Thursday, March 20, 2014

New Jack Daniels Novel Q & A with Jude Hardin

The first Jack Daniels novel in four years, LADY 52, is now available on Amazon Kindle for $3.99.

What do Lt. Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels and private investigator Nicholas Colt have in common? 

Billiards, bourbon, bad jokes… 

And murder. Several, in fact. 

A homeless woman’s remains are found near Chicago twenty-six years after she disappeared. Her daughter—now retired in Florida—suspects foul play, and she hires Colt to fly up there and check it out. 

A prominent Chicago physician is slain outside a convenience store, horribly mutilated. A senseless street killing? A robbery gone wrong? Or something much worse?

As the homicide cases and those involved converge, it quickly becomes apparent that Jack Daniels and Nicholas Colt are in for the most challenging—and deadly—time of their lives. 

Filled with humor, suspense, and mystery, LADY 52 is sure to satisfy longtime Daniels and Colt fans, and is a perfect introduction to both series. It's approximately 250 pages long. 

Q: Why the collaboration? Why now?

Jude: When Joe started talking about franchising the characters from his Jack
Daniels series, I knew it was something I wanted to try. I’ve been a fan since WHISKEY SOUR, the first book in the series, came out in 2003. I started thinking that Jack and my PI character Nicholas Colt might make an interesting team, so I started putting together some scenes for them. I think it worked out pretty well.

Joe: Jude was one of my first blog commenters, way back in 2005. When he wrote his first novel, POCKET 47, I read it and enjoyed it. Very much in the Robert B. Parker/Robert Crais school of action, mystery, and humor. When we did the Colt/Daniels short RACKED, our styles blended very well, our characters had chemistry, and the fans liked it. Doing a novel was a no-brainer.

Q: There’s violence in LADY 52, yet there are moments of hilarity as well. Why mix the two?

Jude: Joe was one of the first authors to do that kind of thing with mainstream thrillers, and I wanted to try to match the tone of the previous books in his series. Plus, Colt has always had his own brand of humor, and I tried to maintain some of that as well. 

Humor’s tough, because you never really know what’s going to work and what isn’t. But if I’m amusing myself along the way, I figure I might be on the right track.

Joe: I laughed at a lot of Jude's jokes, and he's told me he's laughed at mine, so I think we found a good balance.

I really try to make the reader experience as many emotions as possible in a book. Make them laugh, make them cry, make them nervous, make them frightened, turn them on. Fiction is an entertaining way to give the limbic system a vicarious work-out.

Q: There’s a hot sex scene in LADY 52, in a car no less. Why include something like that in a thriller?

Jude: Well, like our friend Ann Voss Peterson says, a sex scene in a novel should really be about emotion. Sometimes the emotion might be love, but often it’s fear. It’s about adding to your characters’ challenges and vulnerabilities, taking them into an intimate moment and ideally revealing an emotional side of them that the reader wouldn’t otherwise get to see.

Joe: I didn't write my first explicit sex scene until the sixth Jack Daniels book, CHERRY BOMB, and I really thought it added to the book. The Codename: Chandler series I write with Ann (three novels, three novellas) have a lot of sex in them. Along with revealing character, I think a well-written love scene is just plain fun, like snappy dialog or a cool fist fight. Which is why I write erotica under the name Melinda DuChamp.

This sex scene, however, was all Jude. I think maybe I added a comma.

Q: There are a couple of major twists near the end, some things most readers probably won’t see coming. How did those come about?

Jude: I don’t want to reveal too much, so I’ll just say that a good mystery usually involves a backstory that remains offstage for most of the book. It’s that backstory that sets the wheels in motion and motivates the characters to do what they do. I never outline, so some of the plot elements were a surprise to me as I composed them. That’s a good thing, I think. If I can surprise myself, maybe I can surprise the reader as well.

Joe: Jude came up with a really fun plot that seems to be going in a certain direction, then takes a 180 degree turn. But it is a mystery, and the clues are there for readers to solve it before Colt and Daniels do.

Q: How many books does Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels appear in? Nicholas Colt?

Jude: LADY 52 is the eighth novel featuring private investigator Nicholas Colt. He’s a world-class guitarist who gave up on music when his wife and daughter and all the members of his band died in a plane crash. He was the sole survivor, so he carries that weight around along with everything else. LADY 52 is brand new, but in the Nicholas Colt universe the events in the book occur between those in my novels COLT and POCKET-47. So while it’s the eighth Nicholas Colt book I’ve written, chronologically it’s book #2 in the series.

Joe: This is Jack's tenth novel, and it fits in between BLOODY MARY and RUSTY NAIL.

Q: So how did the collaboration process work?

Joe: It was a breeze for me. Jude knocked out the first draft, and then I fleshed out the main bad guy and some of the mystery elements, added a few scenes and jokes, and tweaked my characters. Jude did a good job writing Jack and company, so it was fun to build off of his framework. It's a 60k word book, and probably 15k-20k of it is mine. So I got off easy. :)

I think anyone who is a Nicholas Colt fan will enjoy this, and anyone who is a Jack Daniels fan will enjoy this. It's a fun merger of their respective universes, and hopefully our fans will cross-pollenate and buy more of our books. Readers who like SNUFF TAG 9 will like FUZZY NAVEL, and vice-versa.

I also wrote many lines, and a whole scene, in Colt's POV. Jude will have to comment on how I did, there.

Jude: Joe has a lot more experience with collaborations than I do, and he’s written at least twice as many novels, so I pretty much let him take the reins once I turned in the first draft. I was really impressed when I read his approach to Nicholas Colt and some of the other characters I created. The goal is for everything to be seamless, and he nailed it! As for the actual mechanics of working together, we passed the manuscript back and forth via DropBox, and we addressed any questions and concerns through email. He changed some of my stuff here and there, and I changed some of his, and we bounced ideas back and forth until we were both happy with what we had.

