Perfecting Our Author Presentations


Photo by Dale Phillips

A word of advice. If Hank Phillippi Ryan is offering a workshop in your area, run don’t walk to sign up. Readers of this blog know Hank as a wonderful writer of two different series. She launched her career with the Charlotte McNally series. Her Jane Ryland series followed, with the fifth (Say No More) coming out November 1. She is a lovely and generous person. She is also a terrific teacher.


One note, Hank is also an Emmy winning investigative reporter. Those of us in New England have watched pound away in interviews, and try to right some wrongs, for a long time. She is fierce. I greatly admire that she is juggling two careers with grace and aplomb.

Last Saturday Hank held a workshop for the New England chapter of Sisters in Crime which was entitled “Perfecting Your Author Presentation”. The first part of the day was about doing an author presentation. The second part of the day was about being interviewed. Today I’m going to talk about the morning session–perfecting your presentation. Hank’s advice for a good reading included preparation, practice, performance, and the pitch. I’ve mashed her information up with my editorial comments, so if she ever offers this workshop again, take it. I’ve left parts out.

Preparation: Think about what you are going to read. Don’t necessarily choose the first chapter of your book. Choose a section that gives listeners a flavor of the novel. Plan on two minutes worth of material, maybe three or four pages.

Create a script out of your reading. Print out pages with large type. Number your pages. Edit out parts that don’t make sense out of context. Get rid of long passages of description. Make it exciting. Add a little bit of context to the beginning–let folks know what the book is about, and a little bit about the characters they are going to meet. Just a little bit.

Practice: Practice your reading. Read your section aloud, time it, adjust it as needed. Then practice it again.

Performance: Like it or not, this is a performance. Charles Dickens used to travel around and do dramatic readings of his work. While no one is expecting this of you, they are hoping to be entertained. For many (most?) of us, this is terror inducing. Yesterday I talked about Hank’s “Be A Puffy Cat” advice. Make yourself big, own the space you are taking up. An actor friend of mine says that fear is excitement without oxygen, so remember to breathe.


Hank and I. Photo by Dale Phillips


If you are doing dialogue, turn your body when you read different parts, or add “he saids” or “she saids” to help the audience keep track. Practice it.


Slow down, and look up at your audience. See them. They want you to succeed, so looking at them is critical. If you can’t bear that, look just over their heads.

Remember to introduce yourself and mention the name of your book at the beginning of your presentation. This is really important, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Always have a copy of your book with you. You can use it as a prop, or put it up in front of you.

The Pirch: Before you start your reading, you should introduction yourself, and mention the name of your book. Practice that, and don’t forget to do it.

Also, create a good one or two sentence “pitch” that folks will remember about your book. Make sure you use it.

Hank had us each do a reading (if we wanted to) and then gave us notes. It was a terrific exercise.

Now, back to my script…

Author friends, do you do all these steps? Readers, what do you like best about author readings?


Wicked Late Winter Reads

By Sherry

Okay, Wickeds we haven’t talked about what we are reading in a long time. This is perfect reading weather, so what are you reading and why did you pick the book?HauntedSeason

Edith: Right now, having finished an ARC of Catriona McPherson’s Quiet Neighbors (LOVED it) and Gigi Pandian’s The Masquerading Magician (also LOVED it), I’m reading G.M. Malliet’s new book, The Haunted Season. I scored the copy at the midwinter meeting of the American Library Association, but I would have read it, anyway. I love the series. And now I can picture Grantchester as Max Tudor. ;^)

Jessie: I just finished Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart. It was a great read and I just 24724228loved the cover!

Yesterday I started The Witch of Lime Street: Seance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World by David Jaher. So far it has been really a great read.

Liz: I just finished Every Dead Thing by John Connolly. I’m a huge Connolly fan, and this one didn’t disappoint. I think it hit a world record for number of deaths, though! Next up – more Liane Moriarty. I absolutely loved Big Little Lies and now I want to read everything else she’s written. I think The Husband’s Secret is next!

indexSherry: I just finished What You See by Hank Phillippi Ryan.  It’s great and Hank’s books just keep getting better and better! I also just read Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger — what beautiful writing. He’s going to be the guest of honor at Crime Bake this year so I wanted to read him before then. Now I’m reading the nonfiction book Story: Subsance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screen Writing by Robert McKee. It’s giving me a lot to think about.

