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Writing

17 Dec 2012, by

Christmas Break

Ho ho ho, I say.

Okay, perhaps I don’t say it out loud, sober, but in my head I do. The point is that it’s Xmas, and that means I’m going to take a break from writing. Not voluntarily, and no, it had nothing to do with a restraining order or anyone in my neighborhood disappearing. Don’t go all McAfee on me. No, it has more to do with eye fatigue and needing to get out and about after 18 solid months of sitting around, writing for 12 hours a day. Sometimes more. That may be good for one’s writing career, but it ain’t so good for one’s physiology, so I’m forcing myself to take a month or so off.

Which brings me to reading. I’m now able to catch up on my backlog, which is embarrassingly large. I’m reading Lawrence Block’s new one (which I’m enjoying no end) and then RS Guthrie’s soon-to-be-released follow up to Blood Land, appropriately titled Money Land. After that, I will be plowing through the roughly 60 books I’ve been sent or downloaded or been asked to read. Chances are slim I’ll get to them all. Probably more like a few dozen, but for me, that’s progress.

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NEWS: New book review by Tia Bach for sensational hit action/adventure thriller JET is a must read!

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One of the things that I find consistently amazing as I read is how great the kindle is. Wow. I mean, I’m used to reading on a computer screen, and it sort of sucks after a while. But the kindle just rocks. What a great innovation by a company that continues to lead the pack in ebook technology, in my opinion – Amazon knew what it was doing, and still does.

That being the case, what does the future hold for readers? Will the iPad upset Amazon’s ruling the roost with the kindle? Will Amazon have to come out with an iPad killer to keep growing? Or will the kindle drop to $49.95 soon? I hope both. The more ereaders in peoples’ hands, the better, not just from my own grubby self-interested standpoint as an author, but also as a world citizen. A literate population is one for which I have more hope than an illiterate one. If the kindle, or iPad, or whatever, can turn the tide of rising functional illiteracy that’s been the legacy of the TV culture, then I’m all for it.

I believe that TV dumbs you down, and one of the things I’m thankful for as a child is that I didn’t ever get into TV – mostly because I was locked in a basement, chained to the wall, but that’s another story. My point is that reading gave me the means to educate myself (ultimately on the corrosive effects of some household chemicals on chain links, to my considerable relief) and learn to reason, rather than staring dully at entertainment presented to me with no thinking required.

And of course, it also means that readers will grow in numbers, which hopefully will translate into a more discerning audience, which as it is exposed to more advanced sorts of reading material, will begin to appreciate books that aren’t written at a second grade level – which is where I come in. Hopefully. All hopefully.

Instead of going off on a mean-spirited rant about the current state of the market, and what the biggest selling novels being some of the most puerile crap I’ve ever read says about us as a civilization, I think I’ll just wish everyone happy holidays, and suggest with a nod and a wink that nothing says Merry Christmas like some Russell Blake books, unless you’re planning on showing up with a bottle of tequila wearing nothing but a Santa hat and some mistletoe. And I’m willing to forgo the mistletoe, to be truthful. Never mind. This is getting off track again.

I think my point is that as both readers and authors, these are the best of times. Readers now have a universe of reasonably-priced material to choose from, and authors have the ability to price their offerings to reach the maximum possible readership while retaining a decent profit. That’s sort of a first during my lifetime. I say we all enjoy it and hope it continues. Because we’ve seen the alternative, and it kind of sucks – high-priced novels of marginal quality by only a handful of names, with virtually no interest within the publishing industry of finding and nurturing new talents – the Ludlums and Cusslers and Forsyths of tomorrow – and with the vast majority of the profit sticking to the middlemen instead of the author.

Amazon changed all that, for which I think we, as authors and readers, owe a lot. For what it’s worth, I buy all my ebooks via Amazon for that reason, as well as because I haven’t gotten the hang of how to get Smashwords to send stuff to my kindle in a click.

So what is the takeaway from all this? Have a happy, happy holiday season, avoid clowns as they’re all alcoholic pedophile cannibals, and buy my crap so you can sneer at your acquaintances when they ask you what you’re reading, and you can smugly respond, “Russell Blake! Oh, you haven’t heard of him? Hmm. I suppose you don’t get much chance to keep current on things, do you?” I imagine a hint of arrogance as you say it, the mistletoe shaking ever so subtly, keeping silent time to the swinging of the Santa hat’s jolly faux-snowball as you sashay to my front porch with the bottle of Cuervo.

Hey. It’s my fantasy. Just let me have that, okay? Don’t be a hater. It’s Christmas, after all.

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In: Jet,Writing | Tags:

I had a friend tell me the other day that he was going to start writing books.

As far as I know, or can tell, he’s never read one. If he has, it had pictures in it. Perhaps I’m exaggerating. But not really.

I asked why he felt compelled to throw his hat in the ring in a business that was extremely competitive, and in which one’s chances of making any sort of real money were between slim and none. What special perspective did he bring that would be vital for an audience to hear? What stories had he been cooking up, waiting for the right moment to spring on a delighted world? How much studying of his favorite authors had he done? How much time invested in mastering niggling details like remedial grammar, or punctuation, or any facet of craft?

The answers weren’t good. As far as I could tell, he decided he wanted to be an author after reading some accounts of how easy it was now to publish your own book.

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BREAKING NEWS: A fabulous new interview with Alan McDermott. Worth a few minutes of your time.

