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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Factors in Murdering your Murder Book Career

Can a budding mystery writer ruin his career by badmouthing his publisher? Well? What do you think?

Can a guy get fired by slamming his employer in the press?

"I'd never do that."

I didn't mean deliberately. Like writing a letter to the editor. I meant by complaining to a "friend" who tells the boss. Or by mentioning something to a reviewer "off the record."

Mark Pepper wrote two published novels in the horror/thriller genre which, he says, received excellent reviews. In two guest posts Pepper describes a series of events that he believes destroyed his relationship with his publisher and consequently damaged his chances of pursuing a career as a novelist. He also adds that there was a lot more to his decision to give up on writing novels than that one event.

Apparently Pepper's publisher failed to mail out copies of his book, Man on a Murder Cycle, to six magazines he thought would provide additional good reviews. One might see that as a misunderstanding, but Pepper vented a bit of his frustration to a "journalist" that was interviewing him for the book. Pepper admits it was a "gaff" but naively believed that his request to the journalist to consider his remarks "off the record" would be honored.

Of course, the reviewer wrote a great book review, but finished with a comment about Pepper's frustration with the publisher. This was followed by a call from the editor expressing disappointment and the swift rejection of the submission of his next book.

Of course there is no way of really knowing what prevented the publication of the third book. Were any of the following significant by themselves in ending his novelist career? Or was it some strategic combination?

  • Badmouthing the publisher in public. Pepper's posts place more venom or bitterness on the journalist than on himself, but either way, the result was the same.
  • The book submitted was in a genre no longer of interest. Pepper suggests that the Horror genre, fueled by Stephen King, had lost its steam. I do not know about that, but I suspect some would debate the point.
  • The book submitted was in fact poorly written. Of course, we have no way of knowing that.
  • The book's value was lost on the publisher's editor because she was so Canadian. Huh? Yes that is in Pepper's self-absorbed account.
  • His agent gave up trying to find another publisher because Pepper's reputation was tarnished. Pepper claims that his agent was loyal but that they parted ways after a while.
  • His agent was ineffective.
  • Pepper himself gave up interest in getting the third book published. I recently heard a panel of agents (at Crimebake 2009) say that a certain percentage of their clients lose interest. In fact, Pepper identifies a variety of personal reasons for moving on to other things.
None of these speculations take away from Pepper's lesson. Take your pick:

  • If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.
  • Don't bit the hand that feeds you (as the editor commented to him afterward).
  • Don't shoot your novel in the back.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Crimebake 2009: Awesome Again!

Just returned from Crimebake, the New England mystery conference for writers and readers. Wow! What fun.

It's hard to pass on a chance to brag, so here it is. I submitted a Flash Fiction piece to the conference contest and was one of three winners! You can read my winning entry and more about the contest here.

Too many thoughts to give a coherent "report" but here are random experiences mixed with a few of the many factoids I picked up:
  • An authors' panel called "T is for Traditional" was asked to share the name of the author that they most admired. Interestingly, two authors (Mark Arsenault and Cynthia Riggs) named Donald Westlake (aka Richard Stark) - the author that our Book Club is currently reading. See a subsequent comment to me from Cynthia Riggs.
  • Criminalists (in the past) did not have the ability to make absolute ID's from hair analysis. All they could do was narrow it down. Now, DNA analysis from a hair root can be, potentially, absolute. And also - DNA from fingerprints can sometimes be more significant than the fingerprint left behind! Great presentation from Mary Kate McGilvray, former acting director of the Massachusetts State Police Crime Lab.
  • Speaking of stuff related to CSI - in real life, what is portrayed by a single crime scene technician is frequently the work of many, many specialists.
  • Want to be a writer? Can you put up with 50 "rejections" before getting an acceptance - or maybe never getting an acceptance for a book. Chocolate brownies was mentioned a few times! (I can relate!) Several panels addressed this but none more bluntly than "P is for Persistance." Several spoke of turning to different projects: short stories, other novels, true crime, or just personal activities as distractions. Keeping stories in "inventory" was mentioned; often, a request for a particular type of book/story could come up several years later.
  • What creates tension or fear in a book? One panel of authors totally agrees that it is not violence or blood. Among other things it is pacing. One insight - humor accentuates tension; tension accentuates humor. I have to agree with comments of one of my favorite authors (and favorite persons), Michael Palmer - it is understanding the emotion of fear, in other words, successfully conveying the experience of the character, from being in the character's shoes. A helpless character contributes to that, and no one is more helpless than a hospital patient. Dr. Palmer has a lot of insight into that and brings it out well in his medical thrillers. That's Michael Palmer on the right (with me) - below.

  • Sue Grafton gives credit to her attendance at a Jack Canfield workshop for helping her to get onto the Best Seller list. (Just a tiny nugget from an extensive list of tidbits from her interesting luncheon speech.)
  • Highly published short story author Stephen Rogers has managed to get 13 stories published by Women's Day. That magazine pays well at about $500 per story. On the other hand, he has had some 200 other stories published many of which pay poorly. It's too bad - short stories is a great art form in itself. I had a very enjoyable time chatting with Stephen on Friday evening as well as receiving some helpful tips on a short story manuscript.
  • The best way to remove the serial number from a handgun is to use a power drill and take out the metallic ridges. Of course that wouldn't work if the imprint is inside the gun barrel. That from a ballistics expert.
  • Solving a mystery-game-crime with clues scattered on 30 tables and 250+ participants must be "impossible" given that none of us solved the crime exactly! LOL - maybe it was the script?

2009 POLL #2--Do Mystery Stories and Political Bias Mix? What is closest to your view?