Category:

self-publishing

It’s not often that you get to chat with a living legend. I was recently fortunate enough to interview NY  Times bestselling author John Lescroart, whose career spans decades of consistently turning out over twenty enormously popular, erudite, riveting fiction novels. He was kind enough to subject himself to my inane questions, all for your amusement, and at considerable personal expense – all right, perhaps an exaggeration, but what of it? The point is, this literary icon took the time away from a life of jetting to and fro in the company of celebrities and super-models to offer his thoughts and counsel so you could be enriched. So pull up a chair and read one of the most meaty and interesting interviews I’ve had the pleasure of doing in my Author Spotlight series. Pay attention. Maybe you can learn something…

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NEW NEW INTERVIEW: If you only read one interview with me, ever. this is the one you should read.

NEW INTERVIEW: With yours truly on writing King of Swords, with Cheryl Bradshaw Books. Essential reading.

BIG NEWS: Absolutely must read book review by bestselling author Steven Konkoly for King of Swords.

ANOTHER NEW INTERVIEW: Guest blog/interview with Sibel Hoge.

AND YET ANOTHER NEW INTERVIEW: Busy week for interviews. This one on An Angel With Fur.

AND AN AWESOME NEW REVIEW: By JLandonCocks for Fatal Exchange, just released!

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Russell Blake: Your legacy of work is one of the most impressive out there. Where do you get your ideas from, and what’s your process for moving them from idea stage to where you’re actually writing?

JL:  Right now I’m in the throes of “getting an idea” for my next (2013) book, and I must say that the challenge never stops.  Because really, what’s needed is not just an idea, but a great idea, a concept that can carry your characters through 400 pages of compelling action and development.  If there were a secret to getting that idea, I’d tell you what it was, but I’m afraid that for me, at least, ideas “come” as I’m writing scenes and pages.  And the one, big idea that I’m waiting for – at least for the very next book – is proving elusive at the moment.  I’m sure it’s out there, and I’m sure it will arrive before I reach utter despair, but it is a difficult time.  As to the process moving from the idea to the actual writing, that’s much easier.  Once I’ve got a general idea of what the book is about, I just sit down and start writing scenes and having fun.

RB: How many hours per week do you try to write? Do you have a disciplined schedule, or do you mostly write when the mood strikes?

JL:  I most definitely do not write when the mood strikes.  I go into work, after a physical workout, every weekday, and spend at least two and often as many as six hours putting down pages.  Inspiration often comes to visit during these spells of work, but I think if I waiting for any one given inspiration, I wouldn’t get much done.

RB: Do you do character outlines and structure the book in advance? What’s the mechanism you use? Any?

JL:  As is probably obvious from what I’ve already written here, it’s all very much by the seat of my pants.  I try to see interesting scenes that involve the reader and move the plot and characterization forward, hopefully with a surprise or a little gem of prose included in every scene.

RB: Have you ever had writer’s block? How did you get past it? Any tricks or suggestions?

JL:  My favorite definition of writer’s block is that it is a failure of nerve.  By any objective standard, I’m in a (very rare but very real) state of writer’s block right at this moment; it takes a consistent act of will not to give in to it, but to keep searching in the darkness for a little spark that will eventually light up the internal landscape and let the idea shine forth.  To fight this failure of nerve, I try to gear myself up into what I call “genius mode,” where I tell myself that everything I’m writing is brilliant, let my inner demons be damned!

RB: What’s your story. How did you get into writing, and what was your path to becoming a bestselling legend?

