Saturday, December 1, 2012


Frank Zafiro has been the #1 ranked Police Procedural author on Amazon and is currently #8 in that category.  That's pretty solid for a guy who spends his days working for the police department in the state of Washington.  He also spent 5 years working in  Military Intelligence for the U.S. Army .  All I know is the guy spends most of his time atop the best sellers ranking for all sorts of thrillers.  With all of his experience in law enforcement I thought it would be good to find out how reality differs from modern day fiction.  He should know, because he's obviously really good at both of these professions.   

 1- As a major in the police department, what’s the most common mistake fiction writers make when portraying members of the police force?

I think there are always procedural mistakes that occur, but it is impossible to be 100% accurate. Procedural requirements vary from state to state and change as time goes on, due to case law. So I think those mistakes are pretty forgivable.

One mistake I see more often in movies than in crime fiction (but it drives me crazy) is when an officer or detective pulls out his gun and, if it's an automatic, racks the slide. This is a huge error. Wyatt Earp may have rested on an empty chamber but in today's world, every cop's gun is "hot." That is, a round is always in the chamber. I know they do this in films for effect, and it works, but it drives me nuts.

Probably the biggest mistake, though, is that they treat cops as caricatures rather than realizing that this is just another person, like all the rest of us. Maybe he's tougher, maybe he's not. Maybe he has a good heart and maybe he's cruel. But being a cop doesn't make him something more or less than human. It's a job. It comes with training and unpleasant experiences and terrible authority and responsibility...but it's a job. It isn't the man.

2- Without exposing names or places, can you describe a scenario when a real life situation found its way into one of your novels?

If you read my short story "Baker-124", that's a pretty good example. I fictionalized it by sending the cop alone to the call, as well as making him a returning veteran from the wars in the Middle East. But the scenario -- checking the welfare of a small girl in a run down apartment building -- was very real, and it is the closest thing to a true event that I've written.

Now, don't get it excited. It isn't a shootout or anything like that. It is more of an emotional ride. But worth it. The story is in my collection, The Cleaner.

As far as novels go, there is a scene in my first one, Under a Raging Moon, in which a female officer encounters a body builder with anger issues that is going to go back to prison if he's arrested...and she has to try to talk him into the cuffs without a fight, while at the same time being willing to fight if necessary. This kind of call happens to just about every cop, but I had an incident a buddy of mine encountered when I wrote the scene.

3- Most authors have day jobs and dream of writing fulltime. Is that a goal of yours, and if so, how close are you to achieving that goal?

Guilty, your honor. As much as I love my career in law enforcement and am proud of the men and women I serve with, I was a writer in my heart long before I wore a badge. Being a full time writer is my goal, and like most people out there, it's a difficult goal to achieve all on your own, without any other income streams. I'm lucky enough to have a wife who is supportive of the idea and the time may come when we can make the leap. Worst case scenario, I can retire in about six years, and that will be my retirement "job."

4- What gave you the inspiration to publish on Amazon—and did you pursue other avenues first?

I've tried to get published by the big publishers, but was unsuccessful. I have had novels published with three different small presses, with varying degrees of success (regarding sales) and widely divergent experiences. Publishing independently on Amazon was something I initially rejected because of the historic stigma attached to it. But after watching the phenomenon evolve into a legitimate avenue, and doing my research, I decided that it was definitely a viable option. So I took the plunge.

You could say I'm "diversified" when it comes to publishing. My River City novels are published in print by Gray Dog Press, but I independently published the ebooks and Books in Motion is publishing the audio books. My Stefan Kopriva series of mysteries is one hundred percent independently published in all mediums. Blood on Blood, which I wrote with Jim Wilsky, is published by Snubnose Press for the ebook, but Jim and I have independently published the paperback and audio. So I'm all over the map...or maybe I'm just a patata head, too.

5- Look into your crystal ball and tell us what the publishing world will look like in 2017 and how will you fit into that world?

Wow. It's anybody's guess, right? The landscape is changing significantly every year. But I'll take a couple of guesses.

I think author's will become more powerful and more in control of their own work, but I do think that in place of the previous publisher/author relationship, more of a partnership will emerge. I think that publishing companies (as opposed to publishers) will offer services for hire or for royalty share, and the benefit to the author will be the expertise that the company offers, and perhaps the reputation of the company. Now, I know this is already happening, but I think the difference will be that the medium will evolve and become more complex (integrated mediums, links, mutiple mediums in one purchase) and may outstrip the average writer's ability to put together a topnotch product solo. Thus, this partnership will emerge.

I'm talking about the cutting edge of the products here. An ebook with links within and without the title, video and audio sequences, or an audio book version synced in, or whatever. This would be the equivalent of a Blu-Ray movie. Could an authors still put out a book that is the equivalent of a DVD movie? That is, a simpler, straightforward story with no bells and whistles?

