A mighty fine writer
After finishing Trace Conger’s third book I knew it was time to talk to him about characters and the writing process.
I first wrote about him in September 2015 when he released The Shadow Broker and he’s been extremely busy since then. Conger generously found time to answer questions.
Tell us about Finn and his father, and this series
The series – which currently includes The Shadow Broker, Scar Tissue, and The Prison Guard’s Son – follows Finn Harding (Mr. Finn to his clients) as he tries to resurrect his PI career after losing his professional license. Without a license, Finn is unable to take most of the “cases” that PIs take, so he ends up working for criminals who don’t care if he’s licensed or not.
This dynamic puts Finn in some shady situations and he’s forced to use his unique skillset to solve his case and get out of trouble. He quickly finds out that working for criminals has its advantages, but staying alive isn’t one of them.
Finn’s father Albert is one of my favorite characters to write. He’s a bit of an asshole and is constantly riding Finn in a variety of ways, as most fathers do to their sons. In The Shadow Broker, Albert is kicked out of his retirement home and is forced to live with Finn until they find an alternative.
While their relationship provides for some humor against the backdrop of a dark criminal world, readers learn there is much more to Albert than first thought. As Finn gets pulled deeper into his blackmailing case (in Shadow), he discovers that Albert has an ambiguous, and possibly criminal, past of his own.
As the series unfolds, readers learn more about Albert’s background, including why trouble seems to find him as easily as it finds Finn, why he hasn’t returned to his lake house in Maine for several years and why he keeps $20,000 submerged underneath his boathouse.
Many fans have said that Albert is one of their favorite characters, which is great to hear.
Whom, from stage to screen, can you see playing the role of Finn?
Probably Charlie Weber, but only if he keeps the beard.
Anything in the book marketing world that surprised you despite your publicist background?
The thing that surprised me the most is that sometimes there is no rhyme or reason to what sells and what doesn’t. Two authors can follow the exact same strategy, use the exact same tactics and see completely different results. All you can do is write a good book, try as hard as possible to get it into the hands of readers, and hope it catches fire.
I’ve also learned that there is a lot of “snake oil” out there and plenty of so-called marketing experts who are more than willing to take authors’ money in exchange for little value.
What is your writing process: outliner, pantser or both?
I do outline, but it’s very minimal. I have to know where the story is going and have to at least know the beginning and the end before actually sitting down to write.
When I outline I use 3X5 index cards and usually just write a sentence or two on each card to describe what happens in that scene, such as “Finn picks up Albert at the nursing home. Albert is outside with his luggage.” This is an actual piece from my outline for The Shadow Broker. As you can see, there isn’t much detail. Then I’ll prop the card up on my laptop and write the scene.
I use the outline as more of a series of waypoints that I have to connect through the writing. My outlines do change quite a bit once I get into the story, so if I feel the story going in one direction I’ll follow it and see where it leads, but I have to have something to start from.
It’s also worth noting that I write short fiction in addition to novels, and while I outline my novels, I have never outlined a short story. I can’t tell you why. I guess I look at my short stories as developing more organically.
What authors have provided inspiration for your writing?
Joe Lansdale, Lee Child, and Elmore Leonard have been huge influences.
Do you have a strategy for finding reviewers?
I send a lot of review copies out to book bloggers, but that’s about it. I want to get my novels into the hands as many “influencers” as possible on the hopes that they can encourage their followers and friends to give my work a chance.
Aside from the book blogging community, I also ask those who have emailed me about the book to leave a review. It might sound simple, but a lot of readers don’t think to leave reviews. So when I get an email from a fan telling me they liked the book, I always reply thanking them and ask them to consider leaving a review on Amazon, Goodreads, etc.
I also do a lot of book club events where I discuss one of my books, and in my closing remarks I always ask the group to consider leaving a review. I’m very low pressure, and I never ask readers to leave a positive review, just to share their experience.
I look at giveaways in a few different ways. Since I write a crime series, one my strategies is to get the first book in the series into the hands of as many readers as possible hoping they will like it enough to purchase the rest of the books in the series.
I ran a promotion last year where I offered The Shadow Broker ebook for free and gave away 54,000 copies in one day. It was great for the second book in the series, as sales skyrocketed a few weeks after the giveaway, a direct result of the giveaway.
This is the reason some authors will price the first book in their series lower than the others to bring readers in.
I’ve had heated debates with authors who refuse to give their work away, and that’s totally cool. I get where they are coming from. They don’t want to give away something that took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to produce. And if you have only one book on the market it doesn’t help to give it away.
Some authors also have this idea that if you give away a book that people will think it’s worthless. I disagree with this attitude. A book is a product, and as an author you’re selling a product, and if I can give away one copy of a book to find a new reader who will buy the rest of my backlist, then that’s a deal I’ll make anytime.
Tell us about your support team: beta readers, editors, honest friends, writing groups.
I don’t believe I have any honest friends!
I’ve been part of a writers’ group for several years and encourage anyone who is serious about writing to join one. The open discussion and feedback are ridiculously valuable.
As for the other areas, I share first drafts of novels with a few trusted beta readers and then once I incorporate any feedback from them, I turn the manuscript over to my editor who vomits all over it and proceeds to make me a better writer. After she’s done with it, I make even more changes and then send it to the publishing gods to take it the rest of the way to publication.
Each step is valuable and I’ve learned so much from each of these individuals. I never share first drafts with friends, as I know they are going to frame their feedback to spare my feelings, even if they say they won’t. Friends are good (and bad) that way.
I do most of my writing in coffee shops because I’m addicted to caffeine and I need to see other people from time to time to keep from going insane. I have a home office, but it wasn’t until recently–now that all of my children are in school and out of the house–that I could use it.
Now, I usually work at one of three local coffee shops (that seems like a lot of coffee shops for my small town so something nefarious is probably going on) in the morning and then I work at home for the rest of the day until I get my kids off the bus.
What’s something you are really good at that few people know about?
I’m a pretty solid woodworker and have made a variety of furniture. I have a workshop at home, although I don’t have as much time to use it as I used to. I also enjoy walking around golf courses and cursing loudly.
Where can people learn more about you?
The best place is my website at traceconger.com. Readers can sign up for my email list and get free fiction. I also try to make titles available to my subscribers sooner than the general public, share cover art, writing updates and news, and all that good stuff.
Conger is currently working on his fourth book, a stand-alone novel.