Wednesday, August 25, 2010


At the same time that I celebrate my own hard-won publishing contract, I feel bad for the many, many excellent writers I know who are struggling to get published traditionally, as I did for eight long years. And I'm at a loss as to why good writers have such a hard time.

Is it that agents don't recognize good writing? I'm sure that's a possibility. After all, there are no credentials needed for becoming an agent; all you have to do is say you're an agent and put up a webpage. How do you tell an agent is even qualified?

More likely than not recognizing good writing, it that the agents don't have good enough contacts and are at a loss as to how to sell good books. I've heard over and over that agents only have narrow, specific contacts and only know how to sell certain types of books. I wonder why that is and why the contacts can't be expanded, but that's a field I know nothing about, obviously. Lots of bestsellers don't fit neatly into slots, in spite of agents and editors seeming to prefer that.

Maybe the editors at the publishing houses are to blame for not recognizing what they can sell. I KNOW they can all sell mysteries if they want to. When I tell people I'm a writer and they ask what I write, and I tell them "Mysteries," I have never once--never once!--not gotten the response, "I love to read mysteries." They often go on to lament that there aren't more being published.

There's been a lot written lately about the financial trouble that major, traditional, old-fashioned publishing houses are in, due to their failure to change their business model and keep up with the times. It's not my purpose to discuss that, but I'm sure things will only continue to change rapidly.

On a recent visit to Barnes and Noble, I found they had reduced the mystery section to one shelf, and shoved it off to the side! Other mystery readers were milling about the one shelf, lamenting with me that Barnes and Noble is no longer interested in selling mysteries. I have no idea what this is a sign of. Barnes and Noble being out of touch with mystery fans? There seem to be no lack of them. Is everyone out of touch with the readers?

Which brings me, at long last, to my topic:


What keeps all the good, as yet unpublished, writers motivated to keep writing, to keep seeking publication, against enormous odds? Is it the example of the few who are tapped by the major houses? Is it the encouragement of new business models taking off and succeeding? Does every writer have inspirational quotes taped to the monitor, tacked on the bulletin board, scattered on the desk, like I do?

What keeps you going?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Taxi down the runway

I'm preparing for takeoff, which is now nine months away. The same amount of time it takes to grow a baby, coincidentally.

Here's a list I was given by a published mystery author friend--things I should be doing to prepare for my book launch in May:

1) My main advice is BOOK FIRST.

That's not an issue until I get some edits to work on. The novel is written and the publisher has it. So I'll go on to the next suggestion.

2) Then...get as much PR done now as you can, a day at a time.

OK, PR now, since I don't have any work to do on the book. Sounds like a plan.

3) Guest blogs? Line them up now and write them now. Don't do more than 12 and only do the ones that are friends or have big audiences. Don't say yes to every Tina, Denise and Harriet.

It's probably too late for that. I've accepted the first three blog invites, two of them interviews. I'm not sure I can be that choosy--not sure I know 12 people whose blogs have huge audiences. But I'm very pleased with the interview that went up Friday!

The second friend who asked wants to do an interview in September and another one closer to my publication date. Isn't she smart? That will be at this blog, Writers Who Kill. The first one should go up September 8th, I think. It will be a two-part interview! Not sure when the second day will be.

A third blogger invited me and I'll do hers next week. She has a feature called Made It Moment, where a writer relates the moment they considered they had made it.

I've been reading all three of these blogs and am very pleased to be on them!

So I guess I have 9 to go. I hope I can find 9 more places to blog, besides my own.

4) Don’t do too many conferences. Do only the main ones where the audience reads your style.

That's not much of a problem. I can't afford to go to many, unless that Texas Lotto comes through for me. Before I got the contract, I had already scheduled Left Coast Crime, mostly because it's going to be in Santa Fe next spring. I was on the fence about attending Malice Domestic again, although I love the conference, have gone many times, know lots of people who attend, and have a daughter and her family close by. I'm going now, of course. I may even be able to sell some books there, if they are printed in time. The publisher says that's a possibility!

5) Hit as many bookstores as you can - close to home. Go in now, have some artwork, a postcard, a PR package. Make friends. Shop first in the store so you're not just "an author" coming to pitch a book. Buy a book. Take in bookmarks, of your book, of friends' books.

I guess I can't do that until I have a cover. Shopping in the local bookstores is not a problem--been doing that for years. But I don't have any PR material until some things get finalized.

6) Start making lists of people you know and can send an email or snail mail to a month to two months ahead of publication as a reminder. Make it so it can be a label-producing list.

Ah, this I can do now! In fact, I've been copying off the email addresses of all the people who congratulate me. I figure they might possibly be interested in a newsletter and in buying my book. After I post this, I'll bet I won't get any more emails for awhile.

I plan to send an initial email to the whole list I've collected and ask them to opt in if they'd like. I hate opt out programs and won't do that to anyone.

7) Lastly, start making new friends on twitter and FB, about 20 a day and you won't feel overwhelmed.

That's an awful lot! I think if I did that many I'd be overwhelmed. But I am trying to accumulate followers and I follow lots of people, too. Many seem to magically appear and I have no idea where they came from. But I'm glad they're following me.

It also occurred to me, when I got an email about donating items to the charity auction for Left Coast Crime, that I could now do this! Maybe. My book won't be published until two months after the conference is ended, so I emailed and asked about that. I want to donate a gift basket that contains a preorder of my book and other items people might like. I have no idea if this is good form or not. I hope the coordinator will tell me if it's not! I did ask her to.

