#32: Countdown

“Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things…”   
― Neil Gaiman

Up here in the rust belt, where winter is still hanging on like a relentless old bastard, the countdown has begun. Actually, the countdown began on October 21, 2019. That was the day I announced that Unsolicited Press would be publishing my debut novel, Rook. As I blogged the following day in #29, it had been a long time coming to get a novel placed. I’m talking decades (So much for that idea of publishing my first novel before I turned thirty!). Rook’s pub date has been announced for awhile now, too: June 28, 2022. After all this time, that date still seems to be a long time coming.

But it’s not.

In my last blog, Hello, Again, I promised I’d blog about how to launch a first novel…as soon as I figured it out. Since then, I started figuring it out. I dug out old marketing documentation SFWP had sent when my short story collection, Muscle Cars, was first accepted and reread that material. I attended seminars sponsored by the The Authors Guild on networking and book marketing. I read books about the necessity of authors developing their ‘brand’ like we’re cans of soup or, perhaps, deodorant. So what did I learn from all this?

I learned I needed help.

None of what I gleaned about book promotion is difficult. It’s not coal mining, for God’s sakes. Much of it in the early stages is research: identifying potential reviewers, book bloggers, and social media influencers and then developing a campaign strategy to solicit them. Campaigns should start three to six months before the pub date to create buzz and drive pre-ordering, which means the research needs to start six to nine months prior to the pub date. Hell, let’s just say you need to start marketing your book a year out.

See? June 28 is not that far away!

While this self-marketing work isn’t hard, it was new to me and time consuming. Time is something I didn’t have a lot of. I know what you’re thinking: ‘Dude, you’ve had since October 21, 2019 to get your self-promotion act together. What the hell have you been doing? And, wait, wasn’t there a pandemic? And a lockdown? How much Netflix did you watch?’

Granted, I could’ve binged less shows and movies, but, in my defense, I was writing. I edited Rook. I polished Yesteryear, which will be published in 2023 by SFWP. And I wrote another novel which I hope to send out soon. Plus, I had my day job. I was, thank God, not laid off or furloughed during Covid. I have worked from home for over twenty-five years, so my nine to five didn’t change, which meant my five to seven am writing time didn’t change, either. I was on such a creative roll, I didn’t want to stop writing to do the marketing work. Plus, you know, Netflix.

Like I said, I needed help.

I made the decision to hire a book publicist to do the heavy lifting for me. They have the time. They already know who the potential reviewers, book bloggers, and social media influencers are and have worked with them before. Most importantly, they have the experience. I would be learning as I stumbled along. They have been promoting authors and books for years.

Who do you think would do a better job?

And let’s be honest. My first novel did not come out before I turned thirty like I had planned. Not by a long, long shot. I’m pushing sixty now. I’ve waited a long time for this. There’s another bigger and final countdown that has started. I didn’t want to fuck up the launch by doing the marketing myself and doing it poorly.

Once I made this decision, I needed to find a publicist I was comfortable with and one that fit my budget. This meant, of course, more friggin’ research. I started by asking fellow writers for recommendations and then would visit the recommended book publicists’ and PR firms’ websites. Big Brother Google with its algorithms and AI technology suggested more…even when I didn’t ask it to. I checked some of those out, too. Eventually, I stumbled across Mindbuck Media and signed with them. I liked how they laid out on their website the timeline, the corresponding deliverables, and the price of a marketing campaign. In the rust belt, there’s enough shades of gray, especially in winter, so anything in black and white is welcomed. I also liked the fact that they would provide weekly updates to keep me informed of the progress they were making and any setbacks they were encountering. Finally, I liked that they were based in Portland, which is far from the post-industrial northeast where I live but in the same city where Rook’s publisher, Unsolicited Press, is located. I assumed, and was correct, that Mindbuck and UP had worked together in the past and shared common authors. In short, there was enough positives on their website to make me place a call and arrange a meeting with Mindbuck’s director, Jessie Glenn.

Obviously, the call went well with Jesse. She answered all my questions (even the dumb ones), explained their process, and, well, basically sold me on Mindbuck. I signed the contract with them last November.

The countdown continues. We’re four months away from Rook’s launch now, and here’s what Mindbuck has done for me so far:

  • Developed a press kit. This is a document that provides all the information a potential reviewer, interviewer, blogger would need to know about Rook and its author: cover art, excerpt, blurbs, my bio, pic, publishing information, etc.
  • Developed a media target list.
  • Refreshed my website
  • Made Rook available on NetGalley for early reviews.
  • Completed their first batch of pitching to early industry outlets (including but not limited to KirkusPub WeeklyForewordBooklist and City Book Review). 

Basically, they developed Rook’s marketing plan and are currently working the first stage of that plan. So far, no one has punched us in the mouth to make us change our approach. In the coming months, as we move into other stages of promotion, we’ll see if this strategy is successful or not.

Is working with a publicist for everyone? Should everyone with a book coming out sign with Mindbuck? Jesse, of course, would say yes, but my Uncle Gus worked his whole life at Ford and thinks everyone should be driving a Lincoln. I can tell you that working with a publicist in general and Mindbuck in particular was the right decision for me. It’s your book. Do what you think is best to promote it and make it successful. If you think you can do the work yourself, go for it. Believe me, there’s enough marketing books out there to help you. But if you’re like me with little time, little marketing experience, and far less inclination, consider a pro. Whatever you decide, hurry up. The countdown has started.

And that ain’t no lie.

Stephen G. Eoannou is the author of the novels Yesteryear (SFWP 2023), Rook (Unsolicited Press 2022), and the short story collection Muscle Cars (SFWP 2015). He lives and writes in Buffalo, New York.

