He walks out of his office sweating, the words coming too fast to type. Slade Lockwood, his main character, is at him again.
“My protagonist is saying ‘put my story down on paper,’ ” says Art Adkins, a Gainesville police officer who doubles as a mystery novelist. “I never have writer’s block. When I sit down to type, it’s like the hero comes up and whispers the story in my ear. It’s like I’m hanging on every word and I can’t type fast enough.”
Adkins turned to writing seriously after spending time in three police departments. He grew up in Gainesville and when he couldn’t afford college, he worked construction in Fort Lauderdale with a former cop. That led to his first job as a police officer in South Florida. Later, he moved to Los Angeles. Even though the LAPD gave him what he calls a storybook career, Adkins knew he wanted his sons to grow up close to family. So, he moved back to Gainesville in 1993 and now works as a lieutenant supervising the Gainesville Police Department’s evening shift.
By the time he returned to Gainesville, Adkins had dabbled in writing, but he was told his manuscripts were either too violent or far-fetched, so he shelved that part of his life while his boys were growing up.
But the ideas never left him. Finally, about 10 or 11 years ago, Slade started talking to him and Adkins’ writing career came together.
Adkins now has two published books and has just finished his third manuscript. He hopes to have the new book, titled Mind Walkers, published late this fall or early next year. His first two books were The Oasis Project and Power Grid.
Adkins says he often gets asked if Slade is based on him. “No, he’s not me,” he says. “He’s the bits and pieces of all the great officers I’ve worked with over time.”
One model is a police officer Adkins knew in the LAPD. “To view this man as a police officer, you would think he was moving in slow motion,” says Adkins. “But he was probably one of the most thorough and efficient officers I’ve ever worked with.”
Slade’s key trait is he does what is right even when it’s not easy, Adkins says. That courage makes him attractive to readers. What makes him complex is his disillusionment with law enforcement, which drove him into retirement. In Adkins’ books, Slade reluctantly takes on some new cases while trying to come to grips with his past.
“I do not like the traditional murder mystery,” says Adkins. “I like for you to think when you read the book.”
Learning the Ins and Outs of Publishing
Adkins hopes there are enough twists in his books that readers don’t know what to expect next, which is exactly how Adkins felt when he delved into the business side of being a writer.
“I thought when you wrote a book, you sent it to the publisher, it got published and you wrote the next one,” he says.
That’s just not the way it works anymore, according to Tim Lowry, the chief operations officer for Ambassador International, Adkins’ publishing house.
“Authors need to be willing to work,” Lowry says, especially when it comes to marketing. “Publishers are increasingly only looking for authors with a built-in following.”
Adkins says he had no clue about building such a fan base when he first started out, so he researched all the ins and outs of book marketing.
He tried everything, including book signings in dentists’ offices. Eventually he found a formula that worked. Now he visits clubs and libraries to promote his book and he has developed a specific plan for his bookstore signings. He sets up close to the door and tries to engage people in a conversation. There are also mints for kids and a colorful carved pelican, which is a character in his novels.
He’s also hit the social media circuit with Facebook, daily twitter updates, myspace, Linked-in and two blog sites. He devotes an hour to an hour and a half to marketing each day, including communicating with book reviewers, radio stations and bookstores.
“There’s an art to this,” he explains. “It doesn’t happen by chance.”
Still, one of his most successful tools is not techy at all. It’s a bookmark featuring his novel’s synopsis and his web site. He says he hands them out everywhere he goes, including signings. It alleviates pressure on the customer’s part and lets them look at it at their own pace.
“Now they’re approaching me,” he says. “The roles reversed. They ask, ‘Can you tell me about the book?’ ”
Adkins also learned to practice persistence in finding a publisher. When completing his first book, The Oasis Project, he was working with an agent who wanted to change the book substantially. It got to the point where Adkins didn’t feel it was a Slade Lockwood story any longer, so he ended the relationship and published the book himself.
He then sent the book to a reviewer who said it had commercial potential. This gave him the confidence to move forward. The Oasis Project has now spent the past 17 months on the bestsellers list.
Armed with his experience in self-publishing, Adkins knew what he was looking for when he searched for a publisher for his next book. He received three contract offers and evaluated what the different publishers could offer in the way of marketing, editing, graphic design, distribution and conferences.
Lowry’s firm, Ambassadors Inc., won out.
More Mystery to Come
Adkins says he has ideas for about 15 more Slade adventures and he intends to continue with the series because he’s just building up a following with Slade and his cast of characters.
He also has two other protagonists with stories they want telling. For now, they’ll have to wait, as Adkins balances the dual demands of life as a writer and a cop.
“I have the best of both worlds,” Adkins says. “I do lead a busy life, but I’m hyper anyway, so I think it works out good.”
But if book sales reach a high enough level, Adkins has his eyes set on full-time writing and maybe even films.
“We know Art has many more books on the horizon and ultimately the New York Times bestseller list is in his sight,” Lowry says.