Jude Hardin

Author, Drummer, Turtle Whisperer

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Location: United States

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Conversation with Mark Terry--Are You Listening Lindsey Lohan?

Author Mark Terry and I both had new releases recently. My debut thriller Pocket-47 came out May 2, and Mark's fourth Derek Stillwater thriller The Valley of Shadows hit the stores June 7. Both are available in hardcover, as well as all the ebook formats.

We thought it might be interesting to chat a bit about the business, and we've decided to let the rest of the world eavesdrop...

MARK: So, your first book came out. This is actually my 13th (yikes!). For promo I did this blog tour, visiting about 20 different blogs in about 30 days or so. I was also profiled on The Big Thrill, ran an ad in The Big Thrill, and hired a publicist to do a lot of short lead promo, so my book would get reviewed by book blogs around the date of publication. It's sort of fed into a couple other things - I just got interviewed for a freelance writing e-newsletter, discussing e-book publishing. How about you? What've you been doing?

JUDE: I've done some guest blogs and some bookstore signings, and I've been active on Kindleboards and Facebook. I've done some giveaways, and I frequently leave a link when I comment on other blogs. I have an interview or two pending, and Chuck Sambuchino (one of the editors for Writer's Digest magazine) recently posted the guest column he asked me to write. Pocket-47 received a starred review in Publisher's Weekly, and I link to that whenever possible as well. I also have a review and interview coming up on Sons of Spade, a site specifically for lovers of fictional private investigators. What kind of sales expectations do you have for THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS?

MARK: Yeah, you received a dazzling review in PW. Very awesome. As for my sales expectations, I’m primarily hoping to sell more copies than I did of THE FALLEN. We’ll see. I’m seeing the overall marketing campaign having an effect on sales of all my e-books in general, which is nice. Have you been doing book signings? Are you enjoying them?

JUDE: I really did enjoy the signing I did at Books-A-Million in Louisville, KY, my hometown. I got to chat with some friends and family members I hadn’t seen in decades, and I sold all the books BAM had on hand along with some from the stash in my truck. For the most part, though, I don’t think signings are a very efficient way to sell books, unless you’re a celebrity or a NYT bestseller. This is especially true as ebook sales soar and print sales plummet. What are your thoughts on bookstore signings?

MARK: Although I’ve had a few good ones in terms of having pleasant chats with people – and I had a book launch party at Aunt Agatha’s Mystery Bookstore last year with author Craig McDonald that brought in a fair number of people (and a lot of family) that I would call a success – I’ve felt that in some ways they’ve hurt me. It has to do with expectations. Sometimes I was sold to the bookstores as this hot new author and they got excited and ordered a large number of books, which I was then unable to move at the book signing. They may have ordered 40 and I managed to move 5 or 6 at a signing, and I just feel that although it looked nice initially, it probably bit me in the butt in the long run because of returns.

And not to sound all curmudgeonly and antisocial, but that kind of cocktail party energy and presentation is slightly outside my comfort zone and I’m probably not very good at it. I’m not bad at one-on-one and even giving talks, but to do the small-talk thing at a bookstore, I’m just not sure I pull it off that well.

Some people just like playing author. I like meeting readers, they’re great, but I’m not sure I like “playing author.” I’m sort of uncomfortable with the attention. How about you?

JUDE: I would be okay with it if a lot of people showed up to buy the book. Sitting at a table and watching people stroll by trying to avoid eye contact is not my idea of a fun evening, though. If you’re not a superstar, it’s a waste of time. So that’s what we need to become. Superstars. Any ideas on how to make that happen?

MARK: Well, I’ve definitely had that experience and I thought my face was going to crack open from all those forced smiles and hellos to people who were interested in the latest book by somebody, anybody, else.

I’m inclined to think book signings don’t create successful novelists, successful novelists create successful book signings.

I don’t know. Maybe one of us – or both, I suppose – need to date Lindsey Lohan. That would get us some press coverage. I like Joe Konrath’s current business model, which involves writing a lot, primarily self-publishing e-books, and selling tons and tons of them, and not having to tour or promote.

Hasn’t quite worked that way for me, but since we’re on the subject … e-books. I’ve got a foot in both camps, with the traditional publishing, etc., and e-books, which I have published as both originals and as e-books. I find it intriguing, although I’m not a zealot like some people seem to be. Yourself?

JUDE: I think it’s smart to have a foot in both camps at this point. I know Joe and some others have had great success with self-publishing, but I’m not convinced it’s ultimately going to be the best way to go. I do think publishers are going to have to start making contracts more attractive to authors if they want to keep them around, though. Eight percent royalties on ebooks, for example, is absolutely obscene. Why would anyone take that when they can get seventy percent of the list price by self-publishing?

