TEDx Postmortem

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One of the twins from my fictional tale about publishing. I know what you’re thinking, and I agree. She’s gorgeous.

I did the TEDx event this morning at Pinewood Prep in Summerville, SC.  I had a fantastic time, and I met some great people.  I spoke to a roomful of mostly kids about publishing using a fictional tale of twins exploring separate paths to fame and fortune as authors.  I’m not sure how it went from their perspective, or how long I actually spoke.  I rehearsed several times before going in and came out anywhere between 13 minutes and 25 minutes, so I’m guessing I got close to the required 18 minutes.  I kind of expected a countdown clock in the room to keep me on task, but there was just an old analog clock in the back of the room, and I was too preoccupied to do the necessary math to keep track of time.  I used no notes, but I had prompts in my PowerPoint that triggered facts and figures I needed to tell my story.  I had this whole thing about the honor in failing I wanted to get into, but I got sidetracked.

I got the opportunity to talk to a couple of the kids about writing after the program, and met one young man who has already finished his first novel.  He asked for advice, and I’m afraid I failed to give him anything inspirational.  I have to come up with a better response to that request from young writers.  When I was his age, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to ask an adult about writing.  My hats off to him for being passionate enough to complete a novel at such a young age, and for having the guts to talk about it so openly.  It’s not easy to do.  I know.

The speaker after me was Brian Thomas, a Yale graduate, renowned educator and former Emmy Award winning actor for his role in Fast Break to Glory.  When I heard his credentials, I was convinced they had asked me there as a joke.  He was a super nice guy, and made it a point to tell me that he felt like the kids got a lot out of my presentation.  I don’t know if it’s true, but he made me feel better.  I was up the night before with a stomach bug, so I was still kind of floopy during my presentation.

That’s enough rambling.  Now that TEDx is behind me I’m going to do a feature on the narrator for the audiobook version of Bad Way Out.  His name is Dan Wallace, and he is an incredibly talented voice over actor.  He’s so good I don’t know how I was fortunate enough to get him.  More on that to come.

It doesn’t matter what you call me

My clown selfie

My clown selfie

Every six months or so someone on the traditional side of the publishing fence feels the need to blast the internet with their opinion on the unsettling trend of self-published authors flooding the marketplace with material that hasn’t been vetted by the increasingly irrelevant gatekeepers of the industry.  The fact that anyone with a computer can publish a book sickens them, and they bark out their dismay until their throats get sore, and they annoy the holy hell out of everybody in the process. We get it.  You’re upset.  Move on.  There is nothing new you can say.  Your point has been made… repeatedly, and uttering another word about it is completely unnecessary.

The latest grumbler is Michael Kozlowski, Editor in Chief of Good E-Reader.  He is so miffed that he is even offended self-published authors are allowed to call themselves authors.  I’m guessing he wants self-published authors to wear a scarlet letter… only not an “A”.  He suggests that self-published works should be segregated from those published by what he calls “professional” authors.   His logic here is that it’s unfair to consumers to subject them to a plethora of inferior works on an e-tailer’s website. They should be given a clear path to the deserving works of traditionally published authors.

Kozlowski’s argument would be valid if not for the fact that by his own definition Snooki is a “professional” author, along with Pamela Anderson, Britney Spears, John Travolta, and the list goes on. Bad writing abounds amongst the offerings of traditional publishers and self-publishers.  To suggest that a bad writer deserves to be called an author because he or she has a contract with a traditional publishing house while another one doesn’t because he or she self-published is more than a bit shortsighted.  It’s an elitist-laden load of pap.

Here’s the good news.  Good writing can be found in the indie world just as plentifully as it can be found in the traditional world, maybe even more so.  Self-published authors are more apt to take risks and bring readers something new, while “professional” authors often play it safe and follow formulaic writing not because they want to, but because they’re being paid to.  I ask you which has the potential to bring more value to the literary world.

I’m a writer first and foremost.  I’m devoted to the art of fiction.  Whether or not you call me an author matters not to me.  Call me a hack or Bobo the typing clown for all I care.

Writer out.

One day I hope to konrath

Konrath (kon*rath) verb: To succeed in the world of publishing without the aid of a publisher.

