Bragging Rights

The other day I received an email from fellow author, John B. Jamison, (That’s his book: Disruption on the middle shelf) who snapped this photo over at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore in Springfield, Illinois. So I thought I would share it with all of you.

There is a tremendous amount of pride I feel when I see my books on a shelf. It brings me back to my younger days, when I would regularly visit local book shops in and around Richmond Hill, N.Y. to find the latest novels that would whisk me away to new worlds. Now I get to stand back and appreciate the fact that I am the story teller and my books are the literary vehicles that someone else will use to visit new worlds. It’s an awesome feeling, but very humbling at the same time.

My word of advice: Chase your passions – Create your legacy !!

If you happen to be in the Springfield, Illinois area, you can always stop by and pick up a copy. I took the liberty to sign a few bookies during my last visit.

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Challenges for Writers: Social Media

Social Media – It seems as if we are glued to it; both night and day.

Many authors, both legacy published and indie, immediately take to the social media scene and use it as a platform that consists of posts which amount to nothing more than: Buy Me, Buy Me, Buy Me.

Seriously - I’ve been on Twitter and Facebook now for well over a half dozen years and it has all blurred into the same thing. Now, I will be the first one to admit that I have previously used these platforms in the same way. Hey, we all make mistakes, but I can tell you, based on my experiences, these are really bad vehicles for promoting your book.

The problem is you are trying to read the tea-leaves and hype your book to a completely random audience. For example, even if you have an amazingly diverse number of followers, the reader who might be interested in your book has to be at their computer at the very same moment you post. What do you think those odds are?  There are over two hundred million Facebook users and nearly seventy million Twitter users in the United States alone. Something tells me you’re going to experience some type of scheduling conflict as you try to connect.

And it’s not just a matter of connecting; you also have to find them when they are in the mood and we all know how hard that can be……

The truth is, more likely than not, they are there looking for cute animal pics, inspirational quotes or to find out what they need to be offended by today. In fact, looking at sales trends on my books, I can’t recall any instance where anything appeared to be social media driven. Even when offering free or discounted deals, I didn’t observe any major uptick that coincided with social media posting.

That being said, do I think you should forego social media as a whole? No, not at all, you should make it part of your platform, but make it a well-rounded part. Don’t just use it for YOUR books, throw in the occasional cute animal photo and remember to promote your fellow authors as well. No one really likes that person who only pats themselves on the back and this is a bigger problem than you might think. If you have 5k posts on Twitter and 4.9k consist of ‘buy my book,’ you are going to want to re-think things. That strategy might work, if your James Patterson, but the average indie author is probably going to turn-off a lot more potential readers than they entice.

My social media platform consists of my website, Facebook page, and Twitter account. I also made sure to utilize the author pages available to me at Amazon, GoodReads and BookBub

Both Amazon and GoodReads are especially useful if you have a website / blog because you can also link those pages to show your most recent posts. Another nice feature of Twitter is that you can also ‘pin’ a post to the top of your page. I have a link to my books and this allows those who want to tweet me the opportunity to share it, without having to search through a ton of unrelated posts. I use this method when re-tweeting my fellow authors and let me tell you it is a blessing. If I have to scroll through dozens of tweets without finding one of your books, I simply give up. If you don’t care, I don’t care.

While I am on the topic of Twitter, let me provide some advice here. If you are an author, please, please, please: Reconsider whether you want to tweet that inflammatory political comment. Too often, many do not exercise caution or even good judgment when it comes to this topic. Mind you, I am not talking about re-tweeting things that are intellectually critical about a politician or a potential issue, but the ones that are downright mean-spirited. The reason for this is that there is a very strong possibility you will most likely alienate a potential reader.

I screen every new follower, to see what they post, when I am thinking about following them back. Often I see completely discredited commentary or inflammatory rhetoric. Not only am I not going to follow you, but I am certainly not going to buy your books. That’s not to say that I demand everyone to be like me, or to refrain completely from discussing issues, but I draw the line when it comes to crudely bashing someone simply because you disagree with them.  We need to return the word civil back to civil discourse. The literary world is tough enough that you don’t need to chase away any potential readers. 

Up next: Publicity - Fake it, Till You Make it.

This isn’t intended to be a complete list, but some suggestions as to what has and hasn’t worked for me.

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Where Was God ? - Amazon Bestseller

As an author, I cannot begin to tell you just how incredible the feeling is when your book reaches that best seller status. No, it isn’t the NY Times of the USA Today list, but it is a start and I want to share my pride with you.

This week, my non-fiction book: Where Was God?: An NYPD first responder’s search for answers following the terror attack of September 11th, 2001, hit the Amazon best seller list, reaching the #22 spot. It’s moved a few slots over the last few days, but I’m still proud that this book is reaching an audience that might find comfort in my findings.

