Monday, July 15, 2013

Guest Post by Constance Phillips and Jenna Rutland and Konrath's Early Years

Joe sez: If you've missed the previous guest blogs, they've been fascinating and informative.

You can read Jeff Schajer talking about his thrillers here:

You can read Lisa Grace talk about movie options here:

You can read Brandilyn Collins talking about dialog subtext here:

You can read Katherine Sears talking about Booktrope:

You can read Richard Denoncourt talking about cover art here: 

You can read Ann Voss Peterson talking about pacing here:

You can read Nick Spill talking about his path to publication here:

Now here's Constance Phillips and Jenna Rutland...

We thought we’d shed some light on two different paths to publication. It’s important for writers to know that every manuscript is different, every writer has their own journey, and every publisher/editor isn’t the same. All paths are different – all paths can lead to success.

Constance Phillips has one romantic urban fantasy (Fairyproof) and one paranormal romance (Resurrecting Harry) published with Crescent Moon Press.

Jenna Rutland is published through Entangled Publishing. Her debut novel, Just For the Summer, was released in March 2013.


Constance: I began writing stories when I was about thirteen. I don’t even want to think about how many years that is!

In those early years I was still learning, of course. I took breaks to get married, have kids, and work outside the home. I also took classes and once the internet came along, began to socialize with other writers.

I joined RWA and my local chapter, MVRWA, in 2005 and though I’d been actively submitting a polished manuscript for six months before joining, I think getting involved with those organizations marks the serious start to my career.

Jenna: Many writers I know started writing at an early age. I was not one of them. While I enjoyed reading, I hadn’t considered writing until about 12 years ago. I joined my local RWA chapter in 2002 where I met a great group of writers in various stages of the pathway to getting published. I learned a lot from these talented people. I also took online classes and read how-to books. All in all, it took me 10 years from walking into that first local RWA chapter meeting to getting the call.


Constance: My first published novel, Fairyproof, had what I think is an odd path to publication.

I had finished the book a few years prior to submitting it to Crescent Moon Press, and sent it out to a long list of agents, hoping it would end up at a New York house. After getting a great number of rejections, I set the book aside and began writing my next novel.

But, I never really forgot about that story. I loved the characters and I wanted them to have a home.
In March of 2012, I opened the file from my hard drive and reread the book. After asking for an opinion from a critique partner who had never seen it, I comprised a list of three e-presses/small publishers and submitted it to them on a Tuesday morning. By dinner time that same day Crescent Moon had asked for the full. The following Friday they offered a contract.

Jenna: I learned about a blog that was hosting Entangled Publishing for a pitch contest. They required a three sentence summary of my story. I got brave and sent in my sentences. Two weeks later, I learned that one of the editors was interested in seeing my full manuscript. Several months after I sent it, after checking my email non-stop, I got the call that the editor was interested in buying my manuscript and about a week later, I signed my first contract.


Constance: One of the beauties of a small press is that the wheels turn very quickly. Within a couple days of turning in my signed contract I was assigned and in touch with my editor. I had my first round of revisions a few weeks later and we worked fast and furious to get the book in tip-top shape. Cover art came while we were in the middle of that process and the book was published the first week of September.

Jenna: I got the call in April of 2012 and was told my book would have a spring 2013 release, which later on was defined as April of 2013. In January, the editing process began. I went through a painless set of 3 revision passes with my editor. There was an opening in their March releases, so my publication was moved up a month.


Constance: In the four to six weeks prior to my release date, I signed with a well-known blog tour company, set up and paid for some ads on smaller, genre-related websites. I also arranged to provide guest blog to some of my fellow author’s websites. 

In the four weeks following publication, those blog appearances and reviews rolled out as well as the advertising. I also had a Facebook party and release party with Bitten by Books, and launched a quarterly newsletter that has seen a steady growth in subscribers.

Jenna: Since my publication date was moved up, I didn’t have any time to market my book pre-publication other than blogging, etc. that it was coming. I’m very lucky because at Entangled, I have a publicity team that works with me to promote my books. They spent a lot of time setting up blog tours and advertisement for me. I make myself available for just about anything from blog tours, interviews and radio spots, and I’ve also done some advertising on my own.


Constance: I have accounts on a great number of social media site – and all of the most popular ones – but my favorite, by far, is Facebook.

I use my author page to promote my blog, announce news, and interact with my readers. Because of the format, I find what I say sticks around longer than with other fast moving sites, and the interaction – or social part of social media – is easier for me to understand and execute.  

Jenna: I stink at FB, but I keep trying to get a handle on it. I rely mostly on Twitter. Somehow I’ve figured out how to use it fairly well. With limited time for internet activity, I decided to pick one thing and learn how to do it instead of flailing around with two different sites. To be honest, I’m not sure how much social media sells books, so I’m not as active on it as other authors.


Constance: Constance Phillips lives in Ohio with her husband, two ready-to-leave-the-nest children, and four canine kids. Her perfect fantasy vacation would involve hunting Dracula across Europe with her daughter, who also digs that kind of stuff. When she's not writing about fairies, shifters, vamps, and guardian angels, she's working side-by-side with her husband in their hardwood flooring business.

You can buy Fairyproof and Resurrecting Harry on Amazon and find Constance at her website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Jenna: Jenna Rutland lives in a small Michigan community with her husband, son and senior cat. Her daughter and son-in-law have recently given Jenna the awesome title of grandmother! While her days are spent working as a medical transcriptionist, her nights are filled writing contemporary romance—stories of love, laughter and happily ever after. Jenna takes pleasure in spending time with her family. She also enjoys reading, gardening and loves the challenge of a new recipe.

You can buy Just For the Summer for $2.99 here. Jenna welcomes the chance to connect with writers and readers at any of the following: website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

We’d like to thank Joe for not only this opportunity, but for sharing with his readers how to donate to such a great cause. Thanks to Tess Gerritsen for her time and energy spent for Alzheimer’s research.

Joe sez: I didn't want to butt into their blog post, but I'll happily discuss my start in this biz. Especially since I've gotten a lot of email from writers who miss me talking at length about the Publishing Industry. This is gonna go long, so why don't you pause and buy Constance's and Jenna's books before you read on?

You back? Okay, here's my publishing story...

