Friday, November 15, 2019

Pantsters Anonymous

Describe your editing/revision process. How do you make that mess of a first draft into a real book?

by Paul D. Marks

My name is Paul and I’m a Pantster.

In a word, here’s how I would describe my editing process: messy.

Since I am a pantster I don’t really have much when I start. No outline. Maybe a few notes or some ideas in my head. And I just let the characters “walk and talk” until they get to know each other, and I get to know them. It doesn’t really matter how far flung or bad my early drafts are. I guess in some ways you could say they’re my “outlines”.

The key is to realize that everything isn’t straight from the muse and that you do have to refine and chisel away at it until you come up with something recognizable. You have to work on the characters and the plot and all the other elements. I know I’d prefer never to have to rewrite, but it’s really all about the rewriting, isn’t it?

I read the drafts over and over again, each time chiseling away at them so they become more and more formed with each draft. My early drafts are random and stream of consciousness. Sometimes they run way long, other times they’re way too short. And almost all the time the endings are very sketchy. Those truly get fleshed out more with each subsequent draft.

One of the things that truly does blow me away is just how that hot mess of a first draft (and second draft and third draft) becomes something that actually makes sense and might even be fun to read. I just finished 2 new stories, working on a 3rd, amazing when it all comes together. There’s always that phase around the middle of the writing process where I look at something and it’s just a big mess and I wonder if it’s worth continuing. Most of the time it is. You just have to see the Maltese Falcon under the black paint. It’s usually there, but you have to chip away at the paint ever so gently so you don’t chip the falcon.

Even the great masters of painting “edited” their work. When some of their paintings are x-rayed they find earlier “drafts” of a work on the canvas, sometimes even different works altogether. So there’s no sin in editing and doing draft upon draft.

I usually go through lots of drafts. Some have major changes. Some have minor. But here’s a hint, don’t edit as I go along. Big things, little things, most of the time I change them in the next draft. I might make a note but I don’t get bogged down in the minutia. For example, if I have someone with blue hair on page 7 and I decide I want them to have green hair throughout, I don’t make that change till the next draft. That’s a small one and a silly one, but it gives you an idea of what I’m talking about. The only real exception in my method is if I decide that something major, plot or character-wise, isn’t working. Then I might toss the draft I’m working on and go to a new one with the new changes. But more often than not, even with big things I just change horses in mid-stream, so to speak, and go back and fix the earlier things in the next draft.

And, though I’d like to think that my drafts are perfect it helps to have a Maxwell Perkins of your own. Perkins was the editor for Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe and others. And he helped them whip their manuscripts into shape. Sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t need an editor but we really do. You need someone with a different perspective and who isn’t tied to every golden word you put down on the page.

I’m lucky to have my own Max Perkins, my wife Amy, to read my stuff. And sometimes I don’t like it when she tells me she thinks I should change X or Y, but most of the time she’s right and I’ll go back and re-do something. Other times I might argue with her and I’ll end up keeping something and changing something else.

But you have to be careful about who you choose as your editor. You don’t want someone who doesn’t “get” you or who can’t be impartial and just loves every word you put down on paper (i.e. my mom – to whom everything I wrote was just wonderful). It works for Amy and me because she’s not afraid to tell me what she thinks, but we also just work well together, we’re able to hash things out and brainstorm a problem in the manuscript together. For some people, a professional editor is the solution for others a trusted beta-reader. You just need to find what works for you.

Next in the editing process is the almost-endless read-throughs. I’ll read a draft and make notes, then Amy reads it and comments on my notes and we go back and forth that way for several drafts. Finally, we’ll sit down together and read it aloud. It’s amazing to me how so many things will come out when you read out loud. Lines that might have looked fine, sound bad or awkward. Typos that you become “snow-blind” to will become obvious when you’re reading aloud.

At some point the editing has to end. It’s really hard to stop sometimes because you’ll always find more things to polish the more times you read something. But you have to finally finish and let it go. Send it out into the world and hope it can fly on its own.


