Stephen White Treats His Writing Like a Business
By Margaret Langstaff
Publishers Weekly, October 19, 1998
This winter Dutton will publish "Manner of Death", the eighth book in Stephen White's mystery series featuring Alan Gregory, clinical psychologist living in Boulder, Colo. (The author himself has the same occupation
and residence.) White's sales have consistently increased with each title, and the fourth and fifth in the series made the New York Times bestseller list.
"There is no greater naiveté for a writer than to think that because they've made it into a bookstore, they now have a career as a writer," White says. "Writers have to do everything they can to promote their
books." In White's case, this meant spending more than half of his first advance on promotion and funding his own travel to bookseller and literary conventions. "I'm an independent businessman," says White,
referring to his clinical practice. "And I decided to treat my writing as if it were a business. I realized I had to make my publisher some money if I wanted to keep doing this. Fortunately I had a good day
job and my books were successful from the start."
"One of my biggest challenges is to make certain I don't write the same book twice," White says. He manages to keep his writing fresh by trying to make each book interesting in a topical way and by focusing on issues
that are important to him. In his latest book, this translates to "What is it like for adults to revisit different events from the past." A walk down memory lane requires Alan Gregory to become reunited
with an old lover to solve the mystery. "It involves the deaths of colleagues he had trained with in Denver," says White. "Several of his former classmates have died and he realized he may be next."
Another way White jazzes up his story lines is by changing the narrative voice from first to third person, and back, from book to book. "Alan Gregory is the hero," says his creator, "But I allow myself some
latitude to develop secondary characters who are interesting to me."
In White's case, luck seems to be with those who work at it. He sold his first book himself, through networking. "It was a kind of six degrees of separation thing," he says. "A friend of my brother
was an editor who passed it on to Al Silverman who was the first person who actually read it." Silverman edited White's first seven books. Today Lynn Nesbit is White's agent and does the selling.
As for backlist, White says Signet has been "Wonderful!" He is "thrilled with the way they handle the new books as well," cross-promoting backlist with the publication of each new title in the series.
"I'm a big believer in backlist," notes the author.
White has done eight books in nine years and has seen many changes in the world of mysteries. "The evolution of the field continues to surprise me," he says. "Originally I wasn't a student of the field.
But I stand amazed at how elastic the genre is. It ranges across so many periods and styles. And there seems to be an ever-widening definition of the genre. It's a different field every 18 months to two years."