I started writing as a kid, and treating it seriously when I was about 18. First novel done at 22. It wasn't until the fifth novel that I'd gotten the hang of it. The first four will never see the light of day in their current condition. (The fifth was Shot of Tequila, now available on Amazon.) I got over 500 rejections, a million words written, on those ten novels. Then I signed a three book deal for $110,000, which seamed like a lot of money. I suppose it still is a lot of money, but after my agent commission it came to $31k per book, paid out in installments over four years.

I wrote about my start for the magazine Writer's Digest. It must have been a popular article, because they asked me for a follow-up, and 10 years later I still get email from people who remember it.

Here it is, unedited for the first time. I'm also putting in new comments, in parentheses, to note where my feelings have changed.


My agent, Jane Dystel, calls with amazing news; a publisher has made a six-figure offer for my first mystery novel, Whiskey Sour, and the next two books in the Lt. Jack Daniels series. I run around screaming for several minutes. My wife, who has stood by side for nine shelved novels and over four hundred rejections, begins to cry.

I ask Jane when the contract will arrive. She tells me we aren’t accepting the offer yet. Another publisher is also interested, and we should be able to get more money.

I’ve never done any hard drugs, but I can guess this is what they feel like.

Jane tells me to expect a phone call from a top NY editor. She’d like to speak to me, to get a sense of my personality. “How should I act?” I ask Jane. She says, “Be yourself–you’ll do fine.”

The editor calls, and we instantly hit it off. She’s edited two of my favorite authors, and asks if I can FedEx an 8x10 picture of myself and a brief bio, in time for their acquisitions meeting tomorrow. Luckily, I have a good black and white photo of me in a snooty author pose..

I spend a few hours trying to make myself seem interesting in the bio. It’s harder than writing the book, but I manage and catch FedEx that night.

The publisher makes a final offer. We accept. My wife and I celebrate with $150 champagne. I also have a bottle delivered to Jane, along with plastic cups so the whole office can toast.

I take my family and friends out to eat, and my mom makes me promise I won’t forget her if I become famous. “Mom, who?” I reply.

I’m at a bookstore, and on a whim pick up the latest copy of Publisher’s Weekly. There it is, in the Short Takes section; the details of my deal. I read my name, and realize it is the very first time it’s ever been in print. I buy all the copies they have.

The contract arrives. It’s 18 pages long, full of legalese. I call a lawyer friend and ask him to explain the term ‘force majeure’ (it basically means acts of God beyond the publisher’s control).

I initial each page and sign it, then FedEx it back. My book will be released in June of 2004. It seems a long time away.

New Year’s Eve is usually the worst day of the year for me. I normally spend the day depressed and regretful, looking at another year without a writing sale.

Not this year!

I join the Mystery Writers of America and the Horror Writers Association as an active member.

I complete a novella starring my hero from Whiskey Sour, Jacqueline Daniels. I decide to send it to Ellery Queen, a magazine that has rejected many previous stories.

I attend my first writing convention, Love is Murder, and speak on my first panel. It’s a lot of fun, I meet some big-name authors, and I network with many people.

I pass out free copies of a self-published chapbook. Some people ask for me to sign them, which makes me giggle like a idiot.

My check arrives. I buy a computer–my other books were all written on an archaic word processor. I also see an accountant about incorporating and becoming a sole-proprietorship.

I quit my job. I’ve been a server for twelve years. Waiting tables allowed me a flexible schedule, so I always had time to write.

Now my full time profession is writing, which is something I’ve dreamed about forever.

I continue to work on and submit short stories to paying markets.

I sell a story to Horror Garage magazine.

I begin contacting some of my favorite authors, soliciting blurbs for Whiskey Sour. Many say they’ll do it, which thrills me. Talking to famous writers is almost as much fun as being a writer.

My editor sends me an edited copy of the manuscript. I’m to make all of her changes and send her a copy on disk.

As expected,  her suggestions are wonderful, albeit complicated. I FedEx it to her within a week.

Ellery Queen wants to buy my Jack Daniels novella. They send me a publishing contract. I run around the house, screaming.

My neighbor calls, wondering if I’m being murdered.

I hire a friend to help me create a website, and immerse myself in the world of HTML, jpgs, and transloading. My goal; when the site is active, I want to be able to update it and make changes myself.

I get a part-time job at the College of Dupage, teaching fiction writing and marketing. I’ve wanted to teach ever since I was a kid, and am thrilled to finally have a chance.

I receive the Publisher Author Questionnaire. It’s roughly thirty questions, some of them very detailed. I fill it out carefully, and also include a marketing plan, a bio, and a list of authors who will blurb me.

I also put together a mock-up of a possible cover, with suggestions on what I’d like to see. I figure it can’t hurt.

Short story rejection. I find another market and send it back out.

WWW.JOEKONRATH.COM is finally up and running, and I’ve got a good working knowledge of how to keep it updated. I submit the URL to search engines, making sure the site description and metatags are perfect.

To make the site ‘sticky’ (keep people there), I offer writing tips, a fiction contest, a newsletter, giveaways, an appearance schedule, free stories and excerpts, downloads, a message board, and a massive links page–anyone who links to me, gets a link back.

(Joe sez: That's right, dear readers. I had free ebooks on my website in 2003.)

I write my first newsletter, and email it to roughly two hundred people.

I attend the World Horror Convention, get to speak on several panels, and meet many famous authors. I pass out a hundred free chapbooks, sign some autographs, and have my first official scheduled reading. Three people attend. But, dammit, I really entertained those three!

I also participate in the annual gross-out contest, in front of a few hundred people. I get booed offstage, but it is a lot of fun.                          

(Joe sez: I went back a year later and won the gross-out contest.)

My editor sends back my manuscript with more requested changes. Some are tricky, but I happily comply and FedEx.

(Joe sez: My recollection was the edits mostly involved toning things down. Whiskey Sour in its original version was more visceral, and Harry McGlade was more offensive. But I did everything that was asked, because I believed they knew better. Ten years later, I know they didn't know better. They filed down the teeth of that book, and I went along with it.)

Short story rejection. I find another market and send it back out.

Michael Bourrett, a sub-rights agent at Dystel and Goderich, needs me to send more copies of the manuscript to submit to audio book publishers.

I print them, and calculate which is costing me more: inkjet cartridges or Fed Ex? Inkjet wins.

