Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Holiday Wish....

I miss Phyllis Whitney. I know many of you do too. After all, her books were the first grown up suspense books most of us read and we continued to read them for many years. In fact, many generations have enjoyed reading her wonderful books.

I must admit that all of us at Mystery Lovers Bookshop miss her for another reason. She was a good friend and great customer for many of her 104 years. We loved when her beautiful script appeared on a thick, fine envelope in the day's mail containing a new order for a box of books. This woman was a world traveler, prodigious writer and a fabulous reader of all kinds of books...cozy and harder boiled mysteries, romantic suspense, celebrity biography, espionage, travel and writing books. All the while she was reading widely, she worked on writing her biography which we all are anxious to read.

Bon Voyage, dear Phyllis.

Now, with my bookseller hat on, I have to say I miss her practical, financial support greatly. An author who buys 200 books from an independent bookseller is all too rare these days. I know it is easy to order online when you work at your computer or walk into a big B in the neighborhood. Maybe your publicist thinks the Amazon link is the only way to go. Think about it, every stroke and step is at the expense of the independent bookseller.

Last year when a big California indy was closing, I read a news story with mournful words from neighboring authors who were so sad. When I looked up their websites, only 2 had a link to the struggling indy now forced to close.

Mystery Lovers Bookshop is so thankful for the dozen or more writers who buy books here, who link to our website to channel sales, who arrange virtual signings and just shop for Holiday and Birthday gifts, personal stock of their titles, writing books, travel books and research titles for the book underway. Bless you as you all are a reason we are here after 18 years.

What about you? If writers would buy all the books they need in the next three months from an indy, it could make all the difference. Why not become the resident author of the mystery book store near you? Order your books for your stock there and invite them to sell at your local events. They will certainly keep large stock of all you books signed for anyone who requests one from you. If they are nearby, you can inscribe any book too. Mention this special service on your website, link to the mystery bookstores and above all else, do all your shopping there. Remember, special orders don't upset us.

Happy Holidays and thank you to all.

Richard Goldman & Mary Alice Gorman
Mystery Lovers Bookshop
514 Allegheny River Boulevard
Oakmont, PA 15139
412/828-4877

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Turning Over The Great Seal


Just about a year ago, far, far away in Anchorage, Alaska (and well before anyone had heard much about Sarah Palin), I accepted the great seal of office and stepped into the role of president of Sisters in Crime. The story goes that there was a real seal which got lost in transit between one outgoing and one incoming president some years ago. And so the seal was replaced with a stuffed animal who now makes the rounds. Each outgoing president adds a keychain to the seal’s collar to represent her state. I packed the seal early so I wouldn’t forget to take her. This picture captures all the bittersweetness of the moment! Doesn’t she look a little sad? I’m a little sad too, but also excited to get back to writing hard. And pleased to be turning the reins over to Judy Clemens and a wonderful board of directors.


The publishing world is in a grand state of flux because of the economy, advances in technology, and the sheer numbers of books being written and marketed. It’s good to have knowledgeable friends on this journey and Sisters in Crime has definitely served that purpose for me. We’ll see you in Baltimore or online!
Roberta Isleib
President
Sisters In Crime

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Where'd we go?


Nowhere … yet, but SinC is on the move.

We’re about to retool the blog site to make it bigger, better, and more informative.

Check back in October.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The benefits of the SinC list

by Donna Andrews

I love it when something works exactly the way it’s supposed to work. One of the main reasons Sisters in Crime established our national listserv was to let our members network and exchange useful information—information that can help us in our reading, our writing, our careers, and our lives. And that was working beautifully this past week.

For me, it all started when I got an email—I’ll quote it here:

Hello,

My sister is one of your biggest fans and she has terminal breast cancer and her birthday is coming up and I was wondering if I could get her an autographed copies of one of your books. She would enjoy it so much.Thank you so much.

I’m leaving out the name of the sender and the name and address of the sister, although both were included. After all, if there really is a sister with terminal breast cancer, I don’t want to embarrass her here. But my first instinct was that this might not be legit. The fact that she didn’t start out with either "Hi, Donna!" or "Dear Ms. Andrews:" wasn’t all that suspicious—some readers who write me just dive right into the message. But that unanchored "Hello" seemed a little odd. And maybe she knows her sister is a fan but does not, herself, know the names of any of my books—though if I were asking for a freebie for a family member, I think I’d make a little effort to find out which books she already had and name one of them in my message. I mean, you’re asking for a freebie—make a little effort to butter me up, will you?

In short, it just felt a little off. So I kept the email in my in-basket to think about before responding, and sure enough, before too long, I learned on one of my social lists that at least two other writers, Taffy Cannon and Jan Burke, had received the same email.

Dang. Do they think none of us ever talk to each other?

Okay, there’s still the possibility that it’s not a scam . . . maybe the breast cancer patient is a big mystery fan and the sister, who isn’t, is writing everyone whose books she sees on the patient’s shelve. But in that case, she could be honest, and admit that she’s writing ALL the patient’s favorite authors.

A day or two after Jan and Taffy confirmed that I was not the patient’s only favorite writer, I checked the Sisters in Crime list and found that April Henry had received the same letter--apparently had the same gut feeling that something was not right--and was savvy enough to post to the Sisters in Crime list asking if anyone else had received it.

And wow--what a lot of us had received it! I thought the ensuing discussion was a very useful one. Several people pointed out the things that had made them suspect it might be a scam. A couple of folks confessed that they had fallen for the email and sent books. The funniest post was from Krista Davis, who was a little skeptical about how she could possibly be anyone’s favorite writer when her first book, The Diva Runs Out of Thyme, will not be out from Berkley until October 7, 2008. Definitely something fishy there.

What gladdens my heart is that we had writers who prefer not to donate a book if they think there’s a chance the request is a scam, and others prefer to send a book if there’s even the slightest chance the request is real. And yet we all exchanged views civilly, and I suspect most of us went away more knowledgeable than before.

Yay, us!

And incidentally, kudos to Krista for accomplishing so gracefully the best kind of BSP in the world—contributing useful information conveyed in an entertaining matter about a topic that was actually under discussion!

Donna Andrews is the Sisters In Crime Chapter Liaison

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Hand To Hold Onto

by Judy Clemens

“Shakespeare’s plays are bad enough,” Tolstoy told Chekhov, “but yours are even worse.”

A voice of constructive criticism from one writer to another? Probably not. Perhaps there really was a rivalry there, and Tolstoy was letting off some steam. But what if… What if Tolstoy really was trying to help? He certainly does seem to be going about it in the wrong way.

As a writer, I have many people approach me, wanting help for the book they’re writing. Sometimes they’re just starting, and want to know how you actually do it. Some are in the middle and need encouragement to get to the end. Some have actually finished a book and want information about the next step. The most frustrating of these folks, of course, are those who say they have this fantastic idea, they’ve been working on it for twenty years, their friends love what they’ve done, and they know it’s going to be the Next Great Thing. What I want to tell them is that if they want it to have any chance of that, they really need to get their butt in a chair and get it done. But of course I don’t. I give them the more PC, and more helpful, speech about how perseverance is what gets the job accomplished.

But what about those people who really are trying, and really want to get better? They deserve the help and encouragement I received when I was in their shoes. After all, a key way to learn is to ask questions of those who know the answers -- or at least can say where to go to find someone else who knows!

I can’t, like any author, read every manuscript of every person who asks me. It would be nice if I could, but then I’d never get my own writing done, and I can’t say my publisher would be very happy about that. (Neither would I!) But every once in a while I have a friend or student who needs another eye, and I’m happy to do the honors, because it really is an honor to have someone entrust their “baby” to you!

So how does one go about critiquing a manuscript in a way that’s helpful? Here are a few suggestions drawn from my experience as a critic and as one being critiqued:

Remember that this manuscript is of huge importance to the writer. She loves it and has invested a lot of time in it. That in itself is a gigantic accomplishment and one to be praised.

Try to find positive things to say about the manuscript as you go along. Continued criticism without a few pats on the back can get depressing, or even maddening.

BUT…don’t be just a cheerleader. It will not help the writer if all you do is say their work is great. They need you to tell them when things don’t work, and are counting on you to do so.

Yes, typos are important. Nobody wants those, and it can kill a manuscript submission. But even more important are issues of character, plot, and theme. Are the characters real and consistent? Does the plot conclude in a satisfactory manner, without loose ends? Is the theme worked through the entire book?

When you’re done critiquing the manuscript, ask the author what she has questions about. Perhaps she’s worried that a certain aspect of the storyline doesn’t make sense, or that one of the characters is too wimpy, ugly, or strong? Make sure you give the author the opportunity to find out the answers to her burning questions.

Try to be timely. You have made the commitment to help the author. Sure, you have your own work, but it’s only respectful to give the author something within a reasonable time frame. After all, we each have our own experience of waiting by the mailbox for months!

Finally, remember that critiquing someone’s manuscript is a privilege, as well as an investment in the industry. Choose your commitments wisely, and honor them. It is through these kinds of interactions that we can all make our business better. And give us all more books to enjoy.

Do you have a critiquing tip to share? Please leave your ideas in the Comments section. The more aspects we think about, the better critics we can all become.

Judy Clemens
SinC Vice President
Author of the Stella Crown mystery series

Monday, August 18, 2008

We Are Family…

Last week, I attended my niece’s wedding in Homer, Alaska—a very long way to travel, but a beautiful event. After the ceremony, I reminisced with one of my sisters-in-law about my wedding in 1992, waxing nostalgic about cooking the food for the reception, leaving the church in a grubby minivan with my new blended family, and the storm that came up and flattened the tent in the back yard after the party. Her strongest memory was the bride (me) dancing with my family at the reception. We’d hired a renegade DJ who wasn’t much interested in sticking with our play list. After a series of dreadful musical selections, he did manage to squeeze in my brother’s request from Sly and the Family Stone: “We are family, I have all my sisters with me!” Then my new husband literally pulled the plug to the DJ’s amplifier.