I sure hope so.

But I think we'll see a drift toward more interactivity.

I also see things become more author-centric (not just the marketing, which it always has been, but the financial model, too). I think authors will form more co-ops, where they offer each other editing services, maybe get a group rate with a cover artist, help cross-market each others work. Again, this is already out there, but I see it becoming far more prevalent.

That's about all I've got when it comes to predictive powers. Not exactly earth-shattering, I know.

Where do I fit in? Right here, telling stories. Wanna hear one?

Saturday, November 10, 2012


I feel like I've known L.J. Sellers for a long time, yet in this digital age of publishing a long time is a couple of years.  Sometimes you wonder whether the person on the other end of the computer monitor is really a friend or just someone angling for attention, but with L.J. I've never felt anything but warm, honest interaction without  strings attached.
L.J. Sellers is the author of the bestselling Detective Jackson mysteries along with several other stand alone thrillers.  She began her writing career as a client of Al Zuckerman with Writers House Literary Agency and has recently signed an 11 book contract with Amazon's publishing house, Thomas and Mercer.  Eleven books?  That's confidence. 
Right now a lot of authors are debating whether to go through the painstaking process of getting an agent and a publishing contract or going straight to Indieville.  We all want to do what's right for our careers.  I asked L.J for her insight because she's been an Indie and a traditionally published author, so she can speak from both sides of the fence.     
Here's L.J.—

1- At what point in your writing career did you sense that you could actually survive on the money you made from writing books?

I’d been writing novels for twenty years, then in 2010 everything changed. First I was laid off my journalism job, then ebooks started to really sell and Joe Konrath was blogging about making money on Kindle. I decided that if he could do it, so could I, and I set a goal of earning a living from ebooks by the end of 2011—giving myself a year. Then I did a month-long promotional push in October that really paid off, and by Christmas, I knew I was done freelancing. At that point, I realized the most cost-effective thing I could do was to write another novel. And that’s still holding true.
2- You've had a stellar career as an independent author, what persuaded you to sign with Thomas an Mercer?
Being an indie author—writer, publisher, and marketer—is exhausting! And the ups and downs of ebook sales can be nerve wracking. Winter/holiday sales are terrific, but in August, the money can get tight. More important, I believe Amazon will take my career to a new level. Its marketing clout is unparalleled, and I’ll be able to reach thousands of readers who have never heard of me. And with Amazon taking some of the production and marketing off my shoulders, I’ll have more time to write…and spend with my family. I don’t want to work 70 hours a week forever.

3- As a client of T&M, did you ever get the sense that Amazon is plotting to take over the publishing world?  Be honest, you saw Jeff Bezos rubbing his hands together when the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Apple and five publishers for price fixing, right?
A lot of readers and writers were quietly cheering when the DOJ filed that suite. Big Publishing has been dominating the industry and colluding to keep prices high for decades. Jeff Bezos may dream of dominating publishing (he hasn’t confided in me yet), or he may just be a very competitive and successful bookseller who will end up at the top of the pile. If this were a different industry, he would be more respected than feared. But a lot of people have an emotional attachment to physical books and to bookstores, and the thought of losing either is difficult for them.

But blaming Bezos for the decline of physical books is like blaming the president for declining employment. We have fewer jobs now mostly because of technology and outsourcing—machines are doing the work that people used to do. We have fewer bookstores now because of technology—people are buying ebooks and reading on their devices, many of which are not made by Amazon. Change is disruptive, and if legacy publishing wants to compete, it has to innovate, rather than collude.
4- What's the best choice for a new writer right now?  Traditional or Indie?

For most authors, the traditional publishing route is a dead end. You can send query letters for decades and never land an agent or a contract—even if you’re really talented. Agents, editors, and successful legacy authors perpetuate the myth that if you’re talented and tenacious, you’ll eventually break through. They forget to add “or die trying.” The odds are against you. If you’re the kind of person who buys lottery tickets, go ahead, give traditional publishing a shot. But if you’re the kind of person who makes lists and goals and gets things done, then you might as well take charge of your writing too and self-publish.

5- What will the publishing industry look like 5 years from now?  And will I be alive to see that?
Five years? You’d better be around, Gary! I certainly plan to be. A lot of pundits say the rate of change in the industry will escalate and that within five years, the landscape will change completely again, but I don’t think that’s true. We already see a slowing in ebook growth—but that’s a slowdown in growth, not a slowdown in actual sales or adoption, which is still increasing. But reading-only devices will give way to tablets, and in five years, they may be almost as common as cell phones.

