From writing code to writing thrillers: a publishing journey

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John A. Daly’s third “Sean Coleman Thriller” book is a 2018 Colorado Book Awards finalist. Photo courtesy of johndalybooks.com

After dropping his kids off at school, John Daly likes to start on his writing early in the morning. With a diet cola—he is not a big coffee or tea drinker—and no music playing, he completely isolates himself in his office to get to work. His goal is to have complete focus with minimal distraction. In this morning ritual, he sees where his words will take him. He does this until he runs out of fuel and moves onto his “less creative” work. Daly describes himself as a “work-at-home dad” as he writes and works for his publishing company. After spending three to four hours working on his next novel, he moves onto marketing work for Boutique of Quality Books Publishing.

Daly has published three novels, all are a part of his thriller series called “The Sean Coleman Thrillers.” But, his life was headed in a direction quite different from this scene just 22 years ago.

In 1996, Daly graduated from the University of Northern Colorado with a business administration and computer information systems degree. He then worked as a software developer for a small company in Greeley for 16 years. Towards the end of his software development career, Daly dabbled in creative writing as a hobby. During the recession, the staff of 30 to 40 people was cut down to a meager few. Realizing it was the end of the line for his development work, Daly took a preemptive measure to save money: donating blood plasma for money. It was here where he was inspired to start working on his second novel, “Blood Trade,” which centers on a blood plasma bank.

The recession acted as a catalyst for his self-discovery and ignited his passion for writing.

“Once I started, it felt so natural that it was one of things where you think ‘I should’ve started this earlier in life,’” Daly said. “This was sort of a passion that I didn’t know I had, and I just kept going with it, and I’m still going with it.”

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His wife, who acted as a stay-at-home mom for six years during his software career, was able to return to her work in finance at HP, an information and technology company, a job she held prior to having kids. Daly took on the role as a stay-at-home dad for their daughter and son. Now that they are 12 and 14 years old respectively, he was able to take on remote work with his publishing company in marketing.

Daly said he was surprised by the number of Colorado authors who are in engineering and programing.

“You’re locked in all these absolutes, in mathematical equations and the debugging, and I think part of you kind of strives to try going in this other direction to nourish a different part of you,” Daly said. “There’s something to that. It’s funny, my college roommate was an English major, and now he does computer stuff. I started in computer stuff and I went into this. Neither one of us would have guessed that at the time.”

While Daly experienced drastic change in his life and career path, he says that his background has positively influenced his writing and profession as a published author.

“It wasn’t just a rebellion from that,” Daly said.

For Daly, his experience in programming facilitated an attention to detail in his writing.

“The technical aspects of my novels I always want to get right,” Daly said. “I don’t want to layout a scenario that isn’t credible or even probable. One example is there is some gun references–I don’t know anything about guns. So, I do a lot of research and I want to get the lingo right. Another part is dealing with law enforcement, I want to get stuff like the jurisdiction right. I don’t want someone who is part of a certain field to read this and think, ‘Well this guy doesn’t know what he is talking about, this would never happen.’ So that’s another part of the detail that I think comes from my coding is where I want to get this complete picture where I don’t insult certain readers. I want to make it more in touch with reality.”

Additionally, while publishing companies handle the distribution of the novels and determining what audiences would be most interested in a work, he said that for an author, “unless you’re hugely successful and you’ve been around a while,” the expectation for writers is to handle the bulk of the marketing for works. His background in HTML, a programming language typically used for web development, enhanced his marketing for his work with professional-looking websites. Daly used to offer his skills in building websites for other authors, but once the floodgates were open, he had to back off from the number of requests he received. He wanted to keep a larger focus on his writing rather than other work.

Daly’s next novel is going through the editing and publishing process right now and is projected to be released next fall.

BQB Publishing is a mid-size, independent company located in Virginia, with a rapidly-growing catalog. Terri Leidich founded the company as well as WriteLife, which is another publishing company that focuses on nonfiction titles. She also acts as the president and publisher of both companies. Leidich and BQB publishing look for stories that can impact an audience.

“Each novel and each series really stands on its own,” Leidich said. “Whether it be a thriller or a women’s contemporary, the reason we would accept it is because there is either something about the character or about the story that we feel will pull readers in and will leave them in some way changed or some way entertained. John’s books do both.”

