Leverage network and industry associations. It’s not easy or comfortable to promote oneself, but when you launch your book, set that “humble” and “shy” part aside and talk it up! Post about it on LinkedIn, Facebook etc, share on your other social channels, discuss with colleagues and business associates, and talk about it at networking and association meetings and on listservs.
As a part of our series about “How You Can Grow Your Business or Brand By Writing A Book”, I had the pleasure of interviewing James Bostwick.
James Bostwick is one of the nation’s top civil trial lawyers, specializing in complex medical malpractice and personal injury cases, such as birth injury, brain injury, and catastrophic or wrongful death claims. He is widely recognized for obtaining multi-million dollar record results for his clients, including the largest-ever personal injury malpractice verdict in the United States. He is an invited member of the Inner Circle of Advocates, limited to the top 100 plaintiff lawyers in the U.S. and a Past President of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers. Bostwick is the author of Acts of Omission, a legal thriller inspired by a San Francisco case he tried when he faced off against one of the country’s most famous (and dangerous) legal adversaries to seek justice for a devastatingly injured teenager. The novel will soon be adapted into a film by a well-known Hollywood screenwriter and producer.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share a story about what motivated you to become an expert in the particular area that you are writing about?
I am a trial lawyer specializing in professional liability — medical and legal malpractice. I represent injured persons and/or their families and do many other types of injury work as well. As it happened, my father was a physician and my mother a nurse so I was raised in a medical family. I initially thought I wanted to be a doctor so I was pre-med in college and have always loved medicine. When I got a job with a trial law firm during law school I found I also loved the excitement of trial work and, given my background, I naturally gravitated toward cases with medical issues. I am passionate about helping people in need, have an affinity for medicine, I speak the language and have a great respect for the field — that is what drew me into this area of specialty law.
Can you share a pivotal story that shaped the course of your career?
Gosh — so many. Perhaps the most pivotal was when I was asked by the senior law firm partner to work with him in the representation of a teenager who had been rendered quadriplegic by radiation she received when being treated for thyroid cancer. She had no real family so we became close in the process of my developing the case. When a few of us left that law firm to start our own firm, it turned out that she wanted me to continue her representation. It was extremely difficult to find experts in what was then a very new and specialized field of medicine, but we did so, and ultimately had to try the case for 9 weeks in San Francisco in 1978. We won the case and the jury verdict was the largest in US history at the time! The case was talked about across national and international media and I was even the lead story on the six o’clock news with Walter Cronkite. That certainly put our little firm and myself on the legal “map” and assured me that I would be doing lots of medical malpractice cases in the future. There were so many interesting stories that were associated with that trial and its aftermath. In fact, the way the case developed would make a good novel in and of itself.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Are you working on any new writing projects?
I’m very fortunate that most of my cases are interesting projects where I learn about new areas of medicine or expand my knowledge about ones with which I am generally familiar. Currently, I am immersed in a case involving a very sophisticated treatment of a neuro-endovascular problem that went wrong, also a devastating result from a sleep apnea surgery and several cases involving injury to children at birth.
When I’m not representing clients, I’m currently helping with the book-to-movie adaptation of my debut novel Acts of Omission, a legal thriller inspired by a case I tried when I was a young lawyer and went up against one of the most famous legal adversaries in the country. I feel really fortunate that the novel grabbed the attention of such a well-known Hollywood screenwriter and producer. They have asked me to co-produce the film — this Hollywood thing is new to me, but I am learning a lot about the process, enjoying the creative aspects and looking forward to the story coming to life on the big screen. Stay tuned!
As for other writing projects, I’m in the process of penning the sequel to my debut novel, Acts of Omission. Again, stay tuned!
Thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you please tell us a bit about your book? Can you please share a specific passage or story that illustrates the main theme of your book?
Acts of Omission is a legal thriller inspired by a San Francisco case I tried in 1984 when I sued perhaps the most famous lawyer in the country. The defendant was a very well-known San Francisco attorney (and media darling!) and I was seeking justice for a teenager that was devastatingly injured and left permanently disabled. At the heart of the novel is a soul searching exploration of the meaning of friendship, love, and loyalty set in the maelstrom of an epic courtroom battle. It takes the reader on an authentic journey into the life of a civil trial lawyer.
