Saturday, May 28, 2011
The Tour continues through Monday, so keep on keepin' on! Click here to find out how to visit the rest of the authors' blogs who are participating. Remember, for each blog on which you comment, one of our troops will receive a free ebook from that author!
Make it a great day!
Friday, May 27, 2011
This Memorial Day weekend, I’m excited to join over thirty authors thanking the men and women in uniform who serve and protect our country. Check out the Indie Book Collective, the brains behind this weekend's tour.
Thanks to mystery author Kat Lively whose blog immediately preceded mine on the tour. When you finish here, hike on over to the next stop on the Blog Tour de Troops, Women’s Fiction author Sonia Rumzi's blog. And check out Tracy Riva's enthusiastic review of my book, Motion to Kill.
We’ve teamed up in a daisy-chain blog we’re calling Blog Tour de Troops to celebrate our freedom with a heavy dose of free! For starters, I’m donating a free copy of my ebook, Motion to Kill, to our troops for each person who posts a comment to my blog today! So post your comments and spread the word to give our troops a book Michael Connelly recommends and Publisher’s Weekly called Electrifying!
What’s good for the troops is good for you too! Everyone who comments on my blog today will also receive a free copy of Motion to Kill. Just let me know in your comment whether you’d like to receive a free pdf of the Advance Reader Copy or whether you prefer to wait for a few weeks and receive a coupon for a free copy from Smashwords after I launch the book around June 15. Be sure to include your email address in your comment so I know where to send it.
And that’s not all! Everyone who posts a comment will also be entered in a drawing for a free Kindle! You can’t beat that deal with a stick!
Motion to Kill, is the first book in my thriller series featuring trial lawyer, Lou Mason. Originally published in print in 2002, I’ve re-mastered it for its ebook debut. While I love Lou, my favorite fictional lawyer is Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. Who’s your favorite?
We celebrate a lot in this country, from major holidays to birthdays and engagements, weddings and anniversaries, graduations and retirements. If someone says “good job”, we throw a party.
And that’s a good thing but sometimes we take for granted that we can do just that. Living in a country where we have the freedom to celebrate life, to think what we will, to say what we want, to agree or disagree, to vote or protest, to worship or not, and to live our lives as we choose is a blessing.
Those freedoms are enshrined in our founding documents but words on a page are not enough to guarantee our rights. Freedom has to be defended. The men and women who have put on our country’s uniform to protect our way of life deserve our respect and gratitude.
On July 4 we celebrate our independence. This weekend we remember and thank those who have helped make real the promise of that declaration.
Don’t forget to post a comment so our troops and you will receive a free copy of Motion to Kill. Let me know if you’d like the pdf Advance Reader copy or a coupon for a free copy on Smashwords when the book is launched around June 15 – and include your email address so I know where to send it.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Now comes news that Eisler has inked a deal with Amazon's new mystery/thriller imprint, Thomas & Mercer, that will pay him a comparable advance plus pay him a 70% royalty on ebook sales.
What gives? Did Eisler turn his back on all those writers pinning their hopes on the Indie Revolution?
Not at all. He did what any of us would do - he found a better deal. Eisler didn't turn St. Martin's down because of some passionate belief in Indie publishing. He made a rational business decision that he had a better alternative. The Thomas & Mercer deal was even better so he took it.
That's the same thing Amazon has done with its decision to become a full-scale print publisher. Amazon believes it can do a better job than the traditional publishers of capturing the synergy of print and ebooks. By offering Eisler the same royalty on ebook sales that he would make by self-publishing, Amazon has confirmed it's commitment to the agency-model, creating a best of both worlds opportunity for mystery/thriller writers, who will now beg their agents to pitch their books to Thomas & Mercer.
One dark cloud on the horizon - at least one independent bookseller is threatening to boycott authors who sign up with Thomas & Mercer, including Joe Konrath, the patron saint of every self-published writer. Such threats are short-sighted and wrong-headed. This train has pulled out of the station and isn't turning back.
Both Eisler and Amazon looked at the marketplace, saw an opportunity and seized it. Good for them! Time will tell whether they've built a better mousetrap, but so far, so good.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
I found a great article in the Boston Globe Ideas Section titled The Good Fight. It's about one of my favorite topics - conflict. Whether you love the chance to get into someone's grill or you'd rather cut and run when things get hot, conflict is the inevitable byproduct of the human condition.
Whether it's Isaiah quoting God's instruction that we reason together or Rodney King's plea that we all just get along, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out what to do about the conflicts in our daily lives.
This article discusses new research on conflict that challenges the conventional wisdom that conflict is a bad thing. Here's some of the good stuff in the article.
