The Power Of Hand Selling

Chef Michel Roux at book signing

CC 2009 Roland Tanglao

I’ve often talked about how signing with a micropress in 2004 was the biggest mistake of my career. And yet, I’ve struggled with the independent route. When my original publisher was a going concern, I managed to sell 500 copies of Northcoast Shakedown, 200 of them directly out of my trunk. So why aren’t people flocking to me after saying “Your first novel was really great!”?

Well, corky, let’s take a look at the Jim of 2005, when Northcoast debuted. In spite of the mediocre cover (which, let’s be honest here, I approved), occasionally poor-quality prints, and distribution problems, the book was one of that publisher’s consistent best-sellers. Why? It was my first, my baby. I could talk all you wanted about it. I traveled (since my dad had left me a little bit of cash and flying to New York and various Bouchercons seemed like a good investment). I gushed about writing a book. I belonged to a Toastmasters group. A little about Toastmasters.

First off, any author who wants to pimp his or her wares should join a Toastmasters club. Most writers are introverts anyway, so the fear of public speaking doubles. Toastmasters doesn’t exactly cure you of it, but it does show you how to put that fear to work for you. I used to win table topics contests, which tests members by forcing them to speak off the cuff for 2-3 minutes. It’s a fun, safe environment where you can learn to speak in front of people. Believe me, when you work their program, it’s a huge confidence booster.

But Toastmasters are innately curious about other Toastmasters. Even before and after the meeting, if you’re an author, they’re going to ask you about your work. I probably sold 20-30 copies that way, and another 30 at various district-level functions.

I went to Bouchercon. I went to Love Is Murder. I went to New York for the helluvit. (That last one likely won’t happen again for a while.) I shook hands. I commiserated. Probably what sold those other 440 copies was the fact that I went to these events, talked a little about Northcoast with an enthusiasm of a college senior snagging his first job. But I didn’t talk constantly about it or bombard people with emails and MySpace messages and…

Therein lies the difference. When I went indie, I noticed Road Rules would get a little uptick whenever I started talking to people, this despite a couple of nauseating covers and crummy formatting. Of course, it was early in the ebook revolution. People were more forgiving back then. But Road Rules was a quick and dirty little caper that’s easy to talk about. What’s not to like about “I wrote a book about two idiots in a stolen Caddie with a holy relic they don’t know is in the trunk?”

What doesn’t work?

Filling your twitter feed with “My Awesome Epic http://someshortlink #indiepub #thriller #mymomsaysitsawesome #hashtagvomit”

Yes, even I’ve done that. You know what potential readers do when they see that? They unfollow you. They unfriend you on Facebook if all you do is bombard people with fan page invites. But if you talk about your book (without more than one or two hashtags please) while talking about life, the universe, and everything else, people get innately curious. And talk about the book in person. I don’t mean like every word out of JA Konrath’s mouth is about his books and self-publishing and whatever else he is pontificating about today. I mean have a genuine conversation with people. If it comes up in conversation, tell them about it. Give them a link. Ask them (very politely) for a review. It happened at Ye Olde Day Jobbe this past week, and somehow, without mentioning it, I even sold a copy of poor, ignored Second Hand Goods.I know New York and London love hashtag vomit and excessive promos. Let me explain this in very clear terms: It does not work. It only alienates readers and kills sales. I have never bought a book off an automated tweet or twenty Facebook posts a day. I bought them because someone was blown away by something and insisted I download or get to my local Barnes & Noble/indie store/Amazon right this frickin’ minute. Sorry, social media gurus, but you’ve been getting it wrong for a decade now. Lest ye point out I’m a middle-aged IT worker who grew up before the Internet, I will remind you that my stepson, who is 20, finds Twitter annoying and useless. He also prefers print books to Kindle. So do his friends. It means you still have to go do legwork if you want to sell books. There were three million published last year. Hashtag vomit is just a means for me to whittle down the list of potential new buys.

