Writers Wednesday War Room—Blog

The Writers War Room is dedicated to two pursuits. One is commentary on the experiences of thriller writing—what’s involved, what works and what doesn’t, and tips for improving your product and chances for success. 

Also, stay tuned to this page to follow developments involving Whelan, Larsen, Stensen, Kirkland, Thomas, Almeida…and Christie, Levell, Maksym, Federov and others in the Sleeping Dogs series. CAVEAT: I'm not a daily, or even weekly, blogger. Unless I believe I have something of interest to share, I don't spam my own blog site.

How Do You Write A Book?

Every writer of any consequence and many not-quite-there-yet writers have fielded questions over the years about their methodology for writing books. Most of them seem to say they get up early—4 a.m. - 5:30 a.m. on average—and begin writing. The majority of these writers say they work steadily until some point, such as so many words or pages or some specific time later in the day. The page count ranges from two to ten or more. The timeframe can be from three or four hours to the entire day. The word count ranges from several hundred to several thousand. Other writers, notably Lee Child, start writing around one in the afternoon and continue until they too have reached a word or page count or some general time limit.

So, what are we to take from this? That individual’s writing methodology differs across the boards. There is no set formula for writing a book. For one thing, some novels require considerably more research than others. Does research time count as writing time? I believe it does. Obviously, the more research time involved, the longer it takes to reach the end of the book. Also, some writers are more prolific than others—Brandon Sanderson comes to mind. Other writers, such as James Patterson, frequently co-write novels with other authors, so they may produce six or more books per year.

My writing preferences are to get up early and get my workout out of the way so I don’t end up skipping it later in the day. Then I try to get all of the non-writing tasks completed. Finally, around one or two in the afternoon, I start writing and continue until five or six o’clock. Because my ratio of research to writing is 4:1, it takes me longer to complete a novel than someone who eschews research. My goal is to write, on average, a minimum of 1,000 words per day. For example, in the past eight days, I’ve written 9,650 words in my next Sleeping Dogs novel. That’s an average of 1,200 wpd. I typically don’t write on the weekends because of other commitments. 

So, at an average of 6,000 words per week, it would take me about 17 weeks to finish the first draft of a 100,000-word book. Wouldn’t that be nice. Unfortunately, there are interferences and long hours of research plus editing (and re-re-re-editing), working with beta readers, rewriting, cover design, and a plethora of other requirements including, principally, marketing. That typically means I publish about one book per year. 

Incidentally, the 100,000-word example doesn’t mean all novels come in at that length. Established writers in certain genres often write much lengthier books. Other genres, such as Romance, come in at around 60,000 words. For new authors trying to attract an agent, you should try to keep it under 100,000 words. Apparently, publishers have a phobia about publishing newbies whose books exceed that threshold. 

Keeping It Real: Part 2

Series vs One-off?

What’s most beneficial for authors, a series or separate, unrelated novels? You probably would get a pretty even split of opinion on that question, depending on an individual writer’s preference. In my own case, I definitely prefer the series approach. My first novel, The Quixotics, was a one-off tale of intrigue, adventure, and suspense set in the Caribbean in 1970. I’ve followed that with four (and counting) novels in the Sleeping Dogs series, which focuses on current international intrigue and geopolitics. That statement definitely reveals my preference as a writer.

I’ve found that with a series I don’t have to create a whole new cast of characters with each book. I have come to know my characters very well, and enjoy the process of continuing to develop and expand their personas. Not to be overlooked is the fact that your readers become fascinated with and invested in your characters and want to know more about them, as well as experience them in new situations.

Also, a series allows for an overarching storyline that twists and turns through each novel. I try to end each one slightly enigmatically, leaving the readers in suspense and looking forward to the next book in the series. Subplots can be added to each separate book in order to keep my stories current and timely.

All in all, I’ve found that with a series, I grow more comfortable with the style of writing, the individual characters, and opportunities for future storylines.

Keeping It Real: Part 1

Today isn’t Wednesday but the Writer’s War Room is open. Today’s topic for writers in our struggle to find success as novelists is “Keeping It Real: Part 1.”

For a novel to find widespread acceptance, it has to appeal to a broad range of readers. This means, among other things, that the reader has to become invested in the story. There are many ways to capture and captivate the reader. Foremost, of course, is to write a compelling story with fascinating characters—good and bad. But there are many other elements too. Among them is the need to engage the five senses—taste, touch (or feel), smell, sight and hearing.