Author Jude Hardin has an interesting post on Joe Konrath’s blog, A Newbies Guide to Publishing. For those of you not familiar with Konrath, he’s the author of a number of books under a couple of different pen names.  I’m most familiar with his Lt. Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels novels.  In recent years, he’s become the voice of the indie publishing scene.  He broke away from the traditional publishing world and has flourished as an indie author.  Every author wants to pull a konrath.

Jude Hardin is also the author of a number of books, the most successful of which feature a former rock star turned unlicensed private investigator named Nicholas Colt.  Hardin made the monumental decision to quit a good-paying job last year to pursue writing fiction full time.  He did so with a publishing deal in hand from Amazon’s publishing imprint, Thomas and Mercer.

Keep in mind, Amazon does not pay enormous advances (unless you’re Penny Marshall – $800,000).  In fact, I believe their general practice is to not pay any money upfront.  That doesn’t mean it’s not a great achievement to get a publishing contract from them.  It is.  I worked for an Amazon.com company.  They know who I am.  They’ve read my books, and they’ve never offered me a contract.  So, they do have some discretion. They won’t publish just anyone.  Bastards.

So, Mr. Hardin should feel good about his publishing deal.  Unfortunately, he discovered that not everyone can hit Joe Konrath’s numbers.  I don’t want to speak for him, so I’ll just direct you to his post – PUSHING THE BUTTON, PART 2: GOING INDIE.  Here’s a sample.

Sales haven’t been terrible, but they haven’t been great either.  Among the three series titles that have been available, I’ve sold about 20K copies over the past twelve months.

And here’s the deal, ladies and gentlemen: that ain’t enough.                      

It’s not enough for me to make a living, really, and it’s not enough for publishers to make an offer on future books in the series. Not the kind of offer I’m interested in, anyway.

My experience has been closer to Hardin’s than Konrath’s. I honestly believe my accountant must joke about my returns at dinner parties.  He even refused to imagine a scenario where I made a significant amount of money when we were discussing different tax structures for self-employed people.  He actually snickered with derision.

I’m not complaining, and I don’t believe Hardin is either. I think he’s just giving a factual account of his journey so far.  I am reminded of Brenna Clarke Gray’s post on Book Riot titled Readers Don’t Owe Author’s Sh*tSimply put, Gray is tired of authors pouring on the guilt trip because they aren’t selling enough books.  She points out it’s not her responsibility to support an author’s dream.  And I couldn’t agree more.

**To be clear, I’m not saying that Hardin is doing anything other than writing an informational post for educational purposes.

Writing is a job like any other.  Authors are no more entitled to throngs of fans than a dental assistant or a help desk associate.  I’ve seen authors on social media sites go nuts with ‘share’ requests and reminders that they ‘welcome’ reviews.  Early in my career, I may have done the same thing.  I may have even encouraged other authors to do so.  I know better now.

There’s an odd sense of panic when you first publish a book.  You feel an ever present clock ticking away in the back of your head signaling you’re running out of time if you want your book to be a success.  That finite window of opportunity only exists in the traditional publishing world.  Indie authors live in an evergreen world thanks to ebooks and POD.  There’s no need to panic.  We have no clock. There’s plenty of time for we indie authors to konrath.

The frustrating…. errr, I mean rewarding pursuit of the traditional publishing deal

You’ll have to excuse me. I’m suffering from author madness at the moment.

Before I explain the title of this post, let me stress that this is not a complaint. It’s merely an observation.

As some of you know (and many of you probably don’t care), my agent has been making a herculean effort to sell The Takers (and as much of the series as he can) to major publishers. He updates me whenever he hears back from a publisher with either rejections, or notes on how to improve the manuscript. I’ve declined to make some of the changes, but more times than not the suggestions do add elements to the story that I think make it better. I’m not stubborn or naive enough to believe I have all the answers, so I’m always excited to hear what people in the storytelling business have to say. My sole desire is to deliver a story that is as close to perfect as possible. Suggestions and criticisms from editors are going to help me do just that.

