Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mystery and Suspense with New York Times Bestselling Author, Chris Culver

It's great to be able to welcome bestselling author, Chris Culver. First of all, congratulations on the huge success of your New York Times bestselling murder mystery, The Abbey! For readers who haven’t read it, could you tell us a little bit about the story?

Thanks for the congratulations! The Abbey is a story about a Midwestern detective's investigation into his niece's very bizarre death. The more he investigates, though, the stranger and more dangerous his case becomes. With a body count ratcheting up with every other chapter, Ash realizes that if he doesn't solve his case quickly, his niece might not be his only family that dies.
The story straddles the line between being a mystery and a thriller, which, hopefully, makes it fun to read.  It was a lot of fun to write.

I believe you have also recently published a second novel, Just Run, which so far also looks set to be another hugely successful bestseller!  What inspires your great stories?
I get ideas from all over the place. Since I write crime fiction and mysteries, I can just pick up the local newspaper and find all sorts of ideas. For instance, I read a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about a police chase in St. Louis that resulted in a minor car accident. When the police checked out the trunk of the car they were chasing, they found a quarter-million dollars in cash, a gun and handcuffs. The driver had been involved in an armored car heist, but as a crime writer, I couldn't help but ask 'What if?'
What if they found a body instead of just money? Or what if they found a live person. . . and she didn't want to be rescued? Or if I were writing urban fantasy, what if the police found a non-human body in the trunk?

There are potential stories all around us; it may take some practice to find them, but they're out there if you give your imagination free reign to look.

Unlike some authors, you don’t appear to spend a lot of time blogging, or social networking on sites like Twitter and Facebook.  Do you think authors spend too much time trying to promote their books this way?
You're absolutely right in pointing out that I don't spend much time on social media. I don't have a Twitter feed or a Facebook page, I rarely post on forums, and my blog is sorely neglected. (I would like to remedy the sad state of my blog, but it's always difficult to find time.) In short, I do very little promotion for my books.

I hesitate, though, to suggest that others spend too much time on promotion. I don't think it's fair to make blanket statements about the activities of others, particularly those I don't know well. The best marketing advice I can give is to be willing to experiment and to be respectful of one's readers. Be willing to change your price, be willing to change your cover, experiment with your product description, experiment with your keywords, etc. Don't be afraid to change things, and when you do change something, give your readers time to notice them before changing again. If you change the description of your book, wait at least a week or two before you evaluate how those changes affected your sales.
My other bit of advice is to respect your readers and fellow writers. It seems that a minority of writers approach social networking primarily as a marketing tool rather than a tool to connect with people. That's unfortunate. When I see a writer constantly plugging his or her books on the forums I frequent, I add that person to my do-not-read list. On the other hand, if I see an author engaging in discussions and making intelligent posts, I will check out that person's books. I may not buy them, but I will look at them. Real social networking takes time.

Given that you don’t spend much time social networking, what other factors do you think have contributed to the immense success of your books?

I'd like to say that if an author does X, Y and Z, his or her book will sell hundreds of thousands of copies and get mentioned in newspapers across the country. I can't, though. In actuality, I have almost no idea how to sell a book. I released The Abbey on February 2, 2011 with little fanfare. I didn't put out press releases, buy advertising or even conduct interviews until I started hitting the major bestseller lists. I put out the book and essentially forgot about it while I worked on the next book. I did the same thing with Just Run. I uploaded it and promptly ignored it while I worked on my next book. Despite that relative neglect, both books have been commercial successes. The Abbey spent seventeen weeks on the USA Today Bestseller's list, and Just Run spent five or six on the same list during a much more competitive time of year.
Some writers may look at the sales of my books and say I got lucky. Luck certainly plays a part, but I don't think it's the only part. I've only been a full-time writer for a year, but I've been writing fiction for at least an hour or two every night for the past decade. In addition, I usually read for at least two hours each night. When I look at other writers who sell well, I see the same sort of dedication and commitment to the craft of writing.

In my experience, a good book with a good cover and a competitive price sells itself. It may not sell huge numbers, but it will sell. To write that good book, though, a writer has to be willing to put in the time.

I love the cover of your bestseller, The Abbey. Could you tell us a bit about it?
I'm glad you liked it! I don't recommend this to many people, but I'm a cheapskate and did my own cover design. I got lucky and managed to find an excellent photo taken by a very talented photographer named Dimitri Castrique. The church in the picture is the village church of Ploegsteert, Belgium.

If The Abbey was made into a movie, who would you like to star in it?
The main character in The Abbey is an Egyptian American, which limits the number of actors who could convincingly pull off the role. There just aren't that many Arab American actors. If the book were made into a movie, chances are quite high that the leading actor would be someone that hasn't achieved mainstream success yet.

What are you working on the moment?
I've just put the finishing touches on my second novel with Ash Rashid, the lead detective from The Abbey. I'm excited about the book and look forward to getting it out. With that book done, I'm considering taking a few months off from Ash and writing a cozy mystery. I love writing Ash, but he's a rather dark character. It's nice to step away from him for a while.

What advice do you have for any aspiring authors out there?

Stick with it and learn something from every piece you write. Writing is a tough gig, and it's very easy to become discouraged. I know how hard it is to receive rejections and to see one's books languishing on the shelves (both physical and virtual). Keep writing, though, and keep improving. Sales will come with time.

Do you have any final parting comments?
Have fun and write stories that you're passionate about. It's very tempting to follow trends and write those sorts of books that happen to be popular right now. If you're pursuing publication with the big trade publishers, you might even feel pressured to write this way.

This is tough advice, but resist both temptations and write what you enjoy. Don't follow trends – be the trend setter. Your passion about your subject will show in your writing, and your readers will thank you for it by buying your books.

Thank you very much for the advice and for taking the time to tell us about your great books!


  1. Thank you for sharing Katheryn - this was an exceptional interview! Congratulations to Chris Culver!!!

    1. Thanks Nancy! Glad you enjoyed the interview.

  2. Very nice interview Chris & Katheryn :-) Quite inspiring!