Showing posts with label writers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writers. Show all posts

Nov 2, 2015

Mystery Authors You Never Heard Of--Maybe

I just returned from Magna Cum Murder, a mystery con in Indianapolis. It's interesting that each year, more people know who I am and more have already read my books. Many of us on what's called the Mid-list (meaning we're not big names that publishers are engaging in bidding wars for) sit quietly at these cons, listening to more famous writers tell their stories.

Some might think that if a book is good, everyone will find it and read it. That's not necessarily true in this age of hype from big publishers. A book might be very good but not quite the thing the marketing people are pushing this year or the fad type of book everyone is supposed to be reading. (For example, when did "everyone" start reading YA lit?)

There's nothing wrong with being a mid-list writer in my opinion. I write what I want to write, and no one argues with me (well, not much) about the direction my career should be going. I feel no pressure to attend twenty conferences a year or write to the expectations of others. Many of us are content being not so famous--and even not so rich--if it means we get to write the way we love to write.

I'd like to introduce you to a few authors who write good but not famous books. Those listed here were at Magna and have now returned to toiling away in the dark, happy to sell enough books to keep a publisher interested in releasing the next one.

Molly MacRae is a librarian who writes a charming series about a haunted yarn shop. The ghost is depressed and a little confused.

Sarah Wisseman is a retired archaeologist who writes art historical and archaeological mysteries. You can guess that they're completely authentic.



Tony Perona writes the Nick Bertetto mysteries and is collaborating with his daughter on a new series from Midnight Ink.


Dan (D.E.) Johnson writes historical mysteries, and his first one features Detroit in the 1910s.

John Desjarlais teaches community college in Illinois and writes mysteries with Christian themes.

These are just a few names--people I've come to know and like. Imagine dozens more, all hoping for a little recognition, all pleased if just one person says, "I read that book. It was really good!"

Oct 26, 2015

Plain Talk for Writers: It Takes Longer than You Think


What takes longer, you ask?
Everything.
It takes longer to sell a book than you'd like.
It takes longer to produce a book than you estimate.
It takes longer to become a familiar name to readers than you expected.
It takes longer to to keep up with promotion than you ever imagined.

Let's look at those one by one.

Sell the book. Five years is the estimated average time it takes a writer to find a publisher. If you're hoping for a big publisher, it could be even more. Yes, I know you read about an author who hit it big with her first book. Hooray for her, but most of us don't have that experience. We just don't talk about it because the average reader thinks if a book is "good enough," it's going to get published.
Yeah, right.

Produce the book. Once your book is accepted by a publisher, you're on their timeline. You can tell all your friends about it, but they're likely to have to wait more than a year to see the book in print. My publisher puts each manuscript they receive into a queue, and the publication date will always more than a year away due to the process: editing, re-editing, cover designing, formatting, submitting for review, and copy-editing. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
If you self-publish you're responsible for all that, and while that's beneficial in some ways, it's a lot more work--more time spent not writing.

Become a familiar name. Try this one: Who are Adam Johnson, Nathan Englander, and Eowyn Ivey?
They were the top three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2013 (Johnson won it). If we don't take note of these authors' names, why would we recall the author of the murder mystery we read last week?

Keep up with promotion. Here's what I've done so far this morning: I checked my emails for both Peg and Maggie, answering some, deleting a lot, and sending out codes for one of Maggie's audio books. Then I sent a guest blog post to a fellow author who will use it on November 3rd. I wrote it yesterday, so today I proofed it, added links, photos, and a bio. Monday is blog day for me and Maggie. In addition, each day I try to follow some of the advice authors are given: tweet interesting things, post on FB, send a newsletter to those who opt in to learn what I'm up to. I set up my own book signings and talks, although people are finally starting to ask me to speak rather than me asking them. I'm also preparing for Magna Cum Murder this weekend, which meant answering the panel moderators' questions so they know what to ask about when I get there. In the back of my mind I'm searching for something cool to give away there (It's in Indianapolis) to make people take note of my work in the mash of authors who'll be there trying to do the same thing. (One author gave everyone in the room ten dollars. Impressive, but honestly, I didn't buy her book with it and I don't recall her name!)

The point is there's always something I could be doing to "make it" as an author, and a lot of it isn't writing books.

