What Would You Do If…

Here’s a bit of a writing game inspired by a recent (to me) episode of Murder, She Wrote. I’m going to give you a scenario with some blanks. Fill in the blanks, and write your own story.  This scenario I’m presenting to you is the sort of thing I’d love to create for friends…or strangers.

You are at a _________ and a man in a tuxedo comes to you with a large, lovely, and fancy envelope in cream stock. You are surprised and eagerly open the envelope. Inside, you find a nearly equally large cream colored stiffened paper, and in red are the words: Midnight

What are your immediate thoughts and feelings when you see this word? What do you think will happen at midnight?

Next to the word Midnight is a symbol. The symbol is a code that you understand signifying a particular place. What is the symbol? Draw it.

How do you know what it references? Where are you going, or, do you choose to ignore this invitation?

Time passes, and you arrive __________ a few minutes before midnight.  Where are you? What is waiting for you when you arrive?

Was it worth it?

 

I Want To Be a Wish Granter, Part 1

For the past two years, I’ve been trying to figure out what I should do for a living. For over 25 years, I have been a college English teacher, something I felt was my calling, and now I’m moving out of this profession as fast as I can. I’ve been wrestling with a variety of ideas as to what to do, and in the fall, I decided to try being whimsical as a way to come up with a new profession. I realized that one of the things I’ve always wanted to do for people (and I’ve even done it on a very small scale with friends, family, and few strangers) is grant wishes.

I can’t imagine anything more wonderful than finding someone who is in despair, who needs little, and being able to turn that person’s whole life around by taking care of the small problem or problems. I say small, because I don’t know how to cure cancer or replace the loss of a parent or friend, but perhaps I could shave away at a debt, pay the fees for a special program, buy books needed for a class. I don’t really have any money right now, which is frustrating, but there are other things I can do.

So, in the fall, when I was reaching for possible jobs, I thought to myself, I could grant wishes. Surely there is a job that does that. And then I remembered how years ago I used to give money to Make A Wish, and I thought, aha! So I did a Google search and discovered there truly is a job called a Wish Co-ordinator.

OK. Let’s be honest. I want to be magic and able to wave a wand, and Make a Wish doesn’t promise that, but I applied to be a volunteer, and went through an intense background check and waited, and finally, in March, I went through a training session. I assumed the training would have few people and be boring. The place was packed (maybe 40 people?), the training was terrific, and I, who am never late, showed up pretty much just in time to be close to the last person to speak. I was to say my name and why I was there. I heard people basically give speeches, and feeling grateful for having missed this (I hate this part of meetings where perfect strangers share information I don’t care about) I said, “I’m Katherine Clark, and I’m here because I want to grant wishes.” There was a long silence (people expected me to keep going), then laughter, then the presenter commented that that was perfect. I smiled and nodded. I had said exactly why I was there and no further explanation was needed.

Besides the fact that I had accidentally wowed the crowd (I really did assume that I would be the 10th person to say this), what I loved about the training was that it did three things for me:

  • It introduced me to an impressive and poignant history of Make a Wish, reaffirming my conviction that I was in the right place;
  • It showed me that there are many wonderful people in the Cleveland area;
  • And it introduced me to a slightly different way of looking at wishes. (I’ll explore this in Part 2 of this blog.)

I’m now waiting to be ready to select the first child or teenager to help with a wish. I hate the sentence I just wrote. It is convoluted and clumsy, but it matches well my psychological state. I love the idea of granting wishes and helping a child, but I’m finding this whole thing perhaps surprisingly emotional difficult.

I’m not sure what I’m afraid of. I know one thing that concerns me is that I will somehow fail and not do the right thing or I’ll say the wrong thing. Or maybe I’ll fail to successfully grant the wish. Or the wrong wish will be asked for and the kid will regret it. Or I won’t be empathetic or compassionate enough to the child and/or family, or I’ll be too entwined in the emotional issues surrounding a life-threatening situation.  Sometimes it is very hard to be me. My friend Mark has suggested that he should buy the domain name OverthinkingPh.D.com just for me.

And yes. I know this is not about me. This is about helping a sick child and a struggling family. In other words, I need to use my Army Brat background and suck it up.

OK. Here is my plan: on Wednesday, I will call Make a Wish with some questions that came to me after reading their weekly newsletter last week, and a few that came to me when reading an email from them a few days ago. I will then, based on their answers, look over my materials, and pick a child to help. Knowing me, I’ll probably pick the child who has waited the longest. (This is in fact one of my questions for Make a Wish. I don’t understand why there are children who have been waiting months. There is probably a really good answer, but it troubles me a bit.)

