NEW INTERVIEW: With Becky at MysteryWritersUnite. On craft & my books.
GOOD INTERVIEW: New interview now live with @ElaineAsh1 interviewing me. It’ a good one.
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 for prominent online lifestyle magazine InClassicStyle.com . It’s really a must-read review. And the Pet Wall also gets spotlight coverage at Justin Bogdanovitch’s blog.
I have been told I’m out of my mind.
There is some merit to that position.
I decided to give the National Novel Writing Month challenge a whirl. The objective is to write a 50K novel in the month of November.
The problem is that I was finishing up my latest magnum opus, so I couldn’t start on a new book until yesterday. So I did some cursory plotting, and started writing yesterday afternoon. That would be the 11th.
As of today, I’m at 10K words, and I hope to get to 15K by tomorrow night. That’s about as far as I can imagine getting, as I haven’t plotted what happens next yet, so there’s a conceptual hurdle there. But not to worry. I’m fairly sure I know the broad strokes of how it ends. I just need to flesh out all that stuff between Chapter 1 and the ending. Details, details. Stuff happens. People die. There are plot twists, and other stuff happens we didn’t see coming. Then the pace builds, and pretty soon we’re at the end. Maybe our protag’s character arcs, and he learns something about himself, or the world. Maybe he learns to trust, or that hate is a cancer, or finds the power of love.
As with all my thrillers, you can bet there’s a conspiracy within a conspiracy, and a breakneck pace. I just don’t know what the conspiracy is quite yet that’s in the conspiracy. Nor do I know what the twists are that will surprise and delight us at the end. Or the middle. Or anything after the beginning.
Having said that, the world is filled with bad people doing bad things, so there’s no shortage of real conspiracies I can draw upon for ideas.
The big hurdle is that I want to have 75-90K words done, as opposed to the 50K the challenge requires by, er, November 25. Of 2011. While I’m polishing my latest 150K of stories. And editing that one, which will require some heavy lifting. And preparing for a big book launch event I’ve signed up for in honor of @AndyHolloman.
But what is life without a challenge or three? Who knows, maybe this will turn out well enough to warrant some serious editing time, and release, say, around December 15?
What the heck. I actually almost wish I had one of those magic 8 balls where I could just shake it every chapter and it would go, “The protag meets a woman, who seems benign but is really deadly,” or whatever. It would be way easier than plotting all that stuff between once upon a time, and the end. Maybe I’ll just follow the age old advice, if you don’t know what happens next, have a guy enter with a gun.
If you want to check out the first installment, the opening of the book, which I’ve tentatively titled “King of Swords,” you can read the intro here. The title was suggested by my editor, who completely rocks and who I shall now blame for everything if the book bombs or sucks in any way.
That was yesterday afternoon and evening’s project. Oh, and MS Word conveniently lost the quick outline I did, where I’d figured out the first half of the book, so I’m kinda winging that. Nice, huh? Good old Word.
So pull up a chair and make some popcorn, and you you can watch a thriller novelist try to create something from scratch over a period of 10 or so days, allowing for a meeting or lunch every now and then.
Did I mention that some believe me to be, er, a little nuts? It’s why I drink. OK, one of the reasons. Ya got me. Now back to the ink mines…
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!”
BREAKING NEWS: Acclaimed author Steven Konkoly, whose new thriller Black Flagged just hit stores and whose Jakarta Pandemic just got its 100th review on Amazon, just published an in-depth review of the Zero Sum trilogy that’s the best analysis of the books I’ve seen. A must read. And please, distribute it and tweet it, as it’s honest, accurate and engaging.
UPDATE: An Angel With Fur and the Pet Wall get 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!
It’s been an interesting few days.
My Wall Street thriller Zero Sum, Book 1, Kotov Syndrome, has been free on Amazon for a little over a week, and after a truly stunning first week downloads have slowed, as I’d been warned they would. Conversely, sales of the bundled Book 2 and Book 3 have picked up, and it’s bounced around between #1500 and #3000 on Amazon Kindle books for that same period, so that’s good. The free Book 1 bounces between #10 and #5 on Action Adventure in free downloads, so it’s still seeing decent traffic. The question is of course, how many readers who download free books ultimately will be willing to pay for content – I can see a sort of sub-culture that believes that writers should do so for free and that books aren’t worth buying – although of course those in that culture wouldn’t dream of doing a ton of work for free themselves. It’s an interesting question, and I suppose we’ll see the answer soon enough.
