Thursday, August 15, 2013

Guest Post by Larry A. Winters

Joe sez: I'm going to be taking a blogging break during August, but I've got twelve guest posts scheduled this month, so they'll appear as slotted.

Today it's Larry A. Winters...

X-Rated Research

First off, a big thanks to Joe for helping a good cause, and for providing an opportunity to contribute to his blog.  I’ve been an avid reader for many years.  Joe, you’re awesome!

Now, to business.

As a reader, I like to learn something from a book.  I am a big fan of writers like Michael Crichton, Joseph Finder, and Tom Clancy, who ground their stories in solid research.  I attribute a lot of Dan Brown’s appeal to the way his thrillers offer readers insights into art, history, and religion.

As writers, especially self-published writers, we can feel a pressure to produce material quickly.  There is a common belief that the more titles a writer has on his or her virtual bookshelf, the higher visibility and sales he or she can achieve.  And that’s almost certainly true.  But even so, I would caution that skimping on research—or worse, skipping it entirely—is a mistake.  Imagine if Crichton wrote Jurassic Park without bothering to study dinosaurs, genetic engineering, or chaos theory.  The result would probably have been a fun monster story, but a much less textured, less nuanced, and—perhaps most importantly—less convincing novel.

My novel Hardcore is a mystery set in the multi-billion dollar porn industry.  I know, it’s like a bad joke:  You wrote a book about porn?  I bet you did a lot of research!  Well, in my case, that’s true.  I knew I wanted the story to feel authentic, to expose the reader to an unfamiliar milieu, and, like the novels mentioned above, to make the reader feel like the book expanded his or her knowledge.  I spent months consuming nonfiction books, industry newsletters, insider blogs, interviews, documentaries, behind the scenes footage, and other resources.  Was some of this research fun?  Of course.  If you’re writing about a subject that interests you, the research should not be a chore.

And in my experience, the research was critical.  Knowing the real life problems and concerns of people in the industry enabled me to craft believable characters and realistic settings.  It opened my mind to plot twists that otherwise would not have occurred to me.  It helped me to avoid stupid mistakes that might have broken a knowledgeable reader’s suspension of disbelief.  Research impacted just about every aspect of the book, and made it better.

But don’t take my word for it.  In honor of this blog post, I’m discounting the ebook version of Hardcore to 99 cents until August 20.  Check it out for yourself.

Before I sign off, a word of warning:  Research can be taken too far.  Don’t let it become an excuse to delay writing.  (This is a dangerous temptation.  Reading is easier than writing, and we’re all here because we love to read.)  Also, resist the urge to pour all of your research into the book.  Otherwise you risk too much exposition (aka “infodumps”) and irrelevant details that distract from, rather than enhance, the narrative.  Let your research inform the book, but not overwhelm it.

To shamelessly use my own book as an example again, Hardcore isn’t a treatise on the dirty movie business.  It’s a story about a former porn star who returns to the industry because she doesn’t believe her sister’s death was really a suicide, and she’s determined to find the killer.  Research is not an end in itself.  It provides the details that bring the setting to life.

I hope you found this blog post helpful.  Visit my webpage, and please check out Hardcore at its limited time special price.

Good luck with your writing.  I hope to read you soon, and learn something!

Joe sez: I gave my opinions of research on Laura Nance's guest blog on August 5, but Larry touches on something else that's important in writing.

The hook.

Hooks aren't really plot or theme. Hooks are ideas that grab a reader's attention.

A well-researched thriller about the porn industry? The hook there is obvious. As mainstream as porn has become, it's still considered shameful. We don't talk about porn. In fact, we hide it from others.

So who wouldn't want to read about the industry without having to go into an adult bookstore and feel like a pervert?

Hardcore has a really smart hook, and as much as Larry's post was about research, it was also a clever way to get people interested in reading the novel. I downloaded my copy. I expect others will as well.

Look at the big indie bestsellers. The ones that hit #1 and get optioned for Hollywood and auctioned off to the Big 5. Most of them have big hooks. Something that can be stated in a sentence. Something readers "get" instantly. 

What hooks to you use to reel in readers? How are you enticing them to plunk down a few bucks for your ebook? 


Jude Hardin said...

Sounds like a cool book, Larry. Definitely going to check it out.

Here's the hook for my latest, also on sale for $.99:

It’s your worst nightmare…

You’re a patient in the hospital, at the mercy of those taking care of you. Your nurse walks into the room carrying a syringe, but the medication isn’t meant to help you.

It’s meant to kill you.

You don’t know this, of course, until it’s too late, until you’re slipping into the abyss, unable to call for help.

You sensed there was something odd about this caregiver from the start, and as you sink further and further into the blackness of oblivion, one thought keeps running through your mind: Why?


The answer might just surprise you…

Rob Cornell said...

My whole Lockman Chronicles series started with a hook that interested me personally after reading ONE SHOT by Lee Child.

What if Jack Reacher had to do battle with the paranormal?

And thus, Craig Lockman was born.

Jude Hardin said...

What if Jack Reacher had to do battle with the paranormal?

Wow. I did pretty much the same thing with my novella GHOST.

In fact, Eric Christopherson says, "Cross Stephen King with Lee Child and you get Jude Hardin’s GHOST. Don't be surprised if you follow this duel from beginning to end in one sitting."

w. adam mandelbaum said...

