A Between The Lines interview with Janet Evanovich

By Andrew Peterson

janet-evanovich.jpgOne of the nice things about being an editor for ITW is featuring some of the publishing industry’s biggest names, and Janet Evanovich is no exception.  Her Stephanie Plum books have been translated into 27 languages and distributed to at least three times that many countries.  How many of us could even name that many languages?  Janet’s not sure how many books have been sold, but it’s somewhere between 70 and 100 million!

I’ll try to put that in perspective.  Let’s average the two numbers and use 85 million for the tally.  Let’s also assume the average reader needs around 24 hours to read one of her books.  Some people will read faster, others slower, but 24 hours sounds about right.  Doing the math produces a truly astonishing number.  I ran the calculation twice to be sure I had it right.

With 85,000,000 books sold, Janet Evanovich has (cumulatively) provided the world’s readers with 9,703 years entertainment! That’s a boatload of time.  97 centuries ago, wooly mammoths were still roaming North America.  And no, Janet wasn’t around back then!

The Stephanie Plum character is nothing short of iconic.  Plum is so well known, she’s actually mentioned in the Wikipedia article on bounty hunters.  Plum is alluring, charming, magnetic, and funny–the list could go on and on; she sounds a lot like her creator.  It’s why readers find Plum’s lighthearted nature appealing, especially because of her dangerous profession; bounty hunting.

For those of you not familiar with exactly what a bounty hunter does, here’s a quick snapshot:

A bounty hunter captures fugitives for a reward, usually in the form of money.

They’re sometimes known as skip-tracers because they’re often employed to catch people who’ve failed to show-up in court after their bail’s been posted.  There’s a little known fact out there.  According to the article, bounty hunting is legal in only two countries.  Of course the U.S. is one of them, but the other?  You probably wouldn’t have guessed The Republic of the Philippines.  In the countries where bounty hunting isn’t legal, regular law enforcement personnel handle the job.

By its nature, bounty hunting is a high stakes and adventurous profession.  It’s the pinnacle of risk and reward within the elusive world of fugitives.  All of the Plum books are centered around the pursuit of her bounty.  If a few cars get destroyed in the process, so be it.  And yes, there’s always a love interest.  She also has to deal with a dysfunctional family–as if catching bad guys isn’t hard enough.  Plum takes it all in stride, her personality is perfect for what she does.

Janet’s latest book, SIZZLING SIXTEEN (which goes on sale June 22) is more classic Plum action.  Here’s a brief look:

In Trenton, New Jersey, Stephanie’s inherited a “lucky bottle” from her Uncle Pip.   Problem is, Uncle Pip didn’t specify if the bottle brought good luck or bad luck….

BAD LUCK:
Vinnie, of Vincent Plum Bail Bonds, has run up a gambling debt of $786,000 with mobster Bobby Sunflower and is being held until the cash can be produced.  Nobody else will pay to get Vinnie back, leaving it up to Stephanie, office manager Connie, and file clerk Lula to raise the money if they want to save their jobs.

GOOD LUCK:
Being in the business of tracking down people, Stephanie, Lula, and Connie have an advantage in finding Vinnie.  If they can rescue him, it will buy them some time to raise the cash.

BAD LUCK:
Finding a safe place to hide Vinnie turns out to be harder than raising $786,000.  Vinnie’s messing up local stoner Walter “Moon Man” Dunphy’s vibe, running up pay-per-view porn charges in security expert Ranger’s apartment, and making Stephanie question genetics.

GOOD LUCK:
Between a bonds office yard sale that has the entire Burg turning out, Mooner’s Hobbit-Con charity event, and Uncle Pip’s mysterious bottle, they just might raise enough money to save Vinnie and the business from ruin.

BAD LUCK:
Saving Vincent Plum Bail Bonds means Stephanie can keep being a bounty hunter.  In Trenton, this involves hunting down a man wanted for polygamy, a Turnpike toilet paper bandit, and a drug dealer with a pet alligator named Mr. Jingles.

GOOD LUCK:
The job of bounty hunter comes with perks in the guise of Trenton’s hottest cop, Joe Morelli, and the dark and dangerous, Ranger.  With any luck at all, Uncle Pip’s lucky bottle will have Stephanie getting lucky–the only question is . . . with whom?

“SIZZLING SIXTEEN is so hot, the pages might spontaneously combust!”

I would like to thank Janet for taking time out of her crazy schedule to do this interview.  As many of you already know, Janet started her career in romance.  Her transition to a new genre is an amazing success story in itself.

You joked about running out of “positions.”  Did you “burn out” on writing romance novels or did you just want to change directions?  Did you find the transition to mystery difficult?  If so, in what way?

I had no way to grow my career in romance.  I couldn’t get a contract for anything other than the little category books and all those print runs were pretty much pre-determined.  The romance editors didn’t think my humor would translate into a larger book.  So I was forced to reinvent myself.  I took a year off to read and think, and at the end of that year I wrote the proposal for the Plum series.  It was labeled mystery but really it’s more romantic adventure.  The transition wasn’t difficult, but I’ve always struggled with plotting out a book.

Was there a triggering event in your life that led to the creation of Stephanie Plum?

I was searching for a job for my heroine, and I saw the movie Midnight Run.  This was before the whole bounty hunter craze with Dog and Whoever, and I thought it had potential.

