Friday, August 28, 2009

SECRETS OF THE HARWOOD METHOD



“JACK WAKES UP rocks! It’s a fast, smooth ride on a highway not found on any map!”
Michael Connelly

You should have heard Seth Harwood at Newtonville Books (my local bookstore) when he started reading out loud from JACK WAKES UP. The roomful of people was silent. Listening. Riveted. It was so--cinematic--it was like watching a film.

Turns out, Seth is all about how his books sound. Out loud. And is making a national name for himself not only for his incredibly well-received first novel, JACK WAKES UP, but for his innovative and wildly successful methods of promotion.

Here's the scoop.


HANK: So, Seth. Most people write a book on paper or type it on a computer. Then they SELL it. That's not exactly how you decided the world should work. What's the Harwood method?

SETH: Well, the Harwood method is basically that when things aren't working you have to innovate and try different things. I wasn't getting the responses from agents that I wanted (How about at least a simple "No"? In some cases I couldn't even get that.) so I had to find another way of working the publishing game.

I wanted to put my novel on the internet and didn't know how, or if people would read it, but I'd always listened to books on CD in the car, so when I found authors who were reading books and distributing them as free audio podcasts--and that thousands were listening!--I bought a mic and jumped in!

By working with those authors, I saw how they did it, had a chance to promote to their existing audience, and got folks hooked on my book. I was up over 1,000 downloads of my chapters a week before I was half-way through the first ten episodes of JACK WAKES UP. Eventually I used that audience to storm Amazon.com with a small publisher, hit #1 in crime/mystery, and convinced New York that I could sell books!

What it comes down to is the selling method: I wasn't getting anything from stuffing envelopes with agent submissions, so I had to find something else to do with my work. I knew my novel was done and wanted to keep writing new material, not caught in an endless loop of revision and slush piles.

I should mention I still type my work on a computer.

HANK: Wait—so you read you book out loud? And recorded it? How did that work? I mean, I know how it WORKS, but did you use a studio? Did you have to edit? How long did it take?

SETH: Yep. I read my work out loud and release it for free on the web as serialized audiobooks. It’s been a great way to create a fan base online!

I use what you might call a “studio” in my apartment. It’s actually a glorified closet with blankets tacked up on the walls. And I edit out my flubs and flibs on my MacBook using Garageband. Very easy to do. I actually explain it all in this three minute video:

And Scott Sigler and I have been teaching others to do it through our Author Boot Camp series


HANK: ANd did it work? What was the reaction?

SETH: it worked. Like I said, I sold JACK WAKES UP to #1 in crime/mystery on Amazon, got an agent by doing it, and the book was in editors' hands the next week. When they finally saw it, a few of them loved it. I think JACK WAKES UP is a great book, that always had to be the core of the approach--I put my time in first on the hard, careful writing--so when it got to an editor I could be confident in the result.

From there I landed a contract with Three Rivers Press and the book just came out in a major nationwide release this spring.

HANK: Then what? And now what? (You're giving away 3 chapters free?)

SETH: Now I'm doing a lot of touring--on my own dime. I believe in what I've done on the web, but also in the great bookstores and mystery booksellers out there. So I'm getting out and meeting them, reading the book in stores and meeting a lot of the folks who've been following me online. They're an awesome bunch!

HANK: So you're actually seeing people in person now. How's that?

SETH: It’s great! I love meeting people who’ve listened to my podcasts and now getting to talk with people who’ve read my book. Through Facebook and Twitter, I’ve been able to announce my events and get some good crowds out to the stores. Then I usually grab a bite or a beer with some of the online “Palms Daddies and Mommas!”

But in some ways, I feel like I already know a lot of these people. They’ve been writing me emails and participating in the forums on my site for a while now. Enough that we’ve built a relationship. They’re awesome fans!

HANK: Tell us about Jack. And tell us about the books!

SETH: Jack Palms is an ex-Hollywood action movie star—kind of a one-hit wonder who pissed his career away with a series of bad media relations and a drug addiction. JACK WAKES UP picks up about three years after that: when Jack’s cleaned himself up and needs to find out what he’s going to do next with his life. He needs money and when an old friend from LA calls to bring him in on a drug deal, he says “Yes” out of curiosity and simple desperation. From there, he finds himself walking the line between acting and action and becoming unsure which side he’s really on.

It all takes place in San Francisco with a cast of mobsters, outlaws and drug dealers that rival anything you’ve seen in the best action movies. As Michael Connelly says, “It’s a fast, smooth ride on a highway not found on any map!”

