May 27, 2011

Made It Moment: Eric Keith

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 7:21 am

Nine Man's Murder

This is a Moment that combines a lot of things. First of all, it will make you laugh. Second, if you like a book that allows you to lock wits with the author–or detective sleuth–look no further than the cover here. And finally, this Moment will surprise you in the end with its poignancy. Eric Keith, in addition to being a masterful puzzle creator, has the unique genius of comedy. Make ‘em laugh, keep ‘em laughing…then stun ‘em with the truth.

Eric Keith

Unlike most authors, my sense of having “made it” did not come from being published.  “Making it” in that sense usually derives from three sources:  money, popularity, or having a readership.

As far as money goes, let me put it this way.  When my publisher paid me for the year the other day, he asked me with an embarrassed cough if I had change for a twenty.

Nor do I welcome popularity.  I don’t like seeing my photograph posted for everyone to stare at—it embarrasses me.  Which is why I don’t even go to the post office any more.

And unlike most authors, I’m not motivated by the prospect of having readers give me positive feedback about my books.  Don’t get me wrong, I have readers:  but one is a hermit, and the other doesn’t even have a telephone.  Although the purpose of writing is, even in my case, to try to entertain people, for me, having a huge following is not an urgent necessity.  Nor, in my case, a likelihood.

This is only to say that, while I would like to reach readers, I am not driven by a need to do so.  To understand why, you’d have to understand a little about me—a task that’s stumped even trained professionals.  My mother says that when I was two years old, she used to place me in a playpen, where I was content to stay all day, without need of human company, never getting bored.  Not once did I try to climb out.  In my defense, my hands were too small to untie the ropes, but this still illustrates my basic self-satisfaction.

My feeling of having made it, therefore, came not when my book, Nine Man’s Murder, was published, but when I first realized I was going to be able to try my hand at writing.  I knew that my life could have easily worked out such that I would not have been blessed with the privilege of getting to spend time doing what I loved.  I imagined what life would have been like if I had never been given the chance to write stories—others have fantasized about that, as well—and I realized that my life would have been empty.  I wouldn’t have lamented not being able to publish; I would have lamented not ever having had the opportunity to write.

That was when I first understood that what I really wanted was not so much to be published, but to write.  And the moment I started writing, I knew I was already realizing my dream.  I had made it.

Although Eric Keith is not an expert in his field, having never murdered anyone nor having ever been murdered (though his wife says he has at times come close), he was formerly a designer of logical games and puzzles for a game company.

He infuses his mystery novels with the same twists and turns of logic that made his puzzles so fiendishly intricate. After years of delighting puzzle solvers with surprises, in NINE MAN’S MURDER he now challenges armchair detectives to match wits with a master criminal–and master puzzle maker.

May 24, 2011

Great new writing site: Jerseywise Fiction

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 10:03 pm

Emerging writer Karyne Corum has recently launched a new website called Jerseywise Fiction, devoted to writing that is by New Jersey authors and/or takes place in this, my current home state.  In addition to featuring some great fiction, the site has a fun, handspun feel and it’s a comfy place to browse around in.

Full disclosure, sort of: I’m listed as one of the people behind the site (in the whodunnit page, ha!), but really, Karyne did all the work.

If you go over quickly, there’s an intriguing contest on the site: a real life, unsolved crime is laid out…and you get to solve it.

Made It Moment: Kris Bock

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:31 am


There often seems to be–on this blog, the wider net, and even so-called real life–a chasm between traditional and independent (or self) publishing. I like Kris Bock’s Moment because it shows how an author can bridge this gap– possibly gaining the best of both worlds.

Kris Bock

I sold the first novel I ever wrote, a historical drama for middle school students called The Well of Sacrifice. I had made it! I had a masters degree in Professional Writing and Publishing, experience in magazine editorial, and $15,000 in savings. I quit my job to be a full-time novelist.

I failed to sell my next 10 novels. I did work-for-hire nonfiction and wrote for magazines, but I eventually realized I’d gotten lucky with The Well of Sacrifice. It’s still in print, but I had a lot to learn about writing novels before I sold another one.

In 2008, I sold a series about a brother and sister who travel with a ghost hunter TV show. I had made it! The first three Haunted books—The Ghost on the Stairs, The Riverboat Phantom and The Knight in the Shadows—came out in 2009.

I expected to stay busy with Haunted for a few years. But the company reorganized and fired my editor. The series died.

I kept writing, but publishers seemed to want a few specific genres (vampires, anyone?).

I was getting a little depressed by this point. I needed to try something different. I’d been reading mainly romantic suspense, so I decided to write for adults. Rattled — about two best friends hunting for a long-lost treasure in the desert of New Mexico, with help from a sexy helicopter pilot and a larger-than-life cat — was great fun to write.

Meanwhile, I started exploring self-publishing. Why not release the fourth Haunted book on my own? Why not release my Egyptian mystery for kids, The Eyes of Pharaoh?

