A possible new publisher

Jayne Hitchcock here. I’m pretty disappointed with my publisher – my last book, True Crime Online, hasn’t been selling well and when it first came out, I did a flurry of radio interviews, but then that was all they did for publicity. I had to rely on my media contacts and contacting local media when I did speaking engagements or book signings (which I also scheduled myself) to promote it.

I was ready to give up on writing when I got an email from a publisher in Maryland in October. They wanted to know if I’d be interested in writing a book about online crimes. Would I?! Of course! Before replying, I did my research, found them to be reputable and with a good lineup of books and authors. I cautiously replied, talked to the publishing agent who had contacted me over the phone, wrote a proposal for a book about cyberbullying and sent that off to her, along with a copy of True Crime Online and my previous book, Net Crimes & Misdemeanors 2nd edition. She got back to me with what they provide for publicity/promotional events and I was pleasantly surprised at how invested they are in their authors.

I was psyched and posted on Facebook that I might be writing a new book. While most of my friends congratulated me and wished me luck, several (who mainly messaged me privately) asked if the publisher could look at their book as well.


I was a bit affronted. First, my books are mainly non-fiction and all of the people who contacted me had written a “novel.” They obviously didn’t know anything about the publishing business. I patiently explained to each one that there are different kinds of publishers and mine was strictly non-fiction looking to branch out into the technical/Internet areas. A couple of them actually got upset with me that I wouldn’t 1) Share the name of the publisher or 2) That I wouldn’t help them get published

Again, what?!

I patiently guided them to the Writer’s Digest web site and guide to literary agents and publishers, then let it go.

The publishing agent asked if I had five peers who could vouch for my expertise, so I set about contacting some Internet-savvy folks I know, some dealing with social media, and asked if they could be used as a reference for my new publisher. One was “too busy,” another wanted to know who the publisher, but I was hesitant to share. Is that wrong? But I did finally get five people who will vouch for me.

Now I have to sit and wait until the first of the year to see if my book proposal is accepted. I am thinking it will be, since they *did* invite me to provide one to them.

Some friends have been asking, online and in person, if I’ve written the book yet. I honestly almost laughed out loud. I had to explain that my proposal has to be accepted first, then a contract signed, then I will start writing, which probably won’t be until January or February at the earliest and again, only *if* it is accepted and approved. Then I have a year to complete the manuscript, then it goes to editing, proofing, etc. It probably won’t be out until 2016 if it all goes well. People are just boggled over that. They think getting a book published happens like magic!

Have any of you experienced this? Friends wanting you to help get them get published and not understanding anything about how it is really done? How do you handle it?

Cross your fingers for me and have a wonderful Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Weekend Update: December 13-14, 2014

fallsbooks1Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be posts by Jayne Hitchcock (Monday), Dorothy Cannell (Tuesday), Sarah Graves (Wednesday), and Kate Flora (Thursday), and a special post on Holiday reading on Friday.

In the news department, here’s what’s happening with some of us who blog regularly at Maine Crime Writers:

ladya3 (248x300)from Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett: As special holiday treat for our readers, here’s the link to a Christmas story I wrote several years ago. It features characters from my Face Down series and is set in Elizabethan England. Click here to read Lady Appleton and the Yuletide Hogglers and see how the holidays were celebrated way back in the sixteenth century. Enjoy!

An invitation to readers of this blog: Do you have news relating to Maine, Crime, or Writing? We’d love to hear from you. Just comment below to share. Don’t forget that comments are entered for a chance to win our wonderful basket of books and the very special moose and lobster cookie cutters.


And a reminder: If your library, school, or organization is looking for a speaker, we are often available to talk about the writing process, research, where we get our ideas, and other mysteries of the business. Contact Kate Flora: mailto: kateflora@gmail.com

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Thoughts as 2014 winds up

Scenic spot on the Airline that generated a story which ended up in a Level Best Anthology

Scenic spot on the Airline that generated a story which ended up in a Level Best Anthology

While there are three weeks remaining in 2014, this is my last scheduled post for the year at MCW. Looking back, it has been an interesting one to say the least. I became a grandfather to the neatest, happiest kid imaginable. Piper made Thanksgiving the best one ever and as I reflected upon it, I realized how different generations in my family are than previous ones. I remember my four grandparents but there wasn’t much in the way of warmth, involvement or overt affection. When we kids got older, the times we and our parents spent doing things together got fewer and fewer as well.

