Sep 062012

Zoë Sharp

September marks the end of the first year of my Great e-Book Experiment. I can hardly believe that only twelve months ago I had none of the backlist Charlie Fox books out there in digital format. Now I have five of the books and a short story e-thology out on Kindle, and am just about to launch into all the other e-pub formats, plus my first foray into printed editions.

It’s been a hell of a year.

For me as a writer, the real joy has been to see Charlie’s story available again right from the beginning. So many readers wanted to start at book one, and I could see their enthusiasm waning when they discovered that only collector’s first editions were available, often at mind-boggling prices.

The first e-book I put together was FOX FIVE: a Charlie Fox short story collection. It was a huge, huge learning curve, during which I have many people to thank for putting up with my innumerable stupid questions. In many ways, it still IS a steep learning curve, but more on that later.

A short story anthology — which in e-book form I refer to as an e-thology in an attempt to bring the word into common usage! — was very different proposition from the first of the books themselves, however.

One of the things that immediately struck me was the layout. A traditional book often has a pre-title page (with just the book’s title on it), then the title page itself, copyright page, list of the author’s previous publications, a dedication, acknowledgements, maybe even the author biog. Only THEN do you reach the story itself.

With an e-book, where a prospective reader might well download a sample first before deciding to buy, those intro pages all eat into the sample. So I put the dedication on the title page, shifted the copyright, acknowledgements, and an extended author biog to the back of the book, but instead added a short synopsis — what would be the jacket copy on a printed book — so the reader is reminded of the story as soon as they open the file.

In addition, some brilliant writers were generous enough to do swap excerpts with me — Brett Battles, Blake Crouch, Lee Goldberg, Timothy Hallinan, and Libby Fischer Hellmann. I put a taster of one of their books in the back of one of mine, and they did the same for me. Plus, of course, an excerpt from the next book in the Charlie Fox series, just to whet your appetite for more.

And in KILLER INSTINCT: Charlie Fox book one, I was also able to include the amazing Foreword by Lee Child, and my own Afterword, as well as two previously deleted scenes that I felt helped to fill out Charlie’s back story for what was to come. There’s also a short biog of the character, and the jacket copy for the other books in the series with suitable links.

In October, the next book in the series will be ready to go. Called DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten, it sees Charlie facing her toughest challenge.

In post-Katrina New Orleans, a celebrity fundraising event should have been the ideal opportunity for Charlie to piece together her working relationship with Sean, who has woken from his gunshot-induced coma with his memory in tatters. But the simple security job turns into a nightmare when an ambitious robbery explodes into a deadly hostage situation. Charlie is forced to improvise as never before, and this time she can’t rely on Sean to watch her back.

I’m already putting together the extras for the e-book version. And my question is, what else would you like to see in an e-book that there isn’t the space or opportunity to include in a printed book?

I’ve always loved the extras available on a DVD, and an e-book is now the literary equivalent. So, would you like insights from the author about the writing process, or asides about continuing characters giving you a little of their back story, or research notes that didn’t make the final cut? In DIE EASY, for example, I did an enormous amount of research about the effects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans, but only a fraction of that made it into — or was relevant to — the actual story. Would you like a bonus article on that?

I’m open to suggestions and fascinated to know what you all think! And I hope you’ll forgive for continuing to ask stupid questions — it’s how we learn :)

This week’s Word of the Week is epeolatry, meaning the worship of words. It comes from the Greek epos meaning word, and -latry meaning to worship.

I’m away this week, doing some very serious and labour-intensive research on a boat in the Mediterranean, but I’ll try to get to comments as soon as I can!


May 272012

Tom Wade, the hero of Lee Goldberg's new novel KING CITY, is an honest cop, and that's what causes him huge problems and may cost him his life. It's already cost him his marriage and caused him to be transferred to an isolated substation in the very worst part of King City, the fictional town in Washington that's the setting of this book. You see, Wade testified against the other members of the Major Crimes Unit, all of whom are crooked and corrupt, and now the rest of the department, from the chief on down, hates him and wants to see him dead. Putting him in charge of the Darwin Gardens substation and giving him just two rookie cops to help him is the department's way of accomplishing that end.

