Diane Capri Reveals Indie Author Superstar CJ Lyons

Long ago, in a galaxy far away, before she became an Indie Author Superstar selling 250,000 copies of one of her e-books in just two months, CJ Lyons and I were members of a small critique group. I’m not sure how we got connected way back then because we had little in common.

CJ lived in Pittsburgh and I lived in Florida. She was a doctor and I was a lawyer. She was single and I was married. The one thing we were both laser-focused about was our writing. In that, we were fearless, hardworking, confident, and determined to succeed.

A few years later, when we worked together to create the first ever ThrillerFest, CJ was pre-published and my Judge Willa Carson series had just dropped off the face of the earth when my publisher went bankrupt. This was the second time in my life when a very public bankruptcy by a business I depended upon for my livelihood had thrown my future on the rocks.

Back then, Indie Publishing wasn’t a viable option. My career was floundering, not even on life support. I spent a lot of time writing new books, working on the board of International Thriller Writers, Inc., and singing along with Tubthumping. You know that song, right? Have a listen:

But CJ’s traditional publishing career was about to kick off, propelling her into new and exciting experiences no one could have foreseen. Even then, there was no question in my mind that she’d make it in this very tough business and she’s proved me right, succeeding well beyond what even I imagined. (And anyone who knows me knows how big my imagination is!)

Now, CJ Lyons, is not only a New York Times, USA Today and Kindle Bestseller, but an inspiration to traditionally published and indie authors alike. As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge Thrillers with Heart. I’m pleased to have with us here today, my friend and inspiration, CJ Lyons.

CJ Lyons - Happy Face Well Deserved

Diane Capri: CJ, I’m amazed that you’ve got even a few minutes to spend with us here today. I thought I was busy with publishing Don’t Know Jack and Jack in a Box already this year, but did I read only this morning that you’re writing four books this year? Four? Are you crazy?

CJ Lyons: *Big Belly Laugh* Maybe crazy, the jury’s still out. Two of the books have been contracted by St. Martins’ Minotaur and the other two my fans have been clamoring for: the finale of the Shadow Ops series and the third in the Lucy Guardino FBI Thriller series. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that keeping my readers happy makes everything else easier, so I’m trying my best to do that.

Diane Capri: You mean BLOOD STAINED and BLIND FAITH?

CJ Lyons:  No, both those books are available now —BLIND FAITH will be re-released by St. Martin’s Minotaur in July. The other two I’m working on for my fans are: EDGE OF SHADOWS, Shadow Ops Book #3, and Book #3 in the Lucy Guardino FBI series (after BLOOD STAINED, Book #2) that I don’t have a title for yet.

Diane Capri: Geezzee! You’re making me tired!

CJ Lyons: *Laughs again* Next year, I’m promising myself a long vacation—my first since I began writing full time six years ago!

Diane Capri:  Like me and many other authors, you’ve weathered some rocky times in publishing. You’ve been very open about your career’s early ups and downs. You were working on your first novel, NERVES OF STEEL, back in our critique group days, but despite being bought in a pre-empt and receiving praise from New York Times Bestsellers like Sandra Brown, it was cancelled due to events beyond your control before publication, dashing your dream debut. What’s the one lesson you learned from that early experience that should inspire readers and writers alike?

CJ Lyons: It’s the same lesson I teach my writing students: writers write. Successful writers keep writing. When my debut was cancelled, I’d already left my medical practice and so was unemployed for the first time since I was 15. But after a few days feeling sorry for myself, I realized that the best thing I could do if I wanted to make my dream of becoming a published author come true was to keep writing.

Diane Capri: Many people don’t realize that once we sell our rights, we can’t simply do whatever we want with the book when the publisher’s actions take an unexpected turn. When my publisher went bankrupt, I had to hire a lawyer to retrieve my rights in court. How did you pull it together after your book was cancelled?

