Saturday, June 08, 2019

Trying Something New and Different

I recently wrote what I believe is my best work. It's an epic gearshift thriller duology, and took more than a year to plan and write.

Me, the guy who wrote SHAKEN in 9 days, spent twelve whole months carefully crafting a story.

I was so jazzed at the final result that I gave it to my agent to sell, thinking I had a big, marketable bestseller with a huge hook and unpredictable twists and water-cooler-talk potential. A book that would generate lots of buzz and word of mouth and sales.

My agent sent it to 47 North, Thomas & Mercer, Simon & Schuster, Harper, Tor, Blackstone, Kensington, and Del-Rey.

They all rejected it.

Admittedly, this surprised me a bit. Not a whole lot, because I know this series isn't easy to pigeonhole.

First of all, it's long. Over 180,000 words for the duology. Paper costs money to ship and print, and a 500 page hardcover book could be prohibitively expensive for the publisher, and the reader, who would be shelling out $30+ (twice, once for each book in the series) in a shrinking hardcover market for an author who has never had a NYT bestseller.

Second, I invented a new type of punctuation for this series. I think it's pretty invisible, and it makes telling this story much simpler and smoother, but it is still pretty odd, possibly even haughty.

Third, the first book ends on the mother of all cliffhangers. That might piss off readers, and reviewers, who would have to wait a year to see how everything turns out.

Fourth, it's a gearshift thriller. Gearshift narratives are always risky. Not an easy sell.

Fifth, even though I've sold three million books worldwide, I've been a bit outspoken about legacy publishers, and some of them might be stoking resentment.

So while I was a little disappointed I didn't get a big offer, deep inside I knew that if a publisher did go for it, they likely wouldn't have any idea how to make this series a hit.

But I think I have an idea that could work. Maybe being solo and nimble and fast can be a big advantage, like a tiny mammal in a world if dinosaurs. I can make changes instantly. I don't form decisions by committee. I don't need 18 months to prepare a release. I can slip this in just in time for summer.

These publishers don't share my vision.

But I believe there's an audience out there for this series. A potentially large audience.

I just need to figure out how to find that audience.

BOOK 1 is currently available on Amazon.

Then, at the end of summer, I will release BOOK 2.

Of course, BOOK 2 can be pre-ordered right now on Amazon.

Click on the covers for more info.


Now let's have a quick Q and A:

Q: What's the pitch for BOOK 1?

A: Here's the jacket copy:

Three people.
Each has a secret.
Each has an agenda.
All three are liars.

One of them committed a terrible crime.
One of them is on the run.
More than one of them is a killer.

These three people are about to find out what happened to Lori.
And they're going to wish they never did…

Is she dead? Or is it much worse?

What Happened To Lori is a gearshift thriller series comprised of two 90,000 word books. This unconventional thriller bombards the reader with intriguing questions and eye-popping scenarios, pulling you deeper and deeper into a complex--yet highly entertaining--web of mystery, secrets, sex, double-crosses, lies, voyeurism, torture, and deceit, leading up to the biggest mind-blowing twist in modern genre fiction.

Book 1 sets the scene, introduces the main characters, and pulls you into a wicked plot involving a missing woman who is presumed dead, her obsessed grieving brother, her off-kilter ex-con husband, and the mysterious mercenary her husband hires to replace her...

You may think you have it figured out.

You're probably wrong.

What Happened to Lori will stay one step ahead of you right until the epic, unexpected, universe-shattering conclusion.

Welcome to the modern thriller. It will blow your mind.

Q: Why not release both parts at once?

A: There's a copywriter term known as the curiosity gap. Essentially, it's the discrepancy between what someone knows and what they demand to know. The goal is to keep someone engaged without boring or discouraging them.

If you know your sex terms, its like edging.

So I'm literary edging.

That's what I tried to do with WHAT HAPPENED TO LORI. How we read and absorb information has fundamentally changed in the last twenty years, with the rise of the Internet and social media. I wanted to write a book that used traditional narrative structure, with conflict, rising action, and resolution, and full character arcs, and good vs evil, and engaging storytelling, and do it in a thoroughly modern way.

