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.
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.
Friday morning was the Sisters in Crime breakfast at Bouchercon World Mystery Convention. This is always a fun event where we learn what SinC is doing and how we can participate. Here I am with friends R.V. Reyes, Rick Wymer, Mary Lou Benvenutto, Harriet Ottenheimer, and Deborah Shlian, among others. Later, I attended a panel on Audiobooks, and it was interesting to hear the viewpoints of the panelists who were authors, narrators, and producers. I wished they’d discussed marketing for indie authors, but it wasn’t a topic brought up. Then there was lunch with Lisa Scottoline who gave an inspiring and witty talk. Seated at my table were Olive Pollak and Suzanne Baginskie. Friday night was the most fun of all. Florida Chapter of MWA held a party for all its members in the area, and we had a great time reconnecting with friends and meeting some new people. The chapter Board did a great job organizing this event. Too many members to mention here, but you can check out our chapter at https://mwaflorida.org/ See all my photos HERE. Coming next: Bouchercon Day 3 Sept. 1 – 18 Booklovers Bench Monthly Giveaway Enter Here to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card at Booklover’s Bench.
I started off at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention speaking on “The Business is Cozy” panel on Thursday morning. Fellow panelists were Cheryl Hollon, R.V. Reyes, and Jane Cleland with Emily Giglierano moderating. We had good attendance and numerous questions during the Q&A session. Earlier I had attended a panel on writing suspense. Don Bruns moderated. Here is a rundown of points learned: · The best suspense comes from character rather than action · The “What’s Next?” question creates suspense. As writers, how do we delay this answer while drawing readers in? · You have to include suspense in the first paragraph of your story. Raise questions for the reader right away. · You draw readers in with your first question. You bring readers back with your last question. · Don’t follow other people’s rules. What works best for them might not apply to you. After lunch, I sat in on “Make ‘Em Laugh – Writing Humor.” The panelists discussed how murder isn’t funny, but characters can be. It’s their quirks and the situations they find themselves in that provide mirth. Of course, schmoozing is the real work at a conference. You go to see and be seen and to make new friends. In these photos, excluding me, from left to right: Cheryl Hollon, Victoria Landis, Rick Wymer, Mary Lou Benvenutto, Marlene Stringer, and Marty Ambrose. See all my photos HERE. Coming Next: Day 2 at Bouchercon Sept. 1 – 18 Booklovers Bench Monthly Giveaway
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.
SleuthFest 2018 began on March 1, 2018 with “Third Degree” Thursday and a full day of writing workshops at this premier mystery writers’ conference held in Boca Raton, Florida. I arrived in time to give my presentation on “Developing a Mystery Series.” It was well attended and attendees asked a lot of good questions. That afternoon, I did my stint at the registration desk while greeting old friends and making new ones. In the middle photo is Steve Brown and Jeffrey Philips. Then to the right is Marty Ambrose with me and Michael L. Joy.
Panelists from earlier that day had a booksigning in front of the on-site bookstore run by Murder on the Beach. We had the chance to buy raffle tickets from the boa ladies. Here I am with James R. Benn and Hallie Ephron.
After a welcome speech by conference co-chairs Michael L. Joy and Victoria Landis, we heard guest publisher Neil Nyren from G.P. Putnam’s Sons give his presentation on “Myths and Truths, Part IV.”
Thursday evening provided an occasion to eat dinner in the lobby for those of us not attending the SleuthFest 101 banquet dinner. A mystery trivia game followed. On the left are Ann Meier, Vincent H. O’Neill, and Susan Brandt. To the right with me are Kell Levendorf and Dr. Chris Jackson.
You can view more photos on my Facebook page. Look for the SleuthFest 2018 album.
ENTER HEREto win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card from Booklover’s Bench.