That’s how I feel as my year serving as president of Sisters in Crime winds down—the family part, not pulling the plug. It’s been a lot of work, but a wonderful party. We have an amazing organization, founded over twenty years ago by a small group of brave women who weren’t satisfied with the status quo. I’ve seen that same spunky spirit wherever I’ve gone this year, from Anchorage to Denver to Washington to Boston to online. Sisters are everywhere, answering questions, volunteering for projects, pitching new ideas, mentoring the newcomers. I couldn’t be prouder of the work done by the board of directors and many other volunteers.

Back in 2001, before my first book was published, I’d never heard of Sisters in Crime. I contacted Hallie Ephron about doing some events together, as we both featured psychologists in our series. “You have to join Sisters in Crime!” she told me firmly. I’m so grateful that she insisted, because now you’re all family—and I mean that in only the nicest way!

If you’re coming to Bouchercon in Baltimore, don’t forget to sign up for the Sinc lunch on Thursday. Come celebrate as Judy Clemens is installed as our next president and fills us in on our exciting plans for the year.

Roberta Isleib
SinC President
http://www.robertaisleib.com

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Year for the Books

by Mary Callahan Boone



I can barely believe that my first year as Library Liaison is winding up. What a year it’s been!

During this year I was lucky to be able to coordinate Sisters in Crime’s booths at both the Public Library Association Conference in March and the American Library Association in July.

I knew the SinC booth was popular with my fellow librarians—well, I knew that when I’ve gone to ALA as an attendee, I’ve spent a lot of time dropping by the SinC booth (shhh, don’t tell my director, she’s sure I was attending that panel on “Dewey or Don’t We? Cataloging For the Masses”).

Even so, I wasn’t fully prepared for the numbers of librarians who seek out the SinC booth as a “must visit” while they’re at these two conferences. The reason for this isn’t a mystery at all: it’s due to the graciousness and generosity of SinC members like you!

Thanks to everyone who sent promotional materials and books to be given away in daily raffles.

Thanks to Barbara Fister in Minnesota and Jeff Sherratt in California who gave over their homes to chaos–receiving and storing all those boxes of promotional materials.



Special thanks go to the SinC members who staffed the booths at these two conferences, and to their publishers who donated a carton (and sometimes 2 or 3 cartons!) of books for you to sign and give away. A number of you traveled to be at the conferences, but many of you were members of the local chapters where the two conferences were held--Minneapolis for PLA and LA and Orange County for ALA. Local chapter members made us out of towners feel at home and (very important!) recommended where to eat and where to avoid eating. You were all enthusiastic about promoting SinC, and gracious to each and every librarian who came to by the booth.




PLA is held every other year and so won’t be on tap again until 2010. But ALA is an annual conference, and in 2009 it will be in Chicago. Keep an eye on the newsletter, the listserv, and the blog for information about how to be involved with ALA in Chicago. Or send me an email at any time to boonema@earthlink.net. I hope to see many of you there—authors and fellow librarians.

Can this first year be topped? I’ve no doubt it will be, because Sisters in Crime is a great organization, made up of so many great people. I can barely wait to see what all 2009 will bring!


(Photos: Carl Brookins and Jo Dereske at PLA and a pretty darn happy librarian and Alexandra Sokoloff at ALA.)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Time to write

by Donna Andrews

Finding time to write is one of the toughest parts of the business. It’s especially hard for aspiring writers, who don’t have the useful pressure of contract deadlines to keep them on the straight and narrow, and who lack the validation of published books and royalty checks to justify to their family and friends—and sometimes to themselves—the time they spend on writing.

The terminology’s part of the problem. We’re writers right? We believe in the power of words, don’t we? So let’s delete "finding time to write" from our phrase book, and replace it with "making time to write."

Finding time to write implies that it’s there, somewhere, if only we could find it. That luck might have something to do with it ("Oooh! Look! I found a spare half hour!") That maybe someone else has the secret key that would help us locate it. That perhaps, alas, it just isn’t there to be found.

Making time to write, on the other hand, makes it clear that this is work—sometimes the hardest kind of work you have to do in your writing career. That it might require sacrifices. But that accomplishing it is ultimately up to each one of us—and within our power.

In the first few years of my life as an aspiring and then a published writer, people asked me how I found time to write while working full time. "I gave up cooking and cleaning," I replied. People would, inevitably, laugh, and assume I was kidding.

I still remember the time, in the middle of writing "Murder with Peacocks," when my parents’ plane got grounded at Dulles Airport and I had to rescue them and take them home for the night—to my apartment, where there were, quite literally, paths between the piles of stuff, and enough dust to choke a camel. I was mortified that they’d seen my apartment in that state—and remember these were the people who raised me, helped me form my packrat personality, and survived the sight of my wrecked teenage room.

But I didn’t die of the embarrassment. And I was getting my writing done. I finished "Peacocks" and submitted it to the St. Martins contest. And that year, finishing and submitting were my priorities.If you’re not finding time to write, you could try doing what I did: taking a look at your life to see what you can cut out to make the time. Giving up cooking and cleaning was easy for me, because I'd never been that keen on them anyway. But I also cut down on my computer game playing, my reading, my first run movie-going—things I loved, but things I could live without if the price of having them meant that I’d never finish my book. Or things that I learned to do a little less and to use as rewards for finishing my quota.

That’s the other thing I found was essential to my effort to make more time to write. If you cut out everything you enjoy and vow to spend every possible moment writing—that way lies burnout. A more sustainable plan is to figure out how you can carve out some time . . . experiment to see how many words you can reasonably expect to write in the time you can make available . . . and set goals and quotas for yourself.

If I want or need to finish a manuscript by a certain date, I calculate how many words I have to write and how many days I have to do it, and then I know how many words I have to write each day if I’m going to finish my project by the deadline. When I finish each day’s quota, I reward myself—with a book, an hour or two of playing a computer game, a chat with a friend, or maybe just a hot soaking bath. Making time day after day for something where the reward is a long way off gets old very soon. But if every day you have a small but real celebration to honor the fact that you made time for your writing and met your goal for the day, it will help sustain you for the long haul.

So what if you can only find a few hours to write on Sunday afternoon and can only produce, say, five pages a week in that time? Yes, it will take you longer to finish a book—maybe a year or two. But if you keep making that time every week, you will finish—and in the meantime, you’ll have had fifty or sixty or a hundred little victory celebrations to make the journey more enjoyable.

And now I’m going to follow my own advice, and reward myself for finishing this blog entry with a game of Sid Meier’s Pirates (Arg, matey!)

Donna Andrews is the Sisters In Crime Chapter Liaison.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Blame It On Nancy Drew

by Marcia Talley

I come from a long line of frugal New Englanders, so it’s no surprise that I tend to drive my cars until they practically disintegrate in my driveway. Thus, it was a sad, sad day when I waved goodbye to my beloved 1994 Chrysler LeBaron – which was crying out for its third transmission in almost as many years – as it was hauled away on a flatbed truck by a nice guy from Purple Heart. To replace it, I did my research, reading Consumer Reports and doing comparisons on the Internet before turning up at a local VW dealership looking to test drive a VW Eos convertible. “I want it in blue,” I told the salesman, Keith, but there was no blue model on the lot. “The paprika red is hot,” Keith said. “You can drive that baby away today.” I shook my head. He tried again, “Candy white? Island gray?”

I was in the middle of telling Keith why color was a deal breaker – it was going to be blue or nothing – when it suddenly occurred to me why the color was important. Blame it on Nancy Drew. She drove a snappy blue roadster, and so, doggonit, would I.

How is it that a series of novels that debuted in 1930 – decades before I was born -- have such an influence on me as a young girl that I became not only a rabid reader of mysteries, but a mystery novelist as well? How to explain why I was sitting in a squeaky leather chair, pouting until I got to drive off in a car just like Nancy’s? Another famous Nancy said it far better than I in the preface to the facsimile edition of The Hidden Staircase, “I owe it all to Nancy Drew.”

Statistics indicate that our nation’s children are spending less time reading and more time watching television or playing video games. This is alarming for many reasons, not the least being this – if there is going to be an audience in future for the kind of books we write, we need to start cultivating that audience today. That’s why I rarely turn down the opportunity to speak to children and young adults, in schools and libraries, and for community groups like the Girl Scouts. The kids I’ve met may be spending a lot of time in front of a television or computer screen, but I’ve found that they’re endlessly fascinated by mysteries, too.

This spring I was giving a talk during “Career Day” to a group of seventy 5th graders, and I asked how many of them had seen the television program CSI. Papers on the librarian’s desk fluttered as nearly every hand shot up. At a high school in my husband’s home town the English and Science departments collaborated on a joint study unit, “Forensic Science in Literature.” I was the literature half of the program. And on a balmy autumn weekend in San Diego, I gave the keynote address for a brilliantly organized sleepover that included a hands-on CSI workshop -- crime scene, evidence specimens, microscopes, white lab coats and all – followed by a mystery-writing workshop.

In my opinion, no better example of reaching out to kids about the love of reading a mystery can be found than the post-Bouchercon 2007 Authors to the Schools program sponsored by the Alaska chapter of Sisters in Crime. I was greeted like a rock star in Seward, where over the course of two days, I spoke to classes in the elementary, middle and high schools as well as doing an evening presentation for adults at the Seward Public Library. You know what? The kids were just as fascinated by tales of mystery, adventure, intrigue, justice and revenge as the adults, perhaps more so.

