Recently letters went out to authors attending Malice Domestic, the largest gathering of fans of the traditional mystery, to ask for contributions for the annual charity auction. Many conferences hold these auctions as part of the festivities, choosing a good cause such as literacy or a hurricane relief fund. Writers also receive a fair number of solicitations from individuals on behalf of their organizations. In my case, these organizations range from New Hampshire Public Television to a small Scottish dance troupe. Most ask for signed copies of one or more of my books.
Those are the easy ones.
They also raise the smallest amount of money.
So, as Malice approaches once again (it’s held in early May in Bethesda, Maryland), I spent considerable time trying to decide what to offer that would whip up interest and bring in a healthy contribution. I should also mention that having an item in the auction, either the live auction or the silent portion that goes on a day longer, is great publicity for everyone who participates. The items are on display so that all attendees can get a good look at them beforehand and, with the silent auction, all during.
Theme baskets do well. The author includes one or two of their own signed books and several items that relate to the series or to the region in which it is set. These items are attractively arranged in a large basket, often decorated with see-through wrap and a bow. This would be tempting . . . except that I have no artistic ability whatsoever and it really helps if the arrangement isn’t just lumped together. The other strike against doing a basket is that it has to be sent, in advance, by snail mail, to the person coordinating the auction. Even if I got the arrangement right, I’d be worried it wouldn’t surivive shipping.
So, no basket for me.
Sometimes individual items related to the author’s novels are offered. An original manuscript, for example. Or a miniature made by the author of a series that features miniatures. Or an autograph quilt from the the author of a quilting series. I don’t really have anything like that. My husband isn’t about to part with his bagpipes, even though he doesn’t play anymore. The sword-cane I acquired to experiment with while writing Deadlier than the Pen is really kind of cheap-looking when you get right down to it. And it is a weapon, after all. Probably not a good idea.
One year I did persuade my husband, whose custom woodworking inspires the items made by Dan Ruskin in the Liss MacCrimmon series, to make me a bookrack sized to hold the four Liss MacCrimmon mysteries then available. It was in the silent auction, which meant that the books, as well as the book rack, got a lot of exposure. The amount raised was satisfying, but I’m hoping to do better this year
One item pretty much guaranteed to generate heavy bidding is the offer to put the winner’s name in your next book. Or, in a variation, to let the winner name a character in the author’s next book or short story. It could be an animal character. This works best if the book in question is in a bestselling series by a popular author, but I haven’t done badly with it in the past. It also helps if the person making the offer is at the live auction. One year when a pet name was being auctioned off at Malice Domestic, it expanded to two pets, doubling the amount raised, because the author was right there to jump in with the offer.
Sometimes the name is a one-shot deal. In others it ends up attached to a long-running secondary character. When I was working on the first book in the Liss MacCrimmon series, Kilt Dead, and knew there would be at least three books in the series, I offered the chance to name one of the owners of one of the businesses situated around the town square of Moosetookalook, Maine. The choices were a ski shop, a coffee shop, and a new/used book store. At that point I didn’t know which, if any, of those people would be continuing characters. They might be bumped off in book two, or end up being the murderer in book three. I was surprised and elated when the bidding was fast and furious. The winner, Angie Hogencamp, became the proud owner of Angie’s Books. She’s now appeared, or at least been mentioned, in every book in the series.
Other offers of character names haven’t raised as much money, but the bidding has sometimes been interesting. I once auctioned off the right to name one of the “fallen women” in Fatal as a Fallen Woman (book two in my Diana Spaulding 1888 Quartet) and another time it was the opportunity to be quoted in my How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries. Another continuing character named at an auction is the cat, Glenora, who first appeared in A Wee Christmas Homicide but was nameless until The Corpse Wore Tartan. She’s named after the winner’s Scottish grandmother.
I thought about offering another character name, but I already have names I like for everyone in the book I’m working on now and if I go with the one after that it will not be published until the fall of 2015. That seems a long time to make someone wait. Instead, I’m repeating another item I’ve offered in the past—original artwork for one of my short stories, together with a copy of the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in which it appeared. Rather than “your name in a book,” my auction item is “The Kathy Lynn Emerson Short Story Package.” It consists of another piece of original artwork, framed, by Linda Weatherly, the artist who did several illustrations for my short stories as well as the covers of the last three novels in the Face Down Series, all the covers for the Diana Spaulding 1888 Quartet, and the cover for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries. The illustration comes from “The Curse of the Figure Flinger” and with it I’m including a copy of the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in which the story appears, a signed and numbered hardcover copy of my short story collection from Crippen & Landru, Murders and Other Confusions (cover by Linda Weatherly), which contains most of my other Lady Appleton short stories, and an offprint of the Crippen & Landru short story sent as a Christmas card in 2010, “Lady Appleton and the Yuletide Hogglers.”
Why am I offering something as Kathy Lynn Emerson rather than Kaitlyn Dunnett? A couple of reasons. First, as many people who attend Malice Domestic know me under one name as the other. Second, I am excited to announce that, after a considerable hiatus, there is a new Lady Appleton short story. Titled “A Wondrous Violent Motion” it will appear in a forthcoming issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.
And as Kaitlyn? I’ll be on a panel talking about writing more than one series at the same time. Somehow that seems appropriate.