I had a hitch in the gitty-up over the size of the excerpts in Book 1, so trimmed them to just a couple. This is a learning experience, as once they loaded in David Lender’s excerpts and mine, it bloated the file so over 40% of the download was excerpts, which I was unaware of until alerted (my tech guy does the excerpts and formatting – I just write the books and wash the bottles). That’s fixed now by cutting back on the excerpts, so it’s a brave new world. Also, since making the book available free, I’ve gotten a few one star reviews – a first out of 100 or so reviews for my work, and all on the free book. I guess John Locke’s observation that people will either love or hate your work is true, and you have to expect some haters to get mixed in with the lovers, especially as the numbers climb. It’s all par for the course, and the road’s been walked before.
As an aside, comedian Louis CK has a wonderful bit about how some folks feel a sense of entitlement, no matter how good things are, and will always be disappointed. He tells the tale of a flight where free in-flight internet was being tested, and after half an hour it stopped working, and the guy next to him began fuming, saying, “Man, this is bullshit!” The bit is funny because the guy is annoyed and feels entitled to something he didn’t even know existed until a few minutes prior. That seems to be human nature for some. Point is you can’t please everyone. Louis CK is amazingly funny, for those who haven’t seen his work, and you should look for him on YouTube for a laugh.
I’m currently chugging away at my next WIP, which will be The Delphi Chronicle. I hope to have the whole thing finished up in a week or so, at which point it will be polish time, and then off for editing and a cover. This one is scaring even me a bit, as the underlying conspiracy is frighteningly plausible and is based on an amazing piece of investigative journalism I stumbled across while researching book titles.
After that, I’ve got the next book featuring Dr. Steven Archer/Cross from Zero Sum, and then three other book ideas for next year, all of which I’m pretty excited about as they’re novel premises.
The Pet Wall is growing slowly, and An Angel With Fur continues to receive rave reviews, all of which comment on how touching the book is. That feels good for me, as I’m so close to the story sometimes I lose perspective on whether it really is moving for someone who wasn’t there.
So I will be relatively quiet over the next week or two as I finish my current WIP, and then will come up for air and chew the fat more. Thanks again to all who have retweeted my tweets about Zero Sum Book 1 being free on Amazon, and who have been supportive as I experiment with different marketing approaches. It seems there is no one magic bullet, but there’s at least a light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully it’s not a train coming at me.
Until next time…
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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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I was first going to write this blog about clowns, but that seemed just too creepy, because as we all know they’re usually alcoholic pedophiles and sex offenders hiding behind the makeup, red noses and oversized shoes so they can’t be easily identified by their victims.
Not that I’m encouraging stereotypes or profiling, but when I see a mid-forties man wearing face paint and working for peanuts at the circus, I’m judgmental. That doesn’t end well. Don’t even get me started on what series of wrong turns in life have you dodging elephant poop while wearing a funny hat and spraying other reprobates with seltzer. I think I’ve spent enough time heavily-medicated and at the therapist to put the obvious trauma my early run-ins with them caused behind me, but it’s still uncomfortable to go there.
So instead, I decided to do a blog on editing, and the value a good editor brings to the table for self-published authors.
Then I had a few drinks, and decided to change the topic yet again, to the topic of money.
Look, whoever said that writing was its own reward was obviously delusional in the extreme. It’s not. You can’t write your landlord a sonnet to keep a roof over your head. And the groupies aren’t anything to get excited about.
So let’s be honest. I, and most other authors, would like to see some cash for their books, assuming the work doesn’t suck a bucket of d#cks, to borrow a phrase from someone I stole that from. But then there’s that whole process where I have to write something, and then you have to be discerning enough to hear about it, and then buy and read it – although in truth, my interest in the process stops at the point you buy it. I really don’t care if you have to sit, lips moving, sounding out words to get to the end you likely won’t get anyway. I’m more concerned with the part where you pay for it.
