Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Perpetual Touring

The traditional book tour, whether publisher-financed or author-financed, usually begins when the new title is released, and lasts a few weeks or maybe even months. Then, traditionally, the author takes a break from promoting and writes their next book.

This is an archaic, and ineffective, way to tour. Before I get into why, let's pinpoint the reasons for touring.

  1. To meet booksellers. A bookseller you schmooze is a bookseller who will potentially handsell you.
  2. To reinforce media exposure. And vice versa. You get reviews, interviews, and local newspaper/radio/tv coverage when you have a new book out, as the new book is the hook/spin/platform for the publicity.
  3. To announce a new book to your old fans. A book tour is a way to meet your fanbase, remind them you have a new title out, and encourage them to meet you in person.
  4. To make new fans. You'll sell books to people who have never heard of you before, and might not have ever heard of you had it not been for your tour.
  5. Signed books sell better than unsigned books. An autograph is a perceived value, and the signed copies will often be face-out on the shelf, which is more exposure.

In essence, a book tour is all about spreading the word. As I've mentioned many times before, it's doubtful your tour will pay for itself in books sold, even if you're a bestseller. But it still remains the most effective way to inform the world about your books, because you are your book's best salesperson, whether you like it or not. The more people you can reach, the better your book will do.

Which brings us to the current book tour model. Touring for two months, then disappearing for ten months.

Considering how important book sales are to your career, isn't it odd that you're only spending 1/5 of your professional time meeting people? And that this time is all bunched together, rather than spread out? Wouldn't it make more sense to do as much touring as possible, even as late as six, eight, or ten months after your book has been released?

Now, I know what you're thinking.

JA, if I tour all year, when will I have time to write?

JA, I can't afford to tour all year.

JA, won't I get overexposed if I tour all year?

JA, I have a family/fulltime job and don't have that much time to travel.

JA, isn't this just me doing my publisher's job?

JA, you're damn sexy.

Let's address these thoughts.

JA, if I tour all year, when will I have time to write?

If your books don't sell, you'll have all the time in the world to write, because you'll no longer be able to get a contract.

Writing a good book is the most important thing you can do for your career. But if no one knows about your books, it doesn't matter how good it is--it will flop. I spend about 90% of my professional time promoting. But I write pretty fast, and writing is my fulltime gig.

So how much time should you spend? I say, half your time.

Is that too much? Give up TV, surfing the Internet, and 1 hour of sleep per night, and that gives you an extra 1200 hours a year.

Everyone has something they can give up or cut back on to make more time. It's just a question of wanting it bad enough. If you don't want it bad enough, why are you reading my blog?

JA, I can't afford to tour all year.

No kidding. Not only is it financially draining, but it's incredibly hard. But you don't have to. Perpetual touring isn't about being on the road 365 days a year. Perpetual touring is about making sure you have a continuous bookstore presence. This can be done by:

  • Visiting bookstores on your vacation.
  • Visiting every bookstore within 100 miles of your home.
  • Taking weekends to visit nearby states.
  • Visiting bookstores when you are at conferences and traveling.
  • Not ever dismissing opportunities.

I'm guessing that there are many stores within driving distance you haven't visited yet. Why haven't you? And why haven't you visited your local stores more than once?

The holidays are almost upon us. Why don't you have a local signing for the day after Thanksgiving, or the weekends before X-mas?

There are always opportunities to visit bookstores, and they don't have to involve spending a lot of money. Out of all the mystery writers who went to Bouchercon, how many signed at the 7 bookstores stores in Madison? I did. Out of all the thriller writers who visited Thrillerfest, how many signed at the 25 stores in Phoenix? I did. You can too. Pull yourself away from the bar, stop going to panels that won't teach you anything, and work the town.

JA, won't I get overexposed if I tour all year?

The more exposure you get, the more exposure you get. I don't know of a single author who became overexposed by visiting bookstores.

JA, I have a family/fulltime job and don't have that much time to travel.