I'm not complaining. I love everything I do that connects to writing, and I would never discourage anyone from doing it. It's just that it's always a surprise to me when I think, "I can have that book out by the end of the year." ...It's almost the end of October, and I'm not even close.


Oct 19, 2015

Plain Talk for Writers: It's Work

Some things you need to accept:

1. You're not as good as you think you are.
Other people have ideas as good as yours. In fact, it's hard to be truly creative with all the stories that are out there. Others write as well as you do too. Admit it, and you'll be easier to be around.
2. You're going to work harder than you expect to be successful.
There is no Book Fairy who sprinkles shiny stuff on your work and gets everyone to notice it. There's no way to get readers to pay attention if they don't want to. There are things you can do that actually turn readers off, like constantly telling what a great book you've written.
3. Nobody knows what works. If there were a formula--well, there isn't. Badly written books get to be Best Sellers and really good books get rejected by publishers or lie languishing if they do get published.
4. Writing well isn't easy. Note the qualifier. A monkey can sit down at a computer and produce something. An author knows it takes time: time to write a coherent first draft, time to make it better with multiple edits, time to get constructive criticism from others, time to rewrite and rework until it's the best story she is capable of telling.

AND ONE MORE THING

If you're a real writer, none of those things will deter you.

Oct 5, 2015

Plain Talk For Writers: A Sense of Place

No, I'm not talking about book settings, though they're important and wonderful when done well.

I'm talking about YOUR place in the world of writing.

If you're published, you probably already have an idea of where you fit, and it probably bothers you a little that it isn't where you'd like to be or where you thought you'd be. If you're not yet published, you should spend some time thinking about where you will fit in once you show your work to the world.

Before publication, many writers have an inflated idea of the importance of their work. I'm approached all the time at book signings by people who claim they have the next bestseller in mind or in progress. The fact that they tell me about it is a hint that they don't know the process at all. There's hope in their eyes, a fantasy scenario where I grab them by the arm and say, "Wow! I need to tell my agent right away about your completely awesome idea." Well, I won't. In the first place, I fired my agent, and in the second place, I've heard it before. Really.


Honestly, 99% of books, including my own, are not that original. Most of us take a theme that's well known (In mystery it's usually the search for justice), find some characters we like, and work out a story. However, the number of variations on any theme is limited. For example, I'm aware of three best-selling authors right now who have a new book where the protagonist has amnesia. I bought two of them, and I had to quit reading one until I finish the other, because I kept getting them mixed up in my head. Amnesia as a theme in mysteries comes in waves--as do other themes, alcoholic protagonists, divorced sleuths with children at risk, cops with bosses who hate them, etc. Apparently it's been long enough since writers did amnesiacs as protags that we can use it again.

What's your place in the writing world? Chances are your plot isn't original (Nor are those of most best-selling authors). Chances are the people in your book are re-hashes of stereotypical characters readers have seen before, probably many times. That's okay, as long as you recognize it. The most honest thing a writer can do is accept that she isn't doing anything groundbreaking. Once we accept that truth, we won't expect to shoot to the top of the ranks like Nike rising from the sea.

If you're lucky, you write something entertaining enough that a portion of the population will read it. Then you build on that, so they learn to come back to you for the kind of story they like. If you're even more lucky, a few of them will say nice things about it to other readers (Most don't. They just reach for the next book on their TBR pile).

That's your place, and when you understand it, you'll stop wondering why awards aren't lining your office wall and movie producers aren't knocking on your door. You'll be happy brightening the corner where you are.


Sep 15, 2015

Saturday, Sept. 26: Alpena Book Festival



Welcome to the Alpena Book Festival!

All visitors who register for the ABF will receive a free Passport. At each panel or participating business they visit, they’ll get a stamp on their Passport. A completed Passport (10 stamps) enters the visitor into a drawing for baskets of prizes donated by authors, publishers, and Downtown businesses.
Visitors who donate to READ* ($10.00 suggested donation) receive a tote bag filled with books and other freebies. Tickets found in the tote bags can be used to enter drawings for additional prize baskets. Tickets can be purchased separately, but the tote bags are a great deal.
Sessions listed below are open to all, but space might be limited. All sessions run 50 minutes, leaving 10 minutes to get to the next one. Authors will return to the bookstore that has their books after their sessions to meet readers and sign.

