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Steve Berry was born and raised in Georgia and graduated from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University. He was a trial lawyer for 30 years and held elective office for 14 of those years. He is a founding member of International Thriller Writers—a group of nearly 4,000 thriller writers from around the world—and served three years as its co-president.

Steve is a New York Times and #1 internationally bestselling author of 16 novels, 12 of which are Cotton Malone adventures. His books have been translated into 40 languages with over 21,000,000 copies sold in 51 countries. 

History lies at the heart of all of Steve Berry’s books. It’s a passion, one he shares with his wife, Elizabeth, which led them to create History Matters, a foundation dedicated to historic preservation.  Since 2009 they’ve crossed the country to save endangered historic treasures, raising money via lectures, receptions, galas, luncheons, dinners and their popular writers workshops. To date, over 3,000 students have attended those workshops. All totaled, they’ve raised a million dollars for preservation. 

Steve Berry has had more than a few awards come his way. In 2012 and 2013 he was recognized by the American Library Association, which named him its spokesperson for National Preservation Week. Among other honors are the Royden B. Davis Distinguished Author Award; the 2013 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award given by Poets & Writers; the 2013 Anne Frank Human Writes Award; and the Silver Bullet, bestowed in 2013 by International Thriller Writers for his philanthropic work. He currently serves on the Smithsonian Libraries Advisory Board.  A 2010 NPR survey named The Templar Legacy one of the top 100 thrillers ever written.

Question:

 

Answer:

1. Please explain to aspiring authors and booksellers just how much work is required, even as a traditionally published bestselling author, to maintain your level of success?

 

It’s something that has to be worked at every day.  Of course the most important thing for any writer is to produce the best work they can.  Writing the book is the one thing a writer has total control over.  So I pour most of my efforts into just that.  Whether or not I succeed is a matter of debate, but I do try as hard as I can.  You can never forget that being a commercial fiction writer is a constant endeavor, a full time job.  You have to give it your full attention.

2. Is there a marketing idea you've seen bookstores do that stands out as particularly successful?

 

The most successful marketing that stores do is working their customer base through e-mail, newsletters, and personal contact, making sure those folks stay customers, participate in store activities, and buy their books. The most successful independent stores around the country follow this religiously.

3. What is the biggest mistake you have seen a bookstore make?

 

My favorite is from about nine years ago. My book was chosen as a President’s Pick at Books-A-Million. Being selected entailed lots of free placement, marketing, co-op, and promotion at all of the Books-A-Million stores. Stuff they pay for. Talk about wonderful. At the same time Books-A-Million produced a monthly publication that it gave away in all its stores (which they also pay for). It was a newspaper like publication that highlighted what was for sale in the stores for that month. Inside that publication was a review on my novel, thrashing it. So, on the one hand the company paid lots of money in marketing and promotion to sell the book then, on the other, more money to print a review that said the books wasn’t all that good. Talk about absurd.

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

 

Promotion is paramount. They have to work their customer base and generate interest in the writers that are taking the time to come to store for an event. No promotion, no successful event. It’s that simple. Everything else springs from that

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

 

I would not be a published writer today except for the writers group I attended for 6 years back in the 1990s. It was a brutal experience, but that’s where I learned how to teach myself the craft of writing. Writers groups are wonderful, if they work. Finding the right one is a matter of trial and error. I’ve heard many horror stories about bad ones.  I was fortunate to stumble into a great one. I would encourage all writers to try and either create or find a good writers’ group. In my time, we had to do it all face-to-face. But, today, it can be done on-line with Facetime, Skype, and e-mail with writers all around the world.

6. What’s the most important thing a bookstore can do for an author to promote sales? Obviously, every book cannot be front and center.

 

That’s right, which is why placement in stores has to be purchased. It’s called co-op and publishers pay dearly for it. Placement is important. No question. As in real estate, in the book business three things are critical:  location, location, location. But word-of-mouth from booksellers helps too. And just not in the independents. The chains can contribute there too. Hiring people who are readers, who actually know something about the product they are dealing with, definitely helps.

7. What advice could you give to an author about dealing with failure?

 

There’s a saying, When you’re walking through hell, keep going. And that’s what you have to do. Keep moving ahead. Never quit. It took me 12 years and 85 rejections to finally be published. I’m living proof it can be done.

8. Which of your books has been the most successful for you and why do you think that is?

 

My biggest seller remains The Templar Legacy, which came out in 2006.  It caught the last wave of The DaVinci Code, which was finishing its three year domination of the bestseller lists.  Having Templars in a story at that time was like gold and that paid off in some impressive sales that continue to this day. 

9. In your experience, how should an author divide their time between writing and marketing?

  It’s a fifty-fifty proposition.  Every writer has to be the number one marketer of their book.  Nobody is going to promote your work better than you.  Writers have to take an active role in marketing.  Unfortunately, to be able to do that you have to understand the business of writing, which most writers don’t.  Those dual failures explain, more than anything else, why so few writers make it to Book 2 or Book 3.  Writers think somebody else is going to look after them.  Somebody else will make sure people notice their book.  Sadly, that is not the case. You have to look after yourself.

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

  Every writer has to master the art of self-editing.  I taught myself that craft a long time ago.  I go through every one of my manuscripts at least 50-60 times.  I read them so much that I never want to read them ever again.  Nobody is tougher on me than me.  Every writer should say the same thing.

 

Thank you for reading!