Make the time. Or don't. No one is forcing you.

You don't have to do any bookstore visits at all, and you still may become successful.

And that knocking sound in your engine may correct itself without you doing anything.

And that growth on your lung may just disappear on its own.

And a rich uncle you never knew you had may die and bequeath you his fortune.

But it's probably smarter to be a little proactive.

The more bookstores you visit, the more books you'll sell. Guaranteed.

JA, isn't this just me doing my publisher's job?

Of course. Writers do all the work, and Big New York Publishing exploits us and makes zillions of dollars from our efforts, and we should be grateful for the opportunity to be exploited. Every time a book is successful is because the writer is brilliant, and every time a book flops is because the publisher didn't do anything to promote it.

Or not.

Look, it's really very simple. Every book you sell, you make more money. The more money you make, the more your publisher will continue to sell your books. How hard is that to understand?

You can bemoan the hard work all you want, but what job isn't hard? You thought all you had to do was write and that was enough? Well, you were wrong. There's no Santa Claus either. Welcome to real life.

JA, you're damn sexy.

I know. It's a curse.

Can you define Perpetual Touring again?

Perpetual Touring is continuing to visit bookstores year round, not just after a new book is released. For example, this year alone I've visited 68 bookstores after my 500 bookstore tour ended, and several dozen before my tour began. I'm also planning on visiting 30 more before the end of the year.

Why should authors Perpetually Tour?

  1. Your backlist may be even more important than selling your current title, because your backlist is what grows your audience.
  2. It is potentially more valuable to visit bookstores after the coop has ended, because signed books will be moved to an endcap, giving you free coop space.
  3. If you limit your publicity to 2 months a year, you're missing 10 months of opportunity to find new readers.
  4. Visiting the same bookstore more than once will give you the chance to meet new employees, and touch base with old friends.
  5. Touring year round means there is never any time for the booksellers to fully forget about you, and that you'll have constant spikes in sales.
  6. Selling the book is almost as important as writing the book, and deserves a large amount of your time.

The bottom line: if there's a bookstore nearby, there's no reason you shouldn't stop in. And if it's been several weeks since you've been in a bookstore, you need to correct that right now. Even if it's a bookstore you've been in already. Even if it's a bookstore that doesn't normally carry your books. Even if you don't have the time or the money or the energy or the desire.

Get thee to a bookstore. You'll thank me for it later.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Community and Commitment

I had my ear pierced yesterday, and afterwards met my friend Marcus Sakey (The Blade Itself, coming Feb 2007 St. Martins) for dinner.

Marcus is part of a new wave of writers who know a tremendous amount about publishing, even though their first book isn't out yet.

I didn't know squat about this business before I signed my first contract, four years ago. All the How To books were out of date and lacking practical information about even the most basic things, like how to do booksignings or how a publishing company works. There were no blogs about the business. Writing conferences existed, but I never thought to attend them. Not many writers even had websites yet.

Prior to that contract, my writing was also done in a vacuum. No networking. No contacts. I was a slush pile success, and didn't get any help or advice or encouragement from anyone in the biz, peer or pro.

I learned about publishing the old-fashioned way, by making a lot of mistakes. In hindsight, I should have asked more questions, and gotten in touch with those more experienced. I should have reached out and made friends. Because, simply put, friends make this business a whole lot easier.

Networking, talking shop, commiserating, schmoozing, offering advice and help, and even reading and commenting on manuscripts, all can accelerate the learning curve for everyone involved. Marcus realizes this. So do many other new writers. And as a result, his expectations are more realistic, his goals more grounded, and his X-Factor--that elusive luck all writers need in order to succeed--is tuned for maximum potential.

I met with Marcus for dinner so we could critique and brainstorm. We're each working on projects, and we read each other's prior to the meeting, so we could discuss ways to make each stronger.

I do this with several other authors as well. It's win-win. Not only does it reduce the rewrite time, but it accelerates the learning curve because you can learn as much critiquing as you can being critiqued.

