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Kimberley Howe lived internationally while growing up, including years spent in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean. Her father worked in tele-communications, so her family was always on the move.  Adventure and travel—and books—figured prominently as she traipsed from place to place.  Experiencing this eclectic education offered unique insights into some of the global hotspots in the world.  Kim loved reading, especially international thrillers, and dreamed of one day becoming an author.  While she was developing her craft and storytelling skills, she also held two jobs—medical writing and the executive director of ThrillerFest. The Freedom Broker is Kimberley’s first major book release, and it is terrific! Now onto our conversation:

 

What would you like our readers to know about yourself? This could be a previously prepared bio; however, something customized exclusively for TopShelf Magazine would be greatly appreciated.

I lived internationally while growing up, including years spent in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean.  My father worked in telecommunications, so we were always on the move.  Adventure and travel—and books—figured prominently as we traipsed from place to place.  Experiencing this eclectic education offered unique insights into some of global hotspots in the world.  I loved reading, especially international thrillers, and dreamed of one day becoming an author.  While I developed my craft and storytelling skills, I also held down two jobs—medical writing and becoming the executive director of ThrillerFest.  And now THE FREEDOM BROKER is out in the world.

 

What have some of your most memorable achievements been thus far in your writing career?

One special moment is the day I received a call from my talented agent Victoria Sanders telling me that we had sold in the U.K. and US.  It took time for it to sink in. Another achievement dovetails with the news of my sale.  When I first read THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE ROSE by David Morrell, I wanted to become an author.  If I could ever provide that delightful respite that David provided for anyone else, it would be a very special accomplishment.  Years later, I pursued my Masters in Creative Writing at Seton Hill University—where David Morrell was a guest speaker.  I met my hero, and he inspired me to keep working towards my dream.  Fast forward to the ThrillerFest, the annual conference of the International Thriller Writers, co-founded by David Morrell and Gayle Lynds.  I attended the first conference and started volunteering.  A couple of years later, I was the executive director of this wonderful conference, and now I’m proud to call David a friend and mentor.  Looking back at that moment when I read his phenomenal book, I’m honored that THE FREEDOM BROKER is published.  It took time, hard work, and sacrifice, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.  

 

Please tell us a little about your new thriller, THE FREEDOM BROKER.

There are twenty-five elite kidnap negotiators in the world.  Only one is a woman.  And she’s the best in the business.  Thea Paris.  She will do anything to bring hostages back home.  In THE FREEDOM BROKER, Thea faces the toughest case of her career, with a very special client:  her father.  

 

What inspired you to write this dark, yet inspiring novel?

Kidnapping fascinated me.  It’s a purgatory of sorts where you’re alive, but not really living.  Hostages have to rely on their captors for anything and everything, and their life is frozen in a nightmare bubble.  The day hostages come home is a tough one.  Everyone expects to see the same person, but the kidnapping has forever changed the former captive.

I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Peter Moore, the longest held hostage in Iraq (almost 1000 days), and his story touched me deeply.  Peter was taken with four British military gentlemen, and sadly, Peter is the only person who returned home.  

I’ve researched kidnap and ransom intensively for the last three years, interviewing kidnap negotiators, former hostages, reintegration experts, and the Special Forces soldiers who deliver ransoms and execute rescues.  I hope that people who read THE FREEDOM BROKER will learn about kidnapping while escaping into an international thriller.

 

The protagonist is fantastic, well-developed, strong-arm female heroine. What (or who) inspired you to write this character?

Thanks for your kind words about Thea Paris.  I always wanted to write an alpha-female character.  We have many strong male protagonists, like Jason Bourne, Jack Reacher, and James Bond—but a female hero offers something fresh and new.  Thea is feminine, intelligent, and has type 1 diabetes, and she can handle herself with great skill during tactical missions.  I hope readers will connect with her.  When she was eight years old, she watched her brother being kidnapped.  Frozen in fear, she wasn’t able to help.  Her brother returned home after nine months in captivity but was never the same.  That experience shaped her dreams and goals.  She wanted to become a freedom broker and spend her life bringing hostages back home.

 

I have to assume this won’t be the last of its kind. Please, do tell, when can we expect to see part two?

I was fortunate to receive a two-book contract, so SKYJACK is almost finished and will be coming out in early 2018.  Thea is shepherding two African orphans to their new home in London when the plane they are on is hijacked.  The action kicks off from there.  Secret stay-behind armies from WWII, the Vatican, and the CIA figure prominently in this new adventure, spanning the globe from Libya to Bosnia to Austria—and the not-so-friendly skies.

 

Switching gears. As you know, our readership is primarily booksellers, librarians, and authors––though we have seen a rather large uptick in general readership over the last couple issues––so the next series of questions will focus on how you, as an experienced author, may be able to help them. Please explain to aspiring authors and booksellers how much work is required, even as a traditionally published author, to maintain your current level of success?

