Sabtu, 30 Agustus 2008

The Myth Of The Good Book

No, we're not debunking the bible here. We're talking about the pervasive idea that if you write a good book, it will sell. The writer doesn't have to have an Internet presence, or make any public appearances, or do any marketing, self-promotion, or publicity. All the writer needs to do it write a good book and it will magically find an audience.

It makes no difference the years of experience or the amount of success a writer has had, many still believe this.

It's baloney, of course.

As I've said many times on many forums, "good" is subjective. There's no universally accepted standard for "good" because everyone has an opinion. Editors and agents, who believe they know what "good" is, still represent and publish books that fail more often than not. We've all read crappy books that are big hits, and we've all read wonderful books that are now out of print.

"Good" is a really poor indicator of sales potential.

But the myth still persists: Write a good book, and it will sell.

Instead of poking holes in this concept (I'm privy to the "You can write the best book in the world but people won;t buy it if they don't know it exists" rebuttal), maybe we should look at why so many writers feel this way.

1. Naivete. If a writer is only responsible for writing a good book, they don't need to know anything about this mysterious business known as publishing. This offers the artist a nice, insulated cushion from real life, where they feels they only needs to worry about writing the best book they can and everything else will be taken care of for them.

2. Stubbornness. It's a publisher's job to sell books. Period. The writer writes, and nothing else. If the writer does their job, the publisher will promote the heck out of it, and the book will find a wide audience.

3. Fear. It's a scary business, and self-promotion is expensive, time-consuming, and difficult. It's much easier for an author to focus on writing than learn the skills needed to become a salesman. Writers get rejected often enough by agents and editors. They shouldn't have to risk getting rejected by readers as well.

4. Envy. We all know a few indefatigable writers who are constantly promoting their brands. We don't like to think that perhaps we should be promoting our books with equal vigor, instead clinging to the belief that the book should sell itself based on its own merits. It's much easier to attack someone else than blame ourselves.

5. Bad results. Perhaps the writer has tried to self-promote, had a bad experience, and now refuses to do anything else. This is a shame, because we all swallowed some water learning how to swim. Practice makes perfect.

Now let me make it clear that writers do need to write the best book they possibly can. That should go without saying. But in a world with so many forms of entertainment competing for our time and money, in a world where 200,000 new books are published every year but only 1 out of 5 makes a profit, in a world where selling a first book is difficult, but selling a second book is impossible if the first one didn't do well...

Obviously, it is in the writer's best interest to make an effort in selling their books.

Here are some things to remember about self-promotion.

1. People are looking for information and entertainment. They aren't looking for ads or commercials.

2. Sales isn't about selling a book to someone who doesn't want it. It's about finding people who are looking for your type of book and offering it to them.

3. Books sell one at a time, and every effort you make has intangible benefits.

4. Think about the last ten books you bought and why you bought them. These are the strategies you should use when selling your books.

5. Set attainable goals. Becoming a bestseller isn't a good goal, because it is largely out of your hands. Going to three writing conferences and introducing yourself to 100 new people is within your power.

6. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Self-promotion is about planting seeds, and these often take a long time to grow. The longer and harder you work at this, the better you'll do.

7. Believe in your book. You have to believe that you did, indeed, write a good book, and that others will enjoy it. If the words ont he page don't speak to you, they won't speak to others, and nothing you do to self-promote is going to change that...

Selasa, 26 Agustus 2008

Interview with Jason Starr, author of The Max

I've known Jason Starr for years. He's one of the most likeable, and most respected, mystery authors working today.

His new novel, The Max, is co-written by the equally talented and likeable Ken Bruen.

The Max is available today, from Hard Case Crime, the publisher that specializes in classic and current noir and surprised the world when it released Stephen King's The Colorado Kid a few years ago.

JA's advice: If you love mysteries you must buy every title by Starr, and by Bruen, and by Hard Case.

I caught up with Jason during a White House briefing. Neither of us were there to meet the President--we just go because they have an awesome free snack table. Since I brought along my tape recorder as a prop to fool the Secret Service, I decided to use it to ask Starr a few questions about The Max in particular and self-promotion in general.

JA: Damn, this cracker dip is tasty. Is that dill? I think it's dill. So what's the new book about?

Jason: It's called THE MAX and it's the third crime novel I've co-written with Ken Bruen in what we are now calling "The Bust Trilogy." The previous books are BUST and SLIDE and they're all published by Hard Case Crime.

JA: I already said all of that in the intro. But you hadn't actually read that at the time of the interview, so please continue.

Jason: In THE MAX our two main protagonists, Max and Angela, are imprisoned in different parts of the world--Max at Attica and Angela in a prison on the Greek island of Lesbos....and that's just the opening. We introduce a lot of new characters in the book and Laura Lippman makes a cameo as herself and there's a character, a charming con man who's a dead ringer for Lee Child. You don't have to read them in order but I think it's a good idea and, hey, they're only 6.99 each so all three are less than the price of the average hardcover. How can you go wrong?

