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Well, here’s the next in my author spotlight series. This time, it’s with one of my favorite indie author, Steven Konkoly. It’s a great interview. Check it out. Also, David Lender will be up next Friday or Sat, and then a week after that, NY Times bestseller and literary luminary John Lescroart. Quite a lineup of interviews for my first few weeks out of the gate. Lawrence Block, now Steven, then David, then John… Pinch me so I know I’m not dreaming. Oh, on the writing front, I’ll be getting King of Swords out next week, and I’m writing the prequel, Night of the Assassin, as we speak. Turning out frigging brilliantly, if I do say so myself. But you’ll be the judges, ultimately. The interviews in this series will be archived under the Author Spotlight tab at the upper left. And now, to Steve:

Russell Blake: Your two books, Black Flagged and The Jakarta Pandemic, are selling like lifeboats on the Titanic these days. Congrats. What’s your secret, and how does it feel?

Steven Konkoly: Thank you, Russell. I wish there was a secret formula for this, but I’m afraid that this recent run on lifeboats has everything to do with the wonderfully generous folks behind the magic curtain at Amazon. Kindle Direct Publishing informed me last week that my first book, The Jakarta Pandemic had been identified by their team as a book they’d like to include in their “Big Deal” post-Black Friday promotion. One week at a 50% discount, and they give the book enhanced promotional placement. Of course, I agreed. I had NO idea how powerful this placement could be for a book, and I’m not the only one. Five other Indie authors were chosen for this promotion, and one of them, Robert Bidinotto, is enjoying a ride like no other. His novel shot into the top ten of all Kindle books! It’s still there. My book took a jump from roughly #3000 to #250. Unbelievable, really, and it couldn’t have been timed better. My recently launched second novel, Black Flagged, is also benefiting from the additional attention paid to my other title. No secret, just some inexplicable luck.

RB: I’m currently reading your new one, Black Flagged, and enjoying it a great deal. Where did you get the idea for the book?

SK: The idea sprang from a character concept. Daniel Petrovich…he’s the protagonist in Black Flagged. I wanted to deeply explore the idea behind a highly trained, field experienced covert operative, and the effects that this type of work would have on them. Dangerous, unpredictable work must take an incredibly debilitating toll on a person, both physically and psychologically. Our recent experience with veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate the impact of a short term deployment under these condition…imagine a deep immersion of two to three years undercover as an operative. I wanted to demonstrate this with a character. Then, I took it one step further, and decided to create the concept of a covert training program that would seek out candidates with personality profiles that might mitigate these effects in the long run. In essence, identify apparently normal individuals with what might be considered sociopathic traits. Bringing these traits out in training, would theoretically soften the blow of the horrifying experience that would certainly lie ahead for them. They might even embrace it. Out of this, the Black Flagged program was born, and a story followed.

RB: Black Flagged is a departure from what you did in The Jakarta Pandemic. Which book better reflects your style moving forward from here?

SK: Black Flagged definitely defines my style. This is the book I always wanted to write, and I’m extremely excited about the series, however, The Jakarta Pandemic jumped ahead in line. I couldn’t shake this apocalyptic story, and knew that I would never be able to start a different story. It was a great start to my writing career, and introduced me to the most dedicated group of genre fans I have encountered. Post-Apocalyptic readers. Holy shit! This group is intense and dedicated. They are nearly demanding that I write another book in this genre, and when I finish with the Black Flagged series, or take a little break from the thriller genre, I’ll write another PA novel. You could say that I was “genre confused” in the beginning. I listed Jakarta as a straight thriller, then started hearing from survivalists, horror fans and apocalyptic readers…and the readership grew.

RB: Tell me about your process. How do you create your characters? Do you have a system for outlining them, of do you let them evolve as you write?

SK: Characters evolve as I write. I don’t outline them beyond keeping a sheet of paper with names, a brief description, title, and maybe something key to remember about them. I don’t like to be constrained in the beginning. Once the story is in full swing, I know pretty much everything I need to know about each character…though I still encounter some surprises. Sometimes, they start out one way, and go completely 180 degrees. In The Jakarta Pandemic, one of the protagonist’s key neighborhood allies started out very differently in my mind, and you can see it in their first interaction…he turns out to be something even I never expected.

RB: Let’s talk plot. What’s your approach to plotting and pacing? Put simply, how do you know when you get it right?

SK: Plot is a tough one. Pacing even worse. I have never taken a course on writing, or attended a workshop. I decided one day that I wanted to write a book (several actually), and spent the next year or two talking myself out of it. I read, and re-read Stephen King’s On Writing, picking up a pen to jot ideas here and there. I even started writing a screenplay, which I abandoned, because I thought the book would be better (I never wrote the book). When The Jakarta Pandemic idea hit me, I knew it was time to start writing. I’m not completely irresponsible, so I did a little research. I read blog posts and articles on all of the above mentioned topics, most of which left the bitter taste of bile in my throat. I’ve seen those roller coaster looking sine waves, with peaks and flows for stories. One of them was a worksheet, where you could fill in the lines at the top of each peak with your climax points…I’m sorry, but I have enough trouble keeping my plot straight, let alone try to synch it up with some complicated theory behind building excitement in stages, climaxes, resolutions…all of it. I guess I’m not a formula writer. As for getting it right, I know relatively early if it has gone “pear shaped.”

That being said, I have developed a strategy and a “system.” I start out with a general concept of the story line, and expand it slowly. If I have three or four subplots/arcs in the story, I will write an opening scene for each, and tie them together. I’ll write a few more scenes for each arc, always trying to tie them into the overall plot…once this becomes confusing for me, which is usually pretty early, I create a large posterboard with a flow chart. It shows all of the arcs, written scenes, proposed scenes, relationships between arcs, timing. If you get a moment, take a look at the chart I created for Black Flagged at my blog.

http://stevenkonkoly.com/2011/08/13/measurable-progress/

RB: Tell me about book length. Do you have a set size in mind when you start, or do you wing it and just write however many words it takes to tell the story?

SK: You should really ask my good friend Joe about book length. He almost fell out of his chair at Starbucks when I told him The Jakarta Pandemic was over 200K words. He told me to cut it to 100K, and over the next six months, we haggled like Persians over the word count. Of course, for him, it was easy…after I spent a month cutting, reshaping, and merging scenes, he’d tell me it wasn’t enough. I wanted to strangle him, but I knew there was too much fluff in the story, and I eventually got it down to 150K words. It wasn’t until I decided to self-publish, that I quit caring about the word count. Joe was right about the length, in terms of traditional publishing. Anything over 110K was considered a no-go for a new author. That number changes with the wind, but it seems to stay around 100K. I set out to wrap up Black Flagged in 100K words, and I just missed that goal. To be honest though, if the story needed more words…I would have suffered Joe’s wrath. He was very proud of my 100K accomplishment.

