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Jon Land is the USA Today bestselling author of 38 novels, including eight titles in the critically acclaimed Caitlin Strong series: Strong Enough to Die, Strong Justice, Strong at the Break, Strong Vengeance, Strong Rain Falling (winner of the 2014 International Book Award and 2013 USA Best Book Award for Mystery-Suspense), Strong Darkness (winner of the 2014 USA Books Best Book Award and the 2015 International Book Award for Thriller and Strong Light of Day which won the 2016 International Book Award for Best Thriller-Adventure, the 2015 Books and Author Award for Best Mystery Thriller, and the 2016 Beverly Hills Book Award for Best Mystery.  The latest title in the series is Strong Cold Dead, to be published on October 4 and about which Strand Magazine said is “certain to rank Land among a handful of our most talented thriller authors of this decade.” Land has also teamed with multiple New York Times bestselling author Heather Graham on a new sci-fi series, the first of which, The Rising, will be published by Forge in January of 2017. He is a 1979 graduate of Brown University and lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

Question:

 

Answer:

1. Do you read books at a certain time of the day and what was the last book that kept you up all night because you couldn't put it down?

 

Wow, great question! I read mostly at night, when I travel, and before I start writing myself. In terms of the last book that kept me awake, I'd have to go with DOCTOR SLEEP, Stephen King's brilliant and long-awaited sequel to THE SHINING. It was literally chilling and I couldn't put it down.

2. Who is your favorite book character?

 

James Bond because of his influence on me, Jack Reacher because he is the closest thing to iconic, and Dave Robicheaux because no one is more flawed and heroic at the same time.

3. How much time, from conception to publication, do you spend planning and writing a typical novel?

 

That's a very big time line. I'd have to say two years at minimum, but sometimes more, depending on the book and when exactly the driving concept came to me.

4. Where do you buy books? Do you prefer local independent bookstores, chain bookstores, or online shopping?

 

I love indie bookstores, yes, and support them to the best of my ability, but I confess to buying books on Amazon too because, let's face it, price matters and bookstores seem to be discounting less books for less often.

5. In a bookstore or library what do you think makes a patron pick up a book and want to take a closer look? Is it the cover, the title, the display, the lighting?

 

I think the cover and title are incredibly crucial. They represent the eye-grabbing first impression readers/buyers get of the book. You just can't overemphasize their importance, given the incredible amount of competition in the marketplace. As an author, success is defined by both expanding your audience and driving awareness of the book's publication.

6. What can a bookstore or library do to encourage patrons to pick up a specific book and check it out? 

 

Hand selling, personal recommendations, represent the kind of word of mouth that remains the best way to build or launch an author.

7. What is the most difficult part about your craft? You know, that one thing you wish you didn’t have to do? 

 

Pay the bills! This is an extraordinarily difficult business for most writers to make a steady, predictable, and comfortable income.

8. On the flip side, what’s the best part about what you do? The thing that makes the answer to that last question worth every minute of it?

 

Nothing beats the freedom, being your own boss and getting paid for something you love. And I'm lucky enough to actually love the process of writing. Getting the words down and watching the page count climb.

9. Do you write an outline before you start writing a novel? If yes, how detailed is your outline? 

 

No, I'm a seat of the pants type writer. I figure if I don't know what's going to happen, the reader can't possibly know. I have great confidence in both my characters to guide me and my imagination, or some visionary muse, to steer me in the right direction to get my story out of the hole I've dug for it.

10. Do you edit and proofread your own work at all or do you just write it and hand it off to an editor? 

 

I am a voracious rewriter and like to have at least the structure where it needs to be before I share the entire manuscript with anyone else. But self-editing is much different than proofreading and that's something I continue to struggle with. You know, typos!

11. How does one develop good writing habits?

 

By writing and needing to write. If it's just a hobby, you're not a pro. If you want to make a living at this you need to be a pro.

12. How do you work with an editor without pride making a guest appearance like Jack Nicholson in The Shining? 

 

Writing a book is a team effort and my editors our crucial to the success of my books and, even more importantly, the quality. A writer has to realize it's impossible to be totally objective about your own work. You need to find people you trust to help get you where you want to go.

13. Is there ever a time when a new story isn’t playing out in your mind?

 

Yes, when I'm busy, or obsessed, with ones I'm working on at the time. The ability to focus is part of the discipline that separate the amateur writer from the professional.

14. I'm going to get daring now. Can you recite your favorite line from an upcoming novel you're working on? 

 

By heart? Without peaking? Actually, no, I can't.

15. Why do you think your books are so successful? 

 

I don't think they're nearly successful enough, first of all. But whatever success I have enjoyed is do primarily to the fact that I know how to tell and pace a story. To keep my readers constantly entertained and, to that point, never disappointing them. Not for a single page, never mind chapter.

16. What have you done throughout your career to improve the craft of writing?

 

Challenge myself to take chances, to grow by pushing my characters in new directions to test their limits as well as my own.

17. Explain to aspiring authors and booksellers just how much work you do, even as a traditionally published bestseller, to maintain your level of success? 

 

Ha-ha! I guess the good news in that respect is that I'm nowhere near as successful as I want to be. So I'd say to continue growing my success, I need to stay passionate about my work and never forget that the story is everything.

18. How should an author divide their time between writing and marketing?

 

Wow, another great question and there's no simple answer. I know writers, plenty of them, who are far better at marketing what they do than actually the writing they're marketing. And I know great writers who can't move the sales needle no matter how much they Tweet or Facebook. I think a lot of it depends on the genre but, even more, they may be good but most of the really successful writers owe an element of that success, sometimes a lot of it, to luck. Being in the right place at the right time.

