1. What order were your books published in?
Brush Back, 2015; Critical Mass, 2013; Breakdown, 2012; Body Work, 2010; Hardball, 2009; Bleeding Kansas, 2008; Sisters on the Case (editor), 2007; Fire Sale, 2005; Blacklist, 2003; Total Recall, 2001; Hard Time, 1999; Ghost Country, 1998; Women on the Case (editor), 1996; Windy City Blues (short stories), 1995; Tunnel Vision, 1994; Guardian Angel, 1992; A Woman’s Eye (editor), 1991; Burn Marks, 1990; Beastly Tales (editor) 1989; Blood Shot (Toxic Shock in UK), 1988; Bitter Medicine, 1987; Killing Orders, 1985; Deadlock, 1984; Indemnity Only, 1982. Writing in an Age of Silence, 2007 is Sara Paretsky’s one non-fiction book.
2. Do you need an agent to get published?
Some people are fortunate in finding a publisher without an agent, but it’s difficult—and getting more so all the time with the contraction in the publishing industry.
The best guide is How to Get Happily Published by Judith Applebaum. The advice is good and broad based. For a simple list of accredited agents—that is, they are members of the Association of Author’s Representatives, which has a canon of ethics, etc.—a person can go to the AAR website, and get a list and some useful advice.
Most agents work with e-requests these days. If you choose to write a printed letter, you should send a self-addressed, stamped envelope with a query letter. However you make your initial pitch, don’t send more than a 2-page summary of your book. No agent wants to see a book, either in paper or e form, until he or she has decided whether or not to pursue the relationship. The query letter should include no more than two pages of double spaced text with wide margins, describing the novel. Most agents like to know what existing work this book most closely resembles—if it’s fiction, for instance, is it closer to Marilynne Robinson or Denise Mina? Of course, every work is unique, but agents like to know whether a proposed client is writing the kind of work that they most comfortably represent.
A number of websites have great advice for writing query letters. My personal favorite is The Query Shark.
If you can’t find an agent through all these sources, there are quite a number of people who help new writers package their work. One whom I know is Chris Roerden at Market Savvy Book Editing, 3683 Waterwheel Court, Greensboro, NC 27409. She is a publication specialist and has been helpful to writers who have not been able to find New York agents.
3. What about self publishing electronically?
That’s certainly an option, but the problem is how to create awareness of your book. Most people don’t have the money to spend on advertising to create awareness among readers, nor do they have the contacts at newspapers or magazines to get their books reviewed. Still, with Twitter and Facebook, people are finding it easier to create a Web buzz about their self-published work.
4. What about E-book readers?
Publishing contracts all now include a clause about electronic books. Personally, I still find them harder to use than a printed book despite their advantage in portability. The key here is to make sure your contract covers E-books. It’s also crucial to go to the Author’s Guild Website and sign up for the Google Book Settlement.
5. How did you get started writing?
I’ve been writing stories since I was a child, but for a long time, I didn’t think about showing them to anyone else, let alone publishing them. Then, around the time I turned thirty, I realized that I really wanted to write a novel.
I loved detective fiction, but I was troubled by the way women were traditionally portrayed in that genre—they always seemed to be either evil or powerless. I thought it was time for a tough, smart, likable female private investigator, and that’s how V I came to life.
I wrote my first three novels at night while I was working full time as a marketing manager. And tutoring, and singing in a choir, and managing a home for my husband and three stepsons. I look back on that time and think I must have been insane—I couldn’t possibly juggle all that now.
6. How did Sisters in Crime come about?
I helped start Sisters in Crime in 1986 in response to a range of problems facing women mystery writers. Some were issues of attitude, but others had a direct negative effect on our careers. Many of us encountered both fans and male writers at crime conferences who assumed we did this as a hobby, not as a serious vocation.
These attitudes so permeated the publishing and reading worlds that books by women received short shrift from reviewers, libraries, and book sellers. Books with women protagonists were often marginalized if they were published at all. As a result, women’s books stayed in print for shorter periods than books by men, which meant women had a harder time getting subsequent books published.
Sisters in Crime began addressing these serious professional issues. We started a Book Review Project to track reviews, and we found that—adjusting for the male/female ratio in books published—books by men were reviewed 7 times as often as books by women (this all refers to crime fiction). We found that books by women writers stayed in print on average for a third the length of time that books by men did. These data severely affected women’s ability to earn a living as writers. With the Book Review Project, with books in print, and with our presence at ALA and Book Expo, we have gone a long way to eradicate this discrimation.
Every time we stop our vigilance with the Book Review Project, we find that discrimination re-emerges. It is therefore critical that we continue this work.
7. How do I join Sisters in Crime?
Go to www.sistersincrime.org and you will get all the information you need about local chapters and becoming a member.
8. How do you write?
It takes a lot of cappuccino to get me through a book. Even today, with almost twenty published books, I’m beset by anxiety, worrying about whether I’m telling the story right, having the necessary balance between action and reflection. I write directly onto the computer, but I work out story lines, and problems with story lines, on big sketch books.
I start with a basic idea of a story. This may be a crime, if I’m writing in the V I series, or a startling event that sparks an idea for a general novel. Until I have characters who really come to life for me, though, I can’t begin work. I don’t outline because that doesn’t work well for me. I can only tell if a story is working by writing it. This means that I often have to go back to the beginning more than once until I find the right story path.
Remember: there is no right way to write. There is only the way that works well for you.
9. Do you ever have writer’s block?
What I really have is thinker’s block. I have a ton of ideas for stories, but I get stymied in thinking about how to execute them. I don’t have a good way of overcoming this except by refusing to believe it’s a permanent state. I make myself work every day regardless of whether it’s a productive day or not. That way I know I will be at my keyboard when the logjam finally breaks.