I think Amazon will continue to dominate the ebook market, at least for a few years. And it will sign more and more bestselling authors as they leave legacy publishing for a more profitable future. But Big Publishers are making changes too, consolidating, getting ebooks out faster, and streamlining their overhead and distribution structures, so a few players will survive. But most indie bookstores won’t make it, and B&N will have to expand into more retail goods, because most fiction will be read digitally.
But it seems inevitable that the growth in the number of indie authors will slow down too. Fewer unprofessional authors will jump in with their first book when they realize the investment required and the lack of immediate return.

In that same vein, it seems that Amazon will eventually streamline Kindle Direct Publishing and start vetting books just to keep some of the absolute crap from clogging up their website. Someone will create a software program that can scan submissions and reject anything with a lack of grammar and punctuation. And I think all the digital distributors will start to drop books that don’t sell. Once their inventory hits a certain point, quality over quantity will become a factor.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


It's merely days since Hurricane Sandy devastated New York City and NY Times bestselling author Chris Pavone is huddled up in a conference room where his wife works because the electricity is out at his place.  What's he doing there?  He's answering questions for this blog.  Bravo, Chris.  We hope all is well with your family.

Chris is the author of The Expats, which debuted on the New York Times bestseller list immediately upon publication in March 2012. I read this book myself and found it fascinating.  Chris grew up in Brooklyn, graduated from Cornell, and was an editor at a variety of book-publishing houses that included Doubleday, Crown, and Artisan, most notably as executive editor at Clarkson Potter. He spent a year and a half as an ex-pat in Luxembourg, but once again lives with his wife and children in a very flooded New York City.

1- Your main characters in “The Expats,” Kate and Dexter, are a married couple with lots of secrets.  Was it hard to keep everything straight?  And did you actually have to keep extensive notes to maintain control?
Yes, and yes. To help me organize the plot I maintained a couple of invaluable documents. The most basic was a list of a dozen reveals that I wanted to present to reader over the course of the story; the list enabled me to easily play around with their sequence, which I did frequently over the course of writing different drafts. The more extensive document was a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline—the action, the characters, the questions I wanted to dangle in front of readers, the answers I wanted to dole out slowly. These documents were always open on my laptop along with the manuscript’s file.
2- Luxembourg is as much of a character as Kate and Dexter.  How well do you know the country?

Most of the crucial plot elements of The Expats are completely made-up. But some important aspects of the story, and all of the atmosphere, are true. In 2008, I left behind my career and my home to follow my wife’s job to Luxembourg. While she worked a demanding, time-consuming, and travel-intensive job, my existence was very similar to Kate’s: taking care of small children, learning to live in a foreign country and a different language, reinventing myself as someone without a career, without the self-definition I’d lived with for the entirety of my adult life. This is a central theme of the book: reinvention. For me—and for my protagonist—this takes place in the rainy cobblestoned expat-heavy city of Luxembourg.

3- It seems everyone is a spy and no one trustworthy.  How fun was it to work with an unreliable narrator at times?

Unreliable narrators offer wonderful opportunities for tremendous paradigm shifts in a story; I love them. And in my first draft of The Expats, Kate was in fact much more unreliable: readers didn’t learn her most important secret until the last page of the book. But I became worried that if the protagonist was this outlandishly unreliable, I was creating too much distance, too much dishonesty, between reader and storyteller; it might be an unsatisfying read, difficult to connect with. So I backed away a bit from that unreliability, and hope I found an intriguing balance between compelling engagement and exciting surprise.

4- The Expats seems to have found an audience on both sides of the Atlantic.  Where do you spend the majority of your promotional time?

I’ve done roughly equal numbers of events and media in America and in Europe; there are fifteen different editions of the book being published in as many languages, and the bulk of these publishers are in Europe. But I’ve also spent as much promotional time in that untethered international space of the digital world.

5- How has the digital age affected the way you promote the book?  Or has it?

In America slightly more than half of The Expats’ sales have been digital units, and probably the same proportion of my promotional time has also been digital, mostly in the form of writing essays, articles, and odds-and-ends—dozens and dozens of individual pieces—to websites of one sort or another. I worked in publishing for nearly two decades before writing this first novel of mine, and I’m comfortable with the processes, with the business as a whole. But I’ve always been intimidated by the promotional aspects. It’s one thing to sit by yourself in a quiet room, typing; it’s altogether another to stand in front of a crowded room—whether a physical room in a bookstore, or a virtual room on a website—talking about your book and your life. I was prepared for the talks and readings and signings in bricks-and-mortar venues, but I’m astounded at the amount of time I’ve spent in the digital world. I’m writing this in the days immediately following Hurricane Sandy. For a few days we haven’t had electricity in our apartment in downtown New York, so my children and I are sitting in a conference room at sparsely populated Random House (my wife works here, but most employees haven’t been able to make it to Midtown); the kids are reading on e-readers, and I’m writing a few hundred words for a book blog, neither of which would’ve been conceivable just a few years ago.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


So you've passed all the hurdles that seem to block your path to publication and you're finally a published author.  Congrats.  Now the publisher asks you the question they will ask every author when they offer a contract.  "What will you do to promote your book?"
Well, of course, you'll immediately tell them how many followers you'll accumulate on Facebook and Twitter.  And how active you'll be online to promote your work.  But is that really effective?

