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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Interview with Author JA Konrath: Suspense, Pacing, and Giving Back

If you like Serial Killer Mysteries along the lines of James Patterson but with laughs and introspection in the vein of Robert Crais, JA Konrath could be a writer you'd enjoy. No mistake, these are not kids books. These are grab-you-by-the-throat, scary, white-knuckling chillers, oh yeah…with a side of hearty laughs.

I first met JA through the pages of Writer's Digest. He wrote an hour by hour account of how he became a published author. It was very inspiring and so funny I think I hurt something. At the time I read it, I was just a wanna be. Something about JA's selfdeprecating style just made feel like, wow, maybe it could happen to me. His M.O. is work hard and never give up, and you will get published.

So I visited JA's website: A Newbies Guide to Publishing, and found loads of information about the business of publishing--insider tips on everything from impressing editors to negotiating royalty rates. And JA just made the info available FREE. No sign up fee. No email address. Just here's the treasure, come and plunder.

By the way, JA has recently compiled most of his Publishing/Writing/Promoting into one resource that you can download, again FREE. Download the Newbies Guide to Publishing HERE.

JA, being the marketing genius that he is went on a special kind of booktour. He literally drove cross country and visited over 600 bookstores. He went in, met the staff, managers, etc. shook hands, gave stuff away, and thanked all the sellers for getting his books and helping the public get a hold of them. JA and I hooked up on the Maryland leg and visited a gazillion stores. As you can see from the picture above, this was JA and me AFTER the day's touring. We were exhausted. But it was great fun getting to know him.

JA continues to work as hard as ever, and his books continue to do well. He's generously agreed to show up here for an interview. Enjoy a visit from JA:

WTB: How important is suspense in terms of selling books? How do you build suspense?

JA: Suspense is what keeps a reader reading. It's all about revealing and withholding information.

The goal as a writer is to present unresolved situations; in other words, to make a big mess. The point of the narrative is to resolve the situation and clean up the mess.

In the case of thrillers, the suspense often comes from characters in trouble, and villains getting their just desserts.

To create suspense, write a situation where the reader is forced to ask questions, the main one being, "What happens next?" This is done through conflict, and the promise of conflict.

Happiness, while wonderful in real life, is boring in fiction. Compelling fiction heaps problems onto characters. If these problems are meted out at a pace that makes the reader want to read faster, you've achieved suspense.

In short, suspense is the action that happens in between the question and the answer.

WTB: One of the things I love about your Jack Daniels Mysteries is the pulse-pounding pacing. Your books just never drag. Do you create pacing as a conscious choice? If so, how can aspiring writers improve their pacing?

JA: I appreciate the compliment. Whether we like it or not, we live in a fast food, MTV, web-surfing world, and people's attention spans have gotten shorter. As writers, we need to hold their attention, and pace is a smart way to do that. James Patterson has the right idea, writing books that are 300 pages long that have 120 chapters.

To create a fast pace, first focus on action scenes--these are the scenes where things are happening. The scenes with the conflict.

Next, make sure things get worse for your protagonist before they get better. Escalation is essential.

Short chapters, short paragraphs, show don't tell. Dialog is better than internal monologue. A fast paced book has a lot of white space on the page.

Finally, make sure you cut scenes that aren't needed. Backstory and lengthy description tend to weigh stories down.

WTB: Having read your articles in Writer's Digest as well as on your blog: Newbies Guide, I think it's awfully generous of you to give so much information away, esp. on getting published. Why do you do it?

JA: Because the chicks dig it.

Seriously? Because no one helped me. I spent a lot of years, struggling and depressed, trying to figure out this business. It was like scaling a wall with no end in sight. I vowed that if I ever made it, I'd help other writers so they wouldn't have to go through that.

The Internet is a perfect vehicle for sharing information. For the first time in the history of fiction writing, writers can instantly access one another. What a wonderful group resource we have, and I'm happy to contribute to the knowledge pool. I've made a lot of mistakes. I've tried a lot of different things. I've learned quite a bit. What good is all of that if I don't share it with others?

For example, I'm currently on a blog tour, visiting as many blogs as I can during the month of March, in anticipation of my horror novel, AFRAID (written under my pen name, Jack Kilborn) coming out March 31. I had no idea if this tour would be a worthwhile endeavor.

But my Google hits have gone up about twenty percent. My numbers have spiked higher. I'm getting more email than usual, and higher traffic on my website and blog. Best of all, this blog tour didn't cost me a thing. I'll post more detailed results on my blog in April, but I think this tour was a smart thing to do.

Contrast that to mailing 7000 letters to libraries, which I did a few years ago. That took a very long time, cost a lot of money, but overall wasn't a worthwhile investment.

Live and learn. But the only good knowledge is knowledge that is passed on. Or else everyone has to reinvent the wheel.

Then there's the trickle down effect. If you help others, they may link to you, increasing your brand awareness and name-recognition. Some may become fans. Some fans may become book buyers.

There's really no downside to generosity. Which is why I encourage everyone reading this to be generous and buy all of my books. Except AFRAID. That one is probably too scary...


I'll second what JA said about "AFRAID." Again, since I know so many kids check out this site, remember these are adult books. I'm talking Silence of the Lambs kind of scary. You've been warned.