Q: Will you collaborate again?

Joe: My schedule is crazy busy… I sat on LADY 52 for more than three months before I could find the time to work on it. But I'd work with Jude again in a heartbeat.

Jude: Writing a novel is a lot different than, say, writing a TV show, in that it’s generally a solitary affair, so it was a pleasure to work with another author for a change, especially a seasoned professional like Joe. I had a lot of fun with it, and I would absolutely do it again. I could see Colt and Daniels together at least one more time, maybe at a nine ball tournament somewhere between Florida and Illinois. Hmm…

Joe: If the fans want it, I say let's do it.

Q: What's coming up for both of you?

Joe: I've got a huge list of collaborations coming up. We just released the next Jack Daniels/AJ Rankowski thriller, BEAT DOWN, that I did with Garth Perry, and THE SEXPERTS: GIRL WITH A PEARL NECKLACE, which is a Melinda DuChamp funny erotica novella. Blake Crouch and I are still doing LAST CALL, wrapping up the Jack Daniels/Luther Kite story, and this month HOLES IN THE GROUND, a sequel to ORIGIN, will come out, co-written with Rob Iain Wright. And more. Lots more.

Jude: I’m working on a brand new series called iSEAL, a trilogy of techno-thrillers about a failed Navy SEAL candidate desperate for a second chance. As a pathway back into the program, he volunteers for a research study, allowing himself to be a human guinea pig for a revolutionary new brain-computer interface. I’ll just say that things don’t go so well for him after the surgery. The first book is out now, and the second is on the way.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

No One Knows

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

In 2007 I wrote a blog post called Unreproduceable Phenonmenon. For the link lazy, here are the high points:

"Books," I said, "are like a science experiment without a control. If a book is successful, everyone is quick to take credit for it, and when a book fails, everyone scratches their heads, but no one can explain why either happens because publishers can do the exact same things for two different books and get two very different results."

My friend said, "I get it. Publishing a book is an unreproduceable phenomenon."

Every book is released into the world under unique circumstances. Some of the things that factor into a book being published are:

  • Type of book
  • How it's written
  • Who the author is
  • Date of release
  • Amount of advertising
  • Amount of publicity
  • Amount of marketing
  • Publisher enthusiasm
  • Bookseller enthusiasm
  • Fan enthusiasm
  • Library enthusiasm
  • Cover art
  • Print run
  • Catalog placement
  • Size of advance
  • Foreign sales
  • Movie sales
  • Coop budget
  • Distribution
  • Similar releases
  • Market saturation
  • Price
  • Word of mouth
Now common sense would say that many of these factors are within a publisher's control, so the more that they do, the better off the book will be. But there are so many factors that even a big book with huge expectations can, and often does, flop.

So the current publishing model is to do the bare minimum, and see if magic happens on its own. And magic happens often enough to keep everyone in the game, trying to figure out how to reproduce it.
But that's the problem. Publishing is an unreproduceable phenomenon.

I once compared publishers to those Skinner pigeons who pecked a lever that offered a treat at random intervals. The pigeons kept pecking, even though their efforts didn't yield any direct, controllable results.

If it's true that no one really knows what they're doing, and that luck is ultimately responsible for a book's success, then it really shouldn't matter what the author does because fate will decide what happens. Just write the best book possible and cross your fingers, right?

Well, sometimes that works. Sometimes you buy a single lottery ticket and win. Sometimes you buy ten tickets a week for thirty years before you win. But most of the time you never win.

Which begs the question: what should authors be doing if no one really knows what to do?

The answer is easy. You have to do everything you can to become your own unreproduceable phenomenon.

You'll do some things that work, and other things that won't, and when success comes you'll hopefully be smart enough to know that it wasn't any specific thing you did that made you a hit, but more likely a combination of things plus luck.

Luck doesn't mean you can stop trying. Luck means you have to keep trying until luck happens.

Joe sez: Now, more than six years later, a few things on my list of factors no longer apply, and a few others do. For a self-pub ebook author, I'd submit these are the major factors of concern:
  • Type of book
  • How it's written
  • Who the author is
  • Amount of advertising
  • Amount of publicity
  • Amount of marketing
  • Fan enthusiasm
  • Cover art
  • Distribution
  • Price
  • Book description
  • Formatting
  • Proofreading 
  • Word of mouth
As authors, we lost a lot of factors that were beyond our control, and that's a good thing. Release dates no longer matter (the best release date for an ebook is yesterday), we had no power over publisher enthusiasm, print run, catalog placement, and coop . We now can control cover art, distribution (to an extent), and price. 

The downside is we now also control advertising, publicity, and marketing, but considering most legacy pubbed books got very little of that I consider our position now to be much better.

But even though we mutinied and took over as captain, the sea still decides our ultimate fate.

In other words: there is still no way to guarantee success, and most authors will still fail to make a living at this business.

This can be extremely disconcerting. We've all heard about the self-pub shadow industry, we've seen the numbers, we've become part of this revolution, and our sales are still below even modest expectations. Which makes no sense, because we all know self-pubbed authors who are rock stars and are making a fortune.

They aren't you. Stop comparing yourself to other authors.

Now you probably have questions...

Q: What are bestselling self-pub authors doing right that everyone else is doing wrong?

A: Maybe a lot. Maybe nothing. But it comes down to luck. They got lucky. 

Q: There has to be a reason my books aren't selling well.

A: There may be many reasons. Maybe your books aren't good. Maybe your covers suck. Maybe you aren't doing enough promotion.

But there are books that sell well that aren't good, have bad covers, and aren't promoted at all.

It comes down to luck.

Q: I used to do things that helped me sell books, but now they don't work.

A: You got lucky before.

Q: How do I improve my sales?

A: No one knows for sure.

Q: Amazon must know.

