A little over a week ago, I had the pleasure of attending and participating in the bi-annual California Crime Writers Conference in Culver City, Los Angeles.
Culver City is soaked in movie-making history, with its MGM lot dating back to 1924 and Sony Pictures taking up multiple acres of the now uber-trendy city. So it was appropriate that this year’s CCWC highlighted movie and television writing, with screenwriters and producers giving authors a peek behind the Tinsel Town curtain to reveal what happens when Hollywood beckons. (Thanks to Chick, Ellen Byron, for helping round up some of the Hollywood folks for the conference.)
I was fortunate to be involved in two different panels. The first, for which I was the moderator, was called “Cozies on the Edge: Meeting and Subverting Reader Expectations.” The idea for the panel was hatched last year in Hilo, Hawai‘i (where I spend half the year) when the CCWC conference co-chair, Laura Brennan, came to town for a day on a cruise ship.
My fellow Hilo mystery author, Frankie Bow, and I took Laura out to lunch that day, during which the three of us discussed what I like to call “snarky cozies,” which fall somewhere in that nether land between cozy and traditional mysteries. Since Frankie and I both pen snarky cozies, Laura suggested that there be a panel at this year’s CCWC focusing on mysteries that “push the envelope with unconventional protagonists, darker subject matter, complex relationships, and even a little bit of snark.”
the Snarky Cozy Panel
The panel was a great fun, with Frankie, as well as Mike Befeler, Jennifer J. Chow, and Mary Marks participating. We discussed, among other subjects, the inclusion in our books of class and wealth issues, racial and cultural assumptions and prejudice, infidelity, and agism, and how an author can pull this off in a light-hearted mystery without offending the reader or coming across as preachy or pedantic.
Then, later that afternoon, I was on the “A Winning Team: Writer, Agent, and Editor” panel, along with my agent from Folio Literary Management, Erin Niumata, editor Terri Bischoff, now with my publisher, Crooked Lane Books, and author Sarah M. Chen as moderator.
This panel was a big hit with the audience, who had numerous questions regarding how to get an agent, how an agent submits a manuscript to a publisher, and how a publisher decides whether or not to take on a book. My biggest takeaway from the discussion was this: your manuscript needs to be as polished as possible before sending queries out to an agent or publisher, but even with the best book ever, you need to be perseverant and not give up.
Erin, for instance, told the audience that she receives some twenty queries a day, yet never has more than thirty authors at a given time. Which means your query would have to arrive on her desk at the exact right time, would need to be exactly what she was looking for at that time, and be something that struck her as standing out from all the other manuscripts she receives.
In other words, it’s very much a game of chance: right product, right place, right time.
I told the story of how it took me almost two years and some 120 different queries before I landed Erin as an agent. Yes, I became exceedingly dejected during the process and almost gave up at one point. But I persevered, and lo and behold, got that magical phone call only one month later.
Several conference attendees approached me after the panel to thank me, and say that my story had given them encouragement to brave on and keep going with their search for an agent or publisher, which warmed my heart.
But by far the best part of the conference was this: Although Erin has been my agent for five years, because she lives in London, England and I in Santa Cruz, California (and sometimes Hawai‘i), we had never met. Sure, we’d gab on the phone and exchange long emails, but we had never yet seen each other in the flesh. She told me that the main reason she’d accepted the invitation to come to CCWC this year was to get to finally hang out with me in person.
And when we finally did meet, it was awesome. The two of us felt like old friends, and had a blast-and-a-half over the weekend, going out to dinner and sharing drinks and stories at the hotel bar.
Finally Meeting in Person!
So thank you, everyone involved in CCWC—most especially co-chairs Laura Brennan and Jennifer Younger—for the countless hours you spent and the hard work you did to make such this such a fabulous writers conference.