Preorder Rook HERE.

Watch the official Rook trailer HERE.

#31: Hello, Again

“Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things…”   

― Neil Gaiman

Well, hello again. Remember me, the writer guy up here in the rust belt? It’s been two years since I last blogged about goals and aspirations (#30: Goals and Aspirations), and it’s been a hell of a two years. As my son with the History degree said during the height of the pandemic, I’d rather read about history than live through it.

Damn straight.

Over 700,000 Americans didn’t live through it, and the enormity of that number and the size of that loss is incomprehensible to me. As they say in my old church on the corner of Delaware Avenue and West Utica, may their memory be eternal.

The days up here in the rust belt are getting shorter. The furnace is running and flannel sheets are on the bed. Winter is coming. The lake will freeze and the wind will whip off it. This year, unlike last year at this time, I’m hopeful. The “numbers” are down, vaccinations are up, and although some shelves are bare and prices are high, I feel like we’ve turned some Covid corner.

I hope I’m right.

So what have I been doing for the last two years besides washing my hands and trying to stay safe? Well, writing. We all know that reading is an escape. We open a book and, until our eyes tire, we escape this world of masks and social distancing and politicizing a medical crisis to whatever world that author has created for us. It’s a hell of a trick…and a blessing. Writing has always been that kind of escape for me and that’s what I did. I wrote. I escaped. Many of my writer friends couldn’t be creative during the pandemic. Everything was too much–the news, the death rate, the fear–and they didn’t have the energy to pick up their pen. I get it it. I understand. But that wasn’t me.

I escaped.

On March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. On March 17, 2020 I started writing. This week I finished a draft of what I’ve been calling my pandemic novel. I have no idea if it will ever get published. If it doesn’t, that’s okay. It did something more for me than just get my name on a book cover. It got me through the last 590 days. For that, I’m thankful to my muse who brought me an alcoholic detective with a bum foot and his little one-eyed dog. Maybe some day you’ll read about them. Maybe you won’t. Like I said, that’s okay.

After I finished the draft and sent it off to two of my dearest and most talented friends, Carla Damron and Beth Johnson, to get their feedback, I felt the urge to blog, something I haven’t felt like doing in, well, 590 days. Maybe I needed something to write. Maybe I had something to say (probably not). Maybe I turned a corner.


The point of this blog is just to say hello again and let you know I’m still here, still writing, and there’s more to come. My first novel, Rook, comes out June 28, 2022 from Unsolicited Press. In the coming weeks I’ll be blogging about how to launch a first novel (as soon as I figure that out) and lessons learned along the way. Hopefully, it won’t be boring. I guarantee it won’t be two years until blog #32 is pushed out into the world.

Until then, I hope you stay safe, get vaccinated, and turn that corner.

And that ain’t no lie.


Learn more about Stephen G. Eoannou or order his short story collection, Muscle Cars, at www.sgeoannou.com. Watch the official Muscle Cars trailer here.

#30: Goals vs Aspirations


“Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things…”   

― Neil Gaiman


It’s that time of year here in the rust belt. It’s dark when we go to work and it’s already dark when the working day is done. In between, it’s gray: gray skies, gray lake, gray slush in the street. The year is winding down and people are taking inventory of what they accomplished, where they fell short, and evaluating if it was a “good” year. Writers are no different and are going through this same exercise. Because the business part of writing is dominated by rejection, I bet a lot of you are feeling depressed about your writing career right about now. Some of you are asking yourselves questions I know all too well: Is it worth it? Why am I doing this? What am I doing with my life? Should I quit writing? You’re asking yourselves these questions because the year is almost done and you haven’t achieved any of the writing goals you set back in January, right?

But were they really goals that you set in January or did you just define your aspirations?

There’s a difference and understanding that may change the way you view 2019, think about 2020, and may even persuade you not to lay down your pen. Take notes, kids. This is important and it will be on the final exam:

Goals are tangible, measurable, and, most importantly, their achievement or failure is determined by your actions. An aspiration is a desire, a longing, an aim, the success of which is not in your control.

  • Getting a book deal in 2019 was not a goal. You can’t control that. That was an aspiration, a longing.
  • Submitting your manuscript to 50 agents in 2019 in hopes of getting a book deal was a goal. Its achievement can be determined by how hard you work, how many times you send it out. Your success or failure can be measured.
  • Having a story accepted by a certain literary magazine in 2019 was an aspiration. Those damn editors have the final say.
  • Submitting your work to that certain literary magazine in 2019 was a goal. You control whether you write a story as best as you can and have the courage to send it to them.
  • Writing a best-selling novel is an aspiration, one we all share.
  • Getting up every day at 5am and writing a page a day of your novel is a goal. You’re the one who sets the alarm. You’re the one  leaving that warm bed. You’re the one putting in the work to get that page done.

See the difference? The achievement of a goal cannot be dependent on anyone else but you and your actions. So, yeah, if your goal was to query 50 agents and you quit after 15, you fell short and you should be feeling as gray as the weather, you lazy bastard. But if you queried 50 agents, you achieved that goal and you can be proud of that. You were brave enough to try. Sure it sucks that none of them bit, but that just means the manuscript isn’t ready or it hasn’t landed on the right desk yet and you need to decide on the next goal. Submit to 20 more agents? Revise the entire manuscript by April? Go to a writers conference and workshop it? Hey, these are your goals. You decide. Whatever new goal you set, just make sure it’s tangible, measurable, and, its achievement or failure is determined by your actions.

