Battles & Browne: Self-Publishing Dynamos

POE-15Authors Brett Battles and Robert Gregory Browne have been friends for years. They are among the savviest authors I know and both have enjoyed considerable success and critical acclaim with their thrillers (Rob’s novel KISS HER GOODBYE was even adapted as a pilot for CBS starring Dylan Walsh).  Now they have ventured into self-publishing, on their own and in joint ventures, and they are both doing extraordinarily well. They have a new co-authored book out (POE) and two new individual titles (NEGLIGENCE by Rob and THE ENRAGED by Brett), so I thought this was the perfect time to catch up with them.

Brett, you are perhaps best known for your QUINN series. Were you worried about your Quinn fans finding your new, self-published books after you left your publisher?
B: Honestly, I was more worried about ANYONE finding my new books. I jumped in to this area 2 1/2 years ago, and while there were success stories then, I had no idea if it would even work or, if it did, last. I didn’t start of putting out new Quinn novels though. Started with some other, new series I’d been working on, and a couple Quinn short stories. About five months into it, I did put out my Quinn prequel novel, BECOMING QUINN, which really took off and told me the fans were still there.
How has your life changed since you made the move? How has it impacted the Quinn series?
B: I’m my own boss now, and I prefer that! I actually am a tougher boss than my old publisher as I demand many more finished novels a year than they did. I’ve always been a fast writer, even when I was traditionally published. It’s just then I ended up having a lot of down time because they only wanted one book a year. Now, I write at least four novels a year, and even try to squeeze in a short or two, or even a novella. In other words, I don’t allow myself to just sit around. My business is writing. If I were in construction or clothing or financial advice or whatever I’d be working everyday, so I feel I should be doing that with writing. So that kind of answers your second part. Instead of One Quinn novel a year, in the past 18 months I’ve release 3. More satisfying for the fans as they don’t have to wait as long.

Robert, you have been friends with Brett for years. I hear he had to drag you kicking and screaming into self-publishing. 

R: Ah, yes. When most of my friends were jumping into self-publishing, I had just finished a book for Penguin that was due to come out in hardcover. Plus, I was writing books under a pen name for a traditional publisher. So I was very much part of the “establishment” at the time. I had high hopes for the hardcover, but that was around the time ebooks were having a huge surge in popularity and hardcovers were dying, so the writing was pretty much on the wall. I saw all the success that Brett and others were having with their self-pubbed work and after the hardcover didn’t sell as well as I hoped (no surprise), I decided it was time to take the leap.NEGLIGENCE-FINAL-20
You had a huge hit with TRIAL JUNKIES. That must have been a stunning, and very welcome, surprise. What was the secret to the successful launch (so we can all steal it for ourselves, ofcourse)?

R: Yeah, that came completely out of left field. I had been told that self-publishing is slow going at first, that you have to give it time to build your audience, that not all of your “traditional” readers will embrace the technology, so to see TRIAL JUNKIES suddenly take off right out of the gate was a pretty amazing experience. Two weeks after it was out I had already sold 20,000 copies and it was still going strong. A month later, it was STILL going strong. Now, a year later, it just hit the Amazon Top 50 and went to #1 in Legal Thrillers again. It’s the book that won’t quit.

As for the secret, there really isn’t one. A week after it was published, I did a three-day free promo, got 46,000 downloads and the bounce when it went back to paid was incredible.
You mentioned that TRIAL JUNKIES benefited from the post-free bounce. Do the free promos still have the same mojo? From what I can tell, they don’t. 
At the time TRIAL JUNKIES was released, I was told that the free promos didn’t work as well as they once did, but it worked wonderfully for that book. But a year later, I think some of the luster has definitely worn off. I recently did a 99 cent promo for TRIAL JUNKIES that helped put it back in the Top 50, but as of this writing, I’m not sure what kind of post-sale bounce it will get, or how it will effect the sequel, NEGLIGENCE.
I’ve been sticking with KDP Select largely because of the Prime library borrows, which bring me more income than Barnes & Noble or Kobo ever did. I think, however, that we may be getting to the point where we’ll have to be shelling out a little more money for advertising on newsletters like Bookbub, which seem to be very effective.
THE ENRAGED FINAL_400w-1You were leery about self-publishing, Rob…but now you’re into it in a big way. You’re even designing your own covers. What made you decide to take such a hands-on approach? And do you enjoy it?