19. Would you say that the bulk of your book sales come from traditional print editions or ebooks

 

Print editions. I'm doing better with e-books, but I was always a creature of mass market, rack-sized paperbacks. The loss of 5,000 mall bookstores and even more retailers who carry no books now or far less of them is something my sales figures have never recovered from. And, to that point, the more savvy you are on social media and marketing in general, the more you'll move the needle on E-book sales. But there's no magic bullet. If there was, we'd all be firing it!

20. Have you ever been to a book signing event and had no one show up? 

 

Of course! But the advertising, placement, and fact that I left plenty of signed copies behind made up for it. Signings shouldn't be judged by how many you sell that day, but overall. Better to sell thirty books in a month than ten books in a day.

21. How much work do you personally put into promoting your book signing events? And how long before the event do you start promoting? 

 

Not a lot, because the simple fact is that unless you're a household name, which I'm not yet, people aren't going to show up. I do some Facebook and Twitter posts, but I don't go crazy because I have to be very cautious about allocating my most precious resource which is time.

22. For the aspiring authors reading this who have dreams of making a career out of writing, how long did it take before you started earning a steady income from writing?

 

I didn't have a lot of needs when I started out but, to be totally frank with you, I'd say seven years or so.

23. Have you ever been part of a writers workshop or group? Was it helpful? Or a waste of time? Any advice for people looking to start or join one? 

 

I love speaking at conferences, moderating panels, and discussing the business and the industry. I am not at all, in any way, shape, or form, a creature of workshops. Just not for me. But every writer's different and others have to find what works for them, not what works fo rme.

24. Is it true that the only way for an author to truly make a living in writing is to license or sell movie and television rights?

 

I'm living proof the answer to that is no. Even the majority of those fortunate enough to option or sell something don't necessarily make a lot of money. The ones who do are the ones whose books are in demand because they're bestsellers and, thus, have already been validated. The good news is that books and characters come with no expiration dates. Look no further than Tim Johnson (LONGMIRE) or even Elmore Leonard to see that game-changing success can come later rather than sooner.

25. How do you feel about self-publishing in today's market? Is it a good idea? Or should authors still be trying to find an agent and get traditionally published? 

 

Well, plenty of authors can't get an agent or get a traditional publishing deal. What are they supposed to do? All I'd say is that the vast majority of self-published writers aren't making a lot of money, certainly not enough to sustain even a reasonable lifestyle. Then again, the same can be said for plenty of traditionally published authors. The quickest route to success is to write a great book. Do that and you're putting yourself in the game. And you can't win until you're in the game.

26. Continuing off that last question, is there one thing in particular that you believe got you to that point where you were earning a living doing what you love? 

 

Sure, having a publisher that believed in me enough to position my books in a way that maximized their opportunity to succeed. Publishers can only promote--push--so many of their authors. And if you're not one of them, you're going to struggle to find success and consistency in the marketplace. Although there's no formula for success, no, but if a publisher makes you their monthly or seasonal lead their sales force is going to make you a priority.

27. What are your feelings on authors giving away thousands of copies of their ebooks, hoping it will raise their rank on Amazon? Is this a viable strategy? Or are these authors making a mistake? And why? 

 

I haven't seen a lot of metadata that support the notion of giving away huge numbers of books. It's one move to be undertaken within a broader marketing strategy. I go by the notion that if somebody pays nothing for something, that's how much value they'll give it.

28. What are some warnings for authors who might be about to sign with a traditional publisher?

 

It's the beginning of the process, not the end. Don' expect to be a big bestseller out of the box. Set realistic expectations and, above all, be a team player. Work with the publisher's efforts, not against or instead of them. Publishers are people and if they like and respect your work ethic, they're going to try harder to help you succeed. Maybe I'm idealist, but I honestly believe that.

29. What steps should an author take to build their platform? How much time do you put into social media?

 

I think if you read my other answers, you'll have the answer to that too!

30. Did you ever feel like giving up as an author? How did you fight through it?

 

Actually, no. Writing isn't what I do, it's who I am.

31. Shifting gears a little now… How would you describe the current state of the traditional bricks-and-mortar bookseller market?

 

Steady at worst, growing incrementally at best--both good things. Print sales are actually up. If you want to know why, just look at the midnight lines to buy the latest Harry Potter book. Those kids are going to grow up to be adults who also love having a physical book in their hands.

32. Is there any one marketing idea that you've seen bookstores do that stands out as particularly successful? 

 

No, not one in particular. I have heard good things about sections labeled "IF YOU LIKE ______ THEN TRY ______. Beyond that, sure, being displayed in the front so everyone who walks into the store sees your book. But that's another subject.

33. What's the biggest mistake you've seen bookstores make? How would you suggest they fix it? 

 

They don't put my books in the front!

34. Do you have advice for independent bookstores on how they can organize successful events in their stores? 

 

Try to have more than one author at a time. Make it more of an event where each author draws a few people to add up to a pretty decent crowd.

35. Do you believe there is still a bright future for independent bookstores? If you could say just one thing to a struggling bookstore, what would it be?

 

No need for me to answer that from my perspective when the Indie stores that are thriving have found success in selling items other than books, becoming a destination for more than just printed matter.

 

Thank you for reading and stay tuned for more great interviews with bestselling authors!