Monday, December 31, 2007

Don’t miss out on Mentor Monday!

Have you ever wished you could talk directly with your favorite mystery authors, or get an agent’s up-to-the-minute report on what editors are looking for, or ask the advice of an expert web site designer? SinC gives you the chance to do all that and more every week through Mentor Monday, a new feature on our national listserv.

Beginning Monday, January 7 with a visit from Margaret Maron, we’ll have an unprecedented lineup of guests who excel in every aspect of the book business. Each guest will be available throughout the day to answer your questions and offer their insight and advice. In addition to Margaret, we’ve already scheduled agent Paige Wheeler, Nancy Pickard, Gary Niebuhr (author of Read ‘Em Their Writes, a guide to running a book discussion group), Margaret Coel, agent Janet Reid, top web designer Maddie James, Eve Sandstrom (aka JoAnna Carl), Susan Wittig Albert, SinC Library Liaisons Doris Ann Norris and Mary Boone, and editor Chris Roerden. Later guests will include Stephen Booth, Julie Smith and many more you will not want to miss.

If you’re a member of SinC but haven’t joined the national listserv, sign up today by sending an e-mail to sistersincrime-subscribe@yahoogroups.com – and please include your full name in the body of the e-mail to speed up verification of your membership so you can be added to the list as quickly as possible. You can opt for a daily digest, but for Mentor Mondays you may want to switch to individual messages for the day so you can join in the conversation. (Changing back and forth via e-mail is easy – just click on the link at the bottom of every digest or message. Contact sparshall@verizon.net if you hit a snag.)

Don’t miss out on Mentor Monday – or the lively, informative discussions among SinC members the rest of the week. Whether you’re a writer or a fan, we hope we’ll be hearing from you on the listserv!

Sandra Parshall
Leslie Budewitz
SinC Listserv Moderators

Monday, December 17, 2007

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

As the end of the year approaches, it seems fitting to both look back over avery busy, productive year for Sisters in Crime, and then to look ahead.Here are just a few of the 2007 highlights:

In March, libraries across the nation celebrated the SinC 20th anniversaryby setting up displays highlighting our authors and our organization. SinCsent out almost 2000 packets which included crime scene tape, posters,bumper stickers and more to help organize the displays.

On April 5, the Detective and Mystery Caucus of the Popular CultureAssociation and American Culture Association presented a special Dove Awardto Sisters in Crime to honor our organization's extensive activities insupport of women crime writers. A crowd including founding mothers SaraParetsky and Kate Mattes packed Kate's Mystery Books to watch the ceremony.

September brought the first Sisters in Crime publishers summit, in whichRochelle Krich, SJ Rozan, Jim Huang, and I visited a number of publishingprofessionals in New York to talk about the publishing business and SinC'srole in it. We plan to meet with another set of professionals late inspring, 2008.

In October, Sisters in Crime wrapped up its twentieth anniversarycelebration with the launch of SISTERS ON THE CASE, an anthology of storiesedited by Sara Paretsky. Signings were held across the country.

Forensics University, the first ever conference devoted to the details offorensics, was held in St. Louis in November. Students raved about thefaculty and the curriculum. The St. Louis chapter did a wonderful job oforganizing the event and threaten to repeat it 2 or 3 years down the road.

And what's ahead? We're very excited about our "Mentor Mondays" project, tobe launched in January, 2008. Each Monday, a special guest will stop intoour list discussion to offer advice about their special areas of expertise.Members can join the list by sending an email including your full name to:sistersincrime-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

January 7: Margaret Maron
January 14: Paige Wheeler
January 21: Nancy Pickard
January 28: Gary Niebuhr
Feb. 4 -- Margaret Coel
Feb. 12 -- Janet Reid (Note this is a Tuesday)
Feb. 18 -- Madeira (Maddee) James (web designer)
Feb. 25 -- Eve Sandstrom/JoAnna Carl

We will also be hosting a breakfast at Left Coast Crime, and a chapter"flash training" session and a breakfast at Malice. Of course, we continuewith the good work of our monitoring project, our book club project(connecting readers with books), our many trade show booths, offering thebest articles we can find for the newsletter, and many activities at thechapter level. Please visit our website for more details:http://www.sistersincrime.org.

I'd like to thank the board and all the other members who work hard to makethese projects possible. We're open to your suggestions and welcome you tovolunteer your services and energy! I'm proud to be a member of Sisters inCrime and delighted to be leading our march into 2008.