If you could only use 3 adjectives to describe Plum, what would they be?

Tenacious, average, appealing.

I like the book title contest you offer, how long have you been doing that?  Is it difficult to pick a winner, or does a title usually jump out at you?

I think we started it with book five, but I’m not sure.  It’s surprisingly difficult to pick a winner, because it’s a joint choice between Team Evanovich and Team SMP (St. Martins Press)  And EVERYONE has a different favorite!

You must get a ton of email, do you try to respond to as many as possible?  Does Alex help you with that?

An automatic response immediately goes out to the fan so they know their email has been received.  We read all the emails but we usually only respond personally if a question has been asked.  If I responded to all the emails personally I’d never have time to write a book.

Do you tour overseas?

I used to but I haven’t in a while.  It’s not cost effective for most of my foreign publishers.  I’d rather the money go into advertising.  In the past I’ve toured Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland, England, the Netherlands.

What is your best country for sales, besides the U.S.?

Australia.  And of course, Canada.

What is your typical print run in 1st hardcover?  And 1st paperback?

One and a half to two million for hardcover.  And two to two and a half million for paperback.

What is the least fun part of being an author?

The last hour of a six hour book signing.  And then by the time we’re done all the bars are closed!

Conversely, what’s the most fun?

First thing in the morning when I sit at my desk with my coffee and my dog Ollie and get to go back into the book.

If you could change one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be and why?

I think it needs to be more efficient and to have a different model for selling books.  And it needs to embrace the digital age.  I love the idea of the electronic book.

Your family is integrally involved in your business.  Did that evolve, or was it something you folks planned?

When I was struggling to get published (ten years) my family was super supportive.  When ONE was sold to Columbia and it looked like my career as an author had potential I gave my kids the choice of joining the business or going off on their own with our aid (thanks to Columbia I was able to pay off all their education loans).  They both joined the business and we’ve been a team ever since.

When you strip away all the external forces, what’s truly important to Janet Evanovich–what makes you  happy?

If my husband and my kids and my pets are happy, I’m happy.

And some lighthearted questions:  What’s your favorite firearm?

I prefer a can of hairspray.

Your favorite drink?

Champagne!

Is there something you’ve always wanted to do, but can’t quite summon the courage?  Skydiving?  Rock-climbing?  Bunji jumping?  Anything like that?

It would be to keep my eyes open on the Soarin’ Over California ride at Disneyland.

What is a woman’s best friend?

A great hairdresser.

Janet’s website, www.evanovich.com, has a lot more biographical info about her life the world of writing she so dearly loves.  There’s a comprehensive FAQ page that offers a deeper look at Janet as well as all kinds of fun stuff, so I encourage you to visit.

There are four “between the numbers” Plum novels:  VISIONS OF SUGAR PLUMS, PLUM LOVIN’, PLUM LUCKY, and PLUM SPOOKY.

Janet also has an Alex Barnaby series going:  METRO GIRL,  MOTOR MOUTH, and TROUBLEMAKER.   TROUBLEMAKER is the first of a graphic novel series with Barnaby and Hooker teaming up for high stakes mischief in the underbelly of Miami and South Florida.  The books have a underlying NASCAR theme.

I haven’t read SIZZLING SIXTEEN.  Janet and her publisher have nixed doing ARCs because too many people (reviewers) post the plot and spoil the surprise.  It’s too bad folks do that, something that would never happen here in the Between the Lines feature.  It’s much more fun opening a present when you don’t know what’s inside.

You don’t have to read the Plum series in order–each is a freestanding story–but it’s probably better if you do.  Stephanie Plum knows a lot of people and growing into her world from the beginning is rewarding.

For a list of the numbered Plum series, visit Janet’s website and click “THE NOVELS” tab.

This feature wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Janet’s love and respect for animals.  She generously supports many causes but her favorite recipient is the Humane Society of Naples, Florida.  www.collierhumanesoc.org It’s a worthy organization, so please take a look.

In closing, Janet’s novels are fun to read, full of twists and turns, and guaranteed to keep you turning pages.  After all, she’s got tens-of-millions of fans to prove it.  So the next time your in a bar sitting next to a woman with a glass of champagne in her hand, a can of hairspray in her pocket, and she’s talking about keeping her eyes open on a Disneyland hang glider ride, take a closer look, it might just be Janet Evanovich.  But be extra sensitive about asking her to sign “just one more book,” you might get wet!

Janet Evanovich is the author of over 50 books, including the world renowned Stephanie Plum series.  Janet lives in Florida with her husband–Pete, her daughter–Alex, and her son–Peter.  And of course, Ollie, the family pooch.  Janet likes to eat Cheez Doodles, read comic books, and only watch happy movies.  She motivates herself to write by spending her money before she makes it.  And when she grows up, she wants to be just like Grandma Mazur.

Andrew Peterson

Andrew Peterson is the author of First To Kill, the debut in a series featuring Nathan McBride, a former marine sniper and CIA operations officer.The next McBride novel, Forced To Kill, will be available early next year in exclusive audiobook format from Audible.com.Andrew works as a volunteer firefighter, enjoys scuba diving, target shooting, flying helicopters, hiking and camping, and an occasional sad round of golf.

Visit Andy at: www.andrewpeterson.com.
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