Sleuth Fest Success

When I woke up this morning, I took my breakfast on the lanai. The sun was shining, birds were singing, and a nice breeze was ruffling the palms around the pool. All seemed right in the world.

Having not seen my lil old man, Captain, the pug, in a week, I quickly ran off to retrieve him from the kennel. Daisy had been moping around and not eating her food. She really missed her pal. Captain was so happy to see me he was literally rolling over with joy. The vet tech was trying to get a good pic, but he would not be still, curly tail waggling all the while. I wish, now, I had filmed our reunion. One photo doesn’t do the occasion justice. I put this gallery together so you get the idea.

I spent five days in Deerfield Beach near Boca Raton at Sleuth Fest. People who follow either my personal FB page or my author page already know how excited I was with the success of the event. I didn’t get one request for my manuscript…..I got THREE! This is huge. Yes, all three can reject it if the story doesn’t deliver, or meet expectations, or “fit” what they are looking for…but hey, there’s a chance it will 🙂

I’m absolutely thrilled!

Now, I must admit, the anxiety is creeping in. I decided NOT to look over the ms again. It’s been beta read with feedback thoughtfully considered. (Thank you lovely readers, you rock my world.)

It sat on the shelf for nine months because I just didn’t feel it was as polished as it should be.

I took it down and sent it off to a professional editor who ran through it twice for edits and a third time for proofing. I bought a cover. (Thank you all for helping me decide on the best.) My plan was to self-publish.  Then, along came Sleuth Fest.

I don’t even recall how I heard about the Mystery Writers of America, Sleuth Fest writer’s convention, but after reading about what all it had to offer, I signed up. For a couple of months I agonized over my pitch, my long and short synopses, and my public delivery of a ten minute excerpt from the book.

Signing up for every local reading opportunity I could through my local writer’s and story-telling groups in an effort to relieve my fear of public speaking, I rehearsed until the dogs had my pitch and first chapter memorized. Even the guppies were rolling their eyes.

Sleuth Fest was a blast. I can’t wait to tell you all about the wonderful writers, authors, crime specialists, bloggers, acquisitions editors, agents, really cool celebrities, and icons in the book industry I met and learned from. But there will have to be other posts to cover it all. We bought all the audio discs so I can reference and study them, not to mention a mile high stack of handouts with tons of useful information.

Here’s a quick glimpse of the agents and editors at their respective panel discussions: (From left to right: Steve Kasdin, Kirsten Carleton, Mark Gottlieb, Danielle Burby, Erin George, Chris Nopf, Neil Nyren, and Anne Speyer.)

On a personal level, today, I want to share with you how Naked Alliances ended up in the hands of two agents and one acquisitions editor despite my social anxiety issues.

Thursday night we had Reader’s Corner, a new event added to the itinerary, and I hope they include it every year. If you ever have opportunity to read at an event like this, take it. There were about fifty people in the room and I felt my knees shaking, my palms were sweating and I was thanking my higher power that I had brought my read on my iPad so the crowd wouldn’t see papers trembling in my hands as I read. When they called my number, I felt a surge of cold sweat as I took my place. I introduced myself and set up the scene. I read with all my heart and soul, making eye contact with the audience and barely looking at my iPad. (All that practice paid off.)

The first hour, we had been listening to dark stories of murder, gritty crime, and espionage. The room was somber and filled with tension. Along I came with a light romp. They laughed at all the funny parts, clapped throughout the piece, and the back half of the room gave me a standing ovation. When I got my critiques back, I tucked them into a folder and continued listening to wonderful stories. The whole mood of the room had changed. I was delighted when a few more readers read light-hearted pieces and a few YA pieces that were quite entertaining.

When the event was over, I went back to my room and found my husband waiting for me. He had come in late and didn’t make the read. We opened the folder and he read the fifty critiques out loud. I was absolutely floored by the kind words and the number of people who told me they really wanted to hear more and couldn’t wait until the book came out. Not one negative comment. I was in tears, and glowing with positive affirmation.

So yes, if you get the opportunity to read, take it. But it didn’t end there. Throughout the next three days of the conference people were coming up to me telling me how much they enjoyed the read and the characters, the dialogue, my accent. And they were telling me these things in front of agents, editors, and crowds of other people who had not been at Reader’s Corner. So yes, take the stand and promote yourself and your work. I’m certain that spoke volumes to those making decisions.

