Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Market Research

By Bethany Maines

As we have been exploring the question “Who are you like?” this month on the Stiletto Gang, I’ve been exploring what other books in my genres look like.  This is sometimes gratifying on the base level of my fonts are so much better than yours and also sometimes mystifying on the level of why are there so many bared midriffs in contemporary fantasy?  On the topic of midriffs, and purely for example’s sake, I’ll put the cover of Shifting Jock in Love here.  The cover is obviously… uh… fully functional, because I can’t stop staring at the uh… weight lifting bar.  Now that we’ve covered that topic (no, we haven’t covered anything?), let me move on to my point.

Market research, which is what I call shopping and (gently) making fun of book covers over a glass of wine, is important.  It’s hard to review my own book cover submissions if I don’t know what the trends are.  Not that trends should inform every decision, but I like to know how far out of the current I’m swimming. In addition to finding the occasional good idea that I could be copying, I also find really interesting authors.  Research shows that most people buy books based on word of mouth, but in this online age, that can’t ALWAYS be true.  From Facebook to google ads, to the wonders of Amazon, we get a lot of recommendations about authors and books online.  And without a person to ask, readers are stuck trying to answer “so who are they like” question based on the marketing surrounding the book.  But as we all learned in grade school, you can’t always judge a book by it’s cover.

One great resource I’ve found in my wading around the internet is a great website - www.literature-map.com  Simply type in an author you like and it will produce of an animated cloud of similar authors aka a handy new To Be Read list.  And you can click on the question mark in the corner if you want to add authors to the database to improve results.  And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go enjoy a little more market research and a Riesling.

Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, Wild Waters, Tales from the City of Destiny and An Unseen Current.  You can also view the Carrie Mae youtube video or catch up with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Celebrating Kay Kendall at Killer Nashville

Our very own Kay Kendall's work was honored this weekend at Killer Nashville. Her Rainy Day Women won two Silver Falchion awards: (1) best mystery/crime novel, presented by Anne Perry, and (2) best book by an attending author, presented by the conference's founder and organizer, Clay Stafford. Congratulations, Kay, for two well-deserved recognitions to a beautiful person and exquisite author. Let's continue the party with some more cyber-champagne!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Doing the Right Thing

by Linda Rodriguez

Sisters in Crime recently published this important document, Report for Change: The 2016 SinC Publishing Summit Report on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Mystery Community, that I was privileged to be a part of.

I have been so proud of SinC for this work that they initiated themselves without us "diversity" folks having to scream and beat our heads against the wall. And they're immediately putting it into action. See this year's SinC into Great Writing workshop at Bouchercon--all about writing authentically about a diverse world and people (details at the end of this post).

Most of my adult life, I have been one of the few outliers in predominantly white (and often also predominantly male) institutions and organizations--I was the director of a university women's center for decades. I have usually had to be the only voice for diversity at the table, reminding of other cultures and needs, often to patronizing remarks of "There's our Linda with her diversity again." As a writer who came to the mystery field through poetry and literary prose, I was and still am active in AWP, where I have chaired the Indigenous Caucus and am a member of the Latino Caucus and the Disability Caucus and where our fight for any kind of representation or access is often bitter and too often denied.

In the mystery field, although it's almost entirely white, I found the writers and their organizations welcoming and truly open and encouraging to the "Other." Publishing is, of course, another matter.

I can't tell you how delighted I was when the board of SinC came to me and said, "We want to do this study. Will you be one of the people who helps us--and helps us find others and resources about this, as well?" To my knowledge, none of the few of us "diverse" folks in SinC were beating this drum or taking them to task. And now, they're actually beginning to implement their own recommendations from the study. I'm so thrilled to see this happen.

I would hope that everyone who writes, reads, or publishes crime fiction would read The Report for Change and take its recommendations and suggested first steps to heart. At the end of the document is a list of good specific steps that we as crime fiction publishing, Sisters in Crime national, local SinC chapters, and individual writers and readers can take to make a real difference in this important regard.

Now, for that first important step that SinC is taking. If you're planning on attending Bouchercon in NOLA 9/15-18, come a day earlier (Wed., 9/14) and attend SinC Into Great Writing, "Writing Our Differences--Doing Diversity Right," where the fantastic Walter Mosley will keynote and workshops dealing with creating authentic diversity in dialogue, character, plotting, and setting will be taught by Frankie Bailey, Greg Herren, Cindy Brown, and me. At the end of the afternoon, all five of us will gather in a panel with other diverse writers for a freewheeling, wide-ranging Q&A session.

This is a great opportunity, and I'm so grateful to Sisters in Crime for offering it and for doing the work of The Report for Change, to which this workshop is a first response. So come join in! As always, SinC makes this easily affordable--and if you're a college student, there are reduced fees.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Actions Speak Much, Much Louder Than Words

I picked up a new craft book (aren’t all authors addicted to improving their craft?) that has me excited about writing again. Part of my funk over the winter had been that writing seemed yet another job - with a long list of Must Do tasks - and like most of you, I had too many balls in the air already.

I wanted to buckle down and just write the damn book. I actually had people contact me and ask when the next in the Holly Price/ So About series would release—which should make me feel happy rather than pressured. Right?

Anyway, I stumbled over two books titled The 90-Day Novel

Okay then! 90-days! Score! (Is this where I admit it takes me a year to write a novel?)

The first craft book was a disappointment. It contained a very summarized rehash of things we’ve all heard a million times. Set your turning points, make the index cards, park your butt and go.


The other one, by Alan Watt, hit the note I needed to hear. Step back and consider the possibilities, he recommended. What if…? 

What are you afraid of? Your heroine probably has the same fears. Can you work with that? Lots (and lots) of 5 minute writing drills occurred during the first week, but none of it needed to appear directly in the book. I was encouraged to scribble images, scenes, scene-lets, ideas, whatever. No pressure, because nobody was going to read or critique it. It was playing with words, which I hadn’t done in ages. It was diving into what I was passionate about—and how that drives my story. 

And through the process, the dilemma, which is the root perception cause of the problem (which is what your protag thinks she’s trying to solve) evolves. I realized “trust” is the emotion I needed to tap into and now, everything else is falling into place. The conflicts between all my characters really come down to that one, very basic emotion. Trust is crucial for a relationship. All relationships. Relationships between friends, family, lovers.

Trust is what happens when actions speak much, much louder than words. You can’t make someone trust you. From Holly’s perspective, when others’ actions are undermining her trust in them, going with what she believes is the right thing to do will show others she’s trustworthy—and hopefully won’t get her killed. 

I started this craft book adventure in connection with my own 100x100 challenge (a friend who’s 300 days in inspired me). The 100x100 challenge is to write at least 100 words every day for 100 days. Three weeks into in, I’ve filled half a spiral notebook. And the scenes, plot, and subplots are coming into focus. 

How’s your writing going this summer?

Cathy Perkins is currently working on Book Two in the Holly Price/So About series. So About the Money was blessed by readers and booksellers with the Award of Excellence – Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements. 

A spin-off in that series, Malbec Mayhem features one of the secondary characters and is available now.