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 Importance of Facts, Even In Fiction

I'm a discerning reader, possibly to a fault. A factual slip can throw me out of a story and anything set in the country (or God forbid, on a farm) damn well better have been researched or I'm going to skewer it. In private, of course, but it will be skewered.

I researched for 18 months before writing A MADNESS SO DISCREET. I like to tell people I know so much about lobotomies I could perform one (I don't add that it's not a terribly delicate surgery). When it came to MADNESS, I dove in. Lobotomies, medical treatments for the mentally ill, the history of criminal profiling, the setting per 1890's culture, even speech patterns. I wanted to be thorough.

Originally MADNESS was supposed to have a connection to the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and America's first known serial killer, H.H. Holmes. That was scrapped later on for various reasons, but I had already done so much in-depth work framing the book for the 1890's that I didn't want to deal with a very big roadblock.

Lobotomies as we know them weren't in use until the early 1900's.


A part of my plot hinged on lobotomies and I'd read over a thousand pages concerning them, so I wasn't going to toss everything in the bin. Instead, I needed a feasible reason for a doctor in 1890 to have enough medical evidence to support performing something like a lobotomy... and I found that in the story of Phineas Gage.

I read another thousand pages in relation to Phineas before executing the scene in MADNESS where Thornhollow describes to Grace the function of the frontal lobe and explains the procedure he's about to perform on her.

Thousands of pages of research went into roughly three pages of that book.

In the same vein, I researched water for six months before writing NOT A DROP TO DRINK. I read about the history of water, about the projected water shortage, and even a book concerning - yes, really - water law. I can tell you things about water law that you really, really don't care about.

But in all of my thorough research concerning water I overlooked something vital.

Gasoline expires.

Did you know that? I didn't.

It was something I didn't even think to look into. Most post-apocalyptic movies show plenty of roving bandits on motorcycles and people driving around in cars. Totally wouldn't happen. This was pointed out to me at a conference the year that IN A HANDFUL OF DUST (a book with, yes, people driving cars) released.

I'm not above telling you that it really, really bothers me that any scene in DRINK or DUST that involves gasoline is bogus.

That's how important facts are to me, even as a fiction writer. So important, that one of my favorite quotes from a historical figure found it's way into IN A HANDFUL OF DUST. I'm going to leave it here at the bottom of this post as well, and you will be seeing it pop in my social media feeds as we move forward this year.