I deliberately wrote this blog post to help give me a push to get moving on this incredibly worthy project. I also wrote it to tell people about how cool a process Make a Wish goes through in order to help children select their wishes. (That latter was actually the initial reason for the post.) In Part 2 of this Make a Wish blog post, I’ll explore the wish process. I think there is something there to help all of us figure out our goals and desires. For this, among so many other things, I am grateful to Make a Wish.

Your Life as a Cozy Mystery

One of the tenets of the cozy mystery is that the person who is murdered tends to be a bad person. By bad, I mean, someone who is a nasty piece of work. Perhaps this person is a blackmailer. Perhaps this person is vicious, has fired people unfairly, been a gossip and spread untrue stories ruining people’s lives, or someone who has physically hurt people or animals (though with this latter, obviously, off the page).

In other subgenres of the mystery, of course, the murder victim or victims might be innocent, or partially flawed, or completely evil. But in cozies, in part to ensure that the reader does not have a negative emotional experience, it is important that the victim be someone the reader does not have a deep emotional connection to.

I have various friends who are experiencing negative work places with bad bosses and/or unfair expectations. I’ve certainly experienced my fair share of unjust workplace situations. In other cases, I know stories of sad romances, bad marriages,  and angry familial circumstances. I’ve also been binge watching Murder, She Wrote for an upcoming blog post, and it occurred to me that often what happens in these cozy and traditional mysteries is the bad person is killed, and everything changes, usually for the better.

The victim spreading false tales is revealed to be a liar, the embezzler is discovered and the funds recovered, the grasping, narcissistic, and soul-crushing parent dies leaving the inheritance with the kind and benevolent philanthropically minded family members, and the stalking boyfriend is dispatched while the woman he relentlessly surveilled is free to love the gentle guy who will treat her well. Ah! Such wish fulfillment!

So: What situation in your life would change if you could apply a cozy solution? Is there a particular person or situation that is so toxic its removal would change everything? I’m not advocating hiring a hit man (that would be uncozy). I just think this is an interesting mental exercise. As I was saying to a friend yesterday on a long walk, think what can happen if we learn to deal well with toxic people or circumstances rather than allowing them to hurt us or people we care about.

I’m also suggesting using this as writing prompt either for a personal journal exercise or a creative non-fiction story. As an adjunct, I often felt powerless in the schools I was teaching in. Writing murder mysteries with folks that were oppressive as victims was extremely therapeutic, and it kept me out of jail and a sanitarium.

Now you try. Think about your life or the life of a friend or family member who has suffered injustice. What or who is the source of this? In the fantasy realm, or the real one if you know details, has this toxic person or situation made a negative impact on others as well? What would happen if this toxic situation were removed? What would be gained? What would be the repercussions? What does the near and distant future look like for those most closely connected to the situation?

I guarantee that 20 minutes with this exercise will have you smiling and feeling more hopeful and empowered.

 

 

Query Letter, Part 2

On Tuesday of this week, I met with mystery writers Shelley Costa and Casey Daniels. I gave them each a copy of my query letter and was ready for them to tear it apart. Before they got into it though, Casey asked me to describe my book, one chapter at a time. This was such a great move on her part. She obviously needed to understand what the book was about before she read the query letter, but it also made me summarize and explain what I had written. When we started to deconstruct the letter, this summary of my book turned out to be incredibly useful for all of us.

So, lesson #2 (if lesson #1 is simply, based on my previous post, write something using a template and don’t worry about it, just get something down) is, when you meet with someone to go over the query letter, do a summary of the book first. It might be useful to take notes on what you say.

Before I talk about what my friends suggested I do to revise the query letter, I should probably show you my second draft. (The first draft appeared in the blog post called, quite brilliantly, I think, “My First Attempts at a Query Letter, Part 1”).

April 10, 2016

Re: Query about What Is a Cozy?

Dear _________:

In the 1960s, publishers attempted to kill the cozy, yet it survived, in large part because cozy and traditional mysteries have passionate fans who wouldn’t let their subgenre die. Over the last 10 years or so, booksellers point out that in their stores, cozies are the bestselling subgenre; many consider it the bread and butter of the industry. In my book What Is a Cozy? I explain the necessity of categorization, the value of the much maligned cozy subgenre to the mystery genre as a whole, and what the essential characteristics of the cozy are. My book runs 5 chapters and approximately 175 pages, not including appendices of reading lists and games and quizzes.

For my dissertation by the same name, I received responses to over 700 surveys with answers to over 50 questions from mystery readers as to why they love the mystery genre. I use much of this information in the book as well as examinations of many cozy and traditional works. I believe this book comes at the right time with the decision of many publishers to cut cozy series. Recently, a group called “Save Our Cozies” was formed on Facebook, and within less than a week had over 1000 members. The passionate cozy fandom has returned.

