Wednesday, September 11, 2013

5 Things About Book Publishing I Wish I Knew Then

 Guest Post by Deborah Sharp

First, I must recognize Mystery Writing is Murder as the fantastic resource it is for me, and for countless others. Much thanks to Elizabeth for her fantastic blog, and for inviting me to guest post today.  

This month marks the publication of the fifth book in my Mace Bauer Mystery Series. It seems a good time to pause to look back at what I didn't know when I started out.  Here are 5 Things About Book Publishing I Wish I Knew Then:  

1. Writing your first book isn't the hard part.
The other stuff -- getting it published, promoting it, learning the ins and outs of marketing when your entire experience in sales was peddling Girl Scout cookies in the fifth grade --- that's the hard part. And if you're doing a series, like me, you'll also be writing another book during the learning curve. Start learning about the business side of being a writer before you get published. 

2. Your readers are not only drawn TO your setting, they're drawn FROM your setting. 
Give this some thought. Had I done so at the beginning, I might not have set my first book, and hence my series, in a region of Florida that has more cattle than people. Cows, in case you didn't know, do not buy books.  

3. Publishers want what they want when they want it. 
When I began working on my switch from journalism to fiction-writing in 2004, ebooks weren't even a gleam in Amazon's eye. I went the traditional publishing route. If you do the same, you'll probably wait months to hear from a publisher you've pitched. You may not ever hear back at all. But if you do, and turn in the finished version of your manuscript, months may pass without a word. Then, suddenly, they'll get back to you with a cover design, or a request for changes, and it'll be, SNAP TO IT!  As a former news reporter, I viewed that distant deadline as a long, luxurious stretch of time. Now I know how time accelerates quickly toward the end of the process. Understand that publishers do not like to be kept waiting. 

4. When you decide to don something "fun" or "quirky" because it's something your character might wear, readers will expect to see you in it. ALL THE TIME. 

''Where's Mama's veil?'' 

I still hear that question, three years after I dressed in hideously tacky wedding attire to promote Book No. 3, ''Mama Gets Hitched.''  Not only did I get a permanent neck crick from plopping five pounds of pearls, ribbons, and tulle on my head, the wedding hat became a hard act to follow. Sure, a feather boa and diva sunglasses worked for the movie theme of No. 4, ''Mama Sees Stars.'' But what am I supposed to do for No. 5,  ''Mama Gets Trashed?'' That book opens in the city dump. Must I dress in a Hefty bag, and dip up punch from a trash can?  Be careful with costumes!

5. The quality of your first book is key to the success of your series. Fortunately, I had lots of time -- and a fantastic critique group -- to polish and improve my first title.  I only realized later most series readers start at No. 1, no matter which book the author may be promoting. That one establishes the characters and the foundation for everything that follows. If No. 1 is a sloppy rush job, readers won't pick up No. 2.  All aspiring writers hear this advice. Listen, because it's absolutely true: Write the best book you can, right out of the gate.

One lesson I'm struggling with now is how real life can intrude on our writing lives. 
I write a funny mystery series. When sad things happen, it's hard to be funny. Within the span of a year, my mother's failing health and dementia forced me to place her in assisted living. I had to sell the house where Mom -- my muse! -- lived for 65 years; the house where I was raised. Meanwhile, my husband's mother was dying of cancer. We were at her bedside when she passed away. Nothing funny about any of that.

I decided to take a break from writing the series. My editor at Midnight Ink has been kind enough to leave the door open should Mace, Mama, and the gang from Himmarshee, Fla., want to come back. I've had some time lately to slow down, so I've been thinking of things I wish I knew back when.  

How about you? What lessons have you learned along the way that you wish you'd known at the start?

Florida native Deborah Sharp is the author of the funny, southern-flavored Mace Bauer Mysteries, featuring Mace's wacky mama. She lives with husband Kerry Sanders in Fort Lauderdale, where she spends her time chasing the iguanas out of her hibiscus.