Back to Rattled. My agent thought we could sell it. But I loved the control I had with “indie” publishing, especially in terms of timing. It could take months to get a contract and years before the book came out. If I self-published Rattled, I could launch it at the Left Coast Crime convention, where I was giving two presentations. I wouldn’t get an advance, but if this book did well, I’d do better in the long run.

It was a gamble, but isn’t all of publishing—and the rest of life?

I hired a cover artist, and dealt with proofreading and interior design. When I saw what would be the final cover art, I got a little chill. I got another when I uploaded the cover and interior to be published. I had a sudden thought—We’re making a book!

It’s too early to judge the success of Rattled, but I have a book I’m proud of, and I feel in control of my career again. I haven’t made it, not by a long shot, but in the meantime, those little moments are worth celebrating.

Kris Bock writes action-packed romantic suspense, often involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. A full-time writer, her hobbies include hiking, rock climbing, and photography. To learn more about her latest work or read the first three chapters of Rattled, visit

Ms. Bock also writes for young people under the name Chris Eboch. The Eyes of Pharaoh is an action-packed mystery set in ancient Egypt. In The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan girl in ninth-century Guatemala rebels against the High Priest who sacrifices anyone challenging his power. Read excerpts at

May 23, 2011

Made It Moment: Jeff Dawson

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 7:07 am

Love's True Second Chance

One of the best things about being a writer is the community we all get a chance to be a part of. I met Jeff Dawson through one such community, and his story of loss and fulfillment moved me greatly. Jeff’s life has had many ups and downs, as his Moment reveals. Through them all he came to one ultimate definition of success.

Jeff Dawson

Where does one begin deciding if they have made it? Is it the success we share? Is it the path we have traveled or is it something more important and personal? I will opt for the third.

I spent most of my adult life in the construction industry. Road building to be precise. After flipping burgers at Wendy’s for six months I realized I needed a career much more satisfying. I needed to know that I just wasn’t collecting a pay check but would have something to show for the long days’ toils. Building road was the answer. I would be able to go back years later and see what I had been a part of. A sense of accomplishment and pride I would be able to share with my children.

The time when I did road construction had more ups and down’s than one can imagine. Divorce, bankruptcies, children moving away, personal tragedy and loss. A partner in 1990, father in 2005 and my fiance in 2009. Yet despite it all I stayed with the business.

In February of 2010, I was released by my employer one week before I was to go in for major back surgery. I didn’t fit in the apparent four to five year plan.

It was during the recovery period that I really started examining my life and how it had progressed. Not a very rosy or pretty picture. Did I really want to continue on this current path or was there something I hadn’t yet tapped into? The question was answered one day as I leafed through the Dallas Morning News. I came upon an article about a company that promotes professional speakers. “Hey, I can do this. But what will I write about? Who would enjoy or possibly benefit from all of these difficult experiences?”

I looked back at everything that had transpired over the past twenty-five years and started writing. The wounds from the past rose up. Those that had not been properly confronted and dealt with resurfaced in a flash. Putting the experiences down helped me understand the road I had traveled and who had really been driving the bus. I found out why every major event had happened. Whether it was a business failure, divorce or loss of loved ones, I realized it was necessary to travel this path to be where I was needed the most when it truly counted. Who could ask for a better life’s plan.

The made it moment? It is knowing that I have been able to help someone else heal from the pain of losing loved ones or dealing with the tribulations everyone faces each day. To me, that is the definition of success.

I spent the last twenty-five years in the road construction industry. I have been married and then divorced with three grown children. I started writing years ago but never took it seriously until I had back surgery in 2010.

Loves True Second Chance is about the woman I had loved for over thirty years. I wanted to let people know that Love is worth a second chance even if there is a possibility of a tragic end. We packed a lifetime of love in seven short months.

May 22, 2011

Voodoo dolls, backyard bonfires, & daisy petals

Filed under: Backstory,Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 3:59 pm

I know, I had trouble figuring out the name for this post myself.

I hope I came up with three iconic things that will make sense once I start typing.

It took me about as long to find a publisher as it did to find my soul mate. A little longer, but not much.

I’m dating the soul mate search from one day in eighth grade when I spun a long fantasy about my social studies teacher, who greeted me and the guy I was crushing on and said something like, “I always knew you two were meant for each other.”

OK, sure, it was the teen romances I gobbled by the dozens–Sweet Valley High, Sweet Dreams, Silhouette, does anyone besides me remember these?–and the model of my mom and dad, each other’s one and onlies, and married almost 49 years now, but I always thought the first guy I really dated would wind up being my husband.

And he was. It just took me 9 years more to find him.

What’s the relevance, you’re wondering, to this blog?

Well, here’s the thing. Even though I was only a college senior when we met and a recent grad when we got engaged that July, I *felt* as if I’d been looking forever. There were lots of letdowns and bitter disappointments and feeling lost and lonely along the way.

