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Author Bio

Marc Rainer is my pen name; my real name is Charles ("Chuck") Ambrose, Jr. My pen name is a tribute to my little brother Marc, and my mother, Betty Rainer Ambrose. We lost them both to cancer far too soon. I am a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, and am a former Air Force JAG Circuit Prosecutor and former federal prosecutor (Assistant United States Attorney) in Washington, D.C., and in Kansas City, MO. In more than thirty years of experience, I have tried hundreds of both military and federal (civilian) major cases, including prosecutions of homicide cases, federal conspiracy trials, and mafia and other organized crime prosecutions. That experience allows me to weave scenes from my investigative and trial experiences into the plot lines of my novels, which have been hailed by those in the criminal justice fields for their realism. I have also co-authored a manual on how to try murder cases, which was published by the American Bar Association's Criminal Law Section. I live in a suburb of a major northwestern city with my wife, a retired Special Agent of the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations (OSI), and our rescue mutts. My web page may be found at www.marcrainer.com.

 

Accomplishments

As a self-published author, I’m very proud to be able to say that the first book in my crime drama series, “Capital Kill,” reached #1 in sales in Amazon’s kindle store in the crime drama category. I’ve sold about 60,000 books to date, if you convert Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited pages read numbers into sales and add that total to the ebook sales. That’s not too bad on a retiree’s advertising budget. I’ve also had an additional 200,000 copies downloaded in various promotional giveaways.

 

How would you describe the current state of the tradional bricks-and-mortar bookseller market?


It’s still alive, but not kicking as hard as it used to be. Amazon has revolutionized the entire industry, first by its print-on-demand technology, then by its ebook programs. A reader can scan chapters online before buying an ebook or even a hard copy from the comfort of their living room. They don’t have to get dressed or drive anywhere. If they don’t want another volume in their physical library, they can read the book and store it digitally. I think there will always be a segment of the reading population that enjoys holding and reading a physical book, but the brick and mortar stores are certainly being pushed to the edges. It’s not just the future that’s digital; the present is already digital in the publishing world.

Would you say that the bulk of your book sales come from traditional print editions or ebooks?

I probably sell 250 ebooks for every print edition that I sell. It’s not even close. That’s more the norm for a self-published author than for a traditionally-published writer, but it’s also becoming the norm for more of the traditionally-published authors as well.


Please explain to aspiring authors and booksellers just how much work is required to maintain your level of success.

Writing is work, and for a self-published author, it’s even more work than it is for the “A-listers.” We don’t have publishers or big publicity firms carrying the ball for us in the marketing game, so we have to shoulder that load as well. When I’m in the process of writing another book, it takes about two hours a day to produce a quality chapter. I usually spend at least an hour a day on some form of marketing as well, and that includes the days between writing books. I’ve published six crime dramas so far, and I’m not nearly as retired as I thought I’d be. I do like my boss better than I used to when I had a day job.

Is there any one marketing idea that you've seen bookstores do that stands out as particularly successful?

I’m not in bookstores (that I know of), so I can’t answer that. I find that there is a terrible prejudice among the brick and mortar crowd toward self-published writers. There is a myth that nothing self-published can be quality work, and most won’t touch it. Some of that is a business consideration, of course, because we don’t have the publicists pushing readers into stores to find our work, so a store owner takes a risk by stocking our books.

What's the biggest mistake you've seen bookstores make? And how would you suggest fixing it?

The biggest mistake in my view is the same one that traditional agents and publishers are currently making. I worked for 25 years in Kansas City, and watched their small-market baseball franchise suffer and scrap until they hired some smart managers and scouts. Those guys pulled back the bushes in places like rural Venezuela until they found gold talent and signed those players to long-term deals. Then they went to back-to-back World Series and won one of them. The traditional crowd now has available to them what is—in essence—a free minor league that they could tap. Just like a reader, an agent or editor could scan Amazon for self-published talent, read their finished products, check their reviews, check their sales, and sign up some proven talent. Instead, they’re stuck in a 19th Century game of pitches and query letters, all in the name of protectionism. I had this conversation with an agent at a writer’s conference a couple of years ago and got the usual response: “There’s just too much crap out there.” There is, of course, but a lot of it is traditionally published,
too.

Do you believe there is still a bright future for independent bookstores?

I think there is always going to be a niche for independent bookstores. The second-hand market seems to still be going strong, and the independent stores may actually outlast their “big-box” competitors. They usually don’t have the overhead, and if they’re intelligently managed, they have additional revenue streams. If all the physical stores disappear, I think they’ll be the last to go.

For the aspiring authors reading this who have dreams of making writing their career, how long did it take you before you started earning enough money from writing to pay your bills?

As an indie author, I never got an advance check. I took the plunge into self-publishing after being signed by an agent, who did nothing during her contract except keep me out of print for a year through her inactivity. After plunking down some real money to get my first novel off the ground, the first few weeks after publication were anything but encouraging. The first month, I sold about twenty-five books. Friends and family. The second month, about fifty; the third, about a hundred. Then, word of mouth started kicking in (the best advertising you can have), and by month number six my book was selling 1,000 copies per month. It kept that average going until Amazon decided to open their other revenue stream with the Kindle Unlimited program. That hurt sales, but opened some other, slightly-less-profitable, doors for me. It’s still a revenue stream for writers that a self-published author can’t ignore. The books have never paid all my bills, but they’ve provided enough extra money after that promising start to help, and I’ve been encouraged enough to keep writing.

