Friday, August 10, 2012

Help From My Friends - Misty Rayburn

I know, it's been far too long since I've been here - my bad. We have a bunch of great people who are still to come in the HELP sub-blog, and today's guest is nothing short of amazing. Misty Rayburn, the queen blogger of The Top Shelf, is here to talk about blogging, her experience in the lit world, and advice for writers looking to get reviewed and succeed. Enjoy!

1. Aside from the generic 'follow the rules', is there anything you would like to suggest to the writers out there on how to up their chances of getting reviewed vs going straight to the bottom of the pile? 

What rules? I've heard there's some list of rules out there somewhere but I've never actually read them! Only rule I really ask authors to follow is be patient with me. Things got really big really fast for The Top Shelf and I'm only one person! There is no certain thing with me that would cause me to throw a book to the bottom of a pile. I want to read every book I agree to. Although I do give priority to book tours. I think it's a great way to drive users to a site while at the same time sending readers to your books. 

 2. What does it take to review a book above and beyond the basic step of reading? 

A lot of things and I didn't really realize it until I started reviewing. While I'm reading, I think about all sorts of things such as flow of plot, are there any really huge holes that make me raise an eyebrow? How fast I'm reading. Does it really suck me in? Is it making me behave in a certain way because I don't want to put it down? An example of that would be reading at the dinner table. 

3. Why do you review books? What do you get out of it? 

I had just gotten out of physical therapy for my back when I got my Nook. I was still a little sore and feeling a bit helpless as most people do who have been in pain for a long time. I realized that people were really paying attention to my book recommendations and so I decided to start reviewing to help out authors. What I get out of it is the satisfaction that comes with knowing you're making a difference. 

 4. What is your take on paid reviews? 

I as a reader take them with a grain of salt. I think it's kinda silly to pay someone to review your book when there are tons of bloggers out there that will do the exact same thing with the same quality for free. Perhaps even some bloggers that are more in touch with the everyday reader than a paid reviewer would be. 

5. Have you ever been threatened by an author because of a bad review? 

I haven't yet written a review that was less than 4 stars. I don't know if I've just been lucky or if it's because I only request things that I know I'd like to read. My readers are like you always review really awesome stuff and I was like I know! Maybe I'm some sort of book psychic or I have some sort of really awesome reading radar or something. 

 6. What pitfalls are writers running into now-a-days that you see entirely way too often in a story? 

We've been seeing a lot of vampires and werewolves lately haven't we? Now zombies are making a comeback and that I'm really excited about. I think one big pitfall is the sense that you always have to have a happily ever after to a story. Books tend to stick with me longer if they have something out of the norm like talking statues or the author does something you don't see everyday like killing off the main character. 

7. With the advent of ebooks, has your job become any easier? 

I wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't for e-books. What really is interesting is when I get paper books for book tours where the books are available in e-book or if I get a book for review in paper that's available in e-book. 

 8. When is your busiest time of the year for review submissions? 

There's no certain time a year where I have a slow down period. I get anywhere between 1 book and 4 books a day in my mailbox and it hasn't changed yet. I told you things got really big, really fast! 

 9. How do you like to review - in a chair sitting up, bed lying comfortable, or other? 

In a box, with a fox... No wait that's green eggs and ham. Most of the time when I'm reviewing I'm sitting here right in front of my laptop. Although I've been told I have the complexion of a vampire from being indoors so much so I've been trying to go outside more. 

10. If you could give authors out there any piece of advice about the publishing industry and reviewing world, what would it be? 

No guts, no glory! Underline it, engrave it into your brain and make it your mantra. It's the whole foundation for myself as a reviewer and my blog. I didn't think the big six would give a little reviewer like me the time of day with a blog that's only been open a year and six months. I tried anyway and I've got some really great reads on tap for review such as The Wind Through The Keyhole by Stephen King. 

11. Due to the declining newspaper sales and print-reviews, how has that impacted you? 

It hasn't! I was a blogger born from this whole e-book revolution. It's a really great time to be a blogger. 

See, I told you it was good! How can you go wrong with a Dr. Seuss reference? Many thanks to Misty for taking the time to answer some questions with some candid answers. I hope that you got some great input out of this post. Please be sure to let her know by commenting below, Sam I am.

Happy reading.

Misty Rayburn is a graduate from Capital University with a BA in English Literature. She was a live event photographer, covering a lot of Columbus’ local scene but a back injury kept her out of the scene for two years. While recovering, she created The Top Shelf. Misty doesn’t have a TBR list, she has a mountain! Come visit us! Website: Twitter: @topshelfebooks Facebook:

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Help From My Friends - J.S. Chancellor

While I know I'm a few weeks behind, and apologize for it, this weeks guest is J.S. Chancellor. I originally met her through Suspense Magazine, as well as another blog, and we've been connected through Facebook ever since. She is quite talented, a seemingly tireless worker, and class act. I hope you welcome her!

What one lesson was hardest for you to swallow in the industry?

*That every common sense thing I’d ever been told about the reading public was indeed true: You can’t please everyone, you will have some readers who love your stuff and some who hate it, some people will be rude to you just to be rude, and getting published is really really really hard work because publishers and agents are, in truth, a huge part of the reading public.

What one question do you wish you would have asked your favorite novelist? If that question was asked of you right now, what would your answer be?

*I have had this question in quite a few interviews, and honestly, I don’t have an answer for it. I guess it’s telling that I don’t want to ask my favorite novelist anything. There’s something mysterious about not knowing all of the dirty secrets of the trade. A good author is like a magician—revealing all the inner workings would ruin it for me. I have my private ways, and I know that they have theirs. Knowing theirs wouldn’t necessarily make my ways any better or worse, so it becomes merely a matter of curiosity. Do I care enough about the author to want to know those idiosyncrasies?  

How do you fight the worry of being a failure?

