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How did you sell so many books when you were self-publishing?

A: In three months of sales, back in mid-March to mid-June 2009 before an iPad or a Nook even existed, I sold 7,500 Kindle copies of my three thriller novels. By the time I got my first publishing deal and removed my books from the Kindle store, I was selling 4,000 books per month.

I wish I could say it was the product of brilliant marketing, but I really didn't do any marketing. Thanks to the magic of Google alerts, I could see when forums mentioned my name, and when they did I went to those sites to introduce myself. But I tried to be as low-key as possible. No one likes the hard sell.

I think my sales were spurred by a combination of factors. I had three books completed, which meant that readers had three opportunities to discover my writing. To convince readers to take a chance on the books of an unknown author like me, I priced them between $0.99 and $1.99. I had blurbs from bestselling writers, who I had gotten to know personally at writer conferences. And I had an agent who helped me edit my books.

If you want to read more about all the gory details, you can check out either a long post I did on J.A. Konrath's website or you can read my marketing tips on Self-Publishing Review.

Do you have an agent?

A: I do. My US literary agent's name is John Talbot, and you can find him at his web site, My foreign rights literary agents are Danny Baror and his daughter Heather Baror-Shapiro, and you can find them at their web site,

How does someone get a novel published?

A: First, finish the book. No unfinished manuscripts. Second, after you finish the book, go to writers conferences. As in any other business, networking is an important skill. Meeting authors and agents face-to-face is by far the easiest and fastest way to get your foot in the door. Third, get an agent. Easier said than done, I know. Query letters can work, but I found that I had much more success getting out of the slush pile by pitching the ideas for my books in person. Fourth, cross your fingers. That's all you can do once your agent starts sending it out to editors.

Fifth, write your next book. I didn't get a publisher until my third book was finished. It took Steve Berry until his sixth book before he got published. Now he's a NY Times bestselling author.

As Joe Konrath says, What do you call a novelist who never gives up? Published.

Did you always want to write?

A: I've always liked telling stories. Legos were the best tool for doing that when I was a child. I would take my sets and construct huge battlefleets of starships that would duke it out in the vastness of space.

It wasn't until college that I actually thought about writing my stories down. I wrote numerous awful plots. Always thrillers, because that's what I loved to read.

Then in graduate school, I took a writing course from science fiction novelist Nancy Kress, and as I gradually improved, I thought I might be able to write an actual novel. The Adamas Blueprint was my first attempt, and I was hooked from then on.

Where do you get your ideas?

A: I really wish I knew how my brain worked (so does my wife). It would make things so much easier. But it works in a very haphazard way. It just throws story ideas at me whenever it wants, which is a lot of the time. When I read a news story or watch a TV show or when I'm simply walking around, my mind says, Hey! What would happen if...? Sometimes it becomes a story, but most of the time it just rattles around in there.

Ideas are not my problem. I've got tons of those. Ask any writer, and he or she will tell you that it's getting an idea formed into a 400-page sensible plot with interesting characters and exciting events that is the hard part.

What's your writing schedule?

A: I'm not a morning person, so I tend to do my best work in the afternoon. Writing every day is the most important thing. It keeps you in the rhythm of the story. I find that if I take a break and get out of that rhythm, it's difficult to crank it up again. When I'm in the groove, my target is at least a chapter a day.

What are you working on now?

A: I don't like to talk about works in progress because I never know what's going to change between when I start and when I finish it. If I tell you it's about a family of hamsters searching for the true meaning of Christmas, but it ends up being a serial killer novel set on Mars, somebody's going to be disappointed. But I will say that I'm working on the next Tyler Locke adventure.

What books do you read?

A: Most of the fiction I read nowadays is by authors I know. They are all wonderful, and since I can't list them all, I won't risk offending anyone by leaving someone off. Of fiction by authors I don't know, some of my favorites recently are The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon and World War Z by Max Brooks.

Some of my favorite non-fiction books that I've read recently are Wired for War by PW Singer, Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

The authors that inspired me the most to become a thriller novelist are HG Wells, Clive Cussler, Dean Koontz, Michael Crichton, and Stephen King.

I would never be disciplined enough to write a whole novel. How do you motivate yourself?

