Tuesday, August 17, 2010




To some extent, this blog is one of those, but there are many more. Yes, the social networks that many of us, both published and to-be published, frequent are still there, but now you can go ahead and add all forms of self-promotion. There are appearances to be planned, blogs to visit, and many more emails to answer than ever before. And then there are your Amazon numbers, which can be irresistible, and yes, most authors I know can’t resist checking them at least once a day.
If this sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not. Far from it. If, however, a writer has not already established a routine, they had better do so in a hurry once their first book gets published. For me, the one thing that offset all these new and fun opportunities to not write was the knowledge that my next book would be published. Knowing that it’s not a hope or a dream but a reality is a terrific motivator.


For me this began even before Killing Red appeared on store shelves, and I was caught a little off guard. After all, I was only one or two steps beyond where I’d been a little more than year earlier.
During the years I’d spent around mystery authors I had seen how generous they were to new and unpublished writers. So that’s the message here, be generous. The questions and concerns of new writers will be familiar to you. They will be many of the same ones you were asking just a few months ago.


It seemed to take forever for Killing Red to finally come out. When the pub date (June 2, 2009) was announced several months in advance, it seemed a lifetime away. And that’s how it felt…at first. Weeks and months dragged by, but as April turned to May I suddenly realized that I still had a lot of things to do to prepare for the pub date. Then the time began to zip by and weeks felt like days, days like hours. I was trying to schedule signings and interviews, and all forms of promotion, and all of a sudden the pub date began to feel like a deadline.
That’s when I pushed the STOP button. I began making plans for how I would spend my pub date and the rest of the week celebrating with family and friends. It was the smartest thing I did during those hectic weeks.
Every book that a writer finishes and each one that gets published merits a celebration. Savor the moment, you’ve earned that. Your first book contract, and well as each one thereafter, may be your last. I’m not trying to be pessimistic here, pessimism is not in my nature, but that’s just the reality of the deeply troubled publishing industry. Enjoy what you have accomplished.
I assumed back then that the rush I felt when copies of Killing Red arrived at my house, and when I saw it on store shelves was due to it being my first book. Now that Mourn the Living is in bookstores, I realize I was wrong. And I don’t believe that feeling will fade from book to book.

Thursday, August 12, 2010



Before I began working on my first novel, I dedicated several years to learning all that I could about the publishing industry. By the time that Killing Red sold, I felt I knew what to expect going forward. As it turned out, I was both right and wrong, and I’ve learned that getting your first book published is like a lot of other important events in life—there are things you simply cannot fully understand until you experience them.
I learned, in fact, many more than six things during my rookie year as a published author. But the ones I will discuss over my next two blog entries cover the most basic and, I believe, the most universal aspects of my experience.


Before my first novel was published, I spent a great deal of time at writer’s conferences and book festivals, and was even involved in the running of one. I saw how some authors were prepared to meet and greet readers while others seemed surprised that someone wanted to talk to them. I also noticed which group of writers usually sold the most books.
Part of this is just basic human nature. Some of us are more outgoing than others. But when an author is at a conference or a signing, they’re on the job. And in this case the job involves introducing yourself to potential readers.
Be prepared in advance. Have a brief but compelling description of your book, your “elevator pitch,” ready for when someone asks you what your book is about. If you are fortunate, that’s a question you will answer many times. It’s important to project a genuine enthusiasm about your book and yourself. This may sound pretty basic, but I’ve been amazed by how many authors show up to signings and events and don’t seem to know why they are there.
When you’re a published author, readers will be happy to meet you, even if they don’t buy your book. Don’t disappoint them.


You may no longer feel like that person who attended countless festivals, conventions, and signings. The one who sat through panel discussions, seminars, and college courses, combed through writer’s guides and trade magazine looking for a way inside. But you’re not who you hope to be someday, either.
I have a long background in sports, where there is always a pecking order—established veterans over rookies, stars over role players, etc.—so I understood exactly where I fit in the world of published authors. I think this helped me keep my expectations grounded in reality.
Enjoy your first success, you’ve certainly earned it, but you still have a long way to go to be more than a new author. Getting that first book deal will open some doors—run, don’t walk, through them. And always keep looking ahead and moving forward. There will be setbacks, but they’ll be easier to overcome if your focus is on the goals that you still have not achieved.