*I don’t. I feel it up, buy it a drink, and embrace it. No but seriously, I don’t recommend focusing on it long enough to fight it. At the end of the day, to someone, somewhere, you will be a failure and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about someone else’s perception. Think about it, someone has the balls to think Stephen King is a failure. It’s all relative. Define what you consider to be realistic success and work toward that. Everything else is a waste of time that could be spent writing. 
P.S. A fetal position at the bottom of a closet, with a bottle of American Honey is also quite helpful. 

Was there an obstacle that helped you become the success you are today?

*This will be a great question to answer in about two years. I’m kind of in the middle of that huge obstacle right now—this past year (since last August) has been the most difficult and the most wonderful year of my life. I’ve lost and gained, fought and won, said goodbye and hello. My world was uprooted, causing me to move twice. Three books were released. I went back to school full time because of major financial changes. We’ll see where this all takes me in the coming months. It’s up to me to pull myself together and make a come back, regardless of the complications and emotions. 

What is the most common pitfall writers should steer-clear of?

*Not listening to their guts. The online community has made it too easy to rely on crit groups and FB friends for input on revisions and editing, and that’s not always a good thing. As a whole, writers need to learn to trust themselves. 

When does writing a good book become an obsession?

*When it stops you from appreciating the real life going on around you. Don’t ignore those closest to you. Don’t let those relationships fall apart because you refuse to make the time necessary to cultivate them. A richly lived life will only add to the depth of your writing, not take away from it. I have noticed quite a few beginning authors who have bought into the reclusive writer mentality, and I’m telling you, that leads to misery.

While there are many answers to this, and maybe no clear-cut winner, what is the best way to become a better writer and accomplished author?

*Read. Read, read, and read some more when you’re done with that. Study grammar and increase your vocabulary. As far as becoming accomplished, that’ll handle itself if you focus on the writing part. If you’re good enough, and it’s meant to happen, then it will. Don’t shut yourself off from the reading public, but don’t become so embroiled with the online community that your production level decreases. Your job is to write, period. Yes, marketing is important, but at the end of the day, five sales as opposed to two won’t make you famous or successful. Excellent writing, however, very much will. 

Would you advise getting an agent before trying to sell your book to a publisher?

*At least try to. It doesn’t hurt anyone to get the experience of sending out query letters and getting a few rejections. If all else fails, try hitting up the small and mid-sized publishers. 

How do you get ready to be creative?

*Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. Candles (evergreen is a favored scent of mine). 

What was the most humbling moment of your career?

*Reading a review in which a reader stated that I made them cry. To know that my words could have that intense an impact on another human being was more than humbling. 

When you feel overwhelmed, what do you do to regain focus to meet deadlines, appearances, etc?

*I had my first signing down at a conference in Daytona, FL in 2010. I met my publishers in person for the first time and spoke to a decent sized crowd. It was wonderful. That morning, however, before the whole hoopla, was another story. I woke up with my stomach in such knots that we didn’t make it half a mile down the road before having to turn around and go back to the house for me to spend another half hour in the bathroom. It sucked. I just remember taking deep breaths and having to talk myself out of losing my shit the whole way from St. Augustine (where we were staying) to the hotel in Daytona. Eventually I calmed down enough to enjoy it all, but it definitely showed me that I’m human and therefore not immune to nerves. Long story short, feeling overwhelmed is sort of normal for me. So, I have learned to take one event and one day at a time.

Balancing work and family can always be a challenge for anyone - especially if you work full-time and write - how do you make becoming a success a top priority without losing those family values we all hold near and dear?

*Ah, this goes right along with my comment earlier. You have to make time to focus on both of those things. It’s super easy to get caught up in writing and lose track of everything else. Marketing alone can take up the majority of a good day. Set aside a time to write, to do ‘housekeeping’ stuff for your career, and make sure you set enough time aside for yourself to just detox from all the juggling. Give your family, and those you love, the best part of yourself, and I promise you that your writing will only get better for it. That probably sounds counterproductive, but psychologically speaking, your foundation is provided by those who love you. Make it strong and fill in the cracks, and you’ll have a solid place to rest your writing life.

Celebrating accomplishments is important - how do you celebrate a new contract/final revisions turned in/etc?

*Well, I had started the tradition of having a small something-or-other made every time I had a novel published (engraved necklace and zippo lighter for Son of Ereubus), but that kind of fell by the wayside with the events of this last year. The last three that were released weren’t really celebrated much. So, I suppose I should get back to that. 

In being an author, what gives you the biggest satisfaction?

*Picking up a finished manuscript and just holding it in my hands. 

Are you a social media junkie? How do you stay balanced to get the necessary writing done but also connect with your readers?

*God I used to be. I was online from dawn to dusk. I went the polar opposite direction for a long while and am just now returning to the online world. The best advice I’ve ever been given about maintaining that balance is to section out a certain amount of time for marketing/online stuff, and stick to it. After that allotted time, turn of the internet and get to writing.

Have you ever wanted to try your hand at something other than the written word, like PODcasting or other transmedia venues?

*I thought about doing PODcasts for writing and for Welcome to the Asylum, but life simply took over and I didn’t have time to fool with it. 

Everyone is aware that nothing comes for free - hard work and determination are vital to success in the publishing industry. What do you have to say to the naysayers of your past and the naysayers of someone else's present?

*To the naysayers of the past, “Ha, I told you so.” To those of someone else’s present, “Watch your words, they may come back to haunt you.”

Are there any rituals you must do regularly before you start or after you stop writing for the day?

*Not really, unless you count the coffee and candle from earlier as ritual. 

If you could change one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be?

*Lord, what wouldn't I change about the industry. I’d make it so that writers could actually earn a decent living. We’re in a transition period right now, with the digital age of Ebooks, etc. Until we figure all this out, writing for a living is going to be a tough endeavor. But, we love it, so it makes it all worth while. 

Many thanks to J.S. for coming by and sharing her experiences. I hope that you've gained some new knowledge from it and would love to see some great discussion from what she has said. Continued success to you, Ms. Chancellor!


