Vanished_massmarketBefore I read this book I decided to try out a short story by Joseph Finder and his series hero, Nick Heller. I enjoyed the short story enough to give Vanished a try. This is the first book in the Nick Heller series, and as I write this article, I’ve also read the second book.

Nick Heller is a typical thriller hero. He’s tough, smart, and has Special Forces training. As this book opens, he is working for an investigative firm as their top fix-it man. As with many heroes, he has a back story. In Nick’s case, his father was a Bernie Madoff-type of guy who continues to scheme from behind bars. Most importantly, he’s a guy that you like and can cheer for.

Part of the reason for your fondness of the guy is seen early on when his nephew Gabe asks for his help. Gabe’s mother has been attacked and is in a coma and his stepdad Roger is missing. Roger is Nick’s brother.

Despite his poor experiences with his father and being estranged from his brother, Nick still believes in family and sets out to find his brother. Thus begins a convoluted search that keeps you guessing as to what will happen next. Finder does a great job at this, which is why I enjoyed the wild ride that the story took me on.

So, although Vanished is a lot like many good thrillers out there by Vince Flynn, David Baldacci, Harlan Coben and the like, it doesn’t make it any less good. In fact, it puts Finder in good company.


Here is the short fiction that I’ve published electronically. Two are novellas and two are short collections. Two also have previews of novels with the same characters in them.

I waver back and forth as to whether I like e-books or physical books better. Both have their advantages, but one of e-books biggest advantages is that it has brought back the viability of short fiction.

I remember when I was writing a lot of short fiction back in the 1990s that a professional rate was considered 3 cents a word or more. That means you needed to get paid at least $75 on a 2,500 word short story. At the time, I was making at least 10 times that amount for a non-fiction article. Plus, the market for non-fiction is much larger.

While some novellas could be published as chapbooks, it could be costly, both for the publisher and the reader. I independently published a 65-page novella that I needed to retail at $5.99. That was really too much for a novella that size, but between the printing costs and the retailer cut, that’s what was needed to make it financially viable.

The one area that did work for short fiction was a collection or participating in an anthology. For me, anthologies were always iffy because I usually bought one because a favorite author of mine was part of it, but usually there were other stories in it that I really didn’t like. With short story collections, my impression is that they never seemed to be as big a seller as a novel by the same author.

Then along came e-books.

You can publish a novella and price it at a $1.99. You can publish a short-story collection, just a couple short stories, or even a single story and price them appropriately. Electronic publishing opened up a lot of new avenues for short fiction. These new avenues can pay royalties indefinitely, eventually making the author a lot more money than he or she would earn from publishing a single story in a magazine.

Short fiction e-publishing also makes a great marketing tool. First, these e-books are usually priced very affordably so that a reader would be willing to try out a new author. Second, these e-books can be offered as perma-free without the author feeling he or she is giving up a large royalty. Third, short e-books can be used to promote upcoming novels.

I have seen the latter happening more and more. The author has a new novel coming out in the fall. In the spring a short story is released for 99 cents. Besides the short story, there is usually a preview of the new novel attached at the back of the story. As an added benefit, publishing short fiction along with your novels helps keep your name out in front of readers.

As a reader as well as a writer, I’m happy to see the resurgence of short fiction. I’ve got quite a few on my e-reader that I read and enjoy.

norweg6I’ve been teaching a class about writing historical fiction recently. During the class, I try to stress the importance of researching not only events of the era in which you are writing, but also how people lived during that era. Even if you don’t use all of the information you research, what you discover could influence how your characters act.

In addition, you can discover wonderful nuggets of information that can add to the richness of your story.

I was researching an article today about a woman who fought with the Norwegian Resistance during WWII. It’s an interesting story, but the articles I found only referenced her as Mrs. Jorgen Hartman. It is the newspaper style of the time to reference married women in this was. However, my article is about her so I started trying to find out what her first name was.

I started trying to find her husband’s name and then her father’s. I found a couple interesting things right away before I even found her first name. Her husband’s uncle was Nils Bohr, who helped make the atomic bomb. I’m still trying to verify this since I thought her husband was Norwegian and Bohn was Danish.

Then I discovered that her father was also in military intelligence, although he seems not to have done field work, but he was involved in some major operations.

Then I found Mrs. Hartman’s first name (Norma), but I also discovered that she seems to have left Norway in 1945 by herself and remarried later in the year. That means she was either divorced or a widow.

I’m still trying to find out what happened, but if she was a widow, it begs the question as to what happened to her husband since he also helped her in the Resisitance. Was he caught and executed?

So now I’ve got another thread to try and unravel and my article seems to be growing in scope.

The searching can be a pain, but it is also fun, particularly when you start discovering things like I am finding. So don’t skip on your research, you won’t regret it.

edgarallanpoeI am editing a book right now and thinking about how I would classify it. When I first wrote the book years ago, I considered it light horror, but now I’m not so sure.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the gist of the story is this: Because of how Lazarus of the Bible was resurrected, whenever he is about to die, his body steals the life force from the nearest person. During the early 19th century, Lazarus meets up with another resurrected being who was possessed by a demon at the time of his resurrection. The demon sets out to kill Lazarus and Edgar Allan Poe gets caught in the middle.

The bulk of the story is set during Poe’s lifetime, although there are modern-day scenes and scenes from Biblical times forward.

As I’m editing this, though, I realize just how much historical information is in the book, particularly about Edgar Allan Poe and his life. I did a lot of research and worked to weave my story around actual events in Poe’s life.