Good news: I learn to refill my own inkjet cartridges. Bad news: My fingernails will be black for the rest of my life.

My site is finally showing up on search engines. I design and print my own business cards to promote it.

My publisher sends me an author photo permission slip, allowing them to use my bio photo for the jacket cover. My wife, who took the picture, is pretty excited.

Short story rejection. I find another market send it back out.

My publisher has printed up advance uncorrected bound manuscripts of Whiskey Sour, to send out for blurbs. They look like trade paperbacks, perfect bound spines and white cardstock covers. The pages are formatted the same as in MS Word.

I get some copies, and pass them out to people who’ll give me quotes or reviews.

Chicago Printer’s Row Book Fair. I pass out fifty free chapbooks.

I’m sent the line edit for Whiskey Sour. This goes into more detail than the previous edits, and I have to make several dozen changes and revisions, which are all written out on yellow sticky notes. It’s the toughest edit yet.

I learn what ‘stet’ means, and begin using it in everyday conversation whenever someone is bothering me. (It means ‘leave it alone’)

I also get a wonderful letter from my line editor. She tells me that she really loved the book, and is hoping that she’ll get to copyedit the next two in the series.

Fed Ex when I finish.

I attend  Dark and Stormy Nights Conference, doing a How To Get Published panel that is well attended and received.

I pass out fifty more chapbooks.

The blurbs start coming in. I’m actually embarrassed by all of the nice things fellow authors say about me. My wife asks if I’m paying them.

I wind up with over a dozen quotes, many of them from bestsellers. I put them on my website.

My first conference call. I spend an hour on the phone with my publicist and marketing director, discussing strategies and possible hooks. It’s fun, but most of it goes way over my head.

After the call, I pick up several books on promotion and marketing, so I can understand what the heck they said.

I get my first fan letter, from a woman who has discovered my site over the internet.

The Marketing department asks me if they can use my first two initials on the front cover. I’ll be J.A. rather than Joe. I understand their reasoning–women are the primary book buyers, and a unisex first name might find a bigger initial audience.

I ask my agent her opinion. Jane says, “Always defer to Marketing.”

No problem. I’d change my name to Schnookie Badookums if it would sell more books.

I change my website to WWW.JAKONRATH.COM and resubmit to all the search engines.

(Joe sez: I recall it was my idea to use initials, but the Marketing Department immediately took credit for it, and I didn't want to make them look bad in this article. While doing marketing research, I figured out that mysteries with a female lead were targeted to female readers, who might be disinclined to believe a guy could write a woman's POV. So I suggested it to my publisher and they jumped at it. In hindsight, I wish I'd kept it Joe. But in hindsight, I would have done a lot of things differently.)

I begin work on the synopsis for the next book in the Jack Daniels series. My contract says it’s due on 8/1. I’m a fast writer, and figure it’ll be easy, even though I’ve never written a synopsis before.

This synopsis thing is a lot harder than I expected. I write free-form. Half the time, I don’t know where the story is headed until I get there. Instinct and intuition.

A forty page outline (one chapter=one paragraph) means I have to know what is going to happen in advance. Every conflict, twist, character, and action has to be explained.

Although I might be a fast writer, I learn that I’m not a fast plotter.

Two short story rejections. I find other markets send them back out.

A writer friend gives me manuscript to blurb it. My first blurb!

My editor sends me a timeline for Whiskey Sour. There are some continuity problems. I ask if I can insert a time machine into the narrative as a quick fix. No dice.

I work like a dog to get the manuscript back in the requested three days. I also decide to buy stock in Fed Ex, as they’re getting rich off of me.

I speak at my local library, talking about what it is like to be a new author.

I finish the synopsis, and email it to my agent to review. Jane loves it, and says it is one of the best she’s ever read. I email it to my editor.

My editor calls me. She doesn’t like the synopsis at all. In her opinion, it can’t be fixed. I have to come up with an entirely new plot. I pitch my idea for the third book in the series, and she likes it.

I have ten days to finish.

(Joe sez: Boy, does this make me angry reading it. The second book was to be called Rusty Nail, and the synopsis was good. You can download and judge for yourself here.

The first pass arrives. This is how the typeset, copyedited pages will look when the book is published.

I must read Whiskey Sour again, looking for errors. It’s hard. I’ve read the book so many times, I’ve memorized whole sections.

It’s due by 8/1-- the same time the synopsis is due.

I finish making the required changes to the first pass, and decide to use the United States Post Office overnight delivery service, rather than FedEx, to send the manuscript back. It’ll save me ten bucks.

The unthinkable happens. The post office loses the manuscript.

I’m horrified. I spent countless hours correcting the first pass, and I don’t relish the idea of doing it over.

(Joe sez: I'm even more horrified that we weren't doing this via email. I don't think I got first passes via email until I signed with Amazon for Shaken seven years later.)

The synopsis for the second novel in the series is due today, along with the first two chapters. I manage to get them done by forgoing certain luxuries, like sleeping and eating. But I’m ultimately happy with the end result.

So is my editor, which is a huge relief.

(Joe sez: This was the synopsis for Bloody Mary, which you can download here BTW, remember that Rusty Nail outline? I made that the third book in the Jack Daniels series without changing anything. My editor didn't remember she'd rejected it a year earlier, and I was no longer required to turn in outlines because my publisher figured I wasn't a newbie anymore. Thinking back on the stress this caused me makes me want to punch my monitor.)

My wife asks if I was angry having to do two synopses. I explain that I’m not. I’m living my dream, and I’ve experienced enough rejection to not take it personally. Publishing is a business, and I’m a professional. I’d write ten more synopses if my publisher asked.

(Joe sez: Bullshit. I was pissed off. But I wasn't going to say that in a Writer's Digest article.)

After phone calls to my post office, central dispatch, the Postmaster General, and the President of the United States, my package is found and ultimately delivered. Since ‘overnight’ doesn’t normally mean ‘five days’, the post office refunds my money.

The FedEx guy, who I’m now on a first name basis with, delivers a package. It’s my cover art.

I love it, even though it has nothing to do with my original concept.

(Joe sez: "Love" is a strong word. I liked it, thought it was well done, but it didn't convey the thriller aspects of the book and instead looked like a Janet Evanovich rip-off. I much prefer my new cover.)

