Thursday, February 24, 2011

ITW Roundtables: Get More Than You Give

by Dan Levy

Imagine you’re at ThrillerFest attending one of the many social events. You turn, and just out of earshot, Steve Berry, David Morell, Lisa Gardner, Tess Gerritsen, and Lee Child are talking. You can tell by their faces, the discussion isn’t current events or cocktail party chitchat. They’re discussing something deep…some element of writing thrillers, you’re sure.

More than knowing, you feel the burn that tells you just two minutes with this group would unearth some huge nugget. The kind of intel that would send your own protagonist charging into Act III, and put your novel in the homestretch. Mentally, you begin cataloging the body parts you would give just to be able to stand there, to hear what topic has the thriller elites so rapt.

Then one of them turns to you, “Do you have a minute to join us? We’d really value your opinion on…”

Out of nowhere, you hear a car horn. Reality grabs you. You’re behind the wheel. You look up; the light is green. The delivery driver behind you is creeping his truck to within inches of your bumper. You hit the gas; the kids can’t be late for school.

ITW created the weekly online Roundtable discussions so the scenario above doesn’t have to be fantasy.

Yeah, right.

Writing isn’t algebra. If it was, we’d all take a class, learn how to move X to the other side of an equation and get on with the business of entertaining readers. Writing is this quirky nebulous pursuit wherein writers need community to stoke the fires of creativity and craft, and isolation to breathe life into an otherwise blank computer screen. The Roundtables provide community, connection and collaboration in a way that keeps the energy and camaraderie of ITW and ThrillerFest alive all year long. What’s more, everyone is respected, appreciated, and valued.

At the Roundtables, we’re asking the kinds of questions you’re asking. We’re concerned with the same issues you are. We’re looking for the same kinds of answers and discussions you have when you meet in your writers groups. The best part is that thriller writers from different ages, experiences and countries help make the mix of each group engaging.

Still not sure if you’re right for a seat at the Roundtable? Let me offer two more reasons that you’re more than qualified.

The first reason, I invite you to see for yourself. Legendary New Yorker cartoonist and ITW member Peter Steiner created a cartoon in 1993 that still holds true today. The message: On the Internet, everyone is a dog, resonates because the Internet levels the playing field. The Roundtables are just a bunch of thriller writers meeting at an electronic coffeehouse to discuss the topic of the day.

I think you’ll like reason number two even better. On the publishing food chain, I’m lunch to you. That’s right, I’m an associate member still trying to break through. I’ve developed sixty questions for the Roundtables based on the topics that I find compelling, that I hear others talking about, that writers just like you send me, that I find as I do research to hone my craft, and that I just think will get people talking in a way that can help them.

Just as certainly, you have great discussion input from your own experiences, studies, and thoughtful approach to your work.

Will You Join Us?

There are three ways to join the Roundtables:

1. Dive in. There’s a conversation going on right now. Even better, there are thriller writers anxious to converse with you.

2. Help lead a discussion. Pick a topic that moves you and let me know via this link or the link in The Big Thrill newsletter. As a debut author, this is a great opportunity to post your bio, promote your book and interact with the most rabid thriller readers in the country! Many authors will post on their Facebook pages, websites and Tweet when they’re participating in the Roundtable. It’s a great way to connect with new and old fans alike.

3. Submit a question. Here’s your chance to help shape the discussion of the thriller writing community around the world. As your teachers always told you, ask. Odds are good, you’re not the only one with the same question.

In return, you’ll get connections with new authors and fans, see varying perspectives that will inform your own, and perhaps share a laugh or two.

I work with a number of charitable organizations in my community. I’m constantly reminded that the number one reason people don’t give is because no one ever took the time to ask them.

Would you please consider joining the Roundtables, and helping to shape the discussion on the topics (yes, more than one) that appeal to you? Since we started in October 2010, 86 different authors helped lead our discussions—I would guess as many of one-third of them on more than one occasion. We’ll cross the 100-author mark this spring. Will YOU be among the first 100 authors to take part?

I really hope so.

Thank you for the opportunity to post. I hope it provides a chance for us to learn from each other. If you have participated in the Roundtables, I’d love for you to share why, what was good, and what we could do better.

And, if you haven’t, I’d like to know why as well. What obstacles can I help remove? What questions or concerns do you have that I can address?

I’ll check back as often as I can. I’m looking forward to a great discussion…as I do every week at the Roundtables.

