Tell us a little about yourself, your book, your life as a writer.
Telling stories on a grand scale has been my dream for as long as I can remember. When a fireman or a policeman would come visit my school, most of my classmates’ heads would swim with aspirations of growing up and catching bad guys or saving someone from a blazing inferno. When these moments came for me, however, my dreams weren’t to someday be a cop or put out fires; I just wanted to make a movie or write a book about it. And my dream has come to fruition with the release of my book, “The Shepherd”.
“The Shepherd” has been described as “Silence of the Lambs meets The Bourne Identity” and “A fast paced, all too real thriller with a villain right out of James Patterson and Criminal Minds.” At its core, it’s the story of an ex-cop and a serial killer who become pawns in a conspiracy reaching to the highest levels of our government. But without quoting another blurb or running through the standard book description, I would say that my goal with “The Shepherd” was to write a book that I would want to read. And I love books that are fast-paced with a lot of action. I tried to take the serial killer genre but put a slightly different spin on it (and the book also revolves around a larger conspiracy in which the killer plays a part). There are a lot of books out there that feature the hunt for serial killers; after all, these men are like aliens among us. They think and act in ways that most of us cannot begin to comprehend, which in turn makes them fascinating. But while most novels of this type take the police procedural approach and the following of clues to find the killer (and my book does have some of this), The Shepherd is designed to get the reader into the killer’s head and wonder how the other characters are going to escape. In other words, it’s not a “follow the clues to unmask the killer” type of book. It’s more a “oh my God, he’s in the next room…and he’s got a shotgun” type of book.
For me, there really is no such thing as a typical writing day. I’m not at the point in my writing career where I can do it as my full-time job (darn kids keep telling me they want to keep hold of the whole food and shelter thing). This means that I write whenever I can find the time. Typically, this is from the hours of 11:30 PM and 3:00 AM. It will be nice to someday be able to get more than four or five hours of sleep in a night, but for now, caffeine is my best friend.
Did you market and/or promote the book in a particular way?
I think that local promotion and blog tours combined with social media is the way to go. Social media is an aspect of writing and publishing that cannot be ignored. I receive comments daily from readers, and I’m able to respond to them and establish that all-too-important personal connection. I’ve also met some of my best friends and business contacts through social media.
Two things to keep in mind: 1. Sales and marketing (including social media) is a transfer of enthusiasm, so be excited about what you’re doing. Your enthusiasm will be infectious. 2. 78% of people trust peer recommendations even if they don’t know the person making the recommendation, while only 14% of people trust advertisements. With that in mind, where do you think you should be investing your time and effort?
What do you think you did that made it such a success?
That’s hard to say. I think it’s a combination of many different efforts including a three-month blog tour, lots of local promotion, blurbs from respected authors, good ratings and reviews, etc. Then, there are also some riskier things that we’ve done that a larger publisher would not have allowed. And I can say that for a fact because I have a friend that’s been trying to convince his big six publisher to try some of the same marketing tactics that we’ve employed, and they’ve shot him down. One example of this would be giving the book away. We’ve done this through sites like Goodreads and others for the paperback and also on Kindle, Nook, etc for the ebook. The giveaways went over well and those coupled with many other things began to generate some significant buzz. Unfortunately, I think that it’s a combination of writing a good book and then getting lucky. There are tons of great authors who have never been able to find a following despite writing great books. So far, I’ve been honored that readers have responded to my work and lucky enough that they’ve been willing to pay for it.
Is this your first book?
This is my first full-length novel. I had written a screenplay in high school and short stories and poetry here and there, but not much more than that. The original idea for “The Shepherd” started out years ago as a short 40 page story for a college English class. I was watching a movie called Frailty (great movie, by the way), and it got me interested in the idea of turning the tables on who we saw as the villain and the “good guy”. The short story asked the question, “Do the ends justify the means?” and dealt with the abuse of power. The serial killer in the short story (the character that later evolved into Ackerman) was actually not a character at all, since the story centered upon the finding of the killer’s dead body. I originally intended to use the short story as a starting point for the novel, but the book took me in such different directions that there is basically nothing recognizable left from the short story. The class was a senior level English course, and the story came on one of the last days before graduation. The day after I turned in the story the teacher asked me to stay after class and urged me not to stop writing. Her words meant a lot and really stuck with me.
Did you try and go the traditional publisher route?
I did. I was lucky enough to land the first agent to whom I submitted, who also represents some of the biggest authors in the world. I set the bar high, and I succeeded. I thought that I had it made. My agent loved the book and thought we were going to get a great deal. We began querying the publishers and received several extremely positive rejections. Unfortunately for me (at the time anyway), the publishing industry is going through some major shifts and publishers are taking fewer and fewer chances on new authors. The search for a publisher was a stressful time, and it’s hard to hear someone say that they love the book but don’t feel it would get the attention it deserves at their firm. Luckily, I had made some good friends in the industry, and my current publisher (which is invitation only) was really excited to work with me.
Would you make a deal with a traditional publisher (like Amanda Hocking did) if you were offered one?
A year ago, I probably would have taken a traditional deal for $25,000 (maybe even less). Today, I wouldn’t take a deal for $100,000 (and probably not even if it was a lot more).
If so, what do you think you could get from a trade publisher that you haven’t been able to already get on your own?
Without a major deal, I don’t think that I would be able to do much more than I can right now. The reality is that traditional publishers don’t put much money behind promoting authors unless they’ve made a significant investment in that author. They expect the author to do the promotion for themselves and pay for at least a portion of the advertising. I’ve heard so many horror stories from friends who have published traditionally that I’m not sure if I will ever go that route.