Wednesday, May 13, 2015

On Book Designing

So let's set the Wayback Machine back eight years. I was a newish writer with a legacy publishing contract and a blog, doing what I could to get my name out there. I was approached by a fan, Rob Siders, who noticed that I didn't have a Wikipedia page and offered to set one up for me, free. He was into coding, liked to read and write, and was one of those forward-looking types who understood that tech forged the future whether Luddites wanted it or not.

I thanked him, and asked if I could return the favor someday. He asked me to keep him in mind if I ever needed to do any sort of computer stuff.

Two years pass, I decide to try self publishing on DTP, Amazon's new Kindle platform, but trying to upload MS Word and make it look good on Kindle can only be achieved by going through the entire manuscript, word by word, and deleting or adding formatting marks.

It's awful, time consuming, and I'm sure that a code jockey would know a better way of doing it.

So I contacted Rob. He was able to format my massive Newbie's Guide to Publishing ebook, which was hundreds of thousands of worlds long and has more links and hyperlinks in it than the rest of my work combined.

Rob did it, and it looked better than any of the ebooks I'd formatted myself. So I asked him to redo the ones I'd done, and I noticed something pretty spectacular.

I'd erroneously been treating ebooks as words on a digital page, laid out according to whichever font size the reader chose. Rob showed me that ebooks, like paper books, could be designed.

Average text, in the hands of a skilled craftsman, became a thing of beauty. A work of art.

Rob founded 52 Novels, a book design company, with his wife, Amy. They offer their services for all ebook platforms, and for paper.

I can unequivocally state that 52 Novels delivers books that are better looking, easier to navigate, and all around better, than 99% of legacy publishers.

I caught up with Rob and asked him a little about how his business worked. Indie authors know the importance of great covers (I use Carl Graves at www.extendedimagery.com) and a flawless manuscript (I use Grammar Rules A to Z), but very few understand the importance of book design.

To make a sketchy analogy, great book design is putting your novel in a tuxedo, whereas simply uploading your MS Word doc is going to the party in ripped jeans and a dirty tee shirt.

Joe: What is it a book designer does?

Rob: More than anything a book designer is a problem solver… not that the authors and publishers we work with are problems. What I mean is that all books have a logic to them, so our process always begins with trying to understand what the author is trying to say. Matching a look to that message—within the realm of what’s possible with ebooks—is sometimes the hardest work we do. Obviously, some books are straightforward so our work follows suit. But more and more we find that authors and publishers are trying to push the boundaries of what we've come to know an ebook to be.

Joe: What’s different about the work you do, and me just uploading my MS Word doc to KDP?

Rob: About half of the people who knock on our door these days have tried uploading a Word doc or PDF, to KDP and are frustrated because something has gone pear-shaped and they can’t fix it… the table of contents doesn't work, or a heading or two or three is wonky, or everything after Chapter 8 is bold, or whatever it is that KDP’s autoconverter produced.

Word is a perfectly fine presentation application, but behind the presentation is a lot of complex code. The more you fiddle with the presentation, the more likely it is you've introduced an enormous amount of inefficiency in the code, as well. For example, the Track Changes feature—while a decent way to manage the editing process—can be brutal to the code.

We've developed custom tools that extract the text from the document to leave us with super-clean code. Once we have that, we can do just about anything we want with it.

Joe: Can you show us an example?

Rob: Yes. Here’s the first chapter from Melinda’s ALICE trilogy as submitted:


Now let’s compare it to what I made:



This particular treatment—which was a premium project—uses embedded fonts and a stylized drop cap to get this look. That’s 100 percent text, XHTML and CSS.

Joe: What makes a finished ebook look professional?

Rob: There are lots of aesthetic things, like drop caps and embedded fonts, that add professional finishes that you just can’t do well with ebook conversion applications or that you can’t do at all with a Word-doc-to-KDP upload. But other hallmarks are typographer’s quotation marks (AKA curly quotes or smart quotes), poetry and verse that use hanging indents, and dynamic image sizing.

Joe: What’s the difference in designing the interior of an ebook and a paper (POD) book?

Rob: It can be night and day depending on the book, but the biggest difference is that designing for paper provides us with a lot of freedom and flexibility that just doesn't exist with ebooks. Paper is a larger canvas. It's fixed in size. And we don’t have to worry about the delivery device because it's the same regardless of who’s using it.

We started as an ebooks-only shop and our workflow still follows that. So, if we can accomplish something in an ebook then the paper is usually a piece of cake. A lot of authors and publishers—especially in non-fiction—come to us having first made beautiful print books that simply won’t work well as ebooks, at least not without a lot of remixing or remaking the content. These are clearly cases where the print design was done in isolation with little or no understanding of the constraints on the companion ebook. Our advantage is that we work in both realms, with the ebook as the foundation.

Joe: Why is it so hard to get good formatting on certain self-publishing platforms?

Rob: There are two reasons. The first reason goes back to what I mentioned before… Word is pretty good at the presentation of text, but not so good at writing well-formed, efficient code underneath.

The second reason is that the platforms themselves are designed for basic, predictable manuscript formatting. This is good because it fits the democratic, DIY punk rock ideal that fuels independent publishing and makes it so most everyone can upload their manuscript and get a functioning ebook on the other side. But what if the manuscript isn't so basic or predictable? Or, worse, what if it is basic and it's still not converting properly?

I've been a Word power user for a lot of years and I wouldn't dream of uploading a Word doc to any of the self-publishing platforms.

Joe: What if an author with out-of-print backlist books comes to you, and all they have are their old paperbacks? Can you convert their books?

Rob: Absolutely! As you know, getting OCR output in shape is a lot of work. Because of this there’s more time and cost involved, but we've developed a thorough process to ensure these ebook projects are as clean as can be.

The first step is the scan (OCR is Optical Character Recognition) and we've partnered with the best in the business as far as I’m concerned. After that, we ensure all the italics and bold type is the way it should be. We fix any wonky formatting issues---things like section and column breaks, missed or inserted paragraph returns, and line breaks breaks where they don’t belong. We then run a spell check to find any remaining obvious OCR artifacts. Once that’s done, we send the resulting Word file to the author to review. They can edit-in-place to clean up anything our process may have missed. Once the author's signed off, they send it back and we make the ebooks. In a few cases, authors have taken the opportunity to do a little rewriting.

