With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and writer/blogger Cherise Hensley-Jenkins present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.
AUTHORNOMICS Interview with Dete Meserve
As an author, creator and producer of movies and television shows, you must be pretty busy! How do you prioritize your writing time? Do you have a set amount of words/pages per day that you try to achieve?
Producing television and film and running a company does keep me very busy. Add two kids at home to the mix, and there aren’t many hours in the day for writing! Sometimes people say to me, “I’d really like to write, if only I had time.” But I’m living proof that if you really want to write, you can and will find the time.
Most of my writing is done at night after my youngest has gone to bed or early in the morning before work, but sometimes other obligations—reading production scripts, for example—crowd out that time. I also aim to nab a few hours on weekends when my daughter is in ballet or gymnastics, but inevitably someone arrives at the door or a family member needs my attention. Lately, I’ve found I have to schedule/announce my writing time and work behind a closed door because interruptions—even small ones—are the killer of creativity and productivity.
I don’t set page goals for my writing sessions but instead approach each writing session with 2-3 things I want to accomplish. It might be polishing up dialogue or reworking the scene descriptions, which are sometimes even more important than page counts. Once I get started writing, I never want to stop!
What inspired you to write your first novel Good Sam? How did the theme emerge in your life and translate into the book?
For most mysteries, we have to get inside the head of the killer or kidnapper or some person doing bad things in order to solve the mystery. But as a reader and viewer, I was tired of having to “think like a killer” in order to enjoy the story—why do I want to waste time thinking about all the tragic ways people can plan out and destroy other people’s lives?
That’s what inspired me to write Good Sam, a mystery where we are searching for someone doing extraordinary good. I’d been giving a lot of thought to the idea that if our entertainment and news focused as much attention on people doing good as they do on those doing violent, hateful acts, we might inspire everyone to think differently about their world and their ability to have a hand in making it a better place.
Good Sam explores the idea of one individual making a positive difference. What do you hope your readers take away from this idea?
One of the main things I hope readers take away is a sense of hope, especially in these troubling times. Although the media rivets our attention on the latest disaster or violent acts, those stories don’t represent all or even most of what’s going on in the world. There are people doing extraordinary good for others every day, quietly and often anonymously, without expectation of reward or notoriety.
Good Sam is in development as a film that will premiere on the Hallmark channel in 2017. How has the process of turning book to film been for you? How much influence do you have over the production of the film?
I’m just reading the first draft of the screenplay this week and it’s exciting to see the story and characters live in another medium. Writer Teena Booth has a big job taking a story written with the “unlimited budget of the imagination” into an 88 minute screenplay which can be produced for a reasonable budget. As a producer, I am intimately involved in the production and I’m really enjoying the experience of translating this story to screen.
You recently released your second book, Perfectly Good Crime this summer, another mystery about the search for good in the world. What has been the response to this novel? Do you plan future novels with this theme?
Because the news media and entertainment are obsessed with telling crime stories—both real and fictional—I asked myself: what if someone used a crime of major proportions to bring attention to the plight of the poor, the disabled, and the needy? That’s the underlying question in Perfectly Good Crime, the follow up to Good Sam.
When the estates of the 100 wealthiest Americans are targeted in a series of sophisticated, high tech heists, Los Angeles TV news reporter Kate Bradley must venture inside the world of the super rich to investigate the biggest story of the year.
As the heists escalate, Kate’s search is thwarted when the Los Angeles police detective she’s been working with mysteriously disappears, her senator father demands that she stop reporting on the heists, and the billionaire victims refuse to talk to the media. Kate uncovers clues that those behind the robberies have shocking, yet uplifting, motives–it just may be a perfectly good crime that brings about powerful change.
The response to the novel has really surprised me. Parade, Sunset Magazine, Buzzfeed, USA Today and others featured it and it got strong reviews from top reviewers. And what surprised me is that people love it even though it’s a mystery without a single dead body, killer, or a kidnapper. These are the mainstays of mystery fiction yet readers write to say that they were turning pages to find out the identity of the “Robin Hood” behind the heists and why he/she was doing it. And they really enjoy how this perfectly good crime inspires others to help those who need it most.
As a follow-up, I’m working with award-winning journalist Rachel Greco on a non-fiction book featuring the stories of 25 ordinary people who are doing extraordinary good in the world. Some stories are poignant, others are heartwarming, and others are lighthearted and fun. We think this will be an uplifting, inspiring book which readers will want to gift to others, that book clubs and church/synagogue groups will want to discuss, and that even kids and schools can use as powerful real-life examples of compassion and making a difference in the lives of others.
I’m also working on a follow-up to Good Sam and Perfectly Good Crime, following Kate Bradley and Eric Hayes as they both take a new and important step in their lives and another twist on the search for Good.