RB: What’s your background? Who are your favorite authors? And what are you reading these days?

SK: I come from a Navy background. I’m not a Navy SEAL or Delta Force operator, though I did enter and promptly exit the SEAL training program after graduating from our nation’s blessed Naval Academy back in 1993. Leg fractures. Once the naval commando option was eliminated, I reported to a small combat ship based out of Japan, where I forged some experiences that I would never trade away. The need to roll around in the dirt never really left me, so I took an unconventional detour for a naval officer. I wrangled orders to a Marine Corps unit that specialized in combat Forward Observation and Air Control, and served as a liaison officer. Two glorious years guiding every conceivable munition to its deserved destination, AND they sent me to Fort Benning to learn to jump out of airplanes (or anything that flies). It was the “jumping out of helicopters and blowing shit up club,” as my wife liked to put it. I guess what I’m saying, is that my military background weighs heavy in my novels…no doubt about that.

As for authors, I have a few favorites, to include Russell Blake. Am I allowed to suck up that obviously? Oh well, I just wanted to make sure he publishes this interview. Seriously, I have split my time between Indies and my favorite standbys. Traditional authors I have turned to over the years? Stephen King…I don’t care how trite it may sound, I still love his books. There were a few that didn’t do it for me, but overall, he is one of my favorites. His influence can be felt in The Jakarta Pandemic. For thrillers, I like Forsyth, Robert Harris, Nelson Demille (older stuff) and Crichton (who is now apparently the Tupac of authors…just published another one under his name). Indies? It’s hit or miss, but I’ve developed a list of favorites. Here are a few that anyone should check out. Well worth the money and time to read. Blake Crouch (for horror…not for faint of heart. Check out RUN first…holy crap, that novel about did me in.), Sebastian Breit (modern military with a sci-fi twist), Paul A. Jones (horror/sci-fi), Robert Bidinotto (spy thriller), and Russell Blake (I’ve read and reviewed all of his books…they’re good, very good.)

RB: How many hours a day, or week, do you write? How many would you like to in a perfect world?

SK: I’m back to my old military ways…I wake up before the rising sun (around 4:30ish) and write for roughly two hours. Some days less. I do this seven days a week, pretty much non-stop while I’m in the throes of writing. I just started this routine, after realizing that I would never finish Black Flagged at 500-2000 words per week, which is the rate at which I was writing back in June. I had 20K words done in the middle of June, and once I started my new torture regime, I had finished the remaining 80K by the first week of September (and I took a few weeks of vacation to go sailing). In a perfect world, I’d like to do this full time, and write all day…taking breaks to answer all of my fan mail (this would start to arrive I’m sure) and teleconference into several book clubs at once to answer questions about my work.

RB: I note you credit your editor on Amazon. That’s unusual. Tell me about that.

SK: Felicia is more than just an editor. She is a champion of my books, especially for The Jakarta Pandemic. I got in touch with her based on a review she posted on Goodreads. A very nice review, with some critical elements that spoke to me. She suggested something that I had been considering, and I didn’t know she was a freelance editor. When I asked her how she would go about cutting some scenes from my novel, she revealed to me how small of a world the writing market truly is. She had recommended my book to an independent press (she edited for them) for a possible book deal, and they contacted me based on her recommendation. I eventually turned them down, but hired her as editor to fix the manuscript. She worked extensively with me on Jakarta, and then proceeded to “pimp” it out big time on Goodreads and among her numerous Indie contacts (reviewers, bloggers, neighbors…all over). She still promotes my books, and she’s not shy at all about it…she treats her edited books like a proud parent. She earned the recognition and credit given.

RB: What’s next for you? What’s your work in progress, and when will you give birth?

SK: I’m working on the sequel to Black Flagged. Part two in the series. I haven’t made much progress…with all the fame and fortune heaped upon me by Amazon. Actually, this Amazon promotion fit right into my procrastination campaign, which has been in full swing for several weeks. I will have the new novel mapped out by next week, when I shall start seriously writing until it’s done. I think my water will break by mid-April…but May is not out of the question.

RB: If you had any advice for fellow indie authors, what would it be?

SK: Oh, this might be worthy of a separate blog post. I think the best thing for an indie to focus on, is to cultivate a loyal reader base. Encourage readers to contact you, and enjoy the banter. Always ask for their support in the form of a review. I haven’t confirmed why my book was recently chosen for Amazon’s promotion, but I have to believe that having 106 reviews factored into the decision process. Readers know what they are getting with my book. They’re not all 5 and 4 star reviews (majority are), but any reader that picks up my book at this point, and is surprised to find out that it is “told solely from the protagonist’s view…it should have multiple POV’s”, didn’t do the basic research right at their fingertips. Get those reviews! Business always picks up on the heels of reviews…good or bad. There’s so much more to tell.

Well, that’s it for Steve’s thoughts on life, at least for this interview. Oh, and Steve? Sucking up is absolutely acceptable on this blog. I like to think that the entire universe exists to pander to my every whim, and that it will start doing so momentarily. I just have to be a little more patient. Although getting up at 4:30? Maybe 4:30 p.m. from my nap, but I’m usually just going to bed at 4:30 a.m….

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I’ve been getting a lot of inquiries about who does my book covers. Let me just say that he’s fast, cheap and good. If you’d like more info, e-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll put you in touch.

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Join Russell Blake and 9 of his author friends at WoMen’s Literary Cafe’s Mystery Book Launch, December 13-15. Ten authors will discount their ebooks to just 99 cents. Buy 3 get 1 FREE!”

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NEWSFLASH: Zero Sum, Book 1, Kotov Syndrome, my Wall Street thriller serial trilogy, has been reviewed by acclaimed author Steven Konkoly, whose The Jakarta Pandemic and Black Flagged are climbing the charts. The review is a wonderful deconstruction of the trilogy, and is recommended reading for one and all.

MAJOR BREAKING NEWS: Justin Bogdanovitch published a poignant and touching review of An Angel With Fur for prominent online lifestyle magazine InClassicStyle.com .

INTERVIEWS: Couple of newish interviews with yours truly you might have missed. You can see them here, and here.

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The following is numero uno in a series of significant author interviews. It’s fitting that the first  is with literary legend and icon, Lawrence Block. The man literally wrote the book(s) on writing, and Senor Block was gracious enough to take time out from his busy day to offer a few utterances for our titillation and enlightenment. 100% Lawrence Block, in his own words.

RB: Let’s start off with what you’re working on now. What’s your latest release? What excites you about it?

