Thursday, May 16, 2013

Alan Jacobson - HBS Author's Spotlight

Today our blog puts the Spotlight on Author Alan Jacobson. He is the bestselling author of jaw-dropping thrillers.

Author Genre: Mystery & Thrillers

Website: Alan Jacobson
Author's Blog: Alan Jacobson
Blog: Alan Jacobson Newsletter
Twitter: @JacobsonAlan
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View Interview from August 2018

Author Description:
My literary career has been marked by a number of events, but none more significant than an accidental meeting nearly 20 years ago. While researching "False Accusations" at the Department of Justice's crime lab, I met FBI agent Mark Safarik, who was awaiting promotion to the FBI's Behavioral Analysis (profiling) Unit--the one popularized by TV's Criminal Minds. We hit it off, stayed in touch, and Agent Safarik invited me out to Quantico to tour the FBI Academy and profiling unit. Thus began my immersion in the world of serial killers, rapists, bombers and arsonists.

Seven years later, my education had reached critical mass: I'd made numerous trips to the Behavioral Analysis Unit, had countless hours of conversations with Agent Safarik and his partner, Agent Mary Ellen O'Toole; I'd edited four published FBI research papers on serial offenders and attended numerous FBI training courses; I'd shot submachine guns with the head firearms instructor at the Academy; and I'd parsed serial killer interviews with Agent Safarik. I felt that I owned the material well enough to use this knowledge and experience in writing my third novel, the first featuring FBI Profiler Karen Vail.

Vail had an explosive debut, bursting onto the scene in the national bestseller "The 7th Victim." Sporting a vibrant personality oozing sharp wit and sarcasm, Vail is a woman bucking the odds in a unit geared toward men, someone who always means well but, like you and me, makes mistakes. She has fears, loves, and vulnerabilities--and despite being very good at what she does--suffers perpetual unease about the decisions she makes. Because lives are on the line. Errors prove costly.

SPOTLIGHT Questions and Answers with the Author

First things first. Rumor has it that you have another book on the horizon called No Way Out in the fall. Can you tell us the timeline for its release and give us a little tease?

Your sources are correct. No Way Out, the fifth thriller in the FBI Profiler Karen Vail series, is due out on 9/17/13. I’m always looking for ways to challenge Vail—and myself—and No Way Out is no exception. I set it in England, which meant I had to go there and immerse myself in its culture. And make no mistake: while they speak English (albeit somewhat differently than we do in the US), their culture is quite different in many ways. I had to make sure I “got it right.” No Way Out was tremendously fun to write, and I can’t wait to get it into the hands of my readers.

As to a little tease—Vail is sent to England to help Scotland Yard with a bombing in a posh area of London. The reason for the attack? The discovery of a 440-year-old manuscript that contains evidence with significant implications not only for British society, but for much of the world, as well. But Vail’s dogged pursuit of the truth leads her across the path of a fugitive who’s escaped law enforcement for decades, and pretty soon she finds herself on the wrong end of the law. It’s a very exciting story.

Do you do book signings, interviews, speaking and personal appearances? If so, when and where is the next place where your readers can see you? Where can they keep up with your personal contacts online?

When Borders went out of business and Barnes & Noble cut a majority of its community relations managers, the value of spending ten thousand dollars (or more) on a book tour diminished substantially. My publisher felt it makes more sense for me to focus on contact with my fans in other venues, such as appearances at conferences and on social media.

The next conference I’ll be attending is Thrillerfest in New York City in July. It’s always a terrific time, for fans and authors alike. I will be appearing on panels, signing books, and milling about, chatting with fans and colleagues. There’s a chance I’ll be at Bouchercon in October and Men of Mystery in November.

You have great covers. They carry a theme. How does your book cover creation process work? Do you hand over the basic theme or do you have more of a hands-on approach? Do you get your readers involved in its development?

For my first two books with Simon & Schuster, I was presented with three to five concepts and was given the opportunity to comment on them. They definitely took my feedback into consideration (the initial concept for False Accusations was actually my idea), but the bottom line is that they worked within the parameters of the imagery their designer had created. If the marketing department felt strongly about something, they had the overriding decision.

