How to Get the Most from a Writing Conference

If you are interested in getting your book published, writing conferences are the place you need to get yourself to. A conference is where industry professionals gather.  You’ll find agents, editors, published and aspiring authors in the mix. To get the most from writing conferences it is important get organized in advance.

Most conferences have a tentative schedule available for you to see when you register. I review the schedule months in advance to see if I can submit to a contest or send in pages for review by a panel of authors or in a written critique. Some submissions might be addressed at a workshop anonymously, but at other times you must face public critique. Read the directions carefully and don’t submit if you’re uncomfortable standing in front of a room full of people who are pointing out flaws in your story.

Offer in advance to volunteer at the conference. It not only gives you an opportunity to meet new people, but it shows potential agents and editors that you care enough about the industry to give your time.

Writing conferences are business events, so dress professionally. Hotel conferences halls are notorious for being freezing cold so plan to dress warmmmmm. If you don’t have a business card, have some printed. If you’re not yet published, you can put freelance writer as your title. You can give your card to other authors and if you pitch your manuscript, you can leave a card with the agent.

Before you leave for the conference, print out the schedule. Circle the workshops and panels you would like to attend. Make a mental note of people you would like to meet and books you would like to purchase.

Once you arrive, search out people who write in your genre and make new friends. Absorb all the fascinating new information being offered and be inspired to take your writing to the next level.

Sleuthfest is March 1-4 at the Embassy Suites in Boca Raton. It’s known to be the top conference in the southeast for writers of mystery and thriller. If you go, I’ll be wearing a pink boa around my neck to show that I’m a volunteer who is selling raffle tickets. Stop me and introduce yourself, I love to meet new people.

Interview with Deb Sharp, Author of the Mace Bauer Series

Florida author Deb Sharp is like the main character in her “Mace Bauer Mysteries,’’ Deborah Sharp’s family roots were set in Florida long before Disney or Miami Vice. As a native and former reporter for USA Today, she knows the spots not found on maps: Molasses Junction. Muse, and now, Himmarshee, her own tiny slice of “Authentic Florida.’’

To create Himmarshee, Deborah borrowed from the present-day ranching town of Okeechobee, and from the south Florida of her family’s past.

Not far from Ft. Lauderdale, her dad used to walk to town, leading the family cow. A generation later, Deborah rode her horse over the same citrus- and ranch-dotted terrain. Now, it’s all interstates and strip malls.

The difference between Mace’s hometown and hers: Deborah will never let Himmarshee be spoiled by sprawl.

Q. You’ve written a number of hilarious mystery novels in your Mace Bauer series. How did you come up with the concept for your novels?

I wasn’t a fiction writer. I was a journalist, but I always wanted to write a mystery. I saw so many sad stories as a journalist I wanted to write a funny mystery. I saw a full page ad of a woman in a turquoise convertible in the Miami Herald. I started to think about the type of character who might be riding around in a turquoise convertible and what could happen. That woman is MAMA and I decided to write a story about where she goes in the convertible. From there I figured she would be from an obscure part of Florida and that she would have three girls. The book started with MAMA discovering a body in the trunk of the convertible. That started the whole series.




Q. You spent a number of years as a reporter for USA Today. Was the transition to novel writing a challenge for you?

It was a lot harder than I thought. I figured I’d been a professional writer for twenty-five years, how hard could it be? Journalism teaches you to leave out what the people you interview are thinking or feeling. I had to learn to put emotion in my fiction. It actually took me a couple of years to get it right. I took a lot of workshops, went to Sleuthfest conferences and joined a critique group. All of those things helped to become a fiction writer.

Q. Do you consider writing an art, or a craft, or a mixture?

Some people are artists when they write. I always thought of it more of a craft. For me it was a profession with the journalism. I felt like saying “I’m an artist” didn’t describe the kind of writing I did, so to me it was more of a craft. There can be artistic feelings that go into writing, but I believe it’s a craft. People have a talent for observation or expression, but to put it all together is something that you have to develop. You can’t just sit down and paint a masterpiece. You have to cultivate your talents and work at them.

