Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Golden Age of Writing


by Timothy Hallinan

I once knew a woman who translated hieroglyphics, and one of the texts she translated into English was one of the oldest poems known to man, dating from about 3000 BC. It was about how things were better before. It was a lament for having missed the Golden Age. It seems to be human nature to think in terms of lost golden ages. The operative word is “lost.” It’s not even fashionable to think that we’re living in a golden age.

I think we are. I think this is a golden age for mysteries and thrillers. Sure, some of the great ones are gone. Christie, Hammett, Chandler, Sayers, Tey, Highsmith,  McDonald, Stout, Parker and many others. But we have an enormous number of exceptional writers working now, and more titles to choose from than any other time in history. I’d put the best writers working today up against the best writers since Poe kicked things off. Who’s better than James Lee Burke, Sue Grafton, Louise Penny, Laura Lippman, S.J. Ronan, Lee Child, John LeCarre, Donna Leon? I could go on for pages—all of them writing right now.

I think this Golden Age has come about for three reasons. First, the ubiquity of relatively inexpensive books; until just a few years ago, despite all their moans and groans, the world’s publishers put out, in editions of varying costs, more books than in any time in history. And with all those books published, good writing usually found a champion.

Second, the durability of the genre. The mystery or thriller is one of the oldest genres, (What is “Oedipus Rex” if not a mystery?”) and one of the most universal. Mysteries and thrillers help readers work through some of the most difficult aspects of human existence. They present a world in which order, even though it’s been temporarily broken down, can be restored. They ignored the fashion of nihilism of despair that mars so much of supposedly “literary” fiction.

Third, women have come full circle. Once the royalty of the genre, they faded during the heyday of the pulps, the hardboiled noir and the five-testicle PI fiction of the ‘40s through the ‘60s. And then, starting in the ‘70s, the entire genre tilted, women reemerged with a vengeance, no longer confined to the classic and/or cozy end of the spectrum but ranging straight across from one extreme to another. 

And in one of the most remarkable shifts in modern marketing history, women became the driving force in mystery writing. So now we have women writing all kinds of books and also some of the best male writers who have ever worked in the genre. Jackpot. We’ve even seen the loosening (pretty much an abandonment) on what people write about, which has produced some terrible books but also some really serious explorations of the darkest corners of human behavior.

And now we’re seeing things open up even more widely. The ebook has broken New York’s stranglehold on what we can read—and what we can write, too. Once again, we’re seeing books that should have remained in people’s desk drawers, but we’re also seeing some tremendous stuff. It’s certainly opened things up for me. Like most writers, I’ve been restricted in what I could write because publishers would only buy a certain kind of book from me. But now I can write anything I want and put it out there to sink or swim.

I believe it’s a uniquely human experience to be frightened and amused at the same time. And I love writing books that attempt to put the reader in that position. 

But do I think Little Elvises and Crushed are Golden Age material? I doubt it—I can’t take myself that seriously. But they’re the product of a writer doing what he wants instead of what a corporation wants him to do, and in the long run that has to be good for everyone. When people look back on this particular Golden Age, I think they’ll say the emergence of the ebook both broadened and prolonged it.

(Excerpted from The Mystery Writerswhere you can read Tim’s complete interview.)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

So What are You Waiting For?


by Robert Liparulo (bestselling author whose books have been adapted to film.)

Write! Nothing takes the place of writing for learning the craft. Not formal education, not seminars or conferences or books about writing Not critique groups or deep conversations with like-minded friends, not studying the markets, not reading. All are valuable, but they're insignificant when compared to experientially learning how to get what's in your head on the page in a way that gets your ideas into another's head. 

Not everything you write will be or should be published but you have to rack up enough words to learn the craft to attract editors and eventually readers. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell uses the Beatles and Bill Gates to validate "The 10,000-Rule," which says that highly successful people in any field have to put in 10,000 hours practicing their craft before they hit their stride or rise above the competition. The average full-time work year is 2,040 hours, so we're talking about five solid years of writing, and only writing. At 500 words per hour, that's 500,000,000 words committed to paper.

But let's be realistic and admit that telling a story is more than slamming out words. You have to think through a story, maybe outline it; research it, write it, then edit, revise and polish. If we give equal time to planning, researching, writing and editing, 10,000 hours still mean 125,000,000 words on page or screen.

The words can take any form of communication--personal letters, practice stories, blog posts, proposals, articles and short fiction published in magazines. (Sure, you can score some cash during this time; the Beatles were paid to play in Liverpool and Hamburg almost nonstop for three years while they honed their craft.) All of it moves you closer to the brass ring, a publishing contract or bestseller. 

Thing is, it's easy to fool ourselves that a pseudo-writing endeavor like attending a conference and  talking about writing is writing. It's not.

One million, two hundred and fifty thousand words! How far along are you? If you knew, really knew that upon reaching that figure (give or take some) you'd be the best of the best and no editor would dream of rejecting you, wouldn't you choose to write over doing those has-something-to-do-with-writing-but-isn't writing things? 

So what are you waiting for?

(Excerpted from The Mystery Writers, where you can read Robert Liparulo's interview as well as access his writing tips for fledgling writers.)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Indie Publishing: the Good, Bad and the Ugly


by bestselling Canadian author Cheryl Kaye Tardif

In 2003 I began my career as a published novelist. Previously I had published smaller works--articles and poetry--in magazines, newspapers and one anthology. I then decided to go the indie route because I was tired of trying to get published and only getting rejection letters. It was the BEST decision I ever made.

My novel, Whale Song, was published in 2003, and it saw moderate success, along with two other titles, and I was able to hone my skills as an avid book marketer. I made the book signing circuit to bookstores in both British Columbia and Alberta, Canada. And I began marketing online as well.

In 2006 Whale Song was picked up by a small Canadian publisher and released in 2007. It sold well and surpassed 5,000 copies in sales, making the book a national bestseller. It was also on several Amazon bestseller lists: .com, .ca and .uk, which made it an international bestseller. However my publisher began experiencing financial difficulties along with other problems, and I pulled out. That was the "bad period" for me in my career.

In 2010 Amazon opened Kindle Direct Publishing to Canadian authors and I went back to my roots--indie publishing. For me it's probably the best fit. I am by nature very independent and a strong marketer. Plus, I'm an idea person. Even my former publisher saw this in me and often called me a "marketing guru" or "marketing genius." While I don't consider myself a genius, I do know that I'm a risk taker.

By 2012 I had nine ebooks published. Most have made bestseller lists along with eight trade paperbacks. I'm also published in another anthology, What Fears Become. And I've moved from bestselling author to publisher; a move that has surprised me yet is so rewarding that it's hard to explain. My company, Imajin Books, isn't like most publishers. We think ahead and out of the box.

I'm still technically indie published as I've published all my own titles, but Imajin authors are traditionally published. We pay them advances and regular royalties. And they are paid more than from most publishers. In many ways we treat our authors as though they were independently published. They have more say in their books, titles, covers and trailers. We think of them as partners, although they've put no money up front for publication of their titles. Like I said before, I'm a risk taker. 

During my career, I've seen the good, bad and the ugly. But I now see a wide window of opportunity. Those who go the indie publishing route will be successful if they have what it takes--marketing know-how and determination. What an exciting time to be in publishing, especially if you're an "idea person" like me. 

(Excerpted from the book, The Mystery Writers, where you can read Cheryl Kaye Tardif's interview as well as her guest blog. The book is now available in audio, print and ebook editions.)