September 7 – 13: “Do you spend more time on your research, writing or marketing?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Writers must wear many hats. This week we ask ITW Members Lisa von Biela, R. K. Jackson, Ethan Cross, J. A. Jance, Richard Mabry, Andrew Peterson, Lynn Cahoon, Mark Coggins, Art Taylor and A. J. Kerns: “Do you spend more time on your research, writing or marketing?”




BROKEN CHAIN COVERLisa von Biela began writing dark fiction just after the turn of the century.  Her very first short story appeared in The Edge in 2002.  After working in IT for 25 years, Lisa dropped out of everything—including writing—to attend the University of Minnesota Law School.  She graduated magna cum laude in 2009, and now practices law and writes in the Seattle area.  On the writing front, she’s made up for lost time since law school and is now the author of the novels THE GENESIS CODE, THE JANUS LEGACY, BLOCKBUSTER, and BROKEN CHAIN, as well as the novellas ASH AND BONE and SKINSHIFT.

dance of bonesJ. A. Jance was born in South Dakota and raised in Bisbee, Arizona. A graduate of the University of Arizona, she spent time as a teacher and school librarian as well as in the life insurance industry before turning her hand to writing in the early 1980s. The author of more than fifty books, she shares her time between homes in Tucson, Arizona and Bellevue, Washington.


Blind-Justice-Vis-2-1When a fireman or a policeman would visit his school, most of his classmates’ heads would swim with aspirations of growing up and catching bad guys or saving someone from a blazing inferno. When these moments came for Ethan Cross, however, his dreams weren’t to someday be a cop or put out fires; he just wanted to write about it. And his dream of telling stories on a grand scale came to fruition with the release of his first book, The Shepherd, which went on to become an International Bestseller published in several countries and languages. Ethan followed this up with more great titles like The Prophet, The Cage, Callsign: Knight, and Father of Fear. His latest book is Blind Justice coming from the Story Plant in August 2015.

Miracle DrugRichard L. Mabry, MD, is the award-winning author of nine medical suspense novels, including Fatal Trauma, MIRACLE DRUG, and the Prescription for Trouble series published by Abingdon, and Stress Test, Heart Failure, and Critical Condition published by Thomas Nelson.


No-Hard-FeelingsMark Coggins’ work has been nominated for the Shamus and the Barry crime fiction awards and selected for best of the year lists compiled by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Detroit Free Press and, among others. His novels Runoff and The Big Wake-Up won the Next Generation Indie Book Award and the Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY) respectively, both in the crime fiction category. The Immortal Game was optioned for a film.


girl in the mazeR. K. Jackson is a former CNN journalist who now works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. He lives with his family in the Los Padres National Forest and is at work on a second Martha Covington thriller.



killer runNew York Times and USA Today best-selling author, Lynn Cahoon is an Idaho expat. She grew up living the small town life she now loves to write about. Currently, she’s living with her husband and two fur babies in a small historic town on the banks of the Mississippi river where her imagination tends to wander. Guidebook to Murder, Book 1 of the Tourist Trap series won the 2015 Reader’s Crown award for Mystery Fiction.


contractA native of San Diego, Andrew Peterson began writing in 1996. The Nathan McBride series, published by Thomas & Mercer, features a retired CIA operations officer who began his career as a Marine Corps scout sniper. Andrew’s debut novel First to Kill, reached #9 in the US Kindle store and #1 in the UK Kindle store. On a USO tour in 2011, Andrew had the honor of visiting our service members in Afghanistan. To date, he has donated more than two thousand books to wounded warriors and troops serving overseas. He and his wife, Carla, live in Monterey County, California.

ON THE ROAD front under 1mbArt Taylor’s short stories have won many of the mystery world’s major honors, including two Agatha Awards, a Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards, in addition to making the short-list for the Anthony Award. A native of Richlands, NC, Art lives in Northern Virginia, where he is a professor of English at George Mason University and writes frequently on crime fiction for The Washington Post, Mystery Scene, and other publications.


africaArthur Kerns is a retired FBI supervisory special agent and past president of the Arizona chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO). His award-winning short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies. He is a book reviewer for the Washington Independent Review of Books. In March 2013 Diversion Books, Inc. published his espionage thriller, The Riviera Contract and in May 2014 the sequel, The African Contract.


  1. The responsibility for marketing has been dumped into the author’s lap. The task is taking up more and more of our time. In the morning I answer my email and search my websites and if I don’t discipline myself to an hour to an hour and half, it’s noontime and not a word has been written. I’d be very interested in hearing how my fellow authors handle this problem.
    However, book signings and appearances at writing conferences are a positive part of marketing. Thoroughly enjoyable and sometimes I sell books.
    As for research I wait until I reach a point in my story where I must look something up or verify facts that I think I already know. Some writers spend months researching their topic before they write the first word. I tried that and found that I didn’t use half of what I found. Now I seek answers and background chapter by chapter, scene by scene.