Contrast this with 2014. Everyone was happy to hold Piper and play peek-a-boo and similar games, She’s had at least 500 books read to her and it was a hoot watching her mother introduce her to slivers of pumpkin pie. The following night, Beth and I took our adult daughters to see Mockingjay. Going to see Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Hobbit and similar movies is part of out family tradition now and something that seldom happened when I was a young adult.

This was also the year I set a firm date to retire from the library profession and shared it with the folks who oversee the library as well as my patrons. June 1, 2015 will be my last day. That doesn’t mean I’m vanishing from the profession completely (I plan to be a cataloging volunteer a day a week for members of our library consortium), but I’m looking forward to the freedom to stay in bed, not shave and be completely indolent on days when the mood strikes me.

Imagine meeting these in a dense fog

Imagine meeting these in a dense fog

I had another bout with depression in the fall and let it get so strong that my ability to write, aside from blogging and book reviews, completely died. Whether it will return or not is still debatable, but losing it helped me focus on just how many book reviews I did and published this year. I’ve read about 225 books and reviewed more than 175. Pretty much every review was posted on Amazon and Goodreads, with most also being posted on the Central Maine Librarian’s review blog and recently to Edelweis. I pretty much write only positive ones and am fortunate in that there is an amazing abundance of really interesting and pretty immersive YA books being published. The response from other readers, authors and fellow librarians tells me that writing these is helpful to plenty of people. In fact I have a separate book case at the library that holds the YA books I’ve read and a dozen or so patrons hit it each time they come to the library.

If and when the ability to write returns, near the top of my gotta do list is a book or very long article I’m going to call Building the Best Small Library Possible and how you can do it too. I’m going to describe the things I and my extremely capable cadre of volunteers have come up with, as well as the mistakes we made and what we learned from them. No matter how long you’re in this profession, there are new things to try that often produce bigger benefits than you imagined they might. For example, we split out our Christian fiction into a separate location after listening to several patrons complain that they had to spend an awful lot of time looking through the shelves to find any.

It wasn’t long after that when we did the same thing with paranormal romance. That was extremely successful for patrons at other libraries when they were looking for PNR titles to borrow because we added the prefix of PNR to all the call numbers, making it easy to figure out what we thought fit. When we ran out of room in our DVD room a couple months ago, we weeded dead stuff from adult nonfiction and created room so we could put all the horror movies together. Not only did we get more room in the big movie room, but a lot of patrons told us the new sub-collection was a great idea. I know a lot of librarians would cringe at having a significant number of slasher and monster flicks in their collection, let alone feature a spot where they were all together, but it really did work well.

The other ‘niche’ market we’re really up there with is audio books on CD. We couldn’t afford to buy into the statewide down-loadable audio collection and we didn’t have a lot of Kindle or similar e-reader owners in Hartland. However, we still had plenty of people who liked to listen to audio books while driving to work, exercising or working around the house. Fortunately, my daughter Lisa hits book sales at fancy city libraries where she can get really good ones for a buck, sometimes less. Coupled with ones I review for School Library Journal or trade for on Paperback Swap, we have arguably the biggest collection of books on CD in Maine and our patrons never have to hunt very hard for something new and different.

The next challenge is going to be starting the process of disengagement while making sure the library is still moving forward. I am pretty certain I have one or more great candidates in the wings who can step in and take over. Will they run it as I have? Of course not, but they will have ideas and insights that, in many cases, will be even better than mine and that’s the way it should be.

One of Baxter State Park's many residents

One of Baxter State Park’s many residents

I will leave you with two more reviews of books that won’t come out until May of 2015. One advantage of being a prolific reader/reviewer is that publishers are happy to give you access to digital review copies so they can generate some advance publicity. If you remember my last post where I highlighted Brian Katcher, you know I was really eager to read his next book. Well, after uploading a bunch of reviews to Edelweis last week, lo and behold, I found his book was available for download. I had the best time reading and reviewing it. Likewise for another great YA book about a high school senior who has paranoid schizophrenia. Here are those reviews. I’ll see you all again in 2015.

ana and zak

The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak, Katherine Tegen Books, Pub. Date May, 2015. Digital advance reading copy courtesy of Edelweis. Can uptight and laid back co-exist? Zak, AKA Duke, appears to be ultra-cool and unruffled on the outside, but he’s really sad and a bit hurting on the inside. He’s still missing his dad who died of cancer a few years ago and he’s really uncomfortable around his stepfather, Roger, in part because of how fast he and Zak’s mom got married after they met. Zak’s really into role playing and all the affiliated stuff that comes with it. He’s totally pumped because next weekend he’ll be in his element at Washingcon, the highlight of his year.