Yes, it’s depressing when the achievement of your goals does not lead directly to the immediate fulfillment of your aspirations. That doesn’t mean, however, that if you achieve all your goals in 2020 that it won’t lead to fulfilling your aspirations in 2021 or 2022 or somewhere down the line. Everything builds off each other. So keep setting that alarm. Keep rolling out of bed and trudging to your desk. Keep setting real goals and work towards them. That’s all we can do.

And that ain’t no lie.


Learn more about Stephen G. Eoannou or order his short story collection, Muscle Cars, at www.sgeoannou.com. Watch the official Muscle Cars trailer here.



#29: Long Time Comin’


“Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things…”   

― Neil Gaiman


Up here in the Rust Belt, we like old cars, Springsteen, and cold Budweiser at reasonable prices. Well, I do anyway.  I also like “Long Time Comin'”, the fourth track on Springsteen’s 2005 Devils & Dust cd. It sums up how I’m feeling these autumn days.  Here’s the chorus:

It’s been a long time coming, my dear
It’s been a long time coming, but now it’s here
And now it’s here

So what’s been a long time coming for me, you ask? What’s been going on that I haven’t blogged since July? What’s finally here? Well…

…one of the novels I’ve been working on, Rook, has been accepted by a publisher.

Cue the band!! Pass the Bud!!

Believe me, this has been a long time coming.  Rook is the fourth novel I’ve written. The other three never found homes and their corpses can be found on various floppy discs and hard drives in my office; hard copies (multiple drafts) are entombed in my attic’s crawl space acting as insolation. May Little Athens, A Quiet Prayer, and Rounding Third all rest in peace (although I think I can resurrect parts of Rounding Third into some other life form).

So how long has it been, you ask?

I started writing seriously and consistently in 1983 in Carlene Polite’s Intro To Creative Writing class at the University of Buffalo. Yeah, kids, I’ve been hacking away at this writing stuff for 36 years with the goal of publishing a novel like John Irving, Richard Russo, and William Kennedy, the authors I wanted emulate.

And it didn’t happen. Not even close.

I won’t lie. I quit several times since ’83, always to go back to writing and my imaginary world for whatever masochistic reasons that drive me. As each year passed and the rejection slips and gray hair multiplied, it became more evident that I’d never get a novel published. Smart money said it wouldn’t happen, but I kept getting up at 5am. I kept grinding out words, grinding out submissions, and waited for rejection emails to roll in or, worse, have my manuscript go ignored, deemed not worthy enough for a form rejection letter. Rook was rejected 50 times by agents and publishers before it found a home.

It’s been a long time coming, my dear

Now I know my story is not unique. I know you all have unwanted, orphaned manuscripts in your desk drawer, those little fuckers mocking you every time you pull open that drawer looking for something and you find those manuscripts instead. It’s a blade to the heart every time you stumble across them. I’d bet my paycheck you all have a piece (or two) that’s been rejected fifty or sixty times that you still send out, whispering a little prayer before you hit that Submit button. And I have proof that I’m not the only one who will have their first novel come out close to their 60th birthday; the current issue of Poets & Writers features an article on debut authors over 50. I know I’m not alone in all this. 

So why am I blogging about it then? Is it just ego, me crowing a bit? Maybe. I mean, hell, it is my blog. But Fred Leebron, writer and Director of the Queens University of Charlotte’s MFA Program, has a favorite saying, one I’ve taken to heart like a Springsteen lyric: “Writing is a game of attrition. Don’t attrit.”

I didn’t attrit. Neither should you. That’s the reason for this month’s blog. That’s my message and mantra for you today.

Don’t attrit.

Because even though it’s a long time coming, when it finally gets here, my dears, it feels better than a cold Bud on a hot day.

Don’t attrit.

Don’t attrit.

Don’t attrit.

Say it to yourself. Sing it like a psalm. Shout it from open windows.

Don’t attrit.

Don’t attrit.

Don’t attrit.

And that ain’t no lie.


Learn more about Stephen G. Eoannou or order his short story collection, Muscle Cars, at www.sgeoannou.com. Watch the official Muscle Cars trailer here.


#28: Easy As Falling Off A Ladder


“Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things…”   

― Neil Gaiman


Instead of writing the other morning, I sat on my front porch and reread some of these old blogs. I was rereading Blog #3: The Numbers Game (Part 2) and the street was noisy with work: my next door neighbor was having his house painted, the neighbor across the street was having his chimney repointed, a chainsaw was growling from somewhere. I came to the part of the blog that introduced the first addendum to The Robert White Rule, which states: If an editor rejects a story, that same story must be submitted to another journal that same day. With the sounds of scraping and hammering all around me, I remembered the kid who inspired that addendum.

Years ago, when my children were small, we bought an old house that needed work: a kitchen, roof, exterior and interior painting, plumbing, and asbestos removal were all needed. I had a great roofer, George, until he went to jail. His crew was young, lean, with dark roofer tans. They flew up and down ladders like Wallendas. They worked hard and fast and tore off layers of shingle, replaced rotted decking and facia, and installed a new roof that George guaranteed would last thirty years.

The house also had ancient, bent storm windows and torn screens that needed to be replaced. I asked the future convict if he knew of anyone who could install new windows. Even in the frigid Rust Belt, we need to let in fresh air sometimes. George told me he and his crew could install them. He had done a good job on the roof so papers were signed, hands were shook, and windows were ordered.

