I was considering the problem of infinite regression in cosmology the other day (code for drinking – wink wink) and found myself talking to a friend at a social engagement (barfly at the local cantina) about the burdens of being an acclaimed indie novelist (glorified panhandler and vocational liar).
Soon, the chatter turned to genres and markets (as do many of my inebriated monologues to my fellow celebrants – I don’t get invited to a lot of parties, in case you’re wondering), and I made the declarative statement that I was a niche market novelist, in that I write for the very small subset of thriller readers who want something written at second year of college level. I’m well aware that most of the big selling books are written at what is euphemistically termed as sixth grade level, which is in reality fourth grade level, because American sixth graders score at about a fourth grade level on reading.
What that means to me as a novelist is that I would be far better off writing at just above Hardy Boys level as opposed to whatever the hell it is I do.
But I can’t. I mean, I’ve tried, but I don’t have it in me. I can maybe get down to an eighth or tenth grade level, but my gag reflex triggers when I try to move further downstream.
Which will affect my ability to sell to the broad market. Look at what James Patterson’s books read like – and the man’s the top selling novelist in the world. Or consider EL James’ 50 Shades of Gray – a book written at more like a second grade level with lots of BDSM sex. One out of every six books sold last year was 50 Shades. Or how about Twilight? Massive. I could go on. But you get my point. It’s that if you want broad success, you’re better off writing in as sophomoric manner as possible.
And I’m fine with that. I believe that the book market is rapidly fragmenting, so a niche author like myself can earn a handsome living writing for a relatively small audience.
Let’s say that the world thriller market is 20 million (I have no idea what it is, but play along here). And let’s say that 90% of those thriller readers believe that Patterson reflects the best of the genre (I have no problem with the man, BTW – he’s a masterful marketer, and back when he was actually writing his books, some of them were engaging). To my mind, that excludes 18 million readers from my sales strategy. They aren’t my customers. Never will be. Unless hell freezes over or I get Beyonce pregnant. Which could happen. But I’m not banking on it.
But the good news in my mind is that it leaves about 2 million who are my possible audience.
Now let’s say of those, 1 million would sneer at my simple-minded attempts to entertain with my little stories. If it’s not Daniel Silva, they don’t want to read it. That’s fine. Still got a potential market of a million.
I guess when you look at it like that, being a niche author in this genre isn’t such a bad thing.
Now maybe you would argue that it’s not 20 million, but rather is 10. Whatever. It’s still a buttload of people I can reach. If I write 3 books a year, and only reach 1/4 of my target readership of a million, I would be selling 750 thousand books a year. I’d be fine with that.
Obviously, I’m not there yet.
But I’m okay with the way the numbers lay out. I don’t need a jet (nobody needs a jet) or three Ferraris (ditto – I mean, three seems gratuitous) or a hundred foot boat. I’m far happier writing what I write than trying to write something that I’d really need to force, all in an effort to reach the Dan Brown audience. I mean, look at his books. 25-30% of the reviews are one and two stars. And almost all the reviews at that level are eloquently written by those with masterful command of the language. Meaning people who obviously read at considerably above a sixth grade level, and who hate his books because they view them as puerile pap. They mock him because the plots are unbelievable, the formula hackneyed and the prose sub-custodial.
And you know what? They’re right.
And it doesn’t matter.
Because a whole segment of the reading public loves his novels. The five star reviews wax enthusiastic about “learning something when you read his books.” In other words, most thriller readers don’t care about anything I just described. In fact, it’s quite possible that they don’t even register any of it. And that’s just the way it is.
If you want to make a fortune in TV, produce reality TV shows, not Masterpiece Theater. If you choose to do MT, you aren’t going to have nearly as many viewers, and the ones that do tune in are likely to be really annoying know-it-alls with effete sensibilities who sneer at the idea of commercials and wouldn’t know a Kardashian from a Pepperoni pizza – not that there’s a lot of discernible difference. But I digress. My point is that I’ve chosen to write what I like to read, and everyone can suck it. Okay, no, perhaps that’s not it. Maybe a better way of saying it is that I can no more change how I write after a certain point than I can change my facial features. It’s just part of my author DNA, and is a function of what I grew up reading. To try to pander to some larger crowd would immediately be obviously insincere – not that I’m particularly sincere to begin with, especially after a few cocktails, but that’s neither here nor there.
So I write what I write, and am thankful that readers are responding well to it. I’m sure I’ll have books that some of my core audience dislikes (I’m guessing that my next one, Upon a Pale Horse, polarizes my readers – some will love it, and some will hate it, specifically because the pacing is more Grisham-like than my usual fare, and because the core science behind the novel’s premise is so disturbing that many will just hate the message, and therefore the book, because of the questions it raises). It’s inevitable, unless you want to do nothing but write car chases and gun battles with an occasional plane trip thrown in. Not that I sneer at that – one could argue most of my work falls into that category. Whatever. Back to where if you don’t like it you can bite me.
What this leaves me with as a writer is really no choice. I need to write what I write, and not focus on how to become a mass-market bestseller. Word of mouth is building nicely, and sales have never been better, so I’m fortunate beyond imagination. I get that. I’m of the belief that you’re better off doing something you love, rather than churning out something that you dislike or hate. Which is why you won’t be reading 50 Shades of Yarn for Mr. Mittens anytime soon. The irony is that would be my bestseller, without a doubt. You have kink. You have sex. You have cats. Yarn. It’s got it all.
Some would argue the world is a better place without that epic manifesto. I’d be the first. But mainly because I’m shiftless and lazy, and couldn’t write it properly. So I won’t try.
Unless a publisher wants to hand me a seven figure advance, in which case I’m so all over it. Agents and publishers, take note. The Mr. Mittens trilogy could be yours for a song, really. Unmarked hundreds in a briefcase are fine. Call me. Really. I’m totally serious.
Over the last week, because of my burst of posts on the Kindle Boards, I’ve gotten a number of PMs from authors asking for counsel on one matter or another, so I thought I would take the time to lay out my thoughts so that the info is available to everyone. Obviously, this is intended for authors. Readers, just skip over this, it’s all technical crap you won’t be that interested in, unless you’re a masochist.
WOW: Indiereader.com selected JET as one of their spotlight books for their “Alike but Indie” feature! And it’s FREE!!!
BREAKING NEWS: Return of the Assassin is being featured by Amazon on their The Big Deal! How cool is that?!!
NEWS: The Voynich Cypher is in a Goodreads poll for Conspiracy Fiction. Could use your voting support. Currently #8.
This does not represent the only way to do things, but it’s my way, and is the synthesis of everything I’ve learned over the last 23 months of self-publishing:
1) Pick one genre that’s popular and with which you are extremely familiar, and then write in that genre. Stick to it. Don’t hop around. It confuses your potential readers and muddies who you are in their minds, and will hurt your sales. If you want to write different genres, use a pseudonym, and if you like, let your readers know that moniker is you. But stick to one name, one genre, because you’re building your brand, and brand building is a function of clarity – clearly communicating what you do, and what your product is.
2) Write a series. Why? Because readers like series, and you want to give readers what they like. Or you won’t sell as much. You can try stand-alone – I have – but my series outsell my stand-alone books 4 to 1. Once you have at least three books in the series, make the first one free. Earn your income from the rest, but give readers a whole novel to decide whether they like you or not.
3) Write a lot. By that I mean try to write at least 3 novels a year. Don’t bother with short stories or novellas (40K or under) if you’re writing fiction – erotica, romance and non-fiction reportedly to do better with short form, but I don’t know from personal experience. Write 60-90K installments in your series, and release them AT MINIMUM every four months. Every three months would be better. Every two, better still. Momentum breeds success, and readers have short memories. The current market is a hungry animal, and you need to feed it, or risk being forgotten by the time your next one releases. Sorry. It’s the truth. And don’t start whining about how X famous author only puts out one book every Y years. If you’re Dan Brown and you sell tens of millions of novels each whack, then do whatever the hell you like. If you aren’t, listen up, or chock your strategy up to, “Become the next Dan Brown” and stop reading this drivel.
