Monday, September 26, 2011

Guest Post by Rick Mofina

I've known Rick Mofina for years, before he began to sell like crazy. I remember three years ago, walking through a grocery store and seeing one of his paperbacks in the checkout isle, alongside a Stephen King and a Janet Evanovich, and I thought, "Wow! He made it!"

But even though Rick has sold gazillions of books, he's still dipping his toes into the self-publishing pool. Here's a guest post by him about his journey:

Fear and Loathing on the Publishing Trail – Confessions of an Uneasy Midlister, by Rick Mofina

Thanks to Joe for inviting me to tell my story.

Chances are you’ve never heard of me.

This month I am officially self-publishing my first eBook, Dangerous Women & Desperate Men, a collection of four stories.

It’s a milestone for me.

I’ve written 12 thrillers through legacy publishers and I now have about 2 million books in print in some 20 countries. Yet, this month with my first effort to self-publish an eBook I feel like I’m starting over.

I wrote my first story when I was about ten years old, in neat, cursive handwriting, and from that point on I never stopped writing.

It became my joy and my affliction. By the time I was 14, I had discovered The Writer magazine and read it as though it were a new found holy book. In high school I was the only boy in my typing class. After school, I used the old manual Olympias to type my stories and snail mail them off to magazines. I waited weeks and months for responses and collected a suitcase full of rejection. By the time I was 15, I had my first sale, a short story to a small magazine in New Jersey for $60.00.

That was a milestone.

I had become a professional. Part-time. I still had to go to school.

When I was 18, I wrote my first novel, a horrible monster that must remain in darkness. But I never stopped writing – and reading everyone -- through factory work, university, [among the courses I’d studied: Religious Responses to Death, Existential Literature and American Detective Fiction then later I was on the crime beat]. Then came marriage, kids my job as a reporter and now my fulltime day job as a communications advisor.

But the need to write is in my DNA.

I had written stories, plays and novels. By the time I was forty, and after so much trial, error, study, practicing and polishing, I had, between shifts on the crime desk, completed what I believed was a decent novel. I sought an agent. After a year, I got one in New York.

“I think I can place your book,” she’d said after reading my mss.

After another year and much hard work she’d called to say she’d sold my book to a New York publisher. I was ecstatic.

“Can I get a new car, or get my brakes fixed?” I’d asked her.

“You can get your brakes fixed,” she’d said.

I was still ecstatic.

That book, IF ANGELS FALL, a crime thriller, set in California, was published in 2000, as a paperback original. It felt magical in my hands, I was a published author. I thought everything would change.

It did.

Since my first published book and through to my 12th, I’ve learned about the world of commercial fiction, agents, publishers, editors, production, deadlines, cover art, jacket copy, permissions, blurbs, distribution, cycles, wholesalers, retailers, placement, co-opting, shelf-space, velocity, royalties, reserves, promotion, book signings, conferences, readings, panels, booksellers and store managers.

I’ve had movie options, foreign sales, audio sales and digital sales. I’ve yet to make the New York Times list, or USA Today. I’ve never been reviewed by either, but I’ve had starred reviews in Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal. I have readers around the world and my work has been acclaimed several times – most recently, my book The Panic Zone was nominated for a SHAMUS by the Private Eye Writers of America.

I am honored, privileged and damned lucky to be published.

It’s been said here many times and I agree: no one owes you anything. I am as blue-collar as the protagonists in my books. My old man, as the song goes, got his back into his living. I believe in paying your dues.

That’s just me.

Since I’ve been published this is my routine: I rise around 3:45-4:00 a.m. Head to the keyboard and read over chapters and make notes. Then on my 50-minute bus commute to my fulltime day job. I use those notes to advance my story. I do the same on the 50-minute commute home. I work on those notes at bedtime and repeat the process at the crack of dark. On weekends I turn those notes into chapters. I write in hotels, at airports and on airplanes.

The craft and product are paramount.

I put everything I’ve got into my work. My readers get the absolute best I can give because without them, a story never lives. I go to conferences on my own dime because as a midlister you take nothing for granted. You do all you can to hang on to the pursuit in which you’ve invested much of your life.