George, up until the time of his arrest, was good to his word. When the windows came in, he and his crew showed up to install them. Ladders were again erected and they went to work. I was puttering in the basement when I heard the scream, the thud, the subsequent shouts. One of the Wallendas had missed a rung and fallen from the second story. I ran outside and the kid, maybe in his early twenties, lay on the ground cursing like, well, a roofer who had just fallen off a ladder. Tough people come from tough places and this kid was tough. He didn’t want me to call 911. He didn’t want George to drive him to the Emergency Room. He didn’t even want a glass of water. What he wanted was to go back up the ladder, finish installing the window, and then go to a bar and drink.

Welcome to the Rust Belt.

I told him he didn’t have to finish installing the window, that he should go to the hospital and get x-rays. He said he always finishes what he starts and he needed to go back up that ladder right away.

And he did.

He got to his feet, climbed back up the ladder, put the window in, then he and the rest of the crew knocked off early and went drinking.

He was a tough kid, all right. He needed to ignore the pain and the risk of more injury to finish the job. He knew, I’m sure, that the longer he waited to climb those rungs, the harder it would be. Self-doubt and fear would set in. Plus, he had that engrained work ethic that comes from a place dotted with factories, grain silos, and steel mills. He needed to install that window because that was his job. I’ve never forgotten that kid even though I never knew his name.

Like I said, he had inspired the first addendum to The Robert White Rule.

Getting rejected is painful and disappointing. Well, maybe not as painful as falling two stories. I mean, when The Missouri Review, those mid-west bastards, rejects me, bones don’t break. Having a story rejected doesn’t cause internal bleeding, but you get the idea. When I find a rejection email in my inbox, I think of that roofer who hit the dirt outside my basement window and went back up the ladder, and I follow that addendum  and submit that rejected piece to another magazine or another agent or another publisher that day. Not in twenty-four hours. Not in two weeks. Right away. I don’t let fear seep in. I don’t give self-doubt a chance. Our job is to write and submit and hope the literary gods toss us a crumb. And that won’t happen unless we climb back up that damn ladder.

I fell off a pretty high ladder this week. Last summer, an agent passed on my novel but had written a lengthy email outlining his concerns and offering revision suggestions. He followed up with two phone conversations clarifying his written comments. I had never been so thoroughly rejected before. He had invested a lot of time and thought in my work and had expressed genuine interest in seeing a revision. For the next eight months I revised with his comments and suggestions in mind. In April, I resubmitted to him as he had asked with my hopes as high as they had ever had been. Three months passed before the rejection came.


After reading and rereading his latest rejection, I took a nap. His words had exhausted me. When I woke, I grabbed my laptop, looked to see which agent was next on my list and shot him off a query. He responded immediately and asked to see the entire manuscript.  That wouldn’t have happened if that kid hadn’t fallen off the ladder in my backyard and inspired The Robert White Rule addendum. Will this agent pass on my novel? Probably. But there are other agents and other ladders. Sooner or later I’ll get tossed my crumb if I keep climbing. I hope it’s sooner. I’m aging fast.

My windows were installed seventeen years ago. That ‘kid’ who fell is probably around forty now. I think about him when the rejections come and wonder if he’s married and still a roofer. I wonder if he ever tells the story about how he once fell off a ladder on Lafayette Avenue but got back up and finished the job. I hope he does. I hope he tells it  around some Buffalo bar when he’s drinking with his work buddies. I hope he tells that story to the younger guys on his crew. I hope he tells it often.

And that ain’t no lie.


Learn more about Stephen G. Eoannou or order his short story collection, Muscle Cars, at www.sgeoannou.com. Watch the official Muscle Cars trailer here.





#27: All Shook Up With Mike Burrell


“Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things…”   

― Neil Gaiman


This month I caught up with Mike Burrell to chat about Land of Grace, his debut novel that Pinckney Benedict describes as “…a kind of Confederacy of Dunces for the Elvis crowd.” Land of Grace follows main character Doyle Brisendine, an Elvis impersonator who is lured into an Elvis religious cult and faced with a literal life or death decision. I wanted to pick Mike’s brain on how he wrote, sold, and marketed his first novel. Mike, a native Alabamian, was gracious enough to answer these questions that came to him all the way from the Rust Belt.


This is kind of a “boxers or briefs” question to start. In last month’s blog, I wrote how there are two types of writers: those who plan and structure their novel before they begin to write and those of us who fly by the seat-of-our-pants. I’m guessing since your debut novel, Land of Grace, grew from a novella you needed to write to discover the final story. Can you speak a bit on how you approached writing your novel and your process?

I usually ( Maybe always, but I’m a little afraid of saying always) start out with a what if.  What if there were a cult devoted to the worship of Elvis. Who would lead the cult? Where would it be headquartered? What would its theology look like? Who would be most susceptible to its message? Then, probably the most important question—Whose story is it? And what does this character want?

The Land of Grace failed miserably as a short story because it needed more space to make any sense. I stretched it into a novella as a thesis project at the Queens University of Charlotte MFA program. The problem was the protagonist didn’t know what he wanted. Talk about writing by the seat of my pants, without any thought or preparation I came up with this  gigolo who preyed on middle-aged women, and I tossed him in the middle of this Elvis cult. He lasted a hundred and twenty pages, but really he’d fizzled out after fifty or sixty pages.

I had given up on this Elvis cult thing till a couple of years ago when I was getting ready to attend Pinckney Benedict’s session at Tinker Mountain Workshop. Benedict required that we submit an excerpt from two unpublished projects. I only had the one I was working on, so I went fishing through my files for something else. I really didn’t have any choice but to toss him some pages from the Elvis cult story.

Maybe I’d learned a few things since I’d penned that draft, but I saw right off that I had the wrong character cast in the lead. Once I installed an Elvis impersonator in the lead role, I rewrote the first fifty pages in a week.