But I also wanted it to function as literary clickbait. Episodic TV has become the norm, with story arcs that aren't resolved until the season finale. We surf the net, going from site to site, our dwindling attention spans eager for new tibits of information.

Why not try this style with books?

Q: You said it's a gearshift novel. What's that?

A: BOOK 1 is a Did He Do It? love-triangle thriller with some unconventional elements, like the punctuation and the structure.

BOOK 2 is absolutely insane, and goes someplace wildly unpredictable. The story shifts gears, hence the term gearshift. A few movies that do this are Something Wild, From Dusk Till Dawn, Full Metal Jacket, and Psycho. These films begin with the viewer thinking they are headed in a certain direction, and then they turn on a dime and become something... different.

Q: What do you mean it has unconventional punctuation?

A: You'll understand it when you read it. I hope it catches on. It makes writing a whole lot easier, and much less intrusive for the reader.

Q: Are you doing that clickbait curiosity gap thing right now by not telling us what you mean?

A: A little. I'll give you a different example. Speaker attribution is intrusive. Saying "she said" after a line of dialog is supposedly invisible to the reader, but it's also a waste of the reader's time, and a waste of words on the page. Why should we have to read words to understand who is speaking?

I don't use speaker attribution in WHAT HAPPENED TO LORI, but that's not what I'm referring to here. There are ways around speaker attribution that don't involve new punctuation.

In LORI, I did something else. Something I've never seen before.

Q: And you think readers are going to like this?

A: Some will. Some won't. In fact, I expect that some people will absolutely hate this book. Hate it more than any book they've ever read. Because of the punctuation. Because of the structure. Because of the cliffhanger. Because I keep posing more and more questions and trickling out answers like crumbs to the starving.

Q: Sounds like more clickbait talk.

A: In a way, it is. I've written and sold decent thrillers since 2003. I wanted to try something more provocative. More modern. More catchy.

Q: So I'm guessing readers will be able to order Book 2 for around ten bucks, right?

A: Book 2 is available for $4.99, which is about average price for an ebook.

Q: In your titles you have (Mind-Blowing Twist Thriller Duology). That sounds like title stuffing.

A: It's not. I purposely named this series Mind-Blowing Twist Thriller Duology. I think it's catchy and will stick.

Q: Do you have a marketing plan?

A: I do.

Q: Didn't you just do a blog post about marketing plans not working?

A: I did. But it ain't science if you aren't constantly testing your hypothesis. Here's my plan for Lori.

1. Publish BOOK 1 for free on Nook and Kobo, and for 99 cents on Amazon (since you can't publish free books on Amazon.)

2. Price match on Amazon so it becomes permafree.

3. Write this blog post to explain what I'm doing.

4. Put the links for the books on my website.

5. Write a blog with a deeper explanation, and spoilers, on I'm using a blog instead of a webpage because it will allow for comments, and I'm hoping people will want to discuss this series because it's so insane.

6. Send out my newsletter touting BOOK 1 for free. Anyone who wants to write a review of BOOK 1 can send me a link to their review with the email header LORI REVIEW before July 31, and I will send them BOOK 2 for free, before it is released to the public. So you will get the juicy, secret deets before the rest of the world, and all you gotta to is write a review.

7. Mention on Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit. Advertise with Ebook Booster, Goodreads, BookBub, Twitter, and Facebook.

8. Do a newsletter swap with several other authors. More on this in an upcoming blogpost. I've done successful newsletter swaps in the past (that's where you get some authors together, everyone puts their books on sale at the same time, and everyone promotes everyone else's books in their newsletters.) I've come up with a simple and innovate way to make this much easier for all involved, and infinitely repeatable with minimal work.

9. Keep doing ads and newsletter swaps and asking for reviews, maybe do some podcasts and Facebook videos, until as many people have heard of this series as possible.

