Category Archives: J.D. Rhoades

What Would You Do If I Sang Out of Tune?



Motivation. Focus. Productivity.

All of the above have been sadly lacking in my life lately.

As some of you already know, June 2009 has been one of the most difficult months of my life. Nobody’s died (yet) , and I’m still married, but other than that, it’s been a perfect storm of setbacks and disasters,  on multiple fronts.

I’m not going to bore you with all the details. E-mail me if you’re a glutton for punishment. Suffice it to say, in the words of Ned Racine in BODY HEAT: “Sometimes the shit comes down so heavy I feel like I should wear a hat.”

As a fellow ‘Rati noted to me a few days ago, I’ve been under the radar lately. That’s because while this has gone on, I’ve barely had the energy to get out the things that absolutely have to get done. In the writing side of my life,  that’s been the newspaper column and the Murderati posts. Fortunately, I already had some fragments and notes that could be turned into finished work without too much trouble. Otherwise, I don’t know if I’d have been able to do it. As for the current WIP: fugeddaboudit. Sunday was the first time I’d opened the damn thing up in weeks, and it looked like the work of a stranger. Not a particularly talented one at that.

But this isn’t a “poor poor pitiful me” sob story. Because I can report that things, for the moment, are looking a little brighter. Family and friends have rallied to offer help, both practical and spiritual. I’ve gotten great advice, encouragment,  and career help from fellow writers and from readers. All of it’s been offered freely, without my even asking.

I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

I’ve made some changes and some new beginnings. And I have started back to work on LAWYERS, GUNS AND MONEY again. We’re not out of the woods yet, but I’m beginning to see some glimmers of daylight.

Which brings me, finally, to my point. Sometimes the shit does come down so heavy, you feel like you need a hat. But you’re not alone. Somebody else has probably been through it. You may feel like no one else has ever felt the way you do. You may feel, as I did, like just giving up and letting the water take you down. But let me say it  again: you’re not alone. And no storm lasts forever. If I can get through it, you can get through it. With a little help from your friends.

Thanks again.

How Not to Make Contest Judges Hate You

by J.D. Rhoades

     I had the honor this past year to serve as one of the committee chairmen for the MWA’s Edgar Awards. The committee that I headed up was the Best Young Adult Mystery, and let me tell you, it was an eye-opener. I went into it not knowing that much about the whole YA field, except Harry Potter (which I liked but could take or leave, based on the first book) and the TWILIGHT series, which I haven’t read, but which I hear an awful lot about from the teenagers in my house (one liked it okay, the other loathes it).

     After reading through a boatload of submissions, though, I was extremely impressed by both the breadth and depth of the subject matter and the quality of the writing. It was a tough choice, and the voting went several rounds, but I’m comfortable with the eventual winner: John Green‘s PAPER TOWNS.

     The voting process itself is shrouded in secrecy and covered by a variety of confidentiality agreements that make the whole selecting-the-Pope thing seem transparent. But I thought that, since I’m sure new committees are hard at work reading through a new batch of submissions, I’d toss out some general suggestions to publishers and publicists on how not to make committee members (and committee chairmen) hate you.

     You need to understand that some of the things I am going to tell you in the following paragraphs may not seem fair. That’s because they really are not fair. They are a natural function of the judges being human. Judges, if they’re doing their jobs. do try  to be better than the average human, but don’t stake your book’s chances on their succeeding.

  1.  Know what genre, if any, the award is for. The Edgars, for example,  is given by the MYSTERY WRITERS OF AMERICA. I put that in all caps because it apparently escaped the notice of some publishers. Since these awards are–let me say it again–from the MYSTERY WRITERS OF AMERICA, perhaps–and this is just a thought– the novels you send should have at least some component of mystery or crime in them. We got some beautifully written, moving books that just did not fit the genre, no matter how far we tried to stretch it. I began to think about midway through that a lot of books get submitted because some harried publicist told a summer intern “go pull some books to submit for the Edgar Award” and the poor clueless intern was too cowed to admit that he or she didn’t know what the hell the Edgar Award was. Well, poor clueless intern may not know, but you can bet your boots the judges do, and they’re slogging through a lot of submissions. If you really cannot rest until the judges read your fantasy epic or your beautiful, sensitive coming of age tale, neither one of which has so much as a stolen bike to bring it into the realm of crime fiction, then send  it after the awards, when they might  actually have time to read something else. Otherwise, they will hate you.
  2. Do not send ten books the week before the contest deadline. I know you’re busy and stuff slips up on you. But all of the judges are   working writers, and they have deadlines, too. Your gem may not get as thorough a read if the judges only have a day and a half to do it. And they will hate you.
  3.  On the other hand, if you send books too early, it’s possible that the book the judges all   loved early on is going to get pushed aside in their memory by the one they just read that they love, too. See “this is not fair” above. So when do you send them? I’d say about midway through the period. the judges may breathe a heavy sigh when the UPS guy shows up with another dozen books, but they probably won’t hate you. Much.
  4.  Once the submission period is over, please do not ask if the judges will  consider “just one more” that you forgot to submit. Sorry, I know stuff happens, mistakes get made, and it’s not the writer’s fault. The committee chair may really want to help you out, but I for one had no real wish to open that particular floodgate, because the old cliche is actually true: if they do it for you, they have to do it for everyone else. And, since what you’re making the chair and/or the committee  do is make an innocent writer suffer for something that was not their fault, said chair and/or committee  will feel guilty, and thus, will hate you.

