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Bouchercon

1

B-Con 2012, Part Two

Bouchercon was terrific for me this year. I finally felt like a real author with a wide reader base and respect from other authors, even though the conference programmer didn’t offer me a panel until I politely pointed out that I met all the criteria. But in the long run, it didn’t matter.

My highlight this year was having dinner with the Thomas & Mercer team and getting to know Andrew Bartlett, the acquisitions editor. At that dinner, I also met Blake Crouch, Sean Chercover, and Dana Cameron, and walked back in the rain with with Tom Shreck, whom I’ve known since we were both with the same small press. (Blake and Tom are in next photo.)

But let me back up. I started Friday with a Sisters in Crime breakfast, complete with singing a chorus of “You show me your gun, I’ll show you mine.” Then I attended panel called Old Friends, New Friends, nicely moderated by Jen Forbus, followed by Eve of Destruction, with authors Sophie Littlefield, Deborah Coonts, Tracy Kiely, and Rochelle Staab. I spent a lot of time with Rochelle, who I’d Skyped with earlier in the year for a Big Thrill feature. She’s just as dynamic in person. (Bottom photo in gorgeous red leather.)

A little latter I met up with longtime online friend Debbi Mack for the first time—lovely woman—and had lunch with her and fellow panelist, Conda Douglas, and new author friend, Molly Cox Bryan.Blake Crouch and Tom Shreck

Friday afternoon, I attended Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, a terrific panel where they talked about writing from the opposite gender’s perspective. The room was pack to see Elizabeth George, Val McDemid, Alan Jacobson, Tom Shreck, and another friend, Alexandra Sokoloff. The moderator, Daniel Palmer did a great job of keeping it lively.

Saturday was a day of conversations. I chatted with readers and authors all day—including Zoe Sharp, Julie Hyzy, Claudia Whitsitt, and Annette Dashofy —and had lunch with my terrific roommate and author Terry Shames (next photo), along with Keith Raffel, Boyd Morison and his wife, Randi, Tracy Kiely, and another delightful author whose name escapes me. By that point, I’d met and chatted with so many people, it was hard to mentally keep everyone straight. We talked shop, but also veered off into other stimulating subjects.

Still, that evening at the awards ceremony, I met more authors for the first time. Edgar nominee Darrell James was charming, and so was Kathy Wiley and new author Anne Cleeland. I went to dinner with Darrell James and a female author named Darrell who writes under Avery Aames, as well as Rochelle, Dana Cameron, Roberta Isleb, and another woman I should remember. I also chatted with numerous authors in the bar that evening, staying up late to connect with as many people as possible.L.J. Sellers and Terry Shames

That’s the problem with blogs like this. I can’t possibly mention everyone I talked even if I could remember all their names. So if I left you out, please don’t be offended, and feel free to comment and remind me! And I have to mention that I chatted with Stan and Lucinda Surber who talked me into being a chair for Left Coast Crime 2015 in Portland. It’ll be fantastic, so put it on your calendar.

The best panel I attended was on Sunday morning and called Red Herrings. Moderator Keith Raffel (a great guy!) was sharp and funny, despite a late night in the lounge, and the panelists—Beth Groundwater, Pennie Ross, D.M. Pirrone, and Melodie Campbell—all kept up with him.

Afterward while waiting to leave, I chatted with agent Janet Reid, who did her best to convince me that personal one-to-one emails are worthwhile, even with a thousand-name email list, and I know in my heart she’s right, even though the task would be overwhelming. And I shared a cab to the airport with Gigi Pandian, an delightful author I shared a shuttle with at B-con 2010. We both seem to fly home to the west coast at the same time

L.J. Sellers and Rochelle StaabI also talked with people on all of my flights coming and going, two of whom have already emailed me, hoping to stay in touch. I wish I had total recall for all the wonderful people I’ve met.

If you attended B-con, please share one of your moments.

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Bouchercon 2012

I’m happy to be in Cleveland at Bouchercon with so many people who love crime fiction as much as I do. I had a lovely dinner last night with Neil Plakcy, Tim Hallinan, Barbara Fister, Katherine Clark, and Les Blatt. We talked about the genre, of course, and what defines cozy and what “dark” really means in connection with crime fiction. Neither Tim or I see our work as dark, but many readers do. Tim told us all about his next book, and Neil talked about how he ended up writing stories with dogs. It was fun to get the inside track.

This afternoon I was on a panel called The Ebook Revolution, but I’m happy to report we didn’t talk about self-publishing. We talked about where readers can find quality crime fiction online is a sea of new authors and books. Neil Plakcy moderated, and book blogger Erin Mitchell talked about her process for finding what she wants to review. Author Conda Douglas was on the panel too, and talked a bit about Goodreads.

I gave a list of the sites I’ve been reviewed on: OverMyDeadBody: Fresh Fiction, RT Reviews, Readers Favorite Awards, Buried Under Books. and BookTrib.

I mentioned the print magazines that have run reviews of my books.: Mystery Scene, Crimespree, Suspense, and Spinetingler. As well as the newsletter I subscribe to: All Mystery.

I also talked about the collective sites where you can find great mysteries and thrillers by authors you know are bestsellers or award winners: KillerThrillers, Top Suspense, and Readers Rule.

We also talked about where we network with readers, and I mentioned Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari, Dorothy L, and 4 Mystery Addicts. All great places to meet readers with like-minded preferences for crime fiction. After the panel I gave away 15 print copies of The Sex Club.

