Monday, June 14, 2010

Interview with Mark Terry

Available at Amazon

Welcome Mark.  First, I would like to congratulate on the publication of your new book “The Fallen,” the third book in the Derek Stillwater thriller series.  The reviews for the book are fantastic.

Can you tell us a little about it?  Are there more books in the series under contract?
When we market THE FALLEN to movie people we call it “’Die Hard’ at the G8 Summit.” That’s an accurate enough description. My main character, Derek Stillwater, is a troubleshooter for Homeland Security. He’s undercover at the resort where the G8 Summit is being held when a group of terrorists calling themselves The Fallen Angels take it over, strap suicide vests to all the world leaders and announce that they will kill one leader every hour until their demands are met. Derek runs around the resort’s crawlspaces, tunnels, and elevator shafts taking the bad guys out one by one until he can get help.

And yes, the fourth novel, THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS, is contracted, written, edited, and scheduled for June 2011.

From your bio, I see that you worked in the field of clinical genetics for a number of years.  What made you quit that field and become a writer full-time?
I discovered I wanted to be a writer in my senior year in college. A little late to change majors, so I went out and got a job. But I always wanted to write full-time, and eventually I was making enough money from my writing that it seemed like it was possible—and it was. I went part-time on the job for a couple months, then quit in October 2004 and never looked back.

Briefly describe your journey in writing your first book. 
Writing the first book was not the same as writing the first book to be published. I wrote a bunch of novels that went nowhere. I started the first one in college, allowing myself 30 minutes a day to write. That first novel was an exhilarating experience because it was so much fun and I had yet to really collect criticism or rejection slips. I had a lot to learn about writing and a lot to learn about the publishing industry and I was apparently a slow learner, because it took a lot of manuscripts and a lot of rejections to get to the first sale. It’s said that you need to write a million words before you know what you’re doing and that definitely applied to me.

How was your experience querying agents for your first Derek Stillwater thriller, “The Devil’s Pitchfork”?  Was that your first novel or the first novel that sold?
Actually, that agent (Irene Kraas) was my third and THE DEVIL’S PITCHFORK was my third book. The first one, CATFISH GURU, is a collection of novellas that I self-published via iUniverse. A long story there, but I had a contract with a publisher for a novel called BLOOD SECRETS, featuring forensic toxicologist Dr. Theo MacGreggor. I decided to get a website up and running and because I had a long lead time, wrote a 12-chapter novella, NAME YOUR POISON, that was a prequel to BLOOD SECRETS, and serialize it one chapter a month on the site leading up to the novel’s publication. It worked pretty well for 4 or 5 months, then my publisher went bankrupt. Right around that time iUniverse made a deal with Mystery Writers of America, that for a 6-month period any member could publish something for free. So I wrote a second “prequel” called CATFISH GURU and published the two together.

Then I placed DIRTY DEEDS with a small press. (Without an agent).

One of the interesting things, I think, about THE DEVIL’S PITCHFORK, is that most of it was written in longhand on yellow legal pads during my lunch hour while I was working at Henry Ford Hospital. My evenings were busy with freelance writing gigs and didn’t have a lot of time to work on fiction, but I found the time. I was between agents at that time and I hooked up with my current agent with PITCHFORK.

What factors influenced your decision to sign with your agent and ultimately accept the contract from your publisher? 
Oh, that makes it sound like agents were fighting over me, which was a long ways from the truth. Irene was my third agent. My first agent was a one-book guy who couldn’t place the book and showed no interesting in me afterward. Then I was with an agency for about 6 years when they couldn’t place anything. I was just looking for someone with a fresh approach, primarily because although they showed a lot of faith in me, it was starting to seem to me as if whenever I sent them something I could hear them sigh and say, “Oh God, here he comes again.”

Irene was pretty quick to respond to my query and my manuscript and was reasonably aggressive in marketing it. As for what factors influenced the decision to sign the contract, that was primarily because it was the only publisher at that time making an offer. I took what I could get, which is a situation most writers find themselves in.

How involved are you during the creative process for your book’s covers?
Yes, to some extent. I gave the iUniverse people a concept for CATFISH GURU and they ran with it. iUniverse has taken a lot of justifiable hits for having crappy covers, but in my case they did a great job. In the case of DIRTY DEEDS I had very little input and to this day don’t like the cover. I’m told that the first version was considerably worse. Part of the problem was that I had written a pretty hard-boiled, edgy novel, and the publisher published a lot of regional nonfiction and softer mysteries and used a lot of pastels in their cover schemes, and they just couldn’t seem to get away from them for my cover.

For THE DEVIL’S PITCHFORK and THE SERPENT’S KISS, Midnight Ink has an in-house graphic artist, Kevin Brown, and he took my suggestions—especially for PITCHFORK—and did a fantastic job with them.

For THE FALLEN, Oceanview Publishing hires a professional cover artist, George Foster, and we had an extensive conference call with a whole team of people and discussed the book and our ideas for the cover art. Then George came back with a really good idea, but I showed it around to some people and a couple people suggested it was good, but seemed to say “paranormal” and after some thought, I agreed with them. Then he came back with a modified version that I liked even less and I wisely said so. Then he came back with the one we ended up using and I think it’s an excellent cover that gives a good sense of the book and tries to sell it as well.

You also have books published directly for Kindle?  What influenced you to self-publish and will you continue to self publish new material?
These are somewhat experimental. I had written a thriller called DANCING IN THE DARK that we were unable to place. I figured it was just dead and gone. Then Joe Konrath started self-publishing some books for the Kindle and talking about how much money he was making doing it. So I decided to try it. My success was quite different than Joe’s, but there it is.

