“Fear rots the faculties.”
–Cornell Woolrich, “Deadline at Dawn”
In a few days, my publisher will release my novel, Death in Nostalgia City. Not my first book but my first novel. A debut mystery is the industry term and it’s appropriate as I feel not unlike a tense debutant taking tentative steps onto a stage, hoping for the approbation of her society.
Writing in general is nervous work. Novelist Shirley Hazzard said, “The state that you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums to get rid of.” But at least, with any luck, an anxious mystery writer can transfer that feeling, so necessary to the genre, onto paper.
I’ve experienced several levels of anxiety during the creation of my book. (See photo.) In this case, it was the production stages and the promotional planning, rather than the writing, that seem to have challenged my sangfroid.
Although I’ve had my writing critiqued and edited thousands of times–dedicated writers crave editing–my publisher’s multiple editing process was a bit unnerving, confusing. Then there’s the two biggest tasks that await a writer whose manuscript has been sufficiently vetted: approving a cover design and obtaining blurbs.
In this case, the cover design was the easy part, though not a short process. Ultimately designer Jacci Wilson created just the right cover. It conveys the fact (a) that this is a mystery novel–although any title with the word “death” in it is likely a crime story–and (b) that the setting for the crimes is the desert near old Route 66. The cover also shows a hint of a town and an amusement park in the distance. That’s where the story’s headed.
The second of the two required tasks is to obtain blurbs. For the uninitiated, a blurb is a flattering quote about a book, preferably from an authority or well-known person, which is plastered on the cover. You’ve seen them.
These days, one or two blurbs seems not sufficient to establish a writer’s credibility. Many books have one or more pages of quotes attesting to the author’s talent, the incredibly involving content of the book and the necessity for readers to cease all productive activities in their lives until they’ve finished the tome.
One of the first places I went looking for a blurb was the Boston Globe. As a large part of my book takes place in Boston, I contacted a respected Globe feature writer offering her my manuscript for review. Turns out, reporter Beth Teitell has written books too, and was wise to my ploy. “You’re on a blurb quest,” she said.
Indeed. Fortunately, I managed to receive good blurb comments not only from other mystery writers, but from people in specialized fields–such as oldies music, theme parks and 60s/70s culture and trivia–that are part of the subject matter of my book.
With those two tasks behind me, I’ll be dividing my time between promoting the book and trying to write Nostalgia City volume II. Either of these tasks can easily be a full-time job. Pass the tranquilizers.
Post script. My book was supposed to be available for advance orders on Amazon, a couple of weeks prior to its release. Today, in addition to noticing that the thumbnail of my book cover looks cloudy on Amazon (ditto for B&N), I also saw that the print version of the book is available for sale earlier than I expected. Also, the Kindle and print versions are not linked. I’m told that after the Oct. 4 release date the listings will be combined.
Amazon and my publisher will sort things out. In the meantime, read the first four chapters of the book here, on my website. My reluctant investigators Lyle and Kate have some exciting surprises for you.
I’m often asked if I have advice for people just starting out to be writers. My advice: Some less stressful jobs might be worth exploring, like crab fishing in the arctic, testing experimental aircraft or painting radio towers.