Monday, February 28, 2011

Writing in Paradise

By Marcia Talley

My friend, mystery novelist Elaine Viets who lives there, says that Ft. Lauderdale is the farthest south you can live and still get meaningful work done.

I’ve checked the maps, and my present location — 26° 35.51 N, 77° 00.36 W to be precise — is exactly 28 minutes of latitude (approximately 32 miles) north of Elaine’s condo in Lauderdale, so as a novelist, I figure I’m safe, but it’s not always easy writing while living in paradise.

We’re in a rented house on Dickie’s Cay, a tiny strip of land that forms the harbor that protects Man-o-War Cay, a settlement of boat-builders and church-going people with a year-round population of approximately 150. There’s a hardware store —“if we don’t have it, you don’t need it” — where items that went on the shelf 20 years ago are still for sale with their original price tags. There’s one sit-down restaurant — best bacon cheeseburgers in the world at the Dock-n-Dine, my husband says — a couple of gift shops, a sailmaker’s shop where four ladies sit at ancient sewing machines turning out the most beautiful and practical canvas bags, and two groceries that don’t sell cigarettes or booze. No law against it, they simply don’t.

Albury’s Harbour Market, where I shop, is the size of your average two-car garage, but I can’t think of anything that Phyllis doesn’t have — even half-and-half! — in that tiny, neat-as-a-pin store. Yesterday, just as I was leaving with my purchases, her husband, Jeff, came in with some fish he’d just caught; an immediate change in dinner plans! I shop, Phyllis puts it on our tab, and we pay up at the end of the month. With a tab, I feel like I really belong.

No TV, no daily newspaper. There are no ATMs. The bank is open on Tuesdays from 10 to 2. And few cars; rush hour is two golf carts meeting on The Queen’s Highway, an eight-foot-wide strip of concrete that bisects the narrow island.

There are no roads where we are on Dickie’s Cay, and our family “car” is an Avon dinghy. To go shopping or to eat out, we walk out to the end of the pier, climb down a wooden ladder, fire up the outboard and putt-putt across to Man-o-War.

I couldn’t resist setting my eighth Hannah Ives novel, Without a Grave, in these islands, although I took the very great liberty of sandwiching my fictional islands between Scotland Cay to the north and Man-o-War Cay to the south while pushing Fowl Cay a bit further out into the Atlantic Ocean. I must apologize in advance for an inconvenience this will cause to cruising sailors.

My office is in “Lookout,” a cottage that’s cantilevered out over the Sea of Abaco. Across the water you can see Sandy Cay (occupied) and Garden Cay (unoccupied, but with a neat little cove and a house abandoned, Mary Celeste-like, as if the owners simply walked away leaving pots on the stove, beach towels draped over chairs, and dirty laundry in the corner). I feel a novel coming on!

On the screen of my laptop right now are the page proofs for A Quiet Grave, Hannah’s 10th adventure. My last chance to make changes!

Counter-clockwise from my ‘return’ key is a yellow pad with the opening pages of a fourth “Marjorie Ann” short story, my iPad (including eight Edgar-nominated novels downloaded to my Kindle app), a folder bought at the Bodleian Museum Shop in Oxford following the St Hilda’s Crime and Mystery weekend last summer that holds important papers like my upcoming flight information for SleuthFest, a Roget’s thesaurus (the only true edition, IMHO, the one with numbered categories), a notepad where I’ve scribbled my grocery list and a Bahamian school notebook with a picture of Sir Milo Boughton Butler, G.C.M.G., G.C.V.O., first Governor-General of the Bahamas on the cover. Inside this notebook are some disjointed ideas that may or may not turn out to be Book 11.

There’s a nice selection of paperback books, too, left at “Lookout” by visiting friends. The conch shell resting in the window is blown every day — with varying degrees of success, depending on how far we are into cocktail hour — at sunset. Hey, it’s always five o’clock somewhere!

A sudden rainstorm followed by a rainbow, a sunset that sets the horizon ablaze, a mysterious motor yacht anchored off the island (excuse me while I grab my binoculars), a hummingbird checking you out. Yes, there are distractions while working in paradise, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Top photo: Lookout Cottage hovering over the Sea of Abaco.

Middle photo: Marcia Talley at Hope Town Harbor, Elbow Cay.

Bottom photo: A writer's desk in paradise.


A longer version of this essay, “Hannah’s Excellent Vacation,” appeared in Mystery Readers Journal, Island Mysteries, Vol. 26, no.3, Fall 2010. http://www.mysteryreaders.org/Issues/island.html


Marcia Talley is the Agatha and Anthony award-winning author of All Things Undying and eight previous Hannah Ives mysteries. The 10th book in the series, A Quiet Death, will be published this summer. Marcia's short stories appear in more than a dozen collections. She is the immediate past president of Sisters in Crime.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Have You Paid Your Dues?

Your membership in Sisters in Crime helps the organization to fulfill its mission to promote the professional development and advancement of women crime writers to achieve equality in the industry.

Please take a moment this weekend to make sure that you’ve paid your Sisters in Crime dues for 2011.

A two-tier dues structure is now in place; members may register in either the Professional or Active membership category.

A Professional member may be one of the following: an author pursuing a career in mystery writing, a bookseller, a publisher, a librarian, an editor or any individual with a business interest in promoting the goals and purposes of Sisters in Crime, Inc. The annual dues for Professional members: $40.

An Active member may be a fan, a reader or any member who does not have a business interest in promoting the goals and purposes of Sisters in Crime, Inc. The annual dues for Active members: $35.

Both membership categories have access to a range of membership benefits, such as:

  • Local and Internet-based chapters (including an Internet chapter for members of all interests and a chapter that provides support and critique group options for unpublished members)
  • A national members-only listserv that offers an ongoing online conversation – and special guests for “Ask the Experts” sessions on “Mentor Mondays”
  • SinCLinks, a monthly digest of industry news from a range of sources
  • The inSinC Quarterly, the Sisters in Crime news bulletin
  • Access to the annual SinC Publishers’ Summit Reports
  • An author-finder listing at www.sistersincrime.org
  • Access to the SinC book club database
  • Reports from the on-going SinC review monitoring project that watches media coverage to quantify the coverage of authors by gender
  • Advance members-only access to SinC-published books on writing and other professional development topics, including Breaking and Entering: The Road to Success and Shameless Promotion for Brazen Hussies.
  • Grants for special events
  • Special conference programs/member discounts
  • Networking and mentoring opportunities -- and fun
To pay your dues, go to SistersinCrime.org, look under the “Quick Links” menu on the right hand side of the Home page, select “Renew” and follow the prompts to renew your membership. You may also click here to renew.

We hope you’ll continue your journey in the world of mystery and crime fiction as a member of Sisters in Crime.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Write Like a Lady, Think Like a Man

By J. J. Murphy

I’ve always been outnumbered. I was the only boy in a family with four girls. I now have a wife and twin daughters, so my dog and I represent the male minority of our female-majority family.

For the last few years, I’ve been one of only a couple of men in the Delaware Valley chapter of Sisters in Crime. I’m a Mister with an overwhelming number of wonderful Sisters.

When I decided to write a mystery, it was natural to pick a female protagonist. (And not just any female protagonist, but legendary writer and wisecracker Dorothy Parker. More on her in a minute.)

But here’s the interesting thing: My choice to use a female protagonist was not only a creative decision but also a “business” one. Why? Because women read mysteries, and women readers naturally prefer women protagonists. If I was going to get published, I reasoned, I had to find a female sleuth.

But here’s something I didn’t count on: My editor asked me to use a “gender neutral” name. Huh?

“We don’t want anyone to have to think twice when they’re considering whether to buy your book,” she explained. And women readers might think twice about buying a book written by a man but featuring a woman.

