08 March 2013 by Published in: Uncategorized 41 comments

There was a song back in the day by Faith No More, titled, “We Care A Lot.”

I often hear that playing in my head, which is one of the reasons I’ve taken to wearing a tinfoil hat, along with trying to stop the messages ordering me to kill being from broadcast through my fillings. Don’t get me started about that.

But back to the song. Specifically, I hear it when I am foolish enough to offer advice to one of the very few author friends I have. It seems like everyone wants to know how to sell a gazillion books, but few actually want to hear how to write a decent offering. I mean, when I go onto the forums, there are countless, “Please give me honest feedback” posts, but then when someone chimes in with the painful truth (which is usually that the work sucks, is barely readable, the cover looks horrible, the blurb pathetic), they get lambasted by the legions of feel-good fellow authors who believe everyone should get an A for effort, even if they put no effort into their work.

I suppose you can intuit by now where I land in that curve. As an author who is constantly striving to improve my game, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for those who slap out a few words, photoshop a cover that looks like a second grade art project, then put it up to cash in on some of that easy self-publishing money. So I’m not the most sympathetic ear. My internal dialogue is mostly what could best be described as relentless tough love. I’m very hard on my own work, and it’s hard to switch that off. God knows I try. Mostly with tequila, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

I recently had the opportunity to offer my thoughts on a manuscript that, at the most charitable, sucked a big bag of goat dicks. And not in a good way. I tried to temper my input (WTF are you thinking? Did you even read this crap before you sent it to me? Keerist!!!) and be nice, but it didn’t quite come out the way I had hoped. Sort of like the Freudian slip where the wife asks, “Honey, do you want coffee?” and the husband replies, “You miserable bitch, you ruined my life!” I mean, we’ve all been there.

Anyhow, I wasn’t particularly glowing in my praise, and I suppose it might have offended the author. I know it did. The death threats being a fair metric to gauge that sort of thing by.

At one point I suggested reading my epic parody of all writing and self-help books, “How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated)” – because within the pages of that worthy tome, couched in vitriol and black humor, is a lot of decent advice on what not to do. Unfortunately, writers are a busy lot who usually are far too busy to actually read anything, so that book sells fewer than any of my catalog, which is a shame, because it should be required reading for those just starting out. I wrote it about a month into my journey, disgusted by all the self-help guides that purported to advise would-be authors how to sell tons of books, or how to write hits. I thought those were all a load of BS then, and now that I’m actually selling tens of thousands of books a month, I know for a fact they were. As is much of the advice we are bombarded with. The only one I read that actually proved at all inspiring or grounded in an appreciation of craft was Scott Nicholson’s, and I’m not just saying that to suck up. Or mostly not. Unless I think it will buy me something.

What’s my point? Well, I think there’s been a kind of gold rush mentality to this whole process that’s now crashing in on many who are discovering that the best approach to anything is to do it because you love it, and because you want to expand your horizons, and not because you saw that movie with Johnny Depp about being a writer (even though I do look a lot like him, which gets annoying at bars when the ladies get grabby, but what can you do?) or because you read about how some talentless clod sold a bunch of books to equally undiscerning readers. Although God knows I’d like a piece of that action. So undiscerning readers, check out my books – you’re gonna LOVE them, even if many of the words are unfamiliar or make your head hurt like enraged hornets are stinging your brain, which is a great visual but wouldn’t actually hurt because your brain doesn’t have pain receptors, but that’s not the point.

I think those who are finding reward in their work are those who are pragmatic, understand the marketing side of this and can separate it from the craft side, but really, really love to write and tell stories and invent. My firm belief is that money will eventually come to those who pursue excellence, unless they’re unlucky or God hates them or they deserve nothing but misery. Seriously, though, even if the cash doesn’t come rolling in, there’s a pride of craftsmanship that I think drives most good writers to improve, which is why it’s a great vocation for someone like me – it never gets boring, because there’s always something new to learn and a better way to turn a phrase.

