March 18 – 24: “What was the big lesson that awaited you after you completed your last novel?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week we join veteran ITW Members Kay Kendall, Eileen Cook, Jacob Stone, Desiree Holt and Jerry Amernic as they discuss the big lesson learned after completing their last novel. Scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along. You won’t want to miss this!


Before Kay Kendall began to write fiction, she was an award-winning international PR exec, working in the US, Canada, Russia, and Europe. Ask her about Moscow during the Cold War—and turning down a CIA job in order to attend Harvard. An avid fan of history, she chooses to set her books in times of turmoil and change—the Vietnam War, second wave feminism, Prohibition. After living in Canada’s frozen clime for some years, she and her Canadian husband have thawed out since 1990 in her ancestral home of Texas. They share their abode with three rescue rabbits and one bemused spaniel.


Eileen Cook is a multi-published author with her novels appearing in eight languages. Her books have been optioned for film and TV. She spent most of her teen years wishing she were someone else or somewhere else, which is great training for a writer. She’s an instructor/mentor with The Creative Academy and Simon Fraser University Writer’s Studio Program where she loves helping other writers. Eileen lives in Vancouver with two very naughty dogs.


Jerry Amernic’s first novel was Gift of the Bambino, about a boy and his grandfather and how they’re bound by baseball. His research on Babe Ruth led to BABE RUTH – A Superstar’s Legacy, the first book ever about the legacy of the man. His novels include The Last Witness about the last living survivor of the Holocaust in the year 2039, and Qumran about an archaeologist who makes a dramatic discovery in the Holy Land.


Jacob Stone is the pseudonym for Dave Zeltserman, an award winning crime, horror and mystery writer. As both Dave Zeltserman and Jacob Stone, he has published 22 novels and dozens of short stories, and his novels have been translated into six languages. His crime novel Small Crimes, which topped NPR’s best crime & mystery books in 2008, has been made into a Netflix original film starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Molly Parker, Gary Cole, Jacki Weaver, and Robert Forster. His crime and horror novels have been named by The Washington Post, NPR, American Library Association, WBUR, and Booklist as best books of the year, and his mystery short fiction has won the Shamus, Derringer and Ellery Queen’s Readers award (twice).


USA Today bestselling author Desiree Holt is a winner of the EPIC E-Book Award, the Holt Medallion and a Romantic Times Reviewers Choice nominee. She has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning and in The Village Voice, The Daily Beast, USA Today, The (London) Daily Mail, The New Delhi Times and numerous other national and international publications.



  1. What Happened When I finished ADVANCE TO THE REAR

    Something very weird happened to me. Indeed. I always tell people my stories are character driven because, in truth, they are. I start with the characters, develop them with full blown personalities and then as I move through each plot point, ask each of them what they would do. Sometimes it can take the story in a direction I hadn’t planned but usually that direction makes more sense. Now, in addition to creating my characters, I’m also a research nut. Whatever I write about I want to be as correct as possible so my readers will trust my stories, I am not, after all, writing fantasy. But when I finished ADVANCE TO THE REAR, I discovered that I was so focused on getting the information and action correct that I had forgotten to ask each character how he or she would handle every twist and turn. For the first time in longer than I can remember, I had a story with a lot of action but no characters to draw you into it. It was a total shock for me, so I gave myself a night off, then went back to the beginning and wrote a summary of everything from each main character’s POV. Was it easy? Not on your life? Was I glad I did it? You bet. And I certainly will be more careful from now on to be sure I put myself in each character’s POV., no matter how demanding, exciting or chilling the action. How many of you have ever had something like that happen?

  2. It seems with every book that there’s something to learn, either from research, about how my own values impact on how I see a story, the publishing industry, or the writing process. I suppose the good news about being a writer, is that you’ll never be complacent. (And could explain why so many writers turn to drink)

    When I completed YOU OWE ME A MURDER I was asked if it was easier to write a book now as compared to when I stared. What I realized is Nope. It’s not easier. There are still challenges with the craft, characters who don’t behave, plots that suddenly develop holes (despite all that careful outlining) and sudden bouts of doubt and self/story loathing. I think the only thing that I found easier is that now I know and accept it’s hard.

    My biggest advice to people who want longevity in this business is develop your resilience. (Which let’s be honest, is just a nice word for being stubborn as hell.)