I’d also spent some time writing fantasy novels for kids and although we came close, we weren’t able to place them either. After giving it some thought, I decided to publish those as well for Kindle. (To-date, THE BATTLE FOR ATLANTIS and MONSTER SEEKER). If nothing else, my kids can read them.

Also, THE DEVIL’S PITCHFORK and THE SERPENT’S KISS went out of print. We didn’t have the e-rights back from the publisher, but they weren’t doing anything with them. So we managed to get the e-rights back (but not the rights to the cover art), so I commissioned new covers from Judy Bullard and put those up on the Kindle. So far those are selling quite well. THE FALLEN is also available on Kindle, but that’s through Oceanview Publishing, not through me.

At one point I had thought of self-publishing some of my earlier unpublished work, including a follow-up to DIRTY DEEDS, but I’ve decided that they’re not very reflective of my current writing abilities (or sensibilities) and I think I’ll leave them unpublished. There’s at least one more kids’ novel I want to publish, but it needs some rewriting, and there’s a thriller we’re still trying to place that might go up on Kindle, although I would rather it be traditionally published.

As for whether I will continue, the answer is “maybe.” I’m still experimenting and it’s not clear to me yet whether there’s any good financial reason to do it, although only time will tell.

What do you think the future of epublishing?  Will it replace traditional publishing for authors or complement it?
I have very mixed feelings about it. I think it’ll grow to be a significantly larger part of the market. Yet the more I read books electronically the more I prefer paper (except for that buy-a-book-in-60-seconds thing). I’m ambivalent about Joe Konrath’s prediction that paper publishing will be dead in six years, except when I look at the subject with my Business Analyst Hat on, I’m rather hard-pressed to see how publishing’s predictions that e-publishing will be only about 50% of the market is going to work.

Without getting too economics-oriented, here’s where I’m having issues. Let’s say a publisher’s marketplace actually does grow to where about 50% of their revenue comes from e-books and the other half comes from traditional paper books. Any basic business person will then look at their expenses and the bottom line. And the bottom line is that e-books are significantly cheaper to publish than paper books—no paper, no ink, no warehousing, no returns. In a typical marketplace, if one part of your profit margin drops, you generally raise the price to make up for it. If you’ve got a hardcover selling for $25 in today’s market, and then your publisher’s costs to publish it are getting beat up, they’ll raise the price. Suddenly hardcovers start being $30 or $35 or $40. I buy a fair number of hardcovers, but am I willing to pay $35 or $40 for them? No. Absolutely not. I’ll buy in paperback or in electronic format. And my guess would be is that most people who would be resistant to buying e-books, will be significantly more willing to fork out the bucks for an e-reader and buy their books for $9.99 rather than pay $15 for a mass market paperback, $22.29 for a trade paperback or $35 or $40 for a hardcover.

Do I think e-publishing could destroy publishing as we know it as more and more authors self-publish in the e-format? I’m not inclined to think so, but it’ll depend, won’t it, on whether a bestselling author decides to bypass print and self-publish on their own. Publishers are going to have to convince AUTHORS they offer them something they can’t get themselves. One thing I can almost guarantee, because it’s happening right now, is that an awful lot of midlist writers (and for the sake of simplicity I’ll include myself in that category) who are routinely traditionally published but have had books go quickly out of print or had manuscripts turned down for a variety of reasons, are going to utilize e-self-publishing to make those books available. I suspect we’ll see some battles over e-rights with traditional publishers in the near-future, but I think there are an awful lot of novelists who make anywhere from a couple thousand to $10,000 or $20,000 a year from their traditionally-published novels that can see how they can make more self-publishing.

You are also a freelance writer.  Can you describe some of the ups and downs of the profession and do you find it difficult to balance your contract work with your fiction writing?
Not too hard to balance. The bigger the dollar amount of the job, the higher up on the to-do list it goes. I’ve got bills to pay. The ups-and-downs have more to do with the ebb and flow of work. Last year was a little slow because of the economy. Then the first 4 or 5 months of this year I was swamped, working my butt off and making almost as much money in that time as I did all last year. It’s slowed down a bit at the moment, but I’ve got two major gigs scheduled for the rest of the year with whatever else comes up. I really love the freelance work as well as the fiction. Sometimes it feels more like work, but that’s okay. It beats a real job even on its worst days.

What kinds of social media [twitter, facebook, webpage, blog, writing forums] are you involved with to advertise your book(s)?
Well, I really don’t focus my social media just on advertising my books. I use social media to stay connected with people and because I’ve created communities there and I enjoy it. I have a Facebook account, a website, which also has my blog. I tried Twitter, but it annoyed me so I stopped. I pop around on a lot of other people’s blogs, but that’s because I enjoy what they have to say.

What’s next for you?
The next Derek Stillwater novel, THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS, is scheduled for June 2011. I’m working on the one after that. I’m also working on a science fiction novel (slowly). My agent is marketing a political thriller called HOT MONEY. I’m planning on putting up another kids novel, THE FORTRESS OF DIAMONDS, for the Kindle. I’m wrapping up a nonfiction book I collaborated on with two doctors and hope to do more ghostwriting and collaborating. I’m putting together a proposal for a nonfiction book, and if we don’t sell it I’ll probably self-publish it on Kindle. I’m still doing some promotion for THE FALLEN and there are a few other novel ideas I’m tinkering with when I have time.


  1. Mark, Debra, thanks for the great interview. Mark, I always appreciate your very frank answers. Good luck with The Fallen!

  2. Alan,

    Thanks for stopping by. Come back again. I've got lots more interviews to post.