Joe: Where do most DIYers go wrong?

Rob: Not having a complete understanding of the limitations of automatic ebook conversion apps. But I don’t necessarily fault them for this. There’s a lot of empowering conversation on the Internet about the facets of independent publishing. Unfortunately, a lot of it is also conflicting. I can see how someone might become frustrated when the results of automated ebook applications don’t match expectations.

Joe: If readers can change their font style and size, why are designers needed?

Rob: So 52 Novels can have fresh seafood flown in daily, buy Ferraris, and send our kids to Ivy League universities! Duh.

Seriously though, one of the advantages to hiring a professional ebook design and development shop—especially one that’s been around a while and can tame code—is that it can remove a lot of the worry over whether the book will make it through KDP/Nook Press/Meatginder intact. We automate some things where we think it makes sense… I mentioned extracting text from a document and that’s a prime example. But much of our process is bespoke-by-design because we believe it consistently produces higher-quality ebooks.

Joe: How many hours does it take to format a 90,000 word manuscript?

Rob: It depends. A standard MOBI/ePub design can be started in the morning and cross-platform tested by lunch time. If the author or publisher has used some kind of literary device—like block quotes, verse, emails/texts, and the like—the process will take more time to ensure we've handled those things properly.

Premium design projects take more time… making and acquiring assets for the project—whether it's finding fonts and navigating licensing, or making custom graphics—can sometimes add a day or two to the code whacking and testing.

Joe: What’s your normal turnaround time?

Rob: It depends on the time of year. Now that the industry has matured a little, we’re usually booking between three and four weeks out; add a week or two to that as we approach the holiday season.

Joe: Let me ask the question a different way. How long does it take, start to finish, to complete a project?

Rob: Ah. I wish there was a short, specific answer, but a lot depends on the author and the shape of their manuscript.

For example, if we deliver a first pass on the Thursday of an author’s scheduled week and they return just a few changes the following Monday morning, then they could possibly be publishing ebooks by week’s end. But if the review takes longer or if they’re submitting lots of changes—anything more than a few pages—or if they’re doing multiple review rounds then they should expect a longer turnaround.

If they have paper, then the timeline extends. We won’t start production on POD until we’ve got ebooks approved and ready-to-publish. It sounds counter-intuitive to not work on the ebooks and paper in tandem, but it actually simplifies project management to separate them. Besides, it can be a little daunting for an author to have ebooks and a POD dropped into their lap to review at the same time. Separating them in the workflow lets the project—and the author—catch a breath.

Some other things worth mentioning:
  • Correx are handled first in-first out regardless of when the first pass was delivered. If someone takes two weeks to complete the review, they could find themselves three or more spaces back in their designer’s correx queue.
  • We find things take a little longer when an author has never worked with us before or if they've never published at all, if only because everything is new to them.
  • New authors also often discover their editing and rewriting wasn’t as thorough as they believed it was. After seeing their book in this new way, a lot of people find typos they overlooked a hundred times before.
  • Authors unable to resist the temptation to revise their work during the production phase should expect both time and costs to increase. We can’t emphasize this enough: manuscripts must be final before they’re delivered to us for production.
Joe: What kind of authors do you like to work with the most? The least?

Rob: We like working with authors and publishers who remember there’s a person making their book.

Joe sez: And as people, Rob and Amy are a pleasure to work with and have my highest recommendation.

One of the jabs constantly made at indie authors is how our books are somehow not professional because we don't have a team behind us.
I'll admit that my books don't support an infrastructure of yesmen taking meetings and buying lunches for agents while renting in the most expensive real estate in the US and giving employees 401k plans and retirement packages from my royalties when they've spent an hour, tops, on one of my titles.  

To paraphrase the wise sage Dean Wesley Smith, if you hire a gardener to cut your lawn, or a painter to paint your house, you pay them once for their service. You don't give them a chunk of your income, forever.

Dean isn't saying don't hire professionals. Professionals are needed to get a professional result. He's saying pay them once, not forever.

You might get a professional product by signing with a publisher. And in return, they leech off of you for years.

Or you can pay a one-time set cost, get the same professional quality, and make your work indistinguishable from what the Big 5 are doing.

Well, almost indistinguishable. Unless you're charging $14.99 per ebook novel. Then no one, not even your own mother, will be able to tell the difference between your books and one done by the legacy industry. Well, that, and the fact that when you finish your book you can release it, rather than have to wait 18 months. And that you have control over your cover art and title. 

I've been saying this since 2009.

1. Write a great book and make it as perfect as you can get it.

2. Make sure the book looks great and provides a great reader experience.

3. Repeat.

If you're a polymath, maybe you can write, do brilliant cover art, edit and proofread yourself, design the interior, and do all of the marketing and advertising by yourself.

Me? Check my sidebar. Those are the folks who help me sell books. 

They could help you, too. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

More On Kindle Worlds

Ann Voss Peterson says:  Almost exactly two months ago, Joe and Amazon launched the Jack Daniels and Associates Kindle World. There are currently 43 stories, and it's been fun to watch that list grow and see all the great reviews piling up.

Watching Joe's project unfold has been especially exciting for me, since Joe and I have also been working with Amazon on a second Kindle World. And now Joe has been nice enough to let me announce that this week is the official launch for the new Codename: Chandler Kindle World!


When Joe first approached me about collaborating on this crazy, over-the-top, action-packed spy thriller series, I was a little intimidated. I'd written romantic thrillers previously and loved writing and reading fast-paced stories. But Codename: Chandler isn't your usual thriller. It's what I like to call an action movie in book form. It is non-stop and bigger-than-life in every way imaginable.

And let me tell you, writing Chandler is a blast!

Just as with the Jack Daniels and Associates World, The Codename: Chandler World is a little different from other Kindle Worlds (as of this writing), because authors who write Codename: Chandler can keep the rights to characters they create. This means is your character can team up with Chandler (or one of the other CC characters) or fight her, or have sex with her, anything you want to imagine!