NEWS: A brilliant new book review for JET by Kate’s Reads and The Kindle Book Review! Nice!

NEWS: And another great book review for JET by Wren Deloro. Wow!

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Which seems to me to be the wrong reason to publish – that it’s easy. Many things in life are easy. Eating too much pie. Foregoing a shower. Having that last few cocktails instead of going home. It may well be easy to upload a document to Amazon and have it available for purchase, but does that make it a good idea to do so?

Perhaps I’m overly pedantic, but if you’re confused over the use of your and you’re, or its and it’s, if you think definitely is spelled with an “a” somewhere in it, and your idea of great writers are names that you commonly see in airport bins, then does the world really need you to rush your unique literary contribution to the presses? Not that you don’t have a right to invest little or no time in actually being able to tell a story via the written word with anything more of a command of your mother tongue than a ten year old might display, but is it really such a great idea? Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I have always believed that one should actually take the time to learn about something before walking onto the stage with experts who have been working at it for, oh, decades, and hoping that one’s chutzpah and charisma will carry the day.

I know that’s an unpopular notion among indies. In our world, we’re supposed to be as supportive as sponsors at a twelve-step meeting, and coo and gush at each other like obese aunts over a newborn.

But folks. The giddy buzz of seeing one’s work on Amazon quickly fades to anger and recriminations when the lousy reviews hit and sales go through the floor. Because the world doesn’t reward most with a high five and an offer of a lotion job in reward for some paltry half-baked effort. Now while it’s true that there are lots of readers at all different levels, and plenty of authors at all those same levels, the world is not made of marshmallows and ponies, and everyone can’t be a winner. Most won’t be, for one very simple reason: they didn’t invest the time to get good at what they’re trying to succeed at. Because most people don’t like to pay to be entertained by performers who are about as inept as the audience is.

None of which I said. Instead, I used words like “awesome” and “excited.” Because in a way it’s like your five-seven friend with the gimp announcing that he’s going out for the NBA, having become an expert at basketball by watching lots of it on TV. Do you want to be the one to have to break the news, or do you let the world do it instead?

Being a coward, I chose the latter. And far be it for me to pretend to know what is good and what isn’t. Or rather, what will be popular and what won’t. That’s anyone’s guess, and maybe he’ll knock one out of the park with his debut effort, which he’s assured me he’ll crank out in no time, and not waste any money having edited – his reasoning being that after he’s sold a few thousand dollars worth, then he’ll have some change to throw at an editor – but only a cheap one. No way is he going to get ripped off and pay, oh, say, what a 16-year old at McDees might see on an hourly basis to the editor who is going to be responsible for his work. Likewise, he’s not going to blow money on formatting, and certainly not going to get taken to the cleaners by some fancy-pants cover artist when he can Photoshop with the best of ‘em.

Fortunately, I have it on good assurance from reading several platinum-level “How I lied my way to the top” books that this is an easy gig. We’re all right on the cusp. Everyone’s a winner, just waiting to happen. And the time very well could be now!

I wouldn’t just tell you what you want to hear ’cause you’re kind of cute.

Okay, maybe I would. But let’s not get too hung up on the details here.

In self-promotion news, JET IV – Reckoning, is now in the can, and will be edited and ready to go live sometime in the first 10 days of December. Whether I get the next in the Assassin series done in time for Xmas is anyone’s guess. A lot will depend on the muse, and my boozing schedule, which is likely to get serious over the holidays – which in Mexico, start around September and last through June. Nobody said this was easy. Don’t hate me. Or if you do, lie. I’m okay with lying about how great I am. I actually celebrate it.

And go buy one of my books. JET is selling like mice in a snakehouse. Might wanna start there. It’s been described as Fifty Shades meets Harry Potter with some Twilight and Wool tossed in, but without the vampires, sorcerers, sweaters or sex. Which actually makes it sound pretty lame, so never mind. Just read it. As a recent reviewer said, “Imagine the emotional stability and coherence of a Charlie Sheen or a James McAfee with the self-aware maturity of a Kardashian.”

Okay, so that wasn’t about me. But it could have been. I think that’s the point here.

Never mind.

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In: Writing | Tags:

11 Nov 2012, by

On Formatting

Readers judge books by their covers, and then, ultimately, the writing…but not just the writing. A book is an entire set of attributes – a bundle, if you will, of qualities and characteristics, one of which is the story and writing, another of which is the cover, and another of which is…the formatting.

Formatting, you say incredulously? How hard can that be? A monkey could do it!

Not really. When a reader gets a book, if it’s horribly formatted, or even just marginally formatted, the reader will deduct points, consciously or not, for what appears to be a shoddy product. Irregular spacing, non-justified text, oversized indents, changing or inconsistent font sizes, no TOC or NCX (navigation control without returning to the ToC). My motto is, give the readers what they want. Not a bad one for you to adopt, if you’re an author trying to make it.

I could go on and on, but the truth is that I don’t want to. I’m not an expert at formatting. I hire a guy to do that for me. He’s a specialist, and knows how to provide readers with a smooth experience, in a traditional publishing house style, no matter what device they read on. I spend my time writing. That’s what I do best. I pay him a few bucks, and he fixes my manuscript so that it’s ready for prime time.

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NEW INTERVIEW: A must read new interview with Ryan Schneider on JET, writing, craft. 10 Questions.

NEWS: A brilliant new book review for JET by Kate’s Reads and The Kindle Book Review! Nice!

