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Write First, Clean Later

4

New Day, New Goals

Last January, I set two main goals for the year: 1) establish a freelance fiction editing business and 2) write and sell a second Detective Jackson novel. With the help of a layoff from my job, I sort of accomplished the first. And yesterday, I signed with Echelon Press to publish Secrets to Die For next September, so I can happily check off the second goal.

And I did it with two months to spare, so now I can write like crazy on the third Jackson story during November, also known as National Novel Writing Month. I don’t expect to finish the novel in 30 days, but if I have 30,000 words down by December, I’ll be very happy. (And yes, technically it’s a new goal.)

I’ve also come to accept the idea that the publishing industry is moving—slowly—away from paper products. In fact, I bought a Kindle the other day (I still have a credit card!), something I never thought I would do. (It hasn’t arrived, so I can’t report on it yet, but I will eventually.) So now I’m thinking seriously about nonpaper media, with ideas such as 1) creating an audio version (podiobook) of The Sex Club, 2) creating a downloadable e-book of a story I wrote years ago and never tried to sell, and 3) podcasting the first chapter of several of my stories. All viable projects—all time consuming. But I have two months to spare this year, so why not branch out?

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9

Do You Podcast?

The first time I was asked to do an interview on BlogTalkRadio, I turned it down because I was leery about the host and not impressed with the quality of the production. Then I felt guilty and wondered if I’d missed a great opportunity.

Recently, I was invited do an audio podcast with another host, so of course I said yes. Why not? It’s more exposure—another opportunity to get my name and book titles out there to the public. Every time a reader hears your name, you’re one step closer to a sale. But then I started to wonder: How much time would it take? How much exposure would I get? Podcasters likely keep stats, but what do those numbers really mean?

I’ve been invited through various venues to listen to other author’s audio podcasts, and the sad truth is that I rarely participate. I try to be as give and take as I can. I want people to buy and read my book, so I buy and read theirs. I want people to read and comment on my blog, so I read and comment on other blogs. So I have tuned in to a few podcasts, but they usually don’t hold my interest for more than a few minutes. I think it’s partly because I’m not someone who normally listens to the radio. People talking without having a face or expressions to focus on don’t seem to grab my interest. Watching a video podcast is a different—and better— experience, but few podcasters who are interviewing authors are doing those.

What I want to know is: How many readers/internet users regularly listen to audio podcasts? What do you like to hear about from an author? Personal stories or information about his/her books? Has a podcast ever motivated you to buy an author’s book? Have you done a podcast and what did you get out of it?

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5

Living with Uncertainty

If I were a widget maker who went to work in a factory at the same time every day, I would leave work at the same time and the collect the same paycheck. There would be no uncertainty.

Instead I’m a novelist and freelance editor. No two days are alike, and uncertainty is a way of life. Will this novel I’m writing sell to a publisher? After spending 25 hours on this manuscript, will the writer actually send me a check? Will I have enough freelance work this month to pay my mortgage?

A little background: I’m a Type A personality and a bit of a control freak. I never leave on a road trip without a map and a hotel reservation. I am not cut out for uncertainty.

And yet, the life of a widget maker would drive me insane. Conversely, I love this life as a novelist and freelancer. So I must learn to live with uncertainty. Some days are easier than others. Yesterday got the best of me. Financially, this is the worst year my husband and I have ever had, and things will get worse before they get better. But in some ways, we are happier than ever.

Financial insecurity is not the worst of it though. The question of whether my recently completed novel will sell sometimes hinders my ability to move forward as a novelist. I have a new story outlined and two chapters written, yet a little part of my brain says, “Why bother?”

I always manage to push past this point. (Although, it once took a few years.) And I will again. I write because I am a storyteller. And the life of a storyteller is always filled with uncertainty.

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6

Elaine Said It Best: Writers Are Whores

The last time I had lunch with Elaine Flinn, the funny, vivacious author of the Molly Doyle mysteries, she summed up this business of being a writer rather graphically and succinctly. Leading up to that moment, I was talking about Lynne Cheney (wife of the vice president) who had gone on Jon Stewart’s show to sell her memoir. My husband thought her guest appearance was shocking, considering that Jon had called Dick Cheney the Prince of Darkness, among other horribly unflattering things. I was less surprised by Lynne Cheney’s appearance, after all, she was a writer with a book to sell. But Elaine summed it up best, “We’re all whores.”

We burst into laughter and drew stares from the diners around us. Neither of us cared much.

Of course what Elaine meant was that we want so desperately for people to read our work—and love us in return—that we will go just about anywhere, say just about anything, participate in just about any gimmick (contests, human auctions, dressing in character, standing outside a bookstore with a three-foot poster), and put up with all manner of inconvenience and insult. Writers often sell their books one at time in a very personal exchange. Seldom does anyone actually get naked during the transaction, but it does feel a little whorish at times.

