Thursday, February 26, 2015


Recently I came across a clever saying attributed to a mystery writer. “Crime doesn’t pay... enough.” To me, this was more than just clever word-play, because I’ve just signed a contract for my first mystery novel and, after fourteen romance novels, and twenty-some years as a member of RWA, I dropped that to join Mystery Writers of America. Imagine my disappointment, therefore, to read this:

“In a rapidly changing publishing industry, it is harder for all writers to make a living from our craft. The sales bar for midlist and beginning writers has been steeply raised, while advances and promotion budgets have dropped just as steeply. Everyone is suffering, but for African-American, LGBT, Asian and Hispanic writers, the suffering is more acute. Disproportionate numbers of... those crime writers have been forced into self-publishing or have left crime fiction altogether.

“As a woman...I’ve been acutely aware of the marginalization of women’s voices in society and in the industry during...the last thirty years. We are more likely than men to lose contracts, to lose print options and to lose marketing and promotion opportunities. The marginalization of writers of color of both sexes and of LGBT writers is even more egregious. It is my hope that...we can start raising consciousness in the industry about these problems, offer ways to address them, and also provide support to more writers on the margin.”

The above article was an eye-opener even though I’m already self-publishing many of my titles and thought I knew all the reasons why so many authors do the same. Now I find that self-publishing is better than Traditional not only because of superior royalties, control over titles, covers, book prices, publication dates and royalty payments, but also because self-published women writers are doing fine, thank you. No one is denying them contracts, print options or marketing opportunities.

Just last week I read an article about publishers allowing writers to avoid agents and go straight to editors, an obvious tactic to attract more manuscript submissions. Self-publishers are already bypassing agents and even publishers, and Amazon welcomes them. Besides their own imprints, Montlake Romance, Thomas & Mercer, and 47 North, the latest program is Kindle Scout where ordinary readers, visitors to the site, can nominate books they think should be published. It would appear the Number One retailer in the country will soon be the top publisher of most of the books in the most popular genres.

This, on top of the recently-published fourth Author Earnings report, reveals why traditional publishing is hurting. Unlike Trad publishing’s authors, more and more self publishers report quitting their day jobs because they can finally make a living doing what they love to do. And, once those “crime writers forced into self-publishing” learn they can actually make more money and have more control on their own terms, they won’t be back. And they won’t be alone.

Thursday, February 19, 2015


If you don’t read the blog of Dean Wesley Smith, you missed a good post recently. It’s from his updated writing book, KILLING THE SACRED COWS OF PUBLISHING, where, chapter by chapter, he points out that some things beginning writers are told, as if they’re etched into stone tablets, are flat wrong. In fact, they’re myths.

Smith points out that length used to be a criterion for whether a book was acceptable. Some traditional publishers still use length as a guide for whether they’ll consider publishing something, and that can severely limit an author’s ability to tell the story he wants to tell. Having been a published author for many years, Smith remembers when books suddenly had to be very long - 80,000 to 100,000 words - or not considered worthy. That was a hoax because the truth was those publishers were faced with rising expenses and needed to make more money. Their scheme was to publish longer books and charge more for them.

Now, thanks to self-publishing and small presses, authors are free from being forced to write to a certain length. Which is a good thing. Smith offers a list of famous novels which were less than 40,000 words long and enjoyed great popularity and acclaim. Here are some of them:

Jack London’s CALL OF THE WILD
John Steinbeck’a OF MICE AND MEN
George Orwell’s ANIMAL FARM
Robert Louis Stevenson’s DR. JECKYLL AND MISTER HYDE
Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL
John Steinbeck’s THE PEARL

This is only a partial list, and it can be argued that many of these novels are quite old, written before publishers decided to raise book prices as a way to avoid having to leave their expensive New York offices. But the desire and necessity to write short is growing. Today’s readers want to use their I-Pads, even telephones, to catch up on the latest romance or thriller from their favorite author. “Short is the new long” is the slogan of today. And that doesn’t mean the reader can’t have an excellent reading experience. After all, the author, not some publisher, is the better judge of the “right” length for her story.