4) Read a lot. To write well, you need to read things that are well-written, and that serve to inspire you to greater heights or provide insight on how to improve your work in some way. You are what you eat. If you aren’t reading a decent amount, start, because otherwise you’re unlikely to write nearly as well as if you do.
5) Allocate time every day to write, and be disciplined. I suggest minimum one hour per day, or 1000 words. I actually ignore that and shoot for 5000-7000 a day when writing a novel, but that’s just my approach, and it’s not for everyone. My point is that you must be disciplined about your writing and develop that muscle. If you don’t make it a habit, you won’t write enough to put out one novel every four months, and you’ll already be way behind the curve.
6) Allocate time every day to market. I recommend a 75%/25% writing to marketing mix. So spend an hour writing every day, and fifteen-twenty minutes marketing (social media, blogging, interviews, message boards like this). Two hours writing, half hour o forty minutes marketing. And so on.
7) Stay off the internet when you’re writing. Set aside the writing time, and do only that. Leave placeholders for stuff you need to research later (XXX city is Y distance from ZZZ city, etc.). Stopping your writing to research breaks your momentum. Don’t do it. Checking your e-mail, checking in with your facebook group, reading a tweet – none of these are going to write your book for you, so stop it already.
8) Get professional help. Do pro covers. It’s the first thing your potential readers will see. Put out something amateurish, and they will go to something that looks worthy of their time, and it won’t be you. Get pro editing. You are asking people to pay for your product. They won’t, and shouldn’t, if you haven’t ensured it is a pro product, which means it must be edited and proofread. If you’re too cheap or too broke to pay an editor, barter something of value to get someone qualified to do it, or (gasp, here’s an idea) save some money so you can do it right. Skip these steps and you won’t sell much, if anything. Or if you do, it won’t last very long, because word will spread, and then you’re dead.
9) Make sure your product description rocks, is short and compelling, and sucks the reader in. After your cover, the product description has to sell the book. Don’t give too much info, don’t spell out the plot like it’s a test. Give the high points that will interest a reader in knowing more. And make sure it’s coherent and there are no typos or bad grammar, as that will kill most of your sales out of the gate.
10) Now for the actual book. You have five pages to hook the reader. The first five. Make those amazing pages that demand the reader continues.
11) Know your audience. You do that by reading a fair amount in the genre, and by looking at the reviews of your competitors/the bestsellers in your genre. If you’re writing for a genre that’s 90% cat ladies, you need to know that going in. If mostly older males, know that too. Teen girls, ditto. Whatever your audience, figure it out before you start writing. Do a little research. It will pay dividends later.
12) Brand yourself as the go-to author in that genre. Become synonymous with your genre. Define it, if possible. Even better would be where your name is shorthand for the genre in your readers’ minds. As an example, Dan Brown is synonymous with a genre Umberto Eco pioneered with Foucault’s Pendulum – the theology-based conspiracy treasure hunt. Nowadays, when readers try to articulate that, they say “it’s a Dan Brown kind of book.” You should live so long, but make that your goal.
13) Price competitively and intelligently. Look at your genre. Where are most books priced? Are you undervaluing/underpricing your work? Price to sell, but don’t go cheap, no matter what Locke or Hocking did years ago. Use low prices occasionally to move product, as promotional pricing. But price your product consistently with the rest of your peers. Over time, you can increase prices, if your product warrants it and your readership is willing to pay it. My advice here is don’t price too low, or too high. Obviously, if you are racing up the charts at $3.99 and believe that moving to .99 will get you into the winner’s circle, go for it, but that’s rare. Price intelligently, and constantly play around with. By way of example, I tried $2.99 and $3.99, and then $4.99, and my sales were basically the same. So my readers are willing to pay up to $5 with no issues. My new releases are always $5.99. I do that because I want to brand myself as a quality read, and also because that’s still a bargain compared to my trad pub peers. I’m nosebleed level for indies, but I’ve only been pricing there with success this year. All last year, $4.99 was the ceiling. Something shifted, probably due to my introduction of the JET series in October, and I haven’t seen any fade at $5.99 vs. $4.99, so I price at what I consider to be reasonable for my work. The point is not to gouge readers, but rather to deliver good value, whatever the price is. But my genre is different than yours (probably) and it took a while to get there. I mention this not so you price however I do, but rather so that you see that pricing isn’t static, nor engraved in stone.
14) When writing, write as a craftsman/artist, and strive to improve every day. Force yourself to constantly up your game. Make your early work look like crap compared to what you’re writing now.
15) It’s okay to go back and rewrite your early work once you’ve evolved past it. I’ve rewritten probably half my novels by now. I will continue to do so. As I get better, I want all my work to get better.
16) There is no such thing as “not my best work.” Imagine that every book you write is the only one anyone is ever going to read, and they must make a decision to read the rest of your backlist or not, based only on that one book. Or imagine that a big 5 trad publisher is considering doling out a seven figure advance, and will only read one book, and it is your weakest. Ensure even your weakest is as good as you can write, because if not, you’re screwing your most important resource: your reader.
17) When finished writing, put on your business hat. This means that when done with your artistic work (writing), you are now a book seller. Your business is selling books, not being an author, at the point you ask someone to buy your books; to part with their money in exchange for the product you created. As a business person in a commercial enterprise, you need to be dispassionate and make smart business decisions, or you will fail. Book selling is a highly competitive business, and you are up against people who work tirelessly at it. If that’s daunting or gives you pause, you might want to reconsider whether this is a business you want to be in. In the book selling business, saccharine bromides of “just go for it” and “follow your dream” are about as useful as a bowling ball to a fish. Writing is art and self-expression, something beautiful and intensely personal. Book selling is a commercial enterprise. Confuse the two, and you hurt any chances you have of success, if success to you means selling a bunch of books.
18) Businesses require investment. All businesses, whatever the industry. Nobody with a brain goes into business with no money, no research, no plan, and no time or effort. Expect to spend some money on product development (cover, editing). Expect to spend either money or effort on marketing (preferably both). If you don’t have the money to properly edit your work or get a pro cover, you aren’t ready to be in business. Save some. Then try. Or borrow some from investors (which would be an eye opener, because most would want to see a business plan, which would force you to actually think all aspects of your new business through). Alternatively, become a graphic design/book cover whiz people would gladly pay $200-$500 to design their covers, do it for about a decade, and then do your own cover. Or spend 20 years editing, and then try your hand at editing your own work, going over it at least three times. If you don’t have 20 years of germane acumen, you probably aren’t qualified to edit your, or anyone else’s, work, so you need to hire professional talent. If you don’t, you aren’t investing in your business, and you’re radically reducing your chances of success. Not too many businesses that have no budget or acumen succeed. That’s the harsh truth. If you believe this one is different, knock yourself out and let me know how that goes. Until then, my counsel stands. Treat this like a business, not a dream of winning the lottery.
19) Have realistic goals. Look at what the average person does in their first year, and their second. That’s average. It ain’t pretty. If you want to be different than average in a good way, you need to do something better/different, and you need to make your own luck. Don’t get bummed because you haven’t been an overnight sensation. I sold $300 of novels in November, 2011, after six months of 15 hour days and seven releases. In December, 2011, I released five novels I’d been working on for months, to create a massive Xmas surge. I leaped to $1450. With a dozen books out. That’s not exactly a ton for the big Xmas season. But I continued writing as though my work was in hot demand. And I kept investing in my product, losing money, until it turned the corner and I started making decent money in Jan of 2012.
20) Book selling is a retail business, and retail businesses are promotions intense. You’re only going to be as good as your last, and next, promotion. Promotions are a necessary fact of life in retail. You have to generate noise – the product won’t do it by itself. There are millions of books out there. Yours are just more books. Figure out how to get some visibility. I won’t advise you on how – there are plenty of ‘experts’ that will charge you $5 for a book on what worked two years ago. Simply put, it’s constantly changing, so you need to experiment and push the envelope, share information with others and stay ahead of the curve. But if you aren’t promoting, you’re stalling. In business you’re either shrinking, or growing. If you aren’t promoting, chances are you aren’t growing.