But having said that, the process is grossly bloated. Kindle and the other eBook readers are doing away with the publishers, so that makes it more streamlined from one side, but from the other it still has drawbacks, as mentioned. So I’m thinking we can make it even more efficient by you disintermediating (that’s an erudite way of saying eliminating, and erudite’s a fancy way of saying scholarly – or close enough for our purposes) the part where I have to create something you then read, and instead, we just cut to the chase and you send me money!
I know, I know, it’s frigging brilliant. Magic, really. We do away with the entire system, and you just paypal me a few bucks so I can buy tequila and carouse with women of questionable virtue or buy black market organs to keep me fingersnapping till the wee hours.
You probably haven’t read half the books you downloaded for free on your eReader anyway, so let’s not kid around that you somehow are getting shorted on this. I actually just saved you the drama of feeling really stupid when you can’t make out half the ideas or concepts I sculpt with words, presuming you ever tried to read my work in the first place.
I recently saw a statistic (actually I just invented it, but you’ll never know the difference) that says that 81% of all eReaders have a large backlog of downloads they’ll never get to reading. That’s a huge resource drain those readers have to face. And the guilt will slowly poison their souls, as the weight of obligation crushes their spirits and creates yet more misery in their otherwise likely empty and meaningless existences.
So let’s just do away with that, and get very post-modern, and you send me money. We can eliminate the part where I become an investment banker and cheat you out of it in the markets, or a politician and tax it out of you – again, that’s inefficient. Better for both of us is you send it to me, just a little, mind you, hardly anything that will be life changing for you; but it will be a game-changer for me, I guarantee you, especially if we get some lift for the concept and millions of you send me a few bucks.
I mean, I suppose if you want to stay all medieval on me, we can stick with where I churn out a few thousand words about some hackneyed ex-covert operative who gets into improbable and poorly structured and executed pseudo-adventures written in mono-syllables, and then tack on 20K of self-congratulatory reviews and blurbs and such in exchange for your loot, but I’d much prefer if you just wing the shekels my way, and we just proceed from there. I see no downside for either of us. So that’s really best.
Just think about it, OK? Pretend I’m a starving, mewling little third world kid with flies laying larvae in my eyes while I’m sucking the water out of a mudhole to stay alive, if that makes it any easier for you. In fact, we can set up a program where you send a few bucks every month, and you’re “sponsoring” me! Change Russell’s life for only $5 a month? Christ, I’ll crank out some form thank-you letter from Sally Struthers or whatnot if that’s the only thing standing in the way. Because you can sure as hell change my life, if enough of you sign up for this.
Are you with me? Do you feel the change? Are you excited? I feel it! I feel it ENOUGH TO USE CAPSLOCK AND LOTS OF EXCLAMATIONS!!!!!!!
I know a few of you are selfish, money-grubbing misers, whose every waking moments are spent only thinking of yourselves, so I have yet an additional incentive!
I can set up a fraudulent 501c-3 if you want to write it off on your taxes – the IRS will never question $30 bucks of charitable contribution from your side, and I’ve got a beancounter who was doing Madoff’s books, so we’re golden.
If you still don’t see it, don’t make any hasty decisions. This has merit. They laughed at Ford before he invented the lightbulb, and look at how that turned out. You’d still be debating the shadows on the cave wall by burning dung patties if it hadn’t been for him. So don’t be a Luddite and stand in the way of progress. This really is the new new new thing, and you can be in on it for once, at the ground floor.
In fact, maybe the way this works is, everyone send me money, and then every week I’ll hold a contest where I give some of it away in a lump sum to those who contributed! Like 10%! Are you seeing it now? You’ll be rich!
Get back to me on this, OK? It’s for a good cause. Really. I think we can make this work for everyone.
I have received a number of questions via comments and e-mail since posting a blog several weeks ago asking for interview questions, and because I’m a considerate, kind example of humanity, I thought I’d respond to the more interesting ones. Unlike my invented, humorous “interviews.” I (mostly) answer these sincerely. Most are writing process related, which doesn’t surprise me since most of my Twitter followers are writers. So, in no particular order, here they are.
Question: Why do you have such graphic torture scenes in Fatal Exchange, and yet in Geronimo Breach you have no graphic violence?
