AUTHOR INTERVIEW with NYT Bestseller Robert Dugoni: Advice for Planning, Writing, and Marketing Your Book

Welcome! My name is Michelle Dalson, and I will be interviewing Robert Dugoni, New York Times and #1 Amazon Best Selling Author. That’s right, he is a NYT and Amazon bestseller! He has taken the time to share his author journey, along with some helpful tips for other writers and aspiring authors who dream of achieving that bestseller list.

But before we discuss his writing, publishing, and marketing strategies, let’s hear a bit about Dugoni’s background.

Biography: Robert Dugoni is the critically acclaimed, New York Times and #1 Amazon Best Selling Author of My Sister’s Grave and the David Sloane series, The Jury Master, Wrongful Death, Bodily Harm,  Murder One and The Conviction. He is also the author of the best-selling stand alone novel Damage Control as well as the nonfiction expose, The Cyanide Canary. Dugoni’s books have been likened to Scott Turow and Nelson DeMille, and he has been hailed as “the undisputed king of the legal thriller” by The Providence Rhode Island Journal and called the “heir to Grisham’s literary throne.”  My Sister’s Grave, the first in the Tracy Crosswhite series is the #1 Amazon Best Seller. Bodily Harm and Murder One were each chosen by the Los Angeles Times Book Review as  top five thrillers of 2010 and 2011, respectively. Murder One was a finalist for the Harper Lee Award for literary excellence. Visit his website at www.robertdugoni.com, email him at bob@robertdugoni.com, and follow him on twitter @robertdugoni and on facebook at www.facebook.com/AuthorRobertDugoni

The Planning Process:

Michelle: Wow! A New York Times Bestseller and #1 Amazon Best-selling author! I can’t express how excited I am to hear from you. First of all, I’d like to applaud you for your success. I’m sure you have lots of great experiences and advice to share with other fellow authors.

Let’s begin by discussing one of the novels you have published. Describe how you planned the storyline of this novel. Did you outline your chapters before you wrote them? Did you keep a document where you jotted down all your ideas as they came to you?

Robert: I’m an organic writer, which means I write from the seat of my pants, although I do some outlining. Being a teacher of story structure, I know how stories are told and I know the pure plot elements, but I also like to keep the door open for new ideas as I write.  Here’s an example from My Sister’s Grave.

It started with a character, Tracy Crosswhite. She was a detective in Murder One. I’m not sure why or how I conjured her up, but she is a former chemistry teacher who became a cop. So I immediately started to think about her background. Why had she left teaching? Why become a cop? Why wasn’t she married? What was it like being the first female homicide detective in a predominantly male profession? What had she been through? Although that was percolating, I really didn’t have a story for her. So I let it sit a while.

Then I was reading the newspaper and I happened upon an article on the removal of the hydro-electric dams in Washington State to restore the spawning grounds of the wild salmon. I read about how lakes above the dam receded and they were finding all kinds of things at the bottom. And I thought, what if they found a buried body, a body of somebody missing just before the dam went on line. Then I thought of Tracy Crosswhite and began to concoct a story around her. Ultimately I decided it was a younger sister, and her disappearance was what motivated Tracy to become a cop, though not without consequences.

Michelle: Interesting. That reminds me of the way I tend to form a story around the spontaneous ideas that sit around in my head for a while. It’s a rewarding feeling once you finally conjure up a story that fits with your general idea in mind!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors about planning for a novel? Would you advise them to follow the same steps you took to plan your book? Why or why not?

Robert: Learn story structure. I’d tell them to read Christopher Vogler’s book, The Writer’s Journey, and Sol Stein’s book, On Writing and others. I’d tell them to attend lectures and retreats on story structure, to read books and break them down, why they work and why they don’t. Stories have certain essential plot elements and there are some dos and don’ts you want to be cognizant of. You learn them by studying the craft.

The Writing Process:

Michelle: Alright, let’s discuss the writing process of your book. How many drafts did you go through before you finally published your book?

Robert: My Sister’s Grave was probably ten to 12 drafts, which is not unusual for me. The first draft is fleshing out the plot but really just writing and getting the story out and not spending a lot of time analyzing or editing. Then I go back to page one and begin working through the draft again and again. When I’m satisfied the story works, then I go through it for editing purposes, starting at a 10,000 foot level and working my way down to the characters and scene by scene so that by the final draft I’m really looking for grammar and punctuation.

Michelle: I feel a little more comfortable to hear that. I’m going through so many revisions with my current novel right now, I feel like I’ll never get to the point where I’m just editing for grammar and punctuation.

Tell me some more about how you’ve revised your book. Did you work with a professional editor? Did you find him/her helpful?

Robert: I pretty much described the process above. The only person I let read my work is John Hough Junior, a brilliant editor and writer in Boston who is a friend and colleague. He’s ruthless, which is what I want. After I work with John it goes to my agent and she reads it and provides feedback. Occasionally she’ll also send it out to a couple of cold readers.