     A final note: Maybe it’s because I haven’t gone to the right places in the blogosphere, but I was happy to see a big decrease this year in the usual bitching and whining about how the Edgars suck, how awards in general suck, how it’s all political, people only vote for their friends, blah blah blah. I can’t speak for the other committees, but the folks on the YA committee (Our Pari, Our Cornelia, Jeff Shelby, and Lori G. Armstrong) volunteered cheerfully with only a minimum of begging on my part. Then they worked very hard and bent over backwards to be fair, even when publishers violated the above guidelines. And I certainly didn’t hear any of the “well, this needs to win because such and such won last year” reasoning that awards judges are sometimes accused of.

     Thanks guys, it was an honor to be your chairperson. And thanks, Cornelia, for being there to present the award itself.

     So, ‘Rati: any of you ever judge an award? Have any suggestions of your own? Readers, if you’d like to chime in with your own stories, or even a “this book should’ve won” complaint, feel free. Just don’t trash my committee, or I’ll have to take steps. You don’t want me to take steps.

In Which I, A Manly Man, Read the Ultimate Chick Book

by J.D. Rhoades

When I told people I’d finally gotten  around to reading PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, most were puzzled. “Why are you reading THAT?” some ask. After all, I am, as you all know, a manly man, and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is the ultimate chick book, right?









Nevertheless, I did read it, and I did so for a number of reasons:

  • I’d just read William Gibson’s SPOOK COUNTRY, and while I liked it a lot, I was in the mood for something completely different;
  • I was also in the mood for something more classic, I’d read all my Twain numerous times, and I just wasn’t up for CRIME AND PUNISHMENT quite yet;
  • I’d heard many friends (almost all of them female, it’s true, but a couple of men as well) rave about what a great book it is;
  • I may want to read the new PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES send-up and I wanted to make sure I got the jokes;
  • It was right there on the bookshelf, so I thought “”hey, why the hell  not?”

Anyway, I finished it last night. and quite  enjoyed it. A few observations, jotted down as I read:

  • Why didn’t anyone tell me the book was this funny?


  • I particularly liked Mr. Bennett. He handles the travails of dealing with a house full of marriage-obsesed women pretty much the way I hope I would: with deadpan wit and gentle mockery. He obviously adores and sympathizes with his daughter Elizabeth, and the scenes between them are some of the sweetest in the book. But dear lord, his wife is just awful. I want to kick her down a flight of stairs.


  • I’m not sure why Mark Twain had such an antipathy to Jane Austen. He once mentioned in a letter to William Dean Howells that “Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.” In another letter to Joseph Twichell, he claimed that “Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig [Austen] up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” Whoa. A little harsh there, dude. And puzzling as well. Both Twain and Austen have a similar dry wit, as well as that wonderful gift of lampooning ridiculous people by just letting them speak in their own voices.
  • Everyone seems to use the word “amiable” an awful lot. In fact, it seems to be a prized quality in a spouse. I guess they had a lot lower expectations in those days. I mean, I’m pretty damn amiable and always have been, but I don’t recall women beating down the doors to marry me.
  • Okay, wait, Collins wants to marry his cousin and DeBourgh wants Darcy to marry his? What the hell is this, West Virginia?


  • Man, I need a scorecard to try to keep all these people straight. (Fortunately, there’s a chart at Wikipedia.)


  • I’m not sure how much of the female fascination with the character of Mr. Darcy comes from the hunkiness of the actors who’ve played him in films and on TV, most notably Colin Firth. Because I’ve got to tell you, the guy doesn’t come off all that well on the page. To be frank, he’s kind of a dick. Sure, he does the right thing in the end, but he never gets around to removing the large stick he has up his ass. This is not, in short, I guy I’d be eager to have a beer with. Maybe the female readers can enlighten me.