10:00
Panel discussion: Stories That Inspire-Olivet Book & Gift
Panelists: Christine Johnson/Zachary Bartels/Delores Liesner/Tedd Galloway/Jenna Mindel
Inspirational books are reader favorites: great stories, great characters, and a sense that with the right outlook, the world isn’t such a terrible place.
Panel discussion: The Allure of Mysteries-Blue Phoenix Books
Panelists: PJ Parrish/ Dan Ames/ Elizabeth Buzzelli/ Susan Froetschel/ Douglas Cameron
Who doesn’t love a good mystery? Join 5 excellent mystery writers to discover how they devise those deadly plots!
Children’s Program-Alpena Public Library (10:00-12:00)
Children of elementary school age will be entertained at the library with book-related activities.

11:00
Panel discussion: Non-fiction: Real Books-Art in the Loft
Panelists: Mark Thompson/Elaine Stenger/Tedd Galloway/Delores Liesner
They say truth is stranger than fiction. These authors tell stories they didn’t make up: stories of things that really happened.
Panel discussion: Exotic Times, People, & Locales-Olivet Book & Gift
Panelists: Susan Froetschel/ Peg Herring/Pegg Thomas
Other times and places fascinate readers. Join these authors who write about them and learn how they research to get it right and write it to pull you in.

10:00-12:00
Pitch Advice (15 minute sessions)-Cabin Creek Coffee Meeting Room
Some of our panelists have agreed to meet with aspiring writers and talk with them about their work and how to present it to agents and editors in order to grab that publishing contract.
NOTE: You must register for these sessions before the Festival. Call or email Blue Phoenix Books to set up an appointment

READ is the Alpena Library’s adult literacy program, promoting communication development among those who face reading challenges.

12:00-3:00
The Long Conversation-Thunder Bay Winery Meeting Room
Join the authors for an informal discussion of books, writing, reading, and publishing. We’re sure the Winery won’t mind if you buy yourself one of their wonderful wines as you chat.

1:00
Panel discussion: Creating Memorable Characters-Blue Phoenix Books
Panelists: Connie Doherty/Christopher Chagnon/Zachary Bartels/Colleen Nye
Readers often argue about whether plot or character is more important in creating beloved books. These authors discuss how they create characters you love—or love to hate.
YA Session: The Many Current Choices for Young Adult Readers-As You Wish
Session leaders: Chanda Stafford/Laura Kolar
Dark or sunny, romantic or adventurous, realistic or fantastical: Writers today offer readers “in the middle” some great choices. Join our YA authors to talk about books and get some for free!

2:00
Q& A Session: Comics & Graphic Arts-Bob’s Bullpen
Join owner Bob LeFevre to learn about comics, drawing, and working in the field.
Panel discussion: Local History-Alpena Public Library
Marjorie Brandenburg/Tuffy & Bonnie Cross/ Deloris Law/Gerald Micketti/John Porter/Janet Young
What makes Michigan such a wonderful place to read about? The history, the land features, the people—and more.
What Makes a Genre, & Which One Do You Read?-Blue Phoenix Books
Panelists: P.J. Coldren/Christopher Chagnon/Connie Doherty/Laura Kolar/Christine Johnson
Genres, subgenres—what are they? When you look for a book, it helps to know what the industry calls what you like. Are you a cozy person or a noir fan? We’ll help you figure it out.

3:00
Panel discussion: Series: Continuing the Story-Olivet Book & Gift
Panelists: Peg Herring/PJ Parrish/Dan Ames/Elizabeth Buzzelli/Douglas Cameron
Writers of series face unique problems: keeping it fresh, allowing for characters’ life changes, and even killing off characters (but never the dog!)
Panel discussion: Romance between the Pages - Alpena Library
Panelists: Chanda Stafford/, Pegg Thomas/ Jenna Mindel/Colleen Nye/Angela Aaron
Stormy courtships, intriguing secrets, happy ending--romance is a wildly popular genre with a wide range of heat levels. Join these romance authors for a run-down, from sweet to Oh My!