Ana is about as far personality-wise from Zak as one could get. She’s ultra-serious, driven (in large part by her parents’ rigid expectations to have a perfect daughter), is locked into a perpetually tight schedule and has a responsibility bump the size of Guatemala. She’s stressing out about the quiz bowl competition next weekend. She feels full responsibility for the team’s success, even to the point of having convinced her parents to let her precocious younger brother, Clayton, be on the team.

Two completely different personalities and two completely different sets of weekend plans are about to be dumped into the same bowl of life and get thoroughly mixed together. A recipe for disaster on the surface, but much more fun and interesting underneath.

When Mrs. Brinkham, the health teacher and adviser to the quiz bowl team, has Zak step into her office, his life is about to get a lot more interesting. She confronts him with the fact that he downloaded a Wikipedia article and copied it almost word for word when submitting it as his health paper. She gives him a choice: Be an alternate on the quiz team and rewrite the paper for a passing grade, or fail completely and have to take health over again in the summer.

It’s a tough choice for Zak. The Con is his one happy event now that Dad is gone, but he really wants to go to the community college next fall and not passing health will kill his chance to do so. He agrees to her terms.

Ana is less than pleased with him as an alternate and becomes even more so when Clayton starts getting really interested in Zak’s stories about previous Cons. She thaws a little when Zak saves the team from defeat in an early round, but when Clayton hops into a taxi later that evening to see what the Con is all about, she freaks completely. If her parents get wind of what her brother is up to, she’s sure all the blame will fall on her head.

When Zak agrees to help find her brother, they take off in another taxi and what happens over the next several hours is alternately scary and hilarious. Ana has no clue what she’s about to encounter, nor does she have any idea how much popularity Zak has with the folks who go to Cons.

The cast of characters Brian creates to populate the Con, the language, the events and the misadventures will be familiar to anyone who has attended one or more of these events. He gets it all right and, coupled with his ability to make both Zak and Ana appealing and ever more attracted to each other as the night progresses, makes this a great fun and feel-good read. There’s nothing in the book that might deter tweens from reading it, so this is going to be a dandy addition to any library, public or school. I’d love to see it as a movie down the road.

Made you up

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia, Greenwillow Books, to be published in May, 2015. When she was seven, Alexandria freed the lobsters at the supermarket. She was helped by a mysterious boy who had bright blue eyes and smelled like pond water. He agreed to be her friend after helping her, but he vanished.

Ten years later, Alex is struggling with reality. She has paranoid schizophrenia and has to rely on medication, obsessive and constant perimeter checks and her trusty digital camera to cope. She takes lots and lots of pictures that she looks at later to help determine what’s real and what are visual hallucinations.

She’s starting at a new school, having painted the word communists in big red letters on the gym floor at her old high school. Hopeful that she’ll fit in and maybe find some real happiness at the new school, she’s been working at Finnegan’s a restaurant all summer and has made friends with Tucker who has been filling her in on East Shoal High, her new school. When Miles comes in for his usual cheeseburger and fries, Tucker hints vaguely that he’s not normal and has Alex wait on him. The mystery boy barely talks to her, but when he does look up, his startling blue eyes pull Alex back to that day ten years ago and she’s filled with an array of emotions. Could it be that the boy she remembers really does exist, despite her mother telling her most of what she remembers that day wasn’t real?

When she starts school, Miles is running the club that gets all the kids who have to do community service. Alex has to participate because of her paint job at the other school. She’s a bit scared, but far more intrigued by Miles who is beyond smart, has a slight German accent and apparently hires out to do really strange stuff for other students.

