Writer Round-Up: A Collective Interview Wherein Writers We Like Discuss Topics Related to the Craft
The Permanent Press Authors : Leonard Rosen, Connie Dial, Howard Owen, Chris Knopf, Anne Bernays, Daniel Klein, & David Freed
Interview by Cynthia Reeser
For Prick of the Spindle, Vol. 6.3, September 2012
In this issue, the publisher spotlight is on The Permanent Press. Some of their authors answer a handful of questions.
Please tell us about your Permanent Press publication.
Howard Owen: The Permanent Press published my first novel, Littlejohn, in 1992. Since, they have published seven of my nine others and have sold the rights to a couple of them to larger publishers. My latest novel, just out, is Oregon Hill, my first mystery novel. It’s set in Richmond, with a protagonist who is a night cops reporter at the local paper. It’s gotten really nice reviews in The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and elsewhere. Audio book rights have been sold. A sequel, The Philadelphia Quarry, will be out next July, also published by The Permanent Press.
Daniel Klein: My upcoming novel from Permanent Press is called Nothing Serious; it’s a comic novel about a washed-up New York editor who gets a job running an obscure philosophy magazine in a rural college town.
Previously (2009), Permanent Press published a more serious novel of mine, The History of Now, about the lives of several people in a small New England town.
Leonard Rosen: All Cry Chaos is my first novel—a literary mystery/thriller that turns on patterns in nature: how and why a lightning bolt looks like a tree limb, the veins of our bodies, and much, much more. The story opens in Amsterdam with the death of a mathematician scheduled (at a World Trade Organization conference) to explain how these patterns describe the workings of the global financial markets. They do, in fact. The novel is a whodunit that satisfies the conventions of genre—and Chaos was one of five novels nominated for the best debut award by Mystery Writers of America. The mystery of the mystery is why patterns cross categories in nature and whether or not patterns suggest a Pattern Maker. Chaos won the Editor’s Choice Award by ForeWord Reviews as the best work of fiction published by an independent press in 2011.
Chris Knopf: Permanent Press has published five books in my Sam Acquillo Hamptons Mystery series, a standalone set in New Jersey, and now the first in a new series, Dead Anyway, out this September.
David Freed: Permanent Press published my first novel, Flat Spin, a mystery-thriller featuring Cordell Logan, a sardonic former government assassin turned financially struggling flight instructor. PP will publish the next Logan mystery in May 2013.
Connie Dial: Fallen Angels is my third mystery/police procedural novel for The Permanent Press. The protagonist is Captain Josie Corsino who is the commanding officer of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Hollywood area. She’s a gun-toting commander who thrives on crime-fighting and the challenge of running one of the biggest and busiest police stations in Los Angeles. The story begins with the brutal murder of a teenage movie star in a Hollywood Hills party house. Eventually, Josie is forced to take charge of the investigation because she doesn’t know who to trust. Both subordinates and bosses have been tainted by the victim’s troubled past.
With old friends—homicide detective Red Behan and Lieutenant Marge Bailey—Josie pursues the killer through a gauntlet of corruption and deception both inside and outside the department. There are plenty of suspects, including a politician’s son and several police officers. Things aren’t much better for her at home where her husband and unemployed son expose her to scrutiny that could jeopardize her career.
My next novel featuring Captain Josie Corsino, Dead Wrong, will be published by The Permanent Press in May 2013.
My first two books, Internal Affairs and The Broken Blue Line, probe the edgy politics and internal workings of the LAPD with Detective Mike Turner and expose a world of big city policing not usually shared outside the ranks of police officers. In the first book he hunts the killer of a beautiful young police officer and in the second, uncovers a plot by officers who use their trusted position to steal and kill.
Anne Bernays: My book is a novel titled The Man on the Third Floor. It’s set in 1950s New York. Walter Samson, a book editor, married with two children, falls in love with a younger working class man, Barry Rogers. Samson brings Rogers into the household, where he acts as driver and handyman. Complications ensue. There’s also a subplot involving McCarthy witch hunting.
What is the most challenging part of the publication process, in your experience? Is there anything that makes you cringe or that you avoid? What has been most rewarding to you as a published author?