All righty! Whatever it takes to get published, I thought. I’ll be a woman. I’ll be a platypus, if that’s what it takes.

We settled on using my initials. (Call me J.J.! I’m in good company. On Sunday mornings I get together for coffee with J.D. Robb and J.K. Rowling. And then I wake up.)

Now I face something else I didn’t count on: I’m lumped into the mystery subgenre of “cozies,” a category largely ignored by the literati and book reviewing powers-that-be. Meanwhile, it feels like James Patterson and Tom Clancy can pump out a book a week, which gets instant best-seller status, prime positioning in the book store, reviews in every newspaper, and an option for the movie rights.

What’s up with that? What separates those big boys from us? Our frilly book covers and lack of violence (and heightened vocabularies), that’s what.

Again, we’re in good company. My gal Dorothy Parker faced the same problem daily. She was one of the only women accepted into the boys’ club that was the Algonquin Round Table. (You know Dorothy Parker. Even if you don’t know Dorothy Parker, you do know her. She coined such phrases as “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses” and “Brevity is the soul of lingerie.”)

We can take courage from Dorothy. She matched wits with guys from the Ivy League, yet she never went to college — never even graduated from high school. Now, 90 years later, she’s the most well-known of the members of the Algonquin Round Table. (Can you name any others?) Her collected works have never gone out of print.

So, I’m fine being a woman. I’m honored to count myself as a Sister. Just don’t ask to borrow my size 13 high heels.

And speaking of Dorothy Parker, which current actress would you select to play her in a movie? Vote here: http://www.roundtablemysteries.com/cast_the_movie.html.


Top photo: J. J. Murphy and spouse at the launch of Murder Your Darlings.
Bottom photo: A young Dorothy Parker.


J. J. Murphy is an award-winning health care writer in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Murder Your Darlings, a humorous historical mystery featuring Dorothy Parker, a dead body under the famed Algonquin round table and New York in the Roaring 20s. For more information on J. J., go to www.roundtablemysteries.com.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Blogging Bouchercon, Part 1

Greetings mystery lovers!

I'm Jon Jordan and I'm hosting this year's Bouchercon in St. Louis.

I've been a fan of the convention for a long time. I thought it would be nice to pay it forward and so, along with David Thompson, I decided to put in a bid. As you may know, David passed along last September. And while he can't be replaced, I'm making an effort to fill his shoes by bringing in a lot of people to help out.

A big part of the convention is the panel sessions. This year's panels will be put together by Judy Bobalik and my wife, Ruth Jordan. (Contact info here: http://bouchercon2011.com/programming.php)

To be considered for a panel, you of course need to be registered. We're also asking people to fill out a short questionnaire to make it easier to place folks on panels.

Many people seem to get into a comfortable zone when doing panels, always doing the same type with the same people. Our hope is to mix it up a bit and, hopefully, expose fans to authors they haven't read yet -- and expose authors to fans they may not have reached yet. Just because you may write books involving a lawyer, that doesn't mean there may not be other panels for you to do.

Judy and I have put together panels for a number of Bouchercons and have helped with other conventions as well. What this means is that we've heard a lot of feedback from fans -- and Judy, Ruth and I are getting really good at this.

We make an effort to play to individual strengths, but we also want people to do something a little different if possible. If you are on a panel, but at first glance aren't sure why, trust us, there is a reason. It's our hope to put panelists on a panel that will entertain the fans and bring new readers to authors.

Not everyone will get a panel; there are just too many authors signing up these days for Bouchercon for us to place everyone. Because of this, we will also be doing a number of craft sessions and the 20-on-the-20. To increase your chances, it helps to be available for all four days of Bouchercon. The more available you are, the better the chance of us finding a place for you.

I know that not all authors love the early morning panels -- but you know what? The fans are there and ready to go.

We know that authors love being on panels and we try to put as many authors on panels as we can. But panels aren't the only reason to come to Bouchercon. The sheer volume of attendees means connecting with fans, booksellers, other authors and any number of other people in the biz.

To sum up, I guess what I'm saying is that the panels are a big part of this, but don't hang your success at Bouchercon on a 50-minute panel you share with four or five other people. There's a lot more to it! Bouchercon is about celebrating the mystery genre, and we hope you'll be celebrating with us!


Photo: Jon and Ruth Jordan.


Jon Jordan is the publisher of Crimespree Magazine and the host of Bouchercon 2011. In the coming months, he will be "Blogging Bouchercon" on the SinC blog. For more information on Bouchercon, see http://bouchercon2011.com/. Jon can be reached at Jon@bouchercon2011.com.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Two More SinC Library Grants Awarded

The Folsom Public Library in Folsom, California, and the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Library in Goldsboro, North Carolina, are the most recent winners of the Sisters in Crime “We Love Libraries!” book-buying lottery.

Each library was given $1,000 for the purchase of books of any kind for the library collection.

To date, the SinC “We Love Libraries!” project has awarded $1,000 to 14 libraries in the U.S. The library lottery program began in January 2010.

To Participate

Libraries may participate by completing the online entry form at www.sistersincrime.org and uploading a photo of one or more staff members with three books in the library's collection written by Sisters in Crime members. A list of SinC author members can be found by clicking here.

At the end of each month, a library winner will be selected in a random drawing from the entries submitted online. Libraries must be located within the United States to be eligible to participate in the program.

Only one entry per library is required. Once the entry is on file with Sisters in Crime, it will remain active in the lottery selection process for the duration of the program.

Previous Winners

The 2010 “We Love Libraries!” winners include:

The Kingstowne Branch of the Fairfax County (Va.) Public Library in Alexandria, Virginia (January 2010)
The Kraemer Family Library, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Colorado (February 2010)
The Pineville-Bell County Library in Pineville, Kentucky (March 2010)
The Cresco Public Library in Cresco, Iowa (April 2010)
The Seminole County Public Library in Casselberry, Florida (May 2010)
The Bartram Trail Regional Library in Washington, Georgia (June 2010)
The Newton Falls Public Library in Newton Falls, Ohio (July 2010)
The St. Joseph Township-Swearingen Memorial Library in St. Joseph, Illinois (August 2010)
The Yuma County Library District in Yuma, Arizona (September 2010)
The Cary Memorial Library in Lexington, Massachusetts (October 2010)
The Lenox Township Library in New Haven, Michigan (November 2010)

Your Own Library Donations

And while we’re thinking about books for libraries:

Have you donated money or books for library circulation?
Do you have any tips to offer on the subject?

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Writer's Desk

By Dana Stabenow

[Originally posted at http://www.stabenow.com/2008/02/10/the-writers-desk]


Okaaaaay, five days after publication of Prepared for Rage, I have received the first email wanting to know when the next Kate novel will be out.

Laurie King and I were talking about this yesterday. We’re pleased and flattered that you Just Can’t Wait for the next book, but understand that while it takes you a day or two to read one, it takes us a year to write one. Have a heart! We’re peddling as fast as we can!

I am, in fact, even as we speak thundering to the end of Whisper to the Blood, also known as Kate16. Today’s photo is the disaster area that is my desk at this point in the process. Let’s look at it counter clockwise, beginning middle left, shall we?