A: If Amazon knew, every book it published would be a #1 bestseller. That isn't the case. Even with all the data Amazon has, it can't force a giant hit.

Because even with information, experience, and smart plans, publishing is still an unreproduceable phenomenon.

Q: So how do I make money in this business?

A: You get lucky. No one owes you a living.

Q: I feel helpless.

A: You are helpless. 

That may sound callous, but it's true. If you want job security, find something else to do. If you feel entitled, or that you deserve success, you're probably going to end up very disappointed.

No one knows why some books blow up and others don't. Maybe you can take some solace in the fact that somewhere, in a parallel universe, George RR Martin is wallowing in obscurity and your series is a #1 TV show. But, in this universe, it isn't the case. Learn to live with it.

Q: If only things were different!

A: They aren't. 

You can complain all you want to about how Amazon changed its algorithms, or how BookBub is unfair for not accepting you, or how there is too much competition, or how prices are too low, or how free is ruining everything, or how the tsunami of crap will destroy us all, but your complaints won't change things. It would be wonderful to snap your fingers and rearrange the world as you prefer it to be. That isn't the case.

We live in the here and now. We don't live in the wish and hope. 

You can curse the rain all you want, but you'd be better off getting an umbrella.

Trying to change what people want to do will never work. 

Q: So what do I do?

A: The best you can. Work hard. Experiment. Innovate. Control all you can control, and make sure it is as good as it can be. But that's still no guarantee of anything. The odds are against you succeeding. They might be better than they were under the legacy system, but ultimately both types of publishing work the same, exact way:

In order to succeed a whole lot of people need to buy your books.

That will always be beyond your control, or your publisher's control, or Amazon's control. 

The longer I'm in this business, the more I realize how little power I actually have. So I work on leveraging the power I do have.

I write good books, which I try to make as professional as possible. Good covers (and if a cover doesn't seem to work, I change it), good formatting, error-free, good product descriptions. I experiment with price, platform, and advertising. I try different genres and different pen names. I collaborate. I franchise. I discuss and debate with smart peers. I work with agents. I pay attention. 

Getting a complete stranger to buy your books isn't easy. Getting a million of them to is waaaaaay beyond anyone's means.

Becoming a success is a dream, not a goal. It isn't within your power. 

All you can do is your best, and cross your fingers. 

What I said six years ago still applies: Luck doesn't mean you can stop trying. Luck means you have to keep trying until luck happens.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Guest Post by Lisa Alber

Launch Day! Or, You Mean I’m NOT the Center of the Universe?

A guest post by Lisa Alber, author of KILMOON, A County Clare Mystery

Thank you Tess Gerritsen and Joe Konrath. My mom is suffering as I write this.


Today is Tuesday, the traditional day for book releases. I’m an excitable debut author, and today’s my day. Get out the balloons! It’s all about me! See my book cover over thereà

See, see? That’s my baby. Isn’t it about the best-looking book baby you’ve ever seen? (See bottom of this post for a description.)

Cue in: Fly buzzing and bouncing off my office window. The sound of anticlimax.

I’ve spent so many months preparing for this day that I almost forgot I was a writer rather than a social media wizard or a marketing guru. I became addicted to checking my blog stats and my Facebook likes, and to brainstorming cool and innovative promotional activities (none of which I implemented). I was trying to build my platform and increase my “discoverability” in preparation for today. Twitter parties, blog hops, and QR codes. I learned so many new terms I thought my head was going to topple off my neck.

The truth is, in many ways I’m an indie author semi-stuck in a traditional mindset. I blame my beginnings as a fictionista in New York City. I worked at a couple of the Big Boy houses, and I loved it. The behind-the-scenes glamour lived on within me even after I fled the big city back to my native west coast. I viewed getting my novel published through a nostalgic haze. I imagined myself walking the halls proud as Jackie O. in her senior editor days. I imagined being feted and courted … Or, at the very least I imagined a dedicated publicist. I wanted those preorders, and I wanted the big build-up to launch day!

The notion of a launch day meant something to me. Only, it didn’t matter so much to Amazon. My ebooks were available ahead of my official launch date. Also, having preorder status mattered to me. Preorder status goes with launch day. It’s the chocolate to the peanut butter, or the peanut butter to the chocolate. Together, they make a delicious whole. Unfortunately, in the indie world preorders can be hard to come by.

Now my debut novel is officially out there, and you know what? I’m still staring out the window, the fly is still buzzing. I’m sitting here thinking, I’m not sure how much preorders and official launch dates matter except to appear legitimate. But legimate to who? My fellow writers? Most readers don’t care. Why did I spend so much precious brain energy fretting about it all? I can only control what I can control.

I count myself lucky to be with an indie press. I’m not feeling the pressure to makes my numbers within six weeks. In the indie world a launch date is floating and flexible. At any time I can re-activate my promotional efforts to grow an audience over time.

So in the end, on this, my launch day, I’m feeling rather liberated. Foremost in my mind:

1. Keep writing. For frick’s sake set some boundaries on my crazy online efforts.

2. Don’t sweat the small stuff. I don’t know how many hours I wasted trying to “get” Google+. Forgettaboutit.

3. Be myself, not a wizard or a guru. On Facebook, I still receive more comments for my funny pet photos and absurd observations than for Kilmoon news. People, and potential readers, want to know about me as a person not a capital-a author.

4. No one really cares about my book launch except me. I’m not the center of the universe today. If you happen to buy my book based on meeting me here today, I’ll be thrilled (oh yes I will, and I’ll send you a thank you note if you let me know you did buy Kilmoon), but I’ll also be surprised.

5. Even my family forgot today was my launch day. Of course, I forgive my mom. In fact, my mom is my best fan because every time I bring up my novel she gets excited all over again, bless her supportive but forgetful self.

P.S. At the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention last September I got my guts in order and introduced myself to Tess Gerritsen. She was so gracious as I told her about my mom and extended my appreciation for her charitable efforts. Talk about a fangirl moment!

