A Talk with J.A. Jance

We met under the happiest of circumstance. The celebrated  J. A. Jance had read A DANGEROUS FICTION and enjoyed it enough to agree for the first time in many years to write a blurb. I wrote to thank her, and a pleasant exchange followed. We stayed in touch. Recently we had an email exchange in which Judith shared some very important lessons about making one’s living as a writer: building a brand, as it’s called these days. I found it extraordinarily useful and relevant; I think any writer, published, self-published or hybrid, can learn a lot from it. With her kind permission, I am sharing that conversation with you below.

J. A. Jance had mentioned in a previous email that she was embarking on a book tour.

“Book tour?” I answered wistfully. “Do publishers still do that?” The Penguin paperback edition of A DANGEROUS FICTION had just come out, and with the help of a kind and diligent Penguin publicist, I’d been doing some modest online promotion, but nothing strenuous, mostly from the comfort of my office.

Jance “Yes,”  J. A. Jance replied, “three weeks on the road.  This morning I’m home, sitting on my own back porch in the Seattle area and trying to keep the damned heron from poaching my goldfish.

I cut my teeth in the lowly world of “original paperbacks” where mysteries supposedly had a 90 day shelf-life.  I’m happy to report that my first novel, Until Proven Guilty, is still in print 29 years later!!!  The guys, local old hands at writing and all of them male, took me to the woodshed and  told me to jump ship with Avon and go with someone who would pay me some “real” money.  Fortunately, I disregarded that advice and stayed put.  As for them?  They’ve all lost their early books through . . . well . . . jumping ship.

When that first book was due to come out, I was so elated.  Remember, I hail from humble pie Bisbee, Arizona.  I was being published by a NY publisher.  When I called my editor and asked when the book publishing party would be, he nearly choked on his coffee.  Party?  What party???  So we threw a party ourselves, and my agent–my agent then and my agent now–my sister and I, a grand opening party complete with a visiting llama who peed in the elevator on his way up to the party room.  (The building manager was NOT happy!)

My inquiries about a tour were met with similar derision, so my agent–that same agent–set up 30 signings for me.  THIRTY!!  I went all over hell and gone in Washington, Oregon, and Arizona–ON MY OWN NICKEL–signing books at any B. Dalton or Waldenbooks that would give me a table and let me hawk books inside or outside the store.  Because I didn’t know how much the first two on-sale weeks mattered, I WENT ON VACATION!!! before those signings started.  In the long run, it turns out that was the right thing to do. Avon printed 30,000 copies of UPG and shipped most of them.  Then when orders for the signings started coming in, the book was OUT OF PRINT!  That caused something of a stir.  How could an original paperback from an unknown writer in Nowheresville, USA, be garnering that kind of sales?  As far as New York was  concerned, that second printing came like a bolt out of the blue!

And then the second book came out.  Back then and even now, I do two books a year.  When the second book came out, we went back to those same stores–Washington, Oregon, Arizona–and did the same thing.  Only this time, I could sell two books at the same time–the first and the second–instead of just one. That strategy worked up to and including book number four.  I write series books, and I always told new readers that of course they should start with number one.  All during that time, I was doing free (but you must have books for sale) events for libraries, civic groups–Rotary or Kiwanis anyone?–book clubs, and ladies auxiliary luncheons.  Give me an audience and let me talk to them.

My first nine books were all original paperback and was looked down on with almost the same disrespect as e-books receive now.  There was no publisher paid tour.  My husband had a sales job and,whenever possible, I went along for the ride and set up signings coming and going.  He did his job during the day and during the week and helped with the signings evenings and weekends.  He doesn’t write, but he’s my partner, and none of this would be possible without him.  By the way, our first date as the “llama peeing” grand opening party for the first book.  Now I say that “I write the books and he writes the checks” because he handles the business end of the business.

In college, I was excluded from a Creative Writing program because, as the professor told me, I was a girl.  “Girls become teachers or nurese; Boys become writers.”  That’s a direct quote by the way, engraved on my psyche and the reason a fromer professor of Creative Writing is the crazed killer in my first hardback, Hour of the Hunter.

I taught school for a few years, worked as a school librarian, and then spent ten years in the life insurance business.  For that first party, we invited everyone in my Rolodex–called them on the phone and invited them.  For the next book the grand opening party was at a local restaurant rather than in our building.  That restaurant, the Doghouse, is long gone now, but before every grand opening we called the people in the Rolodex and that became The Doghouse List.  What was once primarily a phone list has now morphed into an e-mail list with 14,411 names on it as of now.

In the last few years, the publicists in New York have done only the bare minimum as far as setting up tours.  They go to the places that are easy for them–in other words, they call the places that they have on file and book signings there without any regard about who and where my fans are based.  The note I sent to you–asking for a physical location–is one of several thousand I’ve sent out in the past few days.  Time spent waiting in airports, riding on planes, and living in no known time zone–is not creative time, but I’ve turned it into useful time by getting physical locations on literally hundreds of people for whom I previously had only e-mail addresses.  That way I’ll be able to SEND OUT ANNOUNCEMENTS INVITING THEM TO SPECIFIC EVENTS!  And that makes my list a more effective marketing tool.