Friday Reviews: Calypso and Ghosts by Ed McBain

Calypso by Ed McBainCalypso

Ed McBain

A calypso singer is murdered one night walking home from a gig in the rain. In the wee hours of the following morning, so is a hooker. With the same gun. Before it’s all over, the reader is introduced to an insane woman holding a man prisoner.

I didn’t really like this 87th Precinct. It seems like it’s recycling the previous two novels. In this one, Carella worried about his faithfulness to his wife, Teddy (though never crosses any lines.) This was a major subplot of Long Time No See. And just two novels after Bert Kling’s wife is taken hostage by a stalker, So Long as You Both Shall Live, we have the roles reversed with a male captive and an obsessed female stalker. Even the presence of Monaghan and Monroe, the useless homicide detectives who do their vaudville schtick to the annoyance of Carella and the other detectives of the 87th, wear out their welcome in this one. So does Genero, the precinct’s resident idiot. Only Fat Ollie Weeks, who has become the series’s resident Archie Bunker, seems to be interesting in this one. I was disappointed.

 Ghosts by Ed McBainGHOSTS

Ed McBain

Detectives Steve Carella and Cotton Hawes respond to the fatal stabbing of a woman outside her apartment. The woman was stabbed once as she carried groceries into the building. While they start work on her death, a call comes through that another person is stabbed inside the building, this one a famous writer named Gregory Craig, who wrote a bestselling book about a haunted house in Massachusetts. The only witness? Craig’s young girlfriend, who is a dead ringer for Teddy Carella, Steve Carella’s wife.

The temptation of Carella has become a regular theme to the story at this point. Hillary Scott, the woman who could be Teddy’s twin, has a twin herself, one who eventually hits on Carella. In Calypso, it sounded like a rehash of Long Time No See. This time, however, the resemblance to Teddy Carella adds a new spin that not only messes with Carella but also resident lothario Cotton Hawes. Hawes finds the sisters very attractive but is made nervous by their resemblance to his partner’s wife. Late in the story, Carella is asleep in a motel room when he seems to dream that he gave into temptation. By the end of the scene, he’s not so convinced. So maybe the precinct’s resident boy scout may have finally screwed up.

Near the end of the story, in a scene reminiscent of Detective Rick Genero’s introduction in Fuzz, the character of Tak Fujiwara makes his debut. While I haven’t read any of the books featuring Tak, I suspect he’s there for two reasons. First, the squad needs a little diversity at this point. By 1980, Arthur Brown is the squad’s sole black officer, and his race only seems to be mentioned anymore if Fat Ollie Weeks is in the story. Second, Genero as the young rookie detective is kind of a dud. It seems like he’s supposed to be play the wet-behind-the-ears noob that Bert Kling had played up until Fuzz. However, he’s sort of become the village idiot, displacing bigoted lout Andy Parker in tandem with a smarter, more likeable bigot, Fat Ollie. However, while Fat Ollie (who gets only a passing mention in this story) is smart but ignorant with an interesting personality, Genero is little more than a punchline. Bringing in Tak off the streets is probably to correct that shortcoming. And notice that Parker hardly rates a mention anymore. Good riddance. He was an annoying character.

This one feels a bit more modern as McBain is clearly referencing The Amityville Horror, which had come a year before this, the first 87th Precinct novel of the 1980s. In one bizarre sequence, Carella may have actually seen a ghost. It not only scares Carella into paralysis but causes the psychic Hillary Scott to faint. McBain never actually says if it’s an actual ghost, but it’s enough to rattle the steely Carella. It’s a different entry in the 87th Precinct, which isn’t quite as flat as Calypso.

Less Than A Week Away…

Gypsy's KissIt’s coming. And in less than a week. Gypsy’s Kiss will draw the saga of Cleveland PI Nick Kepler to a close.

