Laurie R. King is the New York Times bestselling author of 27 novels and other notable projects, including the Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes stories. In this interview with The Thrill Begins she shares some of the highlights of her staggering career, and how she spends some of her time maintaining it.
How did you begin your writing career?
Like most writers, I was an enthusiastic reader—learning the rhythms and emphases of storytelling by absorption, understanding the elements that made a story strong, and a character compelling, by seeing them at work. A bit like learning a foreign language by immersion, rather than theory. Eventually I felt fluent enough to speak in the tongue of fiction, creating people and situations of my own. I started writing novels when my kids were old enough to be in school at least part of the week—and, key to becoming a successful author, I kept writing. Four years later, I had an agent and a contract.
Other than your agent, have you put together an outside team? (Marketing, social media, PR, etc.) Do you recommend doing that (yes/no, why)?
A team is great, in these days when a writer is expected to be a marketer as well. I have one family member who’s a whiz at Photoshop—amazingly helpful for self-pub cover art and images for social media. I have another team member who sets up newsletters and contests, things that would make my head explode. I’ve hired professional publicists to oversee campaigns. And I have a team of readers who help root out goofs and remind me of forgotten plot elements from previous volumes.
I’ve found self-pub projects nearly impossible to edit, format, publish, and publicize without help. On the other hand, when it comes to social media, only the personal touch works. I am associated with two Twitter feeds, one of which has my name, but both make it clear that Laurie King isn’t doing them. As for the others, whether it’s Facebook, blog posts, or newsletters, I find that if the voice isn’t the author’s own, it might be media, but it’s not social.
What amount of time per week do you spend on social media?
Probably three or four hours. I do two or three Instagram and Facebook posts a week, a blog post every week or two, and I send a monthly newsletter. I also respond to reader remarks from all those. But I tend to do it all first thing in the morning, so I rarely log on to check my various pages once the workday has started.
Have you written multiple series/genres? Has it been successful? Tell us anything you found beneficial in renewing your audience/reaching a new one.
I’ve only stepped outside the mystery genre once, but yes, I write in three series as well as standalones. One series (Russell & Holmes) always lands on the NYT list, the others may not, although they do have their devotees. Invariably, when a series goes on (I’m about to start Russell #17), it is a challenge to keep it enticing. One way I keep my interest—and that of my readers—is to move the characters around the world all the time. Which also means their author gets to travel, a definite side-benefit.
Have you ever explored self-publishing?
Sure—I have self-published several short stories, a novella, and a big illustrated companion to the Russell & Holmes series. None of them earn a lot, but they’re fun to play with and self-pub lets me offer things to readers that wouldn’t be available elsewhere.
What’s the one thing you wish you had known starting out that you know now?
I would have thought more seriously about using a pseudonym for the books that are not historical fiction.
What’s the one biggest fallacy about being a writer/the publishing industry you wish would go away?
It always cracks me up when readers assume that I have any control over things like cover art, or cities to tour in, or getting a story up on a screen. Honestly, once a novel is finished and into production, the author has more control over her cats and teenagers.
What’s your next book?
Riviera Gold, the 16th Russell & Holmes novel, is set in the South of France and Monte Carlo in 1925. I had a great time writing about Sara and Gerald Murphy, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso, a horrific arms dealer, Czarist Russians, Greek smugglers, the Monte Carlo casino, and best of all, a bunch of feisty old women. Loads of fun, and a nice touch of subversion to spice matters up.