JA: I like Lee Child. He's dreamy. I bet he works out. What's your collaboration process with Bruen?

Jason: Well, Ken and I write solo novels as well of course and our individual styles are so different the big challenge is always to make it seem like the books are written by a single author. So we alter our styles--I write in Ken's style and he writes in my style. Then we'll go back and forth and polish it a few times until we think it's seamless.

JA: Do you leave each other's prose alone?

Jason: We don't switch off writing chapters, each of us work on all the chapters, and we send them back and forth over the Internet. It took some trial and error but we've reached the point where even we aren't sure who wrote what. Ken wrote me the other day saying he re-read part of The Max and complimented me for a particular line and I wrote back, "You wrote that, Ken." And he wasn't even drinking at the time.

JA: What are you doing to promote this book?

Jason: This is it, Joe. All your readers better buy this f'in' book or we're screwed.

JA: All my readers? I hope you've got at least eight copies in print.

(Jason and I both chuckle, then I start choking on a shrimp ball and the Secret Service has to give me the Heimlich.)

Jason: But, seriously, we promote these books differently than our solo books. Hard Case Crime gets a ton of media coverage because they're a niche publisher with a strong fan base. But they can't afford to send their authors on tour and we need to promote our solo books as well. So we do a handful of bookstore events (the launch party for THE MAX is at the Mysterious Bookshop in New York on Thursday Sept. 4 at 6:30 and all of your readers are invited), but otherwise it's a lot of blogging, a lot of promotion on My Space and Facebook, interviews, fan conventions etc.

We're fortunate that Hard Case (ie publisher Charles Ardai) has gotten us some great publicity though. Although the books are mass market paperbacks, many major newspapers have reviewed the books and BUST even made Entertainment Weekly's Must List.

JA: Nice. The only time I was in EW was when I cut out a picture of my face and glued it on top of Brendan Fraiser's. It didn't fool too many people.

What kind of promo doesn't work for you?

Jason: I'm not sure how much radio interviews have done for me. I've done a lot of them and I've never seen a big bump in sales. I'm not talking about NPR, I'm talking about local radio. I'm just not sure it's the best way to target the book-reading audience.

JA: I concur. Never had much success with radio, though I dig it.

Jason: I think any publicity is good publicity and the key is to do what you feel comfortable doing. It's all about finding that comfort zone where you can thrive.

JA: Boxers or briefs?

Jason: Come on, Joe, you know I go commando.

JA: I tried that once. it was sexy, until I chafed. Who do you like to read?

Jason: Most of my reading these days is books I'm asked to blurb and my friends' books. Luckily I've been blurbing some excellent books and my friends are great writers. I heartily recommend Alison Gaylin's new novel Heartless and Ken Bruen's standalone Once Were Cops. I recently read your story in the Thriller anthology and it kicked ass. All your stuff kicks ass.

JA: Yes. Yes it does. Didn't the new Indiana Jones movie suck?

Jason: Didn't see it yet, but I'll take your word for it.

JA: I was really excited about it, because the trailer was awesome, but then I went to see it and didn't like it. Also, theater popcorn makes me retain water. I suspect that's Lucas's fault.

What's next for Jason Starr?

Jason: My latest hardcover from St. Martin's Press, THE FOLLOWER, is due out as a mass market paperback on December 2. I'm really excited about this because it's my eighth novel, but my first mass market paperback (the others have been in trade).

JA: I liked The Follower, but now I'm annoyed I bought it in hardcover when I could have waited and gotten it cheaper. What else is on the horizon?

Jason: Next year I have a few books out. St. Martin's is publishing my new thriller in the spring and I'll be posting a lot on this over the coming weeks at Later in the year, DC Vertigo will publish my original, full length graphic novel (more details TBA at the Bouchercon convention in October on the graphic novel panel). I've been working on this graphic novel (with a wonderful artist in Italy) for the past two-plus years.

JA: You've been busy.

Jason: Also next year, in the fall, Hard Case Crime will publish the first American edition of my novel FAKE ID. I wrote FAKE ID several years ago and it's a hard-hitting crime novel in the Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford tradition, but set in the present day.

JA: Now you're just showing off. Lemme have that party info again.

Jason: Everybody's invited to the launch party on Thursday Sept. 4 at 6:30 pm at Otto Penzler's lengendary The Mysterious Bookshop on 58 Warren Street in New York City.

JA: Will Bruen be there?

Jason: Yes. And Alison Gaylin will launch her latest, Heartless, at the same event, and there will be drinks and food and we're giving away lots of door prizes including bottles of booze and a 50 dollar store gift certificate.