  • Austen has kind of a tough row to hoe here, story wise. Her characters, due to the strictures of their society, can’t actually take much of a hand in solving their core conflicts (not if any reader is  going to believe them). They spend much of their time waiting  for someone else to move and worrying about what’s going to happen. Their Happy Ever After is largely dependent on what others do. So what you get is a lot of chicks walking around and talking. They talk real pretty, mind you, but this sort of thing can only carry you so far.

On the whole, though, I enjoyed it. I’m not going to run out and read SENSE AND SENSIBILITY or the rest of Jane Austen’s oeuvre right away, mind you, but PRIDE AND PREJUDICE was fun.

And now to the discussion: what book have you read that’s farthest out of your usual genre or preference? Why did you read it? Did it change your perceptions any? Did it give you a fresh look at what you normally write or read? How do you solve the problem of keeping the story moving when your characters can’t move, at least not much? And of course if anyone wants to set me straight on PRIDE AND PREJUDICE or tell me what a doofus I am for not seeing teh hotnezz  that is  Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, feel free.


Print the Legend

by J.D. Rhoades

I know what you’re probably going to start thinking very soon as you read this: “Dear God, not another Susan Boyle post.” Well, yes, it is,  but hear me out anyway, because the twists the story’s taken lately have gotten me thinking about fact vs. fiction and where the line between the two starts to blur.

Boyle, the plain-Jane chanteuse who went on “Britain’s Got Talent” and silenced the snickering crowd and skeptical judges with her big rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables, became an overnight sensation, thanks to YouTube.  Umpty-million website hits, interviews everywhere, etc.

So it’s inevitable, I suppose,  that there’d be a backlash. Most of the kvetching appears to be based on the assumption that the judges, especially producer Simon Cowell, actually did know all along what they had in Boyle and that the whole “oh, my she certainly surprised us” act was a sham. “[T]he notion that Cowell was unaware of Boyle’s existence, let alone discordant looks and talent level, before she ever took the stage, is flatly ridiculous,” sniffed The New York Post’s Maureen Callahan.  Movieline’s Kyle Buchanan was even more scathing, accusing the show’s producers of “trotting Susan out and editing her as though she is an innocent naif who just walked on stage and hasn’t already survived at least ten audition rounds in front of the show’s creator/producers, one of whom is the head judge, Simon Cowell.”

Cowell denies knowing what was going to happen beforehand. But he’s reputed to be a bit of a control freak, and he is the show’s producer. And let’s face it, whatever else you may think of Cowell, he’s a master showman. So yeah, it’s believable that he knew how the audience was going to perceive Boyle, he knew she’d blow them away, and the whole “ugly duckling” thing was set up from the get-go. But as I read those snarky pieces, what came most to my mind is, “so what?” I mean, whether it was staged or not, it’s a great story. Maybe I don’t mind so much because I write fiction.  But I’m reminded of the words of Maxwell Scott at the end of the great Jimmy Stewart film   THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE:  “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

When I was in college, there was this guy who hung around a lot with my roommates and I.  Let’s call him Henry. Henry was…well, “liar” is such a harsh word to describe what Henry did. Let’s just call him a fabulist. Henry had an amazing wealth of stories about the experiences he’d had: he’d test-driven high-end imported sports cars for a living; he’d played drums at a recording session for guitar legend Yngwie Malmsteen (the record was hung up in litigation, alas, and would probably never be released); he was learning to fly helicopters and had a job waiting for him as soon as he got his rotary-wing license, spotting for the tuna fleet. I mean, it was amazing the stuff that would come out of his mouth. One time when he wasn’t around, we discussed it and decided that for Henry to have gone everywhere he said he’d gone and done everything he said he’d done, he would have had to be between 150 and 200 years old.

Here’s the thing, though: no one believed a word of it, but no one called “bullshit”. Partially because Henry never lied maliciously or for any kind of personal gain other than, I suppose, a certain amount of self-aggrandizement. But it was also because the guy was a natural born storyteller. He was funny, charismatic, and entertaining as hell. It was all bullshit, but who cared? It was fun to listen to a guy who never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

But you tell me. Do I have this all wrong? Are you offended by the prospect that the whole ugly duckling schtick was just that–schtick? Or does it matter, because either way, it’s a great story? Does it make a difference that we’re talking about a silly reality TV show, that is to say, would you be more upset if this was something of life or death import?

