Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Konrath/Kilborn Collective 99 Cent Sale


One of the things I enjoy most about self-publishing is doing things that legacy publishers wouldn't do.

Earlier this month I self-pubbed Haunted House. This is a Jack Kilborn novel, which means scary parts and shocking horror, but it also has more humor in it than the other Kilborn books.

The thing that made Haunted House liber non grata to legacy publishers was that it was a sequel to five other novels.

F. Paul Wilson did this to wonderful effect with his Adversary Cycle. He wrote three completely unrelated books--The Keep, The Tomb, The Touch--and then wrote three other books tying them together --Reborn, Reprisal, Nightworld.

I really love this idea. Blake Crouch, Ann Voss Peterson, and I have intertwined our universes in all sorts of ways, using each others' characters in our stories, collaborating on new stories, making timelines that show how they all interact.

For example, Ann and I wrote three short Codename: Chandler novels (Hit, Exposed, Naughty) and three long Chandler novels (Flee, Spree, Three). They all form one long story, and include characters from Ann's book Pushed Too Far, my Jack Daniels novels, Shot of Tequila, and two of Blake's books, Abandon and Snowbound.

Blake and I wrote Serial Killers Uncut and Stirred to combine his Andrew Thomas/Luther Kite books (Desert Places, Locked Doors, Break You) and my Jack Daniels books along with our co-written Serial series with Lucy and Donaldson. We're planning on releasing Last Call this summer, which will end all three of those storylines, and also bring back Chandler and Tequila, and introduce Lettie Dobesh into the series (Blake's protag from The Pain of Others, Sunset Key, and Grab.)

I think of these as crossovers. Like when Spiderman makes a guest appearance in Uncanny X-Men. You can be an X-Men fan without knowing who Spiderman is and still enjoy the issue, but if you know him it's like an added bonus.

Every one of our stories and books can be read as a stand-alone, with no prior knowledge of any other books and characters. But fans will find a lot of Easter eggs to smile at, old friends to revisit, and new friends who appear in other works they can seek out if they desire.

Which brings me to the Konrath/Kilborn Collective.

I wrote Origin in 1998, and The List in 1999. Since self publishing them back in 2005, a week hasn't gone by where I haven't gotten email requests for sequels.

When I wrote Afraid, Trapped, and Endurance, I got more requests for sequels. People liked the characters and wanted to see them again. Who was I to say no?

So I took survivors from each of these five novels and stuck them in a Haunted House where people are dying in horrible ways.

From a writing standpoint, this was fun to do. As you know, every character should have a back story. In this case, I knew the back stories for these characters already, because they'd lived them in previous novels. Plus it was really satisfying to bring back my old heroes and see how they got along with newer ones.

As a reader, I love crossovers and spin-offs and tie-ins. I also love discovering a new author and finding out she has a bunch of other things for me to read. At the same time I realize that some readers find it daunting when they realize an author has 50+ interconnected works, which is why each of my novels and shorts works can be read and enjoyed without having read any of the others.

From May 29 until June 2, Haunted House is free, and the five books that came before it--Origin, The List, Afraid, Trapped, and Endurance--are 99 cents each.

You can get six novels for less than five bucks.

Now I'll take some questions.

Q: If you keep putting ebooks on sale and making them free, how will you ever sell an ebook for $3.99? Won't people just wait until it goes on sale?

Joe: One of my rules is that I only do promotions that work on me. In other words, I'd never send out postcards promoting my books because I've gotten many promotional postcards and have never bought a book because of it. But I have tried new authors when their books are free or on sale, and so has my wife (who reads more than I do.) Once I discover a new author, I'll pay more than 99 cents for their other books. Why would I want to wait weeks or months, hoping it will be free, when I can plunk down $3.99 with the click of a button and get it immediately?

Q: I thought you said this blog doesn't sell books. So why mention a sale here?

Joe: Because I want the writers who read this blog (and have been helped by it) to do me a favor in return and spread the word by linking to it, tweeting, and mentioning it on Facebook, blogs, etc. A Newbie's Guide to Publishing has no paid advertising. It has no PayPal Donation button. If you've learned something from me and want to pay it forward, tell people about this sale.

Remember: Selling isn't making someone buy something they don't want to buy. It's about making people aware of something they like and are looking for.

Q: I'm still confused about the order to read these in.

Joe: These books can be read in any order. But I believe readers will enjoy Haunted House more if they read the other five novels (in any order) first. Remember the show Fraiser? At various points, characters from Cheers guest-starred on the show. You didn't have to know Cheers to enjoy those Fraiser episodes, but it made those Fraiser episodes more fun if you did.

Q: How long can you keep running promos like this? Won't you eventually saturate your readerbase?

Joe: The Kindle readerbase won't ever be saturated.

Every day, more and more people buy Kindles. Every year, Amazon opens Kindle stores in more and more countries. It is impossible to saturate a global marketplace. But the more ebooks you sell (and give away) the more fans you are going to acquire. Some of these fans will recommend you to other readers. Some will seek out your other work.

Readers surf Amazon at different times, looking for different books. I would bet I've missed millions of readers with my previous promotions--reader who would have bought my ebooks had they known about them.

The goal is to keep your ebooks as visible as possible, so every potential fan knows they exist. Sales raise visibility, and lower the barrier to entry (cheap or free is an impulse download).

Q: I've done sales and promotions and they haven't been successful. What's your secret?

Joe: There is no secret. Sometimes promotions work. Sometimes they don't. I've done promos for Afraid twice, and didn't get a spike in sales. I have no idea why.

The key to success is keeping at it until you succeed. For me, that took over twenty years of hard work, and I still fail all the time. If you aren't failing, you aren't trying hard enough.

Keep writing, keep experimenting, try to learn from your failures, and never give up.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Guest Post by Robert Swartwood

Joe sez: Robert Swartwood wrote this for me at my request a few weeks ago, and time got away from me (finishing Haunted House and Hit.)