LB: Latest releases, actually.  Hard Case Crime published Getting Off in late September, and I self-published The Night and the Music a week or two later. I have to say I’m excited about both of them. Getting Off is very intense, very erotic, and the POV is that of a sociopathic female serial killer, with whom I (and, it would appear, many readers) fell utterly in love. The book was a delight to write. The Night and the Music collects all the Matthew Scudder short fiction, eleven pieces written over 35 years, including two new stories; I couldn’t see it as a hot item in stores, so I decided to publish it myself, as an eBook and a POD trade paperback.  The process was great fun, and the response has been remarkable. The thing’s flying off the virtual shelves.

But that’s not what I’m working on now, is it?  Actually, I’m not working on anything now, because two weeks ago I wrapped HIT ME, the fifth book about Keller. Mulholland has it scheduled for February of 2013, which seems awfully far away, doesn’t it?  But I suppose the time will fly. It so often does.

RB: What’s your process for creating characters? Do you do character outlines, or just start writing with a mental image? Any opinions on what process has the most merit?

LB: I wish I knew how to answer that. I start with whatever I start with, and sometimes it’s just an opening sentence. I find out who the characters are as I write. I’ve learned to trust the process, if one can even call it a process. I’ll tell you, I sometimes feel like the moron who found the lost horse when nobody else could.  How did he do it?  “I just said to myself, if I was a horse, where would I go?” That’s how I write.

RB: How many hours a week do you try to write?

LB: It’s always been too variable to quantify. Nowadays, when I’m most of the time NOT working on a book, I’m most of the time not writing. I thought I’d retired from novels a couple of years ago, but, like Bogart in Casablanca, I was misinformed.

RB: What’s your process like? Is it 10 hour days, 5 hour days, smaller chunks, or random? How has it changed over time?

LB: When I’m working on something, and can devote myself entirely to it, I’ll put in a long stretch of hours.  But much of that time I don’t really seem to be doing anything.  I check email, I surf some websites, I check my Kindle sales several times an hour, I play computer solitaire, I play non-computer solitaire, and somewhere in there a couple thousand words get written.  God knows how.  I think elves do it. You don’t like the new book, blame the fucking elves.

RB: You’ve been doing this a long time. What still excites you about writing? More succinctly, why do you do what it is you do?

LB: Well, money makes the mare go. Or at least I tell myself that’s it. But I write a monthly column for a stamp magazine—Linn’s—and I have a column in Mystery Scene, and while I get paid, the money’s hardly enough to serve as a motivator. So I guess I must like doing this, and it must fill an inner need.

RB: Do you work on multiple WIPs at the same time – as in several in different stages, or do you focus on one until it’s done?

LB: Like the Unitarians, who believe in one God at the most, I generally limit myself to one WIP at a time.  At the most.

RB: Do you write your chapters sequentially, or no? I generally start at the beginning and keep plodding till the end, but I’m always curious about how others work.

LB: I write from the beginning and stop when I get to the end.  Can’t imagine doing it differently.

RB: Is there a quintessential Lawrence Block book, that if readers could only read one, that’s the one that synthesizes your style and is the ultimate expression of your Blockness, or Blockticity, or whatnot?

LB: I’m all over the map, y’know? And I don’t know that a Scudder or Keller is any more moi than a Burglar or Tanner—or a Jill Emerson opus, or, well, anything. Write ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out, that’s my theory.

RB: What advice could you offer new writers, if you only had 60 seconds with them, and wanted to impart the most critical knowledge you could – other than don’t quit your day job?

LB: I would never tell anybody not to quit his/her day job. One piece of advice?  Write to please yourself.  Period.

RB: What do you dislike most about the writing/publishing process?

LB: The wait between completion of the work and seeing it on sale. HIT ME’s not out until Feb 2013? R@s!

RB: What book do you wish you’d written?

LB: Silly question.  The DaVinci Code, obviously. No joy to read, but the perfect book to have written.

RB: Whose shirts do you wear?

LB: My own.  My wife’s are too small for me.

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I’ve been getting a lot of inquiries about who does my book covers. Let me just say that he’s fast, cheap and good. If you’d like more info, e-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll put you in touch.

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Join Russell Blake and 9 of his author friends at WoMen’s Literary Cafe’s Mystery Book Launch, December 13-15. Ten authors will discount their ebooks to just 99 cents. Buy 3 get 1 FREE!”

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NEWSFLASH: Zero Sum, Book 1, Kotov Syndrome, my Wall Street thriller serial trilogy, has been reviewed by acclaimed author Steven Konkoly, whose The Jakarta Pandemic and Black Flagged are climbing the charts. The review is a wonderful deconstruction of the trilogy, and is recommended reading for one and all.

MAJOR BREAKING NEWS: Justin Bogdanovitch published a poignant and touching review of An Angel With Fur for prominent online lifestyle magazine InClassicStyle.com .

INTERVIEWS: Couple of newish interviews with yours truly you might have missed. You can see them here, and here.

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I’ve been doing a fair number of interviews lately, and it occurred to me that it might be interesting for my readers if I spotlighted some of the authors I’ve run across who are standouts – climbing the charts, or noteworthy due to the quality of their work, or both.

I figured that would be more interesting than reading my scribbling about me, me, me, and so a few times a month I’ll be featuring what I think of as authors of note. Authors who have bucked the trend, beaten the odds, and are doing better than their peers.

The questions will be about their work, their process, and their views. Sometimes I’ll ask a marketing question or two, but that’s not the point of these fireside chats. It’s more to get inside their heads and find out what makes them tick.

My first two will be with bestselling author David Lender, whose latest opus, Vaccine Nation, is racing up the charts, and Steven Konkoly, whose The Jakarta Pandemic and Black Flagged are top selling thrillers on Amazon. I’ve read both their work, and enjoy it, so I’ll ask them questions that interest me, and hopefully you’ll be interested as well. As a thriller writer myself, I like hearing from fellow authors who are enjoying some success, and am always curious as to how they do whatever it is they’re doing.

After these two, I’ll probably slow the pace to one interview a month, with literary luminaries like Lawrence Block – guys who have been in the trenches, written a lot of books, and sold a bunch. In the end how often I do them will depend on the response to these. I’ll also ask the authors to check in on the comments a few times a week to answer questions from readers as they occur.

Hopefully this will become a series that affords us all a glimpse into the minds and processes of noteworthy authors who are making names for themselves. Everyone’s journey is different, but this will allow us to press our noses up to the glass and peer in at them, if only for a few brief moments. Stay tuned! First one coming within a few days.

On my writing front, I just finished polishing The Delphi Chronicle books, and my editor is scrambling to get King of Swords whipped into shape. Goal is to release King within a week or so, and Delphi by Xmas. I’ll be sitting down and writing a prequel to King over the next few weeks, while the character of the assassin is still fresh in my mind, and you can expect that out by year’s end. And I’ll be participating in a promotion for Andy Holloman, the art and details of which can be found below. So a busy December, by any measure. No rest for the wicked.

