Novel sneak peek coming this week

I’m going to be a bit of a tease today, but I’m hoping you won’t mind. Because chaos at my newspaper job kept pushing back the release date of the first Exeter novel, “All That Is Necessary,” I often get “When is it coming out?” questions.

The book is coming out in January, exact dates to come later this year. But as a thank you for those who have been patiently waiting, the first chapter will be available later this week for free download. Just enough to whet you appetite for the latest adventures of the Exeter crew. There’s a new character you haven’t yet met, plus a chance to catch up with several who appeared in Thrown Out. I’ll post the link this weekend, but if you aren’t sure you’ll remember to check back and want me to send the link directly to you, please leave a note in comments.

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True Fans and Indie Publishing

Thanks to Twitter, today I stumbled on a 2008 post about True Fans — an example of the long tail of the Internet in action. The short version of the post is that artists don’t need to hit best-sellerdom to make a living — they just need 1,000 True Fans who will snap up their new work as soon as it comes out — every time.

It’s an interesting concept, and one that makes some intuitive sense to me. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Jesse Stern’s work. I’ll watch his post-NCIS projects because his NCIS work made me a True Fan. Joss Whedon’s fans are the most vivid example of this in the TV world — many writers and others who worked on Whedon’s projects have carried fans on to their subsequent works. Likewise, if I find an author I like, I often go buy more of their work. That’s one reason I’m a huge fan of book series. I can think of a dozen authors that I like enough to buy new work by them just because they wrote it. It’s the basic reason networking is so key in business of any sort.

So let’s transfer this over to the indie publishing world. Robert Bidinotto, who made indie headlines when Hunter became a huge success back in the late fall, has talked about Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point theory as it relates to publishing. I’ve read Gladwell’s book, and it’s a great guide to how word-of-mouth takes something to that stratospheric success level. But before you can get to the Tipping Point, you need to have a certain amount of visibility. You need that base of True Fans.

When I look at the reviews of Thrown Out on Amazon, I recognize several names. Why? Not because they’re friends, although I would consider several of them friends. But most of them are people who I know because they started reading my fanfiction at some point and that’s how we connected. We got to be friends, but that was evolution, not the origination. And I have many friends who I first got to know because I read and liked their work, whether it was original or fanfic. It’s human nature to want more of things we like.

Earlier this week, I posted fanfiction in a fandom I hadn’t written in before. A couple of interesting things happened. I got an influx of reviews on my NCIS work from people who had never reviewed before. They read my NCIS:LA story, liked it, and went looking for more. Conversely, I got reviews on my LA fic from regular readers of my NCIS stories, many of them mentioning this was the first time they’d read this type of story.

The first example is how we build new True Fans. We find people who haven’t been exposed to our work and entice them to read it. They read it, they like it and they go looking for more. It’s why backlist is so critical to indie success. The more we have available, the more likely it is new readers can quickly convert to True Fans.

The second example is how True Fans help us thrive as writers. That fan base means we don’t start from scratch with each new project. I might have 100 True Fans now. But each new project gives me a chance to build more True Fans. And that’s where Gladwell’s Tipping Point comes in. The more True Fans an artist has who share the work they admire with friends, the more word of mouth you build.

Social media makes this even more key because a few people who have their own True Fan bases can amplify a message. When new NCIS crew members get on Twitter, Pauley Perrette and cast members spread the word, which gets them thousands of followers in just a few days. When writers I follow — James Scott Bell, Terri Giuliano Long, Porter Anderson, Elizabeth Craig, Anne R. Allen, and more — recommend a writing post, I know it’s going to be good and I a) read it and b) share it. And when those writers share my posts, I get a lot more traffic than normal.

Interacting with existing fans helps convert them to True Fans. The more True Fans, the more chances you have of finding new fans. And the more new fans, the more likely you are to hit that Tipping Point. But you can’t skip steps. A lot of people focus on building numbers of fans, but if we all focused on our True Fans, I suspect we would find the number of total fans would increase on its own as those True Fans share their excitement.

Who are you a True Fan of? If you’re an artist of any sort, how do you connect to your True Fans?

Indie Interview: Rob Cornell

Tell us a little about your indie book or books, for readers who aren’t familiar with your work.

I have five novels out there right now. One is a standalone thriller entitled Red Run. It’s about a single father of two teens who learns his daughter’s been murdered and his son is the prime suspect. He goes about proving his son’s innocence and trudges through all sorts of secrets about his kids, his ex-wife, and even his own in the process. The two other novels I have in the mystery/crime genre are Last Call and my latest release, The Hustle. They both feature private-eye turned karaoke bar owner, Ridley Brone. The Ridley novels have all the wisecracking humor you’d expect from a PI novel (think Janet Evanovich) with a layer of tragic humanity that many readers should be able to relate to.

