Lately, I've been overwhelmed by what I'll call the fear factor. Clive James asserts there areonly so many storylines and patterns of conflict, suggesting all that's left to distinguish one work of crime fiction from another is setting. (An assertion I find absurd, but let's set that aside.)

Jim Huang offered insights from his experiences that didn't give much reason for cheer either. Elsewhere, a fascinating discussion about royalties opened the door for people to share opinions on yet another contentious topic.

And elsewhere in cyberspace, people are still going on about Rankin, McDermid and sexual orientation like it's a hot new topic.

And then there is the steady stream of spam from people. Argh... I've never been so frustrated. Oh, don't get me wrong. Jim had valuable points to make. The royalties discussion was fasinating. But everything feels so... negative lately, and I haven't even linked to the latest discussion about cutting review space. It just feels as though the consistent message is it's impossible to succeed.

Our recent decision to launch Spinetingler awards was, in part, a knee-jerk reaction to it all. We'd discussed it. We still hadn't worked out some technicalities, but I said, "Screw it, we're doing this. We'll tweak as we go."

I'm hoping people here will start thinking about nominations in the appropriate categories. We've tried to level the playing field so that authors with major profile compete against others with a lot of profile, and those without as much push get a shot at some publicity.

Other than that, I'm mostly avoiding lists and forums these days. I find myself thinking that instead of the endless discussions about the decline of review space and how hard things are right now, we need to think past the old standbys we've relied on. Thinking back to Anne's idea of some time ago, about the Book Channel, I find myself wondering if the next order of business might not be BookTube. Heavens, if GodTube can make a go of it, surely BookTube can...

Maybe we should host a virtual Crimespace Convention. Special video interviews, podcasts, articles...

Damn, okay, I have to stop thinking. I have a frickin' deadline to meet.

** Edited to add: Okay, since I didn't make this clear enough, this isn't about kickstarting a pity party or anything like that. I'm tossing out the challenge, for us to come up with some things we can do to celebrate our genre, to celebrate good books and the love of reading. We're doing our awards. I tossed out ideas like BookTube and a Crimespace Convention (by this I mean an online virtual con). What I'm saying is, let's not just keep complaining, or reading the doom and gloom. Let's put a little elbow grease into doing something positive.

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I don't understand - why would your finances prevent you from sending material to an agent? Do you mean you're too busy at work to write or revise? because you shouldn't have to pay more than postage and an SASE to query an agent.
Hello Barbara - at the moment I'm in the process of moving (or getting ready to move) from one home to another, I'm sure you know how expensive that can be, but also, I'm unemployed at present. The other factor is of course that having sent out manuscripts in the past, and either got them back via return postage, a little frayed or 'worse-for-wear', or not at all... I would have to re-print new copies, and as I have been advised before to send out a manuscript to more than one agent at a time, I'm sure you'd agree the costs can mount up!
Besides which, the two main novels I have decided to work with, are pretty 'old' and need some serious 'mechanical' upgrades, to bring them up to spec., as well as up to a far better standard.
As Sandra says, read more and you'll improve, by seeing how other authors' work has developed. I mjust say that since I began reading Mark Billingham's Tom Thorne series of crime stories, I can understand how my own writing style lacks conviction, and why lit agents have turned me down.
I think I still have a lot to learn about writing stories, no matter how good I think my work is, I need to study harder, to find my weaknesses and make the necessary changes.

Once I've moved home, and settled in, and got myself organised -(that'll be the day!) - any spare time I have once I find myself a new job, will be spent finding appropriate writing courses, reviewing my stories and after making a general enquiry with lit. agents, I shall be sending my scripts out frantically!
My one consolation, is that I do feel that my Sherlock Holmes Comedy Crime stage plays do have potential, and I have two play publishing companies preparing to evaluate one of my pieces; although they both told me it would be some time before I receive a response... good or bad! Still, at least they're showing interest, that's better than nothing.

Thank you for your interest in my problem.
On the plus side, the Ipsos survey says that of those that do read (presumably 3 in 4 Americans) half of them cited mysteries as their reading material so, by my really crap maths, that means that 37.5% of Americans read crime fiction. As of July 2003 the population of the US aged 18 and over was around 218million. so that means that all you writers out there have a potential market of nearly 82 million people for your book. There's probably a huge flaw in my workings somewhere (since I come out in hives every time I see a number), but I think that's pretty damn optimistic :o)

There are very few people I know who DON'T read. A quick survey around my workplace indicates that everyone reads. A couple only read non fiction, but most read fiction. And, of the fiction readers, most read crime. Not exclusively, not as rabidly as me, but it's their preferred genre. One of my colleagues is currently reading Daniel Woodrell's WINTER'S BONE because I forced it on her. Another is now a big fan of William Kent Kreuger because I lent him one of his books. Christopher Brookmyre is a big favourite in the office. Because people were asking me for book recommendations and I was lending out books, I started up a little library in the office. I bought extra copies of my favourite books and put them in there, together with loads that I could bear to see leave my collection. The library has grown and exploded out of the cupboard it was stored in as other people bring in their books.