Wade has other ideas, though, which include standing up to the thugs and the drug kingpin who rule the neighborhood and winning over the honest citizens of the neighborhood. And if he solves several murders and uncovers a serial killer along the way, so much the better.

As usual, Goldberg gives the reader a fast-moving story, some fine characters, great action scenes, and nice touches of humor, all conveyed in some of the smoothest prose you're going to encounter. The setting is very well realized, and I love the fact that Goldberg named several of the neighborhoods in King City after various TV writers, most of whom are probably pretty obscure by now.

KING CITY is the first book in an ongoing series, and I'm glad. I'm ready to read the next one right now. This one gets a high recommendation. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
May 202012

So now you are either self-publishing or thinking about self-publishing.
         Yes, welcome to the world of everybody.
         I have a question for you. Do you actually want to make some money at it?
         Here’s the good news: your ficus can make money self-publishing. Your cat, Jingles, can make money self-publishing.
         Of course, by money we are talking about enough scratch to buy some Bazooka at your local 7-Eleven. Or maybe a Venti White Chocolate Mocha at Starbucks. That’s not bad. It’s something.
         But if you want to make some real dime, and keep it coming, there are a few things you need to understand.

1. You are going into business

         The authors who are making significant money self-publishing operate with sound business principles. Which makes many other authors as nervous as Don Knotts.

         “I’m just not wired that way!” they’ll say. “I want to concentrate on my writing! I haven’t got the time or inclination to think about business decisions.”
         But guess what? Even if you have a traditional publishing contract, you’re going to have to give time and attention to business, namely marketing.
         What if you spent a little of that same time and effort learning the principles of successful self-publishing?
         Of course, a lot of authors now want to go right into digital. Well, don’t do it until you fully understand that it’s a business you’re going to be running. That business is you.
         Learn how. The basics are not that hard. In fact, I’ll have a book out soon that’ll help.

2. Your mileage will vary

No one can replicate another author’s record. Each author and body of work are unique. Innumerable factors play into the results, many of which are totally out of the control of the writer.
If you go into self-publishing expecting to do as well as author X, you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment.
Instead, concentrate on being the best provider of content you can be. See # 5, below.   

3. This isn’t get rich quick

         In the “early days” of the ebook era, those who jumped in with both feet (Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath, John Locke) and those who had loads of backlist (Bob Mayer) or caffeinated series ideas (Lee Goldberg) got some nice returns.
         Now, the future for the overwhelming majority of writers is about quality production, consistently and over time. A long time. Which is fine if you love to write. 

4. You can’t just repeat “buy my stuff” and expect to sell any of it
         We have left the age of sales and are now in the age of social. The way you market today is not by hard sell but by relationship. Even if you’re putting together sales copy, you have to think about how it offers value to the potential reader.
         What isn’t valuable is a string of tweets that are little more than “buy my stuff” or “please RT this” messages. Some authors think it’s a numbers game and repeating these messages will work over time.
         They won’t. They’ll annoy more people than they’ll attract.

5. It is first, and always, about the book

         I don’t care if you can out promote and out market anyone on the internet.
         I don’t care if you can afford to spend $100,000 to place ads for your books.
         If your book fails to catch on with readers or, worse, turns them off, you’re not going to do well over the long haul.
         Which is how it should be, after all. The quality of the writing itself should be the main thing in this whole crazy process.
         So you should concentrate a good chunk of your time, even more than you do on marketing, on a writing self-improvement program alongside your actual writing output.
         One of the reasons I’m conducting intense, two-day writing workshops this year is to take each and every writer who attends to that next level, where green is earned year after year.

          Now is the best time in history to be a writer. No question about it. The barriers to entry have been destroyed and opportunities to generate income have taken their place. But you have to think strategically. Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, puts it this way: "The biggest challenge faced by self-published authors, it’s not marketing, it’s not discoverability, it’s adopting the best practices of the very best publishers. It’s about becoming a professional publisher."
       Of course, if you have trouble with that, you can always partner with your cat Jingles. 


We’re fast closing in on the Austin, TX 2 day fiction workshop, June 16-17. To get the special room rate, sign up with the hotel before June 1. Details here.