21) Assess what will be required to make it (and define what make it means to you in a coherent, attainable way), and then decide whether you are willing to do it. That doesn’t mean figure out what you can comfortably do, or think is reasonable. It means evaluate what it will likely take to get where you want to go, and then calculate what it will cost – in time, effort, money. If you can’t afford whatever that is, then you either need to scale back our goal, or you need to increase what you’re willing to invest of yourself and your resources. Hoping you make it while putting in 30% of what you estimate will truly be required is delusion. It’s like hoping you live to be 100 while smoking two packs a day, never exercising and being 50 pounds overweight. It could happen, but the odds say, not so much. This is called getting real with yourself. Lie to everyone else if you must. Don’t lie to yourself. Life’s too short, and you’re the best friend you’ve got. Oh, and BTW, if you think the secret to operating a successful book selling business is to just write and hope people discover your products, your strategy amounts to, “Once upon a time.” Not in the real world. I mean, anything’s theoretically possible, but so is marrying a billionaire. Don’t make that your business strategy. It’s a non-strategy.
21a) Decide whether making it is worth the cost. See #21. Now that you know what it will realistically take just to have a shot at the brass ring (whatever that is to you), determine whether it’s worth it. If not, do some soul searching and come up with a better objective for yourself – one that won’t make you miserable and unhappy. Ideally, writing should make you happy, and should be its own reward. If you decide to start a self-publishing business to sell books, that’s a commercial enterprise, and most commercial enterprises exist to sell things, not for self-actualization. If you can be happy and sell lots of stuff, so much the better. But the first goal of any commercial enterprise is to sell products, not to coddle the owner and make him/her feel warm and fuzzy. The business world is competitive. The book publishing business is one of the most competitive I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few. It will take extraordinary luck, effort, commitment and drive to make it, even at a nominal level, much less a big level. If you are only able or willing to invest part time effort into it, don’t expect more than what you might make at a part time job. If that. Even if you are willing to go full time and give it your all, it is still no guarantee. Sorry. Know that going in. Don’t mean to be Mr. Buzzkill, but better you know the truth and look it squarely in the eye up front, than figure it out over time. And folks? If you’re an outlier and put in 4 hours a week and are making five grand a month, hat’s off to you. Take a picture. Write a how-to book.
22) Be true to yourself. Don’t try to act. Don’t create a personality that is what you think others might like. Be yourself all the time. People can smell insincerity. If you suck, that’s okay. Could be there are plenty of others who also suck, and might enjoy hanging out with someone who sucks. Maybe even buy your books.
23) Pay attention to what works, and what doesn’t. This is so obvious, and yet is so often overlooked. Everyone is going to have an opinion of what you should do, and how. Most of those won’t have been successful at what they are advising you on. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong, but it does mean you should be skeptical of all claims, and use your head. And pay attention. If the market is telling you that your books are poorly written, then you need to either improve them, or get used to being punched in the face by reviewers for wasting their time. If it’s telling you that your editing sucks, figure it out (and you have obviously not paid much attention to this little diatribe) and fix it. Ditto for your covers. And your blurb. And your marketing efforts. Pay attention. Modify your approach. Model those who are doing what you want to do. Model success.
24) Don’t try to be all things to all people. When you write, or when you brand and market. Be whoever you actually are when you write, and then brand and market what you are so those interested in what you are know you have what they want. Be clear at all times. Your job as a writer is to tell your story clearly, in your unique manner, as evocatively as you deem fit. Your job once you brand and market yourself is to honestly tout your product, and its strengths. Don’t try to please everyone or you’re likely to please nobody.
25) Nobody has ever heard of you. That’s cause for celebration. Even I, who sell a decent amount now, am unknown to 99% of my target readership. That’s a huge amount I can grow. It’s good news. How I go about changing that is contained in the prior 24 points. Every day I ask myself, “What can I do, TODAY, to increase my discoverability for my target market?” And then I figure out what I can do, and set aside time to do it. Today, I wrote this post, and will post it as a blog, as well, so it does double duty. Because as odd as it may seem, I’m fairly lazy. And if I can get one bit of writing to serve two purposes, that’s a big WIN.
26) Finally, don’t waste your time. Don’t do things that don’t work and are a time suck. I won’t tell you what those are. You will have to figure them out for yourself. Some advise tweeting a bunch, others say Facebook is the thing, some swear by Google +, others by Triberr…point is, there’s a universe of stuff out there to use, or not. My personal feeling is that many authors I speak with seem unable to make the distinction between what is effective and what is completely pointless. Maybe I’m wrong. But the authors I know who sell consistently, and who have built or are building sustainable careers, optimize their time and try to use it wisely.
26a) Having said all this, your best chance of making it is always writing your next book. You should always be working on the next one, and the next, and the next. Nobody ever succeeded by quitting. So if you’re going to do this, do it, stop whining, suck it up, and get to work.
That’s basically what I’ve been sending to those who have contacted me, but in snippets, because I’m currently finishing up my WIP, and figuring out my next one. I don’t have tons of time to respond to everyone personally, for which I apologize, but this contains about 80% of what I’ve learned so far. Take what seems useful, reject or vilify the rest. The intent from my standpoint is to offer a framework, an approach, that has worked well for me. It does not mean it’s the only way, but it does mean it’s my way. I can’t speak to what’s worked for others. I can’t even say that this will work ever again, or for most, but I sincerely believe it’s your best shot if you’re a beginning, or even not so beginning, author. Use it, or don’t, with my compliments.
The market is constantly changing, so be prepared to change with it. Nothing is the same as it was, nor shall it be a year from now.
The book is dead. Long live the book.
I normally try to avoid anything that smacks of politics, but the other day, Rolling Stone magazine published an article by Matt Taibbi that was so noteworthy I felt compelled to comment on it. And frankly, this isn’t politics, unless you consider fraud and grand larceny to be political issues instead of criminal ones – which I suppose these days they unfortunately are.
Let me summarize the article for you. Apparently, everything that can be gamed, is. By a Who’s Who of untouchable elite who do so without fear of punishment. Taibbi covers two shocking examples of illegal collusion that amount to the wealthiest financial institutions in the world riding roughshod over the government and the taxpayer, and when caught, giving both the middle finger because they know they won’t be prosecuted.
The article is titled, appropriately, “Everything is Rigged.” It’s truly mind-boggling. Take the five minutes to read it. And then share it with everyone you know.
NEWS: JET has been nominated in a Goodreads poll for best kick-ass heroine. Kindly help her climb to the top with your vote!
In my books, I often portray a government that’s a foot-servant to special interests, which are scheming to screw everyone on the planet out of anything that isn’t bolted down. I am, rather obviously, a conspiracy theorist of sorts. Not in the sense that I think Jim Morrison is still alive or that little green men dance the fandango at Area 51. My suspicions are more fact-based, official denials notwithstanding. I believe that my theories best reflect the true state of affairs, where those in power routinely lie, cheat and steal at every turn while trying to convince the rank and file that they’re honorable and innocent. Turns out that’s the mild version. Taibbi arrives at the only possible conclusion – that everything’s rigged – as the courts side with the cheaters every time, and the Justice Department contorts like a pretzel to avoid prosecuting the bad guys, who continue to methodically screw everyone. If that sounds familiar, it’s essentially the underpinning of my last 20 novels; only those were tame compared to reality. Then again, I’ve long said that I write fiction because nobody would believe the truth.
Taibbi clearly gets it – if the two rates affecting hundreds of trillions of dollars of bonds, investments, etc. are being rigged by unrepentant criminal cartels disguised as bankers, then it’s likely that other markets, like stocks, commodities (gold, silver, oil), housing, and virtually everything that is worth any money at all are also being rigged by the same predators, impacting every person in the world – and not for the better. These are the same banks that brought you the financial collapse of 2007 that we still haven’t recovered from (and likely never will, for reasons that should be abundantly clear after reading these articles), and about which literally every few days we hear new horror stories, each more astounding than the last.
