For contributions to the newsletter and Letters to the Editor, please email the editor of SPAWNews: email@example.com.
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From the President
Welcome to all the new members and subscribers who have discovered SPAWN this month!
When you read this, I’ll be on a beach with my toes in the sand, having successfully completed my book publishing presentation at the Blog Paws conference. I decided to treat myself to a little post-conference, end-of-summer R&R, hanging out and goofing off with my sister at the Delaware seashore.
When you look back upon your summer, did you savor the warmth and relaxation of the season and create memories with your family and friends? Or did you just work, work work?
As creative people, we need to take time to restore our energy and rejuvenate our spirit. It’s amazing what a little time away can do for your mental health and creative pursuits. If you didn’t get to take a vacation this summer, maybe it’s time to plan one. After all, you rarely regret the vacations you enjoyed; you regret the ones you didn’t take.
September Teleseminar Announcement!
Teleseminar for SPAWN Members
Who: Antoinette Kuritz
When: September 13, 2011, 1 pm (Pacific)
How: Members will receive an email with call-in details
Title: Integrating the PR timeline with Your Publishing Plans
Bouchercon is the conference for mystery writers and fans—many of whom are both. This year it’s being held in St Louis. Charlaine Harris is the keynote speaker, panels are planned, late night book debates will spark over drinks and I can’t wait. To see who will be speaking, lurking behind potted plants or leaning up against the bar, go to http://www.bouchercon2011.com
Mystery writers are a generous bunch as you’ll see below. Read Elaine Viets’s article and learn how she found an editor by hanging around the bar at a writer’s conference. Joanna Celeste points out in her article that you’re probably already dropping clues, building characters and settings so mystery writing isn’t as far away as you might think. How do you write believable dialogue? Wendy Dager can tell you. Read what she says below.
We know that marketing is not as much fun as writing, but Michael Bracken has mastered both. He’s published an average of an article a month for the past eight years. His newest goal is to write and sell a story a week. With over 900 short stories to his credit, he’s meeting his goal. This may be a tough economy, but he has a plan and follows it, all the way to the bank.
How do you set up a conference like Bouchercon? With a lot of help, says Jon Jordan. He’s in charge of this year’s event and tells us how that came about.
So, you wrote a book, sent it to a publisher, they loved it and want to talk to your agent? Oops, forgot a step? Need an agent? Now the agent says, “No, don’t sign a three book deal?” What the heck? Angie Fox will explain how she found her true voice and why the deal that sounds the best isn’t always the one you should take.
Even our featured book for September will help mystery writers. Read Patricia Fry’s review for a book on how to write about psychological disorders.
Both murder and marketing require means, motive and opportunity. Deborah Williams gives details and tells about her different incarnations in the mystery-writing world.
With all this information, you should be ready to write. As Elaine Viets said, the key question is, “What are you working on now?” What’s your answer going to be?
— Sandy, Editor, SPAWNews, firstname.lastname@example.org
SPAWN Market Update
by Patricia Fry
Just when you think the SPAWN Market Update can’t come more fully packed, we outdo ourselves. The September issue contains nearly 60 news items, leads, opportunities and resources, including directories representing hundreds more.
Would you like to learn how to turn your children’s book into an animated book? Are you interested in promoting your book through a blog tour? Do you have a religious/spiritual manuscript to pitch? Would you like to know where to sell profile and interview articles? Do you need some innovative and effective book promotion ideas and resources for your fiction or nonfiction book? Are you always on the lookout for writing job boards? Are you interested in new concepts in publishing and book promotion and current trends? Then you MUST spend time with this issue of the SPAWN Market Update. If you can’t generate a handful (or a wagon-full) of book sales, get a month’s worth of paying jobs, learn something significant about the world of publishing and/or make an important connection after studying this issue, then you aren’t even trying.
We urge SPAWN members to be proactive on behalf of their book projects. Education and knowledge are key to your publishing, book promotion, and freelance writing success.
If you’re not a member, visit this page to join:www.spawn.org/join.htm
by Jon Jordan
So how does an event like Bouchercon become a reality? We asked Jon Jordan of Crimespree Magazine. He’s running the show this year and managed to write this between the 1,001 tasks involved in setting up a major event.
The decision to run a Bouchercon was roundabout path. I initially planned to talk David Thompson into doing it. After an hour or so on the phone, I volunteered to do it with him. Since David’s passing, I am overseeing all of it, keeping David’s thoughts and plans in the forefront of my thinking.
There are some key ingredients to a good convention, in any genre and with any theme. Good guests, good fans and really good people helping. The crews for Bouchercon 2011 St. Louis are all vets. We’ve all been involved on some level before. When looking for volunteers my thinking has been who can I work well with, who will get back to me in a hurry, who will follow through and, most important, who will still be friends with me even if we disagree.