When There Is No More Room In Hell…

by J.D. Rhoades

Spring again. The time when the warm southern wind blows away the chill of winter (and blows in enough pollen to turn a newly washed car yellow in two minutes). A time when I shake off the gloom of the winter months. A time when I decide to put aside the serious post I meant to do about the Amazonfail flap, try to forget about tax day,  and talk about something fun.

Like zombies.

Are zombies the new vampires?

We do seem to be experiencing a sort of Zombie Renaissance these days. First, there was the sudden smash success of Max Brooks’ World War Z.



Subtitled “An Oral History of the Zombie War”, WWZ is smartly written, slyly satirical, and scary as hell all at the same time. I’d love to see it as a miniseries.


More recently, there’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a “re-imagining” of the Jane Austen classic that opens with the deathless (heh) line:”It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” As my friend Tasha says, that is just so wrong.

While I’m at it, I have to mention my current fave: Jonathan Maberry’s excellent Patient Zero, which puts a whole new spin on the zombie legend by casting them as a terrorist bioweapon. Facing the legions of the undead (and they are many)  is Maberry’s kick-ass action hero, Joe Ledger, a guy who could give Jack Reacher a run for his money.  I’ll nominate PZ’s opening lines (“When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week there’s either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world. And there’s nothing wrong with my skills.”) as one of the best openings of 2009. 

As you can see, I love a good zombie story as much as the next guy. I’ve probably seen Night of the Living Dead a couple of dozen times, and I can quote you whole scenes of Shaun of the Dead verbatim. But even I have trouble explaining this.

I mean, I can almost see the the vampire thing. There’s a certain sexiness about vampires, or so they tell me. They’re beautiful, their hunger equates with great passion, they bite your neck…hey, it’s not my kink, but whatever floats your boat.

But it’s hard to envision a bestselling YA series about a forbidden romance between a beautiful but awkward teenage girl and a mindless, shambling flesh-eating ghoul. And, even as I bow down to the sheer audacious awesomeness of Marvel Zombies

I have trouble explaining exactly why I love it so. 

So what’s the deal, ‘Rati? Do you love zombies like I love zombies, and if so, why? What’s the attraction? And what’s your favorite tale of the walking dead?  And what book do you think could only be made better if you just threw in some zombies?


A Little Jolt


by J.D. Rhoades

Like Pari, I don't believe in writer's block, at least in the sense most people think of it. I've never sat down at the computer and been unable to write ANYTHING. 

I have, however, had long spells where everything I wrote was so god-awful to my eyes that it physically hurt to look at or even think about. I've had days and sometimes weeks where I was convinced that that was it, I was done, the well's gone dry, been nice to know you all, I'm going to just drop out of sight and turn into another one of those "hey whatever happened to…." stories. And that, I am ashamed to say, has occasionally kept me away from writing. And judging by Louise's most excellent post yesterday, I'm not alone. 

But over the years, I've stumbled across  a few tricks that help me get past that feeling a little quicker. I've learned some ways to give myself a little jolt to get the motor running again. A couple of them may seem a mite strange, but they've worked for me, and they might do the same for you. Because here at Murderati, we're all about the sharing. 

1. Get away from the computer to write. I've mentioned here before that I had started writing my current WIP in longhand, in my trusty Moleskine notebook. This had the effect of knocking me out of the habit of going back and rewriting a sentence or paragraph, then  rewriting and rewriting again, to the point where I never moved forward at all. In longhand, as the poet wrote, "the moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on." I considered writing the whole thing in longhand, which seems to work well for Our Tess, but after a while, I drifted back to the keyboard. But I did so with a better outlook on the words, and I'm flying now. Oh, I'll undoubtedly end up revising a lot more than I've been used to, but that's the nature of the beast. 

2. Change the way your computer is set up. This was the one that really surprised me. I'd been having some issues with my laptop getting really hot, which started causing slowdowns and errors later in the day. Plus, I was worried about damaging my precious tool (I mean the computer, of course). I started pricing laptop stands and coolers, until I stumbled across a site via Lifehacker that showed various homemade laptop stands that people made from stuff around the house. Now, two of my favorite words are "cheap" and "free", so I started experimenting, first with an old giant three ring binder that I drilled  holes in for ventilation. My second attempt involved a piece of old wire closet shelving and an empty Pringle's can to raise it up to the right height. It all looks pretty cheesy, I have to say, but here's the thing: the change in the angle of the keyboard and screen made me look at the words differently. The screen's now up in front of my eyes, so I don't have to look down, and my hands and wrists are at a different, more comfortable angle  when I type.  It was like getting a new computer. And because it seems new, the physical act of typing seems a lot less onerous. A little thing, but suddenly I was writing a couple thousand words at a clip before I even thought to check how many I'd done. 