Here's Rob:

The term "bestselling author" is bandied around a lot these days. I've seen a large portion of writers online call themselves bestselling authors. Many of them are self-published. Their books have been ranked on an Amazon Top 100 genre bestseller list, or on a sub genre bestseller list, or even a sub sub genre bestseller list. I've seen writers joyously announce that their latest book is #X on Amazon, which sounds great, but most times it turns out that that particular book is really ranked #X on a genre bestseller list, and some genre bestseller lists are slower than others. It's possible to have an Amazon ranking of over 100,000 and still be ranked on a sub genre list.

I've even seen several writers proclaim themselves #1 Amazon Bestselling Authors, which, quite honestly, is very disingenuous. Sure, it looks nice on the cover of your book, but is it true? Maybe #1 of a genre list, or a sub genre list, but #1 in the entire Amazon store? Hardly. If that were the case, it's a very good chance the book would also have been a New York Times bestseller, and if that's the case, it would make more sense to call yourself a New York Times Bestselling Author, no?

But these are all things we struggle with as writers, no matter if we're traditionally published or self-published. We have to take whatever we can get. We have to make ourselves -- well, our books -- as appealing as possible to potential readers. Because, let's face it, there are a lot of books out there -- a lot -- and we need to do whatever it takes to set our books apart from all the rest.

About a year and a half ago Joe let me ramble on his blog for a bit about why I decided to self-publish. I was doing pretty well then, and I'm doing even better now. But this being publishing, sales are always up and down. My bestselling book last year is far from being my bestselling book this year. Speaking of bestselling, my supernatural thriller The Calling was in the Kindle Top 100 for horror in both the US and UK for several months. It was, by that definition, a bestseller -- hell, an international bestseller -- and yet I just couldn't bring myself to add "bestselling author" to my bio.

 One of the titles I mentioned in that blog post was The Serial Killer's Wife, which is the book that my agent was going to shop around and which I ultimately told him no, don't bother, I want to try it on my own instead. Blake Crouch was instrumental in talking me into self-publishing, and he was even kind enough to contribute a foreword, and so I released the book out into the world on June 12, 2011.

That's nearly two years ago.

And just the other week it became a USA TODAY bestseller.

Now let me backtrack a bit.

In the past two years The Serial Killer's Wife has sold pretty well. Nothing crazy like Joe and Blake are used to, but well enough (along with the rest of my books) that I made enough money last year that I ended up owing the IRS quite a bit of cash. When I first released the book, it had a rather pulpy cover, with a woman holding a gun and some blood-spatter on the corner of the cover. Several months later I decided to make the cover more mainstream and appropriate for the particular genre, so I told my designer -- the ever-awesome Jeroen ten Berge -- what I had in mind and eventually he came up with something perfect.

Anyway, Joe mentioned Bookbub a while back. I've used them three times so far, and have been happy each time. The first two titles I had featured were in the horror and science fiction genres. They sold well, but those particular lists have just over 100,000 subscribers. The biggest list by far is mystery and thriller at over 400,000 subscribers. That one, however, costs quite a bit more to use, but I put it off because I didn't have the extra cash and wanted to see how the other titles did in their respected genres. Finally I bit the bullet and submitted a listing for The Serial Killer's Wife and was lucky enough to get approved.

My deal date was for Wednesday, April 24. I chose to include Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes. I didn't include Kobo because on one of my previous deals when I lowered the price, there was a "glitch" that inadvertently deleted my book from the system. I tried -- quite leery -- to do the same on my second Bookbub deal, and while this time my book wasn't deleted, I only sold maybe a half dozen books from the deal, so I decided not to include Kobo in this promotion. (One of the main reasons, I think, is that while Kobo has been making a push here in the United States, the majority of Kobo readers are in other countries, and Bookbub newsletters are mostly sent to US readers.)

The thing about Bookbub is that, the morning of your promotion, they check all platforms which are supposed to be lowered, and if any price isn't changed, they don't list the book. In the past, I had cut it very close before that I didn't want to take a chance this time, so I lowered the price of The Serial Killer's Wife on Amazon and Barnes & Noble Monday night from $4.99 to 99 cents. (iTunes changes their prices pretty quickly, plus you can schedule when you want to create promos, so I wasn't worried.)

The next day the prices changed and I didn't think much about it -- until later in the day I realized I had begun selling a lot of copies on Kindle. Like, a lot of copies. As I hadn't made any announcement yet about the sale, I did a quick Google search and found that the good people at Pixel of Ink had been kind enough to pick up the book. This was something that I hadn't even sent to them -- they had just noticed a drop in price and decided to list it as one of their deals.

Well, later that night, I had sold over 600 copies and was #1 in the Amazon Top 100 horror list (my author rank in horror was #2, just under Stephen King; it would take another day to dethrone him). By the next morning, my book was ranked #121 in the overall Kindle store. And keep in mind, the Bookbub newsletters hadn't even been sent out yet, so I had a nice head-start.

(When I initially submitted my listing, I wanted to do just one day. I had been watching the titles in the mystery and thriller listings and saw that many reached the Kindle Top 100. That's where I wanted my book to be. But I also noticed that many of these authors then reverted the prices back to regular, causing their books to then quickly drop out of the Top 100. I wanted to try to stay up there as long as possible -- assuming, of course, my book even made it -- and had contacted Bookbub asking them to make a note that my sale would be extended by an extra day. They said no problem.)

And so then Wednesday came and The Serial Killer's Wife was already near the Kindle Top 100. It didn't make it there immediately, but by the evening it had cracked the Top 100 in the Kindle, Nook and iTunes stores. Like any writer running a promotion like this, I was checking the rankings every hour but not keeping very good track of how many copies I sold per day and how high the book got because a) I didn't think it would ever be worth mentioning and b) I certainly didn't anticipate what would eventually happen.