What happens? Where does he go? Does Elaine finally leave her philandering husband for him? And what is going on with Nick’s favorite informant, Gypsy?

Gypsy’s Kiss builds on the events of “Roofies” and not only brings Nick’s story to a close, but Gypsy’s as well.

High-priced call girl and former stripper Gypsy is leaving the sex trade for good. She’s saved and invested wisely and is moving on to more legitimate endeavors. And she wants Nick to be her final client. The fee? One dollar.

Nick agrees to this, arranging for a quiet evening of watching old movies and splitting a bottle of wine, a token trick that need not be turned. But someone is upset with Gypsy’s move to a better life and lets her know it violently. Nick stashes her on an island in Lake Erie, abandoned during the cold weather, and searches her past for someone looking for revenge. In the meantime, Nick’s business is dying. Leaving the insurance company digs has turned out to be costly for him and partner Elaine. They have a way to salvage the business, but if Nick wants to go that route, Elaine wants something from Nick she herself has not been able to give back: commitment.

Aside from The Kepler Omnibus and a box set later this year, Gypsy’s Kiss will be my final independent long-form story. You can pre-order Gypsy’s Kiss here before it’s February 1 debut.

Friday Reviews: Purgatory by Ken Bruen

Purgatory by Ken BruenPurgatory

Ken Bruen

Jack Taylor has been through hell. He’s had fingers chopped off. He’s going deaf. Alcohol and Xanax threaten to do him in despite fits of sobriety. He’s even had a run-in with the Devil. or so he thinks.

And now, someone calling themselves C33 is pretending to be Dexter, a serial killer who targets bad guys. And C33, who, in certain POV scenes, freely admits to being a psychopath, wants Jack to play a game. Jack doesn’t bite. He’s come into some money and, in the wake of the Celtic Tiger’s collapse, just wants to sit out the austerity that has come to Galway. But Zen pal Stewart wants to take out C33. So does Ridge, Jack’s cop friend who, despite being a lesbian on a male-dominated force, has made sergeant. Meanwhile, a tech mogul named Reardon comes to Galway intent on buying and squandering the city. With him comes his assistant, Kelly, an American woman who takes a shine to Jack.

Bruen paints a bleak picture of Ireland as it reals from the euro crisis during the Great Recession. Gone is the vibrant, booming Galway of previous Taylor books. In its place, a city of people worried about losing their homes and with a seething hatred of their government. Not the British government. The Irish government.

Ridge and Stewart have major scenes here and are POV characters, as is the mysterious C33. The transitions are sometimes confusing as Jack’s scenes don’t always start with “I” in the first few lines. However, spiritual co-author of this book seems to be Oscar Wilde. Kelly, Jack, and even Stewart constantly quote or talk about him. Even C33 is a Wilde reference, the number of the playwright’s cell at Reading Gaol.

As with the previous Taylors, I keep wondering how much more Jack can endure. This one has an ending almost as harrowing and sudden as The Dramatist.

Friday Reviews: Dreamcatcher


Stephen King

A UFO crashes in a remote section of rural Maine. The setting alone should already tell you it’s a Stephen King novel. The crash disrupts the annual hunting trip of four lifelong friends from Derry (Remember It, Bag of Bones?) An elite and secret military unit led by a crazed man named Kurtz swoops in to turn the area into a scorch mark to prevent the alien “Ripley” infection from spreading. And yet one alien, dubbed Mr. Gray because he looks like the classic view of an alien, takes over the body of one of the four friends. The key to stopping him? A renegade soldier, the one member of the gang having suicidal thoughts, and a dying middle-aged man with Downs syndrome named “Duddits.”