JT also mentioned changing the font for purposes of proofreading the other day. Next time I start to get stuck, I think I'll try that and see if it gives me that little jolt. 

Oh, and on the subject of laptop stands, check this out.

3. Take a shower. I've often joked that if they made a laptop you could use in the shower, I'd never get out. I'd probably have to buy a hot water heater the size of a Zeppelin, but it'd be worth it.  Because for some reason, hot water seems to jump-start my brain, whatever time of day. I've resolved story issues, created new characters, and recognized plot holes that needed to be plugged, all to the sound of running water. 

4. Read something that doesn't have anything to do with mystery or writing. I have a list of sites on my Google homepage under the category of "Geek Stuff" that I go to for a little diversion from my normal thought tracks. They include the above-mentioned Lifehacker, Cocktail Party Physics, Geekologie, BoingBoing, and one of my faves, a site about art and architecture called BLDGBLOG. Be careful, though; it's easy to let the search for that little jolt turn into a wasted afternoon idly surfing. Maybe set a timer for a half-hour after which you get back to your work in progress. 

How about the rest of you? What little tricks to you have to give yourself a little jolt? 

(And Happy April Fool's Day, everybody!) 

I’m Asking the Questions Here…

by J.D. Rhoades

    If you've been following the publishing news site Galleycat recently, you may have read about the brouhaha that erupted at the recent South by Southwest (SXSW) conference panel entitled  "New Think for Old Publishers". There's a pretty good synopsis at Medialoper, which can be boiled down further to this: Traditional publishers, joined by  social-networking guru Clay Shirky,  were supposed to do a panel on the changing nature of the publishing industry. It quickly became clear that the publishers didn't have any idea how to negotiate the changes brought on by technology and  accelerated by the troubled economy. Eventually , the panelists asked the crowd "well, what do y'all want?" The crowd got unhappy and occasionally downright hostile, and let the panel know it via comments. Interestingly,  they also shared their disgruntlement via a special SXSW Twitter feed. Some "tweets included: "publishers have no clue how to save themselves and little interest in models readers want," and  "This chance for learning has become a lean back and listen for the panel. It's audience funded brainstorming!"

    The Medialoper piece summed up with "As presented, the panel was an insult to the audience and a waste of time for everyone involved."

     I confess I was a little startled, not only by the reaction, but by the vehemence of it. Now, I wasn't there, so I may be totally off base (and if any of you were there, let me know, I'd love to hear your thoughts.). But from what I read, it sounds to me like these were people who apparently felt they'd been cheated because someone was asking them their opinion of which way things should go.

     This was startling to me because when it comes to panels, blogs, what have you, interactivity is an article of faith with me. If moderating a panel, I like to go to Q & A as early as I can get away with it. When blogging here, I like to end up with a question or two. Sometimes, as in my last two posts here, I've spent the whole time asking you questions about what worked for you, and it seemed to go pretty well for everybody. I don't think I'd even read a blog that didn't allow comments. At least I wouldn't read it for long.

     I don't just do it because I'm lazy. I mean, I AM lazy, but that's not my only motivation. But a few months ago, I saw a video essay by the aforementioned Professor Shirky, who's a professor at NYU (and who, as you can probably tell, has become a major influence on my recent thinking about media).   The essay is transcribed here, and you can view it here. I definitely recommend you check out the whole essay, but one of the the main things that stuck with me was the story Shirky relates about friend of his, the friend's four year old daughter, and their DVD player:

in the middle of the movie, apropos nothing, she jumps up off the couch and runs around behind the screen. That seems like a cute moment. Maybe she's going back there to see if Dora is really back there or whatever. But that wasn't what she was doing. She started rooting around in the cables. And her dad said, "What are you doing?" And she stuck her head out from behind the screen and said, "Looking for the mouse."

Here's something four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. Here's something four-year-olds know: Media that's targeted at you but doesn't include you may not be worth sitting still for.

     So what I like to do, every chance I get, is hand you the mouse and let you control things for a while.  It never occurred to me that asking for audience participation would actually make people angry. 

     Or maybe the SXSW audience was irritated because they didn't know the answers either. In the current unsettled publishing environment, if the people who are supposedly in charge don't know which way things are going to fall, then the uncertainly just gets ramped up that much higher. And fear leads to anger. And anger leads to suffering.I think Yoda said that.