J.S. Chancellor, whose personal motto is, “woe is the writer who mounts their merit on the masses,” started writing stories when she was still in grade school, and finished her first fantasy novella at the age of 14. She drafted chapter one of the Guardians of Legend trilogy when she was a freshman in high school, sitting on a stool in front of a piano bench, in her parents’ den. It wasn’t until she was 25 when a resident at the apartment complex where she worked lovingly made a casual remark about her procrastination that her passion for fantasy fiction took center stage. Since then she’s focused all of her efforts on writing, to include leaving her full time job in September 2009 and actively maintaining a blog dedicated to the art of crafting fiction. She currently resides in Georgia with her two beloved dogs.

She can be reached at jschancellor (at), and her website, as well as

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Help From My Friends - Louise Marley

Another week, another great author looking to help out the general populous of writers looking to get published, speaking by their varied experiences. Today's speaker is Louise Marley, an award-winning Sci-Fi  author. With about a dozen and a half novels, and another handful of shorts, under her belt her career is in full bloom with some amazing storytelling. Without further ado, please welcome Louise:

What is/was the most important step in getting yourself established in the industry?

I’d love to have a clever answer to this, but in truth, I think the way to get established is just like the way to get published:  write great stuff and submit it.  We are as good as our last novel or story, and a nice little stack of high-quality material is the way to earn a reputation.

I think libraries all hold a near-and-dear place in our hearts, what is your take on the situation of libraries and how can we help stop the downward spiral?

This is of great concern to me.  My own public library, here in Redmond, WA, is one of the most-used libraries in the country!  It’s constantly full of ESL folks, students, people in need of an internet connection, and all sort of other people.  I wish we could, as a nation, spend more on libraries and less on bombs.  The only way I know how to effect that is to try to vote for the best people—and of course, if the library asks for anything, I give it.

If there is only one book people can read of yours, what should it be?

Of course I love readers who tell me they’ve read everything I’ve published!  But if I had to choose just one, it would probably be The Terrorists of Irustan, because in that particular novel, the plot worked out in that inevitable fashion that is always my preference.  It’s hard to pull off, but out of my seventeen novels—so far--I think that one came the closest.

What is the biggest pitfall in the publishing industry that people should stay away from?

Thinking that self-promotion on the internet can replace solid writing efforts!

Getting international book deals is another cog in the wheel of success, how should authors go about doing this?

I’m not sure how much authors can affect their international sales.  I do hear stories, occasionally, about how someone persuaded a foreign publisher to pick up one of their books, but I’ve had to rely on my agent.  Perhaps I’m not the best authority in this area—I’ve only had books published in French and German and Czech, which leaves a lot of countries who don’t yet know my name!

With more authors relying strictly on e-book sales for their success, what is the one thing that is being overlooked in the e-book industry that people should be focusing on?

I’m still of the opinion that authors who are making a big success by going strictly with e-books, especially self-published ones, are a tiny percentage of the writing population in general.  I love e-books.  They’ve made my most recent novels sell through a hell of a lot faster than just paper editions would.  I would still, however, hate to have to rely just on e-editions.  We who are colleagues more or less live on the internet and communicate electronically, but there are still many, many folks who want to hold a paper book in their hands.

Kindle Select - good or bad?

No idea, sorry.  I only barely know what it is.

With the declining sales of print books, what do you feel needs to be done to resurrect this portion of the industry? At this point, can it come back?

I think the proportional sales of e-books is just going to rise.  It’s inevitable.  In every way, an e-book is more cost effective—production, distribution, shipping (none), sales.  The day will come when my answer to your Question #6 will be outdated.

When editing, how do you separate yourself from the book to make it better when your editor gives you constructive criticism you may not agree with?

It’s important to stick to your original inspiration as closely as you can.  You’re the author.  The editor is trying to help you make it a better book, but it wasn’t her idea (usually) in the first place.  If you don’t have a clear vision of what it should be, who will?

What has been the best way to promote your work (knowing that success is different for each individual)?

I think I’m not great at this.  I love one-on-one contact with readers, book events, conventions, that sort of thing.  The sort of mass promotion done over the internet has so far eluded me, although Facebook and GoodReads have been extremely helpful.  The answer to the promotion question for me is an “all of the above” response—if I can think of it, I do it.  I send review copies, I send press releases (mostly ineffective, in my experience), I do Facebook and GoodReads ads, I keep an up-to-date website, I blog a bit at  I do bookmarks.  I pray.  And I hope.  That’s about it!  =)

With so many self-publishing options out there now, apart from making more money (as stated time and time again by Joe Konrath) what is the biggest pro and biggest con of going about it yourself?

Biggest pro:  cover art control.  Much bigger con:  distribution, distribution, distribution.

What would you suggest bookstores do to stay with the changing industry? Would your answer be different for chains vs. local?

I have rather strong opinions about this, especially since seeing (as I predicted-- the demise of Borders.  One of the things Borders did wrong was ignore local interest in assigning books to their bookstores.  They didn’t seem to care that in Seattle, we read a lot of sf, while in Florida, they buy a lot of romance.  My first hardcover sold out the measly three copies they had ordered in two weeks—and my local Borders wouldn’t reorder.  How do either of us stay in business with a model like that?

Barnes & Noble does a much better job, and their CRMs (Community Relations Managers) are wonderfully responsive to local authors.  For independent bookstores, it all comes down to letting their customers know they’re really, really interested in what they want to see in the store, and then following through.  And it behooves us, as writers, to promote our local indies in whatever way we can.

What sets you apart in a sea of competition?

Quality writing.  Good storytelling.  Strong characterizations.  In other words, the usual.

What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?

Practice.  (Learned it in my musical life.)

What is your most humbling moment in the industry?

Oh, God.  The Death Spiral, when my first hardcover came out just after 9/11, and the story began with a terrorist incident.  It took years to climb out of that.

What aspirations do you have left that you've not yet met?

NYT Bestseller List.  Don’t we all?  =)

What is the best way to handle a negative review?

Do your best to forget it.

Do you ever thank a positive reviewer? How do you go about it to not seem like you paid them for the good review?

