Friday, February 04, 2011

Guest Blogger: SHARON POTTS

When’s a Nightmare not a Nightmare?
By Sharon Potts

I once heard a story at a writers’ conference. It seems that an author was on tour. She arrived for her event at a large bookstore, far from home, pleased to see the dozens of chairs arranged in front of the podium. But as time for her talk drew near, only one person showed up and took a seat. The author gave her presentation, disheartened and feeling like a failure. Afterward, the person in the audience went up to her, asked for her to sign her book, and said. “I’m a still-unpublished author. Boy, what I would give to be in your shoes.”

Hmmm. Sometimes things really aren’t as bleak as they appear to be. Of course, I can’t help but remember that story now, as I’m about to embark on the tour of my second thriller, Someone’s Watching, with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that no one will show up. It’s an author’s worst nightmare. But that’s only because we tend to lose sight of our dreams.

Mine began about ten years ago, shortly after I retired from the business world and decided to write a novel. Of course, the fact that I had no training in the craft or any idea of how the publishing world worked was no deterrent. I was certain I could become a successful, published author. I wrote my first novel in record speed—about three months—bought a book that taught me how to query agents, sent out a dozen or so letters, then sat back and waited. The rejections arrived soon after. I realized I needed to try a different tack.

Someone suggested I attend the SleuthFest Writers Conference put on by the Florida Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. A three-day conference with workshops and panels on the craft of writing given by experienced, successful authors, SleuthFest also offered the opportunity to meet and pitch to agents and editors. I arrived at the Deerfield Beach Hilton cautiously optimistic. I got to pitch my book to an agent, who rejected it on the spot. What did he know? Then I went to several panels and began to acquire some perspective about things I might be doing wrong. But of course, I told myself, I was writing a different kind of book from the ones those authors were talking about.

On Saturday, one of the highlights of SleuthFest is the author auction. I found myself bidding on and winning a critique by one of my favorite authors, Barbara Parker. Surely, she would see the brilliance in my novel. Guess what? She didn’t. But Barbara gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received. I learned that there’s much more to writing a novel than simply putting a story down on paper. There’s plotting, pacing, character development, dialogue, creating tension, and on and on. Things I’d been too impatient to master. Barbara also taught me that the key to writing a successful novel was in accepting criticism from knowledgeable sources, and then in rewriting and rewriting, yet again.

I followed Barbara’s advice and became active in the Mystery Writers of America, attending every SleuthFest conference in the nine years since that first one. I met my publisher at SleuthFest, bonded with other aspiring writers and published authors, and connected with my current critique partners. When my debut novel In Their Blood was published a little over a year ago, it received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and won the Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Mystery/Suspense Novel. I honestly don’t believe that would have happened without SleuthFest and the Mystery Writers of America.

So now, as I head out on tour for Someone’s Watching, I put aside the nightmare that no one will show up at my book signings. And remember that at least I have my dream.

Sharon Potts worked as a CPA, business executive, and entrepreneur before turning to a career of murder and becoming a crime fiction writer. Potts’s Miami-based thrillers are about ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Her debut novel, In Their Blood, won top honors in the Mystery/Suspense category of the 2010 Benjamin Franklin Awards. Her latest thriller, Someone's Watching was called "shiver-rich" by Publishers Weekly, and “stunningly well-handled” by Booklist. She is the Vice President of the Florida chapter of Mystery Writers of America and one of the organizers of the SleuthFest Writers Conference. She lives in Miami Beach.
Visit her website,

The 2011 SleuthFest Writers Conference will be held from March 3-March 6 2011 at the
Deerfield Beach Hotel. This year’s conference features Dennis Lehane, Meg Gardiner, and SJ Rozan, as well as many other best-selling authors, workshops and panels on the craft of writing, agent and editor appointments, and much more.

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