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That’s an intelligent division of labor. I delegate the things I don’t have time or interest in becoming adept at, so that I can devote my time to the things I’ll get the highest return from. Seems simple to me. Money value of my time/time value of my money.

And yet, I see countless indie authors skipping this critical step, and half-assing their novel into the world. Which lends an air of mediocrity to an otherwise presumably decent book.

It’s mind-blowing to me how many will take something they worked on for many months, and then skip the step that makes it look professional. And to save, what, $75 or so? (I know, I know, you can get “formatting” done for half that and up, but it looks it. Many “formatted” books look like garbage – what most authors don’t realize is that the cheapo formatters are generally giving them nothing more than heading tags and a quick conversion of whatever they receive – in other words the fastest and easiest job possible, regardless of how the finished product comes out.) Does that make a lot of sense? Better to find someone who cares about the end result and spends time formatting your MS before converting it to mobi – the only way to upload your book to Amazon if you want the preview to look as good as the book itself. Yes, I’m aware you can just upload a word doc or an htm, but it’s a poor idea. Very poor.

I routinely read author forum comments and receive e-mails from other authors to the effect of, “I can’t afford proper editing or professional covers or good formatting,” usually in the same breath as bemoaning that they aren’t selling squat. Hmmm. I wonder if there’s a correlation between paying for a top notch product and packaging, and readers feeling they’re receiving good value, and thus being happier? Crazy idea, I know. It’s a shame, because I’ve found there are no shortcuts. None. The reason the big publishers spend money on those things is because it creates a superior product, and they recognize they’re in a highly-competitive game, so every edge they can get, matters.

The mistake I see many newbies making is to believe that the editing, packaging and formatting doesn’t matter. It’s akin to a software engineer, who can’t understand why his home-grown software isn’t selling, when the slickly-produced, finely-tuned offerings of the big companies are. Guess what? It’s more than just the content. It’s the whole shooting match that adds up to the reader’s experience. Authors who think they can skip any of these items are going to be part of the 99% that don’t make any money publishing. That simple. There may be exceptions, but my hunch is, not many, and not for very long.

Now for some gratuitous pimping. My formatter/converter is [email protected] – he’s done all my books, and I’m nothing but happy. If you are smart, you’ll use him or someone like him.

My advice for my fellow authors is to pay attention to this seemingly small stuff. It’s all cumulative, and it all matters. And I want you to make it. The more indies who are doing well and putting quality product out there, the more viable the indie business will grow. The more dross and poorly-edited, poorly formatted screeds clutter the market, the worse for us all.

End of sermon.

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And finally, a bit of shameless self-promotion. How could it be a Blake blog without a little of that? First, I’m on track to hit my goal of 100K books sold in 2012. And probably 350K more given away from free promotions. That’s an amazing number to me, and if you had asked at the start of the year what sales would be, I would have been surprised and delighted at a quarter of that.

The JET series is surpassing my wildest aspirations (OK, a bit of an exaggeration, because I can sure as hell dream pretty big) and the trilogy has now sold well over 10K copies in the first six weeks, and is chugging along nicely. If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about,check out book 1, JET. Just read the first 10 pages, and you’ll understand.

To everyone who bought a JET book, or all three currently out, thanks for your support. I’m hard at work on JET IV, and it should release in December, just in time for the elves to get it to your kindle or nook or whatever you read on these days. Oh, and that reminds me, I finally got off my dead A and published all my books hard copy, so if you want to pay way too much and kill a bunch of trees, you know how to do it. Perhaps buy the entire Russell Blake library for that loved one, or the hot guy or gal you hope to have your way with at the Xmas party, or whatnot. Just an idea.

Oh, and finally, if you want an idea of what the JET book trailer should be like, without me having to spend a million bucks making it, check out this clip and ignore the computer in the mix. If this doesn’t give you an idea of what reading JET is like, nothing will. And it does make you wonder – are Lenovo execs fans of JET? Stranger things have happened…

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In: Jet,Writing | Tags:

I’ve been starting my interviews and guest blogs for the upcoming launch of Silver Justice, my newest novel that will release on July 23. As part of that, I’ve been asked time and time again about the underlying framework for the novel, namely the cause of the 2008 financial crisis. The book is set in New York, and follows Silver Cassidy, an ass-kicking FBI Agent who’s running a serial killer task force that’s hunting a brutal murderer of financial industry players. A big part of the plot involves the slow unveiling of my supposedly fictional account of why the 2008 crisis happened, resulting in the worst recession in our lifetimes. I already know this is going to be a book that polarizes readers, who will either love it or hate it. It’s a shocking ride, and the conclusions it draws are disturbing at a very basic level. Many don’t like living in a world where things are deeply disturbing, so they’ll hate it, rather than becoming outraged or curious. I get that. It’s worth the risk.

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BREAKING NEWS: New in-depth interview with yours truly on craft, self-publishing and the price of coffee is worth a look.

NEWS: I was fortunate enough to be named one of the top 100 indie authors for the 3rd month in a row. #50.

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As part of writing it, I was forced to become somewhat of an expert on everything from Keynesian economics, to fiat currencies, to the creation of the Federal Reserve, to how and why the IRS was created and by whom, to why the gold standard mattered, to the reasons the dollar has lost 90+% of its buying power since 1971, to fractional reserve banking, to market manipulation and how arcane instruments like credit default swaps and other derivatives work. The tail wagged the dog in this case. By the time I was done, I became convinced of two things: 99.999% of all people have no idea why the middle class is being wiped out and the world is in the pooper and getting worse as we speak; and that that’s not accidental. The ignorance is by design. It’s encouraged, and there’s a big machine devoted to keeping reality from slipping into the equation.

