Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Good Marketing Idea

Some of you may have wondered why I had a widget in my sidebar for the new release of Afraid by Jack Kilborn. This was done in response to the author’s solicitation to try a concept: a free book for thirty days of advertising. If I was willing to post the Afraid link on my blog, then the author would send me a free “signed” book.

As many who follow him already know, Joe Konrath is one of the better marketers for his business. He has written six Jack Daniels mysteries, along with a handful of other free novels, which he currently markets on his own. While the Jack Daniels mystery series has placed him in the spotlight, I suspect that horror has always been one of his great passions. While he has written other horror novels and technothrillers, Afraid is his first horror novel published under the pen name of Jack Kilborn.

Gearing up to the release of Afraid, Joe launched a massive campaign to get the word out. During the month of April, he posted several interviews on his blog, and during the month of May, he hit the road on a book tour across several states. He also asked for any willing participants to post the Afraid link on their website or blog for thirty days. As consideration, he agreed to send the participant a free signed copy of his second Jack Daniels mystery, Bloody Mary.

I jumped at the opportunity, and not because I wanted a free book (a hardback by the way). I also wanted to be a part of something unique.

At the completion of thirty days, I sent Joe an e-mail to check on the progress, telling him that I wanted to share something about the experiment with those who read Powder Burns & Bullets. I wanted to know how many books he actually sent out and whether or not they were able to track the sales. If I could get that information, and knowing the Kindle e-book version of Afraid was selling on Amazon for $5.59 a copy, I had hoped to see how well his experiment paid off.

I really couldn't track any results of this, Joe wrote. My Amazon sales of Afraid have been steady so far, but there are so many people reviewing the book I don't know where exactly the traffic is coming from.

Being the accountant that I am, often focused on the bottom line, Konrath’s response was a little disappointing. I had hoped to share some hard numbers with you.

That said, Joe continued, I had about 30 people post ad widgets for Afraid, and it certainly was worth my time and money to send these folks free books, not only because it most assuredly helped with Afraid sales, but because it's smart to reward your supporters with free stuff. I would do it again, for sure.

Joe Konrath is right. In spite of my desire to find the bottom line, the success of some experiments cannot be measured by dollars and cents. While some ventures may cost you more money than you directly made, the loyalty and relationships that develop will certainly reap much larger dividends over time. Jack Kilborn certainly will.

And while we’re on the subject of Jack Kilborn, if you haven’t already read Serial, a short novella co-written with Blake Crouch, I strongly recommend it. It follows a classic suspense/horror technique: show the reader the potential for mayhem and then let him squirm while the horror finally plays out. You can get your free copy of Serial here. Good Stuff.

One more thing. About that free copy of Bloody Mary, once it came in the mail, I opened it up and read the prologue. It was killer. When I finally get around to reading the entire book, after all of the other books in my To Read pile, I'll be sure to give you the juicy write-up.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Master's Autograph

Today's posting will probably feel like an odd combination of (a) a post about an author I like, (b) a post about a writing technique and (c) an unsolicited advertisement. And to be certain, it is all of that. The main thing is to bring an awareness of a Grand Master in Crime Fiction (if you haven't already read him) and to let you know about an opportunity I've recently discovered.

For the past couple of months, I’ve kept my eye on the release of Road Dogs by Elmore Leonard. Those of you who know me also know that Mr. Leonard is not just one of my favorite authors. Considering the number of his books I have read (at least sixteen), from his westerns to his crime fiction stories, Mr. Leonard is my favorite author. And for good reasons. His stories are fun to read. His narratives are slim and efficient. Perhaps what I enjoy the most out of Elmore Leonard, however, is the amount of information a reader can glean from the dialogue alone. Consider this example from the opening chapter of La Brava, Mr. Leonard’s novel that won him an Edgar Award in 1984:

“He’s been taking pictures three years, look at the work,” Maurice said. “Here, this guy. Look at the pose, the expression. Who’s he remind you of?”

“He looks like a hustler,” the woman said.

“He is a hustler, the guy’s a pimp. But that’s not what I’m talking about. Here, this one. Exotic dancer backstage. Remind you of anyone?”

“The girl?”

“Come on, Evelyn, the shot. The feeling he gets. The girl trying to look lovely, showing you her treasures, and they’re not bad. But look at the dressing room, all the glitzy crap, the tinfoil cheapness.”

“You want me to say Diane Arbus?”