About Kilmoon

Merrit Chase travels to Ireland to meet her father, a celebrated matchmaker, in hopes that she can mend her troubled past. Instead, her arrival triggers a rising tide of violence, and Merrit finds herself both suspect and victim, accomplice and pawn, in a manipulative game that began thirty years previously. When she discovers that the matchmaker’s treacherous past is at the heart of the chaos, she must decide how far she will go to save him from himself—and to get what she wants, a family.

Lisa evokes a world in which ancient tradition collides with modern village life and ageless motivators such as greed and love still wield their power. Kilmoon captures the moodiness of the Irish landscape in a character-driven mystery that explores family secrets, betrayal, and vengeance.

“Brooding, gothic overtones haunt Lisa Alber’s polished, atmospheric debut. Romance, mysticism, and the verdant Irish countryside all contribute to making KILMOON a marvelous, suspenseful read.” —Julia Spencer-Fleming, New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of Through the Evil Days

“This first in Alber’s new County Clare Mystery series is utterly poetic … The author’s prose and lush descriptions of the Irish countryside nicely complement this dark, broody and very intricate mystery.” —RT Book Reviews (four stars)

“In her moody debut, Alber skillfully uses many shades of gray to draw complex characters who discover how cruel love can be.” —Kirkus Reviews

About Lisa

Lisa Alber received an Elizabeth George Foundation writing grant based on Kilmoon. In addition, Ms. George asked Lisa to write a short story for Two of the Deadliest: New Tales of Lust, Greed, and Murder from Outstanding Women of Mystery (HarperCollins). She featured Lisa’s story in an “Introducing…” section for up-and-coming novelists.

Lisa is currently trying to find time within her busy social media schedule to finish her second in the County Clare mystery series, Grey Man. Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, dog walking, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging round out her distractions. Lisa lives in the Pacific Northwest. Kilmoon is her first novel.

You can find Lisa at: website | Facebook | Twitter | blog

Monday, March 17, 2014

Guest Post by Chris Eboch

Chris Eboch on Perfecting Your Plot

I have opinions on the publishing business, but I’ll leave those discussions to others. My strength is writing craft. I’ve given writing workshops around the world, I’ve critiqued hundreds (possibly thousands) of manuscripts, and I’ve judged a dozen contests, so I know where writers struggle. (I’ve also written 20 traditionally-published and eight indie-published books.)

One thing people agree on when it comes to indie publishing (or traditional publishing, for that matter) is that you need a great book. But how can you tell if you have one? Frankly, most writers are not good at judging their own work. Sometimes we’re so in love with the ideas and characters that we can’t see the flaws in the manuscript. Sometimes we know what we wanted to convey, so we don’t realize we didn’t put it clearly on the page. Sometimes we’re simply not experienced enough to recognize the problems, let alone know how to fix them.

Even critique group members and beta readers can only help so much. Some critiquers are great as cheerleaders, line editors, or grammar mavens, but don’t know how to see the big picture. Some may sense problems but not know how to offer advice for fixing them. In my freelance critique business, I’ve worked with many clients who have worked through a manuscript with a critique group but still feel it needs help. They are always right.

Hiring a professional editor is a great option (visit Karen R. Sanderson’s blog, The Word Shark, for some Editor Spotlights). But before you do that, make the manuscript as strong as you can on your own. This will help you get the most from the pro’s feedback, while saving time and money. (I don’t recommend that you self publish without getting professional editorial help, but if you do, it’s even more important that you thoroughly edit on your own.)

See the Big Picture

“Big picture” revisions can include cutting or adding chapters, reordering scenes, changing your plot, and developing character arcs and themes. For this kind of revision, it’s important to see what you really have in your manuscript, not simply what you intended to do.

I developed a system for my own use which I share in my book Advanced Plotting. The goal is to first step back from the manuscript and view it as a whole, so you can see the big picture. This helps you find places where something is missing; sections that don’t make sense or don’t fit smoothly into the whole; scenes that are redundant or otherwise unnecessary; and other problems, such as chapters without enough conflict.

Once you understand the big picture problems, you can plan how to fix them. From there you can narrow your focus to the scene and paragraph level, finding and fixing smaller flaws.

If you outline before writing, you can also use this exercise to analyze your outline before you start writing. This can reduce your need for later revisions.

You can get The Plot Arc Exercise as a free Word download from my Kris Bock website (left-hand column), but here’s a brief overview:

Write a one- or two-sentence synopsis for your manuscript. What genre is it? What is it (briefly) about?

Define your goal. Do you want an action-packed page turner? A novel that explores an issue and makes people think? Keep the synopsis and goal in mind when you’re making decisions about what to add, cut, or change in the manuscript.

Outline. Don’t be intimidated by the word. You don’t need Roman numerals or subheads, just a brief description of what happens in each scene. Think of it as the equivalent of a photo album of your vacation. If you try to remember what happened on your vacation, you might get confused about what you did on each day, and you might even forget some of the highlights. A chronological photo album, with one photo per event, helps keep your thoughts organized while triggering memories of each event.

Writing an outline after you finish a draft of your novel helps you see what you did. You’re not going to edit yet, but rather analyze and make notes. You can use this outline in many ways.

Here are some things I like to do:

  • Make a note of the number of pages in each chapter. If some are unusually long, I may want to divide them. If I can’t find a good cliffhanger spot as a new chapter break, that’s a sign I may not have enough action in that chapter.
  • For each scene/chapter, list the emotions. Underline or highlight the major emotion. This helps ensure I have strong and varied emotions. If a scene only has fear for five pages, that’s not as emotionally powerful as a scene that has fear… relief… surprise… and more fear. Ups and downs are important.
  • Keep track of subplots by briefly mentioning what happens in each chapter where that subplot appears. I might use a purple pen to keep track of the romantic subplot and a green pen to track a subplot with the main character’s father. I can make sure I didn’t neglect a subplot for too long.

