Tj O’Connor is the 2015 Gold Medal Winner of the Independent Publishers Book Awards (IPPY) for mysteries and the author of Dying To Know, Dying For The Past, and Dying To Tell. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. He was raised in New York's Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and Labrador companions in Virginia where they raised five children. Dying to Know is also a 2015 Bronze Medal winner for the 2015 Reader’s Favorite Book Review Awards, a Finalist for both the 2015 Silver Falchion Award and the Foreword Review’s 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award.
Found out about his latest book, Dying to Tell on Amazon.
Thanks for letting us interrogate you! Can you give us a go-for-the-gut answer as to why you wanted to be an author?
I’ve wanted to write since I was in the fifth grade. I fell in love with reading as an escape from a tough childhood and with that knew I wanted to write books and create stories. By the time I was in the seventh grade, I was penning short stories, plays, was the editor for my school newspaper, and was consumed by writing. I couldn’t afford college, so I went into the military for my college education and ended up working in counterintelligence and anti-terrorism— great adventures for my novels! I continued writing for years but didn’t get serious about publishing until about ten or so years ago. Then the real work started—learning the craft more, learning how to find an agent and publisher … the works.
Tell us (we won’t tell promise!) is it all it’s cracked up to be? I mean what are the perks and what are the demands?
It is certainly not what most people think it is. So many people think we (authors) are making tons of money, are celebrities, travel, get waited on by our publishers who swoon to our commands. All that is so far from what most of us experience it’s amazing. My publisher does little for me in the way of marketing and promotion and nothing for expenses. I pay my own way to signings, lectures, events, everything. It’s really not a team sport. For me though, the perks are that I’m doing what I want to do, and there is a growing fan base that like my work. I’m not talking about family and friends, I’m talking about folks to follow me at events or seek me out now and then (it isn’t a lot, mind you,
Which route did you take – traditional or self-published – and can you give us the nitty gritty low down on what’s that like?
Traditional publishing. But, now with my first book contract over, my agent and I are examining indie press options for other work. My agent took care of the heavy lifting on finding the publisher. I’m thrilled that Midnight Ink signed me for three books. But, as thrilling as it was, I found it difficult, too. For instance, I do not like my series book covers—they are too cartoonish and “R.L. Stine-ish.” My publisher believes they’re the right choice. Me, and many fans and reviewers, disagree. And I struggle with the way my publisher handled the back cover copy and Amazon book descriptions, too. But, they’re the pros and I’m the author. I would like more control and more say in the details, but that’s what you give up to them. I’m still thrilled with my publisher’s editor, though…Terri B is the best. If not for her, I would have been worse off for sure. As I go forward, and as the indie press market becomes more and more viable, my agent and I will explore it. But, my books will always be offered to the traditional presses first, and should none take them on, they’ll then go indie or self-pub. My rule of thumb is “If Kimberley (my agent) likes the book enough to represent it, it’ll find a home on the market somehow.” Be that traditional, indie, or self-pub.
Tell us for real what your family feels about you spending so much time getting your book written, polished, edited, formatted, published, what have you?
Hah! I have a wife, five kids, four kid-spouses, and five grandkids. Of those, one of my daughters is the only one involved in my books or even reads them. She is one of my beta readers on new drafts and even helps with Facebook and thinking on PR and events. She’ll come to an event now and then to help with a booth if I have one. Besides her, my brother in law is a graphic artist and he helps design ads and posters for me. He’s amazing. But, not much on reading my stuff. I’m fine with all that. Oh, everyone is thrilled I’m an author, but they’re not so much into reading the books. My Labs constantly complain about time away from ball-playing and roughhousing. My wife hates that every waking moment is either working or writing or travelling for my books. But in the end, dreams cost. I love being an author and even if it takes every moment of my time (other than making a living of course), I love it still.
This is for pet lovers. If you don’t own a pet, skip this question, but do your pets actually get their food on time or do they have to wait until you type just one more word?
No, as much as I love writing in all my free time, my Labs have priority when needed. They force me to take breaks when I’m writing and we play ball or get a snack or whatever. They are constant companions under my desk or in my leather chair watching. In fact, they are a great motivator to take breaks and get up and move around or I’d spend 12 -14 hours each day of the weekend sitting and writing without a break. They don’t take a backseat very often!
This is for plant lovers. If you don’t own a plant, skip this question, but if you do, are they actually still alive?