There are at least four markets for What Is a Cozy? Mystery writers, who are often unclear as to what the boundaries are between the subgenres; mystery readers, who know what they feel like reading but want help in identifying particular books or particular types of books; librarians, who are responsible for Reader Advisory and who helped me tremendously in the writing of this book; and academics, who are concerned about issues of subgenre and genre and a blind spot for anything in the genre that isn’t hardboiled, noir, or Agatha Christie. My book explains cozies and places them in the context of other mystery subgenres. It is not an apologia for the cozy, but it does recognize its value.

There is great interest in the topic of cozies. My dissertation was finished in 2008 and was made available electronically. As of April 2016, my dissertation had been downloaded over 1950 times, something that is nearly unprecedented when it comes to dissertations. 734 people filled out my 50+ question survey, and 93.9% said that I could contact them again. In addition to the survey, I conducted 9 focus groups in 4 states and I interviewed 7 independent bookstore owners in 6 states. I have interviewed many librarians, two of whom are involved in their library’s publishing arm. I regularly attend workshops or panels (Malice Domestic being one of the conferences) where my work is cited by participants.

I received my Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in Cleveland, OH in 2008. In order to write my dissertation, I was the first person in the English department required to participate and follow IRB guidelines since I was doing interviews, focus groups, and surveys. I have been asked to speak about my research to numerous groups including Sisters in Crime, Bouchercon, two Popular Culture Association National Conferences (in Boston and San Antonio), and a nationally known CWRU research conference Collabtech. I have been a reader for Poisoned Pen Press, and I have assisted in organizing mystery conferences. I have designed and taught courses on the mystery genre as well as other topics that are closely related, and in teaching these courses have been nominated for teaching awards. I have a blog in which I discuss the mystery genre and writing in general at mysteryphd.com, and I have a weekly podcast about Buffy, the Vampire Slayer at clevelandhellmouth.org. I am a founding mother of NeoSinC and a founding board member of Literary Cleveland, a new literary arts organization in Cleveland.

Thank you for your time in considering this query. I would be happy to send a book proposal or additional information.

 

Sincerely,

Katherine Clark, Ph.D.

address

phone #

email address

 

Notes from my friends:

First of all, they didn’t hate my query letter. Both concluded that I could and should trim it. The key suggestions were the following–Casey says I am burying my lead. Paragraph one is supposed to be the most important paragraph. It is in paragraph one that I am supposed to explain the essence of the book, yet she says that my most important comment is in paragraph two where I talk about the cozy fandom. Readers, she is absolutely right.

Shelley and Casey agreed I should mention a word count, and Shelley pointed out the dangers of saying things like “I discuss…” I sound too much like an academic. With that comment, Casey pointed out that the query letter, along with the book, should read like a cozy novel: breezy and easy. Sigh. Sheila Strong pointed out that my language goes up and down throughout the book. My other readers are fine with this–but Sheila, and Casey, are right. I need to work on making my book always accessible to the layperson, not the Ph.D. in English. This, I think right now, is going to be the hardest thing for me to fix, because I do write the way I talk and think. I often have a 10 dollar vocabulary, but I also like slang and informal language. I mix these all the time.

Casey has also suggested that I need a new title for this book. She is probably right, but I am not sure what to do. In many ways I love this title; after all, it is what the book is about. Nobody will be confused about what I’m doing if they bother to pick up the book. On the other hand, it is not a sexy title in the least. What do you think?

My favorite suggestion changing the query letter was from Casey. Shelley asked me what the thesis of the book is. What a great question that I should have been prepared for, but I wasn’t. I said, I can’t do a thesis for the book (though Readers, I think maybe now I can), but I can do a thesis for each chapter. Based on this, Casey suggested that I open the the first paragraph with a quote from Otto Penzler, mystery critic and independent publisher and bookstore owner, who in the mystery world, probably hates cozies more than anyone else. Casey said, start with him whallopping the cozy, and then explain how the cozy was saved and is worth saving. Starting with a Penzler quote will certainly start this letter with a bang.

I love the comments my friends made. They gave me a lot to think about. They’ve said they will gladly read further revisions, so of course I will be sending these along to them. I also plan on roping in a third friend for help. Casey and Shelley, it turns out, have not needed to write query letters. Both have agents. Double sigh. I’m going to reach out to a friend who has offered to help me in the past.

So, here is my commitment. I will both have a revision of this query letter and will reach out to my third friend before April 22. Of course, I will write a blog post on what occurs. I’m feeling pretty positive. Persistence is the key.

Note:  I mention Casey Daniels’ League of Literary Ladies series and Shelley Costa’s You Cannoli Die Once novel in my monograph. I suggest that readers check out their books. They are fun.