I attend Horrorfind Weekend, give out more chapbooks, meet more authors and fans. People are beginning to recognize my name, which is wonderful, considering my book won’t be out for another ten months.

I write my second newsletter. This one gets emailed to 1300 people. The networking and self promotion is apparently paying off.

Michael sells the audio rights for the Jack Daniels series. I’m thrilled, and send him and the agency fifty dollars worth of bakery goods.

I call Eileen Hutton, the editor at Brilliance Audio, to convey my excitement.

Whiskey Sour appears on for pre-order. I call up everyone I know to tell them.

(Joe sez: And so begins my long relationship with Amazon.)

My publisher sends me a large color slick of what the front and back covers of the advance reading copies (ARCs)  will look like. It’s wonderful, but I dislike the inner jacket copy–the wording is clumsy, and it doesn’t accurately portray the tone of the book.

I email my editor, asking if I can rewrite the copy, but the ARCs are already going to press. I send her my revision and hope for the best.

I contact Writer’s Digest and pitch an article idea, based on my path to publication. Christine
Mersch writes back, explaining she’s looking for a journal type of article, concentrating on what happens after the book sale.

I redo my proposal, and get a green light to submit an article on spec. I hope they buy it.

The ARCs of Whiskey Sour arrive. They are truly beautiful-- the art, the blurbs, the layout; everything looks great. Plus, they went with my revised inner jacket copy.

Holding one in my hand makes me feel like a real author for the very first time.

I email my publisher, thanking everyone for doing such a tremendous job. My thank you note gets passed around, and I wind up hearing from many people involved in putting the book together. One of them gives me the greatest compliment I’ve ever received:

“I just read the Whiskey Sour bound manuscript over the weekend and absolutely loved it. I accidentally missed my subway stop the other day because I was so wrapped up in finishing it.”

I do a live online chat for HWA. They tout me as The Rejection King, since I’ve gotten almost five hundred bong letters. The chat goes well, and is a lot of fun.

I talk at a local library about how to get published, and bring along the short story rejection I received that morning.

My first anthology sale. I’m going to be in Jeanne Cavelos’s “The Many Faces of Van Helsing,” coming out from Berkley in April.

For fun, I figure out how much time I work every week. When I waited tables, I’d work thirty hours, then spend twenty writing

Since I began writing full time, I average sixty hours a week. Some days I’m on my computer for fifteen hours straight.

11/? (hopefully!)
Writer’s Digest buys my article. I feel like my career has come full circle. I’ve read WD for many years, seeking advice and guidance. Now I’m in the magazine, giving advice and guidance.

Unfortunately, I don’t have time for reflection–the first draft of my second novel is due in January, and I haven’t gotten started on it yet...

Joe sez: And here's my second WD piece, uncut. It follows the same format as the first, with my new comments in parentheses.

March 21, 2004
It’s often mentioned in the publishing community that the second book is harder to write than the first. This is true.

I had no problems, though, because my second book was actually my eleventh.

When I signed a three book deal with my publisher, they had no idea how long I’d been struggling to get published. As far as they new, Whiskey Sour, the first in the Jack Daniels thriller series, was the first thing I’d ever written.

In reality, I’d written over a million words without selling a thing, earning my living as a waiter.

So when it came time to write the second Daniels book, Bloody Mary, I had no fear of the sophomore slump. I turned in what I knew to be a much better book than Whiskey Sour, and waited for my editor to lavish me with praise.

March 30
My editor lavishes me with edits.

I quickly divide her ‘nit list’ into three columns; those suggestions I agree with, those I’m on the fence about, and those I absolutely won’t do, no matter what. I write her a very nice email, stating my case, backing up my arguments with clear and concise examples. My letter is so persuasive, so compelling, that it’s worthy of a thesis.

March 31
My editor thanks me for replying, understands my points, and tells me to make the changes anyway.

I don’t have a big ego–garnering over 500 rejections goes a long way towards keeping a guy grounded. But I really don’t want to make these changes. I go whining to my wife, demanding sympathy.

“They’re paying you,” she says. “Make the changes.”

I make the changes.

(Joe sez: One day the original version will see the light of day. My editor made me cut scenes that I liked, that were good. All of Phin's scenes were cut, the FBI scenes were cut, and Harry's scenes were trimmed. Thousands of words, lost. Maybe I'll release it eventually, or it'll come out after I die.)

April 2
My publisher buys a 1/3 page ad for Whiskey Sour in Publisher’s Weekly. The pub date for my novel is June 2nd, which can’t arrive soon enough for me.

(Joe sez: The only ad they ever did for me, and we did six books together.)

I also get my first major review for WS, from Kirkus. They call the book “A rapid-fire debut thriller.” I can live with that!

April 6
The anthology The Many Faces of Van Helsing comes out, featuring my story “The Screaming.” This is the very first time I’ve been on a bookstore shelf. I email all of my friends and family and demand they rush out and buy a copy.

April 9
I attend the World Horror Convention in Phoenix, and I can’t stress enough how important writing cons are. You network, talk shop, hear buzz and rumors about the Biz, and get your name ‘out there.’

I pass out a lot of business cards, talk about my upcoming book to any who will listen, meet editors and booksellers, and learn a lot. Best tip: even though short stories don’t pay well, keep doing them. They’re like free advertising for your novels.

April 14
Through conferences, email, and the grapevine, I’ve become friends with many ‘name’ writers. One of them, mystery author Rob Kantner, has put together a collection of his short stories. Having grown up reading Rob, I begged him to let me write a foreword for the book.

He graciously consented. Unfortunately, no one in Big City Publishing was interested in a short story collection from a midlist author.

I asked Rob, somewhat hesitantly, if he’d mind if I shopped it around. I’ve been working on self-promotion for over a year, and I’ve met a lot of people.

The result? Trouble is What I Do is coming out soon, from Point Blank Press, featuring an intro by yours truly.

April 22
An acceptance! I still do the Snoopy Dance whenever I sell something, and today the mailman brings me a contract from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. This is the second story of mine they’ve bought. After so many years of bad news, it’s nice to be finally getting some good. I’m convinced it can only get better.