For the next three covers, two of the three designs that my publisher’s artist created were quite striking (The 7th Victim and Velocity), so my input was less important. The Crush hardcover was a beautiful graphic, but it did not fit a thriller. The Crush paperback cover was redesigned based on the specifications of a large vendor and we ended up with an awesome cover for…a gothic romance. I asked for changes to give it a thriller flavor, to fit the story, but other than a couple of tweaks, they left it intact. When Crush was reissued a few months ago, the cover was redesigned based on my concept, and the designer did a terrific job.

For the three most recent covers (Inmate 1577, Hard Target, No Way Out), I’ve had a lot more creative control over, and instead of using “stock images” as is common practice in just about all professional covers, photos that I had taken while doing my research were incorporated into the graphics. Inmate 1577 utilized several pictures that I’d shot on Alcatraz; likewise, Hard Target used photos I’d shot in Washington, DC. (I’m a hobbyist photographer, so they were quality, high resolution images.)

For No Way Out, I told the designer what my vision was—FBI Profiler Karen Vail and her colleague running into a tunnel, with the British and American flags conforming to the walls of the tunnel. She produced three stunning covers. My publisher ran a contest on my Facebook fan page ( for my readers to vote on the cover that they liked best. I don’t know if that’s ever been done before, but it was a very fun promotion, and I believe my fans enjoyed choosing the cover.

Have you created a book trailer for any of your books to promote them online?

We’ve got three terrific trailers: (See trailers in Book List below.) I flew down to Los Angeles to film the one for The 7th Victim (the first book in the FBI Profiler Karen Vail series); it was created by the producers for the TV show “Friends,” and they did a fabulous job. My publisher hired them again for the Crush trailer, which we shot on location in the Napa Valley at some of the places featured in the novel. We filmed for almost eight hours to make a two minute trailer! (But, hey, I was in gorgeous wine country, who could complain?) The Inmate 1577 trailer took a different approach and again used actual photos and video shot on Alcatraz, including a sound effect recorded in the cell house (which was also used by George Lucas in the Star Wars films). These trailers can be watched here: http:/ /

I see you’re a member of the Mystery Writers of America. What other kinds of writer support groups do you belong too? Do they help with the writing, marketing and the publishing process?

Other than MWA, the Authors Guild is an important one because they look after the interests of writers when it comes to legislation, contract inequities, retailer abuses, copyright issues, eBook pricing, and so on. They’re also a good resource for writers who have questions about their contracts, problems with their agent, etc. I’ve been a member for about twenty years.

I'm also a longtime member of the International Thriller Writers, which does a terrific job of bringing marketing ideas to its members and connecting authors and their fans.

Has the advent of ebooks changed anything in your writing, your marketing and the relationship with your readers and fans?

Overall, the rise of eBooks has not changed me as a writer. However, it certainly has changed the way marketing is approached and how I relate to my readers. Back in 1997, I was one of the first authors to publish his email address on the flap of the book. My wife thought I was nuts—who’s going to email an author? Well, I received a lot of messages from readers all over the world. That’s changed over the years with the rise of Facebook, Twitter—and the eBook revolution. Now I probably get more Facebook posts than emails. It’s easier for me to take a pulse on what my readers liked best about my novels and what they want to see more of in future books.

What has been your experience in giving your books away free? Have you been involved in any other type of giveaways and how did that work out? What was your main goal in doing this? Did you run into any obstacles?

We tried a free giveaway back in ’09, so we were one of the early “adopters.” My publisher gave The 7th Victim away for free for a month. A hundred thousand copies were downloaded in that time. Interestingly, after it went off promotion, it sold another 50,000 copies. They did the same free promo a month or so later with Crush with a nearly identical result. I gained a number of readers who had never read one of my novels before—which is exactly what you want, because they became longtime readers and they went back and read all my prior novels. However, in the interim four-plus years, free promotions became so commonplace that they don’t seem to have the same impact anymore.

There are also risks to free giveaways. There’s a school of thought that giving something away for nothing makes it seem like the product is worth nothing. This is not a book or publishing industry concept; it’s been around as long as I’ve been in business—28 years. Even if you only pay a dollar or two for something, it has value.

Alternatively, a targeted promotion—like a rotating roster of free “Friday” giveaways—is a smarter way for readers to discover new authors they might not have otherwise tried.

How do you manage your plots, characters and timelines to keep your stories going? Do you use any software to keep track of your books?