An author’s first book is something of an indulgence. You have no guarantee that it will ever get published, still you sacrifice time away from family and friends, perhaps even work, to fulfill the desire or need to tell a story. Sure, most of us are fueled to some extent by the hope of a book deal and the dream of seeing our work on a store shelf. But that is such a long shot for anyone starting out, that it has to be considered an indulgence. And that’s okay. It’s a good indulgence.
Most authors write their first book for themselves. Many write all of their books for themselves. But if you’re fortunate enough as I was to land a multi-book deal, the outlook will be quite different when you sit down to write your second book.
No one had to sign off on your first book before you began writing it. You simply sat down with an outline next to you or an idea in your head, and got to work. That’s how it was for me with Killing Red. But before I began writing Mourn the Living I was told that it needed to be at least as good if not better than Killing Red. That makes all the sense in the world, but those thoughts did not enter the picture when I was working on my first book. And though you should always begin a new book with a belief that it will be the best one you’re capable of writing, knowing that expectation was out there was a new experience for me.
Most authors working on a multi-book deal are required to turn in an outline for their editor’s approval before they get the green light to go forward. This too makes sense. Your publisher has made an investment in you, and they want to feel confident that you will deliver a book they can sell.
When I was writing Killing Red I was not planning on it becoming the first book in a series. I approached it as a stand-alone (Which, incidentally, I think was a good thing). After Killing Red sold and I began thinking about my second book, I realized I had to take into account what would make my publisher happy, and balance that with my long term goals. I had a number of ideas that I was excited about, so the choice was not an easy one. One of those ideas eventually became Mourn the Living, and I decided to write a follow-up to Killing Red. I’m thrilled with that decision.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009


When I was a teenager I discovered a book store in my hometown called EAT-A-BOOK.
It was located in a wonderful old house. New books and various gift items filled the lower level, but I always headed upstairs, to where each room was dedicated to a different genre of used books.

I still remember where the mystery novels were located—in a cramped, shelf-lined room in the northwest corner. While I’d love to boast that I learned to love fiction from the great American literary masters, that phase would actually come later.

Instead, I cut my literary teeth reading works by the fathers of the American crime novel—Hammett, Chandler, and Cain—as well as some of their successors—John D. MacDonald, Cornell Woolrich, Dorothy B. Hughes, Ross MacDonald, and many others.

I became a huge fan of the lesser known pulp novelists of the 50s and 60s, especially the thoroughly enjoyable Shell Scott novels by Richard Prather (for those of you who have read Killing Red—yes, the nightclub is named after him).

I read Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels over a summer vacation, stayed up way too late reading the old Alfred Hitchcock short story collections. All this for just 10 to 25 cents per book.

And I started thinking that maybe, someday, I might see my name on the spine of a book. Though, of course, I had no clue what it took to write a novel, let alone get one published.

By the time I became a student at the University of Iowa, my interest and focus had shifted to film—but not entirely. I wrote several days each week, though I did so without any thoughts of publication. Then I took a class that was taught by the great thriller author David Morrell, and once again I started thinking—maybe, someday.

I wrote short stories, got a few of them published, started writing for a newspaper. And a few years ago decided that if I was ever going to see my name on the spine of a book, the time was now. By then I understood that I had to learn more about the business of publishing, that it wasn’t enough to know the craft of writing.

I immersed myself in that world, met as many crime writers as I could, picked their brains whenever possible, found them to be an extraordinarily generous group. After a while, maybe, dropped out of the equation—leaving someday as the only option. But the more I learned about the business, the more I realized how difficult it was to break into, and how long the odds were. I wonder whether I would have permanently tabled my hopes of becoming a published author way back when, if as a teenager, I had known what I know now.

Today is June 2, 2009, and Killing Red, my first novel, is officially out and available at bookstores everywhere. As I write this, I’m looking at my name on the book’s spine. And while much of my thoughts are about moving forward, about my next book, and the promotion of this first one, I also find myself looking back, and thinking about all those times when I stood in a bookstore or squatted down to see what was hiding on the bottom shelf and I imagined someday finding my own book there (and moving it to eye level and turning it face out, of course).

And I realize now, there’s no one way to get here. The things I did, decisions I made, worked for me. This was my journey to becoming a published author. The more writers I’ve met, the more evident it has become that each of us has their own story. But if there’s one thing we all have in common, it’s that no matter how long it took, how distracted we became with the rest of our lives, or how difficult the path, we never gave up.