This journey started with God and I owe any and all success to him.


Throwback Thursday - Behind the Scenes (NYPD Intelligence)

Readers of my books know that I reference a lot of different places and agencies. Many of them are part of the backstory for my characters, so I thought I would start something new called: Throwback Thursday.

From time to time I will present you with a brief history of one of the units or locations I write about, to help you get a better understanding of the character’s story.  Today’s Throwback Thursday post pertains to something near and dear to my heart: NYPD intelligence.

In Perfect Pawn, readers are introduced to retired NYPD Detective James Maguire. For a period of time he was assigned to the NYPD’s Intelligence Division (now known as the Intelligence Bureau). What many do not know is that the command’s roots can be traced back to Lieutenant Giuseppe ‘Joe’ Petrosino and the Italian Squad. Lt. Petrosino was instrumental in pursuing the organized crime group known as the ‘Black Hand.’ Petrosino was killed while investigating the group in Palermo, Sicily.

It would be nearly fifty more years till the Intelligence Division would be tasked with providing dignitary protection, but in an ironic twist, during his infiltration of an Italian anarchist group, Petrosino uncovered a plot to assassinate then President William McKinley. Petrosino alerted the Secret Service, but the President ignored the warning, even after then Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt, who had been an NYPD Commissioner, vouched for Petrosino and his abilities. As warned, the group followed through and McKinley was assassinated during his visit to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo on September 6, 1901.

Following Petrosino’s own assignation, by the Black Hand in 1909, Acting Detective Sergeant Charles Corrao took over the Italian Squad. At that time the city was dealing with a string of attacks with explosives, as the Black Hand had now begun to use bombs as a means of extortion.  On one occasion Corrao grabbed a bomb from Black Hand member Giovanni Rizzo’s hand and defused it while the man fled. After a subsequent chase, and an exchange of gunfire between the two, Rizzo was captured.  For his actions, Charles Corrao was awarded the newly adopted NYPD Medal of Honor and the Rhinelander Medal for Valor on May 18, 1912. The NYPD’s Bomb Squad has its foundation in these early bomb investigations.

As the years progressed, the role of the Intelligence Bureau would adapt and expand. What started with investigating Italian organized crime (the Black Hand Squad) soon included communist activities (the Red Hand Squad). The Red Squad then became known as the Bureau of Special Services and Investigations (BOSSI), which was focused on domestic groups like the Black Panther Party, Weather Underground and the Students for a Democratic Society. Along the way, they picked up the dignitary protection assignment. In the early 70’s BOSSI was reorganized and retitled the Intelligence Division. Following the September 11th Terror Attacks it was expanded to a global unit and renamed the Intelligence Bureau.

My time in the Intelligence Division was an incredible part of my career with the NYPD, so it is only fair that it also plays a pivotal part in the character of Maguire. I’ve stood next to presidents, the Pope, and more foreign and domestic dignitaries than I can count. I’ve ridden in motorcades and I’ve watched them with a birds-eye-view from helicopters. It is simultaneously exhilarating and nerve-wracking. One of the things you learn quickly is to never be complacent.

One story that drove that point home rather quickly occurred back around 1995/6. The Israeli Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, was traveling in his motorcade. At the time, because of the elevated threat risk, the Israeli PM got what amounted to a Vice-Presidential level motorcade package.

At the last minute we got word that a decision had been made to take the secondary route, which involved the Belt Parkway.  I was assigned to huntsman, the helicopter which provides aerial surveillance along the motorcade route, and things were going along quiet well; at least until the thought occurred to me that traffic was really, really light coming from the opposite direction…… Anyone who has spent 15 minutes in New York City can tell you that traffic is never light.

I instructed the motorcade to slow down and told the pilot to head forward to see what was causing the delay. My initial thought was a motor vehicle accident, which would bring the motorcade to a halt unless we got a lane cleared. My fears were surpassed when I gazed out the front window of the helo and saw that the Mill Basin drawbridge was in the upright position as a large vessel lazily made its way in from the Atlantic Ocean.


This resulted in an immediate frenzy of colorful communication between me and my USSS counterpart, as we tried to get the motorcade to come to an almost screeching halt. I will never forget the sight of the motorcycle officers, from the Highway Patrol, racing up to the drawbridge to get them to drop it back down in place.  How we managed to unscrew that one in time, remains a mystery, but we did. The motorcade never stopped moving and I don’t remember ever using the Belt Parkway for as long as I was in the Division.

In Chapter Five of Perfect Pawn I provide the reader a glimpse into the world of presidential protection. For many, it is the closest they will ever get to being inside the bubble. It was from this period of time in my career that I drew on inspiration for not only the role of Maguire, but his friend, Rich Stargold, who is a composite of some of the people I worked with in the Secret Service.