And now for the usual BSP:

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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Dead Darlings

Craft: Describe your editing/revision process. How do you make that mess of a first draft into a real book?  

by Catriona

Out in the UK today. Buy here!
Mess? Mess? How dare you! Just kidding. My first draft is the kind of mess that could spawn a double-length special episode on a hoarder reality show. It doesn't matter, though, because no one ever sees it. That's the first of three important bits of my process: the first draft is private. Why? because if you know it's never going to be seen and judged, you can let rip. Schmaltz, bad jokes, sex scenes, Mary-Sues, clumsy images, plodding action scenes . . . who cares. My first draft is the equivalent of singing in the shower in an empty house. 

For instance, the first draft first sentence of STRANGERS AT THE GATE is : 

"I could hear footsteps behind me. But the fog that had come so thick it dripped from the trees swallow my torch beam a metre in front of me."

which isn't even grammatical. The first sentence of draft 4 (the one that leaves my house) is :

"It all began that first Monday night in Simmerton, walking up the dark drive to the big house. The fog was so thick it swallowed my torch beam a step ahead of me."

which is better in that it's English but worse in that it's got that foreshadowing. The opening of the finished book is:

"We were walking up the dark drive to the big house. The fog was so thick it swallowed my torch beam a step ahead of me, so thick it dripped from the trees pressing in on both sides, so thick it turned my breath loud in my ears and cold in my mouth." 

And I'm happy with this (just as well!) because the atmosphere comes from the scene and not from writing of it. That's the second important bit of my revision process: write myself out of the book. Early drafts will have numerous bits where the prose shows signs of me sitting in my study at my laptop, thinking up images, moving characters around, planning and plotting ... and it makes for some clunky stuff.

I've picked opening sentences here but it's the end of the book that gives me most trouble. I've learned, painfully slowly, that I'm bad at finishing the story. Or rather I'm great at finishing the story - I slam it shut with a loud bang and scarper. By the time I get to the end, I'm so jaded and it's all so familiar and picked over, like gobbets of gristle I've chewed and chewed until they're down to string, that I think there's no way I need to say any more. BANG! The End. I'm offsky. So the third important bit of my revision process is: it ain't over. 

I don't feel this to be true but I know to ignore my feelings. It's like steering into a skid - feels wrong but works out right. At the end of the book, I expand and expand and expand. One chapter becomes two, a paragraph becomes a page, a line becomes a scene. And still, when I hand it over, my editor usually tells me to add yet more. 

That was the case with THE TURNING TIDE (out today in the UK - yay!). I expanded the big action scene. Then I expanded the final, following scene. Added another scene. Then an extra chapter. And an epilogue.

On the other hand, the opening to THE TURNING TIDE has been exactly the same through five drafts I did on my own, three with my editor, one with the copy editor and one with the proof-reader :

‘I don’t know, Alec,’ I said. ‘It’s hardly the riviera.’
We were standing at the top of a small beach on a sunny afternoon in July and it was undoubtedly pleasant, but I felt no particular tug towards shedding my cardigan jersey, nor even my hat, for a fresh breeze was whipping at the wavelets and sending little scraps of dry seaweed scudding over the sand. Or was it shingle? It was either the coarsest variety of the one or the finest variety of the other. 

That hardly ever happens, but I'll take it when it does.  

And they're off... by Cathy Ace

Craft: Describe your editing/revision process. How do you make that mess of a first draft into a real book?

In a word, my editing/revision process is…PAINFUL!

I love writing my first draft, I hate the first round of editing, then increasingly loath every round of editing beyond that. 

I have likened my writing process to three-day eventing, when horses are allowed to be…well, horses…during the steeplechase – galloping, leaping, running with their heads held high.

Then they have to make a much more controlled run during the show-jumping.

Finally, they are forced to act like ballerinas during the dressage competition. 

I feel this way about writing…the fun is in the frantic writing of the first draft, then I have to finesse a little in the first round of edits, followed by finagling all the tiniest details in each round of edits thereafter.

The thing is that – love it or hate it – editing in this increasingly detailed way is critically important for every manuscript, if you want that manuscript to become the best, most readable book it can become.