The case involves a young man who was in a serious auto accident and while being treated at the hospital became paralyzed. The lawyer that represented him in the auto case didn’t discover the potential medical malpractice and settled his auto case cheaply. It is now too late for him to sue the medical defendants. The protagonist is a San Francisco lawyer who is young, recently divorced and on the edge financially. He has to decide whether to represent the young, paralyzed plaintiff in a legal malpractice case against his former lawyer. Unfortunately, taking on this very famous lawyer is likely to have profoundly negative implications for our hero.
Most legal thrillers, movies and TV shows aren’t authentic, they don’t paint a realistic depiction of what really happens in the courtroom or while preparing for a case. My goal with Acts of Omission was to write a thrilling story that also was legally realistic and gave some insight into the difficult choices, risks and passion that are part of the everyday life of a busy trial lawyer. The protagonist knows this case is a long shot, against all the odds and for many reasons he probably should not undertake it. But he cares about this young man and his family and finds himself compelled to take major risks in an effort to help them. He confronts danger, financial risk, professional purgatory and serious impact on many of his personal relationships during his fight to get help for his client and to bring a very dangerous adversary to justice.
Here’s the back-cover book blurb to entice you…
“Down on his luck after a string of lost cases and a recent divorce, personal injury lawyer Matt Taylor hopes his next trial will be an easy win. But when he meets a devastatingly injured young man desperate for help, Matt finds himself embroiled in an impossible lawsuit against Salvatore Conte, a powerful lawyer with sinister connections. Despite all warnings, Matt courageously pulls out all the stops to uncover the truth and right a horrific legal wrong. What follows is an epic multi-million-dollar battle of wills, intrigue, and outright violence that could cost Matt everything he cares about — his career, his family, his heart…and his life.”
You are a successful author and thought leader. Which three character traits do you feel were most instrumental to your success when launching your book? Can you please share a story or example for each?
1. Preparation: Like so many things in life, preparation was key to launching Acts of Omission. It was my debut novel, so the experience was new for me. I turned to several other authors that I know and respect to learn from them. I also depended on professionals who are experts in launching and promoting books. I teamed up not only with my publisher, but also with Simon and Schuster to distribute the book. I also worked with a publicity team to help me get the word out. What I found most rewarding was speaking at local book shops, book clubs and other such venues where I could engage with readers and answer their thoughtful questions. I was only able to do that in person for a few months because the pandemic hit and all the bookstores were forced to shut down. Once the shutdown happened, things moved online and I was lucky enough to chat with many readers and book clubs virtually about Acts of Omission.
2. Authenticity: My goal was to write a legal thriller that authentically portrayed what it’s really like to be a civil trial lawyer. Most of what you read or see on TV or in the movies, isn’t an accurate depiction of what it’s really like for lawyers who represent victims of negligence. The “ambulance chasing” stereotypes always left me frustrated, lawyer interactions and courtroom scenes bore little resemblance to reality. After the novel was published, I heard from many lawyers, judges and others in the legal community who were relieved to finally read a legal thriller that provided a rare and authentic glimpse into the daily life of a civil trial lawyer, both professionally and personally. The greatest gift as an author is when people read the book and take the time to review it. I feel humbled that the vast majority of reviews are all four and five stars. A few of my favorite reviews are from anonymous readers who say “Move over Grisham” — now that’s a pretty cool compliment!
3. Willingness to fail: When I first started writing the novel, I had a desire to make everything I wrote sound like I knew what I was doing. I wanted it to be lyrical, the prose to resonate and inspire, the dialogue to be real and the descriptions to leap off the page. What I quickly learned was that those goals are extremely difficult — especially in a first draft by a first time writer! The more I tried for perfection, the less got written. I realized I just had to spit it out, and be willing to fail. Once the juices start flowing, the story will develop a life of its own. You can always go back and edit, smooth it out and improve it later.
In my work, I have found that writing a book can be a great way to grow a brand. Can you share some stories or examples from your own experience about how you helped your own business or brand grow by writing a book? What was the “before and after picture?” What were things like before, and how did things change after the book?
I agree that it’s a great way to grow a brand, although my primary purpose in writing Acts of Omission wasn’t to grow my brand, but to accurately portray what it’s really like to be a civil trial lawyer. After practicing law for over 40 years, I am fortunate to have built a law practice that is recognized around the country. I love what I do and feel honored each day that I get to make a difference in the lives of my clients who have been catastrophically injured and for their loved ones.