JL:  My story is an extremely long and complicated one, but here is the short version.  I did not know anything about publishing when I started out.  I did not even know how to submit a book.  I actually wrote my first published hardcover when I was 24, but didn’t even send it out to publishers until I was 36!  When I signed the contract for that book, I essentially hired myself out as an indentured servant to my publisher at the time.  The option clause in that contract specified that I would have the same contract, except for the advance, for my next book, and the one after that, and the one after that.  So my first five or six books got published with very low print runs, no advertising, no publisher’s push at all, and – no surprise – none of them did very well commercially.  Finally, though I had no money, I hired a lawyer to help me get out of that option clause.  It cost me $28,000 in attorney’s fees in a year when I made a total of $22,000.  But I got out of the clause.  The very next book sold for six figures, and since then they’ve all been bestsellers.  So the best advice I can give is to tell hopeful writers to be careful when they sign contracts.  Don’t sell out for less than you think you’re worth.  If you’re good enough, somebody will pay you what you’re worth, and treat you right in the bargain.

RB: I follow you on Facebook and Twitter, and you frequently write about structural issues, grammar and style. If you only had 60 seconds to impart to aspiring writers the most vital advice you’ve acquired as a writer, what would it be?

JL:  I would have three things I would say:  master the use and misuse of the passive voice, and avoid it at all costs.  Beyond that, learn what writers mean when they say “Show, don’t tell,” and do that.  Finally, finish something . . . anything . . . short story, novel, scene . . . get done with it and move on.  Only in the doing does learning happen.

RB: If there was only one book that readers could peruse of your work, which one would it be? What’s the landmark, defining example of John Lescroart? And why?

JL:  This is a tough question because they are all my babies.  And some of the early books – The 13th Juror, A Certain Justice, Guilt – really did mark personal breakthroughs in terms of what I was writing and how I went about it.  And even now, my latest two books, Damage and next year’s The Hunter, have marked real departures from my earlier “courtroom” books.  All that said, however, I’d have to say that the quintessential Lescroart book is The Hearing.  It’s got Hardy and Glitsky in all their agony and glory, and a truly great, complex plot.  If you like that one, you’ll know what I’m all about, and can go backward or forward in the series without losing a step.

RB: Whose work influenced your writing? What authors did you grow up on?

JL:  Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Lawrence Durrell, and Patrick O’Brien on the literary side, and Conan Doyle, Rex Stout, John D. MacDonald, and Agatha Christie on the mystery side.  Mark Twain was a giant early influence, but then again, so were the Hardy Boys and the Landmark Books of biographies.  I’ve been an avid reader, some would say an addicted reader, for my whole life, and most of what I read I tried to learn something from.

RB: Why did you become a writer? What made you burn to do so?

JL:  I somehow always knew that I wanted to be an author.  From an early age, I used to make up stories and put on plays that I wrote, so I guess I’ve always had that bug.  Beyond that, there wasn’t really anything else that I felt so passionately about – I worked every “day job” in the world until I started making  a living as a writer when I was 45, and none of them were very fulfilling or interesting.  Also, I generally hated working for bosses, and wanted to be my own boss very badly.  So I just kept at it until it worked.

RB: What gets you up in the morning and keeps you writing?

JL:  I do love the process, the challenge, the fact that I never get bored.  I keep trying to write the best novel that I can envision, to capture all the world that I possibly can on the page.  Having done so many different other kinds of work, I never lose sight of how lucky I am do be able to do what I do now.  Also, much more prosaically, it’s great to be paid to be a writer, to be on contract with a great company like Dutton, to be in this milieu with its talented, interesting people.  To be a part of it is a kind of magic, and I just consider myself supremely blessed that I’ve somehow, after a somewhat tortuous journey, arrived here.

RB: What’s your latest release, and what are you working on now?

JL:  My next release, The Hunter, comes out on January 3.  It is a book featuring Wyatt Hunt and, if I might pass along some really wonderful news, it’s just gotten a starred review in Publishers Weekly.  As to what I’m working on now, it’s that pesky outline referred to above.  Ask me next week, and I’ll probably sound a lot happier about it.

RB: There’s probably a universe of good questions I failed to ask. What parting words would you offer aspiring novelists, other than save your money from your day gig?

JL:  Finish.  Finish.  Finish.  Then rewrite until it sings.

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5 Dec 2011, by

King of Swords

BREAKING NEWS. Character interview with my creation, Al, from The Geronimo Breach is now live. As of Monday, Dec. 5. Funny stuff. Really.