This evening, I attended the opening ceremonies at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an event sponsored by Thomas & Mercer, my new publisher. Great fun! (And bought a t-shirt for the husband of course.)

 

 

 

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More B-Con Moments

Last night a tall man with a British accent joined our group at the bar while I was in the rest room. When I got back, I said, “I didn’t catch your name.” He shook my hand and said, “Lee Child.” I was surprised, delighted, and embarrassed that I didn’t recognize him. He gave us this great advice: “The most important thing you can do as a writer is to focus on the quality of the second book.” Read more

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Bouchercon Moments

Loving every moment of this conference. Click “Read More” to see some photos.
Read more

17

Goals for 2009—What's Really Important?

I must start by saying 2008 was the best year I’ve ever had! I wrote and sold a novel in the space of ten months. I garnered great reviews for my published novel. I established a significant online presence and attended a major mystery convention where I met and networked with others in the industry. Just to name some highlights. Some people would look back and say it was also the worst year we’ve ever had, with both of us unexpectedly laid off in March and our 401Ks devastated.

So at the beginning of 2009, I’m struggling with a weighty decision. I just found out that the health insurance I was counting on through my husband’s new job will cost $575 a month—and who the hell can afford that? So I have to rethink my strategy going forward. Is having health insurance important enough to make me change directions and get an outside job?

The thought breaks my heart. The best thing about 2008 was that I was able to focus on my novels—to put writing at the top of my to-do list for the first time in my life. Even the freelance work I did moved me closer to my goal of working exclusively in the fiction writing/editing industry. I believe a job, even a part-time one, will move me away from that goal. And looking for a job will be a major time suck.

So I’m vacillating. My mother wants me to get a job with insurance and security. My sons say to follow my dream—that I’m healthy and I’ll be fine. My husband is smart enough to stay out of it, accept as a good sounding board.

My thinking (at this moment) is to give myself more time and keep the momentum going. To finish the novel I’m writing (March is my goal), put it on the market, then reassess the situation at that point. I also plan to look into joining writers’ associations that offer insurance. (Does anyone have any experience with these policies and their cost?)

Meanwhile, here are my writing goals for 2009:

  • Write 1500 words a day, 5 days a week until my new novel is completed.
  • Outline the next (fourth!) Jackson novel between now and March.
  • Sign a publishing contract for this novel (the third in the Jackson series).
  • Sign a contract for my standalone thriller, The Baby Thief.
  • Write the fourth Jackson story before the end of the year.
  • Attend Bouchercon and possibly ThrillerFest (if my credit card mileage points allow).
  • Blog twice a week, write/develop a speaker’s presentation, and write three magazine articles (among other things).

Now that I’ve put that all down in writing, I realize that achieving those goals depends on having the freedom to write first, edit/clean later.

What are your goals? Any opinions on my dilemma?

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When to Ignore Good Advice

Advice for writers is everywhere. Rules for writing. Rules for querying. Rules for submitting. Like most writers, I also actively solicit advice from beta readers, successful novelists, and others in the publishing business. There have been times when I followed what seemed like good advice and ended up regretting it. Other times, I ignored perfectly good advice and was glad I did. How do you know up front when to ignore sound advice? Listen to your own instincts.

Long ago, an agent advised me to write a YA novel because she knew an editor who was looking for YA manuscripts that dealt with troubled teen scenarios and she thought I would be perfect for the series. My instinct said it wasn’t right for me, but I thought this agent had a solid connection that would get me published. Total waste of time! I am not a YA writer. (I’m not sure I was every really young. My mother swears I was born 40.)

One very successful agent who I was once signed with kept advising me to write a cozy mystery series because that’s what all the publishers wanted. I don’t read cozy mysteries, and I didn’t think I could pull it off. So I never tried. That was smart. See above. So my rule for myself is: Never write a novel I wouldn’t read. (Unless someone gives me a boatload of money upfront and and all the time in world to complete it.)

A beta reader once advised me to not make the murder victim’s mother a drug addict who had died of drug-related complications. She thought it was distracting and unnecessary. But it was the basis for the character’s personality! It was why she ended up in the situation she was in at the time of the murder. Wrong advice! Easy to ignore.

Everyone in the business says to never query an agent before you finish writing the story. I have routinely ignored this advice (when sending snail mail) and have never had an agent respond to a query before the manuscript was ready. Agents are notoriously slow (I once got a response three years and three months later), so why not eliminate that waiting gap with productive writing time? Sending queries early also motivates me to get it done.

A successful mystery writer and dear friend once advised me not approach an editor at a major publishing house directly. She felt strongly that I should get an agent—that the editor would never consider a manuscript submitted without one and that it might seem unprofessional. But this editor had read The Sex Club as a manuscript and loved it. She knew my name and my writing. I felt there was no harm in asking if she’d like to see the next installment in the Jackson series. So I queried her directly anyway (via e-mail). Then a few weeks later, I ran into her at Bouchercon and pitched the novel again. A month later, she e-mailed me and asked to see the manuscript. I’m still waiting to see how this turns out. But even if she passes on the series, I’m still glad I ignored that well-intended advice and made that direct connection.

I’ve learned to write only the stories I feel passionate about, regardless of what’s currently trendy; to trust my own instincts about what works best for those stories; and to never let fear get in the way of making connections.

Do you ignore standard industry advice? Does it usually work out for you?

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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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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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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.

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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