Friday, December 14, 2012

Interview with Publisher Kate Stine of Mystery Scene Magazine

Interview by Hank Phillippi Ryan

First Mystery Scene Cover
HPR:  Welcome Kate! And happy 27th anniversary to Mystery Scene! It was founded in 1985, right? That was the same year New Coke was introduced! And the cost of a postage stamp skyrocketed to a shocking 22 cents. How has the magazine survived so brilliantly? What’s the philosophy that keeps you going so successfully?

KS:  I think Mystery Scene has survived for so long simply because it's always been run by fans—whether they were writers like the magazine's founders Ed Gorman and Robert Randisi, publishing types like me, or serious readers like Brian.

In 1985, a lot of the content was focused on markets, trends, and the publishing scene. But Ed and Bob and their vast array of friends always ended up talking about mystery novels, films, and TV shows that they loved. I think this clear love and appreciation of the mystery was very appealing to early subscribers, many of whom weren't writers at all.

Brian Skupin and Kate Stine
When Brian and I took over in 2002, we shifted the editorial focus even further to align with our interests as mystery readers. Our audience is like us: interested in a wide range of story types, TV shows, films, etc. They like to get a "behind the curtain" look at the creative life, but ultimately they're most interested in the writers and their work than in the media industry. 

HPR:  Let me just say—Mystery Scene is gorgeous. It’s smart, it’s current, and it’s ahead of the curve. Obviously you guys know your stuff. How do you and Brian share—or divvy up—the responsibilities?

KS:  Well, thanks! I work full-time on the magazine and edit the features and columns, handle print ad sales, and handle various publisher type tasks.

Brian handles the "What's Happening With…" series, oversees the MS website, and also acts as a sounding board on editorial decisions. But he is also the director of consulting at a very busy IT firm in Manhattan, so his contributions, while essential, are made on a part-time basis.

We've been extremely fortunate to have Senior Editor Teri Duerr working with us for the past six years. She assigns and edits the Mystery Scene Reviews section, creates the monthly e-newsletter, oversees the website content, and handles digital advertising sales.

Stine and Skupin's first issue, 2002
Our art director, Annika Larsson, has been with us since 2002 and is responsible for Mystery Scene's spiffy appearance. She recently relocated to Sweden, so now we're working together over the internet; that and the time difference, makes us surprisingly efficient.

HPR:  You have to recognize trends, understand your readers—and also introduce readers to emerging authors and changes in the industry. Is that—intimidating? Fun? Exciting? And how do you do that?

KS:  Having a group of knowledgeable contributors is key because no one person is going to be able to stay on top of such a wide-ranging genre.

Mystery Scene's review columnists are each quite expert in their field, so they help keep us up to date on trends and emerging authors. Betty Webb covers current small press titles, Jon L. Breen covers nonfiction and reference works, Bill Crider covers short stories, Dick Lochte covers audiobooks, and Lynne Maxwell and Hank Wagner cover mass-market paperback originals. Teri Duerr and I both go through the hardcover novels from large publishers that arrive for review.

Our happy band of feature contributors—Kevin Burton Smith, Oline Cogdill, Michael Mallory, Martin Edwards, Cheryl Solimini, and Ed Gorman, among others—often suggest profiles and articles.

And our readers write us all the time with suggestions and comments. A lot of our readers are librarians, teachers, or booksellers—they're knowledgeable and enthusiastic which is great for us. 

HPR: What would surprise us about how you work?

KS:  What might be surprising is how hands-on it is—this isn't corporate publishing. In a small company, you end up doing a bit of everything—negotiating deals, writing ad copy, doing photo research, designing brochures, lugging books back and forth, etc.

The workload can be overwhelming but for interest and variety, it can't be beat. I really enjoy it. 

HPR:  Were you (and Brian) always mystery fans? Do you remember the first mystery you fell in love with?  Do you have the same taste in books?  Do you still have time to read?

KS: I don't have as much time to read as I'd like, but who does?

Both Brian and I were mystery readers from an early age. My first "grown up" book was Agatha Christie's Murder in the Vicarage given to me by my grandmother. Brian's first magazine subscription was to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. We actually met at a mystery convention, Magna cum Murder, in 1996.

I've always said that most of my incidental knowledge of the world has come from reading mysteries. An author that had a profound effect on my life was Elizabeth Peters / Barbara Michaels. I started reading her novels in my early teens and they very much influenced the woman I grew up to be.