I have a top New York agent anxiously waiting to get her hands on my next book, so my plan is to try to get lucrative traditional deals for my novels and maybe self-publish some short stories and novellas along the way. I have one horror novella available now, although sales have been excruciatingly slow so far. So no, I’m not a zealot as far as self-publishing goes. But I do think ebooks will eventually replace print as the dominant format.

MARK: I agree with you on this. It reminds me too strongly of the hype that occurred about 10 or 15 years ago when iUniverse and other print-on-demand companies started up. It was going to be the end of publishing-as-we-know-it and some authors made a fortune and a lot of traditionally published novelists put their backlists that had gone out-of-print out, and then it faded as the typical writer discovered its limitations. There are differences now, of course. The distribution model has changed, the delivery model has changed, and the author has control of the pricing, which is a huge deal. When I published CATFISH GURU through iUniverse way back when, they did a nice job with it and it didn’t cost me anything at the time (that’s changed), but they priced the trade paperback at $17.95 at a time when hard covers were going for about $20 or so. It was a bit ahead of its time and bookstores weren’t willing to stock POD books and Amazon and online booksellers hadn’t become as dominant as they are now.

So there are differences. I think ebooks will become the dominant format, too, and if nothing else, a recent house cleaning and move of my office where I had to transfer a thousand books or so, convinced me to shift my reading over to ebooks even more than it already had simply so I don’t have to deal with moving so many books ever again.

And I can’t really tell if publishers are particularly concerned about ebook self-publishing yet or not. Mostly I hear disparaging remarks coming out of the industry, both agents and publishers, which is disheartening, because really, although I like my publisher quite a bit, the typical publisher is going to have to come up with some incentives to make them a better deal than what I can do myself through various ebook formats.

And this is going on a bit, but one thing I think traditional publishers might consider for ebook royalties is a staggered royalty with an endpoint. That is to say, perhaps a 30/70 split the first year, 50/50 the next, 70/30 the next, with an eventual point where ebook rights revert to the author. Publishers probably won’t go for it – why would they?, it represents a loss of control and revenue for them – but I think that if Amazon and B&N and Smashwords continue to offer their 70% royalties and control, and paper books continue to be marginalized, the deals traditional publishers are offering won’t make very much sense to the typical author. They’ll still be lucrative for big name authors who sell hundreds of thousands or even millions of copies, but for the typical midlist or below author who’s unlikely to make a living off their novels, they benefit by going on their own because they have more control, higher royalties and potentially more income delivered on a regular basis (i.e., monthly).

JUDE: I think publishers are going to have to offer some kind of royalty structure like the one you mentioned if they intend to survive. New York Times bestselling author Barry Eisler recently turned down a $500K offer from St. Martin’s Press and parted ways with his agent so he could self-publish. He subsequently signed a deal with Amazon’s new mystery/thriller imprint, so the terms of that deal must have been way more favorable than the terms with SMP. And Eisler is only the beginning. As more and more authors jump ship from the traditional houses, those houses will have to revise their boilerplates or go belly-up. You can’t very well run a publishing business without writers.

MARK: No matter how much some publishing houses would like to. It does make me wonder if, in the long run, what we’ll all look back on is that Amazon et al., changed things for the better for writers simply by taking their retail clout and then jumping into the publishing business. There has been a tendency for publishers to say, “Well, we’ve always done it that way” in regards to pricing and the hard/soft deals and the terms of contracts, returns, etc. Amazon, which is apparently driving these changes, is approaching it differently and doesn’t seem to be overly concerned about the way things have always been done.

I suspect it’s going to crush a lot of bookstores and probably not all the publishers will survive either. It seems – at least at the moment – like it’s a very favorable change for writers, for the most part, although my impression is that it’s even harder now than usual for new authors (and midlist authors) to get book contracts, advances are shrinking, and it’s hard for a $25.95 hardcover to find a readership when it’s competing with $7.00 paperbacks, and ebooks that range from $0.99 to $10.00 (or so). In some ways the changes make me sad and in other ways I find them exhilarating.

JUDE: Yep, a hardcover is pretty much a luxury item these days. I got a Kindle for Christmas last year, and I haven’t bought a single hardcover since. For that matter, I haven’t bought a single paperback either. It’s just so much easier to buy and read books electronically, and they don’t take up space and collect dust.

Well, it’s been great chatting with you, Mark. Best of luck with your new release and all your future books. All the changes going on in the industry should keep things interesting!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Unborn, Chapter One

Judy Smith and her husband Charles had taken the two-lane blacktop, thinking they might be able to avoid the Friday evening interstate traffic. Now Judy braced herself against the dashboard, as if by sheer will she might be able to stop the eighteen-wheeler barreling directly toward them at ninety miles an hour.

“No!” Judy shouted. The truck kept coming.

