Monday, March 29, 2010

A Writer Looks At 40

As I finish my fourth decade, I'm taking a self-indulgent moment to reflect and dwell on what brought me to this point in my writing career.

1970 - Born. No star in the sky. No manger. Mom certainly wasn't a virgin. But I was born on Easter Sunday.

1978 - Put together a crude collection of drawings called Crappy Cartoons, staple-bound, thirty pages long.

1980 - Am taken out of my grammar school and placed in a two-year accelerated program for gifted kids. Write short stories that are ten times longer than my peers', but don't win any Young Authors contests.

1982 - Begin writing in class during lecture periods, passing stories back and forth to my friends while the teachers aren't looking. Over the next few years this collection of jokes and cartoons grows to more than 1000 pages long.

1983 - At my friend Jim Coursey's house, I'm playing with his Apple IIe and am amazed a typewriter can actually save text. We write a parody private eye story, featuring a sleazy detective named Harry McGlade.

1985 - Convinced I'll someday be a filmmaker, I get a video camera for Christmas. I shoot many movies of the neighborhood kids, being humorously hacked to death by masked maniacs. Visit the butcher shop for organs, and use pumps and tubes for blood squirting.

1987 - Get my first word processor for my birthday, a Brother. Begin writing a lot of short stories, many featuring Harry McGlade. Also write a play for the school's synchonized swimming team (?!) and it's performed for three nights. I play the villain. And no, I don't get in the pool.

1988 Part 1 - Graduate high school as part of a rap trio called The White Suburban Boys. We may actually have been the first white rappers. I write and perform over ten funny rap songs about white middle class suburban life, and we get a small cult following. Voted Class Clown of '88.

1988 Part 2 - Take my first real creative writing class in Columbia College in Chicago. Get a C. But I get an A in Film Tech, and my movie INVADER is shown at some local Chicago festivals. You can watch it, and some of my other early movies, HERE. I also get my first rejection letter, from Playboy, for a Harry McGlade Story.

1989 - Take more creative writing classes. Get more Cs. But I'm writing in earnest, lots of short stories in many genres. Also write and perform in an improv comedy show called The Caravan O'Laughs.

1990 - Write three screenplays, go to LA for two weeks, not knowing anyone, knocking on agents doors and trying to get my scripts seen. Get meetings with half a dozen film agents, but no one calls back.

1991 - Switch my college major from film to TV, thinking it will be easier to get work. Now have four book-length collections of short stories, which I print and bind at Kinko's and charge my friends $15 each for.

1992 - Graduate college, and can't find a TV job. Begin series of part time jobs to support myself, while working on my first novel. I finish it in three months. It's called DEAD ON MY FEET, about a guy dying of cancer. His name is Phineas Troutt. His walking death sentence leads him to a life of crime. Cameos by Harry McGlade, and a Chicago cop named Jack Daniels.

1993 - Find an agent who loves DEAD ON MY FEET. Write another novel, with Jack Daniels as the hero, called THE GINGERBREAD MAN. Give that to my agent.

1994 - In 18 months, my agent only shows my books to 2 publishers. I fire him, and start racking up rejections.

1995 - Write a third thriller called THREE WAY. Get a hundred rejections.

1996 - Write a fourth thriller called THE LADYKILLER. Get a hundred rejections.

1997 -Write a fifth thriller called EVERYBODY DIES. Get a hundred rejections.

1998 - Write a sixth thriller called SHOT OF TEQUILA. Almost land an agent, who likes it a lot but thinks it's too hardboiled. I'm now up to over 450 rejections.

1999 - Write a technothriller called ORIGIN. Land an agent. :)

2000 - My agent can't sell ORIGIN. Begin work on another technothriller.

2001 - Finish my thriller THE LIST. Agent can't sell it. I now have had more than five hundred rejections. Begin work on a medical thriller.

2002 - Finish my thriller DISTURB. Agent hates it, won't rep it. I dig out my old mystery novel THE GINGERBREAD MAN, and rewrite it from the first page to the last. Studying the mystery market, I decide to change Jack Daniels from a man into a woman, and release it under the unisex "J.A. Konrath." I also use Harry McGlade and Phineas Troutt as supporting characters.

2003 - WHISKEY SOUR sells in a three book deal worth $110,000. It's enough for me to write full time.

2004 - WHISKEY SOUR comes out. I buy my first computer, and begin to learn all I can about the publishing industry to figure out how I can succeed. Begin to experiment with self promotion on the Internet, and in person. I rewrite THE LADYKILLER, turning it into BLOODY MARY. I start selling short stories in earnest, making my first big sale to Ellery Queen.