It’s critical to approach writing with a dual methodology.  First, you need to work hard learning the craft and storytelling required to create a vibrant world where readers can lose themselves.  Edit, and then edit some more.  Embrace criticism from credible sources because you want to avoid jolting readers out of your story with mistakes, slow pacing or lackluster characters.  Once you hone your prose, slip on your business cap and zoom in on your audience, discover where you can reach them, working hard to connect with booksellers, readers, and the media.  A non-fiction hook can work well to entice people to take time out of their busy schedules to read your novel.

 

Are there any marketing strategies that you've seen bookstores use that stand out as particularly successful?

I’m an avid reader, so I consider myself to be a customer as well as an author.   From a virtual standpoint, what works for me is an email with a short, but definitive description of the book.  A quick few sentences tell me whether or not the novel will suit my reading tastes.  Everyone is so busy these days, the more you can give information in an expedient manner, the better.  

Whenever possible, I prefer to shop for books in person.  Bookstores that strive to be gathering places are smart, as they become part of the social fabric of the community, and they develop loyal customers.

 

What's the biggest marketing mistake you’ve seen bookstores make?

Booksellers know their business well, and I don’t feel qualified to evaluate what might be construed as a mistake.  During a recent shopping adventure, I can tell you that as a customer, I was disappointed to see that B&N had stopped having a “new releases” area.  Instead, they had grouped all the books in the regular fiction shelves.  I really enjoyed the opportunity to see the shiny new books area to see if something intrigued me.  Instead, I had to search through the shelves, which felt more laborious.  

 

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

When people ask me whether I’m a plotter or a pantser, I usually respond, “pants on fire.”  That said, I constantly think about the book, but I enjoy a more organic approach to writing.  As I write, ideas come to mind.  If I struggle, I often go back to my research for ideas or I consider my theme—which often involves family dynamics—as a method of finding my way through the darkness.  If I’m surprised, I hope my reader will be as well.  I have the deepest respect for people who are detailed plotters, but I also feel it’s important to trust your process.  No one method offers the magic key.  

 

How many NOs did you receive before you finally got a traditional publishing deal?

Plenty.  Rejection is part of the process of writing.  I tried to learn from the feedback I received, and I kept focused on my goal.  It’s important to believe in yourself and keep trying, but it sure is hard to hear “no” when presenting editors with your newborn!

 

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

While I completely understand the power of discounting and the effectiveness of a well-timed sale, authors who give away books for free to influence Amazon rankings might be making a costly error.  Customers who scoop up every free book may not be the same people who will buy the authors’ novels at regular price later.  Also, when authors give away large numbers of free books, they are conditioning their audience to expect novels at minimal cost, and it can turn into a race to the bottom, devaluing their artistic efforts and hard work.  

 

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’ve been part of a few writing groups.  They can be very helpful for feedback and support as long as all the members are positive and constructive with their criticism.  I prefer working with critique partners individually, as I find the process more streamlined.  With groups, sometimes the conversation can go tangential.  

 

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

As the executive director of ThrillerFest, I feel it is critical for authors to have many choices.  We host classes on both traditional and indie publishing.  Like anything, it’s great to have different venues for different people.  Authors need to evaluate the pros and cons of each option and decide what suits their needs best.

 

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

Hand-selling is incredibly important.  I feel that word-of-mouth is still the very best way to create a buzz.  I love when my friends tell me how much they enjoyed a book.  When I read it, we can share our thoughts and impressions.  That’s the joy of spending time around avid readers.  The excitement multiplies.

 

Most publishers don’t budget as much toward marketing these days. How much money do you personally have to invest in marketing your books?

I would recommend new authors spend as much of their advance as possible on marketing.  It’s a tough climate out there with a million books coming out every year.  To stand out, you need to allow readers to discover you, and that’s done best via marketing.

 

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

It’s a very personal decision.  I wake up and write my fiction first thing when I feel fresh.  After that, I delve into marketing and working on ThrillerFest.

 

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

I must read my manuscript well over 100 times, maybe more.  As a former medical writer, I’m a huge proponent of editing.  I also have several editors read through it, as every person sees different things.  I’m an advocate of hiring a freelance editor as well.  The stronger your book, the better chance you have of creating loyal fans.  It’s all about the writing.

 

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

I’m very involved in all aspects of marketing THE FREEDOM BROKER.  I’m also lucky to have the support of some phenomenal publicists.  I love the village mentality, as you can’t do everything for your book.  You have to rely on experts—editors for content, publicists for marketing.  I find the promotional aspects quite enjoyable, as I love meeting new people, making a human connection.  Face-to-face contact with readers is the very best. 

 

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

During my recent book tour, I was very impressed at the way each bookstore had their own approach towards their events.  Probably the best way to organize events is to create a group of interested readers who enjoy meeting authors and encouraging those people to bring friends to the event.  Then again, cookies and wine might help!