It was a productive dinner for both of us--we each found ways to make our projects stronger, and we found them much quicker than if we'd been working solo.

Midway into the evening, Marcus commented on my new piercing, and mentioned he didn't see me as the earring type. And he's right, I'm not the earring type. I got an earring as part of my Halloween costume, and will remove it on November 1st.

Marcus immediately understood, as if it made perfect sense to permanently modify your body for a costume accessory. He recognized the value of committing to something fully, even if it didn't make a lot of sense. I had a costume idea, and I didn't pursue it half-assed. I went all-in (using a poker term.) I had a goal, and did whatever was necessary to reach that goal.

So what does this lame and sketchy analogy really mean?

If you're a writer, it's important to learn as much as you can about this business. But before you even do that, you have to have the commitment. You can't be afraid of your friends and family thinking you're silly for pursuing you goals. You can't write once a week, take an occasional writing class, and believe that will be enough to land you a contract. And you can't do zero promotion, thinking that all you have to do is write a good book and leave it to your publisher to sell it.

In other words, stop making excuses and go pierce your damn ear.

Okay, lecture over. Now I have to go rinse with the sanitizing solution...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Treading Water

I get a lot of email.

This isn't a brag, or a complaint. But in any given week, I'll get between 50 and 100 emails about fiction writing.

Some are from fans who want to tell me they enjoy my books or stories.

Some are from writers who want to tell me they enjoy my blog or website.

Some are from peers who want to talk shop.

Some are from people who want a moment of my time to look at their story or query or speak to their writer's group or school or library or convention or conference or who want an interview or a blurb or to use a quote or an excerpt or to enter one of my contests.

I'm also getting a lot of thank yous for helping people, which I enjoy almost as much as the kind words from fans.

I began A Newbie's Guide to Publishing because I wanted a place to share what I've learned about this business. One of the cool side-benefits is that I've met a lot of people through this blog, and have learned a lot from them. It's become a place where people of all experience levels can come to dish the dirt, exchange ideas, and form mutual appreciation societies, which I'm all for.

I have always prided myself in being accessible. I want to be the author that returns emails, responds to appearance requests, gives freely of his time.

But I'm starting to slack.

I haven't really recovered from the Rusty Nail 500 this summer because I've remained pretty busy. Since returning from tour, I've visited an additional 65 bookstores, and have taken business trips to Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. I've also done ten events, and managed to write a screenplay, a treatment, the first 10k of a new novel, and a short story. Plus I blurbed two books.

As a result, email is suffering.

A lot of big authors don't have contact info on their websites, or you can only contact them through a form, or through their web designer.

I'm not a big author, so I can only imagine the huge numbers of emails they must be getting in order to force them to do this. I'm overwhelmed by 600 overdo emails in my inbox. I bet Stephen King gets that per day, or per hour.

Which got me to thinking. Does this career ever become less time-consuming?

I've been working pretty hard to become successful, hoping to reach a point where I can coast. But now I'm wondering if I'll ever reach that point. Will any of us?

Tess Gerritsen is in the middle of a huge tour. I spoke with Lee Child in NY a few months back, and he'd already been on 47 planes this year. Barry Eisler finished his own 330 bookstore tour and then immediately had to head east to research his new Rain book, due next month. I've seen David Morrell more times this year than I've seen my wife, because we keep going to the same events. The only one who doesn't seem to be doing any constant promotion is James Rollins, but he's excused because he writes two 120k books a year. Actually, I have seen Jim four times this year at events, so scratch that last comment.

Can we, as writers, ever reach a point where we can slow down? Does success ever come, or do we fear failure even when we become bestsellers? Does that fear force us to keep working 80 hour weeks?

I've only been a professional writer for about five years. It seems that I'm working just as hard as the day I signed my first contract. I don't think this is getting any easier.

But things have changed. I'm in much better place than I was five years ago. All of the work branding and building name-recognition, all of the intangible effects of constant self-promotion, seems to have helped my career.