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Join Russell Blake and 9 of his author friends at WoMen’s Literary Cafe’s Mystery Book Launch, December 13-15. Ten authors will discount their ebooks to just 99 cents. Buy 3 get 1 FREE!”

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23 Nov 2011, by

Finito

NEWSFLASH: Zero Sum, Book 1, Kotov Syndrome, my Wall Street thriller serial trilogy, has been reviewed by acclaimed author Steven Konkoly, whose The Jakarta Pandemic just got its 100th Amazon review, and who just released Black Flagged. The review is a wonderful deconstruction of the trilogy, and is recommended reading for one and all.

MAJOR BREAKING NEWS: Justin Bogdanovitch just published a poignant and touching review of An Angel With Fur for prominent online lifestyle magazine InClassicStyle.com . It’s really a must-read review.

INTERVIEWS: Couple of newish interviews you might have missed. You can see them here, and here.

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After a lot of 15 hour days, I finished the first draft of “King of Swords” – my newest thriller, about a super assassin targeting world leaders at the G-20 Conference in Los Cabos, Mexico.

It’s a shocking, sometimes violent, often disturbing rush of a book. To say that it races is like saying a G-6 is a private plane. I’m now going back to polish & rewrite, which will take me four days, and then I’ll be submitting it as completed to NanoWriMo.

Every now and then you write one where you feel, as you write it, like this could be “The Book.” I’ve felt that way a few times, especially when I did The Geronimo Breach (still probably my favorite, depending upon which day you ask me) but this time I really feel like it’s my best work to date. Which is odd given the schedule I had to keep to get it done in 12 days – it’s no exaggeration to say I worked from 8 a.m. to midnight the entire period. So that’s around 160 hours with breaks, writing time. For those following along at home, the book totals a little over 87K words, and may gain or lose weight during rewrite and edit – although I’m pretty brutal about cutting during rewrite. I typically switch into a completely different mode, and go for efficiency over word creation.

For those who think it can’t be done in eleven or twelve days, consider that my speed actually comes to around 550 words per hour. That’s paltry. It’s just all about sitting down and doing the work, not about being a virtuoso speed-writing demon.

Books are made or broken in rewrite. I don’t think this one’s going to be the case. If you read the sample chapters I wrote on the 11th, you’ll see that it’s fairly well along as a first draft.

I’m very excited by this story. I hope that’s still my impression once I get done killing my babies in rewrite and edit. But I can say I haven’t read anything like it. A Mexican Federal Police protag that’s hugely developed as a character, set against the backdrop of the bloody 10-year de facto civil war with the drug cartels in Mexico, an assassin that’s by far the most interesting villain I’ve ever created, plots in plots in plots, a back story or three that will make you cringe in places…everything I’ve ever liked about the genre, but on steroids.

I want to take my time on rewrite so won’t be submitting it till next Wed, the 30. And I’ll work up a cover in the meantime, and get the editor cranked up to move this through with prejudice, and then will launch back into rewrite on The Delphi Chronicle, which is almost double this novel’s length and is a mover & shaker for entirely different reasons. Target for that is a Dec. 22 release. We’ll see. Target for King of Swords is Dec. 10.

And then I’m taking a one or two week break, before moving back into The Messiah Cipher, which will take till end of January to complete with all the holiday merriment.

Unless I decide to write one of the prequels to King of Swords first. I’m thinking Night of the Assassin as a title, covering the exploits of the killer before this book. God I hope this doesn’t keep me up at night and force its way into the world the way this last one did. I don’t want December to be like November…

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Join Russell Blake and 9 of his author friends at WoMen’s Literary Cafe’s Mystery Book Launch, December 13-15. Ten authors will discount their ebooks to just 99 cents. Buy 3 get 1 FREE!”

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18 Nov 2011, by

Nano Update

NEWSFLASH: Zero Sum, Book 1, Kotov Syndrome, my Wall Street thriller serial trilogy, has been reviewed by acclaimed author Steven Konkoly, whose The Jakarta Pandemic just got its 100th Amazon review, and who just released Black Flagged. The review is a wonderful deconstruction of the trilogy, and is recommended reading for one and all.

MAJOR BREAKING NEWS: Justin Bogdanovitch just published a poignant and touching review of An Angel With Fur for prominent online lifestyle magazine InClassicStyle.com . It’s really a must-read review. 

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My author went to Nano and all I got was this dumb book.”

An update on my new magnum opus, King of Swords.

For those just tuning in, last Friday, Nov. 11, at around 2 p.m. I got it into my noggin that it would be a swell idea to come off of having just finished writing about 150K words of The Delphi Chronicle and launch into a book for the National Novel Writing Month challenge – to write at least a 50K novel during the month of November.

Being as in Mexico it’s not unheard of to start happy hour around noon on Fridays (or most days, for that matter) it seemed like a perfect idea. Hell, after grinding out 150K of intricate international conspiracy, 50K would seem like a massage with a happy ending, not that I know what that means (wink wink). My point is that cocktails were involved, and so, without taking into consideration what it would do to my posture or my Iron Man triathlon training regime, I launched into it.

Today is one week later, and I’m at 45K words of what is shaping up nicely – it’s a hell of a story so far, as you can tell from the first few chapters (link below). One problem is that it is going to take more than 50K words to tell it, no matter how concisely I write it. There’s just way too much going on, with a lot of story getting packed into a slim wrapper. The characters are at that point where they’ve come alive, and taken on a life of their own. Who knew that the protag had a dark sense of humor? Who knew that the assassin would be that interesting and complex? Who knew that there would be conspiracies within the conspiracies, and that nothing would be as it seemed?

For those following along at home, I could finish this today at 50K, clock it in, and have won my “personal best” bet with myself for the fastest I’ve ever written a fiction novel. But the story wants to keep rolling, so I’m going to let it run and see what happens. My hunch is this is a 75K-85K effort, if I’m going to include all the nuance, which seems worthwhile. So I’ll let it have its way, and hopefully by next Thursday or so I’ll be done, and can polish it for three or four days, and clock it.

You can track my daily progress online here & read the opening few chapters I wrote Friday. And again, please, no wagering. This should serve as a cautionary tale for those considering doing anything after tequila blinds you to reality. Don’t do it, kids.

It’s also pushed editing and polishing my latest work in progress, The Delphi Chronicle, for two weeks, so this will delay that release to around third week of December, with King of Swords releasing around second week of December, assuming it isn’t drivel. I also think I’m going to end the promotion of Zero Sum where the first book’s for free around the end of the year, or end of Jan. at the latest.

That’s the news from my end. I’m keeping my head down and pulling on the oars as hard as I can, so hopefully by end of next week I’ll have birthed me a book…

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Join Russell Blake and 9 of his author friends at WoMen’s Literary Cafe’s Mystery Book Launch, December 13-15. Ten authors will discount their ebooks to just 99 cents. Buy 3 get 1 FREE!”