Really, I follow the rule:  Never, ever respond to the press.  Good or bad, a review is out there, and all publicity is good publicity.  If a good friend has written a nice review, of course I’ll thank her, but even if it’s not so good, I’ll still thank her for taking the time to read my work and write about it.  I may occasionally, however, ask someone to help with a good Amazon review to counter a bad one, since the most recent one is always at the top, and that can hurt.

I was a classical singer for a very long time.  Mostly, I was blessed with good reviews, quickly read and just as quickly forgotten.  However, I can tell you that every bad one was instantly committed to long-term memory, whether I wanted to have it there or not.  We’re human, and as artists, we’re particularly vulnerable.  We can only suck it up and go on.

What fact is stranger than fiction in the publishing world?

That writers have no control over their covers!  My readers have difficulty believing this, but if you’re with a big publisher—we’re now calling them legacy publishers, although I don’t know why—it’s the truth.  I’ve had two novels destroyed by bad covers.  The publishers don’t want to believe it, but I’m convinced it’s true.  My small press editions are my favorites, because my editor and I work together on the covers.  And they matter, they really do.

Thank you to Louise for taking the time to stop by and lend a hand! Please be sure to visit her website,, or find her on Facebook. Please be sure to leave a comment or to ask a question if you have one - thanks for stopping by.


Louise Marley, a former concert and opera singer, writes stories of the fantastic. Sometimes set in the past, sometimes in the future, and often in a curious present, her novels tend to be feminist, often musical, occasionally dark, but always with compelling, colorful, and complex characters. Louise is in demand as a teacher of writing workshops for adults and young adults.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Help From My Friends - Kevin Kaiser

Good Monday evening, everyone!

I hope this post finds you well. Today's guest is Kevin Kaiser, an uber-intelligent publishing professional working on both other people's writing and his own. When this boy speaks, you must listen - it will only help you. Not that I would call him a soothsayer, but much of what I have heard him talk about has come to fruition in he publishing world. Read on, folks.

What is/was the most important step in getting yourself established in the industry?

KK: Oddly enough, it wasn't one step but just learning how to be patient. Everyone's looking for the silver bullet or the shortest path to whatever it is they're trying to do. When I stopped trying to push and force things that's when I started becoming established. It just takes time.

I think libraries all hold a near-and-dear place in our hearts, what is your take on the situation of libraries and how can we help stop the downward spiral?

KK: It would be a tragedy if libraries went away. They're community centers as much as they are book repositories. The only way to stop the spiral is to become more involved in our communities. Sometimes we're so consumption minded that we forget about the important stuff around us. Libraries are one of those things.

If there is only one book people can read of yours, what should it be?

KK: I helped author Grey West with a project called Double Barrel. It's a serialized zombie thriller set in the 1800's. It's The Walking Dead meets True Grit. I'd start with Episode 1 of Double Barrel.

What is the biggest pitfall in the publishing industry that people should stay away from?

KK: (Laughs.) Is there just one? I think it might be this: believing that the most important relationship is between the publisher and the reader. It's not. Does anyone remember who published The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter? The most important relationship is between the author and her audience.

Getting international book deals is another cog in the wheel of success, how should authors go about doing this?

KK: Working with a foreign rights agent is the best way, but most agents won't work with an author unless they are already published and have some level of success. International publishers are looking for authors with cred.

With more authors relying strictly on e-book sales for their success, what is the one thing that is being overlooked in the e-book industry that people should be focusing on?

KK: If I knew that I'd be rich.

Kindle Select - good or bad?

KK: Anything that locks you into a walled garden without a significant amount of upside is bad in my opinion. I'm not sure the upside is there anymore.

With the declining sales of print books, what do you feel needs to be done to resurrect this portion of the industry? At this point, can it come back?

KK: It will normalize and level out. Every new technology has a steep spike early on before it finds a reasonable, organic growth rate. Print will never be what it once was, but it'll never go away in my opinion. It's still the majority of sales and it'll probably stay that way for awhile.

When editing, how do you separate yourself from the book to make it better when your editor gives you constructive criticism you  may not agree with?

KK: Practice. The first time working with an editor is terrible. But with time you learn how to hear people and learn how to glean the things that truly matter from those that don't.
What has been the best way to promote your work (knowing that success is different for each individual)?

KK: Word of mouth using social media. It's painfully slow, but that's part of the deal.

With so many self-publishing options out there now, apart from making more money (as stated time and time again by Joe Konrath) what is the biggest pro and biggest con of going about it yourself?

KK: The upside is that you can do anything you want whenever you want in terms of your writing. The downside is that you're responsible for everything. You're running a start-up, essentially, in a very crowded market. That means you not only have to be a good artist, but also a good entrepreneur, which most people aren't.

What would you suggest bookstores do to stay with the changing industry? Would your answer be different for chains vs. local?

KK: Care about readers and do more to build community around books. Create an experience in your stores. Many retailers say they do this, especially the indies, but they don't. They're actually in the consignment business and rent shelf space to publishers. Most bookstores are no more plugged into their communities than Amazon because they focus on simply processing transactions. That's why they'll go out of business because they can't compete on price.

What sets you apart in a sea of competition?

KK: I have nice hair. (Smiles.) Actually, it's the ability to tap one particular subset of the market, which I connect with most. But the hair also helps.

What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?

KK: Only this moment is life. Be aware of that fact.

What is your most humbling moment in the industry?

KK: There was a time I "Replied All" to an email that I shouldn't have. Let's just say, if you don't have something nice to say, never put it in an email. Especially if it's going to the CEO of one of the Big Six.
What aspirations do you have left that you've not yet met?

KK: The second two thirds of my life. I'm a young guy so my list is too long to run down.
What is the best way to handle a negative review?

KK: Respond with kindness and don't let yourself identify with it on a personal level. You're not what someone says you are. And, honestly, you aren't your writing either. Your writing is an expression of you, but it's not you. I think most writers are to insecure to let people berate their work without it sending them into a depression.

Do you ever thank a positive reviewer? How do you go about it to not seem like you paid them for the good review?

KK: Occasionally, but I'll do it privately via email.

What fact is stranger than fiction in the publishing world?

