I got an e-mail from a reader the other day. It basically said that he had read many of my books, enjoyed them, but that he wasn’t going to be buying any more because at over $4 I was too expensive – that there are too many other indie authors out there, and that $2,99 was his limit. Now, never mind that I haven’t sold a book at $2.99 for six months or so – I understand the point.
I wrote him back, offering my thoughts on why I price where I do. Then I thought about it, and I realized it might not make a bad blog.
My pricing strategy, after a whopping one year in the business, is a function of my observation of the results of trial and error. I’ve tried a number of different prices and tracked the data, and watched what works and what doesn’t.
BREAKING NEWS: An all new interview with Manic Readers on my sparrow, the gold standard, craft and myriad other topics.
STOP THE PRESSES! New guest blog on writing Silver Justice with author & book reviewer Sheila Deeth.
NEWS: Bestselling author Steven Konkoly does an in-depth book review of Silver Justice. “Blake at his best!”
MORE NEWS: New guest blog explains exactly how to write three novels a year in your spare time!
Here are a couple of my observations. First, .99 is the new free, or rather free is the new .99. Most folks I talk to, either readers or writers, believe, fairly or unfairly, that .99 equates to a low quality book. Something marginally, if at all, edited, written in a less that competent manner by a writer that’s not at the top of his game. A crap book. Now I know there are exceptions to every rule, but frankly I’m not here to change minds and lives. I’m here to write, and to then sell what I write. The market views .99 in my genre (action/adventure thrillers) as toilet paper.
Second, $2.99 is the very bottom of the indie quality curve for real books. Now, I have read a couple that were $2.99 and been pleasantly surprised, but mostly not so much.
This has led me to conclude that most folks associate quality with price, at least to some extent. Not that a $5 book is guaranteed to be better than a $3 book, but in my mind, the odds are better if it is selling any kind of volume at that price. Now that’s not to say that I believe that a $10 book is going to necessarily be better than a $5 book, but I believe it’s likely that it will be better than a .99 or $3 book. This belief is shared by many.
Once we get closer or over $10, we are in trad pub territory, so the relative value drops – a lot of the money isn’t going to the author, but rather to the publisher, so the incremental jump in price doesn’t necessarily translate in my mind to a better written product, merely a more expensive one. And before we get into the tired debate about all the value trad pub brings in terms of quality control via gatekeeping, editing, etc. let me just say that it’s debatable how much additional value that is worth in many folks’ minds. Again, I’m not trying to change the world, merely to create a model that reflects reality. In my mind a $5 indie book should be at the same quality as a $10-$12 trad pub offering, because all of the difference in price is going to overhead that doesn’t improve the product in any way for me.
The closest parallel I can draw to my pricing take is one of burgers (I was originally going to use prostitution, but didn’t want to offend my large working girl following). You can buy burgers at virtually every price tier. $1, $3, $5, $10, $15 and higher. They are all burgers. Some satisfy themselves with $1 offerings, which aren’t my cup of tea – they taste like fried cardboard to me, but there’s a thriving market for them. At $3 you have your fast food name burger, say a Quarter Pounder or whatnot. I’m not sure what they cost in the states, but here, that’s about right. Many eat those as well. You move to $5 and you start getting a premium offering – better quality meat, bun, etc. from an indie restaurant. At $10 you are probably paying not just for a good burger, but also the place – a real restaurant with an ambiance. At $15 it’s even more about the ambiance, although the burger will probably be excellent – but you are paying for the AC, the wait staff, the vibe…in other words, overhead that doesn’t directly go into the burger’s quality – think Hard Rock or Houston’s. All of these price levels have their audiences. Burgers sell at all prices, some to different audiences, some to the same.
I’m sure there are folks who won’t pay more than $1 or $3 for a burger. “I won’t pay more than $3 for a burger. There are too many selling burgers at that price to pay more.” That’s fine. I am also sure there are those who will pay $5 for a burger, but eschew the $1 offerings, occasionally dip their toe in the $3 variety, and maybe occasionally get a $10 burger just for giggles. But they mainly stick to $5 because they prefer that quality offering over the lower price fare, and don’t see the value in the more expensive. And some go platinum level all the time, paying $10 or $15. Maybe the occasionally try a $5 burger if it is recommended to them, but that’s not their first choice. And they wouldn’t be caught dead in a fast food joint. Just not their speed.
