Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Edge of the New Thing

At Bouchercon I saw convincing evidence that the paper book was not dead, as hundreds of fans hauled away rolling cases filled with new acquisitions. But there was also much talk of the popularity of e-books, which got a dramatic boost from the Kindle.

A completely separate ongoing conversation had to do with the threatened death of the short mystery story. The most vocal proponents of this form belong to the Short Mystery Fiction Society which gives out the Derringer Award for the best short mystery of the year.

The challenge with short stories is that there are precious few places to get them published. Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazines have little competition these days. The Strand is a larger, slick magazine that also publishes some fiction among other things.

So the question arises, will people buy short stories the way they buy novels in e-book format? Perhaps the short story form will gain even more popularity if the stories can be purchased individually.

If short fiction sold individually is the leading edge of the new wave of reading options, then Echelon Press is standing at that edge. Their new line of Echelon Shorts allows readers to download quick reads for small money – much like downloading the songs you like to make your own IPod mix instead of buying whole CDs.

I loved the idea I decided to submit a story myself and was pleased to be accepted. So now, for a couple of bucks, new readers can get the flavor of a Hannibal Jones novel in a few thousand words. My short story, “A Little Wildness” has all the basic elements of a Hannibal Jones novel in a bite-sized package.

Naturally, I hope you’ll give the story a try. But more to the point, I hope you and others will step further into the 21st century and sample other short stories on the site. This could be the reading plan of the future and we get to be there today.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What to Do At a Networking Event

Tomorrow I’ll be moderating a panel at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in Indianapolis. If you can attend, look for me at 1:30 pm. I will moderate a panel on "TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY PRIVATE EYES," discussing current and future trends in the private eye novel with four of the best practitioners of the art: Jack Fredrickson, Greg Herren, Adrian Magson and Michael Wiley.

I am excited about that of course, but it’s only the opening gun of a four-day blast! While I’ll be having great fun meeting and greeting my favorite writers and fans I’ll also be working. For a mystery writer Bouchercon is the ultimate networking opportunity. If you’re an author too, don’t forget the basics of networking.

Rule number one: have enough business cards. I’m amazed at how often writers show up at these events without cards. That agent won’t just remember you, you know.

And have a pen with you. When you talk to someone and get their card, jot a few quick notes on the back so you remember what you talked about. You’ll talk to lots of agents and you won’t just remember which is which, you know.

Reconnect with distant friends. I'll also have lunch with my fellow Echelon Press authors, gather with the other contributors to this year’s Wolfmont Press holiday anthology, “The Gift of Murder,” and attend the Private eye Writers of America Banquet where this year’s Shamus awards will be handed out.

It’s cool to hang with your old pals, but remember that networking is about meeting new folks who might turn out to be important connections later. So at meals and at the bar, sit with people you don't know and introduce yourself.

If you can afford it, it’s good to give something away. At the end of Bouchercon I’ll be sitting in at the Author’s Bazaar, handing out free copies of one of my Hannibal Jones mysteries.

And don’t stop networking after you get home. Send a quick handwritten note after the event to publishers, agents, anybody you think is important. Sure, e-mail is easier, but a handwritten note really makes you stand out.

Find your new connections online and Facebook friend them. Follow them on Twitter. If they have a blog, subscribe to their RSS feed so you can keep track of what they're writing about.

As much as I love events like Bouchercon, I always look forward to getting home and sifting thru those business cards I collected and cementing my new connections.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Finding a Publisher - or Letting One Find You

Here in the 21st Century, anyone who tells you they know how to get you published is either stupid or lying. However, I can tell you for sure that things have changed and continue to change, so we can talk about what appears to be working now.

Not everything has changed, of course. Publishers still want to receive queries. I’ve read stories of authors getting emails from publishers or agents who read their work on line and want to publish them, but I wouldn’t sit around waiting for that to happen. The submission process is a tradition in the industry, so get yourself a copy of Writer’s Market and study how publishers and agents want to be approached.

Networking appears to be very important these days, but jetting off to writer’s conferences is no longer the only way to do it. You can network from home if you find a network that works for you. For you that could turn out to be on Twitter or Facebook or Squidoo. If you write an interesting blog you can network there, or through other people’s blogs that you follow. You just need to stay in contact with people who can help your writing career.

Saturday morning I had the chance to join a panel of true experts in the field: Shashi Bellamkonda, the Social Media Swami at Network Solutions; Jen Consalvo, co-founder of Shiny Heart Ventures; and Jeff Taylor of New Media Strategies. After that conversation I am all fired up about the importance of your online presence.

Social networking is a great way to get noticed but you can’t just use social media sites for personal contacts. You should design your Facebook page to support your writing. Then, make sure your blog is feeding to Facebook and vice versa. Make sure you keep the site updated with your latest events, projects, and writing news. Sites like Facebook LinkedIn can become your professional resume. Keep an eye out for people in the industry, like publishers and agents, who you can “friend” or link to. These connections can pay off big in the long run. And often these folks will find you, if you maintain a good online presence.

So what’s a good online presence? I think it’s whatever helps you build your platform. For many, a web site, a blog and a social networking page can do it, plus perhaps a Twitter account. You should also consider a newsletter sign-up on your home page and an RSS feed to your blog. Publishers like to see authors building their following. When your subscriber list grows, it’s a good thing to mention to publishers.

I want to remind my self-published friends that no matter how much information you put on the internet, it is only an introduction. IF you want a publisher to hire you, don’t forget that your book really is your resume. You would never send a resume to a potential employer that was full of typos, right? In the same sense, you should never send a book out into the world that isn't letter perfect. Only after having a quality product is it important to show you know your market.

If you're connected to it online, that’s a big plus. When a publisher is considering an author, they will often look at the author's "reach" or platform. That’s why you need to build your followers and get some buzz going on your book, even before it's published.

So get a web site, start a blog, and get to know where YOUR community hangs out. Read the blogs they read, and comment on them.

And if you’re a nonfiction author, find out how you can be of service. Find out what your community needs and how to fill that need. There's no better way to become a trusted resource.

My most important take-away from my fellow panelists was how the internet has leveled the playing field for writers looking to make contact with the right people. Take advantage of these free resources.