Location is key. The hotel we are using, Renaissance St. Louis Grand, is a large hotel near other hotels. They have their own convention space, a big and cool bar space and the staff is amazing. There are places nearby for food and play, and it’s easy to find.
Once the ball is rolling, the trick is keeping organized. Bouchercon has taken over the office I use to publish Crimespree Magazine. Notes on the wall, piles on the desk and two drawers in a file cabinet—this doesn’t include all the files on the computer and backed up on various flash drives. Keeping track of email and making sure to get back to people in a timely fashion is one of the biggest tricks. I have 24 sub-folders for my Bouchercon email.
The goals for this year have always been twofold—entertain the fans and authors coming in for the convention, and to get everybody at Bouchercon excited about new authors and books. While we have a lot of authors attending, most of them are also fans. This makes for a great group of folks to hang out with. I’ve been going to Bouchercon for over twelve years and I always leave with a list of new authors I want to read.
Spending four days talking about murder, forensics, publishing and all that entails is heaven for me. Some of the best moments come late at night, debating books with fellow fans.
As it gets closer, Bouchercon is taking more of my time but it’s also getting more exciting. When it’s over I’ll sleep for a week and probably never offer to do another, but this has been a lot of fun. If it all goes right, everyone at Bouchercon this year will walk away happy that they came..
Bouchercon Moment: Stalking the Editor in the Wild
by Elaine Viets
My career was jump-started at Bouchercon. This was the 2001 Bcon, “A Capital Mystery,” held in Washington DC six weeks after 9/11.
Washington was like a military camp. The Pentagon had been attacked. Barricades were erected around major buildings. Armored personnel vehicles prowled the streets and men and women in uniform were everywhere. Some conference goers were so frightened, they canceled their Bouchercon trips.
I went. That trip changed my career. I live in Fort Lauderdale and the airport was still closed in early November. I took Amtrak to Washington, a surprisingly pleasant twenty-four-hour ride.
I was on a mission. My first mystery series had been killed by Dell. They wiped out dozens of authors. I’d started working on an idea for a new mystery, and couldn’t wait to find an editor at Bcon.
My agent, David Hendin, primed me with careful instructions: No talking to editors in unseemly settings. Conference bars and restaurants were okay, but I was not allowed to mention my new project until the editor asked, “What are you working on now?”
I knew editors had to be approached carefully. At another conference, I’m told that an enthusiastic (and clueless) mystery writer discovered an editor in a restroom and slid her manuscript under the stall door.
The bar at the DC Bouchercon was a good gathering place for the conference. I asked the bartender to fix me a fierce-looking club soda. He made it bristle with oranges and cherries until it resembled one of the lethal drinks that knock you flat after a few sips.
Ferocious drink in hand, I met NAL editor Genny Ostertag. I’m six feet tall and Genny came up to my shoulder, but I knew she packed a lot of power. Genny mentioned that the hotel was on Jefferson Davis Highway in Arlington, Virginia. We couldn’t believe a major U.S. highway would be named after rebel general.
“Don’t they realize he lost the war?” I said.
We spent the next half-hour discussing the Civil War. I frantically dredged up every fact I could remember.
Finally Genny said the magic words: “What are you working on now?”
“I’ve got an idea for book about a St. Louis woman who used to make six figures in a corporation,” I said. “Now she’s on the run, working a minimum-wage job in Florida for cash under the table. I want to call the book, Dead-end Job. ”
Genny liked the idea, but wanted a whole series, not one book. The book would be called Shop till You Drop.
The Dead-End Job mystery series was born. Shop till You Drop is now in its fourteenth printing. My tenth Dead-End Job mystery, Pumped for Murder was published this May.
I owe it all to the Bouchercon bar.
Elaine Viets writes two national bestselling mystery series. In her tenth Dead-End Job mystery, Pumped for Murder, Helen Hawthorne investigates extreme bodybuilding and a death from South Florida’s cocaine cowboy days. Elaine’s second series features St. Louis mystery shopper Josie Marcus. An Uplifting Murder is the sixth book. Elaine has won the Agatha, Anthony and Lefty Awards and has been praised in the New York Times. She blogs for The Lipstick Chronicles and the Femmes Fatales. For more information, check out her Website at http://www.elaineviets.com Elaine lives in Fort Lauderdale with her husband, reporter Don Crinklaw
Love Mystery but Can’t Write It? Chances Are You Already Have
by Joanna Celeste
Mystery was my favorite genre growing up, but I was convinced I could not handle the pacing, the setting, and that special quality that gave each page its sense of: My Gosh What Happens Next? So I published in other genres, “safer” subjects, like opinion pieces, fantasy, slice-of-life, magical realism and YA.
