Friday, January 18, 2008

D. H. Dublin on Writing, Agents, and . . . Sleep

D. H. Dublin
Blood Poison
Publisher: Berkley
Pub Date: September 2007
Agent: Kim Lionetti

(Click to Buy)

Jonathan McGoran—writing as D. H. Dublin—is author of the forensic crime thrillers Body Trace, Blood Poison, and the soon-to-be-released Freezer Burn, all from Penguin Books. Writing under his own name, McGoran is currently finishing up Pig Latin, a sprawling and raucously humorous crime thriller.

In the sequel to Body Trace, the investigation into a death by natural causes reveals it is something quite different. As rookie crime scene technician Madison Cross entangles herself in the web of the victim’s perverse family, she realizes the killer is honing in on her.

BookEnds: What’s your next book? When and where should we look for it?
Jonathan: The next book in the CSU series is Freezer Burn, due out June 2008. I’m pretty excited about that, because it’s a little bigger, and a little rowdier than the first two. In my mind, Blood Poison was more psychological than what I usually write, and I enjoyed that a lot. But Freezer Burn will have a lot more action. It’s a little crazier, a little more outrageous. The project I’m currently working on is unrelated to the CSU series. It’s a big, raucous thriller called Pig Latin, about a hacker who finds himself in the middle of a plot to essentially control the Internet. It’s different from the CSU series in a lot of ways: lots of different points of view, different plot lines, a lot of cuts, a lot of action. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.

BookEnds: What was your road to published author like?
Jonathan: I started writing seriously over ten years ago, and when I finished my first novel, which I am currently revising, I queried close to fifty agents. I actually got a fair number of nibbles, maybe a dozen or more, and half of them even asked for the full manuscript. Ultimately, two of them did offer me representation, but after doing a little more research, I turned them both down, something I never thought I’d do. I knew at the time it was the right decision, but try telling that to the side of my brain that was screaming at me not to be such a fool.

I’d had enough near misses by then that I was confident I wasn’t totally misguided in thinking I could get published (although, to be honest, I’m easily encouraged). I probably would have continued sending it out if I hadn’t completed my second novel right around then.

My first tactic with the second novel was to send it out to all the agents who had expressed some interest in my first, but they all said they were no longer taking new clients. That’s when I realized that one of the most important characteristics of any potential agent is that they be willing to read your work and consider representing you. I set about reading the personnel news in Publisher’s Marketplace, Publishers Weekly, Vista, etc., and looking for agents who had recently joined an agency, recently formed an agency, or recently been promoted—any kind of change in status that might put them in a position where they might actually be looking for writers. When I saw that Kim Lionetti had recently joined Bookends, and that she handled crime fiction, I did some quick research and dashed off a query (maybe not in that order). After a few back-and-forths and some rewrites, Kim agreed to represent me.

Now that I had an agent, I prepared for my first bidding war. I am still prepared.

Berkley declined to publish the manuscript we were shopping around, but they asked if I’d be interested in writing a forensic series.

Now, I had already considered writing forensic crime fiction, but I was afraid that with all that research, I wouldn’t have time to write. What I found was, I had plenty of time to research and to write, as long as I didn’t waste any time sleeping. My original plan involved a nap after the completion of the third CSU book, but as I said, I’m now revising my first novel. Once that’s done, seriously, nap time.

BookEnds: Now that you’re published, do you find your writing has changed? How?
Jonathan: I do think my writing has changed, but I think it’s an indirect relationship between that and being published. Writing fiction under a deadline has certainly made me a more disciplined writer, and it has forced me to write more efficiently. I have also become much more reliant on outlines. I’ve always been a big proponent of outlines, but writing under a deadline, I think they’re even more important. You just don’t have the luxury of wandering too far afield.

Being published has also allowed me to cut back on some other work to make more time for writing, and that has been great. Also, I now have three more books under my belt, and just through writing you become a better writer, so I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a writer.

BookEnds: How much promotion do you do? How do you balance it with writing?
Jonathan: I absolutely do not do enough promotion, but then again I don’t write enough, I don’t read enough, and I certainly don’t get enough sleep. Or exercise.

