The Nixed Nest of the Girl on the Train

Inspiration (from the Latin inspirare, meaning “to breathe into”) refers to an unconscious burst of creativity in a literary, musical, or other artistic endeavour.

Kate Flora: From time to time, we authors find ourselves scanning bookstore shelves, reading best-seller lists and reviews, and trying to put our fingers on what moves a book from ignored or midlist to best seller status. Is it the catchy two word title, like The Nix or The Nest or The Help? Is it, as recently seemed to be the case, anything with the word “Girl” in the title? Will it help to read James W. Hall’s book, Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers? All of this reminds me of the playing the game of trying to find the perfect blog title that will evoke Maine and mystery: The Lobster with a Candlestick in a Downeast Lighthouse.

Usually, except for those books that are discovered by booksellers who love them and hand-sell them to their patrons, most of what makes a book take off is the marketing behind the book. That is publishers putting their money behind the book and getting it recognition through ads and reviews that bring it to reader’s attention and paying for prominent placement in bookstore displays. These days, the clever and informed use of twitter and Facebook ads can also help to promote a book.

If you don’t have a publisher behind you spending those big bucks to promote the work, the job is harder. How do writers strike the balance between the time spent writing and the time spent getting readers to buy our books? What are the best avenues for promotion and do they do any good? How do we avoid hitting Facebook several times a day to scream: BUY MY BOOK! and tweeting: “There’s a killer out there targeting police officers. How will one determined detective keep it from happening again?” so that everyone will rush out and buy Led Astray?

I don’t know the best ways to market a book. And I confess, now that we’re three paragraphs into this post, that I don’t really want to write about marketing and promotion today. I’m more concerned about how the demands of marketing and promotion clash with the more quiet, yet more passionate, pursuit of craft and story. And with a question that has been very much on my mind lately as I’m entering my thirty-fourth year of sitting at this desk telling stories: does it make sense to keep writing–and publishing–if you are sick to death of the “buy my book” dance? Is it reasonable to keep writing if you aren’t keen on marketing? Or perhaps more particularly, can a writer prioritize the passion and the magic of writing and turn her back–for a time, at least–on the demands of marketing?

Yeah. I’m kind of suffering from a case of “I don’t wanna.” There is hope for this malady, though. Over the years, something I have learned is that the best way to shake off angst or a bad case of the “I don’t wanna’s” is to take chances. Explore a new corner of the genre. Write something that feels like it is out of my comfort zone. Try writing short stories for a while instead of working on novels. Or go out and explore someone else’s world, as I did with Finding AmyDeath Dealer, and A Good Man with a Dog. My muses tend to come in unexpected forms.

Right now, I’m waiting for the inspiration to take a chance to ring of my doorbell or call me up. If this sounds passive, it doesn’t feel like that to me. Every time my writing has gone in a new direction, it has been because somehow while I thought I was going straight ahead, doing the same old thing, fate gives me a nudge. Joe Loughlin needed help writing a book. The Maine wardens sent me to Miramichi, New Brunswick, to explore a story. Susan Oleksiw decided it would be interesting to explore New England crime writing through the medium of the short story and Level Best Books was born. I started writing Joe Burgess police procedurals because my Thea Kozak series was dropped by the publisher.

Right now, even though I am very intrigued by the plot of my new Thea Kozak mystery, my writing feels kind of like a holding pattern. But one day soon, the phone will ring, or an e-mail will come, or I’ll have a random conversation or drive by something that spurs my imagination, and the new direction will be revealed.

So, dear readers, two questions:

How do you shake off the “I don’t wanna’s?”

What do you all think of me working with a cold case detective?

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15 Responses to The Nixed Nest of the Girl on the Train

  1. Sennebec says:

    Binge reading seems to help me. I’ll read until I’m too edgy to do so and whatever idea in my head makes sitting and ‘consuming’ uncomfortable, then I start writing and it seems that consumes for a while until I’m in a balance between the two. I’ve learned that I write more to discover what happens next than anything. As for the cold case deal, I’d give it a thumbs-up.

  2. kaitlyn dunnett says:

    Hey, Kate. I’ll answer one of your questions. If I don’t wanna, I don’t. My philosophy is that life is too short to spend time doing things someone else thinks are important but which no one can prove really do help sales. It’s also a lot easier to keep my enthusiasm for a writing project high if I don’t constantly interrupt the momentum to do publicity things . . . unless it’s an event I know I’ll enjoy, like the upcoming Malice Domestic convention. Sad to say, it’s more often dumb luck than anything an author can do that makes one particular book a success while another tanks. Where you try new things (Go for it!) I just keep reinventing myself, sometimes with a new name and sometimes not. I’ll never make a bestseller list and don’t consider that particularly important. What is? That I’m still here and still writing.

  3. MCWriTers says:

    I’m coming around to your way of thinking, Kaitlyn.