Joe explains in more depth in this blog post. But here's the TL;DL version:

Joe sez: The takeaway here is that writers can do cross-overs and mash-ups, which is a fun way to cross-pollinate fans, and could never be done before in KW.

I encourage everyone reading this to check out the Codename: Chandler launch stories. Simply click on the title under the cover art below.

In the upcoming weeks, many of these authors will share their experience on this blog. As far as experiments go, this one is pretty big. It has never been done before, and we're in uncharted waters. I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes.

And if you're interested in writing in the Jack Daniels and Associates Kindle World, or the Codename: Chandler Kindle World, you can. You don't need my or Ann's permission or help. You don't even need to tell us. You can do it entirely on your own. It's easy, and you keep half the royalties. All you have to do is follow the Codename:Chandler guidelines. So check those out, check these out, and mix your characters with ours.

Looking forward to seeing some cool stories!

Here's the list of titles so far:


Her codename is Chandler. She's a spy for a secret government agency. Trained to be the best of the best, no man is her equal. 

That is, until she meets Repairman Jack. 

Travelling to the Big Apple, Chandler isn't told what her mission is. Only that it's a big one. Forced to scavenge for weapons, she meets up with New York's #1 vigilante, and sparks fly. 

But Jack and Chandler have more to deal with than each other. When a blackmail scheme turns into a terrorist plot, it will take their combined efforts to save the city. 

Or die trying. 




Iconic Codename Chandler meets Texas transplant Samantha (Sam) Lacroix at a high school under siege in Chicago. 

Action and interaction boil and overflow over each other in this fast paced, witty encounter between two experienced crime fighters. 

Having to deal with four kids (teens and younger) caught in the cross-fire, is just a bonus.



She's an elite spy, working for an agency so secret only three people know it exists. Trained by the best of the best, she has honed her body, her instincts, and her intellect to become the perfect weapon. 

A deadly parasite has infected several people in the city of Chicago. But they were only the test subjects; a psychopath's experiment before unveiling his real plan. 

Chandler's mission is simple: execute the CDC researcher who released the parasite before he unleashes it upon the entire city, and possibly the world. 

But things are not as they seem, and the mission does not go as planned. 

Hang on tight. Things are about to get deadly.



Rick Ryker is a courier. He will deliver anything, anywhere, no questions asked. He has never failed to deliver his package. Until now. 

Chandler is a government assassin. She will kill anyone, anywhere, no questions asked. She has never failed to take out her target. Until now. 

Ryker isn’t supposed to open the package. Chandler is supposed to destroy the package. They both go against orders…and their decisions set in motion a game they have no choice but to play. A game where the world is the playing board and the stakes are everyone on it. Ryker and Chandler don’t like to play by the rules, but if they get caught cheating, the consequences will be disastrous. 

FATE is a Codename: Chandler novella that takes place between EXPOSED and NAUGHTY.


What happens when Chandler is sent to the grim city of DenMark in Upstate New York to kill a man? She winds up running for her life from a secret society named The Mannerbund Group. Like Hydra Mannerbund is an ultra secret group that creates atrocities throughout the world. Unfortunately for Chandler Mannerbund has one small snag - OzValt Grant. 

OzValt Grant, former Sniper, former homicide detective of the Fifth Precinct for the city of DenMark is one of a kind. He has one foot in stopping all the evil at work in DenMark created by the sinister covert Mannerbund Group/ They want him dead. When Chandler gets shot wandering down an alley in Grant's vicinity what happens? THEY RUN LIKE MAD. 

This is the first story in a trilogy following the evolution of the relationship between assassin Chandler and jack of all traits, OzValt Grant.



Unstoppable Agent

An ultra-covert organization has taken up a contract for a nigh-unkillable madman who masquerades as a philanthropist. When elite spy Chandler has the target in her sights, success lays just one squeeze of the trigger away . . . or so she believes. Instead of her mission ending, things are about to take a weird twist.

Unsuspecting Bookworm

Venkat has been dreaming of becoming a field agent for the Malleus Librum Society, a secretive organization dedicated to recovering ancient grimoires. That dream has just come true, but at a sanity-threatening price. Shadowed by a fast talking mentor with a supernatural secret, Venkat must retrieve De Vermis Mysteriis, a five-hundred-year old black magic spell book penned by a necromancer.

Unspeakable Evil

In addition to vast wealth and unsavory criminal resources, the megalomaniacal Jeeves Peabody has access to otherworldly allegiances and horrifying allies. He is a formidable opponent, one neither Chandler nor Venkat can succeed against alone.

Unlikely Allies

Two women from wildly different worlds must band together against this common foe. Their chances are slim. Even working together, how can an elite superspy and a magically-minded librarian triumph over a villain aligned with the forces of soul-crushing doom?

Unknown Threats

In a world teeming with mystic and mundane dangers, ignorance is no defense, but even a little knowledge can be deadly . . . The only way to survive is to amass enough

Scary Intel


Chandler, one of three surviving identical septuplets all trained as government assassins, is determined to leave her old life far behind. Finally feeling at home in the country of Panama as a grade school English teacher, her sisters find her and she is forced to choose between running or staying to fight for her new life. 

STAY takes place after the events in THREE by J.A. Konrath and Ann Voss Peterson and continues the thrilling adventures of Chandler in an exciting new Kindle Worlds story. STAY also introduces Melissa Stone into the Codename: Chandler world. To see more electrifying adventures with Melissa, be sure to check out Steve DeWinter’s Peacekeepers X-Alpha series.


His codename is Heathcliff. He's an assassin for a secret government agency. Trained to be the best of the best, Heath has only two flaws; his insatiable thirst for revenge, and the inability to resist a beautiful woman. 

Crusading lawyer Charlize Street is determined to be one of the good guys. In a city like Detroit, justice is hard to come by, especially in the halls of power. So when a senator known for doing good deeds is smeared with criminal allegations, Charlie is determined to clear his name. But she isn't prepared to handle the senator's sexy bodyguard, a man who exudes both charm... and danger. 

Once Charlie starts looking into the case, she finds herself with a target on her back. But she's not alone. Heath insists on helping her, although she can sense he has his own agenda. Soon the heat is coming from more than just the people who want to stop her. And she wonders if there is anyone in the Motor City she can truly trust. 