Don’t miss the great new interviews with authors Lawrence Block and Steven Konkoly, the first two in my Author Spotlight series. Great words from great guys. Completely clown free.

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Every now and then you do something that’s special. It’s different, and feels, I don’t know, just right, somehow.

That’s the only way I can describe my experience writing my new thriller, King of Swords. I believe it’s my best work to date, and represents a kind of turning point on my journey as an author. If every writer has “The” book, then I believe King of Swords is mine. It’s the synthesis of everything I’ve learned in terms of writing thriller fiction – gritty, breakneck pacing, non-stop action, unexpected character development of mulch-dimensional individuals who are complex and possess contradictory qualities and impulses, twists, turns, conspiracies within conspiracies, all set against a backdrop that’s non-traditional and richly evocative. It’s no holds-barred writing, and doesn’t pander. It presumes you’re smart, or you wouldn’t be reading it. Remember when books used to be written like that? Hmmm. But I digress.

It’s the story of a super assassin whose clients are the drug cartels of Mexico, and the discovery of a plot by a captain of the Federal Police – the Federales – to assassinate the Mexican and U.S. presidents at the G-20 financial summit. The elevator pitch of the idea I had when I sat down to write it as a lark, for NanoWriMo, was a single sentence that had been bouncing around in my noodle for a few days, as I finished up writing The Delphi Chronicle trilogy: “Day of the Jackal in Mexico.” From that smallest of seeds developed an incredibly complex and racing thriller that is unlike anything you’ve ever read. Or at least, unlike anything I’ve ever read, or written.

There are moments in the book where my editor sent back comments like “Crimmey” (he’s a Brit) or “Holy shit!” It’s that kind of work. It’s relentless, and shocking, and disturbing at a host of levels for a host of reasons, all of them deliberate. It captures the essence of the casual brutality of the drug cartels who are waging a guerrilla war against the Mexican government, and who are winning – not that hard considering that their budget is on the order of fifty times greater than the entire budget of Mexico’s armed forces.

I’m very excited by this book. So much so that I am three quarters through writing a prequel to it, titled Night of the Assassin, which explores the making of the monster who is the central villain in King of Swords. I had one author whose judgment I respect read the opening pages I posted on the Nano website tell me that he’s never seen anything like King. Neither have I. I have no idea where it came from, or where Assassin is coming from, but it’s an incredibly chilling, suspenseful and dark place.

If you’re a fan, from the first sentences you’re going to know why I’m so excited by this book. If you’ve never read anything I’ve written, this is the book that you should start with. If you only read one of my thrillers, this is the one you should read.

Night of the Assassin will be released in a week and a half, with any luck at all – my editing team is pulling Herculean stints to get both Night and Delphi done on schedule, which is no small feat. The covers for both books are at the bottom of this blog. They are a departure from my current approach for Zero Sum, The Geronimo Breach and Fatal Exchange, but that’s deliberate. These two books, as well as the Dec. 24 release of The Delphi Chronicle trilogy, represent a new direction for my thriller fiction. I suspect we will see a lot more of Captain Cruz and the Assassin known only as, “El Rey” – the King of Swords, the oldest of the tarot card kings. It feels like there are a lot more books these two will carry, and I’ve only scratched the surface of them in the first two. Hope you like the covers, and if you get a chance, pick up a copy of King of Swords. First 10 reviewers will get a complimentary set of The Delphi Chronicle trilogy when it releases. Just e-mail me your review via the contacts page.

A sample of the first few chapters can be found here, for those that want to see what the fuss is about.

And if after reading it, you’re as excited as I am, please, tell a friend. Or two. That’s how it works. That, and reviews, which I’ll also ask you in a small and pleading voice to leave.

There. That about covers my installment of shameless self-promotion, I think. Let me know what you think of the book.

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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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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? [email protected]!

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. 

==========================

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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13 Nov 2011, by

Nano Mo?

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…

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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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