By John Gilstrap
A few weeks ago, I posted about my adventure with Jeffery Deaver in which we got private instruction on tactical shooting while at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas. Well, now there’s videos evidence: http://tinyurl.com/clxzbry. You can also find a link on the News Feed on my website.
If it looks like slow motion, that’s because it was. We were using live ammo in a car, assuming shooting positions that could easily have made our own legs the primary target while drawing. The “quick draw” contest at the end–also rather slow–was a one-shot, three round accuracy contest. The first to hit the gong won the round. While the video shows Jeff winning the first shot, the next two, which I won, somehow ended up on the cutting room floor. I’m just sayin’ . . .
This brings me to the stated purpose of this week’s post: my coolest new Internet discovery: Dropbox. Like everything else that dwells in cyberspace, I’m confident that I’m one of the last ones to the table here, but my goodness, is that cool!
You go to www.dropbox.com and download the program free of charge, and Bingo! you have cloud storage for your files that is accessible from any computer anywhere. You can even share files, which is how I was able to give my web mistress access to the 100MB video of our shooting adventure.
I still depend heavily on my thumb drive as primary storage, backed up to whatever machine I’m working on at any given time, but it’s great to have Dropbox, accessible from anywhere.
What are the other cool Internet toys that I’m behind the times on? Which ones are indispensable toyou?
By John Gilstrap
In 1997, a literary author named Bradford Morrow made big headlines in the book industry when he allegedly told a reporter from New York Magazine that his publisher, Viking, was trying to engineer a bestselling thriller out of his next novel Giovanni’s Gift. To support the book, and to give it a leg up on sales, the publisher spent a lot of dough promoting it. That’s a good thing, right?
Well, not necessarily. When the New York Magazine story was published, New York Times Book Review writer Walter Kirn tore apart not only the book, but also the author and publisher. Here’s a link to a piece that Salon did on the brouhaha: http://www.salon.com/march97/media/media970331.html.
While some reviews leave room for interpretation, I think intelligent minds can agree that this is gratuitously awful: “an unintentionally campy blend of artistic ambition and commercial cynicism … a case study in the novel as gilded kitsch — a book that proposes to elevate its readers even as it takes calculated aim at their presumed stupidity … a thin romantic melodrama insulated in operatic twaddle.”
Morrow’s offense, such as it was(n’t) was his decision to share with the world his desire for commercial success. (In future interviews, he maintained that he never writes for money.)
How the world has changed, huh? In a mere fourteen years, we have come to a place in history where it’s okay for an author to publicly state his desire for commercial success. (I’ve long believed that even literary writers secretly want to make money off what they write.)
Carrying on with this week’s theme of finding the right strings to pull to engineer a bestseller, I continue to question whether any individual writer can do anything to significantly influence sales. Sure, there are outliers and exceptions (paging Joe Konrath), but in Joe’s case you have to give credit to the power of being first.
Yesterday ended a 10-day run for my book At All Costs on the Kindle Top 100. (As I write this, it sits at #105, having gotten as low as the 20s.) This is great news for a book that was written in the same year when Giovanni’s Gift was released. Could it possibly be that my fan base has finally reached that self-sustaining critical mass?
Maybe. I hope so. But I have serious doubts about that. If that were the case, my Nook sales rank would be substantially lower than 10,223, which is where it sits as I write this. So, what’s going on?
The answer in two words: Paid Promotion.
My publisher is spending real coin at Amazon on my behalf for banner ads and email blasts that alert anyone who has ever bought my work or the work of anyone who writes similar thrillers that there’s a new Gilstrap eBook out there at the readily affordable price of $1.99 (down from the original $4.50-ish). I assure you that it’s no coincidence that everyone who buys the At All Costs eBook will get to read the first chapter of Threat Warning, the front list book coming out on June 28 as an eBook and July 1 as a pBook.
Words cannot express how grateful I am to Kensington for getting behind me and my work this way. It’s all part of a strategy that was engineered and is continually tweaked by several departments of professionals who promote books for a living. If they’re doing this for li’l ole me, can you imagine the horsepower that’s behind the likes of Baldacci, Coben and Deaver? Sure, at the end of the day, the quality of the work is paramount—an author has to entertain his audience—but a lot of the frenzy that surrounds the release of a book is bought and paid for, including much of the stuff that seems spontaneous.