The world is out of control, and no longer belongs to the people or their governments – assuming it ever did. Every office of power has been compromised to an extent that would make a Moroccan rug merchant blush, and greedy, uber-powerful bandits are running things – and if you catch them stealing, they tell you to suck it. They’re too big and too important to be imprisoned, so they can do whatever they want, and law enforcement and politicians will rubber stamp ludicrous get-out-of-jail-free settlements, while the average Joe loses everything, albeit slowly, like boiling a frog. We tend to look at societies like Russia, where (and this might sound familiar) super-rich elites run the nation for their own enrichment while the populace suffers, and condemn them with a smug superiority – only now it’s obvious that we’re a mirror image, if not worse. That doesn’t sit well with many, who eagerly consume the pablum that “we’re the best in the world,” but it’s impossible to deny what’s happening around us. Of course, denial is the job of the media, and they do it with the studied sincerity of a prostitute.
I don’t have a lot to add to the article, other than to say that if you’re wondering why, out of all the media outlets in America, only Rolling Stone, a music rag, is tackling the most important issues of the last 100 years, you aren’t alone, and the answer is obvious: because the rest of the mainstream media is wholly owned and operated by those beholden to the crooks who are ripping everyone off.
Lest you not grasp the implications of that first piece, this second article is easier to understand: HSBC was fined $1.9 billion for laundering money for drug cartels for the last 10 years. For those who need help with the math, that’s a whopping five whole weeks of profit. For a decade of washing cash for groups who murder tens of thousands in Mexico alone. Many hundreds of billions of dollars, laundered by their partner in crime, without whom they couldn’t exist. But the Justice Department says that if the conglomerate was punished any more meaningfully, it would endanger the global financial system, so it basically gets less than a wrist slap. Here’s our friend Taibbi again: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/outrageous-hsbc-settlement-proves-the-drug-war-is-a-joke-20121213
For those who still believe that everything coming out of the government isn’t a pack of lies, consider that it’s going to revamp how GDP is calculated – basically counting idiocy as product, and transparently lying about the size of the country’s worth…and relative debt. Because it can’t keep pretending that things don’t suck, so it’s going to shuffle the deck chairs in the hopes that anyone will believe fabricated new numbers – which nobody that matters will, but which the U.S. media will pretend everyone buys. That’s how all confidence scams work. You have to keep pretending that the obvious isn’t what it seems, and that a fictional reality is the true state of affairs. http://dailycaller.com/2013/
Finally, I think one last commentary by Taibbi is worth closing with. It details how the government is now actively aiding and abetting the guilty banks, who were knowingly and willfully engaging in illegal mortgage-related activity, including foreclosing on families for no cause, lying about what they owed, etc. etc. (just fill this part in with any wrong you can think of, and it would be the lite version of what actually happened), and is acting as an obfuscation mechanism – that’s my polite way of saying, is running interference for the ruling elite, who are going to get away with murder yet again. Without stealing his thunder, you’ll discover how consultants were paid $2 billion to basically cover-up and cherry pick the loans that were used to arrive at the settlement – to the enormous benefit of the banks, and the permanent loss of everyone else. And it gets worse as you read. It really does. I could not make this up.
You’ll note that Rolling Stone again is the only publication that carried this with any sort of critical examination.
That’s all I have for you fine folks this week. I’m knee deep in Upon a Pale Horse, which is shaping up nicely, and which I should finish with in a couple weeks, tops. Assuming I don’t get sidetracked, which is known to happen.
As always, go buy some of my crap. But do read these articles. Shocking doesn’t even begin to cover it. I’ve never been more pessimistic about the human condition during my lifetime, and that says a lot…
I was talking to a friend of mine the other day and the topic turned to writing, as it usually does with this friend, as he’s also an author.
We began discussing my work (because it’s always all about me, all the time, in my world, dammit) and he made several comments. First was that he didn’t like several of my books because they didn’t have character arcs. Which gave me pause – I was, like, “So what? Who says there has to be a character arc for a book to be good?”
And then he gave me this long dissertation about how the most popular stories of all time had character arcs, where the main character undergoes a radical change during the story, basically realizing how wrong he/she’s been about something, and becomes a better person for it.
He became enraged when I said, “Sounds like every bad movie ever made, and all Disney flicks, good or bad. A tired formula that’s overused and as predictable as a politician lying.”
You see, he’d learned about character arcs in school and reading books on how to write well, thus any novel that didn’t follow this pat formula had to be deficient.
Which is idiocy. A good book is one that entertains me, and is well written. Period. I don’t need some hackneyed morality play every time I turn on my kindle. I don’t need some thinly-disguised archetype that the author is trying to pass off as original thought. I don’t need a paint-by-numbers novel where we have the usual crap espoused by lit majors and their professors shoehorned into a new premise. In short, I don’t need a novel to follow a set formula to be “good.”
Most readers are probably like me. Fairly bright (although you wouldn’t know it to read some of my reviews, but don’t get me started) and somewhat world-weary and jaded. They buy my stuff, when they do, because they like a tale well told. They don’t require that every book be one wherein the avaricious businessman learns about the true value of love by the time the denouement comes creaking to the fore, nor that the hero vanquishes his adversaries in a bare-chested climactic struggle and we all learn something important about ourselves. I know I’ve driven some readers nuts because I kill off favorite characters with ease, and could give two shits about what’s considered good form for novels. I write stories I would want to read, and I tend to groan out loud whenever they veer too far towards the expected. Witness JET, which is deliberately overblown and a tad cartoonish. I’ve gotten flack because it isn’t “realistic” enough, which is fine. I didn’t want it to be realistic. I wanted it to be breakneck paced and entertaining, and life usually ain’t. So much for realism. I’ll take fiction any day in this case.
All of which was heresy to my friend, who has invested years in learning how to write a “good” book – character arcs, beats, etc.
None of which matters if you’re doing it right. (It’s also one of the reasons I had a conceptual problem as I started reading scripts with an eye toward screenwriting – they basically all follow the same form: identify the protag within the first few pages and articulate the “theme” of the story so the dim can reflect back on it later and have a contrived “a ha” moment, establish an essential struggle or challenge he/she must overcome while highlighting his/her weakness (he’s a workaholic with no time for his wife or kid, she’s going through a mid-life crisis, whatever), and then populate the film with beats where the little morality tale plays out with absolute predictability and the bad guy gets his comeuppance by the end. It’s as absurd as Tom Cruise throwing his gun away at the end of Reacher to go mano a mano with his evil nemesis – my reaction is invariably, wait, people still write this crap? And an audience consumes it? Really?)
Another thing my buddy was absolutely certain about was adverbs. They are to be eschewed. Used rarely, if at all. Again, because that’s what he was taught or read in Stephen King’s book. I won’t get into it too much here, but that’s a stupid rule. It’s like saying commas are bad, and should be avoided. Or adjectives are bad, etc. How about, OVERUSE of adverbs as a lazy TELLING vs. showing device in DIALOGUE TAGS, is bad, and leave it at that reasonable guidance? Hrmph…
Needless to say, we don’t agree on much. Then again, I sell quite a few books. He doesn’t.
Which you can tell bugs him no end. Because he’s the one with all the learning. He likes to use words like anodyne and solipsist in everyday conversation, if that’s any clue. Mainly to show that the hundred grand of college he smoked weed through gave him something besides a mass of student loans to reflect upon while working his assistant manager position at Coffee Barn.
Except all he really did was memorize a bunch of dogma, without questioning it, and then become intolerant of any approach other than the one he’d adopted.
Which is, well, dumb.
I don’t really have a point here. Just thought I’d share what my week has been like, and why I don’t spend a lot of time in the company of fellow scribes. I prefer to read great authors to prod me into upping my literary ante, not memorializing story structures that are as tiresome as the Bee Gees on permanent repeat or rules that make no sense. Note that I’m not saying that rules aren’t important guidelines we need to know – just that rules are there to spur us to better and more effective writing, not to use as a filter through which the world, and all work, must be viewed.
Having said that, I’ll confess I’m a pedant, and it drives me batty to read stuff where the author clearly doesn’t know the basics of grammar or spelling. But that’s a whole ‘nother rant…
I recently penned a short story for an anthology, titled and themed, “The End of the Road.” The goal was to create whatever those words evoked in the more than dozen authors participating. There was no word count guidance, no set formula, no topic or style, only those five simple words.