I’ll close by taking off my Roundtable hat. As a 20+-year marketer, I help entrepreneurs succeed. As debut authors, you fit the entrepreneur category. While you’re welcome to anything helpful on my website, two things might be of interest. The Better Writing Worksheet might help frame your thinking for any web posts or other writing you do to sell your books. Also, if you haven’t read Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Black Book of Connections, do. While it’s geared toward salespeople, I recommend it to anyone looking to reach out to others for the purposes of transacting business.

In addition to serving as ITW’s Thriller Roundtable coordinator, Dan Levy is also a freelance writer for the aviation and financial industries, who works from his Lincoln, Nebraska home. His first novel, THE BLOWDOWN LIMIT, is an aviation-thriller in search of representation and publication. Bestselling author Jon Land noted, “Dan Levy’s THE BLOWDOWN LIMIT reminded me of Michael Crichton’s AIRFRAME and Thomas Block’s MAYDAY in all the right ways. Levy pilots his tale in a smooth and seasoned fashion that will make this the next book to make people think twice before flying the friendly skies.”

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Learning to Swim & more from Sara J. Henry

When any novel hits the stands, the author often can be found doing a blog tour around cyberspace. Many of the tour stops will involve interviews. The questions can be pretty standard and are great ways for fans to learn about the debut novelist and their book. However, many authors don't enjoy answering the questions and worry that they are not making their book sound interesting enough. The trick to answering questions and getting the attention of a potential reader is not just to tell them about the book (although that is important), but to give them a piece of yourself. With that in mind, our own debut novelist Sara J Henry is answering questions here with the hope you'll learn something interesting about her and see that answering interview questions can be fun.

So – congratulations on your very soon-to-be-released debut novel, LEARNING TO SWIM (which will hit stores on Feb. 22, 2011). Do you want to tell us about it or would you like to talk about your passion for Home Depot instead?

Sara: No, it’s Canadian Tire I dearly love. I once won fifty Canadian Tire dollars at the gas station in a scratch-off game, which was so wildly exciting I nearly got the “math skill” question at the end wrong (added, I think, so it’s not considered a game of chance).

I found this lovely description of my book in Ottawa magazine, and adapted it a bit (there seems to be a Canadian theme here, but only part of the book is set in Canada):

While standing on the deck of the Lake Champlain ferry bound for Vermont, Troy Chance sees a small boy tossed over the side of a ferry going the opposite direction. Without thinking, she jumps to his rescue, setting off a chain of events that see her embroiled in a kidnapping plot with tendrils in the Adirondacks and Vermont as well as Ottawa and Montreal.

I should probably point out that Daniel Woodrell said, “From the grabber beginning to the heartfelt conclusion, LEARNING TO SWIM is an auspicious debut.” And that Michael Robotham called it a “moving and insightful psychological thriller.”

What’s the first thing you did after getting ‘the call’ that your book sold to Crown?

Sara: Here’s the thing: we had several offers, which sounds exciting, but it meant some agonizing decision-making, which I didn’t actually complete until the wee hours of the morning. So pretty much the next thing I did was go to brunch with Quinn Cummings, which sounds so LA-ish and unlike me (Quinn, I should point out for readers younger than 40, was nominated for an Academy Award when she was 9), but I happened to be in LA at the time, and Quinn is a wonderful writer and one very cool lady.

Which character in your book would you like to invite to Thanksgiving dinner to torment your family?

My family would torment the guest, if we did Thanksgiving dinners. Who would be the most amenable and entertaining dinner guest? Possibly Simon.

What’s your favorite and least favorite foods to eat at a family dinner? (Now is the time to specify so that your family has no excuse not to feed you well next time!)

Sara: I will not eat hominy, which I was forced to eat as a child. No, hominy is not grits – although a type of grits is made from ground hominy. Hominy is corn that has been soaked in lye (to preserve it – hello! we have freezers now) and it’s just about the nastiest form of human food in existence. I also do not eat cooked beets, which I find disgustingly flabby. Or sauerkraut. Or olives or anchovies. Or buttermilk. Or liver, which besides being unpleasantly smushy, concentrates the toxins in whatever animal the liver resided in. Ah, I’m shivering in disgust as I write this.

Do you like to have music or some kind of background noise when you write or do you require absolute silence?

Sara: I am abhorrently ignorant of music and that will be my project for the next year – to introduce music into my life. For the time being, my “music” is birds singing, crickets chirping, chipmunks chattering, and my dogs making all sorts of canine sounds.