10. See what happens. If I get a lot of pre-orders for BOOK 2 and make a few bucks, I can put a pre-order link for a spin-off series in the backmatter of that and continue writing books in this literary universe. It's a fun, albeit complicated, world to write in.

Q: What if this bombs?

A: If the sales suck and the books are poorly received and reviewed (which I would guess is mostly because readers hate the cliffhanger at the end of the first book) I can just unpublish BOOKS 1 & 2 everywhere, and publish solely on Kindle Unlimited as a single, super-long novel for $6.99. That would be like starting from scratch, eliminating all ranks and all reviews. All I've wasted is a few months and a few hundred bucks in ads.

Q: What if you're getting a lot of downloads and leaving money on the table?

A: I can raise the prices on one or both books whenever I choose to.

Q: Do you actually think this will work?

A: I dunno. I can't even guess. It all comes down to luck. But if I fail, it will be my failure on my terms.

I've released dozens of books, and I always release them the same way. Here's a chance to do something different. Something that no publisher can do. Something I've never seen any other self-publisher try.

Plus, this story is uniquely suited to this sort of release.

So I'll give it a shot, stay diligent, and cross my fingers.

Please read WHAT HAPPENED TO LORI BOOK 1 and review it. Even if y ou hate it. I am curious who is in CAMP HATE, and who chooses CAMP LOVE.

You can help by spreading the word. Get on social media and tell your followers that WHAT HAPPENED TO LORI BOOK 1 is free.

You can upvote my Reddit post here.

See those square symbols beneath this blog post, next to the comments? Please click on the t and the f to share this blog post on Twitter and Facebook.


  1. Book 1 is 99p on Amazon UK. Changed your mind already?

    1. Doesn't matter - bought it anyway, and pre-ordered the next vol.

    2. Sometimes price matching doesn’t click right away across all stores, or things get glitchy. I’ve run into the same problem with one of my previously permafree books.

  2. Can't wait to read this. I'm sure it is a great story, like everything else you've written. As a writer and publisher who is trying to follow my own path, I am so inspired by what you've written in this post. There may be hope for me, yet! LOL. Best of luck to you, Joe!

  3. Took me a few minutes to Google P.T. Anderson's definition of 'gearshift movies' which include your examples in their list of fifteen. So I learned something and I thank you for that.

    I'm on the way to Amazon soon as I click submit.

    BTW, I hate the captcha company; their pictures... don't work well for me, but I don't think that's because I'm not a robot.

  4. Hi Brian-- it takes a few days to catch up with pricing. Wait for it to be free.

  5. Can't wait to read this.

    Thanks, Rebecca. When you do, please post a review. I think a major part of keeping PART 1 sustainable until PART 2 is released depends on getting a lot of reviews, good and bad.

  6. I hate the captcha company

    Me, too. But I hate roboposting even more. It ruins blogs and is impossible to police without captcha.

  7. Thanks. The UK is always dragging along behind...

  8. Any way to get this in Epub format?? I NEED a copy of this on my Nook for in the car drive across the states!!

  9. I CANNOT wait to read this. I have burned through every single book that I can find of yours, including the newest Jack book!

  10. Thanks, Brittany. I need reviews! Shot Girl and Lori especially need reviews! Help! Please!

  11. Excellent. Count me in for reading this too. Love your books and just finished shot girl. Still a massive fan

  12. Just finished Endurance and loved it :) Sign me up for more please /)

  13. Sounds great! Do you think it will be recorded on audio?

  14. Thx for kind words, Angela.

    Angie R, audio may happen. Or it may not happen.

    I'd like it to happen. But this series needs to be a big hit for me to commit to an audiobook.

    So if you really want it in audio, tell 300,000 of your friends to download BOOK 1 and buy BOOK 2 and I figure out how to make the audio free.

  15. Thanks Joe, I will definitely read both, and share this post so folks know. I love these kind of books, as I think you know.