Find or Design Your Own Tools

You can take my Plot Arc Exercise and adapt it for your own needs. You can also find a variety of other tools to help you analyze your plot. If something doesn’t feel like a good fit, don’t give up on the idea – try some other methods. Be patient with the process. It takes time, but the results are worthwhile.

Here are several sources for analyzing your plot:

  • Advanced Plotting includes a tool for analyzing your plot, plus articles on fast starts, developing middles, plot points, cliffhangers, and more advice on making your work stronger
  • The Plot Arc Exercise is available as a free Word download
  • Christopher Vogler explained how novelists can use the archetypical structure of The Hero’s Journey, and you can find many examples of those stages online
  • Darcy Pattison’s Novel Metamorphosis offers another way to inventory and analyze your novel
  • Martha Alderson, The Plot Whisperer, has several books on plotting and structure
  • The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet lists 15 plot points. (See also his Save the Cat book)
  • Lee Wardlaw at Project Mayhem shares a simplified version of a Plot Map
  • An example of plot mapping via Caroline Starr Rose
  • Links to cool plot tools from Molly Blaisdell
  • For more story analysis, visit Doug Eboch’s Let’s Schmooze blog on Screenwriting
I hope you’ve found this post helpful. If you’re interested in some of the issues that come up when self-publishing novels for children, I’ve blogged about that here.

Chris Eboch writes novels for ages nine and up. The Eyes of Pharaoh is an action-packed mystery set in ancient Egypt. The Genie’s Gift is an Arabian Nights-inspired fantasy adventure. In The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan girl in ninth-century Guatemala rebels against the High Priest who sacrifices anyone challenging his power. In The Ghost Miner’s Treasure, a brother and sister help a ghostly miner find his long-lost mine. Learn more at or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.

As Kris Bock, Chris writes novels of suspense and romance involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. Counterfeits starts a new series about stolen Rembrandt paintings hidden in a remote New Mexico art camp. Whispers in the Dark features archaeology and intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. In What We Found, a young woman finds a murder victim in the woods. Rattled follows the hunt for a long-lost treasure in the New Mexico desert. Read excerpts at or visit her Amazon page.

Whispers in the Dark is on sale for $.99 through March 22.

See Chris Eboch’s books on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords.
See Kris Bock’s books on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Here's What I Know

Be self-aware.

Be deliberate.

Don't be a pinhead.

Publishing is a business. Writing is an art. You may not enjoy the business, but you definitely should enjoy the art.

This is a marathon, not a sprint.

Read the contract before you sign it. Twice. Three times. Then have your lawyer read it.

The secret to happiness is what you give, not what you get.

No one owes you a living.

Success may involve talent and hard work, but it always involves luck. Talent and hard work may improve your luck.

Ebooks are forever. Forever is a long time to get noticed.

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

Denial is a powerful opiate.

Be kind, be generous, be helpful, and be careful.

If you're selling eggs, don't piss off your chickens

When you're learning how to walk, you don't take classes. You don't read how-to books. You don't pay experts to help you, or do it for you. You just keep falling until you learn on your own.

Before you make the key, study the lock.

People would rather fight to the death to defend their beliefs than consider changing their minds.

It's about what you have to offer, not what you have to sell.

A sense of entitlement is never acceptable. No one deserves anything.

What are the last ten books you bought, and what made you buy them? Use those techniques to sell your books to other people. Do what works on you.

Hard work trumps talent. Persistence trumps inspiration. Humility trumps ego.

Praise is like candy. We love it, but it isn't good for us. You can only improve by being told what's wrong.

Your book is your child. You can't recognize its shortcomings, any more than a proud parent could consider their child dumb and ugly.

The experts don't know everything, and they might not know what's right for you.

Fate is a future you didn't try hard enough to change.

Anyone looking for you can find you. Get them to find you when they're looking for something else.

Less expectations, more work.

Life gives you wonderful opportunities to conquer fears, learn skills, and master techniques. ""I don't want to" isn't synonymous with "I can't".

People seek out two things: information and entertainment. Offer them freely, and they'll come to you.

The Internet isn't temporary. What you post today can lead people to you decades from now.

If writing is your profession, act professional.

Stop Googling yourself.

No one said it would be fair, fun, or easy. But it can be worthwhile.

We're all in the same boat. Start rowing.

If you can quit, quit. If you can't quit, stop complaining--this is what you chose.

There are a lot of things that happen beyond your control. Your goals should be within your control.

Write when you can. Finish what your start. Edit what you finish. Self-publish. Repeat.

The most successful people on the planet have one thing in common: nothing can stop them. Don't expect to reach your goals without sacrificing things that are important to you.

Being your own best advocate is about understanding how people react to you.

Fake confidence, and real confidence follows.

Maybe you can't win. But you sure as hell can try.

Don't write crap.

Always have two hands reaching out. One, for your next goal. The other, to help people get to where you're at.

If you can't be smart or funny, be brief.

Don't ever say anything online that you wouldn't say in person.

If you're not in love with the sound of your own voice, how can you expect anyone else to ever be?

Knowing you're not original is the first step in becoming unique.

People aren't carved out of marble. We're all works in progress. The trick is to define ourselves, rather than let outside influences define us.

Don't prioritize the mundane.

Writers are essential. Readers are essential. Publishers are not.

Stop thinking if. Start thinking how.

The more you fail, the closer you are to success. If you don't have success, you haven't failed enough.

Envy, jealousy, guilt, regret, shame, and worry are all useless emotions. Focus on love, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness.

There should only be a few people in your life whose opinion matters. The opinions of everyone else do not.

One of the greatest journeys in life is overcoming insecurity and learning to truly not give a shit.

We live in the here and now. We don't live in the wish and hope.

