Thursday, February 26, 2015

Home Front Madness

Zestful Blog Post #94

I’m writing this with pen and paper at my kitchen table and wanted to refresh my memory as to where I’d left off last week. Looking at my blog on my phone, it seems so—gosh, professional. Soon I’ll type this entry into my laptop and it’ll be my standard draft-and-a-half, and good enough for jazz, as they say in the music biz.

Recently I gave an interview to a journalist who is writing an article about how writing by hand is beneficial. She had read You've Got a Book in You (and nicely highlighted it in an article last year) and remembered that I’d put in some stuff about writing longhand. It was a fun interview, and during it I learned that writing longhand appears to be beneficial on the biochemical level, not just the spiritual one, as I had believed. Will let you know when that article comes out.

Winnie-way, as my old clarinet teacher used to say, during 2010-2013, I had a lot going on personally and professionally.

I’ll call this installment of EPH (Elizabeth’s Publishing History):

#13 Home Front Madness

Within the space of three years, Marcia and I experienced the partial destruction of our home on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula in a force-9 storm, a cross-country move and attendant farewells to many dear friends, the decline and deaths of both of our mothers, the dispersal of their households, the purchase and extensive renovation of a home, another, local move, tropical storm damage to that home requiring large-scale repairs, as well as the death of another family member whose estate I was charged with distributing.

[It took a fair amount of chainsawing and hauling before we could pull the cars out of the garage. Note wood smoke coming from stovepipe; since the power and phone wires were lying beneath that hemlock, the woodstove provided our heat and a cooking surface. Guess who slept on the couch next to the stove every night to keep it fed. This was actually 2009, Thanksgiving weekend.]

Oh, plus the near death and lengthy hospitalization of yet another family member, a heart scare for Marcia, and the beginning of a physical issue for me that would culminate in surgery in 2014. If we’d had a dog, I’m sure it would have gotten run over. But it wouldn't have died before we’d spent $5,000 at the vet and taken turns doing night shifts to administer round-the-clock medicine and supplements for three weeks.

Meanwhile, we both did what we could to maintain our careers. While acting as primary caregiver for my mom, I wrote articles for Writer's Digest, taught online webinars for their organization, did reporting and photography stringer work for the local paper, auditioned for and got a place in a local symphony orchestra, worked as a private manuscript consultant, got my rights back to my novels, reissued them in e-book (Kindle) form, spoke and taught at writing affairs on both coasts, and began work on Lillian Byrd #5 (Left Field).

Also during that period I wrote a proposal for You've Got a Book in You, got under contract for it, wrote it, saw it published, and did promo for it.

Looking back on all that, even in its most skeletal form, I can’t be surprised that I felt depressed and overwhelmed at times. I used to joke about shooting myself in the head if one more goddam thing went wrong. But I was careful to leave the firearms unloaded, which would have forced me to take the extra step of selecting and loading ammo, which hopefully would have given me time to reconsider.

I feel that only recently has my life become more or less stable. We have the freedom of working all day, every day, without having to factor in 3 a.m. distress calls from panicked old ladies.

Marcia is thrilled to be immersed in coding full time, and I can’t wait to show off her new work when it's ready to ship. Apart from writing, I do my shoulder exercises, swim at the Y, and play a little golf. Florida is beautiful in the winter. Hurricane season is just around the corner.

Next week I swear I’ll tell the story of how You've Got a Book in You came about, and why I chose to go the traditional publishing route with it. After that, why I chose to go indie with Left Field.