“I want you to say Diane Arbus, that would be nice. I want you to say Duane Michaels, Danny Lyon. I want you to say Winogrand, Lee Friedlander. You want to go back a few years? I’d like very much for you to say Walker Evans, too.”

“Your old pal.”

“Long time ago. Even before your time.”

“Watch it,” Evelyn said, and let her gaze wander over the eight-by-ten black and white prints spread out on the worktable, shining in fluorescent light.

“He’s not bad,” Evelyn said.

Maurice sighed. He had her interest.

“He’s got the eye, Evelyn.”

The first thing you notice right off is how Elmore Leonard injects action without using narrative. He doesn’t have to write: Maurice handed her the next shot. Just by the dialogue, you can see it happening. The next thing you pick up is that these two characters know photography. In fact, the know it so well they can even spout off some big names (real people) from the past, and by doing so establish their bona fides. And since these two know photography, they also know someone who’s good at it, which sets the stage for La Brava, the lead character in this novel—who he is and one of the things he's good at. Finally, the reader catches a glimpse into the character of Maurice, a figure that shows up occasionally throughout the rest of the book. Really, what kind of guy says "...and they're not bad" to a woman, talking about another woman's naked body in a photograph? The kind of guy you want to meet, ladies? Probably not. His statement does make him an interesting character, though, doesn't it?

You see? So much is conveyed through Elmore Leonard's dialogue. And the beauty of it is that it speeds up the pacing and streamlines the writing.

But I digress.

When I saw the notice on Road Dogs, I was excited, and not just because it was a new book. Looking into the details, Road Dogs brings back three previous characters from other stories. The first is Jack Foley, the smooth criminal in Out of Sight. Many of you may remember the movie based on this book, with George Clooney as Jack Foley and Jennifer Lopez as the hard-nosed Federal Marshall Karen Sisco. Of all the Leonard books I’ve read, Out of Sight is probably my favorite.

The second character brought back in Road Dogs is Cundo Rey, a thug with no compunctions about killing people. Cundo Rey surfaced in La Brava, and let me tell you the guy's soul is as dark as they come.

The final character is Dawn Navarro, a psychic from Riding the Rap. I have not read this book; so, I can’t comment on it. However, it will be on my list, and I look forward to telling you about it someday.

Looking further into the Road Dog’s release this last week, I found out that any interested party can get an autographed copy simply by picking up the phone and calling the Borders bookstore in Birmingham, Michigan, at 248-203-0005. The book is full priced at $26.99. As my wife knows, I’m usually not one to pay so much for books; however, with the opportunity to have an autographed hardback from a master storyteller, I didn’t blink. The book signing is May 19, 2009. So, if you want to get your own copy, you better be quick.

Monday, May 4, 2009

In The Movies?

To use a cliché, this one came out of left field. I found your story Beyond The Pale on flash fiction, the e-mail read. I was curious to know if you are under an option agreement with another producer or if you'd be willing to sell the story or option it to me so that I can make it into a script.

Back in August 2008, I submitted “Beyond The Pale” to Flash Fiction Online. Within the week, I received an e-mail from the editor stating that he wanted the story for the September issue. Throughout that day, I wore a smile that wouldn’t go away. Landing “Beyond The Pale” in an e-zine like Flash Fiction Online was a nice achievement.

Imagine my surprise when nearly eight months later I received the above-referenced e-mail from a student at Columbia University Chicago, wanting to option my story so she could write a script and then shoot a short film based on it. My first thought was, Are you serious? My second thought, after things settled down, was how I should approach this offer. After e-mailing friends in the literary and music industries, trying to understand the difference between a sale and an option, I dove into this like a skydiver taking that final step away from an airplane.

By the time the final agreement was signed, I had secured another fee for the story (once the filming begins), the potential for future royalties, and a complimentary copy of the DVD once the school releases the film. Since the film will be for a school project, it may be until next year before it is produced, assuming that it will ultimately be produced. While the fee and royalties aren’t much, the more tantalizing piece of the deal was the prospect of having a screen credit once the film is complete. As a writer who is trying to break out into the public arena, the sense of joy and the exposure that comes with having my name flashed on screen for potentially thousands to see is worth far more to me.

To celebrate this, then, I would like to play a little game of What If? with you. If you haven’t already read the story, you can find it here, or by clicking the link in the left sidebar. For grins, I’m curious who you would choose the play the role of the protagonist who ultimately discovers that all is not as he originally believed. The role of Rick, the bartender? The role of Frank? Post your thoughts down in the comments.