Monday, March 29, 2010

A Writer Looks At 40

As I finish my fourth decade, I'm taking a self-indulgent moment to reflect and dwell on what brought me to this point in my writing career.

1970 - Born. No star in the sky. No manger. Mom certainly wasn't a virgin. But I was born on Easter Sunday.

1978 - Put together a crude collection of drawings called Crappy Cartoons, staple-bound, thirty pages long.

1980 - Am taken out of my grammar school and placed in a two-year accelerated program for gifted kids. Write short stories that are ten times longer than my peers', but don't win any Young Authors contests.

1982 - Begin writing in class during lecture periods, passing stories back and forth to my friends while the teachers aren't looking. Over the next few years this collection of jokes and cartoons grows to more than 1000 pages long.

1983 - At my friend Jim Coursey's house, I'm playing with his Apple IIe and am amazed a typewriter can actually save text. We write a parody private eye story, featuring a sleazy detective named Harry McGlade.

1985 - Convinced I'll someday be a filmmaker, I get a video camera for Christmas. I shoot many movies of the neighborhood kids, being humorously hacked to death by masked maniacs. Visit the butcher shop for organs, and use pumps and tubes for blood squirting.

1987 - Get my first word processor for my birthday, a Brother. Begin writing a lot of short stories, many featuring Harry McGlade. Also write a play for the school's synchonized swimming team (?!) and it's performed for three nights. I play the villain. And no, I don't get in the pool.

1988 Part 1 - Graduate high school as part of a rap trio called The White Suburban Boys. We may actually have been the first white rappers. I write and perform over ten funny rap songs about white middle class suburban life, and we get a small cult following. Voted Class Clown of '88.

1988 Part 2 - Take my first real creative writing class in Columbia College in Chicago. Get a C. But I get an A in Film Tech, and my movie INVADER is shown at some local Chicago festivals. You can watch it, and some of my other early movies, HERE. I also get my first rejection letter, from Playboy, for a Harry McGlade Story.

1989 - Take more creative writing classes. Get more Cs. But I'm writing in earnest, lots of short stories in many genres. Also write and perform in an improv comedy show called The Caravan O'Laughs.

1990 - Write three screenplays, go to LA for two weeks, not knowing anyone, knocking on agents doors and trying to get my scripts seen. Get meetings with half a dozen film agents, but no one calls back.

1991 - Switch my college major from film to TV, thinking it will be easier to get work. Now have four book-length collections of short stories, which I print and bind at Kinko's and charge my friends $15 each for.

1992 - Graduate college, and can't find a TV job. Begin series of part time jobs to support myself, while working on my first novel. I finish it in three months. It's called DEAD ON MY FEET, about a guy dying of cancer. His name is Phineas Troutt. His walking death sentence leads him to a life of crime. Cameos by Harry McGlade, and a Chicago cop named Jack Daniels.

1993 - Find an agent who loves DEAD ON MY FEET. Write another novel, with Jack Daniels as the hero, called THE GINGERBREAD MAN. Give that to my agent.

1994 - In 18 months, my agent only shows my books to 2 publishers. I fire him, and start racking up rejections.

1995 - Write a third thriller called THREE WAY. Get a hundred rejections.

1996 - Write a fourth thriller called THE LADYKILLER. Get a hundred rejections.

1997 -Write a fifth thriller called EVERYBODY DIES. Get a hundred rejections.

1998 - Write a sixth thriller called SHOT OF TEQUILA. Almost land an agent, who likes it a lot but thinks it's too hardboiled. I'm now up to over 450 rejections.

1999 - Write a technothriller called ORIGIN. Land an agent. :)

2000 - My agent can't sell ORIGIN. Begin work on another technothriller.

2001 - Finish my thriller THE LIST. Agent can't sell it. I now have had more than five hundred rejections. Begin work on a medical thriller.

2002 - Finish my thriller DISTURB. Agent hates it, won't rep it. I dig out my old mystery novel THE GINGERBREAD MAN, and rewrite it from the first page to the last. Studying the mystery market, I decide to change Jack Daniels from a man into a woman, and release it under the unisex "J.A. Konrath." I also use Harry McGlade and Phineas Troutt as supporting characters.

2003 - WHISKEY SOUR sells in a three book deal worth $110,000. It's enough for me to write full time.

2004 - WHISKEY SOUR comes out. I buy my first computer, and begin to learn all I can about the publishing industry to figure out how I can succeed. Begin to experiment with self promotion on the Internet, and in person. I rewrite THE LADYKILLER, turning it into BLOODY MARY. I start selling short stories in earnest, making my first big sale to Ellery Queen.