STREET is the prequel to DETROIT RULES, book one in Linda Style's new STREET LAW series.


She's an elite assassin and spy. The ultimate weapon. Her mind, body and instincts have been trained to perfection. 

Codename: Chandler 

A mercenary is preying on Chicago’s citizens – and he has help from one of Chandler’s fellow assassins. 

Chandler teams with David Garrett, an MMA fighter and spy, to track down and terminate these killers even as another mortal enemy watches from the shadows. 


RESCUE by J.A. Konrath (coming soon)

Her codename is Hammett. She assassinates targets for a secret government agency.

But sometimes work becomes personal.

His name is Tequila. He's a leg breaker for the mob, currently retired. 

But sometimes retirement doesn't stick.

They say that no one knows what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. 

They also say that bad attracts bad.

Hammett and Tequila are about to find out if those old sayings are true.

Four more stories have also been added to the Jack Daniels & Associates Kindle World:




Someone is killing random people in New York and Chicago. 

The blood of innocence have been spilled, or are they innocent... 

When a serial killer case comes to Chicago Detective Herb Benedict is stumped. Several dead but with no correlation except that the ballistic tests have come back positive for the same suppressor used with different calibers in Chicago and New York. Damn! It is a serial case. Herb contacts his old friend and former partner Jack Daniels for her professional opinion, but Jack is up to her eye balls in baby duty - literally. 

Checking the NCIC database Jack finds out that the serial killer has left several dead in New York State, most recently in a small city named DenMark. Jack knows DenMark well, especially one of it's former boys in blue, OzValt Grant. Against her better judgment Jack contacts the DenMark Fifth Precinct inquiring about the serial killer connection as well as Grants current whereabouts. 

It doesn't take long for the bullets and blood to fly once Jack and OzValt Grant hook up. 

Sleeper Towers Fall is the first volume of another explosive Jack Daniels/OzValt Grant trilogy. 


Lately, private detective, Harry McGlade has had a lot of free time on his hands since a few questionable photos of him in bondage ended up on social media. Things change when a woman with a problem and a last resort knocks on McGlade's door. 

Abby Leray is out of options. Her sister disappeared six months ago after signing a contract to wrestle in Mexico for the wrestling organization Lucha Doom. Fearing that Francis was sold into sex slavery, Abby turns to McGlade to bring her sister home. To do so, McGlade must infiltrate the underbelly of Lucha Doom where wrestling may just be a front for something much bigger. 

Harry McGlade is a character who appears in J.A. Konrath's Jack Daniels's series. Jack makes a cameo in LUCHA DOOM. 

LUCHA DOOM is an 11,000 word novella filled with humor, violence, mystery, and several scenes that will make you say, "That's just wrong." 

You've been warned. 


Toronto police Inspector Bill Roberts is called to the scene when mutilated remains of a body are found in a dumpster. He soon discovers a connection between the body and a series of unsolved reports of missing people in the City of Toronto. 

Six months after Lt. Jack Daniels of the Chicago police is almost blown up in Toronto, she returns to get an award for her help in catching a hit man. While she is there, she begins to suspect her partner Herb may have joined the ranks of Toronto's growing list of the missing, and insists on taking part in the investigation. Jack joins forces with Inspector Bill Roberts in a race to discover the disturbing cause of the disappearances before Herb becomes the next victim. 

With guest appearances by Jack's former partner, Harry McGlade, and by Jack's cat, Mr. Friskers, this story will keep you flipping pages non-stop until the end. 

This novel is approximately 240 pages, and ties in the Jack Daniels characters of author J.A. Konrath, and the Bill Roberts characters of author Silas Payton. If you like either of these authors on their own, you'll love this story bringing their two worlds together. 


Lieutenant Jacqueline "Jack Daniels" of Chicago's Violent Crime Unit has faced serial killers, terrorists and assassins. With a quarter of Chicago's police force sidelined with the flu, Jack finds herself doing double duty arresting drunks. That is, until she gets that phone call no one wants to get. 

Gil DiMauro was a friend of Jack's. When Gil’s beaten, bloody corpse is pulled from the river, she vows to find the killer. 

Only, things aren't what they seem. 

Murder, blackmail, revenge and insurance fraud all figure into a conspiracy with a dirty cop at the center and Jack Daniels hates dirty cops. 

The Japanese Slipper Murders is a 12,000 word story (about 40 pages long) written by Gordon Hopkins, a professional fraud investigator and author of the novel, FRAUDSTERS. 

After barely surviving the horror of the Parkside Strangler, Lieutenant Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels and her friend, P.I. Jillian Varela, decide to head to Cancun for a little well-deserved R&R. 

But instead of a relaxing two weeks at a five star, luxury resort, a grisly death lands at their feet, and a young girl is arrested. 

It should be simple, but in Mexico, you are guilty until proven innocent. And if the Policia Federal find out what Jack and Jillian are up to, they'll be spending a long time in less than luxury accommodations. 


And finally, a book that I've been meaning to mention, and one that will be featured in an upcoming blog post:


FBI Agent Nick Bracco arrives with a team of agents along with his mafia-connected cousin Tommy to help search the underground for the terrorist. 

When the teenager kills a Chicago cop, a vicious manhunt engulfs the city. Bracco reaches out to Lieutenant Jack Daniels for her help with local connections like longtime bookie, Tequila Abernathy, and she agrees to join the task force. 

What Bracco doesn’t realize, however, is that Jack knows of the kid and believes he is trying to escape from the terrorist organization that trained him for the job. A belief based solely on her intuition. 

The problem: There’s powerful intelligence verifying the existence of a terrorist cell with an explosive device set to go off in downtown Chicago on Black Friday. 

With just hours to go, Jack finds herself chasing the teenager alone and unarmed, ready to test her instincts. 

Bracco believes the teenager is there to detonate the bomb. 

Jack believes she can save the kid and find the bomb before the terrorists push the button. 

Someone is wrong. 

Dead wrong. 

And the citizens of Chicago will have to pay the price. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Grandma? Part 2

Joe sez: Congrats on finally publishing Grandma? Part 2, son.

Talon: Thanks! You, too.

Joe: This one took a lot longer to write than the first one.