KK: I once had an executive at one of the Big Six tell me, "You know, don't tell anyone else, but we don't know what the hell we're doing. We just put stuff out and hope it sticks. We'll just let everyone keep thinking we're geniuses, though." So that'll be our little secret. Don't tell anyone.

Many thanks to Kevin for taking the time to answer these questions. If you have anything you would like to have him answer, please leave it below - questions and comments are always welcome. I hope that you received some new info you had not previously had. Oh, and by the way, no lies about the hair!

Kevin Kaiser is Senior Brand Manager at CreativeTrust, an entertainment management company based in Nashville, Tennessee. He oversees creative development, digital marketing and social media strategy formany international bestselling authors and advises several of the Big Six publishers on effective grassroots marketing. He is also co-founder of The American Fossil Company, which publishes the popular Double Barrel series. More at

Monday, June 4, 2012

Help From My Friends - John Gilstrap

This week's guest is New York Times bestselling author, John Gilstrap. Author of the Jonathan Grave series, John is a well-known mystery author with about a dozen books under his belt. He also finds time to blog at The Kill Zone, a site for budding thriller and mystery writers to check out that taps into the mind of 11 top authors in the genre.

Without further ado, please welcome John Gilstrap.

What is/was the most important step in getting yourself established in the industry?
I feel very strongly that there's only one way to get established in this business, or in any other: and that's to produce high-quality product and to get it noticed by others.  There are no shortcuts, at least none that I've found.  Every book brings new fans to add to the fans earned in the previous book(s).  Sooner or later, a critical mass is reached.

If there is only one book people can read of yours, what should it be?
The answer to this will always be the one that is about to come out.  Every book holds a place in my heart, and every one of them represents my very best effort at the time I wrote it.  I like to think that I get better at this game as I go along, but that's for other people to decide.

What is the biggest pitfall in the publishing industry that people should stay away from?
This answer is going to ruffle a lot of feathers, and it relates directly to Question One above.  Budding writers need to understand that there truly are no short cuts, and that there are truly no grand conspiracies to keep them out of the publishing industry.   There's a reason why so few people who want to be published ever are, and that is because it's all more difficult than it looks, and most people who put words on paper don't have much to say in the first place, and they don't say it very well.

New writers need to ask themselves what they want to get out of their writing experience.  If the answer is to leave a legacy for their children, or to entertain their social group, then there's nothing wrong with self-publishing.  On the other hand, if the goal is to publish hundreds of thousands of books, then they need to embrace the fact that self-publishing is a fool's errand and a money pit.

Smart minds will disagree, and that's fine.  But I've been in this game for the better part of two decades, and from where I sit, the vast majority of the do-it-yourself advice on the Internet is utter crap, designed to make money off of those who are ostensibly being advised.

Getting international book deals is another cog in the wheel of success, how should authors go about doing this?
I only know of one way, and that is through foreign agents.  How do you get those?  Either through your publisher or through your domestic literary agent. 

With more authors relying strictly on e-book sales for their success, what is the one thing that is being overlooked in the e-book industry that people should be focusing on?
The focus should always and forever be on quality.  Good quality writing, good quality production values, good quality editing.  Right now, the publishing world is like the Wild West.  There seem to be few rules, and many of the old ones are being broken.  At the end of the day, though, the one thing that everyone will want—whether in an ebook or in its paper cousin—is a good story well-told.

My crystal ball is no clearer than anyone else's, but I do predict that the flood of really bad writing that is being hawked as ebooks is ultimately going to ruin the ebook market as we now know it.  In three to five years (less?), readers are going to look more and more for the validation of a publisher's imprint.

With the declining sales of print books, what do you feel needs to be done to resurrect this portion of the industry? At this point, can it come back?
Actually, the hardcover market is still thriving, and the trade paper market is doing pretty well, too, considering.  I think that the mass market paperback is a dying breed, however.  But it's too soon to count anyone out.  Business is a resilient thing, and I have every faith that there'll be some combination of packaging and pricing that keeps the traditional print book in existence. 

When editing, how do you separate yourself from the book to make it better when your editor gives you constructive criticism you  may not agree with?
I turn in pretty clean copy because I self-edit compulsively and extensively throughout the entire writing cycle. I make a deal with each of my editors at the very beginning: I ask them to be brutally honest about what does not work for them and why, but then I want them to leave the fixes to me.  If I need help on the creativity side to fix the problem, then I will ask for it.  That's a system that has worked very well for me over the years.  I've never had a serious disagreement with an editor.

What has been the best way to promote your work (knowing that success is different for each individual)?
I believe with all my heart that there's only one way for an author to have any significant impact in promotion or sales, and that is to write good books.  One per year, minimum. Readers will find good-quality product sooner or later.  Advertising, blogging, Facebooking, and all the rest don't hurt, but I don't think it does much to move the needle.  Most book trailers I've seen are so awful that I think they do harm to the authors who created them.

Again, there are no shortcuts.  It's all about the writing, which is all about the reader.  Concentrate on the stories and the characters, and the rest will come.  And remember the old saw that nothing destroys a bad product more quickly than good promotion.

What would you suggest bookstores do to stay with the changing industry? Would your answer be different for chains vs. local?
I think the chains need to find a way to market and distribute ebooks.  We need to get people into stores to see the covers and to shop around.  I don't know how to accomplish it, but I think that if they don't brick-and-mortar stores will quickly become things of the past.  

What sets you apart in a sea of competition?
I write thrillers that have a big heart.  My characters seem real to my readers—or so they tell me.  My protagonists are all people I wish I could be.  They have strong moral centers, and they work hard to do the right thing--even if that means killing the bad guy. 

What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?
No one can inflict failure upon another person; it has to be declared by the individual.  There's always an option not to give up.  Unless and until you do, the future is all about hope.

Now it's your turn! I'd love to hear what you think about his answers. Did you take anything away from this post that you can turn around and use in your career? With all of John's experience, I hope that is a resounding 'YES'. If not, what did you disagree with? Send us your feedback.