That’s not to say I don’t like The Takers as it is currently written. I do, and many of you have expressed to me that you like it, as well. I’ll never change the tone of the story. The suggestions so far have been to give a little more background information on Oz and Stevie’s relationship and, for God’s sake, get rid of the cliffhanger ending. I’m finding out that editors do not like cliffhangers. I love them, but I understand that’s a personal preference that many don’t share. I have no problem stepping outside of my head and making the ending a little more concrete… But just a little.

Here’s the frustrating part. These are two separate notes I got back from two different publishers.

Publisher A – Oz is completely unlikable. The reader can’t relate to him and therefore will never root for him.

Publisher B – Oz is too likable from the beginning. There’s no room for him to grow.

Do you see my dilemma? Both publishers are part of what’s known as The Big Six in the industry. They’ve managed to make a lot of money in a business that fails 70% of the time. They know what they are doing. So, either I have somehow managed to create a completely unlikable main character that is too likable, or one of them is wrong.  The problem I have is figuring out which one is off the mark.

This sounds like I’m complaining, and I guess on some level I am, but I do deeply appreciate the time both publishers spent reading and providing me with feedback.  If the two criticisms had been similiar, I’d be busy trying to correct the problem.  As it is, Oz will remain unlikable in a likable way.

Pardon me while I go slightly insane.

Should you try to write the Great American Novel?

Here’s my latest CreateSpace blog post: The Great American Novel

Want a little taste before you commit to the click?  Really?  Knowing I wrote it isn’t enough?  That’s pretty rude, but here you go:

However,  I don’t believe writers should be in competition with history. That is to say, a writer is likely to fail if they set out to write the Great American Novel. The writing becomes an external endeavor at that point, meaning the writer who sets out to write the Great American Novel is setting out to please and astonish the reader when he or she should be serving the story. A writer’s first priority should always be to satisfy that fictional internal world he or she is creating.

There you have it, your precious sample. Now click, read, comment… please!

1,000 blog posts and counting!

Where the hell have I been?  I have never let the blog go this long without a post, but I promise I have a somewhat legitimate excuse.  My trusty laptop died, kicked the bucket, called on the big motherboard in the sky.  It’s gone, see, and it ain’t coming back.  I have a non-interwebby computer that I will never hook up to the three w’s.  Call me over-protective, but there’s just too much bad stuff that can leak into its computer innards from evil and nefarious types stalking the webs, so I want to have one computer that is free from the intercrap.  If not for the internet free computer, I wouldn’t be getting any work done. 

I’m loading today’s post from my beautiful wife’s computer, and I have a new (refurbished) laptop currently in transit from Costco.  So, all is well on that front.

Onto the important stuff.  This is my 1,000th post on the blog.  That’s gotta be some kind of record.  Surely no one has posted that many useless posts for the world to see… okay, maybe a few others have… okay, maybe 98% of bloggers have, but you’ve got to admire my complete lack of shame and self-awareness. 

On the writing front, I am currently working on two non-Oz books.  I really, really like one, and I’m confused by the other one.  I can’t decide if it’s good or not.  I must like it on some level because I’m about 70,000 words into and still going.  We’ll see where it takes me.  The one I really like is what I’ve been spending most my time on these days.  I’ll tell you more when I feel it’s the right time.

As far as Oz, I have the last two books outlined. I’ve outlined them before, but I had an epiphany recently that moved me to completely rewrite the outlines.  I couldn’t be more excited.  I want to deliver a satisfying ending to all the readers, and I think this new outline does it much better than the old one.  BTW – thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read one or all four books so far.   

That’s it for now.  Happy 1000th post to me, and happy… just be happy, damnit! 

2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

Do you have a manuscript or self-published novel that you think was overlooked by the mainstream publishing industry?  I do, a bunch of them.  You may even feel like it’s impossible to break down that wall separating you from traditional publishing nirvana.  Well, wipe that frown off your face, you sad, sad clown.  Amazon is now accepting entries for its version of American Idol, except it’s for writers… and it’s not lame.  Here are the details.

The 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest: Submit Your Novel

Amazon.com, along with Penguin Group (USA) and CreateSpace, is pleased to announce the fourth annual Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest, the international competition seeking the next popular novel. The competition will once again award two grand prizes: one for General Fiction and one for Young Adult Fiction. Each winner will receive a publishing contract with Penguin, which includes a $15,000 advance.