Brian loves intricate, tricky plotting, particularly of the locked room or impossible crime variety. He's quite well-read in the Golden Age area but he also likes contemporary thrillers. We recommend books to each other a lot.

HPR:  I love hearing about conference romances. What happened?

KS: I was on a panel about book reviewing at Magna Cum Murder and Brian was in the audience. Afterward, I walked up and asked if he had seen the conference organizer, Kathryn Kennison. There was no reason to think that he had, but as a single woman my policy was to direct all questions to the tall, good-looking stranger in the crowd first.

HPR: Very wise. And then?

After the convention, he sent me a lovely note and we started an old-fashioned correspondence. (Which was necessary since he had been sent to London for work and I was in New York.) We had our first date at Malice Domestic that spring.

One of my all-time favorite Mystery Scene articles was Twist Phelan’s “Romancing the Con,” an interview with four couples (including me and Brian) who found true love at mystery conventions. Here’s a link: 

Co-Publishers Stine and Skupin celebrate Mystery Scene's 2004 Anthony for best magazine.

HPR: So—what’s up for next year? I hear you have big news!

KS:  We just signed a deal with Barnes & Noble to create an e-reader edition of Mystery Scene which will be available at’s NOOK Digital Newsstand. We hope that will start in February with our Winter Issue #128.

We’re also redesigning our website with more bells and whistles, games, etc. This will launch probably in February or March.

In 2013, I want to concentrate on increasing Mystery Scene’s readership. The more the merrier!

HPR: Thanks, Kate!

Mystery Scene has a special offer for members of Sisters in Crime.  Read about it at

Hank also asked Kate how it felt to take over the reins, er, presses, at Mystery Scene.  Kate replied, "I will always be grateful to Ed for the opportunity he gave us. He's one of the most beloved people in the mystery community for good reason." And then she sent us this wonderfully nostalgic piece she wrote about the very moment it happened.

Kate Stine is the editor-in-chief and co-publisher of Mystery Scene. After years as a book editor, Kate consulted for clients such as The Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine, The Mystery Writers of America, MysteryNet, and Agatha Christie, Ltd. Kate was also editor-in-chief of The Armchair Detective Magazine from 1992-1997.

Mystery Scene Magazine

331 W. 57th Street, Suite 148
New York, NY 10019-3101
t: 212-765-7124 f: 212-202-3540

Website | Twitter Facebook | E-newsletter

Hank Phillippi Ryan is the on-the-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate, winning 28 Emmys for her work. Her first mystery, the best-selling PRIME TIME, won the Agatha for Best First Novel. FACE TIME was a BookSense Notable Book, and AIR TIME and DRIVE TIME were nominated for the AGATHA and ANTHONY Awards. Hank’s short story “On the House” won the AGATHA, ANTHONY and MACAVITY.

Her newest thriller is the best-selling THE OTHER WOMAN. Hank is president of Sisters in Crime and on the national board of Mystery Writers of America. Her website is

Friday, November 16, 2012

So, What's a Gotham Writers Workshop?

Cathy Pickens
by Cathy Pickens

You have heard, haven’t you, that Sisters in Crime offers a tremendous discount to those who want to enroll in the Gotham Writers Workshop Level 1 Mystery Writing class? 

New classes will begin January 8th and February 12th.  With the Sisters in Crime discount, it costs $109.10 for the entire 10-week session. The workshop includes active work on a novel or short stories and two critique sessions on your work.

Why is Sisters in Crime doing this? Let me count the reasons:
  1. Sisters in Crime is committed to promoting professional development among mystery writers.  
  2. Not all our members can attend conferences or writing classes in person.
  3. All writers can use the support and guidance of mentors on the journey, especially when starting out.  Even published and experienced writers need to refresh, be exposed to new ideas, and stretch their abilities.
  4. Gotham has years of experience in delivering first-rate online education for writers.
  5. It’s challenging, fun, and worth the investment of time and money. 

I must admit, when I first signed up for a Gotham Writers Workshop (GWW) class to see how it all worked, I was a little nervous, with all those first-time student jitters. But I found a seamless, easy-to-use online interface, a great instructor, motivated fellow students, and a lot to learn.

To really get the most from the experience, set aside time to work on the assignments. I appreciated the email reminders when new course materials were available. That makes it harder to sit back and do nothing. And that’s why you signed up, right? To participate?

