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.