    Right now, part of the challenge is honestly figuring out what I do and don’t like. Before I drive to a library, I’m reluctant because of the drive. But when I’m in a room full of readers, I absolutely love it. Maybe I need a driver? And a marketing maven? One of my favorite things to say is: Please send me a millennial who likes this stuff.

    Meanwhile, I am spending time in the garden, which lets me plot while I rake and snip.

  4. Dick Cass says:

    Tough call, Kate, but I’m with Kaitlynn–If I don’t feel the desire, I don’t do it. I spent enough of my work life and time (not very much, though) doing things I didn’t want to do for reasons I can’t remember. Trying not to do that any more.

    As far as the book marketing stuff–feh. I say if you enjoy it, do it; if you don’t, do what you can stand. I’m still not convinced there’s any rational or logical path to getting people to buy one’s books. And coping with randomness is a little too philosophical for me.

    I’m a great believer in cycles in work, though, and the hardest thing for me is recovery: being still and refilling after I’ve expended a lot of energy, recharging. Maybe it’s as simple as taking a rest–and as my grumpy old grandma, used to say “A change is as good as a rest.” I vote for good Scotch and trout fishing–your mileage may vary. But trying new things can’t hurt–onward!

  5. Lea Wait says:

    Understood — oh, so well! But I’ve got three books due this summer (July 1, August 1 and September 1 — talk about lack of planning on my part!) and one book just published, so, while I am longing to take a day — an hour! — off, it’s hard. When there is, writing is a joy, and even promotion (guest blogs! appearances! And, yes — attending Malice!) can be a lot of fun, and challenging, but they all can also be exhausting. Especially when you’re doing everything at what feels like the same time.
    You know you’re weary when you long to work outside, or even clean kitchen drawers. But … it would be a lot worse if you didn’t have contracts — and I know that (as we all do) all too well.) So — enjoy the garden, Kate, and know that plotting awaits you. In fact … a garden plot is …. Ah, well. We’re writers, after all!

    • MCWriTers says:

      Hard to recall that we’re writers sometimes.

      I used to have this great poster that read: It’s hard to remember, when you’re up to your ass in alligators, that the original purpose was to drain the swamp.

      I don’t know how you do it, Lea!

      I’m going to go rake off the perennial bed and see what the rodent have done over the winter.


  6. Thoughtful article that raises good questions. I am SO tired of all “The Girl” titles – hope the trend will go away. So often what lands on the best seller lists makes no sense to me. I’m not a crime writer but I read a lot of mysteries and enjoy them. Hats off to all who write them.

    • MCWriTers says:

      Oh yes, Alice…the WOMAN on the train goes on to make a life for herself and the Gone Woman has already moved on from a toxic marriage. And so it goes.

      Although it is fun to do combined titles like Girl Gone with the Wind…


  7. I think most writers have felt as you do, Kate. I know I have. But life is too short to feel that the marketing matters more than the writing, which is how it feels sometimes. I like the idea of a cold-case detective, but I like the idea of just keep writing even more.

    • MCWriTers says:

      I don’t want to stop writing, Susan, that’s for sure.

      Just looking for the writing adventure that will inspire me again.

      Cold cases might just be it…


  8. Julie Hunter says:

    Hi, Kate!

    I don’t think waiting for inspiration sounds passive. It’s just real. Some of the best opportunities I’ve ever had seemed to drop from the sky, and I just had to have the guts to follow through.

    As for the “don’t wannas,” first I moan around and complain a bit, procrastinate for a while (or go cook something), and then I just have to put my seat in the chair (like I remember you instructing) and do whatever it is. I haven’t written much in a while; I did have the time drain of promoting the previous book bring my next one to a grinding halt at one point. Small museums have similar promotion and time balance issues, actually. We find that all the instagramming and facebooking and tweeting can really interrupt our core functions, and yet, do we dare not engage? No, we don’t. We need those millenials to know we exist and to be curious about what we have to offer. Ironically, most of my history writing now goes straight to blog.

    You working with a cold case detective–sounds like a natural match! But in what sense? Researching what they do? Using them as a character? Detecting along side them? It would be intriguing, and I think it would have your brain firing on all cylinders.

  9. MCWriTers says:

    I don’t want to stop writing, Susan, that’s for sure.

    Just looking for the writing adventure that will inspire me again.

    Cold cases might just be it…


  10. Barb Ross says:

    I still maintain that the individual author’s efforts can’t move a book sales number more than 10-15%, tops.

    Being accessible, polite, and interesting on social media and in person at events may convert some readers into fans, which is an important result, but I find it matters very little for finding new book buyers.

  11. Sandra Neily says:

    Ah Kate, thanks for opening up about the don’t wanna and motivating so many heart-felt replies. I’m stuck in the marketing trenches of launching my first book so I don’t have much to say except that I can relate to the “don’t wanna” and I miss my characters: my daily conversations with them through my fingers on the keys. Lately I’ve been waking up and lying in bed, having imaginary conversations with them as they sit waiting for me to come back to them and sink into book #2, half done and lonely.

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