Friday night cocktail party, me and my husband milling through the crowd looking at all the pasta and potatoes we couldn’t eat, and holding up the pillars in the room. Me sipping a glass of red wine, while they called out the raffle winners. And then I spotted her. An acquisitions editor who had told us during the editor’s panel that she was looking for characters that were unlikely pairings in unpredictable situations and adores brassy, bad-ass, female protagonists. I approached her, introduced myself, and asked her about what acquisitions editors do. I knew the editors were critiquing manuscripts at this event, but I didn’t know they were in position to acquire them. I don’t mind showing my ignorance if I can learn something. I was concerned that Brandi had not always been female…she assured me that she qualified, and asked for a fifty page manuscript and a synopsis. Score!

Saturday was my scheduled pitch day. I selected to pitch to this agent because his social media profile indicated that he had a great sense of humor and he expressed an interest in crime capers on his Sleuth Fest bio. (Even though Naked Alliances is NOT a caper, it does have a humorous edge and is a lighter read.) He listed his honors and awards on his LinkedIn page as, “Nobel Prize for Total Coolness, Distinguished Dude Cross, Knighted by Queen Elizabeth for just being me.” He’s got to be okay, right? I was confident, but terrified. He put me at ease, smiled, and was far more personable than I had been led to believe by all the online research I had done regarding what to say and not say to an agent. I tried to relax and let the conversation flow naturally. I only had ten minutes with him and used nine. He had posted, on his FB page, a photo of a sign taken while walking through a National Forest. The sign read, “Beyond this point, you may encounter nudity.” Considering the setting in my book, we had lots to talk about. Do your homework folks. Research your agent anyway you can through social media. They are out there. It really pays off. He asked for the WHOLE manuscript. I said, “The whole thing?” He laughed and said, “Yes, the whole thing!” I was stunned. Second score!

Sunday was the Flamingo Pitch Tank, our last chance to hook up with agents and editors. All eight of them sat on the front row as honorable judges. We had three minutes. I gave my pitch, and followed it with, “If you liked Chablis in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, you will absolutely love Brandi in Naked Alliances.” Again there was a murmur in the crowd when I mentioned my family owned and operated one of the oldest and largest nudist resorts in the nation right here in Florida. Afterwards, many people came up to talk about Cypress Cove and the book, as well as John Berendt’s novel, how they were similar and different. We had been told to stick around after the Pitch Tank was over as other agents/editors might wish to connect. After several minutes, we edged our way out of the room. A nice young lady came up beside us in the corridor and introduced herself and said she loved the elements introduced in the pitch and would like a fifty page manuscript, cover letter and synopsis and gave me her card. Awesome! Third score!

Trying to find agents and acquisitions editors? Go to conferences in your genre. Read. Pitch. Talk to people. Wear something that makes you stand out and be noticed in the crowd. Pluck pink boa feathers and stick them in your hair. Aloha shirts, big dangling earrings, and skinny jeans worked for me. No, I wasn’t doing the business casual that most everyone else was doing, but I had made myself memorable and had succeeded at branding myself well enough to have people seeking me out. So, yes, I’m stoked!

And by all means…hang out at the bar…that’s where all the cool kids are!

They even laughed at my original jokes (course that could have been the alcohol).

At the bar with Co-Chairs, Joanne Sinchuk (Murder on the Beach Bookstore) and Victoria Landis (FMWA Board Member) being photobombed by writer, Salvatore “Sam” Falco. What fun!

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And here we have Neil Nyren, an icon in the publishing industry, the Executive VP, Associate Publisher and Editor in Chief of G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Random House, who has to his credit more than 300 NYTs best sellers, crime and suspense authors C.J. Box (our guest of honor) Clive Cussler, Ken Follett, Robert Crais, Jack Higgins, W.E.B. Griffin, John Sandford, Frederick Forsyth, Randy Wayne White, Alex Berenson, Ace Atkins, Alex Grecian, Tom Young, Carol O’Connell, Owen Laukkanen, Michael Sears, Todd Moss, and a new series from Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman. Neil is an all around great guy and read us one of  Chuck Wendig’s posts on becoming a Penmonkey. So don’t ever think your blogs are not being read…you just never know.

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BTW, just as an aside, celebrity author, and guest of honor, C.J. Box happened by while this little party was going on. I would have loved to have had my picture taken with that gorgeous hunk, but he slipped away before I got around to it. And, unbeknownst to me at the time, the agent I was pitching to the following day happened to be seated at the bar 😉

59 thoughts on “Sleuth Fest Success

    • Yay! And to think I was so nervous about pitching I almost backed out. I don’t do small-talk very well. I talk too much and don’t ask enough questions. It’s all nervous energy. I know the best way to get to know someone is to ask questions and let them open up and inform you. Let them know you are interested in what they have to say. The best way to be interesting is to be interested. But I generally freeze up and blabber. I have brain farts and my mind drifts. I rattle off, losing my point and drifting off topic and often totally lose my place in the conversation. But these folk made me feel comfortable and at ease. They’re a lovely crowd to be associated with.