Then there’s my urban fantasy thrillers, The Lockman Chronicles. I call my conception of these books my chocolate and peanut butter moment. Remember the old commercials for peanut butter cups? You had two people—one eating chocolate, the other peanut butter—and by some crazy accident their snacks would meet. “You put your chocolate in my peanut butter,” one would say. The other says, “You got peanut butter on my chocolate.” Here’s a YouTube vid if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Anyway, I’m a huge fan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher thrillers. Hard-core action. Strong, sometimes remorseless hero. Plot twists galore. I’m also a huge fan of Jim Butcher and his Harry Dresden series. This is urban fantasy done right. Emotionally engaging main character. Quirky supporting characters. Cool magic. Scary creatures.

I got to thinking. What if someone like Jack Reacher landed in a world like Harry Dresden’s? That spawned the idea for DARKER THINGS. Basically, it’s action-thriller meets urban fantasy. I put my chocolate in my peanut butter.

You talk on your blog about the frustration with the marketing mindset of the traditional publishing industry. How has that shaped your approach to indie publishing? 

Simple. I write what I want. What I find fun. I tell the kind of stories I want to read. I don’t have to worry about knocking off the corners of an idea to make it fit some predetermined slot. I write what I want and worry about how to get it to readers after the fact. Kicking the voices of prospective agents and editors out of my office has done wonders for my writing. I’m writing more than I ever have and I’m having a blast in the process. And lucky for me, there’s a handful of people out there who like reading my stuff.

What made you decide to edit your own work? Do you recommend that to other writers? Why or why not? What’s your editing process? 

I edit my own work because I can’t afford an outside editor. But let me clarify. I’m not the only pair of eyes on this thing. I have a discerning first reader that picks up the crumbs I leave behind. Could I do better with a paid editor? Maybe. Maybe not. Just because someone charges you to read your manuscript and write on it doesn’t mean they’re any good at it.

I only recommend this to other writers if they have that good first reader. But even then, I’m not the kind of guy that likes to tell other writers how to do their business. I don’t think it matters. If the story works and readers enjoy it, you’re golden.

As far as process goes, like I said, I have a first reader that goes through the manuscript for me. Then I go through it again. The nice thing is, if I miss anything (and everybody misses something, indie or traditional) digital publishing allows me to fix those things. I’m made some pretty glaring errors with my first published novel, Red Run. I was new to the whole indie publishing scene and hadn’t really committed to it even. Since then, I’ve cleaned up that novel, and have gotten some great reviews for it.

What were the biggest surprises you had before publication? After? 

My biggest surprise beforehand was that people were self-publishing. It seemed crazy to me. It went against everything writers have been told since … forever. The biggest surprise after was that people were buying my books and that many actually liked them.

What’s been the most challenging part of the process? (Is that different from your experience with traditional publishing?) 

Putting your books out there on your own, you’re basically a one-person publishing house. Which means those responsibilities publishers handle for you (cover art, editing, marketing, etc.) you have to do on your own. You’re not just an artist anymore; you’re running a business. I don’t mind any of that. In fact, seeing myself as an entrepreneur is empowering. But the key is balancing those responsibilities. The writing must come first. If you don’t have the books, you won’t have the readers, no matter how much time you spend on Twitter.

Do you plan to continue to publish your own work, or are you looking to get a traditional publishing deal?

I’m looking for a nontraditional deal. There are new paradigms forming in the wake of this mighty change in the industry. The most visible is Amazon’s foray into publishing. The way they do business makes traditional publishing look positively draconian. There are other, smaller, upstarts staking territory in the new world. They provide the services of a traditional publisher, but with author-centric contracts. Basically, the resurgence of the small press, but with far more return on the investment for both publisher and author than the old model.

What advice would you offer for currently unpublished writers considering the indie route? (How about for traditionally published authors considering switching?) 

Do your research. Look at every possibility. And write nothing off just because some yahoo from your writing group says real writers don’t do that. Real writers write stories and get them into readers’ (digital) hands. I missed a real opportunity because I didn’t know enough and wasn’t willing to question my own assumptions. I kick myself to this day for it.

Is there any indie “conventional wisdom” you disagree with? Why?