4:00
Poetry Slam-Fresh Palate
Come and hear the Alpena area’s creative types read their work!
Panel discussion: Publishing in 2015-Alpena Library
Panelists: P.J. Coldren/Elaine Stenger/Mark Thompson/Angela Aaron
What does it take to sell books at this point in time? In some ways it’s easier than ever. In others, it’s much harder.

 5:00 Drawings for many wonderful prize baskets with gifts from downtown stores and books from visiting authors and their publishers.

Mar 9, 2015

Not Exactly a Book Tour

In the minds of many, a book tour is a glamorous thing, but like most everything else, reality is more prosaic than poetic. There are authors who draw crowds of adoring fans, like Rick Castle always does on the TV show. (BTW, I wish I had a quarter for every time someone asked me if I think Nathan Fillion really writes those books. PulEEZE!)
Most of us don't draw crowds; in fact, we're happy for every person that shows up. A speaker at Sleuthfest, the conference I attended in Florida last week, described arriving at a bookstore to find every audience chair filled, only to have them empty when it was announced over the loudspeaker that his presentation was about to start. He learned the homeless of the area were allowed to come in out of the cold and sit in the chairs, but they knew they had to leave when his talk began. Not only did he have an audience of only one person, he was responsible for the rest being tossed out into the cold!
People also imagine that publishers arrange tours for authors. They think we're met by limo drivers and escorted by publicists. That's true for a few, but most of us arrange our own events, and it's getting harder and harder. Bookstores are struggling financially, and some now charge authors a fee for a signing. And with library funds slashed, don't expect much in the way of remuneration there.
Fun with the "sexiest men at SF"
What I did for the last few weeks was in no way a tour. We wanted to escape the cold, and we hadn't been to Florida for several years. I signed up for Sleuthfest in Deerfield Beach, knowing it was a nice conference in a great area. As part of the con I did some instruction and some introductions, and I met a lot of really nice people.
Afterwards we drove north to Lake Alfred, to a library that's been transformed since I last saw it. Due to a generous donation from an unassuming gentleman, the town now has a new building that's everything a small library could hope for. The people there were so nice I felt pampered, even spoiled, and we had a great day, a lovely lunch, and few laughs together.
How nice to have my books featured at Lake Alfred!
That was the tour part. I didn't schedule more events, because we were supposed to be vacationing.
Lake Alfred's Clever Mystery Spot
 John's very patient with my "job stuff," but it's no fun for him to wait around in a hotel room or drive around large cities by himself while I talk, talk, talk about books and writing. We turned to things we both like to do: Busch Gardens, a Tigers game, and the Plant City Strawberry Festival. We once had a house near there, and it was fun to go back, though we found that the house itself has been torn down. Now we're back in Michigan, with snow instead of 80+ temps. As they say, it's good to get away, and great to get back home.
Intriguing art shop in New Smyrna Beach
John checking out the fauna at Busch Gardens

Mar 2, 2015

What Writers Talk About

Looking way too serious before the panel
If you're not a writer, don't ever get caught in a group of them. The discussions are never-ending, and we love them, even if we've heard them a thousand times before.
I sat on a panel Saturday that discussed writers' dilemmas and how to solve them. After sharing a few of our own problem areas, we asked the audience to share theirs.
We could have stayed all day.
The funny thing is that in the final analysis, they're the same. How to overcome a stalled story (I recommend a break, even if it takes a week or two). How to cut to a reasonable word count (I listen to the MS read by my computer. Others read it aloud to themselves or to others). How to beef up a MS that's too short (I added a subplot; others add a secondary character). How to recognize your "personal errors," those things we all do that irritate readers (I use SmartEdit, which points out how many times I used the word just or how many sentences I started with I). And how to make your characters behave (You can't. You can only react to what they've done, sometimes with horror).
What's great about such discussions isn't the sage advice the other panel members and I gave. Yes, maybe we've been at this longer and have worked out some strategies, but we're all in this together. My editors still point out things they've been pointing out for years, things I should be able to see but don't because I'm working so hard to get the story
written down.
So authors talk about writing. We trade ideas. We give enthusiastic synopses of our projects. We ask questions.
And we go away fueled up to go at it again--writing the great American mystery novel.

Feb 23, 2015

"Gee, You Write a Lot of Books!"