Talon: If it wasn't for all the kittens I had to save, or the many babies I delivered, this would've been done a lot quicker. Hopefully, Part 3 won’t be as troublesome.

Joe: We followed the same writing formula as Grandma? Part 1:

1. We talk about what's going to happen.
2. You write it.
3. I change everything in the rewrite.

Talon: Tough, but fair.

Joe: The difference between now and two years ago, when we began this project, is that we did some scenes together using Google Docs. What did you think of that experience?

Talon: It was a lot of fun, a lot of learning, and something I would come back to if I ever did another collaboration.

Joe: Were you amazed by how fast I can write, watching me do it live in a Google Doc?

Talon: I do have to admit, the professionalism and the way I excel in the art of prose is pretty amazing.

And yeah, you were good, too.

Joe: You've made a few hundred bucks off of Part 1. What did you do with the money? Investments? Stocks? Bonds? Real estate? Bitcoins? College fund?

Talon: The money went directly and safely under my bed.

Joe: Saving for something special?

Talon: All of it is going to strippers when I turn 18.

Joe: Thank god. I thought you were going to just blow it on something stupid.

Talon: What are you going to do with your half?

Joe: It already went to strippers.

Talon: I think we’re getting off topic.

Joe: When can we expect to see Part 3? In another two years?

Talon: I can ask you the same question. But, if I had to estimate, I’d say, hopefully, in a month.

Joe: It's true that I've been pretty busy with other projects, and Grandma? wasn't a priority for me. But it's also true that you rewrote Part 2 about a gazillion times. So it isn't all my fault.

Talon: The more reading and writing I did, the more I realized I needed to change some things. Like, grammar, plot, characterization, suspense, POV, pace, explaining why things happened; you know, all that crap readers care about.

Joe: Yeah, readers do tend to care about that crap. Did you know Stephen King's son writes?

Talon: No way! That’s cool. Man, I wish Stephen King was my dad. He has like everything you don’t.

Joe: Including an appreciative son.

Talon: Let's list the things:
Good looks.
More books sold.
A nicer house.
Multiple movie deals.

Joe: You know King's son writes under the name "Joe Hill" because he doesn't want to ride on his father's coat tails.

Talon: Who would do such a thing? I could never use someone’s last name in order to boost my popularity. Which is why my last name is King now.

Joe: You're funny, Talon.

Talon King: It’s Mr. King, and can we hurry this interview up?

Joe: Yessir, Mr. King.

Since we're talking about Stephen King, I want to say I really loved Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace. Other famous authors would just cash in on their popularity and slap their name on any old piece of garbage.

Talon: Or create a Kindle World.

Joe: You're grounded.

Talon: Thanks, dad.

Joe: And since I now know where you hide your money, I'm now off to the strip club! Woo hoo!

Grandma Part 2 is now available on Kindle for only $0.99. Grandma Part 1 is free for a limited time.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Path to Success

On the surface, the path to becoming a successful writer has three key components.

1. Write a great book.

2. Do whatever you can to make that book a success.

3. Repeat steps 1 and 2. 

Like all paths, just because the path exists doesn't mean you'll be able to follow it. There are known routes up Mount Everest, but there are no guarantees you'd make the summit no matter how good you are or how hard you try. Even the best mountain climbers must deal with the unpredictability of weather, among many other bad things that can happen.

Luck is always a factor.

Even if you're an Olympic gold medalist with natural talent and years of training, you were lucky no one was better than you at that time. Because all records get broken. Someone always winds up being better.

Hell, you were lucky a bunch of Greeks thought it was a fun idea to compete in sports thousands of years ago. Without them, you'd be doing something else.

Keeping the luck factor in mind, let's review those three points.

1. Write a great book.

This is subjective. There is nothing inherent in a collection of words that makes those words "great". We can study writing, narrative structure, characterization, grammar, punctuation, works that scholars deem great, works that the masses deem great, and the only real connection among them all is that someone wrote them.

I write what I like to read. I'm able to defend why I like it. I'm able to defend what I wrote. I try to be as self-aware and deliberate as possible, and I'm usually able to justify why I used an em dash rather than a semi-colon, why I ended the chapter where I did, why the twist was needed, and why the joke was funny.

That's not to say that things that aren't deliberate can't be successful. On the contrary, the world if full of freak success stories where the artist was neither deliberate nor self-aware.

But, in a world where luck plays such a big role, knowing why you're doing what you're doing is probably going to improve your luck.

Maybe.

A key problem is that you can do things right--defensible, self-aware things--and still fail.

That could mean that maybe you didn't do things right after all. That maybe your meticulously handcrafted narrative actually sucks.

Or maybe, being an artistic type, you're so moody and sensitive that your self-awareness tells you that you'll never be good enough, and that any success you may have attained was a fluke.

Both of these could be correct. Or incorrect. Because no one knows why a book becomes a success, other than luck.

Still, I'd rather call my shots on the pool table than win by slop. The more deliberate and self aware you are, the more you can sink what you're aiming at. It doesn't mean you'll win, but it means you're exercising some control over the outcome.

2. Do whatever you can to make that book a success.

Before you begin this step, you need to identify what your goals are, and what success is.

Then you need to research the different avenues open to you, to pursue goals and success.

It's different for everyone. And it involves luck.

Again, the more deliberate you are, the better your odds. At least, that makes sense logically. The actual numbers may not hold up. You have to be self-aware to know that.

In other words, you can be pretty damn sure you're doing everything right, and you can still fail to hit your definition of success.

You should always be able to reach your goals, because goals are within your power. Finishing your book by May 10th is a goal. Self-publishing it by Christmas is a goal.

Getting an agent is a dream, not a goal, because that involves an agent saying yes to you, and that isn't within your power. Neither is hitting a bestseller list, getting a great review, selling 1000 copies, or getting fan mail. Those aren't goals.

Your goals, and your definition of success, are plastic. They'll change. Make sure your goals push you to learn, experiment, practice, and work harder. That should, theoretically, improve your luck and chances at whatever you call success.

As with your writing, this applies to how you promote yourself, your titles, your brand. Try anything and everything. Luck still comes into play, but reason dictates it is better to do something than nothing.

Even though doing something doesn't guarantee anything.