CJ Lyons: While I worked on a new book, I fought to get my rights back from that first publisher (NERVES OF STEEL is now a bestselling e-book and due to reader demand has led to two sequels, SLEIGHT OF HAND and FACE TO FACE). It was rough going, but I kept writing.

Diane Capri: And what happened?

CJ Lyons: Two weeks after I got my rights back, Berkley called me and asked if I’d like to create a new medical suspense series targeting women readers, kind of a Grey’s Anatomy meets ER. That was it, the entire idea. Of course I said yes and sat down to write LIFELINES, my first bestseller.

Diane Capri: We never know what’s around the corner, right?

CJ Lyons:  Right. Oh, and just to show that karma has a sense of humor, the book I wrote after being ditched by my first publisher? BLIND FAITH, which hit #2 on the New York Times Bestseller list…

Diane Capri: *Laughs* Yep, we’ll get to that in a moment. Readers ask me all the time what it’s like to work with the big bestsellers like Lee Child and David Morrell and James Rollins. So I’d like to ask you a similar question. What’s it like to collaborate with Erin Brockovich? Is she anything at all like Julia Roberts portrayed her in the movie bearing her name? Will you be doing more books together?


CJ Lyons: It was great fun to work with a personal hero like Erin. And what an honor that she chose me to help her with her fiction debut! Erin and I have still never met—the woman is so very busy, I wish I had a tenth of her energy! But we’ve chatted on the phone and via email, and yes, she’s just like in the movie. As of now, there are no plans for a third in the AJ Palladino series, but you never know.



Diane Capri: You’ve done a lot of astonishing things like exploring the Hell’s Gate Wilderness Preserve in Kenya and earning an orange belt in Kempo. What is the most amazing experience you’ve had so far in your writing career? Why?

CJ Lyons: You know this, too, Diane. Each fan letter brings a new thrill with it—just as each new book release does. Although, I must confess, despite having sixteen books published, I still get a small panicky moment with each new one, anxious that I might disappoint my readers. Guess that’s why writers become neurotic. *Laughs*

Diane Capri: No kidding! The pressure’s enormous. I think that’s one reason the fan mail is so great — we know for sure that they loved the book. Priceless. What else?

CJ Lyons: One of the most memorable events was when BLIND FAITH hit #2 on the combined New York Times print and e-book bestseller list. I was out of town at a conference so a friend’s husband ran out that Sunday morning and picked up a bunch of copies and brought them to the conference for me to sign. It wasn’t until I saw it in print—my book nestled between The Help and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher–that I knew it was real!

Diane Capri: I know you were over the moon about BLIND FAITH hitting the NYT list! Who wouldn’t be? Has that experienced changed your life? How?

CJ Lyons: Hitting the NYT bestseller list is every writer’s dream, but doing it without any publisher support, all on my own (well, me and my readers—they rock!) was a bit surreal. There were no calls or flowers or bottles of champagne or framed copies of my book’s cover from a publisher like friends who’ve hit the list have received. Instead it was me and my agent celebrating—and the celebration was short lived because suddenly all these publishers wanted me, so we had to go to work sorting through offers.

Diane Capri: Like me, you had to be a bit gun-shy about signing away your books this time, right?

CJ Lyons: At first I was reluctant to partner with New York City publishing again, but I realized my readers still enjoy finding my books in print and in bookstores, so after an auction, I went with St. Martins Minotaur because I really wanted to work with their editorial staff and kick my writing to the next level.

Diane Capri: So what’s the new publishing plan?

CJ Lyons: They’re re-releasing a new edition of BLIND FAITH this July with a whole new ending–my editor fell in love with one of the secondary characters so we changed an entire sub-plot to give him a shot at happiness. Plus we’re developing it into a series featuring FBI Agent Caitlyn Tierney with Book #2, BLACK SHEEP, scheduled for January, 2013 and the third book, HOLLOW BONES due out in hardcover June, 2013.

