28 October 2009

Welcome to Hank Phillippi Ryan!

Award-winning investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan is currently on the air at Boston's NBC affiliate, where she's broken big stories for the past 24 years. Her stories have resulted in new laws, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in refunds and restitution for consumers.
From Blogger Pictures
Along with her 26 EMMYs, Hank’s won also won dozens of other journalism honors.

Her first mysteries, PRIME TIME (which won the prestigious Agatha Award for Best First Novel, was a double RITA nominee for Best First Book and Best Romantic Suspense Novel, and a Reviewers' Choice Award Winner) and FACE TIME ( a Book Sense Notable Book), were best sellers. They were both re-issued this summer from MIRA Books. Her newest book is AIR TIME (MIRA Sept. 2009) which is already an IMBA bestseller.Drive Time will be published in February 2010. Her website is http://www.hankphillippiryan.com

And now, here's HANK:

Why is there never hidden camera when you need one? Oh sure, I use one at my day job all the time. As an investigative reporter for a Boston televison staion, going undercover and wiring myself with a hidden camera is standard orating procedure. Do it all the time.

(And in my newest book, AIR TIME, my reporter alter-ego Charlotte McNally goes in disguise and carrying a hidden camera into the closed to the public parts of the Boston and Hartford airports--—and deep into the not-so-pretty world of counterfeit fashion and knock-off purses. And when you read it—feel free to imagine me doing the same thing. Been there—done that. Except of course, for that big life-or-death choice near the end. That’s all fiction. But I wonder if I would have made the right decision…)

Anyway! In my other life as a mystery author, I wish I could do the same when my books some out. I wish I could just park myself in the mystery (or sometimes romance) section, in disguise, and see who picks up my book. See who doesn’t. See what they do choose. And somehow, somehow, try to figure out why.

Every time I have a book signing at a store, I try to (surreptitiously, of course) discern what it is that makes readers turn into buyers. I watch them stroll down the aisles, past the rows and rows of covers—what do they look for? What stops them? Are they on a mission for a certain title? Are they drawn by a beautiful cover? Do they recognize a book they’ve seen advertised? Or gravitate to a certain author—and buy anything that person wrote?

Always, always, when they pick up a book, they then flip it over and look at the back cover copy.

I kind of cringe. In my books, I didn’t write the jacket copy. (And although most of them are great, there are parts of them I would , I admit, tweak a bit. Can I say to a shopper-—hey, that’s the only part of the book I didn’t write?) I wonder how other authors feel.
And you know how annoying it is when the back cover copy doesn’t match the book.

Say you’ve got an indecisive hero, surrounded by people he can’t decide whether to trust, feeling alone, missing his father, struggling to understand his role in a world he can’t escape. You got Hamlet. You also got Gilligan’s Island.

The jacket copy has to be the true essence—it’s what gets people in the front door of your world. Will readers grasp the fast-paced, high-stakes, suspenseful and romantic world of the Charlotte McNally mysteries when they read the back? Sometimes I wish I could chat with every reader in person!

When I’m in book-buyer mode,it different. I love that introductory moment, that audition moment at my local bookstore. The cover creaks a little, that nice ‘new book’ feel. The cover’s what attracts me first, of course.

Then I read the back, and I love to see a picture of the author. You all? Picture, yes? Or no? Do you look? Do you care?

Blurbs—I do look to see what other authors have said! Do

Reviews? Definitely.

But it’s the inside jacket copy that gets me. Are there key words that mean probably yes? Many of them--Literate. Clever. Innovative. Mystery. It’s easier to think of the ‘no’ words: Cowboy. Bodice. Titillating. But hey, not always.

So. It would be fascinating to watch on surveillance camera, don’t you think? Watch what people pick up, what they read, what they discard and what they take home?

What makes you turn from shopper—to buyer?

In honor of my very first guest blogger, I am giving away one copy each of Hank's first two books, Prime Time and Face Time, and Hank has graciously offered three limited editon Prime Time tote bags.

All you have to do is leave a comment, and I'll pick 5 winners at random.


  1. First, I have to like the cover. Then I check out the back cover blurbs. Then I read the first page. If I love the cover, but not too sure about the first page, I may read another page just to make sure I really don't like the book. If all goes well, then I'll buy. It doesn't happen too often because after writing a number of years I get picky about what I read. Also, since I write I don't have as much time to read. Another reason I don't buy too many books

    Morgan Mandel

  2. Covers are very important to me if it's a writer I'm not familiar with. I'm not exactly sure what it is I'm looking for as far as the art goes, but I will be drawn to it if it is aesthetically pleasing, or haunting in some way.

    I do enjoy seeing an author's photograph, and am disappointed if there's not one.

    I also enjoy seeing what writers blurbed the book - that's not going to convince me to buy the book, but it's fun to see.

    And finally, just reading the first few pages will probably be the deciding factor.

  3. Anonymous10:29 AM

    The cover is the first look that you have so it should be true to the actual story but also have a spark (or at least a dog or cat - LOL) to hook the customer.

    I always look for the author's photo. I never read what other authors say (but I do scan the names of those who contributed) & never read the inside jacket flaps because too often those quotes give away a plot line.

