writers, we have to go where the readers are. That's why we have websites in the first place, because a lot of people have computers and Internet access.

But when writers try to figure out how to maximize their Internet access, laziness seems to kick in. There are a hundred other things they could be doing other than strengthening their online billboards, and there's no real tangible evidence that a Facebook pages helps sell books in the first place.

Or is there?

Let's take a step back and consider the history of the old-fashioned billboard.

Billboards, for the uninitiated, are those large advertising signs posted along highways. They're usually target specific, announcing an upcoming store or attraction several miles ahead. Unlike TV and radio commercials or print ads, billboards actually lead you to the item they're promoting.

Being a Chicagoan, we often vacationed in Wisconsin, and driving up I-94 was billboard mania, announcing dozens of attractions at the resort town the Dells. Some of those Tommy Bartlett Watershow boards still exist 30 years later, and I can't help but wonder if Tommy is now doing his ski jumps with the aid of a walker.

The point is, unlike other forms of advertising that suggest a product or service and then require you to make the effort to seek out that product or service, billboards require little effort. All you had to do was take the proper exit.

As a result, roadside billboards continue to be a powerful source of revenue.

You see where I'm going with this.

Your MySpace page, your Shelfari profile, even your blog and website, are all billboards, pointing directly to links where your books can be purchased.

The more billboards pointing to your books, the more roads they're on, the more people you'll lure in.

So, yes, you should take a few minutes every few days to check to make sure your billboard is still up, attracting people. You should perform some basic maintenance, just as replying to questions and updating information. You might even make the billboard larger by participating to a greater degree. And naturally, your billboard isn't about what you're trying to sell. It's about what you're offering: information and entertainment.

Don't want to do that work? No one says you have to. But I never would have seen Tommy Bartlett if he hadn't made a similar effort. Me and 20 million others. Pretty good traffic for the cost and maintenance of a few dozen billboards.

If you're a regular visitor of this blog, you'll notice the Blogs I Read sidebar has gotten smaller. That's because, in the course of housekeeping, I got rid of the dead links.

Over thirty of them.

Those billboards were dead. No longer luring anyone to anything. Worthless, even though they may still be linked to by many search engines and places on the world wide web.

Blogging isn't for everyone. Social networking sites aren't for everyone.

But why put up a billboard and then leave it to fall apart and whither away?

When was the last time you updated your blog or website? When was the last time you visited that forum, or networking page, or any other billboards you took the time to build?

Anything worth doing is worth doing right. If you don't see the value to billboards, that's fine. But to fully understand the value of something requires you to try your best and give it a fair shot.

Are your billboards all they can be?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Revamping Your Website

I finally paid a professional to create a website for me.

My previous website was my own Frankenstein creation. And much like the monster, it was large, unwieldy, and unpleasant to look at.

I liked the content, but the presentation was lacking. I used html, which has since been replaced by better design languages. My site had different looks on different browsers, some better than others. I had a lot of unneeded, sloppy code that caused errors.

So I hired a designer to drag me into the 21st century.

My take on websites may be a bit peculiar. I don't like busy-looking web pages, or graphic-intensive sites that have Flash intros--I always skip the intro, and get impatient when a site takes a while to load.

I wanted something simple, easy to navigate, that I could maintain and update myself. I also wanted to remove some obsolete text content and add pictures and videos and a few other bells and whistles.

What I've lost:
  • My writing tips pages, which were redundant because the tips are now collected in my Newbie's Guide to Publishing e-book.
  • Free stories, which were redundant because they've been collected in my 55 Proof e-book.
  • Some reviews and old news.
  • Three pages of pictures.
What I've gained:
  • A simple, easy to navigate page.
  • Three times as many pictures, using
  • A guestbook.
  • Several new videos and movies.
  • A new store.
  • A site for my pen name, Jack Kilborn.
  • A message board, with chat.
In other words, a lot of extra content in a smaller, easier to access amount of space. I went from having over 25 pages to about 10.

When you're looking to redo (or create) a website, here are some things to keep in mind.
  1. Understand what your site it for. It isn't a 24 hour advertisement. It's more like a 24 hour hotel, where people can visit and have a pleasant stay. Websites are all about information and entertainment, not commercials.

  2. Decide what you want. Do this by looking at other websites and dissecting the reasons you like them (or don't like them.) What makes a site appealing? What makes it sticky? What makes you come back time and again?

  3. Set a price. Websites can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Figure out what pages you need and what you want on them, and a designer should be able to give you an estimate.

  4. Find a designer. I used Jack Passarella, at Jack happens to be an author, so he has a good take on what an author website should do. I liked his style, and I enjoyed working with him. It took several weeks for him to fit me into his queue (good designers usually have a waiting list), but once he did he completed the site in just a few days. He has an easy-going yet professional manner and is reasonably priced.