A follow-up to the “boxers or briefs” question: You also write short fiction. Does your process or approach differ when writing short stories versus longer work?

No. I love short stories, but my stories tend to go long. I used to edit them down to marketable length because I wanted to get them published. But I wound up cutting the guts out of them. The first draft of my first published story was over 10,000 words. I cut it to 6500. In the process, I ruined one of my characters because I needed to eliminate a big chunk of text to make the editor happy. That character added so much to the story, every time I think about it, I’m tempted to drop everything, go back, and do her justice. I can’t help but believe it would change the story in a good way.


Can you share how you kept the structure, plot, and characters straight while you were writing Land of Grace? Did you storyboard? Were the walls of your office covered in sticky notes or did you keep it all straight in your head?

I see that storyboard thing in movies and TV shows about writers. That looks really cool and organized. But I’m afraid all that stuff would get lost in all my other clutter. I keep a dedicated MS Word folder on a project. If I get stuck, I sometimes I sketch out a setting or a character sketch in a separate file from my manuscript and refer back to that from time to time. But usually, a character just pops into the story. I get to know him or her about as well as I need to, and I remember them as I go along.

For The Land of Grace I had most of my characters laid out for me. Elvis was a mama’s boy, so I figured the leader of the cult had to be a woman–Mama. I thought of the actress, Margot Martindale while writing Mama and that kept me grounded to her.  Many of the other characters were people who had given up their own identities and taken on the persona of Graceland’s Memphis Mafia. I didn’t delve into the personalities of the actual Memphis Mafia or attempt to portray them accurately. I just looked at their pictures and read the account of them in Peter Guralnick’s two-volume bio of Elvis. I also watched all I could stand of the maudlin, self-serving film they made after Elvis’s death. I changed up their roles quite a bit. Joe Esposito was actually the road manager and the boss of the group of hangers-on. But he looked and sounded like a complete lump, so I chose Red West as the enforcer because of his distinctive red hair and the devilish glint in his eye.

My Land of Grace Apostles are much more interesting than the Memphis Mafia. Several  of those guys gave up their families to hang with Elvis. They allegedly protected Elvis from threats, real and imagined. But it seems that their real job was to be around to tell him he was handsome as ever, that he sounded great, and that his goofy jumpsuits didn’t make his butt look big. Some life, huh?

The true believers, Claire and Rhonda, just appeared in the story whenever I needed them.

People read this book and say they were super creeped out by Dr. Nick. I’ve seen a picture of the real Dr. Nick. I don’t know what he sounded like, but I gave my Dr. Nick character a strange undefined accent. Yeah, he was creepy, but when you realize that the real Dr. Nick’s medical practice consisted of pumping as many opiods as he could into the bloated body of the King of Rock and Roll, maybe I didn’t make my guy creepy enough.


This is like a three-questions-in-one question because I suck at interviewing, but here it goes: You followed your process, worked through your revisions and ended up with a comic novel about an Elvis impersonator, a brainwashing cult, and the consequences of chasing your dream. What was your approach in shopping the novel and approaching potential agents and editors? What was their reaction to a comic novel that takes such a very dark turn? What led you to Livingston Press?

Well, you can learn nothing from me about shopping a novel around. I wrote a query letter and sent it out to fifty or sixty agents. I customized it for some agents, but I don’t know if that did any good or not. Most didn’t reply at all. Some asked for more pages then stonewalled me. Some asked for the full manuscript but passed on it without comment. A few of them were nice enough to tell me why they didn’t think they could represent the book.

You’re very perceptive in that comic novel taking a dark turn stuff. That was one thing the agents who replied said they didn’t think they could sell. I should have suspected something when it creeped my wife out.

Someone else could have produced a different product. But really, that’s the only way I could write it. It starts out humorous  because of the absurdity of the characters, the absurdity of the setting and the absurdity of the situation: I took a guy who dresses like Elvis and imitates Elvis and tossed him into a replica of Graceland with a mob of zealots who worship Elvis. That’s absurdity clashing with absurdity.

Then you have the horror of being Elvis toward the end. The real Elvis was surrounded by redneck sycophants instead of real friends, went around performing that same old setlist night after night to stay solvent, kept feeding an insatiable drug habit. Finally he dies at 42, bloated on the bathroom floor with enough drugs in his bloodstream to sedate a rhinoceros.  How could that scenario  be depicted as anything but a story  that starts out absurd and drifts into horror?

After shopping the book around for a year, I had decided it was going to be another practice novel gathering moss in my hard drive.  Then I was at some function, and someone asked me if I had anything to read. I had part of the draft of this story on a Kindle, so I read the first three or four pages. Everybody laughed through the reading and applauded like crazy at the end. I thought it might not be a book, but it could be a comedy routine. A few weeks later, Joe Taylor at Livingston Press sent me an email, saying he heard I had written a comic novel. After he read it, he said he loved it. He wanted to publish it. At the time, I was not only getting the cold shoulder on the book, I had a couple of short stories out collecting rejections. So acceptance felt pretty good.


Land of Grace debuted last July to stellar reviews. How have you marketed the book since then? Any tips to share with authors who may be launching their first book?

I have no tips about book marketing other than suggest that you follow me around, take careful notes, and make sure you don’t repeat a damn thing I do. Oh, I’ve gone to bookstores, libraries, festivals, and made some talks around.  I’ve spoken to some nice groups, but most of my appearances draw six people. Three of them are usually there by mistake. Two of them have been dragged there by their wives, and the other wants me to tell him if he can find my book at a certain branch of his local library.