You can curse the rain all you want, but you'd be better off getting an umbrella.

Trying to change what people want to do will never work.

Luck doesn't mean you can stop trying. Luck means you have to keep trying until luck happens.

If you're reading this blog, you aren't writing. Get back to work.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

My New Amazon Petition

You may have read that bestselling author Anne Rice has joined an online petition, started by Todd Barselow, requesting that Amazon:

"revise their policies regarding anonymity when it comes to writing product/book reviews and for participation in the forums. Reviewers and forum participants should not be anonymous. By removing their anonymity and forcing them to display their real, verified identities, I believe that much of the harassment and bullying will cease."

As of today's date, this petition has been signed by more than 6000 people, seeking to put an end to Mean Anonymous People on the Internet (MAPI.)

Naturally, they supported their position by linking to thousands of occurrences of bullying. Just because I can't find any links, either in the petition or the comments, doesn't mean they aren't there. I mean, they have to be there, right? When you decry something and demand change, don't you link to specific examples?

(If someone can point me to these links, please do.)

Normally, I'd be against such a petition, claiming it is an instance of moral panic. Just like the No Sock Puppets Here Please folks two years ago. I thought they were acting publicly insecure, and ultimately very silly. After their online petition, Amazon removed thousands of reviews, including many reviews of my books, and reviews I've written of other books. These were legitimate, thoughtful reviews, and the result of Amazon's action personally is that I no longer review books on their site. Why should I spend time writing a review if it can be deleted without any explanation?

I also value free speech, even anonymously, and I dislike the idea of policing public forums. I believe people have the right to voice things you don't like, even if they don't sign their real name.

Anonymity allows people to say things--in some cases positive things--that they wouldn't say otherwise. Writing a review of erotica without your children knowing it is you. Weighing in on a heated debate without making yourself a target. Whistle blowing.

Now Amazon can do whatever they want; they're a private company. You might not like some of their policies, but they aren't the government, and we don't get to vote to decide what they should and shouldn't do.

They have terms of service, and customers can report hate speech, threats, and harassment. (Perhaps that's why the petition didn't supply links to offenders--Amazon has removed them.)

Amazon won't ever be able to police their entire site 24/7 because that would be impossible. I don't believe they should even try to. If Amazon listens to this petition and tries to end all anonymity, with the aim of stopping MAPI, I think it is a slippery slope.

This slippery slope means there is no place to draw the line. If you demand something be deleted from a forum because it offends you, where does that end? Amazon doesn't allow hate speech or threats. But being critical and mean-spirited, even anonymously, has to be protected. If it isn't, watch how quickly you get hauled off to jail for criticizing a government, or a law. In countries without free speech, anonymity is the only way to voice opinions.

We have to let the pinheads spout their nonsense in order to be truly free. Forcing manners on someone doesn't make for a polite society--it makes for a totalitarian society.

We also live in a time where anyone kicked off of a forum can get back on within minutes using a proxy.

If everywhere public voices mingle is policed, some good voices will be silenced, good people will mingle less, and trolls will whine about their rights--and they may have a point because of that annoying due process/freedom of speech/Constitution thing. And when trolls do get kicked off, they'll come right back.

Do those signing this petition really think there's a way to stop people from posting anonymously? How? Credit card verification? I can buy a $25 Visa gift card at Walmart and open up an Amazon account under any name I choose. Maybe Amazon should fingerprint all customers? Demand a DNA sample? A retina scan?

So I was originally against telling a private company what they should do, and I believed the petition was ridiculous, and potentially harmful.

Then, the more I thought about it, the more I realized something startling:

That petition doesn't go far enough.

MAPI aren't beneficial to society at all. They need to be silenced, and held accountable for being mean. But why stop there? There are many other things we should insist Amazon start doing.

So I decided to start my own petition. Along with asking Amazon to stop anonymous posting, I have some other demands.

1. Remove all 1 star reviews. I have hundreds of them, and they hurt my feelings and make me feel sad. If Amazon got rid of all 1 star reviews, and customers could only rate on a scale of 2-5, it would eliminate a lot of the anger and frustration felt by authors.

2. Everyone who reviews or comments on Amazon should not only post their real name, but also their address, phone number, last three income tax returns, whom they voted for in the last several elections, and pictures of them showering. Let's make sure that people are REALLY held accountable for their opinions by outlawing privacy completely. (I think the NSA may be able to help here.)

3. All reviewers must prove they actually bought the book, finished it entirely, swear on the religious tome of their choice that they weren't paid for their review, and then make sure the review ably defends their star rating. Naturally, this last point can only be possible if they've taken several college courses on How To Properly Review, and have attained a minimum of a B average.

4. I don't like the words "mirthquake" or "thrillomedy". Amazon needs to delete these stupid words wherever they appear on their website.

5. When someone posts something that someone else doesn't like on, Amazon should send a representative to that poster's home and beat the crap out of them

6. Amazon should use bots and spiders to constantly patrol their website, permanently banning anyone who uses too many exclamation points. Or adjectives. 

7. Murder is a very serious topic. It is, quite literally, killing people. Amazon needs to take a stand and stop all murder. Worldwide. Forever. Because murder is bad. 

8. I want a pony, but they're expensive and I don't have enough room on my property for one. Amazon needs to buy me a pony, and a farm where I can keep the pony. Also, lots of hay.

Joe sez: I know trolls can cause pain. I just think policing words is potentially more painful than any words could be. The NSA would love to know every hacktivist in the international network known as Anonymous, but I think it is better for the world if they remain anonymous. Getting rid of all anonymity on Amazon, or on the Internet, or in the world, is throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

MAPI will always exist. If Amazon listens to the petitioners and tries to take steps to remove anonymity, they will no doubt also remove many heartfelt, positive posters along with the mean ones. And the mean ones will find a way to comment anyway. They always do.

