Monday, February 25, 2008

Write Fast!

About fifteen years ago, I was deep into writing my first mystery novel. Or should it be “deeply”? “Desperately” is probably better. No matter, it was a very serious endeavor, requiring deep/desperate scrutiny of every word as it appeared on my computer monitor. It was a very slow endeavor. But it was coming along, I convinced myself, every perfect word a bridge to every other perfect word.

Then a Hollywood—yes, that’s right, HOLLYWOOD!—screenwriter brought his traveling workshop show to my area and I signed up for a weekend of learning how to write screenplays. Not that I had any intention of writing a screen play, but does any writer know what she/he might write tomorrow, if the money were right? In my career, I’ve written a lot of stuff I never thought I would write, including a comic book. But I digress.

I signed up for the Hollywood screenwriter’s workshop because it occurred to me that the one thing a screenwriter ought to be an expert on was writing dialogue. Yes, getting those perfect dialogue words in place had been giving me, shall we say, a little trouble.

So I sat through two-and-one-half days of the screenwriting workshop. Along with a few good hints about writing dialogue, this was what I learned—this was the gold: Write Fast. Because, the screenwriter said, when you write fast this is what happens: you submerge yourself in the writing zone. You are carried away by the story. You are living the story. And the story becomes infused with your energy and excitement.

As opposed to stepping out of the zone, stopping the story and allowing the energy to leak out every time you edit what you’ve just written, ponder over some technical aspect, check the dictionary and the thesaurus. Oh, yes, check your e-mail, and as long as you’re now taking a break from the actual writing, go get another cup of coffee.

I went home, turned on my computer and went back to writing my novel. I was on chapter ten, and I wrote the rest of the novel. In many sittings, of course, but as I wrote the story, I never stopped to edit or make changes. I just wrote as fast as I could, and I lost myself in the story. It was an exhilarating experience, like turning the pages of a really good book that you can’t bear to put down. I was so caught up in my story, I felt sad when I finally wrote “The End.”

But I had a whole novel. Then—and only then—did I start the rewriting and the editing, all that left brain stuff that forces writers to step away and turn a jaundiced and very critical eye on what we’ve written. But here’s the thing: I found that as I rewrote and rearranged paragraphs and sometimes chapters, sharpened dialogue, polished prose and cut out all the stuff, as Elmore Leonard says, that the reader skips over, the energy and excitement that had come in the writing itself stayed with the story, like a fresh wind blowing through.

Recently I read an obit on Phyllis Whitney that said she had slowed down in the last years of her life. From age 85 on, she wrote only one book a year. Obviously Phyllis Whitney believed in writing fast.

When asked how he had written the screenplay for Rocky in only 18 days, Sylvester Stallone said that was all the time that was necessary. It took Gustave Flaubert eighteen years to write Madame Bovary, he said, and “it was a lousy book.”

When my novel, The Eagle Catcher, came out, several critics said that the novel got off to a rather slow start, but turned into a page-turner once it took off. I got a good laugh out of that because I knew exactly when the novel took off. Chapter ten, when I had started writing fast.

I’ve been writing fast ever since. In every workshop that I teach, I give my students those two golden words of advice: Write Fast. It does not mean that you never have to rewrite, or that when you finish the first draft, it will be ready for publication. It will still be what it is—a first draft. But it does mean you will have a complete novel, a story bursting with creative energy, a diamond in the rough waiting to be chiseled, shaped and polished. And that is the time to put on your editor’s cap, not before.
---------------------------------
Margaret Coel
SinC Member-At-Large

Friday, February 22, 2008

Room Change and Breakfast Sign-Up

Sisters in Crime Chapter Meeting at Malice
Friday, April 25, 2008 from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM.
Fairfax Room, 2nd Floor, Crystal Gateway Marriott

Make your Sisters in Crime Breakfast Reservations

The Sisters in Crime breakfast will be Sunday, April 27, 2008 at 7:30 AMat the conference hotel. The room will be posted at the conference. Reservation are needed. Please send your e-mail address with your check for confirmation of receipt.

