Third Degree Thursday at Sleuthfest found me at the registration desk from 1pm to 3pm. I like this volunteer duty because it allows me to greet everyone coming to claim their badges. This is my home conference where I know lots of people (although it helps that I served as chapter president for two years), plus it’s wonderful to spend time with other writers who’ve become friends. It’s like homecoming week for many of us.
Workshop sessions ran all day, but I used my free time to check into the hotel and unpack in my suite. At 5pm, we attended the welcome talk by conference co-chairs Raquel Reyes and Michael L. Joy followed by a speech by publisher and long-time Sleuthfest friend, Neil Nyren.
I ate dinner in the lobby and hung out with friends, making some new ones in the process. Here I am with my Booklovers Bench pals, Debra H. Goldstein, Cheryl Hollon and Diane A.S. Stuckart.
I didn’t stay up late, wishing to sleep well since my workshop presentation was in the morning. Up in my room, I dropped my heavy digital camera right on my foot that is scheduled for foot surgery in two months. Ouch! So now I lay awake wondering how I’d fit into my dress shoes in the morning.
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Saturday morning at the Florida Writers Association annual conference found me starting off the workshops with a talk on “Book Promotion on a Budget.” Next I attended Penny Sansevieri’s presentation, “Help! My Book Isn’t Selling.”
A buffet lunch followed with barbecue chicken and accompaniments. Awards were given to youth writers. After lunch, I had a booksigning and later a video interview. Then it was time to get ready for the Royal Palm Literary Awards banquet. My family came to support me as a finalist. It was interesting to see the blurbs about each author’s book on big screens as we ate. I didn’t win, so I’ll have to try again next year. I’m still thrilled to have made the finals. On Sunday, I attended a workshop “Bring that Action Scene to Life” by author L.E. Perez. I learned a few tips during her entertaining presentation. Then I checked out and packed up the car to meet our family for lunch. If you want to see all my photos, visit my Facebook Author Page. Please Like the page while you are there. Save Save
This was my first time attending the Florida Writers Association annual conference. The theme was “What A Character.” I didn’t attend the Thursday all-day workshop with bestselling author David Morrell, but I did hear him speak later on. Instead, I checked into the hotel and went to faculty orientation followed by a general welcome for conference attendees. Friday morning, things began in earnest with a breakfast buffet at 7am. Scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, bagels and pastries were on the menu. We sat at genre tables to speak to other writers in our specific categories. Here I am with true crime author Carla Norton. First on the agenda was my talk on “Writing the Cozy Mystery.” I put away my laptop and attended Carla’s workshop on “True Crime – Stranger than Fiction.” Then I wandered through the bookstore organized by Murder on the Beach and the silent auction rooms. Lunch was a bountiful buffet of Italian food. At 2pm, I was on a panel titled “Dredging Up Your Dark Side” moderated by Ken Pelham. Also on this panel were Carla Norton, Doug Dandridge, Micki Browning, and Dan Alatorre. Later that afternoon, I attended a panel on “Effective Book Marketing with POEM” by speaker Keith Ogorek. That evening was a welcome reception with superhero-costumed characters. The picture with a foursome has Carla Norton, Ken Pelham, Vic DiGenti, and literary agent Mark Gottlieb. A sit-down dinner was followed by a keynote address from bestselling author Steve Berry. To view all my photos, visit my Facebook Author Page. Please Like the page while you are there.
Here are notes from some of the workshops I’d attended at Mystery Fest Key West. Any errors are mine due to my misinterpretation. Friday started off with a talk by a representative from the Bomb Squad. The bomb squad in Monroe County gets about thirty calls a year. Lots of them involve old military ordinance like torpedoes and grenades, and about eighty percent are still live. Once a mortar round was dug up in a fellow’s yard and it dated back to 1887. Other finds might include acid bombs, pipe bombs, vehicle bombs, flares, and other old explosives that turn up in people’s backyards. The investigators want to know: What is it? Why is it here? How can we disrupt it? Compressed water will tear the devices apart but won’t set them off. They have to make sure it’s safe while preserving the evidence. When the guys respond, they keep a distance of three hundred feet or more and stay behind a protective barrier. If they have to go in closer to determine if an object is safe they’ll don helmets and flak jackets. Or they’ll send in the Robot. The Robot is used for recon and demolition. It costs approximately $265,000 and can run up to seven miles per hour. It has six cameras, some of them encased, and it can climb stairs as well as go in and out of planes and buses. The Robot can take X-rays and can drag up to 300 pounds. It is remote-controlled at a five mile range. The machine runs on dual motorcycle batteries. Police Myths James O. Born spoke about police myths and how to make our law enforcement officers more realistic in our stories. He distinguished between the uniformed Highway Patrol officers and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that’s more of an investigative agency. He spoke about pay and pensions and how patrol is the main job for a cop. They are taught to shoot in order to stop a suspect, not necessarily to kill. Deadly force would be a last resort. Plainclothes is not the same as undercover which involves deception. I missed some of Lisa Black’s excellent talk on Blood Spatter as I had to prepare for my “Writing the Cozy Mystery” workshop coming next. Then it was time to head over to Hemingway House for an outdoor reception with drinks and appetizers. On Saturday, Randy Rawls moderated a panel on “Where I Get My Ideas” including John H. Cunningham, David Beckwith, Charles Todd, and Paul Sinor. Next came Heather Graham moderating the interesting discussion on “How to Commit a Perfect Murder” with Lisa Black, Rick Ollerman, Robert Coburn, and Siera London. Here’s how: 1. Don’t Get Caught. 2. Is it really a murder if there’s no body? 3. Poisons have worked well throughout history, especially before modern forensics. 4. If there’s trace evidence, you will get caught. There really isn’t a right answer to this question.
