Dreams Do Come True — Thank You Kensington Publishing

Breaking news! Here are the winners of the books from yesterday’s drawing. It was such a great response that I drew a third winner! Keep an eye out for future giveaways! The winners are: Jill @Bonnjill, Sharon Forrest, and Stephanie Clark! Thanks to all of you who entered!

I’m so excited that my fourth book in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series, A Good Day to Buy, releases today. One of the themes in A Good Day to Buy is about who is a hero and what makes one.

I still have to pinch myself when I think about being published — that I’m writing book six as you read this. It makes me reflect on how it all happened and why. That story starts with Kensington Publishing. Here’s a little about them from their website:

Founded in 1974, Kensington Publishing Corp. is located in New York City and is known as “America’s Independent Publisher.” It remains a multi-generational family business, with Steven Zacharius succeeding his father as President and CEO, and Adam Zacharius as General Manager. From the time its very first book (Appointment in Dallas by Hugh McDonald), became a bestseller, Kensington has been known as an astute and determined David-vs.-Goliath publisher of titles in the full spectrum of categories, from fiction and romance to health and nonfiction. You can read more about Kensington on their website.

Gary goofing off at Bouchercon New Orleans 2016

Some of you have heard this story, but here is my tale of how the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series came to be. Once upon a time a heroic editor, Gary Goldstein, from the land of Kensington, came up with the idea for a cozy series with a garage sale theme. At the time Gary only had thriller and western authors in his castle and yet he went out seeking adventure in the world of cozies. His quest led him to an agent (John of Talbot), the agent went to Lady Barbara of Ross, and Barbara thought, “Sherry loves garage sales.” So it came to pass that the fair maiden Sherry (too much?) okay, just plain old Sherry wrote a proclamation (it was only a proposal but all of this still seems very fairy tale like to me) and Gary of Kensington said yes. Trumpets sounded (in my head), people danced with joy (well I did) and to this very day Sherry is Gary of Kensington’s only cozy writer.

But an editor and a writer do not a book make. There are legions of people working behind the scenes at Kensington. The unsung heroes who make it all happen. I’ve only met a few of them and some only through email. Gary’s assistant Liz alerts me when my books are on sale or there are good reviews among many other things. Karen and Morgan in marketing send out ARCs, set up blog tours, get ads placed, set up events, and probably do a whole heck of a lot more that I don’t even know about.

I love the covers of my books. The Art Department took my idea of having an old fashioned looking tag on the cover and ran with it. They created something better than I could have imagined! There is always something on each cover that I wished I owned.

Someone writes the back cover copy and they are able to sum up my books in a few short words better than I ever could. Here’s the back cover copy of A Good Day To Buy:

HER BROTHER IS NO BARGAIN
When Sarah Winston’s estranged brother Luke shows up on her doorstep, asking her not to tell anyone he’s in town—especially her ex, the chief of police—the timing is strange, to say the least. Hours earlier, Sarah’s latest garage sale was taped off as a crime scene following the discovery of a murdered Vietnam vet and his gravely injured wife—her clients, the Spencers.
 
BUT IS HE A KILLER?
All Luke will tell Sarah is that he’s undercover, investigating a story. Before she can learn more, he vanishes as suddenly as he appeared. Rummaging through his things for a clue to his whereabouts, Sarah comes upon a list of veterans and realizes that to find her brother, she’ll have to figure out who killed Mr. Spencer. And all without telling her ex . . .

Then there are the copy editors who notice if Sarah hates broccoli on page 22 but is asking for a second helping on page 156. They push me to write a better book. There are typesetters, and people who send the proof pages – the last chance to find mistakes before the book is printed.

There are people in Sales and Sub Rights – there are probably departments I don’t even know about who all work hard to get my books out.

So thank you to everyone at Kensington – from top to bottom – who do your jobs, who helped make my dream come true.

To celebrate the release of A Good Day To Buy I’ll Give Away two books to someone who leaves a comment!

Readers: What dream has come true for you?

What’s Next?

News Flash: The winner of Leslie Karst’s book is Sarah H – Sarah, please contact Leslie at ljkarst at gmail dot com. Congratulations!