JA: Drinks? Now I gotta go...

Minggu, 24 Agustus 2008


In my unending quest to remain relevant in a digital world, I learned a bit of Adobe Flash and created a game to promote the book Afraid by Jack Kilborn.

It only takes a few minutes to play, and is hopefully worth a smile or two.

Do flash games and video trailers and expensive interactive websites help sell books? I remain unconvinced. But I had fun putting this together, and dumber things have gone viral.

Let me know if you reached level 18...

Kamis, 21 Agustus 2008


Part of being human is trying to figure out what in our pasts have led to our present.

That means we often attribute significance to past occurrences and what we believe led up to those occurrences. After all, hindsight is 20/20.

Looking at successful people, we can make observations about their histories, compile similar data, and draw conclusions about what makes a successful person.

But unlike science, which uses controlled experiments that are repeatable, it's impossible to have a control group for a person's life. Good things that happen may indeed be a result of hard work and effort, or it may be the stars aligning. It's usually a little of both.

While an astute student of human behavior can find commonalities among the success stories, these are often vague rather than defined, and if repeated under similar conditions do not always result in success for other people.

When you add exceptions--people who do something other than what the majority do--to the mix, it becomes downright impossible to predict success.

Which brings us to writing.

We're supposed to write a good book, but the term "good" is subjective. Then we're supposed to promote it, even though only a small percentage of books actually become bestsellers, and bestselling authors may not do a lot of promotion.

Because there are no guarantees, no controlled way to study and repeat success, and not even a universal definition of "good", the majority of us spin our wheels in relative obscurity, while a select few make it big and then tell the rest of us exactly how they did it, even though they're often attributing significance after the fact, which simply isn't good science.

So what's a writer to do? Work hard self-promoting even though the odds are against it paying off? Struggle to write a good book, whatever that means? Study the market? Ignore the market? Listen to bestselling authors? Listen to their publisher?

Readers of this blog know my feelings about luck. It pervades the publishing industry, and life in general. I've blogged before about maximizing the potential for luck by working hard, but without specific instruction that's like a coach at half time telling his team that in order to win they have to play better.

So here's some specific instruction.

1. Study the situation. That means learning everything you can about writing and publishing. Read about it, talk to people in the industry, and seek answers.

2. Set attainable goals. Once you have a rudimentary understanding of how publishing works, you can figure out how to leverage your standing within it. Keep goals to things within your control.

3. Learn from both failure and success. Try things for yourself, try them again, and revise and evolve.While you can't control the experiment, you can test and hone tactics.

4. Don't compare yourself to other writers. No good can ever come of this. Ever. Writers aren't in competition with each other for contracts or fans, and one person's success doesn't hinge on another failing. Envy is poison.

5. Value yourself. If you don't have enough confidence to believe you're worth more, no one is going to give you more.

6. Bust your ass. If you aren't driven to succeed, you probably won't. How bad do you want this? If the answer is: really bad, then you have to prioritize accordingly.

7. Forgive. You'll make mistakes. People will screw you. Circumstances may conspire to keep you down. Regret, guilt, worry, and self-pity are all just as poisonous as envy. Let the past stay in the past and move on. You're better than that.

8. Dream. That's why you became a writer in the first place. It's the one thing you have complete control over, and the one thing that will keep you going when everything else is going to hell. The day you stop dreaming is the day you stop trying.

Did I miss anything?

Minggu, 17 Agustus 2008

Fix Your Billboard

I've been housekeeping for the last few weeks, tweaking my website, blog, and various online billboards.

An "online billboard" is a place on the Internet where you have a little bit of property people pass through.

I've been collecting online intersections lately, and have found I own a few beyond the obvious blog and website:

Joe on MySpace:
Joe on Facebook:
Joe on Wikipedia:
Joe's Amazon blog:
Joe on Shelfari:
Joe on Goodreads:
Joe on CrimeSpace:

Are writers really expected to keep up with all of these online billboards? Has it become part of our job description to maintain and stay active in all of these social networking forums?

Well, no. Unless you want to attract more readers.

As writers, we have to go where the readers are. That's why we have websites in the first place, because a lot of people have computers and Internet access.

But when writers try to figure out how to maximize their Internet access, laziness seems to kick in. There are a hundred other things they could be doing other than strengthening their online billboards, and there's no real tangible evidence that a Facebook pages helps sell books in the first place.

Or is there?

Let's take a step back and consider the history of the old-fashioned billboard.

Billboards, for the uninitiated, are those large advertising signs posted along highways. They're usually target specific, announcing an upcoming store or attraction several miles ahead. Unlike TV and radio commercials or print ads, billboards actually lead you to the item they're promoting.