By Thursday, The Serial Killer's Wife was still in the Kindle and Nook and iTunes Top 100 -- but in the Kindle and Nook stores, its ranking had gone up. It went as high as 20-something in the Kindle store, but in the Nook store it was at one time #4 and right above Nora Roberts' latest book. (Yes, yes, my book was priced at 99 cents and hers is at $12.99, but still ... NORA ROBERTS!)

The book was doing so well that I -- as the author and publisher -- decided to extend the 99 cent sale another day to see how long it could stay in the Top 100 of these stores. Could I have reverted the price back to regular and tried to make more money? Certainly. But by this point I was more concerned with selling as many copies as I could -- and, more importantly, reaching as many readers as possible.

So Friday the book kept selling well, and as it started to drop out of the Top 100 stores, I switched the price to $3.99 and it sold well all weekend. In fact, right now it's still selling pretty well. I had read about an author who managed to crack the USA TODAY bestseller list with one of her backlist titles (she, too, had used Bookbub) and had joked with some writer friends that wouldn't it be awesome if I could do the same?

The next week began and it was business as usual. I had a great run for the deal, which sold well over 5,000 copies across all platforms at 99 cents. GalleyCat has a self-published bestseller list that they post weekly and which did not include The Serial Killer's Wife, so I figured oh well, maybe next time. Then, late Thursday night before I went to bed, I for some reason thought about the USA TODAY bestseller list. I remembered a few of the other titles that had been selling well those few days my book was high in the charts and wondered if any of them had managed to make the list. So I opened the browser on my phone and brought up the website and started scrolling through the list ...

And had one of those surreal moments when I spotted The Serial Killer's Wife listed there.

Granted, it was #139, and they had messed up the description a bit (the book never takes place in Maine), but still, it was my friggin book on the USA TODAY bestseller list!

As you can imagine, I was pretty wired and didn't get much sleep that night.

Barry and Joe have talked about how the one major thing traditional publishers still have is print distribution, and it's true. I would never be able to compete with Stephen King and Dean Koontz when it comes to print. But digital? Digital is a level playing field. There's nothing stopping me or anybody else from selling as many copies as Dan Brown (though, admittedly, that would be pretty difficult).

Self-published titles have begun creeping onto major bestseller lists for a while now -- remember back when the New York Times refused to include self-pubbed titles? -- and the novelty has begun to wear off. Before it was shocking to see a self-published author beat out traditionally published authors. Now it's becoming commonplace.

As I told Joe, I believe that The Serial Killer's Wife would not have made the USA TODAY bestseller list had it been traditionally published. Certainly, two years ago, my agent could have shopped it around, and who knows, maybe a publisher would have paid a lot of money for it, enough money that it would have guaranteed me a spot on some bestseller lists. Then again, it's even more likely (and much more probable) that, had we sold the book, it would have received a modest advance and then came out with little fanfare. It maybe could have gotten some decent trade reviews, and maybe have been eligible for awards, but then sales would taper off and the marketing team would move on to the next book (or several hundred books) and the book would wallow away in digital obscurity. Yes, the publisher might include it in a promo one day, and it might sell a lot of copies, but I wouldn't have much control over any of it, would I? Not like here where I chose what book I wanted to promote, what promotional price I wanted to set it at, what date I wanted to pick. Even when my "deal" was to expire, I didn't need anyone's permission but my own to keep the deal going an extra day. And hey, look at the outcome. From now until the day I die I can call myself a USA TODAY bestselling author.

Of course, luck played a major factor, as it does in almost everything else. Had I run the deal a month before, a week before, even a day before, things may not have turned out as well as they did -- or who knows, maybe they would have been better. One thing I do believe, however, is this would not have happened had I had my book in KDP Select. Keep in mind that I'm not disparaging Select (I currently have a few titles in the program, as a matter of fact), but I believe it was having my title high up in the Top 100 lists of multiple platforms that helped get it onto the USA TODAY bestseller list. After all, how do they even compile the list? Amazon is usually pretty hush-hush about numbers, but do they provide sales data to major newspapers? What about Barnes & Noble? If anything, these newspapers base their lists where books are ranked on major sales channels, and had my book only been on Amazon, it would have barely gotten any notice (after all, it never even reached the Kindle Top 20).

Finally, the next day was filled with emails and texts and phone calls from writer friends congratulating me. There was even some emails back and forth between me and my agent. When it was over, though, you know what I did? I went back to work on my latest novel-in-progress. Because in the end, these little victories are great and help boost morale, but they won't keep things going forever. No matter how much we worry about important things like editing and cover art and reviews and silly things like branding and platform, in the end it's the book that matters most. It's the book that readers will ultimately judge us on, and it's best we never forget that.

Just the other day some yahoo wrote an article on Salon how self-publishing is the worst. Apparently he published a few books traditionally in the past and is now doing it on his own and whining because it's hard.

Well, yeah, it's hard.

Nobody ever said it would be easy.

But hey, what do I know? I'm just now a USA TODAY bestselling author thanks to a book I self-published two years ago. An extreme outlier, one person said of me recently. Sure. And before last week, I had thought the same about other authors, who no doubt thought the same about other authors before their books, too, became bestsellers.

That's the thing -- you just never know. You have to keep writing and publishing and hoping for the best.
The publishing world is going through a lot of tumultuous changes right now.

I'm just glad that, when it comes to my books, I'm in control.

Joe sez: First of all, it must be said that The Serial Killer's Wife is a good book. Writing a good book doesn't mean it will find success, but it helps, and Rob has shown it is possible for a book to keep finding readers even years after it was published.

This is a Very Cool Thing.

I stayed a night at Rob's house when I was on my Rusty Nail 500 tour. He was a gracious host, and as we chatted over beer we talked of the someday he would eventually break into the world of publishing. 

Well, he did, editing a fun collection of hint fiction. Then this Kindle thing came along and Rob dove in.

My career path was different. When I was legacy published, I would have eaten my own arm raw in order to get on one of the two big bestseller lists (USA Today or NYT) because that would have ensured my books would have stayed in print, and I'd keep getting new contracts.