R: Actually, self-publishing was made for someone like me. My pre-author work involved video production and design, so it was only natural for me to utilize those skills. I really enjoy doing covers—I’ve done several for other authors as well—because it’s a different outlet that lets me stretch a another set of creative muscles.

You have both collaborated on a new, original, self-published ebook called POE… how did that come about? And what was it like working together?

R: For me it was largely painless. I had come up with the idea for POE several years earlier, but had never gotten around to doing anything other than a short synopsis and a couple chapters. I had pitched the idea to Brett at the time and he always loved it, so when we decided to write something together, he suggested POE and I thought why not? But I was in the middle of another book at the time, so he was the one who sat down and fleshed the idea out, wrote an outline we agreed on, then hammered out the first draft. I came in and did a rewrite, then Brett did the final polish. We spent a lot of time on the phone discussing various scenes and character motivations, but we never had any real disagreements. We also found that our writing styles meshed quite well.

B: What Rob said. Painless and fun! Can’t wait until the next one’s underway.

How has the book performed? Will there be sequels?

R: I’m happy to say that the book has been performing well despite little publicity. I’ll be launching into the first draft of the sequel sometime this month.

It seems you both followed up POE almost immediately with new, self-published ebooks. Was that always the master plan behind the timing of the release of POE? Was it intended as a “gateway drug” for draw your audiences to one another’s work?

R: Is there supposed to be a master plan? The collaboration was certainly designed to draw in readers from each other’s camp, but the new books were already planned even before we decided to write POE. Brett puts out several books a year and my own personal plan is to catch up to him at some point.

B: No master plan. Just put out the books when they’re ready.

Are there more collaborations on tap?

R: Well, there’s the new POE, which should be out in time for Christmas, and there’s another idea of mine we’ve considered working on called LINGER, but finding time to get it fleshed out and written is a problem with our busy schedules.

B: LINGER is going to be great when we finally get to it! Can’t wait.

Tell us more about your new books.
B: My latest is Quinn #7, called THE ENRAGED. It picks right up where the last book, THE COLLECTED, left off. There was a bit of a cliff hanger at the end of that. In THE ENRAGED, Quinn sets out to deal with those responsible for what happened in THE COLLECTED. It’s rocket fast, exciting, and, hopefully, utterly satisfying.

R: My book NEGLIGENCE is a sequel to TRIAL JUNKIES. Hutch and his old college friends—who spend a lot of time watching trials at a Chicago courthouse—find themselves embroiled in a case involving the murder of a school girl that leads them to an exclusive preparatory academy that could very well be housing a killer. It’s got a few shocks for fans of TRIAL JUNKIES, but I think they’ll be pleased.

Writing A Kick-Ass Pilot

Writing the PilotWilliam Rabkin has written what has quickly become the bible for writing pilots…his terrific, widely acclaimed book Writing the Pilot. Now he’s sharing his knowledge in an intensive, weekend-long writing seminar that’s a must-attend for aspiring TV writers. Here are the details from Bill himself:

My good friends at Writing Pad tell me that there are only a couple of spaces left in my intensive weekend workshop on writing your pilot that’s coming up in just a week.

And what is this intensive weekend workshop on writing your pilot? Glad you asked! Here’s the pitch:

Are you finally ready to write that pilot? Do you have a concept you’re burning to bring to life but don’t know where to start? How about an intensive weekend pilot bootcamp taught by the author of that classic text, Writing the Pilot?