"As the study of conflict gains traction, researchers are examining which conflict dynamics might enhance our daily lives and how the right kinds of conflict may have merit on their own. At home, it appears, a resilient fighter can help a partner overcome a difficult childhood; at work, research is showing that more tolerance for anger can make for a more productive team.
This isn’t to say that all fighting is good. Hostility run amok, with name-calling and screaming, is counterproductive. Violence is worse yet. But this emerging research offers the heartening suggestion that conflict with other people — which is, after all, an inevitable part of social life — doesn’t have to mean a breakdown in relations. When done right, in fact, it can often mean just the opposite."
So, conflict done right can be a good thing. Knowing how to constructively engage in conflict is a discussion for another day.
As usual, I look for the link to my writing. Conflict is essential to a story. Throwing characters into the middle of a conflict will keep things moving. Whether they fight well or poorly can seal their fate - and ours.
Friday, May 20, 2011
Conflict is easy to start. Mix people with different backgrounds, goals, values and ambitions. Add doses of love, lust, jealousy, anger and greed, then stir. The next thing you know, your characters are dropping like flies when they're not jumping from bed to bed.
But nothing drives conflict better than the gap between what one person hears and the other person means. What we hear and how we interpret it is influenced by all those differences and emotions. We look for words and meanings that fit with our own narrative, accepting what we like, rejecting the rest. That is the stuff of conflict and great stories.
Unlike fiction, where bad guys can be held to account and all wrongs can be righted by the last page, the real world is a lot messier. But the same rules about conflict apply. President Obama's speech on the Middle East is just the latest example. Everyone who has commented on the speech heard the same words but the words meant different things, depending on the listener. Jeffrey Goldberg, one of the best writers and thinkers on the subject, blogs about this for The Atlantic, posting and commenting on the wildly different responses to the speech.
All of which leads me to one of the most important rules of conflict. Not all conflicts can be resolved. Sometimes the best you can hope for is to manage the conflict in a way that minimizes the harm it causes. Unless you're a writer. In which case, you can do any damn thing you want. One more reason I love my job.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Check out Amazon's Top 100 Bestsellers in Kindle Ebooks and you will find prices ranging from 99 cents to $12.99. Most of the books in the top 50 sell for prices above $5 and many sell for close to $10. Most are written by established, big name writers whose books are published by traditional publishers. As you go deeper into the list, there are more books priced at 99 cents.
Amazon has bestseller lists for every genre. The prices of the top 20 books on the Mystery & Thrillers list are also at high end of the spectrum. But the 99 cent books start popping up in the top 21-40 listed books. While I haven't made a detailed survey, it looks this trend holds in the other genre lists. The narrower the genre, the more likely it is that a book priced at $2.99 or less will make it onto the bestseller list.
So what are my takeaways? Much of the growth in ebook sales is driven by sales of traditionally published books. Self-published authors can leverage low prices to overcome lack of name recognition. Readers are more likely to take a chance on an author they aren't familiar with if the price is lower. Makes sense.
Until you read this story. Diane Duane's book wasn't gaining a lot of traction at $1.99 so she raised the price to $4.99 and it took off.
What's that mean? What does a 99 cent price say about the value of a book? Should a self-publisher use the low price to introduce a book and then raise the price? Or, should a self-publisher charge a higher price to attract buyers who will think a book priced between $3 and $5 is a better value because of the higher price?
Let me know what you think. I'm still trying to decide how to price my ebooks, beginning with MOTION TO KILL, which I'm launching in June.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
A great plot is essential to a story because it moves the story forward, adding suspense, mystery and intrigue. While a good plot will keep a reader interested, it won't make the reader CARE as much as great characters will.
Readers will invest in those characters whether they sympathize and identify with them or whether they fear and loathe them. Either way, the reader cares what happens and wants to understand why the characters are the way they are.
All of which is preface to trying to make sense of the Arnold Schwarzenegger story. My take is based on a terrific book, Mistakes Were Made But Not By Me, written by two real psychologists. They focus on cognitive dissonance, the uncomfortable feeling of simultaneously holding conflicting ideas or beliefs.
In a case like this, Arnold may have simultaneously believed that he loved his wife and that he wanted to have sex with this other woman. To resolve his cognitive dissonance, he may have utilized self justification to rationalize his behavior, e.g., "I'm entitled because of who I am," "My wife doesn't understand me," etc.
Of course, there is another possible explanation. The guy is a total asshole. Some people just are and it's no more complicated than that. But who am I to say for sure? This psychology stuff can get too complicated even for a writer.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
These are our dogs, Roxy and Ruby, cockapoo sisters born on Valentine's Day. Roxy is the white one on the right smiling for the camera. Ruby isn't smiling because she doesn't have to. She's the boss.
