What drew you to writing psychological thrillers?
Who are your favorite authors in this genre?
I was (and am) a big fan of Thomas Harris and Stephen King, both of whom kind of blur the lines between horror and thrillers. And of course I like a lot of our great contemporary thriller writers like Michael Connelly and Jo Nesbo. So I took my dad's advice and tried writing a thriller, and I realized quickly that I was enjoying myself a lot more and the whole undertaking felt more manageable (though still really daunting).
How long did it take to write your first draft?
Founders' Keeper was always about a father-son team chasing a Constitution-obsessed killer, but nearly every detail has been reworked over and over again. My second book, Son of a Gun, was a much smoother effort. By then I (kind of) knew what I was doing, and was able to avoid a lot of the pitfalls I'd fallen into while writing my first book.
I spend a fair amount of time reading through old transcripts from law enforcement and FBI conferences. Google Maps is a great way to revisit a place and get the feel of it again, or to explore a town or city I haven't visited in person. Wikipedia. Google Scholar.
Like all authors, I'm lucky to have the internet at my disposal. But sometimes I don't know what I don't know, and I make mistakes. I had a reader point out to me that the thing that spins on top of a helicopter is called a "rotor," not a "propeller," which was embarrassing
(but I appreciated hearing about).
Did you go through the normal process of pitching your book to agents and traditional publishers? What feedback did you get?
I did try the traditional route. It was really a tough experience. Not altogether horrible, but just difficult. After about six months of querying agents and having no luck, I attended Thrillerfest in New York and pitched my book to about 15 agents. The one I was most interested in connecting with accepted the first few chapters, and then requested the whole book. She read it in two days. We spent an hour on the phone, and she told me she loved it and had publishers in mind for it. But she had a couple minor issues with the ending and wanted me to fix those. I agreed, spent three weeks tuning it up based on her feedback, and sent it back to her. She said she was caught up with some existing client projects, but would read the rewrite as soon as she could.
Months and months passed, and eventually I had to give up on her because I'd found another agent who wanted to sign me. The new agent was with a great agency, but was very junior and had never represented a thriller author. He was great, and pitched Founders' to all the big publishers. We received a lot of encouraging feedback. But ultimately everyone passed. My agent wanted to pitch some smaller publishers, but I'd heard some horror stories about authors selling the rights to their books for peanuts, and seeing it fail because there wasn't much marketing or resources to support it.
At that point, publishing on my own seemed like the better choice. All in all, I think I spent about three years querying agents and trying to secure a traditional publishing deal. It was a learning experience, and I don't completely regret it. But it's hard now that I have two young kids to look back at those prime, productive, childless years and wonder how much I could have accomplished focusing on writing new books and publishing them myself.
How do you write? Did you do an outline first? Did you do individual character development before doing the full plot?
What type of publicity do you do to promote your book? What has worked best for you in generating sales?
Like most independent authors, I use sites like BookBub and Robin Reads and many others to get my books out there. Honestly, that's about it. I'm grateful you came to me with this opportunity, because I really haven't been great about marketing my books. I work full-time during the day. And with two kids, I only have a small window of time each day to work on anything relating to my books. I choose to spend that time writing, not marketing.
What do you know now about writing/publishing now that you wished you had known sooner?
A great deal of success in self publishing is about volume and marketing. That's not inherently a good or bad thing. But when I decided to self publish, I had this image of myself writing a book a year, formatting the thing for Kindle, clicking "publish," and waiting for readers to (hopefully) like what they read and spread the word. In reality, I've learned very few authors have much success that way. Some do. But many more find success by churning out a new book every few months and promoting the crap out of it. One way isn't better than the other. But you learn very quickly that the number of books you produce and how much you market them are huge factors when it comes to making money at this.
What is the best advice you've been given about writing or that you've learned that you would like to pass along?
What other works do you have in the process?
Thank you, Ed for all your insights about your writing and publishing experiences. If you'd like to get a start on reading his series, here's a link to his website... EdMarkham.com.