The visual arts have an advantage over the non-visual ones such as literature. A movie can show you the scene graphically and supply the elements of sight and hearing. A character’s visible reactions can convey information to the audience about the qualities of taste, smell, and touch. It’s becomes more challenging in the printed word.

Here’s the opening scene in the third paragraph of my novel Sleeping Dogs: The Awakening

“It was early morning, a few days into a new year, and cold. Whelan wore thin glove liners, partly to counter the chill and partly to avoid leaving fingerprints in the rented Jeep. A stranger in a strange land, particularly one under a death warrant, takes precautions. A soft rain, not much more than a heavy mist, blurred the landscape, creating halo effects around the streetlights. The only sounds were the hiss of the tires on the wet streets and the Grand Cherokee’s wipers wagging slowly across the windshield. The hypnotic rhythm didn't help his fatigued state. Even the odor of stale cigarette smoke from a previous user didn’t seem as annoying now.”

What are Whelan’s senses telling him? It’s cold. He’s wearing glove liners against the feel of the chill. He sees the mist blurring the landscape, creating halo effects around the streetlights. He hears the hiss of the tires on the wet streets and the car’s wipers sliding across the windshield. He smells the stale cigarette smoke from a previous driver of the rental car. In the paragraph that follows, he touches the ON button for the radio and listens to Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” The element of taste isn’t directly involved in the scene, but I might easily have mentioned that he had been traveling from Ireland for almost 24 hours and had a stale taste in his mouth. Or that he’d eaten a spicy meal and could still taste the garlic.

You get the point. Whelan isn’t some empty, one dimensional character that a reader couldn’t identify with. He’s fleshed out, real, experiencing what the reader would experience in those circumstances. The reader can identify with him and feel that he knows him. He or she is becoming invested in the character and wants to know more, such as where is he going at 2:30 a.m., and, with a Presidential Decision Directive calling for his immediate death, what’s he doing in Georgetown if he lives in Ireland?

Latest Developments from the Field

The three newest developments in the life of this writer are:

1. A video of me reading an excerpt from Dogs of War is available on YouTube at https://youtu.be/HApxESefS2I. I purposely selected Chapter 14 from the book because it features dialogue involving 8 of the principal characters in the series. I created it in PowerPoint for Mac, added audio to the pptx file, then converted it to an MP4 file. From there, it was easy to upload it to my YouTube channel. Links appear on my FaceBook timeline and in a few locations on this website. I also posted it in my next Newsletter.

2. An audiobook version of the first book in the series, Sleeping Dogs: The Awakening, is in production. It’s scheduled for completion in mid-September. The voiceover artist/producer has a great baritone and nails the various accents and speech characteristics of the characters. His pacing also is excellent.

3. I’ve caught the eye of a literary agent following last month’s ThrillerFest in New York City. At her request, I’ve edited the total manuscript from 111,500 words to 107,500. She would like it to be beneath the 100,000 mark, but that would impair the storyline. I did the research and put together the table that follows below. My argument is that the top sellers in this genre average 146,000 words per book, and publishers are only too eager to publish them. The agent said she’ll read it and decide whether it qualifies as an exception to the 100,000 word cap. The good news in all of this is that she’s agreed to read it. From there, who knows where it may go.

AUTHOR              BOOK                                 PAGES            TOTAL WORDS*

Daniel                 Silva House of Spies       544                   176,936

Lee Child              Night School                     496                    161,324

Ben Coes             Trap the Devil                   496                    161,324

Brad Taylor          Ring of Fire                       448                     145,712

Alex Berenson    The Prisoner                     432                    140,508

David Baldacci    End Game                        416                    135,304

Vince Flynn          Enemy of the State        400                    130,100

Brad Thor             Use of Force                    368                    119,692

                           AVERAGE                        450                    146,363

J W Falbey          The Dogs of War            329                  107,867**

*Using 325 words per page, which is the average number of wpp in Dogs of War

**104,876 words exclusive of title page, TofC, Cast of Characters, description of previous books, and preview of next book. With those sections, the word total is 107,867.