I've reached a wonderful point where I don't have to fight as hard for media or events--often they come to me. The time I would have spent searching for publicity is now spent doing publicity, which is much more rewarding.

I've also reached a point where I get recognized occasionally. When I visit a bookstore, the booksellers and fans sometimes know who I am. This is sooooo cool, and always thrills me. In fact, it thrills me so much that I'm visiting even more bookstores. I'll hit 600 by the end of the year.

Which brings me to the point of this blog entry. When I first began in this business, answering email was a priority. I printed out my first hundred fan letters and kept them in a binder. I was amazed that people actually contacted me.

While I still enjoy getting email, these days it takes me three months to respond. It's important, but not near the top of my to-do list.

Five years from now, will I be one of those guys who simply can't respond to email? And if so, is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Can we, as authors, ever reach a point where we can relax a little bit? Or are we salmon who never get to spawn, no matter how far up the river we get?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Publishing Myths

Let's get provocative.

Some many newbie writers come into the publishing biz with preconceptions of how it works.

Strangely, these myths persist even with seasoned writers.

Keep in mind that there is no right and wrong/black and white in publishing. No one knows for sure what works, how to become successful, or the magic formula to hit the bestseller list. There's a lot of bravado, a lot of big ideas, and a lot of finger pointing. What works for one writer or book may not work for another.

That said, I've noticed that a lot of writers repeat the same mantras over and over again (this writer included) so let's look at some of them.

Myth #1: My Publisher Does Nothing for My Book. Authors lament their lack of advertising or reviews or tours. They're quick to blame their publishers for the lack of publicity-and ultimately sales.

Chances are your publisher does a lot of things that you aren't even aware of. That's because publishers don't keep authors in the loop. Why? Consider that people in the publishing biz treat it like any nine to five job. They don't have the same emotionally vested interest in your book as you do. Plus, publishers have dealt with many writers in the past, and can easily classify writers as "needy, clueless, and egomaniacal" which a lot of writers are. The stereotype fits.

So you may not know about the ARCS printed and sent to bookstores and reviewers. You may not know about all the trade shows your publisher attends, pimping their catalog (with your book in it.) You may not know anything about coop deals, or the sales meetings, or the marketing meetings, or the brainstorming sessions that were devoted entirely to you.

No publisher wants to lose money on a book. Just because you believe your publisher is doing nothing, doesn't mean they are. Hell, if they got you on the shelf at a few bookstores, that alone takes a monumental effort.

Myth #2: All I Have to Do is Write a Great Book. Don't get me wrong--you DO have to write a great book. But a great book doesn't mean the world will embrace it, or even be able to find it among the 200,000 released every year.

Writers believe that they have very little control over their sales. They do, however, have control over writing the book. So it's an easy defense mechanism (to protect one's own sanity) to believe that focusing on the writing and not the business stuff can lead to success.

It can. And has, many times. But there are more good books that aren't successful than vice versa.

Publishers truly believe that ALL the books they publish are great. And every book ever traditionally published is someone's favorite book. Greatness is subjective. You can have the greatest book in the world, but that doesn't mean people are going to buy it, or even realize it exists.

Once you're a writer, you become the CEO of your own business. The more you understand how the business works, the more you can and should do to succeed.

Does that mean you should be doing promotion at the expense of writing time? No. Writing should always come first. But (unfortunately) your book's best spokesperson is you. Ignore that at your own peril.

Myth #3: It's My Publisher's Job to Sell My Book. I really dislike the 'us against them' mentality that many authors have. I understand that many of them have reached this conclusion legitimately. Publishers can screw authors. They can kill books, and even careers. But to think that the publisher is some evil empire bent on exploiting your hard work and then counting their money and laughing while you fail--well, that's silly.

Publishers want to make money. They believe they have somewhat of an idea who to do that. Sometimes they're correct. Often they aren't. But in no case is your book more important to your publisher than it is to you.