I've put out a total of three Jack Palms novels as audio podcasts now and finished a fourth crime novel this spring. They’re all free. I'm giving away the first three chapters of JACK WAKES UP as a free pdf via my site and still going strong with my CrimeWAV podcast, which is where I produce a weekly short story series by other crime writers to introduce their work to my listeners. We've done 40 episodes so far and have had on some greats!

HANK: Aren't you from Boston? How'd Jack end up in California?

SETH: You bet I'm from Boston! All the way. I grew up in the South End and Cambridge, Newton a little, and was living in Boston again after getting my MFA from Iowa in 2002. I took writing classes at Harvard Extension before that, from 1998 to 2000. I lived in the area until my wife got accepted to grad school here in Berkeley. We moved out in 2005 and kind of love it out here, I have to admit. Though I'll always be a native East-coaster, I'm really enjoying California right now. For a city with great crime/noir roots, San Francisco is pretty damn hard to beat. But I still come back for the Celtics and the Red Sox!

HANK:
Yeah, good luck with that Red Sox thing. (But really, this could be the year!) So, questions for Seth? Like: should we all get in on that podcast thing?

12 comments:

Terry Odell said...

Fascinating. Now, if I could just stand the sound of my own voice...

Marilyn Brant said...

Wow, what a creative and successful approach to building an audience. The techno aspect of podcasting is kinda scary to me--editing it and getting it online, etc. (I think I'll have to go watch your help video now. :) Congrats on Jack Wakes Up!

Jan Brogan said...

What a terrific story, Seth! Being a big fan of the audio book, this is one marketing strategy that actually make sense to me -- I applaud you for taking the plunge and making it work and might even sign up for your bootcamp.

I'm printing out your interview an posting it on my bulletin board.

Congrats on your success!!

Hallie Ephron said...

Podcasting...I've been meaning to learn how. Now I'm motivated. Thanks for sharing, Seth, and congratulations on making your OWN success happen!

Seth Harwood said...

Thanks so much for your comments! I'm really glad you guys enjoy hearing about what I've done.

I just noticed there's a problem with the links in the post, though, so here are the corrected ones:

1) JACK WAKES UP on Amazon.com

OR to http://sethharwood.com/jack

2) Youtube video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0P6a6-tjqqU


3) Author Boot Camp: http://authorbootcamp.com

4) my free audio podcasts are at: http://sethharwood.com

5) free PDF of JWU 1st 3 chaps: http://media.libsyn.com/media/sethharwood/jack-wakes-up-3chaps-p.pdf

6) CrimeWAV : http://crimewav.com

Seth Harwood said...

Ok with the links cleared up, YES, I've really loved using the audio form (free podcasts) to build and connect with a fan base and to develop my online "author's platform."
As someone who had a lot of car commuting and listened to books on CD, it seemed like a natural fit. Now I've developed my own vocal personality, more or less, kind of a persona on the net-air-waves. It's been a lot of fun.
And the tech aspects aren't bad at all, once you get the hang of it. See the youtube video for a quick explanation.

I'll also be speaking on Sept 19th at the Writer's Digest Conference in NYC.
Info is here: http://writersdigestconference.com/GeneralMenu/ Use code S7Har to get $50 off your registration!

I'm also happy to answer any questions one-on-one (email is seth @ sethharwood dot com) and here on the comments forum!

Seth

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Yikes...our computer program ate Seth's links. Geez.

Okay, fixing now. And crossing fingers.

nrappaport said...

This is so creative to figure out how to allow people to know your work !! Nancy

Rhys Bowen said...

Seth, this has reminded me that I promised you a short story.

Congratulations for going a different route and making it work. I think we're all just at the tip of the iceberg in making full use of the internet.

Seth Harwood said...

I love podcasting! Even if I hate my voice. You get used to hating it.

D.D. Scott said...

Incredible story, Seth, and a fabulous way to build your audience!

You have nailed what it takes to get published in today's market by setting yourself apart from the rest of the "slush pile" pack.

Yes...you've got to have a great book...but...you've got to have an audience already hyped up, waiting to buy it!

We all want to know just who is this "Seth Harwood", and his books "sound" fantastic!

Sexy, Sassy, Smart "Sounding" Wishes --- D. D. Scott
http://www.DDScott.com
http://twitter.com/ddscottromcom

Seth Harwood said...

Thanks, D.D.,

I am this "Seth Harwood." Lots more about me at sethharwood.com
And I'm glad you like the sound of JACK. Fact is, there are two more JACK PALMS books there for you to try out. And if you want the book to hold, give it a buy!

S