By Sherry feeling rested in Northern Virginia

Monday afternoon around 4:30 I sent off I Know What You Bid Last Summer to my editor at Kensington. It is the fifth book in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series. Usually this is cause for much celebration around the house, but this time I was just plain old tired. Barbara Ross generously had a margarita in celebration for me down in Key West (thanks for taking one for the team)! But I sat on the couch wondering what was next. This was the last book I was under contract for so Tuesday was going to be a blank page for me for the first time since 2013. I stayed up late – late enough to watch the late night shows and then read for a while.img_2704-1

I slept in Tuesday morning – until 9:22! I felt happy, excited even, when I woke up. I walked into the kitchen and found my daughter had gone to Starbucks and left me a cup of chai on the counter. A little bit later she made me breakfast too. Thank you, Elizabeth!

I started doing things I’d been putting off. I made a hair appointment, sorted the laundry, and tackled the piles in my office. It was so warm out I opened the window in my office. I decided to pull out the manuscript for the gemology mystery series I’d worked on for years (YEARS!) but hadn’t ever sold. I sent the first three chapters off to independent editor Barb Goffman. Why you ask? I’m so close to them – even after not looking at them for a long time — that I knew they needed another set of eyes. I started thinking about all the other book ideas swirling through my head and tried to figure out which one to tackle first.

My daughter and I watched part of the Patriot’s Super Bowl parade on TV. I walked our dog Lily. Maybe it was the warm weather or maybe it was the unknown ahead of me but everything seemed to kind of glow. Oh, heck maybe it was sleeping in after working intensely for the last few weeks. (Confession: I never did get any laundry done.)

img_2710Around three the phone rang. It was my agent, John Talbot. He had news! Good news! Kensington wants two more Sarah books. A couple of weeks ago I shared several ideas for the series with my editor. However, with the publishing industry in a bit of upheaval you just never know what will happen. After I finished dancing around and shrieking, my husband called on his way home from work. I told him we were going out to celebrate.

We stopped by Paradise Springs Winery in Clifton, Virginia and did a wine tasting.

 

Then we had dinner at an Italian restaurant which seemed appropriate given Sarah’s love for DiNapoli’s and Italian food. Today it’s back to plotting (good heavens did I just say the “p” word? Has the pantster in me been converted?)! I have a concept for the next book (one I love) but I have to figure out who dies and why. Oh, joy!

Readers: What do you do after you finish a big project?

Wicked Wednesday — Thankful To Our Agent

thankful-for-our-readers-giveaway-3

This is the last day of our Thankful To Our Readers giveaways! Thanks for sticking with us this month

Leave a comment for a chance to win Eggnog Murder with holiday novellas by Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis and Barbara Ross AND a book by Liz Mugavero! (And it’s Liz’s birthday today, too, so leave lots of comments. Ssshh, don’t tell her I said so…)

 

It’s unusual for a group of writers who blog together to have the same agent but we Wickeds do. It’s John Talbot of the Talbot Fortune Agency. Today we are sharing stories about working with John.

Liz: We all pretty much share the same story, so here goes. Back in 2011, John reached out to Sheila Connolly, then-president of Sisters in Crime New England, and asked her if she could refer some writers who might want to work on cozy mystery proposals with him. Not wanting to pick and choose, Sheila put the word out to the whole chapter, and a bunch of us answered the call. I emailed John and he got back to me right away. Within a few days we were on the phone discussing how my interests might fit into something he could sell. We brainstormed and came up with the gourmet pet food idea, and the rest, as they say, is history! Thanks, John, for being such a great partner in this crazy business.

john-talbotJulie: There are three things I appreciate about John. First, he helps me think about my career arc. What is a good next step, what should I be thinking about. Like Liz, I feel like he’s a partner on this journey. Second, he has opinions, and shares them. You don’t just hand him a proposal–he works with you on it until he feels like it is ready to send out. Third, he’s a good guy. This is too crazy a business to be on a ride where you don’t like the other person in the car with you.