ThrillerFest 2017—Report #1

The best way to improve at some athletic endeavor is to train with and compete against those who are better at it than you are. If you want to be a better tennis player, play against those whose games are superior to yours. Faster runner? Train with a group of runners who are faster than you are. If you train solely on your own, you’ll quickly plateau and cease to improve.

The same advice applies to writers too. Where do you find an opportunity to spend time in the company of internationally bestselling writers? At writers conferences. For thriller writers, the Big Daddy of them all is ThrillerFest, an annual gathering in New York City in July. It’s sponsored by the International Thriller Writers or ITW. Membership in ITW provides much more than access to ThrillerFest. It publishes a number of helpful publications such as the weekly The Thrill Begins and the semi-month The Big Thrill. There’s also a weekly online roundtable in which a panel of authors discusses a particular aspect of thriller writing.

But it’s at ThrillerFest where an aspiring writer meets his or her favorite authors in person. Every one of them that I’ve met has been friendly and personable, willing to take time to chat with you and discuss the trade one-on-one. The conference begins on Tuesday with Master CraftFest. Small groups spend the day with a well-known bestselling author and go over a sample of each class member’s writing efforts. For example, this year I was in a group of ten that was led by Lee Child.

Wednesday and half of Thursday is devoted to CraftFest, a series of concurrent presentations and panel sessions involving the best in the business and covering all facets of the craft of writing thrillers. Thursday afternoon is PitchFest. This is where attendees meet one-on-one with literary agents and publishers’ representatives. This process has led to the discovery of a number of talented new writers.

Friday and Saturday are termed ThrillerFest. Again, it’s a series of concurrent sessions presented in panel format. These cover every genre of thrillers, as well as advice from the masters on publishing, marketing, and much more.

Overall, being exposed to the best-of-the-best all day everyday for a week will do wonders for your own writing.

Next in the Writers War Room we’ll begin discussing topics such as improving your craft, what currently works and what doesn’t, and directions in publishing and marketing.

A Lot of Great Things Are Happening!

A self-published writer has to play a lot of roles—author, publisher, publicist, marketer, salesman, scheduler, and many more. I’ve been engaged in all of those roles over the past few months. As a result, the latest book in the Sleeping Dogs series, Dogs of War, was released on July 4th, an appropriate day for the debut of a political thriller. It’s available on Amazon, iBooks, Nook, Smashwords, and all other online booksellers. The print version also is available at Amazon, Nook, and bookstores everywhere.

In addition, I compiled and published a three-book set of the first three books in the series: Sleeping Dogs: The Awakening; Endangered Species; and The Year of the Dog. It, too, is available at Amazon, iBooks, Nook, Smashwords, and all other online booksellers.

As a part of a Facebook ad program, I also have made the first book in the series, Sleeping Dogs: The Awakening, available for FREE in ebook format for all devices and platforms. Click here. It’s a great, no-risk way to introduce yourself to the members of the most dangerous hunter-killer black ops team ever.

Also, I’m in the process of creating an audiobook of Sleeping Dogs: The Awakening. If that goes well, the rest of the books will become audiobooks.

The Dogs Are Back!

It’s been too long since my last post. The reason, however, is a positive one—I’ve been working feverishly on the latest book in the Sleeping Dogs series of political/espionage thrillers. The wait is over. Dogs of War is available on preorder pending its release date of July 4th. Independence Day seems like a good date for publication of the fourth book in a series of political thrillers.

The ebook is available on preorder at Amazon, iBooks, Nook, Smashwords, and most online booksellers. The print version already is available from Amazon and its POD subsidiary, CreateSpace, as well as Barnes&Noble and other fine booksellers.

So, what’s Dogs of War about? With the help of the drug cartels and gangs like MS-13, thousands of murderous Islamic terrorists have infiltrated America through its porous southern border. They’ve spread out across the country, stockpiling weapons and explosives and identifying strategic targets as well as soft ones. Worse yet, they’ve got nukes. The U.S. government is helplessly hidebound by political correctness, agency turf wars, over-regulation, partisan politics, and gross inefficiency. 

Once again, Cliff levell and the shadow government known as the Society of Adam Smith must step into the breach. In a race against time to stop the detonation of the nukes on American soil, Levell must turn to Brendan Whelan and the other members of the ruthless hunter-killer team known as the Sleeping Dogs. The Dogs are back in action, this time with a new member, an Australian named Liam Stone. 