Balancing the promotions with the writing has been tricky, especially while I was promoting Body Trace and under deadline for Blood Poison and Freezer Burn. I did a lot of local print media and I think that paid off big-time; I’ve done close to twenty readings and signings for Blood Poison; and I have also done a fair amount of networking on MySpace. One of the nice things about MySpace is that late at night, when my brain is too addled from lack of sleep to write anything coherent, I can log on to MySpace and still accomplish something that will help my books (of course, there is always the risk of making absolutely no sense when you’re catching up on your correspondence at three a.m.—sorry, MySpace friends!). Blocking out chunks of time in advance helps, so I can concentrate on the promotions for a while—a couple of weeks setting up interviews and reviews before the release, or setting up signings right after, etc.—and then spend a couple weeks concentrating on getting some writing done.

BookEnds: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Jonathan: I know it’s almost a cliché, but especially now that I’ve been writing for a while and can look back at my development as a writer, I think without a doubt, the most important thing for a writer is to actually write. Obviously, if you don’t write, you’re not technically a writer, so in a sense that’s kind of a deal breaker right there. If you really don’t enjoy it, then you don’t really want to be a writer anyway, so that’s fine—there’s plenty of other things to be. But if you enjoy writing and you want to be a writer, and you’re not writing, it’s probably because of fear—fear of failure, or incompletion, or inadequacy, or whatever. That’s the thing you have to get over. I always knew I wanted to be a writer (except for a brief detour early on when I wanted to be a rock star) and I did write when I was young, but when I got older and it was time to take it seriously, there was a while when I just . . . didn’t. The reason was fear (and some laziness, but mostly fear). I was afraid that my writing would be horrible, that I would never finish it (better to have no manuscript at all than a half-finished one taunting me from a box in the closet, right?), or that I just wouldn’t enjoy it. When I finally started, I was relieved to find out that I loved it. Then I finished a first draft, and I realized, hey, I can finish it. Then I realized it was pretty good (Okay, so I was probably wrong on that last one, but it got a lot better later).

Of course, in the midst of all that happiness and relief, I had to take time to kick myself for not having started earlier.

But even once you’ve gotten started, even when you’ve got a completed manuscript or a published book, it’s important to keep writing. I definitely think it’s true that the more you write, the better you write—and I’m not just talking word count, I’m talking thought and effort, and yes, words on paper. Each time I have completed a novel, I have been able to look back and see improvement in my writing. There are plenty of other important things as well—reading, talking with other writers, occasionally sleep—but writing is the key.


Lorra said...

Great stuff, Jonathan. And I agree completely: the more you write, the better you get. I just wish there were some way to stretch a too-short, twenty-four hour day. There's never enough time.

Thanks for sharing your experience.

Christie Craig said...


Great interview and some very good advice. Congratulations on your next releases.

And just remember, sleep is overrated.


Josephine Damian said...

Jonathan/DH - your myspace efforts are paying off - I recongized your book cover and title in an instant because you're my myspace friend.

If your books are half as funny as you've been in this post, you should have much success. Kudos to you for not biting on those first two agents.

Interesting that you're writing another under your real name. Was that Kim's idea to use a different name or your idea? Do you think you'll wake up some mornings (wake up being a relative term) and say: Who am I supposed to be today?

Heidi the Hick said...

I love reading about an author's journey to publication. So often in interviews it sounds like a writer woke up one day, got a phone call from Dream Agent, and the rest is history! The truth is so much more interesting and less dream-crushing for those of us still on the path!

I'd also like to know more about the choice of pen name and the reasons for it.

Thanks so much for sharing this interview!

Jon McGoran said...

Yes time is always of the essence. It kills me especially when I know exactly what I'm going to do next, just can't seem to get the time to do it. Maybe we could have leap days every couple of weeks? An hour here or there would go a long way. And yes, sleep is overrated (or so I'm told, I don't have enough experience with it lately to say with any authority), whereas coffee is under rated. Besides, I find these bags under my eyes very handy for carrying stuff (pens, notebooks, the 2,500 bookmarks I had printed the day before I received the cover art for Freezer Burn...). Thanks for the comments and congrats on Freezer Burn.

Jon McGoran said...