On the Monday, I took my talk “The Mind of a Mystery Writer” (illustrated with Power Point slides) to an auditorium of bright and attentive teens at Seward High School, answered their questions and worked with them as they penned their own mysteries. The following day, I visited the middle school. The students were enthusiastic and extremely well prepared for my visit; no surprise, as one of their teachers, Laura Beck, had just been voted Alaska Teacher of the Year.

Finally, I visited Seward elementary school where I did presentations for both the 5th and 6th grades classes, ending with a lively discussion initiated by the 5th graders on murder mysteries I could set in Seward based on either the Jesse Lee Home, an orphanage ruined in the earthquake and rumored to be haunted; or, a woman murdered in a bathtub (was she stabbed? shot? strangled? the stories varied) at Seward’s Van Gilder hotel.
And I’m thinking, hmmm, why not?

Remember that line in the 1989 Kevin Costner flick, Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come?” The same could be said about mysteries. J.K. Rowling turned millions of children on to reading with the adventures of Harry Potter, and if standing in line for hours in order to be the first kid on your block to read a book that’s more 700 pages long doesn’t prove that if you give kids good books, they will read them, I don’t know what does.
If we write them, they will come.

Do you need a gift for a youngster? Remember the solve-it-yourself mysteries featuring Leroy "Encyclopedia" Brown, the boy detective? For middle school children, how about Mary Stuart’s classic, The Moonspinners; or The Name of the Game was Murder by Joan Lowrey Nixon; or, Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game. And for the high school crowd, you couldn’t do better than to recommend Josephine Tey’s timeless classic, Daughter of Time; Margaret Maron’s Bootlegger’s Daughter; or, She Walk These Hills by Sharyn McCrumb. And Agatha Christie, too, of course.
My recent stint as an Edgar judge for the juvenile mystery category made it clear that authors are still turning out such masterpieces, tomorrow’s classics like the books on this year’s Edgar short list.

http://www.mysterywriters.org/?q=Edgars-Winners

or those that were nominated for an Agatha in the same category.

http://www.malicedomestic.org/agathaawards.html

The Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh is a real stunner.

So the next time someone asks you to speak to a group of school-age children or young adults, say ‘yes.’ It’s not as hard as you think. Just like their parents, kids want to know ‘where do you get your ideas?’ and are fascinated when you talk about the whole creative process, from the germ of an idea up through publication. At one presentation, a bright-eyed 4th grader examined the marked-up, copyedited manuscript I’d brought along in amazement. “You mean grownups don’t get it perfect the first time either?”

And soon, there may be another resource to help you. Sisters in Crime is in the process of gathering different curricula and determining the best format in which to present them. Once they’re ready, we'll have a place on-line for members to pick up super, tried-and-true teaching ideas.

While I still love to talk to libraries, private book groups, and women’s professional organizations, kids remain my favorite audience. As one 4th grader wrote, “Thank you for coming to our school, Mrs. Talley. I learned that you don’t have to be a grownup to write mysteries.”
Thank you, Brittany. I couldn’t have said it any better.

Marcia Talley's 7th Hannah Ives mystery, Dead Man Dancing, will be released in the fall. She is Secretary of Sisters in Crime National.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Ah....Just Say It!

By
Margaret Coel

Big Author Event. Thirty-five miles from my house, and I had to dress up because this was black-tie fancy with an author speaking after dinner. I was looking forward to it because I really enjoy listening to other authors speak.

The problem? This guy could not speak. Why any publicist had let him loose on the reading public is a mystery that would stymie Agatha herself. As he droned on—and on and on—for more than an hour, there was the sound of chairs scraping and people scurrying away. My husband and I, unfortunately, were near the front, so we persevered.

Ah, author said. Ahhhh. Ahhhh. Ahhhh. And that wasn’t the worst of it. The worst was the rambling nature of the talk, the garbled build up, the swallowed punch lines, the mumbled phrases. Everywhere I looked, people were dozing off. My husband pulled out a small notepad and jotted down the next day’s errands.

When the author finally limped to a vapid close, people sprang from their seats and bolted for the door, right past the table piled with the author’s books that a bookstore had spent time and money making sure were in place. Think about it. What was the author supposed to do at this big event? Sell Books. And that, judging by the giant sucking noise of people rushing out, did not happen.

At some point in the trajectory from writing to publishing, someone should have pulled the author aside and said, You are about to become a public speaker. You will find yourself on the speaker’s list of book clubs, Rotaries, libraries, schools. You will go to book signings where people have taken time they might have devoted to something else to hear you talk about your book and your writing. This is your opportunity to sell books.

The truth is that, unless an author is a trained actor, or happens to have a job that requires public speaking, or has taken public speaking classes or belonged to a speaking club in recent memory, he or she is probably NOT a good speaker. In my case, I knew this to be an indisputable fact. Just because we may be good enough at writing to land a book contract does not mean we are good enough at speaking to keep an audience from falling into a collective coma.

Being a not-so-good to lousy speaker, however, is not a fatal condition. It is quite fixable. But first, we have to face the facts: more than likely, our public speaking skills need to be sharpened, and with a little bit of work, we can sharpen them.

Start when you sign the book contract, so that when your book appears you will be ready. Think about what you enjoy hearing other authors talk about. What I’ve found is that audiences love stories. They love stories about how you came to write your book, strange things that happened along the way, and how you came to be a writer at all. And nothing grabs and holds an audience like a funny story. And nothing will endear you to an audience more than giving them the chance to laugh a little.

What you will need is a generic speech appropriate for a variety of audiences, one that can be tweaked for specific occasions. Before you start mapping out the speech, decide whether you would be more comfortable reading or speaking from notes. If reading is your style, then write out the entire speech, making sure you have a strong beginning, a middle that propels the speech onward rather than bogging it down, and a helluva wind-up ending.

If you prefer the more informal approach, as I do, outline your speech with the same points in mind. Rather than speaking from my outline, however, I jot down key words in big, black letters on note cards arranged in the order of my outline. During the speech, the words cue me in on what I want to sat next.

Now you have either written or outlined a speech, but that’s what authors do. We’re pretty good at this first step. The next step? Practice. Practice. Practice. Ask your favorite someone to listen to your speech. Set the timer when you begin. Whether you are reading or relying on notes, practice delivering the speech. Look up frequently and make eye contact with your audience. Think in terms of rhythm and tempo. Insert inflections and pauses. Slow down for emphasis or to let the audience savor what you’re saying. Speed up with funny stories. Give the audience a second to laugh after you’ve delivered the punch line.

Ask for your someone’s honest response. Where did you lose him? What part had her on the edge of her chair? What part was too long? Where should you cut? What would she like to hear more about? Was the part you thought humorous really humorous? (If you hadn’t heard any laughter at the appropriate time, you’ll already have that answer.)

Check the timer. How long was your speech? Generally you should aim for about thirty minutes. You can always shorten or lengthen for specific audiences.

Another way to practice –always with a timer—is in front of a mirror. Deliver your speech out loud to yourself, watching your expressions and gestures, and do it enough times that you become very familiar with it and you know by instinct when to pause or speed up. It also helps to turn on a tape recorder, then listen to yourself. Maybe you won’t be shocked at the number of times you stumble and mumble and sink into ahhhhs, but I know I was. Practice will smooth out those tricky places.

Still better, ask someone to video tape you. You may see yourself relaxed, confident and engaged with the audience. Yeah! You are ready to go. Or you may appear like a potted plant, as I did on my first video. If that’s the case go back to practicing until the gestures and expressions that go with your speech are second nature.

Sound like a lot of time and effort? Think about how much time and effort you put into writing your book. Isn’t it worth investing a little more to prepare yourself to sell it?

If that doesn’t inspire you, then think about that giant sucking noise as an audience rushes out of the room. Right past your books.

Margaret Coel is an experienced public speaker who has spoken at events around the country and in Australia.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Is It All Bad News?

By Nancy Martin

Recent bulletins indicate that many newspapers are giving up printing book reviews. For the mystery author who desperately needs media attention to stay alive in the era of the long tail, are we supposed to give up, too?

No way. Turns out, there are a lot of publications—online and in print—that are still open to reviewing mystery novels. And they’re much better targeted to readers who are truly interested in buying or reading mysteries.

First up: The genre-specific magazines like Mystery Scene magazine. If your publisher doesn’t submit ARCs of your book to these magazines, why not? And if they don’t, what’s stopping you from sending preview copies? Such magazines are read by exactly the readers you want to reach, so mailing your book to them with an appropriately tantalizing cover letter is a no-brainer. http://www.mysteryscenemag.com/

Last year’s Sisters in Crime review monitoring project revealed that the publication most friendly to women mystery writers is Romantic Times. This magazine devotes several pages to our genre. And after the reviews appear in the print magazine, they are soon available online for an even larger audience to access. Yes, RT a romance-oriented magazine, but they’re making a solid effort to encourage romance readers to cross the aisle to the mystery section. The only way they’re going to build their mystery fan base is through cooperation with writers, publishers, and readers. It’s in the best interest of all of us to continue supporting this growing entity. Check out the online magazine to study their community-building: http://www.romantictimes.com/

The mystery bookstores who publish their own reviews in newsletter format are your greatest friends in the biz. Stores like Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, PA, publishes a review-laden print newsletter (sent to a mailing list in the thousands!) and their online bookstore is chock full of information to help both local and distant readers choose the books they might most want to read. If you write mystery novels, independent stores that do great word-of-mouth selling are your best champions—especially when it comes to selling your backlist. Foster working relationships with as many of these stores as you can manage. http://www.mysterylovers.com/

Your own publisher probably has a website that promotes your work in ways that readers may perceive as reviews. Check out St. Martin’s Press Read It First, for one example. And if your tech-phobic publisher doesn’t have a similar site, authors should be rattling someone’s chain to get one in place ASAP. http://www.read-it-first.com/

In most cases where book reviews appear in big-name publications with hundreds of thousands of copies sold every month, it’s generally the in-house publicist who successfully manages to land such valuable placement. Sarah Strohmeyer, for example, credits her Dutton publicist for getting her summer novel SWEET LOVE into People magazine. How can you help your publicist work such magic? A solid, friendly working relationship is no doubt the first step. Your publicist is your ally, not your enemy, so treat him with the respect of a teammate. Work together to create a list of the best places to send your ARCs. Help the publicist write the cover letter by giving him enough ammunition—fun facts about the book or some kind of marketing hook. (Before my Blackbird Sisters mystery CROSS YOUR HEART AND HOPE TO DIE was published, we sent promotional packets to newspaper feature writers that included information about the history of brassieres---trust me, the tie-in was legit—which resulted in a number of feature articles in small, regional newspapers.)