(Um, that would be me, in case anyone is wondering…)

And when I say intensive…

We’re going to start Friday, June 21 at 7pm, and wrap up Sunday 23 at 5pm. (Okay, maybe not that intensive — Friday goes 7-10, while the two weekend days are 10am to 5pm…) We’ll be covering every aspect of writing a great pilot, from defining the concept to naming the supporting characters and plotting your pilot story. By the end of the weekend you will have developed your franchise and main characters and be ready to start writing…

…and the workshop still won’t be over! Because once you’re ready, you’ll also get a set of notes on your outline… and one on your script… and a one-on-one consultation (probably via phone, unless you happen to be in the desert!).

Best of all, this class is coming to you through the delightful people at WritingPad, so when Marilyn promises that continental breakfast and snacks are included, you know they’ll be worth the price of admission alone! I can already see the glowing radioactive beverages…

As you can imagine, we’ve got to keep this class really small. It’s going to be limited to 10 people… and I understand it’s half sold out already. So if you’re interested, move fast. Here’s a link: Hope to see you there!


Colt’s Wild Ride To Print

Colt54 (Small)My friend Jude Hardin’s highly acclaimed Nicholas Colt mystery novels have followed an unusual publishing path. In this informative guest post, Jude talks candidly about that journey and the hard lessons he’s learned, culminating with the self-publication this month of his latest novel in the series, COLT (and be sure to check out his fantastic DEAD MAN tale, FIRE & ICE). 

In the spring of 2011, when my debut thriller POCKET-47 received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, I figured I was on my way. Suddenly, I was getting inquiries from a variety of big-name industry professionals who were interested in my book and my future.

I was a published author, and I was getting noticed. After years of trying to break into the business, these were two of the best things a writer could ask for!

But, with a hardcover print run of 3000 copies, and a $9.99 price tag on the ebook version, it quickly became apparent that the book wasn’t going to take off as well as it should have. The distribution just wasn’t adequate; there was no co-op placement in bookstores, and there weren’t a lot of readers willing to shell out ten bucks for an ebook by an unknown author.

That PW review did help me land a top New York agent, though, so I had high hopes for the second book in the Nicholas Colt series. My agent and I discussed strategies to move forward, and we decided Amazon’s Thomas and Mercer imprint might be the best way to go. Ebooks were quickly gaining traction in the marketplace, and Amazon’s promotion of them was second to none.

So we submitted the manuscript.

It sparked the editors’ interest, and I ended up signing a four-book deal with an option on a fifth. CROSSCUT was scheduled to be released June 2012, and SNUFF TAG 9 the following November. With Amazon’s backing, I thought these and subsequent titles would sell well enough to allow me to write full time. Once again, I was on my way.

Once again, good things!

Unfortunately, even with solid promotional efforts from Amazon, the sales of my Nicholas Colt titles have been lackluster so far. The books have earned out their advances, but they haven’t sold well enough for T&M or other publishers to offer the kinds of publishing deals I’m interested in. KEY DEATH comes out later this month, and I’m hoping things will pick up when it does.

But of course I’ve learned that there are no guarantees…

So, in an effort to give the series an extra shot in the arm (and with all of my contract obligations to Thomas and Mercer fulfilled) I have decided, for the first time, to self-publish a novel.

COLT went on sale May 30. It’s a prequel to the series, the events taking place three years before those in POCKET-47. Here’s the story:

October 21: just an ordinary day, unless you’re a former rock star…

The sole survivor of a plane crash…

A private investigator working out of a camper..

For Nicholas Colt, October 21 is an unlucky day. A day for nightmares. It always has been, and this year is no exception.

Someone is brutally murdering the offspring of an anonymous sperm donor, and Colt’s missing client is next on the list. With less than four days to find the young man—and, with a pair of drug-addicted study partners, a violent motorcycle gang, a stalker ex-girlfriend, and a host of other obstacles standing in his way—Colt faces the most challenging and deadly case of his life.

By self-publishing, I have control of the price, and I can participate in free giveaways and other promotional tools like BookBub. I have another completed novel that falls on the other side of the Nicholas Colt timeline, and I’m planning to self-publish that one early 2014.

Does this mean that I’m finished with publishers altogether? Not at all. It just means that writers have more viable choices now than ever before.

And that, my friends, is a very good thing indeed.