Books are not an essential. They are entertainment. As such, value and price play a larger part in decision making, perhaps more so than food. I’ve tried my books at $3, $4 and at $5, and there is no appreciable difference in sales volume at any price within that range. It also isn’t linear. I don’t see a 25% drop in sales when I move from $3 to $4. I see virtually none. Same from $4 to $5. I also don’t see a jump in sales if I drop the price. Marketing theory says I should, but that doesn’t happen. If it did, I’d have books at each pricing level to ensure I get coverage of each audience.
I personally believe that the right price for my books is $5 or so. I’m experimenting with $6 for my new release, but mainly to see whether Amazon’s algorithms treat the higher price with any favoritism given the same sales as a $5 book – if it does, I may try $7 in the future. So far the jury is out. I will also be dropping the price on a couple of books to $3.33 for a few weeks in August just to see what happens – my bet is no change in sales but a drop in overall revenue due to the same volume, but maybe I’ll be surprised. We shall see.
My goal isn’t to lose readers or to gouge them. It’s to find the best level to sell the most books. My reasoning is that I spend a fair amount on editing, copy editing, proofreading and covers, so the finished product is a higher quality offering than many largely unedited or marginally edited book at $2.99. Sales bear that out so far. Readers don’t seem to mind paying a buck or two more for something that’s palpably better. I know I don’t. Once I know a brand is better, I willingly pay the extra, to a point, until the value I’m getting isn’t satisfactory.
A Vente no foam soy latte is about $5. I think if there are those who believe that a quality book should cost less than a 10 minute experience for a cup of coffee, then they should enjoy the lower price tier of books, and spend a fair amount of time with authors whose product might not have had the same attention or resources brought to bear. I willingly pay higher prices for authors whose work I think is good – because my time is valuable and they’ve proved themselves. I don’t have an hour here and there to test the water on a “bargain” only to discover that it falls apart on me at hour two. I just lost two hours of my life where I could have been writing, or napping, or reading something decent. So for a buck or two more, I have no problem. Some do. They know better than I what their time is worth.
What about you? What is your thinking as a reader? Let me know. I’m frankly curious now. But still not curious enough to drop a book to .99. I’d rather give it away, frankly, as I have discovered a few (very few) books for free that were good, whereas I have yet to find any at .99 that I would term good.
And now for a word from our sponsor: me. Please skip your cup of pricy java today and check out my newest one, Silver Justice. It’s getting rave early reviews, and a portion of every sale will go to battling world domination by clowns. This is a win/win for everyone. Except maybe the clowns.
Finally. July 23 is here, and my new magnum opus Silver Justice officially launches!
Unlike my last bunch, this one is not going into KDP Select on its launch, and is not seeing any free days nor loans. It’s my experiment with having it on multiple platforms – B&N, Kobo, Apple, etc. I guess we’ll soon see how that works, although it typically seems to take a few months for a book to find its stride.
Silver Justice is the story of a strong female protagonist, Silver Cassidy, who is the FBI agent running a task force that’s hunting a brutal serial killer who is targeting financial industry bigwigs. It uses the 2008 financial crisis as the backdrop and posits some disturbing explanations for what caused the dislocation that is still affecting so many today.
STOP THE PRESSES! New guest blog on writing Silver Justice with author & book reviewer Sheila Deeth.
BREAKING NEWS: A noteworthy book review for Silver Justice from author Bert Carson.
NEWS: Interview with Rachelle Ayala on writing, Silver Justice, and Jet. A good one!
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I believe that some will hate this book. Certainly anyone connected with Washington, Wall Street or the regulators are not going to be fans, and that means that most financial journalists won’t be, either. And those that wish to view reality with rose colored glasses are going to find it deeply disturbing and frustrating – not because they will be able to rebut anything in it, but simply because it is uncomfortable for them.
