Michael Haskins

Monday, November 24, 2008

Networking for writers and book signings

I am a believer in writers networking. We are solitary people, sitting often for hours, if not days and weeks, alone with our thoughts, sometimes a blank screen, and an idea. We play God to a world we create and bleed to bring our creation to life. Could God be as lonely as a writer trying to pound out that one true sentence?

I have been a member of Mystery Writers of America (http://www.mysterywriters.org/) since the ‘80s. For the past 12 years, I have belonged to the Florida chapter of MWA and have met many interesting and talented people. I live in Key West and that’s pretty far from most of the chapter’s luncheons and other activities, but the statewide membership keeps in touch via a yahoo.com chat group, as well as its monthly newsletter. Then there’s the annual SleuthFest (www.mwaflorida.org/sleuthfest) gathering that is both a social and educational experience. Non-writers are welcomed to join MWA. Check it out.

Through this networking, I was able to obtain some blurbs for my book, ‘Chasin’ the Wind.” Through MWA, I met Edgar Award winning author Megan Abbott (http://www.meganabbott.com/), Bob Morris (www.bobmorris.net), and Nancy Cohen (www.authorsden.com/nancyjcohen). I knew Jerry Healy (www.jeremiahhealy.com) and Tom Corcoran (www.tomcorcoran.net) from my first days in Key West. All of these people wrote blurbs for my book and all are popular writers.

One of Nancy Cohen’s posting on the yahoo.com group was about an opportunity to participate in the Parkland, Florida, Library’s annual author’s showcase. Nancy gave us the email address for Wendy Peppercorn, program coordinator for the library. Wendy got right back to me and I was on the program, with seven other authors.

One of the other participants was Joe Moore, a mystery writer I met a few years ago at SleuthFest.
PHOTO: Deborah Shlian, Joe Moore & Me)
Joe and Lynn Sholes have a great series going and I was able to buy a signed copy of the new Cotton Stone thriller, “The 731 Legacy.” (http://www.cottonstone.com/). While waiting for the program began, Joe and I had a brief talk about writing and it seems we share a few traits. While we all hear about writers (Steven King and Dennis Lynds come to mind) who get up and write all day, Joe and I are happy to write for three-hours straight. I often feel guilty because I get up in the morning and have my two or three cafĂ© con leches, read the papers, while watching MSNBC, before sitting in front of the computer. Then there are the damn emails to reply to and/or delete, and then there are blogs to read. It was good to know that Joe felt three-hours of writing was a full day. I wasn’t alone! Writers are an insecure group.

The conference room at the Parkland Library was standing room only, as the program began. Deborah & Joel Shlian, (http://www.shlian.com/) physicians and mystery writers, were there. Deborah I knew from past SleuthFests. Their book,”Rabbit in the Moon,” is a Best Books Award Finalist.

All of us writers got to speak briefly about our books and encouraged questions. I think we probably averaged 15-minutes at the podium. It was interesting to me, that after everyone spoke, and we could mingle, only a few people came up to my table. A couple of people were interested in Key West and I sold one book. What I observed were people more interested in the price of books than in subject matter. We were a mix of mystery, youth genre, and non-fiction. Maybe, with so many to choose from, price was a top consideration.

I saw that in Vero Beach, when I signed, and that was back at the first signs of a crisis in the stock market. People came in, looked at the book, saw the price, and asked me when it would be out in paperback. I can understand that. For the $25.95 cost of my book, you could buy two or three paperbacks, or almost two trade paperbacks. While this crisis goes on, and everything points to 18-months to two years (the positive attitude!), I think paperback sales will increase. That concerns me, because my sequel, “Free Range Institution,” is at the publishers and I fear they are not in too much of a hurry to get books out – but that’s my opinion based on my fears.

The following weekend I showed up at the Miami Book Fair where I was invited to sign at the Florida Chapter MWA/Murder on the Beach Bookstore booths. This offer came via the chapter’s yahoo.com chat group. Joanne Sinchuk, general manager ofMurder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore (http://www.murderonthebeach.com/) arranged everything and had writers signing every hour, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., on both Saturday and Sunday. Each hour, two writers signed. That gave a lot of us exposure to people we wouldn’t have reached through our normal channels.

I arrived at the book fair a little before 11 a.m. to give my support to my friend Sandy Balzo (http://www.sandrabalzo.com/). (I should point out that I get lost just about every time I drive north of Florida
PHOTO: Jerry Healy, Sandy Balzo & me
so I always give myself plenty to time to get places outside the Keys) I also ran into Jerry Healy, Tom Corcoran, Les Sandiford, and Neil Plakcy (http://www.mahubooks.com/). The Florida MWA chapter had a room set aside at the fair for a pizza lunch for members. Megan Abbott stopped by, too.

After the pizza, I hung around the booth where I would sign at 4 p.m. and noticed, again, that hardback books were not selling as well as paperbacks. Some writers there to sign with paperback copies of earlier books as well sold them. I sold three, which isn’t a lot, but many people stopped and talked to me about writing, my book, and Key West. They all got a promotional postcard with the book cover, blurbs, and website, and, maybe, when my book does come out in paperback they might be looking for it.

One book sold to a young woman in the next booth, who liked Key West and scanned the book while I was eating pizza and bought it. The other two were sold to people who stopped to talk to me about Key West. One man enjoyed visiting the Keys and was looking forward to a long weekend in Key West. He was from Las Vegas and came to Miami on business one or two weeks a month. While I was talking to him, I saw a woman going through my book in the classic tradition. She looked at the cover, turned it over, read the blurbs on back, opened it and read the inside jacket copy and then started reading chapter one.

When the Las Vegas resident paid and I signed his book, I noticed she was on chapter two and thought she was going to read the whole book while standing there. She closed the cover before finishing chapter two and brought it to me to sign. She said she liked my dialogue.

At 5 p.m., I was done and ready to drive back more than 150-miles to Key West. On the long ride home, I thought to myself how lucky I am. It was my dream to be a writer since my teenage years and here I was, years later, on my way home to Key West after signing “Chasin’ the Wind” at the famous Miami Book Fair.

What a world for those of us with persistence and the writing disease.


Joe Moore said...

Hey Michael, great to see you at the Parkland event. Next stop, SleuthFest. Have a great Holiday Season.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Great photos and writeup, Michael. You are so right about the importance of networking. I just got back from the cruise conference sponsored by Florida Romance Writers. We had eight editors and agents on board the Navigator of the Seas with us, and guess what? They couldn't go anywhere else! We sailed to Coco Cay and had a great time pitching our projects, attending workshops, and doing a booksigning along the interior Promenade. Hanging out in the lounges and by the pool made for a more relaxed conference than ever before. All of us accomplished our objectives and more, not to mention having fun with those rum punches and karaoke!

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