A: I won't lie. It's hard. Writing an entire novel is really hard, and unless you've tried it yourself, you have no idea. Breaking into the industry is even harder. So unless you are truly driven to write, to be a novelist, I recommend doing anything else. But if you really want to do it, don't let anyone or anything get in your way. The beauty of writing is that anyone can do it. All you need is a computer or a pad and pencil. It's staring at that blank screen or piece of paper that scares the bejesus out of you.

What I focus on is the end goal. I want to tell stories. I want to do this for a living. And the only way to reach that goal is to keep writing.

What publishers are releasing your books in each country?



What's it like to fly on the Vomit Comet?

A: It's like riding on a roller coaster that is four miles tall and has forty hills.

The Vomit Comet is a KC-135 refueling plane that has been retrofitted to take out the gas tanks. The entire interior of the fuselage is padded from floor to ceiling with foam, and the only seats are in the rear of plane, enough for about thirty passengers. It flies from an air base next to Johnson Space Center to a spot over the Gulf of Mexico. When everyone is out of their seats, the pilot begins the zero-gravity parabolas.

The plane begins at 20,000 feet and climbs to 40,000 feet, where it noses over and dives back to 20,000 feet. The pilot repeats this process forty times. During the nose-over, the plane achieves zero gravity for 25 seconds. During the two-minute pull-out, the plane is subjected to a force of gravity twice what it is on Earth.

Here's what you experience inside the plane: You lie on the floor during the pull-out so that you don't fall and break bones in the high gravity. It has happened many times when passengers ignored that warning. Then high-intensity lights, necessary for the filming of experiments, come on just before zero gravity is reached. As the plane noses over, you rise up off the floor. The first time it happens, it's an eerie experience. Like on a diving roller coaster, your stomach is in your throat, but the feeling never subsides. However, you quickly get used to the feeling and soon you're pushing yourself around by grabbing the walls. Just don't get stuck in the middle of the plane. Swimming motions don't work.

One error I always see in movies that take place in zero gravity is that the astronauts move around slowly, as if they're in water. But I found that moving in zero gravity is a quick motion, much more like flying than swimming, which is what makes it so thrilling.

Then when the 25 seconds are up, gravity returns with a vengeance, and you're pinned to the floor again.

Did you throw up?

A: Thankfully, in my three missions, I never did. In addition to barf bags sticking out of every pocket, they supplied us with scopolamine/dexedrine patches fitted behind our ears that gave us a constant dose of motion sickness medicine. Even so, about half the passengers still got sick, making the Vomit Comet's nickname well-earned.

What's Alex Trebek like?

A: At some point, I'll blog about my full Jeopardy! experience. You can read about my Jeopardy! audition in this article. But I will say that Alex is very different once the cameras are off. The game show is filmed in real time, and during commercials, Alex sings and cracks jokes to entertain the studio audience.

Unfortunately, due to strict rules, contestants like me were not allowed to talk to him other than what you see on camera.

Alex does make mistakes. Through the magic of television, they are edited out. I still wouldn't want to play against him, though. He's a smart guy.

You went bungee jumping? Are you nuts?

A: My wife and I were in New Zealand, the birthplace of bungee jumping, so we thought, what the hell? We jumped off the Kawarau bridge in Queenstown, where bungee jumping was invented. I dove twice from a height of 143 feet, getting dunked in the river on the second jump. Next time you see a 14-story building, imagine jumping from the top and you'll get an idea of what it's like.

Yes, I'm nuts.

What's the best river for white water rafting in the US?

A: The Gauley river in West Virginia. Five class-five rapids in the span of an hour make it top the list.

Do you like film or theater acting better?

A: They're both great ways to tell stories, and both are fun to act in.

Theater acting gives you the immediate feedback of a live audience. Especially in a comedy, if you're doing well, the audience let's you know. If you're not, the audience let's you know that, too. You get to experience the entire arc of the character during the show, whereas in film, you often shoot out of sequence, so that the last scene might be done first. During the two months it takes to rehearse and perform a stage play, you tend to build great relationships with your fellow actors.

Film acting—and TV acting as well—is not as broad as theater because you don't need to show people at the back of a 300-seat theater what you're feeling, so you get to explore more subtle nuances. A film shoot also doesn't take nearly as long as a theater run. And one final advantage of film: if you screw up, you can always do another take.