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4 Nov 2011, by

Free or Not?

NEWSFLASH: Zero Sum, Book 1, Kotov Syndrome, my Wall Street thriller serial trilogy, has just been reviewed by acclaimed author Steven Konkoly, whose The Jakarta Pandemic just got its 100th Amazon review, and who just released Black Flagged. The review is a wonderful deconstruction of the trilogy, and is recommended reading for one and all.

MAJOR BREAKING NEWS: Justin Bogdanovitch just published a poignant and touching review of An Angel With Fur. It’s really a must-read review. And the Pet Wall also gets spotlight coverage at Justin Bogdanovitch’s blog. Great pooch photos too. And the book is currently back in the #2 position in Animal Essays on Amazon UK!

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I have had a number of comments from author buddies that question the wisdom of offering Book 1 of Zero Sum, Kotov Syndrome, for free.

The sentiments range anywhere from the idea that it cheapens the perceived value of the work, to that I deserve compensation for my efforts, to that I will attract a type of reader who expects something for nothing, and thus won’t have any legacy value.

So I started to think through the question, and I can see both sides of it.

On the one hand, you have the largest single hurdle as a new author, which is generating name recognition and building a base of readers who will ultimately appreciate, like, and buy your work. It would seem to me that offering some of that work for free isn’t a bad way to crack the nut of getting decent exposure. With Zero Sum, Book 1, I decided to offer the first book in my serial trilogy for free, figuring that would give readers a chance to see whether they like my work or not. If so, super, perhaps they’ll convert into fans and purchase other work. If not, I haven’t really lost anything, as they likely wouldn’t have bought anything at any price.

But it does raise an interesting question; namely, is it a good idea to give your work away to generate buzz and get exposure?

The marketing guy in me says, hell yes. Every business has a marketing budget, and when breaking into new markets, you have to spend money to make money. So the value of the work you give away is part of your sunk cost into marketing. It’s like offering a loss leader, in the hopes that enough qualified buyers will become familiar with your work to convert into legacy customers over time. It’s why manufacturers do free tastings at Costco, or drug dealers give you the first time for free.

The author in me says, if I’m going to invest countless hours into creating a compelling work, and then further invest my money into hiring qualified editing and developing a professional cover, then I should get paid for going that distance. There are plenty of poorly written, badly or unedited works with horrendous or free covers, and I’ve taken the expensive steps to elevate my product above that bunch. Thus, the product is worth something, and then the battle becomes what is the product worth? That’s a different question. The point is, the artisan in me would like to be compensated for delivering value.

But the marketing guy says, screw it, give it away!

So what do you think? Where do you stand on the subject? What’s your take? Is giving away a part of a trilogy a viable marketing strategy, or cheapening the work? Or should you just give an entire 150K word novel away free? By giving product away for free, am I likely to attract perennially dissatisfied cheapskates who expect everything for free, and who troll the kindle store and the web for freebies? I can certainly appreciate that there’s a subset of folks that expect everything for nothing, just as there’s a subset who sue when coffee is served hot. I naively believe in human nature, and believe that most people will not have a problem buying work once they believe it has the quality they’re looking for. Yes, there will always be those looking to take advantage, or who feel entitled to everything for free because they’ve gotten free stuff before, but in the end, I think most adults, and certainly most erudite adults sufficiently literate to read a lot, are basically fair, and will have no problem exchanging value for value. There will always be predators and malcontents, but I tend to believe most aren’t.

But where do you stand? What do you think? What are you willing to do to get exposure, and what aren’t you?

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UPDATE November 1: An Angel With Fur and the Pet Wall get spotlight coverage at Justin Bogdanovitch’s blog. Great pooch photos too.

URGENT NEWS: Zero Sum, Book 1 – Kotov Syndrome, is #1 Bestseller on Amazon free Action/Adventure downloads, and #14 on overall free downloads!!!

BREAKING NEWS: New review for Fatal Exchange from book blogger Kate’s Reads.

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Thanks to everyone who registered a pricing alert with Amazon. It’s been a long week with a lot of help from my twitter buddies, but I’m happy to say that the mission was accomplished.

Zero Sum, Book 1 – Kotov Syndrome – is now a free download from Amazon.

You can download it there, and should. Early and often.

I know that hundreds of you sent messages to Amazon alerting them to the pricing disparity, and it looks like it worked.

Amazon is under no requirement to lower the price to free. They don’t have a price parity guarantee on anything but televisions. With books, it’s more of a smart business policy. But sometimes when you’re dancing with elephants you have to do so nimbly; with a little help from your friends. And so hundreds of messages alerting Amazon to the pricing disconnect were registered, and eventually a switch was flicked, and Zero Sum Book 1 is free.

That’s you guys – the power of the crowd, if you will.

Now I can market the books as they were intended – Book 1 for free, to familiarize readers with my intrigue/thrillers, fostering a trust in my style and reassuring the reader that I can write competently, and hopefully in a manner they enjoy. I know the biggest hurdle when I consider a new author is the concern they aren’t up to the task of keeping me entertained, and will come off as amateurish, or pedantic, or poorly executed in myriad ways. I’m pretty sure that once a reader has spent ten to twenty minutes with any of my books they’ll figure out quickly whether I suck or not, and if they believe I don’t, will then be interested in mushing forward through the remainder of the trilogy, and perhaps even to other books.

That’s the hope, anyway. Give the reader a taste, and then let them decide if further reading is warranted. Many will likely never read the download, or decide it’s not their cup of tea, which as John Locke points out, is par for the course, as is the likelihood of some hating you, some loving you, and some being ambivalent. It’s all part of the game. The only trepidation I have is that those who download free books might not fall into the demographic of those that buy books, but that’s risk anytime you hand out free anything. You have to expect those who go to Costco just to eat dinner by trying complimentary samples, along with legitimate customers who have no problem buying if they like it. At the end of the day, it all evens out, and the good will float to the top.

So now I have one more favor to ask, and then that’s it. For a while.

Please tweet to your following that Zero Sum Book 1 is now free on Amazon. The link is:

http://www.amazon.com/Zero-Sum-Book-Syndrome-ebook/dp/B005O0QISE/ref=pd_sim_kinc_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2

And always, thank you. I absolutely know I couldn’t have done this without you.

2011 was definitely the year of the book for me. Ten books released in one year (and one more I’m not releasing as it will make you all hate me and believe me to be the devil or something). Don’t try this at home. I never will again.

But never forget that the real push began when Zero Sum went free, and that was entirely due to support from the indie author community and my twitter crew. To all of you, Muchas Gracias! This may all wind up a tempest in a tea cup, but my bones say no, it’s the beginning of something big. We shall see. At least you all have front row seats!