Yeah, it's frustrating. So is life.

3. Repeat steps 1 and 2. 

We've all heard about artists who didn't become famous until after they've died. For every Van Gogh, there are tens of thousands who died without fame, and were then forgotten.

Did I mention this is all about luck?

You cannot game this system. There is no surefire key. No shortcut. Not even a discernible path.

Maybe hard work helps. Maybe being self-aware helps. Maybe being deliberate helps. Maybe being stubborn and refusing to give up helps. But you aren't guaranteed anything.

If this discourages you, quit. Find a career that involves less luck. Writing is not for the risk-averse. The world can live without your prose. I'm sure of this, because there have been better writers than you or I who have died in poverty and obscurity, their words never to be discovered.

Your words may never be discovered.

In fact, for the majority of you reading this, you'll never reach even your most modest definition of success.

That's because your definition of success is wrong. It's based on money or fame or numbers of something that involves the approval of others.

That's a fail. The three steps I wrote above are bullshit.

There is actually just one true path to success:

Success is meeting your goals.

That definition doesn't depend on money or sales or agents or reviews or publishers or advertising or how many Facebook friends or Twitter followers you have. It has nothing to do with anyone other than you.

Success is all about setting goals that are within your control, and then hitting those goals.

Maybe some people will read you and like you. Maybe they won't. That all comes down to luck.

You can try to improve your luck, but it might not work.

You can, however, become a better writer. Write more. Try more. Do more.

The world may never accept you. But that shouldn't be your goal.

Your goal should be to accept yourself. That's within your control. And it doesn't involve luck. It involves learning, trying, working, practicing, experimenting, finishing, never giving up.

You can do that.

You can write books.

Learn to be happy with that, and everything else is just a bonus.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a book to finish.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Guest Post by Tracy Sharp

Wow. Kindle Worlds. What a brilliant and fun idea! This is a game where everyone wins.

Writers who want to play in another writer’s sandbox are able to create their own castles and add them to the structures that are already there. The original writer has the joy of watching their characters take off in new and exciting directions while earning a percentage from new stories, fans of the series can continue reading about their favorite characters, and authors can earn a royalty while writing in a popular series and expanding their readership.

Kindle Worlds is also a fun way for established writers to explore writing in a series different than the one in which they normally write. Several bestselling writers have written stories for Kindle Worlds, such as Theresa Ragan, Jana Deleon, Russell Blake, and Marquitta Valentine.

I love when musicians collaborate or sample the songs of other artists in their own work, especially when the artists are from vastly different music genres. The result is usually fresh and outstanding. It’s remarkable what merging the visions of different artists can produce. I don’t see Kindle Worlds as being much different, and I look forward to reading and writing many Kindle Worlds books.

I am especially excited about the launch of the Jack Daniels and Associates Kindle World, as I’ve been a huge fan of the series for many years. A couple of years ago I had the honor of collaborating with Joe on the short novel Jacked Up, which teams up characters from his wonderful Jack Daniels world with my series character Leah Ryan. So when Joe invited me to write a full-length novel featuring both characters, I was thrilled and jumped at the chance. The result was Happy Hour, which also combines both the Jack Daniels and Leah Ryan worlds.

I’m currently working on a story for the Codename: Chandler World, which launches On May 5, and I’m having a blast. So many times during the writing of these stories, I feel the biggest smile cross my face. It’s amazing that it’s possible for writers to choose from so many different worlds and just take off with them. The possibilities are endless.


How many of you are working on Kindle Worlds stories?  Tell us in comments. I look forward to reading them! 

Joe sez: It was fun co-writing Jacked Up with Tracy, and I'm thrilled to have her tackle a Jack/Leah novel on her own.

It's sort of like watching someone cook one of your recipes, in your kitchen, buy adding their own personal spin on the dish. Writers willing to let others experiment with their characters are in for some tasty surprises. And because both the Jack Daniels and Associates Kindle World and the Codename: Chandler Kindle World allow writers to keep full possession of their IPs, there are no sticky copyright issues over who owns what. Your characters stay your characters, and neither I nor Amazon have any claim to them. 

Currently, Ann Voss Peterson and I are looking for writers to expand our Codename: Chandler Universe. We just finished a story with F. Paul Wilson, where Chandler meets his mainstay hero Repairman Jack. They fight. A lot. It was a ridiculous amount of fun to write, and we believe the readers will enjoy it just as much.

If you're interested in writing a Chandler story, email me. The deadline prior to launch is April 30. To learn more about Chandler, check out the page on my website.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Self Published Authors Guild

I was told by the Bilderberg Group that I can finally make this announcement; I'm the first president of the newly formed SPAG - Self Published Authors Guild.

All of the top indie authors in the world have been meeting, in person and in highly complicated Skype chats where we all have little squares like the credits of The Brady Bunch (or The Hollywood Squares) in order to create an organization that specifically meets the growing needs of self-pubbed authors.

Our first orders of business will be as follows:

1. Start the Hugs For Reviews initiative.

Everyone knows that I've gotten more than 15,000 reviews on Amazon, and I've paid an average of $50 per review to people who haven't actually read my books. Hugs For Reviews will streamline this process, providing SPAG members with a database of fake reviewers (examinateurs fausses) who will pretend to read your work and then give it five stars, all in exchange for cash.

We're calling it "Hugs For Reviews" instead of "Cash For Reviews" to ward off all the whiny little Twitter bitches who will cry moral outrage if they hear money is involved. 


2. Demand, via notarized petition delivered to Jeff Bezos via overnight FedEx, that Amazon begin paying KDP authors 200% royalties.

For years, we've endured the indignity of 70% royalties, without any collective bargaining power to get Amazon to raise that number to something fair. SPAG members are responsible for more than 85% of Amazon's total world sales, and we want a bigger piece of the pie.

With 200% royalties, Amazon will pay us double the list price of every book we sell on their many websites around the world. They'll also pay double current market value for our cover art, formatting, proofreading, and when required, ghost writing. 


3. Initiate the "Let's Shame A Legacy Author" campaign. 

Starting immediately, we will be partnering with renowned telemarketing firm CYDD (Call You During Dinner) to pester everyone who has a current Big 5 contract by phoning them up to 38 times a day, calling them "Pinhead!" and then hanging up. 