But for now, Jesus, I’m exhausted.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Good News, Bad News

Zestful Blog Post #93

Good News, Bad News

A bit of pre-new-post business:

Frequent Zestful blog commenter Lidy Wilks is also a blogger in her own right. (And a highly accomplished one, too!) She sent along this Very Inspiring Blogger Award, which has become somewhat of a phenomenon on the Web. Lidy received the award from another blogger, who received it from another blogger, and so on back to 2009, when Cathe Holden came up with the idea for bloggers to honor other bloggers. And now Lidy has very generously honored me with it.
When you receive this award,

the protocol is to:

1) Thank the person who nominated you and include a link to their blog. Thank you, Lidy! (Lidy Wilks)

2) Send the award to other bloggers you admire, and put their links on your blog. Apart from Lidy, I follow Seth Godin and Jane Friedman, both of whom have received this award numerous times. It is slowly penetrating my brain that the current custom is for bloggers to list the blogs of others on the sidebar of their blog site, thus helping propagate worthy blogs, blogs, and more blogs. Perhaps I will do this someday.

3) The third requirement varies, depending on whose blog you’re looking at. Some bloggers tell about what inspires them to write, other tell seven random facts about themselves, some list their fifteen most disgusting sexual fantasies, etc. I will say that I was inspired to write novels by reading bad novels and knowing I could do better. A random fact about me is that I like to ask guys to tell me about fistfights they’ve been in. One more random fact: I would like to ride a horse or motorcycle across the Mongolian steppes someday. A particularly disgusting sexual fantasy of mine involves pygmy goats and Diet Pepsi.

On to today’s post!

We'll call this one:

#12 Good News, Bad News

So last week, I wrote about my self-funded book tour for The Extra, which resulted in some nice things, but not enough sales in subsequent months for Macmillan to commit to publishing mass-market paperbacks.

As of this point I had turned in the third in the series, On Location, and could look forward to a hardcover release of that. But then…

I phoned Cameron and said, “What do we do now?”

“What’s your idea for a fourth book in the series?” she asked.

I related the basic outline I’d developed so far, titled Best Boy.

She said a mild curse word.

“What’s the matter?”

“Well, I was hoping it wouldn’t be a very good idea, and I’d just tell you to forget it and write something totally different—start a new series. But that’s a great story for Rita.” We discussed how hard it is to jump a series from one publisher to another, unless your sales are already stratospheric. But Cameron said, “If you’ll write a detailed outline and the first three chapters, I’d like to take a shot at selling it.”

“It has to be one of the big six.”

“Yeah. It’s an outside chance, but I really want to try.”

So I took a few months and wrote up the material. When Cameron and I decided it was wonderful, she set to work. This was by now somewhere in 2010.

Cameron works fast. She phoned within days. “I’ve got good news and bad news.”

At a moment like this, one simply waits.

“The bad news is none of the other big six wants to take on the series. But the good news is, four of them said, ‘We’d love to see something new from Elizabeth.’”

The second half of a phone call like that is supposed to make your day. And it pretty much did for me. But while I was putting out the first three books in the Rita Farmer series, the digital publishing revolution was thundering along. People like Joe Konrath were making a killing self-publishing on Amazon and writing about it and turning down six-figure deals from their old publishers, and author friends of mine who had self-published were urging me to get my rights back and reissue my books myself, and self-publish any new ones.

So I set about doing that, keeping the idea of something new for New York in abeyance.

Meanwhile, after the first four Lillian Byrd books were published, around 2005, I’d begun writing for Writer’s Digest magazine, doing features on how to write well, and teaching live webinars.

Also, meanwhile, the thing started to happen to me that happens to all legit authors, which is whenever somebody asks you what you do and you say, “I’m an author,” they say, “Oh, I want to write too!” or “I’ve written a book, but I haven’t been able to get it published. Will you help me?” Doubly so when they find out I write for Writer’s Digest.

My articles in the magazine were supposed to address that, but I got tired of telling people, “Get a copy of Writer’s Market, like I did. Read it and get busy.”

I started to get an idea for a new book, this one nonfiction. As you can see, I had a lot of balls in the air. More next week.