Then I had the opportunity to contribute to a SPAWN newsletter about mystery. Here was this genre, come to haunt me again. What could I possibly give to fellow writers? I had never written mystery.
Or had I?
I had written stories with mysteries inherent in the plot: why does the girl only play with her brother? What makes the mother so sad? Harry Potter is full of mysteries, even if it’s not a mystery.
In fact, the basic skill-set that I had needed to write mystery had possibly been with me all along. As writers of any story, you learn how to place clues, establish setting and pace a scene. You discover the art of giving just enough of a character to make you wonder. I had written surprise endings, developed two-faced characters and created suspenseful scenes. The fact that I had yet to put all the pieces together in an actual mystery was suddenly less daunting.
After all, as writers, we’re quite familiar with mysteries—every piece of writing is inherently one to us. The characters come to life and refuse to play by the script. Suddenly this secondary character turns out to be more influential than we first thought.
That’s why we have editing as such a major part of our craft, and why we have to work out how to organize our notes and constant changes. We write the story that we think should exist, and then edit it until we find the story that is really there to be told.
Isn’t this similar to how one would structure a mystery plot? We set out what we want to have happen and work backwards to what needs to occur to reach that point. We let it steep and start over fresh. The adventure begins! And between editing, writing and reinventing, the story comes to life. Sure, mystery has distinct settings, it requires the story to dance between suspense and relief, and you can’t give too many possible suspects or too few. You have to keep it real.
As a reader of mystery, I know what I like and what I don’t. I have the basic skills I need. There is no shortage of information and mentors available to learn the actual craft of mystery: our fellows at SPAWN, the Mystery Writers of America, Google, the library, etc.
For writers like me, our first step is confidence that we can write mystery. We already have. The rest—learning a genre, playing by certain rules—that’s easy because we’ve learned other genres, and played by other sets of rules at work, in school, in everyday life.
Joanna Celeste – Joanna.email@example.com
Of Truth and Legend
by Earl Staggs
I love history, particularly about people, how they lived, loved, and died and what they did to earn a place in the archives of life. I learn about people from the past by reading books and watching movies and TV. The facts and truths are there, documented by stories handed down through generations or recorded by historians and writers.
But sometimes facts and truths foster legends and once born, legends develop an enduring life of their own. We may call them alternate truths, other possibilities, or myths. Was there really a King Arthur, or was he only a compilation of various myths and legends? Did George Washington really chop down that cherry tree, or is that only a legend forever linked to the truth?
How do we separate legends from truths? Fortunately, as a writer, I don’t have to. The truth is, I don’t want to. My job as a writer is to write an interesting and entertaining story, and it doesn’t matter if it is based on the truth, a legend, or a combination of both.
Not too long ago, I came across a legend that fascinated me, and I used it as the basis for a short story I called “Where Billy Died.” It could be my best story ever. It’s also one I talk about when people ask the question all writers are asked:
“Where do you get your ideas?”
Here’s what I tell them.
My wife and I took a day trip with friends to the small town of Hico, Texas, a couple years ago. There I learned a local legend. They contend and have convincing evidence that one of the most famous outlaws of the old west did not die at the wrong end of a gun as historians have documented. History claims that Billy the Kid was shot and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett in Old Fort Sumner, New Mexico, when Billy was only twenty-one years old.
Not true, according to the Hico legend. They claim Billy lived out his final years there and died in 1950, a month after his ninetieth birthday. I visited the museum devoted to him and stood on the exact spot where they say he dropped dead of a heart attack. The museum has pictures of him when he lived there under the name “Brushy Bill” Roberts. There are newspaper articles and write-ups covering his attempts to obtain a pardon from the state of New Mexico which had been promised him many years before. There are also stories about how he eluded death that night in Old Fort Sumner and wound up in Hico some sixty years later.
It didn’t matter to me whether Billy died in New Mexico at age twenty-one, or in Texas at age ninety.
I was fascinated by the legend and knew I had to use it in a story someday.
“But,” I reminded myself, “you don’t write westerns.”
That’s true. I don’t. Not that I won’t someday, but for now, I write contemporary mystery stories. That meant I had to come up with a contemporary story incorporating the Hico legend.