What about the proliferation of online review sites? How should an author choose where to send those previous few ARCs we’re allotted in the months before our books are released?

The first consideration is eyeballs. How many hits does a review site get on a daily basis? Clearly, it’s smarter to send your ARC to a site that gets 2000 or 20,000 hits every day instead of one that only attracts 20. Many sites won’t reveal that information, but the better ones should.—It’s the best way they’ll increase their traffic! Try to do some sniffing around to learn which sites are the most heavily trafficked. Look for sites that are generous about linking elsewhere. Hooking into the larger network is a sign of cooperative traffic-building.

Some low-traffic sites, however, benefit by having a “big mouth” in charge. (And “big mouth” is a compliment, in this case!) A reviewer who trumpets her news on listserves like DorothyL or among other large groups of readers is a better use of my ARC than one who takes the book, writes a 4-sentence review and makes no effort to generate traffic to her site or build her reputation among readers.

An often overlooked place for book reviews is radio. Check out your local NPR station. Or look for programs that might best fit the kind of book you write. Or take matters into your own hands. Popular romance novelist Cathy Maxwell has her own radio show on WZEZ in Richmond. On the first and last Monday of the month, she reviews and talks books. Her partnership with the Fountain Bookstore in Richmond helps listeners read the reviews of books she talks about on the air. http://www.fountainbookstore.com/NASApp/store/IndexJsp?s=storebargains&page=308090

Have a bigger budget? There are a number of pay-as-you-go sites like Bookreporter that—for a price---will put together good advertising. Why not contact these sites for a price quote? Asking for more information doesn’t cost you a penny, but could lead you to some real bargains. http://www.bookreporter.com/

It goes without saying that in order to be reviewed, a book must first be a great read. An author’s first consideration is to write the best book possible. But once the book is written, seeking creative ways to get it reviewed is time well spent.

But meanwhile, if you want to lend your voice to the battle over newspapers discarding their book review pages, go here: http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/booksmags/chi-books-suggestions,0,2431161.story


Nancy Martin is a SinC Member At Large.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Tour de Force

Thoughts on book tours by Rhys Bowen

Next week I set out on yet another book tour. I should be looking forward to it with eager anticipation. Of course I do love visiting the bookstores and meeting fans, but it’s the mechanics of touring that I’m not looking forward to. I’m remembering the six a.m. flight out of New York, the car that came for me at 4 a.m, which was 1 a.m. my time—oh, and did I mention it was snowing? I’m also remembering the thunderstorm in Houston, that resulted in our plane sitting on the tarmac for two hours in sticky heat.

When I was a new writer I dreamed of being whisked around the country on a book tour. Then of course I discovered the reality that any whisking around the country was going to be on my own dollar. I had to make my own arrangements and I learned a few things along the way. The first of these was booking flights. Always try to book a direct flight if you can. If you have to change planes, then never go through Chicago if you can avoid it, especially not in the late afternoon when delays have piled up, and never in winter when it snows. Try to avoid places like Atlanta or Houston where summer thunderstorms will ground flights.

Always try to sit near the front of the plane so you don’t exit feeling completely frazzled. We all travel on a budget but sometimes it’s worth spending money. Southwest now has a sort of business class and you can pay to board first. You can avoid the security lines at some airports by paying for a Clear Pass. Both worth every penny. As is a hotel near the signing, in a good part of town and preferably with a pool and spa.

Always give yourself more time than you think you’ll need. Bite the bullet and fly in the night before if necessary. It’s better than what happened to me flying to New York once, arriving two hours late, taking a train into Penn Station to save time only to find that the train was canceled, literally throwing my bag into the hotel, and jumping onto the Staten Island ferry as it left the dock. I needed a large glass of chardonnay before I could speak!

And speaking of chardonnay, always travel with an emergency snack bag for those times when the flight is delayed or stuck on the tarmac. I always pack a banana, a trail mix bar and some string cheese, just in case. And I try to travel with just a carry on, or at least have everything I need for that evening’s event in the carry on, in case my luggage goes to Alaska when I’m in Arkansas.

Of course most of us who are paying for our own tours try to keep the flying to a minimum and do most of our traveling by rental car. For me touring with another author was an all around best option: halving the expenses, having a driver and navigator to get though the middle of Boston, drawing twice the crowd at bookstores (okay occasionally it was doubled from one to two), and above all having someone to laugh with after awful events and celebrate with after good ones. I’m thinking of the time we had to have our photo taken with the store pig and it drooled over our shoes, or the time a self published writer showed up, stationed herself at the front of the store and sold her books before anybody could get to us, or an over-devoted, and very strange, male fan followed us to three signings in one day, found out where we were having dinner that evening and sat at the next table.

So what have I learned? Network, network, network. Invite other writers to stay with you and they’ll reciprocate when you come to their town. Show support and attend signings by visiting authors. Above all, stay cool and always be gracious to the bookseller and the fans, no matter what. And I mean even if the chain store clerk has never heard of you and has to crawl along the floor to find two copies of your book, or the giant store dog comes to sit beside you and growls every time you move (I’m not making this up). Try to be equally animated if the audience is 3 or 30. Those three fans have gone to the trouble of showing up. They deserve you at your best. Dress the part of the successful author—which isn’t always easy after living out of a suitcase for a week.

I always try to make the signing an event. For my new series I hosted royal tea parties last year and served tea and English goodies, as well as dishing out royal scandals. I invited ladies to wear hats and gave a prize for the best hat. I’ll be repeating that this year as it was so much fun. This kind of thing is fun for the store personnel too. One store owner brought her own English bone china and linen cloths. Always have something to hand out to people who are not sure they’ll like your book. I usually bring bookmarks and leave a pile with the store. I’ve also made mini recipe books. People like to get something for nothing.

And now I’ve finally reached the stage when my publisher is touring me. So it’s all out of my hands and I should be able to relax and enjoy it, apart from worrying about what clothes to pack that won’t wilt to limp rags in Houston in July and be warm enough for a freak snowstorm in Denver. But that’s a whole new blog and I’m sure you’ve all got suggestions for me.

Rhys Bowen will be touring for A Royal Pain, the second Royal Spyness mystery.
www.rhysbowen.com

Monday, June 23, 2008

Write More, Suffer Less

by Mary Saums

Fiction writing is a strange process. Those of us who work on novels and short stories expected the job to be difficult from the start. We knew it wouldn't be easy to craft a few sentences, tap the paper or computer screen with our magic wands and have a full-blown character sit up from the page, stretch and yawn, and perform for our readers' delight. Still, this is what we work toward. We want to create stories that readers can't wait to return to, ones they love to immerse themselves in. We want our settings and characters to provide an escape route so readers can leave their troubles behind and enjoy being in a different, interesting place.

Yet these very things are what many writers deny themselves when it's time to sit down and work. We procrastinate to keep from returning to the desk and to our stories. I'm the world's worst at this. It's amazing how many household chores need immediate attention when I should be writing. We know what a great feeling it is to be 'in the flow' as we work. Why do we put off getting in it? Writing is as much an escape as reading. Why do we choose to dwell on everyday problems or do other things, anything, rather than write?

Part of it is fear. We know it will be hard and we're afraid we'll do a bad job. Another reason is guilt. We have families and other real-life obligations that require most of our day. It's not always easy to become unavailable for an hour or two.

Lately, I've decided that perhaps writing requires a certain amount of procrastination after all, in the form of doing something that is not related to writing. Remember the movie 'The Karate Kid'? Wash the windows, wax the car. Focus on the task, forget the other noises in your head. I read an interview once in which Ruth Rendell admits she likes to move almost every year. Maybe that's her way of putting her surroundings in order, and similar to my desire to clean house before I write. Okay, probably not true since Ms Rendell could write great books in her sleep most likely, but I do think straightening my house before a writing session does help me.

Another thing that may hold us back from our work is that we're reluctant to give ourselves permission to take a break to write. In order to write, we must allow ourselves some time each day to be joyful. Make it a daily gift. Get on the escape route and leave everything else behind.

Anticipating writing time the way we look forward to uninterrupted reading time is the key. If we can lose ourselves in our work, the way we want our readers to lose themselves in our books, our fears or anxieties will vanish. We'll be too busy enjoying the crazy, frustrating, satisfying process of writing.

Mary Saums is the Review Monitoring Liaison for Sisters In Crime

Monday, June 16, 2008

An Office To Die For!

As some of you may know, I have been in a new office since the middle of March. Great mystery books and pictures of my family surround me. You may not know that the Sisters in Crime office has been in my home since 1992. Does anyone even remember 1992?

