Sunday morning, May 5, at Malice Domestic mystery conference in Rockville, MD started early with a breakfast honoring debut authors. We heard about each of their titles and learned about a few new books we might like to add to our TBR pile. Then I attended a panel on Culinary Mysteries with Ginger Bolton, Catherine Bruns, Tina Kashian, Maureen Klovers, Shawn Reilly Simmons and moderated by Cathy Wiley. It was entertaining to hear how they each incorporated food elements into their stories. At the break for lunch, I left the conference so we could meet my husband’s family for the afternoon. It was a long day and we retired early prepared for our flight home in the morning.
There’s quite a difference between a fan conference and a writer’s conference. This one is the former, with panels and sessions geared toward readers. As an author, I get to meet other writers and hear about their work. I don’t go to learn about marketing techniques, forensics, or advanced craft. Networking is the most important goal. That’s why I advise new authors to introduce themselves to people and sit with strangers at meals. You make friends, and next time you attend, you’ll be happy to see some familiar faces.
Saturday at Malice Domestic mystery conference in Rockville, MD began early with the Sisters in Crime Breakfast at 7:30 am on May 4th. This is always a fun event with friends where we hear about what SinC is doing regarding its various programs. It’s a great organization to join for like minds and peer support.
Panels started at 9, but after sitting for a couple of hours, I needed to walk around. So I waited for my own panel at 10 am with the Agatha nominees for Best Nonfiction. Not all our candidates were present, but we had a nice discussion with Jane Cleland, myself, and Jane Ann Turzillo, with Judy Cater as moderator.
More panels followed after lunch. Then it was time to get ready for the formal Agatha Awards banquet. It was fun to dress up for this momentous occasion. Unfortunately, I didn’t win, but Jane Cleland is very deserving of the award. I am happy to be forever an Agatha Award nominee, which is a great honor in itself. I am humbled to think how many friends voted to nominate Writing the Cozy Mystery, and I am grateful for their support. Here are some of us in our fancy outfits:
Malice Domestic mystery conference began on Thursday, May 2, in Rockville, MD. That night, a couple of mystery movies were shown if you signed up in advance. I didn’t attend, preferring to get a good night’s sleep instead after a delicious meal nearby at Del Frisco’s Grille. Here is the dessert shared with my husband:
On Friday morning, May 3, the hospitality lounge and book dealer’s room opened. We could lay out our promo materials in the former and bring our books in on consignment for the latter. Then Malice Go Round speed dating with authors began at 10 am. I’ve done this before, and it’s a frantic session where authors hop from one table to the next offering their tag lines and book blurbs to eager fans. I couldn’t participate this year as an Agatha Awards nominee, so I went to the local Drybar and got my hair done instead. Here I am with my Booklovers Bench crew: Debra H. Goldstein, Cheryl Hollon, Maggie Toussaint and myself.
Panels started that afternoon, and I attended the one with Agatha nominees for Best Historical. This included Victoria Thompson, Edith Maxwell, Sujata Massey, and L.A. Chandlar with Harriette Sackler as moderator. It was interesting to hear about their unique settings. The opening ceremonies followed. Agatha Award nominees were called up front and given these lovely certificates.
Then we were on our own for dinner. Richard and I tried a local Vietnamese restaurant that was satisfactory if nothing else. I skipped the live charity auction that evening to get a good night’s rest. It had been a good day where I’d greeted old friends and met some new people. Here are some of the photos. People included besides me are (1) Nancy G. West (2) Vicki Mejia-Gewe from Fangirl Nation Magazine (3) Diane Vallere (4) Grace Topping and Joan Long.
After lunch on Saturday at Sleuthfest mystery writers conference, I attended a workshop given by Jane R. Wood on Marketing Your Books to Schools. This was a lot more complicated than I would have guessed. Your books must be appropriate for schools, have educational value, and be compatible with the core curriculum. They should reinforce what the teachers are teaching in their classrooms. Also, you should be able to enhance its value with additional educational resources. These might include vocabulary words, discussion questions, student activities such as puzzles and games. Suggest books the students might read that will reinforce their curriculum.
