Saturday, January 28, 2012

An interview with author, JAMES ROBERT SMITH

Please welcome:
James Robert Smith
  • 1)When did you start writing and how long was it before you were published?

    Well, like most writers I started pretty young. I was seven when I started writing stories and actually started a novel when I was eight years old. But that stuff doesn’t count, I reckon.
    I got serious about writing shortly after I got married. So I was 25 when I started actively learning how to construct decent fiction. I began to place stories in various semi-pro magazines shortly after that and made my first professional sale within a year.

    2)How did it feel to have your Five Star novel be optioned for film? Tell us about it.

    That was a wonderful feeling. I can say that it didn’t hurt to see all of those zeroes behind the other numbers in the contract. I hate to sound venal, but after all every writer wants to be able to do this work full-time. When (or if) the film ever begins lensing, I can actually consider retiring and writing instead of having to be a laborer to earn the rent.

    And of course the story behind the offer is a bit of an Internet legend at this point. I had insulted one of the producer’s film on a discussion board and he went out and bought a copy of THE FLOCK so that he could speak with authority when he shredded me in public. Instead, Don Murphy ended up loving the book so much that he assembled an option package for the movie rights through Warner Brothers.

    3) What genre do you write in, if any? How do you feel about the genre, the future of it, and the authors in it?

    I mainly write in horror. But occasionally I will stray from that to work in other types of fiction. THE FLOCK is not strictly horror—it’s been described by my publishers (Five Star and Tor) as “eco-suspense”, which is pretty good. The sequel to THE FLOCK (THE CLAN) proceeds along the same lines as the first book.

    My second novel, THE LIVING END, is pure horror. A zombie novel, exactly. And my third, HISSMELINA, is also horror…kind of a modern take on Lovecraftian themes, but not a Mythos novel by any means.

    4) Now that traditional publishing vs digital publishing has taken really different turns lately, how do you feel about authors going the small press or traditional publishing route over the digital route?

    For a couple of years I’ve had friends who had been having some success in doing their own books via the ebook/trade paperback format. A couple of these folk kept at me to try it, but initially I was so opposed the very concept of ebooks that I resisted. “Resist” is probably too mild a term. Even when those friends began making so much money that they were able to quit their jobs to write fiction full time I still resisted.

    But after a while I relented and figured I’d give it a shot. Of all of my work that remains unpublished, HISSMELINA is my favorite. HISSMELINA is a novel that had so many near misses with the traditional publishers that it would have driven some writers to suicide, I think. Fortunately I have a thick skin and kept picking myself up and starting over. But instead of submitting it one more time to a major publisher I did the last of many rewrites, had it professionally proofed by Neal Hock and typeset by Stephen Price and published through Kindle and Smashwords. We’ll see how it goes.

    5) What are your thoughts on publishing today (in all venues--print or digital) and the chances it presents for new authors?

    Publishing is in a tough spot right now. It seems almost like a doomsday scenario for the traditional publishers and for the traditional book outlets. I don’t know what to think right now. It’s possible that the industry is just going through a natural transition and that it will emerge on the far end intact. Or we could see something entirely new come on the scene. I never figured the digital age would be quite so rough on publishing.

    6) What's the best book you ever read?

    Good grief. I have to pick? OK, then. That would have to be I, CLAUDIUS by Robert Graves.

    7) Who are your influences in literature?

    Robert Graves, Charles Portis, Charles Bukowski, Ernest Hemingway, Ray Bradbury, Robert E. Howard, Howard Philips Lovecraft, Joe Lansdale, Barry Gifford…those are the guys who spring immediately to mind.

    [8)] What is it about zombie fiction that you think makes it so popular today?

    Zombie fiction is popular right now because it hits so many right notes to appeal to so many. The trope has just about every fear you could name wrapped up in it. One thing that I noticed early on during the zombie wave was that the form seems particularly popular among the right wing set. After perusing the blogosphere surrounding the zombie fans I noticed a disturbingly large batch of gun aficionados and racists among the lot. And of course I then noticed that there’s not a lot of difference between your average zombie novel and something like THE TURNER DIARIES. This caused me to step back for a bit and take a long look at the form and ponder the popularity I was seeing. I wrote an essay about it which caught me a lot of flak from reactionary writers who thought that I was singling them out—I wasn’t, but I still apparently trod on some tender tootsies out there.