Doyle is such a great main character, filled with dreams and flaws that lead him to a hard decision. How did that character grow and change from those first novella drafts to the final manuscript or was he clear in your mind from the beginning?

My protagonist was a completely different guy in the novella. It was a text book example of a protagonist who doesn’t want anything being a ticket to failure. Once I injected Doyle into the story, the thing brightened up and galloped toward the finish line.

The crucial question in making this “what if there were an Elvis Cult” question work was knowing what my character wanted. Doyle was easy. He wants to be Elvis. Hell, he wants to be anybody but ol’ Doyle Brisendine from San Angelo, Texas. Now, in a traditional story the hero struggles to get what he wants while the antagonist pulls out all the stops to keep him or her from being successful. In my story, the members of Our Lady of Taking Care of Business want nothing more than to give Doyle exactly what he wants. Doyle’s struggle becomes surviving their bizarre method of helping him. Then he has to decide if he’s willing to pay the very high price of actually becoming The King of Rock and Roll.


What’s next for Mike Burrell? Can you share anything about your next writing project?

I’m a hundred and sixty pages into a novel about an insurance salesman who finds confidence and respect through acts of violence. You know, the usual Willie Loman and Mister Hyde kind of thing. Just finished a couple of short stories. One about a boy who witnesses a drunken reunion take a bad turn. And one about a stalker’s never-ending love for his target (or is that stalkee?). After reading Bryan Burrough’s Public Enemies, I got interested in Alvin Karpis, the last Public Enemy Number One. I read Karpis’s two books. One about his life of crime and the other about his 26 years on Alcatraz. So then I started taking notes on a bank robber story. I even wrote a scene. You can see, I get distracted sometimes.



Screen Shot 2019-05-11 at 2.12.59 PM

Mike Burrell has worked as a farm laborer, a grocery clerk, a military intelligence analyst, a revenue agent, and a lawyer. He received an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. His short fiction has appeared in Southern Humanities Review, The McGuffin, Kennesaw Review, and the Livingston Press anthology, Climbing Mt. Cheaha: Emerging Alabama WritersThe Land of Grace is his first novel. Learn more about Mike at http://mikeburrell.com/.



Learn more about Stephen G. Eoannou or order his short story collection, Muscle Cars, at www.sgeoannou.com.

#26: All Aboard The Storyboard


“Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things…”   

― Neil Gaiman


Years ago, I attended a writers conference. One of the faculty–I think it was Howard Norman–asked us wannabe writers a question: Who had gone grocery shopping before they had left for the conference? Hands were raised. Then he asked, who will go home after the conference to an empty refrigerator and will have to go grocery shopping late at night? My arm shot in the air. He smiled and said that the first group were the planners, the ones who took copious notes before they started writing and had the book plotted and structured prior to typing the first word. The second group, my group, were ‘fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants’ writers, the ones who just write and figure it out as they go. Neither approach is wrong. Whatever works, right?

But, as my old man used to tell me, sooner or later you got to figure out what the hell you’re doing.

That’s where the storyboard comes in.

The scriptwriters out there know that a storyboard is a graphic depiction of illustrations or images displayed in sequence for the purpose of pre-visualizing a motion picture. The storyboard for novelists is similar except that instead of pre-visualizing the novel by images, we use a kind of shorthand. And instead of breaking the movie down by scenes, we break our storyboard down by chapters.


Okay, let’s take it step-by-step. First, run to your nearest office supply store and buy a piece of tagboard, the kind you used for art projects as a kid. Now draw a grid, and each grid will represent a chapter. Then you will list each scene, the setting, and the characters that appear in those scenes within the grid. At the bottom, you can add notes to help you remember what took place, the story thread, why the chapter is needed, length, etc.  Include any information that will help you “see” your book. So a chapter on my storyboard may look like this:

Chapter 17

Scene 1:  Train Terminal

Characters: Striker, Campbell, Trendle

First Meeting/Intersection of Story Threads

9 Pages


Scene 2: Radio Station

Characters: Striker, Armbrewster, Barrett, Trendle, Campbell

Thursday Night

Radio Premiere

Radio Story Thread

13 Pages

By breaking your novel down like this, you will be able to see what characters disappear for chapters at a time, what plot threads are lost, the structure of your novel, plot points, etc. Don’t believe me? Give it a try and see if something jumps out at you that you didn’t realize before.

So why did a ‘fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants’ writer like me start storyboarding? Well, after countless drafts, endless revisions, and with a certainty that my novel was ready for the world, I sent it off to an agent. Six weeks later, I received a very polite rejection email telling me that she had stopped reading halfway through.


Why did she stop? I read and re-read the entire manuscript and I couldn’t figure out why. I needed to take a step back and visualize the whole novel, something I really couldn’t do reading page-by-page. I needed distance and to see the book in its entirety. So I created a storyboard.

And there it was.

One of the storylines dominated four chapters in the middle of the book. The other storyline and its characters had disappeared. Sure they reappeared, but five chapters later. I had a structural problem. Chapters needed to be rearranged. Balance was needed. And I wouldn’t have realized any of this unless I broke it down by chapter and scene and was able to look at it holistically.

That was my first attempt at creating a storyboard and some tweaks are needed. For instance, I didn’t create it until after I had a completed draft. For the next novel, I plan on storyboarding the chapter as soon as it’s finished. I’ll never be one of those writers who go home to a full refrigerator, but if I begin to stray, if characters and ideas are disappearing or dominating, I’m hoping I can catch it early and adjust accordingly. Also, I created the storyboard in pencil which made it messy when I had to reorder chapters with all that erasing and rewriting. Next time I’ll use 3×5 Post-It Notes so I can make rearranging easier, quicker, and neater. Each story thread will have its own color so I can quickly see when things are going astray.