The only way to truly deal with MAPI is to ignore them. Don't engage. Ever. And teach your children about cyber etiquette and manners. It isn't okay to try to hurt someone's feelings, even if you'll never meet that person in real life. I've never said anything online that I wouldn't say in person, and I don't post anonymously. But I defend peoples' rights to be anonymous pinheads, even if I'm their target.

Of course, there is no defense for hate speech, libel, threats, and harassment. But I believe Amazon takes steps to remove reviews and comments that violate these things. If they don't, please someone post a link to where they're failing.

The system may not be perfect, but it works. Having your feelings hurt online is not a reason to try and kill a gnat with an AK-47.

As for the petition, getting 6000 signatures is impressive. People dislike anonymous trolls, and I dislike them as well. But then, who wouldn't sign a petition stating that bullies are bad without thinking it through carefully? Signing petitions without fully understanding the consequences is something that people are good at.

Anne Rice, Todd Barselow, and the thousands of people who don't like MAPI would be better served by not reading reviews and not responding to critics. As a publishing personality who no doubt has a lot more haters than Anne Rice does, I wouldn't ever think to try and shut them up, or hold them accountable. As Michael J. Fox recently said (and Hugh Howey repeated):

"What people think about me is none of my business."

Amazon can't stop MAPI anymore than it can stop worldwide murder. My unsolicited advice to Anne and Todd is to create your own author and reader forum, celebrating books, and police it however you see fit. You can insist on zero anonymity, only allow positive comments, and kick out anyone who says anything you don't like.

And yes, my petition is real. Feel free to sign it, link to it, Tweet it, and post comments. If you do, and Amazon buys me a pony, you can come over for free pony rides.

But hopefully Amazon won't listen to me. Or Anne and Todd.


On Todd Barselow's petition website, I clicked on his name and found this, which amused me for some reason.

While I'm sure Todd is who he says he is, this made me smile.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Identity and the Writer

Who am I?

What do others think of me?

Identity is a very important, and terribly difficult, concept to grasp. What makes us who we are is fodder for philosophers, and perhaps biologists, not for this blog.

This blog is about publishing, and it is written for writers. But I'm going to take a stab at discussing identity anyway.

Lately I've seen a lot of stuff on the internet that falls under the umbrella of what I call "identity issues." There are a lot of writers, and a lot of people in the publishing industry, who believe they have clearly defined identities, and who believe they have the ability to understand the identities of others. Identities that may be embraced and accepted, or dismissed and derided.

Let's take a look at some of the things I'm referring to.

Years ago, Barry Eisler used the word legacy to describe traditional publishers. This word is apt because publishing fits the definition of a legacy system. Since Barry began using this, it has fallen into the common vernacular, but only in the shadow industry of self-publishing, used by self-published authors. Legacy publishers don't like to be thought of as "previous" or "outdated", even though they indeed are by any definition, so they reject the term because it conflicts with their personal identities. They believe they are relevant, forward-thinking, guardians of culture. They are wrong, but their identities are so entangled in these labels it may prevent them from doing things that could improve their bottom line, like treating authors better, innovating, and using new technology to reach more readers.

The media often uses the word legacy, but puts quotes around it. "So called 'legacy' publishers." The media sides with the publishers, so when they report, they want to downplay the growing usage of the term legacy.

The idea of "I am X, so I cannot be Y" is a powerful idea, and it is one of the reasons we won't see as many legacy publishers in the future. If any. At least, not in their current state. Because they don't recognize themselves as legacy publisher, because they choose to believe their identity is something different than legacy, they won't be able to fix themselves.

You won't see a doctor if you refuse to believe you're sick. And denying your diagnosis, or downplaying the threat, is stupid. That's what killed Steve Jobs. Smart guy. Innovator. Apparently didn't fear death enough to take appropriate measures. Jobs's understanding of himself--his identity--may have killed him.

But legacy publishers aren't the only ones with identity issues in this biz. Because legacy publishers recognize that writers are desperately searching for identity. And they have ways to prey upon, and exploit, that desperation.

I grew up with a whole generation of writers who understood the only way to get their work into bookstores was to:

1. Write a book.
2. Find an agent.
3. Find a publisher.
4. Sign whatever piece of shit contract they put in front of you, because you have no choice.

I'm simplifying things, and exaggerating a little. But the majority of working fiction writers became published following those four rules I listed.

An entire cottage industry sprang up around this. Books appeared on the market explaining how to write, how to find agents, how to get published. People taught at seminars and writing conferences. Vanity presses became huge industries. Some agents started charging reading fees, or referring work to book doctors.

Writers, who were doing work they hoped to someday be paid for, were paying others millions of dollars hoping for the opportunity to one day sell a book.


One could guess that it was a monetary decision. Writers figured they could pay experts to teach them how to break in, and then make that money back when they are able to write full time.

But history shows that very few writers among all of those chosen by the legacy industry actually make enough to quit their day jobs. So this has to be about more than money, or making a living.

I used to believe that simply finishing a book wasn't enough for a writer to feel like they are a writer. There also had to be some level of acceptance. If certain people accept the book, then the writer can accept they are, indeed, a writer.

But which people? If a renowned agent accepts a novel is that enough?

For me, it wasn't. I would tell people I had an agent, but I still didn't consider myself a writer until it was actually validated with a contract. I followed those four rules above, buying into it entirely.

I remember going to conferences back in 2003 and hearing unagented, unpubbed writers call themselves "pre-published'. If that's how they felt about their identity, good for them. But whenever anyone said that, there was much eye-rolling among others in the room.

We labeled ourselves, and each other, and often those identities were at odds.

In my early days, I'd tell people that I'd written a few books, and I'm trying to be a writer. Then I'd say I had an agent, who was trying to sell my book. But I didn't consider myself a real writer until I signed that first deal. It was how I felt. I was a nobody until someone invited me to be a somebody.