As an author, you should be prepared to discuss revising, editing, sentence structure, the writing process. You should be comfortable speaking to kids and willing to work with the school on payment options. Offer a discount on book sales and make up a purchase order form. Ask if you are allowed to sell books directly to students. If so, print copies of a promotional flyer that they can take home.
To approach a school, contact the media specialist if you don’t know anyone there. Check out the school website for contact info. Send a short email providing information about your school visits and direct them to your website. Offer a complimentary review book. If you are accepted, ask about school expectations for your visit, the length of each presentation, and all the logistics involved.
As I left the room In awe of the preparatory work needed to propose a school visit, I meandered toward the editor/agent appointments. Since I wasn’t needed as an usher, I went upstairs to rest until the evening cocktail party. At Sleuthfest, we always include enough food for dinner, and tonight’s pasta station and passed hot appetizers were no exception. The raffle basket drawing was held at the conclusion.
Sunday Morning, March 17, 2019
I participated on a panel on Independent Publishing this morning along with David Wind and Tara L. Ames. We discussed the importance of a professional product before seguing into book marketing. As David said, about forty percent of a writer’s time is spent on writing, while the remainder is spent on marketing. This critical element applies whether you are traditionally published or indie published. We had lots of material but ran out of time.
Brunch included a talk by esteemed author Les Standiford in the ballroom before the conference ended.
Saturday morning at SleuthFest mystery writers conference, I spoke on a panel about Ending Your Book with Susan Sussman, Cheryl Hollon and myself, moderated by Lynnette Austin. We discussed if we are plotters or pantsers, how we approach the end of our books, how to make it satisfying for the reader, tying up loose ends, what turns us off as readers, and how to ramp up the action in the middle. Also, how do you avoid predictability while remaining true to reader’s expectations? We got some great questions from the audience.
Next, I attended a workshop on Writing Mystery Short Stories with author faculty Elaine Viets. “Think small and think twisted,” was her advice. Avoid having too many characters, lengthy descriptions, background information, and subplots. More than four characters are too many. Your story needs a twist or a surprise at the beginning or at the end. Story length should be 3000 – 7000 words.
What editors are not looking for are spouses who killed each other, a main character who wakes up from a dream, cruise ship murders, and oleander poisoning.
The story should have a singularity of purpose and a type of movement or trajectory. This is likely to be how the characters respond and grow. Put in roadblocks that could derail the story. Lay the groundwork for the plot twist. Its purpose is to reveal character.
Lunch followed with keynote speaker T. Jefferson Parker. FMWA President, Diane A.S. Stuckart, received the coveted Flamingo Award for her service to the chapter.
On Friday morning at SleuthFest mystery writers conference, the editors’ roundtable was held. Guest editors included Anna Michels (Sourcebooks), Chantelle Aimee Osman (Polis Books), Stacey Donovan (Hallmark Publishing), and special guest Neil Nyren. Conference co-chair, Michael L. Joy, moderated. Here is the gist of what I learned. Any errors are due to my misinterpretation.
Sourcebooks has acquired Poisoned Pen Press and its entire backlist. Anna is acquiring for this line. She’s looking for mysteries, thrillers, and suspense. Their books run 75k to 110k words.
Hallmark’s core audience likes print books. These would be sweet and wholesome stories, same as their movies. Mysteries should be a regular series and not a Christmas setting. Character arcs and motivation are important elements in their stories. Their books run 75k to 90k words.
Polis Books is looking for new and unique voices for their Agora imprint.
All of these editors (except Neil) take unagented manuscripts, but they recommend you have one to negotiate a good contract in the author’s favor. Check their websites for submission requirements. Hallmark has open calls for submissions on certain dates.
“You’re buying the writer. You’re not buying the book.” As soon as they buy your book, they’ll want you to be working on the next one.
I cut out of this workshop to see what my friends were saying about being orphaned by their publisher. Diane A.S. Stuckart moderated this panel with Marty Ambrose, Debra H. Goldstein, Alyssa Maxwell, and Dr. Lenore E. Walker. After you pick yourself off the floor from hearing the publisher dropped your series, you recover and reinvent yourself. This could end up being the best thing for your career.