Silver is a new kind of protag for me – a kick ass, no nonsense heroine reminiscent of Agent Starling from Silence of the Lambs, but more mature. When I first came up with her, I was actually thinking, “What would Starling be like 10 years after Hannibal?” I know. I don’t have much of a life. But at least the hours are good.
As part of the launch I’ll be doing a mini-blog tour replete with interviews and guest blogs and the like, and World Literary Cafe is featuring me, which is always a treat. I’m also trying to get Beyonce or Bieber to recommend the book to their fans in concert, but so far neither are returning my calls, which is probably because the clowns got to them first. F#cking clowns are always at it. Do you wonder why I hate them?
Below is the cover for Silver Justice, as well as a link to purchase it, which I understand will bring prosperity, magnetic attraction and teen-level libido, boundless good health, longevity, and the ability to crush your enemies like insects and grind their bones to jelly as you dance a victory jig on their cold, lonely graves. If that sounds like a police procedural/thriller that delivers a lot, you betcha it does. And it whitens teeth and grows hair, too.
On Tuesday I start writing my new one, JET, and I’ve very excited about it. And not just because I’ve been drinking. It will be pure escapist action/adventure featuring an ex-Mossad operative who faked her death to get out of the game, but whose past has come back to haunt her. Probably looking at a September launch for JET, so I need to get busy.
And for all those complaining that I don’t post enough gratuitous sparrow photos, take that! She now weighs about a hundred and eighteen pounds, and eats two raw rib eyes a day. And I’ve trained her to attack, mutilate and kill. You don’t want a piece of me. Trust me on that.
On July 23, I will officially launch Silver Justice, my latest novel – the fifteenth release in thirteen months.
Silver Justice represents a kind of turning point for me. In it, I combine everything I know about storytelling and craft with an attempt at explaining what is perhaps the single largest disruptive societal issue of our lifetimes – the 2008 financial crisis.
In an earlier blog I hint at the volume of research that I had to do to flesh out my understanding of it, as well as the disparate sources I had to consult to get a clear picture of the true cause of the cataclysm that is still causing aftershocks today, and has gutted a large chunk of the American middle class. I won’t belabor that – readers can evaluate the book’s ideas for themselves, and are invited to share in the journey of research that has been my daily reality for the last few months.
Instead, I am offering for your amusement an excerpt from the novel, and a brief commentary on an earlier financial dislocation that changed the landscape of America: The Great Depression.
I read an article on the web the other day in which the Fed chairman, Bernanke, stated that the causes of the Great Depression were basically unknowable – as steeped in mystery as the years during which it occurred. Which is pure revisionist hogwash that serves nobody except for the financial interests that robbed the country blind back then, and continue to do it today.
Here’s my take. The Great Depression happened because after the 1929 stock market crash, which was brought about by a combination of radical margin requirement tightening in the days preceding it, an increase in interest rates that further dried up the cash that was being used to buy stocks, reaction to the floor vote reporting on the Smoot-Hawley tariff bill (which made it clear it would pass), and a concerted selling/manipulation effort by Wall Street’s biggest players, the economy was in shock.
That shock was made far worse when Roosevelt was elected, and promptly took a number of steps that guaranteed a recession would continue to develop into the worst depression in U.S. history. These have been described by history books as “regrettable mistakes,” which I don’t buy for a minute. The man deliberately ignored the expert advice of three different treasury secretaries who quit because of his actions, and he did things that couldn’t have been more damaging.
