Are Your Dreams of Being Hemingway Dissolving? Don’t Despair!


You might start out with a plan, but after you write a while, your writing can take on a life of its own and lead you down another path.  Don’t despair. “[T]hat’s the great thing about fiction. We use it for entertainment, and we also use it to explain and understand our lives. We only make sense of what has happened to us when we can tell it as a story. I’ve used my fiction to deal with 9/11, the War on Terror, aging, death, wealth, poverty and a host of other issues. I just happened to include the undead and werewolves and spies while I did it.

Five books in, this is the one lesson I can say I’ve learned, the one thing I can tell any aspiring writer: Write what you want. Even if it includes lizard people or Atlantis. If people don’t like what you like, write it again, and make it better until they do. But never be ashamed of your enthusiasms.”

Read more of “I dreamed of being Hemingway and ended up a pulp fiction writer” at

Does Your Book Follow the “Code”?


Jodie Archer had always been puzzled by the success of The Da Vinci Code. She’d worked for Penguin UK in the mid-2000s, when Dan Brown’s thriller had become a massive hit, and knew there was no way marketing alone would have led to 80 million copies sold. So what was it, then? Something magical about the words that Brown had strung together? Dumb luck? The questions stuck with her even after she left Penguin in 2007 to get a PhD in English at Stanford. There she met Matthew L. Jockers, a cofounder of the Stanford Literary Lab, whose work in text analysis had convinced him that computers could peer into books in a way that people never could.

Soon the two of them went to work on the “bestseller” problem: How could you know which books would be blockbusters and which would flop, and why? Over four years, Archer and Jockers fed 5,000 fiction titles published over the last 30 years into computers and trained them to “read”—to determine where sentences begin and end, to identify parts of speech, to map out plots. They then used so-called machine classification algorithms to isolate the features most common in bestsellers.

The result of their work—detailed in The Bestseller Code, out this month—is an algorithm built to predict, with 80 percent accuracy, which novels will become mega-bestsellers. What does it like? Young, strong heroines who are also misfits (the type found in The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). No sex, just “human closeness.” Frequent use of the verb “need.” Lots of contractions. Not a lot of exclamation marks. Dogs, yes; cats, meh. In all, the “bestseller-ometer” has identified 2,799 features strongly associated with bestsellers.

If you’d like to read more, this article is available at

Thanks to the Jenkins Group


Crystal Publishing has hired the Jenkins Group for Marketing and Distribution.  We would like to thank them for all they have done to help this difficult process along.  @crystalpubs2014

Each author will be featured in newspapers and on television stations of their choice.  Be sure to watch for these releases.   Home of the Moonbeam Awards.

Jake Wins a Moonbeam Award


The results of the 9th Moonbeam Awards are available. They recognize and reward the best books in North America and bring them to the attention of booksellers, librarians, parents, and children.

I am thrilled to announce that Jake El Camión de Basura Feliz (Jake, the Happy Trash Truck) has won the Bronze Medal.  This is Yvonne and Scott Osborne’s first book, so congratulations to these two very talented writers.  I have been very privileged to work with them.

And thank you, Alfredo Dammert Lira, for the great translation.

Copies are available at or Crystal Publishing.

JHTT Spanish


Jake the Happy Trash Truck

Jake the Happy Trash Truck

Self-Publishing Mistakes


5 Rarely Discussed Self-Publishing Mistakes: What NOT To Do

self publishing mistakes

  1. Don’t self-publish your first draft: If you listen carefully, you can hear the sound of a self-published author banging his head on his desk. It happens every few seconds. Listen very, very carefully. There’s another bang. He thought the book was genius when he clicked publish and he had even “spell-checked” the manuscript beforehand, but now the Amazon reviewers are saying some really nasty things about his book. Things like, “I couldn’t get past the first chapter because of all the errors” and “This was obviously self-published…” Don’t be that guy. Fine-tune your manuscript by going through at least one round of revisions and self-editing and then hire a professional editor to bring a different perspective to the project. To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway: The first draft of anything is crap. Don’t publish crap.