The New, Unimproved Monk

MMHH Cover

It wasn’t easy for me to walk away from writing the Monk books. After 15 novels over seven years, I’d become very attached to the characters. Monk, Natalie and the rest of the gang were always on my mind because I was always writing the books. But I decided it was time for a change (little did I know I’d soon be writing THE HEIST with Janet Evanovich!) And when I let my publisher know I was leaving, they told me they’d like to continue the series without me. They asked if I could recommend someone to pick up where I left off. I strongly recommended my friend Hy Conrad, a writer-producer on MONK and a terrific mystery plotter. He already knew the characters inside-and-out and had written some of the most beloved episodes of the TV series.  I knew the characters would be in very good hands with him, no matter what direction he decided to take the books. And that, of course, was the first, fundamental issue he had to deal with, as he explains in this guest post…

When it was announced I was taking over these novels, Monk fans started contacting me in droves, all asking the same question. Was I going to reboot the series, like a Batman or Spider-Man franchise, or just pick up where Lee Goldberg left off?

 To be honest, I never thought of rebooting. To me, the Monk characters are real. On the show, the other writers and I took Monk and Natalie to a certain place in their lives. Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, Lee continued to expand them, smoothing out little bumps and creating new ones.  I didn’t want to mess with that reality.

 In the new books, some things will naturally be different, because Lee and I are naturally different. For example, his Natalie knows a lot about architecture. Mine, not so much. His Monk is more obsessed with numbers and symmetry. Mine is a little more phobic.  I tried to insert some pop references into Natalie’s voice.  But the show never did many pop references and it doesn’t come naturally to me.

 In many ways, Lee strengthened the Monk franchise. For one thing, he knows San Francisco and the wonderful character of the town. We wrote the show in Summit, New Jersey, and, while we did have a San Francisco map, it was pinned on the far wall and no one wandered over there very often. I’ll try to do improve on our atmospheric quality, I promise.

 The same goes for forensics accuracy. Lee had called on a cadre of experts to make sure his details were right. Despite our own police consultant, the Monk writers tried not to burden ourselves with too many facts. At one point, the production team called to tell us our formula for bomb making was ridiculous. We replied, “Do you really want us broadcasting how to make a bomb?” That shut them up.

The good news is that we were sticklers for logic. We may not have known bomb making, but we insisted that the logic of every story always worked.  For example, when Monk was in a life-threatening predicament in Act Four, which he usually was, we knew we had to send Stottlemeyer in there to save the day.   In a lot of TV shows, the writers never ask, “Well, how did Stottlemeyer know Monk was in trouble?”  We did.  And sometimes it would take us a full day to answer the question.

 The other good news is that I was with the show from beginning to end, for all eight years. I was the mystery guy, while everyone else had come from the world of comedy. Along the way, I think I had some influence on the way Monk talked and interacted. In other words, he wound up a little bit like me, which makes writing for him a pleasure.

When I first told Monk creator/executive producer Andy Breckman that I was doing this, his response was, “Great. You can use some of the Monk stories we never got to do.”

Mr. Monk Helps Himself is one of those stories. I brought it into the writers’ room during season six. We played around with the idea until it morphed into something totally different—Mr. Monk Joins a Cult, guest-starring Howie Mandel. That’s how it happens in a roomful of writers. There are dozens of great plots, half thought through, buzzing around in our collective memory.

 I have to admit it’s nice to finally have the last word in what mysteries Monk solves and how he reacts.  I’ll try not to abuse the power.

It’s Not Just a Summer Fling

boot points finalMy friend Ann Charles writes the Deadwood Mystery series of novels…and has “Boot Points,” a new Deadwood short story, coming out June 25th. In this guest post, she talks about how her “summer fling” with the legendary South Dakota town unexpectedly turned into an enduring relationship… 

Once upon a time, I thought my crush on Deadwood, South Dakota was going to be just a summer fling. Boy, was I wrong. I had fallen head-over-heels.