I’m not complaining or disparaging anyone. We do it for the love of the craft and the love of the readers. Few of us are in it for the money. Which is a good thing, because street walkers never get rich. But to take this analogy one step further, Elaine Flinn was a high-class call girl. And I will miss whoring around with her.

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4

Things I Want to Know

It’s time for another non-writing/reading rave. These have been simmering for a while.

Why are automated voice mail greetings so long?
How many options do we need and does anyone ever use them? Wouldn’t voice mail be much friendlier if it simply said, “No one is answering, so leave a message”? Furthermore, it seems that few people actually listen to their voice messages. Time and again, people who call me back say, “So what’s up?” or “I saw that you called.” I politely ask, “Did you listen to my message?” Because I don’t want to bore them with a repeat of what they’ve already heard. They invariably say, “No. I just saw that I’d missed your call and called you back.” My feeling is that if I suffer through five minutes of voice mail options, waiting patiently for the tone that says I can finally talk, I expect you to listen to the thoughtful message that I’ve left. Because if I’m on my way to the emergency room, I may not be able to answer when you call back.

Why is all packaging so hard to get into?
This would be the reason that I’m on my way to the hospital—because I just sliced open my hand with a utility blade trying to open a package a batteries. Don’t manufacturers know that people who need batteries need them right f**king now because the damn smoke alarm won’t shut the hell up?

Sleep-aid packaging is the worst. Each pill is set in a little plastic cup with a paper covering glued down over the whole thing. It’s after midnight and I’m exhausted yet can’t sleep, so I’m in the kitchen trying to access a single little sleeping pill. I do not have sharp fingernails, and like everyone else my age I can’t focus well on things that are 18 inches from my face. After five minutes of clawing and tearing, I realize the task is beyond my skills. I reach for the utility knife, then remember the incident with the batteries. So I think “to hell with it” and grab the Nyquil. (Fortunately, I have mastered childproof caps.)

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9

Who Is an Author?

The big discussion at Dorothly L this week is about the author rule for conventions, particularly Bouchercon, which had lax rules. Left Coast Crime in Denver this year apparently had a stricter rule, and as a result, some authors were offended and did not attend.

Boiled down, The Rule (as it is known) is that if an author participates financially in the production or editing of his/her own work, then that person is excluded as an author. It seems that the purpose of the rule is to keep self-published authors from wearing a badge that says “author” and from participating on panels. Exceptions are made for authors who have been short-listed for awards or won awards.

Which brings up the first interesting point. If self-published authors are sometimes nominated for (and occasionally win) awards, then clearly there are great books that are sometimes rejected by major publishers. Because most self-published books aren’t even allowed to compete for awards, we don’t really know how many great self-published books are out there. Supporters of the rule would say, “But we’re trying to keep the crap out.” And everyone knows there is a LOT of self-published crap. But what about traditionally published substandard novels? How do you keep them out? Shouldn’t novels be judged by their content, instead of their publisher?

One idea is to have two or three participants read each author’s latest work and decide if it is worthy, regardless of publication method. I started to write “but that’s not realistic” then thought “why not?” You could require every author who wants to attend the conference to read one or two selections from other authors and to provide an anonymous evaluation (or a simple yes/no)—and also to submit their own work to the process. What could be fairer? (This was the basis for Project Greenlight in the film industry.)

The second gray area is the concept of “financially participating in the production and editing” of the novel. Don’t most authors pay to have their work evaluated and/or edited before they even send it to an agent or publisher? (I certainly do!) And what about marketing? I think it’s safe to say that all publishers want their authors to participate financially in the marketing of their novels. Why is it okay for authors to spend thousands of dollars on travel, bookmarks, and mailing free copies to book clubs, but if they spend their own money to hire a graphic designer to produce a better cover than what their publisher has in mind, then suddenly they are not a real author?

I commend Bouchercon for keeping participation open, and I understand the concerns of those who think the rule is necessary. I also think there is room for a better way to determine who is labeled an author at conventions and who is not. What you do think?

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10

Submitting Directly to Small Publishers

I gather publisher names the way some people collect author names, and my list now totals nearly 100. Many of the companies are imprints owned by big houses, and many are niche publishers aimed at a specific market (Christian, gay/lesbian). I culled out a few small publishers that accept a variety of submissions directly from authors. They share a few basic guidelines:

  • They want manuscripts that are 65,000–95,000 words.
  • They print in paperback form only.
  • They do NOT want paper submissions.
  • They can take six months or more to respond to submissions.

Here’s a little more information about each:

Echelon Press
Publishes a variety of novels, romantic suspense to mystery to self-help. It also has an erotic and young adult imprint. Echelon is currently NOT accepting any submissions for print books, but it is taking submissions for e-books. The company also publishes novellas and short stories. Query by e-mail and follow directions.

Five Star Publishing
Publishes a wide variety as well, but is currently looking for romance, women’s fiction, and mystery (which includes suspense/thrillers). It publishes almost 150 books a year but sells mostly to libraries. So as an author, you’ll have to do the work to get your novel into bookstores. Query by e-mail.

