[*I used the Grammarly service grammar check (http://www.grammarly.com) to double-check this interview for grammar errors because I thought Grammarly was my husband’s Great Grandmother, Lee, and I was trying to be diplomatic. (It was only later that I learned that Nanna Lee shuffled off this mortal coil in 1969. By then, it was too late. As Rick Perry would say, “Oops!”)]
I caught up with Best-Selling author Jon Land at International Thriller Writers Conference in New York City from July 10-14 and asked him some questions that all struggling authors want to have answered. Jon, whose E-book “Pandora’s Temple” was nominated for Best E-book of the Year, was Vice President of Marketing for ITW until recently turning over the post to Joseph Finder (“Company Man,” “Paranoia.”) His Caitlin Strong Texas Ranger series is just one of Jon’s many accomplishments as an author.
1) “What marketing tips do you have for wannabee writers?”
Well, the best marketing tip I have for wannabee writers is to write a great book. I know that may sound like a cop-out, but the social media craze currently infecting our industry has too many of us spending our time figuring out how to sell something instead of focusing on making it truly worthy to be sold. The simple fact of the matter is the one thing that hasn’t changed in the crazy publishing business is that the surest route to success is writing a book that works, where fabulous characters find themselves struggling along a wondrous quest. The thing about marketing is you have to be careful about how best to budget your time so you’re not tilting at mythical sales windmills. With the Caitlin Strong series growing more firmly entrenched in the reading public’s mind with each new entry, I’ve taken to focusing my efforts on landing as many reviews as I can anywhere and doing as many interviews as I can for bloggers specializing in books. Those interviews, posts, and reviews seem to work well for helping spread word of mouth, leading to the kind of steady build that is a more realistic and attainable goal these days.
2) What are the challenges of writing a series, as opposed to a stand-alone book? (i.e., how much do you go back and fill in the reader on what went on in the previous book or books?)
That’s a great question and the simple answer is assuring that the characters enjoy emotional growth from book to book, while not necessitating that the reader cover them in order. That’s a very fine line to walk, but walk it we must, because nothing in my mind renders a series dull and impotent faster than characters that never change, grow or, sometimes, even age. Another fine line is knowing exactly how much back story to fill the reader in on from book to book. In my mind, you want to include as little of that as possible to avoid making the reader think he or she has missed something. And the best way to achieve that is to prioritize making the lead characters the only ones who reoccur. Bringing villains back creates the notion of a long story, instead of separate and distinct tales. Basically the mark of any good series is to be able to begin it anywhere and not realize it’s a series at all. Every book needs to work as a standalone or you risk losing your reader before you’ve even had a chance to grab them.
3) What do you think makes a”good cover,” for a book? Give some specifics of your thoughts on what makes a good cover for a book.
Another great question! I’m convinced that the best covers capture both the tone and subject of the book, while also working as a great sales tool. Let me use the cover of my latest, STRONG RAIN FALLING, as a prime example, in large measure because I feel it’s the most effective so far of any in my five-book Caitlin Strong series. The dominant graphic of a lightning bolt striking a desolate road suggests both the storm of violence that’s coming and Caitlin’s lonely quest to stop it. And I love the presence of the lightning branching off in several directions, suggesting the far-reaching effects of the evil plot about to descend on America. That, along with the gathering storm clouds in the background, forms as effective a thriller cover as I’ve ever seen.
4) What do you think the future of E-books (with Amazon now the owner of Goodreads) will be?
I kind of look at E-books as a snowball rolling downhill, gathering size and speed as it goes. So I see the impact of Amazon’s purchase of GoodReads to have only a negligible effect on this sector of the industry. Look, the problem we have right now in publishing is that there are bestsellers and then there is everything else. We’ve essentially lost the middle and writers both new and old are scrambling to figure out how to break through this dome that’s tougher to crack than the one envisioned by Stephen King in the book and hit CBS series. So we intend to fixate on labels and the ever-shrinking window of opportunities new and independent writers have to build and/or expand their audiences. There are a thousand challenges to that process and Amazon buying Goodreads is just one of them.
5) “To trailer or not to trailer (a book), that is the question.”
Book trailers work in conjunction with a larger campaign to increase an author’s and book’s visibility. It’s the same thing with social media; everything works best for authors who are already established and normally not as well for authors who aren’t. You want to know the most important thing to maximize the opportunities for success? Get display space in bookstores and get featured on Amazon. Unfortunately, both those are far easier said than done, but without them, no matter what we do, we’re pushing a boulder up the hill. The key thing this whole selling side presents is looking at each book as another step in the process. If each one you do does better than the one that preceded it, you’re on the right track because you’re making a case for yourself and for either getting a publisher or making your existing publisher do more promotion along with you. Too many writers do a single book and then spend the next year promoting it instead of writing their next book. Because here’s the thing: successive titles, building a backlist, is the best promotional tool of all!
6) What method or methods do you think work “best” in promotion of a new book?
I’ve pretty much covered that above but let me try to go at it from an angle I haven’t hit yet, and that’s the author himself or herself. There is that particular area of expertise or experience the authors bring to the fashioning of their books that will lend it enough relevance to make people want to pick it up. For instance, if the hero of a book is tortured by a past riddled with abuse, it would really help the author’s cause if he or she was writing from that kind of painful experience. Promoting yourself by opening up, by sharing, is probably the most effective strategy of all, because it vests readers in the author, not just what they’ve created. The alternative to that is writing about something you’re expert in. Promoting a book based on that may not have as visceral a response as something intrinsically personal, but it will definitely make people pay attention to what you’re writing.