 

 

How To Select a Publisher: Step One

In my fantasy world, mysterious messengers would deliver the news to publishers that my cozy monograph was done and ready to be presented to the world. I love the idea of going to answer the knock at the door and seeing a woman in a 1940s red bellhop costume begin to sing and dance, letting me know that the BEST publisher wanted my book, and here was a $100,000 advance. I’ve been told that this is, unfortunately, an unlikely occurrence. Somehow, I can’t expect a miracle to happen. I have to find the publishers to notify myself.

I actually started thinking about this process months, even years ago, and I knew that one of the traps to avoid was to send my query letter to any publisher or every publisher. Many novice writers make that mistake, so I knew not to do that. Don’t send your non-fiction cozy monograph to a publisher who only publishes fiction. Instead, I decided to marry two concepts together.

Continue reading “How To Select a Publisher: Step One”

Reading Matters

Today I got to volunteer for an organization that was seemingly tailor-made for me. Kids Book Bank is a brand new organization in Cleveland; it has been around for about 6-8 weeks. In February, the organization received over 40,000 books. Since then, the amount of books has increased to over 78,000. These books range from board books (books for infants that are difficult to destroy) all the way to books for adults, and everything in between: picture books, easy reader chapter books, young adult, etc.

Continue reading “Reading Matters”

My First Attempts at a Query Letter, Part 1

A couple of weeks ago, I finished my book. My friend Mark read the last chapter and made many comments (though overall he liked it) and this week, I will work on polishing it. Next, I’ll send the chapter to my Four Readers. But in the mean time, I’m moving on to the next major step, and that is to find a publisher for my book.

I’ve never written a book for publication before, so even though I have attended a workshop on how to write a query letter, and two of my friends have shared their query letters with me, this is a new and somewhat scary process. Over the years, I have learned some good lessons. The first is that I am more of a reviser then a writer. I get better with each draft, so multiple drafts of a piece actually buoy me as a writer rather than discourage me. No matter how bad the initial draft, I know that I can make it better.

The other lesson I’ve learned is to get help in the form of feedback and models for whatever I am doing. Today, I am going to write my query letter and post the crappy and incomplete draft on the blog. When I write the final version of the query letter, I will have the correct stats and email addresses and such (information that is difficult for me to reach today). On Tuesday, I am meeting with two good friends, Casey Daniels (AKA Kylie Logan) and Shelley Costa (AKA Shelley Costa Bloomfield). These are both talented, multi-published, and founding mothers of the North East Ohio Sisters in Crime. I’m taking them to lunch and sharing with them my query letter. I fully expect them to take it apart and make strong suggestions as to changes and additions. I am so looking forward to their expertise. I want my book to be published, and without a good query letter, that’s not going to happen.

So, I will share my crappy version of the letter today, and after my meeting with them, I will tell you what they liked and what they didn’t like, and then I will share their suggestions for changes. After much debate with myself, I’ve decided to leave in all the awful sentences poorly stated and seemingly badly thought out. I want this to be a real crappy draft. I promise I’ll make it better for real. After the newest and best version is done, I’ll share that with you, Dear Reader.

Note–In the actual query letter, I won’t have bolded subheadings. At the end of this crappy draft, I do have some remarks for things I’ve learned and questions I have just in the initial writing of this draft.

Query Letter

April 10, 2016

Re: Query about What Is a Cozy?

Dear _________:

Lead Paragraph–The Essence of the Book

I would like to submit a proposal that is a discussion about the history and exploration of the overall success of the cozy up to the present day. In five chapters and an introduction (my book runs approximately 175 pages) I explain the value of the much maligned cozy subgenre to the mystery, its checkered history, which continues somewhat to this day. I’ve found when talking to groups of mystery writers and readers that most people who love the mystery genre, will read anything, and that includes the sweetest and gentlest cozy to darkest noir. Even readers who prefer the harder edged books will read cozies as a palette cleanser. And, even with so many cozy lines being shut down recently, cozies are among the best-selling and most popularly loved subgenres. When Penguin announced the cutting of several series, immediately a Facebook group was formed called “Save Our Cozies” which in a manner of days had over 1000 members, all of whom pledged to buy more cozies, ask libraries to order more, and to write to the various publishers. My book explores the passion of the cozy readers and why this has been such a successful subgenre.  (Also, in THIS WOULD GO SOMEWHERE IN FIRST PARAGRAPH. THE VALUE OF CATEGORIZATION AND TONE)

Paragraph 2–Round out initial description. Can be longer than lead par.

Chapter 1 does, Chapter 2 does, etc.