When he first was interested in publishing his novel, Daly did not know what to do. He emailed his favorite author Tim Green, a former-NFL-star-turned-thriller-novelist, as a wild chance for help. Twenty minutes later, Green replied with advice.

According to Daly, Green warned against getting a literary agent, saying finding an agent is “as easy as it is to write the book.” Green suggested looking towards smaller publishing companies that do not require an agent and working from there.

Daly found BQB publishing afterwards, which got back to him with an offer after a few weeks. Daly said he was skeptical about why they had accepted his work so soon.

“When I heard back from them so quickly, with an offer at that point, it makes you really suspicious,” Daly said. “But no, they were legit. They had people working for them that worked for the big [publishers]. They’ve been a very fair company. But like I said, I work for them now, so I guess I am sort of biased in that respect. It’s honest people and they’ll tell you the truth. It’s been a really positive experience working with them.”

BQB publishing accepted his first novel, “From a Dead Sleep,” in 2013.

“His [Daly’s] character was not the normal suave, accomplished character that is often a protagonist in a mystery thrillers series,” Leidich said. “He is very bumbling, he is very human, he is likeable and unlikeable. He is such an underdog, that you really want him to win. Sean Coleman is a mess, an absolute mess, yet he comes out on the side of good in every one of the novels. That’s what drew me in because John’s character was different.”

The publishing process for Daly typically starts with a finished manuscript sent to BQB’s acquisitions manager. Daly says he does not get preferential treatment for having published with them before, making his works go through the same evaluation each time. But because he has been professionally published before, the vetting process is shorter. For published authors, this process takes three weeks.

Afterwards, he is given a contract that includes the list of issues with the text that need to be addressed in the intensive edition process, which lasts for six to eight weeks. The novel goes through two cycles of edits: the first round focuses on content editing and the second on grammar and style editing.

Daly says the benefit of working with a smaller company is that he is given a selection of three covers to pick from for his novel and if he does not like any, he can send them back to the drawing board with requests for specific details to be included.

The manuscript goes through a final proofreading through a third person, but Daly usually requests that his wife also takes another look at it. He said that the last time one of his novels had gone through this step, his wife was able to catch a mistake that the proofreader did not catch.

The publishing company then goes through a marketing analysis which determines what genres the novel would best fit, and what audiences would be most interested in the work. According to Leidich, BQB Publishing does not distribute the copies itself; rather, BQB hires another company to handle distribution. From there, the distributor establishes what areas the novel would sell best in for more active marketing.

“Distribution works just the same way as distribution works for the big guys,” Leidich said.

Then the book is published as an advanced reading copy which is given to review agencies. The New York Times is a big name for reviews, but Daly said that only recognizable authors get selected for reviewing. But, he was able to have the Denver Post review his work.

At this point, the idea is to get quotes, or blurbs, about the book for the back cover to further entice readers to pick up their novel. From the author’s side, Daly said, they are expected to get contacts of recognizable public figures to advocate for their novel if possible. He asks for honesty about his books, though, and insists that they are comfortable with giving out a blurb or a quote about his writing. Daly said he was able to get blurbs from former White House Secretary Dana Perino, reality TV host Terry Schappert and acclaimed journalist Bernard Goldberg.

Goldberg won 14 Emmy awards during career in broadcast journalism and is a New York Times bestseller for nonfiction. He runs his own conservative news site where he posts political columns. Goldberg and Daly came into contact after Daly posted many “well-written” and “thoughtful” comments on Goldberg’s opinion pieces and other works. Goldberg contacted him after reading through Daly’s comments and asked him to join his column.

“A writer has to be a good writer and a writer has to be a good thinker—a writer has to have a voice,” Goldberg said. “John has a voice. If there was no byline on top of a piece, you’d say ‘John Daly wrote this.’ He’s got style, he’s got a voice. He writes very clearly, and he acknowledges both sides.”

Goldberg gave Daly general praise for his writing, for use of promoting his work. The blurb he received read, “Some writers are thoughtful. Some have style. John Daly has both. When I read his work, it’s time well spent.”

Beyond reaching out to others for quotes about works, authors are further expected to get similar support on social media. Two to three months prior to the release date of a novel, press releases are sent out by publishers to bring further notice to the work. Distribution begins shortly after, as copies of novels are sent all over the country.

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