2005 -Start a blog called A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, to share what I've learned about the industry. My publisher sends me to a warehouse, where I sign 3500 copies of my books. They also send me on a West Coast tour, to six cities. I use a rental car, and do drop-in signings at more than 120 stores. I write RUSTY NAIL, and begin to teach writing and marketing at a local community college. I sign a second three book deal with Hyperion, for $125,000. I also edit and sell an anthology called THESE GUNS FOR HIRE.

2006 -To promote RUSTY NAIL, I visit 612 bookstores in 29 states. I write DIRTY MARTINI. I begin giving away ebooks of my early, unsold novels on my website. I also continue to sell short stories and write articles for Writer's Digest.

2007 - Write FUZZY NAVEL. My publisher decides not to tour me. I continue to self-promote as much as I can afford. I rewrite ORIGIN and ask my agent to shop it around. It gets rejected by everybody. I write an action screenplay called THE SITE. No takers. You can read THE SITE for free HERE.

2008 - Write CHERRY BOMB, and a horror novel called AFRAID. Hyperion decides to drop their mystery line, me included, even though my first three novels have earned out their advance. My Italian publisher flies me to Italy to tour me. It takes my agent six months to sell AFRAID, in a two book deal for only $20k per book. My agent shops around a proposal for a seventh Jack Daniels novel. No takers. I'm worried about my career, even though my blog and website reach more than 1 million hits.

2009 - Do a blog tour to promote AFRAID, appearing on a hundred blogs in a month. Then I do a regular tour, signing at 200 bookstores. Kindle owners ask me to put my free ebook downloads on Amazon, since they can't convert pdfs. Amazon won't let me put them up for free, so I charge $1.99. They start selling like crazy. By the end of the year, my rejected novels ORIGIN, THE LIST, SHOT OF TEQUILA, DISTURB, and my previously published short stories have sold 27,000 copies, and are paying my rent. My free kindle story SERIAL, written with Blake Crouch, is downloaded over 200,000 times.

AFRAID earns out its advance on its first royalty statement. I write TRAPPED, the sequel. My editors don't like it. I rewrite it from the ground up, and the still don't like it. I write a sci-fi novel called TIMECASTER and sell it and a sequel to Ace for an embarrassingly small amount of money because I'm so worried about my future.

2010 - Write another Jack Kilborn novel, called ENDURANCE. My editors want changes. I refuse to make them. We're now deciding how to proceed. I also sign a three book deal with a bestselling author to co-write three thrillers. The deal will earn me more than 1 million dollars. Can't reveal the details yet. The seventh Jack Daniels novel, SHAKEN, is now in the contract phase with a terrific publisher. Can't reveal the details yet. But things are certainly looking up.

Final stats:
  • By March, I've sold over 35,000 ebooks in just a year.
  • Google "" and you'll get over 300,000 hits.
  • I currently have seven books in print, in eleven different countries, to the tune of several hundred thousand copies.
  • I've sold over seventy short stories and articles to magazines and anthologies.
  • I've sold two film options on my works.
  • I've mailed out 7000 promotional letters to libraries, and signed at more than 1200 bookstores in 39 states.
  • My Jack Daniels series, which my publisher dropped, is among their top 50 bestselling titles on Kindle.
  • In the next 18-24 months, I'll have six novels coming out, possibly more.
  • I'm now making $4k a month on Kindle. When Amazon switches to the agency model in June, I expect to be making $10k.
I still have goals. Still have dreams. But I'm in a very good position right now.

I finally have enough money to ease up on all the non-stop self promotion.

I've met a lot of great people. Made a lot of good friends.

Looking back on all the ups and down, successes and failures, near-misses and lucky breaks, I realize something...

I'm happy. I may be the happiest damn person on the planet.

So how am I going to spend today, my 40th birthday?

I could spend it celebrating the terrific ride I've had so far.

I could spend it worrying about the future.

I could spend it regretting the many mistakes I've made and failures I've had.

I could spend it patting myself on the back for a job well done.

But I'm not going to do any of those things.

Instead, I'm going to spend the day with my one true love. The one thing that has kept me going through the good and the bad, the ups and the downs.

Today, I'm writing.

I'm actually going to put words on a page, and get paid for those words. And I'm going to love every goddamn minute of it.

After all, who else is lucky enough to do what they love for a living?

Then later tonight, I'm getting plastered and jumping the wife. ;)


Edward G. Talbot said...

Sounds like a wild ride. A prime example of how the only certainty is in hindsight.

And how you have to really want it to succeed. Congrats.

Jon F. Merz said...

Happy Birthday, Joe! Thanks for taking us on the ride with you!

CKHB said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY! And thank you for sharing so much with us.

TonyHorneBooks said...

What a great read. So real and so fun. An inspiration and yet proof that there ain't no overnight success.
Oh, and a great out on the blog!
I'll retweet this on my twitter @tonyhornebooks. Everyone should read this.

Happy Birthday

Tony Horne
Hornes Down Under Part One

Vincent Eaton said...

