Michael Haskins

Friday, April 27, 2007

SleuthFest - Friday

If the Mystery Writers of America’s Florida Chapter’s SleuthFest has a downside it’s the choices the participants have to make. Friday morning, beginning at 9, there were four 50-minute-long panels discussing everything from plot, female sleuths, the perfect pitch and death scene investigations. And on the hour, for the rest of the three-day event, new panel topics were offered and participants had to make hard choices on which one to attend, until it was over at 5 p.m. The variety of the panels was amazing. They covered everything imaginable, from technical items to mysticism, noir vs. cozies, music in mysteries, and the list went on!
How do you choose one out of so many good panels?
The 10 a.m. panel wasn’t hard to choose, because John Helfers, from Tekno Books/Five Star was on the Goldilocks & the Three Publishers panel. I had not met John, officially, so I wanted to introduce myself.
Joining John on the panel were Robert Gussin, Ocean View, and Stephen Hull, Justin, Charles & Co., all small publishing businesses outside NYC. The small publishers offer a new writer a much better chance of getting in print than the NYC publishers do. Of course, the reason for this is they pay a lot less and, in many cases, print runs are smaller. They do, often it seems, give higher royalty payments to authors.
The small publishers, these panelists said, depend heavily on their authors to sell books. Where NYC publishers usually have money for promotion, the small publishers have little, if any. While this was discouraging news to many in the audience, it was something I had looked into and knew going in. I actually have already begun plans for touring to promote my book, “Chasin’ the Wind” early next year.
As the publishers said, getting into the chain bookstores is difficult, but not impossible. The independent bookstores, especially those focusing on mysteries, are not impossible to get signings at, but it takes work.
I spent many years as an MWA member in Southern California and in that time I haunted many mystery bookstores. When author Robert Crais was touring in South Florida, I met him at Murder on the Beach Bookstore, Delray Beach, and found out that many of the stores I went to were still in operation. They may have moved location, but they were in business. Since so many independent bookstores across the country are going out of business, this was good news. I will be visiting those stores, from Santa Barbara to Burbank in late June to remind the owners how much I spent in their stores.
I will have my press kit ready for my trip and, according to J.A. Konrath, the kit is important.
If you work in a bookstore in Southern California, or knows someone that does, e-mail me information and I will stop by when I’m there.
I never got to introduce myself to John, since I was the moderator at the 11 a.m. program, Knives, Guns & Other Fun Things. The guest speaker was Miami-Dade CSI crime lab expert John Mancini. As you have probably guessed, John had a good time poking fun at the TV CSI programs. He said he took the shows with a grain-of-salt and thought of them as entertainment, not fact. Though, he did admit, some on the CSI staff didn’t.
He presented a good and informative PowerPoint program on identifying weapons, including a variety of handguns and knives and various ammunitions. This was a must program for writers who like to make sure facts make it into their crime novels.
During the lunch break I finally caught up with John Helfers and we did get together afterward and for drinks at the pool after 5 p.m.
The special lunch guest speaker was René Balcer, Emmy Award winning writer/producer of “Law & Order,” as well as creator of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.” He was an interesting speaker as he explained how the show is written and his being a stickler for facts.
John was listening to authors’ pitches after lunch, so we agreed to meet at the pool after 5 pm.
From 2:15 – 5:05 p.m., there were four panels, per hour and choosing which one to attend was difficult. I went to the PR Strategies for Selling Your Book,by NYC publicists Joannie and Nicholas Danieldies. (I am taking the spelling of names from the program, even though it is upsetting my spellchecker).
The information was good, but it all costs money and, according to the small publishers, they were not footing the bill. I can tell you firsthand, the advance from Five Star would not begin to cover the costs of PR.
My next two hours were filled with a two-part panel: Marketing Ideas: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. Panelists changed for the second hour and my marketing plans for “Chasin’ the Wind” were supported, which made me feel good.
Coming next, drinks with the publisher!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

SleuthFest '07

Are you a mystery fan or a writer? Not that it matters, but there was a good mixture of both at the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America’s SleuthFest in Miami Beach.
As you probably know, I live in Key West and leaving the island by anything but boat is a traumatic experience. Really, it is. There’s a little less than 10-miles of four-lane road as you exit Key West on US1, that maybe you can drive 60 mph safely. After that most of the speed limit is 45-55 mph on a two-lane road.
My anxiety doesn’t set in until the Florida Turnpike entrance in Florida City. The speed limit is 60-65 mph on the Turnpike, but anyone that has driven it knows 80 mph is the norm, with a little slowing down in the construction areas; the area around the Miami International Airport is always under construction – I think there is a city or county ordinance requiring it.
From the Turnpike to I-95 I can not have the radio on and I must smoke a cigar to quiet my nerves. I am expecting some whacked-out Miamian to ram their speeding vehicle into my Jeep. When I-95 turned into I-195, I was on the causeway to Miami Beach, a whole other world of high-rises and expensive boutiques and restaurants.
My hotel was a 15-minute walk from the hotel hosting SleuthFest and the room was about half the cost. Hell, it cost $20 to park at either hotel, so I figured paying $40 a day was stupid, so I walked. The exercise was probably good for me (probably?).
I showed up Thursday because I wanted to attend the talk by author J.A. Konrath. Joe is an expert on self promotion and since “Chasin’ the Wind” is my first book, and I need to self promote it, I thought it would be a good idea. It was. Joe is knowledgeable and funny. I have figured out that if you want to be a writer, you need a good sense of humor or the job could break you!
Joe was packed full with advice, gimmicks and laughs. Google him, his site is full of advice and booklets that I copied and have enjoyed. After I told him some of the things I had planned for promoting my book, he said I was going in the right direction and tossed in a few ideas of his own.
I also wanted to take the Thursday short-story workshop by writer Elaine Viets, but, sadly, Elaine had a stroke a few days prior to the festival. The good news is, she is recouping and should be home soon.
Since the cover design for “Chasin’ the Wind” hadn't been delivered, my friend Bill Lane, from Fastlane Advertising in Key West, put together a business card with my photo from the book jacket, my name (dah!), the name of the book, publisher, and my website address. I left a lot of these on the various self promotion tables around the festival and people actually took some.
Joe is a big believer of giving things away on his website, so I checked with my publisher (more about him later on another post) and he said I could post my short story, “Murder in Key West,” on the site and suggested I also post a few chapters from “Chasin’ the Wind.”
“Murder in Key West” is currently on my site and will give you a brief look at some of the characters in my novel. My plan is that “Chasin’ the Wind” is the first in a series, “A Mad Mick Murphy Mystery.” The next book is half written and I hope to know if it will be accepted by Five Star by the end of summer.
The first of May, chapter one from “Chasin’ the Wind” will appear on my site and then for the next few months I will add another chapter per month. Obviously, the idea is to get you to read it and buy the book to see how it comes out.
I would like your feedback on the short story, so let me hear from you.
More on SleuthFest to come.

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