by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers
Sandra Parshall, who happens to be a terrific blogger, posted yesterday about standalone suspense fiction and how she likes it better than crime fiction series, but that few authors are writing it. I’m not sure that’s technically true. Many of us are writing it, but often, one of two things happen. Either the standalone doesn’t sell as well as our series books, or it’s so popular that readers want more, and it ends up launching a new series. Which is what happened with The Sex Club, the first book featuring Detective Jackson.
There are exceptions of course. Gillian Flynn writes popular standalone thrillers and grows her readership with each one. And some series writers have expanded their readerships by writing standalone thrillers (Laura Lippman, Harlan Coben). That’s what I hope to do with my new thriller.
Yet, I love the character, and I know I’ll bring her back for more stories. Her setup as an FBI agent who specializes in undercover work is perfect for a series that has a lot of flexibility.
I introduced Agent Dallas in Jackson #8, Crimes of Memory (which will release Oct. 15!). I had so much fun writing her part that I knew she needed her own story. And I had an idea that I really wanted to write about and she was perfect for it. My beta readers loved the story, and I’m still waiting to see if my publisher does too.
More important though will be if readers like it. Especially new readers. I know some of my Jackson fans will pass, just because it’s not a Jackson story. But I hope enough new readers will be interested in the novel to justify the five months I put into researching and writing it.
Here’s a quick description: Agent Dallas goes undercover to find a missing woman who is likely being held captive in an isolated prepper community. What she finds is a lot more terrifying.
Readers: Do you read the standalones of your favorite series authors?
Writers: Do you write series, standalones or both? And what is your experience?
I’ve been talking about this thriller for a few months, but it now has a title, a cover, a description, and a first draft. It hasn’t gone out to beta readers, so I’m still nervous. But here’s a glimpse. Let me know what you think.
The year is 2023 and ex-detective Lara Evans is working as a freelance paramedic in a bleak new world. She responds to an emergency call and Read more →
I made a list of promotional efforts that I want to be more consistent about and decided to share my new goals.
Give out more bookmarks! I read about people who say they do this everywhere and with everyone, and I must get into the habit. Goal: Give out 3 bookmarks a day. And I intend to start ordering them in large quantities from online printers. (Nothing like having 2000 bookmarks sitting around to motivate you to give them away.)
Send out one e-mail a day to writer/mystery/review blogs offering to guest blog or participate in a Q&A.
Send out two e-mails a week to writers I know online offering a free copy of my novel. If they like it, they’ll probably say so. Free promotion from other writers is as good as it gets.
Spend 10 minutes a day on Goodreads in discussion forums and adding books to my list. This is a direct connection to readers.
Spend 10 minutes a day on CrimeSpace. I used to do this everyday, then got out of the habit when I started spending more time on Facebook and Twitter (and blogging everyday). As a result, I’ve noticed a drop off in the number of books I sell on Amazon.
Comment on two other blogs everyday. This one is easy, and I’d like to do more of it, but I have to leave some time for writing novels.
Write one article a month and offer it online magazines—even for no pay—just for exposure. (This will be the hardest one to keep up. I hate writing for free…except for blogging!)
Get all of this into an Excel spreadsheet so I can track it and not get sloppy.
Get up earlier to get it all done!
After 17 straight days of blogging, I’m giving my readers a rest. (I never actually run out of things to say.) I’m in the middle of revamping my website, with the main purpose of putting up a mock book cover for Secrets to Die For. . . so readers don’t think I’m a one-book wonder. This is what my good friend and talented graphic artist Gwen Rhoads came up with on short notice.
The blurb (which will eventually go on the back cover) reads:
A brutal murder, conflicting evidence, and a target victim with a secret to hide—can Detective Jackson uncover the truth in time to save her?
I am one of the most impatient people I know. I want everything to happen now! And this is most true when it comes to sending out my work: articles to magazines, letters to potential clients, fiction manuscript to agents and publishers. I am always excited about my project and want to send it off as soon as I’ve finished it. And in the past, I have—only to discover later a typo or inconsistency. Or to come up with a better idea that it’s too late to include.
I am learning—the hard way—to slow down. Let the piece chill for a day, or a week, or a month. Look at it again. Show it others first. Rethink the whole thing. This is not easy for me.
Recently, Helen posted a question about the reader hook. Does the book have to grab you in the first line, the first paragraph, the first page, or the first chapter? I responded: First line is best, but by the end of the first page is essential. So now I need to know if I can pass my own litmus test. This is the first paragraph of my new novel, Secrets to Die For. Is it good enough to make you keep reading?