I don’t use special software. Many years ago, I looked at a couple of programs designed to help you organize and plot the novel but I found that it hindered my creative process by making it mechanical. I also found that I didn’t need it. Just give me Microsoft Word and I’ve got everything I need. The plots and the characters come organically from the story I want to tell. I outline my novel first, before I start writing anything—because I have to know how it’s going to end. Otherwise, I won’t know where I’m going and I’ll never get there; at least, I won’t get there in a satisfying way.

Several years ago Michael Connelly gave me a valuable piece of advice. When I asked him about writing a series character (because I’d only written standalones to that point), he said that I shouldn’t worry too much about looking beyond the novel I was writing; write the best book I could and put everything into it. Worry about the next book and the one after that when I sit down to outline it. That’s largely what I do. An exception is when an idea comes to me for a future novel. This happens often—I’ll write the idea down, and if it’s feasible, I’ll build something into the current novel that will be picked up later in the subsequent book. But it’s not something I search out. If it comes to me, I go with it.

Over the years, I’ve kept notes on timelines that list milestones and other events for some of my main characters. With eight novels now, those tend to come in handy!

You have a great blog. You do a great job keeping readers informed, marketing your books and providing useful information to other writers like the Writer’s Toolkit. What is your primary goal? And where in the world do you find the time to create great novels, take care of the social media and maintain your blog?

The Writer’s Toolkit came about because I was getting a lot of emails repeating the same questions. I was also getting so much of the “How do I…get an agent, how do I copyright my books, how do I deal with contracts,” etc. that it was cutting into my writing time. I realized the best thing to do was to post all this information on my website and have it serve as a resource for aspiring writers.

As to where I find the time to do all the stuff I do, I work insane hours. I don’t recommend it, honestly. It’s a challenge because it’s a tough existence. Some things inevitably get put off because writing a terrific novel is my overriding focus.

But—here’s one reason why I spend the time I do on each novel: I have always done my own research (rather than hiring someone to do it) because a lot of what I learn comes from the personal relationships I develop. In the case of Crush, for example, while touring a Napa winery behind the scenes with its CEO, he made an offhanded remark about some largely unknown industry practice. I said, “Wait a minute—what did you just say?” The answer to that question led me to rework my story outline and it morphed into two novels—Crush and Velocity. I never would’ve thought to write a book with those twists because the underlying concept that got “my thriller brain” going was derived from something very few people knew about.

That’s the kind of thing I search out when I start my research. It takes me an extra four to six months (or in the case of my work with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis “profiling” Unit, an additional seven years)—but I believe it’s worth it because the reader gets something fresh and different.

I noticed that some of your books have been influenced my outside contacts. Can you tell new authors what to look for in seeking out these valuable people?

Talk to people and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes people who do the stuff you want to write about enjoy talking about what they do. Explain what you’re looking for and have a conversation with them. Sometimes they’ll say no. Move on to someone else.

It gets more difficult if you’re trying to get information on the FBI, CIA, DEA, etc. Calling the agency will get you a public affairs contact. That will yield some useful information, which may be all you need. But for the things I’ve written about, I needed a much, much deeper immersion. I spent several years working with two profilers at The FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit before I could write The 7th Victim. That access, which has now spanned nearly 20 years, is invaluable (and unprecedented). When I worked with the DEA, I had to get clearance from a Congressional subcommittee. I also had to get clearance from the US Navy and US Coast Guard before they’d work with me. Some of it is having the creds (track record) to warrant their time—and some of it is just plain luck.

Alan, what is the best way to contact you?

You can contact Alan by going to his website,, and clicking “Connect with Alan.” There you’ll also have the ability to read his blog, join his Facebook and Twitter accounts, and sign up for his newsletter. If you sign up for his newsletter, you’ll receive a 22 page personal safety booklet that he coauthored with FBI Profiler Mark Safarik.

Author's Book List
Crush - Karen Vail Novel #2
Fresh off the most challenging case of her career, The 7th Victim heroine and renowned FBI profiler Karen Vail returns in an explosive thriller set against the backdrop of California’s wine country.

Hoping to find solace from the demons that haunt her, Vail makes her first trip to the Napa Valley. But shortly after arriving, a victim is found in the deepest reaches of the exclusive wine cave, the work of an extraordinary unpredictable serial killer. From the outset, Vail is frustrated by her inability to profile the offender-until she realizes why: the Behavioral Analysis Unit has not previously encountered a killer like him.