Paragraph 3–The Market for the Book

The market for this book is manifold (word choice). I distributed a survey for the dissertation and received over 700 responses to a 50 question survey. The information is gold. One of the questions I asked was if I could contact the survey taker again. X percent said yes. I also conducted Y number of focus groups in three states over several years, and I interviewed z number of book store owners and librarians.  When my dissertation was finished, it was made electronic, as all dissertation were made at CWRU after x. Over y number of people have downloaded my dissertation. This number is unheard of. People tend not to read dissertations, so I think this is an indication that this is a topic people are interested in. I have also been to mystery conferences, including Malice Domestic which has thousands of attendees to find panelists quoting from my dissertation. I see this primarily as a book for mystery writers who want to and need to understand what a subgenre is, and how to write a successful cozy. To the groups that I’ve spoken to, this is something that is often misunderstood. This is also for mystery readers. In the years since I started doing my research for my dissertation, I have seen mystery readers become far more sophisticated in their understanding of subgenre. I’ve had readers ask me what they should read and how to know what they’ll like. When I’ve taught subgenre, writers and readers a like have said this was a valuable tool. I interviewed many bookstore owners and librarians in preparation for the dissertation, and they contributed to the value of categorization. Also, I could see this used in the college English class, both for fiction and and non-fiction as a book which explains subgenre simply with examples. The book has been completed except for an introduction and a preface.

Paragraph 4–Qualifications and Platform

I received my Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in Cleveland, OH in 2008. In order to write my dissertation, I was the first person in the English department required to participate and follow IRB guidelines since I was doing interviews, focus groups, and surveys. I have been asked to speak about my research to numerous groups including Sisters in Crime, Bouchercon, the two Popular Culture Association National Conferences, and CWRU research conference (get name). I have been a reader for Poisoned Pen Press, and I have assisted in organizing mystery conferences. I have designed and taught courses on the mystery genre as well as other topics that are closely related, and in teaching these courses have been nominated for teaching awards. I have a blog in which I discuss the mystery genre and writing in general at mysteryphd.com, and I have a weekly podcast about Buffy, the Vampire Slayer at clevelandhellmouth.org. I am a founding mother of NeoSinC and a founding board member of Literary Cleveland, a new literary arts organization in Cleveland.

Paragraph 5–Thank you

Thank you for your time in considering this query. I would be happy to send a book proposal  or additional information.

Sincerely,

Paragraph 6–Contact info

Katherine Clark, Ph.D.

address, email address, phone numbers

Query Letter comments from me:

Oops as to lead paragraph. The book I’m looking at Authors 101 Bestselling Book Proposals says that first paragraph should only be 3 -4 sentences. OK.

Also, the second paragraph is supposed to be other important info about the book. It is not to be a break down by chapter. Uh oh. At this moment, I’m guessing that some of what should go in paragraph 2 is information currently found in the lead paragraph.

I don’t know the numbers, statistics, percentages off the top of my head, and technological problems and lack of knowledge force me to wait for help from computer genius Mark to get access. Obviously, before Tuesday and before mailing this letter out, I will have that information in the letter. I fully expect my friends to point out that much of this can be cut, and that I should be including information that hasn’t even occurred to me.

Before I see Shelley and Casey, I plan on rereading my five chapters, just so I can better state what the book is about. Here are some questions for them: Should I name the courses I’ve taught, mystery and related? Do I need to explain what the IRB is? Do you think they will be put off by my constant use of the word subgenre? I want this to be a book for laypeople, not academics, and that is how I wrote the book. I’m afraid I come across as too wonky, sort of.

Of course, while I was writing this draft, a great question occurred to me to ask them, and I’ve forgotten it. Oy. I will be copying and pasting this into a Word document so I can keep playing with it before Tuesday. I know this is pretty terrible, but I’m excited. I’ve got a draft. I’ve got an organizational structure, of sorts, and I already know some of the major things that are wrong with it. I have 2 days to fix it and make it so much better. These are kind women and professional writers–they will help me succeed. I can do this. I really can do this. (I hope.)

The Book Is Finished, So Now I'm Done! Right?

[pullquote]I’ve chosen a hard road, and that is OK.[/pullquote]

So last night, after literally years, I finished my monograph. Many of you know that I am taking my dissertation and turning it into a monograph. The dissertation was written for an academic audience with a goal of ultimately earning me a doctorate. The monograph is being written for a lay audience, particularly for people who love mysteries and want to either write them or read them. Finally, I finished the last chapter of the book and sent it off to my friend Mark who reads all of my crappy drafts.

The thing is, what we new writers and want to be writers and would be writers often think (or at least it seems to be the case with at least a few of the workshop participants I see in my writing classes) is that writing the book is easy. All one needs to do is find the time to write, and once the book is done (as if by magic) then it will easily be picked up by a publisher and everything will be great. A really common refrain from workshop participants is the assumption that what they write will be national bestsellers and they will be set for life. The statistics on earnings for professional writers remain the same: about 5% of writers are able to support themselves completely on their writing. That means around 95% aren’t able to support themselves by writing alone. I learned this figure over 20 years ago, and it made a huge impression on me. In a strange way, I feel fortunate to know what to expect. I’ve chosen a hard road, and that is OK.

