Thursday, July 16, 2015

Converting Blog Articles into Books

I never dreamed of converting my interviews at Mysterious Writers into a book when I started the blog site eight years ago. But such good advice and life stories evolved that I couldn’t allow the material go to waste. I recycled a great many interviews and saving them for posterity seemed the right thing to do, especially after Carolyn Hart and Jeffrey Deaver agreed to contribute to the series.

I interviewed more than a hundred mystery writers and submitted  them to Poisoned Pen Press, which turned them into ebooks. I’ve seen Internet ads offering to turn blogs into books for $14.95. A great idea for a blogger’s memoirs but it's not very profitable for resale. I offered my book to three publishers, all of which accepted, so I was faced with a dilemma. Do I go with PPP, which only offered to publish for Kindle, Nook and Sony readers? Two small, well-respected presses also offered a print version but wanted to make changes. I finally decided to accept Poisoned Pen’s contract with the hope they would also publish a print edition or sell the print rights to another publisher.

Interviews with unknown writers usually don't sell books and I found that the best time to approach a bestselling author is just before a new release. My interviews with Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block, Nancy Pickard, Louise Penny, John Gilstrap and other publishing giants were accepted along with their articles written for my Mysterious Writers blog.

I had also been featuring quotes from interviewees at my Facebook pages. Among my favorites is one from Nancy Means Wright: "Vermont writer Howard Frank Mosher nails up rejection slips and adverse reviews on the side of his barn and shoots holes in them. I just leave mine in a cardboard box and let my Maine Coon cats make a nest or pee on them. So send that manuscript out again!"

And from Louise Penny: "Finish the book. Most people who start books never finish them. Don't be one of those. Do it, for God's sake. You have nothing to fear--it won't kill you. It won't even bite you. This is your dream--this is your chance. You sure don't want to be lying on your death bed regretting you didn't finish the book." Lawrence Block was more succinct with his advice: "Write to please yourself. And don't expect too much."

If starting that first novel has you discouraged or you think you'll never get it finished, read what some of these writers have also gone through. Their stories are not only inspiring, they'll make you laugh and you'll wonder how the publishing business ever survived. (We writers must have inspired the invention of the straight jacket.)

I’ve had so many good interviews since Mysterious Writers was published that I plan to produce additional  collections in more than one genre. I’d really rather be writing mystery or historical novels but I began my writing career a news reporter, so interviewing comes easily. And the rewards are immeasurable.

I hope aspiring writers will discover something in this collection to help them in their struggle to publication, which is the main reason for the blog site as well as the book. Mystery readers will also enjoy reading about their favorite authors.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Pulling Your Readers into the Plot

A strong opening sentence is obviously the best way to pull readers into the story:

~The body was hanging at eye level when Carolyn entered the room.

~ The snow was so deep that only Snerdly’s cap was visible.

~ A foot hung from Fido’s mouth.

~Today is probably the last day of my life.

I’m sure you can think of better opening sentences to entice your reader into your fictional world. It’s a writer’s job to seduce and lure--one carefully crafted step at a time to lead your reader into an adventure away from the real world.

The reader needs to know where you’re taking him and why. Is your fictional world believable? Fantasy writers can get away with great stretches of the imagination but mystery writers need to stick to the facts. So don’t have a body suspended in mid-air unless your protagonist is a magician.

Your opening sentence had better lead into the main theme of the plot. Don’t start with a couple kissing on a park bench unless one or both of them are shot or witness a nearby killing. And don’t start with boring back story or it won’t be long before you lose your reader. Jump immediately into the action. Keep your reader breathless for pages before you let her up for air.

Motivation and goals are essential in developing your plot. Another good way to lose your reader is to have your protagonist risk his life for silly reasons. If the killer murdered the character’s mother, you have a believable reason for him to go after the culprit. Some amateur sleuth stories border on the ridiculous when ordinary people decide to trap a killer simply because they think they can. Give them good reasons to place their own lives in danger.

Don’t people your plots with too many characters. Mark Twain wrote that the best way to get rid of characters when they’re no longer needed is to have them jump down a well. Better yet, make sure characters are only there to further the plot and can be eliminated when you tie up all the story’s loose ends.

Killing off characters can be painful for the writer but extraneous side plots can kill the story. In the old western films cowboys used to ride off into the sunset with the townspeople staring after them. Not so with mystery novels, no matter what the sub genre. We want to leave the reader wanting more. Readers like to solve the mystery on their own before the conclusion, so don’t make the killer’s identity the most unlikely candidate in your plot. Be fair when you plant red herrings and clues so that the reader will be able say, “Aha, I should have known it was him (or her). “

What’s the best opening sentence you’ve written or read?