thomas-f-monteleoneI was going through my files today and I came across this article from 1996. It ran in a magazine called The Nightmare Express. Not only does it have some good information in it, it seems appropriate for the season. It also saw how my writing has improved from 19 years ago. I cleaned up the worst problems, I didn’t want to change it too much.

Not all writers can edit and not all editors can write. Finding someone who successfully wears both hats is an oddity. Thomas F. Monteleone is just such a person.

Monteleone’s last novel, The Blood of the Lamb, the story of a man cloned from the genetic material found on the Shroud of Turin, sold nearly 10,000 copies in hardcover and more than 175,000 paperback copies. The novel won him the 1993 Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel from the Horror Writers Association. His newest novel, The Resurrectionist, came out in October with a first hardcover printing of 50,000 copies. In the novel, Monteleone again looks at the darker side of religion with a U.S. Senator who discovers he has the power to raise people from the dead.

In between his first short story and his latest novel, Monteleone has written 20 novels, more than 100 stories, and more than 70 articles. He’s managed that great amount of material by sticking with his writing schedule.

“I try to make sure I do three or four hours of dedicated writing a day. That’s about all I can deal with. Any more than 10-12 pages a day and it’s garbage. I usually write five to six pages so three to four hours is all the time I need to write at a good level,” he said.

On the editing side of the business, Monteleone edits the critically acclaimed Borderlands anthologies, now in its fifth year. The other day when I was talking with him, Monteleone took a phone call from White Wolf Press, the publisher of the paperback editions of Borderlands. He had just been told that Borderlands 2 and Borderlands 3 were among White Wolf’s top five bestselling books.

Monteleone admits that editing Borderlands has been more work than he imagined. With a successful writing career, he certainly doesn’t need the headaches editing an anthology causes. So why does he do it?

“I didn’t like the direction of horror fiction in the late 1980’s. The boom was playing to serial killers with steaming organs. I was getting tired of it. The sub-genre of vampire fiction was getting stale. I wanted to do an original anthology to explore new directions in the field,” Monteleone said.

Borderlands the anthology was so successful (15 of the stories in Borderlands received nominations for Bram Stoker Awards, two stories won, and the anthology itself won rave reviews) that it allowed Monteleone to create Borderlands Press, a small-press that continues the direction of its namesake. After a rocky start (Monteleone’s partner mismanaged the company, not paying royalties and spending too much), Borderlands Press found its pace.

“We were on a treadmill the first three years and wound up in debt,” admitted Monteleone. “However, we’ve spent the last years getting out of debt. I like the company where it’s at now. It’s a small company that can’t get much bigger. We average about four titles a year.”

As with many small-press publishers, Monteleone feels the small press fills a need that large commercial publishers aren’t interesting in filling. “When the small press is good, it’s very good. It’s a good venue for people who otherwise wouldn’t get much exposure. It has a small audience. The publishers have scaled down budgets, publications numbers, and expectations of acceptable profit. It’s a specialized market.”

Monteleone estimates that he reads about 500-600 short stories a year, of which, 80 percent are for Borderlands. He also said of that amount 50-60 are publishable and only 20 go into Borderlands.

“I want to see stories that examine the genre in a new way that hasn’t been done before. I want a unique take. I don’t want to see the traditional horror elements. I want to go beyond that. I have no interest in reading my 85th vampire story,” he explained.

Other than lacking an original idea, why does he reject a story as unpublishable?

Monteleone said, “A lot of people don’t understand the basic story structure and how to unfold it dramatically. They speechify and lecture without letting the story carry. They don’t have a natural ear for dialogue. At least 50 percent of the stories I reject are because the dialogue is so tinny that a sardine factory wouldn’t use it to make cans. The writers can’t recreate how people talk. They don’t even realize it unless they are made aware and work at it. They need to talk out their dialogue. I can’t see any other way around it.”

Monteleone lists his should read horror as TED Klein (especially The Ceremonies), basic Stephen King (The Shining, The Dead Zone, Salem’s Lot), H.P. Lovecraft (not for style, but his uniqueness), Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Kutner, John Collier, Ray Bradbury, Peter Straub, and Joe Lansdale. In addition, according to Monteleone, some of horror’s most underrated authors who are definitely worth reading are Chet Williamson, David Silva, Bradley Denton, Nancy Holder, and Kim Antieau.