I've assembled a group of three prominent authors who use social networking sites to do a variety of things, including as a promotional tool.  Claude Bouchard is an Indie author who publishes thrillers.  He has almost 300,000 Twitter followers.  Luke Romyn publishes a darker type of thriller and he has over 225,000 Twitter followers.  Our third guest is Bob Mayer, who is a NY Times bestselling author who's sold over 4 million books worldwide.  He has over 10,000 Twitter followers himself.

None of these writers go online strictly to sell books.  As a matter of fact I can say with complete certainty they enjoy their time being socially active with writers and readers alike.  I asked them five questions which might help understand how effective social networking really is anymore.

Claude Bouchard
Here they are:                                                                 

 1- How many books do you suspect you sell each month as a direct result of Facebook or Twitter, or any other online site?

Claude Bouchard:   I’m pleased to see you’re starting with an easy question, Gary. The honest and correct answer is, “I don’t have a clue.” I do have people occasionally telling me they just bought one of my books but most don’t. Twitter and Facebook are communication mediums which have definitely served me well in getting my name out there as an author. I have no doubt this has resulted in some direct book sales but it has also led to network development with writers, bloggers and other creative types. Social media has opened doors to interviews, such as this one, book reviews, hell, I even found an agent along the way for a time, though that’s a subject best not discussed on a public forum. All of the above contribute to generating sales and all stem from social media. If you insist on a specific number of monthly sales directly attributable to Twitter and Facebook, I’ll go with the Doug Adams theory of 42.

Luke Romyn
Luke Romyn:  Such a question is near-impossible to answer without direct confirmation from each individual buyer. Quite often people will claim to have bought books when they haven’t – for whatever reasons, I’m never sure why – whereas many remain anonymous, and I have no idea if sales are from my networking, other means of marketing, or mere happenstance.

I’d love to think thousands of sales are a direct result of my salesman skills on Twitter, but reality dictates this is probably not the case. What my time online does create is an online presence which radiates out like a great spider web, hopefully building momentum along the way and gathering notice from those who matter: my readers.

Bob Mayer:  Very few. Overall, I feel few books get sold that way, but when there is a special promo or FREE, social media can help get the word out there. Social media can be useful for other purposes such as promoting a workshop or conference.

Bob Mayer

2- Do you notice a significant drop-off in sales when you’re away from these sites?

CB: A year or so ago, I would have answered yes to that question without hesitation. Since, thanks to continually growing exposure, successful promotions and so on, my monthly sales have increased by as much as 2000% and a certain level of sustainability seems to have made its way into the equation. I should probably send the Amazon algorithm a thank you note.

LR:  I would like to think so. I spend significant time on these sites promoting my books along with networking and it would be extremely demoralizing to think I was just wasting my time. However, that said, on a recent trip to Vietnam where it was impossible to log in every day, I didn’t notice any great drop-off in sales. However, I had some wonderful friends on Twitter and Facebook (whom I’d met through networking) who promoted my books while I was away. So rather than sales as a direct result of posting about my books, perhaps the sales are more of a cumulative effect of long hours of getting to know people and they in turn recommend your writing.

BM:  No. In July I was on deadline and had to do a lot of writing so I spent very little time on social media and I saw no difference in sales.

3- How much time do you spend on social networks each day?

CB:  Hmm? Hard to say. PC is on from around 6:00am until 5:00pm and I open tabs for Twitter, Facebook, email, website, etc. They are up all day but I’m not active on them at all times. I do a fair bit of tweeting, chatting with people, promoting my work to a lesser extent and that of others to a greater one. I’ve sent an average of 146 tweets per day since joining in August 2009 so a cumulative two to three hours daily is a fair guess.
LR:  Far too much. After a while it becomes a near-addiction, and even though I might not be Tweeting or Facebooking I might still be lurking in the shadows of the networks, seeing what’s going on in my absence. Now that I say it like that it sounds kind of creepy. Hmm....
A better answer, however, would be that I have my sites open whenever I’m on a computer, so that while I’m writing or editing I often check up on things, and if something piques my interest I’m likely to chime in. The trick with this, however, is to avoid getting dragged away from your writing into the magnetic abyss that is social networking, and before you know it hours have passed and not a word of worth has been writ.

 BM:  After attending the Discoverability Conference in NY, I am now focusing time on Facebook and Goodreads. I'd say around an hour a day.

4- For you, what is the most significant benefit to being socially active online?

