Reflections on the “R” word

Note: Like Clare, I’m in a topsy-turvy environment this week–a beloved family member has come to live with us (my father-in-law, who is 93 years old). I’m entering a brave new world, trying to make sure we can successfully manage his needs in our hectic household. I’m not sure our rambunctious Lab puppy has gotten the memo–he’s already torn up a pair of Dad’s slippers.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what rejection means to writers. At the writer’s groups I attend, people frequently talk about rejection. Someone will mention that an editor, agent, or magazine has rejected a submission. When this happens, everyone at the table nods in sympathy. They make encouraging comments like, “Keep sending it out. You have to go through a lot of rejection to get published.”

I’ve been sitting silently during some of these morale-boosting sessions. In these cases, I know that the submitted work wasn’t  publishable quality. Yet I’ve watched the writer toil over it in our group  sessions, rewriting and revising the work, sometimes for years. And it just hasn’t gotten to the level it needs to be.

Recently a member came to a meeting in tears. She’s been working on a novel for years. After laboring over the story with us, she showed it to a friend who is a published author. The friend went ballistic in her comments.

“She sounded so angry about the writing,” the woman said at our meeting. “Outraged, like how could I have been so stupid to think this was good?”

This woman felt blind-sided and abused by her friend, but I couldn’t help agreeing with the critique. The novel isn’t ready to submit–it’s nowhere close. And yet in our group sessions, we have this polite way of focusing on the good, while regretfully, almost as a postscript, mentioning things that need  to be fixed.

I think we let each other down by doing that. We have let this writer spend years on her novel,  thinking that it’s getting better, thinking that it’s going to be published, when there’s no chance whatsoever of that happening.

I don’t know what the best approach is in these cases. What do you do when someone’s writing doesn’t improve no matter how hard they work at it? Should you continue to encourage, or hit them over the head with a sledgehammer like this woman’s friend did? In the end, I think it was our group that let her down, not her critical friend (to whom she’s no longer speaking, by the way). We should have been more honest with her all along.  The problem is, you can lose a lot of friends and critique group members that way.

If you’ve made every suggestion you can think of and the writing hasn’t measurably improved, do you simply say, “This needs a page one rewrite–I’m afraid it’s not working at all.” I honestly don’t know what the right approach is.

What do you think?

The perfect panel

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

While we continue to be in the midst of renovations (and eventually getting new floors from when we flooded earlier this year) I am trying to fit everything in while juggling workmen (not as sexy as it sounds), internet access and finding space to write (my office still contains most of the furniture moved in said flood), so blogging today was a bit of a challenge – and how can I possibly hope to follow on from Jim’s procrastination exercise yesterday?! By continuing the fun of course…

I thought we could come up with fabulous and funny panel topics and panelists for an imaginary writers’ conference entitled No, you really don’t want to be a mystery writer!

My contribution is for a conversation between Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler on the topic ‘The digital age apocalypse’ and a panel comprising our own John Gilstrap, John Ramsey Miller, Michelle Gagnon and Joe Hartlaub on ‘the bloodstained cozy rules’ or ‘why we secretly love mysteries involving fluffy kittens and little old lady detectives’.

So if you could, what panel title, and panelists would you chose?

Now back to those pesky renovations…be creative folks, I need a good laugh…sigh…

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Procrastination Day

James Scott Bell

It is my pleasure to introduce a new feature on TKZ, Procrastination Day. A time to get away from that novel you’re writing, or that task around the house you’ve meaning to finish, and get down to some serious wasting of time.

Forget Spider Solitaire. Put away Endless Zombie Rampage. Let’s use our literary lights instead.

Let’s play the Less Interesting Books Game.

I found out about this one on Thursday, via Twitter. I was checking in and saw the hashtag #lessinterestingbooks. And it was exploding. I started in and couldn’t stop. For an hour I was chugging out less interesting book titles along with what seemed like a million other procrastinators.

Here’s how to play: You take a well known book title and tweak it a bit so it comes out as “less interesting” than the original. Here is a sampling of what I came up with in the heat of the moment:

Paradise Misplaced

The Puce Letter

The Naked and the Bruised

As You Consider It

The Seven Pillows of Wisdom

Kon Tiki Barber

Mein Kramp

Get the idea? 

Now it’s your turn. The only rule is: One title per comment. If you want to leave another title, leave another comment. 