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Touring Against the Odds

Zestful Blog Post #92

Last night I had a blast on Andy and Rev’s Cocktail Hour, my first truly live, unscripted online appearance. I've been on radio and television a number of times, doing panels and interviews, and have done speeches and workshops that were recorded. My webinars for Writer’s Digest were all streamed live, but those were scripted down to the minute. So this was actually a first. And now it’s on YouTube. With an opening screenshot that makes me look like I just crawled across the Sahara with the flu. I'm putting the link in even though I've only watched a few minutes of the recording, so throw me a gold star for bravery, please. The Link:

Andy and Rev are fabulous, book-loving humans, so if you like this recording or the others they’ve put up, consider letting them know by a comment or a share. Their web site: They've got tons of other author chats and reviews, especially for the LGBT audience.

One more item of business: We’re doing a Kindle Countdown deal on Left Field right now. You can get it for 99 cents through most of Friday (yes, lucky 13), then it’ll go up by a buck a day until hitting its current regular price of $4.99. If you've already acquired it at full price, thank you. I believe you can actually do a return, then re-buy it, if your budget is tight. No authors ever say that publicly, but I believe it’s true.

I might add that as I write this, the book has regained the #1 spot on Amazon’s LGBT Mystery/Detective list, and three of the other four books in the series are in the top hundred on that list. So, hey, promos do help!

OK, back to my series on my publishing history (which actually you’re seeing unfold before your eyes; someday I’ll catch up, I promise). We’ll call this one:

#11: Touring Against the Odds

OK, in 2009 The Actress paperback is canceled, and The Extra is out in hardcover and e-book. My publicist at St. Martin’s Minotaur agreed to book a bunch of appearances at bookstores for me for a two-week summer tour. As I mentioned last week, this was all on my dime except for some co-op promo with the stores, signage, and goodwill from Minotaur.

My partner Marcia and I traveled by car from our then home in Washington state down to Los Angeles and back, doing drop-ins at more than thirty bookstores and doing about a dozen scheduled events, some with other authors. I promoted the appearances as best I could and let Providence take care of the rest, as Huck Finn would say.

What’s a drop-in, you might ask? That’s when you stop by a store, meet the staff and sign any stock on hand, give out bookmarks, and maybe meet a few customers as well. It’s best if you phone ahead to try to time your visit for when the appropriate buyer is on duty; I would ask, “Please tell me the name of your mystery buyer, I’d like to bring in a copy for him/her. Will he/she be working tomorrow afternoon?” But I’ve also just dropped in cold with pretty good results.

For chain stores, a cold drop-in is easiest. You just ask for the top mystery-lover on staff at the moment, give that person your free book and chat them up, sign stock and leave bookmarks, and be on your way.

[I love to surrender to the yellow lines...]

We traveled as cheaply as possible; Marcia worked Priceline to great advantage. Our biggest coup was a night at Dolce Hayes Mansion, this incredibly luxurious boutique hotel in San Jose that was going for close to $300 a night. When I told the desk clerk we’d gotten our room for $70, she didn’t believe me.

The trip yielded many good things. Apart from gaining exposure for my books, I made some lasting friends among booksellers, authors, and readers, and I learned countless little things to make drop-ins and appearances go smoothly and memorably.

However, independent bookstores were closing left and right, the chains were starting to have major difficulties, and online book sales were surging, thanks to Amazon. So the relevance of book tours was starting to wane, and has continued to wane ever since.

Although The Extra got a bump from my efforts (and The Actress, too, for that matter, in stores that carried lots of hardcovers), I learned, months later, that sales just didn't justify a paperback for that title either. I had already turned in the third in the series, On Location.

My agent, Cameron, and I had a parley. The results of that next week.

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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Dude, You're Screwed

Zestful Blog Post #91

Before I get into today's real blog, I want to let you know about a live online appearance: Next Wednesday, Feb. 11 at 8 p.m. (EST) I’ll be doing a Google Hangout with Andy and Rev on their Cocktail Hour. If you add them to your Google+ circle you can watch and listen live. (Handy link here:

How it works is the url is available as soon as the thing goes live, so if Cocktail Hour is already in your circle, you can just go there at 8 next Wednesday evening and take it in. I'm sure I'll be brilliant. And aided, no doubt, by a Tanqueray martini, very dry, up, olives.