Do you write an outline before you start a novel? If yes, how detailed is your outline?

I never actually took a creative writing course, although I think I took every literature class available in college. I learned from a speaker at a writer’s conference that I am an “organic” writer. I’d never heard the term before that. I think that means that I write with the barest (almost none) of outlines, and even those bare bones are never written. I have a very general subject matter in my head, then I start pounding keys. I climb into the head of my characters (prosecutors, cops, witnesses and villains) and put myself back into the job that I performed for thirty years. What would he or she think, say, do next? It gives me the flexibility to follow the story where it would normally go without having to force something
in the plot back into an outline. I often surprise myself in the process with a twist or turn that just naturally appears.

What are your feelings on authors giving away thousands of copies of their eBooks, hoping it will raise their rank on Amazon? Is this a viable strategy? Or are these authos making a terrible mistake? And why?

Giveaways have worked for me, to a point. I’m sure that there’s some magic formula somewhere that could pinpoint a level of diminishing returns and loss profits, but giveaways are essential to building an audience if you’re not an “A-List” writer. I’ve given away three times as many books as I’ve sold, but I know that I wouldn’t have sold as many without some of the free book promotions. Some of those “free” books also actually turn into some money, since Kindle Unlimited subscribers end up with the freebies, and we get paid a pittance for the pages they read.

Is it true that the only way for an author to truly make a living writing is to license movie or television rights?

I’m trying to sell some scripts now. If I do, I’m sure it won’t hurt.

What is the most difficult part by far about your craft? What's the one thing about being an author you wish you did not have to do?

Marketing. The writing is still enjoyable, but I’m too much my father’s son. My dad was a World War II mud marine turned painter. He’s famous throughout the south for his watercolors and oil portraits--even had some sculpture exhibited at World’s Fair—but self-promotion was hard for him and he was never at home with the tea and crumpets gallery crowds. I used to see some absolutely terrible art being mass-marketed successfully through mall stores. I’d shake my head, wondering what Dad could have had if he’d had any knack at all for publicity. I have to force myself to do the dance. It’s a necessary evil.

On the flip side, what is the best part of what you do? That one thing that makes the answer to the last question worth every minute of it?

The feedback that I get from law enforcement professionals keeps me going. One thing that drove me to writing in the first place was the tired old formulas you still see in every crime drama TV show or movie. A lone-wolf, alcoholic, tortured soul detective solves the world’s biggest case against the world’s most powerful criminal organization while outrunning machinegun fire and snap-shooting bad guys a mile away with a handgun. Nope. Never happens. Big cases are solved through teamwork and by great men and women working together. Most cops and agents are normal, well-adjusted, and wonderful folks. They’re also hilarious. They have to be to keep doing what they do under all the stress thrown at them. When a pro in the field takes the time to say, “Finally, someone got it right,” it makes me want to write another book.

How do you feel about self-publishing in today's market? Is it a good idea? Or should authors still be trying to find an agent and get tradionally published?

Having tried the traditional route once, I think it would be hard for me to go back. If my research is correct, the average (non “A-List) author with a $12.99 book in an airport bookstore might take home seventeen cents per sale after all the other costs (publication, agents fees, advertising, distribution, inventory, etc.) get taken out. I make about $3.50 for an ebook sale of a $4.99 kindle version. Everybody dreams of being the next Grisham (one of my law school classmates) or Connelly, but the Amazon royalty scale has been much better for me than the nothing I saw from the traditional game. I’m about six years into writing and have grossed over $100,000 to date. Not too bad for a hobby. I just wish that the money was a net figure. Still, if the right agent or publisher knocked on the door, I might chase the big boys again

In a bookstore or library what do you think makes a patron pick up a book and want to take a closer look? Is it the cover, the display, the lighting?

The cover quality and the synopsis text have to be the hooks. An amateurish cover can burn a book faster than a torch. Even a great cover won’t convince a reader to buy a book if the story “trailer” isn’t also pulling the reader inside.

 

How do you work with an editior without pride making a guest appearence like Jack Nicholson in The Shining?

I have two professional editors in the family. We love and hate each other very much.

What are some warnings for authors who might be about to sign with a traditional publisher?

Know your partners. Do your research. Try to find a good fit.

How should an author divide their time between writing and marketing?

The writing has to come first. Marketing can sell some bad merchandise, but the word will eventually get out, and a lemon won’t survive. On the other hand, even the best product will remain a secret unless you get it “out there.” When I’m actually writing a book, it’s 75% author, 25% ad-man.

What steps should an author take to build their platform?

Whatever works for you. Some have done very well with email lists. I don’t have one. Some like to blog. I don’t have one (unless you count my political rants from time to time on social media). I prefer to write, and to try and put out the most productive ads that I can on Bookbub, Facebook, Amazon, and Goodreads. Those sites have millions more potential readers than any email list or blog subscription list that I could ever put together.

Why do you think your books are so successful?

The success I have had comes from realism. I use real case events and scenarios, and I try to write real characters into my books. Real can be painful and depressing, but when real good wins out over real bad, it’s really satisfying, too.

Do you edit and proofread your own work at all or do you just write it and hand it off to an editor?

Both

Have you ever been to a book signing event and have no one show up?

No. Not that the crowds were huge, but there’s always been someone there.

Did you ever feel like giving up as an author? How did you fight through it?

I’ve never thought about quitting. Still having fun in the ride. I think it might be getting even better.