Authors Speak Out Column

Authors Speak Out – Tj O’Connor

Dying to Know (A Gumshoe Ghost Mystery) by Tj O'ConnorDying and Murder are overrated. Writing about them is not.

That’s what I used to think anyway. Until my first publishing contract with Midnight Ink last year. Then, holy-crap on a popsicle stick, I got a lesson in being an author!

See, it started with Dying to Know, my fourth book and first to be published. Dying to Know is a murder mystery with a paranormal twist—the story about Oliver Tucker, a fun-loving, wife-loving, take-the-world-by-the-horns homicide cop in my small home town of Virginia. Tuck is murdered in his own home and his world turns, well, weird. He returns to solve his own murder—Detective solve thyself! His biggest challenges are learning to be back amongst the living and not one of them and coming to grips with the fact that no one, including his wife, Angel, and former partner, Bear Braddock, are who he thought. Perhaps he was murdered because of his last case—a murder involving a retired mob boss, a local millionaire land developer, a New York hit man, and the local university elite. Or could it be that Bear Braddock, his best friend and partner for more than fifteen years, wants Angela? Tuck knows that everything surrounds Kelly’s Dig where the discovery of Civil War graves may put an end to a multi-million dollar highway project. If it does, who stands to gain the most? Enough to kill? Throw in more than forty years of undiscovered murders and two haunting spirits dead set (pardon the pun) on getting Tuck’s help in solving their murders, and you’ve got Tuck’s first novel in the bag. Or the grave, as it were.

Well, that’s what I thought. Until I learned there was a process. And by process, I mean the real work getting Dying to Know to market.

Okay, so here’s a snapshot of my ten-month journey from contract to book launch.

  • Edits, Edits, Edits. But unlike the horror stories I’ve heard from other authors, Midnight was a pleasure to work with. The worst edit they asked for (yes, asked) was to change a few names because I was obsessed with “B and C” names. On Bernie, on Bear Braddock, on Bennie, yahoo! Now Caroline, and Christie Chapman, and Carmen, and Cal Clemens, too! Holy crap, how did I not see this? Rule #1: Read as a reader, not a writer.

  • Cover Art. Oh the trials of arteeests! My first lesson in being published—Don’t argue with the publisher. It’s rude. It’s bad. It doesn’t work. No, I wasn’t a fan of my cover from Dying to Know, but as my agent pointed out, “You’re a writer, not a publisher. Shut up and write books.” Touché. In time, the cover would grow on me. Well, it really didn’t, but it didn’t matter either. Rule #2: Shut up and write books.

  • Get Your Name Out There! How? One of the missions of a new author is the drive to get your name out there. The question is easy—how? The answer, not so much. There are blogs, posters, and handing out bookmarks. There’s radio (if you have a fabulous private publicist as I do) and there’s begging friends and family to help. In fact, most of it is begging—please buy my book. For me, it’s as natural as a prostate exam. As an anti-terrorism consultant and a former Government agent, the last thing in the world I’m interested in—or skilled at—is selling myself to strangers or anyone for that matter.  So, it was, “Hello, I’m Tj the author. I am supposed to tell you about myself and my book. Let’s skip that and you just buy it, okay?” Rule #3: Learn to sell yourself.

  • Write a Summary. Write a blog. Write your bio. Write another blog. Write a press release. Write another blog. Do Facebook. Do… Sure, okay, on it. But, when exactly do I find time to write my next book? Enough said. Rule #4: A writer writes… And Writes… And Writes…

  • The Magic Box in the Mail. Ten months of handwringing and blogs and posts and getting your name out all culminates in the most tear-jerking moment of your life. Your box of advance books from your publisher. The seal is broken. The flaps unflapped. The packing materials removed. Viola. That cover you didn’t really like is suddenly the coolest thing you’ve ever seen in your life—your book—in print—staring back at you. Then, you do something absolutely silly. You grab the first copy, sign the title page to yourself, and sit down and read it. And it’s good. Damn good. Even if you did just write it yourself.  Rule #5: Be your best fan and reader.

  • Release Day. You may be surprised to know this day was anticlimactic for me. Maybe other writers would differ. I don’t know what I was expecting—balloons, strippers, planes skywriting my name overhead, a giant beam of light flashing “Tj” in the night sky. I don’t know. But the day came and went and nothing much except a few Facebook posts from pals I’d accumulated along the way with their kind congratulations. The New York Times forgot to call and congratulate me on my new best seller. So did Hollywood wanting it for a movie. No, it was just another day of handwringing about coverage, sales, and success. I used to think that the hardest part of being a writer was finding an agent and getting a book published. How wrong I was. The hardest part is having all that and wondering if it will last. Rule #6: Don’t expect too much on release day. And no, no one forgot to call.