Specifically, I will just let my writing flow for the first draft: my plan is to keep my head down for as long as it takes to get from the beginning of the book to the end, following the detailed chapter outlines I have already written in my notepad. I type fast (and fairly inaccurately) for as many hours as I can, then I print out what I have written and mark up the pages for obvious problems/typos etc, make those amendments on the digital document, then start again from that point with the new input. It usually takes four to five weeks of this for the first draft to emerge. I then give myself as long a break as possible (at least a week) before I go back to a printed version of the draft and read from the beginning to the end, making notes about queries I have, name/time/place changes/issues, the need to rewrite a paragraph/scene etc…but I don’t make those changes at that time – I get to the end, then make the changes on the digital copy, then print that version out and start again. Over and over, until I feel it’s almost there, then I take another break, then go back and start over.

How often do I do this? It’s varied from three times to nineteen. 

Yes, n-n-n-n-nineteen! 

Like I said – it’s PAINFUL! 

Want to see what all this attention produces? 
You can find out more about my work at my website by CLICKING HERE. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Inside the Sausage Factory

Describe your editing/revision process. How do you make that mess of a first draft into a real book?

- From Frank

Question for you, first -- do you really want to go inside the sausage factory?
Weston Butcher Series #32 Meat Grinder|09-3201-W

Just kidding. It's not that gross.

My editing process varies depending on whether or not it is a collaborative effort or a solo work, but for the sake of this post, I'll stick with a solo project. For that, it is really quite straightforward, and it goes like this:

* LET IT SIT. I give it anywhere from a week to a month after that first solid draft is done. That's because I probably think the book sucks horribly at this point, so it's time to just forget about it, and work on something else. Then come back to the work with fresh eyes. Maybe even think it's good.

* FIRST REVISION. I read through, make the small changes, and note any large ones that require significant rewrite. Once I've finished the pass and made the fixes and tweaks, I tackle any sections that need a large rewrite.

Image result for red pen* FIRST LAST PASS. When I feel like I have an actual first draft, I give it one last read to be sure. If I'm wrong, it goes back a step. If I'm right...

* SEND TO BETA READERS. I do this differently, depending on the project. I may send it to one particular reader with a certain skill set to get a last read before sending it wider. But most of the time, I send it to all at once. I usually use between three and six readers, which seems like a sweet spot. I get enough feedback without having too many cooks in the kitchen. Each beta reader (some are writers, some not) tends to have a different strong suit, so the story benefits from that perspective.

* DON'T HOVER.  My #1 reader is my wife, and she acts in that role on just about every book. I've learned a while ago not to hover while she's reading, although it is difficult. This conversation happens a lot:

"How's it going?"
"Where are you now?"
"Page seventy-seven."
"That means nothing to me." 
[It doesn't , and if she didn't immediately clarify, I'm sure I'd scamper to my computer and look up page 77. But she's a good egg.}
"I'm at the part where he meets the guy with the limp."
"Oh, what did you think about how he got the limp?"
"I'm not there yet."
"Oh." [pause] "Are you liking it so far?"
"What do you like?"
"Do you want me to tell you or read more?"
[tough question, but I take the high road].
"

[Five minutes later]
"How's it going?"

Image result for head spinning
* REVIEW AND APPLY. Once I have all the reader feedback, I review it. Some is easy to apply -- typos, grammar mistakes, etc. Then I have to decide whether and how to apply what the readers have said. As a general rule, if more than one reader snagged on something, it needs addressing. If only one comments on something, I consider it (including the source). In the end, though, I always remember whose name is going under the title, and reserve the right of the final edit. That said, I'd estimate I take somewhere in the 95% range of suggestions. I mean, these are my beta readers for a reason.  If I used a larger group, that percentage would be lower, I'm sure.

* LAST LAST PASS. After I apply all the fixes and suggestions from the readers, I give it one more pass, preferably after a week or two at least (fresh eyes again). At the end of that, it'll either feel finished or need to go back into the meat grinder of revision again. If the latter, rinse and repeat (mixing metaphors here, but you get the idea). If the former, then I resist the urge to make it the latter...because if I do, a work will never be done. As you evolve as a writer, you will always find ways to improve a previous work. But at some point, it is done.

