Thursday, November 15, 2007

SinC and the Nitty Gritty

By Margaret Coel

Twenty years ago, I happened on a newspaper article about a new organization formed to help women mystery writers promote and sell their novels and generally succeed in a mystery world long dominated by men. What a great idea, I thought. I wasn't writing mystery novels at the time, but I had been bouncing around publishing long enough—with five non-fiction books and countless magazine articles—that I knew men pretty much dominated the entire publishing world. Let me stop here: This is not a feminist rant. I love men, and I'm grateful to the many male publishing types who have helped me—and continue to help me—in my career. Still an organization dedicated to helping women mystery writers break through stereotypical barriers and change the perception that the only women capable of writing damn good mystery novels were Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie seemed inspired. I also liked the fact that membership was also open to men. I vowed to join this organization, even though I was still in the thinking-about-someday-writing-a-mystery-novel stage.

It took a while, but eventually I did join Sisters in Crime and wrote the first msytery novel in my Wind River series, The Eagle Catcher. I also started on a new publishing adventure for which none of my previous experiences were much help. But Sisters in Crime—bless you!—was there each step of the way with the kind of nitty-gritty advice that, after thirteen novels, is still helpful. How do real cops investigate crime scenes? How about all that forensics stuff? Autopsies anyone? Ride-with-a-cop? In what amounts to a graduate-level continuing education program for mystery writers, the local Colorado chapter has come up with these programs and a lot more.

But SinC's nitty-gritty information doesn't stop at the writing stage. It also covers the all important stage of: Okay, my book is published. Now what the heck do I do? Well, it turns out that you can do a lot to help your book jump off the shelves into buyers' hands, and SinC is there with practical advice. Is there a more practical book on marketing and promotion than Brazen Hussies? I don't think so. I still reread the book before I embark on each book tour. It was SinC that taught me to "partner "with the bookstores that give me signings and do everything possible to help the stores sell my books. Everything from sending postcards and e-blasts to readers on my lists notifying them of the stores where I'll be signing to supplying bookmarks, flyers or other promotional materials to the stores to help them notify customers of my upcoming appearances.

Isn't that obvious? (Head slap!) Sure, if you're a member of Sisters in Crime. But trust me, I know many novelists and non-fiction writers who have never heard of authors doing such promotions. Some even consider it beneath their authorial dignity. Usually they are the ones who complain the loudest about publishers not doing enough to promote their books. True, we all want publishers to do more. But here's the nitty-gritty: we have to be willing help. And SinC has been there with advice on even the smallest and simplest ways in which we can help ourselves.

I remember driving thirty-five miles to Denver one night for a book signing with a Very Important Author. This Very Important Author looked as if she had just rolled out of bed—wrinkled clothes, mussed hair, dirty nails. (Yes, she was on tour, but please!) She seemed bored, slightly irritated that she had to show up, and in a hurry to move on to a more important event. I remember thinking that she could learn a lot from Sisters in Crime. What a small, simple thing to show up for your book signing looking as if you want to be there, and yet how important. It shows respect for readers who could have been a thousand other places, but who chose to take the time to come to your signing. To paraphrase Brazen Hussies, people go out of their way to come to see you. You're a star. Shine a little.

Nitty-gritty advice that pays off. I know that I left the booksigning without buying the Very Important Author's book, and I wasn't the only one.

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