  • Book Release Party—Oh my! Nothing says it’s worth it more than when sixty-five or seventy friends you invite to your party—and never expected to show—bust into your rented restaurant to devour great food and spirits and help you celebrate spending more money on a party than you’ll probably make on your book. But what the hell, right? You only sell your first book once. Rule #7: Be happy you actually have sixty-five to celebrate with.

  • Conferences and Signings—What? I have to pay for all that stuff? Finally, some fun. There is nothing more gratifying than sitting in an independent bookstore and having total strangers come in to buy your book and have you sign it. They are friendly and interested and best of all, they’re not family or your kids returning for a free meal or some cash. They ask cool questions like, “When’s your next book coming out” and “Tell me about your life” and “How did the story come to you?” No, not, “Can I have a few bucks,” (notice the word ‘borrow’ is missing from this request. It disappeared after they learned dads never expect repayment) or “What are you making for dinner?” or my fave, “You just sit at that computer all day and you call that work?” New fans are my favorite people in the world. I say second because my real favorites are my three Labs. Rule #8: Fans make the world go ‘round—be kind, and thoughtful, and talk with them. But never loan them money.

  • “Hey, aren’t you…?” I never thought fans would impact me—I’ve never been one who needed applause. But recently, a total stranger approached me at a conference and said, “Hey, aren’t you that famous author who wrote Dying to Know?” I spit my coffee all over the table. I wanted to say, “Why, yes I am” but my reply was, “Famous, no. Not even close. But yes, I wrote Dying to Know.” A conversation later, and I gave him a free, signed book. And I’ll be sending him the next two in the series, too. Why? Because he was my first “Hey, aren’t you…” And he may very well be my last. But what the hell. It was cool. Rule #9: There is a great fan out there… somewhere… for everyone.

In this torrent of events, I did manage to write Dying for the Past—Tuck’s first sequel. Tuck’s life, or death, begins to take focus now. He is on his way to understanding his role in the world—detective for the dead, or as my publisher calls him, the Gumshoe Ghost. In Dying for the Past, Tuck finds that dying is not for the faint of heart. And neither is the murder of a mysterious philanthropist with ties to the Russian mob and 1939 gangsters. He’s hunting the killer of a wealthy, mysterious philanthropist after he’s gunned down at his wife’s charity ball—in front of 100 witnesses who all saw nothing.  Tuck is on the case with the help of his wife, Professor Angela Tucker, and his former partner, Detective Bear Braddock, to find the killer and be the first to read “the book”—an old gangster’s journal of the roots of espionage, racketeering, and corruption leading to the identity of modern-day powerbrokers and spies. Tuck finds a colorful cast of allies in a tough Assistant U.S. Attorney General, a secretive FBI agent, and the spirits of a long-dead 1930’s gangster and his sassy girlfriend. As the case unfolds, so does the list of suspects like Angela’s close friend and retired mobster, a Russian thug making his move into Winchester, a tenacious paranormal investigator stalking Angela, and the philanthropist’s beautiful widow holding the key to millions of hidden loot and the location of “the book.” Can Tuck stop the killing and unmask a traitor or will the book continue to keep its secrets?  As Tuck searches to learn the secrets of “the book,” he begins to unravel his own ancestry of mobsters, adventurers, and wayward spirits. Is being a ghost hereditary?

Dying for the Past will be out in January 2015. And I’m nearly done with the third installment of Tuck’s case files, Dying to Tell—out in January 2016. Oh, there’s other works but they aren’t in the hands of any publishers yet… yet. Stay tuned.

So as you can see, writing about murder and dying is the easiest part of being an author. It’s the publisher, public relations, blogs, posts, weekend drives to faraway lands for book signings and events. It’s “Get you name out! Get a blog out! Get that “B and C” names out! Just get it out…” that’s the hard part.

Now, I’m not complaining. I’m venting about all the things I never considered in this small club called published authors. If you’re wondering like I was…Where’s the private jet? Where’s the town car to drive me to a signing? Where’s the rooftop launch parties in Manhattan while beautiful readers swoon over my signature? When do I quit my day job? The answers are: Rowling has her jet this weekend. DeMille is using his car. It’s raining in Manhattan anyway. And no, I cannot quit my day job—ever.

But even without the stuff dreams are made of, writing is a passion and a curse. I love doing it. I have to do it. If I don’t, I will probably die and come back as an anti-terrorism agent seeking out bad guys with my three Labs.