That’s why I’ve decided to publish my own eBook.

That, and the fact we are in the midst of a revolution.

When they first emerged, I scoffed at eBooks. Those things will never catch on, I thought. This from the guy who vowed never to stop writing books in long hand and typing them on an IBM electric typewriter.

My typewriter is mothballed. I am now on my sixth PC.

At book conferences, in the tribal camps of authors, Joe Konrath, and other prophets, would tell us what they saw on the publishing horizon.

It made me uneasy.

At the same time, authors I knew were losing publishing contracts.

Then along came kindle and things changed fast.

Some of us embrace change. Some fear it. Still some, like Joe, learn to surf. A light went on for me in 2009, at a conference in Indianapolis. A reader showed me her kindle. I’d never seen one before. Then she showed the book she was reading on it: VENGEANCE ROAD, one of mine produced by my legacy publisher.

It was another milestone.

Day by day on my bus commute to my day job I began spotting more people using eReaders. Then last Christmas as we all know, sales of eReaders and eBooks exploded. Since then we’ve all read the jaw-dropping statistics, witnessed the e-author success stories, and heard the fury of an industry in the throes of a shift in its evolution.

So what does it all mean for writers?

Simple: the path to the reader, and to success or failure, however you personally define it, has been accelerated to the point of being instant.

Some argue that it is a threat to the quality of storytelling.

I disagree.

What we’re seeing is a leveling of the publishing playing field. Those who are born storytellers, those who have the talent, discipline and pride of craftsmanship, now have a better than ever chance to find an audience. They get an opportunity that was, until now, denied them.

That’s exciting.

Allow me to digress a bit. That eBooks are a game changer was driven home to me recently.

Yes, I came up through legacy publishing and my relationship with my legacy publisher is very good. But my recent experience solidified the power of traditional publisher support when married to the power of eBooks.

You might find little new in this example, but I think it is a valid one.

My thriller Six Seconds was released in the UK in 2009 in paperback and e-format. The book has sold well around the world and in the UK. Both the paperback and e-version achieved fairly good Amazon UK rankings before sales slipped as they usually do months after release.

A few weeks ago my British publisher informed me that Six Seconds was a candidate for a brief online free-eBook promo through Expedia and iTunes in the UK. All I had to do was temporarily waive e-royalty claims.

I did, hoping the book might get some renewed attention.

Boy did it.

For about five days Six Seconds held the #1 Amazon UK ranking for all free eBooks. I was amazed. I noticed that my other books, those still fully priced on Amazon UK, also started selling. I was getting new and positive reviews and emails from new readers. Without my legacy publisher I never would have had the opportunity to participate in that promotion. Six Seconds was running in the slow lane until the power of online promotion of eBooks happened.

When the promo ended, I thought Six Seconds would plummet on Amazon UK but it didn’t. It fell but rebounded to the top 50 for some time afterward. Paperback sales climbed a bit too.

Yes, not every author gets a break like that.

I don’t feel I deserved it. As Joe would say, I got lucky, very lucky.

This UK thing happened coincidentally when I was in the process of releasing my first self-published eBook, Dangerous Women & Desperate Men. It affirmed my plan to learn to swim in the rising tide of change concerning eBooks.

Prior to that, what had been on my mind was the fact that I had a number of good stories, acclaimed stories that I wanted to offer readers. Most of the stories had been published, but I still owned all rights to them and wanted to get them in the hands of readers.

If ever there was a time for me to try to self publish an eBook this was it. But I knew nothing about the process. Zero. What I learned, I learned through Joe, other authors and reading. After thinking things through, I developed a plan and decided to make a financial investment.

In laying out my plan for you, here comes the BSP.

I selected four of my short stories for an anthology titled, Dangerous Women & Desperate Men, with the theme of ordinary people on the brink. Each are also available separately for 99 cents each.

With the first story, “Blood Red Rings,” I wanted to partner the reader for one night with seasoned cop Frank Harper. After 24 years of putting his life on the line, Harper sees it all tick down to one defining moment. “Blood Red Rings,” first appeared in Crimespree Magazine where Jon, Ruth and Jennifer Jordan have opened the door of their revered publication to short crime fiction.