Hey Josephine,
Nice to see you in a space other than Myspace (not that there's anything wrong with that!). Yes, I pride myself on my lack of shame, and myspace has been a good place for me to exercise my shamelessness muscles. I have been called on it a couple of times, but I feel like one BSP per friend per book is not too much.
Turning down representation was tough. In a lot of writers books, they say "don't feel like you must accept the first offer." I used to always laugh when I would get to those parts. I couldn't believe it when I got that situation and found myself actually doing it. (Talk about not sleeping!) But it was definitely for the best.
As for the a.m. identity crises, I think that has more to do with the sleep issues discussed above than with the pseudonym.

Jon McGoran said...

Personally, I wish I could tell the story about the phone call from the agent and the rest is history, but alas, I don't write fantasy. Looking back, I think my writing had a lot of potential then, but it really wasn't ready, so I guess the torturous, excruciating, sleep-deprived, day-job filled path to publication was all for the best, right? (just say yes). As for the pen name, the primary reason has to do with some gambling debts I racked up under my real name. Actually, I am still seeking to publish under my real name (Jonathan McGoran, right?) but the books that I write as JM are different enough from the DH books that both my agent and the publisher wanted to keep them separate to avoid “reader confusion” about what type/genre of books they were getting (the JM are more thrillers and more overtly humorous, whereas the DH books are forensic and the humor is more restrained). My inclination was to get my real name out there on as many books of as many types as possible (and by the way, my mother agreed), but those more savvy than I disagreed.

Heidi Willis said...

Jonathan - I very much enjoyed your post here and now I am going to go out and find your books, which sound very interesting. I love your humor and self-deprecation, and your very practical advice.

I was going to ask the question that Josephine asked, about why you are using two names, but she beat me to it. Instead, let me ask a follow up:

I am finishing up a literary/ commercial novel (depending on whether an agent finds it well written or sellable! :) ), and I have a youth series in the works. If I sell both, is it advantageous to use a different pen name for the latter in order not to confuse my readers (should I be lucky enough to have some)? There are many writers that write in different genres and use the same name. Off the top of my head, Madeline L'Engle who wrote YA, novels, and poetry. Of course, she was well-established as a YA writer before entering into the other fields. If I try to get both published within a few years of each other, should I consider a pen name, and, for that matter, a separate MySpace page?

Now to the bookstore to find your books...

Jon McGoran said...

Hey thanks, Heidi.
I'm ambivalent about the whole pen name thing. A lot of people whose advice I greatly respect (Are you reading this, Kim?) think that it is important for the reader to know what they are getting when they buy a book from a particular author, so if you write in multiple genres, they advise you to do so under different names. I can see the logic in that, but I also think that it is so hard to establish your name, it makes sense to get the name out there as much as possible, to increase the priofile and the recognition. That's part of the reason I have been so open about Jonathan McGoran and D. H. Dublin being the same person -- so I can maintain the "brand" difference while also hopefully increasing awareness of Jonathan McGoran, and so that when the JM books start coming out, there may be a few people who don't say "Who the hell is that?"

Anonymous said...

Hi Heidi--

It's hard to make a judgment call without knowing the specifics of your situation. In most cases, however, I think it's probably beneficial to use a pseudonym if you're writing to a YA and adult market, especially if you're trying to sell/build both at the same time. If, however, you're phenomenally successful in one or the other first, it's probably worth it to enter the other market under the same name. Meg Cabot comes to mine. After THE PRINCESS DIARIES and her other YA projects started selling like wildfire, she turned to fun, chick-litty adult mysteries and sold them under the same name.

It really all depends on what you write and how your decide to build your career.

Heidi Willis said...

Kim and Jon,

Thank you so much for answering my question so well. I suppose I am ahead of myself now, as neither book is ready to be published (although the first is just a week or two away from me querying.... yay!). I have heard agents say that it isn't good to write in more than one genre as it confuses readers, so I can see how the pseudonym would help alleviate that.

I understand the conflict Jon sees with it; after all, after putting so much heart into something, it's hard not to see your own name on it, and have people know it was you that wrote it. But I now see completely what Kim means also, and that makes a lot of sense.

Hopefully in the near future this will be something I will have to grapple with. For now, I'm still dreaming! :)

Diana said...

But even once you’ve gotten started, even when you’ve got a completed manuscript or a published book, it’s important to keep writing.

I really appreciate you writing this - it is what I need to push forward! I gave myself a couple of weeks of total downtime after finishing the last manuscript, and now I need to give myself that push to really start working on the next one.