If you had a time machine, where and when would you go?

Sara: I would go back and plead with my father to go to the doctor sooner, to pursue treatment more aggressively, to tell him how important he was in my life so that he would not die far too young, and he would be here to see my novel coming out.

Who is your favorite author to hang with at a conference bar? And speaking of bars, what is your favorite drink? (I know your fans want to know what to buy you when talking about your book!)

Sara: My favorite hanging-with author is hands-down Reed Farrel Coleman, whom I met at one of Lee Child’s parties at Bouchercon, and has become a wonderful friend and “mentor” (I put it in quotes because having a mentor makes me feel about sixteen). But gosh, I had a lot of fun at Bouchercon San Francisco hanging with Daniel Woodrell, too, and some others. But Reed is my #1 hang-out bud.

I am almost as appallingly ignorant of drinks as I am of music, but I like good red wine, and sometimes rum and diet Coke.

What are you most looking forward to about being a published author and what’s next for you?

Sara: I think the best part has already happened – that I think of myself as a writer and writing as my job now, and now squeeze other things around writing instead of vice versa. And of course all the absolutely wonderful people I have met and the writing family that has welcomed me.

I’m finishing up my second novel as we speak, the sequel to Learning to Swim. And have books 3 and 4 worked out in my head, and am eager to start on those.

And the most important question of all – is Elvis really dead?

Sara: In Tennessee, and in people’s hearts, he lives on forever.

Like her main character, Troy Chance, Sara lived in Lake Placid, New York, and worked as a sports editor at The Adirondack Daily Enterprise. Sara’s website is, and you can read her first chapter here.

Questions were posed by ITW Debut class of 2010 author Joelle Charbonneau (Skating Around The Law, Minotaur Books)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Write What You Know by Allan Leverone

It’s July, 2008, and I’m in a hotel conference room in Manhattan pitching a manuscript—a paranormal thriller—to a high-powered literary agent. Agentfest is in full swing, and if you’re unfamiliar with it, that is the annual three-hour pressure-cooker of an opportunity offered up by the International Thriller Writers in which unsigned authors can pitch their manuscripts in three-minute intervals to dozens of top-flight agents.

Tables are lined up around the outside of the big room as well as in clumps throughout the interior. Behind each one sits an agent and in front of each one sits a prospective author, each doing his or her best to convince the agent this book is worth representing. It’s hot in the room and getting hotter, and you can feel the nervousness and determination of the authors. It’s like a physical presence.

And I’m pitching an agent. And the agent isn’t the least bit interested in my manuscript.

I get maybe thirty to forty-five seconds into my brilliant dissertation and he shakes his head and smiles. “It’s not for me,” he says, and suddenly I’m thankful the pitches are limited to three minutes. To make conversation until the speed-dating bell rings, he asks me about myself. “So, what do you do for a living in the real world?”

I tell him I’m an air traffic controller, working traffic into and out of Boston’s Logan International Airport. He gives me a strange look. It reminds me of Tom Cruise looking at Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, you know, like awe and pity are fighting for control of his face and pity is winning. All I can think of is the old commercial with the guy smacking his head and saying, “I could have had a V-8!”

But he doesn’t smack his head. Instead, he looks like he wants to smack mine. He says, “Duh. Why don’t you write an air traffic control thriller?” like it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

Okay, that part’s a lie. He didn’t say, “Duh.” But I know he was thinking it.

He goes on to explain that publishers love “experts.” It’s one reason why you see spy thrillers authored by former CIA operatives, cop novels written by ex-and-sometimes-current cops, PI mysteries from writers with investigative experience. He explains it patiently, like maybe he’s not dealing with the brightest guy in the room. He’s right about that.

So I take his advice. I go home and write an air traffic control thriller. The thriller genre is not overly populated with aviation-related books and most of the ones out there are written from the pilot’s perspective, the most obvious example being the many outstanding books written by John Nance, commercial airline pilot and aviation expert. There aren’t that many thrillers written from an air traffic controller’s perspective.

And damned if the agent isn’t right! Fast-forward a little less than a year-and-a-half, and I’m signing the contract with Medallion Press for publication of my first novel, an aviation thriller written from an air traffic controller’s perspective titled FINAL VECTOR.

I’m forever indebted to that agent, who wasn’t interested in the book I was pitching but still took the time to chat with me and offer some valuable advice. Of course, he was sort of a captive audience, but still.

