Interview with Kris Calvin, author of One Murder More: one year on
Note: Kris Calvin, who is interviewed below, is my sibling. I’ve been keeping readers of ILMK informed about the Kris’ experience as a first time author. I do not, though, have any financial interest in the book. We have had discussions about the book and the business, but that’s the extent of my involvement
ILMK: It’s been a bit over a year since the debut publication of your first novel, One Murder More (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*), a Maren Kane mystery. I appreciate you taking the time to check in with the readers of ILMK.
You mention a lot of books on your Twitter feed, so you must have had some thoughts about what it was like to be an author before One Murder More was published. What, if anything, has turned out pretty much the way you expected?
Kris Calvin: I’m not one of those people who thought “I had a book in me” or “always wanted to be an author”. I’ve been an avid reader all of my life, but never gave any serious thought as to what it would be like to be on the other side of that partnership. So, in that sense, all of it has been surprising. If I had to choose one thing, it would be how much I want to be writing whenever I’m doing something else, and yet how difficult it can be when I sit down to write to actually begin.
ILMK: How important do you think it is as a writer that you are still reading as much as you do?
Kris Calvin: It’s essential, I can’t write unless I’m also reading. It’s kind of like priming the pump. I average about 2 to 3 novels a week. Conversely, although many of my author friends find that watching television series is another way to spur their creativity, if I watch TV or movies it seems to create a barrier to my putting words down on the page.
ILMK: In addition to reading and writing, it’s clear that you travel to a lot of literary events. Some of my readers know what’s it like to attend these as an audience member, but what it is like as an author? Do you see some of the same authors at different events?
Kris Calvin: Literary events run the gamut, from a single author reading his or her work in front of 10 people in a local bookstore to massive international conferences where many hundreds of authors and readers gather for several days of back-to-back speeches, interviews and panels, and all kinds of venues in formats that fall in between the two.
ILMK: One Murder More has gotten great reviews on Amazon, with an average of 4.7 stars out of 5 with 87 customer reviews. Take a look at this graph of the number of reviews the book has been getting.
Not surprisingly, the most reviews happened when it was first released, but the number of reviews has been trending upwards again this year. What have you done to maintain interest in the book?
Kris Calvin: The recent spike may be related to my doing a number of events, including speaking at rotaries and book clubs in-person and via Skype. These aren’t often large groups, but they are friendly and responsive and we have a lot of fun! I don’t push purchasing my books when I speak, I share my experiences writing and in politics but I do specifically ask attendees to leave an honest review if they get a chance to read the book. I think many folks don’t know that they can review a book on Amazon even if they buy it elsewhere, so maybe giving them that information has also helped.
ILMK: Generally, marketing must take some real time and energy. How do you prioritize your time between writing and marketing?
Kris Calvin: I’m a morning person, so that’s when I write. It’s when my creative energy is best. I don’t do much direct marketing, but I’m aware that being active on social media connects me with people, some of whom then try out my books! So I do that later in the day.
ILMK: I understand that you are currently working on the second Maren Kane mystery. Was the plan always to make it a series?
Kris Calvin: I enjoy reading series a great deal, not only mysteries and thrillers but also sci-fi fantasy, and because I work in politics in my day job I have no shortage of motives for murder and mayhem! I don’t outline, but I have a premise in mind for the next five Maren Kane books.
ILMK: Some authors have written several books in a series before releasing the first one. In your case, you are hearing from readers about what they like before you write the next Maren Kane mystery. How do you think that will affect it? Are there characters who may get more story line because the readers liked them more than you might have expected?
Kris Calvin: Each time I do an event with readers I ask them who their favorite and least favorite characters are, and what they might like to see happen to Maren and her friends next. I’ve gotten lots of good ideas that way, although I also found some plot twist that I was already working onto be unpopular and decided to rethink them! For example, Polly, Maren’s British-born best friend, was sadly a victim of Sacramento gang violence in the first draft of the second book. When I raised this at one event a woman told me she was going to start a #SavePolly campaign as she couldn’t stand to see her go! So now Polly’s only been injured, and I’m pretty sure she’s going to be fine…
Kris Calvin: This story that you reference, That Merriest Murder, was the first short story that I’ve ever written, at least since high school, and I’m not sure I wrote any then. The most challenging part for me was the inability to put in false leads and “red herrings” like I would normally do in a full-length novel. I felt like it would be obvious who the murderer was if I didn’t have room to create those alternate suspects. You were quite helpful with that! I don’t know if you remember, but we had a discussion around that time about my frustration and you told me that short stories are fundamentally character-driven: that if I could create a compelling character, readers wouldn’t mind so much that the puzzle wasn’t as difficult. That seems to have turned out to be true, as I had readers of that story tell me that they figured out who the murderer was, but that they enjoyed it nonetheless! Since then I’ve written a second short story which is not out yet, and I greatly enjoyed the process. It doesn’t require as much deferral of gratification for the author as writing a 300-page book!
ILMK: One Murder More was published as an e-book, as a hardback, and now as a paperback. Do you find any differences in the reader reaction from the different formats? Do you do special marketing to appeal to readers of different formats?
Kris Calvin: It was my publisher’s idea to start with a hardback, as they feel it is the preferred format for reviewers. I’ve also since learned that it’s favored by many libraries. I think they were right that that enabled me to get more attention for the book at launch. However, I think the typical consumer prefers to pay less for a new author’s work, and that makes both the paperback and the e-book far more appealing. The paperback is my favorite, I really like the way that it came out in terms of production value, we were able to add more “praise quotes” than we could at launch, which is fun, and silly as it is to say, it’s much more lightweight and easy for me to carry around. I generally have a paperback copy of my book tucked in my purse to share with people that I meet who say they are avid thriller and mystery readers. In terms of marketing, the only difference is I did a $.99 promotion for the e-book and that clearly had an effect. It lifted it into the top 100 Mystery and Thriller series out of approximately 64,000 titles in that category, and although it didn’t remain there, sales are still elevated. Since my primary goal is to gain readers, having an available e-book at a low, low price is a really great way to do that. [Bufo’s note: the ninety-nine cent sale is still happening at time of writing, but I don’t know how long it will last]
ILMK: Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers?
Kris Calvin: If writing has taught me anything, it’s that it’s important to stay curious. As I mentioned, I didn’t begin writing my book because I “knew” that I wanted to be an author. I was just curious as to whether I could use the twist I had thought of to craft a mystery like the ones that I enjoy reading. I’ve tried other things before this, running for local office, owning a vintage clothing store. They were both interesting, but neither one landed as my “passion” the way writing has. I know that being “a dilettante” is often viewed negatively, but I think there’s something to be said for dabbling in a number of different things until you find the one that truly lifts your heart.
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* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. Shop ’til you help! By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.