  5. Learn how to do some things for yourself. Having a working knowledge of domains, ftp, html, css, and php can only help you as an author. Being able to fix, tweak, and update your own site saves a ton of money, and is often quicker than working with a webmaster.
If you want to see the difference between new and old, here's your chance.

Let me know what you think...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

JA Konrath Message Board

I've always wanted to message board, where fans could interact and newbie writers could ask questions.

My new website will launch soon, but in the meantime feel free to play on the board--it's awful lonely being the only one there.

As expected, I'll be answering questions, holding contests, dishing out advice, and goofing off.

Hope to see you there, and please spread the word.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

More On Net Promotion

I've found myself in an odd position this last week. I'm in between projects and have some free time, so I've been messing around with the Internet. After catching up on emails and link exchanges I've begun trying various short-term promo efforts and attempting to gauge their success rates.

Here are some things I've found.

Book Trailers - Four days ago I uploaded a book trailer I made for my latest Jack Daniels novel, Fuzzy Navel. You might want to reread the original blog post (from August 1) because I just added some thoughts to it. While I wouldn't call the trailer hugely successful, it's been seen several hundred times and I've gotten several dozen favorable responses on it. The trailer cost nothing to produce, and only took about an hour to shoot and edit, and right after posting here, on my website, and on MySpace and Facebook, my Amazon numbers spiked from 50,000 to 10,000.

Let me reiterate that Amazon doesn't sell that many books, so this uptick only accounted for a few extra sales. But these were sales I didn't have prior to the trailer, and they cost me nothing but a little time.

Videos also have a lobster trap effect---a lobster pot, left in the ocean, is an eternal killing machine. Lobster crawls in to get bait, dies, becomes bait for next lobster. A video can keep killing for years. My Hermes the Bat video has had thousands of hits, and I still get email about it on a regular basis.

My question for you folks is: Should I post this video on Amazon? Too silly and unprofessional, or irreverent enough to make some new fans?

For those who've never read it, my Amazon blog is HERE. It is viewable by anyone who looks at one of my books, and videos can be uploaded.

Facebook - I've begun to approach Facebook with the same verve I approached MySpace with a few years ago. This means that every day I'm inviting a few dozen people to befriend me, I'm replying to messages and email, and I'm adding to my profile so it isn't so bare-bones.

I confess I don't really "get" a lot of the Facebook standbys, like pokes and the many little applications, which seem a lot like passing notes in grammar school. But other people seem to dig it, and as writers we need to go where the people are. Like your website, your Facebook page should be sticky. This means you have things to offer rather than things to sell, and the two main things you can offer are information and entertainment.

I'll report on Facebook again in the upcoming weeks as I play with it .

MySpace - I'm really liking MySpace lately. Back when I first joined, I bought a program called Friendblaster Pro for a few bucks, which assists in sending out Friend Requests. Then the administrators got tough on spammers and began to force Captcha codes on bulk requesters, and I tapered off.

But the fact is, even with Captcha codes, Friendblaster is still much faster than adding friends one at a time. Plus, Friendblaster can also send out messages and comments in bulk.

In The Newbie's Guide To Publishing Book, in the Internet section, I listed a few of my MySpace bulletins. A bulletin is an post that is viewable by all of your friends. I've found them to be an effective way to get the word out about upcoming events or announcements.

But I believe that bulk comments are even more effective. When you leave a comment, it appears on your friend's page, for others to read and click on. This is like placing your ad on billboards across town, as many as 500 a day (the limit MySpace allows.)

Yesterday, as an experiment, I used Friendblaster to harvest the addresses of my friends who have commented on my MySpace page. Then I used Friendblaster to post this comment on their pages:

Just stopping by to say hi.

Okay, that's a big lie. I'm really sending you this because I want you and people who look at your page to buy my books.

There. I said it. You're just a cheap promo opportunity for me. I'm even using a bot to send out hundreds of these comments rather than taking the time to contact you personally.

But I also love you. A lot. You're my very favorite MySpace friend. Really. Thank you for being you.

My latest book is Fuzzy Navel.

I sent this out to 300 people. Took about an hour of sitting in front of the computer, occasionally punching in a Captcha code. My efforts resulted in over fifty comments and emails in reply, all favorable, and another spike in my Amazon numbers.

A huge success? No. But not bad for an hour of work, which wasn't really work because I was on the computer anyway.

Pictures - My website is currently being overhauled, and I was wondering what to do about the three pages of photos I have up there. The pages take a while to load, and I believe three pages is too many--my goal is to streamline my site and make it easier to navigate. So I bounced around the net and discovered

If you want to post pictures on your site, blog, MySpace, etc. this is the easiest way to do it. It's also free.

I'm going to pop this onto my website, along with another one that features all of my book covers, plus a viewer for my Youtube videos, a few Google videos of old college movie projects, and a Guestbook, also courtesy of So three pages of pics becomes a single multi-media page that actually loads quicker.

If you've found any cool or effective net promo ideas or gadgets, let me know...