Someone once asked me if I missed it and my answer is: Yes, every single day.

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72 Poplar Street, Brooklyn, NY (Former home of the Intelligence Division) - Author Photo

72 Poplar Street, Brooklyn, NY (Former home of the Intelligence Division) - Author Photo

Challenges for Writers: Slip-Sliding Down The Rabbit Hole

In his book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, author Lewis Carroll was kind enough to provide the perfect metaphor for us as writers.

If you are like me, it can sometimes feel that we are tumbling head-over-heels down a Rabbit Hole in the pursuit of our chosen profession.  The casual reader (along with your family and friends) has a skewed sense of what it actually means to be a writer. They see folks like James Patterson, J.D. Robb and Lee Child and think that we all fall into that category, but that’s like comparing someone who plays for the New York Yankees with a Double A player on the Trenton Thunder.

The harsh reality is that the role of an indie author is much more complicated.

As an up & coming author, you need to realize that your ‘work’ does not end with the final draft of your book. In fact, it is only the beginning and there will come a point in time when you look back fondly on the writing phase as being the fun part.  As of this post, I have authored a total of ten books, along with two novellas, and I am currently working on my latest work-in-progress. You would think that I would have a firm grasp of the publishing process, but you’d be wrong.  I learn new things pretty much on a daily basis; which I guess is a lot better than not learning.

For someone just starting out you need to face the fact that, unlike the authors listed above, you probably do not have access to publishing resources, meaning: Tag, You’re it. When addressing this issue, you have two choices: 1) Pay someone to do it, or 2) Do it yourself. Personally, I opted for the latter, because I have always been a hands-on person, but that does not mean it will always work. You have to know your limitations.

Your first concern, upon completing what you believe is the final draft of your book, is to get it edited. I know, I know, you’re sitting there going: “I took AP English, I’m good.”  - No, you’re not.

There is a lot more that goes into the editing process than just grammar. Authors wear one hat, editors wear a different one. We create stories in our mind, which we think we translate well onto paper, but sometimes we forget to add some of the details. An editor will go through and pick that up, because they don’t have the backstory floating around in their heads. If they have questions then the reader will be left with questions, and that only works in cliff-hangers, not the middle of your story. If you do not know someone who can help, then this might be an area where you want to pay, but be prepared for sticker shock: Grammar Nazis are not cheap.

Beyond the text, one of the critical parts of a book, that is often underappreciated, is formatting it. Simply put, people expect your book to look like any other book produced by a legacy publishing house.  Take the time to learn how to format correctly. If you want to be a professional writer, your book has to look like it was professionally written. Go to your library (ever writer should have one in their home) and peruse the interiors.  Make sure you learn how to emulate what you see. If you want to be the next James Patterson, ensure that your book is on the same level as his.

Consider the writing process like mowing the grass. Most anyone can take a patch of rich soil, sprinkle some seeds on it, water it and grow a pretty nice, grassy field. But if you don’t maintain it, it will end up looking like crap. The more upkeep you do, the better it looks and the more it will be appreciated.

Cover Art is another critical area that is often overlooked. There is an old saying that goes, “You only have one opportunity to make a good first impression.” You could have someone create an amazing cover, but when you shrink it down to thumbnail size, which is what most of your potential readers are going to see, it looks like an undefined blob. Conversely, I have seen some folks who grab the first ‘clip-art’ image they can get, slap it on the cover and think, “I’m done.” – Well, in a way you’re right and so is your book.

There are several critical things to consider:

1.       Is it appealing looking to the audience?

2.       Does it correspond to the plot of your book?

3.       Can you see the title clearly?

4.       Can you see your name clearly?

5.       Does it look cartoonish?

 Whether you agree or not, the truth is that people do judge a book by its cover. You could have written the next Hunt for Red October, but if your cover looks like it was put together by an 8th grader for art class, the odds are pretty good that a potential reader is not going to be willing to plunk down their hard earned cash just to give you a chance. You have to make them want to buy your book instead of that best-selling author’s book.

Remember, you’re a combatant in the ‘thumbnail wars’ so fight accordingly.

When I wrote my first book, Perfect Pawn, I thought I had nailed it on the first go-round, but as time went on I began to rethink that. Over the years I had grown in experience; so I went back and made alterations to not only the text, but to the cover as well.

Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to re-evaluate things from time to time.

Coming Up Next: REVIEWS.

That is, after all, what we should be focusing on after we launch our books. If you are not driven to be a best-selling author, then ignore everything you have just read, because it really doesn’t matter. Write your book, publish it, and walk away. But, if you are like me, and do want your book to appear on the NY Times Best-Selling List, then you have to be prepared to do the heavy lifting.

Next week I will be discussing some of the things you can do to boost your sales.

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