Q. You’re really good at marketing. What do you feel are the most important aspects of marketing?

I got a lot of reviews from newspapers in the beginning. The platform has changed since then. Physical newsprint has scaled back and social media has increased. I think something that a lot of people overlook is just being a nice person. Helping out and volunteering gets the word out that you’re willing to give back and that opens people up to you. A lot of people think they need to work to build their brand. I think you can build your brand by being kind to other writers even though it’s old fashioned and low tech. I’ve always felt more comfortable helping someone else rather than pushing ME-ME-ME on social media.

Q. You are good at asking questions on social media that draw many responses from your fans. How do you go about it?

I think it’s because I’m curious. I’m interested what other people think, and I guess it’s easy for me to formulate questions because I did it with the journalism.

Q. What are you reading now?

HaHa! The mystery writers out there might be disappointed that I’m reading chick lit at the moment. I like Jennifer Weiner and I just got something by Sofie Kinsella. I do have a new Michael Connelly novel that I picked up, but I’m enjoying the chick lit right now. I don’t know that I’ll ever do anything in that genre, but it’s light and it’s fun for me at this point.

Q. As you know, we are a critique group. Do you participate in one?

I’m not in a critique group at the moment. I am a huge advocate of critique groups. I was in the Thursday night critique group run by Joyce Sweeney. What was beneficial to me, was hearing from other writers who didn’t have a journalism background. They could pinpoint exactly where I needed to punch things up on emotion or description, things I was scant on from my previous training. In a critique group I think a person should find something nice to say, not be a slash and burn type person. A good critiquer can tell you what’s wrong in a manner that helps you learn and that is so beneficial.

I laugh and say I’m the Goldilocks of critique groups. The first one I went to was too hard, the people were mean. They said they didn’t like my writing, but they really didn’t care for the genre. The next one was too soft. They liked to sit around and drink wine rather than critiquing. Not that drinking wine is bad, but I wanted feedback. Then I found the Thursday group and it was just right. I don’t think I’d be where I am if it weren’t for the Thursday critique group helping me. I am a big fan of critique groups.

You can find out more about MAMA and her antics at


When you find a Personal Flaw in your Writing

Summertime makes it more difficult for all of the Tuesdays to get together because we are all taking time to get away and relax. Yesterday we were excited to have almost all the Tuesdays back together. The only one missing was Faran who is out until mid-August.

So what did we talk about once we’re all back together? Jonathan’s book launch coming up next month, of course! When a mysterious cuddle bunny showed up on the couch, it prompted Jonathan to decide that Faran should wear a bunny suit to Barnes and Noble in Plantation on August 10th. We all agreed that since he wasn’t there to decline, it was a fabulous idea.

When it came to reading, I did the chapter before the climax of my work in progress. The tension is ramping up at this point and the Tuesdays liked the pace, except when my character stopped to make a phone call. Even though it was a phone call of desperation, they said it slowed the pace too much. It was suggested that since the phone call shows a necessary act of desperation, that it be moved to the beginning of the scene, before things start getting really wild so that the pace can continue to accelerate.

It was also pointed out that my sidekick is way to calm dealing with horrific situations involving physical and mental health. This has been mentioned before and I have deepened the reactions of my sidekick, but notably not enough. The beauty of working with a good critique group for a long time is that we have all come to know each other’s backgrounds. It was pointed out to me that my female sidekick is behaving too rationally, like a nurse would in a similar situation. It was suggested that I let go of my nurse persona and let this character freak out like a normal person would in a similar situation.

This advice was presented in a way that helped me see not only what needed to be changed but gave me a long term view into watching for my own specific flaws when writing. I am eternally grateful to the Tuesdays for helping me grow as a writer.

Where do you go to get ideas for a novel?

Some people I know have ten plots for novels buried in the back of their brain waiting to be hatched. I have a couple of ideas of in the wings, but they’re floating around without any concrete development. Truth is that a magnificent fully formed book doesn’t just pop into your head. Where do ideas for novels come from?

The news is always full of bizarre stories that make me wonder about the lives of the characters portrayed in the incidents that end up being broadcast. Take the latest news about O.J. Simpson. With all of the things that have occurred in his lifetime, I could find myself mentally working in a character arc. Mystery Writers are always keeping an eye out for a juicy crime story or headline to flesh out and expand into a good book.