Me: I was trying a number of different things in both books. In Fatal, I wanted to craft a book that worked like a season of “24″ – a series of short, percussive scenes with high impact and a racing plot, with two distinctly different story lines – that of the foreign government counterfeiting US banknotes and sending a hit team to silence the leaks, and that of the serial killer who is stalking the bike messengers. Part of my experiment was to see if graphic scenes could shock the reader’s system at desired beat points, compelling them to stay engaged. Another major experiment was to see if I could write a convincing female protag that worked for both sexes. Some love the graphic shock, some not so much. Mostly positive, though.
On Geronimo Breach, I wanted to do a different experiment – write the most offensive protagonist on the planet and see if I could make him engaging so readers root for him even though he’s a despicable sh#tgrub of a human. And I also wanted to see if I could sustain an element of suspense over the underlying conspiracy plot till the final two or three pages. For that I didn’t require violence – it’s a different approach to the thriller genre than Fatal, so I wrote what I needed to in order to successfully accomplish what I’d hoped to achieve. Both have gotten rave reviews, but Geronimo’s have been particularly good, so I think both approaches are valid depending upon what you want to achieve. My instinct is that future books won’t have much graphic sex of violence, as it’s proved unnecessary to moving the story along or making it more compelling.
Question: Have you sold a Gazillion books yet?
Me: As described in my book, How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated), I am on an exponential curve to sell a Gazillion shortly. An understanding of math and physics will tell you why I’m confident. Critical acclaim has been overwhelmingly generous, and sales are on track with expectations.
Question: How do you incorporate layering into your books? What is your reasoning for doing so?
Me: I try to make the books work on a number of levels. At the obvious level, and then at a deeper philosophical level, and finally at an experimental technique level, for authors. I do it using proprietary approaches only Goldman Sachs and I have access to. I do it because I bore easily, and I enjoy when I can reread a book and get an entirely different experience out of it the second or third time around. And also so I can take an intellectually superior tone with anyone foolish enough to cross me.
Question: What’s next for you? Are you going to serialize a character as John Lock advises? Write a heartfelt blog about someone topical?
Me: If I thought I could write a blog about someone newsworthy and insert myself into the discourse to broaden awareness of my work, I’d do it in a heartbeat. But I don’t believe that will ever work again, presuming it ever did, claims notwithstanding. The reason is one of efficient market theory: once all facts are known, and a technique is broadly understood, it by definition loses its effectiveness. Unfortunately, while Locke’s book is filled with interesting advice and techniques, I have yet to see them work for anyone but him, thus I find it interesting as a post hoc reasoning piece and a historical analysis of why he thinks he hit when he did, but not particularly helpful as a moving-forward guide. Perhaps I’m an A-hole, and others are having miraculous success with his approach, but I have yet to see it. If you are aware of anyone, speak up. We would all love to know the secret sauce and see it validated via reproducibility. Because that’s the test of any hypothesis – can you repeat the experiment, in a vacuum, and achieve the same result? So far, not so much, as far as I’m aware.
As to serializing a character, I want to see how my next trilogy does. Zero Sum is a trio of Wall Street thrillers, which follow the trials and tribulations of Dr. Steven Cross as he battles a powerful financier adversary in a biotech pump and dump scheme. I don’t have any particular drive to serialize any character thus far, but I’m open to it. If I do so it will because I feel that character has more to say, or is appropriate for another story – not because it appears to be a favorable marketing strategy. Ludlum had a pretty good run of it without serializing until he did the Bourne trio, and Grisham and King and many others have done nicely without serializing, so in the end I think it’s a function of what you want to write – what interests you. If Zero Sum does well and acclaim is uniform, I’m thinking of using Dr. Cross as the protagonist in one of my next novels.
As far as other characters go, I love Al from Geronimo. He’s was one of my favorite characters to write, ever. But I’m not sure he has another adventure that requires telling. Tess, from Fatal Exchange, is another compelling character, in my own admittedly not-so-humble opinion, but I’m not sure she’s going to ever appear again.