 CB:  As discussed above, I don’t believe the bulk my book sales are the direct result of Twitter and Facebook activities. However, my presence on these platforms, particularly Twitter, where I now have close to 300,000 followers, has certainly helped getting myself known. Let’s be realistic. If I had published my seven novels as I did but had never linked up to social media and simply let the books try to sell themselves, I doubt I’d be selling even half a dozen units per month. Being present, being visible on Twitter, Facebook, interview blogsites and the like are all elements which have played a role in my growing success as an author. What I believe is key is actually being ‘socially’ active versus continually shouting ‘BUY MY BOOKS’.

 LR: I have met so many people in the writing industry who have selflessly helped me along the way. Not just other writers, but editors, publishers, marketers, and readers, many of whom have assisted me in ways I could never have imagined. Doors have been opened and contacts made through the simple tapping on a keyboard to a stranger on the other side of the planet. Not all of these contacts are of benefit right now, but who’s to say where things may lead in the future.

During a recent contract negotiation, for example, I was presented with a proposal for foreign translation and rights. Everything seemed fine to me, but I passed it on to a networking friend who worked for a very large foreign publisher, asking if she could look it over for me. She in turn passed it on to one of their main contract specialists who went through it with a fine-toothed comb, finding that while it was completely legitimate in its claims, some of the clauses were open to a great deal of interpretation in the eyes of the law. I pointed these out to the publisher and he was able to amend the contract in a way that suited us both. If I’d never met my friend through Twitter she would have never been there to help me and I might have signed a contract I later regretted. Now I’m happy and confident with the decision I made, and all because I met someone through being socially active online.

 BM:  Not selling books but building platform. Making connections. However, a danger I see is the incestuous relationship where writers are only talking to other writers. I think we have to expand our networks.

5- Would you still choose to be as socially active if you were forced to use a pseudonym where no one would know your real name or which books you'd written?

CB: Under such circumstances, I would definitely be less socially active as any book or writing related discussions would be eliminated from my social media activities. To be clear, I wouldn’t be less social, simply less socially active.  

LR:  That’s an interesting question. I have a lot of friends in my life outside writing who use Facebook (not so many on Twitter, strangely enough) and I see the way they use social networking to chat and interact with people they see every day. This makes absolutely no sense to me, but seems to be the norm these days. The voyeuristic obsessions I see seem quite odd at times, and it’s probably why I prefer Twitter. I want to talk to people, to interact with them, rather than creeping around and sneaking a peek at their private lives wherever possible – but perhaps I’m just weird.

To answer your question though, while I don’t think I would be as active, I would definitely be on there in some way, shape, or form. As I’ve said previously, social networking is a wonderful way to meet people from all over the globe; there’s no other way that I’ve heard of that you can do that. I can get online and ask someone in Alaska what the condition of a certain road is like during winter and then incorporate such details into a novel. I can chat with a person in Russia about how life was during the fall of communism, and how dramatically their life changed. These are things I can’t discover unless I personally call someone on the phone or happen upon the exact phrase or setting I’m searching for on Google.

And it’s all for free.

BM:  I wrote under four pen names over the years. I've now consolidated them all under my own name, so this isn't an issue for me. If I had to write under a pen name, I think it would be almost fruitless to try to cover it and my own name. I have enough trouble with the fact I write in so many genres. On Goodreads I have to split my time between Thrillers and Science Fiction

Overall, I believe social media doesn't really sell books, but it does build platform. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but the vast majority of writers would be better served by writing more content, rather than more social media.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


I was first drawn to Alexandra Sokoloff by her book blurbs. I came upon them because one of her books was listed under the "Customers who bought this item, also bought," category on one of my book pages. She was very responsive to the idea of coming on the blog and I'm grateful to have her.

For those who don't know, Alexandra is the Award-winning author of the supernatural thrillers THE HARROWING, THE PRICE, THE UNSEEN, BOOK OF SHADOWS, and THE SPACE BETWEEN, and the new bestselling indie crime thriller HUNTRESS MOON. She is also a co-author of the paranormal KEEPERS series, with Heather Graham and Harley Jane Kozak. She is a Bram Stoker and Anthony Award nominee. The New York Times Book Review called her novels "Some of the most original and freshly unnerving work in the genre."

As a screenwriter, Alex has sold original thriller scripts and adapted novels for numerous Hollywood studios. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Writers Guild of America, west, and the board of the Mystery Writers of America.

In non-fiction, she is the author of SCREENWRITING TRICKS FOR AUTHORS (AND SCREENWRITERS!), and WRITING LOVE, workbooks based on her internationally acclaimed blog and workshops.

In her spare time (!) she performs with Heather Graham's all-author Slush Pile Players and dances every chance she gets.

1 - You tend to write dark, suspenseful, sometimes even paranormal thrillers. What drew you to the shadowy side of the genre?