So what books sound a little less interesting to you?

A Bad Idea

There is a saying in the military that there is no such thing as friendly fire. Just so; accordingly, I don’t quite know what to call, or how to classify, a recent story which is moving around literary circles; at least, I don’t know what to call it and remain polite. A “bad idea” doesn’t quite cover it.

J.A. Konrath has been one of the first authors to turn water into wine in the literal sense with respect to e-publishing. While I wouldn’t always entirely trust Joe with driving directions, he is always worth reading and yes, worth listening to, even if you don’t go along with every idea he has. Joe went from A to C without stopping first at B while figuring out how to use the new technology to not only keep his audience but also broaden it, and to make even more money while doing so. The result is that he has an almost overwhelming e-book and short story bibliography, under his own name, under pseudonyms, and in collaboration with others (most notably Blake Crouch, a master scribe in his own right). Konrath, notwithstanding his e-book success, also has an enviable backlist of physical books in print, and has also just signed a deal with a little outfit called which is going to publish a new book of his, co-authored with Crouch, in both print (under their Thomas & Mercer imprint) and e-book format.

Now we get to the “bad idea” which I referenced above. The call has gone out on the bulletin board of one of those common interest groups for independent booksellers to 1) boycott the Thomas & Mercer imprint in general and 2) send their stocks of Konrath books back in particular. Whoever thought of this must be a descendent of the British general who during the American Revolutionary War insisted that the Redcoats attack while marching, bunched up together, in rows, the more easily to be mowed down by that aforementioned fire, friendly and otherwise. It would be foolish to do this to any author, barring evidence of the practice of pederasty or some similarly reprehensible activity; I mean, does an independent bookseller actually want to drive traffic to a local superstore by proudly announcing that they won’t be carrying a particular author’s books? It is doubly foolish to do this with Konrath, who has historically been one of the independent’s best friends. Konrath at one point in the not-so-distant-past generously laid out for one and all the manner in which he efficiently visited as many libraries and out of the way bookstores as he could on a book tour using his GPS. He also personally thanked what seemed to be thousands of librarians and booksellers, by name, at the conclusion of one of his recent novels. Booksellers, you’re gonna ban this guy? He turned one of his books into the equivalent of a sandwich board for you.

Booksellers should understand that Konrath is not the illness that threatens their business. He’s not even a symptom. He’s simply figured out a way to adapt. You should be inviting him in to sign his backlisted novels and yes, his new book with Thomas & Mercer when it is published, and to do readings (the man is enormously entertaining, even when, alas, unintentionally so) for your customers. He has the capacity to drive business into your store, not away from it. Who knows, your customers who come in to seeKonrath might buy some books by other authors as well. They’re not going to do that if you’re chasing off Konrath or any other author who has figured out a way to embrace this new medium. It’s an ancient saying, but still true: you draw more flies, and readers, with honey than with vinegar. Or boycotts.

Will Livable Advances Be the First Casualty of the Publishing Revolution?

By John Gilstrap

Before getting to the meat of this week’s blog entry, I wanted to share a bit of very cool news. As every TKZ regular knows, Basil Sands is a frequent and entertaining participant here. A year or so ago, when my fellow Killzoners and I published Fresh Kills: Tales From The Killzone, Basil volunteered to produce audio versions of the book and podcast them. If you’ve listened to his narration, you know that he’s very good at that sort of thing.

A few weeks ago, during a routine email exchange with the folks from, the people who publish the audio versions of the Jonathan Grave series, I mentioned to them that they might consider adding Basil to their stable of narrators. I’m not sure of the details that transpired between Basil and at that point, but I am thrilled to announce that Basil Sands will be the narrator for my next Jonathan Grave novel, Threat Warning, which will be released on July 1.

Having heard the great job he did with Fresh Kills, I can’t wait to hear his take on Threat Warning. For the second week in a row, then, here’s to serendipity! Way to go, Basil!

We now return to our original Blog programming:


New York publishing went Hollywood back in the mid nineties, throwing high six-figure and even seven-figure advances at first time authors. It’s a shame that so many of the authors who received such largesse didn’t know that the big money would ruin their writing careers.

