Friday, May 9, 2014

Terry Ambrose--To Be or Not to Be

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  Terry Ambrose is a frequent commenter and a good friend here on JRW, so it's our treat to have him on the front side of the blog today! In his latest novel, CON GAME, an investment broker who is running a pump-and-dump stock scam is found dead in his downtown L.A. condo the morning after Roxy Tanner cons him out of $2.6 million. A man Skip Cosgrove once helped put behind bars is back for revenge. The would-be killer has disappeared somewhere deep in the Oceanside drug world and vowed to return, but when?

With the cops closing in on Roxy, a killer on the hunt for Skip, and neither sure they can trust the other, the last thing they need is a complication. Or is it?

Of course they do, but you have to read the book to find out just what that complication is! CON GAME is a cracking, fast-paced read, and here's Terry to tell us how he decided which route to take in publishing his sixth novel.

TERRY AMBROSE: I’ve been writing for more than twenty-five years. It all started when things became overwhelming at work and I needed an outlet. Quite frankly, that first book was terrible. Bad dialogue. Cardboard
characters. Predictable plot. Did I mention bad dialogue? Well, you get the idea. The thing is, when I had completed my very first Great American Novel, I realized that even though the book stunk, I felt better.

With my epiphany that writing could help keep me sane in hand, I began trudging along the writer’s path. I did the usual stuff—found a critique group, read writing resources, and hired an editor when I’d completed the next book. This was more than twenty years ago, so there was no Amazon or CreateSpace and e-books were still quite the novelty.

Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about myself. I always thought I could handle the rejection letters (yes, that’s how long ago it was!) from agents. I never adopted the “rejected and proud of it” mantra, so I found myself growing weary of the ups and downs and would eventually move on to the next project to start the cycle over again.

About three years ago, a friend of mine in San Diego Sisters in Crime told me he was going to try self publishing through Amazon. As he put it, he had no idea whether anyone would even want to read his book, but was determined to try. He started out by testing the waters with this increasingly popular Amazon program—free Kindle books. Andrew E. Kaufman rode that wave right to the top. In retrospect, that was probably my biggest “My Bad” moment. I had a book ready to go, but didn’t enter the market because I was still holding out for the traditional model.

When my chance to go with a small press came around about a year later, I decided it was time to stop standing on the sidelines and make a move. Right or wrong, I’d written six novels (let’s make that five—the first really should get a pass). I decided to self publish “Photo Finish,” the first in my McKenna Mystery series, a few months before “License to Lie” would come out from the small press.

I went from the unpublished category to having two books in the market within the span of a few months. Everyone knows that indie authors make far more per book than traditionally published authors. However, other lesser-known differences soon became apparent. For instance, as an indie author, I knew almost immediately how many books I’d sold. The publisher, however, had no such reports. I also discovered that each publishing alternative gave me access to promotion opportunities that might not be available to the other.

Was one method better than the other? While many would disagree with me, I don’t consider either inherently better, just different. For those who have the expertise or want to maintain total control, the indie route is great. For those who don’t want to be bothered with finding, selecting and paying for services related to getting that masterpiece to market—traditional is the way to go.

After watching the sales for “License to Lie” languish for a year despite some great blurbs, excellent reviews, and my best efforts to raise the profile of the book, I saw that it was going nowhere. In short order, the sequel, “Con Game,” would be on the market and if the series was going to do anything other than take up virtual shelf space on Amazon, I needed to do a full reboot.

I bought back my rights for “License to Lie” to publish it independently. This allowed me to reformat the book, change the metadata, and position it within a smaller sub genre so it might appear as a bigger fish in a smaller pond. We’ll see what happens going forward, but “License to Lie” is on a Kindle Countdown deal from May 4-10.

I’m not saying I’d never go back to a traditional publisher. Quite the contrary, I still view each publishing avenue as having distinct advantages and disadvantages and the right contract with the right publisher is still my dream. However, I’m now much smarter about the risks and rewards of each opportunity and will hopefully make the right business decision when it’s time. Rather than looking back and playing the what-if game, I’d much rather look forward and ask that same question. Of course, if foresight were as good as hindsight, what a wonderful world this would be.

Let’s talk about those opportunities that come along in life. Is there one you missed that you particularly regret? Or, what about the time you made the right choice and later asked how you got so lucky?

Terry Ambrose started his business career as a skip tracer and bill collector. He’s been writing mysteries and suspense novels for more than 25 years, but only recently became serious about publishing. His debut mystery, “Photo Finish,” was a 2013 San Diego Book Awards Finalist. In addition to writing fiction, Terry also writes about real-life scams and cons, profiles authors, and does book reviews as part of the featured content at

DEBS: Before we get to Terry's interesting question, a bit of JRW news: Kathy Reel is the winner of Karin Salvalaggio's Bone White Dust!  So, Kathy, please email me your mailing address at deb at deborahcrombie dot com--you know the drill:-) And congratulations!


Joan Emerson said...

I find the publishing differences to be quite intriguing . . . looking forward and playing “what if” rather than looking back seems to me to be the much smarter choice . . . .

Now I’m adding “Con Game” to my teetering to-be-read pile . . . .

Mark Baker said...

There's a job I wish I had pursued more a year ago. Since I'm now looking for a job full time, I do regret that.

And I do regret not making the time to write more fiction. My first novel would be no better than yours. Overall, I just don't think I have the patience for it. After about 30 minutes, I want someone to see what I've written.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Oh, so iterating! Thank you, dear Terry, for this very revealing and interesting insight! 1980, I got a call from a guy in Atlanta who wanted to talk to me about a new endeavor he was beginning..a twenty-four hour newscast, he said, with all kinds of news from local to international. Did I want to be the Los ANgeles bureau chief?