Congratulations on your accomplishments!

Jon McGoran said...

Thanks Diana,
I'm usually torn when I finish a manuscript. Part of me wants to chill a little bit, part of me wants to get right onto the next project. When I start to see the end of one project on the horizon, part of my brain starts working on ideas for whatever might be next, so usually by the time I've finished one book, I'm excited about the next one and really want to start working on that.

Of course, writing as part of a multi-book contract, you end up having several different projects active in several stages at any given time, so when you finish a first draft of one book, you get the copyedits back on the next, or the galleys to proof, so you don't get that final sigh of relief anyway. I say more power to you if you can get yourself to relax after finishing a manuscript. I think it's healthy. And by the way, congratulations on completing your manuscript; good luck with it!

Vicki said...

Great post. The completed manuscripts living in dust bunny land under my bed are proof you only get better if you keep at it.

Since I work a day job to you the bills, making time to write was not easy. However, once I decided that I really have two jobs it became easier. Work during the day in order to keep the laptop charged and do not read emails until I've written my daily page/word count.

For me, sleep is a necessary evil. Without it the pages make no sense and my shoes might not match.

Diana said...

I say more power to you if you can get yourself to relax after finishing a manuscript.

Well, it was my first manuscript, and while I soon hope to be in the "working with the editor" stage, I'm not. I have wondered how one goes about balancing different books at different stages. Thanks for touching on that.

Julie Weathers said...

Jon, thanks for sharing this.

As you know, the road can be a little rocky at times, so it's nice to hear from someone who has already made the climb.

I'm also glad you didn't accept the offers from the first two agents. Writing is too important to get into a relationship with anything less than the best for you.

Aimlesswriter said...

May I ask what the red flag was on those first two agents? If you queried them, why didn't you want them later?
Just curious....

Anonymous said...


Great post. You conveyed a lot of important material neatly with a touch of humor. In fact, you inspired me to go out and buy your book! And that's how it should work, right?

Sheila (fellow BookEnds client and awaiting my March pub date)

Jon McGoran said...

Well, since it’s your first manuscript, then double congratulations. That’s great.
The process of working on several projects at once as been a change for me. I would previously have described myself as a “serial monogamist,” as far as writing is concerned. (Actually, I’m not even crazy about reading more than one book at a time.) When Body Trace came out and I was doing readings and interviews, I was already writing Freezer Burn, and then the copy edits for Blood Poison came back, all at the same time. It was very strange, not only dealing with the three projects in such different phases, but also, since they are a series with many of the same characters, etc., it was difficult at times trying to keep them separate in my mind.

Jon McGoran said...

Congratulations Sheila on the upcoming release. That's great. (don't forget to shamelessly trumpet the title and your full name in your reply to this post... and everywhere else for that matter!) And thanks for the upcoming purchase; I do appreciate it.

Jon McGoran said...

Hi Aimless Writer (mind if I call you Amy?)
Turning down representation was very difficult. One of the agents was based in New York and seemed legit, but when I got the offer I went to Predators and Editors and there were several complaints about them. People had said that they thought there was an improper relationship between the agency and a book doctor to whom they referred their clients. There were also posts in defense from clients who said they were happy with the agent, but there was enough doubt in my mind that I didn't feel comfortable. The other agent was easier to turndown. Nowhere near New York, she was a semi retired rights negotiator who had put out her shingle. A delightful woman, but there were two things that is came down to: First, she wanted 16%. (I really could care less about the extra 1%, but that just seemed weird). Second, she wanted a written contract with no out clause. No thank you.
To be honest, I probably would have been less inclined to turn down the offers, but right about that point, I finished my second novel and decided it made sense to try my luck with that before saying yes to something that I was less than enthusiastic about. And you’re right that if I has done due diligence before querying either of them, I probably wouldn’t have approached them.

Sandra Cormier said...

It's true that writing makes you a better writer. Practice makes perfect, or closer to it.

Aimlesswriter said...

I see you're point. I probably would have run from them too. 16%? That would be enough of a red flag just cause it was 1% weird.

Nancy Bea Miller said...

I really enjoyed this interview. D.H. is an incredible writer and raconteur! I'm looking forward to his next book.