Last night, Roxy was sleeping peacefully in the dog bed on our den floor. Ruby decided she wanted Roxy out of the bed. She sat next to the bed, staring at Roxy, not making a sound, until her silent "get-your-dog-butt-out-of-the-bed" vibe woke Roxy who, reluctantly but obediently, made way for her sister.
No words, growls or barks were exchanged. No threats or promises were made and no shots were fired. Each knew their place. Not a bad world for the two of them. Although, were it me, I'd rather be Ruby than Roxy.
You'll find them in my series featuring former FBI Special Agent Jack Davis, beginning with SHAKEDOWN and continuing in THE DEAD MAN and NO WAY OUT because a book without a dog is like a day without sunshine.
Monday, May 16, 2011
Like a lot of jokes, there's an element of truth in that smart-ass answer. The true part is that I get a lot of my ideas just by paying attention to the world around me, listening and keeping my eyes open. I don't consider that stealing. I consider it part of my job as a writer.
I read an article in yesterday's New York Times about how the Army Corps of Engineers is opening flood gates that will flood the Atchafalaya Basin, the heart of Cajun country, in an effort to avoid even worse flooding elsewhere. The reporter asked one local resident why he lived in a place that was subject to this kind of flooding. Here's what that person said:
"It's where we was raised. Where my daddy was raised. Where we make our living. Why you are here is something you never even think about. You are this place."
That's one of the best pieces of dialogue I've come across in a long time. It's honest, real and heartfelt. And it's one of the best descriptions of how place can become a character in a story.
I tore that out of the newspaper and stuck it in my wallet and now I have to find a way to put those words in the mouth or mind of one of my characters without committing plagiarism. Maybe my character will have read the article and the quote will have stuck with him/her as much as it has stuck with me.
I collect this kind of stuff and some of it is a lot easier to find a way to use than others. I'm still looking for a way to use one of my all time favorite headlines - It's Raining Tadpoles in Japan. Let me know if you've got a good suggestion.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Indie writers John Locke (350,000 copies sold Jan. 1-March 8, 2011 at 99 cents each) and Amanda Hocking (sold 450,000 copies of her 9 books in January 2011 alone) should pass the million mark sometime this year. I wonder if Amazon will treat their success with the same acclaim as the others or whether success will be defined differently for them.
How will the rest of us define success if we don't sell a million copies of our books in a million years? Will it be enough to say to ourselves that we've written a good book and the rest is up to the fates? How many positive reviews will it take until we feel validated? How many copies will we have to sell before we have that Sally-Field-You-Like-Me moment? Or, will we declare victory when our royalties exceed our expenses?
I've used all of those yardsticks at one time or another to measure my success and been pleased with the results even though I've yet to clutter the bestseller lists or scout out a place in Scottsdale, AZ for the winter. I did, however, buy a new pair of Skecher Shape-Ups this week.
Numbers are nice and, when they have dollar signs and lots of zeros, they're even nicer. But nothing beats loving what you do and I love to write. That people will pay good money to read what I write is priceless. But if you really want me to have that place in Scottsdale one day, I won't stand in your way when you buy my books!
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
The crime scene is more than the chalk outline marking where the victim falls. It's the world surrounding that pale silhouette, spreading out in uneven ripples from the perimeter cordoned off with yellow tape to the metes and bounds of the jurisdiction that investigates and prosecutes the offense to the ill-defined society that wittingly or not harbors a killer in its midst.
The place where these overlapping scenes congeal and conspire is as alive and organic as any flesh and blood character. It makes and breaks promises, rewards strength and punishes weakness. It fills hearts with hope and drains them without a backward glance. Done right, place becomes a central character, casting heroes and villains against a geographic backdrop, driving the action as surely as any twitchy trigger finger.
My books take place in my hometown of Kansas City where my family has lived for a hundred years. One of my great-grandfathers left Poland in 1881 for the New World under cover of darkness rather than marry the girl his parents had chosen for him, settling in Kansas City for reasons lost to time. Another great-grandfather, also from Eastern Europe, ran a grocery store in Alaska during the gold rush, later deciding to move to Kansas City because it was in the center of the country. My grandfather and a friend, down on their luck during the Depression, asked Kansas City's legendary boss, Tom Pendergast, for permission to sell the scrap from the construction of Bagnel Dam at the Lake of the Ozarks, giving birth to a salvage business that lasted more than forty years.