In addition to Levell and the individual Dogs, several familiar characters are on the scene: Whelan’s wife Caitlin, and their two sons, Sean and Declan; Maksym, Whelan’s monstrous brother; FBI agent Mitch Christie and his fiancée, Camila Ramirez; the two ex-Spetsnaz mercenaries, Kirill Federov and Andrei Ulyanin; the tyrannical Alliance for Global Unity and its leader, Harland Fairchilde, IV; Zheng Bao Xun, the scheming finance minister for the People’s Republic of China; the chief Islamic terrorist Nadir Shah, leader of the Holy Army of the Caliphate (HAC); and others. Newcomers include Bazir Haqqani the leader in America of the forces of HAC; Haqqani’s teenaged disciple Turan Salam; Carolina Avila, the all-American girl next door…to terrorists.

I’ll be focused principally on marketing efforts for Dogs of War until its release on July 4th, but I already have the storyline in mind for the next book in the series—Bad Dogs, Dead Dogs. In the meantime, please read Dogs of War and let me know what you think of it. Also, your reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and iBooks are greatly appreciated.

Marketing Your Self-Published Book

I turned down an opportunity to have my first novel published by Harper & Row (now HarperCollins). Sure, I was 23 at the time and focusing on my nascent career as an attorney, but the reason I walked away was a matter of a difference of opinion. H&R’s senior VP didn’t like my protagonist because he was an antihero. The VP thought readers didn’t like antiheroes and wanted me to rewrite the story—which he liked—from the perspective of a nerd I had thrown in for comic relief. I wonder if he ever heard of Jack Reacher?

I turned to self-publishing with my next novel, the first in a series of political/espionage thrillers. It went to #1 on Amazon Kindle in two different genres. Part of that was due to the use of Kindle’s free promotion tool. That resulted in a large amount of reviews, 80%+ are 4 and 5 stars. Since then, I’ve learned that productivity also increases sales. I just published the 3rd book in the series; my 4th book overall. The next book in the series is nearing completion and its publication should boost readership/fan base even more.

In a nutshell, here are marketing tools that work for me.

·      A growing body of work

·      A short, advertised freebie period at launch

·      The use of beta readers in my genre

·      Working in a group with fellow writers in my genre to critique and suggest improvements, as well as to write an initial blurb or two for a new book’s launch (join an existing writer’s group or form one)

·      Hiring a freelance editor who gained substantial experience in my genre by working for a major publishing house (this is going to run, on average, 4 to 6 cents per word, so forget the 200,000-word masterpiece unless you can break it up into 2 or 3 separate books in a series and have it edited accordingly. The end cost is the same, but you spread the payments out over time.)

·      Spending unreasonable amounts of time on my book’s description; polishing it endlessly

·      Always having a professionally designed cover; I want to look like I’ve been here before.

Each writer’s experience is unique, so there are other methods of marketing that can work. See what’s working for others in your genre. And good luck.

It’s The Year Of The Dog!

My latest novel in the internationally bestselling series The Sleeping Dogs has been published. The Year Of The Dog became available in eBook and print formats on Election Day in America, November 8. That seems an appropriate date for a political/spy thriller. A description can be found on the Books page. The new book is available at Amazon Books, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and other online and traditional booksellers.

Notes From ThrillerFest 2016: Part 3

This post addresses the topic of what agents and publishers are looking for, how to approach them, and what to expect. CAVEAT: it just scratches the surface.


·      The first 3-4 pages tell a prospective agent or publisher whether the book is publishable

        o   Polish chapter 1, keep going back to it

·      Use action words in the first sentence. Come back to them at the end of the novel

·      Traditional publishers appear to be shying away from series, but the opposite seems true of self-published thriller writers because the more books in the series, the more overall sales. Also facilitates building a brand.

        o   Series seem to work better today because readers feel they have an investment in the characters and want more of them

·      CAVEAT: It’s difficult to earn out a big advance from traditional publishers, so if your first 2 or 3 books don’t earn out that advance through sales then you may be cut loose with a reputation in the industry as a “failure”

       o   An opposing view says get as much as you can up front because often there is no earn out

·      Be very clear with publishers as to what they will do (viz., marketing efforts) and make sure they do it.

© John Wayne Falbey 2017 All Rights Reserved