May 1
Publisher’s Weekly reviews Whiskey Sour and says, “Reading like an ill-conceived cross between Carl Hiaasen and Thomas Harris, this cliché-ridden first novel should find a wide audience among less discriminating suspense fans.”


After my initial shock, I try to judge my reaction, and I’m surprised to find myself bemused. I never really thought about it before, but the hundreds of rejections I’ve gotten really thickened my skin.

Besides, the quote can be edited down to “(a) cross between Carl Hiaasen and Thomas Harris,” which I put on my website.

(Joe sez: Here's a quote for you, PW. "Publisher's Weekly is an ass-kissing sycophant for the Big 5 and they can bite me. Their mediocre, petty little fiefdom peaked years ago and will diminish alongside the archaic industry they support. I'll be around a lot longer than they will.")

May 5
This is officially the greatest day of my writing career.

FedEx drops off the hardcover copies of Whiskey Sour. Holding it my hands for the first time, I begin to cry–but not like a baby. I cry manly, macho tears, like Rocky when he beat Apollo.

The FedEx guy comes back an hour later, and brings copies of the June 2004 Writer’s Digest, which features my article “After the Big Sale.” I’m out of my mind with happiness.

Then the mailman arrives with my copies of Ellery Queen, featuring the first story I sold them.

Just when things can’t get any better, by editor emails me a glowing review from BookPage, which calls Whiskey Sour “Easily one of the best debut suspense novels in recent years.” My book has also made the cover of the magazine.

I’m 34 years old. I wrote my first book when I was 22. I’ve waited twelve years for this day, twelve years of hard work, rejection, and zero reward.

This one day has made it all worth while.

(Joe sez: And you know what? I still feel that way. Great day, still makes me misty-eyed.)

May 6
The FedEx guy drops off copies of my audiobook. It’s read by the talented duo of Dick Hill and Susie Breck, but I have a small part. My young son can’t get enough of hearing Dad’s voice on the CD.

Neither can Dad.

May 13
Whiskey Sour is named a BookSense Pick for June. BookSense is run by the American Booksellers Association, and to have my book honored in this way is incredible.

I add this to my website, which is taking up more and more of my time. began as a simple author homepage with a few free stories and a few writing tips. Now it’s blossomed to more than sixty pages of content. I spent about five hours a week updating the site, which cuts into my writing time, but is necessary if I want people to make return visits.

May 15
My publisher is planning a big event for me at the upcoming Book Expo America. There will be a cocktail party, in my honor, attended by independent booksellers.

My publicist decides that I need a media coach, to train me for the party so I don’t say anything stupid.

Normally, I’m receptive to everything my publisher does for me, but I’m sure I don’t need a media coach. I’m good with people, and have a lot of public speaking experience.

But rather than be insulted, I try to keep an open mind.

May 17
The media coach calls, and we ‘role-play’ the party. And now I’m officially insulted.

“Pretend I’m a bookseller,” the coach says, getting paid more an hour than I make in a week, “and I ask you if your book took a lot of research. What do you say?”

I tell her that I went beyond research and actually did hands-on training. “For example, to fully understand the villain in the book, a serial killer, I would cruise the streets of Chicago at night and murder prostitutes.”

Long stretch of silence.

“Maybe you shouldn’t say that,” she says finally.

Apparently media coaches aren’t big on humor.

As the hour drags on, she asks what I’m going to wear to the party, as it will be semi-formal.

“I’ve rented something already,” I tell her.

“A tuxedo?”

“A big, pink bunny suit.”

She doesn’t laugh. My publicist isn’t amused, either, when the coach tells her all about the session.

(Joe sez: Who would have thought that a smartass loudmouth like me could actually sell books? Find fans? Write a blog read by millions of people? Not my publisher, that's who.)

May 20
Hard to believe it’s been eighteen months since signing my contract, but Whiskey Sour is finally on the shelves! The pub date isn’t until June 2nd, but apparently ‘shelf date’ and ‘pub date’ are two different things. It’s still not for sale on Amazon, but all of my local stores have copies.

(Joe sez: To get on the NYT bestseller list, you need to have a set shelf date, so all sales are reported the same week. Big publisher fail.)

May 29
My book launch party. We have it at the restaurant I used to work at, and a local indie bookstore does the bookselling.

Friends, family, and fellow writers buy 110 copies of Whiskey Sour, and then we all go back to my house and celebrate until three in the morning.

It’s the new greatest day of my career.

June 1
Though the media coach left no lasting impression on me, I find myself second-guessing my image, or my lack of one.

Somehow, I’ve gotten to my mid-thirties without ever having bought a suit. I rarely shave because I don’t have to. The only thing distinctive about my features is my double chin.

This troubles me, because I’m about to become a public figure, and I’m not sure how I want to portray myself to the public.

So I put myself in the hands of an expert; I go to a tailor. We pick out a nice, silk blazer, a colored tee shirt, and some good jeans. The jacket costs more than the rest of my wardrobe, combined.

I also shave my stubble into a stylish goatee (which hides my double chin), and change my boring, everyday glasses to those trendy kind with the black plastic frames that I’ve always hated but my wife likes.

So after a lifetime of dressing for comfort, I now have a ‘look.’ The ‘look’ is: a pudgy Clark Kent with a beard and a nice suit. I can live with it.

June 6
Book Expo America is the largest book event of the year. Hundreds of thousands of people attend, every publisher in the business has a booth, and when I walked into McCormick Place I was so overwhelmed by the sheer size of it I had a panic attack.

Where do I fit into all of this?

I visited my publisher’s booth, and Brilliance Audio, and both had stacks of my books to give away (at BEA, everything is free... huzzah! I walked out of there with 80 books.)

My first event is the BookSense luncheon. I’m seated at the table with an assistant publicist and a gaggle of booksellers, each of whom get a copy of Whiskey Sour. I work the table, talking to each person, signing their copies. Because I’m not in my seat I don’t get served, and miss lunch (it looked good, too.)

I also get to stand up alongside such stars as Dave Barry, Christopher Moore, Chuck Palnuihik, Laura Lippmann, and  Ridley Pearson. When the photographer takes my picture, I vogue for him.

That night is my cocktail party, at the Allerton in downtown Chicago. I put on the new outfit, slap on some cologne, and go see what my publisher has done for me.

They’ve done more than I ever could have imagined.