Now, I can appreciate how there are many more important things to do than know about why the biggest financial calamity of our lifetimes took place. I mean, there are reality TV shows to follow, and claims that America’s got talent, and the search for the very best dance crew, whatever the hell that is. I get that most are otherwise occupied, and prefer to debate one political party’s invented rhetoric over the others, or consider which mammoth flat screen TV would look best in the living room. These are heady times. But it occurs to me that ignorance has an incredibly high cost. As an example, the Fed revealed a week or so ago that the average middle class family’s net worth has dropped to where it was in 1982, erasing 30 years of savings since the financial crisis in 2008. That means that if the average was $78K in 82, it is still $78K in 2012.

The ugly truth is that it’s much worse than that. An ounce of gold was $360 in 82. It’s now $1600. So it takes almost five times more dollars to buy the same commodity. That means that a dollar in 82 had five times the buying power it has today. So really, the middle class has lost five times its net worth from 82, when adjusted. The short version is that most of the wealth accumulated by the middle class over the last 40 years has been confiscated – stolen by the relentless erosion of inflation, and by the markets in 2008. (By the way, anyone who thinks measuring the value of the dollar against an ounce of gold is silly would be advised that until 1971, gold was money, for thousands of years. It was only once the US violated its agreement to stay on the gold standard, got caught doing it, and then abruptly announced it wasn’t honoring its agreement anymore, that the new folksy wisdom that ‘gold isn’t money’ started being advanced by the media. Until then, of course it was. FWIW, it still is. It’s just that a collection of uber-rich bankers have spent the last forty years trying to convince everyone that it isn’t, because otherwise people would rebel and demand that the money they are working like slaves for actually possess some actual worth, as opposed to a mere promise of steadily declining worth from the government.)

I also understand that blogs that aren’t railing against free books, or are pro-kitty, or that purport to offer writing tips, don’t get read as much. They aren’t as popular. Because most people’s heads hurt when they are required to think, and to consider any sort of a macro picture of reality that diverges from whatever is advanced as the truth by the media and its owners. People want to believe that the system works, and protects them, and even with its flaws is still the best ever. They have a lot of emotional investment in that idea. So even when a chink appears, and it become obvious that most or all of it is an obvious lie, human nature is to ignore the data, and instead focus on more pleasant things.

I’m here to tell you that there’s a cost to that. In real terms, it’s a cost where most will be wiped out within another 10 years, if they haven’t already been. By the statistics, I’m saying many already have been. But some haven’t. They think it’s all going to somehow get better. That’s because they are ignorant of what is actually taking place, and what the true drivers are. The precarious construct that is their reality has a very, very expensive price tag. And I’m afraid for most, the price will be everything they have – just as in the Great Depression, when millionaires (and there were many in the US by the late 20s) discovered after a few years that they were penniless, and owed everything to the bank. It was considered impossible until it happened. Right now, tell someone with a two million dollar home in Scottsdale or a one million dollar home in New Jersey or a five hundred grand home in San Diego that they could be close to penniless in no time, and they would sneer. Just as people sneered in the 20s.

The research I did for Silver Justice has changed my perception of reality to the point that virtually anything is possible, and it appears that the real powers that be are hell bent on destroying the prosperity of the middle class, just as they did in the Great Depression (about which I could write a book). And my hope is that Silver Justice gets enough traction so that it makes people question the illusory status quo and wonder how much in it could actually be true. While I’m normally aggressively self-promotional in a transparent way, this book is different, and so is this blog. I’ll write another one when it launches, but let me just say that what I’ve learned has me pretty glum about many peoples’ chances moving forward, unless there’s a massive change in the majority’s awareness. The only hope is that they figure this out while there’s still time. Silver Justice is my small effort to move people in the direction of that requisite awareness. We shall see whether it has any effect.

End of rant. For now.

For a synopsis of Silver Justice, as well as a short interview, click here.

 

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On June 7, I’ll have been self-publishing for exactly one year.

My first offering, Fatal Exchange, continues to sell well – in fact, it’s selling more now than ever.

My second book, How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated) is languishing. I guess authors don’t buy books, or perhaps they don’t have a sense of humor about the business. So that’s been somewhat of a dud from a sales perspective, although a hoot from a creative and acclaim perspective. Go figure.

My third, The Geronimo Breach, is also selling well, although it varies from white hot to so-so, depending upon pricing and promotions I’m running. Still, it’s gotten rave reviews, and is one of my favorites, and I have to give it a thumb’s up from a sales standpoint. That’s one I think will still have appeal a decade from now, so I’m confident it will earn its keep.

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NEWS: An interview with author Felicia Rodgers and yours truly on The Voynich Cypher.

UPDATE: New guest blog at Manic Readers on writing The Voynich Cypher. A good one.

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I’m not going to list all my books. Don’t worry. You didn’t come here for that. You came here because of the free stuff I routinely give away, and the nude photos, I know. What? There aren’t? Oh. Never mind then.

