Thursday, October 13, 2011

Catching the Clues by Elizabeth C. Main, Guest Blogger

Elizabeth Main is a writer who loves the Northwest and sets her novels in Oregon where she lives. A former English teacher, she now spends her time writing and trying to keep up with this rapidly changing world of publishing.

Welcome, Elizabeth. It's a pleasure having you here today.


Catching the Clues by Elizabeth C. Main, Guest Blogger

Thanks for inviting me to your blog today, Pat.

You’d think a mystery writer would be adept at spotting clues, but I hopped aboard the writing merry-go-round twenty-odd years ago blissfully ignorant of the changes about to sweep the publishing industry. As Gothic heroines used to say, “Had I but known . . . .”

My first clue that times were changing came in 1993 from the comments of the experienced agent who apologized for not being able to sell my first book, a juvenile/young adult adventure novel which she thought had great potential. Puzzled that her efforts hadn’t yielded results, she sensed that publishers were becoming ultra-conservative in their acquisitions because of the new consolidation of publishing houses. We parted company amicably and A Star for Courage went into the drawer.

In 2000 I heard of this new-fangled thing called an ebook. With nothing to lose, I pulled A Star for Courage out of the drawer and submitted it. Hard Shell Word Factory published it as both an ebook and a paperback. It won an EPPIE as the best YA novel first published as an ebook in 2001. I did little promotion because, after all, an ebook had only limited appeal, right?

My second and third novels, a romance (Richer by Far, Avalon, 1998) and a mystery (Murder of the Month, Five Star, 2005) sailed through the publication process. I collected my advances, did a few bookstore events, a little radio and TV promotion, and felt great satisfaction in knowing that my books resided in libraries across the country. Then I sat back and collected royalties. No sweat.

Following the publication of Murder of the Month in 2005, I decided to stick with the mystery genre, my favorite. I then entered an extended period of writing the sequel, No Rest for the Wicked. I went to conferences and heard tales of huge changes in publishing--platforms and blogs and websites--but I was fascinated with writing, not marketing. Having already published three books, I naively assumed that I could navigate the system.

Big mistake. Five Star accepted No Rest for the Wicked, but, oh, how things had changed between 2005 and 2011. Did I have a website? A blog? Uh, no. Bookstore contacts? Many bookstores had gone out of business since 2005, including the indie at which I had worked. Did I Tweet? Had I networked with fellow authors? Not really.

While I had been hunched over my computer, dreaming up fictional clues for my characters, I had missed the neon signs pointing to the revolution in the literary world. I should have been honing Internet-based promotional skills for the previous six years, not merely for the six months prior to the release of my fourth book. Fortunately, writers are a generous group. The Five Star Author Group, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and multiple writing blogs all provided ample assistance as I played catch-up.

I used this help immediately. For example, after Murder of the Month went out of print, all rights reverted to me. This spring, I gave the book new life. Using CreateSpace for the trade paperback, and Kindle and Nook for the ebooks, within a month I put Murder of the Month back in circulation. What a perfect lead-in to the August publication of No Rest for the Wicked.

CreateSpace deserves special mention. While it’s not a slam dunk to figure out the formatting, it’s within the reach of any computer-based writer. I followed their directions and formatted the work in Word 2007 before saving it as a pdf file. Whenever I became confused, I called Customer Service and received a return call within minutes from their superb team. Choices about font size, pricing, purchase of ISBN, and distribution channels were clearly explained, with many options available to me. Preparation of the trade paperback version took about 10 hours, including the composition of a new cover.

Best of all, I receive royalties from the sales each month. The new publishing world is fast-paced, more like a tilt-a-whirl than a merry-go-round. Speaking as someone who ignored for years every clue pointing to the need for change, I maintain that if I can leap aboard this exciting ride, anyone can.


Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, Elizabeth. I love the fact that the writing community is so open and willing to help others with blog posts like this.

To read more about Elizabeth and her books, please visit her website. You can also find her on Facebook as Elizabeth C. Main.


Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for hosting Elizabeth.

Elizabeth - Thanks for sharing with us how you learned to negotiate the new world of publishing. The world of books, writing and publishing is ever-changing, and keeping up with that is essential. Thanks for your insights.

Kathryn Elliott said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences, Elizabeth. I always take a great deal of away from posts like this, an honest look at the process writers go through on the road to publication.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Wonderful post and so true. I wrote an article titled: "I Have Arrived....Or Have I?" which talks about the same thing - how I began writing in 5 subject notebooks, graduated to a word processor - balked at getting a computer because "all I do is write." Well while I was writing and submitting the old fashioned way, this was all changing to electronic. Amazing. Now hardly a day goes by that I'm not on the computer for at least a little while.