I thought about it, and eventually said, thank you but no--I loved the job I already had. And to myself I thought--whew. 24 hour news? NOBODY is going to watch that.

All these years later, CNN is still going strong.

Oh, I don't regret it one bit, actually--it was exactly the right decision for me, and my life turned out fine.. But funny, huh?

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Welcome Terry!

What an amazing perspective you have on the industry....

Hank, that's soooo funny. And sorry I missed you in Boston.

Hallie Ephron said...

Such an interesting story, Terry. Thanks for sharing it, and congratulations on the books!

It certainly is an exciting time in publishing. And it's interesting how publishers are getting with the program with e-imprints and their editors really are hungry for authors right now. My own publisher HarperCollins has launched WITNESS -- mystery authors get a bigger cut of the sales than a traditional contract and have the PR power of a mainstream publisher behind them... It's prime time to be pitching something good if this is the route you want to go.

Terry Ambrose said...

Hi Joan, I hope you don't live in earthquake country, otherwise that teetering pile could get dangerous! Thanks for adding me.

And Mark, understand the patience issue. Writing a novel takes a huge amount of time, not only in hours, but also in the span of days and months. There are days when I wonder why I don't do something where I can actually SEE a result right away!

CNN, Hank? OMG. The minute you gave the date and said LA, I wondered. I'd say things worked out rather well for you anyway, right?

Hi Susan and Hallie! And thanks for the tip, Hallie. I'll have to take a peek.

And, of course, a big thank you to Debs for hosting me today as well as for reading an advance copy of Con Game and giving me a great blurb!

kmt1976 said...

enibus 456Enjoyed your comments. Thanks for taking the time from your busy life to share with us!!
I enjoyed License to Lie and look forward to the Con Game. However... When you mentioned Oceanside I might not want to go back to Tip TOp Meats

Terry Ambrose said...

Hey kmt1976, that's funny! The good news is I don't mention ANY meat stores at all in Con Game. So, your butcher shop is a safe place to visit...for now. I'm always looking for ideas for another novel.

Kim said...

Hi Terry, What an interesting piece on your road to publication. Thanks for sharing. I LOVE the cover of Con Game - hi to Kathy :)

Reading through the comments, I agree with Hank. Many opportunities I passed up - and they could be cause for regret, but then I wouldn't be where I am now, and I'm quite happy in that place. Who knows, I might be happy if I'd taken the other paths too. But I'd rather not look back like that. I'm having too much fun now looking forward!

Julia said...

Terry, thanks for sharing your experience (and CON GAME SOUNDS LIKE A MUST-READ!) There are so many options out there for authors today it becomes hugely important to tell our different publishing stories.

Self-published e-book, Print on demand, Micro press, Small press, traditional publishing or, as Hallie describes, one of the new hybrids springing up - the only way writers can decide what's best for them is through the information shared by the ones who have already walked on the paths.

Kathy Reel said...

Terry, thanks for sharing your interesting road to publication with us. Thinking outside the box is a great way to determine your own destiny. Looks like you've made some wise choices and are beginning to reap rewards. Con Game sounds like a thrilling read, and the cover is quite catching. Adding it to my pile of new discoveries.

Hank, why am I not surprised that you were offered a cutting edge job like CNN. I agree with you that your life turned out fine. The thought of your Boston based novels that I loved maybe not having been written due to you being in LA, just too horrible to imagine.

Mary Sutton said...

Terry, thanks for sharing your story. I'm still revising the current novel (like yours my first is in a drawer and deserves to be there - written before I knew anything), but I'm at the point where I'm starting to think, "And what do I do next?" My middle-grade series is through a micro-press. Don't want to do that again. I am also not sure about the emotional cost of querying, but then again, I wonder if I have the chops for self-pub. Oh, the decisions.

Hallie, saw the news about HarperCollins and WITNESS on Guppies. Very intriguing.

And yes, Hank, I think your career turned out okay despite passing on CNN (although you would have been fabulous).

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Everyone, if you're not following Terry on Twitter and Facebook, you really should. His Twitter is @suspense_writer (appropriate!) and Facebook is

Web site is

Terry Ambrose said...

I've been out for a few hours and am just catching up. Please excuse the long comment! Hi to you, too, Kim, from Kathy! I'm glad you like the cover. I love it!
And Julia, so true, there are a ton of options.

Unfortunately, I see many authors making choices before they're ready, especially that choice to publish before a book is ready. One of the great things about the traditional model is that it forced writers through a process that (usually) turned out better books. There are, of course (IMO) still exceptions!

Kathy, I'm glad to join your list of discoveries! How much fun it is! And julia, so right about so many decisions.

And thanks for the plug, Susan! I always try to think of what value can I provide. I do get it right at times—in between all the other drivel. :-)

Deb Romano said...

Well, I've made a few friends that I never would have met if one particular unpleasant event had never happened. I can't imagine not knowing them!

I enjoyed Photo Finish,and I need to put License to Lie and Con Game on my TBR list. (I've lost track of the number of times I've read Photo Finish; I really, really like that book!)

Terry Ambrose said...

Thanks Deb! And thanks for stopping by. Since you plugged Photo Finish, I'll mention the sequel is Kauai Temptations. More fun with my favorite snark amateur sleuth McKenna!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Kathy Reel. Aww. Thank you so much!

Reine said...

Terry, terrific post! There is so much to think about when you write a book—as in what to do with it!!!

Hank, all my sensible friends turned them down. Boston is so lucky. xo

Terry Ambrose said...

Thanks Reine. Actually, it was an easy decision for the first book! Hide it and never let it see the light of day! :-)