Since BLIND FAITH was originally a standalone, you can see why I suddenly have a whole lot of writing to do in a very short time! But I love that my readers will be getting books much faster than usual with traditional publishing—and of course, I’ll be releasing new indie published books between times.

Diane Capri: Okay, I can see you’re ready to hit the keyboard again. Your fans are waiting. I know better than to stand in the way of that herd! But before you go, I wanted to ask you about killers. I’ve met a few over the years. How about you? Is it true that you’ve actually met a killer in real life?

CJ Lyons: During my seventeen years practicing medicine I’ve had the unfortunate opportunity to meet several killers, including obtaining two confessions (while taking medical histories) and dealing with one alleged serial killer.

I’ve also had a very close friend who was murdered in a case that made national headlines. Writing Thrillers with Heart gives me a chance to see justice served, the good-guys win, and the bad-guys get their comeuppance.

Diane Capri: Yes, that’s another thing we shared way back when we first met: delivering justice through fiction is a common goal. You can stop tapping your foot — I know we don’t have time to go into that more deeply now! Okay, thanks so much for chatting with us today, CJ. We’re all rooting for you and looking forward to those four new books! Meanwhile, you may not know that CJ has been called a “master within the genre” (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as “breathtakingly fast-paced” and “riveting” (Publishers Weekly) with “characters with beating hearts and three dimensions” (Newsday). If you’re not familiar with her work, you can learn more about CJ’s Thrillers with Heart at www.cjlyons.net

As always, Thanks for Reading and see you between the covers!


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44 Responses to Diane Capri Reveals Indie Author Superstar CJ Lyons

  1. Debra Eve April 24, 2012 at 2:35 am #

    Inspiring and informative interview, Diane. I’ll admit CJ didn’t hit my radar until she made the NY Times list, since (as you know) I don’t normally read thrillers. You’re converting me book by book 🙂

    That’s so heartrending her debut was cancelled like that. Good on her for not giving up!

    • Diane April 24, 2012 at 9:13 am #

      More and more, Debra, I’m coming to the inescapable conclusion that persistence is the key to success in life. That, and Blind Faith! Thanks for stopping by, and CJ will be thrilled to have a new fan!

    • CJ Lyons April 24, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

      Thanks, Debra! It was hard to get over losing that first book–especially when it was totally beyond my control, but I learned a lot from the experience.

      Diane is right–my main advice to any writer starting out is taken from Tim Allen (or maybe Winston Churchill ): Never surrender, never give up!

  2. Louise Behiel April 24, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    wonderful interview. Her experience (and yours) with traditional publishing must have been heartbreaking. I’m so glad you’ve both bounced back.

    • Diane April 24, 2012 at 9:14 am #

      Thanks, Louise. It’s wonderful to be here!

    • CJ Lyons April 24, 2012 at 12:17 pm #

      Thanks, Louise! It could have been heart-breaking, but I choose to look at it as a blessing in disguise–if I had stayed with that publisher I would probably still be mouldering in the mid-list doldrums and never have hit the NYT list or had the courage to go out on my own.

  3. Coleen Patrick April 24, 2012 at 9:29 am #

    Good old hard work and persistence–nice to know it isn’t just magic! Ha ha. Great interview.

    • Diane Capri April 24, 2012 at 9:56 am #

      There might be some magic involved, too, Coleen. I guess I forgot to ask CJ that! Thanks for reading!

    • CJ Lyons April 24, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

      Hey, Coleen! Thanks for stopping by!

      There’s always a lot of luck (and a lot of help from friends) involved in success–but as the Chinese say, luck favors the prepared!

  4. Lori Ann Freeland April 24, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    Thanks for the interview! Just bought my first CJ book. Can’t wait to read it. Knowing that despite the bumps on the publishing journey, good writing and a forward attitude does make a difference, is encouraging.

    • Diane Capri April 24, 2012 at 9:58 am #

      Glad you found it so, Lori Ann. One of my personal missions is to inspire others to do the things that inspire them. Comments like yours make me think I’m hitting the target at least some of the time. Thanks for reading!