Good luck with your new book!

Angela said...

This is a really helpful post, thanks--I get overwhelmed with all of the social media options but I love to hang on for the ride.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I can relate! I wasn't even online when I signed the contract for my first book. My publisher told me - get your butt online NOW! With one year before my book's release, I managed to network and build. Now I feel much better about my online presence for the next book.

John Paul McKinney said...

Thanks very much for this wake-up call. I only worry - and this may be an excuse - is that all the blogging, tweeting, face-booking, may take away too much time from writing. Have you found that? Again, thank you for this important post. And, Pat, thanks for hosting Elizabeth.

Elizabeth C. Main said...

Margot: "Ever-changing" is certainly the right message. I'm learning every day some new aspect of the business.

Kathryn: Being honest about the process is important to me. Half the new writers I talk to think getting published is a snap with old methods. I think they are in for a shock.

Thanks to both of you for your comments.

Elizabeth C. Main said...

Hi, Pamela. I want to read your article. You know exactly what I'm talking about. Thanks for your good wishes on my new book.

Angela: You picked up my carnival ride metaphor nicely and carried it with the word "overwhelmed." Surely I should have mentioned the concept of being on a roller coaster, too. We all know about that.

Elizabeth C. Main said...

Alex: You received excellent advice from your publisher. That advice put you way ahead of the game and I'm sure you've reaped the benefits. I only wish I had been smart enough to get a year's head start on promoting my latest book.

Elizabeth C. Main said...

John: You're right. All these activities take plenty of time away from writing. It's a question worth worrying about, but the plus side of the equation is that the more I interact with other writers, the more energized I become about writing in general. Hope you have the same experience.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I was a social media addict for a while, Liz and John, but finally got it under control. It's just one more way we have to discipline ourselves, which isn't how I thought "being a writer" would turn out.

Susan Oleksiw said...

It's good to hear the history of shifting to eBooks from other writers because it makes the whole process seem more sane and doable. I'm dawdling my way there now, but hope to get things up and available in another month.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


I still haven't created a website though everyone has told me that it's necessary. So I'm really impressed with what you've accomplished.

Jacqueline Seewald

Elizabeth C. Main said...

Pat, it's always a treat to hear your insights on writing and publishing. You've been a tremendous help ever since I discovered you. You've led me to good review sites and pointed the way to a contract with Harlequin, for starters. Not bad!

Elizabeth C. Main said...

Be brave, Susan. It can be done. I'm probably the worst example you could find of someone dragging her feet. As I said in my original post, if I can enter this new world, anyone can.

Elizabeth C. Main said...

Hi, Jacqueline,
You surprise me with your comment. You are so accomplished as a writer that I've just assumed you're at home with websites and such. Let me know when your site goes live.

Dean K Miller said...

Time to add another book to my "read" list. Growing up in Oregon, I should find myself absorbed in the setting quite naturally.

Pat: thanks again for bringing great insight and advice to us "newbies". Experience is a great teacher, if we make sure to listen to those who bring us theirs.

Now I've got to run off to share this on my blog, FB and twitter...I'll write later!

Elizabeth C. Main said...

You obviously know about new techniques for spreading the word, Dean. Congratulations on putting so many tools in place.

Elizabeth C. Main said...

Thanks again for hosting me today, Pat. I always look forward to your blog posts. Liz

Patricia Stoltey said...

And thank you so much for being here, Liz. Keep me in mind for your future book releases. You're an excellent guest.

Elizabeth C. Main said...

Once again, thanks for the chance to post, as well as for all the valuable advice you've provided me with this year. I look forward to connecting with you again and again. Liz

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth McCain: I'm one of the older debut writers and bloggers; and navigating the social media has been challenging. But it cheers me to hear what you say here. Now I feel more confident that *I* can do navigate the CreateSpace/ebook river, too! I didn't know customer service was available, also, so again, thanks! And thank you, Pat, for hosting Elizabeth. Her book looks like one I would like to read!
Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets

Elizabeth C. Main said...


Your story is amazing. With your demonstrated coping skills, you'll be able to follow the CreateSpace guidelines with no trouble, now that you know about their customer support. They literally call you back within seconds whenever you have a question. They're great. Glad I could provide encouragement. Liz