    Quick question, I've been having issues getting longer books perma free, how long did it take you for Amazon to come around?

  16. Hi Joshua.

    It only took two days. Contact KDP.

    KDP > HELP > CONTACT US > Amazon Product Page > Price Matching

  17. Thanks man, I'll give that a shot.

  18. It sells for 99 cents on I don't care. Bought it right away and started reading. The story sucked me right in. Read about 20 percent so far and have a vague and intuitive notion that this might well be Joe's most brilliant piece of work.

  19. Thanks, Peter! It should be free in Germany soon.

    I'm sure I'll hear from Mathias soon.

  20. So for those keeping track, about 1900 free downloads in the first 24 hours, currently at #63 on Top 100 Amazon Free Bestseller list, and I've had 140 pre-orders.

    So close to 8% of people who get the freebie also order the second book for 99 cents, and I'm guessing this is on impulse because no one has finished reading it yet.

    I expect the conversion rate will go up when Amazon sets up the series page (should be by tomorrow, which will link both books together) and folks finish BOOK 1 and click on the link at the end of it to buy BOOK 2.

    I did some social media yesterday, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and this blog.

    Now I'm going to start advertising on free ebook websites. Just did Ebook Booster, and am planning on investigating:

    Books Butterfly
    Kindle Nation Daily
    Ereader News Today
    The Kindle Book Review
    Choosy Bookworm
    Fussy Librarian
    eReader Cafe

    Anyone use these before? Pros and cons?

    Can anyone recommend something else?

    1. Have you tried Robin Reads? It’s always given me great numbers for free or discounted promotions (not talking Bookbub, of course, but I’ve had more success with it than any of these others). I’ve also heard, if I remember right, a few questionable things about Books Butterfly.

  21. I've used them all with fairly good results but nothing outstanding. Except for BookBub.

    BookBub delivered over 60K downloads of my first in series perma free, Fatal Justice...


  22. Adrian10:38 AM

    I'm surprised by (and curious about) this statement:

    "First of all, it's long. Over 180,000 words for the duology."

    I know thrillers (and some other genres) are generally a bit shorter than other novels. But aren't most novels in the 80,000- to 120,000- word range? 180,000 seems about average rather than unusually long.

  23. I've used Freebooksy and Robin Reads (which Daniel Barnett mentioned). Both were pretty good. I would put those as my top two after BookBub. I've also had pretty good results with Kindle News Daily and Ereader News Today--they would be my second tier. Fussy Librarian and Choosy Bookworm were also pretty decent--I would place them third. I haven't used any of the others.

    I hope your promos go well, and I hope you sell a ton of pre-orders!

  24. Good suggestions. Keep 'em coming.

  25. I've also had good results with Book Barbarian. (I would put them as one of my top three after Book Bub.) Book Barbarian is specifically for Sci-Fi and Fantasy, however, they have a sister site for Mystery and Thrillers called Book Adrenaline ( I haven't used Book Adrenaline myself, but if they're as good as Book Barbarian, they're probably worth a shot.

  26. CĂ©line Malgen8:44 AM

    Just so you know, it's still at €0.99 on I guess the price matching takes longer in some countries than others? To follow up on other comments, I've seen that on it's now gone down to free, but not on

  27. Still waiting for Amazon UK and FR to price match.

    The wheels of progress turn slowly...

  28. Got my copy and did the pre-order thing...looking forward to settling in with this.

    Glad you see you back blogging again too...

  29. Anonymous12:32 AM

    So, about six hours ago I downloaded Book I.

    I just finished reading it. I only read that fast, in one sitting (well two - I had to fix dinner and unload my laundry), when I'm really enjoying the book. Well done, sir.

    I think I know where it's going, but that's probably just what you want me to think. Masterful. Now I'm off to give you a 5-star review and pre-order Book II.

    I'm kind of glad it isn't available yet...I have writing of my own to do. ;)

  30. This thread is being taken over by spammers...


Thanks for the comment! Joe will get back to you eventually. :)