But you planners with your full freezers probably know this stuff already. We’re slow learners up here in the Rust Belt and I’m just figuring things out. Don’t worry. I’ll get there. I’ll catch up to you.

And that ain’t no lie.



Check out the book trailer for my short story collection, Muscle Cars, created by the very talented Amber Shockley (www.ambershockley.com).

Muscle Cars Official Trailer



Learn more about Stephen G. Eoannou or order his short story collection, Muscle Cars, at www.sgeoannou.com.

#25: Union Strong


“Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things…”   

― Neil Gaiman


Up here in the rustbelt, it’s not unusual to see guys wearing Local 210 ball caps or Teamsters jackets.  Buffalo has always been a union town. My uncles worked their whole lives at places like Ford, Chevy, and Scott Aviation. As manufacturing exited, the jobs here changed from blue collar to white, and the unions have become less powerful. There are strength in numbers, my friends. As for me, my collar has faded to baby blue.

I joined The Authors Guild.

Yeah, it’s not exactly the same as joining The International Brotherhood of Ironworkers, but still…

So why did I join? The Authors Guild has been supporting working writers and protecting their rights since 1912. I could dedicate an entire blog (and I just might) on how they continue to protect free speech, honor copyrights, and fight for fair compensation for us ink slingers.  But I signed-up for less honorable reasons.

I joined for the benefits.

If you read Blog #24, Second (And Third) Time’s The Charm, you’ll remember that I’m optimistically preparing for the publication of my next book(s). Blog 24 outlined my marketing plans. Joining the Authors Guild is part of that preparation. One of the services available to guild members that interested me, for instance, is a free contract review. Let’s face it,  we’re all desperate to sign a book deal, regardless of the fine print.  The AG’s legal team will provide written feedback on the contract you’ve been offered, highlighting the major risks and unfavorable terms of any offer you receive. They’ll even suggest alternative language that will leave you better protected.  This is a great service and as my old man used to say, you can’t beat free.

If you also remember from Blog #24, refreshing my website is part of my marketing plan. Guess what? The AG offers personalized email accounts, and a free website building service for new members. An author website is your main platform, the tool readers, editors, agents, and the media use to find out information about you. It needs to be as strong, user friendly, and content rich as possible. It also has to look good. I’m proud of my website, www.sgeoannou.com, but I did it myself and I know it can be better, especially if it needs to support multiple titles in the future. Why not let the pros do it? Who’d know how to develop an author website better than a friggin’ author union??

One of the unexpected benefits I stumbled upon after joining was an eight-part online marketing course for writers. Many of the points in my marketing plan were lifted from these webinars. Like most of the things I’ve read on book marketing, non-fiction writers will probably benefit most from this series. However, there’s plenty of best practices that the rest of us can learn as well. What’s nice is that you don’t have to watch each webinar in order. You can cherry pick what’s of interest to you. If time is an issue (each discussion is about an hour), I suggest you concentrate on modules 6-8, as these three are rich with practical advice. Oh, and did I mention this was free?? You don’t even need to be a guild member to take this course! Do yourself a favor and check out The Age Of The Storyteller and watch a few modules. It won’t cost you a dime.

There are other benefits of the guild that I plan to explore, like networking and their Writers Resource Library. I’ll provide updates on these in future blogs when I discover something especially useful. In the meantime, keep writing and I’ll see you down at the union hall.

And that ain’t no lie.



Learn more about Stephen G. Eoannou or order his short story collection, Muscle Cars, at www.sgeoannou.com.

#24: Second (and Third) Time’s The Charm


Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things…”   

 Neil Gaiman


Have you missed me?

My last blog was back in May when I swore I’d keep writing regardless of any reward (#23: A Pirate Looks At 55). And then I disappeared.


So what have I been doing instead of blogging? Did I quit writing? Travel the world? Was I readying my 2020 candidacy? Nah, I’ve been…writing. In fact, I’ve completed the drafts of two novels, which left no time to blog.  Hey, there’s only so many hours in the day, and I’m not a young man anymore. Will these novels ever be published? They damn well better, but who knows? But if either (or both! Think positively, damn it!) are accepted for publication, I will be better prepared to market the book(s) than I was when my short story collection, Muscle Cars, was published.  Here’s what I have planned for marketing WHEN they find a home.

Note: when you submit to an indy press and they want you to include a marketing plan for your book, you can use this as a starting point or outline. No need to thank me. Just buy me a beer the next time you see me.

