The second in a series of interviews conference chair Kathryn Craft conducted with former conferees that made successful publishing connections at The Write Stuff conference.
1. You first met an editor from Kensington Books, Michaela Hamilton, at The Write Stuff conference. Tell us how your pitch session went. Any advice for people pitching for the first time this year?
I actually pitched a different book to Michaela at the 2004 conference. She was very nice and open to several ideas. I was there to learn what she was interested in receiving more than anything else, so I asked her a lot of questions and took her contact information. I later sent her a book proposal for Blood Trail, and she sent me a contract and an advance of several thousand dollars to get started.
The most important opportunity for me was getting to know the agents and editors in a more social atmosphere over drinks on Friday night before the actual conference. In fact, Michaela and I ended up going out to a country and western bar in West Allentown with some other people. She said she wanted to dance. Getting to know an agent or editor makes them seem more human and takes away much of the anxiety when you approach them on a professional level.
2. You did not have an agent at that time, correct? Have you continued to negotiate your contracts without an agent? What advice do you have for others in this regard?
I acted on my own behalf to negotiate my contracts. I knew there wouldn’t be much negotiating room for my first contract with Kensington and I believe that I did as well as any agent would have done for me—better, because I didn't have to give up a percentage to an agent. I did the same thing again with my second contract. The pitch was much easier because I had already built a relationship with the publisher and with Michaela. I didn't even have to send a book proposal, just a page about what I was planning and what sources I would use. I did ask for a bit larger of an advance and I got it without much haggling.
With all that said, I do think that an agent is useful for writers of fiction and those who expect to negotiate a six-figure deal or more. If the subject of a book is going to cause publishers to fight to secure a contract with you (we can dream) then an agent is almost a necessity. A good agent is also great for submitting multiple proposals to various publishers simultaneously and keeping track of all the tedious business side of things that takes away from time writing.
3. How did the editing process go?
The editing process for Blood Trail was a nightmare. I had envisioned a true-crime book that read like a novel—sort of like Capote's In Cold Blood. Kensington wanted something more on the lines of a dry police report—just the facts. The worst part was that I agreed to let the lead investigator on the case become my co-author. He was a cop, not a writer. He was supposed to send everything to me to edit before I would pass it along to Kensington. He sent some stuff to me, some to them—pretty soon everyone was confused. I won't go down that route again but it was a learning process that certainly was enlightening.
Things went a bit smoother while I was working on Predator. The editing process took much longer than the actual investigation and writing of the books. I worked most closely with Mike Shohl on Predator. He did a good job of kicking me in the ass to get the book completed. His objective set of eyes picked up simple mistakes I overlooked and he asked for more in-depth explanations about things I understood clearly but my readers might not. Unfortunately, he is no longer working at Kensington. I still keep in contact with him, because in this industry it’s all who you know.
4. You'll be selling/signing copies of Predator at the conference book fair. Your first book, Blood Trail, was also about a serial murderer. How did you hook up with these guys? And what do you keep in mind when structuring true events into a story people will want to buy?
Believe it or not, I am not a huge fan of most true-crime books because many of them are not written well. Predator is the exception of course.
Joe Brown, the subject of Blood Trail, is my father-in-law's second cousin. During a trip to Indiana to visit my wife's relatives, they all told me about the life of Joe Brown and how he ended up hacking his girlfriend into little pieces and burying the remains in three different counties. They all knew I wrote horror and that I also worked as a reporter at the time, so they suggested I write a book about Brown.
As far as Predator is concerned, I had just returned from a year in England and touched base with Michaela. She told me she would like to get another book out of me. I spent a month writing about a local teenage boy who started his own religious cult in order to seduce and murder young girls, but Michaela said she wanted something truly devastating—a mass murderer who killed with conscious intent on a larger scale. I read about Timothy Krajcir, who was brought up in the Lehigh Valley. He fit the bill perfectly. His name was current in national headlines and the body count he left behind doubled that of the Son of Sam. I pitched the idea and Kensington gobbled it up. More than just a murder story, Predator delves into the lives of his victims. I wanted readers to get to know the victims so they could be remembered for who they were instead of how they died.
A member of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, Steven Walker was born in Heidelberg, Germany and started freelancing professionally in 1989. Since then he has amassed 1,500 publishing credits. In 1996 his first horror novel, Desmodus, was published. Previously a leader in the Bucks County writing community, Steven founded the Lehigh Valley Writers Academy. While writing true crime books in recent years he has also received several awards for his macabre style of poetry.
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