I visited Archie McPhee's, which I just learned about a week or two ago, and found some items that would be perfect for a charity basket. Or for just general publicity give-aways for CHOKE.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fastening My Seat Belt

I'm taking off! Finally! I'm ecstatic to be announcing that, after 8 years, 7 novels, and 441 queries later (detail below* in case anyone's interested), I have--ta da--a publishing contract! This happened so quickly, after all these years, that my head is spinning and I'm still kind of numb.

Here's how it happened for me. I noticed several Guppies being published by Mainly Murder Press. I bought a couple of the books, saw that they were nicely edited and produced--good covers even--but lamented that they only accepted submissions from writer in the Northeast US.

Then the publisher opened up to accept submissions from other parts of the country and, after only a brief hesitation, I jumped in. (See my blog from July 28th called THINKING ABOUT A NEW JOURNEY.) They were accepting submissions only until July 31st for next year, so I had to do it now or never.

I submitted to them July 26th and, voila, in sixteen short days, I became a published author. Well, an author slated for publication anyway. My first three chapters made the cut, then my whole project made it past the two readers--the next step.

The offer came in an email on August 5th. I didn't answer right away, thinking I should let it sink in and ponder what this meant.

I checked the next morning and that email was still there! I hadn't dreamt it. The email had recommended consulting my advisors, so I replied that I likely would return the contract next week.

To be fair to the agents who had partials and fulls (and in the hopes one would jump to represent me), I began emailing them. Two had full manuscripts and two had partials. I was shocked to find out, when I checked them on Query Tracker (, that one of them died on July 7th! So I emailed the remaining three. The one who has had my full since April 25th apologized for taking so long and congratulated me, then offered to help. She asked who the publisher was, what advance they were offering, and if I'd accepted the offer yet.

I replied with the name of the publisher and said they offered royalties, no advance, and that I hadn't signed yet because I still have several submissions out. I told her I didn't think the deal would include anything for her, without an advance, but that if she could get me something better it would be wonderful.

She said she still hasn't read my manuscript, but offered to negotiate the contract for either a flat fee or a percentage of royalties, and potentially represent future titles. Even thought she hasn't read the manuscript, she thought it needed some changes! Since the contract is non-negotiable and is clear and easy to understand (and is even posted on their webpage), I don't need any help with it (although the agent says contracts are always negotiable), I told her I would accept the offer.

Since there was a deadline for returning the contract, I asked the agents to get back to me by the 10th, but I never heard back from the others.

There remained one publisher who had a submission, so I emailed them, printed out the contract, signed it, and put it in the mail today. Whoopee!!!

My novel, CHOKE, will be out in trade paperback May of 2011. That's a beautiful sentence.

*First two novels, no records of my queries--and that's just as well

queries from my spreadsheets:

SONG OF DEATH 2002-2007, 133 agents
4 publishers
REQUIEM FOR RED, sequel to SONG OF DEATH 2007-2008, 77 agents

DEATH IN THE TIME OF ICE (queried at first as adult mystery, mostly as YA)
2008-2010, 160 agents

2009-2010, 65 agents
2 publishers
I'm now working on SMOKE, the partially finished sequel to CHOKE.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Short Story Structure

This is cross-posted on All Things Writing.

Members of the Short Mystery Fiction list started a discussion recently about the structure of the short story. So much has been said and written about the structure of a novel, even whole books devoted to mystery, thriller, and suspense structure, but I hadn't ever paused to consider the structure of the short story before that.

But I'm sure all short story writers should!

The first posting gave the opinion that short stories have two forms: vignette and mini-novel. The vignette, Graham Powell contended, has its action in the same place and it all happens at the same time. The mini-novel would give room for more character and plot development.

Mark Troy gave his opinion that a vignette is an expanded scene/sequel combination with the sequel being the most important part. He considers them incomplete and not as effective as the other form. Although he says he wouldn't use the term mini-novel, saying any effective story of whatever length should have protagonist/antagonist, setting, theme, 3-act plot, conflict. He said he does something that I think I will start doing: he marks the places where the acts begin and end, and marks the crisis, where the antagonist appears, where the theme is stated. I would imagine I would have to give a story at least two readings to do all that!

Graham answered that he thought his definition of a vignette story might be a 1-act tale and the other a 3-act story.

Fleur Bradley chimed in with the opinion that the vignette are stories that are like a fly-on-the-wall experience for the reader. Almost like an overheard conversation.

Then Jack Hardway/Dan said there IS a conventional short story form that has five parts, although many mystery stories don't contain all five. They are found most often in literary stories. When asked, he gave these two references:
If you click on them, you'll see they both reference a Freytag Pyramid. The first states the five parts as exposition; complication and development; crisis or turning point; falling action; catastrophe. It goes on to talk about other structure points, too.

The second reference says the five parts are exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement.

Wikipedia uses these latter terms for its illustration (I hope it's not illegal to copy wiki illustrations).

Then Chris Rhatigan posted this statement: A creative writing teacher explained another good five-part structuring technique for short stories similar to the one Jack discussed: 1) Action 2) Background 3) Development 4) Climax 5) Ending. One thing I like about it more--especially as a crime fiction writer--is that the reader gets dropped right in the middle of the story, then you get into the history of the characters, setting, etc. So in this case the piece would have two sets of rising and falling action.

I think I like this one best of all, at least for a mystery story. I'd love to hear from other short story writers and readers on this subject! Do you writers think you use any of the above structure devices? Do you readers see them?