I'll be talking a bit about Left Field, but if you have any questions/issues you’d like me to discuss about anything, let me know either by commenting on this blog or sending me an email. (esims at elizabeth sims dot com, no spaces and use the punctuation marks you would normally; this is to defeat web spiders that search for email addys in blogs and then sell them to online porn stores, Nigerian royalty, etc.)

Now for the next installment in EPH (Elizabeth’s Publishing History):

10) Dude, You’re Screwed

Last week I wrote about the vagaries of the marketplace and cover design re: my debut mainstream novel, The Actress. I failed to mention that, just before the hardcover came out, I was informed by the Macmillan/St. Martin’s Minotaur marketing team that henceforth, Twitter would be the way we would all build community and do reader outreach. I found this dismaying, as I had detested Twitter as soon as it started to emerge, and had vowed never to establish a Twitter account. The insubstantialness of it, the quick shallowness of it, repelled me to the core. I had had my own web site for years, and had acquiesced to Facebook. (And I stuck with FB, even though they totally betrayed me; I had signed up early and written entertaining entries in the ‘background’ section of my profile, only to have FB delete all that when they changed their business model. Bastards. Bastards.)

But I dutifully established a Twitter account and made an effort to promote myself and my work without seeming to promote myself and my work. What a ton of fun. To this day social media is still a struggle for me, mostly because I’m like, Who in God’s name wants to hear my opinion on anything? The world is already full of blowhards. I’m supposed to be another one, only more entertaining?

However, I’m currently feeling a bit more dispassionate about it, like, OK, it’s business, try to find a sincere way to do this. I’m working on it and will write more about this subject in the near future.

Before returning to my narrative, I might add that when it came to promo for The Actress, I did all the normal stuff: announced the book on my web site, sent out newschats to my email list, printed up bookmarks to give out wherever I went, set up a signing at the Mystery Writers of America booth at Book Expo (and was invited to MWA’s late-night cocktail party at The Edison in Los Angeles, a great place to feel cool), went to and spoke and taught at other conferences and workshops, etc. But the Great Recession was a tough opponent.

As far as I knew, the paperback of The Actress was in production; it had been put up on Amazon for pre-order with the new cover I showed you last week. The release date was March 31, 2009. Two weeks before that date Cameron called. “I have bad news,” she said. “Minotaur pulled the plug on the paperback of The Actress.”

Since this was business and not a death in the family, I didn’t get emotional. But I knew exactly what had just happened. “So that’s it, then,” I said. “I mean, that’s the end of my career with Minotaur.” As a former bookseller, I knew how important it was for an author to be in paperback. The hardcover is your calling card, but the vast majority of your sales come from your paperbacks. Remember, at that time e-books were an unknown quantity in New York publishing.

Cameron said my editor told her that she’d fought and fought for the paperback at whatever meeting, but ultimately there weren’t enough advance orders from booksellers to justify an initial print run.

After I’d digested that news for a few days, I phoned my editor. I asked if there was any chance they’d reverse their decision if sales of the soon-to-be-released second in the series, The Extra, were above expected.

“Well, no,” she said. “There’s just not going to be a paperback of The Actress. We might run one next year for The Extra if the hardcover does well.”

[Here again we have a blonde facing away from us, but this one's definitely better than the original cover for The Actress.]

“OK,” I said. The gauntlet had been thrown down. I asked if Minotaur would help me set up a book tour for The Extra. I knew they wouldn’t pay my expenses, but I wanted their publicists to get my foot in the door at bookstores, and hopefully provide some co-op marketing and signage. The answer was yes.

More next week.

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