What’s the takeaway here? Obviously, that you should rush out and buy my Gazillions book, because otherwise you’ll fail miserably and be mocked by your enemies as they dance on your cold, lonely pauper’s grave. I hope you were able to read between the lines and got that part of my message, because the tequila’s not going to buy itself, and Pappy gets a little parched after writing all those words.

For those playing along at home (and wagering, I’m sure, even though I advise against it), the launch of Blood of the Assassin went well, with nearly a thousand sold in a matter of 72 hours. I personally like the book a lot, so if you’re looking for somewhere to start with my writing, you could do worse. If you’re too cheap to buy it, I completely understand, but you’re going to have to wait till hell freezes over to see it free – I’m not going to be doing any more freebie promotions on books that aren’t the first in a series or a standalone I want to give a boost. I’ve come to the conclusion that free is counterproductive and a generally bad idea for any but authors who can place in the top 20 – for us, it’s still great, but for the other 30,000 poor slobs who can’t on any given day, it’s worthless or worse. So I’m pulling back from that as a marketing strategy, even as some of my esteemed peers seem to be just discovering it and waxing enthusiastic about their results. I’ve given away probably close to a million books by now, which means that maybe fifty thousand of them might get read at some point. Which is fine. But I don’t see the value of continuing to give em away – that is so 2012.

That’s all I have for now, but if I think of anything else, as always, I’ll post it. I’m taking three weeks off and going walkabout, trying to catch up on some reading and recharging my batteries. JET V should launch around the end of the month, so stay tuned for that. April, I’ll start work on my new series, and we’ll see where that goes. In the meantime, be nice to each other, and don’t offer to help anyone with their writing – they likely don’t want to hear what you’ll tell them, unless you can be more political than I. Which, come to think of it, wouldn’t be all that hard.

Never mind. Carry on. And go buy a bunch of my crap. As always.







  1. Fri 08th Mar 2013 at 10:22 am

    Russell: Loved this story. I have done similar things, taking time to offer writers some advice, and most of the time it resulted in being called #*! and, well…you know the rest. One guy recently showed great appreciation though, and that–temporarily–made it worthwhile. Glad to hear the launch was successful for you. Keep writing good books.

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 08th Mar 2013 at 10:38 am

      Thanks – glad to hear it’s not only me.

      Can’t complain about the launch. Life remains interesting, and seems like someone’s buying em so, WTF, things could be worse…

  2. Fri 08th Mar 2013 at 12:09 pm

    I’m laughing so hard my ribs are hurting. That Freudian slip comment was beyond hysterical. Also, just bought How to Sell a Gazillion ebooks. Planning to read it this weekend as I heard it was funny.
    BTW–you’re a decent tango dancer. 🙂

  3. Fri 08th Mar 2013 at 12:19 pm

    Agree with Kim! That Freudian slip comment is about the funniest thing I’ve read all week.

    And yeah, I’ve come to the conclusion that when an author asks for feedback, it’s similar to your woman asking if they look fat in something…

    They’re not really looking for the truth. Just some affirmation.

  4. Fri 08th Mar 2013 at 12:47 pm

    I for one have Gazillions and can remember, after the first time I read it, promoting it for you. Wise words for any author are buried inside that book, if only they’d read the damn thing. You can take the horse to water, blah, blah!
    Been in your shoes with another author, who, after I’d totally written his first chapter from scratch, bestowed on me how wonderful it was. In his next breath, when I asked if he was carrying on, I could have killed him on the spot!
    “I’m not doing that now, I’ll just review books instead.”
    God help us!

  5. Fri 08th Mar 2013 at 5:16 pm

    CAPONE: Well, l tell ya, it’s touching. Like a lot of things in life, we laugh because it’s funny, and we laugh because it’s true.

    ME: Yep.

    Capone quite obviously had better writers than me–in this case, David Mamet.

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 08th Mar 2013 at 7:55 pm

      Good ol Mamet. Always reliable.

  6. Fri 08th Mar 2013 at 6:12 pm

    “…sucked a big bag of goat dicks. And not in a good way.” When I got back from running to pee, I was still laughing. Is there really a good way? And my husband would like to know what you’re doing listening in on our early morning coffee conversations.

