My Writing Life – Connie Shelton
When did you first discover a love of writing?
It goes way back. In school, I always loved the writing assignments and as I got into my twenties I thought about writing novels, but I never had a clue how one would start that process. One day in a bookstore I came upon a book titled something like How to Write and Publish a Romance (I think that was it). I was fascinated. Of course, the advice was 1980s-era stuff–write the manuscript and submit it to an agent or editor . . . But there were great tips on developing plot and characters, exactly the kind of thing I needed.
What’s your favourite book? What was your favourite book as a child?.
As a kid I read all the Nancy Drew books–over and over! Now, I can’t really name a favourite. There are so many!
Where do you get your story ideas?
Everywhere! Observations of people and their interactions provide a lot of inspiration for character development, news articles sometimes give ideas for plots, and once in awhile a place will really speak to me. Two years ago I was in Germany and went down into a dark, damp wine cellar–the feeling of that place gave me some terrific ideas. I used the setting in an important chapter in The Woodcarver’s Secret.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received as a writer?
Just do it! You can think and dream and wish all day but until you sit yourself in the chair and start typing or putting your pen to the paper, nothing’s going to happen.
Where do you usually write?
For plotting and, later, for revising, I like to get comfy with a notebook and soft couch or chair. Once I start typing that first draft, though, I’m at my desk.
Do you believe in Writer’s Block?
Not really. I experience short-term blanks for “what comes next” in a story, but usually taking a brisk walk or changing focus for a few minutes works to reveal an answer. In the writing courses and workshops I’ve taught I give some brainstorming techniques, and I actually use those myself whenever I need a shot of creativity.
If there was one writer (alive or deceased) that you would love to meet, who would it be?
James Patterson. I’m fascinated by his business model, his drive and his ability to get things done.
What’s your favourite literary genre? Any guilty pleasures?
I read all over the place–from literary fiction to horror to biographies and economics–but naturally mystery and suspense are my very favourite since that’s what I write. Guilty pleasures–taking a week or two away from my own writing to read a huge novel, such as those in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series (if there’s a box of chocolates nearby, that doubles the fun!)
What made you decide to self-publish?
I’ve always been an entrepreneurial type so the idea of starting a publishing business wasn’t intimidating at all. I started my first publishing company in 1994 and over the next five years built it to the point where we were publishing 8 or 9 authors, 35 titles or so (strictly print versions in those days). I sold the company in 1999. Then I went the traditional publishing route for my mystery series, but I found the limitations frustrating (1 title per year) and to never know where things stood with promotions, release dates and all that. Receiving royalty statements twice a year (if you’re lucky) drove me crazy. I need to know what’s going on! As soon as POD and ebooks began to take off in 2009, I acquired all rights on my backlist and republished everything. Now I’m doing just my own stuff, averaging 3 books a year–absolutely loving it!
Are there any self-publishing tricks of the trade you’d like to share? What rules of craft or promotion do you live by?
Write, and then write more. Choose a genre and stick with it, at least while you are getting established. You can always branch out later, but each time you venture into a new genre it’s like your first book all over again because you are needing to reach a new set of readers. It’s so rare for a one-book author to get noticed, you really need to publish at least 3-4 titles geared toward the same readers before people will start to know your name.
You will get better as you write more, so don’t be afraid to shelve those first couple and wait until your work is the best it can be before putting it out there to the public. I have three unpublished books that were early efforts and they will probably never see the light of day. My writing has continued to improve–my later books truly are better than the first, and yours will be too. Keep writing and keep honing your craft–I still read at least two how-to-write guides each year and I always pick up a new tip or am reminded of something I could be doing better.
(Sidenote – you can find tips from Connie on how to write a great mystery novel here!)
Is it important to make a huge push for your first book, to try for a bestseller list?
I’ve found that it’s perfectly okay for bestseller status to come slowly. I didn’t hit a Top 50 list until my 12th book came out. I didn’t reach a #1 spot until somewhere around 15 books were published. Now it happens pretty consistently with my new releases, and I’m thrilled with that! I think it’s more important to build a steady, loyal group of readers who look forward to your next book. Once you have that, you can write full time and earn a decent living whether you are appearing on bestseller lists or not.
Anything new on the horizon?
So many things! In the past six months I’ve had books included in two multi-author boxed sets. Killer Confections, a food-themed cozy mystery set, just went off sale after a very successful run, and now we’re introducing Killer Tails, a pet-themed mystery bundle. I’m currently working with an illustrator on a series of early-reader children’s books (ages 3-7) which I’ve written over the past year. I hope to publish the first one before Christmas. In the waiting-to-be-written department, plot outlines are done for a series of five new books featuring a group of women—sort of caper mystery/chick-lit/suspense. I have also written outlines for two stand-alone books, which are somewhat on hold because the audiences for them would be very different than for my mystery fans and, as I mentioned earlier, this might require a whole different marketing plan. And then, of course, I’m still writing at least one Charlie Parker mystery and one Samantha Sweet mystery each year. Between all this, I still like to take long walks with my husband and play with our two dogs. When someone perfects human cloning, I think I need to order five more of myself!
A native of New Mexico, Connie Shelton uses her home state as the background for her two mystery series. She began writing her Charlie Parker series in the early 1990s and her first book was published in 1995. She has since gone on to write 15 books in the Charlie Parker series and 9 in the Samantha Sweet series, featuring a middle aged woman who breaks into houses for a living. Connie and her husband live in northern New Mexico.