Michelle: Ah, that sounds daunting, but impressive! Sounds like you’re not afraid to hear any harsh critiques—which is good. What important advice would you like to give to aspiring authors about writing, rewriting, and editing a novel?

Robert: The first thing is you have to establish writing time. Writer’s write. You have to put your butt in the chair and go to work. My process, above, is to then get the story out without anyone sitting on your shoulder critiquing you. Just get it out. Then I have an entire editing process that works for me. Writers should do the same. Understand your weaknesses and go to work fixing them. If you have a critical reader or editor you trust, use them, but don’t pay anyone unless they have been highly recommended and then only when you feel you have done all you can on the manuscript.

The Publishing Process:

Michelle: Great advice. I’ll definitely love to discuss this more in detail with you sometime.

But now, let’s discuss a bit more about the publishing process. What route did you take to publish your novel? Large press, small press, or independent publishing?

Robert: I was traditionally published. My first non-fiction book was with Simon and Schuster. My first two novels were with Grand Central, then Warner Books. My next four novels were with Simon and Schuster. Currently my new series is with Thomas & Mercer.

Michelle: Simon and Schuster…wow. One of the “Big Five.” That’s an amazing feat! Why did you take this publishing route?

Robert: It’s the route that worked for me. I’ve been very pleased with Thomas & Mercer. They did an excellent job editing the book and even better marketing it. For me, having greater input into my book and the marketing of it has been a great experience. They have really helped to get the word out to readers, and readers are going back and finding my earlier work.

Michelle: That’s wonderful! I wonder how such companies manage to market so successfully…it’s no wonder that it’s almost like reaching for the stars if you’re trying to get published by any of the large presses.

Would you recommend such a route to any aspiring authors?

Robert: Everyone is different. It’s like picking a college. You have to find the publisher that feels right for you, where you feel at home, comfortable and believe you have the best chance of success.

Michelle: You are very right. The Big Five large press companies are like the Ivy Leagues, although being an Ivy League graduate does not guarantee any success for your future any more than getting published by Randomhouse or Harpercollins can guarantee success for your books (although it would definitely help!). It’s all about finding the right place for you as an author, and the appropriate path for your particular book. And if anyone is willing to work hard enough to get their book out there, it doesn’t necessarily matter what publishing route you take.

Now since you were traditionally published by Thomas and Mercer, did you hire a literary agent before submitting your novel to this company?

Robert: I’ve had my agent for a decade. She is invaluable. She knows the business inside and out and has taken an interest in building not a book, but my career.

Michelle: That’s great to hear. You’ll definitely have to give me some more advice on how you found your agent!

Do you have any additional advice for the aspiring authors: what are the key factors a writer should think about before choosing one of the three publishing routes?

Robert:

  1. How much input do they want to have in publishing their book.
  2. Are they entrepreneurial or not? If so, then they may want to try to do it on their own.
  3. What publishing option provides them the best chance to get their books out to as many readers as possible?

The Marketing Process:

Michelle: Alright, so I’m sure aspiring authors would love to hear about your marketing skills and experiences. Please share how you drew people to read your book and how you gained such a wide audience for the bestseller status.

Robert: Thomas & Mercer has been excellent getting the word out about the book. As for me, I do all the social media, but really, it starts with writing a book that people start to talk about and to recommend to their friends. Word of mouth is what sells books. My Sister’s Grave has been the #1 Amazon download for October and November and if you see the reviews you’ll see why. People are talking about the book.

Michelle: And how do you present your book to people so that they are interested enough to start talking about it? Did you use goodreads to promote your book?

Robert: I try to get on Goodreads and facebook and other social platforms as often as I can. I know my publisher did a book give away on goodreads. Otherwise, I haven’t done much in the way of author to reader contact.

Michelle: How did you use facebook to promote your book? How much time did you dedicate to connecting with others on facebook, or any other social media site?

Robert: I’m on facebook at least once a day. I have an author page I try to use to promote my work. I have a personal page where I try to connect on a more personal level. You don’t want to look like you’re always selling.

Michelle: That sounds helpful. Besides your personal site, are there any other websites where you promoted your book? Any websites you recommend for other authors to promote/sell?

Robert: I have a newsletter I get out whenever there is something important to tell my readers. Readers can sign up for the newsletter on my website. www.robertdugoni.com .

Michelle: I’ll definitely have to check it out! Before we close up here, is there any additional advice you’d like to give to aspiring authors about marketing?

Robert: It’s tough. Don’t spend a lot of money unless you know it works. What sells books is not ads or contests. It’s getting people talking about your book.

Additional Info:

  1. Website address: robertdugoni.com
  2. Facebook contact info: facebook.com/AuthorRobertDugoni
  3. Twitter contact info:@robertdugoni
  4. Goodreads contact info: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/63650.Robert_Dugoni
  5. Books (you can provide links): http://www.amazon.com/My-Sisters-Grave-Robert-Dugoni/dp/1477825576/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1416277954&sr=8-1&keywords=My+sister%27s+grave
  6. Where else can we find you? Youtube – https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Robert+Dugoni
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