Send your $20.00 check to:
Sisters in Crime
PO Box 442124
Lawrence, KS 66044
to arrive in Lawrence by April 18, 2008.

Beth Wasson
Exec. Secretary, Sisters in Crime
PO Box 442124
Lawrence, KS 66044
785-842-1325, fax 785-856-6314
sistersincrime@juno.com, web site www.sistersincrime.org

Monday, February 18, 2008

Speechless. Tongue-tied. Thunderstruck. Bowled over. Wordless. Dumbfounded.

You get the idea. That’s me when it comes to writing. It’s also me in the presence of those of you who write--especially those who write crime fiction--for your livelihood. So it’s a great honor and privilege for me to have been elected to follow the incomparable Doris Ann Norris as Sisters in Crime’s Library Liaison.

With two major library conferences on the calendar, 2008 is an especially promising year for bringing together Sisters in Crime authors and libraries. Not only does the Public Library Association hold its biennial conference in Minneapolis in March, the American Library Association’s capital-“B”-Big annual conference will be held in Anaheim in late June. Sisters in Crime will continue to take an important part in both these conferences by hosting booths in their respective Exhibitors spaces. The booth provides terrific opportunities for SinC authors who attend the conference to meet librarians and talk with them first hand about your work.

Even if you can’t come to the conferences, you can still send promotional materials for your books. I can promise you, speaking as a library conference attendee, we collect those bookmarks, business cards, and postcards with a passion. Once home from the conference we use what we’ve gathered to help make purchasing decisions for our libraries.

It’s not too late to send promotional materials for PLA, and I’ll soon be posting more details about ALA to the listserv and newsletter.

In the meantime if you’d like more information about either conference (or if you just want to say hey) please email me at boonema@earthlink.net. The two big library conferences are just a start. I am looking forwarding to working with the members of SinC to find even more ways to connect mystery writers and their books to libraries and readers.

Is this the world’s best job, or what?
--------------
Mary Boone
Library Liaison, Sisters In Crime

Monday, February 11, 2008

One of Sisters In Crime's ongoing programs is the Review Monitoring Project. We have a team of dedicated SinC members who check book reviews in local and national publications all year long. They tally results in two categories, those reviews of mysteries written by men and those by women.

Since its beginning, Sisters In Crime has worked hard to accomplish its mission of raising awareness of women mystery authors. The monitoring project is one way to measure how women's books are recognized by the media in the area of print reviews.

In 2006, the averages of all publications we monitored showed about 56% of mysteries reviewed were written by men, about 44% by women. I've been expecting less of a gap this year, due to the many well-received and breakout books we've seen from female authors. But, at the moment, it looks like the gap actually widened a bit. Our numbers are almost all in for this year. As they stand now, about 58% of mystery reviews were of books by men, about 42% by women. The complete report will be in the next InSinc newsletter.

Our work isn't done. We need to keep supporting the women in our industry who write books we love! If you would like to be a volunteer for the monitoring project, please contact me at marysaums @ hotmail.com for more information.

Mary Saums
Monitoring Project Liaison

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Left Coast Crime, Denver 2008

All Sisters in Crime members who are attending Left Coast Crime in Denver are invited to meet with SinC board members in the hospitality suite at the conference. Informal gatherings will be held at the following times.

Friday, March 7, 2008 @ 10:30 am and Saturday, March 8, 2008 @ 10:30 am.

Bring your questions and ideas with you.

See you soon,
Beth Wasson
Exec. Secretary, Sisters in Crime
PO Box 442124, Lawrence, KS 66044
785-842-1325, fax 785-856-6314
sistersincrime@juno.com
web site www.sistersincrime.org

Monday, February 4, 2008

Ten Things a Tart Learned About Blogging

By Nancy Martin (SinC member at large)

Three years ago, some author friends and I decided to call ourselves the Book Tarts and start a blog (insert www.thelipstickchronicles.typepad.com ) in order to reduce our PR travel and help sell our books. Our success has come as a result of a lot of vigilant, ongoing work. (Our only motto? Never blog about diets.) If you're reading this, chances are you also blog yourself. Or if you don't blog, there's a part of you that's wondering if you've missed the boat. Am I right?