The funny thing is, the book hadn't changed. It hadn't gone from being a mess of jumbled words to being a good manuscript simply because it was accepted. Whiskey Sour would have been what it was whether a publisher accepted it or not. Some of my books that publishers rejected have made me more money than Whiskey Sour has, but when I wrote those I didn't feel like I was a real writer because they never got me a contract. Even though they were agented. Even though they have gone on to earn me hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I thought I knew a lot about writing, and publishing, before I was actually published. But I didn't teach, or blog, until I landed that first deal. Because I didn't feel like I was worthy to blog or teach until the industry validated me.

As if me signing my name to a piece of paper was akin to being bitten by a radioactive spider. Once I was ordinary. But once I signed the contract, I was a WRITER.

Hogwash. Bullshit. And I had bought into it, hook, line, and sinker. But that was the only way I knew where I could claim the true identity of writer.

Self-publishing has made writers reconsider what it is to be a writer. A writer can now form an identity without an agent or a legacy publisher. Readers can validate writers, and writers can reach those readers directly.

But there is still a whole lot of confusion. Some people don't believe self-publishing makes a person a writer.

Some writers are so worried about how they'll be thought of by others that they succumb to moral panic (they were concerned about John Locke buying reviews and corrupting the system.). Yet those same writers see no need for public outcry when publishers do things even worse than the things those writers promised to never do (publishers paying to get books on the NYT bestseller list).

That entire No Sock Puppets Here Please nonsense reminded me of those religious virgins who wear purity rings. It isn't enough for your own identity to simply remain chaste. You have to announce to the world that you're chaste as well, because your identity requires the knowledge and approval of others.

No one is immune to this. You'd think as prominent and rich an author as Anne Rice wouldn't feel the need to respond to critics, or worry what anonymous pinheads on the internets thought of her or her work. But you'd be wrong. Anne just signed a petition to require identity verification of commenters on Amazon.

As readers of this blog know, I encourage anonymous comments. I value freedom of speech, even if the anonymous commenter is a pinhead here to call me names. But what I find fascinating about this petition is how some people seem to care a whole lot about what strangers think of them.

Sort of like me in 2002. I didn't consider myself a writer, even though I'd written ten novels and had an agent, because the industry hadn't accepted me. The opinions of strangers clouded my opinion of myself. It seems that how we label ourselves often depends on how others label us. In some cases, it means getting their approval. In other cases, it means silencing the critics.

Some writers seem to have clear lines of what is acceptable and what isn't, what makes a writer and what doesn't. Publishers also have lines, but they don't seem to be as clear. Certainly publishers will pitch to newbies that the only real writers are those who publish with a legacy house, but there's that whole cottage industry I mentioned earlier, bilking writers out of big money via vanity presses. One of the worst violators is Author Solutions, a vanity outfit that preys on newbies. It's owned by Penguin Random House, a Big 5 legacy publisher.

Random Penguins knows people want to be published, because many authors will only believe they are writers if they have a book in print. Even if they have to spend $3999 for a book signing package at the LA Times Festival of Books. These people are paying a legacy publisher to sign books next to writers who are paid by the same legacy publisher. I'm not the only one who sees a conflict of interest her. Yet the media ignores it. When John Locke buys reviews, or Anne Rice bemoans anonymous comments, it's all over the publishing world. When Author Solutions continues to rip off authors, or it is discovered that publishers buy spots on the NYT Bestseller list, where's the moral outrage?

Oh, yeah. It's reserved for Amazon, who--as the largest bookseller in the world--had the audacity to become one of the sponsors for the LA Festival of Books.

Why is that the story? The same reason some authors supported the agency model and agents protested the DOJ's claims of collusion.

It's an identity thing. Amazon has done a whole lot to cause legacy publishing to question its identity of itself, and to cause writers to question their own identities.

This shadow industry of self-publishing is both threatening to the status quo, and empowering to anyone who wants to call themselves a writer.

Well, almost anyone.

Consider legacy pubbed authors who are openly pro-legacy. Many of them believe they deserve success, or earned their right to sit at the legacy table. It's natural to disparage self-published authors who didn't have to jump through the same hoops in order to be accepted. Admitting self-pub is a real, viable alternative to legacy publishing means admitting they were wrong to put so much faith, time, and effort into getting a legacy deal. To feel secure about their own identity, some authors have to belittle others.

Now I believe a writer is someone who writes. Maybe you get paid. Maybe you don't. Maybe people agree. Maybe they don't. You don't need anyone's approval or acceptance or imprimatur or validation to consider yourself a writer. But legacy pundits like agents and publishers don't want you to believe that. They want you to feel that the only way you can call yourself a writer is if they agree. And their approval comes at a high cost.

The legacy world doesn't want you to feel like you're a writer if all you do is self-publish. Because they need you to make money.

Your peers may not consider you a writer if all you do is self-publish. Because they need to protect their own identities, and that means dismissing yours.

You may not feel like a writer until you meet certain criteria. But consider this: who sets those criteria? You? Or an industry that wants to make money off of you?

Readers don't care. Readers just want a good book. Maybe we all should worry less about labeling, and more about writing.

I wish Kindle and KDP existed back in the 1990s. It would have saved me years of desperation, depression, and self-doubt.

And I wish all writers realized that agents, publishers, book doctors, vanity presses, and how-to seminars, have a cost attached to them--sometimes a very high cost--with zero guarantees. You can be a writer, and have writer be a part of your identity, without any of them.

It doesn't matter what anyone thinks about what you call yourself, and you shouldn't care what others call themselves.

There is no us vs them. There are only those who believe in choice, and those who do not. Those who are comfortable with their identity, and those who are not comfortable with your identity because it makes them rethink their own identity.

Writers write. Depending on your identity, that could empower you, or scare the crap out of you.

It's your choice if you prefer to be enlightened, or frightened.