Friday, November 7, 2014

The Long and Winding Road

Keith Raffel here for the first time in a while.

I live in Palo Alto, California and worked in high tech for a quarter century. That makes me a Silicon Valley guy.

What does that mean?

That means I’m almost always willing to try something new. If it pays off, fine. If not, well, that’s fine, too. I’ll just try something else.

Getting into novel-writing was something new. I was a little bored at my job so I signed up for a mystery-writing class at UC Berkeley Extension. When my work life heated up, I threw a half-finished manuscript into a drawer. A few years later I pulled it out and finished it. I found an agent who sold Dot Dead to Midnight Ink. Twenty months after signing the deal the book came out. Midnight Ink bought my next book, too. (I am skipping over the trials and tribulations of querying agents and publishers – another time.)

The reviews on my first two books were encouraging, and the second even showed up on a national bestseller list. Okay, good. Now it was time to see if I could support myself at this writing gig: what I was making with a traditional publisher wasn’t going to cut it. So I decided to try something new. I self-published my next two books, Drop By Drop and A Fine and Dangerous Season, and put them up on Amazon and Somewhat to my surprise, I sold more copies and made more money than I had on my first two books. Another few steps down the road to making a living.

Amazon has its own publishing arm for crime fiction called Thomas and Mercer who were impressed enough with A Fine and Dangerous Season’s sales to offer to buy rights to it and bring it out under its own imprint. Sure, why not give it a try? It was a great ride. On one glorious day this past March, I saw my book ranked as the #5 seller on all of But I still wasn’t making enough to support myself, let alone pay for another two kids’ worth of college tuition.

So I was ready to try something new to move the ball down the road. I decided to raise money via Kickstarter, the crowd-sourcing site, for my fifth novel, Temple Mount. Why? Two reasons. First, I wanted to get buy-in from my fans. There’s an old Silicon Valley saying that when you eat a bacon-and-egg breakfast, the chicken participates, the pig commits. I wanted commitment from my fans (but I did want to keep them alive, too). And I think I got it. They were co-publishing right along with me and had a stake in the venture. They’ve helped the spread the word and 50 of them even helped edit the book. (Paying for the privilege to edit? That made me feel like Tom Sawyer.) I’ve been blown away by their enthusiasm and generosity. Second, the money raised spurred me to try something new, or maybe old, to publicize Temple Mount. Starting next week we’re running an ad for it on Bay Area cable stations. (You can see the ad below.) I’m keeping my fingers crossed on how it does.

So here I am, getting closer to my goal of making a living as a writer, but still not quite there. When I started at this game, I went the only way I could: signing with a traditional publisher. Now an author can also self-publish, publish via a publisher with a new model like Thomas and Mercer or Polis or Brash, or even crowd-publish. Any one of them might be the right one for an aspiring author or even an old hack like me. It just depends what she or he wants.

I do feel lucky to be writing in a time where authors have choices.


Before turning to writing full-time, Keith Raffel watched over the CIA, supported himself at the racetrack, founded a software company, taught writing to Harvard freshmen, ran for Congress, and sold DNA sequencing to medical researchers. He became a published author in 2006 with Dot Dead, which the New York Times said was “worthy of a Steve Jobs keynote presentation.” These days he can usually be found tapping his laptop’s keys and power-drinking green tea at a cafĂ© around the corner from his home in California’s Silicon Valley. His latest novel Temple Mount ("a terrific battle of wit and wills" -Steve Berry) came out this month.


Shannon Baker said...

As an early reader of this book, I can highly recommend it. Lots of interesting background information and an exciting adventure. Thanks for the tidbits on publishing opportunities.

Alan Orloff said...

I admire your willingness to take chances. It's a crazy new world of publishing, with more options opening up every day. Now, as one of your co-publishers, I say get back to work, our book isn't going to market itself!

Tracy Weber said...

I love all of your innovative ideas. Something to aspire to, for sure! Question for you on the kickstarter. In the cases where you're mailing books anywhere in the world, were you still able to take in more money on the bid than you spent for the book and mailing?

Tracy Weber said...

OH--and I'd love a follow up blog someday on how all of this works for you!

Keith Raffel said...

Thanks, Shannon. I know you're an expert based on your own novel, Ashes of the Red Heifer. Alan, I'm working at it.... promise. Tracy, to get the physical book at least $25 of support was required. For international $10 more. Domestic book plus postage runs no more than $8. The biggest drain is addressing and mailing the 154 copies I've promised.

Tracy Weber said...

Got it. My international mailings sometimes cost $25 or more in postage. I missed the extra $10 for international. I always include a note with my books, so the post office won't let me send them media mail. And it always ways too much to then go anything other than priority. I could try media mail anyway, but they say the randomly open media mail packages to check.

Keith Raffel said...

Tracy, I had no backers from outside the U.S. so it didn't matter. As far as a note goes, couldn't you just include it as an inscription in the book?

Tracy Weber said...

It's a good idea, Keith. Typically I put in a thank you card designed by the book cover artist and bookmarks and also do an inscription.

Hence why I'm broke.

Keith Raffel said...

Tracy, a suggestion -- inscription only, no card or bookmark on international mail. You'll still be broke, but will save a few dollars.

Tracy Weber said...

;-) Agreed!

Joe Moore said...

Best of luck, Keith! With great risk comes great rewards.

Keith Raffel said...

Thanks much, Joe. Hope to see you in NYC next summer if not before.