A million dollar advance puts a writer in the position of having to sell something like 300,000 copies in hardcover for the publisher just to break even, and 350,000 for the writer to start earning a royalty check. Those are hard numbers to achieve even for established authors; for an unknown rookie, the odds are one in thousands. Whereas in a normal world, rookie sales of 75,000 or 80,000 copies would be the stuff of cork-popping and the terrific launch of a career, those same sales for the anointed and overpaid were a source of embarrassment for the team that forked over the cash.

But the big advance was only part of the problem. In order to have a chance at recovering their investment, publishers had to throw another couple hundred thousand bucks at marketing and promotion. Back then, when a “big book” failed, it failed big. If the disappointment was public enough, no other publisher would touch the author, who would forever join the ranks of one-hit wonders.

First lesson of New York publishing: The bad stuff is always the author’s fault.

Meanwhile, because all the marketing dollars were going to the big books, the midlist authors who were lucky to be pulling in $30,000 advances got squat in promotion. Their success (or failure) was driven largely by efforts of independent booksellers to hand-sell. Back then, even if a midlist title didn’t earn out, the independents would still order the next title of an author whose work they liked. There was a tacit agreement between publishers and booksellers to “grow” and author over time. That was before computers started running the business.

Now the indies are virtually all gone, and the hundred-year-old publishing business model is in turmoil. Virtually all of the legacy houses are stuck with bazillion-dollar contracts that have virtually no chance of earning out, and to cover their downside (backside?), many are establishing eBook lines that will provide a steady stream of revenue against greatly diminished costs. Among the diminished expenses are the size of authors’ advances.

This is a game-changer for writers who make their living exclusively through writing. A reasonable advance (pick your own number to define reasonable) keeps the lights on and the kids in shoes during the period after a book is bought and before it is published. The advance is what writers use to pay bills while writing the next book. If advances implode, I’m not sure how full-time writers will make ends meet.

Self publishing will become the solution for some, I suppose, but I continue to believe that the only writers who have even a remote chance for success via self publishing are those who have already established their names via traditional means. There’s just too much noise out there for newbies to have a real shot.

While my crystal ball is notoriously cloudy on all things, I’m confident that there’ll be a solution to all of this that will keep publishers in business, and will continue to make mega-selling authors mega-wealthy. But if publishers have a brain in their collective head, they’ll have to find a way to pay less up front in advances, and more in royalties that are distributed more frequently. That would be the everybody-wins solution, I think.

What about you, dear Killzoners? For those of you who dream of canning the day job and writing full time, do you see yourself rolling the dice on self-published sales, or on royalties alone, or is an advance a critical component of your plan?

I Spent the Day with John Cusack

“Wasn’t that the worst apocalypse…EVER?” I texted to my older brother the day after, who quickly replied, “I’ve seen better.”

All day long on Rapture day my siblings exchanged text messages. My other brother wrote, “No sense buying green bananas” and “I’m not flossing today.” And when my sister did her grocery shopping, she texted, “Everything I bought today is a lifetime supply.” I also called my mom to borrow money, telling her I’d pay her back on Monday. She totally fell for it. After the clock ticked down to THE END, I had an automatic message go out to anyone who texted me – “The person you tried to reach has ascended. Try again later.”

My husband and I celebrated our last day by watching the movie “2012” with John Cusack—no less—and ordered our first pizza in months. We ate dessert first and ran with scissors to work up an appetite, capping off our excitement with an exploding world tsunami flick. I thought the movie would blow, but the special effects kept us overlooking the fact that it was a John Cusack movie. After the film ended, I texted my family, saying, “We’re celebrating Christmas. Happy New Year!”

In hindsight, if I had actually believed the end of the world would come on a damned weekend—Why not on Monday, for crying out loud?—I might have spent the time better. I blame John Cusack for this. I’m jaded. Cynical. Maybe I should have taken it more seriously and taken stock in all the things I have to be thankful for, but I didn’t want to crowd Thanksgiving. That day, turkey rules.

So tell us. How did you spend Rapture Day? What cracked you up? What made you think? What did you actually do as the clock ticked down? Or did you even KNOW about it? (Yeah, some of my friends didn’t buy a vowel or get a clue. [Insert eye roll here.])