    • CJ Lyons April 24, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

      Thanks, Lori Ann! Hope you enjoy it!

      As more writers move to indy publishing (combined with traditional publishing or solely on their own) I think we’ll find that a positive attitude and willingness to try new things to reach readers will have more impact than ever before.

      This truly is a Renaissance time for authors!

  5. Ginger Calem April 24, 2012 at 9:44 am #

    Really great interview. I loved learning more about the publishing process and the sheer example of hard work and perseverance is inspiring to me. So thank you both for that!

    Sooo….as hard as it is for me to believe this because I love thrillers, I’ve never read one of yours, C.J. Time to change that!! Where should I start? 🙂

    • Diane Capri April 24, 2012 at 10:02 am #

      So glad you enjoyed the interview, Ginger. As much as we like to think that “overnight success” will happen to each of us, most of the time it takes a while and there are several bends in the road. When I was first starting out, Nancy Pickard told me that it takes 10 years to “make it,” meaning 10 years to get your first novel to the point where someone might buy it. With Indie Publishing, things are a bit faster now, but the point of her advice was that we must pay our dues and learn the craft first. Most of the successful writers out there have been toiling a while in the privacy of their workrooms, I’ve found.

    • CJ Lyons April 24, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

      Thanks, Ginger! I’m thrilled that you enjoyed the interview!

      If you enjoy thrillers, I’d start with SNAKE SKIN and BLOOD STAINED since the e-books are currently on sale and you can get both for less than the price of one at the regular price.

      Happy reading!

      • Ginger Calem April 24, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

        DONE and in my Kindle! Can’t wait.

  6. Melinda VanLone April 24, 2012 at 10:42 am #

    Wow…I am in the presence of greatness! Awesome interview. I hope you both know you’re my heros now.

    • CJ Lyons April 24, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

      Aw, shucks! Thanks Melinda!

      I probably should mention that if anyone here is considering going the indy publishing route, I share everything I know about becoming a bestseller on NoRulesJustWRITE.com

      You’ll find tons of free resources, classes, videos, articles, and sign up for the email updates to have new content delivered right to your in-box.

      • Melinda VanLone April 25, 2012 at 12:20 am #

        Thanks, CJ…I’ll go check it out…I’m going to need all the help I can get!

    • Diane Capri April 24, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

      Double shucks from me, Melinda — after all, I haven’t made the NYT bestseller list (Yet!)!! Thanks for the kind words!

      • Melinda VanLone April 25, 2012 at 12:19 am #

        It’s only a matter of time, Diane :-). Seriously. Can’t wait for that day ’cause I’ll get to say “I told you so” 😀

        • Diane Capri April 25, 2012 at 9:07 am #

          Your mouth to God’s ear!! LOL! 🙂

  7. Jenna Rutland April 24, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    Love your books, CJ. Thanks for sharing your journey!

    • Diane Capri April 24, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

      Nice to meet you, Jenna. CJ’s a marvel, that’s for sure!

    • CJ Lyons April 24, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

      Thanks, Jenna! I appreciate you stopping by!

  8. Karen C April 24, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    I don’t remember the first CJ Lyons book I read, but I do remember being immediately hooked. I started grabbing every book I could find and now have all of them. Just finished Blood Stained and thought it was amazing. CJ, very glad to know there are more books coming. Fell in love with AJ, so I hope you and Erin get together again.
    Diane, sad to say you are a new-to-me author, but I can now add you to my wish list – thanks.
    This was a great interview; thank you so much!

    • Diane Capri April 24, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

      So glad you enjoyed the interview, Karen. Thanks for stopping by. And I’m honored that you’re interested in my books!

    • CJ Lyons April 24, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

      Thanks, Karen! BLOOD STAINED was the most difficult book I’ve written so far–it took me to darker places than I’ve ever dared explore and brought up a look of emotions left over from my years as an ER doc working with victims. I’m thrilled you enjoyed it.