One overcast morning a few weeks ago, I tried my hand at my second-ever short story – a complete departure from my first one, Soul Balm, which was a Pynchon/Chuck P/Hunter S. surrealistic romp I still rather like, even a year later.
I have no idea where the hell this came from. It’s unlike anything else I’ve written, and was a complete “pantsing” experience, where I just sat down and started putting words on paper, or in this case, on-screen.
What follows is the final revision of my story for the End of the Road anthology, titled, Clay. The finished product surprised me. I hope it does you, as well, in a good way. Whenever the anthology comes out, I’ll post a link to it – there are any number of talented indies who may not be familiar to you, and this is a good cross-sectional representation of some of them, worthy of the time it takes to read their diverse work.
Curtis spit onto the red dirt as he watched the horizon for tell-tale dust clouds, allowing his eyes to wander to where he’d left his mark with saliva, the moisture already being sucked into the thirsty ground, hungry and demanding as it had always been, for as long as he’d been alive on it. It was a dirt that coated everything, became a part of a man, stained his fingernails and gritted between his teeth until at some point a body didn’t know where the dirt stopped and the person began. Dirt that was unforgiving, as were the denizens of this arid badland.
His father had raised him to understand that he was of the dirt, and would return to it, and that his time walking on it was temporary, stolen from a cosmos that would allow him just enough to learn the harsh lessons it taught before it reclaimed him, just as it had taken everyone before him, and would take all who came after.
A scorching wind blew across the plain as he squinted at the point where the sky became the earth, wavy and distorted from the never-ending heat that was his constant companion. They were coming. He knew it as surely as he knew the sound of his own breathing. It wasn’t a matter of if.
Footsteps shuffled behind him, and a tentative voice, small in the vast expanse, tugged at his sanity.
“You need to eat.”
“Been eating all my life. Missing a few bites won’t hurt me much.”
“I brought you some water.”
“Thanks. I told you to get going, and take the boy with you. What are you still doing here?”
“I…I don’t want to go.”
“Plenty of folks don’t want to do what they have to.” Curtis sighed, watched the wet patch drying like a magic trick, right before his eyes. “It wasn’t a suggestion, Meg. You need to leave. Now. Pack up, and head south, to your sister’s place. It’ll be safe there. Go out the back way, by the well.”
“Time for talking’s done.”
“You don’t have to do this. Come with us.”
“Never been much good at turning tail, Meg,” he said, running a calloused hand over the two day growth that darkened his chin. “Go on. While there’s still time.”
He felt fingers on his shoulders, as light as a butterfly flitting across his sun-bleached shirt, and then he heard her turn, felt her leaving as though something had sucked his soul out of him. But he didn’t look back. He couldn’t allow himself to. There were some things that made a man softer, better even, but those things had no place out here.
When he’d first seen them, riding in too-tall trucks, arrogant exhausts matching their drunken whooping as they barreled past him, he’d been mending the fences so the dogs wouldn’t get out and cause trouble, or worse yet, get hit by the occasional rancher tearing down the nameless rutted dirt trail that led south, into a desert that offered nothing but suffering. His property stretched as far as he could see in both directions, and the road ran alongside it, tracing its boundary with mechanical precision. It had been there as long as he’d been alive, and as long as his father before him, and his father before that. The road. As permanent as anything in his world, as immutable and unchanging as the plain itself.
A corroding rust-colored iron gate, padlocked on the exterior, sat sentry over the cow catcher rails he’d helped install twenty-five years ago, as a teenage boy full of strapping energy and furtive dreams. The war had taken both out of him, and when he’d returned, he’d come back a man, hard, too much in this world, come back to his home to bury the father who’d raised him when his mother had passed to her reward.
Funny, that, he mused, wiping perspiration from his brow with his sleeve – that dying could be called a reward. He absently wondered who had come up with that sleight of hand, that euphemism, having seen death in its many forms on the battlefield, fighting an enemy for reasons nobody could logically articulate, an enemy that he’d been told he needed to kill in order to save. War for peace. War to protect against imaginary threats; better to be safe than sorry later. Everyone sure they were going to their reward, even as unspeakable violence robbed them of their humanity.
No atheists in foxholes, his master sergeant had been fond of saying before an insurgent round sent him back to Iowa in a bag.
But he’d never been in a foxhole. Firefights, ambushes, having to wipe brains and blood and bone off his face after his squad mates had earned their rewards – he was more than passing familiar with that. But not foxholes. Those were for older, nobler fights, where right and wrong were better defined, clearer, more absolute, or at least they were to those who wrote the history books. Not like his war. Not like the things he’d seen, the memories visiting him on bad nights, bringing the sweats, the shaking, the nagging coil of fear he’d wake up with, soaked, eyes darting around the darkened room trying to place himself, find something tangible to reassure him that his visions were only phantoms from a past now left behind.
A scratch in his throat reminded him that there was water waiting for him.
His eyes narrowed as he took another look, stoic as he clutched his old-fashioned Winchester lever-action rifle, then shifted and glanced over his shoulder.
A half-gallon jug waited, sweating in the middle of the drive.
His reward. Or at least a respite from the sun’s unrelenting blaze. Which was close enough right now.
He moved to the container and drank from it, then stopped himself after five greedy swallows. A man had to know his limitations. Wouldn’t do to allow himself to start thinking about more pleasant things – water, food, love, hope…that would just distract him from what he was there for, what he was going to do.
The second truck had slowed, its brake lights broken, and then reversed, the whine of the tranny as clear as a locomotive hurtling down a mountain track as it approached his position by the gate, flanked by his two dogs, Bart and Tag, brothers from a litter where the others didn’t make it. Survivors. Like him.
The driver’s window had rolled down and a red face had leered out at Curtis, music blaring from inside the cab, the kind that sounded like wild animals banging on a log and screaming their fury at the night sky – angry music for an angry world.
“Hey. What you got there, boy?”
The punk’s drawl was thick as syrup, the taunt in the last syllable as obvious and old as the ranch. Older, really, and an anachronism these days, or so one would have thought.
“Mending a fence,” Curtis had said, his tone neutral, looking up from his position as his dogs growled their sense of impending menace.
“You work for the folks got this property, boy?”
Chortles of laughter emanated from the truck.
“Well look here. We got ourselves a high tone, don’t we? Must be awful smart to have a big piece like this – but not so smart you can get yourself someone to fix your fences, huh, boy?”
Curtis put down the bail of wire he was holding and stared at the drunk, waiting for the situation to either escalate or sputter to a close. He doubted the driver was courageous enough to tackle him. Rather, he and his companions were drunk and bored and looking for trouble, but not the kind Curtis could bring.
The driver caught the look in Curtis’s eye – unflinching, impassive – and hesitated, the taunts from his two friends insufficient fuel for the fire he’d need to take Curtis on.
“What are you staring at, boy?” the driver sneered, as if by speaking he could muster strength.
“Nothing.” Curtis spit, gaze never leaving the driver’s even as he leaned slightly to the side. “I’m staring at nothing.”
Curtis’ inflection gave the driver pause, the few simple words rendering judgment he hadn’t expected. What had seemed like some fun suddenly wasn’t. The game had somehow changed, and even though there were three of them against one, something about Curtis’s demeanor served as a warning more clear than the rattle on a snake’s tail.
They stared at each other, Curtis taking the driver’s measure and finding it wanting, inadequate to the task at hand, and a moment passed between them that seemed to last an eternity – a moment where the driver looked into the abyss, and it more than returned the favor.
“Well fuck you, man. Too damned stupid to get outta the sun. What am I wasting my time for, anyway? This is bullshit,” the driver said, first to Curtis, then his friends, before he tromped on the gas, the big motor’s throaty roar trailing the truck as it sped to catch up with its twin.
Curtis had returned to work that day, patching the spot Bart favored when sneaking out at night, always the instigator, dragging the more obedient Tag with him on his adventures. No further sign of the trucks disturbed his self-imposed duties, and he’d continued with his task until the deepening dusk declared time out.