The second story, “Lightning Rider,” is the study of a damaged woman determined to achieve what she believes she is owed. The reader meets Jessie Scout, a twenty-six-year-old woman who had endured a life steeped in pain and goes to Las Vegas, a city of risk, not to gamble, but to collect. “Lightning Rider” first appeared in Murder in Vegas, edited by Michael Connelly. It also won Canada's top literary prize for crime fiction, the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Story, presented by the Crime Writers of Canada. It is also featured in Deadly Bride and 21 of the Year's Finest Crime and Mystery Stories, Edited by Ed Gorman & Martin H. Greenberg.

In the third story, “Three Bullets To Queensland,” we meet Ike Decker, a loss recovery agent, for the armored car industry. His dream is to leave the U.S. for Australia but the only thing in his way to realizing it is Paco Sanchez and $1.2 million in stolen cash.

The last piece is, “As Long As We Both Shall.” It features Liz Dalton, a hard-working middle-aged woman. When her world was coming apart she fought back with a shocking vengeance. This story is presented in the format of transcript, much like a court document. The story first appeared in Blood on the Holly, an anthology of Christmas mysteries edited by Caro Soles and published in 2007 by Baskerville Books. “As Long As We Both Shall Live,” was named a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Story.

With this collection I wanted readers to step into the lives of everyday people as they battle extraordinary circumstances.

My publishing plan was to offer each story individually as eBook for 99 cents, and all four together for $2.99 in the collection that includes an introduction and added features, such as the stories behind some of my legacy eBooks.

For the formatting and posting on Kindle, Smashwords etc., I approached Donna Carrick with www.CarrickPublishing.com of Toronto.

Then I approached a friend, John Holt at picturecover@gmail.com to do the covers. I sketched my concepts and John made them a beautiful reality. For promotion, I wanted to use social media to the best of my ability, which is not much.

I also set aside several hundred dollars for advertising, chiefly for one small ad that appeared with the bestsellers list in the September 25th print edition of the Los Angeles Times.

My total investment will be around $1,300.00.

A roll of the dice but I believe in these stories.

Like my books, I’ve thrown everything I have into them. They’re good stories that, until now, were essentially sitting on my hard drive.

Thanks to the revolution they can be in readers’ hands in minutes, at least that’s the aim of the $1,300.00 plan.

If it works, I’ll do it again and keep doing it.

I owe it to the kid who used to sit alone in typing class after school hammering away on an Olympia manual typewriter and snailing off stories dreaming of the day they’d find readers.

Joe sez: First of all, apologies to Rick because I told him I'd post this yesterday, but time got away from me. I'm currently on a deadline for Timecaster 2 and have been putting in long hours and forgetting things I promised people. (Why do I still have deadlines? I'll blog about that soon...)

Second, the first thing that struck me reading this post was, "He sold 2 million books and he still has a day job?!?" I was able to write fulltime having sold only 500,000 paper books. So either Rick loves his day job, or he's not getting paid as much as he should.

Third, Rick approached me after he'd already bought the ad in the Times. Had he approached me prior to that, I would have tried to talk him out of it. I've always found ads for books to be a big waste of money. Hopefully Rick will chime in on the comments here and tell us if it was worth it.

Fourth, good for him for being proactive and trying this out. He did this the smart way: releasing the shorts for 99 cents each, bundling them all for $2.99, getting quality covers and formatting, having punchy, concise cover copy.

Shorts (and collections) don't sell as well as novels. Four other authors and I just confirmed this in a talk on Fearnet. So this isn't a perfect way for Rick to test the ebook waters, because a novel would sell better. I notice Rick some of Rick legacy pubbed books don't have ebook editions. If he's got the rights, he needs to get those live. If he doesn't have the rights, both he and his publisher are losing money.

Rick is a great writer, and a great guy. I encourage everyone reading to try out his collection (or, if you're cheap, one of his 99 cent shorts.) If you like thrillers, you'll love them.