Dreamcatcher is the first novel King completed after the accident that almost killed him. Echoes of that accident make it into the story through the hijacked character of Jonesy. It hits on the familiar themes of King novels past: Childhood friends in adulthood (It, The Body), a secret government organization ruthless and maybe misguided (Firestarter), and a menace that has no real form (It). It also comes at a time when King began writing, to put it bluntly, doorstops. There’s a rhyme and reason to why The Stand, It, and The Dark Tower novels run so long. Bag of Bones, Dreamcatcher, and Black House probably could stand a bit of whittling. The real meat of the story is the chase in the back half of the novel. Henry, the suicidal shrink, and Underhill, the killer soldier with a conscience, go after Jonesy, who is trapped in his own mind by Mr. Gray, who has taken over his body. Kurtz, the mad colonel who, at one point, ignores orders to stand down and shows a contempt for the president unacceptable from an officer (Regardless of your politics, he is your commander-in-chief), Kurtz wants Underhill. Why? He crossed the Kurtz line.

But what makes the story work despite its bulk and lengthy setup is Duddits. Introduced as a teenager, Duddits has Downes syndrome yet is the glue that holds the group of Henry, Jonesy, Pete (shown as an alcoholic as an adult) and poor, simple Beaver together. The boys, like Duddits’s mother, can understand what he says despite consonants being a challenge. But King does a beautiful job of writing one scene inside Duddits’s head. Duddits’s thoughts are simple and limited but surprisingly clear, showing a wisdom most normal people can’t even dream of.

The book has a murky ending, however, which is somewhat anti-climactic. On the other hand, it’s much better than the movie ended, with Duddits morphing into an avenging alien to destroy Mr. Gray and save the world. (And really, Morgan Freeman made a lousy screen version of Kurtz, who makes the Heart of Darkness character he’s based on look well-adjusted.) King’s skills are all still here. They’re just rusty. The mojo hasn’t left, but it’s slow as molasses.

Friday Reviews: So Long As You Both Shall Live and Long Time, No See by Ed McBain

SLAYBSLSo Long As You Both Shall Live

Ed McBain

Usually, when Ed McBain wanted to goose the 87th Precinct forward, he would reintroduce the Deaf Man to basically act out what would now be a Michael Bay film at the expense of the bulls of the 87th. This time, however, he goes for one of his favorite hobbies: Tormenting young detective Bert Kling. Kling marries a fashion model named Augusta. She is kidnapped from their hotel room that night as Kling is taking a shower.

Steve Carella, normally the star of an 87th novel, and the tragically named Meyer Meyer have nothing to go on. And everyone in the squad, even bigoted moron Andy Parker, is giving it their all to find Augusta. Where is she?

Trapped in the apartment of a crazed man with a German accent who is obsessed with the woman in the fashion magazines. And he is very upset that Augusta would forsake him by marrying “that man.”

The case is cracked by the series’ newest regular, Fat Ollie Weeks. Weeks is slovenly, arrogant, and bigoted. Unlike Andy Parker, Weeks is 1.) smart and 2.) able to get past his own prejudices. Weeks has a soft spot for the 87th and steps into the case to give the squad a fresh set of eyes. He doesn’t know Kling, and he isn’t shy about asking uncomfortable questions. I suspect McBain was simply tired of Parker’s presence and knew the character couldn’t be fleshed out. No one likes Weeks as a person, but you can’t help but root for him.

longtimenoseeLong Time No See

Ed McBain

Steve Carella dodges Weeks in this tale of a murder of a blind couple. Jim Harrison is a blinded Vietnam vet who lives off begging and disability. He is black. His wife is white. At first, Carella suspects a racial motive. Then theft. Then…

He’s not really sure. He has to go all the way back to Harris’ s past, calling the Army and former members of Harris’s unit, even an old street gang Harris ran with before getting drafted. When another blind person is attacked, Carella worries that a serial killer is at work.

In the course of his investigation, Carella is hit on by a female sergeant whose husband is overseas. After the incident, Carella starts worrying about his ability to stay faithful to wife Teddy. To make matters worse, he has to go undercover in a massage parlor, one of those massage parlors, to question a witness.