WordsInMyHand_royal_hb.inddBarb: I have been reading The Words in My Hand, by Guinevere Glasfurd. It’s an amazing book about Helena Jans, a housemaid in 1600s Holland who became the lover of Rene Descartes and the mother of at least one child by him. The work is historical fiction, much of the record has been lost, though it does honor the facts that are known. One of the most intriguing questions–Descartes and Jans carried on a correspondence for years, but why was a housemaid in 1600s Holland literate in the first place? The book is only available in the United Kingdom, Germany and a few other countries so far, but I hope it comes out here because it is beautifully, beautifully written. It has been tearing it up in the UK, including being named January Book of the Month in the Times of London. The author, who lives in Cambridge, England, is a work friend of mine from a business totally unrelated to fiction writing, but I do remember when neither of us was published, walking around Manhattan wondering if it would ever happen.

Readers: What are you reading? How did you decide to read it?


Wicked Wednesday — Best Writing Advice

By Sherry — in Northern Virginia where we are still digging out.

As authors we hear lots of writing advice. Things like sit your butt in the chair, have a daily word count, and set regular writing hours — advice I often ignore. I was wondering, dear Wickeds, if there was some piece of advice you’d gotten that took your writing to the next level.

IMG_7469Sherry: I’ll start. One year at Crime Bake I was lucky enough to have Hallie Ephron read part of my unsold manuscript. The book features a protagonist who is a gemologist. My protagonist was searching for someone and enters a dark alley to look for the missing person. Hallie asked me why she would go into a dark alley with a murderer on the loose. I had no answer. Hallie said to keep her smart. In a rewrite my protagonist thinks she sees the missing person enter the alley. My takeaway was that if someone is going to do something dangerous/risky/foolish they’d better have a great reason for doing it! I try to keep that bit of advice at the forefront when I’m writing and editing. For those of you who want to hear more of Hallie’s great advice try her two excellent books on writing — The Everything Guide to Writing Your First Novel and Writing And Selling Your Mystery Novel.

Edith: And you definitely do, Sherry! How many times have you added a comment to my manuscript to the effect that, “She wouldn’t do X. She’s smarter than that.” I didn’t realize I needed to thank Hallie, too (I’ll remedy that at my next opportunity).

Manuscript critiques by established authors are priceless. Hank Phillippi Ryan critiqued Speakingthe first twenty pages of my first mystery, Speaking of Murder. She said, “Nothing happens.” Whoa – she was right! I guess I fixed it well enough because she later gave the book a glowing cover endorsement. I also submitted a number of short stories to local anthologies in my early years of writing fiction — all rejected. Editor (and author) Susan Oleksiw remarked that I had set up a good story and drawn several intriguing characters, but I’d ended the tale before anything happened. So the piece of advice that changed my writing was: Something has to happen. Seems obvious, right?

Barb: I’ve mentioned that I’ve been in a writers’ group for twenty years, right? One piece of advice I quote all the time came from my colleague (and all-time critiquing great) Mark Ammons. “If you’re going to tell a lie, tell it fast. Don’t elaborate, don’t apologize and don’t look back.” What I take this to mean is that in every manuscript there is a “gimmie,” a plot point, action or decision the reader must buy for the story to work. Lots of times it’s just better to put it out there, without over-explaining, contexting, or rationalizing, before or after. It’s often when you pick at the point again and again, particularly if you give multiple, differing justifications, that the reader begins to question it. To me, voice is confident story-telling, and a strong enough voice can get you to believe just about anything.

Jessie: I would credit the agent we all share, John Talbot, with a piece of advice I tell myself at least once during the course of writing every book: “You can fix anything except a manuscript that isn’t written.”

Julie: What a great question! For me, it is trust your reader. I tend to over explain, and have learned to trust my readers to understand the journey without me explaining every single step.

Readers: Do you have a piece of advice that changed how you write? A wise word that changed your life in some important way?

Crime Bake On a Stick 2015

We have so much fun with our “Stick With The Wickeds” contests. This year’s winner was Mark Baker. Mark is an avid reader and reviewer of cozy mysteries and has a wonderful blog Carstairs Considers! So here are some pictures of Mark’s adventures.