Warmly,
Roberta Isleib
Sinc president
Www.robertaisleib.com

Monday, December 10, 2007

Read First

One of the questions I dread in the Q&A section of any talk I’m giving is that loaded one, Where do you get your ideas? I generally shrug my shoulders and tell the absolute truth: if I knew for certain, I’d be happy to share it with you. After all, where does imagination have its roots? I’m sure there’s some psychological or physiological answer of which I’m ignorant, but I don’t think that’s what people want to know. They’re looking for something concrete, something they can replicate, when in fact the whole creative process is basically a mystery. Is it a talent? Of course. Partly. I can’t draw believable stick people, and I’m certain no amount of practice or training would change that. I’m not meant to be an artist. So what’s the answer then?

In the beginning of my career, I fumbled around a lot with this question, trying to come up with something profound, something I thought the aspiring authors in the crowd might find helpful in their own writing lives. And, after 8-plus books, the best answer I’ve found is this: Read first. Read voraciously, especially in the genre in which you want to write.

I’m shocked at the number of would-be authors who’ve told me they really don’t read that much. Are you kidding me??? In my mind, the two exercises are inextricably entwined, virtually inseparable. Many of us began writing stories when we were children, partly, I’m willing to bet, because early on we were also introduced to books and the joy of storytelling. My mother the English teacher had us all reading before we started school. I’m told I read aloud “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” in my Dr. Dentons from a rocking chair on stage at the church pageant when I was four. I don’t remember it, but surely my mother wouldn’t exaggerate. Mothers never do that.

The point is, I firmly believe that writers must first be readers. And one of the best things about belonging to Sisters in Crime is that you have a wealth of opportunity right here in your own backyard. Check out Books in Print or the Membership Directory. They’re a veritable Who’s Who of outstanding mystery writers, both male and female. Some of the best writing instruction you’ll ever get is reading the well-published, award-winning works of your Sisters and Brothers. From cozy to traditional to the darkest noir, our members are writing it.

And while you’re being entertained, study. If you’re an aspiring mystery author, read with intent. Look at character development and plot arc. When you heave a satisfied sigh as the last page is turned, try to figure out what it was that kept you racing to the finish. I’m not suggesting anything formal—no note-taking, unless that’s your inclination. Reading a well-crafted, crackling good mystery can’t help but spark your own imagination, that love of hearing and telling stories so many of us grew up with. Whenever I finish a really excellent book, I almost always find myself inspired and invigorated, eager to get back to my own writing. Whatever its organic or psychological roots, imagination can be fed and nurtured, encouraged by large doses of interaction with fascinating stories told well.

Sisters in Crime also offers the aspiring writer the opportunity to meet and network with well-published authors who have succeeded in this often frustrating profession and who are happy to share out of their own experience. Technology is making the publishing business a constantly changing animal, almost an entirely different species from the one in which Dame Agatha or Raymond Chandler or even some of today’s award-winning authors began their careers. When the chance presents itself, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Study, learn . . . and READ!

Since this post is appearing so close to the holidays, I’d also like to suggest that you buy a child a book. With all we’re hearing these days about the decline in reading for pleasure, we need to get that new crop of readers started early. And one of the best parts is that you won’t need to include batteries.

My husband and I wish Happy Holidays to all the Sisters in Crime family.

Kathryn Wall is the author of the Bay Tanner mysteries set in and around Hilton Head, South Carolina. The 8th installment, THE MERCY OAK, will be released by St. Martin’s Press on April 29. Kathy is also the national treasurer of Sisters in Crime.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Spam--is it or isn't it?

I've seen heated arguments erupt on lists and in other places lately over the topic of spam. Not about whether anyone actually likes spam--the few people out there who actually enjoy getting emails about penny stocks and mail-order Viagra tend to keep their strange taste to themselves. No, the debate is about whether or not certain author emails actually are spam.

The scenario: Eager Author has a new book coming out. He or she--let's say he, just to keep things simple--belongs to a number of lists and organizations. Say he's a SinC member, and belongs to the SinC list and DorothyL, reads this blog regularly, and has a recent SinC membership directory. He industriously harvests emails from the SinC list, DorothyL, and the SinC blog comments; he types in every single email address he finds in the directory; and then he sends out a press release about his new book to the resulting emailing list.

And to his surprise and dismay, some of these people cry foul and accuse him of spamming them. He counters that no, it's not spam, it's self-promotion. Who's right?

Those on one side of the argument argue that any unsolicited commercial email is spam. Unsolicited--they didn't ask him to send them email. Commercial--he's trying to sell his book. Unsolicited+commercial+email=spam.