In 1992 my daughter, Liz, was seven years old and heavy into books, dolls and setting up her “office” in my little office on Illinois Street. Liz’s little world revolved around her meeting neighbor friends in the alley, playing on the screened in porch and swimming in the back yard. I had just put my business career on hold, after 20 years, to be home with Liz and I never planned to be working from home. Then one-day neighbor Mary Lou Wright called and asked me if I would be interested in working for Sisters in Crime. The six- to seven-year old organization needed to centralize their membership and financial business. I knew about this great feminist organization and jumped at the chance to work for SinC. It was right up my alley, so to speak.

It was not long before Sue Dunlap, Nancy Pickard, and Mary Lou walked up the alley on Illinois Street so Sue and Nancy could meet me. It was the nicest job interview that I had ever experienced. Shortly after this meeting, I was asked if I would consider working 10 hours a month for SinC. The organization had 600 members. I was excited and thrilled but I always thought I would take on another job.

Sixteen or so years have passed and I was able to avoid that second job because as all of you know Sisters in Crime is now a very large writer’s organization with 3,400 members. The new projects, which have been put into place, just this year are staggering. Liz is a 22-year-old college graduate heading off to Montana next week to work for Americorp and will attend graduate school in the fall of 2009. Where did the years go and where did the alley go?

The wonderful alley is still there on Illinois Street but we made a big move to a home on April Rain Road where my mother can live with us. I miss the alley and Liz but the new office in the new house is to die for! In addition, Sisters in Crime is more incredible than it was in 1992, always serving its members.

As summer approaches, I think of those early years and all the wonderful members I have had a chance to meet and the caring and supportive board members who have touched my life. Most of you have had this experience with SinC too. That is what makes Sisters in Crime what it is today in 2008.

PS- the new house has a screened in porch too…my spot to read great mysteries written by women.

Happy summer reading,
Beth Wasson

Monday, June 9, 2008

To Con or Not To Con

by Kathryn R. Wall

Back in the days when I was practicing accounting, I worked with a client who had a pet expression, something he employed while weighing business problems: Is the view worth the climb?

On several listservs to which I subscribe, there’s been a lot of chatter lately about conferences—to go or not to go—especially with Bouchercon Baltimore just around the corner. Most of these discussions center around basically what my client used to ask himself: Is the expense and effort of getting there going to pay off in some meaningful way? It has been suggested that attending simply to enjoy the ambience and camaraderie is reason enough, and for some, especially fans, that may well be true. But I think those of us who do this for a living need to heed the oft-repeated admonition to remember that we’re running a business here. So I believe it’s a question both seasoned and newbie authors need to ask themselves before shelling out considerable cash for con fees, hotel rooms, airline tickets, or—these days—gasoline: Is the view worth the climb?

My answer? It depends.

I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t attended hundreds of mystery conferences, but I never miss Malice Domestic if I can help it. Not only does it attract the kind of audience I envision my books appealing to, but it seems more like a family reunion than a professional gathering, at least after you’ve been there a couple of times. I also like that it’s in the same city, in the same hotel, and is held at almost the same time every year. I’m additionally fortunate that it coincides with the release of my new titles each spring. What do I get from it? The Sisters in Crime board meeting and breakfast, a chance to hobnob with people I don’t see any other time during the year, usually a panel which gives me an opportunity to hawk my new release, my books in the dealer room, and the sense that I’ve just reconnected with the reason I began to write traditional mysteries to begin with. To steal a line from the Mastercard commercials: Priceless.

For me, Bouchercon is another story. I’ve skipped a couple of those, primarily, like last year, because of travel considerations. The first one I ever attended was Las Vegas, which everyone kept telling me wasn’t the best on which to make a judgment—bad hotel, too much smoking, too spread out, etc. But . . . I had a wonderful time. Many of the attendees were household names whose books I’d loved, and I walked around in an awed stupor most of the weekend. No one had ever heard of me for the most part, even though I’d just been published by St. Martin’s Press, but I felt, finally, like one of the In Crowd. My husband came along, gambled a little, and we enjoyed some of the nightlife. In all, I wouldn’t have labeled it an unqualified success for me professionally—except that I found my agent during one of the panels. Was it worth it? For me, at that time in my career, absolutely.

My best example of a smaller gathering is the Cape Fear Crime Festival. Again, I was a newbie and scared out of my mind, but everyone was so kind and supportive. It was my very first con of any kind, so I basically wanted to get my feet wet, to pass through that initiation or rite of passage from aspiring to arrived. More seasoned, wiser authors took me under their wings, and I felt as if I had been welcomed into a caring community.

As a businessperson, I have to weigh all these intangibles against the costs—of both money and time. Sometimes, other factors like family health and deadlines make the decision for me. As someone else on a listserv pointed out, you have to define your goals and make certain you’re able to attain them by your participation in any given gathering, whether you’re an author, fan, librarian, bookseller, or publishing professional.

So . . . are conferences worth the time and effort? It’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. It depends. Only each potential participant can decide if the view is worth the climb—for him or her. But it’s certainly a good idea to examine your motives and aspirations before you start writing checks and booking flights.

Kathryn Wall is the author of the Bay Tanner mysteries set in and around Hilton Head, South Carolina. The 8th installment, THE MERCY OAK, was released by St. Martin’s Press in May. Kathy is also the national treasurer of Sisters in Crime.

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Light-hearted Look at the Publishers Summit

by Judy Clemens

While the Publishers Summit taught me an awful lot about the publishing industry, and our little group got to meet and talk with some amazing people we couldn't get within a block of on a normal day, I learned a lot more from our two days in New York than just the business stuff. Roberta, Jim, and Nancy were fantastic company -- I would recommend them as traveling partners to anyone -- and I learned a lot of fascinating things about them. Interesting tidbits, like:

...Huang is the most used family name in the world, so Jim is not necessarily related to the owners of every store with Huang on the storefront.

...Sometimes Nancy needs a little extra encouragement to walk right on past those bag displays on the sidewalk.

...Roberta has the same problem with shoe stores.

I also picked up some pointers about New York City (it had been years since I'd last visited), and about the process of the Summit as an event. Here are my Top Ten Notes to Self to remember when scheduling next year's summit:

10. Sometimes the subway kiosks just don't want to let you through. Be prepared to buy an extra ticket when the gates simply won't open.

9. When a woman comes up to you asking, "You want to make purchase?" it's best to Just Say No.

8. NYC folks are actually a lot nicer than they're cracked up to be. Most of the time.

7. Wear a pedometer, and make inquiries to see if your health insurance will give you a discount for such healthy living.

6. Some restaurants in Chinatown are better than others.

5. Make sure to have a photo ID, an air of confidence, and someone in your group who's not afraid to talk to security guards in each and every building you enter.

4. What looks like two blocks on your laminated NYC map can actually turn out to be more like, say, TEN.

3. Sometimes it's just better not to use the store's bathroom.

2. Wear shoes that don't make your feet cramp, your heels hurt, or your toes bleed. In other words...casual is better than painful.

AND...my Number One Note to Self...

Always, ALWAYS take a Carmel Car to and from LaGuardia instead of a Yellow Cab. This will ensure the occupant does not turn green and threaten to barf on the car's interior...or on her fellow passenger. (Sorry, Nancy!)

In all seriousness, our team felt privileged and honored to represent SinC in New York with all of the people we visited. In the coming months you will see more fruits of our efforts through newsletter articles, blogs, and Mentor Mondays on the listserv. Don't be surprised, either, to see SinC taking a more active role in conversations with publishing insiders, and making forays into new areas. Our summit team and the SinC board are here to serve our members to the best of our ability, and we will continue to do that however we are able.

We hope you found last week's blogs to be educational, interesting, and motivational. If you have suggestions of people we should talk to at our next summit, we are always open to suggestions.

Respectfully submitted,
Judy Clemens
SinC VP

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Publishers Summit -- Part IV

The Sisters in Crime Publishers Summit team members Roberta Isleib, JudyClemens, Jim Huang, and Nancy Martin visited publishing professionals in NewYork on May 14 and 15. The report on the publishing summit will run all week. Your comments and discussion are encouraged. The summit team is available to field your questions.


Sisters in Crime Publishers Summit, Part IV
By Roberta Isleib

Simply finding our way to Mira Books (a division of Harlequin Enterprises) helped build our anticipation. We took the subway to Chinatown for a quick lunch, wandered through a gorgeous little park full of Chinese folks sunning their children and playing board games, and stumped the remaining blocks to City Hall. (I assured the team it would be two blocks—it was closer to ten. Note to selves: wear better shoes!)

Mira is located in the stunning, historical Woolworth building in the southern tip of the city. We piled onto the elevator to the tenth floor, admiring the ornate neo gothic/art deco design. The office, where we were met by editorial director Tara Gavin and executive editor Margaret Marbury, is papered by posters of top-selling Harlequin books.

Margaret and Tara were happy to talk about their view of our genre. They agreed with other companies’ opinions that mysteries are “smaller” than suspense novels, meaning that print runs will be smaller for mysteries. It is harder for a book to reach a top-selling level if it’s a mystery rather than suspense or thriller. On the other hand, romance readers are very open to mystery and a number of Harlequin’s lines tend to include a thread of mystery (e.g., Intrigue, Nocturne, Silhouette.) Our hosts see a healthy future in mysteries, as they are selling mysteries in the romance aisles. Print runs for thrillers may be larger, but this kind of reader tends not to be as loyal as mystery fans. Good news for SinC writers: Mystery fans are heavy and loyal readers who return to read a favorite author’s next books.