Next I gave my workshop on “How-To Become a Hybrid Author.” I discussed the reasons for going indie, the pros and cons, and the exact steps to take from manuscript preparation to production to marketing. Look for further blogs on this topic here.
Lunch was a sobering talk by E.J. Wagner on the Evolution of Forensic Sciences. It was fascinating to hear how bodies used to be sold to medical schools in merry old England. Table decorations were lovely, and I was happy again to sit with good friends.
I missed the afternoon sessions since I had an hour and a half of volunteer duty as usher for an editor during the pitch appointments. Since I was barely able to walk after my mishap yesterday, I went to rest my foot afterward until the Volunteer Appreciation Party. Free snacks and drinks flowed as we all complimented each other on another great conference.
Dinner followed in the ballroom with the author auction, where famous authors auctioned off an hour phone conversation, or a chapter critique, or a character name.
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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On Sunday morning at SleuthFest mystery writers’ conference, some brave souls pitched their books to all the editors and agents at Flamingo Pitch Tank. Dirk Wyle held his Reader’s Corner where people could read aloud from their works in progress. I went to a panel on “From Crime to Conviction” with Judge Frederic Block, Retired Police Major Doug Giacobbe, former FBI Special Agent Steven K. Brown, and retired Police Captain Lou Ann Williams. Don Bruns moderated.
Brunch included a buffet breakfast while we watched certified hypnotist Glenn Miller demonstrate his skills with a group of audience volunteers. Thereafter, he and forensic guest of honor Dr. Katherine Ramsland discussed “Hypnosis as a Tool for Your Sleuth.”
With all this information overloading our brains, we said goodbye until next year. Save the Date for SleuthFest 2019: March 14 -17 at the Embassy Suites by Hilton in Boca Raton. In the meantime, sign up HERE for monthly meetings of Florida Chapter, Mystery Writers of America.
The Saturday luncheon had Guest of Honor Andrew Gross give his inspirational speech on “Career Transitions: Meeting the Challenge of Change.”
Following the GOH’s talk, our chapter’s winner of the prestigious Flamingo Award was announced. Guess what? It was ME!!!!! I was thrilled and excited to receive this honored service award.
In the afternoon, I heard Dr. Katherine Ramsland, Al Hallonquist, Dirk Wyle, and Richard Wymer discuss the Natalie Wood case and all the conflicting theories about what happened that fateful night.
Next, book reviewer Oline Cogdill interviewed all of the guest authors. Then it was time to party at cocktail hour with a buffet food line and cash bar. We mixed and mingled and relaxed with our friends, both old and new. The FlaMANgo award nominees were announced and the men donned their boas. Bestselling author P.J. Parrish is in these photos along with Joanne Sinchuk and Sue Wilder from Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore. Patrick, our recording expert, is in the middle photo.
You can view more pictures on my Facebook page. Look for the SleuthFest 2018 album.
Friday morning at SleuthFest mystery writers’ conference offered a choice of three workshops. I attended the talk on “Why Marketing Can Sometimes Yield Little to No Results” given by Maryglenn McCombs. See my workshop recap below. After this talk, I gave my own presentation on “Audiobooks with Amazon’s ACX.”
Lunch came next with guest forensic specialist Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D, who spoke to us about serial killers. It was a chilling topic to hear during a meal.
Friday afternoon, we had to choose from four workshop tracks. I went to the talk by Patrick Kendrick, thriller author and Fire Rescue Training Consultant. He spoke on USAR or Urban Search and Rescue as part of the nation’s disaster preparedness. The goal is to train the armed forces in fire-fighting and rescue techniques.
Topics covered include technical rescue skills, site surveys and recon, mass decontamination procedures, personal protective equipment, atmospheric monitoring, and incident command organization. What do we expect in terms of domestic terrorism? CBRNE stands for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosive. Patrick defined each one and made us glad we have people working to keep us safe.
The formal dinner this evening included the Freddie Awards Banquet. The winner in the Mystery category was Laura Brennan for The End of All Things. The winner in the Thriller category was Howard T. Konig for The Serial Killer’s Brother. Our infamous author auction followed until the evening’s conclusion.
You can view more photos on my Facebook page. Look for the SleuthFest 2018 album.