Monday, October 18, 2010
Austin Camacho, A Mystery Writer, Speaker Tells It All
Please welcome Austin Camacho! I've been stalking him ever since he spoke at the MWA Writer's Conference this April and chewed on some of his books while I was at it. He's written tons of Mystery, Action series and a book on Author Marketing. Check him out and please comment and say hello!
He's done it all, self-published and is now traditionally published. As well as sold over 1000 copies of his books all on his own. Talk about getting your hustle on. Please take this opportunity to learn from one of the most helpful and encouraging author's I've met.
Can you tell us about yourself? Some fun facts?
Fun facts? Well, in my Clark Kent job I handle media relations for the Defense Department, but inside I’m a philosopher and a teller of morality tales thinly disguised as mysteries or adventure stories. I’m also a husband and father, a flirt and a loudmouth, with a big heart and an even bigger ego. And I’m a hard-working marketing fool who wants every adult alive to read his novels.
Tell us about your books? My favorite The Troubleshooter and your character Hannibal Jones?
I write a detective series about a Washington DC-based, African American private eye named Hannibal Jones. Hannibal is a tough, honorable, determined man who fancies himself a problem solver to the world and who gets thru mysteries as much by stubbornness as inspired detective work. He’s also rather conservative and a bit chauvinistic, although his girl friend is working on that.
The Troubleshooter, the first Hannibal Jones story I wrote, isn’t really a mystery – more urban thriller - but it was my way of figuring out who this guy is. In it Hannibal is hired to free a crack house from the drug addicts and winos that hold it. A powerful drug lord nearly drives him off, until he realizes that his success or failure will determine the fate of a neighborhood, and the future of one small boy.
What inspired you to write mysteries?
I’m a lifelong mystery fan but when I started to try to write it was action-adventure stuff. Then one day I was reading a mystery and realized about a third of the way through it that I knew everything that was going to happen after that. I thought, “Heck, I can do better than this.” At that time I was working on a TV news story about the local bone marrow donation program. I thought, “Finding the match to get a donor – that’s a REAL mystery.” That idea grew into Blood and Bone, the second Hannibal Jones novel I wrote but the first in print.
Your books have a great mix of action and mystery, how do you come up with your ideas? What inspired you to write an action packed mystery instead of the more subtle suspenseful kinds?
I didn’t want to write about someone who was just a detective. I wanted to write about a hero, and Hannibal Jones is that. Plus, I have a real affection for the old school private eye stories. I see the stories in my mind like movies, so there has to be action. Plot ideas are everywhere. Every time I turn on the news or pick up a paper I play “what if” with the stories I see and evolve a whole different explanation for the facts presented.
What is one of the most difficult parts of writing for you?
I don’t know if there is a most difficult part of the creative process. But I suspect a lot of writers are like me in that the hardest part is the physical part, the “Butt in the chair” part. Life offers so many good excuses to be something else. But when I get into a story, and get into the zone, I find myself asking “why did I put this off? This is where I belong.”
What made you decide to write your book for writers? Successfully Marketing your novel in the 21st century.
When I was first published I read a number of excellent volumes on how to market self-published books, but none of them did a good job of addressing my specific needs. The most successful self-published books are nonfiction, but the best advice on marketing nonfiction books won’t help you sell your novel. So I set about culling out what was most useful to me. A lot of trial and error was involved, and more than a few disappointments. This book is the result of the synthesis of knowledge found in those books, my public affairs training, and my ten plus years of hard won personal experience.
What have you learned most from your journey as an Author?
I’ve learned that if you’re doing it right, creating fiction forces you to look at the parts of yourself you’d rather leave hidden. Then it makes you reveal those parts to everyone else.
I’ve learned that if you have something to say you can do it better with fiction than nonfiction. And that when you start making up a story you find out – often to your surprise – that you DO have something to say.
I’ve learned that no one will read your book until, one way or another, you tell them they want to read your book.
When you first sat down to write your very first mystery, how did you plan it out? Was it published?
When I sat down to write I knew how the story started, and I knew how it had to end. So I wrote an outline that described all the action that takes place in between. Then I thought about what else my characters would be dealing with at the same time and I wrote that into the outline. I outlined the story as a series of scenes, just like a movie. Then I wrote the scenes, in order, from beginning to end. That process hasn’t changed a bit.