Experience can often lead to ideas for a novel. An epic failure or huge success can be fodder for your next work in progress. Many people start by journaling and expand on the components from there. Or you can eavesdrop on a conversation in the park and expound on someone else’s experiences. People watching in the park can give you some great ideas for characters too.

Reading can lead to ideas of what you might want to write. Perhaps you want to expand on a theory someone else proposed, or you feel they got it wrong and you want to tell the story a different way. Reading across many genres can attune you to new ideas.

Google whatever your heart desires, and see what comes up. Strange accounts, love stories, happy tales and bizarre capers are all waiting to be expanded. You can plot them out inserting your wonderful hero and dastardly villain while at the gym or driving your car.

Whatever your method, writing is a process. Even the most extreme plotters end up changing things as they go along. So pick a nugget of something you’ve heard or seen and get started on your next tale.

Bookstore investing in Readers and Writers

Joanne Sinchuk, founder and manager of Murder on the Beach bookstore moved from Connecticut to South Florida to be warm. In 1996 she opened her bookstore in Sunny Isles Beach and relocated the store to Pineapple Grove in Delray Beach in 2002.

Q: How did you decide to open an independent bookstore?

They always say: do what you love. I love books. I also liked the concept of being self-employed, so the idea of having a cozy bookstore in a nice warm place was very appealing to me.

Q: Why did you decide to specialize in mystery/thriller/crime fiction?

It was a marketing decision. I wanted a niche market, and I felt that was a good one. By focusing in on the mystery/suspense genre, we can carry many more books than a large store like Barnes and Noble which has to stock a little bit of everything.

Q: I’m sure you read a lot of mysteries. Do you get a chance to read other genres?

People are surprised to hear I read books other than mystery. My favorite thing to ask them is: does the guy who owns a pizza shop only eat pizza? I love to read so I read across multiple genres.

Q: You get some big hitters like James Patterson and David Baldacci in the store. How do you draw them in?

It depends upon establishing a reputation with the big publishers in New York. When Florida author, Jonathon King won the Edgar Allan Poe award in 2003 for The Blue Edge of Midnight, we sold over 100 books at a signing. That got the attention of New York and gave me a good reputation with them. It’s been easier to get the big names since then. Now, they want you to write proposals to request an author. You have to include a marketing plan and an estimate of how many books you might sell. I write more than a hundred proposals to publishers every year to bring authors here. I only get a fraction of those I apply for. During the winter months we are able to get the best-selling authors.

Q: You co-chaired Sleuthfest for the last two years. What brought you to the decision to run the event?

I’ve been the book vendor for Sleuthfest for many years. I’m involved with the Mystery Writers of America as well as the Florida Romance Writers and more recently the Florida Writers Association. I like to do events.  Sleuthfest was an extension of that, just a larger event. Having a co-chair helped.

Q: You’ve been able to sustain Murder on the Beach when many other bookstores have failed. How do you do it?

Books are essentially part of the entertainment business. What we do is an extension of that. We strive to teach and entertain readers as well as writers. Aside from the many book signings we do, we also have our Literary Lunches. We partner with a restaurant (Papas Tapas) here in the plaza, and offer a fixed price. Readers can have lunch then come here, listen to the author and get a signed paperback. We also hold writer’s workshops on Saturdays in the summer for aspiring authors. This summer in The Authors Academy, we have fourteen different classes, for $25 each and a contest for best work in progress. We also have a book club for readers.

Q: I noticed that Bum Luck by Paul Levine is on the store’s best seller list. Doesn’t Paul Levine self-publish his books now? Do you take other self-published authors?

Paul does self-publish now, but the Bum Luck series is published by Thomas and Mercer. We do sell some Indie published authors. Every day I get a call or an e-mail from an Indie author asking if I will carry their book. A self-published author must prove themselves with their writing and by their dedication to the profession. We don’t take anyone off the street, but we will consider involved members of the Mystery Writers Association and the Florida Romance Writers.

Q: What’s your next upcoming event?