Mark takes in the view from his hotel room. IMG_6071He spots Wickeds Liz Mugavero, Kim Gray, and Julie Hennrikus and stops to pose for a picture. IMG_6073Donna Andrews jokes around with Mark. IMG_6075Whoa, is that Dorothy Cannell? Mark rushes over for a photo op. IMG_6077Shawn Reilly Simmons, one of the new Level Best editors, stops to pose with Mark. IMG_6080Mark heads to a panel. IMG_6104After the panel Mark runs into Jungle Red Writers, Hallie Ephron, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Lucy Burdette.IMG_6108IMG_6103IMG_6120








Authors Marni Graff and Leslie Budewitz greet Mark.IMG_6092

Mark meets debut authors Sherry Harris, Cheryl Hollon, and Michelle Dorsey.IMG_6141IMG_6137IMG_6101







Mark takes a quick water break before heading back out to meet more people. IMG_6099Mark is happy to run into Wickeds Barbara Ross and Sheila Connolly.IMG_6096IMG_6087








Mark rushes over to meet author Kate Flora. IMG_6131Then he spots author Peter Abrahams aka Spencer Quinn. (Let us say Peter was a bit startled by the fan on the stick but gamely posed for a picture, followed by a lovely conversation!) IMG_6109

Mark takes in another panel.


After the panel Mark finds lots of people hanging out — first he runs into Wickeds Jessie Crockett and Liz Mugavero. IMG_6127Jessie and Liz are joined by G.M. Malliett, Edith Maxwell, and Ruth McCarty.

IMG_6139Soon Mark finds himself in a large group of writers and readers. IMG_6154

Mark goes to the new author panel.IMG_6133

It’s time for the banquet. Mark spots Toni L.P. Kelner with her husband Stephan Kelner and, of course, Sid.IMG_6156Next he finds Phryne Fisher (Edith Maxwell) and Hercule Poirot (Cheryl Hollon).IMG_6169After the banquet Mark poses for a picture with the Wickeds.IMG_6204After a wonderful time at Crime Bake, Mark needs a bit of rest. IMG_6221The next morning before heading back to Southern California Mark goes to Starbucks and meets Lily. IMG_6234IMG_6238


Readers: Do you have a favorite author fan (pun intended) moment? Is there an author you hope to meet some day?

Launch Parties — To Party or Not to Party

By Sherry —  I’m happy it’s warmer than last week!

Launch Parties. I wasn’t sure if I should throw one or not. I googled Launch Parties and panic set in. I saw discussions about bartenders, DJs, swag, decorations, themes. That was not for me.

Tagged for Death mech.inddFor a extroverted person I have this introverted part of me around promoting Tagged for Death. Standing up on my own, talking about my book scared the heck out of me. But that’s when I saw Ray Daniel’s post on Facebook talking about his launch party for Terminated. He had Hank Phillippi Ryan interview him. I thought that was a brilliant idea and something that would work well for me. Friends who attended Ray’s launch said it was fabulous.





I asked friend, author, and independent editor Barb Goffman if she would interview me for the launch. Barb is also a journalist, funny, and enthusiastic. She said yes and a weight fell off my shoulders. I could do this. The next step was figuring out the venue. Have it at home? Rent a community center? Or have it at a bookstore? I sought the advice of friends. Some of their answers surprised me: make sure there’s lots of parking, bonus points for free parking, don’t make me drive through rush hour (Washington DC traffic can be a nightmare). Do you want this to be a marketing event or a celebration with family and friends? If you have it at your house or a community center who will handle book sales?

IMG_2400It was a lot to ponder. Fortunately for me my friend Mary Titone pushed me and called venues for me. Barnes and Noble at Fair Lakes Promenade in Fairfax, Virginia said they’d love to host my launch. Having it there fulfilled the lots of free parking and who would sell books suggestion. We set it up for 1:00 pm on a Sunday which avoided rush hour. Having it at the bookstore allowed for both a celebration and a marketing event.



The staff at Barnes and Noble couldn’t have been nicer. Store manager Sarah Emmett arranged for Mary and I to meet with Ann, who’s in charge of the cafe, and John their events guru. Ann provided samples of baked goods and made sure I stayed within my budget. The day of the launch she even made sure we had our own private “butler” Alex to serve. John and Sarah made lots of great suggestions and showed us the space where the party would be. They all seemed so happy about the event and I couldn’t have worked with a nicer team.

IMG_2461The night before the big day my friend Jill Ribler sent me a picture she’d found on Pinterest. An author had taken her own book and had people attending the launch sign it instead of having a guest book. It was a great idea which I incorporated into the launch. Two friends and fellow writers, Susan O’Brien and Robin Templeton, volunteered to take pictures.

The launch itself was perfect. I choked up a bit during the thank you’s when I mentioned my husband and daughter. Barb Goffman was funny and asked great questions. Having her by my side kept me calm (well, calmer). I didn’t do a reading — it’s another thing I’m not crazy about doing.

I was delighted to have people from so many aspects of my life present. Friends we’d met at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts — Tagged for Death is set in a fictional version of the base and the small town of Bedford, Massachusetts, Chessie Chapter Sisters in Crime members, even one friend from the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime, one Wicked Cozy Author, along with friends and neighbors. It surpassed the celebration I hoped for.