This case is complex and twisting. Race threatens to become an issue, but the ending is much more bizarre.

The 2014 Book List

I curtailed my reading list this year. In 2013, I set out to read 100 books. That meant a lot of audio books and cutting into time for other things. I don’t even remember half of what I read that year. Now?

I had planned to finish Dreamcatcher in early December. I still have a few pages to go as I type this on Sunday evening.

I had intended to read the 87th Precinct at the beginning of the year. However, a class about The Beatles had three books I needed to read. Since the class was accelerated, I had to read it in a short amount of time.

I also read Volume II of The Autobiography of Mark Twain, which was quite a bit darker than Volume I. Can’t wait for the final volume to come out.

The Message various Holy Writ Hard Cover
Meet the Beatles Steven D. Stark Music Paperback
Read the Beatles Edited by June Skinner Sawyers Music Paperback
Revolver Robert Rodriguez Music Paperback
Sadie When She Died Ed McBain Crime Paperback
Hail to the Chief Ed McBain Crime Kindle
The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 2 Mark Twain Biography Kindle
Bag of Bones Stephen King Horror Hard Cover
How to Read and Why Harold Bloom Literary Criticism Paperback
The Undesirable S. Celi Science fiction Kindle
1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created Charles C. Mann History Audio
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon Stephen King Suspense Paperback
Cat Chaser Elmore Leonard Crime Paperback
Berlin Noir Phillip Kerr Historical Fiction Kindle
Hearts in Atlantis Stephen King Horror Paperback
Voluntary Madness Vicki Hendricks Crime Paperback
Unlocked John Scalzi Science fiction Kindle
Lord of the Flies William Golding Literary Fiction Kindle
Riding the Bullet Stephen King Horror Kindle
The Long Goodbye Raymond Chandler Crime Paperback
Under the Empyrean Sky Chuck Wendig Science fiction Kindle
Don Quixote Miguel de Cervantes Classic Fiction Paperback
Red Shirts John Scalzi Science fiction Audio
Johnny Cash: The Life Robert Hilburn Biography Audio
On Writing Stephen King Writing Hard Cover
Finding Me Michelle Knight Memoir Hard Cover
In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead James Lee Burke Crime Paperback
Start-Up Nation Dan Senor and Saul Singer Business Audio
Once a Warrior Anthony Neil Smith Thriller Kindle
Great Expectations Charles Dickens Classic Fiction Kindle
Secret Windows Stephen King Writing Hard Cover
Bread Ed McBain Crime Kindle
Blood Relatives Ed McBain Crime Kindle
Under the Banner of Heaven Jon Krakauer Expose Audio
Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes Svante Paabo Science Audio
The Itching Parrot José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi Classic Fiction PDF
The Notorious Benedict Arnold Steve Sheinkin History Audio
Like Water for Chocolate Laura Esquivel Literary Fiction Paperback
Lock In John Scalzi Science fiction Hard Cover
Sky Blues Vicki Hendricks Crime Paperback
The Sorrows of Young Werther Johanne Wolfgang von Goethe Classic Fiction Paperback
Summer of the Pike Jutta Richter Literary Fiction Paperback
7 Grams of Lead Keith Thomson Spy Thriller Kindle
Dreamcatcher Stephen King Horror Paperback
So Long as You Both Shall Live Ed McBain Crime Audio
Long Time No See Ed McBain Crime Audio

Happy New Year! Here’s Some New Stuff!

Hey, I know I’ve been slow putting out new work. Well, wait no longer. I’ve got three – Count ’em! Three! – new offerings as of today.

Winter's Quarterly, January, 2015Winter’s Quarterly – January, 2015

Three tales and an essay from crime writer Jim Winter. Violet: A young girl is trapped in the modern world of prostitution and witnesses a violent confrontation between her captor and her father. Ault Park: Office Mike Dufford, recovering from a hit-and-run accident, has a promotion to sergeant waiting for him. All he has to do is say an assistant chief drove the car. Overpass: A man contemplates ending it all. But first, he wants a damn fine cup of coffee. Politics: A Carlinesque Rant: You can sum up politics in one word. What is it? Well… The first of a quarterly magazine from Jim Winter. 99 cents. Cheap!