Years ago, being a USA Today Bestseller or a NYT Bestseller had a lot of cache with readers and publishers. It meant the book had sold a lot of copies, and was probably worth reading. I spent many book launches with fingers crossed, hoping to sneak onto a list.

It never happened. And it may never. And now, after years of wanting desperately to be a bestseller, I'm okay with not being one.

In the past, being a USA Today bestseller helped your career by allowing you to sell more copies and garner bigger advances from publishers. 

It still has some of that power. Rob got some foreign offers for his bestselling title, and a savvy agent could get Hollywood interest because of it, or parlay it into a legacy deal if that was something Rob wanted.

But I've also have foreign deals and movie options without ever being anything other than an Amazon bestseller and having a smart agent.

I'm not trying to take the wind out of Rob's sails here--I'm very happy for him. It's a very real success story and Rob is an inspiration to self-pubbed authors everywhere. He has shown that it is possible to find mainstream success being an indie author. I've never broken through that glass ceiling, and he has. 

If you want to do as Rob has done, follow his example and publish on all ebook platforms, because these are all weighed and counted when USA Today and the New York Times compile their bestseller lists. And make sure you have an agent who is able to exploit a bestseller announcement by making you more money because of it. 

Also, it's pretty sweet to be able to put A USA TODAY BESTSELLER on your book covers and in your book descriptions. That can't hurt sales. 

My point?

It's one of the same points I've always made. Figure out what your goals are, and adjust your strategy accordingly. Making a bestseller list isn't a goal, because it outside of your control. But you can certainly follow Rob's example and give it a shot. 

Four years ago, it was damn near impossible to become a bestseller without a legacy publisher behind you.

What was once impossible, is now possible. Pretty damn cool.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Joe: So tell us about HIT, the 40,000 word prequel to the Codename: Chandler series.

Ann:  Hit takes place before Exposed. Chandler is tasked with assassinating the CEO of a biotech company who is attempting to sell top secret technology to the highest bidder. Her biggest challenge is getting past the man's bodyguard, and when that bodyguard ends up being a sexy spy with skills comparable to hers, she realizes she has met her match.

Joe: The character of Heath (the sexy spy) also appears in Three (coming June 25). I love this guy, and think he's among the best you've ever created. Coming from a romance background (4 million books in print) what makes Heath both a good and an unlikely romantic hero?

Ann: Heath has a lot of attitude, humor, bravado, sex appeal, and he loves women. He's also an over-the-top romantic, a guy who is in love with love, and a champion for the downtrodden.

So how is he not the perfect romance hero?

Well he also happens to be an assassin with an adrenaline addiction. He adheres only to his own code. He lives for revenge and doesn't believe in trust. And even if you're the love of his life, if he is forced to kill you, he just might.

In other words, he's the perfect guy for Chandler.

Joe: Like the others in the series (Exposed, Flee, Spree, Three) does Hit also contain graphic sex?

Ann: Of course! To me, sex is a way to dramatize a character's inner conflicts. Instead of sittin' and thinkin' about their deepest desires and most devastating fears, a character is engaged in an action that strips away their defenses and shows them for who they really are. And of course what a person does shows who they are far more than anything they could possibly say or think.

Violent scenes can bring out the same type of true, uncensored character moments as sex, although for Chandler violence is a day at the office. The emotion surrounding sex is much more dangerous territory.

Joe: So I heard your co-writer, Konrath, only wrote about 5000 words of this, and you wrote 35,000, yet somehow he still get's 25% of the profits. How does that work?

Ann: Yeah, that Konrath is worthless, isn't he? ;D

You created the character of Chandler, and in the first book, you invited me on board to help flesh her out and make her human. From there, we've come up with storylines and backstories together, and we decided early on that we would share the profit of any Chandler story. But while the novels are 50/50 in work and profit, we decided that on projects where one person wrote the majority of the book, we would split the proceeds 75/25.

We've spent a lot of time writing the novels (some are rather long), but we're also working on other projects. This arrangement enables us to write more Chandler stories while also doing other things. So while Joe was writing Stirred with Blake Crouch, I wrote most of Exposed. And while he was writing Haunted House, I wrote most of Hit. Now he will be writing Naughty while I'm focusing on Cut Too Deep.

Joe: So does that mean, when I finish Naughty (the next short novel in the series) you get 25% even if you don't write a word?

Ann: Hell yes! Didn't you read my explanation above? But I'm sure I'll contribute a few words. I wouldn't want you to have all the fun.

Joe: This series can be read in any order, and it isn't necessary to read everything to enjoy any story by itself. But for the diehard fans who insist on chronology, we wrote it so Flee, Spree, and Three all take place in the same week, and Hit, Exposed, and Naughty take place prior to that trilogy.

If you're obsessive about this sort of thing, the order goes:

NAUGHTY (coming soon)

What makes this series different than other spy novels about assassins, say like that guy Barry Eisler I've heard about?

Ann: Barry who? ;)

I adore Barry's books. Barry strives for realism, and his books reflect that. Joe and I aim for a more over-the-top sort of spy story with realism taking a back seat. I like to describe the Chandler books as action movies in book form. They are meant to be thrilling, exciting, sexy, humorous, and above all, entertaining. An emotional rollercoaster of sexy spy craziness. But suspend your disbelief before entering her world, and put your tongue firmly in your cheek.

Joe: Are we going to see Chandler and Heath again?

Ann: Definitely. At the end of Three, the story is over, but only for now. Chandler has much ahead of her, and we hope to explore that in our next Codename: Chandler book, FREE.

As for Heath, this annoying buddy of mine keeps bugging me to write a book featuring him, so maybe I'll put some thought to that.

Joe: So when is the sequel to your bestseller Pushed Too Far coming out?

Ann: I'm working on Cut Too Deep right now. So look for it late this summer. Dead Too Soon will follow before Christmas. And how about your next Jack Daniels book, Joe?

