The Stick and The Carrot

Zoë Sharp

The humble donkey is the beast of burden across the globe. It ambles along on impossibly dainty feet, while carrying outrageous loads apparently without complaint.

And always, it seems, there’s a man on the animal’s back with a stick.

I’m not suggesting that the man beats the donkey, although I’m sure that happens with depressing regularity. But the stick is still there and the implication is clear – go faster, work harder, or this is going to hurt.

I think I know how that feels.

The most depressing job I ever had was a brief stint selling display advertising for the local paper. Classifieds were a different section. People want to place classified adverts. They do so specifically because they want to sell something, or buy something. All the classified sales people had to do was sit by the phone and wait for calls.

Display advertising is different. Display advertising is the stuff that gets in the way of the stories people are trying to read at the front of the paper. Unless it’s by chance, their eye skims over the ad without ever taking any of it in. And, I admit, if you work for a New York ad agency you probably have some very scientific ways of making people look at those ads, but I didn’t have those skills.

Nobody wants to spend money on advertising. They know that half that money is wasted – they just don’t know which half. They practically hid under the desk when they saw you coming, or told their secretaries to fob off your phone calls. So, persuading small businesses, week after week, to lay out cash for adverts that ultimately ended up lining the cat litter tray or the bottom of the budgie’s cage, was not my best choice of career. (I did mention it was a very BRIEF stint, didn’t I?)

But what has this got to do with the donkey and the man with the stick? Well, in my case, the display ad sales people were the donkeys, and the stick was being wielded by the advertising manager.

We were given weekly targets of how much advertising we had to sell, and we never seemed to be able to quite make those targets. Looking back, I’m pretty sure that if we’d worked it out we would have discovered that he was trying to get us to sell more ads than it was actually possible to fit into the paper, and if we’d ever managed it we would have caused a major glitch in the space/time continuum.

After six months, the job started to stress me out so much that I even developed a heart murmur. (I’ve never been very good at the high-pressure sell. I can’t even do it with my own books.)

The whole experience was all stick and no carrot.

I’ve discovered over the years that I will go a long way and work my little wot-nots off for a bit of encouragement and a thank you. That is far more important to me than getting paid – I’d rather do a good job than a quick job.

Which possibly explains why I am not a lot more wealthy than I am ;-]

The world of being a published writer can involve a lot of stick, and only being shown the occasional distant slightly out-of-focus photographs of something that might be some kind of root vegetable, but it’s in black and white so you can’t be sure if it isn’t a parsnip.

Things are tough for authors at the moment. If you’re not topping the bestseller lists, you’re being cut loose. It’s a big stick world, and sometimes it feels like we’re the donkeys.

And I know it’s been slowing me down, weighting me down, miring me down. I could feel it. My enjoyment of the whole business of actually writing was ebbing away. It had little to do with success or failure – it was to do with job satisfaction. People can be at the top of their field and still not really enjoy what they’re doing.

When I came back from the States in March, having witnessed the explosion in e-readers, with the idea that I would put the backlist Charlie Fox books out in e-format, starting with a short story e-thology, some people told me I was mad to contemplate tackling the whole conversion process myself.

“Writers should write,” I was told. “Leave that to the experts.”

I’ve never been very good at taking advice, especially when it concerns things I can’t or shouldn’t do.

So Andy and I, with help from my web guru, set about learning how to code and convert. Sadly, a lot of conversion work seems to be carried out by people who don’t love books, and the reading experience is spoilt by silly mistakes and bad bits of coding that slip through.

Producing an eBook is not just about the conversion process, though. It’s about EVERYTHING connected to a book, from the front cover to the wording of the copyright page. If that all sounds like a lot of work, it is.

But I found it was a LOT of fun, too.

 FOX FIVE: a Charlie Fox short story collection went live on August 8th, and yesterday the first of the backlist went up, too – KILLER INSTINCT: Charlie Fox book one. So, for all those people who wanted to read the series right from the very beginning, now they can. As soon as all the backlist is up on Amazon, we’ll start coding for other reader formats, too.

I resisted the urge to rewrite the book – difficult tho’ that urge was to resist – but did take the opportunity to reinsert two backstory scenes that never made the final book. These explain a little more about Charlie’s military career and the start of her relationship with Sean Meyer. (I didn’t quite appreciate at that stage how important that relationship was going to be, or how integral to the character, hence the original cut.)

Getting KILLER INSTINCT ready for e-publication has been a fascinating experience. Not only was there a fabulous new cover by Jane Hudson at NuDesign I was very fortunate in that Lee Child generously allowed me to use the Foreword he wrote for the Busted Flush trade paperback edition last year. I added my own Afterword from the same edition, together with tasters from the other books in the series, including an excerpt from the next one, RIOT ACT, which is undergoing conversion as we speak. And finally, I joined forces with our former ‘Rati, Brett Battles.