    But here's the thing: we are seeing a revolution. And revolutions, by their very nature, are unpredictable. No one can really say with any degree of certainty (at least if they're honest) exactly what effects things like e-publishing, Kindles, eReaders on iPhones,  or even POD  are going to have on traditional publishing, or even if what we've known as traditional publishing is going to survive.

     In a more recent essay, Shirky describes the revolution that took place after Gutenberg's invention of the printing press:

During the wrenching transition to print, experiments were only revealed in retrospect to be turning points. Aldus Manutius, the Venetian printer and publisher, invented the smaller octavo volume along with italic type. What seemed like a minor change — take a book and shrink it — was in retrospect a key innovation in the democratization of the printed word. As books became cheaper, more portable, and therefore more desirable, they expanded the market for all publishers, heightening the value of literacy still further.

That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen. Agreements on all sides that core institutions must be protected are rendered meaningless by the very people doing the agreeing.

     So in this brave new publishing world, the only way to stay on top is going to be to keep our minds–and our ears–open. To keep experimenting. And to keep asking  questions. Because the next great idea could come from anywhere.

       BTW, I was fascinated by Pari's experiment on Monday where everyone was invited to help write a piece of the story. It really took some unexpected turns. Maybe THAT's one potential new genre: the WikiStory.

So, today's questions: 

Is interactivity important to you? For example, would you keep reading this blog if it didn't allow comments? Would you rather hear from us, talk back to us, or a little of both?

What's your idea to save publishing or if you don't want to save it, what's your idea to replace it? IOW, what models do you, as readers, want?

Here's the mouse.

The Heretic II: The Reckoning

by J.D. Rhoades 

Wow. 118 replies to my last post asking what is it that influences people to buy. Several people have asked me if that's some kind of record. I'm not sure, but it may very well be. 

Thank you all for your responses, which were very illuminating. I won't bore you with a tabulation of all the votes, partially because a lot of your answers defied easy pigeonholing and partially because counting every vote was looking like it was going to take longer than the Minnesota recount litigation. But I did get enough data to see significant trends. Here are the trends I saw, with my answers, and some thoughts, and…whee! More questions!

1. Have you ever bought a book by an author who you'd never heard of because you saw the trailer for it on the Internet?

Your answers:  the overwhelming response was "no." But Our Toni pointed out another use for trailers: to give the sales reps a quick and easy way to grasp what the book was about and, possibly, a tool with which to sell it.

My answer: I've never bought a book because of the trailer. All due respect to my friends who've done these, but most trailers bore the pants off me.  I did have an interesting experience with Toni's trailer for BOBBIE FAYE'S' VERY (VERY VERY VERY) BAD DAY. It was done like a movie preview, with scenes from the book brought to life. This trailer, I'm happy to say did not bore me, but I discovered that, when I read the book, the actress Toni had playing  Bobbie Faye clashed with the picture I got  in my mind from the book. I quickly got over it, but was jarring at first. 

2. Have you ever bought a book by an author who you'd never heard of based on their website, blog, or MyFace page? Or did you more often find the author's 'net presence AFTER you read them?

Your answers:   The majority  said they went to an author's website AFTER reading the author's book, to learn more about the author. But, there was a significant enough number of people who noted that they'd "met" authors on blogs and such and picked up their books as a result. It's too significant a minority, IMHO, to be safely ignored. This made me  realize that I had phrased the question too narrowly by only including websites and author blogs, so there's an additional question at the end of this installment. Some people pointed out that they looked to the website to learn about upcoming books as well. 

My answer:  I have had people tell me they've picked up one of my books because they read my blog or encountered me on an Internet  message board or on Facebook. No one's ever told me they've bought a book because of my website. I've bought several books by people who I've "met" online, but that's because of actual  online interactions with them, not by passively reading the website. 

3. Have you ever bought a book by an author who you'd never heard of because they were appearing in a bookstore and they caught your interest?

Again, the vast majority said "no." BUT…see below for a reason writers may not want to just stay home. 

My answer: No. Never. 

4. Have you ever bought a book by an author who you'd never heard of because you saw it in the store and it looked interesting? Where was it in the store?

A vast majority said "yes", and a lot of you credited prominent display of the book, either on the tables at the front or face out in the stacks.

5. If you've ever  bought a book from an author who you'd never heard of for any other reason, why was that?

Here, the answers were all over the map, but there was a definite preference for personal recommendations, either by friends or by bookstore staff. Other things that influenced people were the cover, the jacket copy, and just picking the book up and reading a bit.

So, what have we learned? Well, some of the things that influence buyers we don't have any control over, but some we do. So let's talk about the things we do, and feel free to disagree with my conclusions below:

Trailers may have their uses, but they don't seem to have a lot of influence on consumer decisions. They may be handy for influencing buyers for bookstores (and any bookstore owners or managers out there, feel free to chime in).