Money pit:  A professional editor is not cheap.  There are prices per word, per 250 words, per 1,000 words, per page, and per hour.  DO NOT use friends and family.  Ask to see a résumé.  You should see something other than literature classes.  Words like “rhetoric,” “linguistics,” “grammar,” or a foreign language with complex structures such as Latin or Greek should tell you the person behind that résumé is professional.  A variety of literature classes tells you the person has experience with good literature — which I am assuming you are hoping to attain.

2.  Don’t overprice your book: I’m really surprised that more authors aren’t discussing this. I’ve seen multitudes of authors trying to sell their books at exorbitant prices. You need to think as the consumer. Why would a customer pay $30 for your paperback book instead of $12.99 for a NY Times bestseller? Or $9.99 for your e-book instead of $6.99 for Stephen King? They probably won’t! Try enticing the customer with a competitive (or discounted) price and watch what happens.

Money pit:  The problem with self-publishing is pricing.  If the price is discounted, you lose money on every copy sold.  Plan for the discount and you won’t be surprised.  If you expect to get rich over night, buy a lottery ticket.  You’ll have a better chance.  Stay true to your commitment no matter how long it takes.  Festivals are good venues where you can sell you book and expect to make money.  But is this what you want to do every weekend?

3.  Don’t count on sales at brick-and-mortar bookstores: It’s true that many indie bookstores will happily stock your self-published print book. Some of them will work out consignment deals with you. From my experience, they’ll want around 40%. Major chains will want at least 50% and you’ll generally need to go through layers of bureaucracy in order to get your book stocked. You’ll also need to take the risk of making your book “returnable.” As you can imagine, this could get ugly very quickly. For those reasons and many others, I advise self-publishing authors to focus primarily on online sales. Your profit margins will increase and you’ll be able to cover a ton of ground much more quickly.

Money Pit:  I have also encountered an additional charge of $60 as a “shelf” charge even though the books are not put on a shelf!  Bookstores generally operate via warehouses.  In this case, you will provide the warehouse with approximately 1,000 books at your cost; the warehouse will manage the books for approximately 3 years; and the unsold copies are shredded or the front covers are torn off so you have nothing to sell.  If you have several thousand dollars to waste, then this is the way to go.  

4.  Don’t think that just having an online presence is enough: “I’m on Facebook,” says almost every self-published author. “I’m on Twitter. I’m on Pinterest. I have a blog. I have a website…” This is all very nice, but it’s not enough to simply have an online presence. You need to be active on all of your platforms. In other words, you can’t just “set it and forget it.” Treat your online presence as you would your own home. Care for it, live in it, and love it.

Money Pit:  Maintaining all the social media can be quite consuming.  This leaves you little time for writing.  You can buy sites to manage your social media for you:  $10 for this, $270 for that.  Add up what you are willing to pay for marketing.  Don’t get caught in a trap.  If you pay a guy to pitch your book in Hong Kong, how do you know that is really happening?  If you want to check on it you’d have to fly to Hong Kong yourself, so why not do the pitch yourself?

5.  Don’t expect that strangers will automatically care about your book: I have to admit that when I first started self-publishing, I thought everyone needed my book. Everyone. My inspirational book could motivate and change lives. I knew it. But no one cared at first (aside from friends and family, of course). I had to make them care. I accomplished this by – wait for it – networking! I created Facebook groups (and even Myspace groups; remember Myspace?). I befriended book lovers on Facebook. I reached out to fellow writers by email and met them in person at signings and other events. Most importantly, I made good impressions on those people and most of them supported me by helping spread the word. I know this isn’t fun or sexy advice. Many self-publishing authors looking for advice don’t want to hear that this ride could be a long one. Throw away the idea of “quick and easy” and focus on building relationships!

Money Pit:  And don’t expect your family and friends to buy copies.  Family and friends expect you to GIVE them a copy.  Reach out to strangers and build relationships.  Set up author pages and blogs —  all time-consuming.  AND remember that aside from social media and book signings, conferences cost about $300+ plus room and board and transportation.  Book signings are even starting to charge admission.  Festivals charge fees.  Calculate your fees.