    I already have Air Time & Prime Time so would love to have my name added for the Face Time drawing please.

    Helen Kiker

  4. I look at the cover, then the back or book jacket flap to see what the synopsis is as well as who has blurbed it and if there is a picture of the author.
    I don't know why it matters to me if the author's picture is on the book or not-I don't think I've ever rejected a book because of what the author looks like-but it does matter.
    If it is an author totally new to me I will often read the first few pages and then maybe a few pages in the middle of the book to get a feel for the writing style.

    Books will be put firmly back on the shelf if they appear too cutesy, have alot of graphic violence, sex or language in the parts I read. Books will also be put back if the first few pages don't begin to pull me in.

  5. Hey Morgan! Lovely to see you! Yes, the "No time to read" thing is the odd little secret of writers...

    xoxo Hank

  6. Kaye! Wonderful to see you--it's been too long since our escapades at Bouchercon. Although knowing you, you are probably still escapading.

    I agree..love to see the author photo. (And whoa, I went through a lot of contact sheets with mine!)

  7. Hi Helen--so glad you have the two books! Thank you. And of course you are entered! My editor cried at the end of Face Tme--she said it was the first itme she'd ever cried reading murder mystery.

    And you're so right--ao annoying when the copy gives away the plot.

  8. Hi Caryn! I always flip to the middle of the book, too.

    I suppose that's kind of risky..what if it says: "Oh, no, I can't believe Joe got killed!"

    But so far, no spoilers...


  9. When I'm off to buy a book I check many things, First, if I like a cover, I'll probably check the blurbs. If I like the theme, then I'll probably take the book home with me. Then there's the author. If I read other of his/her books, then I imagine whether I'll like it or not. I guess that's all.


  10. Covers are a definite plus, but often I am going by title if the book isn't face out. I don't just look at face out displays, so that title can be a more deciding factor than cover. After cover is blurb. Something interesting here? Something to pique my desire to see more? It doesn't have to be perfect, but usually it has to have an interesting character and a plot element that doesn't sound cliche. Then I read the opening page. If I like the voice, I'll read a few more pages randomly. If it makes it that far, it goes on the list of possibilities, of which one (usually) will be chosen at the end of the bookstore browsing.

  11. I choose a mystery novel, first based on the author, if I've read and liked him/her before. I like recommendations from my friends who know my tastes. Reviews are important too, if they do more than just say that the author has won some award (I want to know what the book is about, and if it's the kind I like.) I may skim through the first few pages. Cover art is probably the last thing I consider.

  12. I have stopped reading the flap copy on hardbacks and the back cover copy on mass market paperbacks, so that's not it for me. Why not read the teaser copy? Because much of the time they give away the first half of the plot! When the back cover copy says "Jan must race the clock to discover who killed the reviewer who gave her book a bad review" and then I start reading the first chapter and Jan is arguing on Twitter with a reviewer, even I can pretty much figure out who the victim is going to be. I like the have the whole experience of reading the entire book. I don't just read to see whodunnit. I read the book as a whole and don't want any of it spoiled for me. I don't read reviews anymore for the same reason. (Don't give me a synopsis, give me an excerpt to get the flavor of the book. The first chapter available to read for free is a nice intro.)

    So, how do I pick books?
    1) Recommendations from friends. "You just have to read Hank. She's sooooooo good. You'll love her main character. She's a journalist too." (Just don't tell me any more about the book than that.)

    2) Sample chapters (not always the first chapter either) online or available to read before I decide to buy. I like to read the whole first chapter, not a third party's synopsis of the first half of the book. (See above)

    3) Short stories published in magazines or online. I discovered Sophie Littlefield at Thuglit and couldn't wait for her book to come out. Give me a writing sample, not a synopsis.

    4) Hearing the author read/meeting the author at signings/reading the author's blog, Twitter, etc. If she's a good writer at all, her personality will come through in the books. (Not that I expect the author to be the main character. But a good author puts a piece of herself in every character.) Meeting the author at Bouchercon is a plus. (Sorry I missed you in Indy, Hank. But there was always such a crowd around you!)

    5) Other authors I like blogging about the book. Or the author guest blogging at a mystery book blog I read.

    As you can see, a lot of my selections come from online encounters with the book/author. I think those are sooooo important these days. And, sigh, I still work in print.

    plastic santa

  13. An added comment to sign up for followup comments.

  14. Hank- absolutely the inside cover, sometimes blurbs if they are by other authors I like, and definitely reviews! I work as a book reviewer part time and always read early reviews of anything that sounds interesting. Also I read a monthly online list of upcoming mystery books, look them up on Amazon and see what publishers etc are saying.
    I do look at author's photos& bio info, but usually after I've read some of the book & get curious about who wrote it, where they live, if they have pets, hobbies, and other books they have written.If a book isn't first in a series, I will likely still buy it, but also get ahold of the previous books in the series to read first.