  • Phone off hook.
  • Yellow pad with chapter number with page count. I’m always very conscious of the physical shape of the book, of its structure and its appearance when you read it. I try to keep the chapters roughly equal in length.
  • Notes about events in book. Much crossing out and rewriting of chronology. When the hell did that third attack on the river happen, and to whom?
  • Basket of unpaid bills. That’s right, don’t I have to go down to the bank tomorrow afternoon?
  • Cup of pens and pencils and ruler and scissors and nail files and, very important, extendable back scratcher.
  • Kleenex, also very important, not good to sneeze directly on keyboard.
  • Can’t see them but peppermints, good for shot of energy when still writing late at night.
  • Stand holding newspaper article to do with research for Kate16 (come on, I’m not going to give anything away), also copy of Robert’s Rules of Order, also notes about why Kate and Jim and the aunties are so pissy lately, constant visual reminder of prime character motivation.
  • Open copy of A Deeper Sleep, the book immediately preceding this one in the series. Have to look up stuff that happened in it all the time. On shelf in back of chair are copies of the whole series, which have been wearyingly in use during the writing of Kate16 as it seems every single fricken’ Park rat who ever showed up in a book is determined to show up in this one, and I keep having to look up where they first appeared.
  • Under the open book, a bunch of yellow sticky notes about characters and plot points. “Ruthe.” “More Dick” (heavily circled). “Kate–internal dialogue about her lie.” “The ‘Burbs.” “Helmets a giveaway.” “Why the river and not the road?” Most will be incorporated into the rewrite between rough draft and final draft. Maybe.
  • Open atlas on printer, open to U.S., had to trace Johnny’s trip home for mileage and times, although Mapquest helps, too.
  • On table at left, a mess, consisting of newspaper and magazine articles about the Pebble Mine, the Shooter’s Bible (need to get a new edition, this one is ten years old), and a stack of books, The Klondike Rush by Pierre Berton because I wanted a good stampeder’s name for a new character, The Riverside Shakespeare because I had to check on one of Prospero’s lines from "The Tempest" and to make sure that there really were that many bodies left on the stage at the end of "Hamlet," and Webster’s because I was looking up I forget what word to make sure it meant what I thought it meant.
  • Danamaniacs sweatshirt (gift from ‘maniacs manager CathyO and husband Jim) on back of chair for when I get chilly.
  • Open Alaska atlas on floor behind chair.
See. I’m working really, really hard on Kate16.


Dana Stabenow is the award-winning author of the 18-book Kate Shugak mystery series, the four-book Liam Campbell mystery series and the three-book Star Svensdotter science fiction series. The most recent title in the Kate Shugak series, Though Not Dead, appeared yesterday on the New York Times Book Review hardcover list at #16.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

2010 Agatha Award Nominees

On Thursday, Feb. 17, Malice Domestic announced the nominees for the 2010 Agatha Awards.

The attendees of Malice Domestic 23 -- to be held April 29 - May 1, 2011 in Bethesda, MD -- will vote on the awards by secret ballot. The winners will be announced at the 2010 Agatha Awards banquet on Saturday, April 30.

The nominees are:

Best Novel:
Stork Raving Mad by Donna Andrews (Minotaur)
Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny (Minotaur)
The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard (Ballantine)
Drive Time by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Mira)
Truly, Madly by Heather Webber (St. Martin's Paperbacks)

Best First Novel:
The Long Quiche Goodbye by Avery Aames (Berkley)
Murder at the PTA by Laura Alden (Signet)
Maid of Murder by Amanda Flower (Five Star/Gale)
Full Mortality by Sasscer Hill (Wildside Press)
Diamonds for the Dead by Alan Orloff (Midnight Ink)

Best Non-fiction:
The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum (Penguin)
Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: 50 Years of Mysteries in the Making by John Curran (Harper)
Sherlock Holmes for Dummies by Stephen Doyle & David A. Crowder (For Dummies)
Have Faith in Your Kitchen by Katherine Hall Page (Orchises Press)
Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History by Yunte Huang (W.W. Norton & Co.)

Best Short Story:
"Swing Shift" by Dana Cameron, Crimes by Moonlight (Berkley)
"Size Matters" by Sheila Connolly, Thin Ice (Level Best Books)
"Volunteer of the Year" by Barb Goffman, Chesapeake Crimes: They Had it Comin' (Wildside Press)
"So Much in Common" by Mary Jane Maffini, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine - Sept./Oct. 2010
"The Green Cross" by Liz Zelvin, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine - August 2010

Best Children's/Young Adult:
Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer by John Grisham (Dutton Children's)
Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus by R. L. LaFevers (Houghton Mifflin)
The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee (Candlewick)
Virals by Kathy Reichs (Razorbill)
The Other Side of Dark by Sarah Smith (Atheneum)

For more information on Malice Domestic, go to www.malicedomestic.org.

--Kathie Felix

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Reading Without Borders

By Barbara Fister

The long decline of the Borders bookstore chain has been painful to watch. The impact on the book industry of their bankruptcy won't be easy to deal with, either. Though its market share had been falling, Borders still sold a lot of books to a lot of people.

I live in a town too small for any chain store to bother with, but since I'm only 75 miles and a phone call from two of the best mystery bookstores in the universe (Once Upon a Crime and Uncle Edgar's, both in Minneapolis) I haven't felt deprived. But I'm mourning the Borders I knew.

I will always remember the day I achieved nirvana in Ann Arbor. I was attending an intensive multi-day event at a conference center in nearby Ypsilanti and, after a few days trapped near a highway cloverleaf, several of us escaped into town to find a bit of civilization. Our conversation over a great Indian dinner was enjoyable, but what really blew me away was walking into an awesome bookstore. It seemed to have endless shelves filled with an amazing selection of books. I was working on a book about third world women writers at the time and was amazed and pleased to find so many of their books on the shelves, even those published by obscure small presses or imported from abroad. Whatever I looked for, it seemed to be there, along with an inexhaustible supply of books I didn't know existed but was delighted to discover. Though it was called "Borders," it seemed to transcend them.

Years later, John Baker, editorial director of Publisher's Weekly, told me the golden days of independent bookselling weren't all that golden, that the chains that were being blamed for killing the indies had increased the geography of reading by providing bookstores to communities that had never had them before and bringing more titles to more people than ever before in history.

A Brief for Bookstores

Though e-books are capturing people's imaginations right now, as well as a growing (but presently still small) market share, a traditional bookstore offers inspiring opportunities to browse and discover books, a chance to meet authors, a place to hang out while surrounded by the smell of paper and the silent hum of words, an endless number of stories yet to be discovered.

Borders will be missed by readers in the communities losing their stores. I personally believe we will always want some books on paper and will need bookstores to help us discover books we knew nothing about, and to support those beliefs I plan to tithe myself by spending money where my heart is -- though perhaps "tithe" is the wrong word for something that brings me so much pleasure.


Barbara Fister is the author of the Anni Koskinen mysteries. The most recent title in the series is Through the Cracks. She is an academic librarian and serves on the SinC board as Secretary.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Talking Writing with Elizabeth Lyon

By Kathie Felix

Elizabeth Lyon

The Sisters in Crime Mentor Monday sessions on the SinC listserv cover a lot of ground. The sessions’ online archives include question-and-answer “conversations” with literary agents, writers, booksellers, forensics experts, librarians, reviewers and other publishing business notables.

Book editor and author Elizabeth Lyon participated in one of these Q & A events, providing insight into a range of writing issues. A freelance book editor since 1988, she is the best-selling author of six books on writing fiction, nonfiction, revision and marketing to find agents and publishers.

The online Mentor Monday discussion began with an examination of “next book syndrome,” or the concern about being able to write a second book – or the next book, regardless of the number it is in a writer’s career.

Elizabeth, who has an advanced degree in counseling and is a former therapist, offered a five-step plan for dealing with this type of situation:

“Step one: Recognize the fear,

“Step two: Acknowledge that you’re not special; that indeed having anxieties or cold sweat fears about writing is universal,

“Step three: Know that nearly all fear is based on a 'what if,' which means that you are 'borrowing trouble' from an imagined future,

“Step four: Say 'no,' even chant 'no' in your head if you have to, to banish these thoughts,

“Step five: Plan and act, which means plan what comes next in your writing and do it, even just to be a monkey and sit in front of the keyboard and start hitting keys. You’ll know that is silly and voila, you’ll begin work on your current piece.”