I know that doesn't help if they don't know about your book but, as Barbara says, self promotion is not the answer. One writer who I keep getting Crimespace messages from now only has 81,999,999 potential readers.

Sandra - I agree that it really needs to be meaningful. I was really shocked when I discovered that only something like 37 people (and I may be overstating it here) voted in one category of the Derringer awards. How is that a meaningful award?! And I definitely agree about the cover award and editing - anything that might make publishers sit up and take notice on that is to be welcomed! I very much support your decision to have awards, because I know you will do it well. It's the less meaningful ones which are less valuable.
Donna maths!! I love it.

Actually, I'm married to someone who reads very few books, and the only fiction he reads is mine. I'm not alarmed by reports that some people don't read books simply because there's no historical precedent that would suggest they ought be reading, or were reading until something went horribly wrong.

I like the idea of Sandra's awards - not that having "X award" on a cover makes me any more inclined to buy it, but because just thinking about who should be on the list would be fun.
The Derringer's... certainly not the only award with issues, but the whole thing was so convoluted for me. Lack of confirmation that the nominations were received in the first place. I can't remember what our editor's letter said exactly - something to the effect that if you didn't receive notice they'd received them to follow up with whoever. In the end I finally just shrugged it off and figured they're either in or they aren't. I signed up to the list so that I could find out more, and discovered a minefield of bickering that outdid DorothyL on its bad days. And then there was a catch for how long you had to have been on the list to vote, so I didn't vote either, and some people I knew didn't sign up because it was too late for them to vote, so...

So there it is/was/whatever. That list has not helped my disposition, and I may just sign off and tell writers they're on their own with that award. The one thing I figured with awards was that limiting voting wasn't going to work. The one problem I still haven't worked out is what to do about people who take out 25 email addresses to keep nominating themselves, but I'm reluctant to make people register or anything like that. Like Theakston's, reader votes will be weighed against editor's/reviewer's choices. That's the tricky part I'm still working out, but every year of the three years of Theakston's they've adjusted the judging, so I'm not putting too much pressure on myself to get it perfect right out of the gate.

But no way was I just going to do our picks alone. People can figure that out just reading our reviews, so what's the point of duplicating that? None as far as I could tell!

And the self promo thing? LOL. See my note above about my local bookstores, though, and I think you'll see why I'm frustrated. I could smack the next person who gives lecture about ordering off of Amazon - I hate the fact that it's the only choice I've got to get a lot of the books I'm interested in, but the option is Dan Brown and James Patterson and the like, and that just isn't going to work for me. In 5 cities in western Canada, including the 3rd and 4th most populated cities in our country, the chain bookstores aren't even carrying Marcus Sakey, and if that doesn't put a jolt of fear in a St. Martin's author's heart I don't know what will. In Canada, reading has NOT been in decline but has been (depending on the survey) holding its own or increasing, but a lot of publishers continue to blow us off as a market. HarperCollins has us on delayed release for the new Val McDermid book, for heaven's sakes. And that's a real problem in my opinion, because books get pushed when they're released in the US and the UK, so who will be talking about this book when it hits shelves here and doing reviews? Not very many people. HC has been a PITA re: review copies with us, so now I tell their authors to send the books themselves or don't expect us to get them, because I got tired of chasing them down or answering queries weeks and weeks later, saying the same old thing - they never sent the book. (A lot of publishers won't send us review copies because we're in Canada, even though we have an ezine with an international readership, which is where I will counter the stuff about author's promotional efforts and make one point - we get the overwhelming majority of review copies from authors. Some of the publishers which allegedly do have us as an approved reviewer still don't send us the ARCs when we request them, or when their authors ask. Basically, if you aren't with Harcourt, don't count on us actually getting your book from the publisher. Harcourt has an excellent rep in Canada.)
And of course, we all know I'm a bad person for citing two specific examples above.

Donna, if every author had a fan like you, how happy would they be! I realize it isn't everyone's personality to talk up books and convert readers, but word of mouth is truly one of the most effective ways to get word out. I have to say, I picked up on a lot of authors that way via blogs and lists and such. Now that I'm not reading as many lists, forums or blogs it will be interesting to see how people get on my radar.
Wow, a virtual convention. I love that idea! I too have been thinking about Anne's Book TV idea lately. I think a virtual con would be great for those of us who struggle to come up with the cash to travel/attend cons IRL - both writers and readers.