I’ve posted a new writing video on Agents. If you want to know what a pitch session feels like, tune in
Apr 242012

by Stephen Jay Schwartz


There's nothing quite like the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. It's a two-day extravaganza that was for many years held at UCLA, but has now found its home at USC.

The Festival consists of hundreds of small and large press publishers as well as booths for popular book stores, newspapers, comic book publishers and just about everything else related to books. There are stages for poetry reading, performance art, musical acts and children's story-telling. Dozens of lecture halls hold author panels that run dawn to dusk.

Thousands of authors appear at tables to sign copies of their books. Every genre is represented. It's a huge celebration of the written word.

In years past I've had the opportunity to rub shoulders with the likes of James Ellroy, Walter Mosley, Michael Connelly, TC Boyle, Buzz Aldrin, Barbara Eden and Bernadette Peters, among others. A couple years ago Bono poked his head into the Mysterious Galaxy tent and stared me right in the eye. We smiled at each other and he walked away. I'm still kicking myself for not stuffing a copy of Boulevard into his hands.

This year the celebrity guests ran the gamut: John Cusack, Julie Andrews, Rodney King, Betty White, Marilu Henner, Ricki Lake, Sugar Ray Leonard, Anne Rice, Molly Shannon and Tori Spelling.

This is my third year at the Festival and each year I've been blessed to be on a panel. Last year I sat with Miles Corwin and Marcia Clark, and this year my panel included April Smith, Ned Vizzini, Jerry Stahl and John Sacret Young. Our panel was actually featured in Sunday's issue of the L.A. Times.


Everybody's experience of the Festival is different. There are just too many cool panels, parties and events for anyone's experience to be the same. Between my panel and the booth signings I did I was only able to attend two other panels. My wife and son split off to see their favorite YA authors while I caught Gar Anthony Haywood and Kelli Stanley at a crime panel.

(YA panel)


(Crime panel with our Murderati member Gar Anthony Haywood and Kelli Stanley)


Saturday evening featured an author bash at the Los Angeles Central Library, a beautiful Art Deco backdrop for the literati crowd.


I caught dinner before the event with authors Lee Goldberg, Boyd Morrison, Lissa Price and Barry Eisler. It was the best "panel" on non-traditional publishing I've ever attended.



My son Noah has become quite the event photographer and I let him go hog-wild documenting the event. Noah might not have had such an interest in photography if it hadn't been for the encouragement of one beautiful woman who no longer walks among us.

Publicist Diana James, the late wife of author Darrell James, gave Noah his first paying job as a photographer, hiring him to take photos of authors at last year's Festival of Books. She gave him a wonderful letter telling him to follow his dreams and continue taking pictures, something we've framed along with a copy of that first check. Her kindness had an impact on our lives.

The following are images of the Festival from an eleven-year old's point of view. It's not everyone's experience at the L.A. Times Festival of Books, but it was ours...

(Denise Hamilton and Cara Black)


 (Tough Guy Gary Phillips)



(YA author Maggie Stiefvater)



(Ned Vizzini and his wife at the library party)



(Naomi Hirahara)



 (Jerry Stahl)



(Lissa Price, YA author of Starters hanging out with my lovely wife)



(Kelli Stanley and Gary Phillips)




(Eric Stone)



(Darrell James)



 (The wife and me at the library bash)



(Boyd Morrison)



(Stuart Woods and Tom Epperson)


(Moderator Tom Nolan and Barry Eisler)




(YA author Maureen Johnson)



(The Green Room and the back of Kelli Stanley)



(Mark Haskell Smith)



(Ceiling of the L.A. Central Library)



(Patty Smiley smiling)




(Music in the air...)



Feb 022012

If you travel in the same blog circles I do, you've probably read quite a bit about Lee Goldberg's new e-book McGRAVE in the past twenty-four hours. Well, I just finished it, and I'm here to tell you it's the best thing I've read so far this year. LA cop John "Tidal Wave" McGrave is straight out of an Eighties action-adventure movie, and in this yarn about McGrave's international pursuit of a thief and killer, Goldberg pulls off a very neat trick, producing a yarn that's part serious, part satire, and all action. It seemed like I had a grin on my face the whole time I was reading it. McGRAVE comes out tomorrow, and it gets a high recommendation from me. I loved it.

And I'm ready for the next McGrave book right now.