I have no idea what the price tag of all of this is, but I’m going to guess that it’s significant enough to be out of range for most people I know. It’s not just the absolute value of the time and the cash that’s involved; it’s the risk factor, too. There’s no guarantee that they’ll ever see a return on their investment.
My writing career is eight books deep now—eight books published, anyway. I’ve hired two independent publicists in that time, I’ve arranged book tours, I’ve typed my fingers bloody on blog tours, yet I can tell you without hesitation that nothing I’ve done in self-promotion comes close to providing the results of what Kensington is doing for me. And it’s not just the money; it’s the know-how.
I’m the first to say that I’m perhaps overly blessed at the moment, but some really dark times preceded the last couple of years. This is a tough, tough, business, and with few exceptions the road to success—whatever that means to whoever it means it to—is paved with divots and bloodstains.
Jeffery Deaver and I used to meet for drinks and dinner every Thursday evening for five or six years, and during the darkest of the dark times he endured my pity party for a while. Then, when I asked him what he’s doing right that I’m doing wrong, he put it in perfect perspective for me: “I’m twenty books ahead of you,” he said.
And there it is: the secret to publishing success. And after the twentieth book comes the twenty-first. I’ve come a long way since that chat with Jeff, but I have a long way to go.
Finally, at long last, I’m part of a team that supports me; but part of the reason they support me is because they feel I’ve earned it, a book at a time and a fan at a time.
Can you engineer a bestseller? I believe it’s done all the time. But key elements of the blue print include an established, enthusiastic fan base, and a proven ability to turn out good work.
Can a first time author engineer a bestseller on his own? The occasional exception notwithstanding, I believe the answer is no.
Generally, I love my Friday slot at the Killzone. Friday is a happy day overall, and, perhaps more importantly, Thursday night is typically a convenient night to jot these missives. There are exceptions to every generality, of course, and for me the exceptions all deal with the big conferences. Bouchercon, ThrillerFest, Magna Cum Murder—you name the conference—always span Friday to Sunday, so I either get to write about a conference that hasn’t happened yet, or about one that is old news by the time my slot comes up again.
So, here I sit at noon (California time), having arrived yesterday afternoon, and having awakened at 5:30 this morning (8:30 bio-clock time), biding my time till the festivities kick off for real this evening. The intervening hours have mostly been taken up with work for my Big Boy Job. (I am forever amazed by how much more productive I am on the road or at home than I am in the office.)
Last night, I met Jeff Deaver at the lobby bar, and then we went out to dinner at the Fog Diner (that’s not really the name, but it’s close). It’s a kitschy place at Battery and Embarcadero that serves an eclectic menu, and has a great wine list. I ended up having a wedge salad and half of a Reuben sandwich. Given the bio-hour of 10 pm (7 pm local time), it was a perfect meal. We went back to the bar, but I could only manage one drink before I had to call it a night. I was in bed and asleep by ten. Really, ten. It’s embarrassing.
Tonight, I’m meeting my friend Ruth Dudley Edwards for dinner, after which the smart money says I’ll be in the bar till later than ten.
Tomorrow, I’m on a panel at 11 called “Deadline: Where do you get your ideas?” moderated by Don Bruns, with Gayle Lynds, Bill Moody, Mary Stanton and Debbie Atkinson. As I understand the premise, someone in the audience is going to choose a headline from the newspaper, and then we’re going to construct a story on the spot. It sounds simultaneously terrifying and fun. Can you say improv?
After the panel, I’ll be off to lunch with my editor and agent, and then I’ll be attending the Kensington Kocktail reception (their spelling, not mine), followed, presumably, by dinner and the evening in the bar. Are you catching a theme here?
To any Killzoners who are here at the conference, please make your presence known. Say hi. Chances are reasonably good that after, say, 9:00 pm, you’ll find me in the . . . well, you know.
By John Gilstrap
I’ll start with an apology for shirking my blogging duties last week. I was at ThrillerFest and had neglected to plan ahead. I suppose I could have just ignored the parties and . . . Nah, people who know me understand that I am incapable of ignoring the parties.