There’s a lot of conventional wisdom I disagree with. For the sake of brevity (and to avoid getting flamed too hard) I’ll mention one. There’s a myth out there that in order to write well, you must write slowly and carefully. It’s garbage. Don’t believe it. If you write with passion and let the story carry you away, you’ll have a lot better story for it. And there is nothing wrong with releasing more than one novel a year. You’re a storyteller. If you want to make a living at this, you’re going to have to step it up. When people get upset by this suggestion, I like to bring up William Faulkner, who wrote As I Lay Dying in something like six weeks (might have been less) and sent it to his editor without revising a word. So, no, writing slow is not a requirement for writing well.

The big discussion point lately has been KDP Select and Amazon’s demand for exclusivity in exchange for participation. What are your thoughts on the tradeoffs? 

I’m almost dead set against it. The exclusivity thing is tough to swallow. Amazon is offering an author five days to give away their book as long as they also give away the right to sell it anywhere else…does that sound right to you?

I say almost, because if you have a whole bunch of titles (more than ten) I think it might be work experimenting on a single title to see if it actually gooses sales.

Full disclosure: I enrolled one of my books in KDP Select, thinking I would “experiment” with it. I ended up changing my mind afterward. Luckily, there’s a three-day grace period where you can get out of it so you’re not stuck there for 90 days. I opted out, and don’t plan to opt in anytime soon.

One of the challenges for indie authors has been the large volume of work out there that isn’t ready for publication, especially since readers have limited tools to search through the pile for the quality books. Do you think this will always be a problem, or is it just a phase in the evolution of epublishing?

I don’t think it’s a problem even now. It’s not that different from traditionally published books. There’s no way you can read all the books ever published. If you look at it that way, then it’s overwhelming. But then you start to break things down. Fiction or Non-Fiction. Different genres. Different sub-genres. Books on the bestseller lists. Books recommended by friends. Books you have read positive reviews on. Books by authors you’ve discovered and are automatic reads.

The same thing can be said with e-pubbed books. Is there a lot of garbage out there? Yeah. Have I had to read through anything not ready for publication? Nope. That’s what the whole word of mouth and browsing favorite genres comes in. And if I want to try something new? I can download a sample to my Kindle and read it in my spare time. If I get hooked — click and I have the books.

I don’t have to worry about the junk, because the closest I’ll get to it is the first paragraph of a sample.

An accidental nomad, Rob Cornell grew up in suburban Detroit, then spent five years living in Los Angeles before moving to Chicago to receive a BA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College.

He has traveled full circle, now living in rural southeast Michigan with his wife, two kids, and dog, Kinsey—named after Sue Grafton’s famous detective.

In between moving and writing, he’s worked all manner of odd jobs, including lead singer for an acoustic cover band and a three-day stint as assistant to a movie producer after which he quit because the producer was a nut job. You can find his books on Amazon and  Barnes & Noble.

Weighing the Value of Promotion vs. Writing

Dan Blank’s post last week about defining success has combined with some other things in my life right now to get me asking myself that very question. One of the things that’s been a challenge the past several weeks has been finding a way to balance writing with platform building and social media. Roz Morris had a really great post on the topic this weekend where she pointed out that publishing in order to build a platform was backward. The book doesn’t build the platform — the platform builds the audience for the book.

Lately, I’ve been feeling like trying to keep up on everything to promote my writing has left me with very little room to actually write. Now, some of that is a function of schedule changes at work that I’m still adjusting to. But for me, it’s also a sign I needed to step back and think about a) what I’m trying to accomplish with my first book and b) what I’m trying to accomplish with the Exeter series in general.

Thrown Out is never — in and of itself — going to be a best-seller. It’s an odd niche (short-story collection) and it doesn’t fit into any other genre because the common thread among the stories is the setting and characters, not the genre. If it reaches best-seller status, it will be because it’s backlist for novels in the series that are easier to categorize and promote.

Recognizing that is liberating in a lot of ways. The way for me to get more people to read Thrown Out is to write and publish the next book in the series, the first novel. It will be easier to find because it fits into a genre that does well in ebooks, and as people find it and like it, they will be more likely to hunt down my other books.

That, in turn, allows for more of a focus on what’s important — writing the other books and short stories in the series. I also now have a better focus for what’s important in terms of additional blogging and other writing projects. After all this introspection, I have a better way to set priorities.

As a writer, it means my Exeter books won’t come out as quickly. But I think they’re going to be better books. I also hope they’ll find more of an audience because of cross-pollination with my other projects. We’ll see. Everything in the world of indie publishing is an experiment these days, and this is just one more of them.

Indie Interview: Nick Earls

Nick Earls is a traditionally published Australian author who went with indie press Exciting Press, run by author Will Entrekin, to crack the US ebook market. He’s joining us today to talk about his experience, especially the differences between traditional and indie publishing (hint: fewer meeting hurdles).

Tell us a little about your indie book or books, for readers who aren’t familiar with your work. 