After an exhaustive series of submissions to publishers and agents (I’ve had 3 of those) I decided to publish myself through a Print On Demand company. I learned more about the business and self published. I sold enough books that a small press (Echelon) asked for the right to my flagship novel, Blood and Bone. The rest, as they say, is history.
How did you go from a self-published author to a selling your works to a publisher who supports your work?
I sold a few thousand novels at street festivals and writers conferences and kept writing more stuff. At Book Expo America I met a publisher who recognized my book cover and asked me how I had gotten so far as a self-published fiction author. After a lot of conversation about what we could offer one another, I decided to sign with Echelon to increase my distribution. That got me into Borders and Barnes & Noble, where most of my sales are today.
What’s your creative process?
I outline in great detail, and my outlines have evolved into a form that imitates film scripts. There has to be a strong hook – I like to start with action to pull the reader in. Because I work with series characters I always consider what needs to happen in their lives and weave that into the plot. I write from scene to scene, often moving the chapter starts for pacing purposes. Every chapter should end with a cliff hanger. I often writer for a couple hours at a time, but can sit down and lay down a stack of words in 30 minutes if that’s what I’ve got. And the characters often push the plot line around as I write, so the outline isn’t carved in stone, it’s flexible as I get into the book.
Do you work with a critique group? Beta readers?
I stopped working with critique groups because I always seemed to be giving more than I was getting, and the time I spent critiquing other people’s work I could spend improving my own. These days I often get paid to critique manuscripts.
Beta readers are very valuable if you ask them the right questions. Whether or not they like what they read doesn’t help me. I need to know: at what point did you put it down? (checking pace) Which characters do you want to get to know better? (make the others more intriguing) what did you think were the important plot points? (if they can’t tell me what happened I need to make it clearer) and for a mystery, did you guess the ending (need to know if the clues are hidden well enough, and if they felt I played fair with them.)
You’ve impressed me with the marketing of all of your books. Can you share with us the most effective ways you’ve marketed yourself as an author?
For me, personal appearances have been most effective. Book signings in book stores, presentations and panels at book conferences keep my name in front of the public and move books off store shelves. I have recently learned that commenting on Yahoo Groups like Kindle Korner is effective in moving ebooks. A strong presence on social media sites seems to have helped a lot too, but it’s harder to trace results back to them
You do a lot of speaking engagements, mystery related writer’s conferences did you go to them when you were an aspiring published author?
I never even knew about all these mystery conferences and conventions until I was published. I often wish I had had the chance to attend Bouchercon or Left Coast Crime or Love is Murder or Malice Domestic as a fan.
Do you have any new books in the works? Mysteries? other genres?
There is ALWAYS a book in the works. I’m about a third of the way thru the next Hannibal Jones mystery and a new Stark & O’Brien adventure will hit shelves in the fall of 2011. I want to spend some time pumping up my thriller series to see if it can be as strong as the mysteries.
Where can we find you this month?
Well, THIS month is half over but you can meet me Saturday, Oct 16 at Borders, 2904 Prince William County Parkway, Woodbridge VA - 2pm - 6pm;
Saturday Oct 30 at Borders in Baltimore Washington International Airport – 9am to noon, and that evening speaking and book signing at Wine About Books at Linganore Winery, 13601 Glissans Mill Road, Mt. Airy MD - 6pm - 10pm
In November you can meet me Sunday, Nov 7 at Borders Express - Columbia Mall, 10300 Little Patuxent Pkwy Columbia, MD 2 - 1pm to 5pm.
November 14–21 I will be presenting at Mystery on the High Seas; A Cruise to Die For, onboard the Carnival Splendour to the Mexican Riviera - http://2010mysterycruise.blogspot.com .
After that you can meet me Saturday, Nov 27 at Borders, 11270 Bulloch Dr , Manassas , VA Manassas - 12pm to 4pm and Sunday Nov 28 at Borders at Baltimore Washington International Airport – 9am to noon.
How can we learn more about your books?
The easiest way is to check my web site – www.hanibaljonesmysteries.com or www.ascamacho.com but there are lots of other ways – Facebook, Gather, Crimespace, Myspace… my best answer is: Google me. J