The Void Between Books

I’m in between books, and normally, this makes me anxious. I feel lost, adrift without a goal. But this time I am enjoying the freedom. Maybe it’s because I’ve set other goals. I am revising my last backlist book so I can get it into e-book format. Now that I’m off my regular writing schedule, I can devote myself full-time to finishing the revision. It’s a long story, over 500 manuscript pages, so it’s been tedious. I have to compare the printed book to my Word file, which does not include the edited version. Besides making these editorial changes, I’m also tightening up the work. It’s amazing the difference a few years of experience makes. I’ll feel a sense of relief when I’m done, but then begins the confusing array of choices re book cover design, formatting, etc. One step at a time. 

Meanwhile, I’ve done a list of suspects for my next mystery. I have already turned in the first completed book in this series. I’m only dabbling at the synopsis for book two because the next couple of weeks will be a washout for creativity. Window installers are here this morning and they’ll be making noise and havoc for two days straight. Plus, we have other events going on that might prove to be too distracting. So it’s a good time for a break. Eventually I’ll just sit down and write the whole synopsis.

And then what? I’ll probably write the first three chapters of this next mystery and then move on to book three in my proposed paranormal romance trilogy. Or I could tackle Smashwords for the backlist book. Or…you see, there’s always something to do.

How do you feel about the void between books? Are you relieved to have reached the finish line and to be mentally free of your project, or does the freedom cause you anxiety until you plunge into the next story?

The “Rapture” and Book Reviews

By: Kathleen Pickering


I had a book deadline for yesterday, and given most of the hype leading up to Saturday’s expected “Rapture”, I kept looking out the window and wondering . . . so, if I’m gonna disintegrate at 6 p.m., do I really need to finish this final edit for Monday?

Now, stay with me here, you’ll see my point.

Since I knew the “Rapture” prediction was hype, and that the hype was unreal (Why would I have a deadline for Monday if it was real? My editor surely would have known!), it started me thinking about the power of opinions.

Which led me to the power of book reviews. (My point, entirely, which Clare Langley-Hawthorne tapped into with her blog from yesterday. I wonder if she was thinking Rapture, as well?) So, to continue Clare’s conversation, I ask: Will Internet reviews be as powerful as the tried and true print and media reviews?

I say, hell yes.

From all the Internet marketing classes and webinars I’ve attended, the magic words are “buzz’” and “viral”. While TV interviews are the ultimate for books sales, I believe (hallelujah!) that Internet book reviews are another rapid means to get word out about a hot, new novel. Believe me, brothers and sisters. I am taking full advantage of online reviews. (Feeding the bees to make a buzz, you might say.)

I just received a 5-Star review on my self-pubbed, urban fantasy, MYTHOLOGICAL SAM, and enjoyed a surge in my Amazon sales from this post. (Thank you, Melissa Cabrera!) So, I am taking Internet book reviews very seriously. Here’s the book. Feel free to check out the gratifying book review:


Now, granted, this is only one review, but I have posted this opinion on Facebook, Twitter, my email signature, other writer’s groups, and now here on this fabulous blog page. FOR FREE. That suddenly gives this review multiple opportunities for exposure.

Do I care if my reviewer is educated? Respected? Influential? Hell, no. Although I’m sure she is, what truly matters, is that she liked the book enough to give it 5-Stars and rave about it to everyone she knows. She’s starting a buzz for me, and that’s priceless. Word of mouth on the Internet is how ‘viral’ gets born.

So, while still courting radio, TV and print media for reviews, I’m putting my money (which isn’t requiring much, I might add) on Internet marketing, which includes free book review blog sites and interviews. Internet marketing is something I can actively target and control (until it happily and wishfully goes viral, of course). I will do the same with my book being released next year through my publisher, as well. I’ll keep you posted on whether or not my efforts prove profitable. It’ll make an interesting study.

Has anyone else seen a rise in sales from Internet book reviews? And if you are a reader, do you buy from the Internet reviews you read?