The following morning the swelter had hit earlier than usual. He’d known it was going to be bad before he’d stepped out onto his porch, the modest home a quarter mile from the road, a senile grove of trees providing meager shade in this, one of the hottest months.
The fence posts were flattened, tire tracks an unmistakable signature. His heart sank when he saw the forms of his two dogs, already bloating, a cloud of black flies swarming over their bodies a dozen yards from the gate.
The dirt got hard the deeper you dug. Three feet down, it turned to clay, unexpectedly, packed densely by gravity and some long-forgotten sea.
That night he’d found the truck at one of the bars near the county line, a place where the no accounts could fight and drink and tell lies, laughing about their exploits. He’d promised Meg he wouldn’t fight, and he’d meant it – one of the conditions she’d put forth for marrying him after a whirlwind courtship during a period where his anger would bubble up, seeking an outlet, a safety valve for his soul, and he’d prove how tough he was with the rednecks that always seemed in plentiful supply. She’d put a stop to that, and the rage had receded, banished in favor of something gentler.
No, he wouldn’t fight. He wouldn’t smash the driver’s face into the bar, grinding his nose into the scarred wood, slamming it against the century old mahogany again and again, or break the ribs of the driver’s friend and the jaw of his second. Only in his mind would he do that.
He’d poured gasoline on the truck, the smell strong in the night air, the din of inebriated laughter and honky-tonk music from the roadhouse masking any sound, and lit a piece of rag stuck into a whiskey bottle, the bright orange fireball when the tank ignited visible in his rearview mirror as he rounded the bend and returned home.
Yes, they’d be coming.
He was sure of that.
Coming to a place with no number, no sign to mark it but an old gate, crooked on its concrete posts, installed in better days.
And he’d be waiting.
At the end of the road.
I was talking to someone the other day – alright, I’ll admit, it was to my reflection (I’m the only one who really understands me…sniff) – and the subject came up about whether it took talent to make it, or tenacity, the question being which was more important.
Gotta say, talent is important, but a solid work ethic is more so. I know lots of talented people who never reached their potential, but I don’t know a lot who failed to achieve at least some success who worked long hours at whatever they were doing, and did so in an even vaguely intelligent manner.
HUGE NEWS: King of Swords was made the Amazon Kindle Daily Deal Monday, April 22, at $1.99! WOW! That’s a first!!!
BREAKING NEWS: The Voynich Cypher will be .99 Monday, the 22! Come on, cheapskates, belly up to the trough!
NEWS: I was just featured in the Wrightforbucks blog, in which he talks about how great I am. Some of it’s even true.
In the arts, it’s tough to make it. That’s no secret. My little 22 month journey is surprisingly upbeat, but it’s also atypical. I looked at the market when I was getting ready to throw my hat into the ring, and figured that I could either write a blockbuster YA romance that would sweep the nation, or would need to have a good dozen books out to earn anything even approaching the kind of money that would make this worthwhile to me. Because I’ve learned that while money is nice, time is the most precious resource, and writing well is a time-intensive process, so it would take a lot of it.
I calculated what it would take to make a splash, and quickly realized that if I didn’t work 15 hour days for the first two years, to make up for the lost time (from when the whole kindle revolution really got traction and it seemed like anyone could do well), my odds of hitting it were pretty long.
I resigned myself to that schedule, and put nose to the grindstone, keeping it up seven days a week, with no breaks. I remember Xmas, 2011, and I was writing. New Years Day 2012, as well as 2013. Writing. No exceptions.
22 months later, I’ve got 20 novels out and another underway. I’ll finish this year with 25, maybe more. That’s the equivalent of two decades worth of production, and I don’t feel apologetic about any of the books I’ve released. There isn’t one that I feel like, “wow, I just phoned that one in.” I’m particularly proud of the JET and Assassin series, but then I go back and reread Fatal Exchange or Geronimo Breach and I realize that those are good books too – possibly even better books. Hard for me to gauge accurately – I’m just too close to it.
Point being that a lot of hard work went into this, and will continue to go into it. I took my first real 14 days off last month, and by the end I was itching to get back to writing – I’ve conditioned myself to where if I’m not writing at least three or four thousand words a day, I feel like I’m slacking.
They say once you do anything for 30 consecutive days, it becomes a habit.
I maintain that success is equal parts talent, luck and habit. It’s important to keep that in mind.
What’s the takeaway for writers? Everyone’s journey is different, but one thing I’ve noticed about every success I’ve looked at – and by success I mean authors who have long, productive, lucrative careers – is that they work their asses off. Even once they’ve hit. They still write a lot, or are polishing something, or are constantly looking for new plot ideas or better ways to skin the cat. They have conditioned themselves to be what they are – successes.
Sure, it helps that many are talented, but plenty are mediocre. Some are even plain old bad. But they’re consistent, and their fans like them, and they work hard churning out product to keep their fans happy and engaged.
Talent isn’t enough. Not by a country mile.
Hard work is as big, or bigger, a piece of the pie.
Sorry to have to be the bearer of bad news for those of you who bought into the image of the drunk writer who scribbles a thousand words every few days and hits the lottery on his first book. That’s about as realistic as me expecting the Rolling Stones to show up and play my next BBQ. It’s theoretically possible, but I wouldn’t bank on it.
In the good news department, April looks good to be another 20K unit sale month, with a daily average of more than 650 sales a day, so thank you Amazon! And this, without any books in Select. I have to say that it’s never been a better time to be an author, at least not that I’ve heard. But it takes diligence and determination, and a sprinkle of talent, as well.
Perhaps as important, it takes consistency. Consistency in your craft, consistency in productivity, consistency in application, consistency in demanding only the best out of yourself, consistency in marketing your wares – because contrary to the spectacularly bad advice masquerading as wisdom on the internet, your work’s not going to get itself discovered through some miracle. Sure, it’s possible, but so are many things that will never happen to you. You could be discovered by Spielberg while sucking on a milk shake in San Rafael. Anything’s possible. But I wouldn’t make that my business plan.
What’s the takeaway? Set realistic goals, develop a routine that you can live with and stick to for a period of years, pay attention to what’s working and what isn’t, don’t waste your time with busy work that doesn’t produce results, and write every day, no matter what, even if it’s only 500 or 1000 words. Get into the habit of aping success, and your odds of being one are much improved. The business of selling books takes a lot of work, so best to condition yourself to do it and love it, or you won’t last.
Will that guarantee you make it? Of course not. You want guarantees, get government work. But it will increase the likelihood that you make decent money at it. Which for many is all they want – to augment their income with some extra cash, or supplement their retirement with a little bonus every month. I know many, many authors doing that, some to the tune of $5-$20K a month or more. Many to the tune of $500, but they’re happy with that, as they were making zero a year or two ago, and they aren’t thinking of quitting their day job. Everyone’s different, and there’s no one size fits all. But there are some reasonable guidelines to improving your chances, and I just gave you most of em. Oh, and write a love story with some steamy scenes featuring a vampire. That can’t hurt.
As always: The book is dead…long live the book.
I was going to take a month off, read a load of screenplays, and focus on developing a screenplay for JET. That seemed like a useful pursuit, if somewhat daunting, given that I know about as much about writing a screenplay as I do about milking llamas. But never one to let my ignorance to deter me, I was all set, freshly rested from my vacation, and was dutifully reading my way through The Matrix (which is brilliant, BTW) when I got slammed in the noggin by an idea.
A book idea.
I tried to resist it, because I’ve already got a lot on my plate – with the new series I want to start, a plot for Fatal Deception mapped out, and a host of other BS, not the least of which is writing a script.
But it wouldn’t go away.
And then the kiss of death. I thought of a title. The perfect title for a different kind of novel – a bio-terror novel in the vein of Michael Crichton and Robin Cook.
Upon a Pale Horse.
An allusion to the fourth horseman of the apocalypse, Death, who brings with him pestilence, and is trailed by Hades. Revelation. End of the world stuff.
Now I have a title, and the basic premise for the story – a young attorney is propelled into a conspiracy involving the mother of all bio-weapons secrets, and only he is in a position to stop the effective end of the world as we know it.