Thanks again to everyone who contacted Amazon on my behalf. And thanks in advance to everyone who tweets about Zero Sum Book 1 – Kotov Syndrome – now being free on Amazon! As well as those who post honest reviews as to how they liked the books. Your feedback is important, and I try to read and respond to every critique.

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29 Sep 2011, by

On Editing

BREAKING NEWS: My first interview with Patricia de Hemricourt at ePublishABook.com, just came out and can be viewed here. It’s a good one, and goes into some detail on my process and general thinking, including some insightful questions on Gazillions. John Locke, and my writing and editing times.

NEW BOOK REVIEW: An extremely positive review for The Geronimo Breach at the blog of J. Landon Cocks can be seen here.

FEATURED BOOK: Fatal Exchange is the featured book at The Kindle Book Review. Check it out.

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Many of my Twitter followers are authors, and of those most are self-published. As we’ve all seen and heard, self-publishing can be a thankless and barren road, and money can be tight, or even non-existent.

The ease with which the self-publishing platforms now enable aspiring writers to upload their work is mind-boggling. The only thing standing between you and being on Amazon are a few mouse clicks. Gone is virtually the entire delivery system that defined the traditional publishing business for generations. Trees don’t need to be sawed down, trucks don’t need to go to and from warehouses filled with freshly printed books, stores don’t need to occupy valuable space that could house another Starbucks or fast food joint. It’s a brave new world we’re writing in; the old rules are dead and the sky’s the limit.

But is it really different this time?

Look, I’m no fan of inefficiency. I don’t particularly like a system that is the most usurious model I can imagine, aside from the record business. Authors see pennies on the dollar under that old model, with the retailer and the publisher pocketing the lion’s share of the product’s revenues. The actual creator of the work sees a sliver in that scheme, just as musicians see nominal bucks while the record companies pocket gazillions.

But is it all bad? Is the entire model worth throwing out?

As with most things in life, the answer is maybe.

It really depends upon the discipline of the writer.

What do I mean by that?

In the old model, there was a presumption that the literary agent had culled through thousands of manuscripts to find the most deserving to represent. Deserving generally equated to well-written and interesting, although in many cases deserving actually meant generated by someone whose name would ensure sales, even if they couldn’t spell their book title. Be that as it may (and don’t start me down the Snooki path), presumably the literary agents were gatekeepers of quality, who then passed their clients’ wares to publishers, who further thinned the herd, resulting in a clumsy industry algorithm that spat out books at the opposite end of the sausage machine – and the presumption was those books were competently written, would be of interest to someone, and were executed in a superior fashion; professional cover designers drew up art, professional editors checked grammar and punctuation and spelling, etc.

Now none of that applies. You can have your dim nephew kluge together some sort of botched abortion for a cover, and can generate books as quickly as monkeys can type.

That’s both good and bad. Because it demands that the writer be disciplined, even to the point where he/she must invest in quality control, in addition to investing the time into writing and then marketing.

From my standpoint, two essential elements I won’t sacrifice on are cover art and editing. I recently wrote a guest blog on my thinking about cover art, which can be viewed here, so this exercise is devoted to singing the praises of editing. Professional editing by a qualified, experienced editor, not a friend who substitute-teaches English as a second language and who has no real expertise or germane education.

A good editor can play an accretive part in the writing process, helping to not only catch errors and correct grammar, but also to take a larger role in ensuring the author’s voice is compelling, and that the story being told is done so in as masterful a manner possible given the writer’s skill level. A good editor adds to the quality of the work, and demands more out of the author, perhaps by asking leading questions or introducing commentary, or in some cases more overtly influencing the process: suggesting areas that need to be rewritten; pointing out gaps in story or plot; checking to ensure continuity and coherence; offering counsel on overall flow and pacing.

A good editor has the luxury of picking work he/she can improve, and will drive to create a superior product. A bad one will spell check and ensure punctuation is at least marginally competent. Or worse, will actually hurt the work, introducing more problems than they fix.

I believe that it’s almost as important to find a conscientious editor who shares a similar vision, as it is to sit down and write. I believe this because I’ve been on both sides of the editing table, and it’s a thankless job in the end, and it pays modestly, at best, and demands excruciating attention to detail and a love of the game of writing, as well as use of language. A good editor suggests alternative word choices, and catches echoes, and calls a spade a spade, and shares the writer’s enthusiasm over turning a phrase in a satisfying manner.

As writers, you owe it to yourselves to spend time interviewing editors, learning about their qualifications and the roster of authors they’ve worked with, and in the end, investing in a quality job. You need to pay for a pro to do the work correctly.

I’ve blogged a lot about why I write. I’m not a marketing wiz, nor do I claim some literary high ground. But I do know a bit about starting businesses. I’ve done more than my share of start-ups, and one thing I know is that you have to invest in your business before you can expect to see income, much less profits. So when you’re done writing your masterpiece, sit down and jot out a rough business plan – a budget, if you will, that captures product development (cover, pagination), quality control (editing), and marketing. Note that few if any business plans have zero committed to quality control, and zero for marketing, and zero for product development. None I’ve ever seen that were successful, at any rate. So what are you committing to your business, in terms of time, and money? How much are you planning to invest, and what do you hope to earn, net of those expenses? In what time frame? And what if things don’t go as planned? How long and how much are you willing to commit to seeing your business through until it is successful?

Being a writer requires intellectual discipline and honesty, if your writing is going to be compelling. I’d liken it to being on a never-ending quest. But once you’re done writing, you’re now a publisher. And being a publisher also requires discipline and honesty – at least with yourself. You need to commit resources to your self-publishing business, or it will fail. That seems elemental, and obvious.

Editing isn’t an optional part of this game. It’s a requisite. You need to expect to pay for a quality job, just as you would expect to pay for any other quality job in any other discipline. I’m very fortunate, as I have a gem of an editor who shares similar tastes and literary aesthetic. If you’d like his info, I’ll be happy to give it to you – just e-mail me via the “Contact” button. He’s the right man for my jobs, but may not be ideal for yours. You’ll need to determine that. But I can tell you that my work is the better for his involvement, and that he’s the best I’ve found. And I looked. I’ve been through four now. This is the fourth and final one.

The takeaway on this is that you need to look at your publishing gig as a business, into which you need to put sufficient resources to have a decent shot at success. Most start-ups fail due to flawed research, failed execution, or insufficient funding. All three of these are avoidable if you do the work and go in with your eyes wide open. So do yourself a favor. Get a good book cover to represent your product to the public. Get a good editor to keep you on track and help you polish your work to as exacting a standard as is possible. Plan a marketing approach, commit time and money and energy to it, and modify your approach if it isn’t working. Develop a habit of discipline – commit X hours per week to social media, Y to blogging and interviews, Z to finding reviewers to sample your wares, and A to writing your next work. Invest time in your product descriptions. Listen to what your readers think of your work. Seek out the counsel of those whose opinions you respect, even if their opinions might seem harsh to you on first blush.