What I didn’t expect from writing a book is that I would get a phone call from Hollywood asking if they could make my book into a movie! I am blown away by it. The movie making process is already in the works and I am helping co-produce it. The screenwriter is Michael Schiffer, known for writing screenplays for “Crimson Tide” starring Denzel Washington; “Lean on Me” starring Morgan Freeman; “Colors” starring Sean Penn and Robert Duvall; and the “Call of Duty” video games (versions 1 and 2). The producer is Jeff Apple who is recognized for “In the Line of Fire” starring Clint Eastwood; “Evolution” featuring Julianne Moore and David Duchovny; and “The Recruit” with Al Pacino, Colin Farrell and Bridget Moynahan.
My novel was also nominated for the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction, which is an honor as a lawyer and as an author because they recognize works of fiction that best illuminate the role of lawyers in society and their power to effect change. So, I guess you could say that some pretty cool “ before and after” opportunities resulted from writing a book — “before” I was just a trial lawyer and “after” I am a trial lawyer, author and producer.
If a friend came to you and said “I’m considering writing a book but I’m on the fence if it is worth the effort and expense” what would you answer? Can you explain how writing a book in particular, and thought leadership in general, can create lucrative opportunities and help a business or brand grow?
I’d say “go for it!” One of the greatest benefits of becoming an author was that I got to engage with people that I may have never had a chance to meet, both professionally and personally. I’ve encountered so many new people since I became an author — from young, aspiring lawyers who now want to pursue being civil trial lawyers to established lawyers who are experts in the legal community. I’ve been invited to speak at local business, law schools, networking and community events, like the Commonwealth Club. People I hadn’t heard from in years came out of the woodwork and called me after reading the book. I’ve also been introduced to Hollywood screenwriters and producers that are now making a movie out of my book. You never know who you might meet or what lucrative opportunities may present themselves once you become an author. It’s also a great excuse for parties to entertain and get to know good business prospects!
The biggest investment in becoming an author is your time. It takes a lot of time to write a book. I had to find time at night after I put my youngest daughter to bed because I was working full-time during the day. It took me almost 10 years to actually complete the book. The editing process was also extensive. There were times I felt like I would never finish, but I did and am happy I never quit.
Now I am called about cases from all over the country by lawyers that know of me from reading my novel. The book is recommended reading in law schools across the country and all those young lawyers will not only perhaps be inspired to practice at a higher level, but one of these days they might call me about working together on a case! Increased name recognition is never a bad thing for a specialized trial lawyer that primarily depends on referral business for new cases.
What are the things that you wish you knew about promoting a book before you started? What did you learn the hard way? Can you share some stories about that which other aspiring writers can learn from?
- I learned that it’s not ideal to launch a book during a pandemic. Kidding aside (sort of!), the pandemic made it challenging, especially because I couldn’t do any in person book tours for the launch of the paperback edition. We had many in person sessions when the hardbound was released, which is probably why the first edition sold out so quickly. There is nothing better than meeting in person with enthusiastic readers of a book club or at a local bookstore who want to know more about how you developed the characters or if a certain scenario ever actually happened.
- When we first launched the hardbound, I was told that publicity experts were a waste of money and that the publisher would make sure the book was widely presented. I learned that both were completely false. A good publicity team dedicated to your product is essential. It is counter intuitive, but plan on the publisher doing nothing. I would recommend that you have a team in place to help support your marketing efforts well in advance. There are millions of books out there, so no matter how good your book is, you need people to help spread the word.
- Plan on devoting many hours doing as much as you can personally to promote the book. Call your contacts, visit the local bookstores, use the structures of all the organizations you belong to or are or have been associated with. Leverage the power of social media. Don’t simply rely on your publisher to do it. That’s not their primary job. I learned that the hard way. Even if your book is excellent, no one is going to read it unless they hear about it — word of mouth is hugely important.
- I’d also suggest partnering with local bookstores and doing what you can to support them. Independent bookstores are not just stores, they are the anchor to a community where friends gather and out of towners come to visit. I spoke at several local bookstores and have also supported them by purchasing gift cards and doing giveaways on social media.