    Buried inside all that dark and crazy humor is the truth to that old saying – No good deed goes unpunished. I’m okay with receiving the death threats and being “unfriended” by these ass hats. I’m getting to the point where it’s now kind of fun to come up with unique ways to tell them how badly they suck. Sadly, the best comments (such as the goat dicks) would be lost on most of them.

    Great blog post, Russell. And BTW, I’m thoroughly enjoying the Assassin books.

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 08th Mar 2013 at 7:54 pm

      Glad you enjoyed my, er, unusual sense of humor.

      Even more so, am happy that you like the Assassin books. I predict good things for them this year.

  7. Fri 08th Mar 2013 at 6:51 pm

    Huzzah!!!!!!! Man oh man I dug on that blog you bet hooboy damgood.

    BTW I posted somewhere, grub st. I think, when they were talking book promo, that I don’t read free books. Just don’t. Don’t want to, don’t have to. Usually they’re worth the price. Only free books should go to reputable reviewers, that’s it. I don’t have time to plow through poorly edited, promo for the sake of promo, FREE!!! books. That’s just me. Obviously many differ with that and fine by me. I’m not saying it’s the best way, just my way. I love buying books, and hate it when I buy a clinker. Breaks of the game. I’ll take a freebie if I win it in a drawing.

    Loved this blog, luuuuved it. BTW, on the bag of goat dicks, is there a good way? Aww shoot, don’t answer that.

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 08th Mar 2013 at 7:53 pm

      Never say never. You should try JET, which is now on perma-free. Might make you rethink that all free books blow. Although I tend to agree the vast majority do. I get at least a dozen emails a week from folks who are flabbergasted that JET is free.

      All in a day’s work.

  8. Robert Jones
    Fri 08th Mar 2013 at 8:34 pm

    Hi Russell (and anyone else interested),

    I’m going to chime in with my two cents, and hope it helps. I haven’t critiqued a ton of writers, though I’ve had my share. I do have a lot of experience critiqueing young (and not so young) up-and-coming artists.

    Feelings are going to get hurt. Hell, my feelings were hurt back when I was an up-and-coming artist–we’re all just so sensitive, y’know? But I could always tells an honest constructive critique, even when some were a bit harsh. You learn, you grow, you develope a thicker skin–such is life. But my feelings is that anyone interested in learning any craft that’s worth their salt is going to learn and grow as well, possibly even appreciate. Who knows?

    On the other side of the desk–the side where the pros sit–it’s easy to become hurt as well. We give of our time, which could be spent doing other things, to try to offer advice in the hopes of helping. And those fly-by-nighters who are looking for an easy fix ruin it for everyone else. Everyone who might be serious about learning and creating, that is. So many pros make up rules that won’t allow themselves that sort of access to advising. When they do, the attitude shows. And that can be just as ugly as the assholes who made you mad in the first place. It’s all because of hurt feeling, and spreading the hurt around is never helpful.

    I can recall days when I would’ve done anything to be able to show my work to someone who could point me in the right direction. We’ve all been there. And maybe the perserverance of wading through all the crap, the knocking on closed doors, helped to strengthen us in some way. But I told myself that I wasn’t going to be that way when I got to sit on the side with the pros.

    There’s a way to work this. A way that might even sell a few books, so it good for both side of the desk. This didn’t come by chance. It came by years. Ready?

    1) Always find something good to say, even if the work is crap. This isn’t some namby-pamby advice, or even a way to make yourself come across better. It’s called encouragment. Even it’s if only the bare-bones of the idea that has potential, you say, “I like your basic idea here, but…”

    2) Point out the worst of the problematic areas. Again, it may all be a problem, but no one can absorb more that a few things in a critique before they shut you out. And maybe you want them to go away because you have them pegged as a poser–that’s okay. because you don’t have to see their faces, or chat with them for more than a few minutes.

    3) You tell them where they can find help with those problems you just mentioned. These are usually the same books, or web-site you find helpful–and you tell them that. We’re all on the same page now. One big happy community. You might even get a thank you. If so, you’ve gotten a point or two through. If not, you’re moving on to the next person anyway. As a pro, your time is limited.