In addition to recognizing that my book will probably not be a bestseller (and this term has so many different meanings–I’ll talk about that in another post), I also know that while writing the book is the most important part of the process, it is really in some ways, only the beginning. In addition to revising and editing my book, which I’m doing with the help of The Four Readers and The Crappy Draft Reader, I also need to do a whole slew of other things. While I’ve been researching and writing this book, I’ve been collecting tasks that need to be done.

Let’s say I’ve written the greatest non-fiction text on the mystery genre ever. Yay! That alone will not make this book a success, because if publishers aren’t aware I’ve done this wonderful thing, nobody is going to publish it. In order to let the world know this book has arrived, I need to write a query letter. I’ve got a couple of books that show me what to do, and I’ve attended a couple of workshops put on by Northeast Ohio Sisters in Crime (NEO SinC) on how to write one, so that is a huge help. But I’m lucky in that I have several friends who have published, and three of them have agreed to help me with the letter. After reading up on it, and teaching it to my English class today, I feel ready to write my own query letter. My plan is to take two Sisters in Crime members out to lunch and share my letter with them. I will be thrilled to death if they tear up my letter because that will mean that what I send will be all the better.

But to what publishers and/or literary agents am I sending this letter to? Well, I’ve given that some thought. One of the reasons some people fail when it comes to getting published is because they’ve sent the manuscript to the wrong place. If you have written a romance novel, don’t send it to a publisher of scientific works. That sounds pretty obvious, but some people do not study the market. My clever plan is to make a list of writers who have been nominated or who have won the Agatha and Edgar awards for non-fiction mystery and find out who their publishers were. I will then narrow down that search to the books that most closely resemble mine. I already know from previous research that my book is unique, which is part of the reason I want to get it out of my hands soon before someone else produces a too similar book. When I see my Sisters in Crime, I will share with them the list of possible publishers. I’m hoping they’ll both approve of my list and perhaps have some further suggestions for places to send my query letter.

A very important part of the query letter is a paragraph (or more) on my qualifications for having written the book and information on my author platform. I have a Ph.D. in English from a notable institution; I have taught courses on the mystery genre at a few different schools; I have won teaching awards; and I have lectured to different groups about subgenres in the mystery field. Those are my qualifications. As for the author platform, I’m feeling almost cocky about that. For the dissertation, I collected information from over 700 mystery readers, over 90% of whom said that I could contact them again. I’ve set up this blog, and I started a Buffy, the Vampire Slayer podcast. I am active in my Neo SinC group and I am also active in the National Sisters in Crime. I am slowly but surely getting my name out into the world. There is a lot more that I need to do in this area, and I am each week adding another arrow to the quiver.

We are at a time in publishing where we are responsible for our own marketing. Publishing companies will do very little for midlist writers, much less for newbies like me. This is where the author platform can be incredibly useful as a basis for a marketing campaign. I have a lot of ideas, and I will share this with my blog audience as I experiment with them.

I am really pleased about finishing the book, and if you’d asked me months ago, I would have told you that I would be feeling elated and overjoyed. I’m actually not feeling that way though, which I guess is strange. I’m pleasantly content. I’m feeling good about this achievement (and did feel really good when students in my second class cheered for me today when I told them I’d finished. That was nice.) I think what is going on is that I know that the journey is only beginning, and that there is a lot of work ahead, most of which I’ve never done before. I think I’ll do it well, in part because I’ve been planning it for so long, but who knows? I’m assuming I’ll make a ton of mistakes. This is part of why I decided to keep this blog. I’ll share with you all the successes and travails as I navigate the world of publishing and marketing. I’m so glad that there will be some others who will witness the journey.

Instead of the Big Picture, Look at the Smaller Picture: Ways to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed and Get More Done

I have a lot to do this week and month. Maybe the key thing is that I  am interviewing a major mystery writer, S. J. Rozan, for a Northeast Ohio Sisters in Crime (NEOSinC) conference called Death March on March 12. I am so lucky to get to do this. Last year, I interviewed multi-Edgar award winner, Daniel Stashower, and the year before that, Agatha award winner, Hank Phillipi Ryan. I am asked to conduct these interviews because I am a scholar of the mystery genre, in a group made up mostly of mystery writers and fans, and because I am good at it. I tagged on that last bit because I always forget it. Before every time I go to interview someone famous, someone who has made a difference in my favorite genre, I get frightened that this time, this time, I will mess up, behave foolishly, ask a stupid question, not ask the important question, in fact, perform so poorly I will never be asked to do this again. I also had the brilliant notion that we need to do a better job of marketing ourselves as writers, and said that I would be happy to create a sheet with contact information including social media info for all the writers in NeoSinc. I am creating this handout at the same time as I am reading all of Rozan’s books and preparing to moderate a panel.