About Tj O’Connor

Author Tj O'Connor

Author Bio:

I first fell in love with writing while in grade school and over the years continued to dabble with characters and stories whenever life allowed. Recently, I’ve focused my energy on pursuing this dream—interrupted only by life as a security consultant and the demands of three Labrador retrievers.

I’ve completed seven novels and am working on another—a sequel in my series of murder mysteries that begins with Dying to Know. You can read about those my agent represents on this site. Her support is another fortune for which I am thankful.

Connect with Tj

Website | Facebook | Books by TJ O’Connor | Reviews of Tj’s Books |


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  1. This is a series I’ve been dying to read. Nancy Drew was my first author that really got me sucked in to mysteries so it is a nature. Can’t believe someone hasn’t done a retelling and updated version of her books.

    • Hi and thanks for your comment. My series surrounds Olive “Tuck” Tucker, the dead detective (Although my publisher calls it the Gumshoe Ghost series). All the books will follow him as he chasing killers and learns more about his own family heritage involved in history going back to the Civil War. Each book will unlock more about his family-whom he never knew-and have a modern murder intertwined with a historical one. It’s a true murder mystery with the paranormal twist of his being a dead-detective. Think Richard Castle meets Patrick Swayze of Ghost, or for us old-movie lovers, Topper and the Thin Man. I hope you’ll check it out. And I grew up on the Hardy Boys and other younger stories so I agree with you, some of the old young-adult books need to update and return! Maybe one day I’ll try my hand at one.

  2. This was a great interview! The only thing I would like to get across to publishers is I’d like for authors to have some input on that cover art! When I am actually just browsing in a book store (not looking for something specific) cover art is terribly important. I know that the art is generally not in the authors control but bad art can cause me to put a book down (a habit I am trying to break). A book is the authors passion project, they should have a say in the visual representation of it!

    • I’m with you! I had very little input on my cover art. The input was, “If you don’t love it, oh well.” I was not in love with my Dying to Know’s cover and felt it did not represent the story very much (plus there were flaw in it like a palm tree out the window of a Northern Virginia home.) But I do have to say, the cover for the first sequel, Dying for the Past, is much better and I do like it!

  3. I didn’t know this books but your review made me want too

  4. Do you think it’s always the case that an author shouldn’t argue about the cover? I’ve run across the occasional confessional blog where character’s appearances in the cover art were changed so much that the author didn’t know the images were meant to be the main characters. Is it really a good idea to sit back when that happens?

    • Frankly, I’m too new to know if arguing is right. I’m still in that “Thank you for publishing my book” zone. But I do try to defend my work where I think I can. My publisher did very good by me with Dying for the Past, the first sequel, and I like the work. My agent put it into this perspective, “You write books. They sell them. Try to trust them to know the cover art and summaries and marketing. That’s their job. So, go do yours.” I don’t necessarily see that, but I do trust my agent. So for now, I’ll hold the arguing to the really big stuff. SO far, my only disagreement has been the cover art and back-cover summary. They’ve been super about leaving the story content intact. IN the future, when I have a little more savvy about the industry, maybe I’ll test the waters a little more.

  5. So much fun to hear about your process! It’s amazing (and a little daunting) how many hats an author has to wear now–publicity and sales, not just writing!

  6. I enjoyed the interview and look forward to reading your book

  7. Congratulations on the publication of your first book! Dying to Know sounds fascinating. A modern murder intertwined with a historical one is very interesting. Loved your post on publishing. It is amazing how much an author must do to promote a book.

    • You’d be surprised just how little a publisher does for selling. They have a format of getting your book to the press, a press release, and sending out copies for reviews, but I’ve not experienced a lot more. My private publicist has done an amazing job getting my name out and thank God for her! But mainly, it’s been my responsibility to get my name out. And coming from someone whose profession has always been based on a low profile and no personal-pr, that’s been tough for me. But I’m learning! And frankly, Bitten By Books has been one of my best pals in this! They’ve been super giving me a format to meet folks!

  8. Love the interview and the “rules”!

    • Bitten by Books has a wonderful format for readers and authors. This interaction has been very good for me and I thoroughly enjoy the contact with readers.

  9. Congrats 1st off.

    As to the cover; I am going to have to disagree. Your vision is what produced the book. If you think the cover does not adequately represent the body of the work… well then, duh, it does not.

    Release day party, have you considered going virtual and doing a FB part with virtual food and drinks (no cost) and a few prizes to drive sales and marketing initiatives?

  10. I’ve not read a lot of mysteries lately but used to devour them when I was growing up especially Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and Encyclopedia Brown. I’ll add your first to my wish list. Sounds like a good read.