  2. Since I’m a physician, most people think I don’t have to spend much time in research, because I write medical thrillers, but that’s not true. Although I speak the language, so I can read and understand technical material, I still have to make sure what I write is accurate, because if there’s a mistake, someone will call it to my attention.

    I was naïve enough, when I signed my first contract, to think all I needed to do from that point on was write. Oh, how wrong I was. Despite the publication of my novels by a traditional publishing house, and the work they do in marketing, I soon found that it’s true: No one is as interested in your book selling as you are. So I spent, and continue to spend, almost as much time marketing as writing.

    In summary, a writer must do all three—research, marketing, and writing—and do them well. Sound impossible? Sometimes I think it is. But I wouldn’t trade the job for anything.

  3. I agree. It’s a constant tension, balancing marketing and writing time. (And by “marketing,” I mean the entire gamut of social media, as well as checking reviews/feedback/rankings to see what’s doing what–in other words, all the support stuff that isn’t writing or research.) I try to deal with it as best I can using “time segments” that work for each.

    I practice law full-time during the week. So in the morning, I have little pockets of time before I need to get ready and leave the house. These pockets are too brief and distracted to do much serious writing (except for final line editing–I can do that in brief stints because I don’t have to hold the whole plot in my head to do it). I try to use those for the social media activities that can be more piecemeal. I like to leave weekend time, when I have bigger blocks, for the serious writing work.

    As for research, I’m not a doctor (though I was pre-vet and worked for a vet for some time), but my novel-length works are mainly medical thrillers. Given the nature of my plots, I find I need to do my research up front, so I can create a plausible “mechanism,” and make sure it’s stable before I begin writing. Else I risk creating a big mess of inconsistency that I would not want to try to clean up after the fact!

    BROKEN CHAIN, my latest novel, is a case in point. The mechanism there has several components that had to “play together” and I had to be sure I had the mechanism pretty solid before I wrote. Sure, some fine points will inevitably pop up as I work through that first draft, but I find the up-front work necessary to form a good foundation.

    1. Lisa, it’s interesting that you’re a lawyer but include medical material in your fiction. I’m a physician, but I find that lately I’ve had more law and law enforcement stuff in my novels. I’m sure you’ve found, like me, that when you don’t have a background in the area, it’s nice to have an expert to run things by for accuracy and believability. For me, it’s my golf partner, a lawyer.

      1. Richard, I take the medical aspect only so far–just enough to be reasonably believable–and then I tend to take off from there into territory that could be considered a little scifi (or at least futuristic) in nature. Then it becomes my vision of what could be possible, which is great fun but demanding in its own way (consistency, plausibility). My tech/IT background (before law school) helps with that, too. But I do believe it’s important to have the basis grounded in reality, and then go from there. Makes it far scarier!

        1. Agreed. That’s what I did with my latest, Miracle Drug–I invented a potentially fatal disease that mimicked a recognized one. (And, since this was before Ebola, I could devise my own scenario of how they handle it).

    2. Lisa, it’s interesting that you do your research up-front. I’ve sometime found that some research I did prior to first draft wasn’t relevant (because the story went in different direction), or, conversely, new topics crop up as I’m writing, so I have to stop and do some fact-finding.

      Also, I’d like to ask others on the panel: How do you do prefer to conduct your research — online, in libraries, interviews, etc.?

  4. How much time did I spend researching my first book, “The Girl in the Maze”? About 40 years. The novel drew upon a lifetime of memories and experiences—childhood impressions of visiting Savannah and Georgia’s atmospheric barrier islands, memories of people and relatives I knew long ago, sometimes only briefly, combined with more recent experiences and personalities.

    If your time for writing is severely limited (as mine was), I think focusing on what you know can reduce the amount of time spent on formal research by orders of magnitude. The breakdown for my first book was roughly as follows:

    • Intentional research (books, Internet, interviews, visiting locales, etc.): 10%.
    • Writing: 50%
    • Rewriting: 30%
    • Marketing: 10%

    Since the novel was part of a two-book deal, I’m now working on the second book. This time, I have a deadline. So I’d project the breakdown for the second book will end up more like this:

    • Formal research: 10%
    • Writing 60%
    • Rewriting: 25%
    • Marketing: 5%

    If I could add more time to that formula, the first thing I’d boost is formal research. It can be one of the most fun and rewarding parts of the entire process.

    1. You’re so right. I barely had to do any formal research for my first novel, THE GENESIS CODE. It contained a lot of IT-based intrigue. Well, I spent 20+ years in IT/IT consulting before starting to write that book. Good thing. I could concentrate on the logistics of writing a novel-length work for the first time, and let the tech part just flow from my own experience!

