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Q & A: Dick Peterson (By the Light: A Novel of Serial Homicide)

Q. How did you come to self-publish?

A. When I completed By the Light:  A Novel of Serial Homicide, I merged into the insane traffic on the traditional publishing highway.  My thought at the time was that the only way I could validate myself as a writer would be to entice an agent to represent me and for that agent to entice a publisher to cause my story to appear on bookshelves across the land.

That pursuit became my hobby for quite some time.  Queries were sent to about 80 agents.  They all have different ways in which you must approach them.  Some want snail mail.  Some want e-mail.  Some just want a query letter.  Some also want small samples of the manuscript, five or 10 pages.  Some want the first chapter.  There were six follow-up requests for larger samples of 50 or more pages.  There were four requests for my whole manuscript.  I have read from several sources that only one in about 200 queries results in a full request.  All but one of those had seen a sample of the manuscript.  That I had achieved that four times made me feel good.  It resulted in neither representation nor a book contract.  Also lacking was feedback of substance as to why the agents chose to decline representation.

I went to a literary festival and talked to several published authors about consulting with an independent editor.  One writer who had several published suspense novels said he started using an independent editor on his third novel.  That his third and subsequent novels sold five times as many copies as his first two he attributes to his independent editor.  I found a highly credentialed lady to work with me on my story and implemented all of her suggestions, some that were nuances and some that were relative biggies.  About the time I was working on those changes, I started reading about Kindles.  Then I got one.  It changed my reading habits.  Fascinating articles and blog posts enlightened me as to the possibility of getting my story before readers’ eyes as an e-book.  This changed my perspective.  I realized that I could get validated by readers instead of agents and publishers.

Q. What self-publishing service did you use?  Are you happy with the service?

A. Thus far, I have only utilized Kindle Digital Publishing to offer my novel at Amazon’s Kindle Store.  As has been the case with everything I’ve ever done with Amazon, the experience has been great.  They are quite good at all the things they do.  My first Kindle was damaged on the first day of a vacation to Tybee Island, Georgia.  It was in a front compartment in my backpack, and I think a shuttle driver shoved a piece of luggage into it.  I called Amazon as soon as I discovered it that first night.  They had a new Kindle in my hands the next evening.  Wow.  I plan to become Nook-capable soon.

Q. What avenues have you taken to market the book? Have you gotten
reviews, interviews, TV, print media coverage?

A. I am just beginning to initiate exposure of my book at pertinent websites.  “Self-Publishing Review” was my first stop.  I have now established a presence at “Goodreads”.  These two sites have helped me discover some others that look promising.  Prior to beginning these efforts I relied on sales to family and friends, sales to those who then heard of my story by word of mouth, giving novel-specific business cards to people I encountered, and visibility gained through social media.

It has been obvious to me that some sales have arisen from the business cards.  If you want to find Kindlers, look for them when you are in airports and on planes.  They are easy to find since their eyes are usually glued to their reading devices.  I’m also certain that sales have been made to cashiers, waiters, sales people, and others with whom you have an opportunity to determine if they are readers and have some sort of device that can handle Kindle books.

Facebook and Twitter and my Blogger page have provided access to more distant friends.  When I post to the blog, I put out a Tweet announcing it, and my Tweets all go to my Facebook page.  I call myself Red Stick Writer on my blog page.  Red Stick is an anglicized version of Baton Rouge, the river city where I spent my first 42 years.  It is amazing through Site Meter to see people arrive at my page from a Google search for stick writers and stay to read three or five or seven pages of my writing.

The only interview so far is this DIY, and my only reviews to date are from Amazon customers who have read my book.  I’m about to actively pursue both interview and review opportunities.

Q. What drove you to write this particular book?

A. I’ve wanted to write a novel since I was in late elementary school or early junior high.  A cousin who was a couple of years older showed me a manuscript on which he was working.  It was to be a sequel to Baum’s Oz series.  I don’t know what ever happened to that work, but it planted a seed in my mind.  The cousin went on to be a National Merit semifinalist and earn a doctoral degree.

Writing has always been a joyful process for me.  I once got an A on a book report for a book that did not exist.  My high school journalism teacher was the person who caused me to look at writing as a craft.  Reading novels by Southern authors who made the my native region of the country palpable in their volumes and whose characters rose up from the page to live and breath in my mind finally shoved me onto the path toward authoring By the Light: A Novel of Serial Homicide.

When I completed my manuscript, I contacted that cousin to see if he wanted to be one of my readers.  Before he got back to me, he was killed in a house fire.  My aunt told me he had spoken to her and was touched by my request.  Richard’s spirit has been on every step of this journey with me ever since.

Q. Is the book in any one particular genre? Is it a genre that’s familiar
to you?

A. Suspense novels have always been of interest to me.  Some of the tensest ones have been about serial killers.  I should note that I took a college course called “The Literature of Serial Killers.”  It involved reading and evaluating both fiction and non-fiction books about serial killers.  I learned a lot of interesting information that was very useful in my book.  A similar category of books I’ve found to be fascinating is true crime, particularly when done as narrative non-fiction such as Capote’s In Cold Blood and Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter and And the Sea Will Tell.

Q. Who are your greatest writing influences?

A. Southern writers who really ring my chime are Pat Conroy, John Grisham, and Greg Iles.  All three channel the South through their stories and make you feel like you know their characters intimately.  Serial killers ooze from the pen of Thomas Harris, who hails from Mississippi, in a captivating way.  Sandra Brown cut her teeth in romance.  She moved on to romantic suspense and caught my attention with Envy.  I find that a smidge romance helps take the edge off of serial killer gore.  Her characters are pulpy with flaws or baggage of some sort.  It makes them struggle in some form or fashion, and that makes you pull for them.

Q. What’s your writing regimen? Any tips for keeping focused?

A. Most of my first novel was written in a loft at a coffeehouse.  I’d go there during my lunch hour to smoke and drink cappuccinos and lattes while writing about the corpses of naked couples left at lighthouses.  Back then I found that the story flowed better for me out of a pen rather than from my fingertips on a keyboard.  There were days when I watched the other patrons, and there were days when I had so much to write that I’d run out of paper.  That’s when I used napkins.  I was new to the process, and I spent too much time dinking with format and the like rather than creating mayhem and romance when I used my computer.  The cure came with time.  I gave up the smoking several years ago.  Keyboarding works fine for me now.

Q. Would you self-publish again?

A. Absolutely, I would self-publish again.  Much of my time was spent chasing agents.  If all goes as planned, retirement will come in less than two years.  I’d rather spend my time writing and promoting than interacting with layers of gatekeepers.  Do I think I’ll get rich?  No.  I will write what I want to write, hope to be able to pay for all of my golf balls and greens fees, and be thrilled if some folks are enjoying my stories.

Q. Any final words of advice for those looking to self-publish?

A. I think everyone has to travel the road on their own.  There are things to be learned about publishing and about self in the experiences.  Writers will find their place of comfort.  Relish the process, and know that self-publishing can be tremendously satisfying.  It is now a viable option, and I believe it will become even more so.  Learn as much as you can about writing and publishing.  Sites like this one, many helpful agent blogs, Kindle boards and similar forums provide a wealth of information.