I’m not that calculating in my process. Generally, I get an idea, generally a “What if X was true, and as a result Y happened” and then I scribble an outline. Sometimes it goes into a drawer, and I add to it over time, and sometimes I’m compelled to sit down then and there and write the bloody thing. I have no control over it. With Gazillions, it started out as an idea for a 1200 word blog, and manifested into a book. With Geronimo, it began with conceptualizing Al, and a burst of insight over a possible conspiracy that would be world-changing in significance. With Fatal, it was the idea of doing a dual plot book in a post-”24″-sensibility manner. I wish I had more control over it, but I don’t. I just get an idea, and sometimes it sucks and I kill it, and sometimes it has legs.
Question: How long does it take you to write a book? Fiction and non-fiction?
Me: Depends. Generally speaking, however, non-fiction is much faster than fiction. Gazillions was written from July 2 to the 7th. 12 hours a day writing it. Laughing aloud much of the time, to the alarm of my dogs. Fiction, depending upon length, for a first draft,takes me between 140 and 200 hours for an 80K to 110K word novel. Also 12 hour days; generally contiguous days with no distractions. I find it far easier to immerse myself in the fictional world and scenario and remain there until done. But I usually have an outline of the plot on fiction before I start, so that speeds the process as I have a rough roadmap of where I want to go before I start.
On Geronimo, and Fatal, I did a chapter by chapter summary, two to three sentences, of what’s going to happen and who’s going to do what to whom. That makes it fast to write once I sit down and start. On Zero Sum, I tried it with no outline or chapter summaries. It took longer, but not that much longer, so I’m unsure how I’ll write in the future. Probably with outlines and chapter summaries, as I think it makes for a more coherent, and more complex, plot. It’s easier to keep 3 to 5 story lines running simultaneously with that approach, and I think it enforces intellectual discipline for the writer. You have to really think through all the pieces before you start, which enables you to ask yourself questions like, “Is it a good idea for the reader to know X at this point, or does it work better if he discovers X far later, and then realizes X was important earlier in the narrative?”
Question: Do you use any organizational tools, like Scrivner?
Me: Nope. I use MS word, and index cards. The glamor of technology hasn’t really had any appeal for me, mainly because I can’t maintain attention to figure out how to make the SW work. So far so good.
Question: You Tweet a lot. How as social media changed your approach, if at all?
Me: I do tweet a lot, but it runs in waves. If I’m working on a book, the tweeting will drop off to nothing. If sitting around, bored, I’ll tweet a bunch. I try to keep it random, and interesting, and funny, and not just a bunch of “Buy my book” clogging crap. I hate that, as it smacks of desperation and flop sweat, and ignores the obvious – it ain’t working. Again, if there are authors who have found twitter to have increased their sales significantly, I’d love to hear about it. But I don’t see it as a big contributor in the long run. Same with Facebook. I have a page, but I rarely update it. It’s just a timesuck. Most of the social media stuff seems to be.
Having said that, I’ve made some great friends on Twitter and Facebook, so from that aspect it’s been valuable. But overall, I don’t think most writers buy other writers’ work, so tweeting to a bunch of followers who are mostly writers, in an effort to get them to buy your work, seems low impact to me. We writers are usually a self-involved bunch, focusing on our own projects, so the work of others is not a priority. Or again, maybe that’s just me. But if I get to one book a month of my fellow writers, I’m doing well. Next on my list is David Lender’s Bull Street, and then Steve’s The Jakarta Pandemic.
Well, that’s the lot of them. I did get a few that asked some personal questions, but I’d prefer to keep some parts of my life private, so those won’t be seeing the light of day. No offense to anyone who sent one. But some things are none of anyone’s business but mine. You’ll note I actually tried to answer everything sincerely, and without my usual mockery and derision. That’s probably a rare exception, so don’t get too used to it. If I haven’t answered something here that you are curious about, as always, e-mail me or leave a comment, and I’ll add it to the next round of these.
A status update. Well, first off, acclaimed Aussie novelist Kath McDicken has devoted a marvelous new blog to reviewing several noteworthy authors’ work, not the least of which is John Locke, and the complete works of Russell Blake. She’s a fabulously entertaining writer with a style all her own, and I think her blog is one of the best I’ve read. It can be viewed here.
Next, I was invited to write a guest blog on the ins and outs of being a book whore, or more specifically, on being a book pimp, at John Mierau’s blog. John’s loose topic idea was “Book Pimping,” and what resulted was my first guest blog at his site, titled, “The Art of Pimping.” John’s a talent in his own right, and I have no idea why he’d sully his reputation by allowing my ramblings on his site, but it’s too late for him now — the blog is live. You can check it out here.