I think that all authors – and all people, really – are only working with a handful of themes in their work and their lives, and one of my themes is the question of how to deal with the evil in the world, and what evil actually is – nature, nurture, something spiritual or a spiritual lack? How do we fight it? How do we survive and triumph? So the darker side of the genre draws me because it lets me explore those questions. And I have to attribute the slightly supernatural bent to my growing up in Berkeley, which is a kind of supernatural place!

 2 - You’ve received praise from writers like Michael Palmer to Lee Child. How did those wonderful testimonials come about?

It’s one of the most magical things for me about being an author – that authors I admire now read me, even when I don’t ask!

 But if you’re asking on a practical level:

A – I never ask an author for a quote unless I’m a die-hard fan of theirs. You have no idea how many people ask me for blurbs who don’t even know what genre I write in – they haven’t even done that much basic research. I’ve read everything Lee Child has ever written and I didn’t ask him for a quote until I’d written a book that I knew he could recommend to his own readers without reservation. It wouldn’t make sense for him to blurb a ghost story. You have to take those things into account.

B— I write a great letter.

C – I only ask once. Authors are crazy busy 24/7 and they do NOT need seven follow-up e mails asking them if they’ve read your book yet. Once an author has agreed to take a look and you’ve sent the book, leave it alone. An author will blurb your book if they have time and if they love it. Those are two big ifs.

3 - Is there a common denominator for any good thriller?

The name says it all – above all, a thriller has to thrill. Personally I read mystery, suspense and horror for the intensity of the experience – the adrenaline rush, the feeling of being involved in a high-stakes adventure with possibly earth-shattering consequences, so that’s what I strive to create in my books. And there’s also for me the good and evil thing that I talked about, above. I need that in the thrillers I read as well as the ones I write.

4 - You made the move from screenwriting to novels for creative reasons. Are you a control freak, or has Hollywood become too predictable?

I don’t think I’m a control freak like some control freaks I know! Any screenwriter can tell you horror stories about how nonsensical and degrading the film development process is – they don’t call it “development hell” for nothing. At a certain point I realized that if I ever wanted to do the work I knew I could do, write the stories I knew I was capable of writing, I would have to do it somewhere else. And I have never been so happy with a decision I’ve made, ever in my life.

5 - What is your opinion of the level of success some of the new crop of Indie writers have reached, and is that good for the industry?

Is it good for the industry? I don’t know, but I do think the rise of indie publishing is the best thing that’s ever happened for writers, and for readers too, I believe. No one has to indie publish, and probably they shouldn’t if they’re not up for the incredible amount of work it is, work that writers aren’t necessarily used to doing. You have to be up for running your own business, essentially. But to have that choice? It’s like being let out of prison. More income streams for writers, more creative choices – it’s all good.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Michael Prescott is a very accomplished author with over one million print books sold and now over a million ebooks sold as well.  Staggering numbers from a guy who began his career back in 1986 writing horror novels under a pseudonym.  He's been here before, but his career has really taken off and I wanted to explore his latest publishing endeavour.  He recently signed an agreement with Amazon's publishing company Thomas and Mercer.  It's a risky move for an independent with a lot of momentum, but as you'll see, he's excited about the opportunity.  Anyone out there who ever wondered if there were other options besides the Big 6 publishers should listen to Michael's story.

As with most writers I interview, I found him attentive and considerate.  Just a real down to earth guy who deserves all the attention he receives.  Thanks Michael for your time and your thorough answers:

1- Tell us about your newest release, Grave of Angels. It’s already inside the top 50 on the Kindle bestseller list. Did you expect to see this success so quickly? 

I didn't know what to expect. Some of my self-published books have climbed that high on the Kindle list, but it took time — a month or two, usually. This book is put out by Thomas & Mercer, a division of Amazon Publishing, and it has the force of Amazon's marketing behind it. And that makes a big difference!
As for the book itself, Grave of Angels is the story of Kaye Malick, a former Carmelite nun who runs a personal protection service for Hollywood stars. When hard-partying teenage celebutante Chelsea Brewer is kidnapped, Kate has to search the city's darkest corners in a desperate attempt to save the girl's life. The story takes place in the course of one frantic night, as the kidnapping plot is gradually revealed to be part of a complicated and deadly conspiracy.

2- Back in the 90's you were a traditionally published author who wrote under the name Brian Harper, then you became Michael Prescott and one of the first authors to go the Indie route with ebooks. How did your new agreement with Thomas and Mercer (Amazon's publishing house) come about?