I’d love to thank him in person, but there’s one problem. I pitched my manuscript to eighteen agents that day, and for the life of me I can’t remember which one out of those eighteen gave me that sage (not to mention free) advice.

So if you’re a literary agent and you’re reading this right now and you remember talking to a really clueless guy about being an air traffic controller and telling him to get off his dumb ass and write an air traffic control thriller, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

By the way, I still don’t have an agent. Interested?

* * *

Allan Leverone is a twenty-nine year veteran of the aviation industry whose debut thriller features an air traffic controller much braver, younger and better-looking than he. FINAL VECTOR will be available tomorrow from Medallion Press. Allan lives in Londonderry, New Hampshire with his unbelievably supportive wife Sue, three children, one beautiful granddaughter and a cat who has used up eight lives. Learn more at

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Things I Learned as a Debut Author by Brad Parks

Carla Buckley asked me to write something for this blog, and if I learned nothing else from being a debut author, it’s this: Do whatever Carla tells you to do.

Yeah, I learned other stuff during my debut year, too. And since I’m technically only a debut author for one more day – I’m writing this on Jan. 31, and my second book, EYES OF THE INNOCENT, comes out Feb. 1 – I’d better get to it. So there’s no time for pretty, flowing prose. Instead, I’m going with a list…


1. When it comes to promotion, figure out what you enjoy, do it well, and forget everything else.

In my mind, this is the one

absolutely golden rule to debut author book promotion. And it’s not just my conclusion – even smart people like Hilary Davidson have discovered the same thing. Look, you can drive yourself

absolutely batty thinking you should be doing everything for your book. But you can’t. You only have so many resources, so much time, so much sanity. So you might as

well do what you like. If your idea of a hot day in hell is driving four hours, standing in front of ten strangers talking about yourself, reading out loud and answering their

random questions, then, for the love of God, do not do bookstore events. You’ll be miserable and, worse, the audience will know you hate it. It won’t be fun for anyone. If, on the other hand, you’re like

me – an extrovert and a certified attention whore who enjoys public speaking – then maybe bookstore events are more your speed.

The same goes for other aspects of promotion. Take SWAG (Stuff We All Get), also known as giveaways. I’m one of the rare human beings who can admit he doesn’t have very

good taste (it’s why my clothes are so boring). Trying to put together gift baggies or making lipsticks with my book cover on them would not only be painful for me, I’d be

bad at it. On the other hand, I sort of like designing postcards on my ancient Macintosh (still using PageMaker!), and because I do the design myself – and get

them printed at relatively low cost by – it’s a pretty cost-effective way (at 28 cents per stamp) to get the word out. I could go on, but you get the point: Do what you like and you’ll do it well, which is important, because well-done

promotion always works better than poorly done.

2. There’s no place for fear in the publishing world.

I sort of decided early on that when it came to this whole book thing, I was going to be unabashedly me, for good or for ill. Granted, there are drawbacks to that. I’m, uh, a little high-energy. My enthusiasm can be annoying. I’m full of myself. I offend people without meaning to. I don’t dance very well. But here’s the thing about this whole game: You don’t need everyone to like you, you just need a few people to like you a lot. Even if 90 percent of the book-buying public comes to think you’re a moron, it only takes 10 percent of them (or less) really digging your act to put you on the bestseller list between now and the end of time. So you might as well be fearless in being you. What are the practical applications of this philosophy? For me, it was something like serenading Brad Meltzer at the ITW Debut Breakfast last year (for a video reenactment, go here: Now, was that a risky move? Absolutely. It could have backfired horrifically. I’m sure I could have easily talked myself out of it for at least half a dozen very good reason. But, going with my plan to just be me, I just sort of went with it. And I think most folks got a kick out of it. (If nothing else, they remember it – I’m still asked about it constantly, as recently as this interview last week Now, am I saying go out and serenade Brad Meltzer? Of course not. But next time you find your own version of the Brad Meltzer serenade, don’t talk yourself out of it. Believe in yourself and take a risk.