Again, thank you John for taking the time and answering these questions in the hopes to provide authors with poignant, timely industry information. You can email him or find him on Facebook

Monday, May 28, 2012

Help From My Friends - Ashley L Knight

And so begins the new sub-blog I told you about last week. Today's guest blogger is Ashley L Knight, Author of the FINS series, With FINS and FATHOM out now, and FOREVER soon (as you will see below), if you aren't reading her tales you should be. She has already seen a lot of the industry in her short career, so I hope this first week sheds light upon the industry from an author's perspective who is living it in-the-now. 

If you have questions for Ashley, please post them. Likewise, if her insights helped you, do give a thanks. 

Thanks to Ashley - enjoy.

What is/was the most important step in getting yourself established in the industry?
It is SO exciting to have your first book published! I cried when I opened the box containing FINS. When you're brand new to this industry, you tend to do everything you're told by everyone because having your book sitting in your hands is so near and dear to your heart. But, be careful. Like modeling, there are many charlatan's out there! The most important step is to choose carefully. You don't have to sign with the first publisher that comes along. If you have a great piece of work, you will have more than your first option, don't fear that another won't.  

I think libraries all hold a near-and-dear place in our hearts, what is your take on the situation of libraries and how can we help stop the downward spiral?
I love the library as do my daughters. It's such a thrill to be surrounded by so many works. I think it important to instill a love of books in your children as books hold the key to success - be it financially, spiritually, etc. As we move to a paperless society, paper back books, I fear, will one day be obsolete. One day we'll all freak out like that drifter in the movie "Waterworld" when we see paper. I think the best thing to do is to encourage libraries to become the center of the community. Events, readings, etc should happen there and while I see libraries trying to do this, they don't seem to have people who properly promote them. Can you imagine if each library had the kind of promotion Yahoo or Google has? It would be unreal.  

If there is only one book people can read of yours, what should it be?
At this time, I only have FINS and FATHOM published. FOREVER is in the process of being published. FINS will be on audio books soon, which is exciting! One day I hope to have a bigger list, but for now, I'd ask people to read FINS. It is not just a Young Adult novel - I've had 60 year old's contact me and say it reminded them of past loves and was a very enjoyable read because of it. The theme of undying love appeals to all generations.

What is the biggest pitfall in the publishing industry that people should stay away from?
Vanity Publishers! If you sign with one of those, you might as well publish on your own as you will be doing everything at your cost with little to no payoff.  

With more authors relying strictly on e-book sales for their success, what is the one thing that is being overlooked in the e-book industry that people should be focusing on?
Just because your book is not in your hand, does not mean you can stop promoting yourself. It's hard work being an author. You don't just relax and watch the money drift in once the book is published - there's so much more that needs to be done and I think people have no idea how much time and effort is needed to help the book succeed. And again, as with most things in life, it's not what you know, but who you know. Contacts are everything. I think its easier with an e-book to sit back and sort of cross your arms and think "well, that's done, let's get to the next one!". Not so! People tend to give an e-book author who hides away and writes, less kudo's than the one who is out there, meeting the fans and promoting, etc...   

Kindle Select - good or bad?I have a Nook.......

With the declining sales of print books, what do you feel needs to be done to resurrect this portion of the industry? At this point, can it come back?
I think we've been working our way to Star Trek since the tv show first aired. There's something so magical about touching a screen and having the world at your fingertips. It's a wonderful learning tool and I love the fact that I don't have to drive anywhere to get a book or search for days. But one of my favorite things to do is sit down with a thick book and a cup of tea and get lost in it. It's "old school" and something that I cherish. Honestly, I think the only people who will keep this alive are those who wish to carry on the "tradition". Really, it's going to be a tradition one day. 

When editing, how do you separate yourself from the book to make it better when your editor gives you constructive criticism you  may not agree with?
I usually put the book aside for a few weeks in order to distance myself. Then, I read it as if it is a piece of work from a student I used to mentor. I see constructive criticism as constructive and not detrimental. That being said, there's one beautiful thing about advice: you can take it or leave it. I listen intently to everyone's advice and choose from them. The only time I get upset is when someone reads the second or third book and picks the book apart, telling me that "this couldn't possibly happen", etc when all their questions would have been answered if they had taken the time to read the first book. That's just pure idiocy on their part.  

What has been the best way to promote your work (knowing that success is different for each individual)?
I enjoy interacting with people, so I have found that the one-on-one connection is very helpful. I adore book signings and events, meeting fans and answering questions, etc. Word of mouth is a huge key to success - as I believe it is with anything that is done, be it movies, events, etc... But also, I have a mermaid tail being made and plan to incorporate that into promoting The FINS Trilogy, so a little showmanship helps as well! 

With so many self-publishing options out there now, apart from making more money (as stated time and time again by Joe Konrath) what is the biggest pro and biggest con of going about it yourself?
I have fallen into the trap of signing with a Vanity Publisher. I did so much of the work and paid all this money, only to have them dictate to me what I could and couldn't have for my book. Imagine paying a cover artist to design your cover only to have the publisher send it back seven or eight times to re-do. And you're footing the bill every time!!!  Like Vizzini in "The Princess Bride", inconceivable! 

Knowing what I know now, I'd say the biggest pro about publishing yourself is you have control over everything. The con is people don't seem to take self-published authors as seriously as those who have a name behind them. The saying could literally be: anyone can publish themselves. Go to your nearest printer and do it. It takes a "real writer" to have backing. At this time, I don't know how you would define a "real writer" but most seem to think it is someone who writes so well, that a publisher things it will make money and agrees to sign them. I have friends who have found success in self-publishing and have gone on to new publishers. It really comes down to your gumption. Will you fight for your right? 

What would you suggest bookstores do to stay with the changing industry? Would your answer be different for chains vs. local?
Embrace the change or you'll be swept under. It's so sad. I find it soul cleansing to walk into a little bookstore and browse. I would hope that it would always be available for everyone to go and unwind. I support local bookstores because that "magic" is integral to my life. 