Monteleone’s advice to new writers: Keep writing and keep submitting your stories.

“Editor’s start to recognize your name. It means something to them. It means that you’re dedicated, prolific, and you’ll be around. They start feeling they’ll know who you are. It’s almost as important as what you say,” he said.

Which hat does Monteleone prefer wearing: Writer or editor?

Writer definitely.

“If you can write a good short story, you can write anything. It makes you a better writer by learning how to write a good story. It doesn’t make a lot of money, though. Novels allow you to develop characters, which is important. You can invest time and emotion in a character and make him live,” he said.

To see what Monteleone has been doing since this article, check out this page.

coverbannerCan you do me a favor? Based on the feedback I get from readers at signings, presentations, and events, it seems that people enjoy my books. I especially like seeing the same people come back to my festival booths year after year to see what new books that I have out.

I’ve been trying to expand my marketing efforts with some Facebook and Amazon advertising. I’d like to start using ebook promotional services like Bookbub and Bookgorilla to expand that effort. However, to even be considered for those programs, I need to get more reviews. I believe they use it to make sure that the author is marketing the books and readers like them.

My problem is that despite good sales for most of my books (there are some exceptions that I’m working to improve), readers aren’t reviewing my books. So please, if you have read my books, please review them on Amazon. You can even review them if you didn’t buy them there. It won’t be a verified purchase, but it will still be a review. I’m not even asking for a 5-star review (though that would be great!). Just provide me with an honest review.

By the way, if you do have problems with the book, particularly if you think it’s factually wrong, please let me know via e-mail ( If I did get something wrong, I most likely can correct it and get a new version of the book uploaded. That way, I won’t have a review saying something is wrong that has been corrected. If it’s not wrong, then I can show you the back-up documentation.

If there’s a book you’d like to review, let me know, and I may be able to get you a review copy.

Thanks for your help on this. I feel like I’m rolling a snowball uphill. It’s slowly getting bigger and at some point, I hope to reach a point where it will start rolling downhill on its own and quickly gaining size. For me, that would mean I’ll be able to devote more of my time to book writing as the sales of my backlist increases.

Here’s the link to my Amazon Author Page. You can use it to find any of my books and leave a review. Thanks again! You’re a big help.

dean koontzI was reading my copy of the seasonal newsletter that Dean Koontz sends out to fans via snail mail. It’s called Useless News. It usually lets me know what new books Koontz has coming out.

This issue, however, had two articles in it that reinforced one of the benefits of being an independent publisher. Essentially, there are fewer people who can screw you over.

In the first instance, Koontz wrote about getting the rights back to his first novel, which was half an “Ace Double” back in 1968. Ace Doubles were paperbacks that had two novels in one. The usual advance for half of a double was $1,250. The editor apparently told the young Koontz that since his novel was shorter than usual, he could only pay him $1,000 because he would have to pay the other author to be included in the double $1,500 to write a longer novel.

When the book came out, Koontz didn’t notice any difference in the sizes of the two books. He actually even met the other author years later and that author told Koontz that the editor had told him the same story about his book.

So the authors had been shorted 25 percent of their royalty and the publisher had saved $500 by taking advantage of the authors.

The other story he told was in an article called “Threats in the Arts and The Art of Threats.” Early in Koontz’s career, he had an agent who threatened to sue him when Koontz wanted to fire him. He said that the contract he had with Koontz wouldn’t allow him to be fire (which turned out to be unenforceable in court). The agent also spread lies about Koontz, which he only found out about because one of the editors who was told the lies told Koontz.

When I read these articles, I was struck by the fact that as many headaches as I have sometimes as an indie author, at least I haven’t run into these problems.

I don’t consider myself a control freak, but I do like having control over my books. After all, who is going to love a book more than its author? I want to make sure it’s how I envision the final product. I’m willing to take the advice of other experts on different aspects, but in the end, the final say is mine.

As for Koontz’s experiences, I’m sorry he had to go through what he did, but I’m glad he didn’t let those experiences derail his career. He’s one of my favorite authors.

Box Set Cover Image 2I started experimenting with Facebook ads this week. I studied up on how to put them together effectively and I created a special box set of my Canawlers series and offered it at a great price. I put up my first ad for a few days. It got a decent amount of clicks, though it could have been better. The problem was that it didn’t result in any sales.