The Future of Book Reviews

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

We’ve had a number of blog posts about the future of publishing and the rise of the e-book, the impact of social networking, blogs and the plethora of book and author related websites filling our digital world…but one thing that struck me this weekend (as I perused the New York Time’s book review online) was the future and influence of the mainstream book reviewer. Now I can’t say I have any quantifiable data on the sales impact of a favourable book review in the NYT but I would hazard a guess that 10-15 years ago a good review in a venerable newspaper like the NYT or a great review in Publisher’s Weekly (or, heaven help us, Kirkus) would have had a sizable impact on book sales. Today, I’m not so sure…

I do think good newspaper reviews and starred PW reviews encourage publishers to spend additional advertising and marketing money on an author’s book – which would certainly help rather than hinder sales – but just how influential are they now? Would a critical mass of favourable Amazon reviews generate greater sales? Would a rave review from a popular online blogger garner more readers? It would be interesting to try and survey authors to see what they thought had the greatest impact on sales. No doubt a bestseller occurs due to the cumulative effect word of mouth and media exposure – but I wonder what role traditional reviewers play in influencing this?

I’m an old fashioned girl so a great NYT book review will get me out there searching for the title (either online or in a brick and mortar store). I will, however, also check out the Amazon reviews and Google the author/title to see what kind of buzz (or not) there is in the blogosphere. If a trusted friend raves about a book then I will also check it out but more often than not, I will hear about a new book from my mother (sadly, I sometimes think only her generation that still reads – my friends usually say they have no time…) who has read the review in The Times, the Financial Times or The Guardian (can you tell my mother is English?). Rarely will a blogger’s recommendation be enough, simply because I find it hard to assess the reviewer’s credentials and impartiality – of course, we could have another entire blog post in this regard (having heard some professional reviewers question ‘amateur’ reviewers’ ability to meaningfully review!)

What do our TKZ authors think? How do the traditional forms of newspaper or PW reviews impact sales do you think, when compared to say Amazon, Goodreads or online blogs? In a post-Oprah world who do you think is going to become the most influential word on books? How is the whole review thing going to pan out with the dramatic rise in e-book sales (many of which are self-published titles) – and, for all our TKZ readers out there – whose opinion or review matters to you as a reader?

Publishers Trying Stuff

We’ve been all over the e-book revolution here at TKZ. Last month I asked what the publishing industry would look like in six months. We’re starting to see some things taking shape.
First, the news. The publishing industry’s first quarter stats are in, and here’s the headline:
E-book sales are up 159.8%. Adult hardcover and mass market paperback sales are down 23.4%.
If you were an American car manufacturer and you saw that sales of Japanese made cars were up 158.8% and sales of American cars were down 23.4% in the first quarter, what would you do? I’ll tell you what you would do. You would run to the federal government and ask it to bail you out.
Traditional book publishers can’t do that. (Well, I guess they could try, but it would be a tougher sell than a Charlie Sheen self-help book.)
So what should they do? Try stuff. Innovate. Move fast.
There’s a problem, though. It’s not easy for major industries to change. Publishers have been operating under a model that is a hundred years old. But the market does not care. It is merciless. So adapt or be left in the dust.
This week one of the major Christian book publishers, Tyndale, announced a “digital first” imprint. They are going to bring out four fiction titles in July that are e-book only, by new authors. Then they’ll add non-fiction titles. If a title performs well, they will consider giving the author a print run.
Tyndale issued a press release that read, in part:
Lisa Jackson, Associate Publisher explains, “The world of publishing is shifting rapidly, and it’s important that we as publishers deliver content in as many ways as possible. The Digital First project allows us to get fresh, new voices into the marketplace more quickly and efficiently than ever before.”
“I am very excited about this new initiative,” says Ron Beers, Senior Vice President and Publisher. “Tyndale has always been known for its innovation. Now we are working hard to be at the leading edge of the digital publishing revolution and to use that creativity and expertise to most effectively launch new voices into the marketplace. We are one of the few houses that has invested heavily in in-house digital expertise and this has allowed us to be more nimble yet strategic in bringing digital content to market.”
Looking at this from a business angle, this seems like a solid move. Whether this will be a net positive for the bottom line cannot be predicted. There are too many variables and the landscape changes almost daily. But it’s proactive and “outside the box,” and that’s what it’s going to take to survive. Plus, it lowers the risk of finding new authors the old way, via advance and print runs and hoping to sell through. It’s like a farm system.
Now, what about the writers? How is this deal for them? I have not seen an actual contract, but I have heard informally that we’re talking very low advances with a higher percentage on the back end, between 30 – 50% royalty.  IOW, shared risk and reward.
Seems like a win-win.

Yet the stats above indicate that print is in a downward trajectory. So will being “in print” mean the same thing a year from now? Will there be enough shelves for the new writers to occupy?

What do you think?