Yes, I do.
I'm not Alexander McCall Smith, who writes a book every two months, but I do okay. Some people get all huffy if an author publishes more than one book a year, but there are some reasons why that's possible, even desirable.

First, we might have written a lot before we got published. While a lot of early work is practice and  should never be seen by the eyes of the public, other bits are worthwhile. Maybe a good book idea got shifted to one side because of deadlines and never got finished or re-worked or ended (It's taken me years to figure out how the sequel to MACBETH'S NIECE is supposed to go. I think we're close.) Maybe an author's worked on it a bit at a time for years and it's finally ready to go into the queue.

Second, some of us haven't got much else going. We're retired, so work isn't distracting us. We're past the age where a night of bowling or even a day of shopping tugs us away from the work.  We don't have a lot of family demands. Yes, we still do stuff, but we're at a point in life where we have lots of hours to fill as we want.

Which brings us to the third point. Writing is what we want to do. Though I still like things like travel and theater and long walks, my head is planning, improving, or polishing plots even as I do those things. It's a bug I couldn't shake if I wanted to. Not only do I like writing, I like editing, preparing to publish, and even promotion--sometimes. Naturally one gets more done if she spends more time on it.

That's why some of us are, or at least seem, more prolific than others. I admire my friends who write in slices, working around jobs, family, and other distractions. It's killer, and they often can't get more than one book ready per year. I'm lucky enough to have a lot of time to write. It doesn't matter if it takes two years of working two hours/day or six months of working all day most days. Putting in the time to make it right is what counts, not how many titles are listed under your name.

Jan 19, 2015

Self-Publishing: A Few Thoughts on How Not To

There was an article in the Sunday paper yesterday about a young man who'd chose self-publishing. He had a cute idea for a children's book, and after being rejected by traditional publishers, he went to work and got it together himself.

And ordered 1000 copies of the book.

I wish I'd met him before that point in his brand-new career.

Here's my understanding of the scam some "helpful" publishers use to make money off earnest, unknowing writers: They "help" you publish your book, charging you every step of the way. They encourage you to buy a bunch of copies because "When this thing takes off, you're going to want them on hand!" They often charge the author full or nearly full price per book, so he gets no profit unless he jacks up the price, making dutiful friends and relatives shell out more than they should for a book in order to be supportive. Bookstores don't want them, because people don't want to pay big bucks for a book they've never heard of by an author who's equally obscure. These publishers promise fantastic promotion and personalized service, but the people I've spoken to who went that route were almost universally disappointed with the skimpy results they got from such promises.
In the end, the author has laid out a bunch of money, has books he can't unload, and is left with a bad feeling about publishing.

There are alternatives. Don't get me wrong: any sort of publishing involves some financial investment. You will have to pay for editing, and you should hire someone who'll tell you the truth. You might have to pay for cover art and set-up, and unless you're REALLY talented, you should. But there are publishing options that aren't designed to only make money for the publisher. One is Createspace. (I'm sure there are others; I'm just using what I know.) It's Amazon's company, so it was definitely created to make money, but they're pretty up front. There are no set-up fees to upload a manuscript and make a POD (print on demand) book, and they'll take your MS in Word .( I still pay a formatter to set the book up the way I want it. I think it looks better.) You can use an ISBN or they'll assign you their version of an identifying number. There's a minimal charge per book, and you can buy a few at a time, so you can order to supply your needs just a couple of weeks ahead.

Ingram now has IngramSpark, which charges a set-up fee but still charges a minimal fee/book and allows you to order a few at a time. (The fee is around $50.00) They have a calculator on the opening page of the site that figures how much you'll be charged/book, which is nice. The advantage to using Ingram is the book is then available to book stores, most of whom won't touch an Amazon book.

I was at a conference last year where they recommended publishing with both, which is what I did with the Maggie Pill books. That way they're available in all the Amazon outlets and also to larger entities, like bookstores and libraries, who order books in bunches through Ingram.


Both of these companies are fairly easy to use, though it takes some practice and I find that with Ingram I have to call and wait on hold for a long time rather than email with questions. No one reads the emails. There are lots of things you need to know about any sort of self-publishing venture, and I'm not going to go into all of it in this piece, but you need to read everything you can in order to decide exactly how you want to proceed.