Originally nothing more than a trading post at the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas rivers, in 1838 the founders decided against naming it Possum Trot, settling for the more visionary Town of Kansas, later incorporating it as Kansas City in 1850. Once a wide-open town known for speakeasies, jazz and corrupt machine politics, everything has always been up to date in Kansas City. Mindful of its wooly past, Kansas City has a hard edge and soft heart. It's diversity and fascinating history make it a character with many faces.
One of the best sports columnists ever, Joe Posnanski, wrote for the KC Star for many years before moving on to Sports Illustrated. He wrote a piece published in today's Star talking about how Kansas City became his home and how hard it is for him to leave. Reading it made me feel good not only about making Kansas City a character in my books, it made me glad to call it home.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
My condition is a movement disorder called tics and bears some resemblance to Tourette's Syndrome with which people are more familiar. The cause and cure fall under the heading of known unknowns.
I don't let this condition define me. I do my best each day to get the most out of each day, complaining as little as possible and only to my wife in our quiet moments. Complaining doesn't change anything and takes too much energy which is often a commodity in short supply. And I never forget that there are many people whose burdens are far heavier than mine.
An article in the Science Section in today's New York Times makes the point. The article is an interview with Stephen Hawking, perhaps the most influential physicist of our time, who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) at the age of 21, a condition that usually is fatal within 5 years. Hawking is now 69. When asked by the reporter what advice he had for those with disabilities, he said: "... concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit, as well as physically."
Lest you think that's easier said than done, here's how he communicates with the world: "Mostly paralyzed, he can speak only through a computerized voice simulator. On a screen attached to his wheelchair, commonly used words flash past him. With a cheek muscle, he signals an electronic sensor in his eyeglasses to transmit instructions to the computer. In this way he slowly builds sentences; the computer transforms them into the metallic, otherworldly voice familiar to Dr. Hawking’s legion of fans."
And when describing the special joys of scientific discovery, he said: “I wouldn’t compare it to sex, ....but it lasts longer.”
This is a man who knows how to live. And I thought it would be tough to come up with material for a blog! All I have to do is pay attention.
Monday, May 9, 2011
The article noted that most self-published authors end up in the same place as most print authors - oblivion. Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords was quoted as saying: “We have less than 50 people who are making more than $50,000 per year. We have a lot who don’t sell a single book...”.
When I first started writing in 1992, I learned the following: Agents reject 95-99% of what unknown, unpublished writers submit to them and publishers reject over 90% of what agents pitch to them. So getting published in those days was like shooting a BB through a lifesaver (pick your flavor). But I was able to do it, even though it took ten years.
And, as I write this post, my publisher plans to release another book of mine - in print - next March and is deciding whether to make an offer on another book I submitted to them. I have no complaints about traditional publishing. It's been good to me. My publisher agreed to publish my books. They didn't promise to make me a star. There are too many vagaries in the marketplace to predict who's going to end up on the NYT Bestseller list.
Self-publishing magnifies the risks and rewards for authors. We give up advances and all the editorial and marketing support our publishers provide in exchange for the opportunity to control our destiny and make more than we otherwise could. We incur upfront costs for covers, formatting, editing, etc. as part of the bargain. And we compete in an electronic marketplace so crowded that it makes standing out in your local Barnes & Noble look like a piece of cake.
So what is someone, like me, who's about to launch 4-5 ebooks this year, four of which have been previously published as original paperbacks, supposed to think. How am I supposed to become what my good friend Lee Goldberg happily calls a Kindle Millionaire?
All I can say is this - when I was practicing law, I never got a client I wanted that wasn't already represented by someone else; I'm a ten-year overnight success as a writer and my wife had a boyfriend when I met her. I'm mindful of the odds but not intimidated or discouraged by them.
I've got one other thing going for me - I write damn good books!
Friday, May 6, 2011
THAT'S THE GOOD NEWS! Because now I have the exciting opportunity to release them again. But what to call them? How to describe them? I got an email the other day from another writer who nailed it, calling these books "remastered". It's the perfect term because of the process I've been going through getting them ready for their second act.
My publisher no longer had the electronic files for the first two books and wanted too much money for the files for the last two books. My buddy Lee Goldberg recommended I use Blue Leaf Book Scanning Service to scan the books and create Word files, which I did for the incredible low price of $30/book. The conversion process resulted in a lot of errors that required careful proofreading which meant that I had to read these books again for the first time in years. I don't know how other writers feel about reading their books, but once I'm finished, I'm finished. The joy is in the process and when the book hits the shelves (real or virtual), I rarely dip into it and never read the whole thing.