    But whenever society in general is feeling a bit paranoid, something like zombie fiction appeals to it.

    9) What is your education and job, other than writing?

    I’m a laborer. I graduated high school then mucked about with college before my parents got sick and died. After that I was a book retailer for a bit, then a collectibles dealer handling old comics and toys, and then a pure laborer once more before landing a job as such for the US Postal Service. Along the way I managed to get an Associate of Arts degree in English but never carried that further. Anything I learned about writing I did so by reading voluminously and writing whenever I could.

    10) Do you ever, like Truman Capote confessed doing, take from real life, friends, and family situations or characters to use in your fiction? If so, do you tell them or keep it secret?

    Yes. I don’t get so much from family, but I do Hoover up a great deal of stuff from people I’ve met and from folk I talk to in casual meetings. I don’t have to keep much of it secret because a lot of the folk whose impressions I’ve lifted are people I knew only briefly or who I will likely never meet again.

    11) What do you think of the state of magazine fiction today?

    I don’t know much about the magazine market. I work almost exclusively in novel length form these days. Now and then an editor will email me or phone me to invite to submit something to an anthology, so I keep my hand in the short story market that way. I can’t even remember the last time I submitted a story to a magazine.

    12) Do you belong to any writer's organizations? If so, which ones, and how do you feel about professional organizations?

    I recently rejoined HWA. Before that I had not been a member of any writers organization for over a decade. I’m thinking of also joining SFWA, but haven’t done so.

    They have their place, I reckon. My dad used to say that a bad labor union was better than no labor union at all. I figure the same for things like HWA and MWA, etc.

    13) Do you think networking on social sites has helped your career and sales?

    Yes. I don’t think they help as much as they did in the past, when such things were new. But they do seem to get the work noticed maybe a little more than without them. But I don’t see the opportunities to find new markets as much as in the earlier days of e-networking, such as when Prodigy was a really neat gathering place for writers and editors. Those days haven’t been repeated as nearly as I can tell.

    14) What is the hardest thing you've ever had to do concerning your work as a writer?

    Making the time to write. As I said, I’m a laborer. I do physical labor to earn the rent, so when I get home I’m generally exhausted beyond words. I have to either make myself sit down at the keyboard to write for a few hours, or take a short nap and wake up and tackle the writing work. It’s really hard to do after you’ve lugged 35-lb sacks over ten miles of route in all kinds of weather. It’s hard.

    15) Tell us what is coming up in the future for you. Signings, films, new novels.

    I’m working on a three-book zombie series that I contracted to write under a pseudonym. After that I’m getting back to work on my science-fantasy novel, THE REZ. And I’ve got a young adult novel called ISAAC’S QUEST about a 38,000 year-old Neanderthal wizard who acts as a kind of Fagin for a group of magically enhanced teenagers. And INMATE B is another one that I’ve already started but set aside to work on the current projects, but I’ll get back to it in due time; it’s a more of a science-fiction thriller. I stay pretty busy and expect to for the foreseeable future.

    Oh. And there’s a comic book version of THE LIVING END that I hope to do with artist Mark Masztal, and another comic book project called THE REVOLUTIONARY. We'll see what happens.


Sunday, January 22, 2012


I've been thinking about different aspects of being a writer. Writers like to examine the lives of others, it's part of our job description, but we also examine ourselves and our colleagues. Here's the thing about ego--you have to have it, and in full measure, in order to even begin a writer's life, much less sustain the momentum over a lifetime of work.

I know that ego gets a bad rap and I never understood why. I suppose it's because when we think of a person of large ego, we think of a prattling ass-hat who has little merit and who can do little other than blow his own horn. The way I see ego in a writer as essential, however, is the deeper look, the closer examination. If you do not have a good, healthy ego, you don't get anywhere in this world, in any profession, and that goes for a writing life.