Self-publishing has turned into a truly awesome experience for me – far better than I’d ever hoped. I’m selling at a clip that I’d hoped to hit within three years of entering the market, not ten months. So that’s great. But it has also given me a chance to live my dream. No, not being a pole dancing male burlesque stud grinding for the drunk tourist women at Jalapenos – I just do that for the cash and the workout. And no, also not naked ice dancing, although that’s certainly my first love. What I’m speaking of is being an actual author who makes his living writing books.

I had sort of given up that dream after my only encounter with the whole NY traditional publishing game in another life. It just seemed like I was going to have to surrender all my control, and dance like a trained chimp to the beat of countless editors, agents, marketing consultants, etc. while making peanuts, if that. I don’t have the patience for doing things on other people’s timelines, which is why I’ve never been a good big company player.

When I first heard of success stories in self-publishing I was skeptical. Konrath, Locke, Hocking, Eisler… I don’t know. It sounded too good to be true. But after I bought my first kindle I got it. I understood why that simple device had changed publishing forever, as had Amazon. I saw the future; one where tens of millions of devices were voraciously devouring high quality content, and I realized that if I could create even an interstitial awareness of my writing, there might be a there there. So I went the OCD route, and committed to write as close to a million words by the end of 2011 as I could manage. I got pretty close. 12 releases. None I have to be ashamed of.

2012 I’ve slowed the pace, and have targeted releasing 6 to 8 novels, depending upon my mood and the muse’s availability. I’ve got two in the can, and have started the third, so hitting my goal isn’t going to be a problem, I don’t think.

2012′s first release, The Voynich Cypher, has been big so far, and I hope it continues to attract reader attention. The next one, Revenge of the Assassin, a sequel to King of Swords, will release end of April, and then another sequel to King will release end of May.

Because of self-publishing, I’m getting to make my living, in retirement, as an author, and doing so on my terms, at my pace, with my vision of what the work should be like, what the covers should portray, and what price the books should sell for. As a creative person, I can’t tell you how good that feels. Happiness is fleeting, and getting to do something I love and get fairly compensated for it, as well as connect with readers, defies description. It’s a rush. It makes everything seem worth doing. I recommend it highly.

For that opportunity, I’m grateful. And while I at times have a love/hate relationship with Amazon, without their visionary approach to self-publishing, I’d be relegated to laying around on the beach considering my navel. So for that, I owe them one.

As I owe those who have purchased my work, and then told a friend. Without readers, a writer isn’t very fulfilled. It’s readers that make the experience complete.

So for everyone out there who might be debating self-publishing, all I can say is that to date it’s the most rewarding decision of my life at a host of levels. I hope that continues, and would encourage you to take the plunge and give it a shot. The water’s warm, and the view is just fine. Although the hours can be brutal, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll walk away from it with much more than the glow of the experience. Much like life, that.

 

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March 17, 2012.

The official launch date of my newest novel, The Voynich Cypher.

An exciting book for me, as it represents a departure from my customary conspiracy thriller fare. Most of my novels are cast in the tradition of Robert Ludlum and Frederick Forsyth. But not Voynich. This is a completely different kind of thriller.

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AN EVEN NEWER BREAKING NEWS: A fun interview on process with Emerald Barnes.

NEW BREAKING NEWS! A fabulous interview with The Indie View on Voynich, writing, process & life.

BREAKING NEWS!  Great interview with bestselling award-winning author Melissa Foster on writing The Voynich Cypher, clowns, Satan and nude ice dancing.

UPDATE: New interview with Amber Norrgard. One of my favorites yet, with an awesome poet/author/friend.

NEWSFLASH: Book review of The Voynich Cypher by bestselling author Steven Konkoly. This is a must read.

NEWS: Guest blog wherein I discuss the writing of The Voynich Cypher and the big idea behind it at The Veil War blog.

BOOK REVIEW: A great book review of The Voynich Cypher by Books N Beans.

ANOTHER BOOK REVIEW: This time from Kate’s Reads. Nice!

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The Voynich Cypher is an unusual kind of a book for me to pen. A pure adventure thriller in the mold of The Da Vinci Code, Foucault’s Pendulum and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Featuring the protagonist from Zero Sum, my Wall Street thriller – Dr. Steven Archer Cross.

It’s a race of a read, 100K words, and no fat or fluff. Just relentless story. And quite a story it is.

For more detail on what I was trying to accomplish or how I went about writing this one, read some of the above interviews and blogs. No point in belaboring them here. What I will say is that the end result surpassed even my most wild hopes, and is some of my best work to date. Suffice it to say I’m proud as hell of this book, and believe it will be the one that breaks it wide open.

It will be specially priced from its selling price of $5.97 for the launch, slashed to $3.33, and that pricing could end at any moment – I’m deeply discounting it so that it gets as many early readers as possible. So go buy it. Buy two, and give one to your dog or cat.

The synopsis pretty much covers what you can expect out of the book: When a sacred relic is stolen from its subterranean guarded vault, Dr. Steven Cross, amateur cryptographer, becomes embroiled in a deadly quest to decipher one of history’s most enigmatic documents – a 15th century parchment written entirely in unbreakable code; The Voynich Manuscript. Stalked by secret societies, and aided by the daughter of a murdered colleague, a trail of riddles catapults Cross from England to Italy to the Middle East, where a Byzantine web of ancient secrets leads him to a revelation so profound it will change the world order.

Here’s the cover. Let me know what you think

Buy The Voynich Cypher at Amazon.