What sets you apart in a sea of competition?
I AM a mermaid, and so The FINS Trilogy is not exactly a work of fiction. :-) Fans always tell me they feel as if they're reading a diary when they read FINS and in a way, they are. Also, people of all ages have enjoyed the books, not just YA. 

What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?
"Just do your best!" My father didn't care if I got a C on my homework when I was younger - he was more concerned that I worked to my best ability and if a C was my best, he was proud. It pushed me to prove that my best is exceptional. I think kids need to hear that instead of "You have to get straight A's or else." Controlling young adults is not the key to having them grow into a successful, happy adult. Success is living your life happy. For some people, that means making tons of money, for others, saving lives, and still for some, raising a family. If you are living your life doing what makes you happy and you're a positive addition to society, then you are a successful person. Hands down. 

What is your most humbling moment in the industry?
To be recognized and offered advice by authors who are the leading writers of their time. I cannot stress how honored I am to have been given such a gift! Sharing wisdom and advice is something many people refuse to do, but if you don't teach the younger generation, or help others, your wisdom dies with you. Then what is left? Make your mark, leave your legacy by passing your knowledge on. It's so important! Thank you to the authors who interact daily with me - you know who you are. You humble me.

What aspirations do you have left that you've not yet met?
So many! If you don't have any aspirations, you've given up on living. Aspirations don't have to be grandiose; it could be to have a positive day, to be able to walk, to not snap at the man who cuts you off in traffic! Personally, I want to write until I don't enjoy it anymore. I want to scuba dive in the Maldives, take my husband to England, raise my children knowing they are loved and can always come home, live as long as I can, be the perfect mermaid I can be. I also want to make sure I live up to the words of one of my heroes, Gandhi: "Be the change you wish to see in this world."

What is the best way to handle a negative review?
Realize you can't please everyone. Read one bad review and then read ten good and move on. 

Do you ever thank a positive reviewer? How do you go about it to not seem like you paid them for the good review?
Yes, I will once in a while. I will answer in the link or contact them directly. My first good review came from a young man on Goodreads and he is now one of my beta readers! I've also done the unthinkable which was to contact a bad reviewer - I wanted to know more about her insightful comments and now, we are fantastic friends! We talk on Facebook daily and on the phone often. I love her because she isn't afraid to tell me her opinion - I don't want to hear only positive comments - I can't grow as a writer that way. I need the good, the bad and the ugly! 
As far as paying, I don't stoop. You're entitled to your opinion and I would never pay anyone for a false review. I have no control over what other think and I can't worry about whether they believe I cheat. I don't cheat and I don't lie, and I certainly don't need to pay anyone to enjoy my books.  

What fact is stranger than fiction in the publishing world?
The fact that sadly, not every publisher is professional. Being yelled at and talked down to is not something you should put up with and I find it so strange that many people with "power" are not able to control themselves. 
On a lighter note, the most surprising experience I've had thus far is a phone call from a complete stranger wanting to chat while I was busy shopping for groceries. The lesson learned? If you put your phone number on your business cards, your fans WILL call you and will expect an hour long conversation. :-)  I love talking with my fans and encourage emails and chat groups, etc. I was happy to oblige, but let's just say, lesson learned.  

Thank you for this wonderful interview! It's been the most in-depth interview I've ever had and I quite enjoyed it!
Best Wishes to you and yours, 
Ashley L. Knight

Two events of significance occurred during of the birth of Ashley L. Knight in 1977. One was the VC10 jet flight time record from London to Bahrain was smashed by her father in his determination to be by her side and the appearance of brilliant meteor showers over the desert island that was witnessed by her godmother. Raised in Bahrain, the legendary kingdom of Dilmun, Ashley grew up on the shores of the Arabian Gulf, white haired and blue-eyed, swimming in the warm tidal shallows with her mother at seven days old as all baby mermaids are raised. 

Moving away from the gathering war storms of the Middle East conflict, her family settled in mountainous Idaho, USA, to the seasonal rhythms of ranch life. Ashley's love of horses and riding skills found her representing major rodeos as an elegant Rodeo Queen and striking spokesperson. 

By 15 years Ashley was already enrolled in university in Idaho where she majored in English/ Writing Emphasis, with a minor in Biology. Her English language skills resulted in a coaching job from her professor for new writers at university. College summers were spent with her younger sister at the ranch riding by the Little Salmon River or at Disney World as an intern in their summer program. Talented in poetry and lyric writing, Ashley began to compose and perform her own songs at an early age, taking formal voice training at college and competing in singing talent shows. 

A chance meeting in downtown Boise brought love's destiny to her life. Greg and Ashley were married in McCall by the glacial blue waters of the lake. Inseparable, they now have two small children of their own. 

Ashley continued her love of water with the release of her first published novel, FINS in 2010 and her second novel, FATHOM in June of 2011. At this time, FINS is undergoing audio production. The third and final book in The FINS Trilogy, FOREVER, is undergoing publishing. Currently, she is editing her fourth book, FALWYN, another YA fantasy fiction novel while she continues work on an adult thriller, THE MACHINIST.  

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Community That Helps Each Other

For any of you who have been following along since the 'big bang' of FTA, you know that it was created to help authors with robust design techniques and non-gouging prices. Well, it's time to take it to the next level.

With the assistance of some friends - authors and industry professionals - we will be bringing you blog posts that discuss success, pitfalls, inspiration, and jargon with goals that include:

- Having a place where authors can come to learn about new or veteran authors and their climb to success
- Having a place where authors can learn about the industry as it sits today, pros and cons, both from authors and other industry professionals

and finally,

- Having a place where authors can get tips/tricks and other info apart from what FTA can offer them, both from authors and other industry professionals

We have a great variety of authors who have signed up already including veteran New York Times bestsellers, fresh-on-the-scene authors, and people in between, people in  audiobook creation, and in marketing/creative aspects. I'm also hopeful to land some guest bloggers from bookstores, review sites, and other transmedia venues.

