(Or: How to Sell Virtually Unsellable Novelettes)
Playing second fiddle to James Patterson shouldn’t be all that troubling to a new author trying to peddle his first novel. And for me, it wasn’t. It was educational.
I finished my first book, A NEW PROSPECT, late in 2006 and began making the rounds, querying agents interested in mysteries and police procedurals. As the rejection letters trickled in, I wrote shorter mysteries for practice.
The rejections kept piling up and I kept writing. After I finished a half-dozen stories, all of them in the 8,000 to 11,000 word range, I developed a bright idea. I’d try to sell them, too. So, I tried Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, Strand, and a couple others. No takers with the first one. Okay, said I, try a different story. Still no takers, but one acquisitions editor did have the courtesy to write back and tell me why no one wanted to buy what I was offering.
He said most mainstream mystery magazines wanted short stories, preferably less than 3,500 words. I had submitted a novelette. (Defined as between 7,500 and 17,500 words) He further stated, “Everybody writes novelettes and we do publish them, but only one a year.” That offered a little hope. Then he unloaded his full compliment of bombs. “But if we’ve got a bunch of them sitting here and it’s between you and James Patterson, who do you think we’re going to pick?”
Enough said. These people are in the business of selling magazines not giving new guys a break unless they can make a buck at it. So, I took the hint, continued to try and interest someone in A NEW PROSPECT, and I kept on writing for practice.
Then somewhere, I can’t remember where, I ran across Mind Wings Audio. They were looking for authors who could supply stories between 7,800 and 11,000 words destined to translate into fifty-five to seventy minute “commuter” audio books on compact discs. I blinked a few times and thought something had just been dropped from heaven.
I looked at their retail website at www.mindwingsaudio.com and saw a list of CDs in many genres, my field of mystery & crime and detectives being only two. And not only did they offer these audio books as CDs, but also as MP3 downloads (I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but I learned) and more formats of eBooks than I knew existed.
At that time Mind Wings was less than a year old, but I thought it looked promising and I had nothing to lose, so I jumped directly to their submissions site at www.miwishorts.com and began filling in the blanks on their submissions template. I gave them a 100 word summary, a short biography, and copied and pasted one of my Sam Jenkins mysteries called A LABOR DAY MURDER. Then I sat back and waited.
Two months later, I received a greetings letter. No, I wasn’t being drafted again; they welcomed me to the Mind Wings family and offered a contract. And yes, I accepted it.
This is what I learned about the operation:
Minds Wings is NOT an organization selling services to independent authors who want to produce audio books. They are a publishing business that only makes money if your stories sell. The literature they choose to produce is read by professional actors— members of AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) and is simultaneously published and marketed in various eBook formats. The authors pay nothing to see their works as audios or electronic books.
The process begins with a professional editor sprucing up your manuscript. Authors are asked for opinions on the corrections and suggestions made by the editor. Once the manuscript is finalized, a finished copy is sent to an actor to read and record.
Then the author reviews a “proof’ recording and comments on what he or she hears. This is the time to correct any pronunciation errors or make suggestions or requests on accents or other vocal characteristics.
During the edits and recording process, an artist draws up one or more possibilities for the cover art. Here again, the author has input on what’s used. I think Rachelle, the artist Mind Wings uses, is exceptional and so far I’ve been pleased with all the covers assigned to my books.
After the CD is “cut” (notice how I’m getting into the industry lingo?) and the release date arrives, you receive a printed copy of your novelette and five complimentary CDs.
What happens next? Do you have to take your audio/eBook and format it and load it into a bunch of seller’s websites? NO. Mind Wings does that for you. They’re the professionals—you’re the writer. And remember, you pay for nothing. (Unless you want more than five CDs and then you may purchase them at an author’s discount) Remember, you only provide the writing and get paid 8% of the selling price after an audio is purchased and 50% of eBook sales. I receive my checks faithfully every quarter and a 1099 form just before income tax time.
Why produce an audio book? Do people buy them? From my experience, yes. And I believe it depends on locale to determine how many will sell. People in New York, Baltimore, Los Angeles, WashingtonDC, and other big towns spend hours in traffic going to and from work. Many of these commuters like to hear stories while they drive. They buy one hour audio books. People in Cody, Wyoming may only take ten minutes getting to the job. They may be content with the local news and weather.
My statements tell me people buy more MP3 downloads than CDs. They are less expensive and apparently everyone but me knows about this technology and has an MP3. The eBooks also sell very well. At less than two bucks a pop, these novelettes are a bargain. I’ve found mine formatted for Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Sony, iPod, iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, blueberry, gooseberry, and other things about which I have no comprehension.
Getting listed on some sites takes longer than others. Amazon appears immediately. Kobo requires more than one title be submitted at a time, so that shows up later. But basically, sooner or later, my stuff appears at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Omni Lit, Books on Board, Apple, Sony, Smashwords, Kobo, and maybe a few more.
Was it worth the effort? There was no effort—apart from writing the story and doing your share of the post-publication marketing. The more places your stories are sold, the more chances Mind Wings has to recoup their expenses and start collecting the full 92% of their piece of the pie. They have as much vested interest as you.
Mind Wings has sent me contracts for eleven Sam Jenkins mysteries. Nine are in circulation with two more in the hopper. Coincidentally, I’ve just finished a 10,800 word story called THE BUTLERS DID IT which I’ve submitted and am awaiting the word. It’s a Christmas story that begins with a bank robbery and takes Sam and his FBI friends deep into the coal country of southeast Kentucky hunting a fugitive. I hope the people at Mind Wings like this one, too.
Am I making a huge amount of money? No. But my royalty checks allow me to take my wife to lunch whenever I want. And my ego is constantly massaged. Thousands of people have heard what I have to say.
Five of my novelettes made it to the publisher’s best seller list. A MURDERIN KNOXVILLE remained there for thirteen months. SCRAP METAL & MURDER was the biggest seller yet and according to a recent royalty statement, five titles are now on the top ten eBook list.
Would I recommend that other authors submit their stories to Mind Wings Audio? You bet. What have you got to lose? If you’re not selected, you spent only minutes on the computer—you haven’t invested a dime.
If you are one of those chosen, you’re provided with the services of a professional editor, a talented cover artist, and you can make a quick trip to the Office Depot and, with a clear conscience, get business cards printed calling yourself a published author.
By the way, a small independent press picked up A NEW PROSPECT and traditionally published it in hard copy and eBook. In May 2011, it won an Indie and was named best mystery of the year.
My second full-length novel, A LEPRECHAUN’S LAMENT, is due out in hardback any day now and number three, HEROES & LOVERS, is, at this moment, being edited and scheduled for release next year.
Wayne Zurl grew up on Long Island and retired after twenty years with the Suffolk County Police Department, one of the largest municipal law enforcement agencies in New York and the nation. For thirteen of those years he served as a section commander supervising investigators. He is a graduate of SUNY, Empire State College and served on active duty in the US Army during the Vietnam War and later in the reserves. Zurl left New York to live in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee with his wife, Barbara.
For information on Wayne’s Sam Jenkins mystery series see www.waynezurlbooks.net. You can read excerpts, reviews and endorsements, interviews, coming events, and see photos of the area where the stories take place.