    This way, you are actually marketing yourself, and being helpful (at least to a few here and there) at the same time. It’s a win-win situation and it’s rare anyone gets ugly. When the serious student comes along and asks the right questions, you can give them a little more. With the wannabes, you’re done in two minutes.

    Hope this helps. After all, we’re all here for the same reason, right? Right 🙂

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 08th Mar 2013 at 11:58 pm

      You’re a better man than I. If someone brings me some half-assed crap that it’s obvious they put no effort into, I don’t try to muster words of encouragement. Screw that. I can’t do it. I spent years honing my craft, assuming it was garbage, and required no encouragement to get good. I simply didn’t want to be crap. That was all the prodding I needed.

      If you can do as you advise, brilliant. Not me. I don’t view it as my obligation to cheerlead anyone. Having said that, I’ve helped authors I feel warrant my efforts, and have asked nothing in return. But when I’m handed a plate of steaming dung, I can’t muster, “hey, at least it’s warm!”

      I guess you could say I’m a curmudgeon.


      • Robert Jones  –  Sat 09th Mar 2013 at 12:54 am


        I have done it for years. But in the end, I had to come by my own skills in the same way you mentioned. Feeling my work was crap, I shot my creative arrows as high as I could, just hoping that I would land anywhere on the target. It really is the only proven method. Unless you’re well placed in terms of friends, or are wealthy enough to buy a seat, you can’t count on anyone giving the average Joe busting his ass a leg up in the world.

        So I totally understand what you’re saying. Especially when you say the author was a friend. Friends and family are the worst. You’re always just who you always were in their eyes. Except now you’re making money and they feel theirs some secret you can give them to hop on board.

        Even if you have the patience of a saint, or apply the techniques I mentioned above, all you can ever do is point a finger in the right direction.

        And don’t mistake my “encouragement” right off as puppies and kitten flavored. Even a dog finds it harder to bite you once you’ve offered them a bone. The encouragemnt factor up front can go a long way. I’m not suggesting anyone be less than honest, or soppy. It’s always their choice to follow through with any advice given. And make no mistake, you are not there to supply anyone’s deficiencies.

        I learned this by sitting at a table with lines of wannabe artists lined up with their art. In a situation like that, you have to wiegh efficiency, as well as tact, over saying, “Beat it, your work is crap.” Especially when your publisher has asked you to be there at their booth and help sell their wares.

        It really does help sell your wares too. It is marketing. not taught in school, or on the internet. But make no mistake, it has value.

        But this is better applied to the general public…not so much to friends and family. They never want to pay for your stuff anyway…LOL!

  9. yoon
    Fri 08th Mar 2013 at 11:54 pm

    Tactless. That’s you. Always incorporate puppies and kittens in your critique, and you’ll be all set. BTW, you owe me a picture of Bird.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 09th Mar 2013 at 12:56 am

      Bird is thriving. Looks very much like, well, Bird. No changes.

      Did I mention sparrows can live up to 15 years? But they don’t pay rent. And they secretly resent you. Bastards.

      Your puerile, pathetic, prosaic pap’s pretty plainly puppy poop. Like that, you mean? On the critiquing thing?

      • yoon  –  Sat 09th Mar 2013 at 1:21 am

        Ugh. I guess that means you didn’t take the picture of Bird’s freakishly long beak? Not that I’m surprised or anything. Hmph.

        • Russell Blake  –  Sat 09th Mar 2013 at 1:37 am

          I’ve been kind of busy. But I did get her a cuttle bone, and that seems to be helping. I’m thinking starvation might also work. She’s plumped up.

          At least I haven’t lost the capacity to not surprise you. At least we still have that.

  10. Lori Bair
    Sat 09th Mar 2013 at 1:47 pm

    I am a new fan, jumping on with the free download of The Delphi Chronicle. Yes, I read all blogged words and comments about freebies and I get your side- free is (was) good for what is, but somebody’s gotta pay the craft. I have found many great reads and threw out my share of no-goodniks, while buying books along the way to keep the words flowing. I am now a loyal fan who has purchased books 2 and 3. I will promote you and continue buying because you are just that good! 🙂 Thanks! Love your style, your snark, and your awesome DESK, can’t wait to see what the miles bring in the future.-L

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 09th Mar 2013 at 3:39 pm

      Thanks so much, Lori. That’s one of the reasons I make JET free in perpetuity, as well as Night of the Assassin – but Night will soon be going paid – I’m working on a second edition with about 10% more content and a complete polish, at which point it will move to either $2.99 or $3.99.