Joe: I'm doing Last Call with Crouch, which will tie up the Jack Daniels/Luther Kite/Lucy & Donaldson arcs. Fans want it, and Blake and I have a fun idea for it, if I can pull him away from his Wayward Pines TV show and M. Night Shyamalan long enough...

Any regrets leaving Harlequin and going indie?

Ann: The fact that you can ask that question, Joe, proves that you haven't been reading your own blog. ;) Try this story.

To add to the 2012 numbers I revealed in the blog, Pushed Too Far has now made more in its first year of release than any of my traditionally published books have in up to thirteen years. And of course that's not my only self-published work.

Besides money, the other amazing thing about self-publishing is the sheer fun of writing stories exactly the way I want to write them. When I published with Harlequin, I was lucky to have editors who allowed me to push the boundaries a little bit, especially earlier in my career. Later things became more restrictive. That isn't a bad thing, necessarily. There are reader expectations to consider. But I felt I wanted to do more.

With Pushed Too Far, I originally planned to submit to the Big Five (formally Big Six), and that was the game plan I worked out with my agents. But the landscape of the publishing industry changed beneath me. And I happen to have this friend who had been examining these changes for a while. So I listened to him and chose not to submit Pushed Too Far to anyone. Instead I self-published.

Best decision I ever made.

Joe: Any advice for authors?

Ann: Sure.

First, focus on the quality. Always. Forever. All writers, no matter how long they've been writing, no matter how they've chosen to be published, need to focus on telling a good story, a story readers are willing to pay to read. That is not an easy thing to learn. As Alexandra Sokoloff said in the comments section of her recent guest post on this blog, if you're not in it for the long haul, you're probably not going to see a lot of success.
The marketing is easy compared to learning to give good story. Publishing in any form is not a get-rich-quick scheme.

Second, look around you. The people who are going to help you most in your career are your friends.
In 2006 I attended a mystery conference called Bouchercon. I wrote romantic suspense, had never attended a mystery conference, but I picked this one since it was held in my home town of Madison, Wisconsin. I met a fellow author in the bar, and we got into a debate about the value of conferences over a few beers. He insisted that conferences were useful to authors because they allowed us to meet fans and sell books.

I like meeting fans and selling books, but maybe because of our gender difference, or maybe because I came from the romance world, I saw things a bit differently. To me, the biggest value of conferences (and to a lesser extent social media) was and is meeting friends. Sometimes those friends are readers. Most of the time they're other writers. Occasionally they are even publishing industry professionals. But regardless of specific walk of life, I can say without hesitation that my career, my creative life, and my personal sanity have benefited more from making friends than from anything else I've ever done.

So my biggest advice to new authors is to find friends. Those are the people who will help you grow as a writer, and you will help them. Friendship is deeper than networking, and it's different from mentorship. Friendship is about genuine connection, and the benefits of that connection flow both ways.

Joe: Nicely put. I met you, Blake, and Barry at conferences, and have worked with you and them on many occasions. Not only have I made money with you guys, but I've learned with you as the industry changed, and I've been able to up my game as a result.

Collaboration is a wonderful way to become a better writer, double your fanbase, and increase your output (which increases your virtual shelf space.) And with the right partner, it's also a lot of fun.

Now everyone go and buy Hit. It's loaded with violence and explicit sex, and it's only $2.99.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Haunted House


It was an experiment in fear.

Eight people, each chosen because they lived through a terrifying experience. Survivors. They don't scare easily. They know how to fight back.


Each is paid a million dollars to spend one night in a house. The old Butler House, where those grisly murders occurred so many years ago. A house that is supposedly haunted. 


They can take whatever they want with them. Religious items. Survival gear. Weapons. All they need to do is last the night.

But there is something evil in this house. Something very evil, and very real. And when the dying starts, it comes with horrifying violence and brutal finality.

There are much scarier things than ghosts.

Things that will kill you slowly and delight in your screams.

Things that won't let you get out alive.

People are dying to leave

Jack Kilborn, author of AFRAIDTRAPPED, and ENDURANCE, brings back some favorite characters from those earlier novels and puts them through his own unique brand of hell. One that hurts real bad. One that will scare you to death.

Are you brave enough?

Notes and Background

After a three year hiatus, Jack Kilborn is back. And so is JA Konrath. HAUNTED HOUSE not only features characters from AFRAID, TRAPPED, and ENDURANCE, it also brings back Dr. Frank Belgium (from ORIGIN), Detective Tom Mankowski (from THE LIST), and Moni Draper (from SERIAL KILLERS UNCUT).

One of the wonderful things about self-publishing is being able to write books I wouldn't normally be able to sell. What legacy publisher would ever release a novel that is a sequel to six other, unrelated novels?

Observant fans will find references and in-jokes to some of my other books and characters. I've gotten lots of fan mail over the years from readers asking for sequels, and it is nice to be in a position to oblige them. HAUNTED HOUSE really is a love letter to my fans. I never would have written it if it wasn't for all the support, encouragement, and kind words I've gotten over the years.

That said, HAUNTED HOUSE can also be read without prior knowledge of any of my work. It stands alone just fine (though new readers might wonder how Mathison the monkey got so damn smart without reading AFRAID first).

I came up with the idea for this book a while ago, partly from watching old haunted house movies (The Haunting, The Legend of Hell House, The House on Haunted Hill, Amityville Horror, Poltergeist, House) and partly from my love of going to haunted houses around Halloween. Back in my younger years, I got to dress up as a monster and scare people at a local haunted house, and it remains one of my favorite holiday memories. While writing this book I tried to capture that tingly/fun feeling of walking through the dark and having a ghost pop out and say "Boo!" For this reason, HAUNTED HOUSE is a bit less intense than the other Kilborn novels, and has more humor in it. Who doesn't giggle nervously while going through a haunted house?

I also loved playing with and breaking convention. Thrillers (and most genre novels) are formulaic, and many contain scenes we've all seen before. I had a lot of fun defying reader expectations by setting up something recognizable and obvious and then going in a different direction. I also did a big no-no for fiction: stopping the action to include a very long infodump, which is something I always caution newbie writers against.