  1.  Schedule appearances and readings a year prior to pub date. Many book clubs and reading series set their lineups this far in advance. One of the mistakes I made with Muscle Cars was waiting too long to reach out and ask to be considered. Books for the year had already been chosen. Author appearance dates had already been announced. I had missed the proverbial boat and had to wait for the next cycle. I’ll be ready this time. I should note that these appearances will be scheduled near the pub date so people will be able to purchase the book. It’s all about the Benjamins! Or, you know, at least it’s all about the $14.95 retail price before Amazon slashes it.
  2. Hold a book cover reveal party on the web. This is something that can be promoted ahead of time on social media to create some buzz. I did not do this when the Muscle Cars cover was finalized.
  3. Refresh my website (www.sgeoannou.com). The site re-launch will coincide with the book cover reveal. My site is currently very Muscle Cars centric. I need to make room for the new title(s). Check blogs #12 and #13 which focused on the components of an author webpage.
  4. Have a book trailer created. These are fun, fairly inexpensive, and a great way to promote your book on your website and through social media. It’s even better if you can negotiate with your publisher to have them pay for it. In fact, it’s always better if you can get some other guy to pay for anything, like the next round. The talented Amber Shockley produced the trailer for Muscle Cars. Again, I waited too long after the launch to have it created. Check out the trailer here and let me know what you think.
  5. Set up blog/podcast tour. This is something that my publisher, SFWP, had set up for Muscle Cars, but I would like to do a more extended tour. I plan on reaching out to blogs with large followings. I didn’t do any podcasts the first time around, and I think those are impactful. Again, blogs and podcasts should go-live around launch to create and keep the buzz going. And who doesn’t like an extended buzz??
  6. Leverage my own social media platform. I need to get creative here. Book giveaways, recorded readings, promoting the book trailer, pre-order blitz campaigns, countdown to launch, etc. Again, when Muscle Cars was launched, I had almost zero presence on social media. That was another boat I missed. Hell, I wasn’t even on the dock.
  7. Write non-fiction companion pieces. This is something that SFWP pushed all its writers to do, and I didn’t. The idea is that you’ve written a novel so you must have expertise on some aspect of your book–the setting, the era, the goddamn cars, for crissakes–so you write and publish essays to get your name out there and maybe reach readers that you normally wouldn’t.  The articles may not even tie directly to your forthcoming book, but your bio at the end will promote it.
  8. Hire a publicist…maybe. Writers can only do so much marketing on our own and we’re amateurs. Publicists are pros and have promoted books before, but they are pricey. Let’s face it, most writers aren’t exactly rolling in dough, especially up here in the rust belt. Research will have to be done to find an affordable and reputable publicist. I’ll keep you posted. This may make a good blog topic!

So that’s my list. All these efforts will need to be coordinated and, hopefully, augmented, with and by my publisher, whoever they may be. I’m sure other ideas will come to me, meaning that I will steal ideas from other authors when I come across them. If you have any other marketing ideas, please send them to me so I can steal those, too. I’ll share in the next blog. I promise.

And that ain’t no lie.




Learn more about Stephen G. Eoannou or order his short story collection, Muscle Cars, at www.sgeoannou.com.

#23: A Pirate Looks At 55


Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things…”   

― Neil Gaiman


Oh, those 1980’s!

Jay McInerney was an old man of twenty-nine when Bright Lights, Big City debuted in 1984. A year later, Bret Easton Ellis came out with Less Than Zero. He was twenty-one and not yet shaving on a regular basis. Michael Chabon published The Mysteries of Pittsburgh in 1988 at twenty-five. Not quite Frank, Sammy, and Dino, but the literary brat pack was born.

I was twenty-five years old in 1988, the same age as Chabon. I had a freshly-printed MA degree tucked in my back pocket, was teaching at Ball State University, and was convinced that I’d have a novel published before I turned thirty, just like Bret and the boys.

My thirtieth birthday came and went without a book deal. I haven’t had Sake since but that’s another story.

When I turned forty, I had a wife, two children, but no novel.

In 2013, I was publishing short stories on a regular basis, but I missed my goal of having a novel published by my fiftieth.

It’s not like I didn’t try. By the time I blew out those fifty candles, I had three unpublished novels and two unpublished short story collections sitting in the drawer. I stopped saving rejection slips at some point.

Today is my birthday.

I’m fifty-five. I have one short story collection, Muscle Cars, published and added two more unpublished novels to the stack. Both Chabon and McInerney have published eight novels and Ellis, that slacker, only seven.

But who’s counting?

My lack of publishing success has depressed me at times. Every time Chabon comes out with a new novel, I yell “Christ! Another one?” and head to the bookstore to buy it. I’ve often thought of quitting and came close to hanging up my pen in 2010. I couldn’t though. I couldn’t give up the dream. I wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t like I was exactly killing it in the literary world.

And then this last month, with fifty-five bearing down on me, I learned something. I can’t quit. No, I mean I really can’t quit. You see, I finished my latest novel and started another quixotic search for an agent in April. For the first time in eight years, I wasn’t working on a project. I’ve spent the last month reading, researching, and waiting for the next idea to find me, but I haven’t been writing.

And I miss it.

There has been a big void in my life these last thirty days, a lack of purpose and direction and it gnaws at me. That’s why I now know I’ll never quit. If I wasn’t supposed to be writing, I wouldn’t miss it so much. I wouldn’t be moping around like I have been. Writing is what I do and, quite frankly, it’s the only thing I’m a little bit good at. I love telling stories, arranging and rearranging words, dreaming up people and places. I always have and I always will. To not have that would remove a large part of the joy and meaning from my life.

Millions of people play tennis who will never win a tournament or make it to Wimbledon, but they still play.

I write.

There are millions of golfers who hit the greens every chance they get who will never putt on national television, but they still play.

I write.

You know all those old guys you see on playground courts and in the over-forty leagues at The ‘Y’? None of them are getting a shoe deal, but they still play.

I write.

They do it for the love of the game. All of them.

And so do I.

I’m fifty-five and I’ll never have the literary career of Chabon or Ellis or McInerney, those over-fifty fucks, but I will still get up at 5am and write stories that may never be read. I will still search for agents and submit to magazines and enter contests. I’ll still swear when I read of Chabon’s latest book. It’s just what I do. I suspect followers of this silly blog feel the same way and won’t quit writing either. Because you can’t. You’ll miss it the way I’ve missed it. It’s what you do.

Oh, and fuck you McInerney. I’ll have a novel published before I’m sixty.

And that ain’t no lie.



Learn more about Stephen G. Eoannou or order his short story collection, Muscle Cars, at www.sgeoannou.com.

#writing #writinglife #WednesdayMotivation