My fondness for this western town full of rowdy old tales spurred me to write the first book in my Deadwood Mystery series, Nearly Departed in Deadwood. As I filled the pages, I realized the ideas for the colorful characters and their stories had been rattling around in my mind for decades, possibly starting when I was a teenager waiting outside the Prospector Gift Shop in Deadwood for my mom to finish work. Over the years, I soaked up the local history while hiking all over town, strolling around Wild Bill Hickok’s and Calamity Jane’s gravestones at Mount Moriah Cemetery, sitting on the steps outside the Deadwood Public Library, and perusing the tourist shops lining Main Street.

As times changed, so did Deadwood, with casinos replacing many of the stores on Main Street. At first I was sad to see them go, but then I realized that Deadwood had to transform in order to survive.

The same is true of a mystery series. In the second book of my series, I introduced Deadwood’s neighboring town—Lead (pronounced Leed), a five-minute drive “up the hill.” The two towns are like sisters, each enchanting with separate yet intertwined histories. While Deadwood was busy leaving its mark on the history books with tales of Wild Bill Hickok and Seth Bullock, Lead was busy staking its claim on the land. The home of the Homestake Gold Mine for over a century, Lead was the industrial center of the Black Hills. It still has the huge Open Cut mine smack dab in the middle of town.

The Open Cut has always fascinated me. I studied “before” and “after” pictures, read all about its creation (at the Black Hills Mining Museum), and stared at the geological timeline in its terraced walls through the chain-link fence at the Homestake Visitor Center. Why was I so fascinated with a big hole in the ground? Because it revealed a history of hard work, spent lives, and change. It intrigued me how people had adapted to these changes. The stories of their lives could fill books … or a series. If I tossed in a few dead bodies, there would be plenty of material to draw from to fill a mystery series. Nearly Departed in Deadwood 500x1200

These days, Homestake is no longer an operating gold mine; most of the drifts and shafts below the town are filled with water rather than men. But Lead’s industrious spirit is still alive. Coupled with Deadwood’s rough and rowdy past, the towns provide enough fodder, with the right mix of genres, to make a long, twisting tale full of “who-dunnits,” history, humor, paranormal (after all, Deadwood is famous for its ghosts), and a hint of romance.

I’ve now written four novels in the Deadwood Mystery series, as well as two short stories that give backstory on the main character, Violet Parker (a real estate agent and amateur sleuth who also happens to be the single mom of nine-year-old twins). I’m often asked how many more books there will be in the series. When I consider all of the rich, gold-laden history Deadwood and Lead have to offer, I smile like the love-sick fool that I am and say, “A lot more.”

After all, this isn’t just a summer fling I’m having.



Happy Endings Can Be Hell

Change of Heart

And they lived happily ever after…

That may be a satisfying, romantic ending for a book…but it can be living hell for an author who wants to write a sequel, as New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jenna Bennett (aka Jennie Bentley) explains in this guest post. She writes the “Do It Yourself” home renovation mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime and the “Cutthroat Business” mysteries for her own gratification. Her most recent book is the just-released Change of Heart, book six in the “Cutthroat Business” series. 

Once upon a time, I wrote a five book series of romantic mysteries.

More accurately, I wrote a very long romance novel in five parts, with a dash of mystery thrown in for good measure.

It had all the usual things you usually find in a novel: three high points of escalating stakes, a dark moment towards the end, and a climax and resolution.

The only difference was that each of my high points was its own book, the dark moment was a separate book, and the climax and resolution was yet another book.

And then I stopped, and started working on other things. The hero and heroine were together, after all. The story was over.

A couple of months went by, and people started asking when the next book was coming. I had to tell them that there would be no more books. There was nothing more to say.

“Oh, but…”

After I heard that enough times, I realized two things.

One was that although the hero and heroine were together, the story wasn’t necessarily over. When the fairytale ends, it doesn’t mean that nothing more happens. Life goes on. Life went on for my characters, too. I didn’t kill them, after all.

The other thing I realized—and call me mercenary—was that people wanted to read more about those characters. Like in the movie: if I wrote another book, they would come.

It was a no-brainer, really. We all want devoted readers, right? My readers were devoted enough to ask for more books. So why not come up with another story arc and write another few books? And make everyone happy. What could it hurt, after all?

