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
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.
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