Thursday, December 27, 2012

Nonfiction to Fiction - The Reinvented Writer


I used to call myself the “accidental writer.” My background is music and theater performance, but Broadway was a bit of a commute so I took a job as a veterinary technician. That artistic itch didn’t go away, though, so I wrote nonfiction articles for the “pet press” and several awful novels. 

More than one publisher contacted me after reading my articles—who needed an agent? My first book was published in 1992 by Bantam/Doubleday/Dell. I’d published half a dozen nonfiction pet books by 1996 when I queried yet another agent about my fiction. 

She was more interested in pet books, I signed with her, and she sold three nonfiction books in major deals for me within five months. We sold another dozen nonfiction titles over the years. I became a spokesperson for high-profile pet products companies and toured the country. I stopped writing articles and put fiction-ing dreams on hold.

Pet Books DOA
Pet books died. Sales declined. Advances shrunk in direct proportion to Google’s growth. Internet content was free—why buy a book? 

I joined ITW and attended my first Thrillerfest where I met my second agent—equally high powered. But she gave up on pet books after six months. It wasn’t me, or the agents. Publishing had changed.
But bills must be paid so a “real job” teaching high school choir became my new life for a semester. I cried. A lot. 

Amy Takes Charge
I quit the “real job” because, dammit, I’m a writer. This old cat just needed new stripes. First, the attitude had to change. My life, my books, my choices—Amy took charge. Fiction took a front seat.

Internet articles paid the rent—it ain’t so evil when they pay you! “Ask Amy” videos on the blog helped build the “Amy” brand. I’d met authors Bob Mayer and Jen Talty at Thrillerfest, and they invited me to resurrect my backlist titles through Who Dares Wins (now Cool Gus Publishing). Soon my “dead” pet books became part of my retirement plan. 

LOST AND FOUND was completed, the “dog viewpoint” thriller I’d always wanted to read. Agents might run screaming at the concept, but my audience told me what they wanted. I didn’t want to wait any longer, and planned to self-publish. 

I hired an editor, invited beta readers, started to publish—and instead ask Jen and Bob if they’d consider publishing the book, hoping new eyes would garner valuable feedback. And they said yes!

LOST AND FOUND was submitted February 2012, accepted in March and published September 2012. Small publishers are nimble and flexible. Cool Gus Publishing offered me control on cover design. And as authors who appreciate equitable royalties, they offered very competitive contracts better than what my former agents ever managed with my previous New York publishers.
Reinvented At Last!

When LOST AND FOUND was accepted into the ITW Debut Thriller Program, I knew I’d come full circle. I’d reinvented myself as a thriller author! Two of my thriller author heroes Doug Lyle and James Rollins offered blush-worthy cover quotes. 

For authors dismayed at the state of publishing, REINVENT YOURSELF! DO IT! Be brave. Be fearless. Or rather, do it despite the fear. Publishing changes so quickly these days that current and future authors must be prepared to move quickly and ride the wave–or risk drowning in the might-have-beens.

LOST AND FOUND  (Synopsis)
An autism cure will kill millions unless a service dog and his trainer find a missing child . . . in 24 hours. Animal behaviorist September Day has lost everything—husband murdered, career in ruins, confidence shot—and flees to Texas with her cat Macy to recover. She’s forced out of hibernation when her nephew Steven and his autism service dog Shadow disappear in a freak blizzard. When her sister trusts a maverick researcher’s promise to help Steven, September has 24 hours to rescue them from a devastating medical experiment impacting millions of children, a deadly secret others will kill to protect. As September races the clock, the body count swells. Shadow does his good-dog duty but can’t protect his boy. Finally September and Shadow forge a stormy partnership to rescue the missing and stop the nightmare cure. But can they also find the lost parts of themselves?

Amy Shojai has been reinventing herself for years. She’s a certified animal behavior consultant, and the award-winning author of 26 best-selling pet books that cover furry babies to old-fogies, first aid to natural healing, and behavior/training to Chicken Soup-icity. 