There’s a giant table, stacked high with my books. There are coasters with the book’s jacket design on them, strewn around the banquet hall. A bartender is pouring–you guessed it–whiskey sours. And people... over a hundred, all there to meet me.

For four hours I shake hands, sign books, and be the best JA Konrath I can be. It’s a heady, and exhausting, experience.

I’m the last person to leave, and I get home at 3am, knowing I have to be up at 6am for Day Two.

(Joe sez: It was a great party, and I gotta hand it to my publisher for giving me a decent launch at BEA.)

June 7
For some reason known only to book people, BEA takes place the same weekend as Chicago’s Printer’s Row Bookfair.

Today I split my time between the two. In the morning, I have three signings at PR. Since I’m a new, unknown author, I’m not surprised that I sell very few books. At one booth, I don’t sell a single copy, while the famous author next to me sells one book after another.

It’s extremely disheartening, especially considering the many future events I’d lined up. Will they all be like this?

After that slow start, I go back to BEA for another party, thrown by my audio publisher. While I have a very formal, reserved relationship with my publisher, I have a fun, easy going connection with Brilliance Audio. So after very little sleep, and a depressing morning, I’m ready to take off my jacket and have some fun.

Among the guests at the party were my publisher's president. Needless to say, the jacket stays on. I get the chance to have a long talk with him, and he pays me a terrific compliment.

“We like you, Joe, because you’re the kind of guy who will drive around with a box of books in his trunk and hand sell them. Most authors expect the publisher to do all the work, when it’s their book as much as ours.”

(Joe sez: He was right. I was that guy. But rather than rally around me with coop money and big promotions, I was treated like a replaceable cog and dismissed without getting the support I needed to succeed.)

The party ends late, and I’m so tired I can’t even see. Get home at 3am, up at 6am for Day Three.

June 8
I have another signing at Printer’s Row, but I decide to play it differently. Rather than sit behind a table full of my books, I stand in front of the table and introduce myself to people who walk by. I used to be a waiter; if I can sell a $40 steak to a guest in a restaurant, I can sell a $20 book to a booklover.

By the time my hour is up, I’ve sold twelve books.

Then it’s back to BEA, where I do a signing at my audio publisher’s booth. It’s the writing fantasy I’ve had since I was a kid; an endless line of people, all waiting patiently for my signature. (Of course, they’re getting the books for free, so I don’t get a big head about it.)

I sign about two hundred audiobooks, and many people in line recognize me. “I read about you in Writer’s Digest.” “I read your story in that anthology.” “I heard about you in that review.”  “I’ve been to your website.” “I love those stylish black glasses.” (okay, I made that last one up.)

The hour flies by. Then it’s back to Printer’s Row for my last signing. My energy is fading, but I manage to sell ten books, get home at a reasonable time, and then sleep for fourteen hours straight.

It was the hardest weekend of my entire life, and also the most rewarding.

June 12
Every morning, when I turn on my computer, I’m amazed by the number of emails I’m getting from people who have read my book, or one of my stories, or one of my articles.

Total strangers, who have taken the time to pay me a compliment, ask some advice, share a bit of their writing with me, or just say hello.

I make an effort to answer each email, and sometimes it takes me an hour or two. This cuts into my website time, which cuts into my publicity time, which cuts into my writing time, but it quickly becomes the highlight of my day. The concept of ‘fans’ was always just that; a concept. To actually have fans is an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.

(Joe sez: I still love hearing from fans. But now I get so much email I can't reply.)

June 13
My name is Joe Konrath, and I’m addicted to Amazon.

I try not to look. I really try. But upwards of fifteen times a day, I go to, searching for new customer reviews, and checking to see if my book sales rank has changed.

The sales rank compares my book to the three million other books also on Amazon. I’ve cracked the top 10,000 a few times, and my highest score was 2991 (meaning only 2990 books are selling better than mine at that moment, and I’m selling better than everything else).

The reviews have been mostly 4 or 5 stars, but I’ve gotten a few zingers. They include:

“Don’t waste your money!”

“Shame on the publisher.”

“What a waste of paper!”

And my favorite, “A nasty little pustule of a book.”

The latter was done by a self-professed ‘former galley checker’ who claimed I had some technical inaccuracies. She also called me “Ms. Konrath.” Perhaps this meticulous galley checker failed to check the top of every other page, which plainly states my name is Joe.

(Joe sez: Ten years later, I'm still addicted to Amazon. But now I've hit #1 several times, and have sold over a million books, so I don't check my rank as often, and I no longer read reviews. By the way, Whiskey Sour just hit 717 reviews, with a 4.2 star average. Bite me again, Publisher's Weekly. You and your fellow stink rag Kirkus have hindered author sales for far too long with your bias and poorly formed opinions. Writers don't need you anymore. Welcome to obscurity, population: you. See you soon on, posting resumes. PS - Bite me, Kirkus.)

June 15
I go on a whirlwind tour of Michigan with fellow authors Robert W. Walker and David Ellis, visiting fifteen bookstores in three days. The events we do are well-attended, but I don’t really sell a lot of books. Rob and Dave do well–they not only have established fan bases, but they’ve got paperbacks, which are easier to move than hardcovers.

The point of the tour for me wasn’t big sales, though. It was meeting the booksellers, shaking the hands, and getting my face out there. Hopefully, it’s working.

June 17
I learn the ugly truth about co-op.

Much of the prominent display space in a bookstore; by the counter, on the tables, in the window, is rented by publishers using co-op money. Co-op is also used to advertise and publicize author tours and signings.

This is one of the reasons my publisher didn’t want to tour me. Besides the cost of plane fare, hotels, and author escorts, the publisher also gives the bookstore co-op money. With a new author, who is only going to sell a few copies, it’s a waste of money to advertise an author event.

So when my publicist calls and tells me to cancel a signing that I’ve set up, I can understand where she’s coming from.

That doesn’t mean I have to like it.

I work out a compromise of sorts. I’m allowed to drop by stores and sign stock, as long as there’s no co-op involved. That means no publicity and no advertising.

But that’s okay--publicity and advertising aren’t going to sell my book.

I am.

(Joe sez: I believe I was one of the first authors to ever talk about coop. It was a dirty little secret authors weren't supposed to know. Just like we weren't supposed to talk about money.)