Other subjects in the Q & A included prologues, the timing of the first murder in a book, critique groups, selling a novel, receiving contradictory comments from editors and which is more desirable – glowing reviews or big sales.

The archived session can be found by accessing the SinC members-only listserv, clicking on “Files” in the menu bar on the right side of the screen and selecting “Mentor Monday – Editors & Teachers.” If you are not a member of the listserv, directions to join are located on the SinC website at http://www.sistersincrime.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=12.

Elizabeth Lyon is leading a revision workshop for writers of fiction and creative nonfiction on Saturday, Feb. 26, from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. in Portland, Oregon. The four-session workshop, titled “Diamonds in the Rough: Revise, Polish, Publish,” is based on her book, Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore. The working sessions include: Revise for Original Voice and Stand-Out Style, Revise for Strong Structure, Revise for Compelling Characterization, and Revise for Successful Marketing. The cost of the workshop is $65. For registration information, send email to sallyklehman[at]gmail.com.




Photo at left: Elizabeth Lyon, presenter, at the 2010 SinC Into Great Writing workshop held in San Francisco during the week of Bouchercon. Photo by Molly Weston.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

One Writer's World-Building Tools

By Barbra Annino

On my desk I have a notebook, a folder, pens and three books.

On my wall I have a whiteboard scribbled with text and a storyboard pasted with pictures.

Why?

Because I’m beginning a new series filled with brand new concepts, characters and storylines. In essence, I’m building a world and these are my tools.

World building is one of the most exciting aspects of the writing process. You get to research, brainstorm and basically make stuff up. What’s not to love?

So let me breakdown how I use these tools and why they are necessary.

The notebook is the bible for my series. This is where I jot down ideas, research notes, dialogue snippets, plot points, character sketches and anything else that hits me along the way. Eventually, most of the stuff from the notebook gets recorded into my writer’s word processing program. I use WriteWay, but Word and Excel work great too. I use the same notebook for the entire series.

Next is the folder. It's a different color for each book. The folder holds news clippings I may find interesting that tie into the theme, internet research, loose paper with notes I made when I didn’t have my notebook, photos, sketches and anything else I stumble across that rings of my story.

Pens and post-its are what I use to mark pages in research books I buy or borrow. The research books help tremendously when building a fictional world, even in the paranormal, sci-fi, or fantasy genres.

There are at least 20 authors I can think of off the top of my head who write about vampires and most of them differ greatly, but they all know the myths of the traditional vampire stories. That doesn’t mean they adhere to them, but they know what they are -- and if the garlic, sunlight and stake issues are ignored, you bet readers notice. Not to mention Fae, witches and weres. Real research comes in handy even in the mythical genres. In fact, employing lore makes for a more realistic storyline. A truer fantasyland.

To the whiteboard goes the brainstorming ideas. The 'what ifs?' of the plotlines. And the ‘rules’ of the world. What do I mean by that? Here’s an example:

Sookie Stackhouse can mind-read. But only if she’s in the room with the person. And only if the person is human.

These are rules. You can’t have a character who is all-powerful or all-knowing or the story wouldn’t be much fun to read. So even if you have a demon hunter, a werewolf, a sprite, a medium, or a ghost in your story, there must be restrictions to their capabilities. Figure out what they are, then figure out ways around them and be consistent throughout the story. If that sprite only has a 20 year life-span, he'd better be dead by book three.

Last, the storyboard. This is fun. I get a poster board and clip images from magazines or websites that pertain to the story and glue them on. Right now, the board has photos of my protagonist, my villains, the setting and a map. It’s a great way to visualize the story before you start writing. It also helps if you’ve been away from the work for a while, to guide you back to it.

So there you have it. How do you plan a new novel?






Top photo: Tobacco & Mule Exchange in Apex, NC. Photo by Heather.
Bottom photo: Fernandina, FL. Photo by Kathie Felix.


Barbra Annino is the author of Opal Fire, a Stacy Justice gemstone mystery. A Chicago native, she freelances for a variety of publications, writing about health, food and travel.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Small Town Settings, Part 2 of 2 Parts

Sandra Parshall

[originally published at www.poesdeadlydaughters.blogspot.com]

In these days when many people don’t even know their next door neighbors, there’s a certain nostalgia in reading about residents of a community going through a crisis together. The impact of murder in a small town creates an immediacy that is often missing in big city settings.

“It’s a place where everyone knows your name, knows what you’re up to -- and talks about it,” Lorna Barrett says of her village of Stoneham. “When something like a murder happens, the citizens take it personally, whereas murder in an urban area is just a fact of life.”

To emphasize the unique qualities of a small community, many mystery protagonists are outsiders -- either newcomers to the area or natives returning after a long absence. Some series, such as Julia Spencer-Fleming’s, have both. These characters can view a place with fresh eyes and provide perspective for the reader.

Setting a story in a small community can allow the writer to focus more on human relationships and less on technical details. If the police force is small, the investigating officer is likely to know both victim and suspects and may be caught in the emotional crossfire. If there’s no forensics lab on site and evidence has to be sent elsewhere for testing, developments can be driven by personal revelations before the lab’s report comes in.

Cozies may come to mind first when we think of crime novels set in small places, but authors like Julia Spencer-Fleming, Margaret Macon, and Nancy Pickard, whose traditional mysteries have more of an edge, also mine the riches of communities where both loyalties and enmities have deep roots.

Then there are the small towns where no reader in her right mind would want to visit, much less settle down. Karin Slaughter’s dark, violent Grant County series, which has a police chief and a medical examiner as protagonists, uses a fictional Georgia setting far from the bustle of Atlanta. Gillian Flynn’s brilliant and disturbing debut, Sharp Objects, takes place in a hellish little town called Wind Gap, Missouri.

Val McDermid’s modern gothic masterpiece, A Place of Execution, is set in a tiny English community so isolated that it might be a medieval village in the thrall of a devilish overlord. McDermid’s chilling tale of twisted desire, decades-long conspiracies, and shocking secrets brings to mind Sherlock Holmes’s observation in Copper Beeches: "The lowest and vilest alleys of London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside."

For all its creative possibilities, the small community setting does pose challenges for the mystery writer, especially in a series. “Anyone new to town will be automatically suspected,” Mary Ellen Hughes notes. “Plus, we can't have the town population shrinking as the series goes on and murders continue, can we? Or have the town looking like too dangerous a place to live in? That's the tricky path the author of a small-town mystery has to navigate.”

The author won’t be alone on that path. She’ll have plenty of readers eager to keep her company.




Top photo: Miss Tula's house in Apex, NC. Photo by Molly Weston.
Bottom photo: Koi pond in Kernersville, NC. Photo by Erin Weston.


Sandra Parshall is the author of the award-winning Rachel Goddard mysteries; the most recent title in the series is Broken Places. Sandra also serves on the SinC/national board as Chapter Liaison.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Small Town Settings, Part 1 of 2 Parts

By Sandra Parshall


[Originally published at www.poesdeadlydaughters.blogspot.com]

Agatha Christie didn’t have a lot in common with Grace Metalious of Peyton Place fame, but both ladies understood one thing well: the placid surface of a small community can hide some wickedly entertaining secrets. Christie ensured her own immortality by adding murder to this eternally intriguing milieu.

We may joke about Cabot Cove syndrome – an astronomically high murder rate in a tiny community such as Jessica Fletcher’s home in the Murder, She Wrote series – but readers are more than willing to suspend disbelief in exchange for likable characters, an appealing setting, and lots of juicy small town secrets.