Our Facebook page will list everyone who has ever signed a legacy deal, along with their addresses, pictures of their homes, cars, children, pets, and childhood friends. Then we will be sending them vague, cryptic, anonymous threats such as, "That's a really nice car. Stop signing legacy contracts or we'll blow up Wyoming."

Also, we'll probably do something with LinkedIn, once we figure out if it facilitates anything other than irritating humble bragging.


4. Buy the Authors Guild, tear it down, and build something useful in its place, like an Uno's Pizzaria.

Damn, Uno's is some great stuffed pizza! And that's no April Fool joke.

SPAG will be open to the tens of thousands of self-pubbed authors who can offer documented and notarized proof that they earn more than $500,000 a year. That should cover just about everyone.

As your first SPAG president, I'd like to take this opportunity to say that I have your many concerns as an indie author first and foremost in mind, and I'll devote myself 24/7 to meeting your needs, which will be difficult to juggle with all the embezzling I plan on doing with SPAG membership fees.

Also, SPAG membership is $500,000 a year.

This annual fee includes a part-time staff member who can help you update your LinkedIn profile. His name is Charlie, but don't give him any of your personal info, because he's a registered sex offender.

I encourage you to join SPAG immediately. With our united efforts can we stomp out the injustice of something or other. 

Remember: It's Us vs. Them. Only by driving a wedge between us and our well-meaning peers can we ever hope to show them how much they suck.

Joe Konrath, SPAG President

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ebooks for Libraries

TL;DR

1.     I want to help authors get their ebooks into libraries.
2.     I want to help libraries acquire indie ebooks.
3.     To do this, I started a business called EAF - EbooksAreForever.com.
4.     I want to sell your ebooks to libraries.

What's going on with libraries and ebooks?

There are 120,000 libraries in the US. These libraries, and their patrons, are eager for popular ebooks. Many libraries have a budget they must spend, or they risk having that budget cut.

Currently, libraries have no allies in the ebook market. They aren't happy with the restrictions and costs of the current leader in supplying libraries with ebook content, Overdrive. Through Overdrive, many publishers charge high prices for ebooks, some higher than $80 a title. They also require yearly license renewals, and may force libraries to re-buy licenses after a certain arbitrary number of borrows.

Just one example of the perils of this approach for Americas libraries is that a library must pay for extensions of time-limited licenses of old ebooks and purchases of licenses for new ones. All kinds of sustainability and predictability issues arise. And thats true even if the budget remains the same, rather than declining, as many have in recent years. It will be harder than ever for libraries to grow their collection, whether the licenses are time-limited or come with limits on the number of times a library can loan a book.

So libraries are spending a fortune and don't even own the content they're spending that fortune on. In many cases, if they stop paying the fees, they lose the content they bought. This has been dubbed "digital decay", and it's a money grab, pure and simple. 

What's going on with indie authors and ebooks?

Some indies are on Overdrive and 3M. I've been on Overdrive for a few years. My last quarterly check was about $60, and I have a large catalog. This is small money, not just for me, but for any writer. And I was fortunate enough to have been invited into Overdrive. Many authors are not.

The vast majority of libraries don't have access to many of the ebooks that readers are seeking. The latest AuthorEarnings.com report showed that 33% of all ebooks sold on Amazon are from indie authors. Libraries are missing out on 1/3 of available titles, because they have no way easy way to acquire them.

Just as important, these are quality titles. People are reading, enjoying, and recommending them. Indie authors are hooking readers, and selling as well as the major publishing houses, but there isn't a way for libraries to offer them to their patrons.

This is unfortunate for patrons, and libraries, and indie authors, who are all missing out.


For the past year, my business partner, August Wainwright, and I have been talking to acquisitions librarians across the country, and they crave an alternative to the status quo. These libraries are looking to buy thousands of ebooks at once in order to best serve their patrons and community.

Their main wish is to be treated fairly - which means they want to own the ebooks they purchase, acquire good content at a reasonable price, and have access to as many copies as they need.

Our solution? Give libraries what they're asking for, and in a way that gives libraries the sustainable purchasing model they deserve. We're striving to offer a large, curated collection of popular ebooks that libraries can easily purchase with just one click.

We currently have just under 1000 ebooks in our collection, with more being added daily.

And we want to include your titles as well.

I'm a writer, and I'm already on a lot of platforms. Why should I sell my ebooks through EAF?

EbooksAreForever distributes to libraries at $7.99 for full length novels, and $3.99-$4.99 for shorter works. We're offering 70% royalties to the author, and the library will have the ability to purchase more copies as needed.

The way this works is that if a library wants to allow 3 patrons to borrow your ebook at any given time, they’d need to have purchased 3 “copies”. Most libraries adhere to a strict hold ratio (usually around 3:1) in order to present patrons with the best user experience possible. Our hope is that by making ebooks both affordable and sustainable, then libraries in response will automatically purchase more copies.

So, if you have a catalog of 10 ebooks that we then distribute to 1000 libraries, you've just earned $56,000 in royalties from making your books available to the library marketplace if they each buy one copy. If your titles are popular, they'll buy more copies and you'll earn more.

I heard about EAF over a year ago. What have you been doing all this time?

Listening and learning. EbooksAreForever.com is trying to serve three groups: Authors & Publishers, Libraries, and Library Patrons.

Each requires special consideration to ensure the best overall experience possible.

Currently, there is no killer app in the library market. Every library, library system, or consortium, has to reinvent the wheel in order to offer ebooks to its patrons. With no standardization in the library market, and the few companies and publishers who offer ebooks to libraries doing so in such a one-sided, money-grabbing manner, libraries have been getting squeezed without getting fair and sustainable value when it comes to content.

We needed to figure out what libraries were looking for, as well as what features authors and publishers would love to see, and how to best provide them with that.

A large part of this involved bringing on multiple partners to help make the EbooksAreForver.com website as robust and useable as possible, while implementing a fully RESTful API.

What's an API and why should I care?

The easiest way to conceptualize what an API does is to think of an interaction between two separate pieces of software without needing a human element.