Happy Writing Day.

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Joe, you showing them! They're clueless, thank you for telling da troof!

Heather Dearly said...

Happy Birthday, Joe! Have a fantastic day writing and celebrating.

JoePike said...

JOE! Happy birthday and congrats on everything - especially the 7 figure three book co-authoring deal. Nice! (Sounds like a James Patterson partnership...)

I'm really looking forward to reading Timecaster and its sequel. And I sincerely hope that you and your publisher settle on a way to release ENDURANCE as is. But please don't forget...we all really really want to read TRAPPED, so please make it available somehow at some point.

Tony Noland said...

Thank you for the timeline! Congratulations to you, not only for the success, but for the love of writing at its foundation.

I turned 40 last year. It's an odd birthday in many ways. Your look back (and your look forward) is terrific.

Happy Birthday!

Tom said...

Please add to this essay:

"Became the most generous friend a new writer could have."

Tom Schreck

Robert Burton Robinson said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOE! And congratulations on all your success. Nobody works harder than you do. And what a history!

I've been following you since 2006, and sometimes I get tired just reading about all your adventures. :)

Thanks again for sharing with the rest of us.

Have a fantastic day!

JD Rhoades said...

Happy Birthday, my great and good friend. And thanks for the advice and the pep talks (including the ones not directly addressed to me).

Many happy returns and much success in the future.

Ellen Fisher said...

Happy birthday:-). I'm finding your blog very edifying. Thanks for writing!

Unknown said...

Fantastic. Happy Birthday.

Ellen Brickley said...

Happy birthday and thanks for this post - I guess there aren't any straight lines in publishing :)

Hope you have a wonderful day.

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Joe! Forty is the new twenty (remember that tonight with the wife)!

Seriously, I can't think of a writer who gives more back to the craft than you do. When I need inspiration I click my Konrath bookmark.

Anna M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Great post. I laughed, I cried.

Adrian said...

You're not entering your "fourth decade", you're finishing it. You're beginning your fifth decade.

Happy Birthday.

Karen Harrington said...

Happy Birthday. I enjoyed reading your history. May there be 40 more years of success!

JA Konrath said...

Thanks all for the kind words.

You're not entering your "fourth decade", you're finishing it.

Oh hell, you're right. I gotta fix that. I'm a writer. I'm supposed to get these things right...

Jamie D. said...

Wow - that's one heck of a roller coaster. And some serious focus too - focus that's obviously paying off in spades. Congratulations on all of your upcoming releases, and thank you for sharing your journey so we can all learn vicariously.

And Happy Birthday! I can't think of a better way to spend a birthday than writing. :-)

Here's to even more success for you in the next 40... *raises glass*

Mark Terry said...

Happy birthday.

WayneThomasBatson said...

Happy Birthday, Joe! I'm 41. Welcome to the club. It's very interesting to see how your characters came about...appearing from old stories and notions. Congratulations on all your success. I can't wait to see who you'll be cowriting with.

Lisa Katzenberger said...

Love this post. Thanks for sharing the details of your journey, Joe. Keep going!

@EShahan said...

Bravo on all counts!

Mark Terry said...

For what it's worth--and I certainly have noted this time and again with my books and other unpublished books I've read--I can't figure out why a publisher didn't pick up either The List or Origin. Which just goes to show, I think, how capricious publishing is.

Steve Weddle said...

Thank you.

Maria said...

Congrats, Joe--and Happy, happy Birthday!!!

PokerBen said...

Happy Birthday Joe, and thanks for the time line. What an inspiration you are. I look forward to all of your upcoming books.

Moses Siregar III said...

Happy Birthday, Joe. I've got some good news for you.

iPad is going to allow Smashwords books on their device for free, with 85% author royalties, and you can price your book anything you want as long as it ends in .99

Dynamite: now with more boom-going.

mkcbunny said...

Happy birthday, and thanks for all of the blogging you do.

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday, Joe!

My Brother wp rocked. I'm jumping Hubby tonight too, the lucky boy. I mean, what the hell.

I was born on Good Friday, though, and have yet to hit 40 (next yr)or have that first novel published. I swore to myself by 40 I would. Funny, but reading through your timeline two things hit me: I've wasted a lot of time and I need to stop doing that if I'm going to do this.

Thx for that.

Jim said...

"I also sign a three book deal with a bestselling author to co-write three thrillers. The deal will earn me more than 1 million dollars.'

Does one of these thrillers involve the co-writing of a robbery note for a readership of one, namely a bank teller?

Stephen said...

Happy Birthday. Endurance, perservence prevailed. Congrats. SP Grogan

Moses Siregar III said...

Just mentioned you and your blog on me humble blog over yonder:


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Bahahaha! Well, at least she knows you're happy! :)

Happy Birthday! And thanks for sharing your road to success with us.