GWW is only one of several professional development opportunities Sisters in Crime subsidizes for its members. Others have included:
  • Writers Police Academy
  • Pre-Bouchercon Mystery Convention workshops with presenters such as award-winning novelist Nancy Pickard, agent Donald Maass, and Marcia Talley’s “Look, Ma, I’ve Been Kindled"
  • Annual Publishers Summit Reports updating different aspects of the publishing business
  • Our publications Breaking and Entering and Shameless Promotion for Brazen Hussies.
For the coming year, past-president Frankie Bailey is already working on the pre-Bouchercon workshop. So save Wednesday, September 18, on your calendar to meet in Albany! And we have other ideas in the works for writers across all levels of experience.

Click links on the website to investigate these offerings. And check out Gotham Writers Workshop.  You’ll be glad you did.  If you do apply for the Sisters in Crime “scholarships,” we look forward to reading about your experience here on the blog!

Cathy Pickens is a former president of Sisters in Crime and author of the award-winning Southern Fried mystery series (St. Martin’s).

Friday, November 2, 2012

Welcome from Our President

Hank Phillippi Ryan
Dear Sisters,

You can see my expression, holding the seal of office. It’s a smile of delight, of honor, of gratitude and sisterhood. It’s a smile of excitement for the future, and working together over the next year.

What a treat to see so many of you at Bouchercon! Walking up to that podium to take the reins of office from our dear Frankie Bailey was such a milestone, and as I said to those in attendance, it truly brought tears my eyes. I thought about walking in the shoes of Sara Paretsky and Margaret Maron and Marcia Talley and Roberta Isleib, and Cathy Pickens, people who are now my dear friends. It filled my heart, and inspired me to get to work.

I remember my first moment of Sisters in Crime. It was at Janet Halpin’s house, in a Massachusetts suburb. I was so nervous, I walked in alone, with no finished manuscript, no idea of how to write a book, not a clue about the publishing industry, and knowing not a soul.

I walked out arm in arm with Hallie Ephron and Kate Flora and with a bag of chocolate, if I remember correctly, I took my first steps in to the joys of Sisters in Crime.

How many of you are taking your first steps? Think of the other people reading this letter right now, they are not strangers, they are sisters. (Except they won’t borrow your clothes or rat you out to Mom).

They are your sisters. Like you and like me, they know what if feels like to have a book in your heart, they know what it feels like to be thrilled at a good idea, or dejected at having a bad one. The terror of writing yourself into a corner, the joy of discovering the answer to your plot problems. Like you and like me, they know what it feels like to have a good idea. And to want to get that down on paper and share it.

How many of you have been around the block a few times? Not writers block, but the crazy whirlwind of publishing? Sisters in Crime is into its 26th year now, and I bet there’s not one of you published authors who think, “Oh, I got this: I’ve never worked, I’m never surprised.” There’s always something new, right?

The pros and the new kids, like me, we’re all taking first steps into the next phases of our careers.
So in the next year, I’m determined to help everyone with their next first steps. Whether it’s the first step into crime fiction, typing “chapter one” or the first step into a second novel, or the first step into a life as a bestselling author. Every day, we’re taking the first steps into the next part of their lives, and I am so excited we’ll be doing that together. Call on me.

I’m here to help. Your sisters are here to help. Education. Instruction. Support. Guidance. Friendship. Sisters in Crime is your resource. I’m happy to (I’m determined to!) make sure my legacy is that each sister and brother progresses and succeeds.

I told those at Bouchercon about hearing Judy Collins a few months ago. She told us her parents planned for her to be a concert pianist, but at age 16, she ran off from Denver, and went to New York to be a folk singer.

“I went to New York,” she told us, “And took all my songs with me.” She paused, then smiled. And said, “Of course, I hadn’t written them yet.”

We all have songs we haven’t written yet. And I can’t wait to hear yours.

With much affection.


Hank Phillippi Ryan is the on-the-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate, winning 28 Emmys for her work. Her first mystery, the best-selling PRIME TIME, won the Agatha for Best First Novel. FACE TIME was a BookSense Notable Book, and AIR TIME and DRIVE TIME were nominated for the AGATHA and ANTHONY Awards. Hank’s short story “On the House” won the AGATHA, ANTHONY and MACAVITY.