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Readers of my blog know that I began my experiment with KDP Select in mid-January. The main attraction for me was the ability to put a title free for a day or three, thereby enhancing visibility and presumably giving me a boost on the “most popular” and “also bought” lists following the free day(s).

So how has that worked?

Glad you asked, internal dialogue that always seems to know just what to inquire for maximum effect.

Sales of my books increased by a factor of four in January, from my most popular month ever – December. Given that I have been at this for a whopping nine months, that would kind of make sense. December, everybody on the planet got Kindles for Xmas, and needed content for them. Ergo, more books would sell.

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BREAKING NEWS: Fantastic guest blog at The Veil War on the writing of The Voynich Cypher.

MORE BREAKING NEWS: Interview, book review of The Delphi Chronicle, Book 1, and a short story. Must read! With author Kathleen Patel.

UPDATE: Monday, 3-12. Interview with Digital Ink Spot on Amazon promos, process & thoughts.

UPDATE: New interview just posted with Eden Baylee. It’s a fun one.

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I also released a slew of books in December – Night of the Assassin, King of Swords, and The Delphi Chronicle trilogy. Night and Book 1 of Delphi were and are free, so I increased my available paid titles by two that month, bringing it to a total of seven possible paid titles to buy. I don’t count the first book of Zero Sum, because that was free as well, nor do I count the individual books in the trilogies, as nearly everyone who buys, buys the bundles.

If all things were equal, I would have expected an organic growth of 20-25% from the new titles, which is about what I saw from November to December. All very predictable.

In mid-January, I enrolled my first book in KDP Select, and ran a couple of days free. The Geronimo Breach saw 12K downloads in its two free days, and then sales took off like a rocket for 5 or 6 days, eventually dropping back to a sustainable rate that was above December’s run rate, but nothing like what the post-free week was like. That got me looking at other authors’ experiences, and sure enough, the post-free phenomenon was being discussed, although it was still largely too new to rate.

I then ran a few more titles free, for a day here and there, and lo and behold, saw the same effect. This resulted in a reproducible sales boost, and appeared to have pulled my other titles along with it. I finished January giddy, with four times December’s bucks in my pocket.

February, for the first two weeks, sales were down 30% from January. Other authors indicated that was a well-understood effect of readers digesting all the books they’d downloaded. Made sense, but still not a lot of fun to see. In the final two weeks, I ran Geronimo free for one day, and Zero Sum free for two, and Geronimo saw 10K in one day, and Zero Sum saw about 20K on two days of downloads, hitting number 5 for free downloads. Post free, sales took off like a scared rabbit again, and I finished February at the same sales level as January, which is to say back at four times December sales, but income was up 25%, at five times December’s sales, due to a higher ASP after the artificially low promotional pricing I’d tried on a few titles in Jan. I figured it would be down 20%, so that was a pleasant surprise.

March, Zero Sum has been continuing its run from the free days the end of February, performing well and holding in the 500 paid range now 8 days post promo, which is unexpected but nice. But here’s the amazing part about the KDP promotions: by March 10 I will have sold more or less as many books as I did all of Feb. Obviously, that portends good things. If sales stay on track the rest of the month, I can expect a double to tripling over the course of the March, or roughly eight to twelve times December sales.

That’s an eye-opening number. Extrapolating, if March comes in as it’s shaping up, from that point on with no sales growth at all (even though I’ll be adding a slew of new titles this year), I will sell well over 100K books in 2012. Needless to say, if that happens, I’ll be one of the very very very few indie authors making a significant living from my passion. That’s amazing for two reasons. First, up until Amazon created its revolution in self-publishing, it would have been impossible. Utterly, completely impossible. A pipe dream. Second, it’s astounding because I will be a failure by traditional publishing standards.

Failing has never felt so good.

If I have 12 paid titles out by the end of 2012, and I’m selling 100K books, I’m only moving 9K books per year, per title, mas o menos. That’s a disaster by traditional published standards. And yet obviously, by living in Mexico self-publishing standards, it’s a home run. The numbers assume that none of my books really hit in any way big. In fact, these numbers might. My new one, launching on March 17, The Voynich Cypher, could blow things wide open. It’s that kind of a book. Mainstream, accessible, my take on a Dan Brown/Raiders of the Lost Ark style adventure/thriller. If it gets traction, it could be a big book. Early readers are enthusiastic, so I’ve got high hopes for it, but even if it sort of of putters along flat, I’m still in the mix to hit my 2012 numbers. Again, this all assumes that none of my books really get discovered, or in any way hit the mainstream.

I attribute my success to date, such as it is, to two things. First, to writing a heartfelt blog about a beloved & perhaps misunderstood public figure and comparing him to my dad, and having it go viral. Okay, maybe not so much that. Seriously, it’s because of being fortunate enough to have delivered a reasonable product to those brave or stupid enough to try my offerings, and building slow recognition organically. And second, it’s because the KDP Select program has created a venue whereby indie authors can displace the big name brand authors, and get a small slice of awareness from an audience they previously would have had no chance of reaching. The first takes 15 hour days, 7 days a week, for 10 months. The second took KDP deciding to offer “free” as a perk for joining the Select program.