Manuscript submissions are now being accepted through February 6, 2011, at 11:59 p.m. (U.S. Eastern Standard Time), or when 5,000 entries have been received in each category, whichever is earlier.

Go to www.createspace.com/abna to register and submit your manuscript following the instructions on the entry form.

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How I increased my book sales

There are plenty of more tens where these came from. I want to be perfectly clear about this.  I do not sell tens of thousands of books (yet) every year.  I haven’t spent any marketing dollars since January of 2010 on any of my books.  I’ve never launched a major coordinated advertising campaign for any of my books.  I would say 90% of my marketing (or more accurately branding) takes place on this blog and my relentless (almost annoying) presence on various social networks.  So, if you’re looking to me to help you unlock the secrets to sell a million books, you’re likely to be very disappointed.  Trust me, when I figure that out, I’ll be on this blog discussing every detail of the trek.

My books sales hover in the thousands.  Not a blistering number of sales on the surface, but here’s the thing, I have increased sales every year.  Granted, I usually add a book to my arsenal every year, but even accounting for that, each title sells more copies year over year, and it all starts with my anchor book, The Takers.

Comparing 2010 sales of The Takers to 2009 sales to The Takers, I increased sales by 29% on just that title alone.  Taking all books into account, I increased sales 45% over that same time period.  I’m only counting print sales for our purposes here, but I’ve increased sales on the Kindle side of things, too.

So, how did I increase my sales so dramatically?  After all, I’m a self-published author.  Mainstream media wouldn’t know me if I sat down in front of them and pitched my books to them.  I’m not opposed to spending more money on marketing, but to this point, I’ve shelled out only about $1,500 since I first published in 2005.  I am not a household name.  To top things off, the publishing industry as a whole has struggled to increase sales since I entered the market.  This is not the golden age of publishing.  So, what did I do to sell more books this year than last year?  Here’s the list of things that I’m confident attributed to my increased sales.

1. Word of mouth – My books have a small fan base, but they are extremely engaged.  I have a handful I hear from all the time via email, this blog and my social network accounts.  They are champions at spreading the word.  More than a few of them are teachers, and they introduce my books to a new crop of students every year, to which I am extremely grateful.

2. Price reduction – I dropped my base price for my books from $15.99 to $9.99.  I never liked the higher price, but I didn’t have any flexibility in changing it until my POD provider (CreateSpace) had an overhaul in policy and created flex pricing.  I immediately jumped on the new policy and brought my pricing more in line with publishing industry standards.  It made me more competitive, and eliminated a huge sales hurdle for me.

3. This blog, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube – I’m fortunate to be a one-man shop in publishing in a time when I have access to the same tools bigger publishers use to brand their authors and sell their library of books.  Every day I use these resources at my fingertips, the more my brand gets out.  The world of publishing only looks like a sedentary lifestyle.  And in as far as the day-to-day routine is done primarily sitting on one’s ass, it is, but it is also a frenetic occupation.   Your mind is constantly in motion creating and looking for opportunities to get your name out there. And, we’re not counting the time you spend writing, rewriting and everything else that goes into creating a book.

4. Evergreen mentality – I don’t look at my books as having an expiration date.  Just because I’ve written and published a new book, doesn’t mean my previous books are no longer relevant.  I look at all my books as having equal value regardless of the date they were published.

5. Publishing every year – One way I’ve kept my fan base engaged is to provide them something new to talk about every year.  I’ve made it a personal goal to publish a new title every year.  Initially, I did it to keep myself sharp and hone my craft.  But, the unforeseen benefit of the practice is having those early readers returning over and over again to read (and buy) my next book.  One and done is hard to pull off unless your Harper Lee or Ralph Ellison.

6. An insane belief in the improbable – The odds are against a book doing well in the market.  Statistically, more people want to write a book than read one.  The odds are even worse for a self-published book.  If you take new books, and royalty-free republished books, more than one million books were published last year.  In 2005, when I first published, that number was around 270,000.  I’ve had to find my spot in an ever-expanding pool of offerings.  It would have been easy to give up a long time ago, and chalk up my exit to too many things stacked up against me.  But dreams are a funny thing. They are easy to conceive, but nearly impossible catch.  And as Dr. Robert Sapolsky put it, the more impossible something is the greater the moral imperative that it must be done.