Her newest thriller is the best-selling THE OTHER WOMAN. Hank is president of Sisters in Crime and on the national board of Mystery Writers of America. Her website is

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

50 Shades of . . .You

By Nancy Martin

Discoverability is the most pressing issue faced by the book business right now. How can we help readers find our work? In the last two years, social media has grown into our most useful promotion tool.

But how you portray yourself on Facebook (or Pinterest, or Twitter, or whatever social media option you favor) is more than posting cute pet photos and announcing what you ate for lunch. Some suggestions for success:

First, determine what your brand is.
Do you want to be known as the author of serious novels about Asian art? Or are you the writer of witty cozies set in the world of private chefs? Or maybe you want to be known as an expert in a subject like elder abuse or animal rescue. Do you want to be seen as amusing? Or serious? Snarky? Thought-provoking? Make lists of the qualities you’d like to become known for. Be specific. That’s your brand.

Next, decide what your promotional goals are.
Are you in the early stages of building a fan base? Then you’re looking for ways to collect “likes.” Are you trying to sell your upcoming book to your readers? Or are you encouraging readers to try your backlist? The more specific your goal, the easier it will be to choose the right actions to reach that goal.

Third, decide who your demographic is.
What kind of people do you hope to reach? (Don’t say, “Everybody!” That’s unrealistic.) Men? Women? What age? With what interests? The better you can narrow down your demographic (your audience) the more effectively you will be able to find ways to reach them.

Once you’re determined this groundwork, frame everything you do on Facebook in the context of your brand, your goal and your desired audience.
All your posts, comments, and “likes” should reflect to this specific group the sort of person you want to be known as—and the kind of books you write.

For starters, go back and read the last month of your posts. Author Carla Neggers posted pix of Ireland and the White Mountains—locations where her books are set—to continue to build her fan base. Ellery Adams posted delectable photos of homemade pie and desserts so that I no longer have to see her name on her posts to think of Pies and Prejudice, the title of her new mystery. Both are very effective strategies.

Try not to dilute your brand by posting random things that make a mishmash of your private life. Post only what helps your reader understand your brand.

Get yourself a fan page on Facebook.
Fan pages come equipped with many options for reaching your audience. (Even though readers are more likely to see your posts in their newsfeeds, rather than by clicking over to visit your actual page, you should make an attractive header and use the polling and tab features as creatively as you can.

Here’s the Julia Child page created by Random House. Looks pretty, right? And see the tabs?

More important, a fan page provides “insight” information that you can track to learn which efforts reach the most people. Check your “reach” and your “virality” to determine what kind of content best achieves your promotion goals. Edit yourself accordingly.

Don’t know how to set up a fan page? Google is your friend.

Keep a friend page, too, so you have your own newsfeed to interact with and see what the rest of the world is thinking and saying.
You can be edgier, more personal or more political on your friend page, but don’t become an entirely different persona.

Accompany your posts with photos or graphics.
In an era when people swiftly scroll through their newsfeeds, they’re more likely to notice a photo than take time to read a couple of sentences. Your fans are also more likely to share a photo that strikes their fancy (which increases your virality) and their friends are more likely to look at a photo than read what you have to say.

But choose wisely to reflect your brand. For the last several weeks, I’ve been running a kind of campaign I call the 50 Shades of Pink Countdown. (I started on Pinterest first, then found a way to make it work on Facebook, too.) For the 50 days counting down to the release of my new book, No Way to Kill a Lady, I’ve posted pictures of pink dresses in the hope of building some name recognition and interest in the new book.

Dresses fit my brand because my book’s protagonist wears vintage couture. I include amusing and semi-educational photo captions (which people may or may not read) to show my books are witty, yet have some depth, too. I started out with 900 fans at the beginning of the 50 days, but now more than 400,000 people are within my reach (that is, fans and friends of fans)—all because a certain demographic of people enjoy looking at pretty dresses on their newsfeeds and they share with their friends. Every “like” and “share” exposes me to more potential readers.

Frankly, I was surprised by how viral the pink dresses have gone. That virality contributed to my publisher's decision to send my book back to press before its pub date.

Give your readers more you.
That is, write some short stories or novellas to use as promotional tools. Self-pub them or give them away on your website as a special promotion or reward for “liking” or “sharing” you. Short stories can be valuable incentives to reward your fans.

