We're talking today to Brandt Dodson, author of the thriller crime, The Sons of Jude. The Sons of Jude is published by Monarch Books.
Congratulations on your new book! Before we ask how you did it, can you tell us a little about your book?
The Sons of Jude is the first in a series featuring a fictional district in the Chicago Police Department. In that sense, it's similar to the 87th precinct novels of the late Ed McBain. It's also very different in the fact that the series features a real department in a real city. Characters within the district will come and go over the course of the books as they transfer, retire, or die.
In The Sons of Jude, we're introduced to Detectives Frank Campello and Andy Polanski. Campello is a cop's cop; he enjoys the respect of everyone in the district and is a leader among leaders. Polanski on the other hand, has been transferred to the district because he ratted out other cops. He is a "by-the-book" kind of guy whose actions have pitted him against everyone else in the CPD. He is loathed, despite the fact he's a good cop. Conflict inevitably arises and tension grows as the two are assigned to work together on a seemingly innocuous murder. But when their investigation is increasingly stymied by unseen forces, they must put aside their differences as they become the hunted in a game of cat-and-mouse.
Can you tell us who your publisher is and why you went with them?
Monarch Books in London, England is the publisher, but the books are distributed in the US by Kregel Publications. In short, Monarch approached my agent looking for a crime writer and he recommended me. They read some of my work and we talked. I pitched them on the idea of a series that features a locale as the chief character rather than an individual because it keeps the writing fresh for me, yet allows the reader to establish a connection. They liked the idea.
Were they your original choice?
I hadn't planned on doing another series. I have a current series (Colton Parker) with another publisher and wasn't really looking to start another. But when Monarch approached me, the concept came to me from the nether regions of my brain and jelled almost immediately. I worked out a few of the details and wrote a synopsis along with some sample chapters. It took off from there.
Did you go through an agent?
My agent is Chip MacGregor, founder of MacGregor Literary, and he was the initial impetus for the series. I published my first five novels with a traditional publisher before I had an agent, but was approached by a film producer who was looking to turn my Colton Parker series into a weekly TV program. I knew I was in over my head at that point and remembered Chip from a prior meeting. I called him and he agreed to represent me. Although the deal fell through, Chip has been instrumental in helping me direct my career. I highly recommend having a good (note the emphasis on good) literary agent.
What are the perks of going with a traditional publisher?
I think the best perk of all is having an experienced editor who is in your corner. It's true that self-published authors can hire an editor, but that can be expensive. In my case, not only do I get an experienced editor, but it goes through several edits by various people including a copy editor. That can add up.
A traditional publisher is also a great bastion of support. True, they don't do as much marketing as they previously did, but they still do some and can support the author's efforts as well. In addition, book store placement, ISBN registration, and cover design are all done by a traditional publisher.
Did you ever consider self-publishing and why or why not?
I did but rejected it because I wanted to know I wasn't living a fantasy. My thinking at the time was geared toward knowing that someone else thought I could write and was willing to invest in me. Anyone can publish, after all, but not everyone can convince a corporation that enough talent exists to support an investment of their time and money.
On the other hand, things have changed. I'm not at all averse to self-publishing today, particularly in the current environment. Never say never.
What do you believe is the biggest obstacle authors face when searching for a traditional publisher?
The biggest obstacle to acquiring a traditional publisher hasn't changed. It's talent.
Traditional publishers catch a lot of flak for the novels they've rejected, but which have gone on to do well. That happens. No one has a crystal ball in this business. But for the most part, talent wins through, even though that is a fact that's sometimes difficult for aspiring writers to accept. To anyone who desires to write, I would say remember that publishers want to find you as much as you want to find them. An acquisitions editor at the XYZ publishing company needs to find new talent if they are to keep their job and the company is to grow. It's as simple as that. But after reading dozens of manuscripts each week, they soon learn who can write and who can't. Also, originality is important. No one is looking for another John Grisham. They're looking for the next great writer.
What does your publisher do in terms of publicizing your book?
My publisher has printed book marks, arranged a blog tour, donated copies for review, placed the book in their bookstore catalogue, placed the books on bookstore shelves, arranged radio interviews, purchased ads in high-profile venues, held contests, and nominated my books for awards. Those efforts have gone a long way in supporting my own.
What do you believe is the biggest challenge authors face in promoting their books?
Competition. There are something like 160,000 books published every year. Rising above the fray is very difficult and is the single biggest obstacle to promotion. But there are others and some of them are based on factors beyond the author's control. For example, if you're a new author with no established name, your publisher will severely limit the amount of investment they are willing to make. If you are established, but not "a name", you will see the same limitations. Publishers tend to put their money on where they think they'll get the biggest return and that is usually going to be their mainstay authors.
That being said, things are also improving. The internet provides opportunities for networking that are very inexpensive and can be done from home. That avenue didn't exist before, and it's one of the driving factors in the dramatic increase of successful self-published authors. Ebooks didn't exist when I started publishing. Today, most books sold are electronic. That number is growing.
Are you active in the social networks and which is your favorite?
Absolutely. Most marketing today is done by means of the internet. I'm on Facebook, Twitter, and have my own website: www.brandtdodson.com
But I would strongly recommend that these networking sites NOT be used solely as a means of self-promotion. People know when they're being used and don't appreciate it. But by building a true relationship with large numbers of people - people who now have a vested interest in you - you stand a much better chance of growing a loyal readership.
Do you have any advice you’d like to share with aspiring authors?
My advice for any aspiring author is threefold.
First is to read. Read widely and read deeply. If you want to write mysteries, I would suggest reading Agatha Christie, Robert B. Parker, and Dennis Lehane to start. Each of these writers pen mystery novels, but each one of these writers is VERY different from the other. I would also strongly suggest reading outside your chosen genre. Each genre requires the use of a different skill set and learning these will enhance your writing.
Second is to write. Writing doesn’t get done by thinking about it. You must plant your seat in a chair and write. There is no other way. But also, you must be honestly critical of your own work. Your spouse, parents, children and friends will spare your feelings, but you can't afford to do that. You must know where you stand so that you can make progress.
Third is to persist. Never, ever, give up. Writing is a craft and it takes time to develop it. It is pointless to continue to submit a piece of writing that you know - deep down inside - is no good. If it can't be re-worked, then drop it and write something new. But make the next thing better. Learn from your mistakes. Read the Writer's Digest series of writing books. Study the novels of other writers then apply what you learned. The point it is, don't quit. Quitters never succeed.
Brandt Dodson’s latest book is the crime thriller The Sons of Jude.
Visit Brandt Dodson’s website at www.brandtdodson.com.