To (self-)publish or not to (self-)publish….

(Wikipedia photo)

I finally made it past the programs and other materials I’ve been working on all March. And I managed to squeak over the finish line in a class I took on self-publishing.

I’ve grown up imagining seeing my books on the library shelf. “The” library was always the one in my home town, the one where I spent a lot of my spare time as a kid, the one where I got my first job.

But my first full time job — at my hometown newspaper — conditioned me to expect to hear presses run minutes after the last story landed on the last page. Not an ideal expectation for someone seeking a traditional book publishing experience, where the day you type “the end” can be years before the day you open the box with the finished copies of the book from the publisher.

I know more than most, I suppose, about the printing process. I even took a printing class when I was in college. I loved setting type and working hand-fed presses. But that’s another story.

I’ve waited so long to devote time to writing fiction, that I have my doubts about being able to wait patiently for that traditional book publishing cycle. And I haven’t even looked for an agent yet (although I’ve had a couple encourage me to send them something when I finish the book).

So, the class in self-publishing was led by Jim Jackson, a past president and past member of the Sisters in Crime Guppy Chapter. The Guppies are “the great unpublished,” although the name is a misnomer since many members stay in the chapter after they’re published, sharing what they’ve learned with the rest of us who haven’t reached that lofty stage yet.

Jim taught a great class on revisions last year. It was intense, but amazingly organized and detailed. I loved it.

When I heard he was teaching one on self-publishing, I new it, too, would be well-planned, well-researched and, well, amazing. I figured it would be the ideal way to get all the facts so I could make a good decision about whether to keep trying for a traditional contract or just go it alone.

I haven’t made my final decision yet, but I do feel well-prepared to make it in the next few months.

I’ll keep you posted.


Agathas, Anthonys and Edgars, oh my!

(Sharon’s collage)

Even though I’m still what we call a “pre-published author” in the crime fiction business, right now my life seems to be all about awards.

A year ago I offered to create the program for Malice Domestic, an annual conference where fans and writers of mysteries gather for several days to talk, drink tea, and vote on the Agatha Awards. Yes, they are named in memory of the Dame herself, Agatha Christie.

I’ve put in about a day and half already this week on photos, email, and page designs. Others on the committee are also hard a work writing stories, setting up the sessions, designing ads, and doing countless other tasks that happen behind the scenes to make sure people who attend have fun while they’re there.

The Agatha Awards are hand-lettered tea pots, some black, some white. They suffered a few supply chain problems during the height of COVID, but it looks like the supply is back to normal now.

:Last week, I got my invitation to the Edgar Awards. Everyone who is a member of Mystery Writers of America is eligible to attend the ceremony — black tie, it is — in New York in April. I won’t be going, in part because it happens days before Malice begins, and I’ll be busy in Maryland. The award is a colorful bust of the man considered by many to be the father of mystery fiction in the U.S.

And today, amidst all the Malice email that’s been landing in my box, I also received my invitation to nominate stand-out books from 2022 for the Anthony Awards. I’ve only been to Bouchercon, where the Anthony’s are presented, twice. I tried to go more since my first trip to Toronto a few years ago, but, well, COVID.

I managed to join thousands of others in Minneapolis for what is the biggest mystery conference in North America. That’s where they awarded the clear plaque for the first time. The conference and the award are named for Anthony Boucher, who was both a critic and a writer of mysteries. Boucher was actually a pen name of William Anthony Parker White.

And I need to take a look at my 2022 reading list on Goodreads to pick out things I might want to nominate for the Anthony’s. I’m already reading the nominees for the Agatha Awards, since I get to vote on those, too.

So, contests. They’re taking a lot of my time lately. And maybe someday, I might even have a book that’s eligible

A bientôt.

What social media can teach writers

plate of noodles and roasted cherry tomatoes
(Photo by Sharon)

You might wonder what food has to do with social media. And writers. I’ll get to that.

Debbie Johansson posted some suggestions — 3 Things Social Media Can Teach Writers — a few years ago. Her advice actually stands the test of time. I especially like number three, do what feels comfortable.