Don’t re-post the same stuff everybody else is sharing.
If you’ve seen one cute cat photo, you’ve seen them all. (Unless you’re writing books about cats, in which case, go to town!) One photo posted over and over becomes invisible—people scroll past it without noticing who posted it. Be uniquely you.

Don’t sell too hard.
If you’re only announcing book releases, reviews, price changes, and public appearances, your audience will get bored and stop looking. Don’t be the obnoxious self-promoter with a bullhorn who only talks about herself. Pink dresses work better than bald-faced announcements.

Respond to your readers.
Engage them in conversation. Make them feel appreciated. Build a community.

Post every day, but not too many times...unless you’re really, really entertaining.
(Eileen Dreyer, if you’re reading this, honey, lemme tell you, you’re my most entertaining friend on Facebook. The other lady who posts the creepy toenail photos? Not so much.)

Re-post items on your publisher’s page for more reach and to encourage their already captured fans to “like” you.

Post good stuff about other writers.
They’ll reciprocate. And fans appreciate hearing about other books they might enjoy.

Buy Facebook ads (they’re not outrageously expensive) that require an action.
Ask readers to “like” you to build your fan base. Or link to bookstores that sell autographed copies or offer the lowest price or provide free shipping. An ad that requires no action is a lost opportunity—and robs you of the resulting info provided by clicks.

You can run sweepstakes and drawings for prizes on Pinterest and your website, but not on Facebook.
You must use an app to run a giveaway promotion on Facebook, and Wildfire is the company to use. I haven’t figured out if readers trust apps enough to download them, though, so that issue is up in the air for me.

Get extra oomph from your posts by buying into Facebook’s “promote” option.
For $5 or $10, Facebook will send your post to more readers. (Hey, did you think Facebook was going to be a charitable endeavor forever?) You don’t need to promote every post, but if you believe one is going to be more appealing than most, spend a few extra bucks to send it on its way.

Stop complaining.
Anger isn’t a good selling tool, and fussing about life’s inconveniences isn't helpful to sales, either. (Remember: Somebody out there has it worse than you do.) Develop your persona with as much care as you developed your writerly voice. Think about the tone and the sensibility you’re conveying before you click on “post.”

Above all, be entertaining.
When using a promotion strategy that focuses on content, you must delight with every post. Demonstrate to your readers how entertaining you can be, and they’ll soon be eager to read your books.

Social media can be a useful tool, but only if you’re smart about the way you present yourself.

What social media efforts have worked for you or someone you know? A high tide floats all boats, so let’s work together to improve the way information about all books can better reach readers.

Nancy Martin is the author of nearly 50 popular fiction novels including the Blackbird Sisters Mysteries, published by Penguin. The 8th book in the series, No Way To Kill a Lady, is due in stores August 7, 2012.

Find Nancy on Facebook:
and on Pinterest:

Friday, May 18, 2012

Maintaining a Good Relationship With Your Editor

By Lourdes Venard

In two previous blog posts, I wrote about the differences between editors, and how to find a good editor.
The next step, after determining what type of editor you want and hiring someone, is to maintain that relationship–and make the most of it. If the two of you are a good fit, this is a relationship that may potentially continue for many years–throughout more books, short stories, magazine articles, websites or blog posts.

The secret of maintaining a long-lasting relationship is like many other working relationships. Communicating clearly and with respect goes a long way. Here are some other tips:

·         Be honest and upfront. Before you hand over the manuscript, make sure the editor knows what you want her to do. Do you want in-depth, substantive editing or just light copy-editing? Will you need her to fact-check information?

·         Get your manuscript in on time. The editor probably has other work, and has scheduled her time accordingly. If you tell her you’ll have your manuscript (or a number of chapters) to her on a set date, try to meet your deadline.

·         Pay on time. For many editors, this is their full-time job and timely payment is critical.

·         Don’t argue over an edit–or, at least, do it politely. If you don’t understand why an editor changed something, ask her. If she misunderstood something in the text, it’s likely that readers also will misunderstand. There may be other reasons for the change. And if you still disagree, well, you have the last word anyway.

·         Don’t expect more beyond the editing services. An editor cannot guarantee you publication, and don’t expect her to have an “in” with agents or publishers, although she may point you to websites and professional directories that are helpful. If you have a good working relationship, though, you may find editors who will go beyond what’s required and send you updates about writing contests, conferences in your area, or other useful advice they come across.