“If I had to choose a favorite sub-category in the mystery field, it would have to be small town mysteries,” DorothyL regular Kaye Barley told me. “I get completely caught up in the intricacies, entanglements, and complexities that exist under the surface in simple, small town living. And if it happens to be a small town in the south -- oh my, that can only ratchet things up. I'm a complete push-over for eccentric southern characters found in small town mystery novels.”

The village has always been a favored site for British mysteries, and M.C. Beaton and others continue that tradition, but U.S. and Canadian cozy writers are probably more successful at making readers fall in love with their settings. From coast to coast, North America is dotted with tiny fictional communities so charming that readers long to set up residence despite the crime rate. “If I thought for one minute that this place really existed,” a reviewer wrote of Louise Penny’s Three Pines, Quebec, “I’d be packing the car.”

Most small towns in mysteries are invented, but writers inevitably draw on their fond memories of actual places.

"I've set the Orchard Mysteries in a small town that is based on a real one I know,” Sheila Connolly says, “although I take liberties with some details like where the highway is. Using this place helps me visualize the story, but I chose it primarily because it is a classic New England town (a town green, big white church, old houses), and the town itself plays a major ongoing role in the books. Now I'm having fun populating the place, a few characters at a time. This parallels my newcomer heroine's process of getting acquainted with her neighbors. So far I haven't created any evil residents--in fact, the ‘real’ police chief wrote me to say he was flattered by my depiction."

Lorna Barrett, who writes the Booktown Mysteries, has also consciously created a setting that readers will find welcoming and soothing, even in the middle of a murder investigation. “My little village of Stoneham is like a character itself,” Lorna says. “From its brick storefronts to its little park with gazebo, it’s a throwback to better times.”

The physical charm of the place is only one plus for writers and readers, though.

“The benefits of a small town setting are bountiful for a cozy-style mystery,” says Mary Ellen Hughes, author of the Craft Corner series. “The suspects are, for one thing, right there, conveniently available to be questioned or watched. Then, your on-going characters get to be familiar and (hopefully) enjoyed, which can bring interested readers back for updates on their lives.”

Denise Swanson, author of the Scumble River series set in Illinois and featuring school psychologist Skye Denison, loves to explore what lies beneath the pretty surface.

“In most small towns there is a tacit agreement to live as an insular society,” Denise says. “Vital components of this agreement are the secrets, assumptions, and shared background knowledge of the citizens. The interrelationships are more intense, because often entire extended families live within the town's boundaries. For story telling, this setting provides both the mystery and the solution. There is a golden opportunity for a story within a story plot, and the public versus the private details are an ideal way for the amateur sleuth to be a credible part of the investigation.”

To be continued....


Top photo: Debnam garden in Apex, NC by Molly Weston.
Bottom photo: Downtown Purcellville, VA by Kathie Felix.

Sandra Parshall is the author of the award-winning Rachel Goddard mysteries; the most recent title in the series is Broken Places. Sandra also serves on the SinC/national board as Chapter Liaison.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Shameless Plug for "Shameless Promotion for Brazen Hussies"

By Roberta Isleib

Everyone knows that the days of typing “The End” on the last page of a manuscript and then turning it over for the publisher to sell are over. Every author is expected to participate in promotion. But what kind of promotion? And how much time and money should a writer spend? What do the publishers expect? How can a writer promote herself without appearing overbearing or unprofessional? And what works best in a business that’s changing so quickly even the publishers’ minds are boggled?

Luckily for all of us, the newly revised version of Sisters in Crime's Shameless Promotion for Brazen Hussies is being released today. In its pages, 28 talented, generous, and multi-published women share their expertise and experiences on the subject of book promotion. The material covers book tours, bookstore visits, library events, blogs, group blogs, blog tours, television, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, website development, e-book marketing, and more. You’ll find a little of everything here. If one kind of promotion doesn’t suit your personality or your budget, another should.

In addition to these essays, SinC president Cathy Pickens talks about the 2010 Publishers Summit and offers tips for using the technology tools discovered on that trip. And Triss Stein reviews the results of the SinC/Bowker Pubtrack survey on mystery readers’ buying habits, "The Mystery Book Consumer in the Digital Age," which was commissioned by the Sisters in Crime Board of Directors in 2010.

Thanks to all of the SinC members who contributed their experience and ideas, and to Marcia Talley, immediate past president of Sisters in Crime, who managed the formatting and publishing.

The book is available at this time to SinC members only in two editions, trade paperback ($11.99) and e-book ($1.99). If you are already logged on to the members-only area of the SinC website on this computer, you can order your copy here:

Paperback version
http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/shameless-promotion-for-brazen-hussies/14847372

Ebook
http://www.lulu.com/product/ebook/shameless-promotion-for-brazen-hussies/14848330

You may also order the book by going to sistersincrime.org, clicking on Resources and clicking on Publications. This will lead you to the "Shameless Hussies" order screen.



Clinical psychologist Roberta Isleib, the author of eight mysteries, is a past president of Sisters in Crime. Her newest book, A Taste for Murder (NAL), featuring a Key West food critic, will debut in 2012, written as Lucy Burdette. http://www.robertaisleib.com.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Benefits of a Library Card

By Kathie Felix

I heard a story this week about the unexpected power of a library card.

During a fierce winter storm in northern Virginia, a library patron found herself locked out of her car after the library closed. She was offered a ride home to pick up a second set of keys, as well as a return ride to her car.

A month later, she received a phone call that her keys were being held for her at a library -- but not at the library where her car had been parked.

The call gave her two mysteries to solve. The first was resolved rapidly. The library was able to locate her because of the library card tag on her key chain.

The second mystery was a bit tougher. Eventually, it was discovered that the local snow plow patrol had moved mountains of snow around town. Her keys were found in a gutter in front of a church. The library card tag led to the return of the keys to the nearest library.

Do you have a library card on your key ring?

And do you have any stories about the power of a library card?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Representing Gender: The Vida Count

By Kathie Felix

Sisters in Crime has been joined in the review-counting trenches by Vida, an organization of women in the literary arts. The group was founded in 2009 “to address the need for female writers of literature to engage in conversation regarding the critical reception of women's creative writing in our current culture.”

Vida’s 2010 review census was released at the beginning of February. Titled “The Count,” the study examines a group of publications in terms of their overall representation of women and men and a count by gender of book reviewers and reviewed authors.

The publications in the Vida project included The Atlantic, Boston Review, Granta, Harper’s Magazine, London Review of Books, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Poetry, The Threepenny Review, The Times Literary Supplement and Tin House.

As might be expected, the news wasn’t good for women – as authors or as reviewers.


The New York Review of Books was home to the most unsettling statistics. In terms of overall coverage for 2010, the numbers revealed 79 women and 462 men. In terms of reviewers, 39 were women and 200 were men. The count of reviewed authors was 59 women and 306 men.

The New York Times Book Review offered better numbers, with 295 women and 438 men reviewing books in 2010. The number of reviewed authors included 283 women and 524 men.


One publication, The Atlantic, actually reviewed
more women writers than men. The count there was 19 women and 13 men. Overall, however, the magazine featured writing by 55 women and 154 men.

In the discussion following the release of The Count, many factors have been mentioned as possible considerations for the disparities, among them the number of published books written by women vs. the number written by men and the availability or aggressiveness of men vs. women in seeking editorial assignments.

Whatever the reason or reasons, the bottom line for many may be tied to U.S. Census figures that indicate that, as of Oct. 1, 2009, there were 155.8 million females and 151.8 males in the United States.

For others, the discussion goes much deeper than equal representation for statistical purposes. A world of unspoken expectation is shared with every generation when a spotlight shines on only one gender.

There are a variety of ways to deal with a disproportionate gender representation in the media. Studies like the SinC review project and Vida’s count can help bring awareness to the issue.

It’s also important to remember that sometimes advertiser-supported media can clearly hear the voices of its advertisers, even when it’s having trouble remembering who makes up more than half of the country’s population.