News From SleuthFest 2015
February 26 – March 1, 2015, Deerfield Beach, FL
James Patterson, Dave Barry, James W. Hall, & Ric Gillespie
Lab & Lock Up Tour Special Pre-Conference Event
Wednesday February 25, 2015
Palm Beach County Detention Center & Crime Lab
Full tour and transportation $45
Sign up Now! Limit 25 People
***An insider’s look at a 2,156 bed high-security correctional facility housing high-risk, federal, & special medical/mental inmates.
***Then visit the Crime Lab, including the Forensic Toxicology, Chemistry, & Biology (DNA) Units, the Firearms & Forensic ID Units (Latent Prints), and the Evidence & Crime Scene support units.
***A chartered bus will take a group of 25 people from the DoubleTree by Hilton in Deerfield Beach
at 1 pm on Wednesday February 25, to the Palm Beach County Detention Center & Crime Lab in West Palm Beach, and return to the DoubleTree by 6 pm.
Available only to registered and paid SleuthFest attendees.
Sign up NOW!
Space is limited to 25 people only.
Email us at SleuthFestinfo@yahoo.com by November 15 to put your name in the hat.
Lucky participants will be notified by November 30.
The last panel of the day at Mystery Writers Key West Fest was on Crime in the Florida Keys. Panelists included Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsey, Key West PD Chief Donie Lee, U.S. Coast Guard Captain (ret.) Jim Filton, true crime writer and journalist Terry Schmida, and Jim Linder from the Joint Interagency Task Force (ret.). Moderator was radio news director Bill Becker.
The report that follows is based on my interpretation of what I heard. Any errors are mine alone.
In the 80’s and 90’s, most crimes involved drug smuggling of cocaine and marijuana via boats. Now it’s alien smuggling. Often the instigators will steal a “go-fast” boat and charge the migrants $10,000 per head to smuggle them ashore. Once a Cuban refugee touches U.S. soil, they can stay. Today there’s also an influx of Miami-based crime such as burglaries and prescription drug abuse plus related crimes by addicts who need to buy their fix. There are more online crimes with credit card fraud and sexual predators.
Another panelist spoke about “amusing” crimes in Key West, such as the case of a cat abduction and custody battle over the animal. “The Keys have crimes that you can’t make up.” But serious crime is rare. It’s normal for law enforcers to greet crooks at the bar. He told more illegal migrant stories. Other crimes might involve animals or a piece of machinery being used in an unexpected manner.
Fantasy Fest is ten days long and about 80,000 people come down to Key West for this event. It’s difficult to police. People have sex in the streets, roam without their clothes on, do stuff here they’d never do at home. For example, there was the airline pilot who stole a pizza car because he was hungry. A bank robber was caught because he gave away $2 bills at a strip bar.
We heard about the ingenious vehicles that migrant smugglers used to cross the water from Cuba, like cars and trucks. When the Coast Guard approached one car plying the waves, the miscreants rolled up the windows so there wasn’t any way to board. The Coast Guard guy opened the gas cap and poured in sugar. When the vehicle stalled, the occupants surrendered.
Then there was the airplane modified with a bed in back for a “Mile High” club. Two customers tried to hijack the airplane to Cuba. A struggle with the pilot ensued, and he ditched in the ocean. You can read about it here: http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=92667 Since the customers didn’t survive and there wasn’t any paper trail, the speaker questioned the truth of the story. Was it for real or a case of insurance fraud?
Then there’s the “Yamaha Drift.” These are people who claim their boat drifted south toward Cuba. They should know the current doesn’t run south.
Crocodile poaching is another crime in the Keys. The Russian mob may also be an influence. The speakers told about the “gray-haired” burglar and the air smuggler who kept a parrot on his shoulder. Certainly the Keys are home to colorful characters.
We heard many more interesting stories from this panel of experts. After the panel concluded, we trooped to a room near the pool bar for a group book signing.
Rather than attend the noir film at Tropic Cinema, my husband and I opted for dinner at La Trattoria, an Italian restaurant with a water view just down the street from the Doubletree Grand Key Resort.