Being a Chicagoan, we often vacationed in Wisconsin, and driving up I-94 was billboard mania, announcing dozens of attractions at the resort town the Dells. Some of those Tommy Bartlett Watershow boards still exist 30 years later, and I can't help but wonder if Tommy is now doing his ski jumps with the aid of a walker.

The point is, unlike other forms of advertising that suggest a product or service and then require you to make the effort to seek out that product or service, billboards require little effort. All you had to do was take the proper exit.

As a result, roadside billboards continue to be a powerful source of revenue.

You see where I'm going with this.

Your MySpace page, your Shelfari profile, even your blog and website, are all billboards, pointing directly to links where your books can be purchased.

The more billboards pointing to your books, the more roads they're on, the more people you'll lure in.

So, yes, you should take a few minutes every few days to check to make sure your billboard is still up, attracting people. You should perform some basic maintenance, just as replying to questions and updating information. You might even make the billboard larger by participating to a greater degree. And naturally, your billboard isn't about what you're trying to sell. It's about what you're offering: information and entertainment.

Don't want to do that work? No one says you have to. But I never would have seen Tommy Bartlett if he hadn't made a similar effort. Me and 20 million others. Pretty good traffic for the cost and maintenance of a few dozen billboards.

If you're a regular visitor of this blog, you'll notice the Blogs I Read sidebar has gotten smaller. That's because, in the course of housekeeping, I got rid of the dead links.

Over thirty of them.

Those billboards were dead. No longer luring anyone to anything. Worthless, even though they may still be linked to by many search engines and places on the world wide web.

Blogging isn't for everyone. Social networking sites aren't for everyone.

But why put up a billboard and then leave it to fall apart and whither away?

When was the last time you updated your blog or website? When was the last time you visited that forum, or networking page, or any other billboards you took the time to build?

Anything worth doing is worth doing right. If you don't see the value to billboards, that's fine. But to fully understand the value of something requires you to try your best and give it a fair shot.

Are your billboards all they can be?

Rabu, 13 Agustus 2008

Revamping Your Website

I finally paid a professional to create a website for me.

My previous website was my own Frankenstein creation. And much like the monster, it was large, unwieldy, and unpleasant to look at.

I liked the content, but the presentation was lacking. I used html, which has since been replaced by better design languages. My site had different looks on different browsers, some better than others. I had a lot of unneeded, sloppy code that caused errors.

So I hired a designer to drag me into the 21st century.

My take on websites may be a bit peculiar. I don't like busy-looking web pages, or graphic-intensive sites that have Flash intros--I always skip the intro, and get impatient when a site takes a while to load.

I wanted something simple, easy to navigate, that I could maintain and update myself. I also wanted to remove some obsolete text content and add pictures and videos and a few other bells and whistles.

What I've lost:
  • My writing tips pages, which were redundant because the tips are now collected in my Newbie's Guide to Publishing e-book.
  • Free stories, which were redundant because they've been collected in my 55 Proof e-book.
  • Some reviews and old news.
  • Three pages of pictures.
What I've gained:
  • A simple, easy to navigate page.
  • Three times as many pictures, using
  • A guestbook.
  • Several new videos and movies.
  • A new store.
  • A site for my pen name, Jack Kilborn.
  • A message board, with chat.
In other words, a lot of extra content in a smaller, easier to access amount of space. I went from having over 25 pages to about 10.

When you're looking to redo (or create) a website, here are some things to keep in mind.
  1. Understand what your site it for. It isn't a 24 hour advertisement. It's more like a 24 hour hotel, where people can visit and have a pleasant stay. Websites are all about information and entertainment, not commercials.

  2. Decide what you want. Do this by looking at other websites and dissecting the reasons you like them (or don't like them.) What makes a site appealing? What makes it sticky? What makes you come back time and again?

  3. Set a price. Websites can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Figure out what pages you need and what you want on them, and a designer should be able to give you an estimate.

  4. Find a designer. I used Jack Passarella, at Jack happens to be an author, so he has a good take on what an author website should do. I liked his style, and I enjoyed working with him. It took several weeks for him to fit me into his queue (good designers usually have a waiting list), but once he did he completed the site in just a few days. He has an easy-going yet professional manner and is reasonably priced.

  5. Learn how to do some things for yourself. Having a working knowledge of domains, ftp, html, css, and php can only help you as an author. Being able to fix, tweak, and update your own site saves a ton of money, and is often quicker than working with a webmaster.
If you want to see the difference between new and old, here's your chance.

Let me know what you think...

Kamis, 07 Agustus 2008

JA Konrath Message Board

I've always wanted to message board, where fans could interact and newbie writers could ask questions.

My new website will launch soon, but in the meantime feel free to play on the board--it's awful lonely being the only one there.

As expected, I'll be answering questions, holding contests, dishing out advice, and goofing off.

Hope to see you there, and please spread the word.