Available now at Smashwords.

Gypsy's KissGypsy’s Kiss

Gypsy is a call girl and one of Nick Kepler’s best informants. When she decides to leave the sex trade for good, however, someone gets angry. As in they destroy her apartment. Nick must hide Gypsy on an island in Lake Erie during the off season while he prowls the streets of Cleveland in search of her attacker. But her stalker holds a grudge against more than just Gypsy. Before it’s over, one of Gypsy’s “clients” and Nick himself will be attacked.

Available now for pre-order! Coming February 1.

Boxer briefs

CC 2008 Luis2402

And as always, it’s the first of the month, which means you can get into my shorts for free.

This month’s short is “Brunch,” which goes a long way toward explaining why I don’t write literary fic much. (“Overpass” in Winter’s Quarterly Jan 2015 comes close to real lit fic.)

So bad it’s good. Or at least mediocre.

Friday Reviews: 7 Grams of Lead by Keith Thomson

7 Grams of Lead by Keith Thomson7 Grams of Lead

Keith Thomson

Russ Thornton blogs about spies. He’s not a conspiracy theorist. It’s his job. So when he notices a scientist was shot with a 7-gram lead bullet (unusual if you now anything about guns and ammo), the bad guys plant an eavesdropping device.

In his head. With the help of an NSA hacker, he discovers a former senate candidate has a similar one in her head. When they have them removed, it becomes a cat and mouse game across the Caribbean as they try to outwit a cold-hearted entrepreneur named Canning. Canning has two things on his mind: Revenge and money, and he wants both from a terrorist set on attacking Washington, DC with an electro-magnetic pulse.

Thornton knows an awful lot about spycraft for someone not a veteran of black ops. Then again, his love interest is a beautiful tech billionaire who proves every bit as resourceful as Thornton himself. Canning is a sociopathic genius whose insight sometimes strains credibility. But this thriller is a twenty-first century answer to James Bond with all the tech geekery of Tom Clancy at his finest. But Thomson keeps things moving, detailed in his tech wizardry without getting bogged down in it, and nowhere nearly as dry as Ian Fleming. The sexual tension between Thornton and Beryl Mallery is delicious while Canning makes Hannibal Lecter look like a nice guy with an eating disorder. There’s a movie in this somewhere.



Friday Reviews: Sky Blues by Vicki Hendricks

Sky Blues by Vicki HendricksSky Blues

Vicki Hendricks

Ever wonder why someone would jump out of a perfectly good airplane? It’s the rush. That’s what wildlife vet Destiny Donne learns when a handsome skydiver walks into her office asking for help with a lion cub he’s not supposed to have. His name is Tom and he smooth-talks his way into her bed and lures her into the world of skydiving. Yet Desi, as she’s called, finds herself played against Tom’s estranged wife Swan. Soon, Tom is talking murder. Desi must kill, Tom tells her, or be killed.

Hendricks likes to reverse the traditional noir with women playing the seduced and men as the homme fatale. But where Miami Purity and Iguana Love had women stumbling into situations not of their making, and Voluntary Madness had a female protag sliding down the rabbit hole after a man hell-bent on hitting the bottom, Des strikes me as a bit too intelligent for falling for Tom, who is an obvious con man from the get-go. Yes, he oozes masculine sex out every pore, but his story about the lion cub being kept “for a guy” should have meant a phone call to the police.

But the main feature of this story is the sky diving. It’s one of Hendricks’s interests, and that shines through in this. In some ways, Des exists less to provide her with a channel for her talents in noir than she does to convey what it’s like for humans to literally fly.