And finally, lest it gets lost, a few days ago author Steve Konkoly wrote a glowing review of The Geronimo Breach, which can be viewed here.
I’m hard at work editing my new Wall Street financial thriller trilogy, Zero Sum, which will be available, er, shortly. Please take out a moment to check out the above, and if you’d be kind enough to tweet about this blog, I’d owe you big time.
It’s rare that I blush. Generally speaking, at least several bottles of good Shiraz or Malbec are involved. OK, maybe not all that good, but several. In any event, as all authors know, it’s hard to tell how your fellow writers are going to react to your work. The reasons are legion. They’re tough critics because they’ve had to forge their talents by having a zero tolerance policy in their own work for slop or grammatical error. They know the theory of story, they understand character arcs, and they’re jaded – they usually read a lot, and are picky as hell. So surprising a good author with something in their own genre is a tough task. Really. I know I read an awful lot of work from established names where I’m groaning aloud halfway through, wishing for death, or at least regretting the hours of my time I wasted on a substandard offering. It sucks. I hate it. So should you.
It is with considerable surprise and no small amount of joy that I read author Steven Konkoly’s review of my latest thriller, just out in the last few weeks: The Geronimo Breach. This is a man of no small literary talent of his own, who is as positive as I think it’s possible to be about my book. But what makes the review significant in my mind, as you read it, is that it’s clear that he has a grasp on all the elements of story, language, grammar, character development, etc.
I won’t belabor the review. I think it’s worth reading it for yourself. And then I think that you should take me up on my offer – if you don’t agree that The Geronimo Breach is the best thriller of the year from a new author set in Panama, I’ll gladly refund your money. Seriously, though, if you like thrillers, take Steve’s words to heart. He’s not just blowing smoke. The review is honest. Probably more so than I am. That being said, thank you Steven for the review.
And thank you Lawrence Block for your positive review of How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated). And John Lescroart, and David Lender, for your kind reviews of it as well.
I understand this seems shamelessly self-promoting, and perhaps it is, but there is also a sincere part of me that really wants you to read Geronimo, just to hear the reaction. It has nothing to do with money. If you’re a writer, you know what I mean. If you’re a reader, you know the joy of discovering something new and exciting. I’m hopeful Geronimo Breach gives everyone something to cheer about.
Till next time…
First, an update. Fatal Exchange has 18 rave reviews on Amazon to date. Geronimo Breach, just released a week or so ago, already has 4. And How to Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated) has 11, plus some wildly flattering reviews from literary luminaries like Lawrence Block, John Lescroart and David Lender.
Now, to the point of this blog. I need your advice. Sincerely. No gimmicks.
I’m working on a host of projects right now, and I’m sort of at a crossroads in terms of what to write, when. I’ve talked to all my usual suspects, and everybody has a different opinion. So I figured I’d ask you, the reader, your opinion.
Here’s what I have in the pipeline:
Zero Sum – a Wall Street financial thriller trilogy, in edit.
Project B – International intrigue thriller tentatively titled The Delphi Chronicle
Project C – treasure hunt type thriller tentatively titled The Manuscript Cipher
Project D – Satire/humor book on why men are the way we are
Project E – True story of the best dog in the world and his trials and tribulations
Project F – International conspiracy thriller
So the question is, which would you rather see next? Of all the above? Actually, you’ll see the Zero Sum trilogy next, as that’s in editing, but of projects B through F, which would you most want for Christmas? I’m working on all, and have anywhere from 20K words to 30K words completed on many, so it’s more an issue of, what would most interest you? You want another Gazillions style book on being a man? An international chase? A heart-wrenching story of the canine love of my life? A Raider’s of the Lost Ark type thriller/adventure novel?
Tell me. Assume all will be executed as well as it’s possible for me to write them.
Then the second question is, should I do some genres under a pen name, to avoid confusing fans? I mean, it’s bad enough already with me being a thriller writer, who also writes snarky parodies on all things grammar and writing related. Will it dilute my brand to throw some of these even odder genres into the mix? Dog book? Dick-lit? And if so, should I be thinking up a new moniker for those genres?
