Morning crime dogs: I am a little under the weather this week. The big bad virus finally caught up with me. I am multi-vaxed, have a mild case and am on the mend. But not thinking too well. So, if you don’t mind I am going to honor the TENTH anniversary (four days ago!) of my joining The Kill Zone (thank you Joe Moore for the invite) and re-post my very first post. See you next time.
By PJ Parrish
It’s three in the morning and I can’t sleep — again. My story is a giant hairball in my brain but it’s more than that. I am obsessing about the world of publishing and my little place within it. There is so much uncertainty in our business right now. Bookstores are closing, advances are shrinking, houses are paring their lists down to sure-fire bestsellers, and we are all groping for something to grab onto as the publishing earthquake rumbles beneath our feet.
I retreat to the sofa, remote in hand, searching for something to quiet the questions in my head.
Have I used up all my good plot ideas?
Is it too late to switch to erotica?
Should I take out a loan to go to Thrillerfest?
How did that hack get a movie option?
What should I write about for my first Kill Zone blog?
Did I remember to give the dogs their meds?
In the darkness, the ceiling shimmers with fifty-seven channels of nothing on. Then, suddenly, there she is — Lucy Ricardo. My muse, my all, my Ambien. Before I know it, eight episodes have passed and the sky is lightening with a new day. I have an epiphany. Everything I need to know about surviving in publishing today can be learned from “I Love Lucy.”
SPEED IT UP!
When Lucy needed to make money she went to work in a chocolate factory but found out it wasn’t easy keeping up. Time was we could get by doing one book a year. Not anymore. Maybe we can blame James Patterson who is fond of comparing novels to real estate — i.e., the only thing that matters is how much room your books take up on the shelf (real or virtual). But the eBook age has accelerated the metabolism of publishing and many of us are pulling extra shifts, churning out novellas, short stories and even an extra book a year. Lisa Scottoline in ther New York Times interview, called it “feeding the maw.” What I call it can’t be printed here. Sigh. But I get it.
The Lesson from Lucy: Try not to obsess about keeping up or about other people’s success. Measure progress by your own achievement not by other writers. Yes, you have to produce well and often but try to keep your wits about you and set a good daily pace. Yes, daily. Do as I say, not as I do.
What did the artistically thwarted Lucy do when she wanted to be in the movie “Bitter Grapes?” She went to a vineyard and became Italian. Is your series on life support? Are you in midlist limbo? Maybe you just need a change of identity. If you write dark, try light. Jump-start your brain by switching to short stories. Leave your amateur sleuth and write a standalone thriller. Got the bad numbers at Amazon blues? Adopt a pen name and start over. Or it might be time to try self-publishing. Yes, it’s a tough route, and you’ll work your butt off doing things that have nothing to do with the real joy of writing. But sometimes you have to start over. Just do your homework. (Our archives here are filled with tons of great self-pubbing advice.)
When Ricky and the Mertzes forgot her birthday, Lucy joined the Friends of the Friendless. (“We are friends of the friendless, yes we are! We are here for the downtrodden and we sober up the sodden!”). Truth is, publishers aren’t putting out anymore (publicity-wise). So we writers just need to get ourselves out there more. No, a pretty website isn’t enough. Now you need to be on Facebook et al. You might need to Tweet even if you’re a twit with nothing to say. Beyond that, make REAL friends in the business. I know you’re probably an introvert at heart. Most writers are. But try to get out and meet other writers. Go to conferences if you can afford it. Join a good critique group. Find support wherever you can because this business can be pretty rough and sometimes very lonely.
I need a nap. Or maybe a glass of good Sancerre. Probably both. All this advice about what we should be doing to sell ourselves and our books. And you know whose voice I keep hearing? Neil Nyren. He’s the (now retired) president of Penguin-Putnam books and a friend of mine. (Yeah, I’m namedropping.) At SleuthFest one year, Neil said, “all the time you’re doing that other stuff you could be writing a better book.” I need to remember that. I need to believe it.
What about Lucy? She tried too hard and ended up too sick to eat chocolate and dyed too blue to get in that Italian movie. And then there is the episode where she tries to write a novel. Ricky and the Mertzes pooh-pooh her ambitions (does that sound familiar?). She sends out her manuscript, and an editor contacts her saying he wants to publish her novel. He waves a check in front of her face. All is lovely until he tells her he wants to publish her book as non-fiction and change the title. The new title:
“Don’t Let This Happen To You!”
See, it could be worse.