Chapter 16: From pixels to print

Sunday, December 11, 2011 at 9:42pm
By Lyda Phillips Chapter16.org
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D.B. Henson (Courtesy Chapter 16)

D.B. Henson spent 10 years selling houses and another seven working for a company that builds them, but her secret dream had always been to write a novel. When an on-the-job experience inspired her to write Deed to Death, she considered her options: take the traditional route — with the inevitable months of waiting and rejection — or go directly to consumers by self-publishing. The answer seemed obvious. She went direct.

Published as an Amazon e-book in April 2010, Deed to Death proved phenomenally successful. By word of tweet, Facebook, blog, and online review, the debut mystery, starring a tenacious Nashville real estate agent whose architect fiancé apparently commits suicide two days before their wedding, sold 100,000 copies and made the Best of 2010 Kindle Customer Favorites list, which includes the likes of Stieg Larsson and Laura Lippman. Henson’s success got the attention of uber-agent Noah Lukeman, who offered to represent her. He sold Deed to Death to Simon & Schuster’s Touchstone Books, and the rest is … well, you know the rest.

How did you come to write Deed to Death? What made you take your experience in the construction industry and turn it into fiction?

I’ve been writing for my own entertainment since I was a child and had always wanted to write a novel. One day I was touring a high-rise building under construction, and as I stood on the top-floor balcony, I thought about how terrifying it would be to fall. It was late in the day, and all the workmen had gone home. With the site deserted, my imagination began to run wild. I realized how easy it would be for someone to push me over the edge and make it look like an accident. I knew I had found a great place to stage a fictional murder.

How did you decide to publish the book yourself? Did you first try a traditional publishing route?

When I was writing Deed to Death, I made a list of agents and planned to send out query letters. Just as I was finishing the book, I came across a blog by another author detailing his success on Amazon. I knew that querying agents would take months, and I might only end up with a pile of rejection letters. Since it was my first novel, and I didn’t even know for sure whether it was salable, I decided to take a chance and publish it on Kindle.

Any theories about why Deed to Death took off on Amazon? What kind of promotion did you do to drive sales?

I didn’t do any promotion. I believe word of mouth is what drove sales. I was fortunate that several people who are active on the Amazon forums read the book and posted recommendations. I was shocked when Deed to Death landed on the bestsellers list.

Your heroine goes through many twists and twirls of action and betrayal. Did you determine from the beginning to pull all her props out from under her, or did you find the plot taking turns you didn’t anticipate?

I had the major twists planned before writing the book. However, there were quite a few times when my characters completely surprised me. For instance, I had no idea Toni would sneak into Brian’s hotel room until the scene came alive on the page.

I enjoyed some of your bit players, like the sales lady in the wig shop and Gloria’s next-door neighbor. How did you develop that dialogue?

To be honest, both of those characters were inspired by people who I’ve never actually met but overheard having conversations. The clerk in the wig shop was inspired by a waitress at a table next to mine, and the neighbor was inspired by someone I overheard while waiting in line at the post office. I’m always observing the mannerisms and speech of the people around me.

Which of the other characters was the most fun to create?

I think Mark was the most fun to create. Without giving away any spoilers, I’ll just say he’s a very complex character who sees himself differently than others see him.

Any hint about where Toni goes from here?

I can’t tell you exactly what’s next for Toni, but I can promise you she’ll have an exciting life, full of twists and turns.

Are you writing full time now, or are you holding onto your day job for additional inspiration?

I’m writing full time and don’t plan to return to the construction industry.

Who are the writers who led you to mystery writing?

When I was a child, I fell in love with the Trixie Belden mysteries. Now my favorite writers are Harlan Coben, Tess Gerritsen and Greg Iles.

What was the first call from your agent, Noah Lukeman, like? Did you faint? Why do you think he plucked you out of the sea of self-published novelists?

The month before Noah contacted me, I wrote a blog post recommending his book The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile. So when I received his email through the form on my website, I thought it was one of my friends playing a prank. I wasn’t completely convinced it was Noah until he phoned, and his number appeared on Caller ID. I don’t know why he chose my book, but I’m so thankful that he did. I could never ask for a better agent.

How is working with Simon & Schuster different from self-publishing? Is there anything about having self-published that you are sorry to give up?

Working with my editor, Lauren Spiegel, has been a joy. Everyone at Simon & Schuster has been wonderful to me. I’m happy to have someone else handle the editing, cover design, and promotion so that I can concentrate on writing. I’m also happy to be able to reach the readers who have not yet transitioned from paper books to digital.

For more local book coverage, please visit Chapter16.org, an online publication of Humanities Tennessee.

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