If you're a fan of my writing, or of this blog, I hope you give HAUNTED HOUSE a try. Even if the other Kilborn books were too graphic for you, HAUNTED HOUSE is a gentler, more fun kind of horror novel.

Also, to coincide with this release, my horror collaboration novel DRACULAS is currently free.

As always, thanks for reading, and feel free to spread the word.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Blood Moon and Having Control

Joe sez: I asked my friend Alex Sokoloff for a guest blog about why she decided to self-publish her latest novel, Blood Moon, which is currently free on Kindle. My thoughts follow hers.

Here's Alex:

Alex: I’m Alexandra Sokoloff, former screenwriter, former traditionally-published midlist author, new e publishing convert.

Last summer I made the leap – I decided not to go for a traditional deal for my new thriller, Huntress Moon. I put it out as an e book instead.  

Much as Ann Voss Peterson wrote about here, and Rob Gregory Browne and Brett Battles wrote about here, I made more money in the first month of release, just on Amazon, than I'd ever made for a traditional advance. 

The book has just been nominated for a Thriller Award in the ITW's brand new Best E Book Original Novel category.

Joe asked me to blog for him about my e publishing experience, and my background and perspective is a little different from some of the other indie authors who have weighed in here, because I've also represented writers as a union activist, on the Board of Directors of the WGAw, the screenwriters union.

I hate to say it, but writers have a problem.  We hate business.  We have a further, worse problem. We have a collective suicidal fantasy that we don’t have to understand business because we’re creative.

I've made my living solely from my writing since I was twenty-five years old.  Making writing pay is not optional for me. That means, much as I hate it, paying attention to business is not optional, either.

I did eleven years as a professional screenwriter before I snapped and wrote my first novel. People thought I was insane to start writing books when I was making a good living as a screenwriter. That's everyone's dream anyway, right?  Add pension and health benefits and you’d have to be crazy to leave that for something that everyone says will never pay the bills.  But the thing is, I had gotten really active in the WGA, the screenwriters' union, which meant the business side of the business was in my face constantly, unignorable. I saw the film business model changing before my eyes, studios squeezing writers for more and more script drafts for less and less money, and as bad as I am at math, I could see that in a few years I wouldn't be able to sustain a living simply because of the work time added without compensation.  Add to this the fact that I’m a woman. In a good year women get a whopping 20% of the writing jobs in Hollywood.  I HAD to do something else.

So I wrote a book, and I sold it to a Big Six publisher, and then sold the next, and the advances were not enough to live on, but the foreign sales and some film options made it doable. Barely. In the meantime, though, I was learning the book business. And it wasn't looking good.

I was lucky, because early on Joe lectured me on bookstore co-op. And e books, too, back before ANYONE was talking about e books, but it was his rant on co-op that really got me thinking. I didn't particularly want to hear it, but you can't unhear something like that.  Co-op means that in publishing, the odds are stacked against everyone but the bestsellers.  The publishers pay bookstores for placement to improve on the success of their biggest cash cows, at the expense of all the rest of us. The chances of breaking out of that hierarchy are astronomical.  I was working my ass off at promotion, getting nominated for major mystery, thriller and horror awards, but I was quickly learning none of that meant anything to my publisher. By my fourth book I was done with being crippled by someone else’s mediocre expectations.  And by then, there was an option.  A scary option, but a real option.

I was slower than I wanted to be to self-publish because of just life - several devastating personal losses in the space of a year. It stopped my writing cold. It also took over a year to get my small backlist back - thank God I’m one of the ones who did. But during this really horrible time (the recession on top of everything else…) I finally started writing Huntress Moon, and I was studying e publishing.  What authors did and didn’t do. What Amazon and Barnes & Noble did or didn’t do. I read Joe’s blog. I read the Kindleboards. I watched friends like Joe, and Blake Crouch, Barry Eisler, CJ Lyons, Scott Nicholson, Ann Voss Peterson, Elle Lothlorien, Brett Battles, Rob Gregory Browne, JD Rhoades, LJ Sellers, Diane Chamberlain and Sarah Shaber.  I read the financial numbers they were so generous about sharing.   And I’d like to say something about that, right now. I constantly see and hear people criticize and disparage self-published authors for sharing sales numbers.  It’s bragging, it’s undignified, it’s not what REAL writers do.

Bullshit.  That is a massive lie deliberately perpetuated by corporations to keep writers happily slaving in the dark.  Happens just the same in Hollywood.  Don’t ever let the writers talk to each other, because then they’ll figure it out.

Writers talking openly about numbers should be the norm, not a radical political act.

But thank God I know a lot of radicals. Precisely because writers like Joe and the above shared their sales numbers, I knew e publishing for a living was not only doable, but a potentially far more lucrative option for me than traditional publishing.  So I studied, and I wrote, and I put up a non-fiction e workbook based on my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors blog, which taught me all the technical things I needed to know.  By the time Huntress Moon was done, I was already hearing things like “It’s too late.” “That e-publishing ship has sailed.” But that wasn’t what I was seeing, from people who were doing it right.  I took all I’d learned and put out the book as an e book original in July of last year.  And prayed.

In the first three months Huntress Moon was out, I made enough money on that ONE book, just on Amazon, just in e-format, to live comfortably for a year.  I got flooded with e mail from new readers who had never heard of me but who loved the book and were now buying all my others.  My Facebook subscribers jumped from 500 to 20,000 and kept growing - over 78,000 at this writing. 

That chunk of money and the steady income stream that followed has given me plenty of stress-free time to write the sequel and start the third book in the series. In the meantime, the royalties keep coming every month.  I know exactly what I’m making.  I know when I have to adjust, when I have to do a promo.  I know by when I have to make another lump sum to carry me through the next fiscal year. The clarity, compared to publisher royalty statements, is breathtaking.