Honored Guest Clifford Irving gave the keynote luncheon speech. Here he is with conference chair, Shirrel Rhoades. I skipped the next panel, “It Takes a Crook,” to get ready for Cozy Mysteries and Female Sleuths. I moderated a panel about female sleuths where we touched upon many subjects. One of the main points that came across was that women sleuths are more intuitive and compassionate, and these stories often involve interpersonal relationships or family issues. The evening continued with a special dinner party held at the historical Custom House Museum, which houses displays on the island’s military history. This is always a fun conference in a relaxed atmosphere with fellow authors and fans who are eager to learn about our books. <><><> See all my Florida Keys Photos Here. Click on Photos and then Albums. Enter Here to win a six-book beach reads bundle from Booklover’s Bench authors. Sign up for my Newsletterfor my latest book news, giveaways, bonus content, and events. Free book sampler for new subscribers.
Reinventing Yourselfwith bestselling authorJAYNE ANN KRENTZ .
Jayne had to reinvent herself numerous times, from writing futuristics to contemporaries to historicals. She takes her “core story” and puts it into a marketable setting. Names she’s written under are Jayne Ann Krentz, Amanda Quick, and Jayne Castle.
Jayne Ann Krentz
“Sooner or later, you will have to reinvent yourself.” Jayne offered three rules for writers to heed:
1. Identify your core story: conflicts, relationships, archetypes, and themes that appeal to you as a writer. Keep it fresh over time. Writers who want to survive must be able to adapt.
2. Know the market. Be familiar with subgenres and where your core story fits in.
3. Understand the importance of fictional landscape to readers. Each genre requires a particular landscape with conventions and reader expectations. Adjust your core story to fit that landscape.
I went to a couple of workshops on Digital Publishing. With so many Epubs popping up, writers are cautioned to evaluate them before submitting their work. Look at such things as cover art, frequency of releases, cover copy, and genre. Read a few of their books to see how well they’re edited and if you like them. Be wary of too many releases at once because titles can get lost in the crowd and there won’t be any standout successes. The same goes for your own schedule. Readers can get overwhelmed if you release too many titles in succession. Space them out by at least 8 weeks.
Digital pubs may pick up a series started elsewhere and may be interested in putting your backlist into digital format. The benefits of going with a digital pub instead of doing it on your own?
Established Reader Base
ANGELA JAMES gave a spotlight on Carina Press. She spoke on how to submit to this digital first imprint and what they do in terms of online marketing.
Career Planning in a Changing Environment
Issues important to authors were discussed in this seminar with agents KRISTIN NELSON, STEVE AXELROD, and KAREN SOLEM.
Do we want to release simultaneously in print and in ebook? Do ebooks cannabilize other sales?
Make sure you’re covered if your contract is cancelled arbitrarily (i.e. so you don’t have to pay back your advance)
25% of net versus 25% of retail price—the former is harder to track. Ebook royalty rates are still in a flux. Consider renegotiating your current contracts re ebook royalties.
Classic publishing model strengths are turning into weaknesses
Independent bookstores are in trouble and that will jeopardize hardcover sales
Publishers are trying to control all rights that may come down the road someday
New opportunities for authors are out there. In between print books, you could publish novellas or short stories in digital format. You can bring your own out of print books back to life on the digital platform.
The biggest question is still how to get your work noticed.
Authors are forging direct connections with fans through social networking. The challenge here is balancing the time requirements with writing the next book.
If your career isn’t moving forward, it’s time to diversify. Consider writing a bigger book. Do what you always do but in a different way. If you decide to write in more than one genre, ask yourself if you have time, if you are prolific enough, and if publishing in more than one genre will cannibalize your own sales.
Fight Scenes with popular author Angela Knight was a very useful workshop. I’m not going to repeat what she said here except to say I scribbled notes the entire time. She could have used another hour to complete her presentation and have a Q&A session but what she said was helpful. Some of it was common sense like save your biggest fight scene and worst villain for last. She offered some great ideas which hopefully I can deploy.