Mira Books is the Harlequin line with the fewest restrictions and guidelines about plot and character. Their mysteries need to have commercial appeal, dropping clues but not necessarily told in a linear fashion. At Harlequin, they will label a book where they feel it has the biggest play—whether that be historical, mystery, or other.

The format in which the book will be published depends on where it will be distributed. Hardcover releases require a high level of quality, an established audience, and great promotion.

Our hosts reported excellent success with big box stores such as Target and Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart will decline titles that are too sexy, including covers and flap copy. Mira is about to have one of their titles made into a big promotion by Target.

Although agreeing that publishing is a gamble in these uncertain economic times, these editors expressed enthusiasm and optimism about the future. Mira focuses on commercial fiction. They see opportunities in many of the Harlequin lines, including paranormal, romantic fantasy, inspirational, mystery, and young adult. They feel that Harry Potter readers are open to new possibilities. The digital future is coming, and Harlequin is embracing it, selling both short stories and all their releases online. See http://www.eharlequin.com

Margaret and Tara had a number of suggestions for how authors can work with their publishers:
· Network and obtain blurbs from other writers
· Develop a website; include contests
· Make guest blog appearances
· Be flexible and fluid—don’t allow labels to affect you negatively. Take advantage of what the marketplace is offering and doing
· Ask your publisher to excerpt your next book at the end of your newest, but it’s got to be a humdinger of an excerpt to pull readers in.

If a mid-list author is not growing, she needs to reinvent herself. Taking a new name is not the only way. Start something new and stronger in order to give the publisher and sales department ammunition for a second chance. Basically, write a great book and follow it up with another—at least once a year. Some of their romance authors produce three per year.

We left Margaret Marbury and Tara Gavin with a spring in our steps, and headed uptown to Folio Literary Management. At the Folio agency, Ami Grecko works as the marketing director, assisting the agency’s clients with promotion and public relations.

In Ami’s experience, mysteries are often being sold today under different names (sometimes literary fiction), even though at heart, the books are mysteries. On the plus side, the mystery genre allows for growth of sales in a way that literary fiction does not. She emphasized how important a good cover is for attracting potential buyers. She feels that mysteries could easily make the move to e-books because of their loyal fans and encourages authors and publishers to embrace the future.

Ami was pleased to share her suggestions for what authors can be doing to help promote their own books.

* Make one-on-one connections with writers, readers, and booksellers.

* Use on-line resources: FaceBook, MySpace, Shelfari, BookTour. Meet your market on-line!
If your publisher supports a book tour, try to hit indies/committed stores in less-saturated cities.

* Go to stores, sign books, be polite! Signed copy stickers will make book stand out.
Find your hook/brand.

* Social networking is key. BUT…people really expect the networking on these websites. You must be present and active, not simply post a page and disappear.

For more of Ami’s thoughts and suggestions on publicity go here.

And that’s it for this year’s summit. We were so grateful for the opportunity to talk with the publishing professionals, and hope you’ve found these reports useful.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Publishers Summit -- Part III

The Sisters in Crime Publishers Summit team members Roberta Isleib, JudyClemens, Jim Huang, and Nancy Martin visited publishing professionals in NewYork on May 14 and 15. The report on the publishing summit will run all week. Your comments and discussion are encouraged. The summit team is available to field your questions.

Sisters in Crime Publishers Summit 2008, Part III
By Jim Huang

Barnes & Noble’s offices are at the corner of 5th Avenue and 18th Street, a location that’s full of nostalgia for me: it’s the location of the original B&N store that my family and I shopped in when I was growing up in New York and New Jersey, back when B&N was just an incredibly wonderful independent before transforming into the force it is today.

I was really looking forward to our visit, not just out of nostalgia, but for the opportunity to learn more about B&N, which accounts for about $5 billion in annual sales (in stores and on the web). We hear so much rumor and speculation about chain booksellers; we were grateful that mystery buyer Dan Mayer agreed to meet with us.

We told Dan about the message that we’d been hearing: thrillers are hot, mysteries are not. Dan introduced himself as a lover of mysteries, and more or less right away we got a very different, much more upbeat take on the mystery genre.

While not disagreeing that thrillers are hot, Dan said that cozies are not a hard sell for him, adding that agents and editors need to see the sales reports that he’s seeing. He agrees with everyone else we met that paranormal is huge right now, and said that historicals are also big. Craft cozies are still selling.

He believes that the genre will continue to grow before it shrinks, noting that readers are getting older, retiring and having more time to read and have fun. Minneapolis is his biggest market for mysteries, which are also strong in Naples, Florida, Texas and California. He does not believe that most writers sell only regionally. He wishes there were more mysteries for younger readers, saying that the demand is there.

Dan is committed to series, saying that it’s crucial to keep all the books in a series in print. If the continuity is broken, it’s hard to keep the series alive. He said that it’s especially hard to keep a series going if the author jumps houses. He is invested in keeping authors in print, and tries to carry a whole series, not just parts of it – which is difficult when there are two houses involved. He also noted that it takes a long time for an author to make it big, so the backlist needs to stay available.

He’s disappointed that the publishing world seems to think that a bestseller should be in fiction rather than being categorized in genre. We discussed an example of a writer whose first two books were packaged as thrillers and sold ok. The publisher re-did the packaging when the third book was published, identifying the book as “A XXXX Mystery.” The first and second books were also relabeled as “XXXX Mysteries,” and all three books were moved out of fiction into the mystery section. Sales went up.

The packaging of a book is crucial to him: it’s all in the cover. He’s tired of fuzzy, black and white, shadowy noir covers, saying that these are not original at all. A cover should make it clear what kind of book it is, and it needs to be professional – a problem for some small presses. He can suggest to a publisher that if it changes a cover, he’ll buy more copies, but he said that the perception of B&N’s power is overstated and that publishers often do not listen to him.

Times are hard for hardcovers. Trade paperbacks are doing well. In fact, he would prefer to see a trade paperback follow a hardcover, rather than a mass market paperback reprint, and he also spoken approvingly of the move to repackage select backlist mass market titles into trade paperback editions. He does not like to see titles go from hardcover to trade paperback to mass market, noting that if a title is selling well as a trade paperback, he prefers to keep selling it at that price point. He still thinks that authors can be successfully launched in paperback originals. He added that some format decisions are determined by Wal-Mart, which will dictate how it wants a book published.

He believes there’s a fine line between customers knowing what kind of book they like and originality. He notes that there are a lot of “table shoppers” in Barnes & Noble stores, folks who are browsing tables but not looking at the stacks. (Mass market paperbacks are not displayed on tables, but trade paperbacks are.) He says that mystery customers are voracious, echoing something we heard in more than one office about the loyalty and devotion of genre fans.

Barnes & Noble is often a scapegoat for practically anything that goes wrong in this business; Dan is aware of this and understands it. But over the course of our hour with him, it became clear how unfairly the chain is painted. We were impressed with his own devotion to the genre, and his earnest and thoughtful approach to his job.

After our meeting with Dan Mayer, we returned to the Princeton Club for drinks with Kate Stine and Brian Skupin of Mystery Scene. This was more of a casual get-together, in a setting that does not allow business to be conducted. Kate did offer an especially interesting and useful bit of advice for writers, saying that “sometimes PR is about what you can do for the other guy.” In other words, the author who does favors and makes an effort to stay in touch with people in the business is likely to be remembered and kept in the loop.

Don't miss the wrap-up tomorrow!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Publisher Summit -- Part II

Sisters in Crime publishers summit team members Roberta Isleib, Judy Clemens, Jim Huang, and Nancy Martin visited publishing professionals in New York on May 14 and 15.

Second Installment, by Judy Clemens

On Thursday morning our little group tromped across town to Penguin to visit with Neil Nyren (Putnam Senior Vice President, Publisher, and Editor-in-Chief), Christine Pepe (Putnam Vice President and Executive Editor), and Summer Smith (Putnam Senior Publicist), who were kind enough to take time out of their busy schedules to meet with us.

We met in a cozy conference room, which was furnished with snacks and bookshelves displaying their very impressive line of books. By just perusing the bookshelves, we could see that Putnam is a division of The Penguin Group not held to one genre. They told us flat-out that whatever kind of book it is, if they like it, they will publish it. However, they are the publisher of several very large names in the mystery industry (Robert B. Parker, Patricia Cornwell, Dick Francis), and are willing to publish new authors. They are not as prolific as some other publishers when it comes to first-time people, because they like to work hard at growing a new name. It’s important to them to work with someone long-term, aiming for steady growth and name-building, which sometimes translates into a parent-child partnership, such as they have with Dick Francis and his son.

As far as the label of “mystery,” they really don’t care about what they call books. When it comes down to it, they said, every book is basically a mystery or a romance. They do acknowledge that the term “thriller” is running much hotter these days, and spy novels seem to be back (which was really interesting to me). Noir is still big, but probably not growing anymore. But no matter what kind of book it is, readers love continuing characters, which is great – if the author can produce.

This was one thing they really pushed – if an author wants to be successful, she (or he) has got to do the work. You can’t be lazy! Robert Parker is publishing at least three books a year. He is a fast writer, and people continue to buy his books. He has become a franchise unto himself. People see his name and know it. An author cannot do this if they are only producing one book every year and a half. Consumers need to see your name on a new book once a year if you are to keep your place in publishing.

They were very big on an author’s need to secure their own niche, and that an author needs to do everything they can to survive in the present publishing climate. To them this meant working with your publisher to expand your market however you can do it: store by store, an intense Internet presence, postcards, libraries. Collaboration with your publisher and publicist is key in how you attack promotion, but as an author you must remember you are the CEO of your own “business,” and you must invest in yourself. Be a goodwill ambassador for your book wherever you go. Your publisher has finite financial and promotional resources, so you need to augment what they can do.