And I vowed that once it happened, and I became someone I could hardly imagine myself being–or even really relate to–that I would never forget what it was like to be single and hurting.

And I haven’t. I can still feel those times, I can still go out with my single or newly divorced or struggling in marriage friends and genuinely commiserate.

So is it with that other great divide–publication.

As most of you know from other posts, I’ve found a publisher now. An editor who believes in my work. I just sent her a card, and writing it didn’t feel *much* less meaningful to me than saying my marriage vows. When I found it, a piece of art with the word ‘begin‘ practically carved into the layers of color, and lace, and sparkle, I began to cry right there in the aisle.

It’s easy right now to say I haven’t forgotten anything, especially that feeling of not knowing if your work will ever find a home–but I promise the same thing will be true when as many years have passed published as not.

And after that.

I will always remember. I will always be able to empathize enough to offer support and hopefully concrete help to anyone else on this crazy road.

But just to make sure, I thought I’d jot down a few memories of my lowest points trying to get published over the past 11 years.

Like the games of ‘he loves me, he loves me not’, bonfires of photos and mementos with the girls, or dudes we make small copies of so we can stick a pin into their nether regions (sorry, guys…not *you*) some of these times may be recognizable to other writers.

So, low points on the road to publication…

  • There was the time I was sure, absolutely positive, despite the monumental odds against me, that my novel was destined to win ABNA. That’s why I’d never gotten published all these years! It was because I was due to take the rose-strewn walk across that Seattle stage (*is* there a stage in Seattle?) to accept my award. And then it seemed that my husband had messed up my entry–included my name, grounds for automatic disqualification. And I howled, a bleat of pure, sheer despair, loud enough to wake (and scare) my children. Well, my husband hadn’t actually messed anything up. And I didn’t win anyway, or even come close.
  • My second agent decided she had come to the end of our road one morning when my husband was pulling out of the driveway to go to work. My kids, then not even 2 and 4, awaited. A whole day of reading stories, and fixing snack, and dancing till we got dizzy, and I knew that I. just. couldn’t. do. it. Couldn’t do anything at all. Couldn’t keep an agent. Couldn’t run my day. “Come back,” I mouthed against the window as my husband started the car. And he did.
  • One night I sat in the bath and my agent called and I spoke to her from in the tub. She was actually calling to give me good news–an editor at William Morrow was interested in my first novel, which my agent had submitted second. But this was still a low point because when I said words to the effect of, “Finally. Thank goodness. Because I can’t go through [another failed sub] again,” my agent replied kindly, “Well, Jenny, there are no guarantees.” And there weren’t. That novel, too, failed ultimately to sell.
  • The agent who rejected me after asking for one page, one chapter, three chapters, then more, all drawn out over the course of months approaching a year–before rejecting the whole manuscript. She was right to. But that didn’t make it any easier when I saw that whole period slipping like sand back into the sea I was facing.
  • The stack, twenty high or higher, of beautiful, snail mail queries, on 100% cotton bond, with clear address labels, and stamps that featured great writers–can you say OCD??–and Every Single One came back no.
  • The novel–a whole novel–I couldn’t interest a single agent in even though the great Jackie Mitchard herself called to say it was terrific. “Won’t sell,” she said. “But it’s terrific.” She too was right, though it took me a year + and over eighty queries to accept it.

There are other lower than low points, I am sure. I’m sure they will come to me, and I promise I will never forget.

But since the only thing that really gets us through–the only thing that worked for me anyway–was communing with other people who know–for now, what are yours?

May 18, 2011

The Story Behind the Story, or How My Book Was Bought

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 12:51 pm

Maybe this should be filed under front-story instead of backstory?

It finally happened. As many of you already know, my novel, COVER OF SNOW, has sold to the great Linda Marrow at Ballantine. Linda edits some of my all-time favorite authors, and enough New York Times bestsellers to intimidate the bejeezus out of me.

Here are the deets (as literary Janet Reid, aka Query Shark) taught me to say if I wanted to sound cooler than I am.

Ballantine will do the hard cover version, Random House the trade paperback, and RH has the world rights, which means my agent called me one day and said, “They’re talking about your book at Random House UK.” And I swooned.

Seriously, guys. After over a decade at this, to go from not being able to get in the door, not able to squeeze one toe through the door–or worse, to be standing in the doorway, all bright-eyed and smiling hello, only to have it slammed against my nose, ending up at Ballantine with (should I say it again?) the great Linda Marrow is more than a dream.

How did it happen? A lot of you have asked that, and I feel as if Suspense Your Disbelief readers, authors, and contributors are the best kind of family, supportive and boisterous and always ready to chime in. So I am honored to tell you this.

But I also have to say that this is in some ways an intensely private story. It’s a story of being desperate, of wanting something so badly that even with my nose broken and bleeding, I decided to try again.

And it’s a story that can’t help but name names, because I am all about giving credit where credit is due, so I would just ask you guys to be your tactful selves with those names. Obviously nothing is confidential on the blogosphere, but as I say, you guys are like family, which is why I do find myself spilling a lot of confidences here.