Anyone who seriously sets a goal of someday having strangers pay money to read their stories, buy their music, see their films, or hang their art on a wall faces a ridiculously difficult task. The first thing you must do is believe in yourself, sometimes irrationally so. There will be obstacles and naysayers, and if you don’t believe you can get there, no one else will, either. If you refuse to give up, continue working at your craft, and learn as much as you can about the business side of what you love to do, then maybe can become someday, and someday might become…Today.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Whenever authors are portrayed in films or on TV it seems like they’re always up against an impossible deadline. Well, in real life, there is some of that. Dates have to be met and material must be delivered to your publisher so that the people in various departments working on your book will be able to do what they do best.

Publishers have their time frames, set by the Editorial, Production, Sales, and Marketing departments, all geared to produce the best book they can and provide it with the greatest opportunity to succeed. Those deadlines are measured in months, weeks, and sometimes days.

But that’s the exciting part.

Mostly, an author with a book deal spends a lot of time waiting. But actually, this process begins much earlier, well before the galleys for your book arrive with a ten day deadline for corrections.

If you're a writer who has queried agents, you already know about the downtime. You send out
query letters, a week passes, then two, then a month. If an agent asks for a partial or the entire manuscript the process begins anew and weeks can turn into months.

But don’t assume the waiting will end when you get an agent, or even a book deal. Your agent will take your book out on submission. That could take two weeks, two months, or longer. If an editor buys your book it will take a month, or two, or more, to get the legal paperwork together.

After the ink on your contract dries, your editor will send you notes for manuscript revision. A few weeks or sometimes more will pass before these editorial notes arrive. Editors are among the busiest people in the publishing business. They work long hours, they work on weekends, as they juggle a number of books at the same time.

Once you’ve made your changes and the revised manuscript has been accepted, it goes to a line editor, who will carefully read it for typos, inconsistencies, etc. A couple of months will go by before the line edited manuscript arrives at your door.

If you add it all up, that’s a lot of downtime for the author. The process takes as long as it takes, and there is really nothing much that you can do to speed it up. But what you shouldn’t do is kick back and wait. Or, even worse, worry about it…and wait.

So what should you do? The simple answer—write. Don’t wait to hear back from agents before starting your next novel. Sure, you’ve finished a book, and there’s a sense accomplishment. That’s understandable, you should celebrate and reward yourself…then get your butt back in the chair and start the next one.

If you can’t jump into another book-length project right away, then start writing short stories. No, they don’t pay much, sometimes short stories don’t pay at all, but they provide other benefits. Short stories are a great way to get your name out there, while building a writing resume. Besides, when you do get that book deal, you’ll find it’s much easier to sell your short fiction, so it won’t hurt to have a stockpile of stories.

Start a blog, or catch up with one that you’ve ignored for weeks…or maybe months, heaven forbid. Contact a magazine, online site, or newspaper about doing some freelance work.

Just keep writing. Let the publishing world do its thing, and you do yours. That goes for querying agents, working with a publisher, or submitting short stories.

Don’t lose time waiting for the next thing to happen.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Little Victories

The cover art for Killing Red has arrived, and it’s outstanding! If you got here by way of my homepage then you’ve already seen it. If not, please take a moment to check it out, I’ll wait…

I do believe that cover art sells books. At the very least, a compelling cover can separate a book from the pack, and coax potential buyers into picking it up.

This one does everything it’s supposed to. It rocks!

I had imagined what the cover of my book might look like, as any author would. This cover looks nothing like what I had imagined—it’s much, much better.

You may already know that most authors have very little if any say over what their covers will look like. I’ve watched readers walk up to an author and tell them, “I love the covers of your books.” To which the author replies, “Thank you, so do I.” This is not any sort of arrogance on the part of the writer, but rather a bit of gratitude for the gifted artist whose vision is now forever linked to theirs.

I was in the middle of a productive day of writing when the cover arrived. Well, so much for that. It’s okay, though. An wise author friend of mine once told me that the moments of success for a writer can sometimes feel like they’re few and far between. So it’s important to celebrate them, no matter how small. A buddy of mine who is working on his first book recently emailed to tell me that he capped a particularly good day of writing with a nice glass of wine. Well done.

Whether it’s starting a new novel or completing a short story, finishing an outline or reaching a word count target. However you choose to mark these achievements, make sure to take a moment to enjoy what you’ve accomplished. If you string enough of them together, they could add up to something much bigger.