After last year’s tour disaster, I took things in hand and booked the first seventeen events of this tour–local events–my own damned self!  Worked like a dog that first week, taking my show on the road and doing two to three events a day–30 minutes of Q and A before the actual starting time.  The Q and A is my warm up act.  (I’m sorry, I can’t help but roll my eyes at “Where do you get your ideas?”  Grrr!  That one drives me nuts.  Do they think I go out hunting ideas with a butterfly net?)  Then I do an hour long presentation and close with a Janis Ian song–At Seventeen most often.  The presentation is followed by a signing.  Two hours in all.  No intermission.  I don’t read at signings.  I talk at signings.  I tell about where the ideas for that book came from.  I tell about my own origins and history.  I tell stories people tell me about reading my books–most of which have come in through e-mails that I ALWAYS ANSWER MYSELF!  But the thing about doing local events?  As I learned in those early years, those numerious signings were in my neck of the woods,  but if reporting stores are doing the selling, those sales count and numbers, even regional numbers, rule.  By the way, if you’re not comfortable doing public speaking, you need to get that way fast.  I took the Dale Carnegie course first and then spent a year in Toastmasters.

All this is to say, Barbara, go out and find your own fans–in libraries or wherever.  (Ann Rule and I used to be known as the queens of drug store and grocery store openings.  If the stores wanted us, we went.)  Make sure the various venues have SOMEONE THERE TO SELL THE BOOK.  I do NOT sell books out of the back of my car at events, and neither should you.  Collect names.  Get those early readers to become loyal readers.

My first ICD sales rep, Holly Turner, who sold paperbacks to the wholesalers–back in the old days when there were LOTS of wholesalers and no Amazon–told me once, “One personal contact is worth ten readers.”  I believe that’s true.  In this digital day and age, when we send out notices in advance of books going on sale, people have come to regard those letters as personal notes from me.  They are points of contact.  After the announcements go out, I spend days responding to the replies, but those people hear from me.  They are my PEOPLE, and they make my life possible.

So here’s a whole tankful of unsolicited advice. All of which is meant to say, don’t let the turkeys get you down.  Don’t just grumble.  Do something.  Do events.  Get people in your corner.  I still encounter people who say, “I met you the first time selling books on a card table outside a Waldenbooks in wherever.”  Fifty plus books later, those people are still reading my books.  And that counts!

JAJ

REMAINS OF INNOCENCEThat’s it. I trust you’ll agree with me that J. A. Jance is a class act, not only talented but extremely hard-working and as loyal to her fans as they are to her.  I appreciate her willingness to share the lessons she’s learned along the way. She has a new book out in her Joanna Brady series, by the way, and it’s wonderful: REMAINS OF INNOCENCE.

 

 

For lots more writing and publishing interviews and advice, subscribe to this blog through the links above and to the right. And here are a few links to previous interviews:

 

Writer Diana Gabaldon

 Writer Lorraine Bartlett

 Literary agent Gail Hochman

 Viking Editor Tara Singh

 Simon & Schuster editor-in-chief Marysue Rucci

 Book publicist Brian Feinblum

Behind the Curtains: What Publishers Really Do

An awful lot of what publishers do for books, they do behind the scenes and prior to publication. Viking/Penguin  is going to publish A DANGEROUS FICTION in late July, and they are gearing up in all sorts of ways. I thought readers might be interested in a glimpse behind the curtain.

Editing: packaging is important, but you’ve got to deliver the goods. Good editing makes any book better and good books shine. Shortly after its acquisition by my delightful editor Tara Singh, A DANGEROUS FICTION underwent a series of first-class edits and emerged the better for it.

Cover: Positioning a book starts with a cover that conveys the message and ambience of the work. Because the cover is also a marketing tool, it exemplifies the approach of the publishers’ marketing plan. If the author and publisher are not on the same page, this is where the fissure usually appears first.

Viking’s cover, by London-based French artist Malika Favre was the most perfect face I could imagine for the book I wrote. If the tone of the book could be converted into a picture, that picture would be this cover. At this point in the process, I am feeling the love.

DangerousFictionHC_jacket2

 

Blurbs: Many months before publication, copies of the manuscript were sent to writers who expressed a willingness to read and possibly write blurbs for the book. For me, this marked the first time this book had been read by anyone outside my agent, editors, and immediate family. One by one, reactions began to come in. I’m very grateful to the writers who took time from their own work to read A DANGEROUS FICTION, and I’m proud to share their comments with you now.