I do remember the first days of my writing life. I was 17-18 years old and full of it. I thought the world would hang the moon for me and I'd certainly deserve it. I think when we are teenagers we think that way just to get to adulthood. I would write a little short story--that today I realize was no short story at all but my efforts TO LEARN HOW to write a short story--and I would sit and think, Oh, that's wonderful, that's so good. As I aged and grew in both worldly life experience and writing experience, I finally came to the truth, but it was still shaded by ego. It had to be or I would have given up and quit right then. But my ego was tempered with the experience and the years. Still, it was an awesome thing. It was this big bright bubble that I walked in and it made me believe I would be great one day. At least I knew I wasn't great yet. But I sure hoped to be great and all writers should hope for that. Note I didn't say a writer's ego hopes to be rich and famous. Save that for the actors, most of them. Writers won't turn away from rich and famous, but the good ones just want to learn how to be better, how to be great. It's the dream you reach for and you keep reaching.

Now without this healthy ego, a writer does not write, does not create, and never publishes or succeeds. Ego is our belief in ourselves and it's a good thing. We have to have it. Very much like other artists--singers, painters, dancers, and actors--we have to nurse the ego and keep it alive. Especially in the days (now becoming the old days of the past publishing paradigm) when a writer had to find a way to get published by traditional publishers. Because rejection in that world is the rule, not the exception. I used to keep a big notebook and write down every story I wrote, where it was submitted, when it was rejected. That notebook filled up with pages before there was the first sale, the very first sale. What took me through that long maelstrom if not ego and belief in self? When rejection was telling me I was not ready, I was not good enough to be in print, I just kept going. Because I kept going, I learned to write better. I took all this extremely seriously because it was my life's quest and my ego told me I could do it--maybe not this year, it said, maybe not next year, but you'll do it. If I was easily brushed off, if my feelings were so sensitive they hung out on my shirt sleeve, I wouldn't have made it. I had the desire, the drive, and the belief that I could make this work. It just had to. And I'd find a way to improve and to succeed. I had a lifetime to perfect the art. I'd do the best I could and I believed my best would get me to where I wanted to go.

When an editor returned a manuscript with a little note saying the dialogue was stiff, I began to study dialogue in fiction and educated myself. I acquired an ear and had a good memory, so I was able to keep whole conversations in my head that I'd heard. I noted inflections, mannerisms, body language. I became a psychologist of the human heart because until I did, I could not bring characters alive, and if characters were not alive for me, they wouldn't live for readers either. When I got any kind of feedback from editors, I set myself to learning how to overcome the criticism to the point it would never be said to me again.

Is that ego? Sure it is, the healthy ego, the writer's ego. No matter what naysayers said, I'd keep going and learn what I had to in order to have the work accepted. I was the most determined writer ever while raising children, taking care of a grandmother, dealing with a husband's fluctuating job situation, and rejection upon rejection. Every rejections said to me YOU'RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Of course I wasn't, but I didn't believe that really. I believed I was good enough and I'd show them just how good I was. That was my ego talking, whispering in my ear that it was going to be all right, I'd get what I wanted, I just had to persevere and I had to believe and I had to take the criticism and turn it into praise.

I don't mind when I see other writers these days hawking their wares on the web. It's the biggest billboard in the world so you can't blame them. Writing is an isolated job and you need feedback, at least on occasion; you need someone to say I read your book/story, and I liked it. That's all you need, that's all your ego has to have to survive. Even the ass-hats are lovable in their own ways because I think we can all be ass-hats now and then. Just because most writers are smart doesn't mean they're media experts or able to come across with their promotion efforts looking anything other than what it is--the ego clamoring for attention. Because a writer's life is hard most of the time. It's a difficult life trip. We don't get near the attention of actors--even bad, Grade B actors. We don't usually end up on TV or have great museum exhibits of our work or get to stand on a stage before our audience and receive their applause and adulation. We are quiet, secluded creatures working inside our heads, trying to get the story out through our fingers and onto a screen and then into the hands of a print publisher or into an e-book. We deserve the right to our ego, because it preserves us, it delivers us, it makes it all possible.