June 19
A suburban mall bookstore is told by my publisher that I can’t do a signing there. The manager calls me, upset, because they’ve already ordered a bunch of books, and have been looking forward to this event.

I tell him I’m happy to come by and sign some stock, as long as this isn’t an official signing.

When I arrive, I’m shocked–they’ve got 100 copies of Whiskey Sour. I know, in my heart of hearts, there’s NO WAY they’ll ever sell all of these books.

But maybe I can.

I hang out, greet customers, show them my book. The staff is totally into it, and point people in my direction, asking everyone who comes in if they’d like to meet a famous author.

Eight hours later, we’ve gotten rid of 79 copies.

The staff, and I, are ecstatic. They’ve never had an author stay so long, or work so hard. And I’ve earned back $138.50 on my advance (I get 12.5% of the cover price, or $2.75, for each book sold).

(Joe sez: Now I can sell  over 79 ebooks an hour, 24 hours a day. That's right--I now earn more in an hour sleeping than I earned in eight hours busting my butt.)

June 20
Word of my success at the mall bookstore has gotten around. I get a call from the district manager of the chain, who invites me to do seven more signings.

My publicist also hears about this. “Are you doing signings? Didn’t we talk about this?”

“It was just a drop-in,” I tell her.

(Joe sez: I go on to become a pretty good handseller, which you can read all about here. I've handsold thousands of books, and visited over 1200 bookstores. And the initial reaction from my publisher was incredulity, not admiration.)

July 5
Whiskey Sour is named an Independent Mystery Bookseller Association Bestseller for June. I’m the only new author on the list–the rest are established pros.

I send every member of the IMBA a thank-you card.

July 10
Another mall drop-in, another eight hours on my feet. Sixty-two books sold.

July 14
I’m doing a mini tour of Illinois and Wisconsin. I plan a route and hit five to ten bookstores a day, unannounced, meeting employees and signing stock.

After ten days, I’ve visited over seventy bookstores, and I’m tired. Emotionally and physically. I never guessed how hard this was going to be.

A look at my schedule for the upcoming month finds it packed; I’ve got signings, conferences, events, and interviews. Plus the website, which is now getting a hundred hits a day, is taking up more time, and my email, which is overflowing, and deadlines, because I’ve promised stories to several different publications, and I still have to turn in the outline for my third book and write the damn thing, plus I’m also working on editing an anthology that my agent wants to rep which is due before I go to NY in a few weeks.

And, oh yeah, I vaguely remember having a wife and kids that I’ve been ignoring for over a month.

Then the FedEx guy shows up, with something from my publisher. It’s the cover art, for Bloody Mary. And it’s beautiful.

I frame it, and put it above my desk next to the cover art for Whiskey Sour, and my life doesn’t seem so out of control anymore.

This is what I want. This is what I’ve always wanted. I’m the luckiest guy on earth.

I check my schedule and see that I have a lot to do today. But it’s gorgeous outside, and my son just got a bike, and someone has to teach him how to ride it.

Joe sez: Looking back on these early days, I'm struck by a lot of things.
  • How naive I was.
  • How determined I was.
  • How hard I worked.
  • How screwed up the business was.
  • How I felt like an indentured servant.
  • How convinced I was that the only way to succeed was working like a maniac.
And the fact was, the only reason my books stayed in print was because I DID work like a maniac. Because my publishers weren't doing my titles any favors. And proof of that is how many copies I've been able to sell since getting my rights back. I've sold more books in six months than they sold in eight years.

What a long, strange trip it's been. This blog post doesn't even begin to cover all the insane stuff I did to self-promote. Start reading A Newbie's Guide to Publishing from 2005 to present to see how hard I worked, and how much my has attitude changed.

I still don't feel like I've earned my success. No one deserves anything in life. But I sure fought like hell to get where I'm at. And I'm really thankful I don't have to work like a dog anymore. No signings, no touring, no dealing with editors, no traveling, no more feeling like I have to sing for my supper.

I used to be angry. Why didn't my publishers sell more of my books? The audience is obviously there. The writing is good. I was certainly willing to put in the hours to build a career.

But instead of realizing what I had to offer, my publishers alienated me, and turned an ally into an enemy who, for the last several years, made it his personal mission to teach as many authors how to self-publish as possible. 

After reading this, can you understand why I'm so evangelical about this ebook revolution?

Happily, I'm not angry anymore. The money coming in has something to do with that. But the real joy comes from having control over my career.

I'm actually grateful for my publishers and how I was treated, because they made me the success I am today.

Not because of anything they did. But in spite of everything they did. If I'd been treated a tiny bit better, I'd still be with a legacy house, working on deadlines, making unneeded editing changes, turning in synopses. 

So I'm eternally grateful they did such a bad job with me. 

Sometimes I wonder if NY Publishing realizes how much revenue they've missed out on because of all the authors who have read this blog and decided to self-publish instead of pursue a legacy deal.

Back in 2010, I told the Publishing Industry that I'd shut up forever for 1 million dollars. To quote:

"You know the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon meme? We can also play the Six Degrees of JA Konrath with self-pubbed Kindle authors.

Of the names I listed in the blog, I'm one degree of separation from at least 80% of them. The rest, I'm probably second degree.

You hear that, NY Publishing? You truly want to slow the growth of ebooks?

Shut me up.

I'm willing to be bought off. Pass around a collection envelope, like you do for employee birthdays. For a million bucks, I promise I'll never blog about ebooks, or help another writer, ever again."

They should have paid me. They would have gotten off cheap. 


Veronica - Eloheim said...

WOW....I have to get to the airport to pick up a friend, but I couldn't "put this down."

I'm speechless.

Kyra Halland said...

Joe, I am so glad the publishing industry didn't take you up on your offer. I've known for years that my quirky romantic-fantasy novels wouldn't stand a chance with publishers. I know this because in forty years of reading fantasy I've seen exactly ONE novel that's anything like what I write, and I never found another novel by that same author. (I looked her up on Goodreads not long ago and found that she did have another novel published, but even though I made a point of trying to find anything else she'd written, I never knew about it. It must have been one of those blink-and-you'll-miss-it releases. It looks like she's now self-publishing.) I figured I'd just keep writing, and post what I wrote online for free, then I found Dean Wesley Smith's and Kristine Kathryn Rusch's blogs and then yours, and that made me think, Hey, *I* can do this too!

