Mystery Novelist, Texas Mystery Series
The Improbable .38
Why Andy Greenwood Worked with Blue Horizon:
In college, I loved movies filled with suspense, and once saw thirty-two in a single month. Jaws and Three Days of the Condor and Marathon Man were special favorites, because they featured unlikely heroes who came through in the end. After college, I was inspired by reading the mysteries of Mary Higgins Clark, John Grisham, Sue Grafton, and James Patterson, among others. Years later, I began to dream about writing mysteries fulltime.
Finally, I wrote my first novel. I knew it was a good Texas story with an exciting, suspenseful plot and that I could communicate — because I’d written so many business papers. But my manuscript was missing something. And I couldn’t figure out what it was. I decided to ask a professional editor how to transform my first mystery novel into a commercially viable book.
What Andy Greenwood’s Editorial Needs Actually Were:
Like many first works of fiction, the opening scene in Andy’s mystery novel needed a bit of restructuring to give it a better “hook,” something to instantly entice and engage. Instead of providing extensive back story about characters who readers didn’t yet know (and landscape description for an equally unknown locale), we worked on creating an opener with immediate impact — one that would quickly draw readers into his story.
We also worked on restructuring certain key scenes, while positioning the back story without interrupting the dramatic flow of the storyline. After paying close attention to characterization, we turned to sentence structure, dialogue, and punctuation to bring the manuscript up to publishing speed.
What Andy had in his favor was a carefully-thought-out plot, one with gradually building dramatic tension (once the too-slow opener was out of the way), and this made the rest of his book a page-turner — especially as the plot and sub-plot threads began to resolve in the final showdown. Andy had extremely good storytelling abilities, and his mystery was placed in a Texas locale that he was thoroughly familiar with. He also built his book around two likeable and attractive main characters who were romantically involved, but in a stable, meaningful way, not as a superficial plot device.
The Editorial End Result:
First of all, I got a reality check about the parts of my novel that didn’t work the way I thought they would. Then I learned about character development. I’d heard how important this was, but was unsure of what it really meant. I discovered that it generally means making characters into people readers can relate to, in terms of their human traits and what motivates them.
I also learned to be careful with the facts, and even whether the fictional aspects are believable enough. If they aren’t, it can jeopardize readers’ “suspension of disbelief.” There were more basic technical things, too, like correctly punctuating dialogue, and using words that did a better job of painting a picture for the reader. And while I learned that my plot was fine, editing made it clearer, more concise, and more effective.
I’d have to say that, without professional guidance, my writing career would have been very frustrating. And might even have ended prematurely (my original manuscript was rejected by thirty-seven agents and publishers).
Andy Greenwood’s Book in the World:
Andy’s first mystery novel has done very well during its first seven plus months, selling over a thousand copies. But as he and most other authors know, promotion is their responsibility these days (whether they publish or self-publish), and that is often more work than the writing is.
Andy jumped into his book’s promotion with both feet. Devising a multi-faceted campaign, he focused on selling in a regional Texas market since that was the setting for his book. One of his first marketing decisions — after launching an author website (www.andrewgreenwoodmystery.com) — was to print full-color book cover posters that he used to pre-advertise the many book signings he’d arranged at independent bookstores (he also printed postcards and bookmarks as promotional tools).
His first bookstore events were encouraging: two weeks after publication, Andy sold a hundred copies at two independent Houston bookstores. That prompted him to contact as many other non-chain bookstores as he could find in big Texas cities, in mid-sized towns, and in small towns. Over time, he had nearly two dozen book signings. Not all were in bookstores; other venues included a grocery chain, a hotel gift shop, a country club’s Christmas boutique (where he bought a booth for $500.), and a honky tonk bar mentioned in his book. Sometimes he’d speak about being an author, answering such staple questions as why he writes novels, how he writes while having a fulltime job, how long it took to finish his book, where he gets his ideas, and whether he used an editor. At every event, Andy collected names and contact information (using a guest register), so he could assemble a fan mailing list and stimulate sales for the forthcoming books in his mystery series.
And then he hit the Big Time. By cultivating an email relationship with the book review editor at The Houston Chronicle, Andy was eventually referred to the regional manager of Borders, the national bookstore chain. That intro led to an in-person sales presentation, which led to two Borders book signings. By then, though, more and more stores were carrying his book, either on consignment, or by buying copies outright (Andy pitches three new stores each week), and his placements had grown to forty stores in Texas, New Mexico, California, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Maryland.
But all those bookstore outlets didn’t prevent him from making spur-of-the-moment sales from the trunk of his car — over a hundred and fifty such sales.
“Whenever I see someone I know, even casually,” he explains, “I ask what they’ve been up to. And they ask me the same. I mention my recently published book, and if they like mysteries, they’ll usually ask where they can get a copy. I’ll mention my website, online booksellers, and bookstores, but say that if they want to save a few bucks, I’ll sell them a copy for less, right now. And I’ll even sign it. So I always carry around twenty copies in the trunk of my car. It’s a technique I learned from sales training courses, and it’s not at all demeaning because people are genuinely pleased. Most of us wish we had the courage to follow our dreams, and what I’m doing exemplifies that for some.”
Andy also connected with book clubs whose members eagerly invited him to answer questions during their social gatherings. Then there’s the Internet radio talk show interview that resulted in two hundred visitors flocking to his website. But Andy figures he’s just scratched the surface of the long-term process of promoting his book.
He’s always looking for innovative ways to find new readers, especially since he’s written a second book in his Random Sample series and is planning a third — while contemplating perhaps three or four more. After that, he may try something entirely different. But that’s a mystery — uh, secret. For now.