Monday, March 02, 2009

Sleuthfest: John Hart, Guest of Honor

This year Sleuthfest had two guests of honor, John Hart and Brad Meltzer. John gave a terrific talk at the Friday luncheon. He was engaging, entertaining and I think all the writers in attendance - most of the room - really took away some important lessons. Believe in yourself. Listen to your editor but also trust your gut. And if your father-in-law offers to feed your family for a year while you write your novel, find out if he is including you in that offer!

I've been lucky enough to review all of John's books for Library Journal. His first book, The King of Lies, was nominated for several awards. His second novel, Down River, won the Edgar award for best novel. His latest novel, The Last Child, doesn't come out until May but my review went out yesterday. It's a starred review, and it's his best book yet. It's a bit darker than his previous books, but it's the protagonist, a 13 year old boy, that really got to me and will stay with me, in much the same way Scout did in To Kill A Mockingbird.

I am a fast reader, and normally I read a book, especially a thriller, straight through in a night or two. With The Last Child, I was reading a bit, then stopping to savor it, putting it down to save some for the next day. It was a very unusual reading experience for me. By the third day, I couldn't take it anymore and just ripped through the rest. When I was done, I walked around my house hugging the book, I didn't want to put it down. So then I read it again. And I loved it even more. John signed it for me and that book will have a place of honor on my bookshelf - that means on a bookshelf somewhere instead of in one of the piles of books or boxes of books that are all over my house. I know I am totally romanticizing the whole reading experience but when you fall in love with a book, that's what happens. So now you all know.

After lunch, there were more panels. I went to a panel on how to get press with Oline Cogdil, the mystery reviewer for the Sun Sentinel newspaper, Sharon Potts who has her first novel coming out in a few months, and Cheryl Solimini, whose first novel, Across the River, was published last year. It was a good mix of people with very different perspectives, and there was a lot of interesting ideas and good advice. The bottom line is that authors need to promote themselves, publishers don't have the resources (read: money) to do much for new authors. Some suggestions included writing an article about something you've researched for the book that may be of interest to a specific group or location, for specialty magazines or local newspapers. Make sure your press release is well written - if it isn't, people will wonder how well written your book could possibly be. Finally, a website is crucial.

There was a last minute cancellation when one of the presenters had to appear in court, but Joann Sinchuk, manager of the Murder on the Beach bookstore filled in with a presentation designed to answer the question, "Now that you're published, what next?" Neil Nyren, Putnam VP/editor was in the audience and participated a great deal, offering a lot of good advice (Book trailers? Don't do them.) Joann let all the budding authors know a couple of really important terms: "sell-through", when most of the books that have been printed have sold is very important. Nyren pointed out that no one really expects 100% sell-through, but 80% within 6 months is a good guarantee of another book contract.

Joann also pointed out that an author has an obligation to try and sell their books. Some authors think they can turn in a manusript and be done with it, but that is just the beginning. She suggested attending conferences, arranging book signings, especially at libraries where you are more likely to get newspaper coverage, and that all important website. Also of note: every author has a publicist, but not every author has a publicity budget. The other term she mentioned was "sell sheet;" every book has one that is given to the sales staff. The sell sheet includes things like a plot summary, author bio including comments like "tireless promoter" (hint, hint) and quotes & reviews. The books that don't sell are remaindered, and authors don't get royalties on remaindered books.

The next panel was the politically incorrect "Book Broads", hosted by Randy Rawls. Christine Kling, Joann Sinchuk, Kris Montee (PJ Parrish), SJ Rozan and Elaine Viets sat around drinking wine and shooting the breeze about the book biz. This panel had the best stories. First was how PJ Parrish got their name. Kris writes with her sister, Kelly, but their publisher didn't want two names on the book. The sisters were on vacation in Paris, and were quite drunk when they got the inspiration to call themselves, "Paris". They called their agent and in slurred speech said "we know our name - Paris" which translated in drunken English to "Parrish" and the award winning writing duo were on their way.

Then Elaine Viets explained the "small penis theory of revenge." Elaine was "spectacularly fired" from her newspaper job and started writing novels. She would have a character suspiciously like the jerk who fired her, and she would give that character a small penis. That way she figured no one would want to sue her, go to court and tell the judge, "I'm the jerk in the book with a small penis." So she's had her way in her novels with everyone who ever wronged her.

I ended my day enjoying a drink with John Hart, Neil Nyren, and a couple of aspiring writers in the hotel bar, looking forward to day two of Sleuthfest.

No comments:

Search This Blog