It's your name on the spine. And here is an IRREFUTABLE FACT: The more you self-promote, the more books you'll sell.

A certain number will sell without you doing anything. Sometimes that number is large enough to make the book successful. The writer will take credit for writing a good book, the publisher will take credit for the brilliant promotional campaign they created, and perhaps both (or neither) is correct.

But you will sell more books if you're out there, promoting.

Myth #4: Self-Promotion Will Make Me Successful. There is no evidence to say that investing a great deal of time in promotional will lead to success (any more than writing a good book will lead to success.) I know several writers who are tireless in their promotional efforts. Some of them are bestsellers. Some of them aren't, and there's no guarantee their efforts will ever pay off.

Many self-promotional efforts are pointless, because the writer doesn't know what they're doing. And even the successful efforts rarely yield a response large enough to justify the time and money used.

It's true that the more you self promote, the more books you'll sell. But it may not be enough to attain stardom (or even stay afloat.)

Myth #5: Hard Work Leads to Success. Successful people all mention "struggle" and "overcoming odds" and "80 hour work weeks" and "living for the job" when explaining to others their journey to the top.

I don't deny that they worked hard. But I know that many people who work very hard don't ever succeed.

It's a basic fact of human nature that we seek cause and effect. Wisdom is simply learning from experience--doing things and judging their results. But wisdom isn't foolproof, and it is always subjective.

Luck plays a huge part in all of our lives. But not many people attribute success to luck, because luck is something beyond their control. To believe that how talented you are, or how hard you work, has nothing to do with how well you will do in life, can make you feel powerless and paranoid.

So we cling to the things we have control over, and then attribute our successes to those things.

Myth #6: My Agent, Editor, Publisher, Peers Know What They're Doing. Actually, nobody knows what they're doing. Everyone in this biz has ideas that seem to be working, strategies that they follow, but deep down all of the people you go to for advice are just as insecure and clueless as you are.

Question everything, including yourself. Learn as much as you can. Your opinions should be based on your experience, not anyone else's experience.

Observe. Listen. Experiment. Be flexible, and always open to new ideas. And keep chugging away.

Myth #7: I'll Be Happy When... When I finish my book. When I sell my first short story. When I sell my tenth article. When I land an agent. When I sell a novel. When I sign a three book deal. When I make 100k a book. When I have ten books in print. When I hit the NYT bestseller list. When I hit #1 on the NYT bestseller list. When I stay #1 for ten weeks on the NYT bestseller list. When I sell the movie rights. When the movie is made. When the movie wins best picture. When I win the Pulitzer. And so on.

I don't know if you'll ever be successful. I don't know if I'll ever be successful. I'm not even sure what the definition of 'success' is, because it's changed a dozen times for me in the past few years.

Another trait of humans is to never be satisfied. Once satisfaction happens, there are no more goals to achieve, which really cuts into productivity.

I've been happy many times in my career, but the happiness never lasts. Once goals are met, they're replaced by others. I don't think it's possible to reach a point where you can be at peace with this business. All you can do is try your best, celebrate successes no matter how small, learn from failures, roll with the punches, and save your money for the day when you no longer have a career.

Myth #8: This Business Sucks. Publishing, as a business model, is wasteful and ineffective. It's hard to break into. It's harder to stay in than break in. It's hardest of all to be successful. There is so much out of your control, and no guarantees. The odds are against you, and everyone working in the biz will tell you how difficult it is, and they're right.

It's also the greatest career in the world.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


A New York Times Bestselling author recently told me that you don't make any money until book #5. I'm paraphrasing:

"Don't quick your day job until you have five books in print, on the shelves. That's when you've earned out your advance and the royalties start. That's when your publisher will start pushing your books harder. Paperbacks are the important thing."

Since I knew he had a (reported) 120k print run in hardcover, I politely told him he was full of shit.

"I only sold through about 60k books in hardcover. That didn't make a dent in my advance. The paperbacks are the money makers."