And it’s not just financial. As I said, this month Huntress Moon was nominated for a Thriller Award. I am privileged to have the book recognized along with books by a star list of some of my favorite traditionally published authors.  ITW may be the first, but what do you want to bet that by two years from now every major genre award will have added a self-published category?

And yet I know far too many traditionally published authors, friends, who started out in publishing at the exact same time I did or sooner, who are struggling and sinking, and - even when traditional advances are being cut in half, and the big publishers are consolidating right and left - these writers will not grab for this obvious lifeline.  To them, I’d like to say here:

Did I do the right thing, self-publishing? I’ll paraphrase Ann Voss Peterson.  I only wish I had done it sooner.

I’m releasing the sequel to Huntress Moon this week: today through Thursday Blood Moon is free for Kindle.

You can also get Huntress Moon for just 99 cents, this week only. 

I hope you’ll give them a try!

Joe sez: First of all, everyone needs to pick up Huntress Moon for 99 cents, and Blood Moon for free. Do it now, I'll be here when you get back.

Got them? Good. You'll enjoy them. Alex is a great writer, and you can tell she worked in Hollywood because her books are, well, cinematic. She knows an incredible amount about plotting, characterization, and structure, and reading a Sokoloff book is not only entertaining, but a great way to learn how to improve your craft. In fact, you should also pick up her ebook Screenwriting Tricks For Authors. You'll learn a lot, and it's a steal at $2.99.

I was smiling reading Alex's blog post, not only because I'm thrilled for her success, but because it took me back to my early days as a writer and blogger.

Believe it or not, no writers spoke publicly about how much money they were making before I started doing so. And no writers ever talked about coop (which was publishing's dirty little secret) before I did.

I shared these things with writers for the very reason Alex states: writers talking to other writers should be the norm, not the exception.

Before writers began associating me with the self-publishing revolution, I was known as an innovator when it came to self-promotion. I learned how the publishing business worked, reverse-engineered it to find its strengths and weaknesses, and then figured out what writers could do to maximize their sales.

The sad fact was, compared to the power publishers had, writers had very little control over how well their books sold. I did my best to maximize the amount of control I had by:

1. Learning as much as I could. This was done by asking questions, talking to peers and publishing people, and speaking openly on this blog. By being frank, I encouraged frank discussions in my comments, and learned a lot from a lot of people (including those who stayed anonymous because they feared repercussions from their publishers).

2. Experimenting and refining my methods.

3. Working harder than any writer to self-promote, before or since. 

By doing this, I was able to eek out a living, keep my books in print, and develop a loyal fanbase. But I still had many novels that I couldn't sell, and my novels that were legacy published never caught fire and became bestsellers.

I didn't have enough control to do better. I was at the mercy of an archaic, inefficient, uncaring industry that refused to try and improve.

Consider these factors of publishing, and rate how important they are to you as a writer:
  1. Cover art
  2. Price
  3. Sales and free promotions
  4. Title
  5. Speed to publication
  6. Distribution
  7. Marketing and promotion
When I worked with legacy publishers, I had zero control over cover art. They chose it, with minimal input from me (that they ignored). Price was set by them. Sales promotions (if ever) were set by them. They made me change my titles. They took 12 to 18 months to publish after I finished the book. They controlled distribution (where the books were available) and coop (how it was displayed). And while I did marketing and promo on my own, I didn't have the deep pockets or reach that my publishers had.

Enter ebooks. Suddenly I had complete control over the above. And now I'm making $100,000 a month.

Coincidence? I don't think so. 

Taking control over your career is scary. It means taking risks. Failing often. Having no one but yourself to blame. Learning new skills. Branching out beyond your comfort zone. 

And there are no guarantees. Alex is smart and talented, but she took a huge risk by self-publishing. A guaranteed advance--even a small one--is hard to pass up in exchange for a spin at the wheel of fortune. Luck plays a large role in success, and not many writers get lucky.

But Alex has always been one to seek control. Her activism in the WGA on behalf of screenwriters was her way of fighting for more control. 

With self-publishing, she doesn't have to butt heads with studios, or with publishers. She can do things her way. In this case, launching a brand new title for free, which is something so gutsy I have yet to try it myself. Do you think any publisher would launch a book as a freebie? 

I hope it works for Alex. I suspect it will. And I respect the courage it took to try it, and all the courage it took to get to the point where she's able to try it.

For the first time ever, the artist has control. Now the question is: what are you going to do with that control? 

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

The Proteus Cure

Joe sez: F. Paul Wilson is my favorite author. I've known him for years, and have had the pleasure of writing with him on a few occassions (see DRACULAS for an example).

When I heard about his latest project, co-written with Tracy L. Carbone, I asked them about it. My thoughts following the interview.

What’s THE PROTEUS CURE about?

TRACY:  It’s a medical thriller that’s hard to talk about without spoilers.  It’s about a brother and a sister, Bill and Abra Gilchrist, who’ve developed a cure for cancer – all kinds of cancer.  That sounds impossible because there’s a cancer for every tissue in the body, but–

PAUL: Tracy came up with an idea for an omnipotential stem-cell therapy that replaces tumors with non-cancerous cells. Since omnipotential stem cells can become any tissue, they can overcome any tumor.  The hitch in THE PROTEUS CURE is that they don’t stop there.  And this is where the spoilers begin, so this is where I stop.

TRACY:  We could have gone lurid with people turning into mutants–

PAUL: Like a third eye and all that–

TRACY: –but that wasn’t the idea.  I think where we went is much scarier, because it can’t be laughed off.  It’s deeply unsettling and disturbing because you can see how it might happen.  The issues we address are about parenthood and identity.

PAUL: The Gilchrists aren’t evil.  They’re curing people of cancer.  There’s just this one annoying side effect, which they’ve found a way to mask.  But Murphy’s Law is inescapable and something goes wrong during the clinical trial.  They’ve got to scramble to cover it up–

TRACY: –because, depending on your personality, some side-effects are acceptable and some are not.  Some people will be okay with the side-effect because they’re now cancer free.  But others will be calling the FDA and malpractice lawyers. 