Those on the other side argue variously that it's not spam if an INDIVIDUAL sends it rather than a faceless organization; or that only BULK unsolicited commercial email qualifies as spam--not the modest quantity of emails a single author might send; or that their mutual membership in a list or organization creates enough of a relationship to take the email out of the unsolicited category. In short, that Eager Author has every right to send his promotional email.

I'm probably not making the "it's not spam!" case as well as I should, probably because--full disclosure here--I fall in the "it's spam!" camp. And even if Eager Author does have the right to send his email, having the right doesn't necessarily make something a smart thing to do.
Because in the end, it doesn't matter whether or not Eager Author's email is legally or technically spam. We're not in a court of law here. We're in the court of public opinion. And even if Eager Author sincerely believes he is technically correct and legally blameless, he has just seriously ticked off a bunch of people he was hoping to sell his book to. Is that something an author really wants to do?

So let's imagine I could use my handy dandy No Regrets Time Travel Machine ( patent pending) to go back to the moment in time when Eager Author was getting ready to launch his email campaign. And let's imagine I try to convince him that maybe this won't be the most effective way to promote.

"But how am I supposed to market my book?" he asks in dismay. "How can I build my mailing list if I can't add the people I meet?"

Don't just add people. Try inviting them.

If you have a collection of email addresses that belong to people you think might be interested in receiving your promotional emails--but you haven't explicitly asked their permission--("Hey, would you like to be on my mailing list? Great, just give me your email and I'll add you.")--you can always ask their permission. Very few people would object to a short, straightforward email informing them that you have a mailing list and would be happy to add them to it if they like--as long as you also promise not to bother them again if they aren't interested. Please note that this is for people you're already in contact with in some way: readers who have written or emailed you. People with whom you've exchanged emails about subjects of mutual interest. Even friends should be ASKED if they want to be on your mailing list. And make it an individual email, not an impersonal blast to twenty or thirty people at once. (Yes, it's more work. You're asking them to buy and read your book--you can’t take a minute or two to invite them politely?)
Even once people have agreed to be on your list, it's always a good policy to make sure anything you send them includes an opt-out provision and a blanket apology in case they don't want it once they get it. The Femmes Fatales use the following wording on our email newsletter:
If we've made a mistake and you did not want to be added to our mailing list, or if you'd prefer not to receive future issues, please reply to this message with "Unsubscribe" in the subject line or simply click on the following link.

Because even if you only add people who request your newsletter, sometimes they forget they requested it . . . or sometimes people suddenly realize that they're getting way more email than they can deal with and go on a downsizing program. Don't take it personally. If they don't have time to read your email, are they really going to make time to read your book? Unsubscribe them and hope they come back eventually.

And if people are on a list with you, why add to their email load with a personal email? You've already got a means to reach them--plus any other new members who join the list in future--without all the work of harvesting emails. As long as you follow the list rules, of course. Figure out what kind of BSP the rules allow and follow them, to the letter. In fact, even if the list allows unlimited BSP, you'll fare better if you keep it not only infrequent but short and snappy. "FDR's pet Scotty, Fala, is the canine sleuth in my new historical mystery, DEADLY PAWS. To read reviews and the first chapter and to see when my forty-city tour will bring me to a bookstore near you, see http://www.falapaws.com/." Anyone who's interested will click through, and anyone who's not will give you credit for respecting their time.

Brevity also works well with signature lines. Some authors, realizing that a list does not allow BSP, try to cram every bit of promotion they'd like to do on the list into their sig line. If your sig line contains the titles, ISBN numbers, and release dates of all four of your books; quotes from five different reviewers; your website URL; your Myspace address; your blog URL; and your favorite quote for the day--odds are you are ticking off more people than you are charming. Cut it down to three lines, max.

If a list allows, you could post an invitation to people who might be interested in joining your mailing list. And it's considered fair game to bribe people with content and contests. "In addition to news about the Fala series, I'll be sharing dog care tips with subscribers to my monthly newsletter." Or "I'll be giving away a dozen ARCs of DEADLY PAWS in January to readers selected at random from my mailing list--sign up now to make sure your name's in the drawing."

In other words, it's great to recruit people for your mailing list, but unilaterally adding people without permission is more like the draft. Make sure your mailing list contains only eager volunteers. Because every time someone gets your newsletter or press release and says, "Who the hell is Eager Author, and where does he get off sending me this?"--you've not only failed to make a sale this time, you may have sabotaged any hope of future sales.

In short--these are the people you're trying to sell to. Don't piss them off.

Posted by Donna Andrews