It took a while, but I eventually developed a story about a modern day skip tracer named Jack who travels from Philadelphia to Hico to bring back a young bail jumper named Billy Joe Raynor. Piece of cake, thinks Jack, until he discovers he has a tail. The chief bonebreaker for a New Jersey mobster has followed Jack to Hico. Is it because Jack beat up the mobster’s brother, or because of something young Billy Joe did before he skipped town? Jack only knows he’s tangled with the hulking bruiser before and will have to again. Jack doesn’t know he’ll also get tangled up in Hico’s legend about another young outlaw named Billy and that the past and present will merge in a surprising conclusion. Three different legends surrounding Billy’s life and death are mentioned. One of them saves Jack from his predicament in Texas and fixes his marriage problems back in Philadelphia.
If you have an opportunity to read Where Billy Died, I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Legends abound, forever intermingled with truth in history, and they’re often more provocative and interesting than what may really have happened. One legend, for example offers that Butch Cassidy may have escaped his storied death in Bolivia and lived to a ripe old age back in the US. Another one proposes that John Wilkes Booth lived in Texas many years after that night at Ford’s Theater.
Are these legends true or merely fanciful variations of the truth born and nurtured over the years? I don’t know and, as a writer, I don’t care. To me, they are more of the tempting nuggets in the gold mine of history begging to be written. I hope I live long enough to write more of them.
Where Billy Died is available at http://untreedreads.com/ Read two stories for free at: http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com/ The Day I Almost Became A Great Writer – Loaded with laughs and a message to writers and White Hats and Happy Trails–The day I spent with a boyhood idol, Roy Rogers. Derringer Award winning author Earl Staggs has seen many of his short stories published in magazines and anthologies. He served as managing editor of Futures Mystery Magazine and as president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. His column “Write Tight” appears in the online magazine Apollo’s Lyre. He is also a contributing blog member of Murderous Musings and Make Mine Mystery. He hosts online workshops and is a frequent speaker at conferences and writers groups. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: http://earlwstaggs.wordpress.com
This article first appeared when Earl guest-blogged at http://carolineclemmons.blogspot.com/
How I Published My First Book
by Angie Fox
A lot of writers I’ve talked with have always known who they are. I envy that. Because for many years, I tried to be somebody else. You see, I’m kind of quirky. I like going on odd adventures. I like meeting new people. I was the kid who would rather hang out at a Renaissance fair than go to the ball game.
And because I love to read, eventually I decided I wanted to be a writer. But in order to write the kinds of books people wanted to read, I decided I had to be very serious. No more playing around. And as far as listening to my inner voice? Forget it. I’d never written a book before. This was not the time to trust my instincts. Instead, I had to take classes. So I signed up for these writing classes that taught me how to outline and how to write scenes on note cards and how to shuffle those note cards around and even how to put them on cork boards and make color coded note card charts.
Now don’t think I’m knocking classes. I did learn a lot. But my problem was, I had somehow convinced myself that someone else’s way was the right way to do things. As a result, my writing life was hard and it was tedious and sometimes I’d get frustrated and want to chuck the note cards at my shelf full of writing books, but I didn’t because I wanted to tell my stories and I thought that was the way to do it.
The end result? I wrote three mysteries that didn’t sell. Worse, I had an agent tell me that I had humor creeping into a murder scene—not good when you’re oh, so serious.
When I’d get comments like that or when I couldn’t look at one more chart, I’d retreat with the books I loved to read. I can go through several books a week and some of my favorite authors include Charlaine Harris, Katie MacAlister and Elizabeth Peters. Then, suitably fortified, I’d go back to ignoring my influences—the authors whose work I loved—in order to write what I thought I “should” be writing.
Until one day, I snapped. I’d been working hard on some new note cards—color coded—when I received a longish letter from a respected agent. He’d read my third book and thought it would probably sell. But he hoped it didn’t. He said I was compromising my voice. I was writing for someone else. How he could tell that from those words on the page, I’ll never know. He said that book wasn’t my, “breakout book” and that I should write something else.
It was painful to read, because I knew he was right. I didn’t know exactly what I should be writing, but I decided to pull that mystery from consideration. I needed to relax and have fun for a change. So I decided to write a book just for me; a book I knew wouldn’t sell. It had to be about the excitement—about the love of books and writing. I was so excited by the idea that I had trouble sleeping that night.
Then, a few nights later, I was up at three in the morning feeding my infant son and a fun idea popped into my head. What if a straight laced preschool teacher suddenly learns she’s a demon slayer? And what if she has to learn about her powers on the run from a fifth level demon? Ohhh and wouldn’t it be fun if she’s running with her long-lost grandma’s gang of geriatric biker witches?
I could write the kind of book I liked reading—quirky, different—a book where I could build my own world and make up my own rules. I banished all note cards. I let my natural voice come out, even if it was kind of offbeat.
Instead of a twenty-page plot outline, I had a five-page list of ideas, one of which included “but little did they know, all the Shoneys are run by werewolves.” Instead of following the rules, I broke a few. Instead of painstakingly writing over the course of a year, I giggled my way through the book and had a complete manuscript in five months.
