Wednesday, February 8, 2012

J Carson Black: A Kindle Sensation

Posted by L.J. Sellers
Thriller writer J. Carson Black has sold more than 100,000 ebooks and recently had another 80,000 downloaded through Amazon's Select promotions. She's been traditionally published as well as self-published and likes the indie route better. Best known for her Laura Cardinal series, Black also signed with Amazon's Thomas & Mercer to re-release a thriller called The Shop, which published yesterday. Here's more in Black's own words, including her experience publishing with Amazon.

LJS: You started out writing horror, then switched to thrillers and police procedurals. How do you characterize your author brand and what are you writing now?
JCB: I am a reader as well as a writer, and the more I read, the more my tastes have changed. Starting with Sue Grafton, I began to gravitate toward crime fiction and crime fiction thrillers, and my writing followed. I find crime fiction and thrillers a challenge to write—which adds spice to my life. Reading crime fiction thrillers is my passion, and writing them is my other passion.
LJS:Tell me about your series protagonist Laura Cardinal. Who did you model her after and what makes her distinct as a crime fiction protagonist?
JCB: Laura Cardinal is not one of those tough female cops with a chip on her shoulder. She’s a thinking cop, although she’s been trained to act fast if she has to—she relies on her training. Good cops know how to deescalate situations, to calm people down. As a detective she’s scrupulous and innovative. She lives on a guest ranch in the desert. Sometimes she talks to her dead partner, Frank Entwistle.
LJS: What do like best about writing a police procedural series and what do you like least?
JCB: I love the challenge of crime fiction, and I love the thriller aspect as well. All my Laura Cardinal books are thrillers.  It’s a challenge to approximate a detective’s day, to find that sweet spot between fiction and reality. It’s easy to get into the weeds and slow the story down, when you’re talking police procedure, so I mention some aspects of police work without going into detail. For instance, I will say, “After measuring the scene, Laura drove to the family’s house.”
LJS: Your standalone thriller, The Shop, has been a breakout bestseller on Amazon and was picked up by Thomas & Mercer. What do you think draws people to the story?
JCB: To be honest, I don’t know. I felt that I wrote a faster-paced story. I wanted The Shop to be sophisticated enough to please hardcore thriller readers. I wrote it in line with the books of writers I enjoy, but I had no real internal compass to follow, except for the fact that I loved writing it! I wanted the book to be interesting, to pull people along. A writer friend I really admire said to me after I’d just finished writing The Shop, “This book will change your life.” And it has.
LJS: How is your experience working with Amazon as your publisher?
JCB: I love them. They are responsive to my needs but more than that, they include me in every single decision.  They put me together with a crack editor.  I’d never been worked so hard.  She pushed me through a barbed wire fence and pulled me out backwards and pushed me through again. She made The Shop a much better book than it was. Thomas & Mercer consulted with me on marketing, the cover, the copy edits and the copy proofs, they asked my opinion and worked with me on the cover copy and product description.  They asked me who my target audience was—and listened to what I had to say! They even wanted to know my writing style so the copy editor would not alter my way of writing. 

LJS: You’ve been published by several of the Big 6, and now you’re mostly self-published. What has the transition been like for you and has indie publishing been as rewarding?
JCB: Here’s my experience with traditional publishers:
1) Agent makes the deal.  Editor calls to say, “We love you!”
2) Two months go by.  Editor asks for a handful of revisions and decides to change the title of your book.
3) Eight months go by.  Editor sends photo of the cover.  “Here it is!” 
4) Publisher sends copy edits. (Or, in Kensington’s and Dorchester’s case, just the galley proofs, and if you change more that 15% you pay for the changes.)
5) At New American Library, they gave me a publicist. The publicist writes a few lines down on one sheet of paper, describing you and your book.  She gets it wrong, so you ask her to change it, and you never hear from her again.
6) Book comes out.
7) Two to four weeks later, the book vanishes from view.
What’s not to love?
Indie publishing: My husband and I put up our books and, yes, it took a while to get traction. But we designed our own covers and positioned the books the way we wanted. It’s fun to be creative, it’s fun to go through tons of photos at Istockphoto or Dreamstime and come up with something that uniquely fits your book.
The toughest part for us is the editing.  It’s easy for mistakes to slip through.  We have a copy editor and still things slip through!  But it’s fun to position the books in the market, it’s fun to present them to the world through social media and by working with other authors, it’s great to make choices regarding price and promotions etc.  And those books will always be there, pulling in some money, big or small.  I’ve met some wonderful people in this game, and seen some astonishing results for myself and others.

LJS: What are your predictions for the next big changes in publishing?
JCB: I think ebooks are here to stay. I think the Big Six will go more and more in that direction. The horse is out of the barn, so to speak. I have a wise friend, Scott Nicholson, who sees Amazon’s dominance should last at least another five years. He’s a deeper thinker than I am, so I’ll go with that prediction.  Amazon is way ahead of everyone else, and is consolidating its power. 
The problem for book publishers, as I see it, is the fact that their one big selling point—distribution—has been taken away from them. They had special deals with the chain bookstores and no real competition from small publishers or the guy selling books out of the trunk of his car.  But distribution has changed with the wireless age, and Amazon has quietly and systematically taken over.  So the publishers woke up one day and realized, “We’ve been occupied!”  I would never underestimate Amazon. They are in it for the long haul, and they know how to plan strategically. Right now they’re out there destroying the competition. One thing I do see coming: the opening up of foreign markets. That’s where the real boom will be.