How did you make your choice for the publication of your book? Do you work with a staff for editorial and marketing for you books?
For Good Sam, I submitted the manuscript to a few agents and a few small publishers. The agents passed but two publishers made proposals. When I looked at the proposals and researched what traditional publishers might offer, it just didn’t make any business sense to go the traditional route. Why would I give up the lion’s share of the royalties and the creative and business control of the property in exchange for a relatively small sum from the publisher and no guarantee of a specific marketing or promotional spend? And would their editing and book design process really be better than what I could hire on my own? For me, the answer is no. I began choosing my own editors and book designers—all of whom had extensive experience working for traditional publishers and highly regarded authors—and working directly with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes, etc. to release the ebook, paperback, and audiobook. That means I control how the book is positioned, how it’s marketed, what it looks like, how it’s priced—and I don’t have to seek permission or cajole a publisher to tweak or change any of those elements. That freedom is priceless and it’s paid off. I’m close to selling 90,000 copies of Good Sam and 2 ½ years after its publication, the response to the novel is greater than ever.
What is the most beneficial way you have found to use social media as a tool for reaching your audience?
There’s a careful balance needed between promoting your book and promoting its message. For me, the messaging is in a ratio of at least 5 to 1. For every promotional piece I post about the novel, I will likely publish at least 5 (and oftentimes more) non-promotional posts that aim at the underlying message of both books: people who are doing extraordinary good for others. That messaging seems to have value to people who follow my Facebook page and is a direct connection to the values that are in the novels. To me, that’s the key. If your social media messages have value to readers, they’ll follow and engage with you.
The other aspect of social media is the opportunity to connect directly with readers. Many of them email or Message me with stories of good or their thoughts about the books and I always make time to respond. Not because I have lots of time on my hands (!), but because it helps me understand what resonates with readers and allows me the opportunity to understand more about how they think.
Your Facebook page is filled with examples of people performing good deeds for the people around them. In what ways do you try to be a “Good Sam” in your daily life? Do you try to bring these ideas into the projects you work on as a producer as well?
Every day readers from around the world send me stories of real-life Good Sams—ordinary people who are doing extraordinary good for others—and I post them on my public Facebook page: www.Facebook.com/GoodSamBook. These stories are a constant reminder of how we can all have a hand in bringing light and hope into the world.
Stories of Good are becoming some of the most watched and read stories online—sometimes garnering tens of millions of views. Viewers and readers love them because they tap into something we all secretly hope is true: There are millions of people around the globe who are doing quiet and extraordinary good. Far more than those who are promoting violence and cruelty.
Because I believe the highest form of giving is deeds which are done anonymously, I rarely talk about what I do as a Good Sam. But I will say that the stories of real-life Good Sams inspire me to be compassionate in my awareness of the needs of others, to extend kindness when I can, and to model that for my children. That’s not possible every minute or even every day but I think it’s important to strive for that.
In my producing life, I’m working with a director and another producer to develop a series which features a real-life Good Samaritan and his team finding people in need and secretly surprising them with experiences and gifts that will make their lives better.
I’m also executive producer of a kids television series, Ready Jet Go on PBSKids, and while the series is not about giving or being a Good Sam, it is infused with important values: inspiring kids’ interest in astronomy and earth science while instilling the importance of being stewards of planet Earth.
Can you elaborate a little on your underlying message that one person can do “extraordinary good” and make a tangible impact on the world?
Sometimes we think we need a lot of money or time to make a difference in the world but one of the things these real-life Good Samaritan stories teach us is that anyone of any age and any socio-economic background, can make a difference in the lives of others. We don’t all have to start a non-profit organization or write big checks, but we can find ways to help others. One 100-year-old woman sews a dress each day for girls in Africa. A few fraternity brothers bought a pizza for a young girl in a hospital. Some young men cut lawns for the elderly. Other people buy coffee for the stranger behind them in line. And each good deed—no matter how big or small—inspires another. Research shows that when we witness or are the recipient of someone else’s kindness, we are much more likely to help others. So, one good deed can spark another and make powerful change in the world.
Thank you for interviewing with us, Dete!
Andrea Hurst has over 25 years experience as a published author, developmental editor for publishers, and skilled literary agent. She works with both major and regional publishing houses, and her client list includes emerging new voices and New York Times best-selling authors. Andrea represents high profile Adult Nonfiction and well crafted fiction. Her clients and their books have appeared on the Oprah Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times.
Cherise Hensley-Jenkins has an M.A. in English from the University of Idaho, where she taught composition courses. She graduated from Whitworth University with a B.A. in English and marketing and also has a copy editing certification from UC San Diego. She has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management as well as the Rock & Sling literary journal and has been involved in the production of other print media such as newspapers, magazines, and yearbooks. Cherise is a teacher, an editor, and a writer, who loves discovering new books to distract her from everyday life.