I also attended Publisher Booksignings and collected lots of free books signed by the authors. These are great for keeping up with what’s current in a genre. The Carina Press open house with cocktails and snacks was also fun.
Paranormal Romance Author Alyssa Day
Science Fiction Author Ann Aguirre
The RITA and Golden Heart Awards Dinner and Ceremony was Saturday night. Everyone dressed up and excitement was in the air as we prepared to hear who’d won these prestigious awards.
RITA Awards Dinner
Sharon Hartley, Nancy Cohen, Allison Chase
What are those weird purple vegetables on the plate?
The Gathering was Friday night. This was the FF&P (Fantasy, Futuristic, & Paranormal chapter of RWA) Steampunk Ball and Prism Awards with music provided by bestselling science fiction author CATHERINE ASARO. This took place at the Swan Resort, a short walk from the adjacent Dolphin. At the buffet, we had a choice of Roast Beef and Chicken, various salads, poached potatoes, roasted vegetables, and delectable desserts. The room was decorated with style and many of the folks dressed up in period attire. It was fun watching the costume contest and meeting so many new people. This is definitely an event I’d attend again. Kiss of Death chapter also has a chocolate party that’s fun if you belong to that chapter.
Author Lizzie Newell
PRISM Award Winners:
Dark Paranormal: Immortal Danger by Cynthia Eden
Erotica: Secrets in Stone by Radclyff
Fantasy: The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber
Futuristic: Close Encounters by Katherine Allred
Light Paranormal: Secret Life of a Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks and Wild Blue Under by Judi Fennell
Novella: Belong the Night by Cynthia Eden
Time Travel: Viking Heat by Sandra Hill
Congratulations to all! It was a great conference. I met many new friends whom I hope to see again at future events.
The morning’s annual RWA meeting was followed by a keynote luncheon featuring NY Times bestselling author Nora Roberts aka J.D. Robb.
Nora Roberts signs her books
NORA ROBERTS Keynote Luncheon
Nora spoke about how technology changed from when she started writing in the days of typewriters. Writers used to go to the library for research, wrote letters by hand, and made phone calls on land line telephones. RWA started in Houston in the early 1980s, and Nora’s friends from those early days stayed with her throughout life. RWA provides networking and education and is a springboard for publishing.
Even though technology has changed, there are more opportunities in romance today. She talked about how we have to stay in the pool and avoid excuses like it’s too cold or we’re too tired or there are too many people crowding the water. Getting published is “supposed to be hard. Hard is what makes it special.” And regarding the value of RWA, “No one should have to face the hard alone.”
Lunch with Zelda Benjamin (left) and Sandra Madden (right)
Publisher Lou Aronica’s State of the Industry Address at the PAN Retreat
“Slightly down is the new up” in this economy. Only a few bestselling titles sustain the publishing houses, according to veteran publisher Lou Aronica. Sales at the bottom of the list are low, as in dozens of copies sold. It’s very hard to sell a novel today even though many romance programs are fully sustainable. Sales at Amazon are up while Barnes & Noble sales are flat and Borders is having problems. Bookstores are in trouble like the CD music stores. Barnes & Noble realizes their brick-and-mortar stores are in jeopardy because consumers prefer to buy books online. Amazon buyers purchase books they are looking for in particular. The main problem there is that we cannot duplicate the bookstore browsing experience. There’s no place for impulse buyers. Amazon tries with their “if you like this book, then you’ll like…” but they mostly recommend bestsellers. Few readers are discovering new fiction online.
E-books are changing everything. Few people estimate the speed of change. It was predicted there would be 11 million ebook readers by the end of 2011 but we’ve already reached this level. 3 million iPads were sold by the end of last month. Before Kindle hit the market at the end of 2007, a few e-reader devices were available but not many people were interested. Now it’s a different story. But with soaring e-book sales, consumers don’t want to spend more than $12.99 on an e-book. This loss in sales revenue concerns publishers and bookstores. Barnes & Noble is making an effort by allowing consumers to read ebooks for free in their stores and to preview books they see on the shelves that way. Booksellers may promote the store as a social site for people to hang out, but if nobody buys print books from them, what then? CD stores went out of business because listeners wanted to buy online. Readers like the price and convenience of buying e-books online. It eliminates the need for manufacturing, distribution, and returns. This means a publisher could potentially make more money by selling an increased number of books for less. However, marketing is critical because the browsing experience is lost. Far more effort has to be put into marketing, plus ebook prices have to rise to return a profit.