So I posted on a Facebook group of authors working with Facebook ads seeking input about the ad. I made some adjustments based on the feedback that I got and created a new ad. This one actually did worse than the first one.

So now I’m trying to decide what to do. Should I try marketing a different book? Should I try using the ads to build my mailing list? I also noticed that Amazon offers an advertising service similar to Facebook that I am considering.

I am a believer in marketing and advertising. I have seen it pay off nicely with increased sales and opportunities.

My goal had been to build some ebook sales first and then turn that into a growing mail list. Do I have it backwards? Should I grow my list first?

Does anyone have experience working with Facebook ads? What has your experience been with them?

I see the potential for their use. I just need to figure out how to maximize that potential and I’m looking for input.


Writing and independently publishing your work nowadays can be financially and emotionally rewarding, but it can also be very frustrating. When I first started doing this back in 2000, there was very little done electronically on the writer’s end. I would type my manuscript using Word and that was pretty much it. Once it was edited and sounding like I wanted it to, I would print off a high-quality formatted copy and snail mailed it off to the book printer. A few weeks later, I would get bluelines back for review and then send the approved version off for printing.

Then came electronic submissions to the printer, author web pages, writers’ blogs, e-book publishing, and print-on-demand books. All of these involved learning new computer programs and I’ve adopted all of them in my work. I can’t say I’ve been an early adopter of these changes in publishing and marketing. I tend to wait until the kinks get worked out of the programs. For instance, when print-on-demand books first came out, they had quality issues. By the time I started using the technology, the programs were easy to use and you POD books and traditionally printed books were virtually indistinguishable .

Lately though, I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed with technology. This year, I’ve upgraded my ability to take credit card purchases using my smartphone, added a new photo-editing program, added a new layout program, learned a new advertising program, and learned a new web layout program. Some of them I’ve picked up quicker than others, but I’ve managed to learn them all.

My latest program that I’m trying to learn is supposed to make it easy to forward web traffic from one site to another with an unnoticeable stop on my web page. It’s a plugin for WordPress that has to be loaded through an FTP site. I say that, but I don’t know how to do that, and it’s driving me crazy. Or rather, it’s frustrating me as I keep trying to get things to work. I sure hope that once I can get it installed and operating that it truly does do what I need it to do simply.

It’s amazing how much computer programs are a part of my writing work. I’ve been up for two hours so far today and I’ve already used the computer to check e-mail, research a story, write an article, edit a photograph, and now I’m writing this blog. By this evening, I’ve have used a few more programs, including PowerPoint for a presentation, which I will also be projecting onto a screen using a small projector that I purchased a couple months ago.

It’s just part of being a writer in the modern age.

One of the things that I enjoy about being an independent author is that I learn a lot of new things. When my first books were published with traditional publishers, I didn’t have to worry about things like cover design, editing, distribution, and marketing (to a degree).

The problem was that I wasn’t sure how much the publishers were worrying about it, either.

One of the things that I used to hear a lot was that no one will care more about my book than me. It’s the underlying mantra of an independent writer.

So over the years I’ve learned about all the elements that required to bring a book to market. Sometimes, I’ve subcontracted those jobs out, but I’ve always looked to learn them or at least understand them in order to make better decisions.

So my latest challenge was to create a 3D cover for a box set of my Canawlers novels. I’ve done layout of books and even some cover designs, but how I was going to accomplish this eluded me. I searched for software and found that there were plenty of programs to help you. The few I tried for free online seemed limited and were frustrating me.

So I posted a query on a Facebook group that I belong to and asked for recommendations. The specific software recommendations that were posted in reply were said to be easy to use. The problem was I had tried them and didn’t find that to be the case. After all, I’m not a graphic artist. I can get by, but some of the higher level stuff is what I would usually contract out because it would take me longer to learn than was worth it for me.

I was ready to contract this job out until one of the Facebook posts sent me to a blog with a video on it. I watched the video and in a couple minutes had figured things out and created my first 3D book cover for my first box set

Here’s the cover:

Box Set Cover Image 2

What do you think?