Thanks to all of you for making my launch party such a special day!

Book launchCrowd


Wicked Wednesday: Dru Ann on Stick at Crime Bake

The fabulous book blogger and cozy mystery reviewer Dru Ann Love won our contest to accompany the Wicked Cozies to Crime Bake on a stick. (You can find Dru’s blog here and on Facebook here.) We’re happy to report that Dru Ann had a wonderful time. In fact, you could say she was the Belle of the Ball.

Here are but some of the photos of Dru-Ann-on-a-Stick at the New England Crime Bake.

Dru Ann arrives at Crime Bake and finds Robin Templeton, Liz Mugavero and Sheila Connolly at the bar.

Dru Ann arrives at Crime Bake and finds Robin Templeton, Liz Mugavero and Sheila Connolly at the bar.

Next Dru Ann spots guest of honor Craig Johnson talking with Julie Hennrikus.

Next Dru Ann spots guest of honor Craig Johnson talking with Julie Hennrikus.


Sherry and Jessie are so glad to see Dru Ann!

Sherry and Jessie are so glad to see Dru Ann!







Roberta Islieb aka Lucy Burdette is so happy to see Dru Ann!

Roberta Isleib aka Lucy Burdette is so happy to see Dru Ann!

Shari Randall is surprised to see Dru Ann at Crime Bake.

Shari Randall is surprised to see Dru Ann at Crime Bake.








Dru Ann gets her sheriff's badge.

Dru Ann gets her sheriff’s badge.


Dru Ann talks with author Vicki Doudera.

Dru Ann talks with author Vicki Doudera.








Dru Ann visits with author James Hayman.

Dru Ann visits with author James Hayman.

Dru Ann stops by to see the mock crime scene room and solves the case.

Dru Ann stops by to see the mock crime scene room and solves the case.










After seeing so many authors it's time for lunch.

After seeing so many authors it’s time for lunch.









Dru finds Barbara Ross.

Dru finds Barbara Ross.

Then Dru runs into Barb's husband Bill Carito!

Then Dru runs into Barb’s husband Bill Carito!










After a quick cup of coffee Dru decides it's time to get ready for the banquet.

After a quick cup of coffee Dru decides it’s time to get ready for the banquet.










Dru hopes to do some line dancing in her red boots.

Dru hopes to do some line dancing in her red boots.

On the way to the banquet Dru stops to have a drink with private investigator and author John Nardizzi.

On the way to the banquet Dru stops to have a drink with private investigator and author John Nardizzi.

Julie Hennrikus makes sure Dru has a cowboy hat for the banquet.

Julie Hennrikus makes sure Dru has a cowboy hat for the banquet.










Dru peaks over Craig Johnson's shoulder to watch the line dancing.

Flat Dru Ann and Flat Craig are looking for Flat Stanley to go have a drink.










Dru shows off her bareback riding skills.

Dru shows off her bareback riding skills.

Time for the banquet.

Time for the banquet.




It's time to partee!

It’s time to partee!

Dru stops by to say hi to Hank Phillipi Ryan

Dru stops by to say hi to Hank Phillippi Ryan


Sheriff Edith, Dru Ann, Shari Randall, and Kim Gray!


Sheriff Edith cuffs Dru. What was the crime?


Dru and the girls party down.


All the Wickeds, regular guests, and fan Dru Ann!


After a long day Dru is happy to go to bed.

After an action packed weekend Dru is happy to go to bed.

Readers: Did any of you spot Dru Ann at Crime Bake? Who’s up for going on a stick to Malice Domestic?

Wicked Wednesday: Writes of Passage

writesofpassageIn 2013, when the wonderful Hank Phillippi Ryan was President of Sisters in Crime, she decided her legacy would be a book of essays. The idea was that writers would share their experiences, reach out and support one another like a warm and comforting embrace.

Working with co-editor Elaine Will Sparber, Hank reached out to members of Sisters in Crime all over the country, from every corner of the genre and at all phases of their careers. The result is a little book called Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer’s Journey, that contains sixty essays (#60secrets) where writers tell it like it is. The central message of the book is, “You are not alone.”

Writes of Passage is now available from Henery Press in paper and ebook form, at all the usual outlets.

Several of the Wicked Cozies have essays in the book. We thought today we’d each pick an essay that spoke to us from the collection.