So the next time you see a writer on the web promoting his work, be a little forgiving, have a little understanding, give a little shrug and think, he works hard, he's just telling me about that work, he doesn't think he's better than me or smarter than me or more successful than me. He's just trying to do part of his job and he has an ego--a healthy ego. Writers are human, too, and only once in a while are they ass-hats--just like people in other professions.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How it Goes--Success with Kindle Select

Well, the new Kindle Select program is a resounding success. Every book that I've made available for free has hit the top 100 lists in various genres (these are the top 100 out of 15,000 free books). Most of them were in the top 30, and one was as high as 17. My sales figures are in and my income has not just doubled, or tripled, or quadrupled--it is TEN FOLD. The number of books I have had downloaded is around 12,000. I made more than triple in sales in the first two weeks of January than I made in the last three weeks of December. And this is before I can divine the feedback from all those readers who got the books and who might come back for more of my titles. That story won't be told until months down the line...

Like many authors, I took the chance on giving away copies of my work for free and just as Kindle/Amazon promised, it makes more money for the writer. I have great expectations for all these numbers to rise and to keep rising. One of my titles, the one most downloaded, WIREMAN, has continued selling at a brisk rate once it stopped being free. It's holding its own as a selling title and that's a wonderful thing to see.

In a week or so I should have up a digital copy of NIGHT CRUISING (originally titled Night Cruise) that won an Edgar nomination. It is one of my back list titles. As I work on it now I feel the book was one of my best so I'm excited about getting it back into circulation. I noted this week that the venerable writer Ed McBain's back list titles have gone digital and maybe a dozen of them are on the Top 100 Bestselling list for Kindle. Like McBain, I'm happy to get my novels back into print and into digital for a whole new generation of readers.

Now no one can say this isn't work. Not the program itself, because it only takes one click to enroll a book in the Kindle Select program. But the work comes in trying to make sure the books have striking covers (something I keep changing), the formatting is correct (on one book I had a problem I had to correct), and deciding on a promotion plan. When you have just a few books, 3-5, there's not much to decide, but when you have 16-17 or more, you wonder if you should make a short story and a novel for free that weekend, or two novels, or just one--maybe three at once. Should you make it free for 2 days or 3 or more? Then it comes to juggling the promotions. Not only what books to offer, and how many days, but over a three-month period when you have 5 days per book for promotion, should you fill the pipeline every weekend? Every two weeks? When? I have enough titles to do promos every weekend, but maybe once it a while the promos should run during the week instead? Who knows.

We are all working from instinct. No one is an expert in this grand new experiment, and I'm sure not claiming to be one. I am trying to be as serious and methodical as I can to get the most exposure from the promotional program as possible, because that's why so many of us are doing this. But the decisions can be difficult and confusing. We are all flying by the seat of our pants.

There are success stories happening all over the place for everyone--not just multi-published authors with back lists that were published by New York houses, but new authors too, who are hitting it out of the ballpark on their first forays into the Select program. One writer had a book downloaded 10,000 times in 48 hours, and as far as I can tell, except for Joe Konrath--who is a force unto himself--that's record-breaking.

We are all excited and the great thing is how many of us are talking openly about how it is working out. Writers are picking up audiences, new fans are being found, and money is beginning to go into authors' pockets where before it went into publishers' pockets. It's a good day for the writer.

The program is a success. I'm about to go all-in.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Early Numbers are In--Kindle Select Free Books

I promised to return here to talk more about my experience with the new Kindle Select Lending program where authors can make their books free a few days every 90 days. Joe Konrath just made his numbers public yesterday so he beat me to it, but now...

The Numbers are in on the Mosiman Experiment...

And the Numbers slay me...

I'll give you a total number of downloads of my books on Kindle since January 1. 8073. Eight thousand and seventy-three. I like it! That does not include books not in the program. It also doesn't include books that had good downloads between Dec. 28-31, and those included the first books I put up for free, two short stories.

Here are how the numbers came out on each title.