SinC board member Barbara Fister weighed in on the conversation with a comment on the Vida website following the release of the study: “Sisters in Crime, an organization founded 25 years ago to support equality for women writers in the crime fiction genre, has been tracking reviews of mysteries in the press for years. This is sadly nothing new nor something that book review editors have ever taken very seriously.”

It may be time to start thinking about an information campaign directed to targeted advertisers.

A closer look at the Vida study can be found online here.

What do you think?



Kathie Felix is the managing editor of the SinC blog. Previously, she spent 12 years as the managing editor of a technology magazine published for the education market. In an intentional match to reader demographics, the majority of the product reviewers she hired – and published – were women.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Starting a SinC Chapter: Central Virginia

By Meredith Cole

About four months after I moved back to Virginia from New York, I spoke on a mystery panel in Richmond with Emyl Jenkins, Donna Andrews and Andy Straka. It was so much fun to be with mystery writers again! I had not attended a Sisters in Crime or Mystery Writers of America meeting since moving south. It was difficult for me to get from Charlottesville, Va. to Washington, D.C. on a regular basis (2 ½ hours away), where the nearest chapters were located.

At the end of the presentation, a retired librarian, Nancy Newins, came up to the stage. “Why isn’t there a Sisters in Crime central Virginia chapter?” she asked. I didn’t have a good answer, but it sounded like a good idea to start one. I missed having a community of other writers, and I knew there were many mystery writers and readers in central Virginia.

Nancy and I started to plan an exploratory meeting in April 2010 to see if there was enough interest in the area. I pitched it at the Virginia Festival of the Book (before a panel I moderated) and talked it up to all the aspiring and published mystery writers I met. We sent notices to the Sisters in Crime/Chesapeake chapter, the Mystery Writers of America Mid-Atlantic chapter and to James River Writers. We eventually assembled a group of interested people at the Tuckahoe Public Library.

At our first meeting, in April 2010, we collected email addresses and explained the history and mission of Sisters in Crime to the group. No one there was currently a member of SinC/national. There were a quite a few pre-published writers attending who wanted a critique group. Mary Theobold organized one with the interested writers and they began to meet regularly at the library. I was asked to be president at the meeting and Nancy Newins volunteered to be the secretary until we held elections. We were off and running.

Nancy created a Google group to share announcements and information, and organized a programming committee with Heather Weidner. Our first event was a trip to the Department of Forensic Science in Richmond in July. I couldn’t attend, but the nine members who did said it was a fascinating field trip.

In September, author Ellen Byerrum and I gave a presentation at the Tuckahoe library on writing a series. In November, Dr. Evan Nelson gave a talk about his job as a forensic psychologist on many high profile cases. All of our events have been well attended and enthusiasm for the chapter has been growing. I’ve been impressed by the energy and great ideas.

At our November meeting, we voted on our bylaws (we were able to borrow a template from other chapters, and then a committee hammered out the finer points) and plan to hold our first election and collect dues in February.

We’re about to become an official chapter. Our new plans include creating a website, planning more events in 2011 and finding more ways to spread the word locally about our events.

In February, author Donna Andrews will be speaking to our chapter; we have a workshop with Chris Roerden scheduled for April.

It’s been exciting and rewarding to introduce local mystery lovers and writers to Sisters in Crime. I’m delighted to now have a group that’s closer to my home. Starting a chapter has not been easy, and it would never have happened without the dedicated volunteers and writers in my area with a desire to see it happen.

[Editor's note: The hard work of the members of the Central Virginia chapter-to-be has encouraged some D.C. area members of the SinC/Chesapeake chapter to think about traveling to central Virginia on a regular basis to attend the new chapter's meetings.]


Photo of the Richmond, Va. skyline, courtesy of the Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Photo of Meredith Cole (left) and Ellen Byerrum (right) at the Tuckahoe library, courtesy of E. Byerrum.

Meredith Cole is the author of Posed for Murder and Dead in the Water. She teaches writing at the University of Virginia. Her website is www.culturecurrent.com/cole.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Love is Murder - and a Whole Lot More!

By Barbra Annino

In my opinion, the Chicago Love is Murder conference is the best bang for your buck for any mystery conference around. This was my third time attending and I have to say it gets better every year. Here’s a brief run-down of some of the panel discussions, the behind-the-scenes takes you won’t get on a roster, and those ‘you just had to be there moments’ as Tweeted and Facebooked by attendees.

Registration and Meet and Greet

Hard-working volunteers spend lots of time putting this stuff together. You get a nice big book bag filled with different goodies every year. This year, it was lots of bookmarks, Mystery Scene Magazine, a packet of seeds and the booklet that explains the conference activities, times and locations. Then you pop in on a panel, wander around, shake hands, introduce yourself, grab a drink and chit chat until dinner.

The Facebook post that sum it up by screenwriter for House/author, James Strauss:

Love is Murder. The biggest day of the convention. Lots of Jon Land, Joe Finder, and F Paul Wilson. It is great fun to hang out with such notable writers. Here, at this convention in Rosemont, Illinois, they are available and will discuss almost any topic you might bring up. Plus they will autograph your books (for free, not like actors from hit television series!) Get to the Intercontinental and get some culture.

Panel Discussions

"Love, Sex & Death – Why We Can't Look Away… Or Stop Reading!" (with panelists Sherrill Bodine, Laura Caldwell, Patricia Rosemoor, Tom Schreck (M), J. L. Wilson)

The tweet that sums it up by agent Barbara Poelle:.

@schrecktom just said,” Do you have to be in the mood to write a sex scene or do you just bang it out?" the crowd went wild - he's crimson.

A big focus this year was on e-publishing. The panel, "Get E Life! Publishers Share Tips on Accessing the Brave New World of E-Books," (Robert Brown, Rebecca Crowley, Angela James, Morgan Mandel, Sharene Martin-Brown, Marja McGraw, Terri Stone (M), Karen Syed) provided a fascinating discussion on how authors can and should take advantage of this medium. Larger-than-life e-book advocate J.A. Konrath opened a lot of eyes to the fast-moving world of electronic media and self-publishing. (For those who don’t follow his blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, the summary is that readers have become the gatekeepers, the consciousness of the book industry - and not only will they decide what they read, but how they will read it and at what price.)

There were Pitch-a-Palooza sessions where authors make appointments to pitch to editors and agents, master classes taught by Carolyn Haines and Joan Johnston, expert forensics panels, and publishers and agents dishing on what they want in a manuscript.

Fun Stuff

The hilarious quiz show is probably my favorite part. Veteran authors with more books to their name than I have teeth in my head sit side-by-side on a stage and are asked by Joe Konrath to identify their own passages. Of course they rarely get it right, which results in good-natured jabs and jokes that even the audience members participate in.

You might also catch a glimpse of several authors, with drinks in their hands, harmonizing in the lobby after the bar closes.

The tweet that sums it up by Marcus Sakey:

Award-winning novelist Bryan Gruley won't stop serenading me with Mac Davis's "You're Having My Baby."

Lovey Award Winners, Part One.
Best First Novel: Hal Ackerman for Stein, Stoned.
Best Traditional/Amateur Sleuth Novel: Julie Hyzy for Grace Under Pressure.
Best Historical: Tasha Alexander for Dangerous to Know.
Best Series: Rhys Bowen for the Royal Spyness series.
Best Romantic Suspense: Laura Caldwell for Red, White, and Dead.
Best Thriller: Jamie Freveletti for Running Dark.
Best PI/Police Procedural: Michael Black for Hostile Takeovers.
Best Short Story: Carolyn Haines for "The Sugar Cure" in Delta Blues.

Rhys Bowen's tweet on the whole experience:

Love is Murder was great! And I won the Lovey award for best mystery series. Going home happy!