I owe Amazon deep and sincere gratitude, and hope they crush the bones of their competitors to jelly and dance in the still-warm blood of their adversaries as they rule the book world. At least, for another year or two, it would be nice. My game plan is to have twenty titles out by the end of 2013, all selling for between $2.99 and $6.99. If Amazon’s KDP program stays in place and their algorithms don’t change, I and a whole group of writers who had no real shot at making a decent living suddenly have become viable. Perhaps Indie will become the new slush pile – but one that pays well. Or perhaps there won’t be any more slush piles, and the phones will go unanswered in NY sometime soon.

On a related topic, my UK sales are now trending at 10% of my US sales, so the UK is having more of an effect than I would have expected. Given that I have done exactly zero marketing beyond twitter and a lackadaisical Facebook presence, that also portends good things. Although I will say that I have been participating in Melissa Foster’s World Literary Cafe, and the visibility from that group’s efforts have likely played a role in my sales. I recommend them highly, for those looking to participate in a good organization.

Loans have also increased, and as of today, for March 8, I have 450 borrows. As I said in a prior blog, on titles at my price point at least some of those are displacing sales at a considerably higher net rate, but the overall positive of being in the KDP program is outweighing that negative. Hard to bitch over the cost of doing business on that one.

That’s where we are as of today. Whether sales continue apace, or dirt dive, is unknowable from this point on, but I’ll keep everyone updated. It’s been a fascinating experiment so far. I’ll post an end of year summary in December, and maybe a mid-year one in July – really, the first full year of being in this game. Beyond that, thank you to my readers, and good luck to all the authors following this blog. It can be done. It’s just not easy. Nothing is.

UPDATE: As of March 10, midnight, I have sold 3015 books this month and had 540 borrows. A little slower than I’d hoped, but the last few days were laggards. Still, difficult to whine too much. I’ll save that for the end of the month when I’ve crashed and burned…

 

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My last blog focused on the positives and negatives of the Amazon KDP Select scheme, particularly pertaining to the loan fees and how they compare to outright sales commissions on higher priced books.

This blog will focus more on the value of the actual promotions, and explore what, if any, benefit one can hope to garner by giving away thousands of books. I’ll do this by describing my own experiences with one of the titles I made free.

Last month, I dipped my toe in the water by making The Geronimo Breach free for three days. During that time, I saw about 12K downloads. Not too shabby. Then, when it went back to paid, a funny thing happened. After languishing for the first day, it shot like a rocket, finally hitting #165 in the paid kindle store.

All good. Or rather, all should have been good. One problem was that the book was .99 rather than $3.99, due to price matching with Barnes, which after three weeks still hadn’t taken the book down, even after numerous e-mails. And .99 was the wrong price anyway, but I digress. The point is that Amazon’s software matched it, so folks were downloading 500+ books a day at .99.

Sales peaked at day 3-4 of being paid, and then started dropping off, bottoming at week three or so.

At the time, I didn’t know what to make of the data. I was frantic on day 5 – what was going wrong? Why did God hate me? Were the clowns behind it? What gave?

Turns out that this is a very predictable and knowable cycle for those who have done free days. Reason is because the Amazon algorithms pick up on the ranking from when it was free, and begin featuring the book on their recommendations pages about, you guessed it, 24 hours after going back to paid, as well as in the “also bought” strip at the bottom of other books your shoppers picked up. Over the next two to three days, love is in the air, and sales roll in. But then the book, whatever it is, gets pushed off to the second tier to make room for the more recent titles that did well since then. And the buying from folks Amazon was presenting you to dries up, little by little, and you’re back to your old run rate. Sort of like being a Hollywood starlet who briefly dates a celebrity, you have to be satisfied with and enjoy your moment in the sun, because it won’t last.

But knowing this presents an opportunity. It suggests a way to play the game so you can win, if you’re an author. Specifically, you can understand the phenomenon and capitalize on it. How? By running another free promotion 4 to 5 weeks after the first one. Maybe at 6 weeks, maybe at 3 1/2. Depends on sales. But you can repeat the performance.

Let’s go back to The Geronimo Breach. Thursday, it went free for 24 hours. It saw 10K+ downloads, and hit #11 in the Amazon free store last night. Most of the day, it, and one of my other free titles, The Delphi Chronicle, were #2 and #5 in Kindle free Action/Adventure.

That’s the second promotion, and it was more successful than the first – 10K in one day versus 12K in three. And the best part? I didn’t tweet about it. I didn’t do anything. Because I’d forgotten I was going to run it, and only figured it out halfway through the day when I checked my rankings. So that was with no social media at all, other than a few tweets from some friends (thanks Claude!) and being listed as free on several websites that picked it up. One of the best I’ve found for thrillers being Epic Kindle Giveaway (I follow it on Twitter at @eBookSwag), as well as The Digital Inkspot, and Digital Book Today. Others that may or may not pick it up are Cheap Kindle Daily, Pixels of Ink, and a host of others. Google them for a complete listing. There seem to be new ones every week. Most are very good for what they are, and save a lot of time.

I am now at day one of The Geronimo Breach being back to paid. Before the promotion, I was #9K-#11K overall. Today, so far, I’m at #2300 or so. At $3.49 – a sale off my usual $3.99 price to encourage folks to buy over the weekend. I’m sure if I lowered the price to .99 it would sell a lot more books, but given that I would need to sell 8 times more books at .99 to see the same revenue as at $3.49, I question whether it’s a smart idea. I also don’t want to brand myself as a buck a book author. Lord knows that is played, and there are more than enough of them out there. We shall see how sales go as of late this evening and tomorrow, but I’d say the trend is positive at this point. Even if it only stays at 2300 for four days, hey, that’s an improvement over where it was, and there are 10K more people with it on their kindle now – probably the most important thing for an author like me, who has a slew of titles and is adding to them seemingly every month. Because I believe the primary value of free is familiarizing readers with the work.