If so, maybe you're interested in what some blogging veterans have learned after three years of posting blogs while writing and selling books. And I'm very interested in your conclusions, too. Here goes:

1. It didn't take long to learn that building an audience depended upon posting new content every day. Without fresh material, our readers quickly found other blogs to procrast---er, spend their leisure time.

2. Because blogging every day soon becomes a terrible chore and prevents writers from writing books that actually pay the mortgage, a successful blog needs more than one writer at work. (Unless you're a regular on the NYT list, which probably exempts you from a lot of grunt work except the really, really hard stuff-writing books worthy of the NYT list.) In our case, we tried to find like-minded authors who wrote books for the same target audience. But we keep to a regular schedule so our readers know who to expect on each day of the week. To avoid diluting our "brand," we limit guest bloggers to weekends when---with apologies to our many delightful and insightful guests-hits are about half what they are on weekdays.

3. By writing posts aimed to entertain the readers who buy our books (instead of blogging for an audience other writers) we quadrupled our daily hits. Mind you, that quadrupling took a year, but it's still growing.

4. Content is Queen. The Tarts think a lot about who our audience is and what material will best keep them coming back. First, the people who read our books want to be entertained. Second, to laugh. But subject matter is especially vital in the mystery community because the best mystery novels are not just a story, but a story about something. The good ones feature new ideas, fresh takes on current issues or trends in popular culture. Yes, the Tarts sometimes blog about the mundane details of our lives, but only as a metaphor for something thought-provoking.

5. By extension: Advertising is not blogging. Posting nothing but tour schedules and release dates is a surefire way to lose our audience. That kind of info goes on our websites. Blog readers get bored with obvious self-promotion faster than anything else.

6. We track our hits. And this is worth repeating. Track the hits! We count our hits every day, notice what our best referrals are, and sometimes watch ISP addresses. We count the number of daily comments and note when and how many first-time commenters come out of lurkdom. Then we compare that data to our content. We notice which posts are winners with readers and which are duds. If our hits aren't growing, we know it's time to re-think and/or re-invent and go find more eyeballs. (You can do this by posting on some big listserves, by emailing alerts to your friends, by inviting guest bloggers who bring an audience with them. If you write about cats or knitting, join some related listserves and alert your listmates about your blog. And I'm sure many of you have even better ideas you could share here. Please do!) Only if we continue to grow our audience can we hope that our blog is helping our sales numbers.

7. Comments are an indication of how large and interactive our online ommunity is. And that's what you're trying to do with a blog, right?--To build a community of readers who will become so loyal that they'll be moved to buy your books when they're released. To attract comments, I must pose a subtle question in the text of my blog. Not an obvious question, because readers are turned off by such pathetically clumsy efforts.

8. The employees of NYC publishing houses read blogs. Therefore, if you want to keep your reputation as a team-playing author, don't post anything stupid or insulting about your publisher, your agent, your publicist, the buyers for major chains or your friends. On the other hand, if you want to get 1000 hits in a single afternoon, say something insulting or stupid, because other writers enjoy watching their colleagues crash and burn. Human nature.

9. Here's our big conclusion: Blogs do sell books. In the last year, we've seen quantifiable evidence of that during the health crises of two authors whose friends volunteered to blog on their behalf. Resulting book sales have been documented. The rest of us have to study our royalty statements to puzzle out whether or not blogging triggers specific sales. But all of us at TLC have enjoyed increased sales since starting the blog.

10. My last word of wisdom? Don't blog about diets. It's boring. And boring is the worst thing a blog can be.

For more on this subject, you can check last year's State of the Union TLC blog here: http://thelipstickchronicles.typepad.com/the_lipstick_chronicles/2007/01/2006_a_year_in_.htmlcomments

And you can bet I'll be tracking how many readers come from this blog to The Lipstick Chronicles.