My next step is to create the box set, which I don’t foresee being too hard. Famous last words, right? Wish me luck!

new-amazon-kindleI came across this article in the UK Guardian a couple weeks ago. Writer Paul Mason contends, “Yet with the coming of ebooks, the world of the physical book, read so many times that your imagination can ‘inhabit’ individual pages, is dying.” He cites a couple examples of how in just about any edition of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow or Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate, he can easily find certain key scenes that stick in his mind.

I became curious about this because if it’s true, it might change the way that writers write ebooks eventually. I know I’ve run into certain issues as a reader and a writer with ebooks that make me think that they are not suited for every book. For instance, table top style books I’ve written (No North, No South… and The Last Fall) have formats that don’t translate well to ebook styles. Their two-column formats aren’t linear and sidebars don’t seem to work well on smaller ereaders.

Mason’s article talks about the short attention span people have developed and because of the Internet and their tendency to skim read web pages. He feels that both of these factors play into reading ebooks, particularly when it’s on a device that many times can also play movies and games. I agree with this. It’s one of the reasons I’ve resisted to urge to get a Kindle Fire. My Kindle Keyboard is just an ereader so I know when I pick it up, I’m going to read.

In response to a readers having a short attention span, Mason writes, “Every major publisher has experimented with short stories, serialised fiction, anthologies and mid-range ‘e-only’ books. By contrast, experiments with fictional forms that only work for ebooks and hypertext have failed to make the big time.”

The context of the article made me think that Mason’s doesn’t think this is the best approach. While I’m still a big reader of novels, I love the shorter novellas that some authors put out. For one thing, it’s very inexpensive and allows me to decide whether I like the writer’s style. I also think that it has led to a resurgence of short fiction in a manner that actually is profitable for the author.

Mason then suggests that the ereader is beginning to change reading habits. “It’s probably too soon to generalise but my guess is, if you scooped up every book – digital and analogue – being read on a typical Mediterranean beach, and cut out the absolute crap, you’d be left with three kinds of writing: first, ‘literary’ novels with clearer plots and than their 20th century predecessors, less complex prose, fewer experiments with fragmented perception; second, popular novels with a high degree of writerly craft (making the edges of the first two categories hard to define); third, literary writing about reality – the confessional autobiography, the diary of a journalist, highly embroidered reportage about a legendary event.”

So do you think ereaders have changed your reading habits? I don’t think mine have changed too much. However, I am much more willing to try out new authors and I have found some that I enjoy and have left their books on my Kindle along with my favorite authors that I used to read in a physical editions.

Here’s the link to Mason’s article if you want to read it yourself.

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Here’s one of the cover ideas my cover designer came up with for the new book. It’s not the one we’re going with (that one is even rougher), but it will give you an idea of things to come.

Is there a difference between James Rada, Jr. and J. R. Rada? I hope you will think so in a couple months. I’ve written a couple e-books under the name J. R. Rada, but I haven’t put that name into print yet. That should change by the end of the year when I jump back into YA books with an updated version of an e-book I wrote called A Byte-Size Friend.

I’m actually encouraged by how well this book could do. I gave it to some YA test readers and they loved it.

When I first considered writing the book, I was torn between writing under my real name and creating a pen name (which is technically still my real name). I wanted to be able to attract any of my regular readers, but I didn’t want them thinking that A Byte-Size Friend was a history book.

In the end, I decided to create a similar name to so that it will hopefully be obvious that the book is written by James Rada, Jr. but not a history book. I intend to use the J. R. Rada for any genre writing I do (YA, fantasy, thriller). I’m not sure if I’ll ever get to do some of the stories in my files, but at least I’ve laid some groundwork.

You may not think it’s a big change, but if wearing glasses was enough for Superman, then changing to initials should be good enough for me.

Some writers use pen names to truly disguise themselves. J. K. Rowling tried a pen name when she did adult genre novels. Dean Koontz, a favorite author of mine, has apparently used lots of pen names. He made the same decision I did and changed his name with each new type of writing he did. Many have now been released under his own name and probably done better with sales. Rowling’s books did when it came out that the creator of Harry Potter had written them.

I was quite surprised to see how many authors use a pen name. I guess I’m in good company.

What I didn’t quite think through in deciding to go this route was that I may have doubled a lot of my marketing work. Anything that I created for James Rada, Jr., I’ll have to create and maintain for J. R. Rada. This means Facebook pages, Twitter account, author websites, etc.

