Hi all! I am thrilled to be a part of Mysteries and Margaritas, so a huge thanks to Liz for asking me to join her.
We have a fourth member who is going to join the M&M team, and her name is Mary Martinez. Mary has six grown children, lots of grandchildren, and a husband whom she loves to travel with. When they are not traveling, they are watching college football and tailgating :-) Mary writes all kinds of books, including mystery and suspense, and she is repped by our one and only fabulous agent, Christine Witthohn. So be sure to give Mary a big welcome when she debuts tomorrow.
Since this is my first post, let me tell you a little about myself. I am a stay at home mom of three boys and one girl who keep me insanely busy, but provide me with loads of material for my books...hee hee. And I've been married to my college sweetheart for twenty years. I've been writing for fourteen years on and off in between having babies and getting a masters degree in English Education. It wasn't until 2000 that I got serious and joined RWA and the New England chapter, which opened my eyes to all sorts of possibilities. I did the whole contest route as well as going to conferences and pitching to agents and editors, learning a ton along the way.
Then in 2004 I moved back to Central New York and joined the CNYRW chapter. This is when I got really serious and knew I had to step up my game. If something's not working for you, you have to try something else. In 2006 I won the New Jersey contest for the single title category and that's when I met Christine. Well, actually, I met her online first and then we met in person at the conference. I pitched to her, partied with her, and then signed with her the following week and haven't looked back ever since. She is by far my biggest cheerleader. Like Liz, I too finaled in the Amazon Contest, but nothing came of it.
It took three years for me to sell, but Christine never once let me give up. She got me a 3 book deal off just a 60 page partial for a middle grade series with Rebecca Frazer at Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. Then just 5 months later she landed me a second 3 book deal off just a 10 page synopsis with Faith Black at Berkley Prime Crime for a cozy mystery series. 14 years of nothing and then 6 books in 5 months. Just goes to show if you want it bad and you don't give up, anything can happen. Now I have a gazillion deadlines to meet....trust me, people, be careful what you wish for :-)
The biggest thing I've learned along the way is you can be a fantistic writer, but if your story isn't unique enough, it won't sell. While you can be just a good writer who maybe needs a bit more polish, but if you have a fabulous hook and unique plot, an editor will take a chance on you. In today's tough economy, the market is tighter than ever, so high concept is key. I used to just write what I wanted to write, but now I put a lot of time and research into my ideas before I write a single word. I first go to the book store and scan the shelves in the genre I'm interested in writing in. Then I look to see what editors are buying and what seems to be doing well. Finally I choose a publisher that publishes a lot of the type of book I want to write and I go online to study their site. What books do they already have? Now what don't they have? If they don't have it, then it just might be that unique and fresh idea you're looking for. Then I come up with a blurb for a couple different ideas and run them by my agent. She picks the one she thinks is the strongest and then I write a synopsis and give that to her. She points out any plot issues so I can tweak my synopsis accordingly and only then do I write a partial. I've wasted enough time over the years by not doing my homework right from the start, and since I've changed up my process, it's produced fantastic results.
I'm not saying you can't find inspiration all over the place, I'm just saying first decide what genre you want to write like for me I decided cozy mysteries, and then decide what kind of cozy like I did with paranormal. Then you can be inspired by all sorts of things like a news story, your friends a family, a song on the radio, something you see on TV, etc. For me I looked at what my interests were, and I love fortune telling tools like tea leaves, palm reading, crystal balls,etc, and thought how cool if my girl is psychic and each book focuses on a different tool she uses. The first book will be called Tea Leaves to Die For: a Fortune Teller Mystery, and it will come out in September 2011.
So let me ask you, how do you all approach a new story idea? Do you just come up with an idea and write the book, or do you do any research at all to see if it's been done? Where do you get your ideas from? Inquiring minds want to know...
Kari Lee Townsend