My self-published ebooks have done very well — much better than I expected, and better, really, than I ever did in print. I've sold well over a million digital copies so far. As the sales added up, Amazon Publishing took notice. Acquisitions editor Maria Gomez contacted me, and we set up a phone call that involved Maria and other members of the Thomas & Mercer team. Initially I had some doubts about going with them, but the phone call convinced me that the experience would be different from my experiences in traditional publishing. Amazon is much more author-centered and really aims to deliver services to the author, rather than just treating the author as a resource. Their enthusiasm and the prospect of working with a new kind of publishing house convinced me to give it a shot.

3- So, after all these years of complete independence, did you have any concerns over losing artistic control?
I do like the independence of self-publishing, but on the other hand there can be advantages to working with a publishing house. In this case, I felt Grave of Angels could use the input of a professional editor, because it had gone through several drafts and still wasn't entirely satisfactory to me. Maria assigned a very good developmental editor to the book, a guy named David Downing, who was enormously helpful. Sometimes you need somebody to tell you where you've gone wrong. In that respect, I'm quite willing to give up a measure of artistic control, if it will make the book better — although Thomas & Mercer have gone out of their way to make sure that the final decisions are always left to me. And that includes not only the editing but also the cover art and promotional copy.

4- Was there trepidation about placing all of your eggs into the Amazon basket?
I had two main worries: first, they were acquiring these particular books effectively for term of copyright, meaning I will probably never get the rights back; and second, they don't want to put out ebooks on any platform other than the Kindle, for obvious reasons. I have a lot of readers who use the Nook and a few who use the Sony Reader, and I worried about disappointing them. But I decided those readers could always buy the paperback edition or download a free Kindle app. Admittedly it's less convenient for them, but the prospect of significantly expanding my readership through Amazon's marketing efforts was too tempting to pass up.

5- Okay, since you've probably done this yourself before you signed on with T&M, give us your best case scenario and your worst case scenario, five years from now. And what do you think the publishing world will look like?

I see the signing as a test case. It involves only two of my books, and one of them is a backlist title, The Shadow Hunter, which Amazon will reissue in September. I don't yet know how I'll handle the remaining titles in my backlist or any new books I put out. I want to see how it goes. There's something to be said for running the show yourself, but there's also something to be said for having the power of behind you, and working with professional editors and designers. Of course, I also don't know if Amazon will want to continue the relationship. Time will tell.
Five years from now? I don't think that far ahead! When I was younger, I used to worry about my future, but as I get older — I'm 51 now — I find it isn't very helpful to worry about best or worst case scenarios, since neither is likely to happen. Generally, we muddle through. If someone had told me ten years ago that my print career was going to collapse, I probably would have been in a panic, but as it turned out, it wasn't that big a problem. I made money doing something else, and when the ebooks took off, I made money on that. It all worked out. So don't worry — be happy.
As for the publishing world, I think ebooks will largely replace mass-market paperbacks, which are already suffering from diminished distribution. The main appeal of pocket-sized paperbacks is convenience, and ebooks are even more convenient. The other appeal is price, but ebooks will be cheaper, and even dedicated ebook reading devices will soon be cheap enough to qualify as an impulse buy. I also don't see a big future for hardcovers; they're too expensive. Once people get used to paying $4.99 or less for ebooks, they'll probably be unwilling to spend $30 or more for a hardcover, unless it's a coffee table book, a limited-edition collectible, or a finely illustrated children's book.
So is print doomed? No, I think trade paperbacks — large-format, so-called "quality" paperbacks — will survive and even flourish. Some of them will be put out by traditional houses, some will be put out by upstarts like Amazon, and some will be self-published print-on-demand titles. I also think the universe of readers will expand. There will be more variety in content, appealing to niches that nobody ever knew existed. All in all, it's a very good time to be a writer!

Thursday, August 9, 2012


Yesterday I received an email from a fellow writer announcing his resignation from the writing business.  By the way, he's not making a living from his writing.  Not even close.  Oh, he's a terrific writer with a history of publishing short stories in very reputable literary magazines and he's even had a literary agent for a while.  He's also never been seriously close to getting one of his novels published and that's where the frustrated email was born. (He's since backed off his threat to quit writing, but that doesn't diminish his intrinsically exacerbating situation.)

It's easy to see why he'd gotten here.  After all the publishing industry is about making money, not discovering new literary talent.  So if a publisher has a choice between a new author with some serious writing chops and the twentieth unauthorized Frank Sinatra biography, well, you see what I mean.  When an illiterate like Snooki gets a books deal, I think it's obvious traditional publishing has become a place for no-talent big names to get their book deals.  Think Kardashians and Paris Hilton.

So why do I bring this up when I've been doing quite well with my own little career writing thrillers?  Because many writers have been stuck in the old model of query an agent, get a publisher, then wait two years to see your book in print.  It's an antiquated system which rewards very few authors who wiggle their way through the hoops to get to their goal.  It also doesn't allow for writers to try new things.  If a new writer attempts to write a story in first person from several different people, it's considered edgy and too much of a risk.  Meanwhile Pulitzer Prize winner Cormac McCarthy can write an entire book without using quotation marks for dialogue and that's just fine.  Don't get me wrong, McCarthy is obviously an unbelievable writer, it's just that he makes money for the publisher, which means break any rules you'd like. 