  5. In my travels as a novelist, I’m often asked about research. How much do you do? Where do you get it? How much time does it take?

    The first thing I usually say with a smile is: I write fiction, not textbooks. Although it’s an extreme statement and meant to be somewhat humorous, there’s truth in humor.

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ve developed a 90/10 rule. Only 10% of my research ends up in my books. I select the juiciest or most interesting parts and find ways to work the material in without doing an “info dump.”

    The hero of my series is Nathan McBride, a trained Marine scout sniper, now retired.

    There are many nonfiction books on snipers and sniping. I don’t think the vast majority of my readers care about all the intricate details of precision shooting over long distances, and it’s an incredibly complex science. Many variables come into play and any one of them can take a bullet off target.

    I’m always trying to find a balance between over-describing the technology of shooting a volleyball sized object at 1,000 meters, versus not having enough detail to create reality and believability. I could literally spend 8-10 pages discussing the mechanics of a 985-meter shot. Honestly, it would bore the readers to tears.

    What my readers really care about is how Nathan feels when he’s looking through an optic at a woman who has no idea she’s about to die. That’s far more interesting.

    Regarding scene and setting, I often rely on instinct. I’m constantly asking myself: Is this too little or too much detail for this particular scene? Some settings require more detail than others, especially if there’s going to be an extended amount action in the scene.

    I think fiction novelists need to remind themselves every so often that they’re entertainers, not educators. Write what interests your readers, not what interests yourself!

    1. I agree. I found I could not enjoy RED OCTOBER–too much time/detail spent on the equipment for my taste. The research may not (and for the most part, should not) land directly in the novel, but it certainly should inform the novel, making it realistic.

      For example, for THE JANUS LEGACY, I researched Crohn’s disease (my protagonist would have the disease). There were certain technical details I had to have right, but I also let the research help me imagine what it might be to live with it–or even the specter of it. After the book came out, one of my readers who actually has the disease commented that I “got it right”–not only how it is to live with it, but how it is to worry about passing it on. Needless to say, I considered that the highest possible praise.

  6. Great insight, Andy! Yes, I’d much rather be entertained by the author than anything else. If I want an education, I’ll pick up a non-fiction book on the subject. You are absolutely right about your readers wanting to know what’s inside Nathan’s head when he’s in these tense situations. Great post!

  7. Unless you are a writer like James Patterson who began his professional life in advertising and famously works with co-authors to maintain his prodigious output, I can’t imagine a division of labor where the lion’s share of time doesn’t go toward the actual writing. I have written six novels in my career and each has taken multiple years to complete (although I have typically worked on them part time).

    The amount of time I spend on research varies based on the sort of novel I’m writing. For example, in my novel CANDY FROM STRANGERS, I wrote about cam girls. To learn more about the lifestyle and the motivation for putting oneself out on the Internet, I interviewed a young woman who had a site. ( In my novel RUNOFF, I needed to learn about e-voting and the potential for hacking electronic voting machines so, among other things, I interviewed a Computer Science professor at Stanford who was an expert in the field. ( In my latest novel, NO HARD FEELINGS, I needed to know more about legal brothels in Nevada. In an article in this month’s BIG THRILL, I describe how I went about that. ( The research for all three books took a significant amount of time, but it was interspersed with time spent writing—and was still significantly less as a percentage.

    The time I dedicate to marketing grows with each book I write. At the beginning of my career in the late 90s, I spent more time marketing *indirectly*. By that I mean I spent more time trying to get newspaper reviews and radio interviews than interacting directly with readers. For example, for my first novel THE IMMORTAL GAME, a nice review from The San Francisco Chronicle ( was THE thing that really launched the book.

    The increasing importance of the Internet—and the corresponding decline of traditional media—has changed the way I market and necessarily increased the amount of time I spend on it. Nowadays, it’s more about making a direct connection with readers through blogging, book sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing, and social media—including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

    And, of course, even participating in this RoundTable is itself a form of direct marketing. 😉

  8. Author hats. Maybe because I have a lot of roles outside being an author, this concept isn’t foreign to me.

    I work full time at another job. Also, I’m a wife, long distance mother (don’t worry, he’s fully capable of handling his own life now), friend, sister, well, most of you know the drill.

    I like wearing the many hats of being an author. I just got back from a writer’s trip to New Orleans. The conference tested my juggling capabilities. I was a participant, a panelist, and even participated in a book signing. Off page, I was writing my current WIP (work in progress), handling email and marketing projects, and acting as my own accountant, trying to keep track of expenses so I can remember where all the money went when I do taxes.

    And of course, there was a bit of tourist during the week as well.

    Too much? Probably, but I love working as an author. It’s a job, just like every other job I’ve had, but I feel more authentic in this role than many I’ve wore.