Edith: Same story as Liz’s, except with me he sold the Local Foods Mysteries. I’ve now sold four series via John Talbot, and I agree with everything Julie says about him. Another thing he helps with is understanding the nearly undecipherable royalty statements from one of my publishers. The statements come twice a year in tiny print. After Barb alerted us to read them very, very carefully, I found an mistake in one of mine, which John got straightened out with the press. It was their error, of course, not his (see  Barb’s first item below). But I wouldn’t even know what to look at without his help. He also picks up every time I call. I don’t phone unless I really need to talk to him, and he realizes that.

Barb: Here are four things I treasure about John.

  • He’s as honest as they come. I never worry, ever, about the publisher sending him my money and him passing it to me. I have been in other relationships (never with a literary agent, but in my past professional life) where that wasn’t the case, and I can tell you it stinks.
  • He’s approachable. I was terrified of my first literary agent. I’m sure that was a lot more about where I was at during that time in my life than it was about her, but it does not make for an easy relationship.
  • He shares. John goes considerably out of his way several times a year to update us on trends in the publishing industry and how they might affect us. Some agents are of the “mushroom” school of managing clients (keep them in the dark and spread manure). I can’t say how much I appreciate being treated like a grownup and having this important information.
  • He’s committed. Many readers know there has been upheaval in the mystery publishing world over the last couple of years. Watching John work his tail off to keep his clients in print has been a wonder.
This is a picture from Crime Bake a few years ago.

This is a picture from Crime Bake a few years ago.

Sherry: John became my agent when Barb told me he was looking for someone to write a garage sales series — that’s the short version! And ditto to everything Barb said (except the first agent business — I’ve never had another agent). As a first time author John walked me through the process and answered all of my anxiety-ridden questions. I’m thankful for John because he makes me laugh when I’m down about something or frustrated. Like Julie said he wants us to have long and fruitful careers and goes out of his way to help make that happen. He is frank with his thoughts about ideas for new series. His advice has been invaluable and I feel blessed to be part of his team.

Jessie: Considering the business we are in, it delights me that John is a great storyteller. I won’t be a bit surprised if one day he writes a book of his own. I also appreciate his enthusiasm.  I always know when he feels I have handed him a sure thing because of his response. He doesn’t hold back about how much he likes what he sees and how well it will fit with an editor he has in mind.

Readers: Who has helped you either personally or professionally?

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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?

A Christmas Novella

Hi. Barb here. It’s August and it’s hot and humid for Maine and I am sitting on the porch thinking about Christmas.

So, I haven’t exactly announced this anywhere yet, though I haven’t been quiet about it, either, so let this serve as the “official” announcement. I am writing a holiday novella about Julia Snowden and Busman’s Harbor for Kensington for fall of 2016. (I don’t have the exact release date, but it seems to me Kensington’s holiday books usually come out in October.)

foggedinncoverKensington has done a series of these books, packaging novellas by Joanne Fluke, Laura Levine and Leslie Meier. I had read them and really enjoyed them. The truth of the matter was, I desperately wanted to be in one. So when I sent my proposal for books four through six to Kensington, I set the fourth (Fogged Inn) the week after Thanksgiving and the fifth (Iced Under) in mid-February, neatly side-stepping the holidays. I confided my desire to some of the Wickeds during our retreat in 2014, but I never mentioned it to my editor at Kensington, John Scognamiglio, or my agent, John Talbot. In other words, I never said anything to anyone who could actually do anything about it.

So imagine my surprise when I got a call from John Talbot in January of this year telling me I’d been offered the chance to write this novella. Even he was surprised. “Sort of out of the blue…” he said. Hey, universe. Thanks!

gingerbreadcookiemurderThis novella will include stories by Leslie Meier, who writes the Lucy Stone Mysteries which are set in Tinker’s Cove, Maine and by Lee Hollis, who writes the Hayley Powell Food and Cocktails Mysteries set in Bar Harbor, Maine. I’ve known Leslie for a number of years through Sisters in Crime New England and she’s someone I really admire. I also like Lee Hollis’ books (actually, the brother-sister writing team of Rick Copp and Holly Copp Simason). So I am psyched!