OK. So where were we in the backstory? The party had fizzled. I was t-h-i-s close to an offer from Viking, manuscript up there at the very top, process drawn out over weeks and months, as is often the case, and the possibility dried up. No offer was made. My agent and I, even the editor herself (who will be thanked in my acknowledgments–hear me now–because she made me believe in myself in a whole new way) were flattened.

I began to develop a new plan. Someone approached me, and she had a really great idea. An alternative, brave new world idea, but you guys know how I like those. Maybe traditional publishing just wasn’t for me.

It wasn’t as if the books needed more editing, or work on craft (beyond the more work on craft every writer needs at every point in her career). We’d gotten all those almost offers–weren’t they proof that things were in good enough shape? Maybe my work just didn’t fit a genre perfectly enough. Except authors were telling me it did, expressing surprise (and dismay) that I hadn’t been published yet. In fact, authors had been an enormous source of support, often heartening me when I was most flagging.

So I wrote to another. An all-time favorite author, whose work seemed the closest to what I aspired to write, and whose latest novel had been all the talk at a mystery list-serv I spend many of my waking minutes at.

“I never do this,” Nancy Pickard said, after I told her my story, gave her the stats. (Remember? 11 years. 3 agents. 5 novels. 14 almost offers.) “But your story really touches something in me. Send me the manuscript.”

Nancy Pickard read my work (I know, let me rephrase: Nancy Pickard read my work!!!) as the final word was coming down from that last almost offer. It was during a cold, bleak, winter-intruding-into-spring night, when the writing was beginning to appear on the walls that this time too would come to nothing. My husband called me upstairs to say an email had come in.

I read it with my eyes all but squeezed shut. I just couldn’t stomach any more blows.

I will never forget Nancy’s words. “I couldn’t wait till I finished to tell you how impressed I am,” she wrote. “Unless it totally lets me down at the end–and I can’t imagine it will–I will want to recommend it personally to my editor.”

And she did.

I emailed Nancy as soon as I heard that Linda Marrow liked the book. “I’m afraid to hope,” I typed. “But I do know this would not be happening without you, and even if it doesn’t happen, I owe you so much for bringing me this far.”

Don’t I sound gracious? You can’t hear the clenched fists or gritted teeth (please. let. this. work) in there at all.

Actually, every word was true. I was immensely grateful. No author can get a book sold for someone else. But for Nancy to have done what she did was spectacular. Simply reading the ms was spectacular.

Anyway, Nancy is far more gracious than I. She wrote back words to the effect of: “Linda is incredibly busy. If she didn’t truly love your book, she would not be doing this, no matter what I or anyone else had done.”

So Nancy’s editor has become my editor.

What do I take from how this happened?

Well, first of all, keep knocking on doors. If one doesn’t open, knock on wooden things that aren’t doors. And if that doesn’t work, start knocking on things that aren’t even wooden.

If you’re a writer and want to be traditionally published by a major, the road can be extremely long. Mine was longer than extremely. I had a lot of learning to do about craft and I also had not a little bad luck, with the almost offers. But since this novel, COVER OF SNOW, wasn’t done until right about now, and certainly not in this (let me say again, great) editor’s hands, the “bad luck” was maybe good luck after all.

I would also add that the road doesn’t have to be as long as all that. Traditional publication a) can happen somewhat faster–not a whole lot faster maybe, but even half my time would be considered more than putting in one’s dues and b) is not the only way to get your work out there. Not even the only respectable, optimal, wonderful way. New doors are opening every day, and the e-volution will return power to the up and coming writer, the mid-list writers, and the mega star alike.

Decide what you want and go for it. Be open and flexible to new ideas. I’m not saying anything new, or anything unique to writing even.

More in my graduation song? Make as many friends as you can. Be as good a friend to others as you can.

Know that the world of writers is the most loving and supportive you could find yourself in and the only way we flourish is all together.

And never, never ever, give up on your dream.

May 17, 2011

Guest Post, Continued: Rob Walker

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 6:47 am

Titanic 2012

Welcome back for Part II of Rob’s guest post on eBooks and Becoming an Indie Author/Publisher; Part I was on the blog yesterday.

Today, to prove Rob’s point about the ease of acquisition of e books, I’m trying a special giveaway. For every 20 new followers, I will select one to win a Kindle gift cert–any book $5 and under–and there are an awful lot to choose from! Happy reading, everyone, and thanks for stopping by!
Rob Walker

The really disheartening thing that drops an author’s hopes and heart like a stone is a thing called “Returns” – and a writer does not earn out his advance and start receiving royalties until “returns” are “returned” from the booksellers. This is an old and out of date business element in book publishing and bookselling.  It is the only business wherein the product can be returned for full or close to full price if the buyer cannot sell the product. Until all “returns” are in, the author is kept in the dark about sales numbers, and even if he or she can get the sales numbers, there is always the warning that this is “before” returns. After returns then you can “believe” your royalty statement. That and AFTER everyone else—like the distributor of said units—gets their cut. Then the agent takes his or her cut. Pretty soon what trickles down as leftover change makes its way to the author.