It's maybe one-fourth, total, of the downloads Konrath had, but it ain't chopped liver, baby. Especially since I've been putting up Kindle books for a year, compared to Konrath's three years, and considering he is Kindle's darling, which he richly deserves and I mean that sincerely, and right now I am not on Kindle's radar. Also, I don't have nearly as many titles up in the program as our good guru. So I think this was a very respectable showing of just five titles over11 days. (What would have happened if I'd had 27? Woohoo.)

Yes, I know I gave more than eight thousand books away. And I expect to get eight thousand in good will, if not in money, but I'll take the money, and I trust that audience I just reached for free is going to come back to buy. I'm already getting sales I wouldn't have otherwise gotten from people who might not have known about my work before. Is it translating into money, yes, it is. Can I brag about how much money? No, I can't, because this experiment is something that will have repercussions a month from now, two months, three months from now. I'll know then what these free giveaways have wrought. Do I think it is going to translate into more money and more readers? You betcha. Oh, you betcha, Grasshopper.

I am working harder than I have worked in years on my writing and my career. I am compiling new short story collections, (LIFE NEAR THE BONE). I am doing some edits on formatting and scanning and doing OCR work on my novel, NIGHT CRUISING, one of my important back list titles I want available as an e-book on Kindle.

However, I am not too crazy busy to bring you some blog interviews here from a few great, interesting writers. The first one is scheduled for January 28 with James Robert Smith. We hope to interview Rick Hautala in February. I'll have a guest blog post here for you every month, sometimes more than one a month, we'll see how my schedule works out. So don't go away. Put this page as a Favorite, come and see me, leave a comment, Google + me, or whatever--you know, just come on back when you can. I think we're going to have some good times.

And I tell you what. If I start making bags of money on e-books, you'll be the first to know, because I want this blog to be informational and EVERYONE wants to know how the Kindle Select Program is doing.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Kindle Select Free Books

Like many other novelists, I've been making some of my e-books available to the Kindle Prime lending program, and taking advantage of the promotion to make my titles free for 5 days out of 90. This weekend, January 6-8, it will be bookfest, since three of my titles will be up for free download. (BAD TRIP SOUTH, HORROR TALES, and HORROR TALES 2) Yesterday I had put up WIREMAN, my first novel from 1984, for free and had more than 2000 downloads. The book made it up to 34th place out of the Top 100 Kindle/Mystery/Thriller titles and 311 in the overall free Kindle store of 15,000 titles.

Why are authors giving away their books? It appears that being generous this way introduces our work to some new readers and rewards our fans. It is publicity and promotion by the largest digital book seller in the world. More than one fourth of the 2000 downloads for WIREMAN were from the UK, and I had a few downloads from Germany, Italy, and Spain. As a writer, this makes me happy. Some might see it as having lost 2000 sales. But that's not true. It's 2000 people, the majority of whom have never read a Mosiman book before and might never have known of my work otherwise, and some of them will like my work enough to buy more books.  Some kind souls might even leave reviews.

My cash sales have increased, but I can't tell for sure by how much since the dashboard for Kindle Direct Publishing hasn't updated the past six weeks' sales data since December 31. Once it updates, I'll know for sure.

Is it a good idea for all authors to make their books free? I'd say no. I have 16 titles on Kindle so I can put 7 of them in the program and keep all my other books available for the Nook, Kobo, Sony, Diesel, and Apple. (Joining the Kindle Select program requires you make your books in the program available exclusively to Kindle.)  If I had 4 or less titles up, I would not join this program.  It means the book is completely tied up on Amazon for three months.

I see a mad rush of authors joining Select and making books free. I'm not sure this is a sustainable system or that it will be a good idea to use the program in another two or three months. The market may be saturated to the hilt by then, although over the Christmas season it is said there were 4 million Kindle Fires sold. That's 4 million readers looking for books. Still, I don't know how long it will be useful to authors to join the exclusive program and make free book promotions. Maybe I can write another blog about it in a couple of months, when I know more how it works out.

So far I'm having a good time, I'm getting more sales, more reviews, and a big promotional boost on the Kindle site. For right now that's great. I have no complaints. Stay tuned for updates...and enjoy a few free books on me.