As Vail and the task force work around the clock to identify and locate him, they’re caught in a web of knotted with secretive organizations, a decades-long feud between prominent wine families, and widespread corruption that leads Vail to wonder whom, if anyone, she can trust. Meanwhile, as the victim count rises, Vail can’t shake the gnawing sense that something isn’t right.

With the killer’s actions threatening the Napa Valley’s multi-billion dollar industry, the stakes have never been greater, and the race to find the killer never more urgent. And through it all, a surprise lurks… one that Karen Vail never sees coming.

Meticulously researched during years of work wit the FBI profiling unit and extensive interviews with wine industry professionals, bestselling author Alan Jacobson delivers a high velocity thriller featuring the kind of edge-of-your-seat ending that inspired Nelson DeMille to call him “a hell of a writer.”

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Hard Target
An enigmatic covert operative. A skilled FBI agent with a dark past. And a terror plot unlike any in history... An explosion pulverizes the president-elect's helicopter on Election Night. It soon becomes clear that the group behind the assassination possesses far greater reach than anything the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force has yet encountered—and a plot so deeply interwoven in the country’s fabric that it threatens to upend America's political system. But as Department of Defense covert operative Hector DeSantos and FBI Agent Aaron “Uzi” Uziel sort out who is behind the bombings, Uzi’s personal demons not only jeopardize the investigation but may sit at the heart of a tangle of lies that threaten to trigger an international terrorist attack. Hailed by political thriller master Vince Flynn as “a smart, complex novel that explodes from the page,” and by Lee Child as “a great thriller” that’s “fast, hard, and intelligent,” Hard Target is a ticking time bomb that keeps you clinging to the edge of your seat...and turning the pages. Note: Hard Target also features Jacobson's famed FBI Profiler, Karen Vail, in a key role affecting national security.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - iTunes
Inmate 1577 - Karen Vail Novel #4
When an elderly woman is found raped and murdered, famed FBI Profiler Karen Vail heads west to team up with Inspector Lance Burden and Detective Roxxann Dixon. As they follow the killer’s trail in and around San Francisco, the offender leaves behind clues that ultimately lead them to the most unlikely of places, a mysterious island ripped from city lore whose long-buried, decades-old secrets hold the key to their case: Alcatraz. The Rock. It’s a case that has more twists and turns than the famed Lombard Street. The legendary Clive Cussler calls Inmate 1577 “a powerful thriller, brilliantly conceived and written.” Inmate 1577 is already a national bestseller--with some readers calling it one of the best novels they have read in years. "A mystery masterpiece...this one will be tough to top." —New York Journal of Books "Jacobson's latest Vail novel continues his streak of terrific mind-bending thrillers. The story line seems straightforward at first, but when the twists come, even the most hard-core thriller fans will not figure everything out. Jacobson should be mandatory reading for the James Patterson crowd; this is an essential addition to any fiction collection." —Library Journal "Jacobson manages to tantalize…and pull off a stunning surprise ending."

—Publishers Weekly "More than mere entertainment…INMATE 1577 is a first-rate page-turner [and] a wonderful addition to the series that will satisfy loyal readers and provide those new to these thrillers with an excellent place to climb aboard." —Book Reporter

Book Trailer: Inmate 1577

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
False Accusations
“One of the brightest stars in the publishing industry.” –CNN

False Accusations is a twisting psychological thriller, a tale of deadly revenge where the assurance of "innocent until proven guilty" is not what it seems.

Dr. Phillip Madison has everything: wealth, power, and an impeccable reputation. But in the pre-dawn hours of a quiet California suburb, the revered orthopedic surgeon is charged with double homicide—a cold blooded hit-and-run that has left an innocent young couple dead. Blood evidence has brought the police to his door. An eyewitness has placed him at the crime scene...and Madison has no alibi. With his family torn apart, his career forever damaged, no way to prove his innocence and facing life in prison, Madison hires an investigator to find the person who has engineered the case against him.

As his privileged world is brought crashing down by a psychotic seductress, as family and friends abandon him, Madison's only hope for vindication rests in revealing a truth at the heart of a lie. It's a disclosure that could cost him more than he ever imagined.

False Accusations is a psychological thriller that instantly became a National Bestseller and launched Alan Jacobson’s career, a novel that spurred CNN to call him, “One of the brightest stars in the publishing industry.”