And be disciplined in developing your product, which is the sum of the writing, the editing, and the representation (cover, your blog, your persona).

Is this easy? Nope. Will it work if you do all the above? No guarantee, just as there’s no guarantee of any other start-up business succeeding. But your odds increase the more disciplined you are. I’ve seen plenty of undisciplined talent with oodles of money and energy go nowhere due to lack of discipline. And I’ve seen marginal talents with a good work ethic and persistence, and reasonable commitments of resources, do well.

I’ll leave you with this. The harder I work, the luckier I seem to get, in every business I’ve ever started or operated. I bet this one is much the same. So my advice is hire a good editor to work with you, ensuring your product is as good as it can be, and you’ll be far ahead of many of your peers. Again, it’s not an elective or an option. It’s a requirement for success.

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BREAKING NEWS: I wrote a guest blog for author Benjamin Wallace on my thinking about book covers. It’s a good one, and you might want to check it out and introduce yourself to Ben, who is a talent. It can be viewed here.

BREAKING BREAKING NEWS: Fatal Exchange is the featured book at The Kindle Book Review.

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A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about writing. Specifically, about why I write, and positing that there are two general camps of authors — those who write for their love of the craft, and those who write to create a commercially-viable product. Put another way, those who would write if there was no money in it, and those who wouldn’t write unless they could get paid, or thought they could.

The response was unprecedented, with 113 comments at last count

In this new blog, I’d like to examine the opposite side of the coin I flipped the last time, namely effective book promotions. The overwhelming consensus of the last blog was that most write as members of Camp B (if you don’t know what that means, read the frigging blog), but once they’ve written something, the question that arises is, how to best promote it?

To start off, I’ll share a few promotions I have going on, or will have within a week. Some of these were a bit unorthodox, as I’m leery of the efficacy of things like contests, trailers, blog tours, and the like. That’s not to say they don’t work, but merely to admit that I don’t know how well they work, when they work at all. I’m hoping I’ll find out more by the time this blog has run its course. That will of course depend on the feedback I get.

The first promotion is a cross promotion in all my thrillers with NY Times featured author David Lender, whose work I’m a big fan of and who’s been very supportive of my efforts.

The way this works is that each copy of Fatal Exchange, The Geronimo Breach and (when I release them within the next 7-10 days) the Zero Sum trilogy, has an excerpt summary page right after the copyright notice in the front featuring samples of my three thrillers, and then an excerpt summary page featuring David Lender’s three thrillers. The actual excerpts are at the back of the book – three samples of my work, and then three of David’s, from The Gravy Train, Trojan Horse and Bull Street.

We figured our audiences would enjoy each others’ books, so have put this into place to see what kind of cross-traction we can get. We’re betting that if someone likes my new Wall Street thriller trilogy, they’ll like his Wall Street thrillers, and vice versa.

This is not uncommon with traditionally published authors under the same publishing house, but I haven’t heard of a lot of self-published/indie authors doing it. If it’s successful, I’ll keep everyone posted on how well it worked, and how long it took to do so.

Another promotion I’m getting ready to launch is with the way the Zero Sum trilogy will be marketed.

I’m going to make the first book in the trilogy free. Then the second and third book will be for sale, with a bundle of book two and three at a special discounted price.

My reasoning is that once a reader has had five or six hours of familiarity with the first book, they’ll be convinced enough to buy the rest of the serial, as well as possibly try my other thrillers. I believe this is a good premise, because the hardest part about breaking to new readers is to convince them that not only can you write, but you are worth an investment of their limited time. In short, you need to get the reader to trust you as an author. But they can’t learn to trust you if they’ve never read you, so my solution is to reduce the barrier to entry to zero.

Free is a pretty low hurdle, and one could look at it as a loss leader, or as an investment — the reader’s willing to invest their time in the book, so I’m willing to invest my cost to create it. My writing time, the cover and the editing.

And third, I’m lowering the price of all my books to .99 for two weeks. For the rest of the month. Again, on the theory that familiarity might breed something besides contempt.

I have no idea how well this will work, but my hunch is that it will work better than nothing, or sending out 100 tweets per day telling you to buy my crap, or a blog attempting to capitalize on a topical figure.

So I’d like to hear from other authors out there. What’s worked for you? What marketing or promotional efforts have yielded results for you, or perhaps as importantly, what hasn’t worked for you? What was ineffective that you’d never do again?

I’m open to being taught new tricks, and I believe that encouraging a constructive discussion can benefit everyone, so I’ve just tossed out my two best ideas for marketing over the next few months.

What’s your input? Don’t be shy; let’s get a discussion going so we know how to save our valuable time and money.

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BREAKING NEWS (sort of): Sensational author Kathy Hall has written a wonderful review for The Geronimo Breach. Take a moment out, and visit her blog to see what the fuss is all about. It can be viewed here. And new acclaim for How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated) just came in as the 15th sequential 5 star review at Amazon here and another at this blog.

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In Defense of Writing

Everyone knows that selling one’s work is a business.

It’s the selling business.

Some are good at it, some not very, but whether it’s selling plush toys or cars or books, the gig’s the same – convince consumers the wares are worth buying and develop a strong enough brand so they return to buy more. Selling is the transactional part; marketing is the brand-building part.

Enter writing. More specifically, enter the act of writing.

Everyone reading this blog knows I’ve done a viciously snarky parody of the slew of self-help books targeting aspiring authors for whom self-publishing is the new Holy Grail. Its title alone should give one a taste of the cynicism which inspired its creation: “How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated).”

What drove me to write it wasn’t to make millions, but rather because I like to write and I especially enjoy mocking human foibles, my own included — and I wanted to express my frustration and disgust with the foolishness and self-important hypocrisy evident in every corner of the writing and self-publishing game.

Which brings me to the point of this blog.

One “How To” book, in particular, by self-publishing sensation John Locke, contains a host of tips and steps for aspiring self-publishing authors. I take no issue with 99% of the counsel Mr. Locke offers, and believe that much of it serves as a decent platform for book marketing in the modern internet-connected world.

But there is a section I have a problem with, specifically where his approach to writing is to do so as though creating a product – essentially, if you follow his model, you’re to profile your target audience/reader and stereotype them, figure out what your hypothesized reader wants (chocolate or vanilla or strawberry), and then write what your target market will consume. Some quotations: “I set project goals: 1) Determine my target audience. 2) Complete a manuscript. 3) Write a book that will sell.” And “…understanding who your target audience is, and what they want, and writing to it (and only them!) is the most important component of being an author.” And “Selling downloads is nothing more than writing to a specific audience, and knowing how to find them.” All good marketing-driven advice. I have no issue with it from a marketing standpoint, nor from a salesman’s. It’s good counsel if you measure success as a writer in sales terms.

