That was then, this is now by Tom Coffey

thomascoffeyMy first novel, THE SERPENT CLUB, a murder mystery and thriller, was published in 1999. It all seemed so simple then. You got an agent, and the agent negotiated a contract, and the book came out in hardcover, and then in paperback, and you did some promotion and hoped the mainstream media would review the book. Looking back on those days is like remembering the time when you had three working channels on your television set. Maybe you feel nostalgic, but do you really want to go back?


Writers have long been frustrated by the seemingly impenetrable barriers imposed by agents and traditional publishing houses. If you couldn’t get any of them interested in your work, you were out of luck, even if you had an interesting, unique and compelling story to tell. (Especially if you had an interesting, unique and compelling story. The powers that were always preferred more of the same to originality.)


It’s still that way in the Land of Traditional Publishing, but writers’ options have expanded in ways that resemble the hundreds-of-channels options you get when you turn on your TV. Independent publishers have flourished (although they vary widely in quality), the much-dreaded and -derided Amazon provides a venue for writers who can’t get published elsewhere, and ebooks mean that you’re never out of print. (Personally, I love this.)


Still, there are advantages to the old-fashioned. The most obvious one is money. My first two books — THE SERPENT CLUB and MIAMI TWILIGHT — were published by Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster that no longer exists. (To my knowledge, my books played no role in this CF1-BrightMorningStardevelopment.) I received decent advances for both of them and, despite taxes and the inevitable out-of-pocket expenses, came out nicely ahead financially. My latest book, BRIGHT MORNING STAR, a historical novel set in early 20th century America, was published by the indie house Oak Tree Press last year. The people at Oak Tree were terrific, and I’m grateful they published it, but when all is said and done I might, just might, wind up breaking even on the book.


(When my third novel, BLOOD ALLEY, a noirish mystery set in the 1940s, was published as an ebook and paperback by Amazon, I got a decently sized royalty check that went a long way toward paying for a desperately needed paint job in our apartment. I never imagined this was what the writing life would be like. But I digress.)


Putting out a book with an independent house means there’s no ambiguity about marketing: You have to do almost all of it. Which in a way is great, because there isn’t a writer in the world who believes that his/her books are being marketed properly by the publisher. We all know the platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Tumblr, Instagram, Reddit, and on and on. You use social media, and you build a website (or get somebody to build it for you) and you try to get clicks and likes, and you hope to drive traffic to your site and maybe, just maybe, go viral. You also write clever things about yourself when Amazon puts your book up for sale. You set up readings and other events at bookstores and other places that will have you.


It all takes time. Lots of time. The time you spend marketing yourself is time you’re not spending writing your next book — and, let’s face it, if you wanted to go into marketing you wouldn’t have become a writer in the first place. (Although it is nice to meet people who are interested in reading and selling your work.)


It can all be incredibly frustrating, but for writers, frustration is just part of the territory. Besides being artists, we’re now entrepreneurs — two lifestyles that are both exhilarating and nerve-wracking. The days of the three-martini lunch with Maxwell Perkins are long gone. Instead, you’re spending serious face time with Marc Zuckerberg. It’s not as personally satisfying, but in the end he’s giving you platforms Matthew Perkins never could.



TOM COFFEY BIO: I graduated from the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and attended film school at the University of Southern California. In my career, I’ve worked as a reporter and editor for some of the leading newspapers in the country, including The Miami Herald and Newsday. Since 1997, I’ve been a staff editor at The New York Times. I live in Lower Manhattan with my wife, Jill, and our daughter, Skyler.


I’m also a member of Mystery Writers of America. My first novel, THE SERPENT CLUB, was published in 1999 by Pocket Books and earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Pocket Books published my second novel, MIAMI TWILIGHT, two years later. In 2008 Toby Press printed BLOOD ALLEY, which also earned a starred review from PW. Last year my latest novel, BRIGHT MORNING STAR, was published by Oak Tree Press.




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