November, 2012

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.


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!


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.


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!


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.


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:

One month ago, I released JET, and the sequel, JET II – Betrayal. Since then JET has been downloaded almost 30K times, and has sold almost 6000 copies. JET II ain’t doing so bad, either.

That means it must be time to release JET III – Vengeance. I have actually been averaging about two e-mails a day from readers who want to know when JET III will be out.

The wait is over. It’s out.


BREAKING NEWS: A very special interview on sale-priced books, conspiracies, and writing female protags with me and R.S. Guthrie!

NEW INTERVIEW: A must read new interview with me and 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!


The story follows our intrepid hero as she must risk everything to save the ones she loves. As one would expect, it’s a mad action rush, with a hint of romance – I keep thinking of those damned Mission Impossible movies when I read the drafts of the JET series – they’ve got a very cinematic feel to them. I am still waiting for Bruckheimer’s assistant to call, though. Sigh.

I want to thank everyone who read JET for the support. Even the unhappy reviews that inevitably hit after a massive free promotion are three star. Can’t really bitch and moan about that. Although I will. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t, after all. One nice thing to see is that a decent number of the e-mails and reviews are from folks who got the book for free, and then liked it so much they immediately bought the sequel. It says that the KDP free promos do get read, albeit in small numbers.

I won’t be doing any free promos for JET II or III, or JET IV, which will release in December. My feeling is that JET is strong enough to give one a taste of what it is I do. If that isn’t enough to convince you, then move along.

That’s about it for blatant self-promotion this round. I’m currently immersed in JET IV, scribbling away, and I can say with complete honesty that it’s a good one. I think fans of the series won’t be disappointed. And if you are annoyed that you have to wait a whole month or so to read JET IV, my suggestion is try King of Swords, the first book in my Assassin series – it’s gritty and has more of an edge, but still has the barreling pace and all the twists you liked in JET.

Here’s a peek at the cover. One of my favorites to date. As is the book. If you’d like to buy it or read the “Look Inside” excerpt, you can do so here.

And if anyone wants the contact information of my cover designer, just send me an e-mail and I’ll shoot you his information. The best I’ve found, and well worth a look.


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