Wednesday, April 30, 2008


The June issue of Writer’s Digest magazine has a brief article plugging my novel, MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT. As any author knows, getting into a national print publication is not easy, so I am ecstatic for the coverage. And the only reason I got this coverage was because in 2000 I self-published a book through a new “print-on-demand” (POD) publisher called iUniverse, a novel called NO KIDDING. This was not a popular option—to publish your own book by what some call a “vanity press.” I often argued about this phrase, because in the music business, putting out your own CD by way of a distribution and reproduction service is often lauded, but doing that with a book somehow is a big no-no. At any rate, I had heard about author M.J. Rose who had self-published her book “Lip Service,” and had gotten picked up by a major publisher and was inspired by that. NO KIDDING had been turned down by a good number of literary agents, so I figured that maybe by self-publishing it, maybe it would get noticed by a “legit” publisher. So I went through the program at iUniverse, did some heavy online promotion, got the book on Amazon (no brick-and-mortar store would carry it) and I actually got some sales, some fan letters, and a few positive reviews. But still no agent was interested and no legit publisher. In 2002 I decided, what the heck, and entered the book in the Writer’s Digest Best Self-Published Book Awards. I didn’t win the grand prize, but ended up receiving an honorable mention in the Mainstream/Literary Fiction category, of which there was one award per category. I got a nice letter from WD and a certificate, but this subsequently did not seem to impress any literary agents.

Fast forward to Fall 2007 when I got my “debut” novel published by St. Martin’s, called MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT (actually the *fifth* novel I’d written). I contacted WD and basically said, “Remember me? I won a prize in your contest and now I have a published book!” They invited me to be a guest for a day on one of their online forums, which was a lot of fun, but afterwards I asked, “Would it be a possibility to get a mention in the print publication?” They said they’d try and, to my pleasant surprise, here is my article in the June issue. My Amazon numbers spiked and I started getting emails from all over.

Now, would I advise writers to self-pub through a POD now? For a novel, probably not. The climate is very different now from what it was in 2000, and the amount of writers self-publishing through POD has increased astronomically; there is way too much competition. But my message is to never give up and always look for innovative ways to get your work noticed. NO KIDDING never found a home with a legit publisher, but winning a prize in the contest gave me a confidence boost, which led to my pursuit of improving my craft, learning more about the business, and eventually getting a book contract. You’ll never know if you don’t try.

Monday, April 28, 2008


As part of the Girlfriends' Cyber Circuit lit blog tour, my guest today is Sara Rosett, the author of a delightful-sounding mystery from Kensington called, Getting Away is Deadly.

Getting Away is Deadly is the third book in the mom lit mystery series about a military spouse who runs a professional organizing business.

It was the perfect vacation until murder rearranged the itinerary... (Great tag line!)

With swollen feet, pregnant Ellie joins the nation’s tourists in seeing the sights in Washington D.C. But a fatal incident at the Metro station convinces Ellie that something is rotten in the capital city. Should she do the safe thing and pack her bags? Not likely when too many people are telling lies, hiding secrets, and acting suspiciously. Luckily, Ellie Avery is just the right woman to clean up the most mysterious cases of murder—even if she has to brave the most dangerous byways in the corridors of power . . .

Reviews for Getting Away is Deadly:

Publishers Weekly: “…sparkling….”

The Mystery Gazette: “Fans of amateur sleuth mysteries will relish GETTING AWAY IS DEADLY as the tale contains a delightful whodunit that serves as a tour of Washington DC.”

Sara was kind enough to answer some questions. Writers will find her approach to organizing a book interesting...

What was the inspiration behind the writing of Getting Away is Deadly?

I accompanied my husband, who is military pilot, when he went to Washington D.C. for two training classes and those trips inspired the book. I didn’t witness a fatal accident in a Metro station, but I couldn’t help thinking what dangerous places they were. And then I made the typical mystery writer leap—what if someone fell into the path of an incoming train? I also saw the tourist sights and included some in Getting Away is Deadly, including the Lincoln Memorial, the museum of natural history and the air and space museum. Washington D.C., also seemed like an appropriate setting for a series about a military spouse.

What is one thing you’ve learned about the publishing industry since
getting your first book deal?

I’ve learned that it is a very capricious business. One month your type of book is hot and the industry can’t get enough of it, then later things can switch and publishers are dropping lines, cutting every author who writes that type of book. I’ve also discovered things seem to move either so slowly you can’t tell they’re moving or you’re flying along barely able to keep up!

What is your advice for those who looking to get their novel published?

Read as much as you can in the genre you want to be published in and go to writer’s conferences. I found several in my local area when I began writing. I entered samples of my book in their contests and got feedback from published authors, which was really helpful to me. Don’t give up. You have to be persistent and patient.

How do you approach writing your novel? Do you outline the plot? Start with a character or...?

I don’t outline, but since my books are mysteries I have to have a good handle on where the plot is going. I take a huge sheet of butcher paper and sketch out a rough timeline for the book, then jot down ideas for characters and plot twists as they come to me. Not writing it in outline form frees me up and I feel more comfortable. It turns into a sort of graphic organizer. I usually start with an idea, a situation, a “what if….” and then think about what sort of characters would be involved in that situation.

What are you reading now?

I just finished Emma. I’d seen the BBC adaptation on A&E and wanted to read the book after seeing it. I have to say, the A&E version is pretty faithful to the book. Next up on my To-Be-Read List is a mystery by Sarah Graves called The Book of Old Houses.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

To MFA or Not to MFA?

In just about a month I’ll be finishing classes in my intensive two-year MFA in Writing program at the University of San Francisco. Then all that’s left to do is to complete the novel that will be my major project, due in early August, and I’ll graduate with my MFA. The time has flown by and I know I’m going to miss the intellectual stimulation and camaraderie of my fellow writers. I couldn’t have been happier with the program, which offers evening classes twice a week, on Tuesdays (writing workshop) and Wednesdays (seminar). I have learned so much about both craft and literature from wonderful instructors, who are passionate about writing and books.

So as an aspiring novelist should you go for an MFA? There are as many MFA programs out there as there are types of writers and it seems that both are increasing at breakneck speed. It seems now more than ever that everyone wants to write a novel, having been told countless times that everyone has a story in them.

An MFA won’t guarantee that you’ll sell your novel or that you’ll even be able to get a teaching job: it’s not the most practical degree in the world. Many programs combine the study of literature with the teaching of craft, giving students a well-rounded education. If you don’t need or want this, you may be better off having your novel critiqued by a manuscript consultant or teacher and not worry about getting a degree. However, I know there are students in my program who went in knowing they would have deadlines and that they would have their novel finished in two years and this was a big motivator for them; it would have been much harder to do it on their own.

There are a number of programs for working adults that include night courses or what is called “low-residency.” Low-residency MFA programs allow students to do the majority of their work online from home, with a couple of 10-day (or so) stints on-campus per year. This would give a student who lives in California, for example, the opportunity to study at a university in Vermont.

There are many resources on the Web regarding MFA programs. Tom Kealey has written a valuable guide called The Creative Writing MFA, which profiles fifty programs. The book has a useful companion blog as well.

Another source is Poets & Writers Magazine, which is filled with ads for MFA programs. Also, The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) is a great organization that offers The AWP Official Guide to Writing Programs as well as their stimulating magazine, The Writer’s Chronicle.

To all who are graduating soon with their MFAs or who have just been accepted to their dream program—congratulations!