LJS: Which authors inspired your writing originally and who are your favorites now?
JCB: There are four writers who have taught me to become a better writer, although they don’t know it. I call them “my boys.” They fit with my comfort zone. I will get their latest hardcover books and mark them up (even though my mother told me never to mark up books) and study what they do—how their stories flow, how they write effective scenes, etc.  My Boys are: Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Jonathan Kellerman, and T. Jefferson Parker.  But I purely adore Sue Grafton, J. A. Jance, John Lescroart, Lee Child, James W. Hall, C.J. Box, Harlan Coben, Lori G. Armstrong, Randy Wayne White, James Lee Burke, David Baldacci, Joe Finder, Stephen King, Carl Hiaasen—the list goes on and on and on. There are some wonderful indie authors on that list as well.  You, Michael Wallace, Scott Nicholson, M.H. Sargent, Carol Davis Luce, Michael Prescott—I know I’m missing a ton.
If you have questions or comments, please leave them.


  1. It's been fun following your success! I keep an eye on what you and Joe Konrath are up to and often take my cues from there.

    I'm also reading Darkness at the Edge of Town and enjoying it. Thanks for blogging with us.

  2. Great info, Carson! Jam-packed with useful tips for indie writers, and lots of other good stuff! After reading about your intriguing female police officer lead, Laura Cardinal, and the buzz on THE SHOP, I'm hooked and will definitely be looking for your books!

    I'm also a huge fan of thrillers, and I specialize in editing them, too, as well as other crime fiction. Your list of favorite authors contains all of my go-to authors as well -- and a bunch more that I need to check out!

    Thanks for the interesting and informative post - you made my day! Now back to editing thrillers, and I'll definitely look for your books.

  3. A fabulous interview. One that is sending me from here to Amazon . . . and a purchase.

  4. Congratulations on all of your success Carson. I really appreciate your views on the marketplace and where the industry may be heading. I'm getting ready to release my first thriller and your comments give me hope that there is...well...hope! Thanks for sharing your time with us here at CFC and all the best of luck with The Shop. I know I'll be stopping by Amazon next.

  5. Congrats on the success with Amazon. While all of my mystery series is published with a small traditional publisher, I'm thinking more seriously about heading to Amazon with my stnad-alone, novel once I complete it. Thanks for a great interview with L.J.

  6. The traditional 6 have such tight gatekeepers that it's inspiring to read about writers who succeed in their own way. Congratulations!

  7. Thanks, everyone, for such a warm reception! You've made my day! L.J. - you know I had my eye on you long before my first book took off. I'd look at the thriller list and say, "Who *is* this? Whoever it is (she's) doing great!" The first book I saw, THE SEX CLUB, had that irresistible cover. Intriguing as all get out.

  8. Hi, Carson. Your experience confirms my own beliefs, that being an indie gives an author the best of both worlds. More and more, I'm having a hard time understanding why anyone would want to be with a mainstream publisher. Congrats on your success!

  9. I love your explanation of publishing with the Big Six. I would have added the fight to get royalties owed and the high reserves some keep such as Kensington.

    I too, share in the creative fun of designing covers with my cover designer, and love the freedom of self-publishing.

    Congratulations on your success, and I will be checking into your books.

  10. Hey there, old buddy, old pal! You know what, I'm probably the number one person who's been watching and pulling for you during your new adventures. And I'm so pleased that it's going well.

    And for those of you who haven't read a J. Carson Black book, well, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.

    By the way, I'm truly disappointed that I didn't make "the list." :)

  11. Hey ol' buddy, I'm thrilled to have made the "list." But then I bribe you with Kentucky Derby glasses every couple of years, so I'd better. I totally agree with you about the bliss of self-pubbing. I'm so glad I followed you into this amazing industry. Ebooks are forever, and if you don't get it right the first, you get a do-over--as many do-overs as you like. Ain't self-pubbing grand!!!

  12. If you don't get it right the first time, you get a do-over. And I need those do-overs, as you can see:)

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  14. Thanks LJ, for this crisp and informative interview.

    Love your comments, J Carson Black, comparing traditional to your indie process. I'll share this at our critique meeting on Saturday.

    Next stop: Amazon, to download The Shop.

  15. Congrats, J! I'm a big fan of your work. Keep it up!

  16. Great interview, L.J. I'm a fan of J. Carson's as well and really enjoyed hearing an insiders view of the Big 6. Us Indie's have always had our noses up against the window, so seeing the inside through J. Carson's eyes makes our decisions even more gratifying.

    Thanks, and good luck with the Amazon deal, J. Carson.


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