Book Title: The Art of Betrayal
Genre: Traditional Mystery
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Links to book:
Thank you for your time in answering our questions about getting published. Let’s begin by having you explain to us why you decided to become an author and pen this book?
Connie: Like many, probably most, authors, I’ve been writing all my life. As a child, I wrote and illustrated my own stories. Interestingly, most of them contain a mystery although not a murder. My fascination with books and reading came from my mother, who’d been a teacher. She read to me every day and brought the words on the page to life by adopting different voices for the characters. In junior high, while wandering the stacks in my local library, I discovered P. G. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie, and the other writers of mystery’s Golden Age. I was hooked on books set in the UK and especially on mysteries.
As an adult I wrote academically and for business. I also did a lot of editing for others. My teaching career required me to prepare a fifty-minute lecture each week, so that required writing as well. When I retired from that job, I decided it was now or never. I’d pursue the dream that had been lurking in the back of my head for decades—writing a mystery. I wish I could say it was easy. That first book was written and rewritten over a period of almost ten years.
Is this your first book?
Connie: No, The Art of Betrayal is the third in the Kate Hamilton Mystery series. One of the joys of writing a series is the opportunity to follow characters over an extended period of time. They learn, grow, change, adapt. Sometimes they make mistakes and have to pay for them. They fall and have to get back up and go on. I recently moderated a panel of historical mystery writers, and the participants all said that as you write multiple books, you learn to write faster. I still waiting for that to happen.
With this particular book, how did you publish – traditional, small press, Indie, etc. – and why did you choose this method?
Connie: From the beginning, my goal was to be traditionally published. That’s certainly not the only path, nor is it necessarily the best path for a writer to take. But being traditionally published does give you a certain standing in the writing community. Your book is eligible for industry prizes, for example, like the Agatha Awards, the Lefty Awards, The Edgars. My first novel, A Dream of Death, won the IPPY Gold Medal for Mystery and was a finalist for the Agatha Best Debut.
Being traditionally published also provides some support in the way of publicity and marketing. Plus the distribution is handled. Some authors love the business-end of publishing. They’re great at social media and love having their finger on every stage in the process. Other authors (like me) just want to write. I’m glad I don’t have to worry about printing costs, cover design, and distribution.
Can you tell us a little about your publishing journey? The pros and cons?
Connie: My story isn’t typical. As I said, getting published took me almost ten years. That in itself isn’t unusual. Many writers have a similar story. For me, a lot of that time was spent learning craft. Although writing has always been one of my top skills, and in spite of the fact that I had a graduate degree in English Literature and had read literally thousands of mystery novels, I didn’t have a clue how to produce a good story. I had to learn, and one of the best ways to learn is by making mistakes. I made plenty of them.
During those years I did a few good things, though. One was reading a wonderful book on craft—Don’t Sabotage Your Submission by Chris Roerden. Another was joining writers’ organizations such as Sisters in Crime, Guppies, and Mystery Writers of America. These groups offer valuable opportunities to learn and receive feedback. The problem is, you have to listen. Some of the advice I was given meant major revisions. I dug my heels in and kept trying to polish my words. Finally in the fall of 2017, I decided to do a final, massive revision that involved changing from third to first person, eliminating all but one POV, and cutting out several characters and an entire story line. I finished that revision on January 1, 2018. In February, I went to the SleuthFest Conference in Florida and met my editor at Crooked Lane. She offered me a two-book contract. I got an agent, signed on the dotted line, and that was that.
What lessons do you feel you learned about your particular publishing journey and about the publishing industry as a whole?
Connie: I learned that my publishing journey is unique. Even though the lead-up to publication was long, once I’d whipped my story into publishable form, the contract came quickly. That rarely happens.
What I’ve learned about the publishing business as a whole is no secret. Publishing is profit-driven—period, end of story. Publishers want to sell books; they need to sell books; and that requires exposure. You might have the most beautifully written book in decades, but if no one knows you and if no one hears about your book, it may languish near the bottom of the all-important Amazon rankings. That’s why it’s so important for aspiring writers to make connections in the writing and publishing world. If the ivory-tower days for writers ever existed, they certainly don’t anymore. I love the saying I heard first at Malice Domestic, the annual mystery fan conference that takes place near Washington, D.C.: “No one must fail so that I can succeed.” Writers don’t compete against each other. We support each other and promote writers we know and respect. Jump in and make friends.
Would you recommend this method of publishing to other authors?
Connie: Oh, yes. Writers need to know, however, that publishing traditionally will take time—lots of time. For most people, that means a long query process, first for an agent, then a publisher. After that, the process of editing can take many months. I signed my first contract with Crooked Lane in March of 2018. A Dream of Death was published in April of 2019. That’s more than a year. There was a lot to be done besides editing. A book design had to be chosen, then the cover art and back cover copy produced. ARCs were sent out to solicit reviews and endorsements. I had to have an official author photo taken and write my author bio. I honestly had no idea all that went into producing a book.
What’s the best advice you can give to aspiring authors?
Connie: I love this question because I wish someone had given me this advice when I was starting out. My best advice is four-fold:
1. Begin writing as early as you can. In my case, my teaching career was so intense I didn’t have time to focus on outside projects. But many people can. If you can mark off time during the day—or even just on the weekends—write, write, write.
2. Read widely—in your genre and outside. This trains your eye and your ear to recognize excellent writing. Notice how successful authors construct scenes, how they develop character, setting, and plot.
3. Take the time necessary to learn craft. Check out available resources such as classes, seminars, and workshops. Don’t be too quick to throw out queries. You usually get one shot. Don’t waste it. Listen to the advice of those who’ve gone before you. You aren’t required to take that advice, of course, but do listen. Be willing to make changes.
4. Join writing groups in your genre (MWA, SinC, RWA, SFWA, Authors Guild, CFWA). Attend conferences if you can afford it. Make connections with other writers, both published and unpublished. They will become your advocates and encouragers.