Once I began editing Motion To Kill, my latent OCD tendencies blossomed and I couldn't resist doing a start to finish edit, fixing the quirks of my early writing and correcting the mistakes that many careful and devoted readers have shared with me over the years. I have always said that anyone who paid $7 for one of my books had every right to point out my mistakes but that there was no prize for whomever found the most errors! BTW - the same will hold true for the ebook edition notwithstanding the much lower price!
So now I think of these books as remastered originals - fresher, sharper and current. It's like getting a do-over with my kids!
Thursday, May 5, 2011
As a mystery writer, I explore the human condition by starting with this question: What happens when things go wrong, especially when we think no one is watching? That question has implications for both plot and character, but the real answer is that it depends on what happens in our brains.
We've all been taught that our ability to reason is what separates us from other animals and that the reason we reason is to figure things out. Mystery writers depend on readers who want to do exactly that, and many do, though there are plenty of other reasons to love the genre. But, we may be wrong about why we reason.
Jonah Lehrer writes some of the best pieces on these topics in a blog for Wired titled The Frontal Cortex. His latest post, The Reason We Reason highlights a new theory of reasoning by a couple of guys named Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber who hypothesize that the function of reasoning is argumentative, to devise and evaluate arguments intended to persuade and not to figure things out and make good decisions.
That could explain a lot, beginning with why so many of us are second-guessers, quick to challenge even the most well-established facts if they don't fit comfortably with our world view. A couple of recent situations prove the point.
Some people who don't believe President Obama is an American citizen were unpersuaded by the release of his long-form birth certificate, arguing (reasoning?) that it could be a fake. I wonder if some of these people are also demanding the release of the photographs of Osama Bin Laden's body to prove that he's really dead.
Like I said, the brain is an interesting place to hang out.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Yesterday, the Top Suspense Anthology hit #1 on the Kindle Bestseller List for Mystery Anthologies (out of 100 ranked anthologies). I'm fortunate to be one of the twelve authors who formed the Top Suspense Group to give readers of ebooks a reliable source for outstanding thriller, suspense, mystery, horror and western fiction. We published the anthology to share our work and let readers know where to find us. The entire project - from idea to publication took about 3 months. THIS NEVER COULD HAVE HAPPENED WITH A TRADITIONAL PUBLISHER. Thanks to everyone who made us bestsellers!
Today, The Dead Man - Hell In Heaven goes on sale on Amazon. It's the third installment in The Dead Man series created by my good friend, Lee Goldberg and his writing partner, Bill Rabkin. Written in the tradition of Stephen King and men's action novels, it's an action-packed, sexy, horror, gore and humor fest. Best of all, Lee and Bill have signed up a stable of fantastic writers (including, I humbly note, me) to write future installments. Again, it only took a few months from inception to publication of the first book in the series, The Dead Man - Face of Evil. Like Top Suspense, it's a great opportunity to do something different with people I like and respect. THIS NEVER COULD HAVE HAPPENED WITH A TRADITIONAL PUBLISHER.
These are perfect examples of why this is such an exciting time to be a writer. And, best of all, readers agree and are making these books bestsellers. We'll keep writing as long as you keep reading. You can't beat that deal!
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Welcome to What’s Shaking – a blog about what’s going on. I chose the name because there’s a whole lot of shaking going on these days – some I write about, some I live with and some I watch and wonder “what the hell we’re they thinking?”
Ebooks have shaken and stirred the publishing world like nothing since the Gutenberg press. There’s never been a more exciting time to be a writer or a time when writers have had more opportunities and control over their careers. I’ll keep you posted on the latest developments.
I wrote my first book, Motion To Kill in 1992, introducing Lou Mason, and became a ten-year overnight success when Kensington published it in 2002 as a Pinnacle paperback. Nearly ten years later, I’m riding that high again with the release of the ebook version only this time, I’m driving the bus and you can’t beat the feeling! Well, actually I can and will when I release the ebook versions of the next three books in the Lou Mason series, The Last Witness, Cold Truth and Deadlocked in the coming months. And I’ll do it again later this year when I release my next novel, Stone Cold, featuring Public Defender Alex Stone who demands justice with a vengeance. Check in regularly to find out what’s happening in my writer’s world.
Like I said, some of the shaking is personal. I have a movement disorder called tics, which is similar to Tourette’s syndrome. It’s not life threatening or life shortening but it is life annoying, making me shake, rattle and roll. I never ask “why me?” Instead, I ask myself each day, what now? How am I going to make sure I get the most out of life and not let this neurological glitch define me? So come along for the ride and see where it goes.
The world can be a crazy, upside down, exasperating, exhilarating place. I’ll give you my take on the stuff that makes me shake, smile or just scratch my head.
Stick around and let me know what you think.