He raised taxes at a time when the average family was near or in starvation mode, he confiscated all of the nation’s privately-owned gold and then promptly devalued the dollar by 40% (reducing the buying power of any saved dollars by almost half overnight), he raised bank reserve requirements numerous times (taking yet more cash out of the real economy so it could be hoarded in vaults), he actively supported a trade war with tariffs that created massive global imbalances (some would argue ushering in the rise to power of fascist regimes that would have had no chance in times of prosperity), and perhaps most damning, rather than plowing most of those raised tax dollars back into the stalled economy, he instead bought gold on the global markets for the government and sequestered it, keeping it from backing new dollars (monetary expansion, which most understand is required to turn a recession around) and instead further crushing the economy – and not just the US economy. From 1933 to 1940, the US government bought 1.3 million metric tons of gold – draining the global system of the precious metal and causing catastrophe for most gold-backed currencies due to a shortage of gold to redeem for whatever notes backed by it. That coupled with the disastrous tariffs caused a global lack of liquidity/monetary contraction that made a recession a global depression, with untold misery inflicted on populations around the world. To put that into perspective, the US government’s assets increased fourfold during that period, to over 200% of all other governments’ gold holdings by 1940 combined.
So why would Roosevelt do such a thing? Why ignore every bit of financial advice from his team, and why take a series of steps that guaranteed disaster for most?
I believe it was because while it caused disaster for most, it didn’t cause it for all. For a few privileged interests, those he went to school with and grew up rubbing shoulders with – the royalty of New York’s banking circles – that period enabled their dynastic wealth to explode and transferred untold riches from the former middle class to the elite.
When the Federal Reserve cut bank lending by HALF in the midst of all this turmoil, it predictably caused massive liquidations by banks that were suddenly and unexpectedly cash strapped. Assets sold for fractions of pennies on the dollars, because there was nobody with cash to buy them – except for the already wildly wealthy, who scooped up the farm for a song – literally.
The actual cause of the Great Depression isn’t unknowable. It’s not some inscrutable cypher that requires arcane knowledge to grasp. That’s the big lie. The truth is that it’s fairly easy to grasp, but unflattering to the interests that still control policy today – the very, very rich who essentially own the financial systems all over the world. Those interests don’t want the worker ants to get all riled up and smell a rat. They want a nice, docile population that buys big screen TVs and a new car every three years that it can’t afford, on credit extended to it by…the same banks owned by those interests. You see, if you start educating yourself instead of consuming with money you don’t actually have, you might cause problems, and that can’t be tolerated. An educated population is far harder to bilk out of its wealth than an ignorant one. Which may give you a hint as to why the educational system is such a trainwreck as well. I have come to the conclusion that what is desired is a population just smart enough to operate the machines, but too stupid and apathetic to ask what the machines do.
I stay away from history, or at least ancient history, in Silver Justice, preferring to weave the story around the events of 2008. But a little context is always fun. I figured it would be more appropriate in a blog that cluttering up a book.
Which reminds me. If you would like to read an excerpt of Silver Justice, you can do so by clicking here. Or you can just buy the damned thing. I put it up a few days early so I could get some reviewers early copies. So early followers of my blog can lord it over those not in the loop and torment them with having gotten to it far before they did. A small victory, but a victory nonetheless. You’re welcome.
I’ve been starting my interviews and guest blogs for the upcoming launch of Silver Justice, my newest novel that will release on July 23. As part of that, I’ve been asked time and time again about the underlying framework for the novel, namely the cause of the 2008 financial crisis. The book is set in New York, and follows Silver Cassidy, an ass-kicking FBI Agent who’s running a serial killer task force that’s hunting a brutal murderer of financial industry players. A big part of the plot involves the slow unveiling of my supposedly fictional account of why the 2008 crisis happened, resulting in the worst recession in our lifetimes. I already know this is going to be a book that polarizes readers, who will either love it or hate it. It’s a shocking ride, and the conclusions it draws are disturbing at a very basic level. Many don’t like living in a world where things are deeply disturbing, so they’ll hate it, rather than becoming outraged or curious. I get that. It’s worth the risk.
BREAKING NEWS: New in-depth interview with yours truly on craft, self-publishing and the price of coffee is worth a look.
NEWS: I was fortunate enough to be named one of the top 100 indie authors for the 3rd month in a row. #50.
As part of writing it, I was forced to become somewhat of an expert on everything from Keynesian economics, to fiat currencies, to the creation of the Federal Reserve, to how and why the IRS was created and by whom, to why the gold standard mattered, to the reasons the dollar has lost 90+% of its buying power since 1971, to fractional reserve banking, to market manipulation and how arcane instruments like credit default swaps and other derivatives work. The tail wagged the dog in this case. By the time I was done, I became convinced of two things: 99.999% of all people have no idea why the middle class is being wiped out and the world is in the pooper and getting worse as we speak; and that that’s not accidental. The ignorance is by design. It’s encouraged, and there’s a big machine devoted to keeping reality from slipping into the equation.
Now, I can appreciate how there are many more important things to do than know about why the biggest financial calamity of our lifetimes took place. I mean, there are reality TV shows to follow, and claims that America’s got talent, and the search for the very best dance crew, whatever the hell that is. I get that most are otherwise occupied, and prefer to debate one political party’s invented rhetoric over the others, or consider which mammoth flat screen TV would look best in the living room. These are heady times. But it occurs to me that ignorance has an incredibly high cost. As an example, the Fed revealed a week or so ago that the average middle class family’s net worth has dropped to where it was in 1982, erasing 30 years of savings since the financial crisis in 2008. That means that if the average was $78K in 82, it is still $78K in 2012.
The ugly truth is that it’s much worse than that. An ounce of gold was $360 in 82. It’s now $1600. So it takes almost five times more dollars to buy the same commodity. That means that a dollar in 82 had five times the buying power it has today. So really, the middle class has lost five times its net worth from 82, when adjusted. The short version is that most of the wealth accumulated by the middle class over the last 40 years has been confiscated – stolen by the relentless erosion of inflation, and by the markets in 2008. (By the way, anyone who thinks measuring the value of the dollar against an ounce of gold is silly would be advised that until 1971, gold was money, for thousands of years. It was only once the US violated its agreement to stay on the gold standard, got caught doing it, and then abruptly announced it wasn’t honoring its agreement anymore, that the new folksy wisdom that ‘gold isn’t money’ started being advanced by the media. Until then, of course it was. FWIW, it still is. It’s just that a collection of uber-rich bankers have spent the last forty years trying to convince everyone that it isn’t, because otherwise people would rebel and demand that the money they are working like slaves for actually possess some actual worth, as opposed to a mere promise of steadily declining worth from the government.)
I also understand that blogs that aren’t railing against free books, or are pro-kitty, or that purport to offer writing tips, don’t get read as much. They aren’t as popular. Because most people’s heads hurt when they are required to think, and to consider any sort of a macro picture of reality that diverges from whatever is advanced as the truth by the media and its owners. People want to believe that the system works, and protects them, and even with its flaws is still the best ever. They have a lot of emotional investment in that idea. So even when a chink appears, and it become obvious that most or all of it is an obvious lie, human nature is to ignore the data, and instead focus on more pleasant things.
I’m here to tell you that there’s a cost to that. In real terms, it’s a cost where most will be wiped out within another 10 years, if they haven’t already been. By the statistics, I’m saying many already have been. But some haven’t. They think it’s all going to somehow get better. That’s because they are ignorant of what is actually taking place, and what the true drivers are. The precarious construct that is their reality has a very, very expensive price tag. And I’m afraid for most, the price will be everything they have – just as in the Great Depression, when millionaires (and there were many in the US by the late 20s) discovered after a few years that they were penniless, and owed everything to the bank. It was considered impossible until it happened. Right now, tell someone with a two million dollar home in Scottsdale or a one million dollar home in New Jersey or a five hundred grand home in San Diego that they could be close to penniless in no time, and they would sneer. Just as people sneered in the 20s.
The research I did for Silver Justice has changed my perception of reality to the point that virtually anything is possible, and it appears that the real powers that be are hell bent on destroying the prosperity of the middle class, just as they did in the Great Depression (about which I could write a book). And my hope is that Silver Justice gets enough traction so that it makes people question the illusory status quo and wonder how much in it could actually be true. While I’m normally aggressively self-promotional in a transparent way, this book is different, and so is this blog. I’ll write another one when it launches, but let me just say that what I’ve learned has me pretty glum about many peoples’ chances moving forward, unless there’s a massive change in the majority’s awareness. The only hope is that they figure this out while there’s still time. Silver Justice is my small effort to move people in the direction of that requisite awareness. We shall see whether it has any effect.
End of rant. For now.
For a synopsis of Silver Justice, as well as a short interview, click here.
Darcie Chan is a phenomenon. A star. A sensation. Her book, The Mill River Recluse, sold more copies than Elvis or the Beatles’ books (they had books, right?) and she’s inked a high profile trad pub deal. In this installment of my Author Spotlight series, she takes some time to share her ideas on the trade and the craft. Rather than sullying her moment here with my usual inappropriate jabbering, I’ll just cut straight to the interview, tempering my usual shameless self-promotion with a subtle suggestion that you buy all my books or clowns will hunt you down. And you don’t want that. Nobody wants that.
RB: Your first novel is a blockbuster. To what do you attribute its success?
DC: I certainly did not expect The Mill River Recluse to resonate with readers to the extent that it has. It’s impossible to know exactly why it did, but my best guess is a combination of 1) a story and characters that touched people enough to start word-of-mouth recommendations, 2) marketing and advertising that worked to get my novel in front of enough readers to start that word-of-mouth chain, and 3) luck.
RB: What was your journey as a writer? How long have you been writing, was this your first stab at it, etc. Give us the dirt.
DC: The Mill River Recluse was written years ago, and it is the first substantial piece of fiction I attempted.
I remember winning a school-district-wide writing contest when I was in seventh grade…I was only 11, but I came home with my little trophy and announced to my parents that I wanted to be a writer. My English teacher mother immediately said “Great! You can do anything you set your mind to. Follow your dreams!” My very practical and honest father, who worked in special education administration for much of his career, told me that writers have a hard time earning a living and that I should think about doing something else as a career to provide financial security. In the end, I decided to do what each suggested – i.e., I would go to law school and follow the dream (read: write fiction) in my spare time.
I didn’t have much time to write for pleasure in college and law school. I might have written a short story here and there, but I never attempted to get them published. My intention was always to focus on book-length fiction. After I’d finished my education and had been working as an attorney for a few years, I finally felt as if I had enough time to try to write a novel.
RB: Let’s talk process. Do you outline, plot and structure, or do you just sit down and write? How long between when a book idea comes to you, and when it’s ready to be written?
DC: Given that I’ve completed only one novel thus far, I’m not sure that I have a fully-evolved writing process just yet. But, as of this point, I first take some time developing an idea in my mind before I’m ready to put it on paper. After I come up with an idea for the central story arc, I think about sub-plots and create initial profiles for the necessary characters. Once I feel comfortable with my concepts for the main plot and characters (which happens once I know how the story will begin, who will be involved in each plot and sub-plot, and how each plot within the story will be resolved), I write out a chapter-by-chapter outline. Only then do I start writing. My outline generally becomes more detailed as I work my way through the story and other ideas or twists come to mind. So far, it’s taken me a few months from the time I first conceive an idea for a story until I finish my first outline and actually start writing.
RB: Do you have a set schedule for writing? What’s your typical writer’s day like?
DC: I’ve recently left my legal job to write full-time, so I’m now able to devote a lot more time to writing. I usually start working around 9:30…I use the first hour or so each day to take care of emails, social media, etc., so that once I begin to write, I can really settle in. I usually take a break for lunch in the afternoon and a “play break” to spend some time with my son at some point. I stop writing for the day around dinnertime, although I sometimes sneak back to my computer after my son and husband are asleep to get in a few more paragraphs. I really liked working as an attorney, but I truly love what I’m doing now!
RB: Do you have monthly or annual word goals? How is your discipline?
DC: I would say that I’m pretty disciplined…I’ve always been very happy working independently. Also, being able to write full-time is really a dream come true for me, and I’m determined to give it my best effort. I don’t have specific word goals, but based on the length of what I’m writing and the time I have to write it, I have a rough idea of about how much I should be finishing in a given time. Right now, that’s about a chapter each week, give or take a little.
RB: Longhand or computer? Any trick software you favor for writing?
DC: I use Microsoft Word on a PC, nothing more. Radical, huh?
RB: How do you come up with your characters? Based on real people, pure invention, or a combo?
DC: Most of my characters are invented, but some have characteristics, mannerisms, or personality quirks that I’ve encountered with real-life people.
RB: Do you ever have issues with motivation? Writer’s block? If so, how do you move past it?
DC: I haven’t had a problem with writer’s block yet, and I’m hoping to keep it that way! I’ve found that unless I know my characters and where the story is going (including how it will be resolved), I’m not comfortable trying to write. I think that’s why I spend quite a bit of time thinking through the plot lines and coming up with characters. Once I have those things established enough to put down in the form of an outline, I have sort of a “roadmap” of where I’m going, so I don’t have to worry about getting stuck.
Another thing that helps me is to stop writing for the day at a point at which I know exactly what’s coming and what I’m going to write next. It’s hard to stop like that, as my inclination is to keep pushing words onto the page as long as the ideas are flowing…but it makes it easier to hit the ground running the next day.
In terms of motivation…I’m thrilled to be doing what I’m doing. No lack of motivation here! J
RB: Describe your work environment. Quiet? Music? Window? What is it like?
DC: My office is the “bonus room” above our garage. It has three windows looking out in various directions, each of which has a beautiful view of trees. I prefer it to be quiet while I’m working…I love music (and have played piano since I was very young), but I find it to be completely distracting and disruptive when I’m trying to focus on a story.
RB: How many hours a day do you write? Are you consistent every day, or is it sporadic?
DC: I would say that I write on average about six hours per day during the week (when I have childcare) but less on the weekends. It varies, though, depending on deadlines and whatever else life throws on my plate. I find that I’m most productive when I do some writing or editing every day.
RB: How many times do you polish before your manuscript is ready for edit – how many drafts?
DC: Many! Once I finish a first draft, I put it in a drawer and let it sit for a few weeks. I also give it to a handful of trusted readers to get constructive criticism. After that, I read through the whole thing, carefully consider comments I’ve received from my test readers, and revise until I can’t stand the sight of it anymore and feel as if it’s as strong as I can make it.
RB: What do you think about the current state of trad pub vs. self-publishing? If someone came to you and asked which to do, what would you say?
DC: I think we’ll see some volatility in the publishing world for some time to come. The rise in popularity of e-books, both traditionally published and self-published, has certainly changed the way lots of people read, and I expect that it will continue to do so. Traditional publishers and indie/self-publishers will have to continue to adjust to this reality. I would guess that e-books will continue to become more popular for reasons of convenience and price, but I don’t think there’s any way that good, old-fashioned print books will disappear any time soon. I think the greatest thing that could happen out of the whole situation is that people begin to read more, which would benefit authors everywhere and society as a whole.
In terms of choosing between traditional and self publishing…that’s a tough question, because I think the best path to take is a very personal decision, and what’s best for one writer might not be best for another. I feel that, for me, there are several benefits of traditional publication that far outweigh the advantages of going it alone.
The first is that it is currently very difficult for a writer to get a self-published print version of a book into the brick-and-mortar stores (such as Target, Barnes and Noble, and Costco) where readers of print books typically buy them. Most retail stores will not stock self-published titles, and even if they did, most individual authors have neither the financial nor logistical ability to achieve wide distribution of a self-published print book. As a writer, I’d love to get my work into the hands of as many readers as I can, and for all of these reasons, a traditional publisher can help me reach many more readers than I could on my own.
A second plus with traditional publishing is help with marketing and publicity of a book, and by “help,” I’m not just referring to a marketing budget. A publisher can open doors to mainstream media coverage that is so difficult to get as a self-published author. It also provides to authors access to the expertise and advice of an entire department of marketing and publicity staff. I knew nothing about marketing an e-book before I released my first novel. I had to play catch-up after the fact, and learning basic book promotion by trial-and-error wasn’t easy! Now, after having done all the marketing and promotion of my first novel myself, it is quite a relief to know that I’ll have my publisher’s support and guidance to help me when it’s time to promote my next two books.
A final major benefit of traditional publishing, and what I believe to be the most important, is the fact that, with a publisher, a writer has a team of experts in every aspect of book production — i.e., editing, copy editing, legal review, when necessary, cover design, formatting, marketing, and publicity — who work together with a common, vested interest in making a book the best representation of the author and the publishing house that it can be. This is not to say that an indie author cannot assemble a team of experts to provide those kinds of services to produce an indie book. An indie author can and should do this. However, hiring experts and overseeing the book production process takes time which could otherwise be spent writing, and again, the professionals hired by an indie author to help with a book may have no connection or working relationship with each other.
At the end of the day, the story is the heart of a book. Distribution, marketing and publicity, and a quality package are really important, but the story itself is what will ultimately determine whether a book succeeds. It’s my job as a writer to provide a quality story. I have a full and busy life, and I cherish and am very protective of the time I have to write. So, for me, having the option to use my time to write the best story I can and to let my editor and publisher coordinate and help with everything else that is required to produce a quality book is extremely appealing.
RB: What counsel would you offer a newbie who was interested in pursuing the author’s path?
DC: My advice would be to read as much as you can, including books that you might not typically choose. Write as much as you can, and try to write at least a little bit each day. Seek out and take to heart constructive criticism. Don’t give up when you experience rejection, and don’t be afraid to take an alternative path to get your work out there, once you’re confident that it’s ready.
RB: What’s your biggest writing regret? The one thing you wish you could do over, or differently?
DC: Two things come to mind. I wish I’d taken more writing classes in college. Since I changed my major to English late in my junior year and still wanted to graduate on time, I didn’t have much time to take anything other than the core English requirements. And, second, although I felt The Mill River Recluse was as strong as I could make it before I first uploaded it to the Kindle Store, in hindsight, I wish I’d hired a professional editor to go through it before releasing it to the world. Yes, it’s resonated with readers in a way that I never dreamed it would, but I think I got lucky in that respect. The saying “you get only one chance to make a first impression” certainly holds true for writers. The Mill River Recluse was my one chance to make a “first impression” as a writer, and there is certainly more that I could have done to make it stronger.
RB: Whose work most influenced you, and why?
DC: I don’t think I’ve been heavily influenced by any one person or writer. I try to learn something from each book that I read. That said, my favorite book is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. It is timeless, and such a beautiful, heart-wrenching, uplifting story. I read it every few years, and I learn something new every time I do.
Also, in college, I took a poetry class taught by Yusef Komunyakaa, and the graduate assistant who taught my small section was Khaled Mattawa. During one session, the graduate assistants gave readings of their own work for all of the undergraduate students in the lecture hall. Khaled read a poem he had composed about looking through the Sears catalog when he was a boy. (The poem is online and can be read here: http://www.webdelsol.com/
RB: What’s your current project? Can you tell us anything about it?
DC: Currently, I’m working on my second novel, which (along with my third novel) will be set in the fictional world of Mill River, Vermont, and will involve many of the characters from my first novel. The second book involves a new story and some new characters as well.
RB: What’s the best thing about being an author?
DC: Being able to do a job I love, one I’ve dreamed about doing my whole life, and to do it from home, where I can be close to my son while he is so little.
RB: Reader e-mails. Respond to them all? Some? Never? How about reviews?
DC: I read and try to learn from reviews posted for my first novel, but I’ve never commented on any of them. As for emails – at this point, I try to respond personally to every e-mail I’ve received, although sometimes it takes me a while to get through them.
RB: You’ve been extremely gracious sharing your time and views. What advice would you leave budding authors with, if you only had thirty seconds to impart it?
DC: Come up with a story that you feel passionate about telling – a story that moves you emotionally – and then put your heart into the telling of it. Hopefully, your emotion will carry through and move your readers. I’m convinced that if you don’t have a story that touches readers in some way, nothing else you do to try to make your book a success will matter.