Personal appearances of the "read and sign" variety don't seem to influence new readers to buy  books. However, since staff recommendations do seem to have an effect, a writer's  time might be better spent on stock signings, including so-called "drive-bys", where the writer drops in, sign copies so they can slap those "autographed Copy" stickers  on, and most importantly get to know the bookseller.This last part is actually fun, because let's face it,  booksellers are people with whom writers should have a natural affinity.

In addition, as I think I've mentioned before, Stacey Cochran once set up an interesting series of events with me and Our Alex that were less reading/signings and more educational events on publishing and getting published. And they packed the house. And we sold some books.

A traditional website may not sell huge numbers of  first time readers on you, but they can be good for selling your other books to the same readers. As Toni Kelner put it: "the biggest thing [a website] does is to take a reader and turn her into a Fan. "

Now you'll notice I said "traditional" websites and blogs, by which I mean the Web 1.0, I-talk-you-listen, "here's what I've written, here's where I'll be" style  website. But, as I noted above, my original question didn't take into account more interactive web experiences, such as newsgroups like rec.arts.mystery, listservs such as DorothyL or 4MA, author website forums like Le
e Child's
, or social networks like Facebook or MySpace. 

So, new questions: 

1. Even if you're not persuaded to buy by an author's traditional website, does it make a difference if you've "met" them online, as in actually had some interaction with them? 

2. What are your favorite sites, if any,  at which to do meet n' greet authors? 

3. What are your favorite sites, if any. to get recommendations? 

4. Have you ever done one of the those "live chat" thingies with an author you've never read before and did it make you go "Hmmm, I'd like to buy that book?" 

5. Twitter: brave new marketing tool or complete waste of freakin' time? 

6. Isn't JD  just fishing for excuses to waste more time hanging out on the Internet? 

The Heretic

by J.D. Rhoades 

While reading Tess' post last week on how it's not enough to be a writer anymore, I had a bit of an epiphany. It was expressed this comment in which I said:

I wonder if [publishers would] be saying that, say, book trailers were so vital if the publishers were required by law to write, produce, and pay for them, or if they'd say "aw, why bother, book trailers don't really sell more books."

And websites…you think anyone bought THE DA VINCI CODE because of Dan Brown's website? Does he even HAVE one? How many if the people who made Michael Connelly's last book a bestseller discovered him through his website?

I'll admit, that comment came off perhaps a little crankier than I had intended. Actually, truth be told,  I was a little crankier than usual that day for reasons we don't need to go into right now.  But I think the point's still valid: you may sell some books through the kind of marketing "everybody says" you have to do. But I really don't think that the people who make blockbusters blockbusters are buying books because they saw a trailer, or even because they saw a website.

I know this sounds like heresy.  But I think we here at Murderati, and all of us folks who frequent the book blogs, are a bit of a skewed sample. Most of us are not only hard-core book geeks, we also probably spend a lot of time on the Internet.

But here's something I've noticed. A lot of the biggest readers I know, including mystery readers, don't spend a lot of time Web-surfing, and those that do aren't hitting the book sites. My in-laws are voracious readers, and they don't even have a computer (which gives them more time to read).  Several of my colleagues in the law biz read a lot, and I can't remember a single one of them telling me they bought a book because they saw a trailer for it on YouTube or stumbled across the author's website. I know I've sold some books via people I've met on Facebook, and a few due to the blogging I do, but none of those sales were enough to kick me up to the bestseller lists. And while there have been a couple of times I'd have had to take off my shoes and socks to count the number of books I've sold at bookstore events, more often than not I can just use the fingers of one hand.  There have only been a couple times when the sales themselves justified the cost of the gas.

Now, do I think that publishers are just being evil and sadistic by telling us we need to do more and more,  and pay for more and more out of our own pockets? Not at all. I think they're just as baffled as we are, and when something looks like a good idea, and they don't have to pay for it, they're willing to say "hey, go for it," especially if everyone else seems to be doing it.

But hey, maybe I'm wrong. Lord knows, that's happened before. So writers and readers, I want to ask you to do me a solid.  I'm going to pose a few questions that I not only want YOU to answer, I want you to ask at least one friend or relative who reads and who you know IN PERSON, not just on the ''net.

1. Have you ever bought a book by an author who you'd never heard of because you saw the trailer for it on the Internet?

2. Have you ever bought a book by an author who you'd never heard of based on their website, blog, or MyFace page?Or did you more often find the author's 'net presence AFTER you read them?

