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Joseph Finder is the New York Times-bestselling author of fourteen suspense novels, including The Switch, Guilty Minds, and Suspicion; Buried Secrets, co-winner of the Strand Magazine Critics Award for Best Novel; Company Man, winner of the Barry Award for Best Thriller; The Moscow Club, named one of the ten best spy novels of all time by Publishers Weekly; and Killer Instinct, winner of the Thriller Award for Best Novel. His novel High Crimes became a hit movie starring Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman, and the film version of Paranoia was released in August 2013. A founding member of the International Thriller Writers, Finder is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.  A graduate of Yale College and the Harvard Research Center, he lives in Boston. Now onto our conversation:


How did you get into the business of writing?

I’ve wanted to write books since I was a kid, and in fact I started writing professionally at a relatively young age: I was twenty-four when I published my first book, a nonfiction account of the most powerful American businessmen and their personal connections to the Kremlin. But what I wanted to do all along was to try my hand at a novel, a thriller.  I was inspired by some of the greats in the business: Ken Follett, Frederick Forsyth, Robert Ludlum, and Nelson DeMille.  And other great writers like John le Carré, Eric Ambler, and Graham Greene. When I was in my late twenties I gave myself a three-year deadline to write a novel that made enough money to support myself. So in that period I gave myself a crash course in crime fiction, reading the best books (and some bad ones, too—bad books teach a lot) and taking notes on index cards. Within 3 years I managed to write the book that came to be called The Moscow Club, get an agent, and sell it in the U.S. and 30 countries around the world.


How did you celebrate the publication of your first book?

I didn’t. What’s the way the hero of Stephen King’s Misery celebrates finishing a book—a bottle of Dom Perignon and a single cigarette?  I mostly felt relieved.  The reward was having done it.


How long did it take before you could make writing your full-time endeavor?

I was a very lucky guy—I made enough money on the sale of my first novel, between U.S. and foreign markets, to keep me going for a few years, assuming I didn’t buy a Maserati.  So I quit the Harvard faculty, where I’d been teaching writing to freshmen in order to support my writing habit, and became a full-time writer.  I’ve been writing full time since 1989!


Do you have a strict writing schedule?

I do.  I get into my office every day by eight and leave around five.  I devote the morning time, when I’m at my sharpest, to writing, and I leave the business stuff for the afternoon hours. Sometimes I take weekends off, but usually not.


How much time and money do you––even a successful New York Times bestselling author––spend marketing your books?

Less than I used to.  When I was starting out I frankly think I spent too much time on the marketing piece, which is why my books were spaced apart by several years.  I now have a top-notch publisher that knows how to market and do publicity far better than I do, so I leave them to it.  But despite all that, I still spend time deciding what to Tweet or what to post on Facebook and what should go on the front page of my website, stuff like that.  So maybe a third of my office time is spent on the marketing.  Most of my time I spend writing the books.  That’s the best marketing tool you can come up with: a good book.


Do you write and work from an outline?

Often, but not always.  I’ve tried writing with no idea of what happens after the opening incident, and I found that I’d wasted three months on ideas that didn’t fit in the final story.  On the other hand, I’ve tried creating a long, detailed outline (like Robert Ludlum did, for instance), and I found that the writing was boring and the end result suffered.  So I create what TV and movie writers call a “beat sheet,” with the major dramatic moments set out in order—it’s sort of a high-level outline, but I always leave myself open to ignoring the outline if I come up with a better idea.


What’s your opinion of the ebook revolution?

 I think it’s cool.  I’m all in favor of increasing the number of ways a “reader” can be told a story. If the convenience (and price) of an ebook brings me one more reader, I’m all in favor of it.  I think if you glance at the numbers, you’ll see that ebooks haven’t increased the number of readers in total.  But I would argue that in the larger context, they probably have, because every year we lose readers to the immediate feedback loops of the internet.  And to TV (which has gotten better and better). Yet the number of readers has remained roughly the same. So I suspect the Kindle revolution has been good for business.


What’s the most important thing a bookstore can do, in your opinion and experience, to promote book sales?

Word of mouth.  By far the most important thing a bookstore can do is to have an employee or two actually read the book—and tell people about it.  Word of mouth is the most powerful bookselling tool there is, hands down.


Do you have any advice for independent bookstores on how they might effectively organize and promote events in their store?

Maintain a robust newsletter, whether it’s print or (far more often) e-mail.  I think that’s the best way to keep your customers informed and motivated enough to come into the store, despite all there is to keep us away—family, work, TV—and meet the author.


Thank you for reading!