3. Local sells.

It sells with the media. It sells with bookstores. It sells with strangers. Everyone likes a local author. And in a ridiculously crowded literary marketplace, being local makes you stand out. So find a place to be a local. Maybe it’s where you live. Maybe it’s where your book is set. Maybe it’s where you grew up. (Hell, I try to claim “local” status in all three places). Then, once you’ve found your local, hammer it. Flood the media – from the newspapers to the hyperlocal blogs to the supermarket giveaways. Flood the bookstores. Make yourself visible in every way possible. Every marketing study I’ve ever seen shows that you need to make multiple impressions in order to influence a sale. Unless you have a publisher giving you an enormous marketing budget and major co-op – in which case, why the hell are you reading MY drivel? – it makes sense to concentrate your limited resources and try to create that buzz that comes when people feel like they’re seeing your name pop up everywhere. The flip side of that, and I saw it in some of my fellow debut authors, is that they’d spread themselves too thin, going out to California and then Texas and then somewhere else – all the while ignoring the library in the town next door. Sure, you can make the big trip somewhere if your budget allows. But your time and energy will pay more dividends if properly focused.

3a. As a corollary to “start local,” If you do a signing in your hometown, don’t hang out drinking with your old high school friends until way too late and then go to a two-day conference that starts early in the morning. You’ll get sick as hell.

Granted, this one might be specific to me. Okay, moving on…

4. Don’t forget the libraries.

Or maybe it’s: forget libraries at your peril. It blows my mind when I hear authors griping about libraries because, They just buy one lousy copy of your book and then let forty people read it. That costs me thirty nine sales! This, I will tell you, is utterly wrong-headed, especially for a debut author. I have come to firmly believe that libraries are the keys to the kingdom for an unknown writer. Because, fact is, most readers are hesitant to plunk down $24.99 on someone they’ve never heard of. They will, however, check you out of the library. And if they like you? Some of them will actually go ahead and buy your book; and some more of them will make a note to buy your next one, because you’re no long an unknown quantity to them. Whenever I get reader e-mail, I always ask how they heard about me. A very large percentage say the same thing: That they discovered me in the library but plan to buy me from now on.

5. Conferences are not only fun, they pay dividends long-term that are not always immediately apparent.

Typical debut author experience: Shell out hundreds of dollars for airfare, hotel and vittles to attend (name conference here); appear on panel populated by your agent, two unpublished writers, and a trio of chirping crickets; go to bookseller room and sit there in anguished embarrassment, selling three books while two stalls down Jeffrey Deaver needs the local police department to do crowd control on his line; retreat to bar to calculate that it cost you $294 each to sell those books and… oops, make it $296 because you just ordered another drink. Yep, happens to all of us. But I’m here to say, let it happen to you. In more ways than I can list, I have seen value to attending conferences like Bouchercon and Thrillerfest and immersing myself in the mystery/thriller community. Part of it is in what it does for my soul. I’ve met lots of great friends (yes, even Carla!), who have become invaluable as confidantes and sounding boards in navigating (and surviving) the rugged world of publishing. That, and I tend to have a blast at them (I have young children, so I don’t get out much otherwise). But if you need to be more mercenary about it, apply the lesson I learned as a young newspaper reporter: The more you attention to a community, the more the community pays attention to you. So many of my promotional opportunities – whether it’s guest blog opportunities, radio or video interviews or bookstore gigs – have come from contacts I made at conferences.

6. Keep lists of what you did the first time. It’ll make life easier for the next book.

Lists of the blogs you did, lists of the bookstores you did, lists of the librarians you met, lists of reviews you got… it’s all good. Put it on a spreadsheet, keep it in a diary, make a folder for each category – whatever works for your brain style. You’ll be glad to not have to reinvent the wheel when No. 2 comes around (says the guy who didn’t learn this lesson the first time and is only now starting to make lists).

7. When it comes to blogging, quality over quantity.

It’s true the Internet is absolutely overwhelmed with content, which can make blogging feel like whispering into the face of a hurricane. But it’s also true the Internet is absolutely starved for good content. So don’t measure your blog based on how many you do, but by how well you do them. If you write something that manages to catch people’s fancy, trust me, it’ll be worth the effort. I learned this with my post “Ten Things Crime Fiction Writers Can Learn From Paris Hilton.” ( It was a throw-away post done at the end of my blog tour and – lo and behold – it became a mini-sensation. Janet Reid picked it up on her blog ( It got recycled by blog aggregators. My website is still getting hits off it to this day.

And now I’m… holy crow, I’m 1,700 words into this post! Okay, enough from me. Have a great debut year. And if you do end up singing to Brad Meltzer? Be sure he knows it wasn’t my idea.

For more information, please visit Brad's website

Tuesday, February 1, 2011