She is the Puppies Guide at, the cat behavior expert at, and hosts a weekly half hour Internet Pet Peeves radio show. Amy has been featured as an expert in hundreds of print venues including The New York Times, Reader’s Digest, and Family Circle, as well as national radio and television networks such as CNN, Animal Planet’s DOGS 101 and CATS 101. She’s been a consultant to the pet products industry and a host/program consultant for select “furry” TV projects. Amy brings her unique pet-centric viewpoint to public appearances, and writer conferences keynotes/seminars. LOST AND FOUND is her fiction debut. Learn more about Amy and her THRILLERS WITH BITE! at her Bling, Bitches &Blood Blog.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Book Signing Boogie

The Book Signing Boogie
by Ricky Bush       

I always wanted to sit behind a stack of my books at a bookstore one day and sign copies for those interested in my tale of words. Once River Bottom Blues hit the market, that little dream became one step closer to reality.

First stop was the local bookstore. The owner showed interest but said that signings really didn’t do too well unless a downtown event brought in additional foot traffic. She suggested that I wait for such.   

Not wanting to wait three months for an inaugural singing, I dropped by a popular coffeehouse/pizza parlor and see if they’d be interested in hosting my book launch. The proprietor was surprisingly enthused about the idea and refused any type of consignment deal, which meant all proceeds went to me.

The local media ran a press release touting the event and I envisioned tons of my ex-students from the past twenty nine years waiting in line to grab a copy from their old teacher, not to mention all my ex-teacher chums. The fifteen I sold disappointed me, but I’ve since learn that those numbers weren’t bad at all.

I headed out of town for my next venture, meeting with the manager of a bookstore which also sold musical instruments, music, and rented movies. Since my book mixed blues with the murder plot, it seemed ideal. The kicker was that the manager loved blues music and promised plenty of promotion. A week before the signing, I checked to confirm and found that he had quit and left town. Before he left he had he paired me up with another author’s signing. Said author’s book subject was on sexual fitness. Most customers who came in that day went straight to the movie section to return and get another. We each sold five books.

The local bookstore called to say that a huge antique festival in a neighboring town would take place soon and lots of folks would be bunking in our town, which meant throngs of people would traipse by the bookstore. I sold five more copies.

Then I lined up a signing at a shop specializing in blues music memorabilia in another neighboring town and in conjunction with the birthday celebration of a long dead famous blues musician. The shop sponsored a concert out their back door and I just knew that a blues crowd would jump on a chance to buy my book. Six were sold.        

My most anticipated event was to sign books at Murder By The Book in Houston. The best blues harmonica player in the city offered to provide a little blues music background. I also lined up a signing at a blues jam at one of the best blues clubs in town following the bookstore gig. Six were sold at the store and five at the blues jam.

So, I can’t say that my experience was a rousing success, but I did meet a lot of fine folks along the way.

River Bottom Blues Synopsis
Ex-reporter Mitty Andersen sets out to prove that someone killed his good friend and fellow bluesman, Bobby Tarleton. After teaming up with his running buddy, Pete Bolden, they discover that Bobby just might be the last in a string of unsolved murders aimed at blues musicians. Their investigation leads them to the dark crossroads in Texas, where murder and blues mix and mingle.

Author Bio
Richard “Ricky” Bush has listened to, written about, and played the blues for most of his adult life. After retiring from teaching journalism, English, and world geography to a couple of generation of Texas teenagers, he incorporated his passion for the music into his debut thriller, River Bottom Blues, featuring the blues playing, crime fighting duo of Mitty Andersen and Pete Bolden. The Devil’s Blues continues their adventures and is due for release soon by Barking Rain Press.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Secret Agents: How I Solved the Mystery of Representation

By Erec Stebbins

Sometimes, it can feel like Mission Impossible.

My book was formatted on CreateSpace, and my Smashwords formatting was done.  I even had a hokey cover I put together with Photoshop.  

But I felt crushed.  The novel I had believed in and completed remained unread and unloved in the unbridgeable void between the lands of Literary Agents and Debut Authors.  One of the few to respond to my queries actually flamed me, going so far as to disparage the morals of my characters!  I took minimal solace in that I would at least get copies to my friends and family.  