HO: The most challenging part is getting up every day and writing, rewriting, and re-rewriting before going to the day job at the newspaper, then reading everything over four or five times as it goes through the editing process, trying to get it as perfect as possible.
What I try to avoid are sameness and cliches. I want every story to be fresh and different, and I want every character to seem unique. Doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s the goal.
Most rewarding? Hearing from readers all over the country who like what I’ve written. Who doesn’t want an audience?
DK: I have been lucky to have published a great number of books, both genre fiction and non-fiction (including the bestseller, Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar) with major publishers — Penguin, Random House, Abrams, Doubleday, St. Martin’s Press, etc. The fact is, these publishers have the resources and clout to get wide distribution, good publicity, and reviews in major periodicals. Fair or not, this does sell books.
Not so with a small, independent press like Permanent. But there are fabulous rewards working with Permanent, chiefly my direct relationship with the publishers, Martin and Judith Shepard. They are very smart and very literary people. Their enthusiasm, care, and perseverance are invaluable.
LR: Clearly the most harrowing part of the publishing process is getting published. With Chaos, I set out to write a literary mystery/thriller. The publishers of mysteries and thrillers read it and said: “This is too character- and idea-driven to fit neatly into the genre. We’ll pass.” The publishers of literary fiction read it and said: “This looks too much like genre fiction. We’ll pass.” Twenty-three submissions later, Marty and Judy Shepard of The Permanent Press read and loved it. But for them, my award-winning, multiply nominated and multiply translated novel might never have been published.
The most rewarding part of the process is the letters I receive from readers moved by the novel. The letters remind me why I write: not for kudos but for the possibility of reaching others.
CK: Writing the books. Everything else is pretty easy, especially with PP, which is small enough so you know all the principles, but lucky for all of us, as professional and sophisticated as you can get.
I don’t like to self-promote, or be the center of attention. I’m a marketing expert, and people pay me a lot of money to promote their goods and services, but it’s different when I’m doing it for myself. Again, luckily, Marty Shepard is an indefatigable promoter of his writers, and that really helps, since I don’t feel like I’m all alone out there.
[Most rewarding for me has been] getting fan mail, especially from people who liked the books for the same reasons I wrote them. I also like reading positive reviews. Happy readers are all that matters in the end.
DF: There’s an old Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers tune that holds, “The waiting is the hardest part.” That, for my money, is the hardest part of the publication process—waiting for a publisher to buy your book, waiting for it to come out, waiting for the reviews to come in, waiting for reader responses and, finally, waiting for what an author can only hope is a respectable pay day for his/her many hours of labor and angst.
The one part of the process I loathe is that necessary evil, having to be self-promotional. I’m a newspaper reporter by background. Reporters are taught never to be part of the story they are covering; they learn never draw attention to themselves. Those inclinations, I’ve discovered, do not serve well a newly minted author of fiction who hopes his novel will find a broad audience. In today’s glutted market, it’s essential the novelist find that sweet spot between tooting his own horn but not tooting it so loudly as to appear vainglorious. I told my publisher after he acquired my manuscript that I aspired to be the J.D. Salinger of mystery writers. He scoffed, and rightfully so. One cannot be commercially successful in this venture and play the hermit. You have to get out there and market your brand via social media and personal contacts.
CD: Probably the most challenging part of the process is waiting to find out if what you’ve written will be published. A lot of hard work and many long hours go into creating a story, and I’m always eager to have people read and enjoy it.
Editing is difficult but a necessary part of the process. Once I finish a manuscript, I want to move on to the next project but don’t because I know editing always makes a good novel better.
I can’t think of anything that makes me cringe or anything I avoid. I got into the writing business late in life. I’ve always written stories and plays but my career was in law enforcement and that left little time to devote to writing, something I loved to do. Now that I’m retired from the LAPD, everything about the publication process is new and exciting.
Most rewarding to me as a published author has been the feedback I get from readers. I’m grateful they’re willing to devote several hours of their lives reading my novels. When they enjoy the story and compare it to other works or completely understand what I was trying to do, it’s a very special and satisfying experience.