Brett very kindly gave me an excerpt from his Jonathan Quinn novella, BECOMING QUINN, to include at the back of KILLER INSTINCT. In return, an excerpt from KILLER INSTINCT will be going in the back of Brett’s next Logan Harper novel. This is the kind of cross-pollination that not only gives people a nice added extra, but will hopefully also introduce the readers of both of us to something new they might enjoy.

So, I hope you’ll forgive me a small amount of proud-parent BSP at this point:

‘Susie Hollins may have been no great shakes as a karaoke singer, but I didn’t think that was enough reason for anyone to want to kill her.’

Charlie Fox makes a living teaching self-defence to women in a quiet northern English city. It makes best use of the deadly skills she picked up after being kicked out of army Special Forces training for reasons she prefers not to go into. So, when Susie Hollins is found dead hours after she foolishly takes on Charlie at the New Adelphi Club, Charlie knows it’s only a matter of time before the police come calling. What they don’t tell her is that Hollins is the latest victim of a homicidal rapist stalking the local area.

Charlie finds herself drawn closer to the crime when the New Adelphi’s enigmatic owner, Marc Quinn, offers her a job working security at the club. Viewed as an outsider by the existing all-male team, her suspicion that there’s a link between the club and a serial killer doesn’t exactly endear her to anyone. Charlie has always taught her students that it’s better to run than to stand and fight, But, when the killer starts taking a very personal interest, it’s clear he isn’t going to give her that option . . .

 ‘Charlie looks like a made-for-TV model, with her red hair and motorcycle leathers, but Sharp means business. The bloody bar fights are bloody brilliant, and Charlie’s skills are both formidable and for real.’ Marilyn Stasio, New York Times

OK, I’m done now.

This whole thing has proved a huge carrot for me. Getting reacquainted with Charlie at this early point in her history has reminded me why I started writing about her in the first place, and why I can’t wait to get back on with the next book.

Suddenly, writing is fun again, like starting to exercise and stretch muscles that had started to atrophy. I needed a boost, and this has provided it. Getting the short stories out there in FOX FIVE allowed people who’d vaguely heard about Charlie to try a selection of short pieces about her without investing time in a whole book. The 50 free review copies I offered in my last blog were all snapped up within hours. The reviews so far have been great. And if anyone would like a review copy of KILLER INSTINCT, they only have to email me . . . authorzoesharp [at] gmail [dot] com.

This whole experience has, one might say, re-kindled my enthusiasm.

So, ‘Rati, have you faced a time when you were absolutely fed up with what you were doing, and what did you do about it? Or, if you’re still in that situation, what are you going to do about it?

Finally, I thought I’d introduce a new section about what I’m reading on my sparkly new Kindle at the moment.

I’ve just finished LITTLE ELVISES by Timothy Hallinan. The book is the second to feature Junior Bender – and how can you not LOVE that name? – Tim’s Los Angeles burglar who moonlights as a private eye for crooks.

The ‘Little Elvises’ of the title were Philadelphia teenagers plucked off the city’s stoops in the 1960s by a mobbed-up record producer named Vinnie DiGaudio and turned into pallid imitations of the boy from Tupelo until their fourteen-year-old fans got tired of them and moved on to the next one. When Vinnie is in the cops’ sights for a murder, Junior is brought in, unwillingly, to prove Vinnie’s innocence. Unless, of course, Vinnie did it.

But one way or another, Vinnie – a gangster whose product was innocence – has made a central mistake. Some things never go away. And that’s what drives the plot of LITTLE ELVISES.

This book was enormous fun. Very wittily written, it’s refreshing in that Junior (sorry, Tim – I can’t bring myself to call him Bender) is far from a hapless comedy PI. He has smarts, both street and of mouth. I shall definitely be seeking out the first book in this series, CRASHED.

And I’ve just started reading Wayne D Dundee’s THE SKINTIGHT SHROUD, a Joe Hannibal mystery. When someone starts turning blue movies bright red with the blood of murdered porn stars, Joe Hannibal is called behind the scenes to prevent more killings. His investigation takes him places that are both shocking and dangerous and in no time at all he finds himself at odds with the mob, the police, a savage local pimp, and in the arms of another man’s woman.

As the case hurtles toward a startling, blood-spattered climax, Hannibal will experience pleasure -and pain-like he has never known before. His life will hang in the balance more than once before the last dirty secret is exposed and the final desperate killer is cut down. Intriguing so far . . .

This week’s Word of the Week is karmageddon, which is, like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s, like, a serious bummer, man.