Or maybe the key issue is that in a few weeks, one of my best and oldest friends in the world is coming to visit me for four days from London. I haven’t seen her in a year, and my mind is in a whirl about all the things I want to do when she comes here. Part of the difficulty with the visit this time is that two friends she adores and always wants to see have been having a series of crises and have been practically incommunicado. I’ve found myself worrying at odd times what I need to do to both help them and to try to get them to participate in the visit.

But then again, also taking up a lot of time and worry is that I am also teaching, and I am involved in a kerfluffle with a student who has missed 15 classes and the midterm exam and has accused me of unfairness because I don’t think he should be allowed to take the test. (My syllabus says students are likely to fail after missing more than 6 classes. His stance is that he pays a lot of money to go to college, so I should accede to his wishes. We disagree on this.) It is not a pleasant place to be right now.

Of course, I’ve had to have major plumbing and other work done recently meaning money assigned for other things went to pay for this work. And the plumbers are coming back to do yet more work this week.

Most important of all, perhaps, is that I’m also trying to get my book finished, and build my author platform, which includes doing a weekly podcast, which involves, in addition to watching episodes of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, also interviewing others for additional episodes and doing research on Buffy.

Oh, that felt good. A chance to list some of the things weighing on my mind. I’m sure if you’ve gotten this far you are wondering what I’m jabbering on about, and it is this: if you don’t find a way to master all that is worrying you, you will accomplish little. When I have a lot happening in my life, sometimes it acts as a spur, and I actually get even more done. I’m sure you’ve heard the adage, if you want something done, give it to a busy person. But lately, what I’m discovering, is that I’m tired, and I’m very easily overwhelmed. I used to be able to burn as a blowtorch and get things done no matter what; frankly, I simply can’t do that anymore.

So here are some nuggets of advice that might help you. These are the things that usually work for me, and they are working for me this week, which is why I thought to write this post.

I keep a to do list. I split the page in half lengthwise. On today’s list, the left side says Tuesday, and the right side says Wednesday. I then do what you would expect: write down the things that I need to do today and tomorrow. Having a two day split is incredibly useful to me, because often I don’t think about what I need tomorrow until I see today’s list, and vice versa. This list is nothing new to me;possibly, you do something similar as well.

Over my spring break, I created a simplified Masterlist. Instead of writing everything that needs doing, I wrote it based on key things in my life. This happened, for the month of March, to be 8 things, most of which you see mentioned above. I then took each goal, and broke it into mini-steps. For example, for S. J. Rozan, I wrote down:

  • Rozan books I still had to read;
  • get a Cleveland Public Library card to check out a book I couldn’t get through my usual library system;
  • visit websites to do some research on her;
  • find questions I had asked previous mystery celebrities to get an idea as to what I had done in the past (this makes me feel safer because I know those interviews were successful);
  • what steps do I need to take to create the marketing NeoSinc sheet and
  • what info do I need for the panelists so I can introduce them

I did this sort of breakdown for each important task on my list. Today, when I began to feel panicky about not being able to get everything done, I realized, I can’t get everything done. I can only get a few of the most important things done. My friend from England is coming the end of March. There are a number of things I need to do before she gets here, but that isn’t for 3 weeks. I realized that what I need to do is keep a list of stuff to do, and for things that might need preparation, put a start date down for when to do it. For example, when Nina comes, we watch television and movies together. I’ll need to order some of these from the library and Netflix. Better do that at least 10 days before she comes. Here’s the thing: once I started my list, I realized I didn’t need to worry about that. It is much more important and relevant that I think about and act upon the Rozan project.

There are so many things I SHOULD be doing in addition to what I’ve written above. My tendency at these times is to want to take a nap, make another pot of tea, watch an episode or two or three or more of Murder, She Wrote, my latest obsession. Oddly enough, none of these things (except maybe the tea) will actually help me get anything done. What ends up happening is I fall further behind and fall into more of a swivet. So, I’ve learned to make the picture smaller.