·         Finally, say thank-you. A simple, but often overlooked, step. Editors, working behind the scenes, will always appreciate this. If you’ve really enjoyed the process, you can even volunteer a testimonial or offer to be a reference for the next client.

Lourdes Venard, a Long Island, N.Y., newspaper editor, also freelances and teaches an online copyediting course. She’s edited mystery, science fiction, memoirs and nonfiction. You can find more information on editing and self-publishing at her website at

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Finding–and Hiring–a Freelance Editor

By Lourdes Venard

You’ve finished your novel and now you need an editor. Some writers turn to an English teacher they know or a friend who was always good at spotting errors. But these may not always be the best sources. A professional copy editor has training and years of experience behind her, and will give your novel a far more thorough look.

How do you find this editor, and how do you go about hiring her?

One of the best ways of finding a copy editor is to ask for references from other writers. There’s also a very large pool of talent at the Editorial Freelancers Association ( A posting there will generate dozens and dozens of applicants. Some regions may have their own groups, such as the Bay Area Editors’ Forum in San Francisco (

Now that you have a pool of applicants, the best way to winnow them is to ask them to complete a sample edit (anywhere from six to 12 pages). This is probably the most important step you can take. This will give you an idea of their editing strengths and, just as importantly, their bedside manner. Most editing inherently feels like criticism, and you’ll be reading page after page of this, so make sure you understand (and can stand) an editor’s comments.
A sample edit of this length is also enough to give the editor an idea of how long it will take her to complete the project, and she can base a price estimate on this. You can find common copy-editing rates at, although individual rates vary considerably. Just remember, as in most everything else, you get what you pay for sometimes!

Editors also vary on the way they like to be paid. Some editors ask for a deposit, then a second or even a third payment later on, and a final payment. Other editors will charge you weekly, or as they finish sections of the book. Make sure all this is spelled out in advance in a contract.
Here are other important questions for you to ask:
  • When can you start my project, and how soon can you complete it? Editors often juggle several projects at once, so if you need it soon, make sure you spell that out up front. Be careful, though, of an editor who promises to edit your manuscript much more quickly than the other editors you’ve contacted. Editing, by nature, is a slow, methodical process. Editors who rush or do only one pass will miss things.
  • What is your experience editing books, especially mystery novels (or whatever genre you are writing in)?
  • Do you have at least three references I can contact?
  • What is your editing method? Most editors will edit a manuscript in a Word document, using the "Track Changes" feature. However, I had one author who wanted his manuscript edited on paper and mailed back to him; I complied.
  • How do you prefer to communicate if I have questions? If the editor only wants to communicate via email and you have questions or concerns you want to address in a phone call or in person, this could create problems down the line. 
  • Do you provide a contract or letter of agreement? This protects both you and the editor. The contract should spell out rates, timelines, the length of the manuscript, and the type of editing (substantive versus line editing). It should also give you an “out,” if you feel the editing relationship is not working. Generally, an editor expects to be paid for work done up to that point.
  • Do you provide other services? If you are happy with your editor, the relationship may continue, with the editor reviewing letters to agents/publishers, editing your blog posts or website, etc. Some editors now also prepare manuscripts for publication, although this is not usually considered a part of editing services.
The next step

This is part two of a three-part series on editing. The series concludes on Friday, with a look at maintaining a good relationship with your editor.

About the author
Lourdes Venard, a Long Island, N.Y., newspaper editor, also freelances and teaches an online copyediting course. She’s edited mystery, science fiction, memoirs and nonfiction. You can find more information on editing and self-publishing at her website at

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Reasons You Need an Editor

By Lourdes Venard

We’ve all had the experience of reading a book, being completely immersed, and then, whoosh, we’re thrown out of the story. It can be as simple as a misspelled word or as grievous as a character whose name has suddenly changed.

This is where the editor steps in—or should have stepped in, I should say.

Editors often get a bad rap. Most writers don’t like their words to be changed, trimmed or otherwise played with. Editors are seen as nitpickers, at best; an intrusive presence, at worst. A good editor, though, leaves behind a better story, without having left a footprint behind.

If you are a first-time writer, this experience can be invaluable, as Toby Speed, a Long Island Sisters in Crime member, found. Speed spent 15 years crafting her first novel and another year shopping it around.

“After many revisions and a couple of overhauls, at 101,600 words it was perfect,” she said. “I’d had two groups of beta readers go through it carefully and I incorporated their helpful, detailed comments.”