Sort of a little bit of The Firm crossed with Marathon Man (only not really), with a big dose of Contagion thrown in.
When I get to the point where a title pops into my head, along with a high-level understanding of the plot, I’m generally screwed, because it will be all I can think about until I write it. Or at least some of it. So I did what I always do, which is write the first chapter, which was vivid in my mind – just to get it down on paper. That took me into the second chapter, again, solely to get the idea out, which then led to the third. So now I’m pregnant – I’m 7500 words into it, and I was just going to write a few paragraphs while I thought about the JET screenplay and how to best start my new series.
I’m telling myself I will absolutely not write any more of it until I have the new series at least penciled out – structure, plot, beats, characters – but I suspect it’s no good, because I’m getting that, “Oh, just one more chapter, just to see how it develops – no harm in that, is there?” feeling, which invariably ends like a three day drunk, with me rambling and incoherent, not remembering most of what I just did, and unsure whether I should regret it or celebrate it. Fortunately I think the chances of me waking up spooning a 300 pound sweating Samoan cook on a tramp freighter bound for Jakarta are pretty slim (unlike when I have a few cocktails, but that’s a whole ‘nother story), so things will probably turn out okay.
One of the reasons I’m kind of reluctant to write this kind of novel is because series sell better. Modern ebook readers seem to love series novels, whereas stand-alone books are a harder sell. And this isn’t a series. It’s a fully-formed set of new characters who are in this story, and no others. Which means from a commercial standpoint, I would probably be better off investing my energy in the new series and getting two or three books done by end of summer. But the muse doesn’t always give a damn about filthy lucre, or commercial viability, or maximizing resources, and sometimes you just have to lay back and think of England and not fight it. This is one of those times.
So until I lose interest or come to my senses, I’ll be working on Upon a Pale Horse, and temporarily shelving the other projects – they’ll still be there, so it’s not like I’m abandoning them. But I’ve found it’s best to write when you feel compelled to write it, not when it’s opportune, so that’s what I’m going to do.
Plus, the name is cool. I can do a lot with it. It even sounds a little more literary than my usual fare, which I’ve been leaning towards in my style of late. A good fit. Perhaps an auspicious sign. Hope so. I’ve even got a pretty good idea of how the cover should look. Not that I’ve really thought about this at all.
On other fronts, Blood of the Assassin and JET V – Legacy, are both selling well and are garnering universally rave reviews, which is gratifying, as they’re probably my best novels to date. I also have a lot of exciting things coming up I can’t talk about, but suffice it to say that after a blowout March and an extremely strong start to April, I’m happy guy. I won’t post hard income numbers, like some do, and I’m reluctant to even post sales figures (cough cough 22K+ cough) for March, but suffice it to say that it’s a big revenue number, and growing, for which I’m extremely grateful to my readers, who seem to be enthusiastically recommending me to others.
If you haven’t read those two books, do so – you won’t be disappointed. Even if you haven’t read any of the predecessors for Blood of the Assassin, it’s written so you can jump right in with that book and it all makes perfect sense. I recommend it as the perfect place to start with my work, if you’re curious. Either it’s all a case of mass hysteria, a la Wham! or Crouching Tiger, where large numbers of people lose their minds and think something that blows goats is actually good (I think of it as Charlie Sheen syndrome), or there’s some redeeming value to the books, and they deliver as promised.
Of interest is that I’m not by any means the cheapest of the bestsellers in my genre, nor am I heavily promoted, like others occupying plum positions on the lists. I’m actually at the top of the indie author price curve, in nosebleed territory for indies, kissing trad pub pricing, so this isn’t the case of “People will try anything if it’s only .99″ that we saw a few years ago. In my case, folks seem to feel that $5-$6 is a fair price to pay for several days of quality entertainment, and I celebrate their discriminating choice. More power to ‘em. I recently shelled out $7 apiece for a few 10 year old titles from a great author (James Lee Burke), and I didn’t have a moment’s hesitation doing so – even though I’m backlogged at around six months of reading on my Kindle, and growing. Which reminds me – if you want me to read or review your novel, I’m not accepting any more books at the moment, due to failing miserably to keep up with what I’ve already promised to look at. I know. I suck. Get over it, already.
That’s what’s going on in my neck of the woods. If I keep motivated by the story, April will be the month of Upon a Pale Horse in the Blake household, and I’ll be pushing starting the series off until May, which isn’t the end of the world, I don’t think. I’m taking it day by day, which is sort of a first for me – I usually stick to a very disciplined writing and production schedule, but now that I’m a veteran, at month 22 of my self-pubbing career, I figure I can bend the rules a little and write something that’s captured my imagination.
Here’s to hoping that I do it justice and it captures yours, too. Guess there’s only one way to find out.
It’s officially April, and I’ve only released one new novel so far in 2013. While there’s no excuse for this slacking, I can only hope that you are looking forward to reading the next in the JET series as much as I’m looking forward to releasing it.
To that end, I’m happy to say announce that JET V – Legacy is now live.
Readers of the series will find all the elements they’ve come to enjoy, along with some twists and a few surprises. I don’t want to give anything away, but suffice it to say that if you’re looking for something to read to help you nod off at night, this ain’t it. I’m particularly proud of the way the language shaped up, and believe that’s a trend now that I’ve crossed the two million words mark on my fledgling writing career. Seems like not only can old dogs learn new tricks, but also the odd bit of wisdom on the use of punctuation, adverbials, adjectives, and so on. Blood of the Assassin, JET IV, and now JET V all typify this hopefully elevated approach.
In JET IV we had Jet fleeing the country after taking on her nemesis. JET V picks up as she’s on the road, a few days later – or more accurately, less than 48 hours later.
It’s been a ball writing this, and I hope you enjoy it. If you don’t, simply lie to protect my delicate feelings. I won’t know the difference. Ask any of my exes.
In other news, I fleshed out Night of the Assassin some more, and added around 4K words, retooling some paragraphs and adding depth to El Rey’s early romantic dalliance. In fact, I got so carried away, I actually went back and re-edited all the tomes in that series, and they’re the better for it. I’ve already done that with Fatal Exchange, so next up will probably be The Geronimo Breach, although I started on that one and found that as of four chapters in, there wasn’t anything I could think of to change that would improve it. That’s a good sign, as I’m always scheming about how to make things a little better.
I also just finished a short story titled Clay for an anthology – The End of the Road. That was a new experience, as I’ve only written one other short story, and it involved Hollywood, sex, drugs, and a chimp. This is much darker – think No Country for Old Men kind of dark. It’s interesting, trying to hit a number of emotional beats all within 2000 words, and make them tangible and real. I’m very excited by that, and might just write one short story a month until I have a book’s worth. Stay tuned.
March was now officially my biggest month ever. 22K books sold. Can’t complain. As of now, it looks like April will be more of the same, so 2013 is being very kind to me, for which I’m grateful.
Anyhow, here’s the cover for JET V. I think it’s a stunner.
It was the best of times…
Scratch that. But it certainly qualifies as some of the most interesting of times.
Goodreads found a buyer for their site – Amazon. A savvy purchase for a player who’s serious about the ebook market.
What does it all mean? Will Goodreads now become some kind of lockstep robot used for Amazon’s evil purposes? Or did Amazon invest in them to curate the review side of their business?
Probably some of both.
If I were one of Amazon’s competitors right now, though, I’d be sweating some pretty big bullets. You have the most credible and largest book reviewing site now owned by the most credible and largest bookseller, which has worked hard to disintermediate the traditional publishing chain. I can already hear the howls of outrage that the business of reviewing will be forever compromised due to corporate sponsorship and agendas. Ahem.
But my guess is that the cream will float to the top. Goodreads, like every other form of human interaction, has its flaws – one of the largest being that many of the reviewers there use the forum to push their agendas, bash those they view as competition or are simply envious of, and prove how overall smart they are. Just like pretty much all review sites – many have dogs in the fight, one way or another. And now that every third person in the country is writing a novel and publishing it through Amazon, you can bet that there are a lot of authors on there, some frustrated and eager to prove points rather than simply share books they liked or didn’t.