  3. I always write detailed outlines of my books before I start, and while the final version never quite meets my original vision, it’s always been in the ballpark. This wasn’t the case with my latest Morris Brick serial killer thriller UNLEASHED. In all the books in the series I have backstory chapters to help explain the killer’s evolution and his motivations. In UNLEASHED, my killer as a boy is living an idyllic small town life that could’ve been right out of Mayberry before tragedy strikes and his parents are killed in a car accident. His only living relative–a grandfather he didn’t know even existed–comes to claim him, and in my original outline I had him as a grifter and worse. Just a pure rotten character who has no interest in the boy except in how he can exploit. Once I started writing the book, this changed. The grandfather became far more nuanced. He was still a career criminal and pretty rotten, but in his own twisted way the cared about the boy and was trying to do what he thought was right. This ended up changing the book in ways I hadn’t imagined, and the backstory chapters ended up being some of my best writing.

  4. My latest novel is not published yet, but this one – more than any other I ever wrote – went through a myriad of changes, rewrites, reworkings of plot, and finally a most valuable exercise with an excellent editor. Indeed, what began with two articles that I wrote in a couple daily newspapers many years ago to that editor spanned so much time I hate to think about it. But I knew the novel wasn’t quite right. And so did other people I had send it to. Moral of the story? No matter how experienced you are and how many books you may have published, there is always room for a good editor. I once heard that it took J. D. Salinger ten years before Catcher in the Rye was ready to go and I can understand it.

  5. What I learned after my first mystery was published in 2013 was the vast amount of work that came afterwards. The writing was done but the publicity work never stops. And I do mean never. Even though I spent years in a successful career in public relations and found the promotion for my book to be easy, I now am irked that I have to keep doing this. I would rather spend a greater percentage of my time writing the next book.

  6. I agree Kay, and for someone who wasn’t au fait with promotion techniques in the first place it’s been a slow tortuous road. The addition of more and more media platforms doesn’t help either. Couple that with the constant piracy of e books and the latest blatant plagiarism example we wake up to something new every day.

  7. As a PR practitioner who also writes book, I concur with those comments. For sure it can be very time-consuming. My suggestion is to go with a small number of options and hit them very hard. But writers should also beware of people offering services galore who are eager to take your money. Some are good and many are not.

    1. Jerry, this was the advice I was given many years ago, and it makes sense–start locally, and work your way outward. Contact your local papers and any other local media, including cable access shows. And any and all local bookstores, libraries, etc.

      1. I’m just chiming in to say I also agree with this advice. Choose where you feel you have the skills to be most effective and be leery of those offering services that sound like miracles.

  8. Kay, it was a different world when Small Crimes came out in 2008. Twitter and Facebook were barely a twinkle in writers’ eyes. We blogged instead! There were at least 4 times as many mystery bookstores back then, and the good souls working there loved crime fiction and would hand sell our books. Small Crimes publisher was a mid-sized London publisher, and even still they hired a publicist for me, and newspapers and magazines back then reviewed books–even from outside the Big 6 and when there wasn’t big money behind the book.

    My expectation when I started writing was to someday get a short story published, and I certainly never thought I’d get a book published, so early on it was all gravy. What surprised me the most was learning how the publishing industry worked. I grew up reading classic crime fiction–Hammett, Cain, Chandler, Stout, Ross MacDonald, etc. and I was young (well, younger than I am now!) and naive, I assumed the publishing industry wanted good books. It took me a while to realize what they wanted were books that they expect to be commercially successful. It should be an obvious thing to realize–after all, the Big 5 (or is it 4 now??) are corporations that are in it to make money, but being somewhat dense that simple fact eluded me. I thought I was getting rejected because I wasn’t good enough, and didn’t understand that it was because publishers didn’t perceive my books as commercially viable enough. So Small Crimes was rejected by every NY publisher-some several times–before getting published by Serpent’s Tail, and later it topped NPR’s list of 5 best crime and mystery novels of the year, and is now a Netflix movie.

    So that should’ve been a critically important lesson to learn about the industry–you can stay true to your vision and constantly beat your head against the wall, but eventually break through with smaller midsize publishers, get critical acclaim, and maybe some film deals because your books are different. Or compromise (the smarter of the two options, I believe, even though I’d stubbornly stuck to the first) and write what the industry perceives as commercial. Of course, the publishing industry is much different today after being Amazonized!

  9. Dave, your latest note should be mandatory reading for every writer who wants to get published, and for every writer who wants to be better published than they are now. You hit the nail on the head!

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