* PUBLISHER'S CRACK AT IT. If the book is with a publisher rather than independently published, then the editing process with editor kicks in. It runs about the same as the beta reader stage, though with more back and forth (and possibly some argument).

*DONE.  Feels good. I did it. Deep breath. Get to work on the next one.


Blatant Self Promotion Brought To You By Me

Another reminder that my newest release, At Their Own Game, was just released from Down and Out Books last month. 

This novel is the first in my SpoCompton series, which focuses on telling stories from the perspective of those on the wrong side of the thin blue line -- the criminals. The second, In the Cut, comes out in January 2020.

At Their Own Game features Jake Stankovic, a former cop turned fence, who runs a two-man crew. He's doing great until he breaks his own rules and gets in over his head on a deal. Now he has to deal with a pissed off drug dealer, a pissed off police detective, a worried and possibly treacherous crew, as well as a dangerous woman from his past....and he has to find a way to beat them all, at their own game.  

Monday, November 11, 2019

Cleaning House

Q: Describe your editing/revision process. How do you make that mess of a first draft into a real book?
-from Susan
 Sadly, my revision process is as messy as my creation process and is not a template for fellow writers. But, working under the umbrella of “Do what I say, not what I do,” I will share a few craft processes I strive to use.
Be ready to “kill your darlings.” Seriously, I know it’s hard and may hurt deeply, but there are – I guarantee – brilliant sentences and strikingly original descriptions that do not belong in your manuscript. Sniff them out on your own or ask a trusted colleague to read, but when the time comes, cut them brutally. Here’s the corollary: Do not throw them away. Put them in a separate file for future use in a different book or just to admire them now and then.
Connect the dots. Make sure the plot makes sense in the order you’ve laid it out, unless you want a lot of one-star reviews that include phrases like “I threw the book across the room.” (Most but not all publishing houses have smart developmental editors who will make sure you follow this maxim, but too many self-published books that haven’t undergone rigorous editing will leave even the most patient readers saying, “Huh?” on page 150.) One way of making sure your story is unfolding well is by using real or virtual index cards just for plot points. Does the bloody glove found under a bush appear before the snow that you claim obscured it has fallen on the moor?
Who are these people? Did the characters we’re supposed to love lie down and die of boredom in chapter three? Is the villain drooling at people in chapter two so that any sane reader already knows he is the killer and the reader doesn’t have to read the rest of your brilliant book? And who is the total stranger who wandered into the last chapter to solve the mystery by baring clues you didn’t bother to slip in sooner?
Details, details.Do you have enough or too many? Are your descriptions supporting the story or distracting from it? (See Criminal Minds two weeks ago for more on this subject.) If you’re Abir Mukherjee, you have to bring early 20thcentury India to life (he does). If you’re Terry Shames, it’s present day Texas (she does it proud)…Read the books of all of my Criminal Minds colleagues to see how they use specific details brilliantly in the right places and don’t waste space pushing them into the wrong spots in their narratives. 
Getting from the first draft to the one that’s polished enough to send to an agent or editor is hard work. One final bit of advice: Never give up!

Friday, November 8, 2019

Networking? Really?

Bouchercon has just concluded. Networking is a vital component of our business, never more so than at a conference. How do you approach it?

Sitting on the other side of the pond, it’s not easy to make the annual pilgrimage to Bouchercon. In fact my only visit to date was St Petersburg last year. And what an eye-opener it was. Americans always do things bigger, louder, brasher, funner (yes, ‘funner’ is a word,…yes…yes it is. Trust me, Shakespeare used it.).

Shut up, Shakespeare

From the huge venues, to the wonderful readers, to the aircraft hangar of a bookstore to the packed schedules starting at before 9am, (okay, maybe not the early starts, which are, frankly, a touch uncivilised. I didn’t give up a day job I was no good at just to have to get up and attend panels before 9am). But everything else about it shouts BIG AMERICAN STUFF!

Americans. On their way to Bouchercon.