I truly hope that you get a lot out of these blog posts. I've received a ton of great feedback from the participants so far with some really great answers to the questions. If you would like to see someone as a guest on the blog, please be sure to state their name in the comments below and where I can find them (website) - while I can't guarantee they will say yes the worst they can say is no. Go big! It will give me yet another goal to attain.

Before we say goodbyes, I would just like to wish everyone a very safe holiday this weekend, that being Memorial Day for you non-Americans. I hope you all take a moment to think about all of our brothers and sisters who have sacrificed their lives for ours from day-one of the inception of the USA. We will never approve of war, but we should always appreciate our heroes.

Thanks everyone. See you next week with our first post.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

I Need Your Help - Please and Thank You

Hey peeps,

There are lots of great things going on as of tonight, but a few of them I really could use your help. Please check out the goodness and any assistance you can give would be most appreciated!

1. Blood Harbor - A good friend of mine, Rick Chesler, has started his own Kickstarter campaign and needs your pledges. Why do I need your help on this? Well, if he meets his goal, I get to make his cover! That's right - first was WIRED KINGDOM, then kiDNApped, and now the potential at BLOOD HARBOR. Whether you pledge, spread the word, or both, I'll send you a virtual high-five!

2. The Novel Blog - Dan Boucher, Chief Reviewer and head-dude at The Novel Blog, gave me a HUGE gift and interviewed me for the month of May on his amazing book blog that houses interviews by some of the biggest names in the industry (so don't just stop with me). In the hopes to get my name out there more, please check out my interview and spread it everywhere you can. If you head over and read it, please make a u-turn when finished because I would love to hear what you thought of it.

Those are my two big things. Your help is immense and I thank you for it! More updates coming soon. Have a great week.


Monday, April 30, 2012

Elbow Grease and Determination

Good day everyone!

Last time I updated you it was January, so plenty has happened between then and now. Check it out:

1. Steve Alten's The LOCH 2 contest finished up April 1st. It was another great contest for an Alten thriller collecting tens of thousands of hits for his newest trailer. Congrats to the top 20 contestants who will be immortalized in the amazing follow-up to a New York Times bestselling title.

2. Two covers were created for Andrew Price, both being legal/crime thrillers. WITHOUT A HITCH and WRONGFUL DEATH came out snappy!


3. A handful of e-book layouts for Mindstir Media including BANISHED MEDIEVAL QUEEN, and children's picture books FAITH-A-LEAPIN' and EDISON THE FIREFLY. 

4. E-book and print layout for SONS OF GOD AND DAUGHTERS OF MEN by Nicholas Tanguma for Seven Realms.

5. Book trailer creation for Jeffrey Stephens for his newest release, TARGETS OF OPPORTUNITY. While the final rendition just passed his inspection, it's not yet up on YouTube - but don't worry I'll be sure to get that bad Larry up here when it is available to be seen! It is by far my best book trailer creation and can't wait for you all to check it out.

6. E-book and print layout for Jeremy Robinson's novella CALLSIGN: KING III - BLACKOUT, the final new Chesspocalypse title in the series, co-written with Sean Ellis.

Thanks to my new clients who took the plunge and trusted me to provide them with a quality product, as well as the return customers who believed in my work to come back for another round. And thanks to you for your comments and time checking out my work.



The book trailer created for Jeffrey Stephens is now live! Please check it out and let me know what you think.

Thanks again.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

One Can Dream...

So, things have been going great for me as of late. I feel very honored to have met the people I've met and done work for. Thanks to you all! I have actually uploaded a bunch of my newer stuff to the Find The Axis Facebook page if you would like to see what I've been up to. While there are some of my older designs on there, oldies but goodies at that (just sayin'), you can see the handful of new covers I've been lucky to design.

Any who, let's get back on track. While I am honored at what I've been given the opportunity to do, one can dream - something I enjoy doing often - and reach for the stars. I would love to do covers for a few of the authors out there I've come in contact with. People like Jonathan Maberry, Joe Moore, Jon F. Merz, and Joseph Nassise - all who would take the shirt off their back and give it to you if you were in need. My list doesn't end there, like adding James Rollins and Steve Berry, or Douglas Preston and David Morrell, and so many more... like before, more of the same 'amazing human being' folk you could ever meet. You never know where time may lead you and hopefully one day I get to make a dream come true.

Now, it is time for you to dream! Who would you love to see grace the cover of your next book? Come on now, spill the beans.

Monday, January 2, 2012

2012 Excites!

With only a few days into 2012, things are already hopping! Two projects have been completed, with a long-term one just kicking off.

Project One - Rally 'Round The Corpse by Hy Conrad (Seven Realms Publishing)
Writer of TV's MONK and WHITE COLLAR, this title was one of my highest profile pieces and it was an honor to work on Hy's newest mystery! Thanks to Kent Holloway and 7R for another great opportunity. Both the e-book and the print book will be available in a few months to all you who dun-nit fans!

Project Two - Act Of God by Paul Byers
Author of CATALYST and ARCTIC FIRE, this collection of short stories was an absolute joy to work on. Paul is a great guy and his writing is engaging. Keep your eyes open for it in e-book in the near future and print later this year.

Project Three - The LOCH 2 Contest by Steve Alten
That's right, a sequel to the long-awaited title The LOCH, by a science thriller favorite. As in his last lot of contests (MEG: Hell's Aquarium, The SHELL GAME, The GRIM REAPER [round 1 and 2], and PHOBOS), I will be receiving emails from contestants and the 30 contestants with the highest views of the viral trailer will be immortalized as LOCH 2 characters! Head over to for full details on the contest, along with the rules and any other swag.

Also, on an aside, I'm finishing up questions for a guest interview appearance at the Kane Gilmour blog (author of RESURRECT, and co-author of not only the CALLSIGN: DEEP BLUE Chessteam/Jack Sigler novella, out now, but also book 4 of the series, RAGNAROK), so when that goes live I'll be sure to give out the link... So far this year has started off at a breakneck pace.

Last thought for today, thanks to you all who made 2011 so special, and to the bunch of you so far that have already made 2012 look so promising and energizing! I'm looking forward to a great year filled with partnerships, new and old.