So, I just self-published my second novel, with seven more slated for this year and next year. I'm not making a lot of money yet (just pizza-money levels right now, but, you know, PIZZA!), but I'm selling my writing, which just a couple of years ago was something I never would have dreamed I could do. And you're one of the people who helped me realize I could do it.

Thanks, Joe :D

Mike Horse said...

Much like every post on this blog and every book of yours I've read, this is wonderful.

And I can't wait to stand alongside all of the self-published authors who have learned so much from your experience.

That's why I visit your site every day. It's motivating and energizing and always tells me I've made a smart choice going the self-publishing route.

Thanks for all that you do!

Kyra Halland said...

And for Constance and Jenna, I wish them all success and that everything will work out the way they hope it will.

Jude Hardin said...

If I remember correctly, the article titles "After the Big Sale" came out around the same time as WHISKEY SOUR. I read the article, and then bought the book.

I was working on my first novel at the time, and the article inspired me to structure it more like a mystery instead of a horror thriller. I actually queried Jane around that time (prematurely, now that I look back on it), and she sent me a form rejection letter. :)

Amazing how much the industry has changed since 2004...

Anonymous said...


I am an author who went indie strictly because of your blog in 2011.

I have sold just under 200,000 copies resulting in nearly $500,000 of revenue that the Big 6 (now 5) missed out on.

You paid the price, and I reaped the rewards - hardly seems fair does it?

Your blog posts turned my life around; from poverty and food stamps to $20k a month in 2+ short years.

I hope you make a billion F'ing dollars.

Bailey Montagne said...

(Joe sez: Here's a quote for you, PW. "Publisher's Weekly is an ass-kissing sycophant for the Big 5 and they can bite me. Their mediocre, petty little fiefdom peaked years ago and will diminish alongside the archaic industry they support. I'll be around a lot longer than they will.")

Joe, I belly laughed. Your other 'review' also. Thank you for saying the stuff authors want to say but can't!!!!!!!!

Tracy Sharp - Author of the Leah Ryan Series said...

*Raises hand* I'm another author who went indie because of Joe. I actually bought Whiskey Sour from a bookstore years ago, and was blown away at how fan-f*cking-tastic it was.

I'd bought a bunch of other books at that time because I had a Borders gift card, so it was a while before I read it. It was one of the best thrillers I'd ever read. EVER.

A visit to Joe's blog just cemented in my head what an intelligent forward thinker he is. He's been invaluable to writers everywhere.

And he's so frickin' funny, too. "Welcome to obscurity, population: you. See you soon on, posting resumes. PS - Bite me, Kirkus". Love it.

Jill James said...

Wow! That blog post was a lesson all in itself. Thanks for all you do Joe. Constance and Jenna, much success on the journey.

Tracy Sharp - Author of the Leah Ryan Series said...

Thanks, Constance and Jenna! Awesome post!

Nathan Sisk said...

This was a great post, very informative. Thanks to Jenna and Constance for all the marketing advice.

Joe, always good to see how the publishing world has changed over the years through the eyes of someone who has lived it.

Also, as a FedEx employee, thanks for all the business!

Joe Flynn said...

Publishing horror stories: They're what you should tell your kids at bedtime, if they show any inclination to write for a living. Then when the sun comes up, you should encourage them in every way possible and let them know things are much better these days than when you started out. Great work, Constance, Jenna and Joe.

Melody said...

Many thanks to Constance and Jenna to sharing their stories...and inspiring Joe to tell us his own. And to Joe: thank you. At this point, they could have passed the envelope around for five million and still saved themselves money. You're changing the entire industry. But you knew that already.

bettye griffin said...

Quite a journey. I do think the guest bloggers lost control of the room...

Unknown said...

Joe, that was a hell of a post. Thank you.

However, I've got some editing changes I want you to make as soon as possible. ;)


Geraldine Evans said...

Thank you, Constance, Jenna and, most of all, Joe.

Joe you made me laugh with your 'review'. I feel the inspiration coming on to write a blog post telling wannabe writers how easy they've got it now. Not like when we old-timers were starting out. Oh, the angst, the agony, the rejections. :-(

Unknown said...

Thank you, everyone, for your good wishes! Reading about your journey was awesome, Joe. Thanks for sharing!

J.R. Rain said...

Joe, thanks for the hard work and the great writing. I wish you a lifetime of success, brother.

Anonymous said...

Great article.
Joe you talk about the decision to use JA rather than Joe, and that you now regret that.
I am about to go live in Amazon - thanks to years of reading your blog - with both crime fiction and urban fantasy novels. I was thinking full name for the crime and my initials for the urban fantasy.
Or do you think I should go full name for everything?

Rob Cornell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob Cornell said...

Count me as another who went indie because of Joe. And if I ever get successful at it, I'll credit him. Right now I blame him for all my trouble with it. :)

Joking, of course.

Joe: Now that you're indie and play by your own rules, are you back to not outlining stories ahead?

Robert Burton Robinson said...

Thank you for sharing, Constance and Jenna. Very interesting stories. And best wishes to you both.

Joe, I've been reading your blog for seven years, and none of the success I've had would have been possible without your guidance. I read these little histories when you first posted them, but it's great to read them again--and I love the updates. :)

You always say that your success is to due to luck more than anything else, but with your writing ability and dogged determination to succeed, plus your willingness to share your ups and downs with the world's wannabes, I think luck played only a small part.

Constance Phillips said...

Thanks for all the comments and well wishes on this post. I also enjoyed reading about Joe's path. So many options for writers these days. It's very encouraging.

JA Konrath said...

Or do you think I should go full name for everything?

If I could do it over I'd be Joe Konrath on everything. But you have to do what you think is right for you.

JA Konrath said...

are you back to not outlining stories ahead?

I don't outline. But I will say a book is much easier to write with an outline.

JA Konrath said...

I think luck played only a small part.

If Amazon never invented the Kindle, I'd still be on my knees begging for legacy deals.

I was very lucky Amazon did what they did. But I was also in a good position to take advantage of the opportunity. Luck favors those prepared. :)

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Joe: If you ever do a "Hall of Fame Posts" list, this should be in it. Awesome, awesome, awesome.

I'm self-pubbed because of you too.