Now, please excuse me as I try to stop looking at the cover of Killing Red so I can get some work done.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Yeah, I know, this was supposed to be "Getting Started." But I want to discuss my recent experiences at last weekend's Bouchercon and writer's conferences in general.

Bouchercon, for anyone who has never been, is the biggest annual gathering of crime fiction authors, readers, and industry professionals. This year's, held in Baltimore, was the best I have attended. The author lineup was outstanding, the panel discussions covered a wide set of topics, the host hotel was great, and everything ran smoothly.

So what can you get out a huge event like Bouchercon? Well, let's start by getting the key negative out of the way. A national conference like this can be pricey. While the admission price was quite reasonable compared to other cons, by the time you add in transportation costs, hotel for several nights, and all of other usual travel expenses, the total price tag exceeds $1000. And, if you know why you're going and have a clear and reasonable set of goals and expectations, it's well worth it.

This was my fourth Bouchercon, and I've had different reasons for being at each one that I've attended. I began primarily as a reader with hopes of someday writing a crime novel. Back then my writing could be found in newspaper stories and short fiction, but I left my first Bouchercon with a greater sense of what I needed to do to knock out a first novel that might have a chance to get sold.

If you're a reader heading to your first conference, hoping to meet all those great writers whose work you've enjoyed, my best advice is pace yourself. Most of the authors will be around for the entire conference. Usually it's the local authors who tend to show up for their events and signings then go home. The out of towners can often be found in the booksellers' room, in the lobby, or at the hotel bar after hours.

If you're a writer who is just starting out, then many of the panel discussions should prove valuable. You will, however, find that over time most of the panels become less useful. That is not a slam on panel discussions, it's just that the more you learn from writing, the less helpful they tend to be.

Some conferences offer pitch meetings in which the author has a predetermined amount of time to discuss their book with an agent or editor. These can be quite valuable, not because you'll make a sale (you probably won't) but because it will give you the opportunity to see your work through the eyes of a publishing professional. Be prepared to accept criticism, again, and again, and again.

Unless you've registered for a pitch meeting, don't show up with a manuscript, or sample chapters, or anything else like that, nobody is going to want to read it or cart it home with them. This is an opportunity to exchange information, trade business cards, and put faces to names. Be ready to talk about your work, but always be professional, never pushy.

Go where the day---and the night---takes you. In the case of Baltimore, the first night I wound up in a brewpub with Blake Crouch, Scott Phillips, and JA Konrath. The following afternoon I joined a group of fellow writers for lunch at the Inner Harbor. Later that same day I walked to Edgar Allan Poe's grave with a different group of authors. None of these things were on my to-do list, but you've got to be ready to just go with it. The best moments at these conferences are often found in the margins, not on the main agenda.

Be prepared to stay up late, too late, much too late. You'll sleep on the plane or when you get home. If you really need your eight hours you may have chosen the wrong profession.

There a number of outstanding writer's conferences worth checking out. The first weekend in November I'll be at Murder and Mayhem in Muskego, a great one day event in suburban Milwaukee. Then in February I'll be attending Love is Murder, which this year moves to Chicago's North Shore. Over the past several years Love is Murder has emerged as one the very best mystery conferences. And one of these years I'll get to Thrillerfest.

Next year's Bouchercon will be held in Indianapolis. I hope to see some of you there.

NEXT TIME: Getting Started...unless I write about something else.

Monday, October 6, 2008


About two years ago I started writing my first novel, Killing Red. It’s the story of newspaper reporter Alex Chapa’s struggle to find a woman who very well be the target of a copycat killer.

But long before I first typed the title of my debut thriller on a blank page, I spent several years trying to learn as much as I could about the publishing business. I was very fortunate to meet authors, agents, and editors who spoke openly and with candor about their successes and failures, what worked and what didn’t. Their advice proved to be extremely useful, and I don’t know whether I would have been able to launch my career as quickly as I did without it. In short, the advice I received helped me avoid some common pitfalls, and gave me a much better sense of the business I was determined to break into.

Once Killing Red was finished (after months of rewriting) I was fortunate to get an outstanding agent, who quickly landed a two book deal with Kensington. Killing Red will be published in June, 2009 as a lead title under my publisher’s Pinnacle imprint.

Over the coming months I will be using this space to discuss my experiences as an unpublished author trying to break in, as well what the process has been like since I landed my first book deal. I also want to encourage a cordial and positive exchange of ideas on my blog.

NEXT TIME: Getting Started