And the networking is no exception. Loads of people, all wanting to hear about your work or wanting to tell you about theirs – it’s great, but it can also be exhausting, especially when cultural differences come into the mix. Here in jolly old England, we tend to have a natural reticence to talk too vociferously or too positively about our own work. There’s a tendency towards self-deprecation. When asked about my books, I generally tend to look a bit sheepish and say something like”

‘Well, they’re ok, I suppose. Some people like them. I hope they’re improving (the books, not the people). I can’t actually read the first one without cringing.’ 

But you North Americans aren’t generally hamstrung by our ridiculous old world ways. I wish I were American. Then I could say something like: 

‘My books? Lemme tell you about ‘em! They’re great! So great. They’ve won awards. So many awards. The best awards. More awards than you can fit in your fanny pack. And the words?! Such beautiful words. Words like you’ve never seen…like ‘funner’ for instance. And the plots? You should see my plots! They’re the best plots, believe me. I was talking to my good friend Kim Jong Un. Yeah, he’s a friend of mine, and he said to me, “Abir. Your plots, man. They’re genius. Even that first novel, the one everyone laughs at and you sue people for mentioning, it’s brilliant.”

Make Abir Great Again (please)

Okay, I joke, but I think there’s a marked difference in how British and American authors talk about their work, with our Canadian friends somewhere in between. 

All this is my way of telling you that I find networking, especially in America, pretty difficult. It takes me out of my comfort zone and can be draining. I remember being exhausted at the end of each day at Bouchercon last year, just getting to my room and collapsing. That’s not to say I didn’t love it. On the contrary, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had at a festival.

My own views on networking are similar to Dietrich’s. I like to think of events like Bouchercon as a fun trip away from the grind of writing. They’re a chance to connect with like-minded souls from across the world and they remind me of how lucky I am to be able to do what I love for a living. I don’t think of meeting with readers and writers as networking, but rather as a perk of the job. For me, networking is much more meeting with publishers and agents and producers and TV execs and such people whose teeth are remarkably straight and whose smiles can blind you at forty paces. I don’t enjoy them as much, but I regard them as business and I treat them with the professionalism the deserve. I prepare for them – reading up on the person I’ll be meeting. Are they on Linkedin? Have they written anything in the press? What am I going to pitch to them? Should I add star-wipes to my powerpoint presentation to them? Okay maybe not the last one. That to me is networking. Spending time with authors and readers on the other hand, is a pleasure. 

And it’s funner.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Talk to Me

From Jim

I’ve just returned from my annual pilgrimage to Bouchercon, the world’s largest crime-writers and -readers conference. This year it was held in Dallas and welcomed 1,700 enthusiasts. I’ve been recuperating for three days, totally knocked out and sick. Bouchercon is not for the faint of heart, but I loved every minute of it!

Conferences present a great opportunity to network, meet other writers, and—more important—readers. I take full advantage of that opportunity by stopping to speak to anyone and everyone I can. In the corridors, panel rooms, restaurants, and the bar, you’ll find me chatting with someone. And that’s because I love doing it. It’s not a chore for me. I truly enjoy meeting these people and hearing what they’re reading or writing.

The key to my networking is this: I don’t have a strategy beyond simply doing what comes naturally. Listening and talking. Some folks like to talk more than listen, and that’s fine too. Others are shy and prefer to listen. I try to introduce them to all and get them to engage. I’ve met hundreds of writers and readers this way and am always glad to see them at subsequent conferences. My glad-handing has earned me the nickname “The Mayor” from a couple of writer friends. But I’m not running for anything. I’m just enjoying myself.

With Jan Grape

This year, I flew directly from India to Dallas for the conference. It didn't matter that I was sick, jet-lagged, and exhausted, I dived right into the spirit of things and hit the bar to seek out old and new friends alike. I got to thank some friends for blurbing my upcoming release, TURN TO STONE, and gladly accept a couple of requests to blurb others’ books as well. I look forward to reading the latest mysteries before they’re released if I can fit them into my writing schedule. That’s part of networking, too. We have to be ready to pay it forward and backward in our community. It’s important to lend support whenever you can.

Another way of supporting is to attend the panels you’re interested in. In the best of all worlds, your friends’ panels are also interesting, because it’s extra important to attend those. And ask questions during the Q & A portion. But make sure you’re asking questions and not pontificating about your own work. Be generous to those who are having their brief moment in the spotlight.