Both of them, along with Tucker, are curious about the principal’s obsession with the gym scoreboard that was donated in honor of a girl more than twenty years before. When she returned five years after graduating, the scoreboard fell, killing her. They suspect there’s an odd link between the principal, the scoreboard and Celia, a cheerleader who has a thing for Miles and whose mother was in the same class as the girl the scoreboard killed.

This could have easily turned into a typical teen romance, but the author moved it into far more interesting directions and I am incredibly impressed with how she built Alexandria’s personality, especially her battle to distinguish reality from her illness. Having worked in inpatient mental health for more than 25 years, she got this aspect as right as anyone possibly could. So much so, that there are several completely gut-wrenching moments in the final third of the book that are directly related to her illness.

Miles is also well crafted and has some intriguing issues of his own. He’s both brilliant and terribly vulnerable, but keeps that latter piece hidden from everyone until Alex manages to get inside his shell.

This is a love story, a mystery and an excellent look at two teens trying to perceive the world through flawed lenses. While there is a fair amount of profanity and some violence, neither should deter any library from adding this to their collection. It would be particularly good for libraries who care about offering insights into teen mental heath issues. On a final note, there are sufficient mystery elements for this to be considered as a YA Edgar candidate.

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The Dreaded Synopsis

It has been my recent pleasure to speak with young writers who all want to be the next somebody, and who all seem to be plagued with the same common problem; How to write a good @*^%*#@ SYNOPSIS. Wanting to be the next somebody is a problem in itself, and something agents and publishers never want to hear. The kiss of death is telling an agent your book is the next DaVinci Code or Harry Potter. Don’t do it. The synopsis, however, is something I might be able to help with a bit.

Most tell me they find it easier to write the book than the synopsis. I shared this problem for a very long time as well. Writing my novel was a breeze compared to the dreaded synopsis. This is true, I told the young writers, because with your book you have unlimited space and words to tell your story. With a synopsis, you have three paragraphs and no more at most to say what you said in seventy-five thousand or more words.

The trick is to make the synopsis intriguing enough for an agent or publisher to want to read the entire book. This trick is about as easy as eating tomato soup with a fork. However, I will share some tips, tricks and common sense things I have learned from studying successful synopsis writing of others, research and good old fashion idea sharing from peers. There is no magic here, and you may still struggle along the way, but if you follow this guide, you will eventually get there.

Let’s start with the first of three paragraphs. Begin this paragraph by introducing the two main characters, the protagonist and the antagonists. (That’s the good guy/gal, and the bad guy/gal to the rest of the world.) Next, in one sentence explain what happened to get the ball rolling in your story. Then, again try to keep it to one sentence, tell where they are and when this is happening.

In the second paragraph, explain what your protagonist (good guy/gal person) and your antagonist (bad guy/gal person) are planning to do. Tell how, where and when they are going to do it, and, of course, why. Do Not mention any other characters from your story unless it is impossible not to.

The third paragraph tells how the story ends. Tie it back to the what happened moment in the first paragraph. Never leave your synopsis as a mystery. Agents and publishers want to know how the story ends. Tell them. They hate guessing games and don’t have the time to figure out your ending, so don’t be shy and tell them.

Keep in mind that the synopsis is a summarization of the book that has already been written, so don’t rewrite the book as a synopsis. Incorporate the following elements into the three short paragraphs I just outlined.

The Hero.

The Situation.

The Goal.

The Villain.

The Disaster.

The Solution.

If this sounds like a Hollywood movie poster, it is. The people who write Hollywood movie posters are experts at writing a synopsis. In my experience, many times the poster has been better than the movie, but that’s another matter entirely.

Last bit of advice. Never use the first draft of your synopsis no matter how good you may think it is. Read it, read it again, and then make it better. I find that after I have tweaked a synopsis at least ten times, it is finally ready to be shown.

Practice, as they say, makes perfect. In the case of synopsis writing, this is very true. In the case of eating tomato soup with a fork, not so much.

 Al Lamanda is the author of the Edgar Award nominated mystery novel Sunset. The sequel titled Sunrise was voted best crime novel of 2014 by the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. The third installment titled First Light was released in July, 2014. The latest This Side of Midnight will be released in the summer of 2015.

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Fifteen Things You Probably Don’t Know About Me

Hi. Barb Ross here. Madly getting ready for Christmas.

Taking off from Lea Wait’s recent post, here are 15 things you probably don’t know about me.

zsa zsa1) Zsa Zsa Gabor once called me “a blond bumshell.” I was eighteen months old at the time.

