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.

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. 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