- Finally, if you have an audiobook version of your book, and you don’t read it yourself, make sure it’s read by an experienced actor/voice! Acts of Omission was read by Roger Wayne and he was incredible. He’s known for voicing the award-winning audiobook, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. Thousands of the audiobook versions have sold and Acts of Omission has nearly 600 reviews; the majority are 5 and 4 stars, with most of them complimenting the reading as much as the story!
Based on your experience, which promotional elements would you recommend to an author to cover on their own and when would you recommend engaging an expert?
This is a great question, thank you. As the author, it’s important that you personally reach out to your local bookstores and your community and let them know about your book. Build those personal relationships with the bookstore owners and staff before your book gets published. Make sure that you are walking the talk by also buying local and going to your own local bookstores to purchase other books. This is grassroots marketing, but also just the right community-minded thing to do.
If you have existing relationships with local or industry media, reach out personally and let them know about the book launch. See if they want to read it! Several media contacts that I have relationships with were happy to hear from me and invited me on to their radio stations to talk about my novel.
I’d also suggest personally reaching out to associations that you belong to — I’m involved with a number of legal industry associations and they were very helpful in spreading the word!
While there are things you can do on your own, it’s also important to know when to hire help! I’d recommend hiring a publicist and web marketing guru before publication to help launch a book website, run your social media pages, coordinate events, and manage book reviews and the majority of media relations efforts. You need to hit the ground running. The team I have in place has been incredibly valuable. They should be making some noise about the movie soon!
Wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your own experience and success, what are the “five things an author needs to know to successfully promote and market a book?” If you can, please share a story or example for each.
1. Trim the fat. First things first, you’ll need to find a publisher willing to publish your book, unless you plan to self-publish. When you have your 500-page masterpiece completed, remember that it probably has 100 pages of fat that doesn’t need to be there. The original book my agent sent to publishers was ignored. I was told it was way too long and to trim from the fat. If you are a first time author they don’t want to invest in that many pages! When it has been pruned of chapters or vignettes you thought were great at the time, but upon cold-blooded reflection aren’t truly necessary, the story will move much faster, won’t have dead spots and will keep the reader more engaged. After I cut 100 pages, the next publisher grabbed it.
2. Engage local bookstores. Local bookstores are an anchor of the community. When you support your local, independent bookstores, they will likely support you. Many bookstores host local authors through author talks and book signings. I am grateful for the early talks and signings that I did at my local San Francisco Bay Area bookstores, Book Passage and Sausalito Books by the Bay. Indies need our support more than ever now!
3. Leverage network and industry associations. It’s not easy or comfortable to promote oneself, but when you launch your book, set that “humble” and “shy” part aside and talk it up! Post about it on LinkedIn, Facebook etc, share on your other social channels, discuss with colleagues and business associates, and talk about it at networking and association meetings and on listservs. I was fortunate that several of the member associations I’m a part of shared the book in their monthly newsletters and/or on line, instantly reaching thousands of targeted readers.
4. Hire publicity and marketing gurus sooner rather than later. I wish I had hired one earlier. There’s a lot that goes into a successful book launch. I’d start talking with an expert at least 3–6 months before your book is released so that you can get a solid plan in place and foundational things set-up, like a website, social media pages, awards and book reviews. A publicist will also help arrange book tours and events, and all of that takes planning. Your “new book” is only new for a very short amount of time so get ahead of it.
5. Engage with readers and ask for reviews. Whether in person or on social media, engage with readers. Listen to what they think about the book — the good, the bad and the ugly. Readers want to connect with the author so it’s important to take the time to get to know them. And while it may feel awkward, ask readers to review the book. Amazon, Audible, Goodreads -reviews are crucial. As an avid reader myself, I always look at the reviews before I purchase a book. I’m honored that the majority of the reviews for Acts of Omission are 4 and 5 stars, but remember this is a creative art form and therefore there will be all sorts of reactions. One man’s Renoir is another’s trash! One of my favorite reviews is from a gentleman from England who gave it a 1 star and said “Not my cup of tea!” I learned you can’t please everyone and that’s okay!
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)
I see Bradley Cooper as the young lawyer in the movie version of Acts of Omission. I know it is not his typical part, but maybe that is one of the reasons I feel it would be a good fit? He is certainly capable of a wide range of roles. It would at least be fun to have lunch with him to discuss it!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Acts of Omission
Facebook and Instagram
Bostwick & Peterson
Facebook and Instagram
Thank you for these excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent. We wish you continued success with your book promotion and growing your brand.