Barb: I laughed out when I read Lori Roy’s essay, “Hard Work and Working Hard.” In it, she talks about how the hyper-organized style she learned as a CPA has never worked in her fiction writing. She can’t write from an outline and research is piled haphazardly around her office. The essay reminded me of the book Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks, by John Curran. (I write about it here.) You’d think Dame Agatha, Queen of Plot, would have been strictly organized, but Curran writes that Christie “thrived mentally on chaos, it stimulated her more than neat order; rigidity stifled her creative process.” But Lori’s essay made me laugh out loud because I had just said to my husband that my former profession as a Chief Operating Officer was the worst possible preparation for mystery writing. As COO, my job was usually to unkink the kinks and find the straightest line between two points, to take the obscure and make it transparent. Applied to mystery writing, the result would be a one chapter book. “A guy was killed. It was obviously so and so. He was swiftly arrested. The End.” I struggle against that impulse every day.

greyhowlLiz: So many of these wonderful essays resonated with me, but as many of you know, I have procrastination issues. So Clea Simon’s “The Zen of Procrastination” spoke to me loud and clear. Her simple truth is also mine: “Somehow, as the deadline for each new book approaches, I find myself caught up on the most mundane of household chores – and then belatedly bashing out the prose at eight, nine or ten o’clock at night.” I struggle with this too, although I can – and often do – excuse my procrastination by citing the demands of my day job, but it’s the same difference. What I liked about this essay is Clea’s attempts for a Zen acceptance of her methods, such as the working out of the plot hole during the laundry cycles. I, too, am trying to be kinder to myself if I feel I have to do something instead of write at that exact moment, and channel the time more productively at least in my mind. So while I often say I’m working hard at being a reformed procrastinator, perhaps I should embrace that part of me and use it to my advantage, as Clea seems to!

Barb: I liked that one, too, Liz. I often say I am an overachiever trapped in a procrastinator’s body. But a little perspective is good. Clea publishes two books a year and you have a big day job..and…and…and. So kindness is called for.

Edith: It’s absolutely a book full of valuable advice and experience. Susan Oleksiw’s essay tells how she helped found two small presses. With the Larcom Press, which published the Larcom LarcomReviewCoverReview (and gave me my first full-length short story publication credit for “The Taste of Winter“) as well as several mystery novels, Susan says she and her co-editor didn’t know how to run a press, and she describes how they learned. She then went on to co-found Level Best Books, which is going strong even today, although under new management (including Barb!). Her essay ends with a paragraph that very much resonates with me: “My philosophy was, and still is, that if there’s something you want to do, just throw yourself at it. Whatever happens, you’ll know more than when you started, you’ll be closer to your goal, and your discoveries will open unexpected doors.” I agree, and have done this myself a number of times in my life.

NeverTell20Sherry: How could I not pick Hallie Ephron’s essay “I Get My Best Ideas at Yard Sales”? Sure I wanted to read it because I’m writing the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery series but I loved Hallie’s novel Never Tell A Lie. The idea for the story came to her at a yard sale. I’ve also been in a number of classes taught by Hallie so I knew I’d find some good advice in her essay. Reading that a writer like Hallie gets stuck makes me feel better when I get stuck. Getting stuck happens it’s what you do about it that matters. Hallie says this: I’ve now written nine novels. My best ideas for getting unstuck seem to come to me when I’m frying chicken, or taking a shower, or driving, or going to a yard sale. In other words when I can’t write. So my advice for thinking your way out of a plot hole is this: After you’ve tried every technique in the book for writing your way out of one, step away from the keyboard.

Jessie: I really liked the essay Wabi-Sabi Writing by Kylie Logan. Basically, it spoke about mindfulness and the appreciation of things that are fleeting and imperfect.  Everything about that idea spoke to me as a writer and as a person who tries to find joy in the little things that make up a life. This attitude of acceptance and pleasure in the unfolding of what is, into what will be, is extraordinarily freeing on so many levels. It is exactly how I keep my inner editor at bay and how I convince myself to take risks of all kinds. I was delighted to find there was actually a name for that approach and that it wasn’t just a form of sloth. Ever since I read Kylie’s essay I have been chanting wabi-sabi to myself as I sit down to write, to cook or even to tidying the house. Thanks, Kylie!

Julie: I love this book. I am thrilled to be part of it, but would love it no matter what. I think there is an essay for every mood, and every writer’s need. It is really hard to pick one, but that is the task. I’m going to chose Diane Vallere‘s “What Are You Looking For?” It is about searching, and exploring the unexpected paths. Terrific essay. Great book. And fabulous legacy project for the wonderful Hank Phillippi Ryan.

Readers, have you read any of the essays? Do you have a favorite?