The truth is that I’ve never looked at Goodreads to select a new book to read. Maybe I’m deficient in that regard. Probably so. I generally go by word of mouth, go to Amazon and read the blurb and the first few pages of the Look Inside sample, and maybe check out a few reviews, which I assume are of questionable veracity.
I’m aware that many folks rate books lower on Goodreads than they do on Amazon. Beats me as to why. A crap book is still a crap book regardless of where you review it, and a great book is still a great one for the same reasons.
Having said that, from a channel standpoint, Amazon buying Goodreads is both smart as well as pretty obvious. What’s more surprising is that none of Amazon’s competitors thought of it.
On more mundane fronts, I’m back from vacation, and working like a madman on getting JET V out within the next 10 days. I have to say I love the cover. My guy outdid himself on this one, I think. Hopefully some of you will buy it so I can pay for my hefty bar tabs. I’ll post the cover in a new blog within seven or eight days, once I have the very final art. But it’s a stunner, I think.
Speaking of which, March was my largest sales month ever, with sales increasing by roughly 10% over my second largest month (January), and revenues increasing more like 20% due to a change in product mix as well as fewer borrows, which net lower than sales do. The final numbers will be in around tax time, but using the six week rolling tally I can say with a straight face that I’m extremely happy with the reception my work is getting, and am on target for hitting or exceeding my goal of doubling my 2012 sales. Thanks to all who have supported my scribbling. I’m a lucky fella. It’s pretty cool to be able to do this for a living. Although it would be cooler to just be rich and famous without having to work. That would actually be way better, now that I think about it. Too bad that only happens to reality TV celebs. Damn them all straight to hell.
April I’ll be reading screenplays to see if I can muster some enthusiasm for trying my hand at JET – The Movie! And then I’ll be diving into my trilogy, which was going to be called Gunner, but is now going to be called Black, for a host of obscure reasons I won’t bore you with as I’ll sound like I’m whining, and nobody likes a sniveling whiner, even if he does have a lovely singing voice and can lambada like nobody’s business.
Now go buy some of my crap so I can afford to get Bird a companion. I’m thinking a female canary to keep her company. Which she’ll probably hate, and will add to the seething resentment and barely-contained fury with which she regards me lately. Sort of like having an ex, without the sex. Never mind. I’ll go lie down now. I feel bloaty. I think I got some bad tacos or something. Urp.
There was a song back in the day by Faith No More, titled, “We Care A Lot.”
I often hear that playing in my head, which is one of the reasons I’ve taken to wearing a tinfoil hat, along with trying to stop the messages ordering me to kill being from broadcast through my fillings. Don’t get me started about that.
But back to the song. Specifically, I hear it when I am foolish enough to offer advice to one of the very few author friends I have. It seems like everyone wants to know how to sell a gazillion books, but few actually want to hear how to write a decent offering. I mean, when I go onto the forums, there are countless, “Please give me honest feedback” posts, but then when someone chimes in with the painful truth (which is usually that the work sucks, is barely readable, the cover looks horrible, the blurb pathetic), they get lambasted by the legions of feel-good fellow authors who believe everyone should get an A for effort, even if they put no effort into their work.
I suppose you can intuit by now where I land in that curve. As an author who is constantly striving to improve my game, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for those who slap out a few words, photoshop a cover that looks like a second grade art project, then put it up to cash in on some of that easy self-publishing money. So I’m not the most sympathetic ear. My internal dialogue is mostly what could best be described as relentless tough love. I’m very hard on my own work, and it’s hard to switch that off. God knows I try. Mostly with tequila, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.
I recently had the opportunity to offer my thoughts on a manuscript that, at the most charitable, sucked a big bag of goat dicks. And not in a good way. I tried to temper my input (WTF are you thinking? Did you even read this crap before you sent it to me? Keerist!!!) and be nice, but it didn’t quite come out the way I had hoped. Sort of like the Freudian slip where the wife asks, “Honey, do you want coffee?” and the husband replies, “You miserable bitch, you ruined my life!” I mean, we’ve all been there.
Anyhow, I wasn’t particularly glowing in my praise, and I suppose it might have offended the author. I know it did. The death threats being a fair metric to gauge that sort of thing by.
At one point I suggested reading my epic parody of all writing and self-help books, “How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated)” – because within the pages of that worthy tome, couched in vitriol and black humor, is a lot of decent advice on what not to do. Unfortunately, writers are a busy lot who usually are far too busy to actually read anything, so that book sells fewer than any of my catalog, which is a shame, because it should be required reading for those just starting out. I wrote it about a month into my journey, disgusted by all the self-help guides that purported to advise would-be authors how to sell tons of books, or how to write hits. I thought those were all a load of BS then, and now that I’m actually selling tens of thousands of books a month, I know for a fact they were. As is much of the advice we are bombarded with. The only one I read that actually proved at all inspiring or grounded in an appreciation of craft was Scott Nicholson’s, and I’m not just saying that to suck up. Or mostly not. Unless I think it will buy me something.
What’s my point? Well, I think there’s been a kind of gold rush mentality to this whole process that’s now crashing in on many who are discovering that the best approach to anything is to do it because you love it, and because you want to expand your horizons, and not because you saw that movie with Johnny Depp about being a writer (even though I do look a lot like him, which gets annoying at bars when the ladies get grabby, but what can you do?) or because you read about how some talentless clod sold a bunch of books to equally undiscerning readers. Although God knows I’d like a piece of that action. So undiscerning readers, check out my books – you’re gonna LOVE them, even if many of the words are unfamiliar or make your head hurt like enraged hornets are stinging your brain, which is a great visual but wouldn’t actually hurt because your brain doesn’t have pain receptors, but that’s not the point.
I think those who are finding reward in their work are those who are pragmatic, understand the marketing side of this and can separate it from the craft side, but really, really love to write and tell stories and invent. My firm belief is that money will eventually come to those who pursue excellence, unless they’re unlucky or God hates them or they deserve nothing but misery. Seriously, though, even if the cash doesn’t come rolling in, there’s a pride of craftsmanship that I think drives most good writers to improve, which is why it’s a great vocation for someone like me – it never gets boring, because there’s always something new to learn and a better way to turn a phrase.
What’s the takeaway here? Obviously, that you should rush out and buy my Gazillions book, because otherwise you’ll fail miserably and be mocked by your enemies as they dance on your cold, lonely pauper’s grave. I hope you were able to read between the lines and got that part of my message, because the tequila’s not going to buy itself, and Pappy gets a little parched after writing all those words.
For those playing along at home (and wagering, I’m sure, even though I advise against it), the launch of Blood of the Assassin went well, with nearly a thousand sold in a matter of 72 hours. I personally like the book a lot, so if you’re looking for somewhere to start with my writing, you could do worse. If you’re too cheap to buy it, I completely understand, but you’re going to have to wait till hell freezes over to see it free – I’m not going to be doing any more freebie promotions on books that aren’t the first in a series or a standalone I want to give a boost. I’ve come to the conclusion that free is counterproductive and a generally bad idea for any but authors who can place in the top 20 – for us, it’s still great, but for the other 30,000 poor slobs who can’t on any given day, it’s worthless or worse. So I’m pulling back from that as a marketing strategy, even as some of my esteemed peers seem to be just discovering it and waxing enthusiastic about their results. I’ve given away probably close to a million books by now, which means that maybe fifty thousand of them might get read at some point. Which is fine. But I don’t see the value of continuing to give em away – that is so 2012.
That’s all I have for now, but if I think of anything else, as always, I’ll post it. I’m taking three weeks off and going walkabout, trying to catch up on some reading and recharging my batteries. JET V should launch around the end of the month, so stay tuned for that. April, I’ll start work on my new series, and we’ll see where that goes. In the meantime, be nice to each other, and don’t offer to help anyone with their writing – they likely don’t want to hear what you’ll tell them, unless you can be more political than I. Which, come to think of it, wouldn’t be all that hard.
Never mind. Carry on. And go buy a bunch of my crap. As always.