I’ve been reading Grant Jerkins for years, as evidenced in my interview piece “Grant Jerkins Is Poised for Bestsellerdom.” That article follows his publishing travails through his first three novels, A Very Simple Crime, At the End of the Road, and The Ninth Step—excellent novels, every last one. After two years of silence on the publishing front, it’s exciting to see Jerkins back on the scene, this time with a handsome hardcover called Done in One, from Thomas Dunne Books.
The book, co-authored by first-timer Jan Thomas, garnered a starred review from Publishers Weekly:
Jerkins (The Ninth Step) and debut author Thomas, the wife of a retired police sniper, deliver a high-powered bone-rattler of a novel. As a sniper on the Cameron County, Calif., Sheriff’s Department SWAT team, Jacob Denton stands as an anonymous “man apart,” even in this “brotherhood of the elite few.” After his 17th sanctioned kill, he can no longer ignore the high mental and emotional toll of his job. His wife, Jill, a writing teacher sidelined from her firefighting and EMT work by injury, tries to provide solace. When a shooter starts picking off cops, the strain on Denton increases. The chief suspect is Denton’s mentor and friend, Lee Staley, a sniper who retired after he botched his last job and now lives in derelict Hangtown. Even a contrived plot twist can’t dampen this adrenaline-fueled thriller, which casts Denton and his kind as heroes who still believe the American dream is worth protecting.
I wanted to follow up my earlier conversation with a new one focusing on both authors, and what they individually brought to the project. So, without further preamble, here is my interview with Grant Jerkins and Jan Thomas.
Jason Bovberg: Grant, you’ve published three novels in trade paperback format. This is your first hardcover. (Congrats!) Can you talk about the publication process, how you connected with Thomas Dunne, and how you “graduated” to hardcover—along with what that means to you?
Grant Jerkins: I feel like “graduating to hardcover” is a bit of a misnomer. The decision whether to issue a book as a mass market paperback, trade paperback, hardcover, or ebook (or simultaneous variations) is a publisher-centric marketing choice. In other words, the publisher asks, “In what format will we net the most sales? How can we make the most money off this book?” More and more (and particularly for first novels), the answer to that question is to issue the book as a trade paperback original. Now, I used to feel that paperbacks were somehow less-than, that they bespoke a lower quality, but I vividly remember a local bookseller telling me how lucky I was that my first books came out as trade paperback originals, because it was so much harder for her to handsell an expensive hardcover, but readers were often willing to try a new author at the lower price point.
Penguin/Berkley understood this and tended to build their writers in paperback and then publish them in hardcover once they felt the market could handle it. I think St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne simply follows a different (again, publisher-centric) marketing strategy and issues pretty much every title in hardcover and then follows it up later with a paperback re-issue.
Jason Bovberg: Jan, you’ve talked about your experience with the screenwriting biz, so can you talk about your initial impressions of the book business? How have the publication and marketing phases been for you? Are you enjoying the buzz?
Jan Thomas: Are you hearing buzz? If so, turn that volume up! I have very much enjoyed my foray into novel writing. It’s very different from screenwriting, so I enjoyed the ability to expound on a thought or feeling. Or to even include thoughts or feelings, for that matter. In screenwriting, these are usually things left to the actor to convey and/or the director to set the mood and main point of view. It was great fun to breathe life into these characters and put some flesh on their bones. Even if it was very personal flesh.
When Grant and I finally finished Done in One together, any surprises were delightful, spectacular ones. I never dreamed the publisher would ask for our thoughts on cover art, let alone match our suggestions nearly perfectly. Nor did I think they’d care what we thought of the page layouts, chapter headings and fonts. But they did. And then there was the biggest surprise of all: the editing process. I’d heard stories of seemingly endless drafts stretching to the horizon. I steeled myself for a lengthy rewrite process that never really came.
Grant and I were blessed to get an editor who seemed to completely “get” the material in the same way Grant “got it” when it was still a screenplay. Peter Joseph at St. Martin’s Press sent us a draft with inspiring, detailed notes attached. We integrated his notes into the manuscript and when it was done, we sent back a better book. Peter literally got our rewrite on a Monday and by that Thursday afternoon, he sent us the “second draft,” which consisted of a few tiny things. So tiny, in fact, that we were done in a few hours. Then, WE WERE DONE. Four and a half days. I was not expecting that.