Terry Shames, Helen Smith, Jamie Mason,
 Amy Reade, and David Heska Wanbli Weiden.
 Missing from photo and conference Susan C. Shea  :-(

Buy books if you can! It’s not always possible due to finances, of course, but writers understand that. They appreciate a purchase and a request for a signature, but also they’re thrilled to be told something nice about their work as well. For that reason, I try to remember to leave a brief review on Amazon and Goodreads for the books I’ve read. And it’s nice to give a round of applause when something good happens!

Kellye Garrett, Lori Rader-Day, me, and Holly West 

But I suppose my best advice for networking is to be a good friend. A friend will listen and share and laugh and commiserate if necessary. This isn’t always like networking in a business environment, though there’s some of that as well. But we’re generally not networking with publishers and agents at conferences. More often it’s readers and writers. And we don’t need to treat them like prospective clients or sales opportunities. Treat them as friends and you’ll be rewarded in kind. And buy them a drink once in a while, alcoholic or not. Most of the networking will take place in the bar.


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Networking or not working?

by Dietrich

What an appropriate and timely question by Jim as Bouchercon happened this past week in Dallas. Just coming off a book tour for my latest, I’m sorry that I missed the conference this year. From the photos and comments I’ve seen so far it looked like a good one. Guess I’ll have to content myself with having attended Left Coast Crime held here in Vancouver earlier this year. Great panels, a lot of readers and writers, and best of all, the organizers let me put together the Noir at the Bar which turned out to be a total blast. Like all the conferences I’ve attended it was awesome, although I’m still kicking myself for missing out on the Criminal Minds lunch which included eight of our own Criminal Minds as well a few alumnus.
LCC Noir at the Bar Blake Crouch, Hilary Davidson, Rob Hart, Sam Wiebe, Frank Zafiro, SJ Rozan, Thomas Pluck, Kellye Garrett, Vicki Delany, Lisa Brackmann, Robin Burcell and me.
Now, to the question: As far as networking, I admit I never think of going to a conference in those terms. For me, it’s a party, a chance to connect with some old friends and maybe meet some new ones. 

Once checked in, I start running into people wearing those lanyards in the halls, restaurants, cafes, on the street, at the various panel discussions, and at the ever popular watering holes. So, if attending a conference is networking, then I guess, like a lot of other writers and readers attending, I’ve been working and putting in some serious overtime.

Writers, readers, agents, editors and publishers: throw a scotch on the rocks at the conference bar and you’re bound to hit one. So, if you’re new or just introverted and haven’t been yet, but you want to connect with writers and readers or get in front of somebody on the publishing side of things, there’s no better way to do it. And if you’re just there to party, that’s hard to beat, too.

One tip, if you’re new to it and you’ve got a book out, have an elevator pitch ready. There’s nothing worse (personal experience) than being asked what your book’s about, and standing there going “uh, well, uh …” looking like a deer in the headlights.

Sure, there are other ways to network: social media, writer events, reading groups, associations like Mystery Writers of America, Crime Writers of Canada, Thriller Writers of America. And there are writers’ festivals and events available in just about every city.

Okay, so I didn’t get to Bouchercon this year, but as I mentioned, I did just return from what’s turned into an annual book tour down the coast to California, filled with reading events, a Noir at the Bar, and a two-day writers’ workshop. And I guess as well as catching up with old friends and making some new ones, each event was a new opportunity to network. I even got to ride in a police car – in the front seat this time, doing some research for a story I’ve got percolating. 

And now that I’m back on home turf, I should mention the next Noir at the Bar here in Vancouver is tonight at our usual haunt, the Shebeen Whiskey House. If you’re in town, you can see from the poster, we’ve got an excellent line-up of authors eager to network and read from their latest; it’s going to be one you don’t want to miss.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Painless Networking

This week we’re talking about Bouchercon, the huge mystery conference that just concluded in Dallas. The question is about networking and how we approach it. But before I get to that question, I want to say that leaving the conference this time I ran into several people who said they were always sad and let-down when it was over. I said that I’d like to live at Bouchercon. I’d like to be able to do my writing all day and then when I was tired and ready to go into the world, I’d like to go downstairs and all the attendees would be there, ready to mingle with, to laugh with, to compare notes, to have a drink with, to commiserate with. Writers, readers, editors, publishers, reviewers, librarians, booksellers… I miss you today. I miss the ones who were there, and those who were unable to attend for whatever reason. You are my tribe.
Norcal MWA members reading through the play "The Ghost Town Mortuary" written by Anthony Boucher and performed in honor of Bouchercon's fiftieth anniversary.

