So, why would I take one of my bestselling novels, and make it free for a limited time? On a series that’s done well, and continues to grow its audience with each passing month?
Because it’s the first book in the series, and as such, really should be read first.
That seems obvious. But for the last year and a half, I’ve been giving away the prequel to King of Swords, Night of the Assassin, free. And it occurred to me over cocktails that’s not the best way to find new readers, because the prequel is really much more satisfying if read after King.
So what I’ve decided to do is an experiment. See if sales of the rest of the series increases with a different book as the free one. I’m making Night a $2.99 purchase given its length (just under 60K words), and taking King free.
For anyone that hasn’t read the Assassin series, it’s a gritty, unflinching assassination thriller series set against a backdrop of very real cartel violence in modern Mexico. It features several of the most interesting characters I’ve come up with to date: El Rey, the super-assassin known as the King of Swords, because of the tarot card of the same name he leaves at the scene of his executions, and Captain Romero Cruz, of the Federal Police, who is not only the head of the anti-cartel task force, but is also chartered with stopping El Rey before he can do the unthinkable.
The model for all the books was Day of the Jackal, which was the seminal assassination thriller of our time, and really created the genre. It’s since become cliche, as protagonist after protagonist has been written, usually ex-CIA or SAS, and always because this time its personal. I wanted to try a different approach, and create two protags, one really more of a villain, and the other a conflicted good guy slogging through doubts and conflicts that are a necessary outcome of the corruption in the system and the futility of trying to battle an adversary that’s co-opted the government and has more money than God.
For that reason, the Assassin series has found its niche. It’s different. It’s fast moving, surprising, adrenaline-filled, but also grittier than stuff like JET, which is more just unbridled, over-the-top adventure. King is more realistic – some have said too much so, in that it leaves one somewhat disturbed due to the hopelessness of the whole drug war thing. That’s a function of telling the truth, not a deliberate buzz kill. Some don’t like to read anything that conflicts with their anodyne notions of how the world works, and King is probably not the right book for that set. Actually, none of my work is, come to think of it. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.
I was recently asked who I would envision playing El Rey in a film, and after some thought, I’d have to say a younger Johnny Depp or DiCaprio. For Captain Cruz, Benicio Del Toro or a younger Antonio Banderas. So if you’re looking for my take on who I sort of see them as in my head, there’s your model.
So get yer free copy of King of Swords, and if you like it, tell a friend or leave a review, or both. I don’t know how long I’m going to keep it free, so don’t tarry, or it will go back to paid and you’ll despise yourself for your procrastination and wind up sleeping under a freeway overpass before dying cold and alone in a drainage ditch while your enemies chortle with glee and your last moments are the horror of being boogarized by clowns. You don’t want that. Trust me. You don’t even want to joke about it. Don’t let that happen to you or the ones you love. Get the book, you cheap bastard – can’t get much more attractive than free.
You have to sort of sing it with a Beatles lilt. That’s the trick.
Two years ago, I uploaded my first novel, Fatal Exchange, to Amazon, not knowing what to expect, or really, what the hell I was doing as far as marketing and promotions go. I had no specific goals in terms of sales, and only a vague sort of understanding about things like genre – I mean, parsing niggling details like police procedural or action/adventure or suspense or psychological thriller seemed silly. I wrote thrillers. That’s what Fatal Exchange was. A frigging thriller. So just deal with it, I thought.
NEWS: King of Swords, Book 1 of the Assassin series, is now free! If you haven’t read it, now’s your big chance!
NEWS: JET is now available as an Audiobook! How cool is that? The narrator did a fine job. I’m preparing to retire off its sales. Holding breath.
That first month, I think I made a grand total of $17. Might have been $18. Those days are a little fuzzy. For good reason. Since I released that little tome, which still holds up remarkably well and for which I am unapologetic, I’ve written easily two million words. Or, for those keeping score at home (and hopefully not wagering, or God forbid, imbibing), 22 novels, the latest of which, Upon a Pale Horse, will release within the next three weeks or so.
Perhaps it’s fitting that my latest creation crosses this particular milestone in my literary career in the same way it started – with a stand-alone thriller that defies easy description. Fatal Exchange combined an international counterfeiting conspiracy, Wall Street malfeasance, an execution squad, and a serial killer, in two parallel story lines that dovetail in the end. It was a 2011 Reviewer’s Choice at The Kindle Book Review, and garnered great feedback and a dedicated readership – so much so that at last count, I think it’s sold somewhere on the order of fifteen thousand copies. Give or take. I’m too lazy to look it up, but I know as of about six or seven months ago I looked and it had sold almost eleven thousand, so it’s probably over fifteen now.
My forthcoming release, Upon a Pale Horse, is also a stand-alone thriller that defies easy description: a bio-thriller that is most easily described as The Firm meets Contagion, but with a deeply disturbing basis in ugly reality that’s sure to polarize readers and is easily the most controversial novel of my career. It’s one of the few novels I’ve ever had misgivings about publishing, because it is so troubling it’s sure to create a backlash, not the least of which will be from big pharma and the medical research power centers in government. It’s an unflinching novel that invites the reader to do their own research on a topic that’s so frightening and that has such profound implications that I’m nervous about it. Because there are some things that are just not questioned, and some data that one dares not examine too closely. It also doesn’t fit into any neat slot, although I call it a bio-thriller because its basis is in biological warfare and the associated well-documented experimentation. You’ll just have to read it to understand why it is a scary, scary read.
One author friend of mine, who I asked for a preliminary take on the first draft, advised me to put everything I had into marketing it, because it was a blockbuster that deserved to be read by every thinking person. Another counseled me not to publish it because it was too inflammatory and controversial. I changed the ending several times. I struggled with whether to stick it in a drawer. In the end, I think it’s a book that raises important and necessary questions that have been ignored for too long and deserve the cleansing antiseptic of sunshine. I can say with unqualified confidence that it’s not going to make me any friends in high places. It’s written as fiction, as are all my novels, but it doesn’t take a genius to read between the lines, and what lurks between them is as unpleasant to contemplate as anything I’ve come across.
But back to Fatal, and my two year and counting self-publishing journey. Along the way I’ve made mistakes, friends, enemies, rivals and converts. I’ve also alienated many, and bitten the hand that feeds me more often than I can count, been arrogant and opinionated on a variety of topics (some of which I actually know a little bit about), and generally entertained myself, as well as a few readers, while having the time of my life.
Hard to believe it’s been two years. It flew by. And took forever to unfold. Any authors who’ve checked their sales stats fifty times a day with either a sinking heart or a joyous one know whereof I speak. A roller-coaster the likes of which I’ve never before experienced.
To commemorate the two year anniversary of Fatal Exchange and the launch of my literary career, I’ve commissioned a new cover, which I’ve posted at the end of this blog.
Now to the question of the day: was it all worth it? Was it worth devoting pretty much two solid years of my life to writing and selling books? Was my full-immersion approach wise or foolhardy? I can’t speak for everyone, but yes, it was worth it. I feel like I’ve built something, and I look at my backlist with amazement. 22 novels – that’s what many renowned popular novelists write in a career. Whether my books are genius or the mindless babbling of a fool is up to readers to decide, and I count myself incredibly lucky to have been so graciously accepted by so many. I’ve never confused myself with David Foster Wallace (other than bandanas, but don’t get me started), and always thought of myself as an entertainer, dancing for my dinner like Quinton Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant, who would go to tap class in the morning and then teach the lesson that same evening to his pupils, posing as a master while in fact a charlatan. As an author, it’s easy to feel that way, as we’re each of us learning our craft until the day we shed our mortal coil, and exist at the pleasure of our readership. Which is as it should be. In the end, the reader is always right, at least in his own mind, even when he’s wrong. If we are to survive or flourish, we must place the interests of the reader above all else. The reader is, for authors, the ultimate authority, because without readers, we’re back to being lunatics jabbering our stories to a cold, uncaring moon. And that sucks. And doesn’t pay well. Which is the same as sucks, only worse.
To all of you, whether new to this journey or there from the beginning, I can only say thank you, with all my heart. Except of course for my critics and rivals, who can, as always, bite me. But everyone else, I’m truly grateful for the continued warm wishes and patronage and support you’ve offered up. I can only hope that the next 24 months of my little stories are as well received as my last.
I’ve been told that my gruff demeanor is off-putting for some, so consider this to be my effort to showcase a softer, gentler Blake. You may imagine me holding a tubby tabby in my lap as I write it, if you like, while wearing flowing linen yoga pants and a dashiki. Whatever floats your particular boat.
By way of introduction, I had a long discussion the other day with a buddy of mine about how much I’ve changed since moving to Mexico, and he’s right. I have.
I’m a lot happier.
The secret to happiness, I’ve discovered, is having enough.
Or rather, feeling like you have enough.
NEWS: A brilliant new book review and interview on THE GERONIMO BREACH with Simon Jenner. Worth a quick read!
It’s the exact opposite of what’s propagated in the U.S. – a hyper-consumerism that requires that the population never feels like it has enough. Of anything. Money. Possessions. Success. Power. What fuels the big engine is an unhappiness tied to constantly wanting – no, needing – more. It’s engineered that way. You’re bombarded relentlessly with the same message. You need better. More better. You deserve more. More more more. If you don’t have more, you’re deficient. And if you have to borrow from your future to get that more now, that’s the American way.
The problem is that being a product sponge is good for those selling stuff, but not so great for your sense of self.
What happened since I moved to Mexico is that over the years, I’ve adopted the prevailing philosophy down here, which is being happy with what you have. Valuing your time more than possessions or money. Feeling like you already have everything you need, so you don’t really want anything. It’s a paradigm shift – one that’s critical to self-satisfaction. Because you can have everything, but if you want more, you’ll never be truly happy. Very Zen, with a jalapeno twist.
I met a guy the other day who’s worth hundreds of millions of dollars. He’s a hard charger, has homes all over the world, runs a successful company he founded. He spent most of his time telling me all about it. It was important for me to know how prosperous he was, and how much stuff he possessed. What’s interesting is that even with all that, he spent the majority of the discussion trying to impress me. He obviously wasn’t happy, and grew unhappier as it became clear that I didn’t give a shit. Because, well, all that idiocy really really matters.
I’ve hit a point in my life where I’m satisfied with what I have. I like my car. I like my house. I like my love life. I like my health. I enjoy writing probably more than I really should, but that’s a guilty pleasure. I’m doing exactly what I want, in the manner I want to do it, on my own terms. I’ve got enough.
I don’t know why I’m writing this blog. The idea of abundance coming from within isn’t earth-shattering information. Certainly nothing new. But for whatever reason, the other day I woke up and realized that I already have everything I want, and when you have that feeling, that sense of not wanting more, it’s freeing beyond belief, and I wanted to share.
Now to more mundane matters. I’m working hard on covers for Upon a Pale Horse, and writing Black after taking a few days off to plot the rest of it (code for boozing). Should be done in another week or two. I’m not pushing all that hard to get er done. With 21 novels out, I’m pretty sure that the world has enough Russell Blake books to absorb for the time being.
Now go buy some of my crap so I can roll around in hundreds and mock my numerous enemies and critics. That bar tab’s not going to pay itself. I may not want more, but I’m pretty sure the barkeep does by the way he’s been giving me the evil eye lately. So help a brutha out. I’d recommend Blood of the Assassin as a good place to start. Reads pretty well, I think…
I was arm wrestling a Cajun bare-knuckle brawler at the bar last night after winning a lightning round of the Indian knife game against a mute prospector named Poncho, and a thought came to me as I wiped beads of sweat from my forehead with the grimy back of my free hand.
NEWS: A brilliant new book review and interview on THE GERONIMO BREACH with Simon Jenner. Worth a quick read!
“Gator,” I asked (his name was Gator, which was fitting given his bulk and general wash-and-wear demeanor, ‘Bear’ having been previously claimed by a spectacularly hirsute midget quaffing Chinaco with a gin chaser over by the stuffed burro), “do you think I could learn to have a more sane approach to writing than my OCD, all-in process? Something more like three hours a day in the mornings, and then more of a life with the remainder of my time?”
His battered brow furrowed from the strain of tackling my daunting prowess, and I could see him searching the scarred wooden bar top for answers.
“Your process is essential to your craft, right? I mean, you write like that because it’s what works best for you – for your desired outcome. It’s not because you’re under any deadline that isn’t entirely self-enforced, is it?”
I grunted and palmed one of the oversized shot glasses filled with meanstreak, and threw back the burning liquid as my gaze roved over the knife scar that ran from his left temple to his jaw, the white gash pulsing pink from the exertion of trying to win the five hundred pesos that hung in the balance, a fitting tribute in a contest of cunning and strength.
“But wouldn’t it be healthier to create in a less intense manner? More relaxed?” I asked, then twisted to add some heft to my domination of his trembling appendage, the prison tattoos on his forearm rippling from strain as lactic acid seared through his fatigued muscles.
“I think everyone’s approach is different, and as long as the final product is worthwhile to its creator and its reader, the approach is valid. Notions of right or wrong, or appropriate or not, are arbitrary and meaningless in anything but the abstract. Whatever’s right for you is just how you roll,” he hissed, glaring at me with his good eye.
Ignoring the affirmation, I saw my opportunity – a brief hesitation, a twitch of his ravaged countenance, a small but telling flinch I’d been awaiting. “Time to die, bitch,” I snarled, and heaved with a Herculean effort. His radius and ulna snapped with an audible pop and the blood drained from his face as he slipped into shock and lost consciousness, his last bleak impression my chortling face mocking him for his weakness, his inferiority in this manly exchange; the price for being found wanting a steep one. I stood, the bar cheering as yet another pretender to the throne was hauled away like yesterday’s empties, and nodded in mute acknowledgement as I scooped up the money and downed Gator’s shot, the lights of the working refrigerator’s Pacifico sign glinting giddily off the corrugated steel roof.
“He won’t be needing that,” I said to Conchita, the comely cocktail waitress who’d been admiring me with hungry glances all evening, my lime green man thong confidently in place as her greedy eyes caressed me. Emilio, my chimp companion, did a gratuitous back-flip on the bar top to hoots of approval as coils of anthracite smoke swirled from cigars brandished in triumph by my supporters, their greasy fistfulls of cash waved to an indifferent heaven in triumph.
The calls of “Russell” and “El Toro Bravo” followed me from the cantina as I made my unsteady way home, the dissonant melody of mariachi horns lingering on the warm breeze like a favorite lover’s scent, Gator’s truth reverberating in my consciousness like a really loud clanging somewhere kind of echoey, and I thought, perhaps he knew something after all. Emilio’s simian gait matched mine as we stumbled down the dusty road to our dwelling, the heavy clump of my work boots on dirt muffled accompaniment to his snuffling, the occasional baring of his canine incisors all the congratulations I required as an orange harvest moon scowled from between streaks of clouds in the inky night sky.
Back to work on BLACK, the first installment in my Hollywood detective novel, I resolved, the 20K word mark having passed beneath my bow earlier in the day. No rest for the wicked. My latest WIP, Upon a Pale Horse, which is a mindf#ck of a bio-thriller, had been put to bed, hopefully for release by month’s end, and these childish flirtations in the shadows of derelict watering holes were no way to occupy my time. There were novels to write, stories to tell, damn it, and I was just the broken-down carny barker to coax them into being, even if I did keep odd hours and occasionally burst into inappropriate bawdy song (the curse of being Irish and having a lovely singing voice).
Anyway, that’s how my weekend went. In case you were wondering.