Why I Push My Backlist

As an author you quickly learn that a big part of your job is marketing. Once you are published you are no longer just a writer - you're a promoter, marketer, social media director, and even a traveling salesman. Many of us aren't well-suited for standing behind a table and hand-selling our books at events, but it's a skill you must learn if you plan on doing many events.

Hand-selling becomes easier as your backlist deepens. When I was a debut author with one title on my table - and, only in hardback for the first year - I might sell 7 or 8 copies at an event... and that was a good event. If post-apocalyptic survival wasn't your bag, I didn't have anything else to offer you.

This remained true for my second release, IN A HANDFUL OF DUST, as it was a companion novel to NOT A DROP TO DRINK. However, now that DRINK was out in paperback, readers were more likely to take a chance on a $10 paperback and a writer they weren't familiar with, rather than shelling over $18 for a hardcover just out of curiosity.

It gets easier.

Now I've got a table of titles. I can push DRINK & DUST to readers as young as 13, because they don't have the content that my newer titles do.

I snag older readers - and many, many adults, with A MADNESS SO DISCREET. Do you like mysteries? Historicals? Serial killers? Asylums? I've got all four right here, with a gorgeous cover that makes for an easy sell. And if I'm in Ohio I always add that it's set in Athens, home of Ohio University.

No matter where I am, THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES continues to be my best seller, even though it's only available in hardback at the moment. Teachers, librarians, booksellers, reviewers and bloggers have already done the work for me. I have readers arrive at my table knowing what they want already. And if you're not familiar with it I'll tell you it's a rape revenge vigilante justice story... so it's either right up your alley or it's not.

If you're a fantasy reader I've got GIVEN TO THE SEA fresh off the press, its eye-catching cover stopping many people who would normally pass on by. In my experience as a librarian, you either are or are not a fantasy reader, so I don't have to push that one too hard. I simply say if you like fantasy, check this out, place it in their hands with the back cover facing up so they can read the summary - they're either going to jump or not.

With this array - and more to come - I'm easily moving 50 to 60 copies at events now. Yes, it helps that I have established readers and a fan base now, but at many of my recent events I was out of state, and my returning fans tend to be Midwesterners. When I've got a reader new to my work in front of me, they often ask what's the best one to start with, and I invariably hand them NOT A DROP TO DRINK.

It's a good introduction to me - sparse, brutal, and honest. But it's also got the least amount of objectionable content, so I can hand it to a reader unfamiliar with my stuff as a way to dip their toe in the water. DRINK released in 2013, and continues to sell for me. When I'm asked which titles I want stocked at events (most cap your table at 5 books, some at 3), I always make sure DRINK is listed. It's a reliable stand by, a safe book to hand to a younger reader or a parent or grandparent looking for a gift.

And of course, it's my debut. The fact that it continues to find new readers makes me happy, and it's out there doing its job - introducing people to me.

The Freedom of Fantasy

If you're a faithful reader it's pretty obvious to you by now that I'm a genre jumper. My first two novels were post-apocalyptic, the third a historical, my upcoming fourth novel THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES is a contemporary. Hot on the heels of that - coming from Putnam/Penguin in April of 2017 - will be the first in my fantasy series, GIVEN TO THE SEA.

Any author, regardless of genre, will tell you that every novel presents its own unique issues. When I felt the tiny seeds that were to become my fantasy series starting to bud in my mind, I was ecstatic. I'd just come off of writing A MADNESS SO DISCREET which came about after nearly two years of research, followed by a frantic writing period that nearly killed me.

I thought writing a fantasy was just what I needed. No rules. No boundaries. No having to worry what type of lighting would be in use in 1890 so that one person could correct me on it. No more ten minutes of research before finishing a sentence because I need to know what a cop would have been called in 1890 in Boston.

Pure freedom. Or so I thought.

Instead what I discovered is what Janis Joplin could have told me a long time ago. Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose. Or, in my case... freedom's just another word where nothing is assumed.

Yep. That's the catch with fantasy. If I'm writing a contemporary and I tell you that my main character goes to a wealthy private school, that's all I need to say. You know what that school looks like. You know what her house probably looks like. You have a good idea of her culture without me saying much more than that.

If I tell you that my main character in fantasy is the Given, you're like, "Cool... um, what?"

So I have to explain that. And underneath her role as the Given lies an entire cultural mindset which the reader is entirely unfamiliar with. Yes, I get to create my own world and make my own rules, but I also have to paint it for you, and - even more difficult - sell it to you. I can't rely on any assumptions because this is an entirely new world for the reader, even if I have been inhabiting it for quite some time in my own mind.

I've been working on GIVEN TO THE SEA for over a year now, and it's consumed me in an entirely different way than any of my other books have. Yes, there's freedom in fantasy - one that I've been enjoying a lot. But there's also a lot of responsibility and heavy lifting in the world building.

Here's hoping I got it right.

The Beauty Of Pantsing It: The Character You Didn't Expect

I've got a lot on my plate right now, but I mean that in strictly the metaphorical sense because I definitely just clean plated my breakfast. Farm eggs, man. Can't beat 'em.

The first draft of my fantasy series, GIVEN TO THE SEA, is due somewhat soon, and I also need to do an edit on my 2016 release THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES, which is a rape-revenge vigilante justice contemporary. It's possible that one day I will write something where the description doesn't make people cringe a little, but don't hold your breath - that's what I keep telling my mom, anyway.

So with all this work staring me down, the coffee pot on overtime and the cats tossed outside so they can't sit on my face, I've actually been getting a lot done. The fact that it's been raining non-stop in Ohio for the past two weeks has been a big help, as my outdoor soul isn't contending with much guilt from nice breezes and warm sunshine.

All that being said, it's still work, and cranking out the words is never easy. There's always the author's biggest enemy - procrastination - staring you in the face (well hello blog post, I should write you, yes?). But what stalled me the other day was something else, something that I only have myself to blame for.

I'm a pantser, complete and total. Whenever I turn in a synopsis to agent or editor it comes with a heavy warning that some people I earmarked as survivors may actually die, and I might decide to kill those who got a reprieve in the initial concept. I also might wander down paths I didn't know existed, which is where my subplots always come from. It's a lovely thing when an organic subplot pops up, and that happened to me yesterday, in the form of a character I didn't know existed.

He had a few things to say. He's quietly masculine and made of honor, and while I only meant to give him a line or two of comfort to a stricken female, he showed up again a few chapters later and kept talking. I was like dude, what are you doing - I didn't even give you a name, so shut it. And suddenly I had to give him a name, because he kept talking to my female character and the pronouns were getting old, and once I'd given him a name I gave him a wife and a kid, and suddenly he had a subplot and possibly his creator had a little crush on him.

This is why I love being a pantser - a subplot I never intended, but neatly ties together my overall arc came about organically, nicely tied up in a cool dude with armor and a conscience.

I'll take it.