2005 -Start a blog called A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, to share what I've learned about the industry. My publisher sends me to a warehouse, where I sign 3500 copies of my books. They also send me on a West Coast tour, to six cities. I use a rental car, and do drop-in signings at more than 120 stores. I write RUSTY NAIL, and begin to teach writing and marketing at a local community college. I sign a second three book deal with Hyperion, for $125,000. I also edit and sell an anthology called THESE GUNS FOR HIRE.

2006 -To promote RUSTY NAIL, I visit 612 bookstores in 29 states. I write DIRTY MARTINI. I begin giving away ebooks of my early, unsold novels on my website. I also continue to sell short stories and write articles for Writer's Digest.

2007 - Write FUZZY NAVEL. My publisher decides not to tour me. I continue to self-promote as much as I can afford. I rewrite ORIGIN and ask my agent to shop it around. It gets rejected by everybody. I write an action screenplay called THE SITE. No takers. You can read THE SITE for free HERE.

2008 - Write CHERRY BOMB, and a horror novel called AFRAID. Hyperion decides to drop their mystery line, me included, even though my first three novels have earned out their advance. My Italian publisher flies me to Italy to tour me. It takes my agent six months to sell AFRAID, in a two book deal for only $20k per book. My agent shops around a proposal for a seventh Jack Daniels novel. No takers. I'm worried about my career, even though my blog and website reach more than 1 million hits.

2009 - Do a blog tour to promote AFRAID, appearing on a hundred blogs in a month. Then I do a regular tour, signing at 200 bookstores. Kindle owners ask me to put my free ebook downloads on Amazon, since they can't convert pdfs. Amazon won't let me put them up for free, so I charge $1.99. They start selling like crazy. By the end of the year, my rejected novels ORIGIN, THE LIST, SHOT OF TEQUILA, DISTURB, and my previously published short stories have sold 27,000 copies, and are paying my rent. My free kindle story SERIAL, written with Blake Crouch, is downloaded over 200,000 times.

AFRAID earns out its advance on its first royalty statement. I write TRAPPED, the sequel. My editors don't like it. I rewrite it from the ground up, and the still don't like it. I write a sci-fi novel called TIMECASTER and sell it and a sequel to Ace for an embarrassingly small amount of money because I'm so worried about my future.

2010 - Write another Jack Kilborn novel, called ENDURANCE. My editors want changes. I refuse to make them. We're now deciding how to proceed. I also sign a three book deal with a bestselling author to co-write three thrillers. The deal will earn me more than 1 million dollars. Can't reveal the details yet. The seventh Jack Daniels novel, SHAKEN, is now in the contract phase with a terrific publisher. Can't reveal the details yet. But things are certainly looking up.

Final stats:
  • By March, I've sold over 35,000 ebooks in just a year.
  • Google "jakonrath.blogspot.com" and you'll get over 300,000 hits.
  • I currently have seven books in print, in eleven different countries, to the tune of several hundred thousand copies.
  • I've sold over seventy short stories and articles to magazines and anthologies.
  • I've sold two film options on my works.
  • I've mailed out 7000 promotional letters to libraries, and signed at more than 1200 bookstores in 39 states.
  • My Jack Daniels series, which my publisher dropped, is among their top 50 bestselling titles on Kindle.
  • In the next 18-24 months, I'll have six novels coming out, possibly more.
  • I'm now making $4k a month on Kindle. When Amazon switches to the agency model in June, I expect to be making $10k.
I still have goals. Still have dreams. But I'm in a very good position right now.

I finally have enough money to ease up on all the non-stop self promotion.

I've met a lot of great people. Made a lot of good friends.

Looking back on all the ups and down, successes and failures, near-misses and lucky breaks, I realize something...

I'm happy. I may be the happiest damn person on the planet.

So how am I going to spend today, my 40th birthday?

I could spend it celebrating the terrific ride I've had so far.

I could spend it worrying about the future.

I could spend it regretting the many mistakes I've made and failures I've had.

I could spend it patting myself on the back for a job well done.

But I'm not going to do any of those things.

Instead, I'm going to spend the day with my one true love. The one thing that has kept me going through the good and the bad, the ups and the downs.

Today, I'm writing.

I'm actually going to put words on a page, and get paid for those words. And I'm going to love every goddamn minute of it.

After all, who else is lucky enough to do what they love for a living?

Then later tonight, I'm getting plastered and jumping the wife. ;)