We have a mass Indie signing at 7 pm on June 21st . MWA president, Charles Todd will moderate a panel that includes Carol White, Raquel Reyes, Victoria Landis, Marcia King-Gamble, Joanna Campbell Slan and Kathy Runk. Each author has an opportunity to talk about their book and do signings. We like to help promote good local authors.

Thank you, Joanne, for sharing your time and expertise with The Tuesday Writers.

It’s been my pleasure. If your readers are ever on Atlantic Avenue in beautiful Delray Beach, they can find us just off the Avenue at 273 Pineapple Grove Way, better known as NE 2nd Avenue, or via

4 Ways to Figure out Your Book’s Genre

Why is genre important? Readers use genre to find a book because it gives them an idea of what will be in it. Defining genre has been a challenge for me. Everyone else in our Tuesday Writers group writes Young Adult or Middle Grade novels. My main character is eighteen years old and in college, so my novel doesn’t fit into the young adult category. Here are some of the things I’ve learned about defining genre.

1) Learn Genre.

Go to a bookstore. Spend time familiarizing yourself with the various mainstream novel genres that exist and which authors write in each category. What sections are you drawn to?

  • Mystery and Thriller can seem similar but there is a difference in the set up. A mystery is a mental exercise about discovering who the villain is. Agatha Christie was a favorite author in the mystery category. With Thriller, the bad guy is evident. There is a time clock set for when he will cause great harm. There’s lots of life threatening action involving the the main character in order to prevent that harm. Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code contains the elements key to a thriller.
  • Romance novels are happy ending stories about relationships and the love between to people. Some noted authors are Nora Roberts and Nicholas Sparks, author of The Notebook.
  • Horror has the intent of scaring the reader by inducing feelings of terror. The primary danger can sometimes be disguised as a metaphor for the larger fears of society. Stephen King is the master of horror with his exploits of the dark side of human nature. King’s novel The Shining has often been the dubbed the scariest book ever.
  • Young Adult books feature a main character who is under eighteen years of age and still in high school. Middle Grade novels have characters that are usually age eight to thirteen.
  • Sci-Fi writing combines science and fiction in imaginative concepts often involving the futuristic worlds of technology, space or time travel. Frank Herbert’s, Dune is a prime example of science fiction.
  • Literary Fiction has a form or style that has been accepted as literature. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s,  The Great Gatsby and Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol are considered classic literary fiction.

2) Assess the sub-genre of your manuscript.

Each of the mainstream genres has multiple subsets. Here’s where the process can get confusing. A Writer’s Digest article shows thrillers can be categorized as suspenseful, psychological, technical and supernatural, even horror or romantic thrillers.  Does your story have elements that fall into another category? Ask yourself what percentage of the novel’s plot applies.

3) Write down your main plot points.

What happens at your inciting incident? What’s your binding point where your protagonist can no longer return to his world as it was? What’s the low point of your story? What’s the crisis at the turning point that leads to your climax? These key parts of your plot should help indicate which of the mainstream genre categories your book fits into.

4) Who is your screaming super-fan? 

What else would he or she want to read? Find half a dozen other novels that you think your super-fan would have on their bookshelf. Are they books that interest you? Do they fall in the same genre you feel your novel fits into?

Choosing the right genre improves the odds of selling your book not only to readers, but to an agent. Give your readers everything you can to make it easy to find your book.

Interview with Jane Cleland

Jane K. Cleland writes the multiple award-winning and IMBA bestselling Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery series. The twelfth novel in the series, Antique Blues, will be out in April 2018. The Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery series has been reviewed as an Antiques Roadshow for mystery fans. Library Journal named Consigned to Death a “core title” for librarians looking to build a cozy collection.

Jane also writes about the craft of writing, including articles for Writer’s Digest Magazine and the bestselling and Agatha Award-nominated how-to book, Mastering Suspense, Structure & Plot, published by Writer’s Digest Books.  Cleland served as a director of the Mystery Writers of America and served a two-year term as president of the group’s New York chapter.

JB: I love your writing. How did you come up with the idea for the Josie Prescott Antiques Mysteries Series?

