An interview with Morgan St. James

Who should read Morgan St. James's work?

Anyone who loves mystery fiction. Ms. St. James has been writing it for years, especially for the small presses. I've always been impressed by her novels. The detail, the plot, the writing. It's all great. She has a new book coming out now -- Who's Got the Money -- from Dark Oak Press. I wanted to see how she promotes her work.

Here's my quick review of her book, you should read it. It's fun and interesting and everything you want from a mystery. Since this is a blog about promotion though, I won't review it in detail. Instead, I asked her about how she promotes her work.

Who's Got the Money? 
At what point in your writing process do you start to promote the novel you’re working on specifically? I mean you are clearly branding yourself as a writer all the time, but when do make that shift so you are promoting the current novel?

I begin very early in the process. As soon as I have the framework for a new novel, I make reference to various aspects of it. It helps to build anticipation for a new book. For example, when the manuscript for “Who’s Got the Money?” was partially finished I threw out tidbits on social networking sites about the fact the manufacturing in Federal prisons is an EIGHT HUNDRED MILLION DOLLAR a year industry. So many people think prison manufacturing is a small program limited to items like license plates that it was bound to spark interest.

Later I appealed to the “chick lit” element with questions about getting even with someone who stole your heart and your money, which is another aspect of the book. Opening up that dialogue, also let me talk about my other upcoming book, (now available) “Confessions of a Cougar,” which could neatly fit into that genre.

 There is so much lead time from completing the plot to actual publication that it presents a great opportunity to talk about your upcoming book or books. If the book you are promoting is not your debut novel, this is a way to let readers know they can expect more books from you.

Some people wait until just before the release date, but then they’ve lost out on the time they could have been building interest.

What percentage of the time do you spend promoting online versus meeting people face to face?

I’d say the breakdown is something like 75/25. You can do online promotion at any hour of the day or night, and it frequently comes down to the wee hours after midnight. In addition to setting up a blog or website for the book and posting consistently, by choosing targeted sites you can reach a large amount of potential readers and ask them to share the posts or links. However, it is important to get out there and put a face on the author. Particularly with the sharp increase in books being produced due to the ease of self-publishing, there is still something special about the face-to-face meetings.

One of the chapters in my book, Writers’ Tricks of the Trade: 39 Things You Need to Know About the ABCs of Writing Fiction,” is about polishing your personality. There is a vast difference between being a ho-hum author who might put an audience to sleep during a reading or talk and an entertaining, dynamic speaker. Everyone can find their own style for personal presentations or book signings, but a key element is to be engaging.

Your work is often diverse. You work with a writing partner some times. Other times you write humorously and alone. Sometimes your work feels to me like pure suspense. Does the feel of the book change the way that you promote it?

Absolutely. It would be highly inappropriate to give a humorous talk or write a humorous article about a book that deals with kidnapping and rape. By the same token, if it is one of my funny crime capers or a book laced with humor, a dead serious presentation would do nothing to encourage people to investigate further or better yet, to buy the book.

When I write with a partner, I always make certain to give credit to that partner’s contributions to the creation of the book and how the book benefited from their expertise. We all have different strengths and the key is to identify them and establish a working pattern for both writing and promotion.

What do you do for research? I know that you are kind of an expert on this. What can you tell my readers about going out there and getting real information?

For the obvious things, the internet is a wonderful source. However, since most information is not vetted before posting, it is important to verify it through other sites before taking it as the absolute truth.

It is also important to recognize when the net might not be the be the most reliable source and to enlist the help of those with expertise in a particular field. For example, in a crime situation, most police stations, law enforcement agencies and prisons have Public Affairs Officers who will be more than happy to help you with facts if you call and explain that you are an author and need some information.

When writing The Devil’s Due, I needed to know where an inmate would be housed if they were beaten to the point of being on life support for the rest of their life. The extra fact was that this scenario takes place in 1970 in Illinois. That meant conditions might not be the same as information available on the net. I called Joliet Prison and the Public Affairs Officer was great. She didn’t know first-hand, but called people who did and got back to me with the information. In 1970 he would have been housed in the prison infirmary. However, in later years, there was a special facility for such cases which is not on the grounds of Joliet.

It is also important to build relationships with people you can call for information in various fields. They might be people in your social circle, ones you meet at events or conferences, or friends of friends. It ensures accuracy and saves lots of time if you can place a call or send an email with a question that relates to some aspect of your book.

What do you see as the most productive thing you do for promotion?

That is hard to say, because different tactics get various returns. Sometimes the internet interviews and articles work well, sometimes it is personal presentations or radio guest spots. Sometimes a media release with a great hook produces lots of hits and your story turns up in many small newspapers. I do think when you are lucky enough to wrangle an article or interview in a newspaper with high visibility it gives you a definite bump. A few years ago the Las Vegas Review Journal featured an article about me and my Amazon numbers rose for about a week afterwards.

How do you choose a new book from a living writer yourself?
I love mysteries and fast moving action. I also like political thrillers and some action adventure books. I listen to lots of audio books because I frequently drive between my home in the L.A. area and the one in Las Vegas. Fortunately libraries now have good collections of audio books, so I’ll generally take something from an author I know and like, often Robert Crais, Michael Connelley, Richard Northcut, Lee Child or J.D. Robb, and then take a few other books from authors I haven’t read. It helps me to explore their work, and if I don’t like it, I simply switch to the audio book of an author I like.

By doing that, I’ve discovered some authors I love and others that made me pop the CD out after only a few chapters.

I look for believable characters, a good pace and an intriguing story.