After bidding farewell to the Penguin folks, our little group marched back across town (note to self: next year wear better shoes) to Soho Press, where we met with the publisher, Laura Hruska, and Sarah Reidy, the Director of Publicity. We sat around a table in their warm, friendly office, where we were surrounded by books and the other members of the Soho team. (As an unexpected bonus we also got to meet Herman Graf, one of the original publishers of Carroll and Graf!)

Soho Crime is a 14-year-old business begun by Ms. Hruska because of her desire to publish upmarket mystery writing. She looks for books with a literary feel – atmosphere, setting, and character are of utmost importance. Soho publishes books set in international settings with a desire to educate their audience about the social and cultural context in which the story takes place. They want the reader to go away from their books having had an experience that will change them in some way.

Ms. Hruska thinks mystery is the most exciting field of writing these days, with wonderful literary writers having joined the genre. Mystery is a place where the form is satisfactory and reassuring to readers every time – there is a problem and it is solved with some semblance of justice. This justice may not be the same in the different countries Soho writes about as it is in the United States, but some form of justice will prevail. Ms. Hruska, in a philosophy opposite of the majority of people we visited, sees mysteries as bigger now than they every were – that people are yearning for the justice mysteries provide. Granted, the English Country House type of book may be old, but that is a reflection of today’s world – the stakes have been raised and people need more in our increasingly violent world.

Soho does whatever it can to help their writers succeed and survive. One original way they do this is to produce two runs of galleys. Their first run goes to reviewers and to people who have agreed to blurb the book. The second run, which will publish quotes from these reviewers, will go out to booksellers and others. Soho also makes a “Soho Sampler” which includes chapters from several upcoming books and looks as sharp as the books themselves.

Soho loves for authors to help with the promotion, and joins every other publisher we’ve talked with in saying that a strong Internet presence is very important. They also encourage networking with other authors and filling out the publisher’s author questionnaire with detail (if your publisher does not have one, SinC members can access one here). But…they say there is very little substitute for an author who knows their audience and is friendly and willing to tour. And don’t go just to bookstores – hit festivals and conferences, too!

When asked if the gender of an author mattered in getting a book sold, Ms. Hruska was firmly of the belief that it didn’t – as long as the book is written well. She also believes strongly that an author should keep working to get his or her book published by a traditional publishing house; if an author self-publishes – unless it is a non-fiction book with a strong platform – a publisher will not want to pick it up later. So persevere, even though it is difficult.

Thank you to Putnam and Soho for speaking with us. We learned new things from each team and were very glad to hear from everyone.

Any questions so far? Perhaps something that’s been bubbling up since Nancy started us off at the beginning of the week? We’re here to answer questions or discuss whatever you’re wondering about.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Sisters in Crime Publishers Summit team members Roberta Isleib, JudyClemens, Jim Huang, and Nancy Martin visited publishing professionals in NewYork on May 14 and 15. The report on the publishing summit will run all week. Your comments and discussion are encouraged. The summit team is available to field your questions.

First Installment
By Nancy Martin

Our Sisters in Crime Publisher's Summit was a terrific experience for me, personally. In all my years as a writer, I've never had such access to such bigwigs who were so kindly willing to chat. (On Thursday evening when all our official appointments were over, my own agent asked with some astonishment, “How did you get in to all these people? Why would they see you?") I'm still amazed by how candid everyone was with us. If you are ever asked to join the summit team, grab the opportunity.

Our purpose in visiting the various insiders was to take the current temperature of the mystery business—particularly in regard to our organization’s membership and our mission. Some of our findings were disappointing, but we weren’t surprised, and we’re grateful that everyone felt they could be honest with us. We heard plenty of encouraging news, too, and some good suggestions worth passing along to you

This year, our first stop was HarperCollins, ( http://www.harpercollins.com/ ) We sat down to a very friendly (and delicious) lunch and talked about the state of mysteries today. The HC contingent (several editors and publicists) got right to the good news which was that they were very pleased with the sales of paranormal books, including urban fantasy. And thrillers are hot, hot, hot—especially the “edgier, sexier” thrillers. They are also doing well with cross-genre books, such as historical suspense, which they’re actively seeking.

The bad news? Books are selling better in the fiction section of the big chains, but not so well in the mystery section. Without sugarcoating, our hosts said that from their perspective, the wholesale support for traditional mysteries was drying up. They are taking on fewer cozies because the market has gotten to be difficult. On the other hand, they do have some cozy authors that aren’t just working, they’re thriving. Although they were quick to say that most books have a thread of mystery in the story, editors now avoid putting the stamp of “mystery” on the cover or use it in discussions with booksellers. Why? It limits the audience.

Mind you, our travels took us to none of the publishers that are currently publishing traditional mysteries or “cozies,” so our findings are definitely skewed. To read the report of last fall’s summit, which included calls paid on female-centric (my phrase, so don’t blame anyone else) mystery houses such as Berkley and Kensington, go here.

To our team, it seemed as if any books that are selling well these days are automatically called "thrillers" by the industry. Even mysteries that are clearly mysteries are given the label of thriller if good sales are anticipated. Which may sound ridiculous and frustrating, but it's indicative of how the whole industry is trying to position books for the public.

That word came up over and over: "positioning." Trying to communicate to the sales staff and the public what a book is, is vital. The process begins when the author conceptualizes her book at the beginning of the writing process or perhaps as late as a query letter. Can you define your story in a high concept way? If you can, you’re helping your publisher position your book. If you can’t . . . well, for godsake, try.

The folks at HarperCollins said they can do a lot for authors who write more than a book a year. (This was a common theme among the publishers.) Pubbing authors more frequently helps to brand them better. And that’s the goal--to establish every author as a distinct “brand.” We also talked about sales velocity--the speed with which large numbers of books should be sold in the early weeks of a title's release. The old publishing model was to keep books in print for the long haul. But now all the publishers want books sold fast, upon release. Good sales velocity encourages keeping books in print. Confusing? Yes, but it’s the current wisdom.

Many HarperCollins publicists lunched with us and shared these thoughts:

Mystery writers have the best websites in the industry. (Yay, us!) All authors are encouraged to have a website and keep them up to date and fresh with podcasts and book trailers, if possible. The publisher can build on what you’ve created. For example, take a look at what they’re doing for Tasha Alexander. Lots of ‘Author Extras”--newsletters to sign up for, an ad you can place on your own website or MySpace page, plenty of what I’d call publisher support: here.

(Although not part of our summit report, go check out Meg Cabot’s video on this Amazon page. It has nothing to do with her book, but it very cleverly helps establish her brand. Here.)

Also: Blogs seem to be helping sales. (Perhaps because they engage readers who appreciate the frequent updating?) Build and maintain your mailing list. Having a platform—“writing what you know”—helps to get the aspiring author noticed by a publisher and later helps the publicist promote the published book.

One of the hottest booksellers today, in the view of HarperCollins, is Target. If you’ve strolled through your local Target store lately, I’m sure you’ve seen all the trade-sized paperbacks, all displayed face-out. The success of selling the trade size at Target triggered a discussion about the decision to put certain authors in hardcover vs. trade size paper vs. mass market paperback. The format depends upon the anticipated audience and the anticipated accounts to which the book will be distributed, so that’s a discussion worth having with your editor. We can talk about it today in the comments section, too, but this post is already too long.

I also appreciated the HarperCollins take on the "when should an author realize it's time to move on?" question. Rather than trying to read the handwriting on the wall, HC encouraged authors to ask your editor for sales numbers so you don’t get blindsided. You can get out your pencil, estimate a cover price and figure what kind of sales you need to make to pay the mortgage. Can you survive on a small press print run? Should you keep your day job?

Our next stop was Simon Lipskar, a friendly and forthright agent at Writers House.

So far, I’ve been totally professional, right? Can I take a minute to tell you what really happened when we arrived at the hallowed halls of Writers House? It was a warm day, and we’d walked a long way and…well, I’m a woman of a certain age. As soon as we arrived in his lovely office, I had the most gawdawful hot flash of my entire life. Purple-faced, sweating so hard my hair began to drip, I had a long, horrific hormonal meltdown on his Danish modern sofa. I took notes while mopping myself with a crumpled cocktail napkin dragged up from the bottom of my handbag. So everything I heard in this interview was clouded by a fog of estrogen.

Mr. Lipskar confirmed the general view that thrillers are the success stories of the moment. Any book you can call a thriller, he said, you should. Advice we heard many times during our travels.

He also talked a lot about the "franchise" authors--like James Patterson. I think every agent and publisher is looking for authors they can turn into franchises.

He talked a bit about the importance of blurbs, particularly among the sales reps. (It also spoke to our discussion about positioning authors.) He cited flap copy as another important positioning tool. And covers are extremely important to consumers and sales staff alike these days---a mantra we heard nearly everywhere we went.

Mr. Lipskar did say the midlist was on the verge of dying. He felt the current US economy is contributing to the midlist demise, but I think this subject worth discussing. What role do we all play in this situation?

Of all the people we met with in New York, Simon Lipskar was the only person to voice the opinion that the author can’t do much, PR-wise, to help his career. Except write a great book. In an era when some desperate publishers are asking authors to be bloggers, filmmakers, graphic designers, sales managers and marketing whizzes, it’s nice to hear somebody actually say that our time is better spent what we do well—the writing of a book.
Preferably a thriller, I suppose.

As I wiped hormonal sweat from my brow, we thanked him for his honesty, said good-bye and headed down the stairs.

Tomorrow, we’ll post the next installment of our trip to New York. But for today, do you have questions to ask the team? Is there anything here that sparks your need to vent?---Er, discuss? We’re here, so fire away.