Reviewers have compared my work to that of JD Salinger, Martin Amis, Jeffrey Eugenides, VS Naipaul, Woody Allen, Raymond Carver and, most often, Nick Hornby. Perhaps that just shows I’ve been reviewed a lot, since I don’t think I can draw the Venn diagram where all those writers intersect. I’m interested in people and how they work, so that’s what I write about. Comedy often finds its way in there, one way or another.

As far as my indie e-books go, we’ve started by releasing a novel, a couple of novellas and some short stories, and I think they give some idea of my range, from carefully observed small moments in regular lives to slapstick involving body parts to one story featuring a unicorn. There will be more to come in the months ahead (more e-books, probably not more unicorns).

Monica Bloom is the novel, and the one that’s had the Salinger and Eugenides comparisons. It’s about a sixteen-year-old falling in love for the first time with a girl who, due to circumstances, he meets only five times. It’s set thirty years ago, because it couldn’t work the same way in a world full of Facebook and cellphones. And because Continue reading

Indie Interview: Martin Lastrapes

Martin Lastrapes couldn’t find a publisher willing to take chance on his literary horror novel, Inside the Outside, so he decided to publish it himself. Like indie author Robert Bidinotto, he hit the best-seller lists — passing Stephen King on the horror list at one point. He joins us today to talk about why he decided to go indie and what that means for writers going forward.

Tell us a little about your indie book or books, for readers who aren’t familiar with your work.

My first (and, as of yet, only) indie book is called Inside the Outside.  It’s a literary horror novel about a teenage girl, named Timber Marlow, who grows up as a cannibal within a cult in the San Bernardino Mountains. Beneath the violent and occasionally grotesque content within the novel, Inside the Outside is, at it’s best, a coming-of-age-story.

Will Entrekin describes Inside the Outside as the best book he read in all of 2011, indie or traditional, and you had some immediate success when it was released, beating out Stephen King at one point on the Amazon Horror bestseller list. What was it like to have such a warm reception for your debut novel?

It was a relief to be honest with you.  As any author can tell you, your books are like your children and Inside the Outside is no exception.  I knew it was a strange book when I wrote and I worried that it would get bullied in the playground.  So when readers, like Will Entrekin, offered generous praise for the book, I felt equal parts relief and gratitude.  And then, of course, when people actually started buying the book and I saw Inside the Outside move ahead of Stephen King, I felt like I was living somebody else’s life.

What prompted you to decide to publish your book instead of go the traditional route?

I was prompted, ultimately, by the continued rejection I’d received from traditional publishers and literary agents.  I spent a lot of years honing my craft and more years after that writing the best book I could.  I knew there was an audience out there who would enjoy my writing if I could just get my book to them.  Once I became frustrated enough Continue reading

Indie Interview: Roz Morris

Roz Morris is a best-selling ghostwriter and book doctor in the UK, but when it came to publish her own work, she decided to go the indie route because what she wanted to write wasn’t what publishers wanted to sell. She talks about her choices, including a decision to serialize her literary novel and what it takes to make that concept work. She mentions further down, the differences between British and American spelling, usage and punctuation make it difficult for her to feel comfortable editing an American work, so as an example, I’ve left the British elements intact. 

Tell us a little about your indie book or books, for readers who aren’t familiar with your work. 

I’ve indie published two titles. One is non-fiction — Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence. The other is a contemporary literary novel — My Memories of a Future Life.

After ghostwriting so many books for traditional publishers, what made you decide to publish your own work? 

Both my self-published books were accepted by agents and sent to editors. But although I was known as a ghostwriter — indeed a bestselling one — my own books were very different.

With the novel, the ghostwriting opened doors. I had Big Six editors querying me, in fact. They knew I’d ghosted thrillers and were hoping I would write them something that was easy for the marketing department to sell. When My Memories of a Future Life was ready they liked it very much, but said it was too original — marketing departments wouldn’t want to promote an unconventional novel from an unknown debut author.

Some of them said that if I made it more like a conventional thriller, or a timebending murder mystery they might take a punt. However, I wanted to explore deeper questions and take the story in unexpected directions, so I stuck to my guns. And the feedback told me that if those editors had bought my novel in a shop, they’d have told their friends it was a good read. Going indie was the obvious choice.

That may seem unjust, but it’s the state of the industry. Writers sell either by publishing in a genre or by having a marketable name. If you don’t fit either of those categories, you’re a risky proposition. And you find when you try to sell your kooky novel by yourself under your obscure name what a hard job it is. Indie may be easy to start, but it’s not easy to make a success of.

I would never have self-published my novel, though, if Continue reading