In writing your book, how did you deal with the phone ringing, your family needing dinner or your boss calling you saying you’re late?
Wow, tough one. I’m a consultant and I make my living by being available and on call with clients. I’m also fortunate to work from home 3-4 days a week and my wife commutes 30 minutes in and out of work at very early and late hours. So I do most of the weekday cooking and dog-care and house responsibilities. And, I work from about 8am to 5 and take calls before and after all the time. I’m able to multi-task around it. I can shift my schedule and timing around life in general. So I’ll write early morning, then shift into my career work. Often, I’ll edit or write during lunch. After normal working hours it’s make dinner, deal with dogs, and most often, back to work. Weekends are 100% writing (except for house chores). I figure I’m going about 95-100 plus hours a day and love every moment of it.
What was the craziest or insane thing that happened to you in the book publishing process?
Oh, there have been many. My publisher sent the wrong draft of an ARC (advanced reader copy) of a book to the reviewers prior to publication. It had too many mistakes and even plot changes missing. And we had a back and forth over drafts because the copy editor kept using the wrong draft to edit and we went around about that. These things happen, of course. But they drive you nuts because you’re only worried about your book and they’re worried about dozens at a time. Patience, understanding, and bourbon help a lot.
How about the social networks? Which ones do you believe help and which ones do you wish you could avoid?
I hate social networking to be honest. But, I do it. I blog on two blogs a month, Facebook about events and things happening with a book, I just started Twitter and am struggling to find time and energy to say things worth saying, and on and on. I come from a profession where you don’t advertise yourself and spend little time doing social media. But my agent, and my publicist demand me do it. I find it odd—I truly don’t think anyone cares what I have to say outside of my novels, so why be yapping all the time on Tweets, Facebook, and blogs? I do it, and try to have meaningful and fun entries, but it’s a struggle for me.
Book sales. Don’t you just love them (or lack of?)? How are you making the sales happen for you?
Good question. Sales are slow, slower, and slowest. I’m struggling to find an audience for a lot of reasons. First, I’m a new author writing in a small slice of the cozy mystery market (mystery with a paranormal twist), and my books could be presented better with better covers, better book copy, etc. But it’s the same for many authors I’m finding out. I’m spending a fortune of my own money on editing/proofing, marketing and advertising and traveling to make appearances and get my name out. So it’ll be a very long time before I even break even. But you know, I’m okay with that. I have the fortune of not having to make any money on books right now. I will spend the next years trying to build a brand and an audience with the hope that one day, perhaps down the road a-ways, I’ll begin to see some real returns. That’s the plan. And if it never happens and all I do is get my books on the shelf and make a few pennies, well, I will deal with that.
What is one thing you’d like to jump on the rooftop and scream about?
I don’t really have anything other than “Read me! Let me come guest speak!” I have no real complaints—heck, I’m too new to this world to complain. And why complain outside my own office—I asked for this. I love it!
Okay, too much sugar for you today! Here’s a nice cup of Chamomile tea and come on over and sit under the cabana and watch the waves roll in. Now…can you tell us what you love about being a published author and how all those things above doesn’t matter because it’s all part of the whole scheme of things and you wouldn’t have it any other way?
I love writing. I’ve had an adventurous life and have met some of the most amazing people. When I write my books, I get to relive some of those adventures and rekindle old friendships. It’s like dreaming great dreams while I’m awake and at the keyboard. I write for me as much as others. More so, really. And you know—people like my work and many can’t wait for the next one. How cool is that?
I love having a beta group of great friends to read my novels. I take them to a nice dinner and we drink good wine and talk about my books all night. I love that I have an amazing agent—Kimberley Cameron—who is always in my corner. And wow, I also have a great publicist—Maryglenn McCombs—who has been so helpful I couldn’t be doing much of the PR I’m doing without her. Kimberley and Maryglenn are truly the best—I couldn’t do half of what I’m doing without them. I’m thrilled that Midnight Ink gave me the three book contract, and while I’ve groused about things I didn’t like with them, I am so very grateful and call them friends. I’ve got three books out, my agent has another going to market, and I’m writing two more. I’m heading to events to sell books, sign books, be a guest lecturer and key note speaker, do appearances at schools to talk to young people about books and writing, and even a few special appearances because it’s just me. Wow, I’m still VERY unknown and yet I get to travel around on weekends and talk about books and writing and people really love it. Even if I never made much money, how could I NOT love this?