29 thoughts on “The Stick and The Carrot

  1. PK the Bookeemonster

    Brilliant post, Zoe. Sometimes you've got to do what is in front of you. I'm currently in a job I hate doing, collections for a hospital/health network, but it's a job and pays the bills. But I do keep a goal in mind: if I can make until December, I can apply for internal listings at the hospital so hopefully a better job and better paying job is down the road a bit. A goal or reward helps.
    Congrats on your sparkly new Kindle! I love mine, though it is 2nd version and probably dated now. I read both it and paper books and utilize the library so no one loses out. Just finished THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy on the Kindle. Inhaled and absolutely loved them.

  2. Tammy Cravit

    Great post, Zoë – I too have worked in jobs that were all stick, no carrot, and writing has been a path out of some of them. Of course, as I work on revising the current novel (hopefully, the first publishable one I've written), I wonder if I'm crazy pursuing that goal given both the state of the economy and the state of the publishing busines lately. Time will tell, I suppose.

  3. Dana King

    You've struck on an often-ignored benefit of e-books, the ability for the author to release what is, essentially, the director's cut of a book. If an agent or editor insisted something had to go and the author would rather have saved it, it can come back in.

    There is also the opportunity for deleted scenes. Yes, this scene had to go, I agree. But it's such a good scene, even though it doesn't advance the story. I'll put it at the back, as Bonus Material.

    Authors are only now starting to figure out how e-books can address our creative needs. This could be a lot of fun.

  4. Brett Battles

    Congratulations Zoë on getting FOX 5 and now KILLER INSTINCT out in the e-world! It's a pretty amazing place (though no one should read that as easy to conquer.) These cross pollination opportunities are one of the many cool things about this never avenue. I'm happy and honored to share digital space with you.

  5. Zoë Sharp

    Thanks PK
    I’m with you on the reading anything as long as it has words ;-] I read more paper than electronic, but I can see that changing, just for convenience. Plus we’re trying to downsize, so less room for physical books in the future.

    Good luck with your change of job. Having a goal helps you hang in there, doesn’t it?

    Hi Tammy
    I sometimes think it’s nice to have more than one job, so when you’re getting stick from one, hopefully you can find a morsel of carrot from the other. Perseverance is all in this game. Keep scribbling!

  6. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Dana
    I’ve always loved the deleted scenes on DVDs – in fact, I recently bought a second copy of the movie ‘Ronin’ just because the new version had more extras on it. And you’re right, doing a new e-version WAS a great opportunity to add back those cutting-room-floor bits. Although for KILLER INSTINCT I did an Afterword to go with Lee’s Foreword, on the others I’m doing a ‘from the Author’s notebook’ section of notes about the story, like sleeve notes on a CD – ah, in these days of mp3 I think that dates me ;-]

    Thanks Brett
    And a big thank you to you for allowing me to include an excerpt from BECOMING QUINN. I thoroughly enjoyed your novella, and the e-format was an ideal opportunity for you to give the genesis of the character. It was an honour for me, too, guy ;-]

  7. Sarah W

    I just got my hands on the Busted Flush version of Killer Instinct (someone who read my review of Fox Five loaned it to me in exchange for help in downloading your e-thology, so there you go) and stayed up way too late, or possibly early, to finish it. But now I want to read the 'extra' background scenes before I review!

    As for being fed up . . . about sixteen years ago, I was working in a mall bookstore, unable to use my teaching degree for more than subbing — and suspecting I didn't want to — when my manager (bless her sadistic, arrogant, sociopathic, wizened little burnt Brussels sprout of a heart) finally made it impossible for me to continue there.

    I resigned and exchanged two weeks of vacation owed me in lieu of notice. During those two weeks, I crammed for and took the GRE, applied to the nearest University with a library science program, and dragged my husband, two cats, and all our worldly goods across state lines to get my MLS. Two years later, I dragged us all (plus additional cat, I think) across three state lines for my first library job.

    The only thing I regret is that I actually *owe* that manager for breaking my inertia. I should send her a nice muffin basket.

  8. Louise Ure

    I'm definitely more of a carrot person. (Although, truth be told, the impetus would work better with a good wine or a pork product than with a carrot.)

    Congrats on your new e-ventures. They sound like they're keeping you energized … and creative.

  9. Eika

    I'm in an all-stick no-carrot job right now. I work at McDonalds. If there was ever a thankless industry, it was that.

    Right now, I'm managing just by brevity. I can't work at the McDonalds in my hometown when I'm at college, so there's always a 'done in x weeks' clause until the next summer. But after this year, when I've graduated? If there's ever a reason to jobhunt with a passion, that's it.

    At least until I can support myself writing.


  10. Alafair Burke

    I was thinking about this recently when I read somewhere that Laura Lippman (wow, I'm talking about her a lot this week) said she was happiest when she finished a book, which meant she really only got to be extremely happy one day a year.

  11. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Sarah
    Hope you like the two extra scenes in KILLER INSTINCT. Just goes to show that the folder I have for each book filled with bits that didn’t quite make it in the final typescript can come in very useful.