In e-books, a disappointed reader returns a book, not the bookseller; will never “return” a book to you, the author/publisher. Essentially, there are no returns to speak of, a handful as opposed to boxes full. Perhaps eleven in a year, maybe twelve, but it is all done electronically as in credit to the account. No physical book, no such thing as pulping the books.

Now then, once the traditional publisher is DONE with a book or a series and declares they will buy no more titles in a series or they will discontinue selling a title, what happens to the book or series? They go out of print; they become Ops which can only be found in used book stores or via Amazon cooperative used book stores. Out of print pretty much means the book is dead and it was believed, up till now, dead forever—except in used book stores or on “remainder” tables.

In the world of e-books, guess what. There is no out of prints until which time the author decides to deep six or kill a book (once again the author decides). No author I know wants a beloved title to be out of print. No one wants his or her book to be “Remaindered” either. This is when a book is overstocked in a warehouse when THEY decide to sell it off at ten or five cents on the dollar to rid it from the warehouse, so it winds up at Costco or Wal-Mart with a big discount slapped on it while Costco pays ten cents a book and charges the reader five or seven bucks, and the author gets zero on such sales. In the e-book world, there is no such animal as a “remainderd” e-book. Next to no returns, no “stripped” covers, and no remainders, and no warehousing, and no need of a lot of the flotsam of traditional “dead tree” publishing.

We need a Beatles song for e-book publishing; something along the lines of a…Imagine a world without rancor between author and publisher as he is the same person! The sense of control and freedom comes with “If the book fails, I have only myself to blame.” Whereas in traditional publishing, “If the book fails, we have no one to blame but the author (as we put up the advance funds, the costs of printing, costs of salaries to committees, cost of distribution, cost of mailings, costs of returns, and eating the remainders—so it must be that the reading public just does not like this author, so in the end it must be his fault we did not sell enough units, and 50,000 units is not enough!).

So how can you get started in becoming an Indie Author/Publisher? Take a close look at and give it a shot; put up an article like my RN wife, Miranda Phillips Walker did on Kicking the Migraine Monkey off Your Back. She placed it up on Smashwords and then onto Kindle. The process for each is similar, and working with a short document is a good way to get a feel for the protocol of becoming your own publisher. It may at first be frustrating, but go at it a second time, and try to do it when you are not tired. Go to as this is where the real action is and most readers! Finally, if you are having too many problems and the confusions and frustrations are too many, go to your son, daughter, nephew, niece or neighborhood computer geek for a spot of help. There are also folks online popping up daily who will help you for a price.

As for cover art, this too can become a problem if you are not proficient with images and placing lettering over images. I am not, so I get my son onto this project, and he is a genius with creating cover art (see any one of my titles for example: Killer Instinct, Disembodied, Children of Salem). Stephen’s found at but there are many others online who do this for a price as well.  In the event you want a POD paper book option as well as an e-book, you might want to work with for a print on demand paperback version, and there I found creating a cover using their template relatively easy once I got the hang of it. If you approach all of it as “practice run” with the expectation that it may take you at least two runs at this, you will not become so overly upset with yourself as to quit on it before you are successful.

Oh my…I just earned $100 more in the last twenty-four hours from my ebooks! Wow…imagine, an author making money on his efforts! Shhhh…tell no one! OMG and enough of that, Mister!

This about covers it. If you have any questions, please leave a comment!

Robert W. Walker has taught writing in all its permutations (“All writing is creative writing but not all writing sings,”) from composition and development to a study of the literary masters to advanced creative writing. His first novel was one only an arrogant youth could have conceived — a sequel to Huckleberry Finn (now published as Daniel & The Wrongway Railway, Royal Fireworks Press, NY), but his first suspense-techno-thriller-sf-mystery came in 1979, after college, a novel that won no awards entitled SUB-ZERO.

May 16, 2011

Guest Post: Rob Walker

Filed under: Great Reads,The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:28 am

Titanic 2012

Many readers know that I am following the new e frontier avidly. Writers whose work I admire, such as Karen McQuestion, have been great friends to me as I explore this territory. I never fail to recommend Joe Konrath’s megaphone of a blog, and I’ve used the Barry Eisler/Amanda Hocking polar opposite decision as the basis for more than one tweet or post title.

So today I am excited to welcome Rob Walker, another whose name belongs in these hallowed halls. Is hallowed the right word? There’s a brashness, a tent revival quality, to those who believe digital reading will decimate books–that books are just the T Rex who doesn’t know the meteor has landed yet. And yet–maybe the prophets are right. I don’t know myself, of course, but I offer Rob’s words, and his evidence of success, as another in the voice this conversation raises.