This was two years ago, before the Great Ebook Explosion (GEE!) of 2012. Before Amanda Hocking. Before fifty lamp-shades of soft-porn. No agent meant No Hope. The nascent technology meant at least I didn't have to pay a vanity press.

Getting an agent these days may be debated more than it once was, but as in any complicated business, it is the rare bird that has the skills and time, the connections and savvy, to do it all by his or her one-sies. The ebook revolution is in fact leading to a diversification and proliferation of agents.  So, assuming you want one, what should you do?

I can only give you a single datum, my own aggressive, nerdy, and ultimately successful journey. I was totally green. I had zero connection to writers, publishers, or agents. I didn't know of ITW or AgentFest. I didn't know to look for them.  

I had begun this journey by following the antiquated protocols in guide-books for writers: look up agents that share your interests, follow their submission procedures to a "T" (not a "U" or a "V"), and mail them what they wanted with a SASE ("self addressed stamped envelope" for you of the digital-only generation: it's like email during high net traffic, only slower).  It felt like getting an audience with the Pope.  Petition, young padawan, then wait.

And wait.

And wait some more.

When those petitions are either not returned or returned negative, rethink, retry, expand.  The guides were less clear at this stage what to do.  But the process recommended could be measured in geologic time.

After a year of this, I had had enough.  It wasn't working for me, and I'm someone who seeks to make things happen for him, not wait for them to happen to him (which can be good and bad).  

So, I decided to take the fight, or rather, the book, to the agents.  I wrote some scripts to grab emails from agency websites, online agent database webpages, writer message boards, etc. and compile them into a long list.  I got hundreds.  Soon, thousands.  

Many would have no interest or experience with my genre - I didn't care.  If 90% of the agents couldn't bother to respond to my query (that's a fact, ma'am), then I wouldn't bother to limit my queries.

I worked up the best letter I could, included sample chapters pasted at the end (whether they wanted that or not).  I sent thousands of emails out querying my global thriller to children's book agents, romance agents, non-fiction agents, cookbook author reps, you name it.  I even sent some to mystery-thriller agents!  It was a high-information-content, polite and polished carpet-bombing.

And it worked.

Over the course of the next year, several agencies asked for the manuscript.  One agency I likely would not have contacted via the Slow Tortoise Approach was especially keen on the book.  So, a big shout out to Sara and Stephen Camilli for believing as much as I did in The Ragnarök Conspiracy.

What's the moral of the story?  I have no idea.  I'm a scientist by day, and I know anecdotes are the stuff of pseudoscience.  I broke most of the rules and perhaps got lucky despite that. Adopt and adapt my ways at your own risk!

Or perhaps, the rules would have killed my embryonic writing career.  Perhaps, in the cold war like atmosphere of unknown authorhood, spying out the territory, employing the gadgets that you have, can lead to an espionage adventure where you can find those operatives that can open the doors that you need opened.

I actually believe that the moral is persistence, the route less important.  As Churchill emphasized, "Never give in — never, never, never, never!" 

If you hold to that, you'll find your path, and that secret agent.

Author bio
Erec Stebbins is a biomedical researcher in New York who writes political and international thrillers. His debut novel, The Ragnarök Conspiracy, was born of intense feelings and the conflicts engendered by the attacks of September 11. He is in the process of writing a series of thrillers that explore our uneasy bargain between security and liberty. 

Book synopsis of The Ragnarök Conspiracy

The Ragnarök Conspiracy a 2012 thriller by Erec Stebbins about a Western terrorist organization bent on instigating a global war to further its political goals.  A group of FBI and CIA agents work together to uncover and stop their plot.  The novel "turns the traditional terrorist thriller on its head" (Allan Leverone) and has been compared to "a Michael Bay movie written by Aaron Sorkin" (Chris Brookmyre).  The Library Journal encouraged readers to "Fortify your shelf of Armageddon thrillers with this promising newcomer."

Connect with Erec Stebbins

Thursday, December 6, 2012

December Releases

Happy Holidays! The first of every month we feature releases from our Debut Authors Class. Please take a look and let’s celebrate their success!