So I’m wondering if this could be considered historical fiction. It certainly isn’t what I consider historical fiction. It has a lot of fantastical elements in it. Something similar might be Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. My story is not as heavy on the fantastical, though.

What are your thoughts? Would historical fiction readers be turned off by this story because it is too fantastic? Would horror readers be turned off because it has too much history? I’m trying to figure out how to market the book, but first, I need to be able to explain it to a potential reader.

thI write a lot. I know I write a lot, but when I actually count the words I’m writing, it doesn’t seem like a lot.

I write 16-20 newspaper columns and magazine articles a month and probably average two books a year. That seems like a lot to me, but there’s so much more that I want to do, I wonder if I couldn’t push myself more to help clear that log jam of ideas that I have.

I tell my students that writers write so despite everything else that they may need to do as a freelance writer or independent author, they need to write each day. That’s easier said than done. For instance, yesterday I didn’t do any writing. I did a lot of research, interviewing, transcribing older interviews and marketing, but I didn’t do any writing.

That was discouraging, especially when I listened to a podcast interview in the evening and the author being interviewed was saying how at a minimum he writes about 500 words an hour and usually it’s closer to 2,000 words.

Wow. I shoot for 1,500 words a day. At that guy’s pace, I could have my daily writing done in 45 minutes.

One way that I’ve tried to combat this day-to-day variation in my schedule is to set a weekly total rather than a daily total. So my goal is to do 9,000 words a week (six days a weeks with Sundays off). I was making strong progress to meeting this and then October came along. Into my normal daily writing work, I had to add six classes I had to teach, four presentations, two festivals, and a weekend of required Boy Scout training. That much extra stuff send my weekly totals tumbling.

So I’m trying to build back up again. I’m doing well today. I’ve written about 1800-1900 words, but I’ve still got to make up for doing nothing yesterday. I should be able to, though. At least that’s what I’ll keep telling myself.

Do you set writing goals for yourself? What are they? How well do you do at keeping them? Does having a goal give you something to strive for or something to feel guilty about if you miss it?

Yes, I do feel guilty when I miss a target, but that doesn’t stop me from trying again. I know that having a goal makes me push myself a bit more. Maybe not enough sometimes, but I do know there have been times, where I’ve felt like stopping my writing and then looked at how close my goal was. “Just a few hundred more words!”

So get writing! Put your butt in your chair and start typing whether it’s an article or short story, first draft or final edit, get something on paper that wasn’t there yesterday. You’re a writer!

Publication1For a limited time, I am offering three of my historical novels for free. If you’ve been reading my blog and enjoying the posts, here’s your chance to grab three free novels. By clicking on this link and signing up, you’ll be able to download Canawlers, The Rain Man, and October Mourning.

Canawlers is my favorite among the historical fiction novels that I’ve written. It follows the Fitzgerald Family as they try to keep their canal boat running along the 185-mile-long C&O Canal during the Civil War.

Midwest Book Review wrote, “A powerful, thoughtful and fascinating historical novel, Canawlersdocuments author James Rada, Jr. as a writer of considerable and deftly expressed storytelling talent.”

I wrote this book after biking the C&O Canal with my wife. Up until that point, I had little interest in history, but I fell in love with the canal and wanted to tell a story set on it.

The Rain Man is set during the 1936 St. Patrick’s Day Flood on the Potomac River. It was a devastating flood. If you ever get a chance to go to historic Harpers Ferry, there’s a building there with all the flood high-water marks on it. The one for 1936 is the highest mark on the building and well above the first floor. A flood like that seemed like a great setting for a novel.

This Rain Man is a mystery thriller set during the day of the flood as a Cumberland City police officer pursues a killer through a city that is quickly being submerged.

In the fall of 1918, Spanish Flu killed around 60 million people worldwide in two months. That was about 2 percent of the world’s population. People were terrified and with good reason. It is the deadliest disease known to man and no one knew how to stop it.

Now imagine that someone was deliberately aiding in the spread of the flu? That’s the idea behind October Mourning.

Reviewer’s Bookwatch said, “This is a very good, and very easy to read, novel about a famous, yet unknown, bit of 20th Century American history.”

There’s no trick involved here. I’m working on building my mailing list, and as a way to say “Thanks for signing up,” I’m offering these e-books for free. Their normal retail price would be $16. Enjoy them, and let me know what you think.

12079184_10207596187324611_4890560574893852992_nI attended Colorfest in Thurmont, Md., this past weekend. It was my first time there as a vendor. The weather was great and the crowds large. It’s billed as the largest craft show in Maryland, attracting an estimated 60,000 people over the weekend.

I had heard stories from other vendors about how good a show it is and so I had overpacked for the show. At least I thought I did.

I was selling books even before the show officially opened. I like to talk to the people who stop my booth, but from around 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. both days, it was so busy that I barely had time to sign the books and run the charges. At times, I had lines of people waiting to get my books.

That really made my writer’s ego feel great, and it was fun. However, one of the problems with being a writer at a festival that runs all day is that you need to be at your booth for your readers. They buy books wanting to get the author’s signature. That means I can’t look around at other booths and I can’t leave to get lunch. I also have to make sure my booth is close to the bathrooms because when nature calls, I have to run to the bathroom, be quick about it, and hurry back.

Anyway, by the end of the weekend, I had sold out of a third of my titles and another third had just a copy of two left. That made it easy to pack up Sunday evening. I had gotten to talk to hundreds of readers and potential readers, which was great. It’s something that I always enjoy.

If you’re a writer, don’t overlook craft festivals as a marketing venue. I find that for me, I sell more books there than when I attend a book festival.

The weekend did exhaust me, but it also left me energized to get back to my writing.


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.


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