I gave it to a good friend of mine to read. He’s an English professor and very smart. Unfortunately, he told me the book was all wrong. My opener was too action-oriented. I needed to ease readers into the story, not hit them with a freight train.
But I didn’t know. I liked my opener. So I entered the first three chapters in a writing contest, just to see.
That opener won the contest. Then the editor who was judging contacted me and wanted to see the entire book. Only it wasn’t finished. I quickly wrote the last eight chapters, getting up at four in the morning to write before my family woke up. I remember walking downstairs in the dark, wondering if I was crazy, wondering if the editor would even like the rest. Here I was writing chapters 16, 17, 18. What if she stopped reading at chapter 5?
After a month and a half, I finished the book. I sent it to the editor on a Thursday. She read it over the weekend and called me with an offer on Monday.
I had no agent. In fact, I’d only sent out about five query letters on that Friday after I’d finished the book. So I quickly contacted those agents and did a crazy-backwards agent search. At the same time, I was entertaining house guests. I remember sleeping on a mattress on my kitchen floor. My husband would be snoozing beside me as I stared up at the ceiling, amazed that things were actually happening, hoping I’d make the right decision about an agent.
By the end of the week, I’d narrowed the agent offers down and selected Jessica Faust at BookEnds. I thought the hard decisions were over—well, until she called the publisher to get the specifics of the offer. They wanted a three-book deal. I was elated. Now three of my stories would see the light of day—they’d be in real bookstores. How could I not be over the moon?
Jessica said that was great, but we shouldn’t accept the three-book deal.
She told me she understood I was overwhelmed (understatement of the year) but that I had to stop being grateful and start thinking like a published author. She went on to explain that we would know after two books whether or not the series would be a success. If it wasn’t (gulp), the publisher wouldn’t support the third book anyway and I’d be writing a book that would most likely disappear as soon as it came out. Or worse, they’d cancel the contract. On the other hand, if the series was a success, we could negotiate for that third book and secure a better deal and a larger advance.
Jessica said she’d do what I wanted with the contract, but that she wanted me to have the facts I needed to decide. I appreciated that. I think one of the hallmarks of a good agent is the ability to clearly define the pros and cons of contract decisions.
I thought about it and was tempted to sign on for three books anyway. It was so hard to get that idea out of my head… that I’d have three books in stores. In the end, I decided to bet on myself and the series—that there would be a demand for that third book without me securing it early.
I signed the two-book contract and, later, was very glad that I did. The first book in the series, The Accidental Demon Slayer, hit the New York Times bestseller list.
It’s been crazy ever since. I’m learning all the time. Through it all, I think the most important thing I’ve done in my career is to follow my instincts. I don’t know why I had such a hard time learning to trust myself. It’s still hard sometimes. I’ve made mistakes. I suspect I’ll make plenty more.
But when I’m turned around, I try to think back to that night when I realized that I wanted to write the stories I love, no matter what. And that has made all the difference.
Angie Fox is the New York Times bestselling author of several mysteries featuring vampires, werewolves and things that go bump in the night. Books include: The Accidental Demon Slayer, The Dangerous Book for Demon Slayers, A Tale of Two Demon Slayers and The Last of the Demon Slayer. Visit Angie at http://www.angiefox.com
Straight Talk—Dialogue Can Make or Break Your Mystery
by Wendy Dager
When I wrote the first draft of my humorous mystery novel I MURDERED THE PTA back in 2000, I did it entirely for fun. After the fun was over, I got down to business, and my book was published by Zumaya Enigma in June 2011.
Because of my nonfiction background, I wanted my first novel to sound as realistic as possible. I knew there’d be elements of it that required the reader to suspend disbelief, but that was mostly within the plot’s whacky twists and turns. There are also characters that are a little nutty, but I tried to round them out so they’d be believable. The best way to do that was to make them talk like real people.
When my editor and I were working on the book’s final edits before publication, she remarked that my strength was in the dialogue.
Real people say “okay.” Real people say “um.” Real people say “I dunno.” They use contractions. They blurt. They misspeak. They have accents.
It drives me crazy when I’m watching a film and can’t enjoy it because some screenwriter put the wrong words in an actor’s mouth. I shake my head and think, “Nobody would say that in a million years, especially not THAT guy!”
Here’s a sample of dialogue from my book. I’ll set it up for you: The protagonist, Daphne, thirty-two, is in a rock band. Her bandmates are all young people in their late teens or early twenties. They were questioned by police after the PTA was killed, and Daphne, the prime suspect, wants to know what was said. (Note: The book is written in first-person.)
“What did they ask you?” I said, even though I didn’t really want to know.