This is my experience, and I freely admit that opinions will vary. I'm not getting rich in publishing, and I never intended to make a living with my writing. But
I don't have 952 books mildewing in my garage that I've already paid for but can't sell.

Nov 11, 2014

What Do Authors Do For Fun?


If you know someone who writes, you might have noticed her idea of fun is different from that of other people. An invitation to go shopping might be answered with, "I have a chapter that just won't work out right, so I think I'll stay home and work on it."
Conversations all turn into analyses of publishing.
And don't think about asking what she's working on if you don't have half an hour to listen to the Next Great Idea.
Two things authors enjoy are talking about books with other readers and talking about books with other writers. I did both those things recently, so I count it as a great week.
First, I visited Petrolia, Ontario, where a lively group of readers listened to my spiel on mysteries, offering their own suggestions as we went. The library is in an old train station, and the town itself is charming. I highly recommend visiting, and I have promised to return (in summer, of course. Everything is better in summer!)
The Petrolia visit was made even nicer by the fact that my sister lives on the way, so we had a "girls' day out." Anyone who knows her can attest that she knows books, too, so she was a hit with the group.
Then it was on to Traverse City, where I spent the weekend with a dozen authors who came together to...remain separate. It's a writers' retreat we've had for the last few years, and the purpose is to get away from ringing phones, household chores, and family demands and simply write for hours on end. Of course there is some socializing, as you see in this photo, but we try not to spend too much time at it. For lunch we visited the grounds of the old State Hospital, now a cool tourist spot, and talked about how one might poison someone and get away with it (in a novel, of course). The place is a must see if you're in TC, although it still has associations for me of the time we were taken there in high school by our sociology teacher. I haven't yet figured out what we were supposed to learn from the visit, but I was left with a feeling of sadness for those poor, imprisoned souls that still haunts me 46 years later.
.
Anyway, except for mealtimes, we wrote for hours, right up until checkout time on Sunday. I got a great start on the fourth and final Dead Detective story, and others in the group all reported good progress on their various projects.
So when you get to know a writer, you're likely to learn that what they consider fun is a little odd. Traveling 200+ miles to talk about books? Yup. Spending a weekend shut up in a hotel room while the rest of the world plays outside? Yup. That's just how we are.

Oct 27, 2014

Magna 2014 Has Left the Building


I manned the Midwest Mystery Writers of America table for a while, with the able assistance of E.A. Poe










I returned last night from Magna Cum Murder, a mystery conference held in Indianapolis, IN at the beautiful Columbia Club. One can safely say that a good time was had by all, and the organizers, led by the indefatigable Kathryn Kennison  do a great job of making everyone feel at home.

Since I've attended many Magnas, I saw lots of authors I've chatted with, dined with, or sat on panels with in the past, either at Magna or at other cons. Molly MacRae, Sarah Wisseman, Sharan Newman, Tony Perona, Albert Bell, Dan (D.E.) Johnson, John Desjarlais, Monica Ferris, Ann Margaret Lewis, Carla Norton, Elaine Orr, Carol Preflatish, Lori Rader-Day, and Brenda Robertson Stewart. Among those authors you will find a wide array of mysteries, from woo-woo to cozy to deadly serious.

What does one do at a mystery con? If you're an author, you sit on panels and discuss why you write, how you write, and what you write. My first panel was on historical novels and the research involved in writing them. It's a delicate balancing act, keeping the story interesting but making sure you don't "fudge" history, as Sharan termed it. The panelists agreed it's a bad thing to stretch history too far. The second panel discussed writing paranormals, and there the panelists agreed that exploring paranormal things makes for interesting writing, but we couldn't agree on whether we actually believe the things we write about are real. (I was a no vote on the whole ghost question, but others were pretty sure they exist. It was a perfect discussion for a date so close to Halloween.
Tony Perona, who moderated the "woo-woo" panel

Readers come to cons to meet authors they like, find new authors, and talk about the mystery genre. I'm always surprised and pleased at the intelligent questions we get, such as one reader who asked concerning paranormal writing, "Should the paranormal element in the book lead to the solving of the crime?" We discussed that for a while. On one hand, if the paranormal doesn't help with the solution, then why is it in the book? On the other hand, is it "fair" to have an element in the story that allows some characters an advantage over others? It was a great question, proving that (unlike many sophomores I used to know) the listeners were digesting the information and actively involved with the topic.

