Greetings! I'm delighted to be guest blogging today and talking a little bit about how I kick started my mystery writing career. Probably my biggest qualification was being the kid who snuck into cemeteries late at night on a dare, whispered ghost stories around the campfire, and devoured Nancy Drew books under the covers.
And late at night, when the wind is howling and the house is creaking, I still believe there might be a body stashed in that old trunk in the attic. And when I finally visited New Orleans and wandered through their incredibly spooky above-ground cemeteries, I think I even started believing in vampires.
But as much as I longed to be a mystery writer, I landed in advertising instead. I wrote and produced TV commercials, then ended up heading my own firm for nearly 15 years. Still, the mystery bug gnawed at me. So writing evenings and weekends, I chipped away at Old Masters, a thriller about stolen World War II artwork. When it was finished, I thought it was fantastic – the best thriller ever written! My only problem was, I wasn't sure what to do with my masterpiece.
One day, while having lunch with my friend, F. Jim Smith, (he was Bing Crosby's personal artist and illustrator for the Marlboro Man) I told him about Old Masters. Brimming with enthusiasm, Jim said, “Let’s call my friend Mary, she'll know what to do.” Well, his friend “Mary” turned out to be Mary Higgins Clark! Who, as you probably know, is the Queen of Suspense and one of the best-selling mystery writers of all time.
I thought to myself, “No way is this going to happen.” But two hours later Jim called back with a message from Mary. “Come to New York and meet me at the Mystery Writers of America symposium.” Oh, heck yes, I thought!
When I arrived at the symposium, this tiny dynamo in a gorgeous Chanel suit grabbed my hand and proceeded to introduce me to New York’s finest agents, editors, and publishers! As Mary handed me off to each one, I did my little song and dance and presented them with a spiffy book cover I’d had my senior art director design.
Did I sell my Old Masters manuscript that day? No, but it was read by Penguin and Random House. And I received offers from 5 different agents to represent me and ended up with a dandy offer to write a cozy series.
A fairytale ending, yes? But that was almost nine years ago. Could this still happen today with publishers clinging miserly to every dollar, allowing author’s backlists to go out of print, and letting new (good!) manuscripts languish in slush piles?
If you want it bad enough, I really believe you can make it happen. Pour your heart into your story, make sure it’s a killer plotline, add twists and tangles, and then prove, prove, prove to a publisher that you’ve got the platform to promote it.
I’ll also let you in on a very weird secret. Editors (who are really acquisition editors, not mark-it-with-a-red-pen editors) don’t really know what they’re looking for. That’s why you have to tell them that you have the next big thing in publishing. If you can, gently pull them aside at a conference and perform your own animated song and dance. Because if you’re convinced, they’ll be convinced.
One more critical thing. You must also learn the subtle art of the one-page query letter. It’s the only way you’ll score the big enchilada - a killer agent. Which, in publishing’s uncertain times, is the best way in the front door!
Ah. You’re probably wondering who my killer agent is? After three years of writing, guerrilla marketing, and proving I could actually sell books, I finally landed the same agent that represents Mary. And every day, rain or shine, I thank my lucky stars.
In Laura Child's past life, she was CEO and creative director of Mission Critical Marketing, with offices in Minneapolis, MN, Austin, TX, and San Jose, CA, where they handled marketing and advertising for medical, technology, and financial clients.
She's married to Dr. Robert Poor, a professor of Chinese and Japanese art history at the University of Minnesota. They live on two acres of woods in Plymouth, MN and have two snarky Chinese Shar-Pei dogs. They travel to Asia, enjoy art collecting, and serve on the boards of a couple of non-profit organizations.
Oh yes, and she's the author of the Scrapbooking Mysteries, Tea Shop Mysteries, and Cackleberry Club Mysteries.Her most recent mystery, TRAGIC MAGIC, was just released. And don't miss EGGS BENEDICT ARNOLD, coming December 1st.