The theme is Maine, obviously, but also eggnog. And I just happen to have been savoring, for years (you’ll excuse the pun) a killer eggnog anecdote. So, again, kismet.

candycanemurderHow is writing a novella? The truth is, I am bursting with over-confidence. My short stories are always too long, and my novels are always too short, so I’m hoping the novella (defined by Kensington as 20,000 to 30,000 words) is my “natural length.” I have the whole story in my head (unusual for me). I also have the tone, which I’m hoping will be a little more lighthearted and funnier than the Clambake series as a whole, but still very much a part of it. I just have to, you know, write it. It’s due January 15, which would be highly doable, except that Iced Under, the next book in the Maine Clambake series, is due March 1. Ulp.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Meanwhile, I am thrilled to have the opportunity!

What about you, readers? Do you like these collections? Just the right length to sample a new author, or too short to satisfy?

How I Learned to Relax About Being a “Cozy” Author and Just Write the Damn Books–Part I

by Barb–sad because we’re leaving Key West in three days (or maybe perplexed is a better word. Why are we returning to the frozen north?)

Barbara RossI’ve wanted to write about how I feel about being an author of cozy mysteries for awhile, but it’s always been a complicated and evolving issue. So I’ve decided to split the topic up into three blog posts that I’ll put up during my next several turns here at Wicked Cozys.

The Beginning

I didn’t start out to write a cozy. I started out to write a mystery. All my life I had read widely in the mystery field, without really differentiating by sub-genre. I cut my teeth on those amateur sleuths Nancy Drew and Miss Marple, who despite her maiden state, is the grandmother of all of us authors of amateur sleuths. I read Dick Francis and Ross Thomas and John D. MacDonald and Dennis Lehane and Dorothy L. Sayers and Janet Evanovich. Admittedly, it was a simpler time. I found most of my books through recommendations from friends and relatives, as well as friendly independent bookstore clerks and librarians. Megabookstores and online retailers hadn’t yet created such a strong need for subcategory labeling to help you find a book you would like.

I knew I wanted to write a series. I loved the books of P.D. James and Ruth Rendell’s Wexford series. I loved watching characters change over time, and returning to find out what was going on in their lives. I was particularly taken with Rendell’s Kingsmarkham, it’s strong sense of place and how it evolved from a sleepy market village to a sprawling suburb with a highway on-ramp and a diverse population. Even Christie’s St. Mary Mead evolved, sprouting a housing development after the second World War. To me, it was all magic.

DeathOfAmbitiousWomanFrontMy first mystery, The Death of An Ambitious Woman, had a professional sleuth as its protagonist, a female police chief, but it was also very much a village mystery. Which was one of the many reasons it was so hard to sell, though it was eventually published by Five Star/Cengage.

We’ve told many times on the blog how our agent, John Talbot, approached Sheila Connolly, who was then President of Sisters in Crime New England, to see if any members had an interest in writing a spec proposal for a cozy mystery series. I was very interested. Because of my love of series, I knew I wanted a multi-book contract, something Five Star didn’t offer. I wrote to Sheila behind the scenes and asked her if she thought I could do it. She pointed out that my first book had a lot of cozy elements. With her encouragement, I called John. We batted some ideas around, and chose “clambake.”

JohnTalbotIn that first call, John said, “You know what cozies are, right? Amateur sleuth, small town, ya-da, ya-da.” I’m not sure John actually said “ya-da, ya-da,” but he definitely ya-da, ya-da-ed the definition of a cozy. I assured him that I did and set to work writing the proposal.

During that period, I read a lot of books that were actually defined as “cozy mysteries.” I read books by our own Sheila Connolly, and by Leslie Meier and Kaitlyn Dunnett/(Kathy Lynn Emerson). I read John Talbot’s most successful cozy author, Cleo Coyle and Kensington’s most successful cozy author, Joanne Fluke. I was inspired by all of them. I also read several frankly terrible cozies. I won’t name any names, but ones I couldn’t finish. Ones that made me dread going to bed because I would have to open them.

CLAMMED_UPI was undaunted. What area of literature doesn’t have some absolutely awful books in it? None is the answer. And, as I’ve learned over and over, my absolutely awful book is your favorite and vice versa, because the role of personal taste is huge. Besides, though I had tried to keep a professional distance from my proposal, I was falling in love with my characters and my setting. I really wanted to write these stories.