So if you're a new writer, stay within the lines and don't stray too far from the norm.  In other words, don't get too creative, please.  And what about self-publishing?  Well, that's even more frustrating for newer writers because the pool has begun to fill up and now they're supposed to suddenly go from concentrating on writing to becoming an expert on formatting and marketing on the fly.  Or pay a large fee for someone else to do that for you.  Is this how the system should have gone?  No.  There was a time when publishers actively searched for new voices, then when they found him/her, they would throw some marketing money behind the book and get it off the ground.  But somewhere along the line they decided to go for the quick buck.  People like Kato Kaelin, (remember OJ's poolboy) who struck a $500,000 deal with St. Martin's Press were lurking in the alleys whispering to the industry with soft, alluring words of guaranteed profit.

Am I indicting the entire industry?  Of course not.  Am I suggesting publishers could have prevented a lot of this mass exodus toward independence by creative writers?  Sure.  I feel for my friends who have struggled to reach the masses and I will always champion their work.  Writing is the one profession where fellow competitors for the same readers would help each other whenever possible.  I've seen too many of my talented friends get lost in the shuffle and I hope the day will come where they can find their audience so I'll never get an email like the one I received yesterday.          

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Ann Charles is a rising star in the publishing world.  Just put her name in the Amazon search engine and you'll see exactly what I mean.  She is also a real treat to interview.  If you want to know about her writing style, just read her answers and you'll quickly understand why readers are flocking to her books.  She has two separate series going, one takes place in Deadwood, South Dakota, the other in my backyard, Jackrabbit Junction, Arizona.

 Ann was very gracious enough to spend a little time to play five questions with me and I think you'll be glad she did:

1- What’s a nice wholesome girl like you writing about a place called Deadwood, South Dakota?

 Okay, who’s going around spreading rumors that I’m wholesome and nice? Ha!

 I spent summers growing up in and around Deadwood, South Dakota, learning about the history of the place, daydreaming about what life used to be like in the Black Hills during the area’s rough and rowdy past. Several years ago, when I was back in Deadwood visiting my mom, who still lives there, a story idea hit me about a single mom of twins trying to make it on her own in a town full of colorful characters and a past that just won’t die. That was the birth of my Deadwood series, and I’m loving every minute of writing one book after another with many of the same characters and several new ones appearing along the way.

 2- Your protagonist, Violet Parker, is a single mother of twins—how is Violet different from you?

 While I’m a mom of two kids, I’m not a single mom, nor are my kids twins (whew!). I am lucky to get to tag-team with my husband and have down time to keep from pulling my hair out some days. I can’t imagine how single parents handle the constant responsibility of be “on” for their kids. I have tons of respect for parents raising children on their own, and that was at the forefront of my mind when I came up with Violet. I wanted a heroine whose strength is not necessarily in her ability to shoot a gun or kick the crap out of a bad guy, but rather more in her determination to keep standing while taking one hit after another.

 3- Tell us a little about your career path and how did your relationship with your agent stay afloat during your Indie phase?

 My agent grew as frustrated as I did with me making it “close” to getting a contract time and again only to be rejected for a book that wasn’t considered to be able to draw a big audience. Together, we decided to put it out without going through a New York publisher and let readers to determine if it could draw an audience or not. She’s been by my side throughout this whole venture and is loving seeing my success.

 4- Between work and family, when do you find time to write?

 I don’t sleep much. Ha! No, seriously, I don’t sleep much. I average about five hours a night for most of the work week, dragging my sorry hiney into work every day and slamming the caffeine throughout the day and into the evening. Once a week, I try to get seven or more hours of sleep to catch up a little. Then I’m back at it. Until I can afford to quit my day job, this is the routine. I would love to write/publish books faster, but three a year is my absolute max because my books average 100,000 words.

 5- With your experience writing about marketing, how do you see authors like yourself finding an audience in the future?

 Using whatever means they can get their hands on. There is no one thing that makes you successful. Building your empire takes a lot of time and hard work. You have to build with long-term in mind, focusing on different areas of your platform at different times. I have done everything from blog tours to writing articles, winning contests to buying ads. I have also given over 150,000 ebooks away through Amazon’s Kindle Select program. Somehow, you have to get visibility, and the competition is fierce for readers’ attention. You’re competing with television, movies, video games, other books, and more. I joke about all of the chickens I have sacrificed to the publishing gods to get my name out there, but it’s tough. Patience, persistence, determination, and a lot of stubbornness pays off.

Thank you, Gary, for the fun interview. I appreciate you having me on your site!