“What time you were at rehearsal and when you left and why you left and what your ‘demeanor’ was,” said Annie. “Stuff like that.”
“And what was my demeanor?” I asked.
“Just like normal, man,” said Logan. “You’re, like, always the same.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I dunno, man,” he said. “You’re, like, a mom. But, not, like, a psycho-mom like our moms. You’re all patient with us and stuff.”
“And you have cooler hair,” volunteered Keshawn.
Obviously, if you’re writing a period mystery, or other crossover genre where contemporary language isn’t right, you’re not going to have the young people say “like” or “man” or “stuff.” But no matter the genre, you have to make your dialogue work for each character. Put yourself in the character’s shoes/boots/pumps before you write what they say. Say it aloud after you write it. And try to have some fun.
Wendy Dager’s book I MURDERED THE PTA – A Daphne Lee-Lee Misadventure is available at http://www.amazon.com and http://www.barnesandnoble.com For more information, visit Wendy Dager’s website, http://www.wendydager.com
Anybody Seen My Shorts?
by Michael Bracken
Where have all the short story markets gone?
Sound familiar? I’ve been hearing variations of this refrain for several decades. Every generation of short story writers complains that the previous generation of writers had it easy.
Guess what? It’s never been easy. Yet short story writers with only a moderate amount of talent have been able to overcome the odds by applying a great deal of hard work and dogged determination to their efforts.
How do I know? I have only a moderate amount of talent, yet I’ve sold almost 900 short stories, have had one or more short stories published each month for the past 99 consecutive months, and have contracts in hand to extend that streak several more months.
Here’s how you can duplicate my success:
1. Develop an intimate relationship with the English language. You don’t need to become a grammarian, but you do need to know how to spell the words you use and how to punctuate the sentences you write.
2. Develop an understanding of what constitutes a story. Read widely and voraciously and study every story you read.
3. Don’t allow another writer’s blinders to become your blinders. If another writer convinces you that there are only a few markets for short stories in your genre, you won’t make an effort to find the hidden markets.
4. Don’t be limited by your love for a particular genre. Write in multiple genres and you may find, as I did, that you are more successful writing outside your favorite genre.
5. Volunteer to read submissions for a small press, literary publication, or webzine. Once you’ve seen the manuscripts other writers submit, you’ll understand why many writers think it’s hard to get published.
6. Develop a familiarity with the publishing process. Understand why submitting a Christmas story in December is a waste of everyone’s time.
7. Study the magazines to which you are submitting. Pay particular attention to the advertising because it will tell you a great deal about the magazine’s readers.
8. Always, always, always, look for new markets. If you see a magazine, pick it up and study it. Some of the best short story sales I’ve made were to publications that weren’t listed in Writer’s Market and didn’t post their submission requirements on their Website.
9. Write. Write until your fingers bleed, then write more.
10. Submit. Keep submitting. If your short story manuscript is rejected, send it out again. And again. And again. One of my stories sold for $150 to the twenty-third editor to see it, seventeen years after the first editor rejected it.
11. Stop fretting. Writers with a single manuscript under submission tend to obsess about that submission. Writers like me who have dozens of manuscripts under submission often forget what’s where and are pleasantly surprised every time an editor responds.
12. Set a goal. Some writers advocate writing a set number of words or pages per day. I prefer a goal that advocates finished manuscripts. For example, some writers advocate the “Rule of 12.” That means having twelve short story manuscripts under submission at all times. During the first year, write one short story each month. That’s half-a-page a day or less. At the end of a year you’ll have twelve manuscripts making the rounds. If you sell a story or if you retire one to your filing cabinet, you must write and submit a new story. I have a more ambitious goal: to write and sell a short story every week. That means I have to write at least fifty-two short stories each year.
13. Keep good records. Know where your manuscripts are, when they were submitted, and what the editors’ responses were. Keep copies of all contracts you sign. Keep a copy of every publication containing one of your stories. If your career lasts as long as mine, you’ll have multiple opportunities to sell reprint rights and may even find a publisher to release one or more of your short story collections.
Follow my advice and you probably won’t become rich and famous. You will, however, have a long career as a short story writer.
Lee Although he has published short fiction in nearly every genre, Michael Bracken is best known for his crime fiction and his women’s fiction, with stories published in everything from Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine to True Story. Several of his novels, short story collections, and individual short stories are in print and are available for Kindle, Nook, and other e-readers at all the usual places. Learn more about Michael at http://www.CrimeFictionWriter.com Follow his progress and see if he meets his goal of writing and selling a story a week at http://crimefictionwriter.blogspot.com
A previous version of Anybody Seen My Shorts? appeared in Sleuths’ Ink, September 24, 2009
My Mystery Life–the Thriller of it All
by Deborah Williams
It started innocently enough, as it often does for young people. There was Nancy Drew and Perry Mason. Later I turned to the harder stuff—Conan Doyle, Chandler and Hammett. I loved the puzzles, the idea that wrongs could be righted, the guilty punished by a combination of brains, bravery, imagination and a dash of humor.