I can't leave the subject of Magna without presenting Luci Zahray and her able assistant, P.J. Coldren. P.J. is a pharmacy tech who reviews mysteries for several different entities. Luci is a pharmacist from Texas who attends mystery cons to help authors poison people (figuratively, of course). She is extremely well-versed in toxic substances (we call her the Poison Lady) and she can scare you to death as easily as she could poison you, just by telling you what can kill you. A couple of the poisons she spoke on this time were saw palmetto and nicotine. Many don't realize how toxic these substances are, and she is horrified (as am I, now that I know) how easily they are bought and how casually they're used. She urged people who feel they must take supplements like saw palmetto to tell their doctors about it. Though it (and other supplements aren't classified by the FDA as drugs, they are not safe in some cases and are totally unregulated, so you don't know the dose you're getting or the quality of it. Saw palmetto, for example, can cause massive bleeding after surgery. If the doctors don't know what the reason is, they might not be able to stop it in time to save a person's life.

Molly MacRae, whose yarn shop mysteries include a depressed ghost
There. I learned some things I didn't know. I saw people I enjoy seeing. I talked a little about my books to people who might not have heard of me before. And I found a new author to read, not for myself, but for John (who likes thrillers). The weather was lovely, I had the company of the easy-to-travel-with Connie Doherty on the road trip. All in all, a great weekend. I recommend it for mystery lovers and wanna be mystery writers--next October.

Sep 19, 2014

What Am I Working On?

Someone asks me this about once a week, so I thought I'd attempt an answer.

I just finished the final edit for the 4th Simon & Elizabeth mystery, Her Majesty's Mischief. If you've been paying attention, I had some trouble choosing a title for this one, and readers gave me some great suggestions. I chose this one because it has a double meaning. Simon is sent to Scotland to try to determine if Mary, Queen of Scots is hatching mischief in the form of revolt against Elizabeth, now Queen of England. In his absence, Elizabeth hatches some mischief of her own, secretly sending Simon's old friend Calkin to investigate a murder in Simon's family. Both endeavors lead to trouble, of course.
I have no release date yet for that one, but they said I'll get Advance Review Copies in December, which means it should come out about two months later. I will let readers know through my newsletter, so if you aren't signed up, you can text 22828. It will ask for a password, which is PEGHERRING. Then it will take your email addy, and you'll be on my list (I sound like I know what I'm doing, but I don't. If you aren't a smart phone person, you can join my newsletter list on Facebook.)

The next Dead Detective mystery, Dead for the Show, is also slated for an unknown "soon". The last notification I got from the publisher was "late in 2014 or early in 2015." I'd bet on the latter since I haven't seen the final copy-edits, but in this book, Seamus is sent to a theater company in Toronto to investigate the death of the wardrobe mistress. Anyone who knows me can guess where that idea came from!

The Loser mysteries ended with Killing Despair, at least for a while. I had an arc in mind for her character, and I think she's completed it. There's room for further development, but it seems to me the books would be less about Loser and more just mysteries--not a bad thing but not what I planned.

I've been working on the cozy series, written as Maggie Pill, (http://maggiepill.com) which has done waaaay better than I expected. I have Book #2 almost done, so that should come out in early November at the latest.

The long-range plan is for one more Simon & Elizabeth (they're getting old!) and one more Dead Detective (to solve Seamus' own reluctance to take the final step). After that, who knows?

Sep 10, 2014

Writers Are Nice People

Newcomers to writing often comment on how nice everyone is. Writers give each other advice. We share successes and failures. We explain the piece we're presently working on (sometimes in too much detail) with little thought that someone will "steal" our ideas. (You can try, but it will still be a ton of work for you.)
In a field where every new book adds to the dizzying amount of competing works, one might think that writers would hide their secrets, keep the means of success to themselves when (if) they stumble on it, and perhaps even mislead naive newbies in order to send them in the wrong direction.
That doesn't happen. Maybe because of how difficult it is to get published, most writers feel an empathy with others that causes them to ignore the prospective competition and give advice that's as helpful as possible.
Have a question for an author? Just ask. It's likely she will share what she knows (unless she has a deadline looming). Why are we so nice? Why don't we care that you might write a blockbuster novel and someday draw readers away from us?
For one thing, misery loves company. It's difficult, sometimes it seems impossible, to find success in writing. Writers share their experiences as a form of catharsis. Besides, my advice to you isn't likely to magically turn you into a writing success. No matter how many secrets I divulge, you still have to do the work, and it's not going to be easy. (If writing feels easy, you're probably doing it wrong.)
There isn't any "right" way to write, and there isn't any "right" way to get published. I can't tell you how it will happen for you or when or how much success you'll have. I can only tell you what I know, and that changes almost daily.