Enjoy! And in your comments please feel free to proclaim the truth–as you know it.

Rob Walker

eBooks & On Becoming an Indie Author/Publisher

Why Go All Independent Author on Us, Rob? (Part I)

The following few lines taken form my ebook Titanic 2012 might stand in as a metaphor for the condition of Legacy publishing right now. Just replace the idea of a caved-in mine with traditional publishing… (lol):

The day had ended with little to show for and mine superintendent McAffey remained frustrated and upset. He knew from experience it’d take days if not a week to get the men comfortable enough about this section of the mine to even begin to clean up the mess where some timbers had given way. “Hell, amounts to a sneeze,” he said to the man beside him.

“Minor inconvenience at best,” agreed Francis O’Toole.  “Thank God, no one’s been kilt; two injured and off to hospital’s all.”

E-books and the electronic readers like the kindle are suddenly legion at schools, at writers conferences, even at, ironically enough, bookstores. I will never forget at a book signing when a lady pushing a baby carriage stopped by long enough to reach into the carriage and pull out her kindle, which she proudly flashed before us, asking me and my wife, Miranda, “Are your books on Kindle?” We were ready for her, both of us replying, “Yes indeed.”

3 Million plus Kindle e-readers have been sold since December of this year, and Mother’s Day is likely to see a huge number sold as well—perhaps more; at least this is the number I keep seeing in articles in The New Yorker and Newsweek. In other words, the future is upon us and traditional publishing has reason to be concerned even if they don’t know it.  More and more authors are taking control of their content and making decisions that impact the content—what they create.

Traditionally, the working arrangement between publisher and writer has been one of you turn over your creation and the publisher “takes all the risks” as if you are taking no risks in spending months if not years on a manuscript. However, since you are taking “no risks” like those faced by the publisher—business risks—the notion is that you are now passive cargo and worth about 8 to 10 percent of each “unit” sold. Now all decision making is out of your hands, and you are supposed to go write another book in the event the first one sells well. Meanwhile, the publisher’s team—all of whom have pensions and paychecks—make the important decisions of pricing, placing, marketing, packaging, title, down to the font and colors on the cover.

In other words, all decisions are made by committee. Think totem pole and the author is at the bottom, and wasn’t a camel a horse designed by committee? My point is when the book fails, the guy at the bottom of the totem pole is the one blamed as his/her numbers of unit sales is too low. So the business model for the author is pretty bleak, and has been since Guttenberg’s invention of the printing press; ninety nine percent of all novelists in the world cannot live on what they earn as writers. Could you live on eight percent of what you sell without health benefits or pension?

That said, let’s turn now to the business model for the author who is now an Independent Author/Publisher—and for starters, the Kindle contract is not an 8-10% cut but a 70/30 split with the 70 going to the author! Aside from this, the author makes all the decisions to package and price the book, no title fights, no arguments over hardcover vs. trade vs. mass market as none of these designations apply in e-books. The added attraction to doing e-books is control and a sense of freedom.

Publishers are as interested in change as glaciers, and for good reason—as they “take all the risks”.  This is no more evident than now with the sudden growth of e-readers and e-readership as the big houses like Random House and Penguin and others are warring with over price-setting. They have always controlled the prices, but now suddenly millions of avid readers, rabid readers if you will (Kindle readers can go through forty books in a week) want their books at less than ten dollars—as Bezos, the head of Amazon promised them—“You buy a Kindle, no Kindle book on Amazon [will be] more than 9.99.”

Fact is, Bezos wants the world to have access to any book you or I want “at the moment” or as close to NOW as Whispernet can make it happen. This is why Bezos named his device “Kindle” to “kindle the passion in readers and non-readers alike.”

By using the A-B-C directions at, I now have some 43 novels for sale online via Kindle Book Store on The e-books for out of print titles may require getting a company like to convert an actual book to a scan to doc, and once you have a doc file it must be converted to HTML—which can be the most difficult part of the steps involved. If you already have a doc file of the book in question, you won’t have to send off a book to be scanned. I used Blue Leaf because their prices are three times cheaper than anyone else doing book scanning.

The most trouble involved in the process is converting the file to html and then in reviewing it, correcting the errors that will inevitably come up in the process of conversion—sometimes quite time consuming. However, I have it on good authority that a file can be converted with ease by sending it to a friend who is on gmail. I’ve only just recently learned of this shortcut, but it sounds promising and I will use it in future.

Meanwhile, once the html conversion is complete, once done and placed up on your Kindle dashboard, the rest is smooth sailing. The results in terms of sales are astonishing.  In the old business model with traditional publishing, wisdom has it that you price the book at the top end—as high as the market will bear. However, in the e-book model, the readers expect and demand low end pricing, very low end pricing. They are savvy readers who know that putting a book onto Kindle is a snap compared to printing on paper, paying for paper, warehousing paper, overhead for paper, paying PR people, paying marketing director and his staff, etc. are no longer relevant tasks.  Since all of this “goes away” in the e-book world, the readers expect far cheaper books in the manner Bezos envisioned – and why not?