I’ve been thinking about social media a lot lately, mostly because I’ve just taken on the job of social media officer for Sisters in Crime Chicagoland. And I’ve become website “updater” for a local theater group. But these are hardly my first forays into the online world. This post marks the end of my tenth anniversary as a blogger. In fact, my experience goes back to AOL and The Well, both accounts I’ve long since given up. But I learned a lot during the pre-web, internet bulletin board days of screechy dial-up connections.

For one thing, I learned being online is a great way to be in touch with people who are nowhere near my pretty rural outpost where getting out of my snow-drifted driveway has always been a challenge this time of year. The best change to come from covid, as far as I’m concerned, was the proliferation of work-from-home options. But when you are at home most of the time, social media is a substitute for the coffee klatch, the water cooler conversation, the quick lunch with friends.

That, I think, is the key to Johansson’s advice to “keep it personal.” I know some people whose real lives are reflected almost completely in their posts. And as an occasional food writer, I’ve probably shared more meal photos than are strictly necessary. (I told you I’d get back to food.) But I enjoy good eats, at home or away, and I don’t mind sharing those with my friends. I even shared recipes at work. Maybe I’ll share a recipe or two here sometime.

I also had a column about travel, which led to my last couple of Midwest travel posts.

And that’s the other key to being real in social media — regardless of the platform. Share what you like and your readers may actually become your friends.

Happy New Year to you! I hope you have wonderful 2023!

À bientôt.

Mississippi stops

No, this isn’t about the state. It’s about the river.

(Photo by Sharon)

On my way home from Bouchercon, the world mystery conference, held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, earlier this month, I took a diverting drive along the Mississippi River. I started, obviously enough, in Minnesota on state Highway 26, south from La Crescent, a beautiful little bluffy town across from LaCrosse, Wisconsin.

(Photo by Sharon)

That led me into Iowa, and the little town of Lansing with its steel bridge across the river. You can see from Iowa to Wisconsin on the bridge that sits high across the river, its metal frame ringing under tires warned to go a mere 25 miles an hour while crossing. More about that in a minute.

I saw the bridge initially late in the afternoon on my way to a little motel in Ferryville, Wisconsin. I’d never heard of the town or the motel, but I asked family for suggestions for places to stay on my trip. Turns out the mother of the wife of one my cousins lives in the area and, from her, I learned about the Grandview Motel. (The owners are about ready to retire, in case you want a second career,) It’s the only place I’ve ever stayed where the room instructions include the rules for using the game cleaning station. The place was immaculate, so even if you aren’t hunting ducks or fishing, you might enjoy a sojourn in a place where the vista is 20 miles up and down the Mississippi.

(Photo by Sharon)

I arrived in time to appreciate sunset and outdoor seating, to meet my hostess, Donna, and settle in for a quiet, relaxing evening. Be warned, the steps in and out of the rooms are a bit steep, so this place might not work for people with limited mobility. But I loved my stay and plan to go back for a mini-writing retreat.

Though you can’t see it in the photo, the motel sits up on a little bluff with the highway and railroad tracks lying between the parking lot and the Mississippi. Only the occasional rumbling of a train on the tracks below broke the silence of the night. But I grew up in a town with two rail lines crossing it, so it was a comforting sound.

I’d planned ahead and packed breakfast foods for the morning. — this is also one of the rare motels that doesn’t include a buffet. But, hey, hunters. — I cleaned up and headed back across the river to Lansing, Iowa, where I’d discovered the Allamakee County Conservation Board’s Driftless Area Education and Visitor Center. There, I found another spectacular view of the Mississippi on its front porches — there are two levels. And I learned about the history of settlement in the area from the first Native Americans through more recent history. There were also some wonderful exhibits — including some snakes and frogs — about wildlife in the area. Look for hands-on learning options you — or kids — will enjoy.

(Photo by Sharon)

And there were several exhibits about industry after European settlement, including logging, fishing and button making. A wire basket of “button holes” held the remains of mollusk shells after workers — mostly women — had punched shiny buttons from them. Did you know the buttons were called “mother of pearl” because the shell linings are made of nacre, the same thing that coats the outer layer of pearls? That little museum is another place I plan to revisit.

In the meantime, my list of places to go keeps growing.

À bientôt.