    I love the “bless her sadistic, arrogant, sociopathic, wizened little burnt Brussels sprout of a heart” – what a wonderful phrase! Sometimes you need that extra push to make the right move. Just imagine where you might be if your manager had been a sweetie?

    Thanks Louise
    Not being able to drink, wine is not a good motivator for me ;-] And I’m surprised by my renewed enthusiasm. Makes me remember why I started out down this path in the first place!

  12. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Alaina
    When I received those ‘rave rejections’ for my first novel and temporarily gave up on my aspirations to be a fiction author (well, come on – I was only fifteen at the time and easily discourage) I eventually became a freelance non-fiction writer, that graduated into being a photo-journalist. That was in 1988, and despite being told when I started that I’d never be able to make a living writing, I haven’t had a ‘proper’ job since.

    These things do work out if you work at them ;-]

    Hi Alafair
    I’ve said previously that I enjoyed “having written” rather than actually writing, but I do believe I’m getting my mojo back for the nitty-gritty of the job itself, and I’m cautiously delighted.

  13. Zoë Sharp

    Apologies, by the way, if you’ve been having trouble posting comments lately. Squarespace is being a little moody of late – but don’t take it personally.

    And we’re working on getting it fixed, so please persevere!

  14. Jeanne in MN

    Charlie is a red-head?!!?? I Thought she was a blonde who looked strikingly like Zoe Sharp. Now I have to re-read all the books with that description in mind!

  15. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Jeanne
    Well, reddish-blonde, I think is how she’s described. Except in FIRST DROP, when her hair is pink – for part of the book, at least ;-]

    Thanks JT
    Hmm, too many sticks and not enough carrots, eh? And which do you respond to better …?

  16. Reine

    Total genius, Zoë and Brett! Congratulating you both on your e-entries and looking forward to reading all.

    Zoë, I've read of some unhappiness with iBooks pricing technique, but I love their superb formatting capabilities.

  17. Zoë Sharp

    Thanks Reine
    This cross-pollination is a great idea, I think, to allow Brett’s readers to see what they think of my books, and vice versa. It’s not something a conventional publisher would contemplate with two different authors, especially if they were not published by the same house.

    When the intention was that the early Charlie Fox books would be coming out in the States from Busted Flush, and the later ones from Pegasus, I know I was amazed and delighted when both publishers agreed to include ads for the other books in the back of their own editions. That seemed very enlightened. This is just taking things one step further in the name of author camaraderie.

    As for your comment about responding poorly to sticks, having had the pleasure of meeting you in Tucson, I wouldn’t expect anything else ;-]

  18. PD Martin

    Great to hear you've seen the light…or carrot. My recent publishing experiences have also been lots of stick and no carrot. It's certainly tough times in the book world if you're not an already established best seller.

    Good luck with the ebooks! It's great that you 'own' your backlist and can do this. I'm not sure if anyone will own their backlist in the future, because I wonder if the clause in most contracts about being out of print will be null and void if the publisher whips up an e-version and posts it online.

  19. Zoë Sharp

    Hi PD
    Thank you the good wishes. It is tough out there at the moment, but at least authors now have a viable alternative to quietly folding their tents.

    The answer to a never-out-of-print ebook is a limited-time licence, which my former agent used to do for foreign rights deals. The publisher buys the rights to the work for a number of years, and at the end of that time have to renegotiate the contract or rights revert to the author in that territory. She was a smart cookie when it came to contracts ;-]

  20. Pari Noskin

    I'm very happy for you, m'dear. I hope to get some of my work up soon . . . but I've been saying that for months and months. It'll happen.

    The writing itself has been a marvelous, crunchy and sweet carrot indeed.

  21. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Lookin' good, Zoester. Zoemeister. Zoejomatic.
    Congratulations on getting in on the e:book phenom.
    I get what you're saying about losing the lust for writing due to the changing world of publishing. I'm one of those who was cut loose to face this new era alone. In a way, I've lost faith in the world of publishing, and that's made it much harder for me to enjoy writing my new novel. I wish there was a clear path. Then again, has there ever been?

  22. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Reine
    “…as long as the carrot can be withdrawn it is just an orange stick.” Brilliant!

    Hi Pari
    Thank you. So glad you’re enjoying your writing – and come on it, the e-water’s lovely ;-]

    Thanks Stephenster!
    Self-doubt will always sit on the writer’s shoulder, but if it didn’t how would we strive to produce a book that’s always better than the last? Hope it all unfolds as it should for someone of your talent – and soon ;-]

  23. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Eve

    Thank you – I'm pretty glad, too. And if the whole eBook experience does nothing more than give me a kick up the butt to dive back into the next book, it will have been worth it ;-]

Comments are closed.