Debbi Mack interviews crime fiction author Seth Harwood on the Crime Cafe podcast.
The transcript is below, if you’d like to read it.
Debbi: Hi, everyone this is the Crime Cafe, your podcasting source of great crime, suspense and thriller writing. I’m your host Debbi Mack. Before I introduce my guest, I’d like to remind you that The Crime Cafe 9 Book Set is available as well as The Crime Cafe Short Story Anthology. They’re both available online on all major online retailers for $1.99 for the boxed set and $0.99 for the anthology, which is a real deal. Just go to debbimack.com and click on either Crime Cafe or my book link to find the Crime Cafe buy links. Now, having said that I am very pleased to introduce the author that I once called the ‘Golden God of Marketing’, Seth Harwood. Hey man, how you doing?
Seth: Hi, thanks for having me on.
Debbi: I am so happy to have you on. I’ve admired your business savvy and your writing for years, and I gotta say it seems like a million years ago that I first heard about Jack Wakes Up. But I had no idea that you had serialized it as a podcast before publishing. So see—you were way ahead of the curve on all of us. When did you start the podcast?
Seth: I started it in 2006 in the summer. I had been a big fan of audiobooks and so I saw that the way that I could put this book out was to put it out as audio in a way that people could get it on the web and interact with it. And that seemed to make so much more sense than putting it on the web as text. So there were guys like Scott Sigler and Tee Morris and a few others at a website called Podiobooks and they were ahead of me, but it was still like very early stuff. I mean you know it’s years before something like Serial comes along and people really know what a podcast is. But what we were doing was serializing our books as podcasts.
So I did it Jack Wakes Up, I started and then I really found an audience that I could connect to. And I feel like for so long as a writer, that’s what I had been looking for and even having gone past that to get books published by big presses, small presses, all different kinds of presses; that interaction with readers, that feeling of I knew people were waiting for my stuff to come out each week. I knew that they were invested in the story and I would hear from them. That level of interaction—that was the best thing ever really. And so you know it was great that I did that and my goal at the time was to get enough of an audience so that publishers would take me more seriously and publish me. And looking back on it now, what I was doing then was even better than working with publishers. And so now I’m going back to that, and I think you’ve done a lot of self-publishing, other guys have done self-publishing and you know just to find a way to sort of work with the audience directly; I think that’s the best thing that we can do. But the rest of the story, yeah, and you probably know more about that than I do.
But the rest of the story is that I did like five or six books as serialized audiobooks, podcasts. I put them all out for free, built in audience. And then I started doing Crime Wave, which is how I met you, because I wanted to get more crime stories to that audience that I had and I wanted to help other authors get into the podcasting stuff and sort of helped get their work out there. So, yeah, it was really great and it was a very intense period of my life where from you know 2006 to about 2009, I was doing roughly a podcast a week of 30 minutes of fiction, mixing, recording, editing, putting it out, doing the web posts. And sometimes two a week when I was doing my own stuff and Crime Wave. So it was really a lot of work.
Debbi: I know how much work goes into it personally of course. And so that must have been quite hectic for you writing, podcasting, all of that—to be a good time manager.
Seth: It must be a good something. But what I did that was helpful was that, I had the book Jack Wakes Up written and so when I was podcasting that it was all completely written. And then I had a series of stories that I could podcast short stories in the literary tradition from my time in graduate school. And so when I finished Jack Wakes Up I would take a hiatus and then basically write the next book and, while I was on hiatus, I would podcast some short stories and sort of go through whatever I had that I could put out as content. And say stay in touch with the feed, if these short stories aren’t really your speed, you know there’s going to be more crime and more Jack Palm – stuff coming soon.
And people really stuck with it and a lot of the people really liked my short stories and connected with me through that which really felt great because those are closer to my heart than the crime writing. They’re semi autobiographical and basically as I was going forward with podcasting each new novel, they were getting closer to being the rough draft that I would podcast and I got to the point where I was getting closer and closer to serialization, to the point where by the time I was podcasting the fourth book I had 25,000 words of it written and I started podcasting it. And I was writing it – each week I would write more material and podcast it. So basically I had a buffer of 25,000 words and I was trying to write four or five thousand words a week, podcast that much and maintain that buffer of 20 to 25 thousand words. But I was literally you know creating it as I was writing and it was hard. It was a lot of work but it was fun and exciting and like seat of your pants and pretty amazing experience.