The author went on to describe how small the advances were for his first few books. Years later, they have all been in multiple printings, and have long earned out their meager advances.

"Hardcovers are nothing but an advertisement for the paperbacks," he said.

I can understand his logic. A hardcover has a shelf life of less than a year--- and usually has only four months (average) to make a sales dent. But while this hardcover is taking up the coop space on the new release tables, it's signaling to people to check out this author's other books; books that have been selling for years.

While a hardcover can make money, the book usually doesn't get into a royalty situation until the paperback is released. Each year, the publisher's marketing dollars push the new hardcover, which reminds people about the backlist.

My royalty statements confirm this. As of my statement of June 2006, both Whiskey Sour and Bloody Mary have earned out their advances. They did this on the paperback releases.

Unfortunately, I won't see any royalties until next year, because of basketing. Basketing is a form of joint accounting. When books are basketed in a contract, the publisher doesn't pay out royalties until all of the books have earned out. So the earnings from Whiskey and Bloody are paying the advance for Rusty Nail. Which is fine. By next year, I should be in a royalty situation. This is a good thing.

Royalties are like found money. You're earning on work you did years ago. Your publisher also likes royalties. They no longer have to spend marketing dollars on your backlist, but it keeps generating income. Earning out an advance is a good indicator that the book made a profit, and the longer it stays in print, the more profitable it becomes.

But how does someone stay in print? What are the minimum sales that have to be reached each year to keep a book on the shelf?

I confess that I have no idea. I'm guessing it varies. But I can make an educated guess on why books stay in print.

First, there has to be a demand. This demand is fueled by old fans and new readers. Word of mouth is important.

Second, your publisher needs to be behind you. They are the ones with the deep pockets who can market you effectively, helping to establish your brand. They are also the ones who decide when to pull the plug.

Third, there should be growth. Steadily rising print runs, and corresponding sales, make everyone happy. As my friend said, hardcovers do sell the backlist. And the bigger the hardcover, the bigger the marketing campaign, the likelier backlist books will sell.

By book #6, I'm hoping to have a dump box (also called a cameo.) These are the stand alone cardboard displays featuring six different books all by the same author. These sell books like crazy. They also cost your publisher a mint, in both corrugation (the cost of the stands) and coop (the price of the real estate they occupy.)

We all hear the stories of the new authors who signed a huge deal and get a gigantic print run and marketing campaign. This is a great thing when it happens, but it's also a gamble.

Building up an author's fanbase with modest print runs and a solid backlist is a safer way to make money. Slow and steady wins the race. And it stands to reason that if your backlist is earning money, there will be more money available to promote your recently released title. Once you're in a royalty situation, you're no longer a gamble--you're a sure thing.

At least, until demand drops off.

That's where you come in.

I've heard a lot of authors talk about the insanity of doing an 8 hour store signing, handselling books to everyone who walks in the bookstore. "I could never do that," they say.

They also say that visiting 500 bookstores in a summer is even crazier. They talk about how their time is better spent writing. They talk about their shyness. They talk about how it's the publishers job to sell books. They say that if they just write a really good book, it will find an audience.

But they're overlooking a major plus of self-promotion; once you're in a royalty situation, every book you sell is making you money. The more you sell, the more you earn. And it's exponential--if you sell one book to a customer, that customer can buy your backlist, your future books, and tell everyone they know about you.

You're not working for free. You get a check. And the effort you put in will sell books above and beyond what would have normally sold.

Is it what you signed on for when you became a writer? No. But if you'd like to be doing this as a career, and someday hope to make a decent living (or a wealthy living) writing books, perhaps you should reconsider your priorities and what you're truly capable of doing.

I've said, from the very beginning of my career, that my goal is to make money for my publisher.

For my first two books, I'm doing just that. It will be interesting to see where it takes me.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Odds and Ends

It's been a while since I posted a tour update, so here's where I'm at on the Rusty Nail 500:

Books signed: 4422
Books hand sold: 244
Booksellers met: 1012
Bookstores visited: 530
States visited: 26

I still have to visit about 50 bookstores in my area, and about 15 in Milwaukee.