PAUL: One of the Gilchrist’s will do anything to cover it up.  After all, it’s a cure for cancer.  You can’t allow someone to derail a cure for cancer!  And that’s when our oncologist heroine gets caught in the middle.

Why are you indie publishing THE PROTEUS CURE?

PAUL: We had an offer from my publisher that I thought low.  In the past my collaborations have never sold as well as my solo novels.  I don’t know why.  The reviews are just as good.  Maybe my readers don’t like to see someone else’s name of the cover.  Whatever the reason, the sales figures never match up and the offer reflected that.

Tracy and I talked it over.  In the old days (like five, six years ago) we’d have been on the short end of a take-it-or-leave it proposition.  That’s no longer the case.  But this was her opportunity to be published by one of the Big Five.  If she said yes, we would have done it.  (She has a big emotional investment in this book – she came up with the seminal idea, after all – and I wasn’t going to pull the Big Five rug out from under her.)

What was your reaction, Tracy?

TRACY: I asked Paul if he thought we could make more going the indie route. 

PAUL: I said I did, and sooner – the indie will have it published and selling before my hardworking agent would be finished arguing contract commas with the publisher’s rights department.  Plus all rights remain with us.

TRACY: I said, Let’s do it.  And so it’s coming out under Robert Barr’s Shadowridge Press imprint.

Are you pissed at your publisher?

PAUL: Not at all. Submitting a book is the start of a negotiation.  We were asking: What are the rights to our novel worth to you?  After the dust had settled we realized the hardcover, softcover, and ebook rights were more valuable to us than to them.  So, no deal.  No rancor on my part (and I hope not on theirs).  Simply… no deal.

I’m not doing this out of spite.  Life’s too short for that.  They offered what they thought THE PROTEUS CURE was worth in today’s thriller market.  I love my publisher; he’s a stand-up guy, always accessible, one of the savviest in the business.  And I’ve known my editor forever.  There’s no emotion involved here.  It’s purely a business decision. 

Will you indie pub your next book?

PAUL: Frankly, I don’t want to be a publisher.  Controlling all the rights is nice, but with that comes all sorts of busywork that keeps me from writing.  So I’m willing to surrender those rights for an adequate advance and let the industry pros do their thing while I start the next book.  As I said, my publisher gets first look.  After finishing FEAR CITY, the last of the Early Years Trilogy, I’ll start on a thriller that’s been percolating for years.  I hope they’ll love it. I hope they’ll offer an advance we can both live with.

How about you, Tracy?  Will you indie pub you next book?

TRACY: Though my views were different several years ago, I’ve come around to seeing the advantage of using an Indie publisher. I like having say over the cover art, and the royalties are a lot higher. The quick turnaround from manuscript submission to seeing the book in print is the driving force for me. I published RESTITUTION, a dark psychological thriller, and THE COLLECTION AND OTHER DARKTALES, a group of horror stories, through Indie publisher Shadowridge Press and was pleased with the result. My next thriller, HOPE HOUSE, about genetically modified infants being sold through a black market adoption agency, will be coming out in June.

How did this collaboration come about?

PAUL: It started with Tracy so I’ll let her begin, but I want it clear from the git-go that THE PROTEUS CURE is a genuine collaboration.  Not one of those phony deals where the newbie does all the work and the established writer simply attaches his name.  Tracy would do a few thousand words and pass it to me and I’d do a few thousand and pass it back. This is a definite 50-50 project, and it's not some lightweight toss-off either: it weighs in at 115,000 words with virtually no fat.

TRACY: Couldn’t have said it better. I approached Paul at a conference for his opinion about a medical thriller I was starting. His first reaction was, “No, that couldn’t work.” I argued it could. We went back and forth and finally he said something like, “Okay, maybe, just maybe, but the story is all wrong.” He explained it from a science and story standpoint. A couple of hours later we were brainstorming this great new novel. Within a few days we’d decided to write it together. I was thrilled for his mentorship and to know the book would be that much better for his involvement.

PAUL: I realized I was thinking more about PROTEUS than my own next book.  When we came up with the final twist I was psyched.  I had to get involved.

What was the process?

TRACY: Before writing a word of prose, we created a fully formed outline with subsections denoting POV changes. For example, Chapter One might have sections one through eight showing four characters’ actions. Paul would say, “Okay, you take the odd numbers and I’ll take even.” This way we took turns writing the characters’ POVs and neither of us had a character that was all our own. Except for the technical medical scenes which are clearly Paul’s, our styles are blended together throughout the story.

PAUL: I've found that an outline is vital to collaborating on a tightly plotted thriller, where certain events have to take place in a certain order for the story to build suspense and make sense.  The sequence has to be arranged in advance so that nobody's blowing the reveals.  Both authors need to be able to anticipate those reveals in their sections. 

Kindle for $3.99.
Trade Paperback for $16.99

Joe sez: I believe it was Bob Mayer who coined the term "hybrid publishing." This is a catchall description for those authors who are diversifying, doing some self-pub and some legacy or Amazon pub.

I've got five ebooks with Amazon imprints, and last month sold about 14,000 copies of those titles. For me it's a no-brainer. Diversify the portfolio, get alternate revenue streams, and reach new customers.

As much as I rant against legacy publishing, the fact remains that it treats some authors well.

Publishing is a business, not an ideology. Writers need to set goals according to their needs. Different projects can lend themselves to different ways of publishing. 

If you are an author who has been given a choice of how to publish, think long and hard about it. How important is an advance? Royalty percentage? Control? Speed to publication? Validation? Getting into bookstores and libraries? 

This isn't "us vs. them". It never has been. It's simply about finding the formula that you're happy with. Once you do that, it doesn't matter what anyone else says.

Now go buy THE PROTEUS CURE, or I'm going to quit blogging forever.