EbooksAreForever wants libraries who purchase ebooks in our collection to eventually integrate access to those titles in as many places as possible; most importantly, their own ILS (catalog system).

Some libraries have their own custom ILS, others use third-party services of which there are many. You can see here that in Texas, there are about 20 different ILS systems being used. Without an API, we'd have to go one by one to help each library integrate our books into their catalogs. Think copy and pasting times a million. With an API, each service could integrate our catalog by following a simple set of standardized rules.

Another way to think about it would be to look at the connections on the back of a TV. That panel on the TV with all the coax/hdmi/usb/fiber/rca connections are in a way your TV's API. It allows other appliances (Cable boxes, DVD players, video game consoles...) to interact with your TV.

The reason you should care about this is because it allows EAF and our service to act in the exact manner in which libraries desire. One of our goals is to meet the demands of the ReadersFirst organization, which is made up of nearly 300 libraries that represent more than 200 million readers in the US and Canada. These principles, and in turn our API, are about openness and ease of use, all of which provide libraries and their patrons with the best user experience possible.

If all libraries are using various third parties to license overpriced and decaying digital content to them, how does EAF plan to interface with them? Aren't libraries tired of new companies vying for their acquisitions dollars?

What we've been doing the past year is only offering our collection to a few beta testing libraries that use Adobe Content Server. It's an expensive, ongoing cost, and many libraries can't afford it, or won't even bother with it for various reasons.

With the API in place, we can deal directly with libraries, library systems, and consortium, without Adobe—though we can also interface with libraries who prefer to keep Adobe.

I'm not sure I understand…

Having an ebook file isn't enough. Libraries also need ways to catalog ebooks, store ebooks, and provide ebook access to patrons.

EAF has been developing ways to do that, for all libraries, in a way that doesn't fleece them.

Where are you at right now?

We're at the stage where we need more content. Offering a better service to libraries is only part of the equation; we also want to offer them content that no other company can.

Indie content.

We're the only company fully opening up to indie authors, and we're paying the same rate Amazon does.

Right now, we're working with a select group of partner libraries. We've been dealing exclusively with that initial group, but now we’re adding another selection of libraries who will be joining in the next two weeks. They've weighed in and have helped us build the platform they actually want. Our full launch date is tentatively set for later this spring/early summer. When that happens, we'll begin distribution to ALL public libraries, be it individually, whole library systems, and consortium groups, through both our web platform, as well as patron reader apps.

What are these “consortium” you speak of?

A library consortium is really any local, statewide, or regional cooperative group of libraries that provides and helps with the effective coordination of the libraries they count as members. Their main focus is usually built around improving services to the clientele of libraries within the given consortium (group).

When large publishers were faced with the advent of ebooks, instead of trying to come up with viable models that worked in libraries, they applied the same structures that they used for paper. Some say they deliberately crimped libraries. And in much the same way, many large publishers, distributors, and services have refused to adequately work with consortia.

EAF is not among that group. Although we understand the need to come up with different models for different sections of the marketplace, it is our mission to find solutions where others have fallen back on insufficient ways of doing business.

Joe, you're an author. Are you sure you want to give libraries a copy of an ebook that will last forever? Doesn't that put a cap on a title's earning potential?

It may seem that way, but we have future plans. Currently, libraries can buy multiple copies of titles for simultaneous uses.

Soon we plan to offer libraries unlimited uses if they pay slightly more.

That sounds even worse for the author!

Depending on EAF's ability to saturate the library market, it will be a long while before we run out of libraries to distribute content to. An author selling one title to 5000 libraries earns $28k, which is well above the average advance that legacy publishing offers. Sell four titles, and that author is making six figures in a new market that wasn't previously open to them.

It’s important to understand that EAF is intended to be a complimentary service. Much in the same way that it used to be common for translations and foreign sales to be a part of an author's subsidiary earnings, we want library sales to be available to indies. Libraries spend billions of dollars annually acquiring content. But they likely don't have your content.

Yet.

Don't library sales hurt sales on other platforms?

That's a common assumption, but we haven't found any evidence or data to back it up. The library market has always existed, just like the used book market.


The reality is that readers who are loyal to the ebooks available at their local library may have never had a chance of discovering your titles. What we’re talking about here is an entirely new group or readers that has previously been unreachable.

If I sell my titles through eBooksAreForever, do I still own my rights?

Yes. And you can opt out at any time for any reason, though all sales are final. Meaning, if you sell a title to a library, they keep that title.

Can I sell my ebooks for more than the stated price?

During the current beta period, we are keeping all prices for novels set to a pre-established level.

However, as we move out of the beta period and expand our offerings, we will be looking at different pricing structures. It is of great important to us that we create a sustainable platform for both libraries, as well as for publishers & authors.

I’m already distributing my titles on Overdrive. Will selling through EAF affect my account?

Distributing your titles through Overdrive won’t affect your ability to also distribute through eBooksAreForever. However, libraries will most likely not re-purchase titles if they have already licensed them through Overdrive. We are actively working to persuade libraries to purchase titles - and keep them forever - through our service, instead of continually licensing ebooks at higher prices from other services. This would help library budgets go further.

Is exclusivity ever required to join eBooksAreForever?

No exclusivity is ever required.

And, since we’re still in a beta period, our advice would be to continue to distribute through other library specific channels, if you have access to them. As we grow, we believe our pricing model will earn authors far more royalties, even with fewer overall sales, when compared to any of the other market competitors. But even after we demonstrate that to be true, we will still never require exclusivity.

I'm an author. How do I submit my titles to EbooksAreForever? Do you have any requirements?

At this point, EAF provides libraries with vetted content. We want to offer great books by great writers, so we're reviewing works on a case-by-case basis. If you'd like us to consider your books, you can sign up for an Author Account here

We aren't currently accepting erotica, but we will be soon.

If I'm accepted, what next?


I'm an agent who represents indie authors and want to know more.

Contact Joe at joekonrath@comcast.net. We'll set up a call.

I'm a publisher and want to know more.

Contact Joe at joekonrath@comcast.net. We'll set up a call.

On my blog, I've repeatedly called independent ebooks a shadow industry. This shadow industry hasn't been able to effectively mesh with the library industry.

We're working to change that. And we'd like you to join us.