Also, though I missed Cleveland on my original tour, I'll be signing in that city on October 16th. If you're in the area and want to buy me beer, email me.

In November I'll be at two conferences, one in Muskego Wisconsin, and one in Manhattan Kansas (which will be the 27th state I've been to on this tour.) My webiste has details.

Remember Doug Hansen, my friend in the military stationed in Iraq?

He's received enough books to open up the first US Library in the Middle East.

Doug thanks everyone for their generosity, as do the hundreds of troops who have gotten books thanks to your efforts.

But, believe it or not, they could still use more books. They could also use things like notebook paper, pens, toothpaste, deodorant, soap, eye drops, sun glasses, sunscreen, etc. Don't send food--it gets thrown away.

If you haven't sent anything overseas yet, consider it--especially with the holiday season almost upon us. Here's his address again:

SFC Douglas Hansen
C Co / 163 MI Bn
COB Speicher
APO AE 09393

Karmela Lejarde, please email me--you get signed copies of my three hardcovers for sending Doug the most books---almost 200 of them.

Apex Digest, the magazine that was going out of business because they didn't have enough money to pay the printer, is back in business due in part to contributions by viewers like you (I sound like a PBS station.) Nice work, folks! I find it tremendously rewarding that the people who read this blog are so supportive of the writing community. You guys rock.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The New Zoo Review

Let's talk about reviews.

The four main reviewing publications are Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly. There are also hundreds of newspapers and magazines, and thousands of websites, that review books. Some reviewers are professional (paid.) Some are semi-professional (not paid but they appear in respectable publications.) Some are simply readers without any writing experience who share their thoughts on Amazon.com or elsewhere.

If you're a writer, you want to be reviewed in as many places as possible. A good review in a respectable publication will lead to three important things: in-house enthusiasm, bookseller and library orders, and sales to fans.

Consider Marcus Sakey, whose novel The Blade Itself recently received a starred review in PW which said, "A brilliant debut and a must-read, filled with unbearable tension." Will that help him sell some books? Of course it will. Do you think that made his publisher happy? Of course it did. It also made Marcus happy, and for three days afterward he was forced to tether himself to a chair to keep from floating away.

Any review is better than no review at all. Whiskey Sour received some good reviews: "The best debut of the year so far." - Chicago Sun Times, and "A fine debut thriller." - Kirkus.

But it also received some less than glowing reviews: "This ill-conceived cross between Carl Hiaasen and Thomas Harris should appeal to less-descriminating suspense fans." - PW.

Bloody Mary also got reamed by PW: "Konrath's predictable sequel is no more original than its predecessor."

Oddly enough, PW's review of Rusty Nail began: "Konrath's third outing to feature Chicago police lieutenant Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels, like its predecessors, Whiskey Sour and Bloody Mary, offers violent thrills peppered with hilarious one-liners."

Even bad reviews can sell books. It's better to be talked about in negative terms than not talked about at all. A review has your name and book title on it. If a person sees your name and title enough, it will stick in their head. You want to stick in their head.

Some writers claim they don't read their reviews, and perhaps they are telling the truth. I read all of my reviews. But I don't listen to any of my reviews. I don't take them to heart. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and all opinions are valid. I'd much rather have someone read me and hate me than never try me at all.

How does one get reviewed? It isn't easy. Reveiwers are bombarded with books. If your book is a lead title, you're a brand author, or there's a lot of buzz about it, you're likelier to be reviewed. Your publisher (or you) sends advanced reading copies to reviewers at least three months ahead of your street date, and you cross your fingers.

I didn't get as many reviews for Rusty Nail than I did for my previous books. This is something I'm going to work on changing for Dirty Martini. My plan is to send out the books myself, signed copies with personalized letters. David Ellis did this with In the Company of Liars, and tripled the number of reviews he normally received.