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - iTunes
The Hunted
“Jacobson keeps readers guessing right up until the last page, so trying to put this book down is like trying not to eat the last chocolate chip cookie: most of us will just give in.” –Booklist

How well do you really know the person you love? How far would you go to find out? If there was one person in the world Dr. Lauren Chambers was sure she could rely on, it was her beloved husband, Michael. Recovering from an agoraphobic depression and prone to episodes of blinding anxiety, Lauren is a gifted psychologist for whom her husband's love and support mean everything. So when Michael suddenly and mysteriously vanishes, Lauren once again finds herself balancing on a knife's edge, haunted more than ever by an all-too-familiar paranoia.

Is there more to it than paranoia, though? Private investigator Nick Bradley believes so. As the pair takes off on a cross-country journey in search of answers -- a search that yields a series of unsettling truths about the husband Lauren believed she knew so well -- bestselling author Alan Jacobson sets into motion a page-turning tale of concealed identities, an assassin's vendetta, and murderous revenge. Once again proving his mastery of the shocking twist and the ingenious turn, Jacobson leads readers on an exhilarating road thriller built for hairpin turns and unexpected detours as Lauren heads for a face-off with the most dangerous secret of all: the truth.

From Alan Jacobson, "one of the brightest stars of the publishing world" (CNN), comes a chilling follow-up to his breakthrough bestseller False Accusations: a high-velocity thriller of deadly revenge and psychological mayhem.

Lightly edited and newly updated, The Hunted introduces a number of characters that figure prominently in Alan Jacobson’s later novels, including Department of Defense covert operative Hector DeSantos and FBI Director Douglas Knox, along with others who will be returning in future Alan Jacobson novels.

The Hunted is not just a thrilling read, but it’s an adventure that lays a solid foundation for many characters and stories slated to come in the Alan Jacobson universe.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - iTunes
Velocity - Karen Vail Novel #3
Renowned FBI profiler Karen Vail returns in Velocity, national bestselling author Alan Jacobson’s most explosive thriller to date. Detective Robby Hernandez, Vail’s boyfriend, has vanished into the dense air of a Napa Valley evening. There are no clues to his whereabouts, other than blood stain and tenuous connections to a vicious serial killer operating it the wine country.

As the task force struggles with Robby’s disappearance, the killer challenges Vail by boldly leaving his high profile victims in public places. Is this offender somehow responsible for Robby’s disappearance? Evidence suggests that he is-but just when Vail and the task force begin to make progress, the FBI orders Vail to return to Quantico to handle a case of vital importance.

Back in Washington, Vail engages convert government operative Hector DeSantos to determine what happened to Robby. It’s a move that backfires when DeSantos’s confidential informants lead them into unforeseen dangers, forcing Vail to face off against powerful foes unlike any she’s ever encountered, threatening her life, her career…all that she holds dear. In a frantic race against time that takes them from the monuments of Washington D.C. to the wealthy beach enclaves of San Diego and the bright excesses of Las Vegas, shocking truths emerge-truths that will forever change Karen Vail.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
The 7th Victim - Karen Vail Series
The Dead Eyes Killer lurks in the backyard of the famed FBI Profiling Unit. His brutal murders, unlike any others previously seen, confound the local task force, despite the gifted profiling skills of Special Agent Karen Vail. But along with Vail‘s insight and expertise comes considerable personal and professional baggage.

On leave pending a review of her assault on her abusive ex-husband, Vail must battle forces determined to bring her down, as she fights to find Dead Eyes before he murders more young women. But the seventh victim is the key to all that stirs this killer...the key that will unlock secrets perhaps too painful for Vail to bear. These are secrets that threaten to destroy her, secrets that will bring down her storied and promising career. For Karen Vail, the truth rests at the heart of a lie. And uncovering it could get her killed...

With material meticulously researched during seven years of study with the Bureau’s vaunted profiling unit, Alan Jacobson brings refreshing realism and unprecedented accuracy to his pages, as he takes readers behind the scenes of the FBI Academy, where he worked with the actual profilers who have studied and interviewed twenty years’ worth of serial killers.

Book Trailer: The 7th Victim

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Smashwords
Author Recommended by: HBSystems Publications
Publisher of ebooks, writing industry blogger and the sponsor of the following blogs:
eBook Author’s Corner and
HBS Mystery Reader’s Circle

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