But Speed’s mystery story was going nowhere until one editor wrote back, explaining the importance of pacing and suggesting a cut of 15,000 to 20,000 words—and, best yet, the editor had shown her how, by editing the first 70 pages. But, at first, this only annoyed Speed.

“She had even deleted my prologue, the best writing in the book!” Speed said. “I walked around grumbling for 24 hours, wondering how I could possibly cut that many words without harming the story."

"Then I read the editor’s version with the tracking turned off. It read really well—in fact, a whole lot better than the original. The story got started right away and moved right along. The first two chapters ended in the right place. I took a deep breath and over the next six weeks, following her example, I shaved nearly 16,000 words from the story and resubmitted it."

"No one else had seen my story as it was—or as it had the potential to become.”

Speed resubmitted her book, and a publishing company is considering it.

Her experience is not uncommon. As a writer, it’s hard to be objective of one’s own work. A fresh set of eyes—an experienced set of eyes—is always helpful.

When searching for an editor, you should be aware that there are three levels of editing--developmental editing, copyediting and proofreading. Some editors will work in all three areas; some editors specialize in only one of them.

Developmental editing (also called substantive editing).

In traditional publishing, this is the first round of editing, and it may reshape your manuscript quite a bit. Not all writers may feel they need this, but if you do, you should expect a developmental editor to look at:
  • Plot structure
  • Character development and voice
  • Story pacing
  • Scene structure
  • Improving the flow of the story, which may mean moving around sentences, paragraphs or even chapters 
  • Point of view and dialogue
  • Gaps in the story
  • Themes and whether your book is appropriate to the genre in which you are writing

Copy editing (or line editing), which includes:
  • Grammar, spelling and word usage
  • Consistency in names, the timeline and other details
  • Consistency in dialogue and point of view narration
  • Glaring factual errors, as well as fictional ones (if you’ve established something as fact in Chapter 1, it should remain the same throughout)
  • Repetitiveness
  • Smooth, clear writing that will be understood by the reader


If you’ve worked with a good copy editor, you are not likely to need this last step. Generally, proofreaders are employed by publishers to read the story in typeset form, to look for any remaining errors in spelling, punctuation, or typesetting. 

The next steps

This is part one of a three-part series on editing. The upcoming blog posts this week will look at questions to ask when hiring freelance editors, what to pay, and what to expect when you work with an editor.

About the author
Lourdes Venard, a Long Island, N.Y., newspaper editor, also freelances and teaches an online copyediting course. She’s edited mystery, science fiction, memoirs and nonfiction. You can find more information on editing and self-publishing at her website,

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Solving Mysteries in the Library

By Susan Van Kirk


Originally published at


Librarians definitely solve mysteries!


I spent April 21, SinC's "Solving Mysteries Day," working as a volunteer at the Warren County Public Library in Monmouth, Illinois. Monmouth is a town of 10,000 in west central Illinois about 20 miles from the Mississippi River. 

Kathy is the saintly woman designated to keep an eye on me. What a patient person! In this photo, were are standing in front of books by authors who are members of Sisters in Crime.

On Saturday, we solved a lot of mysteries -  such as figuring out what is in all the nooks and crannies of the huge old building. Some of the doors in the upstairs are heavy metal and slide open and closed as if we were in a meat packing plant. Very, very old.

Here I am checking out a book for a patron. The library is a hub of activity in this little town. Working here would help you see a huge cross section of the town.

A librarian's job is a lot like teaching. First, you rarely sit down or get a chance to go to the bathroom. Second, you are always answering peoples' questions or trying to find things to help them.

I learned how to check books in and out, how to shelve, download digital books, figure out how to check out a book with a hand-written barcode, and how to make the (*&!!#) wand work to check out books.

Kathy told me of an amazing mystery. The library had some books that were overdue and tried to reach the patron by sending a letter. The letter came back from the post office marked "deceased." Instead of just writing it off, the librarians began asking selected patrons if they had seen this person. (Remember, this is a small town!) 

One of the question-ees had not seen the individual, but a few weeks later she approached the desk and explained that the person they had been seeking was sitting at a computer a few yards away. The librarian was able to confirm the person's name and give him that bad news that he owed money for books. The good news was that he wasn't dead.


This is one of the "nooks and crannies" where "old technology" goes to die. Remember the old card catalog?