Those who’ve been to T-Fest know that the parties there are different. Those other people in the bar or at the receptions aren’t just regular folks that you see at work every day. To a person, the people I met there in New York—from fans to fellow authors and everyone in between—were friendly, intelligent and fascinating. It’s what makes the conference a not-to-be-missed event for me every year.
I arrived on Wednesday afternoon on the heels of some media events in Boston the previous day, and I went to dinner with Jeffery Deaver. We had drinks at a little hotel bar on 44th Street, and then we ate at a largely forgettable restaurant whose name I’ve in fact forgotten. We were done by 9:00 and not yet ready to go our separate ways, so we wandered into the bar at the Algonquin Hotel. THE Algonquin Hotel, of Algonquin Roundtable fame.
That’s when it hit me: I’m living my own dream. Sitting there in such a famous room, I realized that had I been around in 1925, I might have had a place at the table. I might have participated in the conversations of those literary and critical giants, laughing at their jokes and maybe even offering up a few of my own. (Conversely, I might have been rejected as a commercial hack and banned from their presence, but this is my fantasy, so let me run with it.)
Now, of course, all of those giants are dead. Instead, I spent my time engaged in conversations with Joe Moore, Jeff Deaver, David Baldacci, Harlan Coben, Andrew Grant, Gayle Lynds, Joe Finder, Brett Battles, Kathryn Lilly and dozens more brilliant, witty writers. Forgive a moment of aggrandizement, but it occurred to me that collectively we might all be remembered as the next famed group. Given the level of talent in the room, I’m certain that at least a few will be tagged with greatness.
And I was there. God willing, I’ll be there again.
When I was a kid, I was in awe of writers and writing. I had little opportunity ever to meet an author in person, but on the occasions when I did, I stood there star struck. To think that I might ever join that elite club—if not as an equal, then at least as a colleague—was beyond my ken.
Yet there I was in New York, surrounded by talent. During the course of the next few days, I would have lunch with Anne Hawkins, my agent, and dinners with Michaela Hamilton, my editor, and Sam Franco, the producer who optioned Six Minutes to Freedom.
I’ll say it again: Agent, editor and producer. Never in a million years would I have dreamed that the guy at those meetings would be me.
Last Wednesday, as we sat in the Algonquin sipping scotch and chatting about whatever we were chatting about, I asked Jeff if he ever stopped to think about how cool this whole experience is, about how lucky we are.
“Every day,” he said.
Exactly. Every day. I am an author. I am what I’ve always wanted to be, and every day I wake up wondering what I did to deserve the good fortune.
And I pray that I don’t do something to screw it up.
Does anyone else find themselves amazed at where they are, and fearful that it might all go away?
The ITW recently posted the nominees for their Thriller Awards. Some of you might remember a post I wrote last August, when it was first announced that the paperback original category had been eliminated. Henceforth all of those books would be battling it out with the hardcovers for the moniker “Best Thriller.” There was a range of responses to my post, everything from “Hear, hear!” to “It’s silly to have different categories for different formats.” A few people chastised me, saying that any bias against paperbacks was only perceived, that I didn’t have enough faith in my fellow authors to judge a book based on its merits alone.
Here are the finalists:
BEST THRILLER OF THE YEAR
Hold Tight by Harlan Coben
The Bodies Left Behind by Jeffery Deaver
The Broken Window by Jeffery Deaver
The Dark Tide by Andrew Gross
The Last Patriot by Brad Thor
Now, I’m not claiming these aren’t the best thrillers of the year- of the five I’ve read three, and they were great. But I also read a slew of PBO thrillers last year, and I’d rank them as high (or higher) than those three. The ITW is always battling charges that it’s morphing into a club for NY Times bestselling authors, and judging by this list, that might be the case. Granted, books are subjective little beasties, and what I love others might loathe. Perhaps these were the best thrillers of the year. I plan on reading the other two to satisfy my curiosity (and because they’re probably good books).
But I still don’t see where having a separate category for Paperback Originals does any harm. If paperbacks are consistently passed over in favor of their hardcover brethren for another few years, I believe there will be an exodus of PBO authors from the ITW. Which would be a shame, considering the fact that this award was initially conceived to address the fact that few thrillers were acknowledged by the established mystery awards. And making PBOs the red headed stepchildren of the organization doesn’t help anyone.
That’s my two cents.