Besides the basics of detection, there was much more to be learned from whodunits. On my mystery bookshelf I don’t just see mysteries. I see books on anthropology, chemistry, cooking, gardening, glass blowing, history, home remodeling, knitting, medicine, the stock market and wine tasting.
My favorite sleuths include spiritualists, house cleaners, professors, cheese shop owners, park rangers, thieves, actresses, limo drivers and booksellers. I love how they take the knowledge and skills of these professions and transform them into detecting powers. What does a professional house cleaner notice that someone else would not? What information would a professor have access to? What situation would a thief find himself in that might reveal another crime?
My mystery life pot-boiled along for years in the background. Weekends were split between bookstores and couch. My day job was marketing equipment and services for the entertainment industry—a lot of technology, a little magic and a peek behind-the-scenes in Hollywood.
One day I discovered I was burned out. Maybe focusing on technical details of a so-so shoot-‘em-up movie and helping to build a company someone else could sell for millions was not my reason for living.
The trappings of Hollywood had gone gray. I needed out and to up the mystery in my life. I’d said, “Maybe I’ll open a bookstore” so many times that I felt I had to put-up or shut-up and I attended an ABA seminar on how to do just that. The seminar is great. They tell you that bookselling is not what you imagine, you won’t have time to read, your customers may not like the same books that you do and you will make no money.
Of course I did it anyway. I did read, probably a book and a half a day. After all it was my job. I loved arranging books. I accented the shelves with a rubber knife, a high- heeled shoe or a martini glass.
Turns out you can only rearrange the books so many times. Soon, my days were filled with accounting and inventory. The bloom was off the rose. My life lesson was I’m really good at starting things and not so good at maintaining. The bounty—a year’s worth of good reads.
There’s always a need for marketing, so back to my original career and mystery to the back burner. But now all my friends knew that I was the go-to gal for recommendations on books. One Christmas, I gave a list of ten to a producer friend of mine looking for a present for his mother.
About a week later he called back to suggest I scout for his company—to find mystery books that would make good television. As everyone knows, what’s in and out, desirable and passé changes with the winds, the popularity of last year’s shows and who’s the head of programming. No big hits for us yet, but we’re in there pitching.
What makes a good TV series? There are many opinions, but they all boil down to one –a compelling character. Add a setting that drives action—hospital, law firm or dynamic city, an ensemble of characters that support and complicate the life of the main character and opportunities for ongoing adventures.
In the end perhaps I have achieved a bit of sleuthhood for myself. I try to solve the puzzles of marketing and writing mysteries by studying the modus operandi of the prime suspects, watching for clues and writing up my case studies.
Deborah reads, attends conferences, checks rights availability and writes summaries and pitches. Her current mystery identity includes the blog http://CluesSisters.blogspot.com, where she indulges in reviews and opinions plus the ongoing feature See How They Write, where she explores how writers start and keep themselves going through the process of writing, rewriting and waiting for publication. This is a strong interest as she enters year two of writing the novel she was sure would only take six months. At http://www.hollywoodandcrime.tv she keeps an eye on the mystery scene in Hollywood, and offers marketing consultations. Her mission is to help writers make sure their readers have the means, motive and opportunity to buy. Most recently she joined Kings River Life as staff TV critic. ( http://www.kingsriverlife.com)
Ask the Book Doctor:
About Mystery Novels–Evaluating Them, Shifting Points of View, and Using Song Titles, Lyrics, and Famous Names
By Bobbie Christmas
Q: My deceased mother-in-law wrote a couple of murder mysteries. We are living on a limited income. Is there someone who, without charging, would give me an idea if the mysteries could be published?
A: Although editors like me can give you personal opinions (for a price), the only absolute reassurance would have to come from a publisher, and fiction publishers require that you have an agent, so you’d need to find an agent first. If the books are well written and thoroughly edited, write a stunning query letter, and query agents who handle mysteries. Perhaps one will give you a little free feedback. In the past, some agents took time to give opinions about submissions, but nowadays many overworked agents do not respond at all, if uninterested, or they send neutral, standard rejections that say something like this: “It’s not for me.” Finding an agent takes time, patience, and many submissions, and after thirty or more rejections with no feedback, you may feel frustrated, but successful writers keep going.