2) I never graduated from high school. I spent my senior year of high school in Colombia, South America as a Rotary Exchange student. All I had to do was pass English there in order to graduate from my stateside high school. But at my Colombian school, they were doing sentencing diagramming based on Noam Chomsky’s work in syntactic trees. I never did get the hang of it and flunked English. I marched in my US high school graduation, and when I got to the podium, I got a beautiful case with an index card in it that said I would get a high school diploma once I passed two semesters of freshman English in college. But by the next spring…

3) The Wyoming Valley where I lived in Pennsylvania was devastated by a flood following Hurricane Agnes. The records at my high school were destroyed and I never got that high school diploma.

Agnes Flood Agnes Flood4) Our house was heavily damaged in the Agnes flood as well. I was away waitressing and living at a resort in the Poconos. My parents and brother were evacuated, and then spent weeks living without running water, electricity or refrigeration as they mucked out our house which had had six feet of water on the first floor and extensive foundation damage. I came home toward the end of the summer. I often think the theme in the Maine Clambake Mysteries where various characters tell Julia she wasn’t there enough during her father’s fatal illness (and Julia feels this acutely, too) comes from this experience.

5) A few years later, my parents bought the house they were evacuated to.

joewalsh6) I lived in Montclair, New Jersey from age four to age nine. My next door neighbor my final year there was Joe Walsh, famed guitarist with the James Gang and the Eagles. He was sixteen and, in this nine-year-old’s opinion, absolutely dreamy. He played his first paying gig in a tuxedo he borrowed from my dad.

7) One Sunday in fourth grade, I ran away from home. I didn’t have any clean knee socks to wear to Sunday school. My mother pointed out it was because I never put my clothes in the hamper and made me wear babyish ankle socks. The whole experience was so humiliating that as soon as I got home, I took off. I walked for miles and miles and miles, fantasizing about raising myself in the woods before it occurred to me that a) I didn’t have a plan, and b) I had no idea where I was. So I turned around and walked miles and miles until I finally ended up in a neighborhood I recognized and could make my way home. It was evening by the time I got home and my parents were worried out of their minds and so furious they could barely speak to me. As I sat alone, exiled, in the back yard, Joe Walsh gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. Pointing out that no one knew if I’d been kidnapped or in an accident or what, he said, “Always leave a note.”

michener8) In high school I attended a meeting with James Michener who came to town speaking on behalf of the anti-war movement. At the end of the meeting he took my hands, looked deeply into my eyes and said, “Good luck with your writing.” I had never told him I wanted to be a writer.

pennlogo9) At my interview at the University of Pennsylvania, I asked the admissions officer about my chances of getting in early admission. “Oh,” he said, casually, “you’ll probably get in. We like to accept a few dumb blondes to round out the class.” I went there anyway, which astounds me. My grown-up self realizes he was joking, something my teen-aged self was too insecure to see, but I often wonder what would happen if an admissions officer said something like that today.

10) The summer between my junior and senior years in college, at Herb McCarthy’s Bowden Square, I waited on Truman Capote at lunch every Monday. I wrote about that for the blog here.

11) I have one brother, and my brother and I each have a boy and a girl. On the other hand, my father was an only child, and both of my grandfathers were only children.

12) My grandfather, Clarence McKim, won a scholarship to Princeton in 1921, where he was a track star and captain of the football team (he was about 5’6″ and maybe 140 pounds in his playing days). In fact, since now they run the 100 meter dash, some of his 100 yard dash records still stand.

13) All four of my grandparents are college graduates, including both my grandmothers, which I think at my age is more unusual. My family has a long tradition of educating men and women equally.

alemany14) One summer night we got a call at my grandparents house in Water Mill, NY from CBS news, asking if it was true there are been “a murder in our compound.” Thinking it was a prank, my grandmother hung up. But then my grandfather got curious and called CBS back, and they were indeed tracking down such a murder. Apparently, our neighbor, who’s claim to fame was that we was Salvador Dali’s gem cutter, was “dining out all over New York,” telling people he’d found a body in our living room. We never did figure out the story behind this story.

15) I was a co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of WebCT, a company that was among the creators of a category of software called “course management systems” for higher education.

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