      But JET shall remain free for a while, because at this point it’s way more important to me to get new readers than to maximize every dollar. If I write well enough and enough folks like it, the money will follow.

      • Lori Bair  –  Sat 09th Mar 2013 at 6:22 pm

        I’m starting JET today and I will wait for the polish on Night of the Assassin as a donation to the Tequila fund.

      • Gerard  –  Fri 29th Mar 2013 at 7:11 am

        Your free books made me start reading your work and made me buy the rest…. so as a strategy it’s probably not so bad after all.

        • Russell Blake  –  Fri 29th Mar 2013 at 10:24 am

          I think the free strategy is a viable and good one for the first novel in a series. I also think that if you think longer term, and are prolific, it’s a good strategy for introducing readers to your work. Free has been good to me. I maintain several novels on “perma-free” – JET, Night of the Assassin, The Delphi Chronicle (although that will end soon). But if I was advising someone with only one or two books, just starting out, whether or not to do it, I’m not sure I would advise in the affirmative. There’s a balance between finding your audience and devaluing your work to the point where people don’t think it’s worth paying for, and I think that the whole free thing has converted an entire audience of those who would buy books at the lower end of the price spectrum to try new authors, into free donwloaders who see no reason to buy anything ever again. Authors just starting out run the risk of being lumped into that, “I’ll just wait until the new one is free” category.

  11. Sat 09th Mar 2013 at 5:02 pm

    Finished reading Gazillion ebooks and posted a review at Amazon. Hubby was watching a documentary while I read nearby. He asked what was so funny. I read him the part about you backhanding the person and leaving an imprint of your pinky ring on their overfed face and he laughed so hard he had an asthma attack. I had to get his inhaler.
    You’re a maniac.

    • giacomo giammatteo  –  Sat 09th Mar 2013 at 5:09 pm

      Okay, Kim, now you’re forcing me to go buy the book. That kind of irreverence must be rewarded.

      • Russell Blake  –  Sat 09th Mar 2013 at 8:36 pm

        It’s a truly vicious romp.

      • Kim Cano  –  Sun 10th Mar 2013 at 12:43 pm


        You’ll get a kick out my Goodreads review too. 🙂

        • Russell Blake  –  Sun 10th Mar 2013 at 10:32 pm

          Glad you liked it. And thanks for the positive review. Did you check out some of them that thought they were getting a serious book that would, er, teach them how to sell a gazillion ebooks while drunk or incarcerated? Couldn’t make em up…

          • Kim Cano  –  Sun 10th Mar 2013 at 10:56 pm

            Yeah. I saw some of those. Maybe they were high while shopping.

          • Russell Blake  –  Sun 10th Mar 2013 at 11:11 pm

            As charitable an explanation as I’ve ever heard.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 09th Mar 2013 at 6:52 pm

      I’m not well. Urp.

  12. Sun 10th Mar 2013 at 9:50 pm

    Glad to hear the launch of the BLOOD OF THE ASSASSIN didn’t suck a big bag of goat dicks. I hear you on the advice side, it reminds me of the song CRUEL TO BE KIND by Nick Lowe, Pure Pop For Now People, I believe was album, from the early 80’s, very hazy days…

    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 10th Mar 2013 at 10:31 pm

      That’s not to say I’m a complete jerk, although I may well be in some folks’ eyes. But if someone hands me something that they obviously didn’t even do a serious second draft polish on, and declares it to be representative of their best work, they’re wasting my time, which isn’t in huge supply. I’m running about 3-4 months behind on just reading books I promised to – books I really want to read because I either like or respect (or in some cases, both) the authors. So you hand be something where you didn’t even run spellcheck, guess what my reaction’s going to be? Not good.

