Thursday, November 26, 2009


by Barbara D'Amato

Several years ago a friend who had been in a writing group told me this: “There was a lot of competitiveness and sniping at each other. I changed groups and the next one was good, but I had expected published writers to be competitive and envious, too. I’ve been very grateful for the mutual support I see in the mystery world. Friends are actually happy when I get a contract from a publisher.”

I’ve been thinking lately about the various surprises that come to writers when they finally sell a book. Some of the surprises are not very pleasant, but many are. I asked a few people what their experiences were.

Michael Allen Dymmoch:
What surprised me and enabled me to become a published writer was all the help I had getting there. Police officers like Hugh Holton, psychologists, and other professionals gave me information I hadn't thought to ask for. Your gracious offer to read and critique my manuscript--after you'd given me the terrific suggestion to novelize the screenplay I couldn't sell, encouraged me to finish the first draft and helped me make it better. And Ray Powers, my first agent, took me on even though the manuscript wasn't ready for prime time. The two rewrites he insisted on were what enabled the book to win the Malice Best First Mystery award.

Libby Fischer Hellmann:
That there were other (first time) authors like me, and we could do events together. Made road trips so much more enjoyable
That readers sometimes sent me emails with comments on the book
The most delightful part is holding the finished book in your hands and realizing you really did it..

Laura Caldwell:
Book clubs make me incredibly, incredibly thankful. To be in a room (usually with wine) with a bunch of people who have read your book and carefully considered it is amazing. And then there's the book club who do themes surrounding the book. It's so delightful. Once, in A Clean Slate, I had a character with a few freckles under his left eye. The book club made a massive batch of sugar cookies and decorated them with man's face, a few freckles under the left eye. They sent me home with a few on a paper plate and I still have them in my freezer (and this was seven years ago). Thanks, guys!!

Recently I’ve realized too how chancy it is. Over the years I’ve read a lot of manuscripts for people. Some were eventually bought by publishers but many deserving ones were not. A manuscript has to hit a buying editor at the exactly right moment. To those writing I would say keep trying. For my good fortune in finding editors who wanted to buy—thank you.


Sara Paretsky said...

I still remember how thrilled I was with the reception you and Mary Craig gave me when I first showed up at local MWA meetings, and Dorothy when I got onto her radar. I'm glad the mystery world still feels welcoming to newcomers. The first year I went to an Edgar dinner I knew no one and it was a horrible experience--New Yorkers weren't exactly warm and welcoming and the waiter at the Sheraton started beating up one of the people at my table because he wouldn't relinquish his salad plate. But then, the next year, I met Stanley Ellis and Dorothy, and even though it was several years before Dorothy and I became friends, she smiled her incomparable smile and drew me into the writers world.

Barbara D'Amato said...

I'm glad of that, Sara. Stuart was one of the most welcoming when I first joined--joined actually at his suggestion. Newcomers tell me it's still like that.

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