Publishing to date has been a business-to-business industry. It goes from publisher to bookseller to consumer. Now, however, there is a business-to-consumer model, a demand market instead of an impulse market. New books go unsold because readers know what they want when they go online. Many publishers don’t have the staff, training, or interest in consumer marketing. So authors have to take charge of marketing their own work. As a writer, you need to find a community of readers specific to your book and market directly to them, but this requires time and money. Social media is a necessity. Book reviews used to drive sales and so did independent booksellers, but this is not the case anymore. Bloggers fill this void. Authors should reach out to bloggers who have a passion for reading. Again, this can be very time consuming.
If no one is printing or distributing the book, why do we need a publisher? Lou offers these reasons:
More niche publishers are yet to come with expertise in locating readers. Connecting to individual readers will rise in importance. Lou foresees a Renaissance and says it’s “a great age to be a writer.”
Nancy Cohen, Allison Chase, Sharon Hartley
Writing in Multiple Subgenres: the Pros and Cons of Branching Out
Panel with authors ANN AGUIRRE, CYNTHIA EDEN, BETH KERY, ELISABETH NAUGHTON, JULIANA STONE, and BETH WILLIAMSON
I sat next to author LAURA BRADFORD who writes romance and mystery. It was nice to meet her. Panelist ANN AGUIRRE said she keeps her work fresh by writing in multiple genres. She takes a week off between books. She wanted to write a science fiction book women could enjoy and that inspired her popular Jax series. She would not want to settle down writing just one genre. CYNTHIA EDEN said she writes very fast and can do a draft in six weeks. The advantage of writing in multiple genres is you can produce as many books as you want although you may need a pseudonym. You can meet reader expectations in a new genre by writing with the same voice. “Don’t be afraid” to try a new genre. The cons of writing multiple genres are:
Fans may not cross over if they’re dedicated genre readers.
Multiple websites and promo may be necessary for pen names and this can get costly.
Fans want you to stay in the genre they like.
It can dilute your brand. You should be clear with your labeling on your website and other sites.
Your publishers may expect you to write two or more books a year.
One author suggests doing double-sided promo items to separate the genres which can save you money. Connecting websites can be a way to attract crossover readers. But heed this caveat: “The only thing worse than not selling is overselling.” In other words, don’t overbook yourself when setting deadlines. Allow time for vacations, edits, page proofs, blog tours, etc. And just because Author X writes 10 pages a day doesn’t mean you have to produce the same. Everyone is different. Do what suits your lifestyle.
Panel with authors KELLEY ARMSTRONG, JEANIENE FROST, TERRI GAREY, COLLEEN GLEASON, JULIANA STONE, and CHERYL WILSON
The panelists discussed the differences between paranormal romance and urban fantasy. Paranormal romance has the happy ever after ending expected in the romance genre along with spin-off sequels, while urban fantasy employs first-person viewpoint and will have the same character recurrent in a series. However, these lines are blurring as some PNRs may have recurring heroines and some UFs may be less gritty. One author defined fantasy as more Tolkien in scope, while PNR involved “things that go bump in the night.” Whatever the subgenre, world building rules must be consistent. We may be seeing more stories based on mythology because this is still a “rich area to mine.”
The panelists spoke about their world building process. One author first defines her forces of conflict, i.e., good versus evil. Then she goes from the macro level down to the micro level starting with government and ending with daily life. What is unique about your world must be essential to your story. What does the culture value the most and what will they do to protect it?
Our last workshop on Thursday finished at 5:30. We headed off for drinks at the bar with our FRW pals: President KRISTIN WALLACE, KATHLEEN PICKERING, ONA BUSTOS, MICHAEL MEESKE, MONA RISK, CAROL STEPHENSON, DEBBIE ANDREWS, and more. Publicist JOAN SCHULHAFER stopped by to say hello. So did CFRW members DARA EDMONSON aka WYNTER DANIELS and CFRW prez LORENA STREETER. Then we all split to find dinner.
More workshop writeups coming over the weekend. Hit the Subscribe button if you want to stay informed about new posts.
Disclaimer: These workshop reports are based on my notes and are subject to my interpretation.
Prize drawing from August commenters at all my blogging sites for a free signed book from my personal backlist collection, your choice of paranormal/futuristic romance or Bad Hair Day mystery.
Are there times when you feel brain dead or too tired to think straight? Never fear, you can still accomplish something by doing a mindless task. Here’s a list of boring jobs to do when you want to be productive without much mental effort.
Organize your Internet Bookmarks or Favorites
Verify that the links are still valid on your Favorites list
Verify that the links are still valid on your website
Update mailing lists and remove bounces and unsubscribes
Transfer files from floppies (if you still have them) onto your hard drive
Back up your files to other media
Clean out and sort files on computer and in office drawers
Erase old messages you don’t need to retain in Email folders
File papers in your To Be Filed stack
Do research for your next scene
Convert your old version word processing files into latest version on your computer
Search for and eliminate duplicate photos and files