And – still I love that book Young Junius the one that came out of that and a lot of my–You know you have these books they that are closer to you. That’s the crime book that’s closest to me before the one that I’m doing now. But you know there’s other ones that maybe you think the crime book should be this or a publisher wants you to do that. And you know Young Junius, the people that like Young Junius are the people who I get the most and we connect and I love that book. It was risky because almost all the characters are African-American and to use their voices and set this in 1987 was hard but it was amazing. It was an amazing experience to write it and podcast it and then we did a really cool special edition of it where we had pictures in it and special covers that were designed by artists who are listeners. And basically we raised money for a print run of it by pre selling these $35 special editions. It was just an amazing process back then and I look back on it now on I’m like oh my God how did I do all that. And part of the answer is that I didn’t have a kid at that point.
Debbi: Yeah, I hear that takes a lot of time.
Seth: It does, but it’s so rewarding, too.
Debbi: That’s what I hear also. As an aunt I can appreciate it from an aunt’s perspective.
Seth: But that was the thing was that you know connecting with that audience, knowing that I had an audience that wanted material and writing to give it to them, it was great. And for me like making the audio and recording it and stuff and even doing the voices; it wasn’t super hard for me and so I was able to do it.
Debbi: Well that’s fantastic and it just folds right in with the whole concept of social media marketing as well. Connecting with people and getting feedback from them. So–
Seth: That was the great thing was that I could hear from – I mean I was on Twitter and Facebook and wherever else, basically because wherever my listeners were, I wanted to be able to hear from them on the platform that they liked. And so when I would put stuff out it wasn’t always hey buy my book, that was the cool thing was that each week I had a new thing to give people. And so my social media stuff was never “Hey look at me” or “Hey do this or buy this”; it was always like here’s something for you, here’s something for you, this is for you. And so I think that was really effective and you know if you have 20 episodes of a book and each week you’re coming back and offering you know maybe for the first couple of times someone sees it on Facebook they miss it. But then you know by the by the fourth or fifth time they’re thinking wait what is this and then they look and it’s like oh episode five. Oh I can get episode one here. Yeah I’ll try that out and listen.
And now you know that was back when a lot of the people who were interested in crime maybe didn’t really get the technology for listening to podcasts. A lot of the people who were really successful with the podcasting back then were writing sci-fi because the readers for that tend to be more early adopting. But you know now, so many people listen to podcasts and the cool thing is that Patreon, I did a Kickstarter in 2010 and that was great, but it took a lot of work to raise a chunk of money. And so the thing that I like about Patreon is that you build it and then people go on it and subscribe so it continues to do the funding for you. And it’s not just a one-time thing like Kickstarter was. So I’m doing Patreon now and I honestly think, I honestly I’m in a place where I feel like I’ve put my eggs in publishers baskets, set many times, it doesn’t really pay off and I’m at a point where I want to try to monetize the audio rather than the print and sort of try to monetize it and sell the print stuff as a secondary fashion. But really try to interact with the audience through Patreon, let them subscribe and get the audio and interact with my stuff that way.
Debbi: Well I think that’s a perfect way of doing things and just brilliant. And so are all of your novels Jack Palms novels? Are they all part of the series?
Seth: Well no. So there’s three Jack Palms books, Jack Wakes Up, This Is Life and then well it’s funny because when I first podcasted them there were three Jack Palms books. And then when I got with the publisher, I took the second and third and combined them into one book just cuz it worked out better that way as a book. But in some ways as I was starting to podcast it almost felt more like these things were more like seasons and so you know they leave things open-ended. And there’s threads that go from season to season and it’s fun to write that way. So there’s Jack Wakes Up, This Is Life and then Young Junius, the one that’s about Cambridge. That one is kind of a prequel to Jack Wakes Up where it takes a secondary character and talks about him growing up in Cambridge in the late 80s. And I just have to say quickly, last weekend there was a reunion of these people who grew up in these project towers in Cambridge, and I say the mean streets of Cambridge and people laugh like it’s a joke like Cambridge is only Harvard. But there are mean streets in Cambridge and these people lived in them and grew up there and they had a reunion cookout last weekend and somehow at the cookout they started talking about my book. And so this week on social media I’ve been hearing from these people who are in Boston and Tampa who grew up in these towers and they’re like interested in my book, it’s kind of amazing. Anyway it’s really exciting to be out there on YouTube or something and now have these people who really knew this existence coming to me and saying hey you know I was this kid, I want to read your book. And so that you know the I guess the message of that is that when you’re writing a book that really means a lot to you, even if it’s not the book that you write that sells the most; it can have a lot of really cool rewards down the road. That’s also the only book of mine that’s been optioned for a movie but–
Debbi: Interesting, I was going to ask you about that because your approach to serializing your stories lends itself in a way to television. Have you ever pictured your work being put on TV and who would you want to play Jack or anyone of the characters?