Tough questions. But then again, I’ve got some of the smartest readers on the internet, so I’m interested in hearing your thoughts. Leave them as comments with an OK to publish and I’ll approve them, or of you have something more confidential, mark secret and only I will ever see it.
I’m dead serious about this. I have 4 months left. I can turn out a non-fiction ready for editing in a couple weeks, and a novel in a month or less. So what do you want your next couple books from me to look like by Xmas?
Appreciate the feedback. As always. But please, no more adverts on how to make $5K from home in my spare time – I already tried the pedophilia server-hosting thing, and collections are an issue they don’t tell you about. So I know you’re lying. Stop lying.
Please leave the suggestions as comments. Much appreciate it.
First off, let’s discuss the brand new book from yours truly, just released a few days ago: The Geronimo Breach. It’s getting critical acclaim, for which I’m grateful, as I take a lot of risks in this book, a sample of which can be viewed here. I sort of wrote a novel where I broke as many of the traditional rules as I could, without crossing over and becoming a twat.
My reasoning was simple: I wanted to write an anti-hero, a protagonist who was so filled with objectionable traits he was barely tolerable, much less likeable. I also wanted to open the book with a dream sequence – but not just a dream, rather a dream inside a dream, the only purpose of which was to throw out some gratuitously fun literary beats, and to introduce the offensive protagonist. And I wanted the entire novel to be based upon such a controversial predicate that it would infuriate, but also wanted the plot to remain unknown until the final pages, when realization hits the reader with a roar. Yet I wanted the story and characters to be engaging enough to carry this hidden plot for 80K+ words. And finally, even though the events in the book date it to just a few months ago, I wanted to create something that would be timeless.
So we have a book that was written in a short, intense period of time, that understands all the rules and deliberately breaks them for effect (and the hell of it) and which comes off as entertaining and fun, and in the end, troubling, where you have as despicable a protag as possible, whose arc in the story benefits almost entirely from dumb luck favoring his making the wrong choices at virtually every turn, and for whom any sort of redemption is not only unlikely, but almost unthinkable.
Fortunately, it appears that the mission was accomplished – upon reread, I enjoyed it rather a lot (I have to put the book down after editing for a few weeks and get busy on something else so I don’t own the words, and thus sort of forget how a particular sentence was structured or what precisely comes next). Early readers also liked it quite a bit, awarding it 5 stars. And it was just featured on an editing blog that is rather influential in the UK – Write Into Print.
I’m hopeful more of you who have read Fatal Exchange will post commentary on it at Amazon (we’re up to 16 four and five star reviews thus far), as well as for Geronimo Breach and Gazilions – which has gotten so much critical acclaim I almost blush to think of how kind my critics have been.
So that’s the update for how I’ve been keeping busy. Even as we speak, I’m editing another thriller that’s largely financial-world driven (I want to get as far from the jungles of Panama and Columbia as I can in this book, given Geronimo is set there), and more up the alley of Wall Street than Calle 12. Once done with that, I have two more books set for this year (actually 3, but I don’t think I’m going to get all 3 done) – one an international chase conspiracy/thriller, one a treasure hunt type book a la Da Vinci Code, and one a humor book in the vein of Gazillions, which skewers male/female relationships. I’ve completed 25K words of the chase book, 20K of the treasure hunt (of which I’ll probably trash 10K), and 90% of the humor book. So I’m a busy boy, but if it’s a choice, I think I prefer to get the treasure hunt book completed next, and then move to the others. Given that the second humor book will likely kill my career it’s so abjectly offensive, I may shelve that for a while. Dunno.
On another topic, I’ve just completed a guest blog which should come out next week or so, and now want to try something a little different.
I’ve been getting comments from fans asking for a real interview, as opposed to the simulated ones that have appeared thus far. So I’m going to propose that anyone with a question leave it as a comment on this blog, and at some point shortly I will organize the questions into interview format, and answer as many as I feel like fielding. This may not work, or it may work great, so we shall see – comments are moderated so you smut-mouthed trash talkers who usually comment can be appropriately censored, however that also means that your questions won’t appear until I publish the interview. So leave your questions, and I’ll assemble them and answer them as a separate blog post within the next week or two.