Monday, May 19, 2008

When BSP is a bad thing

By Donna Andrews

The other day I was at an event sponsored by a writing-related organization. (Maybe it wasn't SinC. Maybe it was MWA. Or RWA. Or a local writing outfit. I'm not telling. Let's call it RISC, for Really Impressive Scribbler's Club.) Anyway, this particular RISC meeting was well attended. Most of the people there were writers--published or aspiring--along with a few avid readers and a few friends and significant others of writers. The meal was edible to tasty, the speaker was excellent, and most of the attendees had a great time.

Most. Not all. I had a great time, myself, but then, I lucked out. I didn't sit at Boris Sharpe-Payne's table.

You all know Boris. He started coming to the RISC meetings a month or so before his first book came out. Came out, I should add, from a major publisher, to decent reviews. He's personable, well-spoken, apparently on his way to success.

Only one problem. Boris's a really gung-ho promoter. He seems to have forgotten how NOT to promote. No off switch. No volume control. And no sense of when his listeners have had enough.

Everyone at Boris's table heard all about his latest book, all his fabulous reviews, how fabulously long the lines have been at his signings, what a fabulous blurb so-and-so gave him, how fabulously many books he sold at his last signing, and how close his agent is to making a fabulous movie deal. They also got an earful about how fabulous his publicist is, how fabulous his panel was at the last convention, and a few coy hints about what his next fabulous work will be.

Boris had a fabulous time at the meeting. The rest of the people at his table were testing the edges on the table knives by the end of the meal--though I don't know whether they were contemplating seppuku or a reenactment of Murder on the Orient Express.

Of course, it could be worse. There's Boris's sister, Brynhilda Sharpe-Payne. She's been known to show up at other people's signings and start selling her own books in the back of the room. Brynhilda doesn't get asked out much these days.

Part of being an effective self-promoter is to know when to BSP and when to shut up. A savvy self-promoter would have looked around the table at the RISC meeting and asked himself, "Why are these people here?" And unless his name was, say, Agatha Christie or Dashiell Hammett, the answer probably wasn't "To hear me talk about my books for an hour." RISC members come to see old friends and meet new ones . . . to network with fellow writing professionals . . . to hear the speaker . . . to learn about the business and craft of writing . . . and yes, to learn about new books by fellow RISC members. So no one would fault Brynhilda or Boris if they said a couple of sentences about their books and offered their tablemates a bookmark.

But after that, if I were Boris or Brynhilda, I hope I'd have the good sense to put the BSP on hold for the rest of the event. They could talk to the other people at their table. Ask them about their lives--including their writing. If someone asked for information or advice, they could offer it--if they have any expertise in the area. They could participate in whatever conversations their tablemates are having. (But if their contribution invariably starts with "Well, in my books . . ." watch out, Boris and Brynhilda, you're BSPing again.)

Are you wincing as you read this? I confess, I'm wincing as I write it. I can remember moments when I, too, was a Sharpe-Payne. I hope I'm having fewer such moments these days. Too many of us have learned that mantra "Never pass up an opportunity to self-promote!" I'm working on learning a new one. "In every situation, consider whether it's possible and appropriate to self-promote." Sometimes less is more. Sometimes any BSP is too much.

You don't agree? Fine; then I'm sure you'd love to sit at the Sharpe-Paynes' table next month. Trust me, there are plenty of empty places.

Donna Andrews is the SinC Chapter Liaison.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

STUFF HAPPENS, or JUST BECAUSE YOU DO EVERYTHING RIGHT DOESN’T MEAN THAT SOMETHING WON’T GO WRONG

What better way “to promote the professional advancement of women who write mysteries,” Chesapeake Chapter thought, than to put together a short story anthology. Three anthologies and more than a few headaches later, we sometimes find ourselves wondering, was it worth it? Then someone invariably points to our six Agatha nominations (and two wins), two Anthony nods (and one win), previously unpublished contributors being considered for representation by agents, and at least two with publishing contracts at major houses, and we smile and say, “Yeah, it was definitely worth it.”

Setting up the process — we wanted to be completely fair — turned out to be the easy part. Submissions were blind — our volunteer judges couldn’t tell whether the story they were reading came from one of our established authors or from an aspiring one — and because Chessie Chapter boasts over one hundred members, we had little trouble selecting fifteen quality stories to include in each volume. We’d invited a published member to write a preface (Laura Lippman, Donna Andrews and Sujata Massey, respectively), and to our surprise and delight, attracted the attention of a small, traditional press that specialized in mysteries. We signed a two-book deal.

Chesapeake Crimes I came out in hardback and was the publisher’s #1 seller that year. A paperback edition followed. Chesapeake Crimes II was published the following year, and then, things got ugly. Bookstores couldn’t get the books, we couldn’t get the books, the publisher stopped communicating with us — or with any of its many authors. When the dust settled, chapter members were out thousands of dollars for personal copies of books ordered and paid for, and the chapter lost thousands in unpaid royalties.

Publishers go bankrupt. It happens.

So, we dusted ourselves off and moved on, finding an enthusiastic, mystery-loving editor at an established regional press who, incredibly, was offering to reprint Chesapeake Crimes II (fewer than 100 copies had been printed by the Former Publisher Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken) as well as Chesapeake Crimes 3, provided each story have a Chesapeake Bay theme. We happily called for submissions. A year later, when the completed manuscript of Chesapeake Crimes 3 was ready for delivery, we were told by the new managing editor that, oh, by the way, we’ve decided we don’t want to publish mystery fiction after all.

Editors move on; publishing priorities change. It happens.

Once again, we dusted ourselves off and moved on, this time making arrangements with a small press to print Chesapeake Crimes 3 for us, just in time for the Malice Domestic conference, as we’d planned.

Chesapeake Crimes 3 is a beautiful product. And so is the reprint of Chesapeake Crimes I that we produced for ourselves at http://www.lulu.com/. By now, there’s little that Chessie Chapter hasn’t learned, first-hand, school-of-hard-knocks, about the volatile publishing business. (And don’t get us started on distribution!)

Will there be a Chesapeake Crimes 4? The jury’s still out. But, there must be some publishing method Chessie Chapter hasn’t tried yet. An e-book, perhaps?


Marcia Talley serves as secretary of Sisters in Crime National and is past president of Chesapeake Chapter. She is the author of Dead Man Dancing, and six previous Hannah Ives mysteries. For information about Chesapeake Crimes I, II and 3, please visit www.chesapeakecrimes.com.

Monday, May 5, 2008

I'm trying to write a novel here....

by Margaret Coel

Six months ago, I had a brilliant idea. Two walls of my study could be knocked out to make a bigger study. To get just how brilliant this was, try to picture my study: desk and computer, a pair of stuffed floor-to-ceiling bookcases, flowered loveseat, lamp and two filing cabinets, all jammed shoulder-to-shoulder against the walls around the closet, window and door. Piles of manuscripts, folders, magazines and other important stuff that I mean to get to someday on the floor. To go to work, I had to take two steps into the middle of the study, slowly pivot about and stumble over the piles of papers to the desk. My study was the smallest room in the house. What I needed was S P A C E.

# 1 hubby did not think the idea brilliant. He used other adjectives, none appropriate for a blog. But after six months of being convinced (nagged, he calls it), he conceded this was a splendid idea. So splendid, he is now convinced that it must have been his. And wouldn’t it be great if he also enlarged his study, which happens to be upstairs directly over mine? I guess that means that both studies were the smallest rooms in the house.

Before remodeling could begin, we had to move out of our studies. It appears that 99% of our stuff was contained in the smallest rooms. Who knew? The garage is now crammed with furniture. Cartons of books, papers, folders, magazines—I don’t even know what’s in all those cartons--are stacked around the house. My desk and computer are wedged into a bedroom between the bed, a chest of drawers and stacks of boxes.

Did I mention that I am writing a new novel, due in September?

Dale the contractor arrived and one entire corner of the house vanished. Picture large backhoes and cement mixers rolling across the front lawn, that now no longer exists. Hammers pounding, saws screeching, heavy boots tramping through the still intact parts of the house. Clouds of dust, and everything draped in plastic sheets. I continue writing my novel. I discover the advantages of being wedged into a bedroom corner. It’s so much trouble to get out that I sit at the computer for long periods. Empty tea mug? Too bad. Way too much hassle to get to the kitchen.

If only I could actually get some real work done. With remodeling, I’ve learned, come decisions, decisions, decisions. Dale the contractor knocks on my door and says he needs decisions on such things as electrical outlets, ceiling fixtures, closet doors and a lot of other ridiculous details. I fight my way out of the bedroom corner, down the hall lined with cartons and upstairs into the very large space that is materializing into # 1 hubby’s new study. Back down the stairs into the even larger space that is becoming mine. And I make decisions.

Would I like to have him soundproof the walls? Dales wants to know. Soundproof my study? Oh, by all means, I say.

I return to writing my novel. Images of my new study fill my brain. Instead of the old pea green walls, my walls will be painted some new, luscious color that I haven’t yet decided upon. The color will look terrific with the new carpet, not yet selected. There will be lots of space in my closet, as soon as I decide on the shelves. And there will be a big sofa, just in case I should want to take a nap. I should go looking for that sofa soon.

Dale the contractor knocks on my door again. Where do I want the cable box?

Cable box? I’m trying to write a novel here.

“West wall,” I shout. “Where the desk is going.” I’ll need a new desk, I’m thinking. This old desk is not going to work in my new study.

I dive back into my novel. How long will all this remodeling go on? Four more weeks, Dale the contractor says. Translation: Six weeks if all goes well. When was that ever the case with remodeling?

Should my editor happen to read this blog, I’m going to need an extension on that deadline.