  9. August McLaughlin April 24, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    Fantastic interview! I’m inspired by CJ’s life and dedication to ensuring that the “good guys” win. Wishing both of you continual and expanding success. 🙂

    • Diane Capri April 24, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

      Thanks, August. CJ is a dynamo. If we could bottle her energy, I’d buy a couple of cases!

    • CJ Lyons April 24, 2012 at 5:14 pm #

      Thanks, August! That’s the best thing about writing crime fiction, you can make sure the good guys win even if they don’t always in real life–of course, I always make them pay a price.

  10. Lynette M Burrows April 25, 2012 at 6:50 am #

    Great interview. How terribly frustrating it must be to have to fight for the rights to your own book! But you two are tenacious! So glad to know that I’ve got at least one trait of successful authors down! CJ your story of success is inspiring, thanks for sharing. And Diane – sheesh, is there anyone you _don’t_ know?!! 🙂

    • CJ Lyons April 25, 2012 at 7:25 am #

      Thanks, Lynette! Tenacious–that’s a nice way of putting it, lol! My folks used to call it sheer pig-headed stubbornness…

    • Diane Capri April 25, 2012 at 9:08 am #

      This is me, singing, “I get by with a little help from my friends, oooooo!”

      Thanks for reading, Lynnette!

  11. Debra Kristi April 25, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

    Wow! What a fantastic and really inspiring interview. Thank you ladies. To go through what you both did had to be terribly frustrating, but look at you today! I can’t wait to pop over to Amazon after this and pick up the new books. 🙂

    • Diane Capri April 25, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

      Thanks for the kind words, Debra. The writing life is an adventure, in more ways than one, isn’t it? 🙂

  12. Jane Myers Perrine April 25, 2012 at 5:15 pm #

    I always wondered why it took so long to get CJ’s first book. I’d followed her for a long time and kept waiting and waiting. It was worth it. I love them all. Thanks for the excitement!

    • Diane Capri April 26, 2012 at 9:44 am #

      You are so totally welcome, Jane! Thanks for stopping by and for reading!

  13. Lynn Kelley April 25, 2012 at 7:22 pm #

    Wow, I’m in awe! What a fantastic interview. Diane, you picked the perfect video, Tubthumping. You’re both fighters and have an indomitable spirit. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us and for setting such great examples. I have friends whose book deals fell through, and I know how defeating it can be. And to have to hire a lawyer to get your rights back, that just steams my noodle that you had to do that, Diane! And to write 4 books in a year, CJ, I’m speechless. I always love to hear people’s success stories, especially when someone has faced defeat and then beat it to a pulp! Kudos to both of you amazing, inspiring women.

    • Diane Capri April 26, 2012 at 9:44 am #

      Thanks for your very kind words, Lynn. Very much appreciated! The Tubthumping song is really a good one for us when we’re perseverence-challenged! But it’s also good to put on your iPod for workouts. Great beat!!

  14. Reetta Raitanen April 26, 2012 at 5:56 am #

    Wonderful interview, Diane and CJ. You’re both great examples of keeping the dream alive and working hard to reach it, no matter what. I’m inspired. Thank you.

    • Diane Capri April 26, 2012 at 9:41 am #

      Soooooo glad to hear it, Reetta! As I may have said earlier in reply to someone else, one of my personal missions is to inspire others to do the things that inspire them. I love it when that happens!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  15. Marcy Kennedy April 26, 2012 at 9:30 am #

    This is an excellent interview. Thank you!

    I’m one of those people who didn’t realize that if you sell you rights and something happens to your publisher, you have to work to get them back. Enlightening.

    • Diane Capri April 26, 2012 at 9:40 am #

      And that’s not the only time you need to fight to get your rights back, Marcy. It all depends on your contract, too. For example, most contracts say you’ll get your rights back when your book is out of print. But when is that, exactly? It’s a minefield.

      Thanks for reading!

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