I also learned of a guilt letter. Someone who had stolen books years ago and not returned them had an attack of guilt and wrote the library a letter. He wanted to apologize for taking the books and offered to make restitution after quite a few years had gone by. I wondered about the statute of limitations on stolen books.

All in all, it was a great day and I felt like I had done my share to say "thank you" to our library for all they do in supporting local authors, educating people, and providing amazing services. 


Susan Van Kirk, a SinC member author who participated in SinC's "Solving Mysteries Day," is at work on a mystery with ties to historic events that occurred in her Illinois town. The library has been an invaluable source of information for her work. 

Solving Mysteries Day: On Saturday, April 21, SinC member authors volunteered in libraries and bookstores in hometowns from Livermore Falls, Maine, to Honolulu, Hawaii, where they worked as volunteers doing whatever a manager asked of staff members - shelving, bagging, sweeping, assisting patrons, pulling holds, making recommendations, taking out the trash, checking in returned books, and more. The day had two themes: "Librarians Solve Mysteries Every Day" and "Booksellers Solve Mysteries Every Day."

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Solving Mysteries Every Day

Today, Sisters in Crime's "Booksellers and Librarians Solve Mysteries Every Day" event is taking place in libraries and bookstores across the nation, from Livermore Falls, Maine, to Honolulu, Hawaii. 
To support the project, a group of 21 SinC members volunteered to go into bookstores and libraries between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. local time to help those on the front lines of crime fiction - the very important people who help get crime fiction into the hands of interested readers. 
            "In honor of the 25th anniversary of the founding of Sisters in Crime, we are very pleased to be able to thank some of the people who work the hardest on the front lines of publishing by rolling up our sleeves and working beside them," said Frankie Y. Bailey, President of Sisters in Crime.
 The participating authors, bookstores, and libraries include:
          Frankie Y. Bailey, at The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, NY
                      Gail M. Baugniet, at the Maikiki Community Library in Honolulu, HI
                      Charlotte Cohen, at the Santa Ana Public Library in Santa Ana, CA
                      Kathy Lynn Emerson, at the Treat Memorial Library in Livermore Falls, ME
          Barbara Fister, at Once Upon a Crime in Minneapolis, MN
                      Susan Froetschel, at the Takoma Park Neighborhood Library in Washington, DC
                      W.S. Gager at the Jackson District Library in Jackson, MI
                      Kathleen Heady at the Haverford Township Free Library in Havertown, PA
                      Lee Kelly at Barnes & Noble in Marietta, GA
                      Molly MacRae at the Jane Addams Book Shop in Champaign, IL
                      Robin Murphy at the Sharpsburg Library in Sharpsburg, MD
                      Chelle Martin, at the Sadie Pope Dowdell Public Library in South Amboy, NJ
                      Denise Osborne, at the Mid-Continent Public Library, Raytown branch, in Raytown, MO
                      Bernadette Pajer, at the Uppercase Bookshop in Snohomish, WA
                      Karen Pullen, at McIntyre’s Books in Pittsboro, NC    
                      C. L. (Cheryl) Shore, at Bookmamas in Indianapolis, IN
                      Mary Stanton/Claudia Bishop, at Murder on the Beach in Delray Beach, FL
                      Lane Stone, at the Charles E. Beatley, Jr. Central Library in Alexandria, VA
                      Susan Van Kirk, at the Warren County Public Library in Monmouth, IL
                      Kathryn R. Wall, at the Beaufort County Library, Hilton Head branch, in Hilton Head Island,
                      Tina Whittle, at The Golden Bough in Macon, GA 
           “We know that, in their efforts to help readers find the right books at the right time, booksellers and librarians solve countless mysteries every day,” SinC member Jim Huang, the coordinator of the event and a former independent bookstore owner, said. “This is our opportunity to thank them in a tangible way—and to find out what the publishing world is like from their perspective.”
            Onsite reports are coming in throughout the day from SinC member authors working in bookstores and libraries. The information they send will be posted on Twitter, Facebook and blogs throughout the day. 
            SinC has a Facebook page for the event at On Twitter, SinC is using the hashtag #sisterssolve.
            In addition, SinC's more than 3,000 members are gearing up to support the "Solving Mysteries Day" event by going into libraries and bookstores today to personally thank the booksellers and librarians they find working behind the counters and in the stacks. 
            We hope your Saturday errands today will include a stop at a bookstore or library. And, afterward, we hope that you'll let us know how the visit went.