It is for this reason that I listed most of my forty plus books on Kindle for $1.99 and $2.99. The books at this low end rate are selling like a river flowing, while my three titles placed up by Harper Collins—priced at exactly the same price as the paper books at $6.99—are sitting there like three stones (no sale) while my novels like Children of Salem at $2.99 are my bestselling titles. I earned 400 dollars last month on books priced at the lowest end of the scale, while my hardcover novel in the same month earned zip.  In one year, I earned (after repaying advance, after packager’s 20 percent, after all overhead costs) a mere 141 dollars on my traditionally published hardcover DEAD ON, while in one month, I earned 400 dollars on my lowly $1.99 and $2.99 specials.  What does this kind of economic comparison say about the old way of doing things and the new way of doing things?

Part IIYour Guide to Independent Authorship Found Here will continue tomorrow. Hope to see you back in your seat, ears alert, right here next time for the particulars of getting started in this brave new world of becoming an Indie Author.

Robert W. Walker has taught writing in all its permutations (“All writing is creative writing but not all writing sings,”) from composition and development to a study of the literary masters to advanced creative writing. His first novel was one only an arrogant youth could have conceived — a sequel to Huckleberry Finn (now published as Daniel & The Wrongway Railway, Royal Fireworks Press, NY), but his first suspense-techno-thriller-sf-mystery came in 1979, after college, a novel that won no awards entitled SUB-ZERO.

May 12, 2011

No, don’t push yet! OK, now, push: How You Know When Your Novel Is Ready To Be Born

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 10:16 pm

We talk a lot here on Suspense Your Disbelief about how to publish a novel, but a few recent emails have me thinking about a whole other side to things.

How do you know when to publish your novel?

“Saleable” is a term bandied about in the industry, but the fact that this word is never approved by my spell check should’ve given me some clue as to its iffy, nebulous nature.

What the heck does saleable mean?

Bad books sell–we’ve all read them. Good books fail to sell–we’ve all heard about them. Maybe you’ve even written one of them.

So let’s say right at the outset that whatever saleable refers to, it’s no sure thing. There are no guarantees, as my first agent cautioned me. (Man, was she right).

So what is there instead?

Well, there are guidelines. And in this post I intend to offer a few I feel confident about. I’d love it if you offered more of your own in the comments.

So, cuing the spectral tone from David Letterman, the top 10 things you can do to make your novel saleable are:

10. Let the ms sit after you’ve finished it. For at least two weeks. Preferably for two months.

9. Read the ms over after that and, once you’ve gotten over the shock of all the work it still needs (two weeks/two months ago you called it done!) do the work.

8. Now it’s time to find independent readers. As many of ‘em as possible. Contrary to popular wisdom, I don’t believe these “trusty readers” can’t be friends or family. By all means rely on friends and family–just so long as they are a) voracious readers b) articulate  about what they do and don’t like and c) willing to criticize the ms you are now sure is utterly perfect. Or if you believe it sucks–it’s considerably harder to criticize you then.

7. Consider hiring an independent editor. Unless you’re getting help from industry professionals (agents, editors at presses/houses, authors, writing teachers) you will need people from the biz to recognize how this work is going to strike industry professionals. Does this advice change if you intend to independently publish? Yes. Sort of. But that’s for another post. In any event, if you can afford it, having a professional editor will never hurt you. I know of some if you go looking.

6. Take all the responses you have gotten and divide them into three categories A) This is the best piece of feedback I’ve ever gotten–thank Something I didn’t publish my book already B) This feedback sucks, you suck, especially because you’re right C) This feedback sucks, no really, it does suck.  B) takes at least a few days to arrive at. C) is negated if more than three or four of your trustys said the same thing. Switch that baby over to A) and get on with being thankful. Now start revising. I know, again.

5. We’re only at 5?!?! Hey, don’t blame me. Who ever said this thing was easy? But just to give you a break I’ll make this tip the simple recognition that this business isn’t easy–and it’s not supposed to be. You don’t want your book coming into the world easily. Yesterday on the Kindle boards, a very wise writer named Monya Clayton quoted Ernest Hemingway: “If it reads easy, it was writ hard.”

4. Start querying or submitting in small batches. If you’re lucky enough to get personal responses, you might very well get feedback that sends you running back to the ms again. (Yes, I know, but novels, particularly first novels, often run into the double digits for drafts). And trust me, there’s little to make a writer more itchy than the feeling that this is the version you wish you were sending around.

3. If you get twenty form rejections–not so much as one encouraging extra line–know that either your query isn’t working or your partial isn’t. You could (and should) be participating in online forums to help hone your query–such as Query Shark. You might want to consider taking an online or in person writing class. (Hey! In the fall I’ll be teaching “Polished & Published: Readying a Book for a Changing Industry” for NYWW). Or maybe now is the time to look for that freelancer. Either way, 20 form rejections are either a stellar run of bad luck or worthwhile information.