Besides the quality of writing and the story, agents and publishers may be concerned that the author is deceased, which means if the books gain a following, the author cannot produce more books and take advantage of having fans. If you believe the stories are great and the writing is impeccable, however, don’t let my warnings hold you back.
Even on a limited income, if you want to self-publish the books, the process has become easier and cheaper in this digital, print-on-demand age, but you must be prepared to handle the marketing and promotion of the books.
Q: In my mystery, I used the points of view of the protagonist and her brother. In chapter five, however, I need a scene between my murderer and her husband. Can I add a point of view that late, or should I go back and add the other points of view in earlier scenes, so it won’t seem to be an abrupt shift?
A: It’s hard to say without reading the manuscript, but I suspect your gut feeling is correct. Readers shouldn’t be blindsided in chapter five with a sudden shift in viewpoints.
Q: In the mystery I’m writing, the villain hums, whistles, or plays a scratchy forty-five of an old Ray Charles song. I’m thinking of incorporating Ray Charles into the book title. Is it legal to do so? Also, is mentioning the song or using the lyrics okay?
A: I’m not an attorney, but I do know that titles cannot be copyrighted, so you can probably mention song titles. If you use even a small portion of the lyrics, though, you must get written permission from the person who owns the rights, and you usually must pay a fee. Finding out who owns the rights and then getting permission can become a drawn-out, complicated process. To avoid the issue, use only old lyrics that are in public domain. As for using Ray Charles’s name in the book title, I question the wisdom of it, but only an attorney can give you a definitive answer.
Bobbie Christmas, book doctor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com.
by Patricia Fry
A Writer’s Guide to Psychology, How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment and Human Behavior by Carolyn Kaufman, Psy.D. Quill Driver Books, 2010 ISBN: 978-1-884995-68-2, http://www.quilldriverbooks.com, Paper, 232 pages, $14.95
Here’s a book that should be highly useful for those of you who want to represent your characters’ psychological disorders with greater accuracy. Kaufman’s goal is to bust some of the popular myths writers have adopted over the years. And she does so quite effectively in this book.
According to Kaufman, most of us get our ideas about psychological disorders from the media and she says that these are often wrong. She offers a quiz to test your knowledge before you go into the book.
This book is billed as “an authoritative, accessible, fun and easy-to-use reference to psychological disorders, psychotherapist’s work, diagnosis, treatments and what really makes psychopathic villains tick.” And it will also help you to create a more authentic hero or heroine when you want to give him or her some sort of psychological disorder.
Full of informative sidebars, this book points up some of the most famous writers’ mistakes when it comes to representing a psychological disorder correctly. Many of the sidebars feature excerpts from actual books. The author even calls James Patterson and Nicholas Sparks on the carpet. And she responds to questions from authors about the characters and issues in their stories.
I especially like her lesson about how to really get to know and portray your character.
Are you writing a fiction or nonfiction book that includes scenes in a psychotherapist’s office or that portrays someone with a psychological disorder? Then you really ought to have this book at your elbow. Yes, it has a detailed index for easy reference.
From SPAWN President Susan Daffron: I finished my 12th book and brought advance review copies to the BlogPaws conference at the end of August. The book is called Publicity to the Rescue: How to Get More Attention for Your Animal Shelter, Humane Society or Rescue Group to Raise Awareness, Increase Donations, Recruit Volunteers, and Boost Adoptions. The web site is http://www.PublicitytotheRescue.com
More Exposure For Members Only – Get added exposure and new customers/clients/students by posting your services, classes or business on SPAWN’s Member Discounts page. Email a brief description of your services, classes or business to Susan@spawn.org along with your discount and a link to your website. Questions? Contact Patricia@spawn.org See the Discounts page here: http://www.spawn.org/member.html
SPAWN was featured in the August 18, 2011 post at BookMarketingBuzzBlog in a post about what makes a consumer buy a book. See more at http://tinyurl.com/4xyleab
Scroll down to read Brian Feinblum’s interview with Executive Director, Patricia Fry, as they discuss publishing and publicizing.
Publishing consultant Bobbi Graham highly recommends this article by Joel Friedlander, which should be required reading for all authors. Joel, founder of The Book Designer, is well-respected in the industry and publishes an excellent free newsletter where this first appeared. Here’s his article, The Subsidy Author’s Bill of Rights: http://tinyurl.com/ykffgt7
Member Bill Benitez has produced his first mystery title through his company, Positive-Imaging. The book title is Henry Wood Detective Agency written by Brian Meeks. Find out more about the book on his blog at http://extremelyaverage.com where you can also read his upcoming mysteries about the same detective. The paperback and kindle versions are available at www.amazon.com Bill Benitez Positive Imaging, LLC email@example.com / http://positive-imaging.com
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