Sierra shut off the motor and glanced up at the puke-green doublewide with a chunk of plywood over the front window. The near dusk couldn’t hide the broken dreams of the trailer’s occupants, Bruce and Cindy Gorman. But Sierra wasn’t here to see them. She was here for Josh, their eight-year-old son.
I got tagged (thanks Marvin) for telling you all about myself, so here it is:
1) Computer, longhand, or other?
The only thing I write with a pen are lists. I have loved computers for writing anything and everything since the first day I sat down at one.
2) Coffee or tea?
Both! And lots of it. I start with strong black coffee (grinding the beans and all), then switch to green tea (lemongrass or jasmine), then drink licorice tea at night.
3) Day or night?
As my blog’s subhead says, “First thing every day.” I can, and do, write at night sometimes, but I struggle with it. (See April blog entry: Shaking It Up.)
4) Favorite genre to write?
I write what I love to read: mystery/suspense. I also write comedy for my standup routine, and I have written three comedy screenplays. I love writing comedy, but it’s very hard work. Some people manage to combine crime and comedy, but for me, they’re like oil and water, and I just can’t mix ‘em.
5) Pencil or pen to edit?
I edit my own work on screen, but I prefer to edit other people’s fiction on paper. I use three writing utensils: the black pen mark means “make this edit,” the pencil means “consider this syntax edit,” and the yellow highlighter means “look at this repetition or inconsistency.”
6) Unusual writing quirk or trait?
I wish I had something funny or cute to tell you, but I don’t write naked and I don’t wear hats for inspiration. In truth, I write very lean. My first drafts are mostly action and dialogue. Then I have to go back and fill with more detail and characterization.
7) Writing from home or writing in a cozy café?
I use an ergonomic keyboard, I can’t function without a mouse, and my workstation at home lets me stand up and work for periods throughout the day. In other words, I’m spoiled. Why would I go anywhere else?
8) Music or silence while your write?
Years ago, I could write with three boys playing Nintendo in the room. Now I like it quiet. But I’m going to try Karen’s suggestion of certain music for certain scenes.
9) Favorite motivational writing quote?
My own: Life is short. Get it done.
10) Favorite bookmark?
I use one of my own for THE SEX CLUB. It reminds me that I can write too.
11) Favorite fictional character of all time?
Tough question. Who comes to mind today is Irwin Fletcher, made famous by Chevy Chase. I loved the books and the movies! He’s a great example of combining crime and comedy.
12) Most admired living writer today?
I can’t pick a living writer because there’s too many. My favorite writer of all time though is Lawrence Sanders. He’s incredibly versatile and always entertaining.
And I tag Charlotte to go next.
Last weekend I finished the first draft of my new Detective Jackson novel (yes, I write and edit on weekends too), and so this week, I’m going back through to rewrite and clean up (find all the places where characters have morphed and street names have changed). This is such a strange process. One moment I’m excited and happy and thinking “This is the one. This is the novel that will be a breakthrough and get people’s attention.” Then two pages later, I’m disgusted by a line of dialogue, doubtful about the whole plot, and scared that this manuscript will suffer the same fate as all the others.
What is that fate? Here’s the short version of my “Almost” story.
My first “almost” was about ten years ago. I had a great story and found a great agent (president of Writers’ House) who sent my manuscript out to five editors at major publishers. One day he called and said, “Michelle Whatshername at HarperCollins loves your manuscript, and I’ll have an offer for you next week.” I danced around the house for days, but the offer never came and my agent gave up. I was so crushed, I stopped writing novels for a few years. (I wrote screenplays, instead. A whole ‘nother story.)
My second “almost” was two years ago. I finished another story that I was excited about, found an agent who said, “This story has great commercial potential,” then she sent it out to five editors at major publishing houses. Those editors said things like: “I read this story in one sitting!” “The writing is excellent.” “This is an outstanding piece of fiction.” But nobody bought it because the victims are underage. That story is THE SEX CLUB, which I brought to the market through a niche publisher. (An effort similar to using a toothbrush to dig a hole for swimming pool.) But readers love the story and want more.
So now I have another Detective Jackson novel, soon to be finished. I don’t want to go the same niche-publisher route (my toothbrush is worn out and my fingers are numb), and I have two agents who read the first 50 pages and are excited to see the rest. But this process—agent, wait, submission, wait, “no thanks”—scares me big time. Will it be a case of “Third time is the charm” or “Three strikes and your out”? I’m not sure I can take another “Almost.” But I am sure that I’m not giving up yet.
PS: Read tomorrow’s post to find out how I stay happy through the crushing disappointments.