May 16, 2014

It's Really, Really Work

Every writer who ever left her house has encountered aspiring writers. Some have a finished manuscript. Some have an idea. Some have a vague notion they'll write a book when they get around to it. Most writers are polite, but what we think, hint at, or sometimes even say is "It's hard. Writing is hard. Publishing is hard. Promotion is hard."

Many things in life seem easy from the outside. Writing is one of the big ones, and here are 9 reasons why.

Writing takes talent.
    There are certain people who shouldn't do certain stuff. (For instance, I should not be any kind of a medical professional.) Wanting to write a book doesn't make you capable of doing it.

Writing takes skill.
    If you paid attention in English classes, great, but the skills of writing need to be developed. Studying writing can be as simple as reading a lot, but you have to think about what you're reading, why it affects you or doesn't, and how you might write something similar. Then you have to do the next step.

Writing takes practice.
    Most people don't practice writing enough before beginning a career as a writer. Like anything else, writing takes hours, days, weeks, and months of writing, getting reaction to your writing, and rewriting.

Getting published takes persistence.
    Some really good writers will never be published because they gave up trying to get published. It takes a lot of work to put out a book, and that's true any way you do it. In traditional publishing, the work comes with finding an agent and/or a publisher, who will then direct you in the remaining tasks (a great way to become educated in the business of publishing).
    In self-publishing, the work of making your book the best it can be is completely yours, so you have to be sure you know what to do and how to do it. Otherwise, it gets expensive, in both spent money and spent "capital" in terms of reader tolerance. (Ask yourself: Would you buy a second book by an author whose first book was badly done?) 

Getting published takes luck.
    Even if you do all the right things to become traditionally published, there's still a lot of luck involved. Publishers might not be buying your genre right now, or maybe they just bought something similar and don't want another for a while.
   Self-published authors find their luck or lack of it comes in finding people who'll read, recommend, and review a book by an unknown, first-time author.

Getting published takes courage.
   Aspiring authors need to consider that publishing brings the chance someone will hate what they've done. What will you do when you get a one-star review on Amazon with all sorts of criticisms of your "baby"? And it gets worse: The more you write, the more famous you get, the more likely someone will want to shoot you down.


Selling books takes work.
   These days, authors do most of their own promotion (certain mega-authors aside, but even they're expected to make personal appearances and make nice with readers). Successful authors do a hundred things a day that have little to do with writing a book, often things we aren't the least bit fond of doing.

Selling books takes time.
   Even though we'd love to pop out a book every three months, it doesn't just happen. A good book takes time. You write, you leave it for a while, you rewrite. Repeat, repeat, repeat. (There are authors who claim they only write once, but they're either liars or freaks of nature.)
   As indicated above, the actual selling of books takes time away from the writing of them. Appearances, blogs, and such slow down the writing process, so any book after the first is squeezed into a time frame.

Selling books takes skill.
   Honestly, it takes years in the business to get a handle on selling. At first, I floundered a lot, doing things without having any idea if they worked for me. I have a better idea now of what I want to do and what is helpful for my readers, but no one knows for sure what works or why it works when it does. All a writer can do is keep a finger on the pulse of publishing and do what she feels capable of doing.

So if you're aspiring, don't be dismayed--just be informed. Don't picture yourself breezing through a manuscript, sending it off then waiting for money to pour in. Picture yourself working very, very hard in many, many, different areas, and in the end feeling satisfied that you've done you best, pleased some readers, and--if you're lucky, make more than the $1000 (that's ONE thousand) the overwhelming number of published authors make per year.

How About a FREE Print Book?

Readers love book deals, right? Here’s the situation: I have books I didn’t sell, largely due to COVID. I’m not interested in doing li...