For this week, and this week only, I have to teach, and I have to go to the Lit Cleveland Board Meeting and be prepared, but the most important thing I need to do, I’ve decided, is be ready for the Saturday conference. Therefore, every day this week, on my daily list, are tasks I need to complete for that. Those are what I do before everything else. When I have extra time, I fit in other things. Since I’m quite good at creating baby steps, tasks that can be completed in 10 minutes or less, I find that despite a jam-packed week, most of the little things have been done. I’m also beginning to catch my breath with the mystery conference. This afternoon, I realized after I eschewed the nap and the Jessica Fletcher marathon, that I’m ahead of things with the Rozan project. So ahead, in fact, that I had time to write this blog. This is me feeling really good about the mystery conference.

I learned awhile ago that despite the fact that I create daily, weekly, and monthly lists, I frequently don’t accomplish the most important things (like, let’s say, getting my book finished and published. Oy!) yet I’m always busy. A great suggestion I discovered, which I have to relearn over and over is, put the three most important things, those tasks that will move you towards your heart’s goal (like the book getting finished and into an editor’s hands) at the top of the list. Make sure those things get checked off before cleaning litter boxes and washing windows gets done. And, you can add to this my suggestion of something that is working for me today, that of making the picture smaller.

You can’t do everything, so pick the most important task for the week and do something about it every day.

Keep Writing, Even When You've Got Great Excuses Not to

Last Friday, Feb. 26, I was on top of the world. My spring break was beginning, and I had so much energy. I got rid of paper that had been in my basement for over 15 years! (I’m a college English teacher, and I USED to save everything that could be used as a model for my students. Oy.) This past weekend, I filled more than 8 bags with paper and recyled it. What an amazing feeling. Bins became empty as I removed files and discarded them; several huge boxes are now ready for the garbagemen.

I also worked on Chapter 5, the final chapter of my monograph. And, I set up an author website and wrote three blogs. I finished a couple of books, too. My spring break looked like I was riding on air and going to accomplish so much.

On Monday, Feb. 29, I gave a writing workshop at the South Euclid branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library. I was so excited to present and ready to do so. I woke up late that morning only to discover that my hot water heater had died and was leaking in my basement. I could hear the gas. Oh no. I couldn’t get in touch with a single friend who knew about these things. All I could think about was that my animals would die in a fiery explosion, I had no money to get a new water heater, and in about 45 minutes, I had to give a two hour presentation on the other side of town.

The following day (by the way, nobody died the day before in a gas explosion) the water heater guy came out and needed to drain the tank. Except that my drain in my basement is clogged, and he couldn’t drain the tank. I’d been putting off plumbing repairs, of which there are many, for months, waiting till I had money. Now I needed to hire plumbers to fix the drain so I could get the hot water heater in.

That night, while eating gummy, chewy candy, I realized that my crown was gone (the one in my mouth, not on my head). It didn’t hurt, but I knew I would need a dentist.

That night, last night, I didn’t want to write. My goal is to write every day for a minimum of 26 minutes. (See the post cleverly titled “26 Minutes.”)

Last night, I decided, I had had so many things go wrong, all of them expensive, that it was perfectly reasonable that I not write. In fact, I should take Bailey on a longer walk than usual, and I should watch another episode or two of Psych, and then read. No one, and I mean no one, could blame me if I didn’t write. Life was really sucking, and I shouldn’t have to do anything but self-care.

My brain is so tricky. I had just explained on Monday at the writing workshop that I am what Gretchen Rubin ( of The Happiness Project) would call an abstainer. There are people who can write every few days or weeks without schedule, and they do good work. I’m a person with severe writing anxiety. I am not one of those people. I can go a day or two without writing and still be sort of OK. Longer than that though, and there is a problem. And that’s the thing. My brain is very smart. It knows the angles and knows that I will seize at anything to get out of writing when I don’t feel like doing it. I told my class, don’t allow that to happen.

So, despite not wanting to be at my computer last night, I chose to write. Was it the best I’ve ever written? No, but it wasn’t bad. In fact, I finished a segment of Chapter 5 that has been troubling me for quite awhile. I’m down to 2 more sections to do. That is exciting. And you know what? Accomplishing that goal made me feel better. I lost the panicky feeling, the out of control feeling I’d had with the third disaster. Actually, I no longer thought of any of it as a disaster.

Here’s what I know: I have to finish this chapter. Then I have to revise the book. And then I have to send it out and try to get it published. That is what I need to do whether the roof is caving in or the car needs work. As long as I’m eating and my animals are eating (so they aren’t inclined to eat me in my sleep), and I have heat and electricity, I need to push on through. The alternative is that I don’t finish this book or my future writing projects, thus leading in turn, to my dreams being crushed and my life ruined.

Don’t let your circumstances stop you from taking those baby steps to your success. Last night, I was able to “spare” 32 minutes to do my writing and finish the section. I’m one step closer to finishing this book. Someday, I might even make enough money from my writing to pay for the water heater, the crown, and the plumbing. For now, I just have to keep writing.

Page 3 of 4
1 2 3 4