William Burton McCormick - Lenin's Harem (Knox Robinson Publishing) December 6, 2012

Amidst the ashes of the failed workers’ rebellions of 1905, Latvian aristocrat Wiktor Rooks finds that he has lost everything: home and heritage, his life's very purpose. Coerced into the Russian Army, Wiktor is soon swept up into the turbulent years of the Great War and Bolshevik  Revolution. In the service of his enemies, he finds himself torn between the noble classes of his birth and his new communist masters, between calls for freedom on Baltic shores and waves of oppression radiating from Moscow's center.

By a twist of fate, he becomes a member of the elite Red Riflemen of the Revolution; a regiment nicknamed “Lenin’s Harem” for their absolute loyalty to the cause. Wiktor adapts to his situation by hiding his aristocratic past. He finds friendship amongst the soldiers and love with a communist girl. When the wars end, he returns to his homeland a different man. But betrayals await in Riga and Stalin's soldiers are soon knocking on the midnight door...

Set in Russia and Latvia between 1905 and 1941, Lenin’s Harem is a story of nationhood, brotherhood and love throughout the most turbulent years of the twentieth century. The novel explores identity in a time of changing loyalties, and the search for a just struggle when all causes are tainted by bloodshed and betrayal.

Mark Pryor - The Bookseller (Seventh Street Books) December 2012
Max—an elderly Paris bookstall owner—is abducted at gunpoint. His friend, Hugo Marston, head of security at the US embassy, looks on helplessly, powerless to do anything to stop the kidnapper.

Marston launches a search, enlisting the help of semiretired CIA agent Tom Green. Their investigation reveals that Max was a Holocaust survivor and later became a Nazi hunter. Is his disappearance somehow tied to his grim history, or even to the mysterious old books he sold?

On the streets of Paris, tensions are rising as rival drug gangs engage in violent turf wars. Before long, other booksellers start to disappear, their bodies found floating in the Seine. Though the police are not interested in his opinion, Marston is convinced the hostilities have something to do with the murders of these bouquinistes.
Then he himself becomes a target of the unknown assassins.
With Tom by his side, Marston finally puts the pieces of the puzzle together, connecting the past with the present and leading the two men, quite literally, to the enemy's lair.
Just as the killer intended.


Erec Stebbins - The Ragnarok Conspiracy (Seventh Street Books)
The world's most dangerous terrorist organization may well be located in our own backyard.

As Muslims around the world are being targeted in a series of devastating attacks, Agent John Savas is drawn into a web of international intrigue. He must put aside his personal pain and work with a man who symbolizes all he has come to hate. Both are drawn into a race against time to prevent a plot so terrible that it could shatter civilization itself.

In a thriller that spans the globe in an ever-widening arc of intrigue, violence, and personal conflict, the stability of the world hangs in the balance. Only by transcending his own devastating loss can Savas hope to prevent the ultimate calamity unleashed by the Ragnarök conspiracy.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Review Quandary – or is it a Quagmire?

There was a time when a book review was a scholarly piece. It might analyze structure or parse theme. Contemplative endeavors, the reviewer filtered the words through their own experience, but wrestled with what the author attempted to convey. While I occasionally encounter a thoughtful analysis of a novel, more often authors – or their publicist – parse reviews for the perfect sound bite in order to create a marketing piece.

Purchased reviews—marketing bits—have been around since storytelling moved from oral to written form, but recent articles have reacted to the discovery as if it were major news. Amazon’s bots have jumped on the issue and with programming known only to them are combing online reviews for (paraphrasing here) reviewers with a financial interest in the product. No one was sure if there was an implied payment arrangement or simply a lot of back-scratching going on.

Do reviews matter? Do they influence your buying patterns?
When I shop in a bookstore or wander the mystery section in the library, a title, a cover, a favorite author makes me pause and read the jacket blurb. If the blurb strikes my interest, perhaps that’s sufficient but sometimes I’ll read the first page, especially if the author is a new “find.” But I never read the cover quotes or page(s) of review extracts.