Hope to see you there in 2012!


Barbra Annino is the author of Opal Fire, a Stacy Justice gemstone mystery. A Chicago native, she freelances for a variety of publications, writing about health, food and travel.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Day at Digital Book World, Part 2 of 2 Parts

By Rosemary Harris


The Role of Publishers

Get books on shelves, paying up front (advances) royalties, publicize and market books, but they have to prove they're worth it. Some panelists said new and midlist authors will eventually question the necessity of traditional publishers as the intermediary between themselves and readers. (Bestselling authors will probably not, since they are the ones getting big advances which will most likely never earn out.)

Publishers doubt whether most authors will want to do all the work necessary to be self-pubbed. A Random House spokesperson (and others) believe publishers are the curators of content and will continue to be essential.

Print publishers are not going away for the foreseeable future.

Marketing

The publishers who spoke pointed to marketing success stories, but the examples were either already bestselling authors (James Patterson, Lee Child), juvenile titles or non-fiction.

With the exception of Harlequin romance, there were no genre fiction examples. In that instance, the brand was bigger than any individual author and had been for so many years that it was virtually impossible to point to any specific activity on the part of the publisher that helped generate sales.

The Dover Publications spokesperson cited examples of frequent outbound marketing to young parents, but cautioned that it was a "privilege" to be allowed to communicate with consumers (I heard this word from a few different panelists), so outbound marketing should be handled carefully to avoid inundating the consumer.

A Harlequin executive and a consultant to National Geographic mentioned cover surveys, premiums and contests as ways to engage readers online. All recommended free content as a way to build and maintain relationships.

Everyone talked about how authors were now required to participate in the marketing of their books through the use of social marketing, Facebook, websites, Twitter and mailing lists -- although all agreed that not everything was right for everyone and it was preferable to do a few things well than to spread oneself too thin.

The S&S and Harlequin reps said their houses gave tutorials and webinars to their authors to guide them in learning how to do these.

All of the panelists referenced direct marketing practices from the 80s and 90s. Not that much has changed, except the way we find the consumer. A 2% response to a mail campaign is still the gold standard.

Amazon

An Amazon VP came, rattled his Kindle and left without taking any questions. Basically, it's the company's goal to have every book in every language available to anyone within 60 seconds. He repeated anecdata on who wants e-readers -- specifically the Kindle, of course -- and why they are the way of the future.

He cited increased backlist sales when a new release was digitized and available on Kindle (this is also true in print.) He suggested out-of-print titles could have a new life on Kindle.

Most interesting, he talked about Kindle Singles, works from 5,000-30,000 words which Amazon is marketing/planning to market from $.99-$4.99. There is/will be a dedicated store for these on Amazon and Kindle.

He talked about Print-on-Demand, which he thought made sense for titles that were either out of print, temporarily out of stock or for those titles that were smaller (i.e., niche) and not likely to sell more than 2,000 copies.

He reiterated that price is key and again mentioned (it's been cited elsewhere by Amazon execs) the stat that a $2 increase in price can result in a 40% drop in sales.

The Future

Some speculated that by 2015 e-books would represent 50% of all books sales. The recent firings of buyers at B&N were used to illustrate this point. Others qualified that by saying yes, but only for certain subjects, genres, etc.



Rosemary Harris is the Anthony and Agatha Award-nominated author of the Dirty Business mystery series. The most recent title in the series, Slug Fest (available April 2011), is set at a Northeast flower show where more than just the plants are dying.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Day at Digital Book World, Part 1 of 2 Parts

By Rosemary Harris

The day I spent at Digital Book World (day three of the conference) was approximately 7 1/2 hours of opinions, polls, surveys, charts, predictions and conflicting information. The one thing everyone agreed on was that the existing business model for book publishing was being seriously challenged, both in terms of print versus e-book sales and the sales of print books online. The differences arose in how those challenges would be met, and how fast and who would still be standing when they were.

The day started with a quote worth remembering all day long:

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." --Albert Einstein

Some conventional wisdom at the show:

Hardware

Kindle currently has close to 30% of the e-reader market share, followed by B&N at 15% and Sony at 14%. Other formats make up the balance. B&N's Nook was rated highest in consumer satisfaction.

Use of MFDs (multi-functional) devices, i.e., iPads, phones, tablets and other devices was growing. Experts believe that MFD growth will continue and fewer people will be reading books on their home computers.

Consumers

27% say they buy from indies, statistics say the number is closer to 10%.

The core e-buyer is the same as the core print buyer -- female, suburban, over 40 years old. The power e-buyers (as it sounds) were suburban women, 30-44. Convenience, price and pass-along ability are important to these buyers.

E-buyers are proving to be hybrid - most are not eliminating print purchases.

E-buyers would buy from independent bookstores if pricing were competitive.

Online reviewers are important to e-buyers.

Seeing the book in a brick-and-mortar store first is important.

All surveyed said they read more now that they own an e-reader device.

46% of e-reader/MFD owners say they are inspired to read more print.

Marketplace

50% of all downloads were free books. Anecdata (anecdotal data) says "free" can be a gateway to future purchases. Free is not a business plan, but it can be a marketing plan. Hachette Book Group rep suggested free for a limited time. S&S recommended "open book" - web view only - for freebies.

Word of mouth still spurs print buyers. 47% of purchases at B&N brick-and-mortar stores are impulse buys, versus 26% at Amazon.

Most panelists claimed e-books drove print sales, although it was admitted that the surges in e-book sales (units) did not currently offset the revenue loss to publishers in lost print book sales.

Royalties

The agents and publishers polled did not submit comparable information regarding e-book royalties. More than 1/3 of the agents said they were getting 50% royalties for their authors; the publishers claimed it was 25%.

It was suggested that legacy (which I took to mean pre-existing) contracts, special deals with smaller publishers, ambiguous backlists (questions as to whether or not, or how long publishers would have e-rights, etc.) were most likely responsible for the discrepancy.

Yes, you can get a higher royalty from an e-publisher if there is no print edition of a book. Print pubs can't offer the same deals because of overhead.

--To be continued...


Rosemary Harris is the Anthony and Agatha Award-nominated author of the Dirty Business mystery series. The most recent title in the series, Slug Fest (available April 2011), is set at a Northeast flower show where more than just the plants are dying.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Notes from Digital Book World, Part 3 of 3 Parts

By S. J. Rozan

Session Nine: Sales Department in Transition

Here again, a lot of talk about how publishers are now running two businesses, the traditional one and the e-one, and the rules for each are different and still shaking out.

There was discussion about publishing becoming more nimble and able to produce "drop-in titles," about catalogs and seasons disappearing. It was widely agreed the hard-copy catalog was soon to vanish, and a central online system would replace it. Although the indie booksellers' panel agreed unanimously that sending sales reps is the single most important thing a publisher can do for a bookstore, sales forces are being cut and salespeople who remain are working more by phone and email. On the good news side, technology is helping publishers be more efficient, so stores don't have to carry as much inventory.

(SJR note: Also mentioned in passing on this panel, though it would have been of interest to hear about it in depth on the indie panel, too, is the group of stores which are not bookstores and not affected by the e-market. These are places like Urban Outfitters, where books are sold along with other impulse-purchase items. There's an interesting echo here of the "mission-driven organization" partnering discussed above.)


Session Ten: Author branding

(SJR note: in the interests of full disclosure, the agent on this panel was my agent, Steve Axelrod.)

Points made:

• "Branding," as used here, refers to a commitment from a company to a customer about the nature of the company's product. Authors are the company and our books are the product.

