April marks 20 years since I became a published author. I’d been writing before then, but “Memories Die Last,” the first novel in my popular Nick Seven spy series, was released by a traditional publisher in 2002. To date, I’ve published 28 books (mostly novels, and some shorter ones), and have contributed to a couple of anthologies. I’m also a blogger, freelance writer, editor, and book reviewer. I’ve done more interviews (print and podcast) and guest blogs than I can remember. To say it’s been an interesting 20 years is putting it mildly. Let’s see what’s happened since then.
I learned the importance of personal appearances, reviews and interviews early on, and aggressively marketed myself to bookstores, libraries, festivals and bloggers. Keep in mind, this was right before e-books began to dominate the market, and print was still “it”. Eventually my network grew and I appeared at events in several states throughout the Midwest. I began doing guest speaker gigs with civic groups, then someone helped me get on local TV and radio talk shows. As heady as that sounds, some of those appearances didn’t work out as planned.
I was doing an interview on an internet radio program called Authors First, to promote my second book, another romantic spy thriller. It was a primetime call-in/e-mail show, and I had guested a few months earlier to discuss my first book. The host I drew for that evening, a self-proclaimed conspiracy nut, picked up on a story thread I used about government cover-ups, and kept questioning me about it. I was dodging his grenades pretty well, until he asked for my honest opinion on how the government was handling the war on terror. I momentarily froze, live on the air, while thinking of a response that wouldn’t land me on a federal watchlist.
I’ve had some unique experiences since I got into this crazy business. One was being the keynote speaker for the Indianapolis Book Festival, courtesy of an online radio host who had me as a guest and liked what I had to say. Another time, I did a week-long book signing tour in the Florida Keys. My publicist and I had scheduled appearances at bookstores, gift shops, a resort, and a trendy restaurant, along with sit-downs with the local media. It was a busy week, but I still managed to get a nice tan in between all the smiling-and-signing. I sold a ton of books, too.
It was during that trip that I had a revelation. When I showed up at one of the bookstores for my scheduled appearance, several people were waiting for me so they could get personalized signed copies of my newest book. That made me feel good. I also noticed that my books were on the shelf next to other Florida writers I admired, like Carl Hiaasen, James W. Hall and Tim Dorsey. I thought “Smith, you have arrived!”
Shortly after this, I signed with a traditional romance publisher, and attended my first convention. Being a man who writes straight contemporary romance, I was reluctant to go at first. A friend of mine was one of the sponsors, and she encouraged me to attend. It turned out to be a good experience, and I returned over the next few years. One encounter, though, still lingers.
One of the side gigs I had taken on prior to this was reviewing books for an online romance site. I noticed that the author of a book I recently liked would be attending this convention. My friend knew the woman and introduced me as a fellow romance author. She looked at me like I was a homeless guy she found camping in her living room, and sputtered “B-but…you’re a man!” I smiled and said “Thank you for noticing. I’ll try to do better next time.”
I’ve always written under my real name, and have been upfront that my books have adult content. I don’t recommend them to anyone under 18, or to those who may be uncomfortable reading that kind of material. Better to lose a sale than offend someone. My family members are aware of the steamy scenes in my books, and I always got the biggest kick out of my late mother’s reaction. When I hit my stride as an author, she was in her early 80s. She was an avid reader, and had read everything written by Mickey Spillane, Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Susanne. Whenever I asked what she thought of my newest book, she gave an honest appraisal, and usually commented that the erotic scenes were “well-written and realistic.” Praise indeed.
I’m often asked if my stories are based on personal experiences. I love that one because it gives me an excuse to tease people with “Maybe yes, maybe no,” which is true. I just don’t tell them where fact ends and fiction begins. When I wrote “Anywhere the Heart Goes,” I was recalling my adjustments after a bad break-up, so the lead character experienced the same things. “Mistletoe and Palm Trees” was the result of a vacation I took by myself when my traveling companion had to cancel at the last moment. “Catch and Release” was inspired by something I observed while having lunch at a waterfront bistro. Most of “The Neon Jungle” was influenced by my experiences with a Dayton-area music organization that wasn’t entirely legitimate.
One of the best marketing tools I use came about by accident. When I was doing the book signing tour in The Keys, I was interviewed by a local newspaper writer. The following week, he e-mailed me the story and promised to send me a print copy. The headline in the PDF read “Former Spy Finds Paradise in Ohio Man’s Novels,” complete with my photo. I was ecstatic. When the print version arrived, it had been shortened to “Former Spy Finds Paradise in Ohio,” situated right above my head shot. I still display that story at personal appearances. People stop to read it, see the headline and my face, then look up and see me. Their gaze goes back to the page then up to me, followed by them asking if I’m the former spy. I just smile and shrug.
I’ve discovered that you can have some fun when people find out you write erotic romance. It’s a great way to insert a laugh into a conversation when you talk about impossible sex positions, or how many names there are for certain body parts. Once, I broke up a family engagement party by introducing myself as “The guy who writes dirty books.” Most people thought that was funny, but for some reason, my nephew’s prospective in-laws weren’t amused.
Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author of romantic mystery/thrillers and contemporary romance. He is also a freelance writer, editor, blogger and photographer. When he isn’t pursuing those interests, he can be found in the Florida Keys, doing research in between parasailing and seeking out the perfect Mojito.