How would you publicize such a thing? Would it be open to everyone, or just CS members? Or, would the first be limited to CS members just to see how it goes? My concern is what Sandra has mentioned several times - we'd all be marketing/playing to each other, rather than trying to attract new readers.
Your ideas are so positive, Sandra. And I still think that there are many more in the genre with your way of thinking than not. The majority of people who read and/or respond to a forum or a blog are in it for the feeling of community. And when I see a negative, or vicious post by one, then I am always delighted and surprised by the enormous numbers of people ready to jump in and defend the person being attacked. I think, after what we saw happen to Flashing In The Gutters, and the drastic steps others have had to take when their forums were overrun by trolls, forum members have decided to either knock 'em down or find ways around them, rather than see something wonderful destroyed.

The fear factor is something all of us fight. We are in a competitive field, with fewer places to go to in which we can get our work noticed. And the awe I feel when I pick up a great book, or discover a terrific new author, is always tinged with feelings of self-doubt. But it also makes me want to try harder, to reach the level of other Crimespace Barflies someday. My personal keys are sensible expectations, staying grounded and learning not to be afraid of the hard work my muses demand. Staying true to myself. And growing a damned thick skin!

The Spinetingler Awards was inspired! And so is Anne's Book channel, and the BookTube idea. I spoke to my BIL who does a lot of work with individually produced cable television. He develops, writes and films shows for the Outdoor Channels and commercials. He suggested finding major bookstores to financially back a project like a Book Channel. The advertising alone would be worth it to Barnes and Noble or Tattered Cover, etc., in an attempt to compete with Border's more secular approach to the publishing game. Just a suggestion that made sense to me.
I sympathize with the general feeling of depression. Since my first sale in 1995 (after 10 years of trying), I have gone from tremendous pleasure and enthusiasm to learning one painful lesson after another. Oh, the joy of reviews! And the letters from fans! And the foreign contracts! And God knows I love mystery.

But I have learned that this is a business. I have learned that writers are expected to handsell their books, dress up in costume, and entertain a book signing audience with humorous sketches. Mind you, speaking on the subject and laying on gourmet chocolates was tolerable, but this stuff certainly does not bring enough sales to make it worthwhile. My publisher was uninvolved and the first novel bombed in spite of great reviews. Hardly anyone knew about it.

Things are a bit better these days as word of mouth slowly gets around (fighting all the way against reader prejudice), and the reviews are getting ever better (though scarcer).

My way of dealing with let-down is to detach and write better and better books, hoping for one that will break through. If this doesn't work, it's certainly not my fault. I refuse to beat myself up every day of the year.

Yes, publicity works, but it's the expensive or repeated kind. And that is out of most authors' reach.
Good for you both. I think the "half the job is promotion" juggernaut is totally out of control. The return on investment, never great, is shrinking because the cacophony is greater. I don't care how you serve it, spam is spam. But I'm always happy to find a well-constructed, thoughtfully written book.

The NEA report (all doom and gloom) was horrified that fewer people were reading, but brushed right past their finding that more people were writing. To them, self-expression is completely irrelevant to the question of literacy. The whole report was bizarre. I had a freshman class dissect it. If that group could poke holes in its logic, it's pretty flawed.
The honest truth for me is, the more focused an author is on their own promotion, the less interest I have in their work. Now, I say that realizing we all have to do some stuff. Do interviews, send out review copies, do the odd signing and appearance. But when it's all marketing-marketing-marketing I'm left wondering what happened to the writing-writing-writing.

I can focus on my own writing, and that's great. I agree, write the best book you can, it's pretty much all you have control over. But I also find myself thinking that if not even the authors in this genre want to celebrate it, why should anyone? If doing a virtual con gets a bunch of people excited about reading and authors and the genre, there's nothing wrong with that, and it's time well invested, not in myself but in the genre I both love to write in and read in.

I guess I'm getting to the point where I figure the only people who've got the right to complain are the ones putting any energy into making a difference, not just for themselves, but for the whole genre. That's what I respected about Jim Huang's post, for example. It was a long-term assessment, as well as showing their efforts and where things had fallen down. So they have a game plan to move forward as best as they can, based on the level of cooperation they do have from publishers. I can respect that.
Maybe we should revise the awards, and have a legends category only. If you don't have 9+ books out, or a six-figure deal, don't bother.

I'm sure that would be more effective as a way to discourage newbies.

Maybe I need to become more self absorbed and less philanthropic.


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