It always comes back to marketing, doesn’t it? Oh well, it’s part of the business.

I had an e-mail in my inbox this morning about a new program at Amazon called Kindle Scout. It is being billed as “a new reader-powered publishing program where readers help discover the next great books.”

The book is posted as part of the program and readers nominate the ones they like. Readers can nominate a book a month. The books that receive the most nominations will be published by Amazon.

Those who nominate the winning books receive a free, early copy to review and talk about to create some pre-publication momentum. The book will also receive some Amazon promotional help. It will be enrolled into the Kindle Lending Library and Kindle Unlimited as well as be eligible for targeted email campaigns and promotions.

Have any of you heard of it? It sounds interesting to me and I am considering submitting a book to the program just to see if it is accepted and how it will do.

According to the e-mail a new never-before-published novel is submitted as a Kindle book to be considered for a publishing contract with Kindle Press.  One drawback for me that I saw is that the program is for romance, mystery, thriller, science fiction, fantasy, and mainstream fiction. So my historical fiction and nonfiction is apparently out of the running.

I’ve been working on expanding into new genres with a pen name, though. So I am thinking about submitting one of those manuscripts.

At first, I was going to pass on trying for the program because I can already get a Kindle book published and keep the 70 percent royalty myself. Kindle Scout offers only a 50 percent royalty. However, Kindle Scout offers a $1,500 advance.

I also don’t like too much that Kindle Scout gets worldwide publication rights for eBook and audio formats in all languages. I could sell print rights, but I don’t sell a lot of print books internationally. Although I sell most of my ebooks on Amazon, other platforms tend to be stronger internationally and I won’t be able to list my book on Kobo and Apple, for instance.

Amazon is also asking for these rights for five years. That’s a long time. Now, there is a caveat that if the author doesn’t get at least $25,000 ($5,000 a year on average) from that agreement, then the author can cancel the contract. Otherwise, Amazon can renew the contract under the same conditions in five year increments.

On the low end, if Amazon totally fails to be able to market the book, then the author can get his or her rights back in two years. A failure would be the book garnering less than $500 in royalties in the preceding 12 months. I think that’s a good deal.

Find out more information about the program here.

So what do you think about the program? It seems like it’s a relatively good deal to me unless I’m missing something big. Authors give up some things that I would like to keep, but in giving up those things, I think authors get something better.

collage-2015I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my workshop for the Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writers Institute Writers Conference. It’s going to be a PowerPoint presentation. I sure hope I don’t run into some of the problems I’ve have giving PowerPoint presentations this year, such as having no way to project the presentation, having the project die on me during the presentation, and having the host computer mess up my formatting. Maybe fate is telling me not to do PowerPoint presentations!

I’ll be talking about writing historical fiction on Sunday, Aug. 9 from 9:15 a.m. to 11 a.m. I think I’ll be able to offer some useful insights not only about the fiction writing side of things, but also the historical side. I’m coming at the topic from the viewpoint of someone who write both non-fiction history as well as historical fiction.

I’m also sitting on a panel discussion with Tess Gerritsen, Robert Bidinotto, Merry Bond, Harrison Demchick, Leigh-Anne Lawrence, J.P. Sloan, Desiree Smith-Daughety, Mark Stevanus, and Jason Tinney about marketing, branding, and social media. We’ll be sharing tips and techniques to define, build, and get the word out about your books. I think I’ll record this session since I probably won’t be able to take notes while I’m participating in the discussion. This session is also on Sunday from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

I’m excited for the conference not only as a presenter but also as an attendee. I plan on attending as many different workshops as I can. There’s a lot of talented writers who will be sharing their knowledge and I’m going to learn as much as I can.

I am definitely looking forward to Tess Gerritsen’s keynote address, “I’ve Got a Great Idea for a Book…Or Do I?”

There’s also sessions on worldbuilding, creating characters with psychological conditions, and thriller writing. I can see a usefulness of the topics not only with my current writing but also with stories I want to do in the future.

Even though Nora Roberts name is no longer in the conference title, she still supports the group and is hosting a book signing at the end of the conference for all of the presenters who have published books.

All in all, this is a great regional conference. Any authors who live within an hour or two of Hagerstown shouldn’t miss it. Check out the web site here.


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