“A terrific read! A thriller with a psychological heart of mystery, a double-ended love story, and a fascinating look at the world of high-stakes publishing.”-Diana Gabaldon, New York Times bestselling author of Outlander and An Echo in the Bone

“Clearly, the most dangerous fictions are the ones we tell ourselves.” JA Jance, author of DEADLY STAKES and many other bestsellers

A Dangerous Fiction reads like a tell-all, inviting readers into the sleek, hallowed inner circle of literary Manhattan, then blowing that world apart with harrowing intrigue and a gripping mystery. Finally, as a bonus, Rogan offers a surprisingly sweet redemptive thread with which to stitch it all back together. A Dangerous Fiction blends deft prose with a pitch-perfect voice, and Barbara Rogan is a storyteller at the top of her game.”-Vicki Pettersson, author of Cheat the Grave and The Scent of Shadows

“Barbara Rogan knows the world of writers, agents, and editors, and in A Dangerous Fiction she offers a vivid inside look at both the glittering successes and the failures that breed feuds and obsession. As a stalker resorts to murder to destroy literary agent Jo Donovan’s life, readers will cast suspicious glances at everybody from a disgruntled former employee to a rejected writer to Jo’s most trusted friends. A Dangerous Fiction is great entertainment!”–Sandra Parshall, Agatha Award-winning author of the Rachel Goddard mysteries

“The backstabbing and cutthroat competition we imagine going on behind the scenes in publishing make it the perfect setting for murder, and Barbara Rogan has done it justice in A Dangerous Fiction. I loved every wickedly delicious page.”-Hallie Ephron, author of There Was an Old Woman

“Barbara Rogan’s A Dangerous Fiction positively drips with intrigue and delicious suspense.  I couldn’t put it down—and you won’t want to, either.”—Lorraine  Bartlett, author of the Victoria Square Mysteries.

“Rogan brings an insider’s keen view, pulling the reader into the New York publishing milieu with all of its jealousies, intrigue, excitement and larger-than-life personalities. At the heart of the story is a woman’s need to uncover the truths about her own life, even as she’s the target of malevolent foes she can’t identify. Danger, suspense, romance and the deep bonds of friendship–A Dangerous Fiction has it all. I couldn’t put it down!”-Darlene Marshall, author of Castaway Dreams

 

DickensI received a few other blurbs as well, from some Very Illustrious Writers, but for some reason my editor doesn’t want me to post them along with what she insists on calling “the real blurbs.” But you can read them anyway, right here.

Review Copies: Five months before publication, bound galleys are already out to long-lead reviewers. In a few months, the prepublication reviews – PW, Library Journal, Kirkus – will appear. I’m not thinking about that. Not a bit. Never read reviews. And if you believe that, I have a bridge that may interest you…

Brooklyn_Bridge

Sales and Marketing: I believe that the books are being sold into bookstores nationwide by the Viking’s terrific sales force even as I write this; so, being a somewhat superstitious person, I will say no more.

Online Marketing: Viking’s online marketing mavens have worked with me to help me improve my websites and FB author page, and to ease me onto Twitter, where I am known as @RoganBarbara–do look me up and say hi!   They’re patiently training an old dog new tricks, and I’m relieved to say they employ purely positive training techniques; not a whip in sight, no authors hurt in the production of this book.

Bookstore appearances, Book and Author Luncheons, conferences, etc.: These are already being scheduled, starting in July, for the New York area. I’m infinitely corruptible and shamefully approachable. If you have any offers, please direct them to Ben Petrone, Associate Director of Publicity at Viking.

The Readers’ Guide to A DANGEROUS FICTION has just gone live for use by book clubs and library reading groups. I think it’s terrific; it even taught me a few things about the book I didn’t know. Do have a look. I’m open to participating by phone or Skype in book club discussions of A DANGEROUS FICTION; just contact me at Barbara Rogan at Gmail dot COM.

So much of what publishers do is invisible and goes uncredited. I’d like to take this opportunity for a shout-out to the dedicated folks at Viking for their hard work and support. And next time someone asks, “What do publishers really do for writers?”, point them here.

 

A DANGEROUS FICTION is now available for pre-order;  and most vendors are offering early buyers  a 35% discount on the hardcover edition. While you’re waiting for that to arrive, my last three books, SUSPICION, HINDSIGHT, and ROWING IN EDEN,  have been reissued in ebook and paperback.

 

Galleys!

There are a few big milestones in the publication of a book. Selling it is the first, of course–getting that fateful phone call from one’s agent.  The next is finishing the final edit–letting the book go at last. The third is  receiving bound galleys in the mail: suddenly your brainchild is an actual, physical book,  cover and all. And that, dear reader, is what happened today.  The galleys of A DANGEROUS FICTION have arrived, and I’m thrilled to death. Here’s the cover:

 

 

A DANGEROUS FICTION will be out next summer via Viking Press, but the book is available for preorder already on Amazon and Booksamillion. No reviews yet, of course—but check out these amazing blurbs from fellow-writers. The latest, not yet posted,  is from bestselling author J.A. Jance:

“Clearly, the most dangerous fictions are the ones we tell ourselves.”

It’s a good day.