From iU to Broadway:
Colt hits the 'Big Time'
In one way or another, we all want to go to “the show”—whether that means getting called up by the Yankees or the Sox, landing a part in a Broadway play or signing a traditional publishing contract.
iUniverse helped Jennifer Colt hone her skills before she made her Broadway debut—literally! Colt’s series of comedic mystery novels featuring twins Kerry and Terry McAfee was picked up by Broadway Publishing Group, a division of Random House. Her first book, The Butcher of Beverly Hills, came out under the Broadway imprint in July of 2005, while The Mangler of Malibu Canyon hits stores in June 2006. Both books were originally published by iUniverse. A third book in the series, The Vampire of Venice Beach, is scheduled to be released in March 2007.
Colt shared her thoughts on marketing Mangler and her experience moving from iUniverse to the “big leagues” of traditional publishing.
How does the Broadway version of The Mangler of Malibu Canyon differ from the original version published with iUniverse? Can you describe the editorial process for the first two Broadway books?
The first thing my editor told me was that I needed to pump up the romance. I had been reticent about that because I planned to do a long-running series, and didn't want to burn out all my romantic storylines in the first few books. I was also afraid to slow down the action. But after the deal was made, I had many months in which to revise all three manuscripts before we signed, and I managed to develop the romantic arcs of my characters in a very fun way.
My editor also cut some of the gore, and gently pointed out to me that most novels contain detailed descriptions of characters and locations. I was so used to writing screenplays, I'd left too much of that to the imagination. All in all, the books are much better reads now.
What kind of marketing plans do you have for The Mangler of Malibu Canyon? Will you be doing a book tour of some kind? Anything that will take you to the fair state of Nebraska? Will you be at BookExpo America in D.C.?
Unfortunately, no to both venues. We’re concentrating on the West Coast (read: cheaper travel.) It just makes sense because the books are set here, and Los Angeles/San Diego is a big market. I'm planning to go to Bouchercon in the fair state of Wisconsin (which I've visited before), but that's about it for travel. If people are interested, my local schedule will be published soon on http://www.jennifercolt.com/. So far, I'm confirmed at B&N on the Third Street Promenade, June 21st at 7:30 pm.
How much of the marketing is your responsibility? Do you come up with your own ideas for marketing or does the publisher and/or agent dictate/contribute?
It's both. The publisher does a fair amount for new writers, but obviously the established names get the lion's share of the advertising and promotion dollars. (Chicken/egg controversy, anyone?)
I’ve been much more involved in promotion for this book. I've set up contests on other Web sites, and I’ve reworked my own site to include contests and games, etc. I didn't do much promotion on Butcher because my publisher had originally scheduled the books to be released six months apart, and I thought, “Holy cow, if they want books to release every six months, I'd better get cranking!” So I wrote a fourth while waiting for the contract and a fifth while I was waiting for Butcher to come out.
What kind of goals do you have for the book from a sales standpoint?
You have no control over it, so the only reasonable goal to have is that people will find the book and enjoy it. If they do, they'll spread the word.
Can you describe your feelings when Jenny Bent called to sign you, when Broadway picked up the books, when you held the Broadway version in your hands for the first time? Where does holding your first book from iUniverse rank on that list?
When I got my iUniverse copy, my husband and I both had the same reaction: "Hey, it's a book!" It was so different from the piles of loose paper lying around, and so gratifying to hold in my hand. It was pretty thrilling.
On my first call with Jenny, I sounded like a complete idiot. She asked me what kind of publishing deal I envisioned, and I'd given it absolutely no thought, so I blurted out something like, "Makes no difference. If you publish it, they will come." Apparently she felt strongly enough about the material to sign me anyway. She told me she thought people were going to be excited about the books. Next thing you know, we were off to the races.
There was much dancing around the living room when the Broadway version arrived in the mail. This time our reaction was: "Hey, it's a book! And it glows in the dark!" After the initial excitement wore off, I was scared to death about what was to come.
You've talked about it a bit in other interviews, but what role did publishing with iUniverse play in eventually having your books picked up by a traditional publisher?
Well, I'd have to answer "everything." Publishing with iUniverse gave me the sense of being a real author. I had to finish the manuscript because of a self-imposed deadline, then I had to let go of it (the hardest thing to do, stop editing). Following that, I got to experience that lovely jumping-without-a-parachute feeling that comes from knowing it's going to be typeset for all time, and people may reject it utterly as a book.
I was able to get reviews because it was a real, physical book that could be mailed out. The good reviews gave me hope that I wasn't wasting my time. I was on a learning curve in terms of writing a novel and became more confident each time I published. I think if I’d been picked up initially by a big publisher and sent out there to sink or swim, I might have been too addled to continue writing.
By the time I'd finished Vampire of Venice Beach, I had begun to understand my writing process, and the reviews I'd amassed made all the difference in getting an agent and a deal.
Love the covers of the Broadway books. Did you have any input on them?
I love them too, but can't take any credit. I know they worked very hard on them at Broadway because I saw several iterations before they came up with the final series look.
Who are some of your influences? Who are you reading right now?
Right now I'm gazing longingly at a stack of unread books on the end table. They include works by Robert Crais, Patricia Highsmith, Jeffrey Deaver, Nero Wolfe, Brian Wiprud, Barry Eisler, Richard Matheson, Zadie Smith, plus a nonfiction book entitled Spook and a metaphysical book called The God Code. The last book I remember reading was Hannibal (again). What a trip!
My comedy/satire influences are: Janet Evanovich, Dave Barry, Carl Hiaasen, Donald Westlake, Loony Tunes (seriously), Christopher Moore, Elmore Leonard, Susan Isaacs, Tom Robbins, Helen Fielding, Lucille Ball, Peter Sellers, Preston Sturges, P.G. Wodehouse, and many more...Saying they're "influences" is just another way of saying I love them.
Two fabulously funny writers I've recently discovered are Mark Haskell Smith (Moist) and Tim Dorsey (Cadillac Beach). Also, a guy named Duane Swierczynski, who wrote an amazing book called Secret Dead Men. (Sorry to get carried away with the answer, but I'm a fan first and foremost.)
You mention Brian Wiprud on your Web site, another iUniverse author who has gone on to the big leagues. Is it important to network as an author? Do you exchange ideas for stories and marketing ideas?
We all exchange marketing ideas, but rarely talk about the actual books. I have a new friend I met at MWA (Mystery Writers of America), a genius by the name of Brett Ellen Block. Strangely for a genius, she possesses a good business sense. Without her prodding I might have procrastinated promoting the book until two weeks before the it came out. Brian is always on me about that stuff, too. Writer friends are great for keeping you mentally afloat in this wacky business.
What can you tell us about your next book, The Vampire of Venice Beach (March 2007)?
That it kicks ass! Basically, it's more of the same. An outrageous plot, funny dialogue, lots of action, plenty of twists. My protagonists Terry and Kerry McAfee (identical twin PI's) are hired to do crowd control at the "Coming out of the Coffin" parade in Venice Beach. When Ephemera, Queen of the Undead, falls out of her coffin with puncture wounds on her neck and her blood drained, the McAfees are on the case. They pursue the murderer into the murky underworld of "social vampires"—fanged individuals who live on the dark side of the street (and who are addicted to the taste of human blood.)
I like the publisher's line: "Will the girls get their ghoul?"
Read more about Jennifer and her books at www.jennifercolt.com.