Medallion Press
Also publishes a wide variety of genres, including nonfiction. Accepts both paper and e-queries and says it can take up to 12 months to respond to submissions. Follow directions!

Hilliard & Harris
Publishes primarily mystery series, but also accepts thrillers, sci-fi, horror, historical fiction and some young adult within those categories. The rumor mill says this company is hard on authors.

The following publishes are more narrowly focused on some time of crime story:

Poisoned Pen Press
This is the largest in this group, but you do not need an agent to submit. PPP publishes mystery/crime, but no incest, torture, drugs, terrorists, or spy stories. Start with an e-mail query and proceed from there.

Capital Crime Press
As implied, it publishes crime stories and seems to be looking for edgier submissions—the stories Poisoned Pen doesn’t want. Start with e-mail query. Its website is outdated, so I can’t tell if it’s taking submissions or not.

Midnight Ink
Publishes mystery fiction and suspenseful tales of all types: hard-boiled thrillers, cozies, historical mysteries, amateur sleuth novels, and more. Accepts e-mail submissions only. Currently closed to submissions except through referrals from its published authors.

Hard Case Crime
Publishes hard-boiled crime stories and picks up out-of-print crime classics from the past. Accepts e-mail queries, but no guidelines are given.

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0

More Bouchercon Notes


In this photo are two of the sweetest people I met at B-con. On the left, Kaye Barley, voted Most Popular at the conference this year. And in the middle is B.G. Ritts, who generously gave me a neck rub and vanquished my blinding headache. Love her!

I also attended a panel that discussed the role of alcohol in fiction and in the lives of novelists. Liz Zevlin, a voice of reason and sobriety, held her own in the midst of Ken Bruen, Jason Starr (below), and others. I chatted with Liz later and discovered that she swims regularly in the ocean.
Brave woman!

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11

Bouchcon: Live in the Moment


Kudos to everyone who was able to blog about Bouchercon while they were there. I had good intentions, but I was just too tired at the end of each day to feel coherent. I also failed to take very many pictures. But I decided early in the conference that it was more important to experience every moment and to meet every person that I could rather than to record the event in detail. I decided to live in the moment. For example, it made more sense to me on my last night there to go out to a late dinner with other writers (including Simon Wood) than to sit in my hotel room, blogging about the day. It was the right choice. (Above picture is me with Shane Gericke and Robin Burcell.)

My objectives for the conference were to meet as many people as I could and to give away as many books and promotional materials as I could. I also hoped to get know Karen Syed of Echelon Press. I accomplished all those things. And more. Here are some memorable moments.

I met Troy Cook, author of 47 Rules of Highly Effective Bank Robbers. He is a sweet, modest man who is rapidly on his way to the top. Hearing his story—having several agents fail to sell his book, then getting picked up by a small press on his own, followed by great reviews, awards, great sales, and a movie deal—was very inspiring.

I also shared a long shuttle ride to the airport with Julia Spenser-Fleming, (an award-winning mystery author) and we talked seamlessly for more than an hour. She’s bright and friendly, and I enjoyed her company. She probably won’t remember my name, but you never know. I feel like I made a connection with her.

The panel I was on Saturday morning with Bob Morris, Jack Getze, Rebecca Drake, and Marion Moore was a blast. Bob and Jack told wild stories about their days in the newspaper business (including large amounts of alcohol and occasional gunshots), and I got in some good jokes about working for a pharmaceutical magazine. Being anal, I also prepared a handout for the attendees, listing about 20 authors who write about reporter characters. So that roomful of people will remember me. It’s important to promote other authors when you can and to resist the urge to talk incessantly about your own book. In fact, when I met an online friend and mystery lover, he commented that was what he really liked about me—that I’m everywhere online, making friends and being nice, but never going for the hard sell.

Another observation: People who are friendly online are friendly in person! And mystery fans are great—warm, friendly, and happy to meet anyone who writes the stories they like to read. In fact, Kaye Barley may be the sweetest person I’ve ever met. (Picture below: Michelle Gagnon and Ken Bruen)

I may keep adding to this blog as I sort through my notes and business cards, so check back.

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4

Bouchercon Day 1

Up early after a late night to start the day with a panel called We Didn’t Start the Fire. They discussed the balance of writing about social issues in fiction without being preachy. It made me want to take another look at my novel. I met Karen Olson and Neil Plakcy, and Karen may guest blog here soon.

Second panel of the day was Does Sex Sell? The discussion was more about whether sex scenes were necessary in mystery/crime fiction. No consensus was reached, except that romance outsells mystery 10 to 1.

I introduced myself to dozens of writers, gave away about 25 copies of The Sex Club, and handed out bags of books as a volunteer. No one is going home empty handed from this conference. I also had dinner with Karen Syed of Echelon Press, a funny high-energy dynamo. I think we could be an ass-kicking combo.

Took exactly one bad picture today. I’ll do better tomorrow with visuals.

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