2. Reach out to authors whose work you admire. Go to their readings. Buy their books. Gift their books. Be a fan. Some may have contests offering to look at sample pages. Some may agree to do so because they’re saints. And sometimes you will build real and lasting friendships, and friends do things for each other. However it may happen, if an author whose book has kept you up late into the night says that yours left her gasping–or didn’t–this is very important information to have about whether it’s saleable yet. Not everyone can do this for you, of course–in fact, almost no one can. But occasionally you might get lucky and it will make all the difference.

And–the number 1 way you can know if your novel is saleable is–

1. Try to sell it. Now clearly, this tip isn’t for everyone. If your heart is set on traditional publishing, then tips 10-2 are more applicable. But if you are willing to go the indie route, and you have faith that your book is in good shape, this tip can prove or disprove it. Good novels, like cream, will rise. If your book is out there, and you do a little effective marketing (say 1-2 hours/day), you will have an awful lot of digital readers (the people, not the device) there to say if you’re on the right track. I’m not saying to use e publishing as a proving ground–I’m saying it can prove saleability, either to you, or potential publishers, if you still want one once you’ve begun selling.

Well, there they are. Ten Tips to Top. Or argue with. Or even follow.

Good luck! Be sure to let me know when your baby is born!

May 11, 2011

Made It Moment: Vincent Zandri

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 7:19 am

The Innocent

I am lucky enough to know a few of those authors people are looking to when they hear that so and so turned down half a million dollars to go e, or that other so and so e-published a book of recipes he cooks for his dog and is now covering the mortgage with his sales. Vincent Zandri is more the half million dollar so and so than the dog food cooker. And his Moment tells you why. Read on…

Vincent Zandri

I knew that I’d Made It when I started worrying.

No, really.

I started worrying that I was seeing things.

Soon as those numbers started soaring to new levels on Amazon and not coming back down, I knew I was in for a new kind of ride. A literary thrill ride so to speak.

This all began to happen for me while I was in Rome this past March. I kept looking at my Blackberry, looking at the numbers getting smaller and smaller on the Amazon site.

Of course, I should have seen it all coming. Only a few days before I was in the Austrian Alps visiting a healer who told me that in three day’s time I would begin to realize a personal and professional achievement that I would be “very proud of.” This process would begin in three days and it would culminate in or around two weeks. Three days later, while I was walking the streets of Rome towards the Vatican, my numbers for THE INNOCENT began to inexplicably climb, and not come down.

From that point on I checked the number religiously on the hour and by the time I hopped a plane back to the New York, the numbers had improved to the Top 100 Bestselling Books for Amazon Kindle.

Back in New York, it took only a couple of more days before THE INNOCENT entered the top 30. By then I knew I was making it because my publisher, Aaron Patterson, at StoneGate Ink kept calling and texting me, telling me I was now moving 1,000 units per day. Something that up until then was unheard of for one of his authors. The rapid climb up was so astonishing for him, he blogged about it, predicting that by the end of March, I would sell a whopping 6,000 Kindle Books.

He was wrong.

By the end of March I’d sold 21,000 units, while my new ranking landing me in the Top Ten Bestselling Kindle E-Books. I was now selling more Kindle Books than Stieg Larson, Stephen King, Harlan Coben, and more. And this happened exactly two weeks to the day my healer said it would.

As of this writing, April 14, 2011, THE INNOCENT is still in the Amazon Top Ten. No. 5 to be precise. Already for April we’ve moved 35,000 units and we expect to sell 100,000 by the end of May. My other books, GODCHILD (the sequel to THE INNOCENT) and THE REMAINS are close on its tail.

So how did I know I’d made it?

I began to worry that all this was a dream. But of course it’s not. So I guess the real answer to the question of how I knew I’d made it would be this message my publisher left for me recently on my cell:

“Hey Vincent, it’s Aaron. I’m just checking to see if you need any money. Later dude.”

Vincent Zandri is an award-winning, bestselling novelist, essayist and freelance photojournalist. His novel As Catch Can (Delacorte) was touted in two pre-publication articles by Publishers Weekly and was called “Brilliant” upon its publication by The New York Post. The Boston Herald attributed it as “The most arresting first crime novel to break into print this season.” Translated into several languages including Japanese, Russian, French and the Dutch, Zandri’s work has also been sought out by numerous major movie producers, including Heyday Productions and DreamWorks. Other novels include Moonlight Falls (R.J.Buckley), Godchild (Bantam/Dell), and Permanence (NPI). His newest thriller, The Remains (Stone House) will be published in July, 2010 in E-Book and in November, as a Trade Paperback. Forthcoming novels include The Concrete Pearl (Stone Gate), a new detective series starring the brassy but beautiful construction business owner, Ava “Spike” Harrison, and the re-publication of the classic, As Catch Can (Stone Gate).

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