Blog reader/author: Do you write shorter books than you formerly did? Do you find them more, or less, popular than your other work?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


A post about whether traveling results in writing books, which I read on another blog, reminded me it was time to write about how so often my books were inspired by my travels. I’ve been lucky because my husband spent his gainfully employed years working for a major airline. In fact, I wish we had traveled more, but we also raised children, and it’s not always easy to combine the two. But, at the risk of sounding like a travelogue, here are my completed books, in alphabetical order, that were the result of travel.

A DEATH IN PHOENIX, not yet published, didn’t require hopping on an airplane. I drove there, but, having been born and reared in Illinois, it was a different background for me. Palm trees, hot summers, Christmas shopping in short sleeves or even shorts, were exotic to me.

CHOICES. Currently unavailable during rewrites. This one takes place in Los Angeles and San Francisco, so it wasn’t a long trip from my home in Northern and - later - Southern California.

COLD APRIL. Obviously I wasn’t on the Titanic, but we did travel to Branson, Missouri, where there’s a replica of the ship, a guided tour and a large bookstore which provided me with plenty of information. I’ve also seen every film and documentary from the comfort of my TV chair.

FINDING AMY contains scenes in both London and Paris, both of which I visited more than once. But we were there for visits to friends and relatives or on vacations, not trying to solve a mystery. And, thank goodness, not arrested by French police.

FREE FALL takes place in California’s central valley, again not too far away from home. Research for that included going up in private planes and also a small helicopter which didn’t even have a door on my side. The seat belt worked, however.

THE GREEN BOUGH - about a schoolteacher in an Oregon logging camp in 1913 - got most of its research due to Aunt Gladys telling me about her adventures and material from the Oregon History Society (where we have our family name on a brick).

THE ITALIAN JOB. That time I got to fly to Rome, Pisa, Florence, and Venice, plus a train to Milan and a rental car to Lake Como. As did my heroine. After all, that was her job.

NORTH BY NORTHEAST required a flight to New Orleans, then a train trip from there to Washington, D.C. with stops in Savannah, Charleston and Richmond, and another flight to St. Louis to see the arch (but didn’t put the arch in the book).

SOUTHERN STAR required a flight to New York where we boarded a 56-foot yacht owned by friends and sailed up the river. It was very romantic, although we were already married.

STRANGER IN PARADISE took advantage of my extensive knowledge of Hawaii, especially the island of Maui, because we owned a condo there for twenty years and visited twice a year to maintain it for guests. Yes, we did find time to swim and snorkle between chores.

I’ve also traveled to Germany, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, Mexico, Vatican City, Switzerland, and a few other places, so I have material for more books. Now that I’m adding mystery to my romance repertoire, I may become another Jessica Fletcher, finding dead people wherever I go.

Blog readers, what exotic places have you visited?

Thursday, February 5, 2015


The big news this week is that a second book written by Harper Lee has been found and will be published. Actually, it was a first book, having been written before TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and, in it, Scout is grown up, not a child, and has returned to Alabama to visit her father, lawyer Atticus Finch.

The publisher, Harper, is planning a print run of two million copies, expecting all Lee’s many fans - who longed for another book - to want to grab a copy now that there is a sequel. I, too, read TKAM the year it was first published, but will wait for a few reviews, I think, before ordering one. Not that I fear it won’t be good, however. After all, Lee was 34 when she wrote it and, perhaps, at the height of her literary talent.

For some reason this story reminded me of a film, originally produced in 1966, that was remade in 2012. I’m afraid I must agree with a film critic who complained a few years ago about Hollywood’s penchant for remaking successful films into less-worthy versions, “Why,” the critic suggested, “don’t they choose a “flop” and remake that into a good movie?” Something the public actually needs. We don’t need a crappy version of a successful one.

I saw the second version on Netflix and it had the same title, GAMBIT, but of course, different actors. Instead of Michael Caine, Shirley MacLaine and Herbert Lom, it has Colin Firth, Cameron Diaz and Alan Rickman. Now, I happen to be a big Colin Firth fan and I admire Alan Rickman, but Cameron Diaz leaves me cold, especially playing a Texan with an thick accent.

In fact, I barely followed the updated story because of all the accents: British, Texan, Italian (Stanley Tucci) and six Chinese (or Japanese) characters. No wonder they gave it only 2-1/2 stars.

I think you can still get a copy of the original GAMBIT, so order that and you’ll be pleased. It got 5 stars and was labeled a “Classic.” If they don’t have it, write and complain.