John sold the series to Kensington, and I started writing Clammed Up in earnest. I still hadn’t processed what it meant to be the author of a cozy novel, but now I was paying attention–and starting to panic. It’s interesting that neither of the things I was panicking about affected the story I was writing.

To wit:

  1. If the author is the brand, and the brand is the author, I was in deep trouble. People might describe me in a number of ways, but nobody, including my kids, would ever describe me as cozy. I’m a city girl at heart. I have no pets, I don’t do crafts. I swear like a sailor. I don’t even cook if I can avoid it. Ulp.
  2. The image of cozy mysteries worried me. So often they’re defined as what they are not. You know, it’s a traditional mystery, with an amateur sleuth, but with no sex, gore or swearing. That drove me crazy. Here I am writing 70,000+ words, and the genre is defined by what’s not in there, instead of what is. It bugged the heck out of me. (Or the hell out of me, as I really would say in my real life.)

So the rest of the posts in this series will be a description of my journey with the two personal challenges above, how I evolved, and how I feel about these issues today.

You can now read Part II here and Part III here.

Ask the Expert- Agent John Talbot

Jessie: In New Hampshire, neck deep in knitting projects to stave off the cold.

Today we are delighted to have literary agent John Talbot visiting the Wickeds today. John happens to be the agent for all of the Wickeds and as such helped each of us to navigate the complicated world of proposal writing.  Proposals involve several components. We’ve covered the basics over the course of the month but are pleased to get John’s take on them. 

JohnTalbotJohn has twenty-plus years of book publishing experience as an editor and literary agent. As an agent, he has placed books at imprints of all of the major publishers including Doubleday, Random House, Bantam, Dell, Simon & Schuster, Pocket Books, HarperCollins, Morrow, Grand Central, St. Martin’s Press, Putnam, Berkley, Dutton, NAL, Wiley, Macmillan, and McGraw-Hill. His clients include several New York Times and USA Today bestsellers, multiple Agatha Award winners and nominees, a National Book Award Finalist, a National Book Critics Circle Award Nominee, and a New England Book Award winner. He is a member of the AAR.

Prior to becoming an agent John spent over a decade with Pocket Books and Putnam Berkley (now part of Penguin Random). At Putnam Berkley he rose to the rank of Senior Editor and worked with such global bestsellers as Tom Clancy, W.E.B. Griffin, and Jack Higgins, as well as then-rising literary stars such as Tom Perrotta. He edited over a dozen national bestsellers and had five New York Times Notable Books for the Putnam, Berkley, and Riverhead imprints. He began his editorial career at Simon & Schuster/Prentice Hall Press. John received his B.A. in English Composition from DePauw University and also spent semesters at Washington University in St. Louis and Nanzan University in Nagoya, Japan.

Thanks so much John for taking the time to be with us today!

John: It’s a pleasure.

JessieLet’s dive right in! Synopses can be such a challenge to write. What do successful ones include?

John: Synopses should be short, about a paragraph. They don’t need to be detailed in a way that includes every plot twist. I want to know the premise for the series and who the main characters are, a little bit of the setting and milieu, and the general trajectory of the plot. It’s not exactly like the back cover copy of a book, but it’s close enough that you can read a few of those to get yourself into a mental rhythm and then try it on your own. I would use cover copy, descriptions from the publishersmarketplace.com deal listings, since they are really compressed (usually one long sentence!), and reviews from Publishers Weekly to get the blueprint down. But of course try not to be too influenced by the marketing or review descriptors…. Another way to look at it is that it’s going to be similar to what your query letter description should be.

Jessie: Characters are arguably the heart and soul of a successful series. What makes for compelling character sketches?