To put that into perspective, I’ve had around 70K free downloads of my work since I started giving books away. That’s a lot of downloads. A lot of folks who can decide they love, hate, or are ambivalent about me.

What is the takeaway from all this? Do Select freebie promos every 4 to 6 weeks, don’t freak out when day one sucks or starts slow (remember the algorithm, my friend) and then promote the hell out of it days 1-5 of it being paid. Recognize that the decline in sales over the next two weeks isn’t a function of an angry and vengeful deity singling you out for persecution, or that word of mouth has spread and your book sucks (I mean, either are possible, but not a given, is my point), or anything else. It’s a function of the Amazon algorithms having moved to new, fresher, more exciting faces.

Think of that first 4 or 5 days as your time at the bar where everyone wants to buy you drinks. Day 6 on is where a new kid on the block captures everyone’s attention, until you are ultimately yesterday’s news. Unlike the dating world, though, you can repeat the performance over and over (well, I suppose that is a little like dating – wink) and hopefully see a higher trough each time you decline. Then again, I’ve also heard that the effectiveness of the free days diminishes for a title each time through the cycle, so there is probably a point where it won’t work any more. But cross that bridge when you come to it.

For now, if you’re in the program, make hay while the sun is shining.

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Well, folks, it’s January, which means it must be time for the release of another Russell Blake thriller. Sorry to disappoint you, as I have my parents and every woman in my life, but due to editing and binge drinking, I won’t be able to get it out by month’s end. Looking more like early Feb.

The name of the book is The Voynich Cypher, and it represents a broadening of my work from suspense/intrigue thrillers with a conspiracy basis, into more of a pure action/adventure vein. Voynich follows the saga of Dr. Steven Cross, from my Zero Sum trilogy of Wall Street thrillers, as he races to decipher the most enigmatic document in history, while being hunted by a who’s who of bad guys intent on taking possession of the Church’s most valuable secret. It’s a fun read, fast-paced, with all the usual twists and turns I include in my work. As I’m rewriting, I’m chipping it down from the 105K words I wound up with, and I’m hoping to chop 10%, ruthlessly, over the next two weeks or so.

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NEW INTERVIEW: I was interviewed about online book marketing. You can click here to see just how little I actually know about it.

BOOK SALES UPDATE: An Angel With Fur hit #2 paid books on Amazon in Animal Essays, and #3 Dogs this morning. That’s pretty cool, as well as being somewhat unexpected.

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In February, I’ll start on a sequel to King of Swords, tentatively titled Revenge of the Assassin, which makes sense given that the prequel is called Night of the Assassin – and is free on Amazon for a limited time. If the river don’t rise, I hope to have Revenge out by mid-March, if not earlier.

I’m very excited over the cover for The Voynich Cypher, so I thought I’d share it with everyone. It represents a departure for me in the sense that it’s more monochromatic, but I think the result is striking. For a synopsis of the story, click here.

For those who have expressed interest in chatting with my cover artist, e-mail me through the site and I can get you his information. I’ve found him to be good, fast and cheap – which is also how I like my…oh…never mind.

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17 Jan 2012, by

So it begins

Night of the Assassin just went free on Amazon.

Thank you to everyone for your support in getting Night of the Assassin free. This represents the next phase in my marketing plan – to give away the prequel to King of Swords, in an effort to broaden my readership and gain exposure.

Night is one of my favorite books, for a host of reasons, not the least of which that it is the prequel to what is arguably my best work, and absolutely one of my all time favorites. I don’t know why these two books turned out the way they did, but for whatever reason, I’m thankful.

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MORE ACCOLADES: Fatal Exchange was the favorite book of 2011 for Kate Farrel at The Kindle Book Review.

INTERVIEW: I was interviewed about writing and craft by @WritingTips101. Worth a look, & please Stumbleupon it at the bottom using the little green button.

BIG NEWS: International bestselling pet bio An Angel With Fur is free on Amazon for a few days. If you want a whole other side of me, pick that up. Guaranteed it will move you.

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So why give away what is one of my favorite books? Isn’t my craft something worth being paid for?

Absolutely. My conviction is that once readers get their hands on Night, they’ll know two things. First, that it is a different kind of read, and one that’s a good representation of my unique writing style. And second, that they’ll want to read King of Swords next. I’m so convinced I’m willing to skip the part where I get paid for Night, at least for a limited time, so that readers can see what I’m talking about – so I can back my mouth without risk to them. I would say that they’ll know where they fall in their opinion of the book within the first 10 pages. That fast.

People are either going to love Night, or hate it. That simple. Doubt that there will be many “I don’t know, it was okay” reviews. It’s a polarizing book, that chronicles the making of a monster – the super assassin El Rey, from King of Swords.

Pick up a copy, and see if I’m full of it or not. And enjoy, with my compliments, for as long as it lasts. You can get Night of the Assassin here. And if you like it, or any of my books, please take the time to leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads.

If you like this blog, hit the Stumbleupon button down at the bottom (the little green guy) and share it. Gracias.

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And for those who keep asking who my cover artist is, shoot me an e-mail at [email protected] and I’ll get you the contact info. Good, fast and cheap.

 

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