  13. Old Git
    Mon 11th Mar 2013 at 8:23 pm

    Writers are a sensitive lot — so it’s never easy to tell them their creation ain’t gonna win any bonny baby contests any time soon without a little collateral damage; i.e. they may have a nervous breakdown or take to drinking copious amounts of tequila (no, it wasn’t me who left that bad review, Blake) or, most likely, they will fashion an effigy that resembles you and proceed to treat it like a pin cushion.

    Better that you’re economical with the truth — use sound bites like:

    I can’t begin to tell you how incredible your premise is…

    What a treasure this book is… (don’t mention you buried it ten-feet-deep on a desert island)

    A great bedside book… (omit that you are an insomniac — usually…)

    Anyway, you get the idea.

    Of course, you can also take time to point out that paragraphs are useful, that people can’t grin, smile or beam words (try it if you don’t believe me) in dialogue, and gently explain that repetition and over-explanation does tend to make the reader feel patronized, and bored — you can even help them by providing examples and polishing their crock of shit until it has a dim gleam about it — but you can’t make them into a writer. The only way they will have a chance at becoming one is by sticking with it and accepting that earlier work probably isn’t fit for human consumption; hell, they could even take on board your suggestions as they tear up their early mistakes and try again.

    But even then, they are up against it, even if resolute, because good writers have an inborn desire to tell stories, have great imaginations – and vivid – and have the sense to accept criticism/suggestions if they are valid and learn from them, rather than think they have all the pearls around their necks already.

    • Robert Jones  –  Wed 13th Mar 2013 at 10:35 pm

      @ Old Git–Very true. But in fairness, the sort of critique Russell is describing would make anyone’s eyes bulge. I’ve known some people who had manuscripts like that, stating they’ve shown it to people who just loved it. Or they expect someone else to take them by the hand and lead them instead of doing the work themselves.

      I suppose one could ask if they’ve read it over, made sure it was their best work, try to find out what they expect you to do with it if it’s in that bad of a condition. But since this is a friend we’re talking about, who probably handed in a total mess with the expectations of Russell taking a huge amount of time in helping them fix it–then (in having thought about this a bit) I would have to amend my previous remarks.

      I’m basing my critiquing methods on a situation where one is apt to be kind in viewing a handful of pages from a stranger looking for potential help. But this “friend” is clearly taking advantage. At least that’s the most common version of friends dumping things on you without attempting to go very far with it themselves. The only other reason I can think of here would be that the friend isn’t all that bright and didn’t know any better. But I’m not getting that (at all) from Russell’s reaction.

      Moral: Don’t use your friends like that. Especially the very busy ones. Otherwise you got off lightly if you only got verbally clobbered.

      That’s my amended view after reading this over again.

      • Russell Blake  –  Thu 14th Mar 2013 at 1:12 am

        I think you hit that nail on the head.

  14. Wed 13th Mar 2013 at 10:42 pm

    The enormity of the deft self aggrandisment vis a vis mitigated self absorption eclipses even the existential transmutation of the ephemeral reality.

    Maybe the new Pope understands this better than l.

    Im brand new to you and thoroughly taken.
    Buena suerte

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 14th Mar 2013 at 1:13 am

      Glad you’re enjoying the ride thus far. I also have a lovely singing voice.

  15. Wed 20th Mar 2013 at 4:10 pm

    Loved this post, Russ. Perfect timing too. Something similar happening and I’m about to test the theory that bad news can be good news when it comes to advising an author about her/his project. Give me strength and aged scotch.

    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 20th Mar 2013 at 6:27 pm

      Trust me on this – you’ll never get a thank you for telling a writer what his/her deficiencies are. Wish it weren’t so.

  16. Thu 21st Mar 2013 at 10:04 am

    Fantastico. Justin Bog recommended I read this, and he was right on. Everyone is frantically in search of cash for writing. Nice to see someone focused on the craft (as well as peddling their own work).


Add comment

Powered by WordPress

Join Russell Blake's Mailing List

  • Get Latest Releases
  • No Spam
  • Exclusive Offers

The best way to get the latest updates from Russell Blake