Bar scene. Yes, people do go to the bar.

Anthony-nominated pals Lori Rader-day and James Ziskin. One of them won!

On to the question: Networking implies chatting up people who either can help you or you can help them. It’s a “business” word. But I think of it as much more. It’s the way people relate in any way to my life as a writer.

I approach networking at a conference by talking to every single person I meet and trying to make them either a potential sounding board as a writer, someone whose writing I may enjoy reading, someone who may be able to answer a burning question related to the publishing field or a potential reader.

I am blessed (or cursed) with being relentlessly social. I rarely meet someone I can’t have a conversation with. The biggest way to grow your network is to talk to people about their interests, their jobs, their passions. This is true of every conference you go to.

I have developed questions that are sure to draw out people at conferences:

1)    Are you a writer, a fan, or related to publishing in some other way? The related questions branch off from there.

2)    If you’re a reader (yay! A reader!) , what do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? If the answer is that they like to read someone whose novels are like mine, I may trot out my bookmark and tell them a little (and I mean a little) about my books. If they like books that don’t seem like mine, I will try to think of an author they might enjoy reading.

3)    If you’re a writer, there are endless questions beyond “what do you write?” If you’re a thriller writer, how do you push your characters to the edge? If you’re a cozy writer, how do you manage to think up ways to get your characters in hot water and get them out without resorting to calling the police? Police procedurals, do you have police background? If not, how do you do research? If so, do you draw on real cases? As a writer, what’s your process? Do you write fast, slow, do you outline, fly by the seat of your pants? Are you traditionally published? Are you satisfied with that? Small or large press? If you could choose any publisher, who would it be and why? Do you publish independently? What’s your biggest challenge? Do you feel successful? What’s your worse fear?

4)    If you’re a reviewer, do you work exclusively for one source, or are you independent? How do you choose what you review? How long have you been a reviewer? What do you do if you don’t like a book? Do you refuse to review it, give a lukewarm review, pan it? Has an author ever gotten angry? Corrected you? What do you do about that?

5)    If you’re a publisher, what kind of books does your company focus on? How many titles per year? Do you love it? What made you go into publishing? What’s your biggest challenge?

6)    If you’re an editor, are you an acquiring editor, developmental editor, copyeditor? Do you work for a publishing company or are you independent? What rocks your world in a manuscript? What’s your favorite book you’ve edited? What does an author do that drives you crazy?

7)    If you’re a librarian, where do you work? Are mysteries your favorite books? What else do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Does your library do book events? Are you open to the idea of a panel of mystery authors? Do you know about Sisters in Crime’s “We Love Libraries” program?

8)    Are you a bookseller? What’s hot these days? What are you recommending? Any frustrations you’re having, like getting books? How is your business being affected by ebooks? By on-line sales? Do like having authors come for events? What are the special challenges of that?

You rarely get through even a few of these questions before you become deeply involved in the details. There are so many people at Bouchercon that it seems you barely get started before it’s time to rush off to a panel, a meeting, a lunch, or to crash in your bedroom getting a second wind.

If you are pressed for time, or just want a quick connection with someone, the short question to kick-start a conversation with anyone is, “What are you (writing, reading, reviewing, considering) at the moment that you are excited about?”

There are a lot of people who look lost at a conference with 1700 attendees, and you are sure to connect with some of them, especially if you have a few of those questions ready.

Photo of a an old friend, Tim Maleeny, who is back in the writing life after a hiatus, and the reading world will be better for it. 

And I end with a photo of dear Bill Crider, who was honored at Bouchercon with a special short story contest and a memorial cocktail party: