A couple of weeks ago, I went to the first ever Murder and Mayhem Chicago event. A one day conference in the heart of Chicago, this event was phenomenal. As many know, I’ve been writing for years and years now with every intention of publishing my first book this year (2017)! So when I found out about this awesome event, I jumped at the chance to go.
First, I have to explain how much I love Chicago. I’ve been to many cities in my life (Denver, New York City, Portland, Des Moines, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, etc.) but Chicago is by far my favorite. I know, I know, it’s riddled with crime (which makes it perfect for this event, by the way), but it’s still a wonderful city.
Anyway, back on topic…
The event was held for authors, writers, readers, librarians, etc. There was a huge list of guests that made up five different panels (minus the keynote) ranging on topics from Violence in Crime Fiction to Making a Mystery (or the publishing side of things). Obviously, some panels were better than others, but they were all very interesting and filled with helpful information.
Here are some of my takeaways by panel (forgive my terrible panel photos – I was more interested in taking notes than pictures):
Violence in Crime Fiction
- Crime fiction (at least most of it) depends on murder. However, the focus should be on the character, not the murder itself.
- A little bit of violence goes a long way.
- Elizabeth said we’ve accepted violence in novels because we are all violent, it’s born within us. (If only to protect those we love.) But instead of letting the violence out, we (hopefully) read mysteries!
- Lucy said we’ve accepted violence in novels because it usually comes with closure whereas in real life there’s very rarely closure. There’s something reassuring about the bad guy getting caught.
- All authors on this panel thought violence for violence sake (gratuitous violence) was wrong, but most didn’t have a specifically taboo subject (other than dogs for Elizabeth and rape for Nic) as long as it served the story.
- Really good authors pay really close attention to the world around them.
Making a Mystery
Speakers: Dana Kaye – Boutique PR Company (Your Book, Your Brand), Brian Wilson – Marketing and Sales for Penguin, Matt Martz – Publisher, Danielle Egan-Miller – Literary Agent, Joanna McKenzie – Agent Nelson Literary Agency in Denver (moderator)
- Steps to Becoming Traditionally Published: Finish your novel, write a query letter, email query letter to agent, agent sends manuscript to publisher, publisher negotiates/auctions your book, you sign a contract, you edit your manuscript, work on marketing/advertising, book released.
- Those are all dependent upon your book being something the agent likes, the publisher likes, and is sellable.
- Process can take a long time (at least a year)
- Agents get 200-300 queries a WEEK.
- Sellers have around 600 books to sell a season (3 seasons a year).
- Your agent is your representative. They don’t work for the publisher, they’re your ally. The editor works for the publisher.
- Listen to the people you trust and let them do their jobs.
- Treat everyone you meet as a potential reader, engage with them. Your readers are the most important people!
- Remember why you got into this in the first place. The process of writing needs to be enjoyable. Be process oriented. Keep shooting up flares and eventually something will stick. Get a little bit better every day whether writing or in the business.
- WRITE YOUR BOOK before even thinking about building a platform. If you don’t have a book to sell, a platform will do you no good.
Playing with the Past
- Why write historical:
- Susanna: You can bring readers into a different world (Susanna)
- RJ: Problems that we think are modern have been around for years. What changes is how society addresses the problems.
- Victoria: “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.” Seeing how people who lived before us dealt with issues. Doesn’t have a contemporary voice.
- Cheryl: Loves history. Gives her an excuse to research history. Likes translating something to the reader.
- Ways of getting information:
- Primary Source Documents
- Maps (online)
- Picture books (if photography was invented)
- Read fiction from that time period
- Listen to radio programs from that time period
- Buy magazines off eBay
Genre Conventions and Why We Break Them
- “Formula is genre without a soul.” ~Shaun Harris
- Marcus: Structure is important, very important. But it’s not a machine, it’s a diagnostic tool.
- Young people want to read cross-genre books.
- Lori goes through the roof when she hears the term “transcends the genre.” When you say it it’s saying the genre is crap (that only literary fiction is good) and the genre is not crap.
- Down & Dirty on Structure (by Marcus): First act – setting up, meeting character. Break into second act – reacting to changes in the world. 2a – characters trying to react and challenges. Midpoint – story makes a massive significant change – you realize you were reading a different book. 2b – everything goes to poop. Act 3 – figuring it out. READ: Save the Cat.
What Experts Are Reading
- In a library ask who to talk to about getting your book in and schedule a meeting with them. Donate your book to the library. Have your family go in and check out your books occasionally so they’ll stay in the library.
- Keep your website up to date.
- Get to know the staff in a bookstore before pitching your book.
- Have the name of your book on the spine.
- Create a program in the library that has something to do with your book.
That’s it for the panels, but to finish it all up Sara Paretsky and William Kent Krueger had a beautiful keynote conversation about so many things from a Golden Retriever (which obviously made me happy) to worst pick-up lines to fearing they’ll be forgotten. At the very end Dana and Lori presented Sara with the first ever Paretsky Award. It was beautiful.
Oh and I wouldn’t be doing the event justice without mentioning the amazing emcee talents of Eric Beetner. He was absolutely hilarious. I hope they have him back again!
All in all, I would love to go back next year. My favorite part was meeting some amazing authors including Lucy Kerr/Erica O’Rourke, Nic Joseph, Lori Rader-Day, Michael Harvey, and Marcus Sakey. I purchased all of their books at the conference and was able to get them to sign them for me! Woo-hoo!
I also sat next to an awesome woman who is starting to write in her retirement. We had some wonderful conversation and she gave me tons of ideas to improve my writer’s group.
Oh, and how could I forget the HOODIE! I am a complete sucker for hoodies, so this was a HUGE bonus for me!
On a side note, it was Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago (not the real one, but the parade and river dyeing) which made it even more spectacular for me because my favorite city was brimming with Irish love. It was fantastic!
~ Thankfully Exhausted