Fact based conspiracy fiction is always a good hook. My hook for my little book is Detachment Echo is a novel based on historical fact. During the Cold War there was hard evidence that American POWs were being shipped from Vietnam to Eastern European "facilities" for medical experimentation. It was covered up.

Larry A. Winters said...

Thanks for the comments! When I wrote the blog post, I wasn't thinking about hooks, but I agree with everything Joe said. Having a high concept can definitely make a novel stand out.

I.J.Parker said...

Jo says "We don't talk about porn. In fact, we hide it from others."

Right. That's what makes it so attractive as an electronic book. It's a secret vice, and I dare say that opens up a whole new group of readers: women.

Merrill Heath said...

I'm doing a fair amount of research for my current WIP. Then I put a bunch of technical stuff in there, only to take most of it out later so that it doesn't destroy the pacing. But at least what I leave behind is correct.

McVickers said...

Sounds like people are stealing my novel ideas.

"Jack Reacher faces an enemy he's never faced before -- a Jack Reacher Zombie!"

Lee Child says about the idea, "Dagnabbit, why didn't I think of that first!"

Meanwhile, Lee Child's publisher sits in a dark corner cackling as it waits for Lee Child to pump out another Jack Reacher novel, whispering to itself, "Exxxxxxxxxxxxcellent."

Ryan Schneider said...

The hook for my latest novel EYE CANDY was what got me writing it in the first place. I wanted to see what would happen.

But what do you do when the hook is also a spoiler?

Jill James said...

Important for all writers to know research is important. Even in a contemporary novel. Even in something you think you already know a lot about.

Jude Hardin said...

Important for all writers to know research is important. Even in a contemporary novel. Even in something you think you already know a lot about.

True, even if it's something like double-checking the spelling of a celebrity's name. In my first published novel, I misspelled Dwight Yoakam. Of course in that case it eventually led to me getting to meet him, so I'm glad I did. :)

Larry A. Winters said...

But what do you do when the hook is also a spoiler?

Ryan, this is a problem I've had at times, too. Obviously, you can't use that kind of hook to market / draw attention to your book. However, you have to hope it pays off with surprised and delighted readers who finish reading your book on a high note.

Paul Draker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Draker said...

Larry's hook, and the promise of a well-researched thriller, got me.
Just bought & downloaded my copy.

Joe's spot-on about a one-sentence high concept. Origin had a killer hook, too.

Psychologists who study disaster victims and survivors find that only ten percent
of people are psychologically equipped to survive--but those ten percent can beat
the odds again and again. And they aren't who you would think.

So here's the one-sentence high concept for gritty mystery thriller New Year Island:

"What if an edgy new reality show recruited ten proven survivors of past disasters
and marooned them on an abandoned island, forcing them to compete with each other
under the direst of circumstances?"


I've got my own blog post for Joe cooking, and should have it in his hands shortly.
In the meantime, if you're reading this on Joe's blog, then you are welcome to hit
me up for a free copy to review.


David Glynn said...

The thing I've discovered about the hook is that one size definitely does not fit all.

Take, for example, my novel, VIGILANT GUARDIANS. It's about 9/11. It's tagline is "What If Everything They Told You Is A Lie?"

Technically of course, that's not the hook. The hook would be that the protagonist, one Tommy Flynn, is writing a novel about the real events of 9/11. Or at least he would be if people weren't actively trying to stop him.

The problem, obviously, is that for many—even most—folks, that concept is just as likely to be a turn-off as a hook.

Hell, you could even call it an anti-hook.

But there it is, nonetheless. And though I'm biased, I have to say that VIGILANT GUARDIANS a damn good read.

And whether after that you're hooked or not doesn't really matter, becaue either way, the point is the same.

Also, Paul, I checked out your sample chapters and am intrigued, so I guess in this instance, the hook did its job

Paul Draker said...


Just picked up your book. As long as your story does no dishonor to the innocent Americans who died that day, I see no issue with your choosing an alternate interpretation of the events of 9/11 as a hook.

As you say, when it comes to hooks, one size doesn't fit all. But that's fine--we're finding our own specific audiences with our books. The earlier we filter out a person who won't enjoy our story, the better--for their sake, and for ours.

The hook is a great place to do that filtering. Because if they don't like your hook, then they won't download (and review) a book that they won't enjoy.

I had one critique partner object violently to the idea of a one-in-ten "survivor type" who is somehow different from the other 90% of us. The concept morally offended her in some way--don't ask. Clearly she wasn't the right audience for NEW YEAR ISLAND ;)

David Glynn said...


that's a good point—filtering out those readers who are unlikely to enjoy the work is indeed a good thing.

I hope you enjoy the novel, and I'm looking forward to my paperback of NEW YEAR ISLAND; I don't have a Kindle, so there's no immediate gratification for me!

Paul Draker said...


Looking forward to hearing what you think of it.

Drop me an email at pauldraker [at] gmail [dot] com, as I don't have your email address.


I just finished Key Death. We can discuss it over some beer, crackers and a meat-and-cheese tray ;)

David Glynn said...

Also, Larry, sorry—it's your blog post! Bought HARDCORE, too … it looks great

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Jude Hardin said...

I just finished Key Death. We can discuss it over some beer, crackers and a meat-and-cheese tray

Ha! I think I'll stick with the cashews, maybe a pretzel or two.