Online, I find browsing difficult. Not to pick on Amazon, but clicking on the mystery section tends to bring up the usual suspects. Once I drill down into new-to-me author territory, reviews actually start to matter. It’s fairly easy to dismiss the best-friend hyperbole (it’s the best book ever!) and the trolls (1-star, no text). But I notice whether a book has been reviewed.
What about you? What’s your impression of reviews in general? Amazon’s new policy? Their impact on your buying patterns?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Assuming an identity

I don’t belong here. 

Everywhere I go, there’s a little devil on my shoulder that says: you don’t belong here. It’s been there for as long as I can remember. It is gentle but firm. It says, you don’t quite fit in. Or, you’re not really welcome. At work it says: you’re not smart enough, how did you get this job? At the gym it says: you’re not man enough, and everyone is staring at you. At a party: you’re not cool enough, and what the hell are you wearing? At the beach: you look like a pale piece of spaghetti in swimming trunks. At family gatherings, who let you in? 

I’m actually thinking it wouldn’t be a bad idea to expressly stipulate in my will and testament that the phrase “I don’t belong here” be inscribed on my tombstone. The feeling is such an integral part of who I am that I can’t help but think it’s embedded in my genetic profile — innate and codified in every living cell in my body. 

I know that sounds a little crazy, but I do have proof: my mother.

My mother, Blaize Clement, was the well-loved author of the popular Dixie Hemingway Mystery Series published by St. Martin’s/Minotaur. Her first full-length mystery, Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter, appeared in bookstores in January of 2005. It was an instant favorite among readers and critics alike. Every year there followed another installment in the series, with more and more loyal readers, more rave reviews, and more glowing letters from fans. Everywhere Blaize went, she impressed people with her confidence and poise, but only her best friends knew that there was a side of her that felt like a perpetual outsider, always observing from a distance, never quite fitting in. It was this funny mix of characteristics that I think made her a keen observer of life and an excellent writer. She died of cancer in July of 2011, so we’ll never know to what literary heights she might have flown had she been given more time, but I’m pretty sure that no matter what, she would always have felt like the odd man out. Like a pretender. Like she didn’t belong. 

Which brings me to here and now. Shortly before my mother passed away, her friend and editor at St. Martin’s Press, Marcia Markland, called with a question: would I be interested in continuing the Dixie Hemingway mysteries? I was mortified. My mother was ecstatic. Dixie lives on. Now, a little more than a year later, here I am with an agent, a publishing contract, and a new book out in July of 2013, writing about what it’s been like to step blindly into the world of mystery-writing and pick up where my mother left off. It’s been an amazing, humbling, and life-changing ride, but do you see how I might feel like I don’t belong here? 

People most often want to know if it’s been hard to recreate my mother’s voice and style. Usually I say it’s been as easy as pie, but in all honesty that’s only partly true. I hear my mother’s voice all day long. I hear the cadence of her conversation, her mild southern accent, her slightly irreverent humor, her stubbornness, her wit, her laugh. She poured herself into her books and, most notably, into the character of Dixie Hemingway, and since the books are written entirely from Dixie’s point of view all I have to do is transcribe that voice down on paper and my work is mostly done. The difficulty has been that I feel like a trespasser in the world my mother created, a cat-burglar in the House of Dixie, snooping about and touching things that aren’t mine. I know how fiercely and passionately my mother loved Dixie and her family of characters, but I also know that I can’t do them justice if I don’t make them fully mine.

Last month, I was lucky enough to attend Bouchercon, the annual conference for fans, authors, agents, booksellers and publishers of mystery fiction. For most of the first day, I beat a straight path through the hallways. I brooked the crowds with purpose. I walked from ballroom to conference room and back again without lingering too long, lest anyone think I didn’t know what I was doing. I even wore my black-framed nerd glasses so I’d look like a real writer. Turns out, I was wasting my time. I can’t imagine a more generous and supportive group of people. Everyone I met went out of their way to make me feel welcome, from writers to fans, bloggers to bookstore owners, and publicists to librarians. I made friends I’m sure I’ll have for the rest of my life. And whenever I worked up enough courage to admit that I felt like I didn’t quite fit in, I always got the same response: “Oh yeah. Me too.”

John Clement spends his time between New York City and Sarasota, Florida. The next book in the Dixie Hemingway Series, The Cat Sitter's Cradle, will be out in July, 2013.