  15. I come to purchase mysteries in 5 ways (list not in order of preference):
    1. I come across the author in one of the social media sites and and follow them back to their web site and/or Amazon and find that their books interested me. I can definitely say that I have purchased books because the authors friended me in Crime Space (crimespace.ning.com) or Twitter. I'm here because Hank friended me on Twitter.
    2. A book was reviewed/discussed on a blog I trust. Many of the bloggers I follow are also in the Crime and Mystery room on friendfeed.com. If people I trust recommend a book I will at least check further.
    3. Non-blog book review sites like the monthly review site gumshoereview.com
    4. I read other books by an author and eagerly await the next.
    5. Serendipity. Wandering through a book store and a cover jumps out at me. See the preceeding comments. This doesn't happen often because the big box stores are not good at arranging books for eye appeal. Serendipity also works in libraries and they are much better at displays.

    I don't remember the last time I purchased a book based on a newspaper or magazine review. I may lose out but I tent to go to sources that match my interests. NPR is a media source that sometimes help me find a book.

  16. I guess it depends on whether I see the spine of the book first or the cover. If all I see it the spine and the title I may or may not pick it up and look further. So I guess what I am saying is if all I see is the title it's going to determine if I look further. There are certain themes I won't read and if the title suggests one of those themes that's probably it as far as I am concerned. OK so I'm a little strange and very picky. The picture on the cover on the other hand may attract me and I'll pick the book up and read the inside of the cover, then the back if I'm still interested, and finally I read the first couple of pages if I'm still interest.....Of course this is true only of hardback books since paperbacks don't usually have information on the inside cover. On a paperback if I've not discarded is because of the title and/or back I continue to read the first page. Now all of this information is null and void if I like the author's books that I have read in the past. And if I haven't liked the author's past books I won't even give it a second glance.

  17. I look at the cover, read the back cover, then flip through sections to read the story to see if i can break through my sense of practicalness, to splurge, spend the money since i am not working to purchase it. Especially if my local library doesn't have a copy it.

  18. I look the book over thoroughly, from the front/back covers to different sections of the book.
    Then if I like what I have read so far, I still have to convince myself, to spend the money to buy it. I am on a no-income, strict budget. If the Library doesn't have it, I still need to triple check my non-existant budget, income or wait and pray the library will get a copy of it.

  19. What makes me choose the books I buy can vary by the trip. I may be looking for an author's new book. I may be looking for the next book in a series.

    I may look for bright covers (I noticed while browsing at a library years ago, that books with white or BRIGHT covers are more likely to have humor in them).

    Sometimes a title will draw me in.

    Once I've picked a book up...Yes, attractive covers help, but boring or overly simple or complex covers won't cut the book out of the running.

    When I look at the blurb (and I will), I'm not likely to read the whole thing bc then I have to wait until I forget it before actually reading the book. Instead, I'm looking for keywords - words pertaining to the character(s)'s profession, hobbies, maybe a location, etc.

    I check to see if it's part of a series (I like to read in order).

    Oh, and I check price.

    Occasionally I'll flip to the first page and try the first sentence or two (or paragraph if I'm really drawn in).

    I don't usually check out author quotes until I'm at least part way into the book if at all.

  20. I'm often attracted by a great title. And I usually check out a few pages in the middle of the book, rather than the first few, but must admit I love a great first line.

  21. Interesting. An editor, plastic.santa, and a librarian, me, both identify online encounters with authors as very important. Both of us are in the print business. I almost never look at the many print review sources I have access to for crime fiction recommendations.

  22. I just realized that I never posted a deadline. I'll do the drawing one week from today, on November 4th.

  23. OH, my goodness. This is fascinating. Truly, fascinating.

    I agree, he reference to on-line encouners is pretty interesting! And I also agree-it makes a huge difference. (Hi, Mack!) When I feel as if I know someone, it becoemes like buying a book written by a friend. And that's a lovely feeling.

    And opening to the inside of the books to read a bit--yes, I do that! Why is that more convincing than the beginning?

  24. Oh, one more thing. (Hi, plastic.santa! SO sad to miss you at Bouchercon...plus I need to find out about your name!)

    The first chapter thing is fascinating. Some poeple advise authors never to read the first chapter out loud at readings or appearances. Because, they say, when a reader picks up the book in the store and reads the first line, they'll think--oh, I already read this.

    I was so convinced this was true--now when I read from PRIME TIME, I use a scene from the middle fo hte book.

  25. Ellen Too, you are NOT strange or picky.

    Mack, I'm going to check out those sites..I don't know them! (Scary.)

    Laura--are you interested in reviewing DRIVE TIME? (Book 4! Comes out in February..) Very exciting. Just let me know.

    (Here's the question: what really happens to your car in valet parking?)

    JO, when I'm signing in bookstores, I've noticed that too, And light-colored covers really stand out.

  26. Covers have sometimes stopped me in my tracks. Then I read the blurb. I've found a lot of new authors that way.
    As a librarian I'm always recommending books to people. I love it when when they reciprocate. If we have favourites in common I'll give their recommendations a try.

  27. Thanks, MAD! As my 6 year old grandson says, librarians rule.

    Email me through my website..just click on contact. I'd love to send you some "Time" info! And some other special library stuff.


Thank you so much for dropping by and reading my blog. I do read all comments, and try to respond.


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