So, there you have it. I know I haven’t given you any magic bullets or even gems of wisdom.  Succeeding in publishing takes the same one element every profession takes, hard work.  If you’re pursuing easy riches, you’re on the wrong road.  Writing and publishing serves a compulsion first, and with persistence, the money will follow.  So, lead with high expectations, and survive with an impenetrable sense of success despite you current struggles.

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Question of the Day for Writers – “What’s Your Word Count?”

"My book is this many penguins long."

Somewhere along the road to finding a publisher, self-publisher, POD company, or whatever else is out there to publish your book these days, you are very likely going to be asked to reveal the word count of your book. In my experience in asking new aspiring authors this question, it is as confusing as explaining the origins of the universe for some.  In fact, I have been completely floored by the answers I received.  Here are just few that left me speechless.

Question: What is the word count of your book?

Most Frequent Answer: “It’s eleven chapters long.”

  • Why this isn’t a good answer: There is no uniform length for chapters.  A chapter can range from just a few words to a crap load.

Second Most Frequent Answer: “It’s 110 Pages.”

  • Why this isn’t a good answer: I have no idea what spacing you used, what font you used, what size font you used, etc.

Response That Made Me Want to Punch Myself: “Do you want me to count the conjunctions?”

  • Why this isn’t a good question: Unless conjunctions are declassified from a word to a sub-word much like Pluto was declassified from a planet to sub-planet, count them.  In fact, don’t count any words.  Just use the word count function in Word.  The counting is done for you.

Answer That Made Me Wish I Had Gone Into the Family Business (eye care): “My book is 482,000 characters with spaces.”

  • Why this isn’t a good answer: Words are made up of varying numbers of characters.  It’s impossible to tell how many words you have by giving me a character count.

Answer That Made Me Question The Existence of All That is Holy and Sacred: “Penguin.”

  • Why this isn’t a good answer: A penguin is an animal not a word count.    This is an actual answer I got once.  I am still completely baffled and entertained by it.

So, now you know.  Go forth and count your words.  Feel free to count penguins, too.

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One Thing You Should Never, Ever, Ever, Ever… Ever Do As An Author

I was shocked – shocked, I tell you – when I read a recent article written by Brent Sampson titled Top 5 Book Selling Tips.  Now, I don’t know Brent personally.  He’s got many years of publishing experience under his belt, and I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but one of his tips is the single worst tip I have ever seen posted by someone who should know better.  Here is his tip:

TIP # 1 Online reviews are paramount in importance when it comes to drawing attention to your book. And the best part is, you’re in control of your own destiny! If you haven’t yet submitted your own review on sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, what are you waiting for? This should be one of the first steps for every published author.

Authors Don't Let Other Authors Review Their Own Books!

In case you missed it, his advice is to review your own book on sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. He is correct in that online reviews can help you sell books, but he couldn’t be more wrong by encouraging you to review your own book.  Never review your own book! I don’t care how desperate you are to sell books. It is never okay to review your own book.  It’s completely unethical.  If you identify yourself as the author, it is useless because consumers will see it as tacky.  If you hide your identity (which I should point out, Sampson isn’t encouraging you to do), it’s seen as dishonest and could sink your publishing career if your secret gets out.

He goes on to advise you to ask family and friends to review your book on these sites, as well.  I don’t have a problem with this if they actually read your book.  They have just as much right to review your book as a stranger.  Granted, they aren’t going to be as critical as someone you don’t know, but reviews are opinions and opinions are based on a lot of factors. If eating all your peas when you were four-years-old matters to your mom when evaluating your book, then so be it.  As long as you’re soliciting honest reviews and not positive reviews, I’m okay with this practice.  The mind of the reviewer is out of your purview no matter how close you are to them.  Accept every review graciously.

So, what aren’t you going to do today… or any day if you’re an author?

BTW – Here’s a story from 2004 about authors who were caught reviewing their own books: Amazon Glitch Outs Authors Reviewing Own Books

*Note – Again, I’m not suggesting that Sampson is encouraging you to surreptitiously review your own book, but still it’s horrible advice.

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