And if you think about it, the counsel makes sense if one views writing as product development. It’s a marketing worldview which treats writing as a product, much like any other. For me, it would be the same as treating painting as product, versus art – the inevitable result of which is a world filled with Thomas Kincades instead of Van Goghs.

When it comes to writing there are basically two camps, once you strip away all the hyperbole: Those for whom writing is a business and writing is a product-engineering process; and those for whom writing is an art/craft, separate from the business of selling the work once it’s produced (again, I have no problem with the business of selling and this is not anti-selling in any way).

I would describe it as Camp A, the “writing as product” camp, and Camp B, the “writing as expression of art/craft” camp.

Part of me rejects Camp A at a fundamental level, because I’m a Camp B guy. I write because I enjoy doing so. I write what I want; I do so in genres I myself read, and I don’t attempt to second guess how the work will do in the marketplace. I’m aware that the work is a product, but when I write I do so because I love the act of creation, not because I want to be in the “book widget” design & marketing business. I desperately try to avoid self-censorship, or creating a book because I’m hopeful it’s what the market “might” devour. In truth I’d be terrible at it, because then I wouldn’t be creating what I want, enjoying the craft for my own selfish, guilty pleasure – at that point, I’m churning out a product.

As I read Locke’s counsel to write what your audience wants, I found myself thinking of the scene in Amadeus where Salieri is counseling the commercially-struggling Mozart to craft heavy-handed operas with pedestrian execution and a bang at the finish so the audience knows the opera’s done.

Now, I’m not saying I’m any Mozart, but my point is that I do believe that we owe it to ourselves, as artists and writers, to aspire to be Mozart, even if our talents largely fall short. You can’t be the next David Foster Wallace if you never try to be. And if most don’t strive to excel, and instead focus on cranking out “sellable” product that panders to the lowest common denominator (not a bad commercial bet, incidentally), then it’s likely we will all be the poorer for it in the long haul. When we abandon the pursuit of excellence in favor of the pursuit of commercial reward, we are doomed as artists.

Note I’m not saying commercial reward is bad, or shouldn’t be aspired to. I just don’t think it’s the reason one should write. The odds are better of being struck by lightning or winning the lottery than becoming a bestseller, so setting out to write with commercial success as the reason for doing so is a lousy justification, in my mind.

I think you should write because you love the act of writing and creation, and I believe you should hone your craft with the sedulous devotion of an aspiring Yo Yo Ma – and perhaps if my perspective resonates and finds purchase in the world, the next Mozart of literature won’t be wasted writing the equivalent of greeting cards, pulp fiction, or “Penny Dreadfuls.”

Again, I’m not being artsy fartsy, or taking a high moral tone. But writing is, for me, about self-expression first. If a million people wind up thinking my work’s worth reading, super. If only a handful, I’ll be disappointed, but in the end, it won’t diminish my pursuit of the next well-crafted sentence, or plot twist, or memorable character. It’s the process I enjoy, not the selling or marketing part, and while my end-result may become a product I then market, I don’t set out to produce one for any other reason than the joy of doing so.

I’ve been fortunate, financially, so it won’t kill me if nobody wants to buy my books. I’ve made plenty of money marketing and selling things in my life, and I’ve churned out plenty of products that could be described accurately as mediocre. I never confused that with art or striving to master a craft. It was commerce, the business of selling, and it paid me generously. I apprehend the value of marketing and the importance of selling – as a commercial enterprise, not as an artistic endeavor.

So I’m not a neophyte at the commercial aspect of the job. I understand its role. But I also question whether the world is better off with writers aspiring not to craft work that is the ultimate expression of their gift (such as it may be), but rather to spit out mediocre dross, because that’s what they believe will sell. Do we really need more literary sausage machines grinding forth mundane, unimaginative screeds?

On the flip side, I’m also a realist. I understand the argument that it doesn’t matter how good the work is if nobody reads it. I’m fully aware of that. I’m nothing if not pragmatic, and skilled enough with a pen to write monosyllabic action screeds of marginal inventiveness, if that’s what the world is clamoring to buy.

Only I don’t, and won’t. The reason I don’t is a selfish one. It’s because when I write, I’m not doing it for the money. Sure, some cash is a nice reward for a job well done, and a decent indication others believe the work has value (as well as a reasonable measurement for success), however given that I’m comfortable in life, my motivation is different than one driven to pursue a financially-defined success. Regardless of ultimate sales, I’m already successful if I can create intelligent, well-written books I’d enjoy reading, in the genres I like. That’s just me. I write because I’m passionate about the process of invention, of creation, of using language to evoke emotions; and because I’m intent on becoming a better writer every time I sit at the keyboard.

The line of demarcation really comes down to this — I would write even if there was no money in it; no hope of making bank. For those who view writing as commerce, they likely wouldn’t. Why build it if nobody will come? Would you go to your accounting job if nobody paid you? Would you write tech manuals for fun or out of love? That’s nonsensical.

I’m not being sanctimonious. I’m not arguing that one philosophy is superior to the other. I’m not dissing the business of marketing and promoting, which are essential to getting the work into the world. I’m simply saying that I think the act of writing can happen for multiple reasons, and I’m sharing why I do so. Perhaps I’m all wet, and naive, and should treat my act of giving birth to new worlds roughly the same as determining which type of potato chip texture tests best in my target market segment. I just know that when I write a thriller, I do so because I want to, and I want it to be a book that is the very best example it could be, and if others love it, super, then hopefully acclaim and reward will come. If not, so be it, but I’ll still write, either way.

I fully understand I could bastardize even this pure expression of creativity – I know better than most how to do so.

I just don’t want to. I think it cheapens something special, at least for me, and with a finite period on the planet, I’ve learned to jealously protect and cherish the special.

What about you? Which camp do you fall into? A or B?

I’ll be curious to see the responses. Remember for this discussion there is no C – “I write because I love it, and just happen to love writing what I believe my profiled reader would want.” That’s a camp A person who enjoys the work. That’s the bus driver who enjoys doing a good job and is conscientious, but drives a bus because he’s paid to do so.

Camp B is the “I’d write even if people paid zero for books” crowd, camp A is the “I am trying to write something that will be commercially successful and modify what I write accordingly” crowd. One is workmanlike as I see it, the other is more about artistic self-actualization.

Which are you?

 

Russell Blake is the author of Fatal Exchange, The Geronimo Breach, and the upcoming Zero Sum trilogy (all thrillers), as well as the satire/parody How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated). Excerpts can be viewed at Amazon.com, as well as Goodreads.com and at WattPad.com.

 

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