Readers like to feel included in the author's world, like to feel there's a real communication. An author's "brand" can be said to be the nature of the emotional connection between author and reader. To be successful with social media (Facebook, Twitter, one's own website, posts written for other people's websites, etc.) an author's voice must be consistent and her presence can't feel forced. Unless an author invents a genre, what sets one author apart from another is voice. One panelist said voice is like a regional accent: you don't know you have it but everyone else can hear it.

(SJR note: This doesn't mean you can't change your voice from book to book, as the book requires -- think Margaret Atwood -- but the author's online voice must be consistent.)

• All panelists agreed that the days of an author creating a work and handing it off to the publisher are gone. It's now at least as much, and often more, the author who's responsible for publicizing her book. The good news is, social media makes use of strengths writers already have -- the ability to use words well -- to reach readers. One of the panelists called social media "a gift to the shy."

• To the question of whether publishers are/should be focusing resources on creating an online presence for a writer, the panelists agreed the answer was no. This is at least in part because an online presence is author-specific, not book-specific. Because an author can leave a publisher after any given book, it's not cost-effective for a publisher to build an author brand. Publishers will build their own brands. One question from the audience called this new time commitment from authors "indentured servitude." The response was call it what you will, it's necessary, and authors who don't work this system will fail.

• There was a warning sounded about the wide reach and permanent nature of online activity. Talking back to reviewers, etc., is as wrong-headed on line as it would be in a traditional venue, but the informality of the Web makes it an easy trap to fall into.

• In the end, it was agreed, authors who are successful with social media are the ones who

-- understand the available tools;
-- define themselves clearly and consistently; and
-- understand their audience.

How to do the first two is largely up to the writer. About the third, it was suggested that writers communicate with their audiences and see what seems to strike a note with them. Questions, quizzes, conversations; looking at where readers come to your books/blogs/Facebook posts from; seeing which of your blog/Twitter/Facebook posts get the most responses and what the responses are; all these things should help a writer create a "brand" and a loyal readership.


(SJR final notes on Day One: A lot of confusion and scrambling in the industry. Author branding is essential. Know your readers, be real and, at whatever level makes you comfortable, be accessible. It may also be useful to look for a way to use/help out your local indie, if you have one. Self-pubbing is something to keep an eye on. New technologies not developed yet could change the game.)



S.J. Rozan is the award-winning author of 12 novels, including the mystery series featuring private investigators Lydia Chin and Bill Smith. Her most recent work, On the Line, finds Bill in a high-stakes chase to locate the kidnapped Lydia. For more information about S.J., go to www.sjrozan.com.


Photo of S. J. Rozan with the God of Wealth by S.J. Rozan.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Notes from Digital Book World, Part 2 of 3 Parts

By S. J. Rozan

Session Three: Organizer Predictions

Mike Shatzkin of the Idea Logical Co. made some predictions about issues publishers will need to address in the next year or two:

• Sooner or later, brick-and-mortar bookstores will disappear -- the chains sooner, the indies later.

• Publishers have always been dependent on intermediaries to reach their customers. Now the nature of the intermediary is changing. Publishers should not try to sell directly to consumers, but they should have a two-way street going, to reach out to consumers to make their products visible, and to gather names.

• Agents, who traditionally "cureate" before publishers do, will see their roles change mightily in the e-world.

• Ease of e-delivery world-wide will eventually make the concept of foreign sales for English-language books obsolete.


Session Four: Enhanced Content

This was a largely technical talk about multimedia and displaying across multiple platforms. The important fact for the writer is that a new set of standards is about to be released, called "epub3," that will make it much easier to provide content to all e-devices: not only written content, but photos, graphics, video and sound. (SJR note: I give smell about five years...)


Session Five: e-publishing in Europe

The gist of this session was that English-language e-publishing in Europe is a very confusing situation, while translation e-publishing of books written in English is controlled differently in different countries -- both the publishing itself, and the distribution channels. (SJR note: this is an area where an agent is absolutely essential, I think.)


Session Six: Presentation from Google

(SJR Note: This was an irritating mix of platitudes and generalizations. Google claims to see its mission, now that it's in the book business, as "reading unbound." Readers can choose what to read, where to shop, and what e-device to read on. All that was possible before Google, but they've integrated the experience. The two facts writers might want to consider are: one, that Google is "partnering" with independent bookstores -- it's a little unclear what that means right now but it's something to keep an eye on; and two, that their third largest-selling category is "thrillers." Since in the rest of their top 10 there was nothing about mystery or suspense, I think Google lumps crime and mystery all in that category.)

Session Seven: The Future of Brick-and-Mortar Bookstores

This panel of financial analysts was focused on the chain stores, which means largely B&N, with some attention still paid to Borders, and some to Books-a-Million. They raised some interesting questions, while making only one statement: brick-and-mortar bookstores will continue to exist for another two decades, if not longer. They'll exist in changed form, though. Points made:

• The big box was never a good business model for bookstores. Certain business practices exist for bookstores that don't exist for other retailers: discounts, returnability, agency pricing. All function against big boxes.

• Amazon right now is willing to make no profit, even take losses, on ebooks to gain market share. This, among other things, makes the financial future hard to predict for B&N, which sells both hard-copy and ebooks. Amazon does, too, but doesn't devote the huge square footage to the hard-copy books.

• There's a lot of talk about B&N "re-purposing" a chunk of square footage in each store, but for what new or sublet purpose, no one's sure.

• Google is aggressively pursuing local indie bookstores (see more, below) for its own purposes; for whatever reason, though, indies may get an online presence from this that will further cut into B&N's advantage of scale.

• What may be outmoded is the idea of "bookstore." While the selling function will take a back seat to e-commerce, the physical experience of being among books, authors and people who can make informed recommendations might end up being provided by something/someplace else. This might, for example, be an aspect of the industry that publishers take over, as part of the "added value" they bring. (again, see more, below)

• Bottom line: industry analysts are not recommending their clients invest in any of the bookstore chains at this time. (SJR note: given the generally optimistic nature of much of what I'd heard so far, this was a bucket of cold water.)


The above morning sessions were all-conference. In the afternoon -- after a decent box lunch -- I went to three breakout sessions.


Session Eight: The Future of Independent Bookstores

(SJR note: this session had a true-believer quality that made it hard to judge the realistic nature, or lack thereof, of what the speakers were saying.)

Points made:

• Indie bookstores have long been doing direct-to-consumer targeted marketing.

• One viable option for an indie bookstore is to partner with a "mission-driven organization with a constituency." The example on the panel was a bookstore within a museum, which began as a museum giftshop but has grown to be a destination in itself, a store with the added advantage of a connection to the art on the walls.

• Another indie talked about curation and recommendations online, with online ordering and a pick-up-in-store option. This store depends to a certain extent on signed copies, which ebooks just can't provide.

• Mentioned also was the idea of a small-bookstore bank, extending credit to indies. Right now, the burden of bookstores' undercapitalization is borne by publishers in the form of credit and returnability. Small publishers can't afford these, which keeps the very products out of indies that they're best suited to "curating."

• Google, as mentioned above, is aggressively pursuing partnerships with indie bookstores. What this does for the store is provide a channel through which to sell ebooks, to keep customers from "migrating" to Amazon, etc. What it provides to Google is a source of local customers to whom they can then target ads from local businesses.

• All panelists were optimistic -- as some of the publishing execs had also been -- that we might be entering a new golden age of indie bookstores, as ebooks take away the big boxes' cheap-and-quick part of the business, leaving the specialization and curation in the hands of stores educated and nimble enough to do it.

--To be continued...


S.J. Rozan is the award-winning author of 12 novels, including the mystery series featuring private investigators Lydia Chin and Bill Smith. Her most recent work, On the Line, finds Bill in a high-stakes chase to locate the kidnapped Lydia. For more information about S.J., go to www.sjrozan.com.

S.J. Rozan photo by Marion Ettlinger.