Seth: Yeah we used to do—when I was doing the serialization we would have those conversations. I would talk about that with the listeners and we would say you know who would play this guy who would play that guy. And you know now it’s like so dated ten years later the people that we were talking about one of them was like one of the lead actors of a show called Prison Break then now nobody even remembers. Or back then it was like Jason Statham and now his career is way crappier, so it’s funny. But when Jack Wakes Up came out from Random House, there was a couple of people in LA who were connecting it with show runners and stuff like that and taking it around to HBO and some other places. And I was like, I just want to fly down and come to the HBO offices. I won’t say a word, I just want to sit in the meeting. And they were like, “No, no you can’t do that.”
Debbi: Oh, geez. You know, they always think that the writer is going to object or get in the way or something. Not at all!
Seth: I just want to sit at the fancy table, see what the HBO offices look like, and get a free Diet Coke.
Debbi: There you go.
Seth: I want a Diet Coke. That’s all I want out of this a Diet Coke with ice. But to get back to your question about the books, yeah there’s several Jack books and then I wrote a book called In Broad Daylight which features a female FBI agent. And she’s chasing a serial killer in Alaska. And that one was really fun and that one did pretty well sales-wise and I podcasted that for free. And then my most recent book that’s been published is called Everyone Pays and it features a woman who’s a San Francisco homicide detective and that one actually I didn’t podcast. And so the publishers produced a full audiobook of that and they have fancy actors and there’s a man and a woman who do the different chapter narrations and voices. So Everyone Pays and In Broad Daylight have female main characters and then a bunch of the other ones are Jack Palms or Junius Palms. And then there’s two books of short stories that are in the more literary vein. And the new project features Jack Palms again and it’s the best thing ever.
Debbi: Wow. Well, yeah, I’m going to say yeah tell us about your latest book, The Maltese Jordans.
Seth: The Maltese Jordans, yeah you can…Maltese Jordans– but these are Maltese Jordans.
Debbi: Oh, how cool. Look at that thing. They’re not jewel-encrusted but–
Seth: No, these are not official Maltese Jordans but these are the Michael Jordan sneakers. Now they remake these things and re-release them all the time. So if you want Michael Jordan sneakers from 1996 you can buy them in 2012, just remade and re-released. But the ones that came out in ’96, ‘97 I think are the best. And so the story is that Jordan did this game, had these Jordan 11 sneakers that were jewel-encrusted. Basically, I started writing this book after a trip to Hawaii and then this sneaker stuff started coming into it which has always kind of been my secret obsession that I don’t let out of the box. Because rational fiscally responsible people in my life say that I shouldn’t have more than three pairs of sneakers that I could wear at the given time. Can you imagine the fiscal responsibility of that? But now there’s a world of sneaker heads where like upwards of 60 pairs of sneakers is not abnormal.
Debbi: Talk to Seinfeld about that. I mean, isn’t he a sneaker freak?
Seth: Is he? I thought he only had like one or two pairs of giant white sneakers.
Debbi: Well, maybe that was it, cuz I know he had a thing about sneakers and they had to be white.
Seth: Yeah he might have but he’s not an official, like there are sneakerheads and there’s a sneakerhead world out there now but Seinfeld is not one of the people.
Debbi: Ah okay well he’s not into Jordans.
