Monday, June 06, 2011

The fellowship of mystery writers

I've wanted to write mysteries for years, but I felt the way I did before I ever wrote fiction: mysteries were over there, on a different shelf, and I couldn't do them. I made a couple of failed attempts--actually I still think one is pretty good. But I knew I was wandering in the wilderness of my own ignorance. One day Susan Wittig Albert, author of the China Bayles herbalist mysteries and much more, came to talk at TCU. I think we'd crossed paths or were vaguely acquainted, but I was so bold as to ask her advice and she said one meaningful thing to me, "Join Sisters in Crime." I did, and I've been everlastingly grateful ever since. Once I became a member, I soon joined several sub-groups: Agent Quest, for those who were looking for agents; Guppies, the great pond of unpublished writers who are going to be published--many stay in the group after publication because of its warm camaraderie; Senior Sleuths, for those who write about older than average protagonists, something I thought about for a long time; and SmallPressQuest for those who want to abandon the search for an agent and try publishing with small presses.
I cannot begin to tell you all I've learned in the three or four years since, but the biggest thing is that it's not a cut-throat world out there. Mystery writers are in competition to a certain extent, sure, but they are so supportive of each other. They rejoice in triumphs, be they an agency contract, a publishing contract, a good review, or an important blurb. They get out the boas, start kick lines, and throw cyber-champagne parties. And they share a wealth of knowledge about seeking agents, deciding which agent is for you (it takes guts to say no but sometimes it's the best thing to do), the advantages and disadvantages of small press publication, general news of the publishing industry, and sometimes personal triumphs and tragedies. We all literally become sisters. I realize in retrospect what a naif I was in that wilderness of ignorance. I had, for instance, no idea that it was so hard to get an agent, yet now I know of people who've queried 200 or more agents; I've learned about protecting your e-rights and watching royalties paid on e-books as opposed to print (e-books should pay much more).
I've learned a lot about the use of social media--most writers but not all blog; most but not all use Facebook; there's division on the usefullness of Twitter though some swear by it. And I've found sites like Goodreads, Linked In, and too many others to mention. I've learned about retweeting for other authors and adding tags to books on Amazon and checking sales numbers on Amazon and other sites.
The problem with all this, of course, is that it's time-consuming. You eventually get to the point you have to decide which things you're going to do and which you aren't. I get upwards of 200 e-mails a day (I did join Murder Must Advertise and a couple other lists) and I look at each post, no matter how briefly. At this point I only have reprints on Amazon and Smashwords (that's another whole new topic, but Smashwords publishes e-books for almost every platform there is), so I don't check sales number or rankings compulsively; I'm barely active on Twitter and Goodreads, and I've dropped Linked In. But all that networking allows you to make decisions that you think are right for you.
After probably not enough agent queries and negative experiences with a press that kept my manuscript as an exclusive for a year (SinC will tell you that's a no-no) and with an agent who did the same thing, I have signed with Turquoise Morning Press, a small press where the vibes feel right. Probably not as businesslike as many of my sisters in mystery would be but it works for me. I tend to act on impulse (right brain, not left) but I think this will work out just fine. The main thing for me is I don't want the "business" or "busyness" of being a mystery writer to get in the way of writing and the fun of it.
But I have indeed plunged into a whole new world, one I suspect most readers don't dream exists, and I'm enjoying every minute of it.

7 comments:

Theresa Grant said...

It's amazing all the things to learn about this business. Thank goodness for the groups that are willing to lend a hand to newbies.

Cynthia said...

This is a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing. Recently joined SINC and it's been amazing already!

Kaye George said...

I'm very excited to hear more about your experiences with this press! Keep us up to date, Judy. And congratulations!

Bill Crider said...

Glad you've signed with a publisher. Looking forward to your first mystery novel.

Terry Shames said...

Judy, I rarely read blogs--as you said, it's all time-consuming, but I'm glad I read this. It reminds me that writing mysteries is supposed to be a joy, and letting myself be a slave to the "business" side takes some of the joy out. That's not to say business isn't important, but that, as you say, you need to choose what part of the business you concentrate on. Thanks for a great post.

morganalyx said...

Congratulations, Judy! I hope this new press will prove very good for you.

Judy Alter said...

Thanks for your comments. I agree that SinC is an amazing organization and so willing to share with newbies. And I appeciate the good wishes for my next publishing venture. I intend to give it all my in marketing, but then I want to save time to write the next book. Where some of you get the energy for your incredible accomplishments, I'll never know.