JC: Thank you. My first novel was a private eye novel that didn’t sell. In one of the rejection letters sent to my agent, an editor said the plot wasn’t fully formed, the narrative was messed up and the characters were mushy. But he felt I could write.  He added that if the author was interested, he was looking for a female amateur sleuth, not in New York. I had my sleuth, Josie and added the antiques business, so she has an organic reason to go out and do what she’s doing. I also created an ensemble cast of characters in her company.

I’d owned a rare book store for a while. I decided to broaden that scope to antiques. I wanted a character who found it hard to fit in. I also wanted rugged territory for my character to have to deal with, so I chose New Hampshire. It’s a sweet and decent place that people want to come back to.

I knew there would be a pivotal antique in each book.  I’d just read about Elizabeth Taylor being sued over a Renoir she was selling that was allegedly stolen by the Nazis. That ended up being not true, but it got me thinking. I was so naive that I had no idea about Nazi art theft. I did some research and the plot grew from there.

JB: You mentioned that you love being with your character, Josie. What do you like best about her?

JC: I like a lot of things about Josie. I like that she’s quaking on the inside but no one knows that about her. She doesn’t believe it’s in her best interest to show that vulnerability. I like that she’s one hundred percent ethical. She’s her own guiding compass. She has absolutely no desire to go to the dark side. She does the right thing always and only. She doesn’t try to convert anyone to her point of view, but she is very aware of situations that present themselves and she will walk away when necessary.

JB: Which book did you like writing the most?

JC: The first book because there is no moment like selling your first novel. I asked my agent to show the first few chapters of Consigned to Death to the editor to see if I was on the right track. He said yes. I finished the book in about eight months. They liked it, and it sold in a week as part of a three book deal.

I learned from the editor what my potential readers wanted. I listened very closely and didn’t try to persuade readers to like something else. I latched onto what the editor said readers wanted.

JB: Which book do you think readers connected with the most?

JC: Readers loved Deadly Threads. It was number five in the series. There are a lot of people who love vintage clothing. People love fashion. I have several designers from back in the day that I talked about. People liked that.  I introduced, Hank, the cat in that novel. I was very leery about bringing a cat to the series. I try to be a serious literary writer. I get reviewed as erudite. I don’t set out to write fluff, but I was told that people who read this type of story like cats. I like cats. Now Josie has two of them.

JB: What do you see in the future for Josie?

JC: Josie will be making another appearance in Antique Blues which will be out in April 2018.

JB: You’re being nominated for an Agatha award for your new book, Mastering Suspense, Structure and Plot. Why did you want to write a non-fiction book?

JC: I’ve written four non-fiction books. I’d written three of them when I was a business trainer so I knew what it entailed. I like speaking at writing conferences. My sessions were popular at the Writer’s Digest Conference, so the publisher asked me to do something on suspense, plot and structure. I was also up for tenure at Lehman College, part of the City University of New York.  I figured a non-fiction book would help in that respect. I was flattered to be asked, so I said yes.

JB: What type of writing schedule do you keep?

JC: If I’m not writing, I think about my current work in progress or ideas for a new novel all the time. If I’m not physically at a computer, I review TRD’s which are the plot twists, reversals and moments of heightened danger I talk about in the book. It’s how you control the pace of your novel.

JB: We’re a critique group, do you participate in one?

JC: No. Not my style. I’m a loner, a recluse. I’m not shy, but I like to work on my own. A critique group is a good way for writers to get feedback. I think that there can be pitfalls if you’re not in the right group. What if a person offering critique doesn’t like your topic or your voice? I was fortunate to be in a financial position where I could hire private editors, so I didn’t work with a critique group at all. It’s important to learn whatever you can about craft. There are so many things you can learn about the craft of writing at conferences. That’s why I like Sleuthfest it offers deep educational opportunities.

JB: Thanks, Jane for joining the Tuesday Writers and good luck with the Agatha award!