    1. And, I see I didn’t answer the question…. I spend most of my time on writing. Marketing gets fit in when needed (like during release time) and research is on going.

      But I have one question on my white board to remind me of the real job – “Did you write?”

  9. Chiming in late here (Happy Labor Day!), but already appreciate all the comments that have come before. Following up on Lynn’s comments about “hats,” that’s the phrase I use as well, and I try to make sure that I swap those hats at appropriate intervals to make sure I’m not spending too much time on the research (so much fun! and such an easy way to feel like you’re being a writer when you’re not) or on marketing (so much fun! and such an easy way to… well, you know where I’m going: Facebook is the ultimate time-suck).

    As I’m writing this, I’m just over a week away from the publication of my first book, so these days there’s almost nothing but marketing on my mind–though it rankles my sensibilities a little to call it that. It’s true that lately I’ve spent far more time talking about my writing (or rather, writing about my writing) than doing any actual writing–but I’m trying to keep all of it in perspective as part of the process and also trying to keep perspective on what really matters in the midst of it all. On the first point, for example, while writing guest posts for blog appearances (or answering questions for interviews) does draw from the time and energy I might spend working on the next book, I’m endlessly grateful that anyone cares enough to invite me to their blog or interview me in the first place. And while Facebook can indeed be the ultimate time suck, I’m energized by the opportunities to connect in conversation with fellow writers and readers–to be part of a community that values writing and books (and, hopefully, might value my own book, of course). And on the second point (“what really matters”), I should stress that in all these cases the goal for me isn’t to sell, sell, sell, but to connect, connect, connect; sales may be a byproduct of connection, exposure too, but the conversation is the primary goal and the primary pleasure to my mind.

    As for research, I’ve recently been embedded in a lot of that as well as part of a novella I’ve been working on–based in part on a real-life theft of rare books from the early 1970s. It’s been tremendous fun reading about those thefts and ferreting out details to enliven my storytelling, but I have to remind myself to keep the focus on the writing first and foremost–both in terms of the gauging productivity (story first, not notes!) and in terms of controlling how much research finds its way into the final text (story first again, not those notes).

    Everything is balance, ultimately: how the research feeds but doesn’t gorge your writing, how building connections in the larger community serves both yourself and that community without sacrificing the writing that’s the very basis of those connections.

    In short, we all wear various hats–but you have to remember to swap those hats at appropriate intervals. (And thanks, Lynn, for letting me hijack your metaphor a little.)

    1. Good luck with your release, Art!

      I try to limit my web seeking mania for the release to one week. Then I have to get back to the other part of our job, the writing. I love the idea of balance, it’s the execution that I have trouble with. 🙂

      1. Yep, agreed! Best laid plans, right? But I try to be aware of the balance, of trying to maintain balance, even if I’m sometimes weaving and dropping things! (…like the discussion here, which I haven’t checked in on as classes have been continuing to unroll!).
        Thanks for the good wishes!

  10. Popping back in the day after Labor Day, to say that yesterday was typical for me–even though I tried to take a day off, I spent some time at the computer marketing (i.e., on social media websites…like this one), a brief period researching a scene from my work-in-progress, and another brief period writing. I don’t have an assistant (virtual or otherwise). Now I’m wondering if my colleagues who do employ an assistant turn some of their marketing over to that person.

  11. Labor Day was typical for me in that a 3-day weekend provides me with a nice block of time I don’t normally get. So it was a real heads-down day to work on the WIP and set aside everything else. Didn’t think I’d quite wrap the second draft, but I did! Bonus: the weather was nice enough I could take the laptop outside and go to it.

  12. A comment that resonates with me is what Art Taylor said above: Everything is balance.

    I enjoy marketing. It’s fun; it’s addictive; it’s a kind of game. My debut novel went on sale today, so I’m deep into marketing mode — maybe too deep, considering that a draft of my second book is due in just a couple of months.

    I can see how getting too invested in other parts of the job–marketing, research, revision–could become excuses for avoiding the most important and fundamental thing: writing.

    1. Best of luck with the new book! I’ll have to check it out!
      And yes, research, marketing, doing laundry, whatever–all can turn into avoidance techniques if we’re not attentive enough. I couldn’t agree more!

  13. Lisa, I think you got it exactly right. It’s awesome when your hard work is verified by someone in the know. Sad, in your case, but still rewarding!

    Keep up the great work!

  14. I have to agree with some of the recent comments. Other things can snatch our attention away from our writing–even research can do it. And, in the end, our writing is important to each of us. But if we don’t do our research and market out works, no one will ever know what we’ve written. It’s a balancing act.

    1. That should be “our” works–doggoned autocorrect. (PS–have you ever wondered what happens to the comments of people who aren’t good at math, so they can’t solve the problem presented?)

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