CraftFest: Day Two

FBI Agents on demand? Only at ThrillerFest. / Photo: Thomas Pluck

The second day of CraftFest is technically CareerFest, with two tracks: one for independent (self) publishing and the other for traditional publishing. As I am yet unable to split myself in twain like a liver fluke and inhabit two spaces at once, I visited the first panel of the indie track and the second panel of the traditional track and found both very engaging. The indie track panel was moderated by Jon Land and included Liliana Hart (NY Times bestselling writer of the J.J. Graves series) and Dan Slater (Amazon Publishing) among the panelists. The audience was smaller and less savvy, asking more basic questions, mostly about promotion and the ever elusive “how do I reach readers who want to read my book?”

As given by the panel, the correct answer was: if you can figure that out you’ll have every author and publisher eating out of your hand, because it’s the most difficult part of publishing, whether you are an independent or one of the Big Five. Liliana Hart laid it down best: when you publish independently, you are the CEO of your own small business. You’re in charge of publicity, design, editing, and so on, unless you hire out for those responsibilities. She doesn’t do blog tours, for example, because she decided that her time was better spent writing. You’re your own boss, but you’ll only succeed if you push yourself. That will sound familiar later…

The traditional track panel had R.L. Stine (Goosebumps), Kathy Reichs (Bare Bones and the Bones TV series), Heather Graham (author of over 100 novels and novellas), and Steve Berry (The Templar Legacy among others). Four publishing powerhouses who didn’t have good news for the audience. “Write what you love,” Steve Berry said, “because this is a miserable experience. There’s a lot of negativity.” He mentioned that it took 12 years and several rejected novels before he was published. One of the best things about ThrillerFest is that there is no frontery here, and writers freely talk about the grim realities of the business of writing, and if you want to succeed, it is certainly a business. All four panelists said agents are a must for a traditionally-published author, and even if you manage to get a deal without one, you should have one to negotiate your contract. Steve Berry, who's also a lawyer, said that publishing contracts are among the most “onerous and one-sided” he’s ever seen, but can be tilted in the author’s favor… if you ask. You need to know what to ask for, and how to ask, so having someone experienced on your side is a must.

Both career tracks concentrated on the work, and the idea that writing commercial fiction successfully is a full-time job. The indie publishers said they were finishing books in 3 months. That felt rushed, until Kathy Reichs said that she writes a script, a YA novel, and an adult novel every year, which gives her about 4 months per work. There’s no gravy train with biscuit wheels for the writer.

However, there is plenty of fun to be had at ThrillerFest. For example, if you have questions only an FBI Agent can answer, there’s one staked out in a lounge ready to hear them. Agent Jeff McCrehan was fielding questions from Brad Parks (author of the Carter Ross mysteries and general bon vivant) and others, and we chatted about my hometown of Nutley, New Jersey's famous crooks, such as the wily Martha Stewart (last year’s agent specialized in securities fraud, and had worked her case). Tomorrow, join me for the first day of ThrillerFest!

Thomas Pluck writes unflinching fiction with heart. He hosts Noir at the Bar in Manhattan. You can find him online at and on Twitter as @thomaspluck.


  1. Vincent Zandri

    Good stuff Tom…

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