Seth: There’s a lot of sports figures and rappers who are giant sneaker heads and have vaults or sheds or guest houses full of sneakers. There’s this guy called the Mayor, I could go on for hours. Anyway, what happened was I started writing this book and the research, the writing brought me into a world of sneakers and then I just grew it and it really tapped into a giant passion that I have for the sneakers from Michael Jordan’s career and basketball from that era and storytelling. So I have a lot of passion for this project. The publisher that I was working with didn’t want it and so I’m doing it myself and putting it out on Patreon – my website as serialized audio. And I’m having a great time.
Debbi: That’s awesome.
Seth: And nowadays you can do like one podcast a month and people are okay with that. So I’m not driving myself totally insane but I think I want to try to get to like once every three weeks.
Debbi: Yeah, a reasonable schedule is always best.
Debbi: Sustainable, exactly. What crime authors have inspired you in your own writing?
Seth: Raymond Chandler is amazing Raymond Chandler is just incredible; like his sentences yeah his descriptions. I used to teach a class in San Francisco called detective fiction. And we would read Chandler and we would watch Double Indemnity and the dialogue in that movie that Chandler wrote. It’s amazing. Yeah, Chandler, guys like Elmore Leonard, Denis Johnson who some people don’t think of as a crime writer but whose work is amazing and who wrote a book called Nobody Move which is certainly in the crime vein. Richard Price is amazing. I love his stuff, Clockers, Lush Life, just incredible. Pretty much anyone who was a writer on The Wire, George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane is another Boston guy. Reed Farrell Coleman, yeah I mean now I know a lot of these guys and it’s like these are great guys. But in terms of the writers, Jim Thompson as well; yeah, amazing. And so you know I have these guys in the literary tradition who have inspired me like Denis Johnson or Junot Díaz or Raymond Carver.
Debbi: Oh, yes. Raymond Carver. I’ve read his short stories.
Seth: Yeah, Raymond Carver and Raymond Chandler are sort of my top tier, but then you know I love Richard Price’s long novels. And so, yeah, those guys.
Debbi: Absolutely, I’m right there with you. When you said Raymond Chandler it’s like, oh my God, you know, to me he’s just like God … love him, yes.
Seth: I don’t think his – I can’t work in the revision style that he did. Mark Coggins who’s another writer who I really admire and like his work. He went to the archive of where Chandler’s stuff is and wrote a piece on the web about Chandler’s revision process. Where basically Chandler would like write a draft and then underline the pieces that he liked the most and get rid of everything else and just rewrite it where he would only bring in those really great pieces. And this was a time of typewriters and stuff. So everything has changed and I can’t revise like he does and my writing is not as tight as he is. But you know guys like Frank Conroy and Chris Offutt and Jim McPherson or Marilynne Robinson as well; they taught me a lot when I was in graduate school about how to connect with the reader and create visual scenes and that’s kind that’s kind of my gospel, that’s my Bible.
Debbi: Yeah, I’m with you there. We’re kind of running out of time so is there anything else you would like to add before we conclude?
Seth: I would love to show a picture of The Maltese Jordan‘s cover that Jerry Scullion made but maybe we’ll have to wait for that on your website after. I don’t know how to share that on here.
Debbi: Okay in that case we can wait for it or you can send it to me and I can cut it in.
Seth: Yeah I’ll send it to you and you can cut it in. But yeah on Patreon is where I’m really doing a lot of exciting stuff right now. It’s a place where people can sort of choose what level of support they like. And at the $3.00 level they can get the regularly released audio stuff and that’s the new form of see realized audio fiction that I’m doing. And so all my books were free as audio for a very long time and now I’ve taken them all down. But I’m going to start re-releasing them through Patreon so that people can hear them and get them that way.
Debbi: Absolutely, that’s fantastic. That’s a great idea and it’s wonderful to talk to you. I mean not only is it wonderful to learn about your inspirations and your work, but just your ideas about marketing. So thank you very much for being here Seth. I really appreciate it and–
Seth: You’re welcome. Let’s – we have to do it again sometime.
Debbi: Yeah, amen to that. I’m with you there. We got to stay in touch. Anyway it’s been a pleasure talking to you, Seth, and I hope that you’ve enjoyed it out there as much as I have. And before I go I will simply remind you that the Crime Cafe boxed set and anthology are available for sale online at all online retailers. And with that, thank you very much for listening, and see you in two weeks.
And here’s Seth’s Patreon link … one more time! 🙂
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