Sure, initially, Peter had tons of notes in that first interaction, which took us months to address and perfect, but they were right for the story. We were all on the same page with the material, and that only made things better for all of us. There has been so much peculiar activity associated with this story, starting with how Grant and I both separately pulled the plug on the same film director without knowing we had both been involved 15 years ago. We never lost track of one another, collaborated successfully, and then we drew an editor who gelled with us immediately. In so many ways, it felt like it was destined to happen the way it did, when it did. When the stars finally aligned and all of the right pieces finally fell into place.
As far as marketing and whatnot, I’ve had those incredible moments I’m sure all writers have gone through. The first time I saw my name and the book on sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Then, being completely humbled by the number of libraries around the country carrying a copy of the book. This is a story I’ve been trying to tell for 20 years. One I simply could never have told without Grant. Peter and the great folks at St. Martin’s were just the icing on the cake. I did have trouble believing it was really happening. Hollywood is so very unpredictable, so I kept waiting for the “Publication Rug” to be pulled out from under my feet. Luckily, Grant kept assuring me everything was “real,” and that pull never came.
Jason Bovberg: Grant, how has the post-publication phase been for you, especially compared with past experiences with other publishers?
Grant Jerkins: So far, it’s been pretty low-key. Readers and reviewers seem to like the book, but I’ve yet to match the buzz of my first book, A Very Simple Crime. In fact, when Thomas Dunne originally purchased Done in One, there was some discussion of publishing it under a pseudonym. Because first novels garner more attention and can often be sold for more money. It’s a weird business. More and more, there’s just not a place for the mid-list author. New York has morphed to the Hollywood blockbuster mentality.
Beyond that, readers have been enthusiastic. I think Done in One is still finding its audience. It’s truly a unique book. Perhaps not what my typical reader expects from me. In fact, one of my buddies (author Peter Farris) read the manuscript and told me it was really weird to be reading gun porn and see my name at the top of the page. Which I thought was funny. Peter’s a big Stephen Hunter fan.
Jason Bovberg: And now a question for both of you. Do you feel as if the recent American Sniper buzz/controversy perfectly aligned with your book release? Has it helped with marketing/sales? Or is a S.W.A.T. sniper sufficiently different from a military sniper that they’re not in the same conversation?
Grant Jerkins: Jan will be able to give a much more informed answer, but I will say that she and I started our journey on this book over 15 years ago. And Jan had begun trying to tell this story well before that. Probably before Chris Kyle had even joined the Marines. The fact that this novel was published simultaneously with the film version of Kyle’s book is just incredible. We couldn’t have planned it. But so far, I don’t sense any synergy, any cross-over. But that’s okay, because from day one, one of the main reasons Jan wanted to get this story told was because military snipers have monopolized American culture’s awareness of this peculiar specialty. And she wanted to change that.
Jan Thomas: In the long run, I think American Sniper helps us. They are all snipers, but these are two very distinctly different jobs. They have different killing fields, different hunting grounds, and different targets. I’m encouraged by the interest the movie has created, and yet people seem slow to see the connection. Perhaps it’s just the public’s failure to even notice the law enforcement sniper at all. As Grant said, S.W.A.T. snipers have been serving in silence for decades right under everyone’s noses. It’s time these warriors got their due. The law enforcement sniper doesn’t have the advantage of “Okay, everyone on that side is the enemy.”
I see that American Sniper portrayed situations with innocent bystanders in play and very adeptly focused on the internal struggle within every sniper. But is a military sniper on a 30-month deployment in a target-rich environment better than a S.W.A.T. sniper who has done the job for 30 years? I hope people will be intrigued enough to seek the answer themselves.
I think Done in One has begun to find its audience and hopefully guest spots like this will compel people to want to learn more about both jobs. Let them see the similarities and differences, and then decide for themselves. In a sense, I feel like we’ve “outed” all of them without “outing” a single one of them. We’re letting people know that they are here. Have been here. Your neighbor might be one. And it’s up to each individual sniper to either claim his title or not. And should you ask your neighbor, who you just remembered is on the local department’s S.W.A.T. team, “Hey, are you one of those guys?”, he’ll most likely just shrug and leave it up to you to figure out. It’s what they do best, living their anonymous, “normal” lives.
Just before finishing this interview, I asked my resident expert this very question and he said, “If anyone is excited by American Sniper the movie and/or is buying the book about Chris Kyle’s life, they’ll probably want to learn all they can about all of us.” So there you have it. Straight from the sniper’s mouth.
Jason Bovberg: Thanks very much for your time! Best of luck to both of you with Done in One!
I highly recommend Done in One, which is one bookshelves now!