John: Most of the characters I enjoy are aspirational, they are likeable, yet they have a tough circumstance to overcome, and they have a – and I don’t like this word exactly but it’s the only one I can think of – they have sass. They are everyday people who have obstacles to overcome and must rise to a challenge, they must find inner strengths they didn’t know they had. And they are not static. A good main character has the potential to become a friend to the reader, someone she can identify with and root for. Also, no one works independently of someone else. The characters are a pretty tight mesh, and everyone affects everyone else. To me they have to feel real, like people I know or might see every day of my life. You might be giving depth to that person I see every day but don’t know really well. You’re inviting me into that person’s life. It’s personal, even intimate.

Jessie: What do you like to see included in the first three chapters? What’s best left out?

John: What do you want your reader to experience when they pick your book up in the bookstore? What do you want them to experience if they download a sample electronically? This is a dress rehearsal for that experience. You’re barely going to have time for the plot itself to kick in — though you do need to have a body within those first three chapters – so what you’re really doing is trying to hook the reader on voice and milieu, and character. Readers can tell pretty quickly whether they’ve found a voice they’ll want to spend time with; it happens within the first few sentences. A proposal is a gift to the writer in the sense that with a shorter commitment, you can go over those first pages until you get the voice just right, rather than completing several hundred pages and finding you have to start over.

Jessie: We all know writing is an art but it’s also a business, even at the proposal stage. For some writers one of the most confusing and challenging parts of the proposal package is the marketing survey and comps component. Could you give us some pointers on crafting this section?

John: The marketing section, which can be very brief, is about showing your ability to find and bring an audience to your work. If your premise involves a unique setting, how many people visit this setting each year, and is it a locale with a strong book audience, with bookstores and specialty shops that might carry the book? What about national and local organizations that promote (for example) the craft or activity that your main character engages in? What is the national participation number for this activity and what are the membership numbers for the top organizations, and how could you as the author help your publisher to reach these potential buyers? Then you bring it back, most importantly, to the book world. Are there successful titles and series in this subject area? How might your series be similar and how might it be different to those?

An easier way to do this is not to have the marketing section separately, to just fold the crucial parts of it into your author bio. Social media is vital now, so you need to have a presence on the Web and show how you could expand that around the books; that obviously fits right into the author bio. Then your own participation in the relevant activities and organizations is helpful, and of course any writing credentials, groups, awards, and publications (as long as they are in the same genre).

Specifically on comparables, you want to point out three or so series from authors with the publishers you are targeting, whose readership might also find your work appealing. One or two comparables might involve a similar subject that you are adding a personal twist to, one or two might involve just a milieu or voice that might attract some of the same readers.

Jessie: What is the single best thing a writer can do to improve the possibility of her proposal being offered a contract?

John: Flexibility, responsiveness, and an ability to work quickly and reliably are all important in getting a start and for the long haul as well.

Keep at it and be willing to re-work a proposal. There are so many moving parts to a good piece of fiction that it is almost impossible to get everything in balance the first, second, or even third time. But eventually you do reach that point of balance and that’s when it’s time to go out.

Work with a spirit of collaboration on the final product. In other words, craft the work in whatever setting you work best, but when it’s time to shape the final draft be sure you have your support group of first readers and writing group such as Sisters in Crime, and that you are willing to think hard about prompts and coaching from your agent and an editor.

The times when I sell a book or proposal untouched or unmodified are far fewer than the times an editor has made a suggestion to me and I’ve found a writer willing to work towards that suggestion. Editors know the market deeply and have passions and a vision for what they might want to see two years down the road. As a writer you’re looking for hints and guidance on how to fit your work into that vision. My job as an agent is to be the connector between the two. In practical terms that means sometimes you the writer will need to open yourself up to modifications that might range from tweaks to wholesale reworking.

Be willing to adapt to the needs of an editor. I’ve seen many good writers have a hard time getting published at first because they are stuck on a narrow vision for their work, and don’t realize that an editor may have a broader vision that improves the book and gives it an appeal to a wider audience, or that an editor has a very specific vision, and they are looking for someone who can retool or craft something new to fit that vision.

Jessie: And before we let you go, are you currently open to queries? If so, how would those interested do so?

John: Yes. Via email on the submission page of the Talbot Fortune Agency website is best. A brief cover letter including contact information (and phone number!), the synopsis and author bio, and the option for me to request a full proposal.

Thank you for reading this! Happy writing to all of you.