JC: My pleasure. Your readers can find me at or on Twitter @janekcleland

Interview with syndicated Book Reviewer, Oline Cogdill

Oline-Cogdill-suspense-fiction-criticOline H. Cogdill reviews mystery fiction for Mystery Scene magazine, the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Publishers Weekly, Tribune Publishing and the Associated Press. Her mystery fiction reviews appear in more than 300 newspapers and publication sites worldwide. She blogs twice a week at She has received the 2013 Raven Award from the Mystery Writers of America, the 1997 Pettijohn Award from the Sun Sentinel and the 1999 Ellen Nehr Award for Excellence in Mystery Reviewing by the American Crime Writers League. Oline was a judge for three years for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the mystery/thriller category and is a beloved lecturer at Sleuthfest.

JB: How did you get involved in being a critic?

OC: In 1990 I changed jobs at the newspaper. I wanted to do some writing so I asked the book editor if there was something I could review. He said he didn’t have anyone doing mysteries. I always loved mysteries. Even when I was nine I didn’t read Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys I went right to Agatha Christie and Rex Stout. The editor gave me five paperbacks, I reviewed them, the column ran and the next month he gave me more. A few weeks later that column ran and before I knew it, the column was running every week.  I started doing between one and six book reviews a week then he moved me into hardcovers.

JB: Do you ever read for pleasure?

OC: I know someone who reviewed for another newspaper that got burned out and left the business but I find every book I read is a pleasure. I love it. If I didn’t I’d quit. I get so much enjoyment out of it. I take it very seriously. It bothers me when reviewers are amateurish and they don’t review in earnest.

JB: Book reviews are rampant on the internet. Who should readers trust with a review?

OC: We have gone into a crisis of ethics. Lots of unethical people are doing reviews. Some of the reviews are so bad, you wonder if they even read the book. People with agendas are posting critiques on Goodreads, Amazon and blogs where the reviewer just wanted a free book.  Some authors buy book reviews to help boost their numbers.

I would trust reviewers with a legitimate newspaper or magazine.  Tom Nolan at the Wall Street Journal does good reviews, as does Marilyn Stasio of the New York Times.  There are some bloggers out there that offer good book reviews. Kristopher Zgorski at and Dru Ann of both do.

I once read a review where the reviewer had heard the author talk about his book while it was being written. As anyone who writes knows, you start with one idea, but you frequently end up with something different. Part of what the author had talked about was in his book, but the whole novel wasn’t about that subject. The reviewer had no idea about the creative process and gave a horrible critique for a good book because it wasn’t what he wanted written. Talk about an agenda!

JB: In our critique group we have a method of critiquing when someone reads a chapter. What’s your process in reviewing a novel?

OC: I don’t look at any other reviews out there until I’ve finished mine and filed it because I don’t want any outside influence. I read every word and I take notes as I’m going. If it’s not an advanced reading copy, I  take the book cover off so I don’t have the author staring at me. I look for the plot of course, but more than that I look for how much it connects me with the characters. There are only so many plots out there. It’s all about what you do with the characters. I look for things that are fresh and original. It bothers me when established authors fall into a pattern of using a template where they just fill in the blanks. For that reason, I love debut authors and series characters.

JB: Last year at Sleuthfest you talked about how you liked author CJ Box and his Joe Pickett series. What is it about his writing that you like?

OC: There are two well-known authors who write mysteries about Park Rangers. I like how CJ Box looks at environmental issues and I like his writing voice.  He brings a human aspect to his characters. The characters are complicated and their problems aren’t easily resolved. His hero is a family man who struggles with family issues and not having enough money. Almost everyone can relate to that struggle so it brings a human element to all of the action going on in the story.

JB: Within a year, half of the Tuesday Writers were agented and published or pending publication. The other half are getting close. What’s your best advice for those hoping to be published?

OC: Treat it like a job. It’s hard work to get published so be realistic. Once you get to that point, do your own publicity. Get involved with social media. Visit local bookstores and libraries and events associated with your story.  If you write a children’s book about cats go to functions and libraries for children, attend a cat show. There is no magic formula. It takes a while, don’t be discouraged.

JB: Is there anything else you would like us to know?

OC: I pick up every book I review with the hope that I will fall in love with it. My Best of the Year column due out in the Sun Sentinel this week will show the most outstanding novels. Check it out to find some that you might fall in love with too.