AB: Surviving what I call “publishing psychosis.” both my husband, Justin Kaplan, and I are former editors; we’ve watched every single author we have ever known go a little nuts starting six weeks before publication day and extending six weeks beyond.
I don’t think I avoid anything. I’m either brave or stupid. What’s most rewarding is praise from a fellow author.
What advice would you give to small press authors trying to help promote their books?
HO: The usual, I guess. Get a website. Communicate with readers through Facebook, Goodreads, Kindleboard and a bunch of other outlets I don’t have time to cultivate. If you can afford a publicist, do so. Do as many readings and signings as you can. I find that libraries and Friends of the Library groups provide more rewarding venues than big chain bookstores.
DK: To start, it probably makes good personal sense to have modest expectations. Most small presses cannot get your books into the major chains like Barnes & Noble; without that presence, it’s very hard to sell a lot of books. There are exceptions, of course, books that have broken out via word of mouth (and blog), and sold well. And to that end one can work the web by sending your book to sites like Goodreads.com.
But there are other, wonderful satisfactions available to the small press author. Permanent Press puts out an excellent list of fiction, choosing their titles thoughtfully, so it feels damned good to be in the company of other serious professional writers. It is an honor to be published along with them. The Permanent Press also has excellent resources for selling their books to foreign publishers and to film producers. Further, Permanent Press sends some of their books out to respected literary competitions and many of their books have won literary prizes. In the end, to this author, a succes d’estime can feel as good or better than a bestseller.
LR: Promotion is, for me, a vexing and difficult process. Some authors employ publicists in the hope of giving their books the best possible push. Some rely on their own efforts, arranging speaking tours (on their dime) and mass mailings. I did both. The inherent problem with publicity is that you’re seldom sure what works. You pay for the plane trip to St. Louis plus hotel and car because the owner of an indie bookstore loves your work. Nice! But you can’t possibly recoup in royalties from books sold at the event the cost of your trip. Was the trip worth it?
I regarded these efforts as investments in a small business. The product: not just the one novel but me as a writer. A brand. I’m a private sort, and my personality isn’t suited to putting myself out there as a writer to watch. Still, I did it because I didn’t want my book to fall off the edge of the world. Many debuts, if not most, do—and that mine didn’t I can’t honestly say was due to publicity, which I regard as a who-knows, shrug-of-the-shoulder prayer. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t, but do you really want to take the chance and not bother? Publicity may be necessary, is possibly important—and is definitely slippery. It’s more art than science: one I haven’t mastered and very likely (even for the skilled) more luck than strategy.
The briefest answer to this question: Find a publisher who believes in your work. Marty and Judy Shepard love what they publish and are tireless champions for all their books. The publisher’s commitment is key. I cannot overstate its importance.
CK: Get to be really good in the digital world. Social media, chat rooms, online reviewers, bloggers, Amazon, etc. It’s where the action is these days, and will only increase over time. The good news is it levels the playing field with the big boys, who have been really slow to the digital party. At the same time, traditional approaches, like hiring PR people, doing book signings, even getting into traditional media, is fading. Lastly, write a good book. Nothing happens without that.
DF: Do not assume that your publisher will do it for you. While mine has been wholly supportive and extremely proactive, there are relationships and marketing angles to be exploited that the average publisher simply does not have the time or resources to take on. There’s much to be said for taking the initiative. Reach out to bloggers, newspaper reviewers, and bookstore owners. You’ll find no shortage willing to take a look at your book. That doesn’t mean at the end of the day that they’ll all help promote it, or promote it positively, but, as the old Hollywood adage goes, “It’s better to have them talking bad about you than not talking at all.”
CD: It’s important to let your audience know your book is out there. I believe a professional website is a good investment. Take full advantage of the electronic media. That’s the first place a lot of readers go when they hear about your book. Attending conferences and accepting speaking engagements at libraries, book fairs or anywhere you can is a way to build a reader base. I never turn down an opportunity to talk about my work.
I feel very lucky because The Permanent Press has been very supportive in advertising and promoting my books. Good reviews in a variety of publications certainly help sales.
AB: Don’t expect anything; that way, you’ll never be disappointed.