Famous last words.

Come to find out, there’s a reason the fairytale ends with ‘and they lived happily ever after.’

It’s the same reason why, in romance novels, the book is over when the relationship is settled.

Happy, domestic, everyday relationships are damned hard to write.

Or maybe I should say that they’re damned hard to make interesting.

Who wants to read a book with no conflict, after all? No romantic tension? No stakes? Just page after page of cooking dinner and taking out the trash and going to sleep together and waking up together.

Even the sex becomes boring.

So the new book became about tossing wrenches into the works. I’d played the jealousy card before, but I played it again. I came up with a secret one party couldn’t tell the other. I threw in some extended family unhappiness about the relationship. I made sure that one party’s efforts to show the other party the beauties of domestic life had the opposite effect.

I did my level best to make trouble in paradise. And then I crossed my fingers and threw the book out there, holding my breath to see whether I’d succeeded.

It’s been a couple of weeks, and so far things look promising. The consensus seems to be that the series didn’t hit bottom once the hero and heroine were in a settled relationship. In fact, some people even said it was their favorite book in the series so far.

Of course, it’s early days yet. And I do have a few more books to write. And you can only play the jealousy card so many times before it becomes old hat.

But it turns out the story isn’t actually over when the curtain comes down. Life goes on behind the curtain. And the prince and princess don’t always live happily ever after. At least not every moment.

It’s more like they live mostly happily, with a little tension and a few arguments and some excellent makeup-sex, ever after.

And that isn’t so bad either.

Fifteen Minutes to Live

Phoef Sutton Fifteen Minutes to LiveYou don’t get many do-overs in life, but my good friend Phoef Sutton, the insanely talented, Emmy-award winning writer, got the chance with his new novel Fifteen Minutes to Live. And it’s fitting, since the book is also about revisiting the past. But I don’t want to spoil the story, so I’ll let Phoef tell it…

I started writing as teen-ager.  Short stories.  I still have hundreds of rejection slips from PLAYBOY and ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE and ELLERY QUEEN.   I took each one as a badge of honor.  I knew that one day I’d get accepted…

Well, that day never came.  I started writing plays in college because I knew I could put them on – they’d have that much life anyway.  This proved an invaluable experience for what came to be my chosen profession.  Writing stuff that makes people laugh.

I loved TV as a kid.  Who doesn’t?  I can still recite episodes of the DICK VAN DYKE SHOW and GET SMART by heart.  But I never thought my career would go in that direction.  I always wanted to write horror stories and thrillers.  Richard Matheson was my idol.  And Cornell Woolrich and Robert Bloch.  I knew who Carl Reiner and Jim Brooks and David Lloyd were, of course.  But I never saw myself following in their footsteps.

But fate had plans for me.  I ended up writing for CHEERS, sitting next to David Lloyd and learning from the masters.  I guess writing for what TV Guide just named one of the best written shows in TV history is something to be proud of.  But I still had that nagging desire to see my name in print.

When I read Oliver Sacks’ THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE FOR A HAT and started putting myself in the place of its oddly brain damaged heroes I knew I had a way in to that novel I always wanted it write.  It just flowed out of me, unbidden, like a dream.

Writing in complete sentences after a career of writing stage directions was not so easy.  But the joy of being able to get inside characters’ heads and tell what they’re thinking and feeling was heaven.

So I wrote FIFTEEN MINUTES TO LIVE, then called ALWAYS SIX O’CLOCK.  Imagined that, in the book world, the writer was king and what he says is Gospel.  I didn’t know about editors and notes.  I made the mistake of selling it to a publisher who wanted to turn it from a noir-ish, Cornell Woolrich-style nightmare into a straight romance.  And I agreed.  The end result pleased nobody and sank without a trace. Always Six O'Clock

With the advent of electronic publishing, I now have the chance to present the book as I originally intended.  People seem to be responding to it the way I hoped they would years ago.  It’s very gratifying.   Almost like getting one of my stories accepted by ELLERY QUEEN would have been to my high-school self!