Christine said...

I love your life description -- particularly the Jack Daniels' stories and the rehash of MS and HS. You are indeed lucky and smart, but you have also had a great gift of knowing how to market yourself.

Congratulations and many happy returns!

Debbi said...

Happy birthday, Joe. And congrats! Persistence pays.

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday Joe, my story is suprisingly similar; except I got voted "best artist" in school.

I'm so happy for your success.

Julie said...

Hey, I remember those White Suburban Rap Boys! :)


Jude Hardin said...

Happy Birthday, Joe!

Can't wait to hear about the co-author deal.

Jessa Slade said...

Thank you so much for sharing the ups and downs of the entire process. May your birthday -- and your continued sales -- be spectacular!

Esther said...

Happy Birthday Joe. Thanks for sharing your story and your advice. I wish you much future success and hope you keep writing about it here.

Laura said...

Happy Birthday, Joe. You are the living, breathing proof that it IS possible to live your dream at 40.
Congrats on your success and especially on your incredible dilligence.

Laura said...

Yeah, and cut that extra "l" from "diligence". I have a restless finger

Theresa Milstein said...

I turned 40 last week. For the last couple of months, my posts have become maudlin as I counted down to the big day. Perhaps if I had been as prolific as you, I'd be farther ahead in my writing career.

It was great to see a summary of what you've accomplished and learned along the way. Happy birthday!

Marcie Steele said...

Happy Birthday Joe, welcome to the club!

You should be really proud of your achievements as you've put in so much work. Now if I could just get that first book published then maybe I can do all you've done before I'm 50! I am in awe.

Mel x

Adam Pepper said...

Congratulations Joe. You've had a great run and more great things are to come. Take a momment or two to pat yourself on the back, then get back to work!

mai-ling said...

Happy Birthday Joe!

Does this means your wife might
treat you for another tattoo as well?

I remember what you told me at N&P
a few years ago...don't give up.
haven't yet.

Nick Kelly said...

Congrats on all of it, Joe! You have worked very hard for the things you've accomplished and we couldn't be more proud to read and share your delightful experiences!

Bottoms up! (to the drink and the wife, I suppose!)


Unknown said...

What a ride. Wow. Very encouraging to see someone who got that many rejections go on to be so successful. It proves what everyone says about not giving up. Congrats and Happy Birthday. :)

Brad R. Torgersen said...

Terrific look back at you rise to your present point, Joe. Many thanks, from those of us who have been following your blog for a couple of years, or more. That million dollar deal, combined with the exploding electronic sales... Inspirational.

Jennifer Thorne said...

So, the moral of the story (or article, rather) is 'just keep swimming'...

Will-do (:

Diana McCaulay said...

Wow. I am a Jamaican writer with a debut novel just published and am drowning in the complexities of book publishing and promotion. Thank you for this post - I'll subscribe to your blog.
Diana McCaulay

Coolkayaker1 said...


Although I own your e-book A Newbie’s Guide, and follow your blog, I have never seen this March 2010 post before. You have such candor, such “heart-on-a-sleeve” about your failures and your successes; it’s truly an admirable trait. This timeline says so very much about publishing and the industry. They fail to see popular and sellable fiction when it stares them in the face, and you have the gumption to forge ahead and e-print the “rejected” books with great success. I had no idea, until I just read this timeline, about how you rose to publishing glory, did the signings and tours and played in the “big leagues”, only to be held under by publishers that got out of that genre, or played “fix it, Joe, or else…” with you as recently as 2009.

I have read several of your e-books, and as an iPhone and Kindle reader, I have never read one in print. I agree with you about the future of publishing. But I caution: make it while you can, Joe, because one day the e-publishing giants will increase their fees and reduce your royalties. It’s called leverage, and they are gaining it quickly. Your best bet is to, as you say, keep writing books.

I enjoy your blog, but notice that all of your posts over the past several months bang the same theme: e-pubbing good, print pubbing bad. You really do knock yourself out to make your point. Well, the point is well taken. As B&N fails, as Borders fails, as Kindles sell like patty cakes to toddlers, more and more will come to see your predictions are correct. If you get a sense of fulfillment about being “the first to see the change”, then you have it. But as the change occurs, no one will remember that “Joe said it first, good old Joe”. But they will remember the books you write. Your children will read your books, not your old blog opinions. Write books, make money, be successful, worry about making your product better and better—write like the professional author you are now.

Let others worry about tracking the changes in publishing—you have made your point.

Keep the faith. I enjoy your writing, and your work-ethic, Joe. You are—and this timeline shows it—very hard working and prolific. Wishing you years of success, my fellow Chicagoland denizen. CK1

Unknown said...

Belated Happy Birthday, Joe! Yours is one hell of a story. I have to get over to Chicago soon again and take you down to the pub!

Slan go foill,