Charles had a deathgrip on the steering wheel. He was frozen. Judy had to do something. She reached over and pulled the emergency brake, and at the same time grabbed the wheel and jerked it to the right. The car spun out of control and then rolled onto its side, finally landing upside down in a roadside drainage ditch. The airbag deployed, pinning Judy against her seat, and her neck was bent at a painful angle against the car’s headliner.

But she was alive.

She was alive, and she could wiggle her toes.

The semi’s airbrakes hissed to a stop on the other side of the highway.

It was dark, and Judy couldn’t see Charles, but she could hear him groaning. He was alive, too. Surely the trucker would call 9-1-1 now and help would be on the way shortly.

Judy felt something dripping on her left arm, something ice cold and stinging hot.

Then she smelled it.


The tank must have ruptured when the car rolled. The liquid trickled down her arm in a steady stream and welled in her armpit. She could feel it starting to saturate her black dress.

“Charles? Honey?”

“I’m here,” he said. “I think my legs are broke. God, it hurts. It hurts so bad.”

“We’re going to be okay. They’ll take us to the hospital and fix us up good as new. You’ll see. I bet we’ll even get to ride in a helicopter. I’ve never ridden in a helicopter. Have you, honey? It’ll make one heck of a story for our grand--”

She almost said grandchildren, but she caught herself in time. No, there would be no grandchildren now. They had buried that dream earlier in a mahogany casket with brass hardware.

It was just a casket, she’d told herself, albeit a very expensive one. Just a casket, and the battered earthly shell that had once contained her son’s soul.

Charles had wanted Colin to be cremated, but Judy wouldn’t hear of it. She wanted to see him, to be near him, to touch and hold and kiss him before saying goodbye for the last time. She couldn’t bear the thought of him being slid into an oven on a slab.

“My legs are broke for sure,” Charles gasped. “I’m in agony. If I had a gun right now, I would shoot myself.”

“Don’t talk like that, honey. They’ll give you something for the pain. Dilaudid, or morphine, something like that. It’ll knock it right out. You’ll see.”

Charles didn’t respond. All was quiet and inky black. No traffic, no sirens in the distance, no chopper blades whirring to the rescue. What was taking them so long?

Judy tried to reassure herself. It hadn’t really been long at all. Five minutes, maybe. Of course help couldn’t have gotten there yet. They were on a stretch of road in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest town. It would take at least twenty minutes for a rescue unit to arrive, maybe more.

The safety glass on Judy’s side had crumpled inward, and there was a gap between the window and the doorframe that allowed fresh air to enter the car’s interior. If that window hadn’t broken like it did, the noxious gasoline fumes flooding the car’s interior probably would have choked Judy and her husband to death by now.

Thank you, Jesus.

The door to the semi’s cab slammed shut and a pair of heavy shoes clomped across the pavement. Judy’s broken window faced that way, and she watched the trucker approach.

He didn’t seem panicked, or even in much of a hurry. He stopped a few feet from the wrecked vehicle, pulled a cigarette from his shirt pocket, put the cigarette in his mouth and lit a match. He held the burning matchstick for a few seconds, staring into it, entranced by the flame. He finally lit the cigarette and blew the match out with a lungful of smoke.

“Hey,” Judy said. “We got a gas leak here. Would you mind not smoking?”

The trucker took another drag. He didn’t say anything.

“Hey,” Judy repeated. “Can you hear me? There’s gasoline leaking into the car here.”

He still didn’t say anything. He hot-boxed the Marlboro like no tomorrow, blue-gray smoke jetting from his nostrils and rising into the cool night air.

What an idiot. Was he trying to blow them all to Kingdom Come? Judy wished he would go on back to his truck. She wished the ambulance would hurry up. She wished--

Then, faintly, there was a distant wail. Glory be. Help was on the way.

The trucker turned and started to walk away. He hesitated, pivoted back toward Judy, and flicked the smoldering cigarette in her direction. In slow motion the fiery butt twirled end-over-end and landed inches from Judy’s window in the dry roadside scrub grass.

She tried to pick it up, hoping to extinguish it, but it was out of reach. She leaned into the broken glass and stretched with all her might. If her arm had been a fraction of an inch longer, or if she had made it to her nail appointment that morning, she could have snatched the nasty thing and squashed it into the dirt.

No such luck.

Her heart pounded and her breath came in shallow gasps. She leaned and stretched, leaned and stretched, leaned and stretched and, finally, touched the filter with her middle finger.

She touched it with her finger but it was wet and slippery from the trucker’s saliva and she couldn’t get enough friction against it to guide it her way.

A plume of black smoke rose from a single blade of grass near the lit end of the cigarette, and then the unmistakable crackle of brush fire chewed its way into Judy’s consciousness like a team of hungry rats. She saw the flashing red lights of an ambulance and a fire truck seconds before bright orange flames engulfed the car and slowly roasted her and her husband until they were crispy dead.