3. Have you ever bought a book by an author who you'd never heard of because they were appearing in a bookstore and they caught your interest?

4. Have you ever bought a book by an author who you'd never heard of because you saw it in the store and it looked interesting? Where was it in the store?

5. If you've ever  bought a book from an author who you'd never heard of for any other reason, why was that?

It's a totally unscientific survey, of course, but I'm interested in the replies.

Faster! Faster!

by J.D. Rhoades 

I like Duane Swierczynski. I really do. His books SECRET DEAD MEN, THE WHEELMAN, THE BLONDE, and the recently released SEVERANCE PACKAGE are among my absolute favorites, thanks to their breakneck pace and over the top plots.

Duane's a great guy, too. He was one of the first friends I made in the business after getting published, and he's a lot of fun to hang out with.

But right now, damn if the boy ain't bringin' me down.

See, I'm one of those people who thinks turning out a thousand words a day on a work in progress is a pretty good day. Twenty-five hundred and I become obnoxiously  pleased with myself. You can ask around. 

But last week, Duane started running a series on his blog about some of the old-school pulp paperback writers. The series was called "Legends of the Underwood" and it featured writers like Gil Brewer, Richard Matheson, Richard Bachman aka Stephen King, etc. And friends, I have to tell you, looking at their productivity makes me feel plumb puny. Brewer once wrote a book in three days. Matheson likewise  wrote FURY ON SUNDAY in three days. Bachman/King wrote THE RUNNING MAN in 72 hours. Are you beginning to see a pattern emerge here?

Oh. sure these were shorter novels than we typically see these days; the ones I mentioned were about 50,000 words. This is what the  famous NaNoWriMo project has people do in thirty days. But these pros did it in three. 

Wait, it gets worse…Michael Avallone, who called himself "King of the Paperbacks," claims to have once written a book in a day and a half.

Suddenly, I don't feel like doing as much strutting over a twenty-five hundred word day. Now, to be fair, I still do have a day job, but if I could get on the kind of writing pace where I could write a whole novel in a couple of long weekends, I might be able to leave that behind a lot quicker. And I know people writing full time who tell me they end up doing about four or five thousand on the best day they ever had.

Okay, you may ask, but were these books any good? Well, I haven't read all of them but yes, THE RUNNING MAN is pretty damn good.  I don't know if Richard Matheson could write a bad book. A lot of those old PBOs contained some great hardboiled and noir writing.

So what's the secret? how did these guys produce so much quality work, so fast?

One obvious answer suggests itself from the title of Duane's series: they were writing on typewriters, not computers.  That cuts out a lot of  things that can slow you down. They didn't have to fight the temptation to take a break and check their e-mail or who was SuperPoking them on Facebook. But writing away from the computer also takes away a more subtle productivity thief: the temptation to agonize over every word choice, to go back and rewrite the paragraph you just did, to  back up and redo that last sentence to make it just a little better. Oh, certainly they'd go back and revise in the second draft, but when you don't have the backspace/erase  or cut and paste functions, you just have to put your head down and go. 

Not that I'm going to be haunting the junk shops for old Olivettis or Underwoods to write on. I've often said that, because I'm such a lousy typist, I don't think I'd be writing if it wasn't for the computer. Back in the Stone Age when I was in college, writing term papers and stories and the like on a typewriter was sheer torture. The WiteOut would get crusted on the paper so  thick the pages  would crackle. And the cursing from my room over typos and mistakes turned the air blue through many a long, late night. But I have found that when I write a scene or chapter in longhand, I can produce a hell of a lot more pages faster than I can on the computer. Then, when I go back and type the pages out, I can do the revisions I'd thought of when I was scratching the words out in my trusty Moleskine. 

Another factor, I think,  is that for the most part, all these guys had to do was write. I don't recall ever hearing of Richard Matheson or Gil Brewer doing a book tour. None of them ever had to do a trailer or a blog. Conferences were a lot fewer and farther between. They wrote the books,  the PBO publishers like Gold Medal got them to the stores (usually in mind bogglingly huge print runs), everybody made money.  

And that, I get, brings us to the heart of the matter: for these fellows, the writing was the job, and you spent the same amount of time actually doing it as you would at any other employment. You got to work and slaved away for at least eight hours, more if it was a rush order, the same way you'd do if you were selling insurance or making cars. They didn't look at it as art; they were craftsmen. 

What's your take on this? Would you write faster if you could? How would you go about writing 50K in three days? How do you think they did it? 

And, if you dare: what do you consider a good word count for the day?