For the second year in a row, retired special agent (read “spy”) Andrew Ceroni has walked away with the Outskirts Press Best Book of the Year Award, this time for his non-stop action page-turner, MERIDIAN.
Andrew took a moment away from his book marketing efforts to talk with us:
What led you to write MERIDIAN?
I wrote MERIDIAN based on an espionage investigation for which I was the lead agent in Europe in the late 1970s. Since I was still in a Top Secret Codeword position, public release of the original manuscript required the approval of the U.S. Government. The investigation itself took over a year. During it, I was awestruck, taken back by the horribly tragic background of the spy himself, named ‘Laszlo’ in the novel. Everything about him in the novel was based on fact – the death of his parents in a train collision in France, his placement in an orphanage afterward when his grandmother became infirm, and the arrest and brutal beatings by U.S. military interrogators in a detention facility in the German Alps as well as the nightmares of demons that plagued his every waking and sleeping hours. I found his background to be nearly a novel in itself. My thinking was that if I ever wrote a book, Laszlo would have to be in it. He has since passed away, but I will always remember him. As for the Science Fiction aspect of the book, due to continuing sensitivity of the subject, I really can’t write much about that here… but I can tell you that from what I know, from what I have seen myself, that so much fiction it is not.
What was your writing process like? How long did it take?
I chipped away at the original MERIDIAN manuscript for nearly two years. I was reading very little fiction at the time and I didn’t know much about writing a novel-length story, so all of this this impeded my forward progress as well as the quality of the resulting product. Years later, a literary agent in New York City wrote me that he had read the book and was impressed by the story, but my writing, plot flow, pace, and chapter structure needed a lot of improvement. He gave me a page of things he would have liked to see changed in the story. It took me quite a while to get engaged in a total re-write and in fact, found it more difficult to write than a story from scratch. I added a new first chapter, structured the story from 20 chapters to 44, and still cut 15,000+ words from the manuscript. I cut anything that didn’t propel the plot forward while still attending to well defined character development. There is no question but that my experiences as a special agent focused in counterespionage and antiterrorism operations and my knowledge of tradecraft vis-à-vis double agent handling practices, foot and vehicular surveillance, rules of evidence, and psychological target personality assessments which lay bare vulnerabilities for exploitation, etc., played a significant role in my writing. I am very pleased with the resulting re-write in this novel as were EVVY reviewers and my readership. In stark contrast to the elongated process in MERIDIAN, I wrote SNOW MEN in ten weeks after returning from Alaska. I was on fire with the story and hammered away at it at night after long 10-hour days in my corporate office. For both books, I believed that the best fiction would be based on a foundation of recognizable reality – so much so that it becomes difficult for the reader to determine where reality departs and fiction begins. I think my writing process has now greatly matured. And, I have become a voracious reader of fiction. As Stephen King writes in his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, if you want to write, then you must also read, read a lot, and a great deal of your reading should be in the genre that you wish to write in.
Tell us about publishing with Outskirts Press.
The first publication of MERIDIAN was in the year 2000 and released by iUniverse. A disaster. A proliferation of errors – dropped words, dropped letters, and misspellings in transitioning my MS word .doc manuscript into their singular printer font. It gave me a jaundice view of independent publishing. Years later, having written SNOW MEN, I researched all of the top independent publishers and ultimately chose Outskirts Press. The result – Success… and, a deep breath of fresh air that followed! Specifically, the front cover graphics on both novels are stunning – hard not to stop and notice this book on a store’s bookshelf. Picking it up and turning the book over, one finds the back cover design extremely well done, enticing and professional. Then, leafing through the pages, one finds the interior formatting superb from chapter headings, font selection and graphic paragraph (scene transition) breaks. The publication of both MERIDIAN and SNOW MEN was superbly executed both in hard cover, paperback and e-book versions. I have been extremely pleased with the results and obviously, so have my readers. The consulting and production staffs at Outskirts Press represent the absolute best in the industry and I immensely enjoyed working with them every step of the way. Finally, after book production and release, the marketing options offered by Outskirts Press are manifold and top-notch, far more so than any other Indie publisher. I took advantage of many of them, PR Release, Amazon Kindle and Barnes&Noble NookBook bundles, book markers (which I littered bookstores, libraries and coffee shops with). And, all of this pleasurable experience has moved me to remain an Outskirts Press author. The proof is in the pudding – the results of the past two years have been awesome!
What marketing efforts did you make to earn over 80% of the votes for your book in the Best Book of the Year polls?
For MERIDIAN, this was a full court press from the opening of the gates! I am lucky to have large blocks of voter-advocates to energize which I did… thousands. I built a set of three .jpg graphics that were utilized as timed-released advertising. These graphics highlighting MERIDIAN for the Outskirts Press contest appeared on at least 7-8 Facebook sites. The same graphics were printed on 11”X14” paper posters and posted on employee bulletin boards where 700+ fellow employees would see them. I advertised with large blocks of voter-advocates to include my Poughkeepsie, New York high school and high school Re-Union friends; an extremely large group of U.S. Air Force Academy Alumni Association (AOG) friends and colleagues; Case Western University graduate school friends and professors; very large group of my Office of Special Investigations (OSI) special agent friends and fellow agents; present and past lots of work friends at HARRIS Corporation-SENSOR Program; CIPA friends and acquaintances; Military Writers Society acquaintances; Cold War Writers Society acquaintances; and my friends and extended family spread throughout Dutchess County and Long Island, New York; neighborhood friends, and finally, just groups of good acquaintances. I had previously utilized extensive advertising – large quarter page ads, in a magazine (Colorado Life Magazine) and three newspapers (Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and the Poughkeepsie Journal) and viewers of those ads who became subsequent readers may have also added opportunity votes. Thousands and thousands… I left no stone unturned in advertising the book and the contest.
You won the Best Book of the Year last year, as well, with Snow Men. Did you do anything different when marketing MERIDIAN?
I employed essentially the same advertising paradigm except for the timing. Last year, with Snow Men, it was more incremental, and in fact, I had a relatively slow start and was actually behind the voting for the other two authors, but ramped up significantly a day or two later. This year, for MERIDIAN, it was an organized blast from the get-go. As I mentioned above, a full court press from the opening of the gates! Potential voters were energized through varied advertising media and set to jump out from the opening of the contest.
What book are you writing currently? What’s it about?
My wife and I just returned from a week in Bar Harbor, Maine… 90% vacation and 10% research for the manuscript-in-progress. I needed to be there, experience layout of the town, the chilled waters of the ocean there, the shoreline, the forest and breathe the sea air. Without giving the farm away, I will say that the next story takes place north of Bar Harbor and Desert Island, off Route 1, the Intercoastal Highway, in the notional town I created of Tamarack Harbor. Dave McClure, the major character/protagonist in Snow Men, is there visiting his in-laws one last time before taking the CIA up on its offer to return to the intelligence business and covert operations. It’s what happens while he’s there. The story involves a Russian Spy working at a nearby nuclear submarine base and several horrid deaths of young boys perpetrated by a pedophile/serial murderer residing in the area. A female agent in the NCIS becomes involved in the story as well.
Sounds like you may have another award-winner on your hands. We can’t wait to read it! Thank you for chatting with us, Andy!