The hitman anthology I edited, These Guns for Hire, hits the streets today. It just received a glowing review in Booklist, which said: "Readers who aren’t keen on stories about paid assassins probably will pass on this collection, but that’s their loss. For everyone else, it’s a guaranteed hit." Library Journal also commented: "The many pleasures of pulp are here in abundance, befitting on several levels the anthology's subject."

I was happy. My publisher was happy. Hopefully it will help us sell a few.

Amazon.com has allowed reader comments for many years now. But just recently, they have allowed people to comment on comments. If you don't agree with a user review, you can post a rebuttle connected to their review.

I've gotten my share of negative reviews on Amazon, and when I saw that I was now able to reply to some of my critics, I considered it. But what would be the point? Would starting a flame war with some reader on Amazon help me sell books, or make me look like a petty egotist?

So I haven't replied to any comments. I do, however, encourage everyone who has read my books to leave comments on Amazon. We should all do that. I've reviewed several dozen books on Amazon, because it's a simple and effective way to support my peers.

And speaking of supporting your peers, while you're on Amazon pick up my latest Amazon Short collection, A Six Pack of Crime. It's six mystery thriller stories (over 15k words) for only 49 cents. There's a Jack Daniels story, and a Phineas Troutt story (which I consider the best thing I've ever written) and four more crime tales, some funny, some nail-biting.

All the cool kids are doing it. Get yours today.

And after you've read it, feel free to review it. Who knows? You may be hitting me up for a blurb one day...

Monday, October 02, 2006


Last weekend I attended Bouchercon, and hung out with peers and fans. I had more fun this year than any other, because I was less focused on making an impression and more focused on simply being a nice guy. That meant taking the time to meet new people, reconnect with old friends, and basically smile and nod a lot.

I wasn't on any of the big panels in the big rooms, so my crowd was smaller and mostly made up of newbie writers. This meant I didn't win over new fans with my clever banter who then ran to the dealer room to buy my books. (At conferences, the size of your panel audience is usually proportional to the number of books you sell.) Instead, a lot of newbies cornered me for advice or praise or to ask me to look at their query letter. I'm fine with that.

I heard a lot of folks talking about my 500 bookstore tour, which made me blush. Over the weekend dozens of people came up to me, to offer congratulations, ask questions, or just meet me in person. I managed to sign for a solid 40 minutes at my autographing session, which was nice.

For the very first time at a conference, I felt as if all the hard work building a brand and establishing name recognition might be actually paying off.

Which means now it's time to quit them for a while.

Writing conventions are essential for newbie authors. Go to as many as you can afford, meet as many people as possible, network and schmooze and act like a writer, no matter how published or unpublished you are.

But eventually there comes a saturation point. Instead of your presence being a surprise, it has become expected. The cost of attending, both in time and money, may no longer be worthwhile. You see the same 800 people year after year. You wind up partying with the same two dozen of them. Bouchercon for me has become less about selling books and more about reconnecting with old friends.

If I were rich and famous, I'd treat it like a holiday and have huge parties like the always charming Lee Child, inviting everyone and footing the bill. Lee doesn't come to sell books. He comes to be available to his fans. (Thanks, Lee!)

I'm not nearly at his level. I'm a midlist author on a budget, and I could be doing other things to further my career. Less expensive things.

I don't want to be thought of as overexposed. I might even benefit from people saying "Where's Konrath?" rather than "There's Konrath." There is a value in being missed.

So unless my publisher asks me to go, or unless the conference organizers decide they must have me as a speaker and offer to pay my way, I'm going to take a year off from conferences.

Is that stupid? Crazy? The antithesis of everything I'm all about?

I don't think so. I believe both my career, and the conference world, can manage a year without me. And the several thousand bucks I spend every year on travel, conference fees, hotels, and food, could be put to different use.

Of course, nothing is set in stone. If I become rich within the next twelve months, you're all invited to the huge party I'm throwing at next years' Bouchercon. Especially that Child guy. I owe him a lot of beer.