  1. I knew you could do it, Susan! I’m completely thrilled for you! While reading your Thursday night event, my hands were sweating as I imagined myself in your position…not sure I could have pulled it off. You should be proud!

  2. Yay! So excited to read this. You already know how psyched I am about your book and how much I believe its premise is a home run. I feel good things for you, Susan. Good for you for grabbing the bull by the horns and going for it. I am keeping my fingers crossed for you.

  3. Yayyyyyy! Congrats! 🙂 I was wondering how this went! So glad it turned out to be a very positive experience! I would like to go to these things but they are all too far away from me & I don’t have the funds. But, so very happy for you! 🙂 I can’t wait to read what will come from this!

    • Thank you! It was one of the most exciting weekends of my life. Well worth it if you get the chance. If you know someone who is going and can make the trip, you can usually go as a guest for less than half price, share a room, and still get into all of the sessions. I’ll keep you posted 🙂

  4. I’m thrilled you took the chance with the conference and have experienced such great progress towards getting NA published. There are still plenty of steps to get through, but what you did is incredible. That you wrote the story, and then came up with a pitch that got you three agents interested … just pretty incredible. I look forward to hearing what happens next.

    • Thanks, Mark. That pitch was a team effort and I owe much gratitude to Carrie Rubin and Sue Coletta. You do realize what your faith in me and this project has done for me? I don’t know if I would have had the courage to pull it back down off the shelf without your support. Many, many thanks. You’ve encouraged me through my darkest hours…and I’m sure there will be more before it gets published. Your friendship is truly a gift to be treasured.

    • Couldn’t have done it without you, Eamon. I just sent off the first manuscript. I have two more partials…then I can at least breathe for a little while.

  5. Pingback: Sleuth Fest Success by S.K. Nicholls | Daily Echo

  6. What a fabulous, fabulous event. And you scored THREE requests! I can feel that you are soaring high and rightfully you should be. I am so thrilled for you, Susan. This is surely just the beginning of many more wonderful things to follow. Sending you a HUGE CONGRATS. Cheers!!!!

    • Thanks, Mae. I’m over the moon, but now having to pull myself back to earth and focus on getting these manuscripts out. The last thing I want to do is wait until they’ve forgotten me.

  7. HUGE congratulations, Susan. It sounds like an awesome event. I’ve talked to a few others who had a blast, too. I’m so happy for you. May 2016 be your best year yet!!!!

    • So far it’s looking very promising. I have some other exciting news that I can’t talk about yet that concerns writing the series. I’m holding onto it until the vetting process is done, as I wouldn’t want anything said here to jeopardize the outcome. Thank you again for your help and support.

  8. Congratulations indeed. Facing your social anxiety and making use of an event to sell your book was certainly a lucky bend you took-up well. And if need be you still can self-publish anyway. Thanks for the encouraging and inspiring report on it!

    • Thanks for the congrats. I’ve been known to be honest and candid…sometimes to a fault. But I feel it is the best way we can learn from each other. Thank you for coming by for a read. 🙂

  9. Congratulations! It sounds like you did everything right, starting with writing a good story and having it critiqued and proofed and then preparing your pitch and reading. Way to go!!!

    • Thanks, I’m still glowing. I just saw on an old post that I started this project November 4th of 2013. I had the first draft written in eight weeks, but it’s taken me eleven months of critiques and revisions/rewrites, nine months on a shelf, another four months of edits and proofing, and two months of prepping to get it polished and ready to publish. I’ve already started Book Two and have outlines for a few more. I’m reading a craft book by Larry Brooks and The Complete Idiot’s guide to Private Investigating by Steven Kerry Brown. I want to make certain I understand what Richard and Brandi can and cannot do, and how to best set up the plots before I proceed. The main thing is that I am having fun with this project. I’ve put all of my other writing aside to focus on this series.

    • Thanks, Nancy. It’s mostly an inside look at how wonderful it feels to arrest my crippling anxiety in social settings. I could feel warmth and acceptance from everyone I met at the conference. Such a lovely way to network. People should rest easy about such things and just go do it.

  10. On the one hand, you’ve described my worst nightmare, as the introvert in me would do anything to not get noticed. On the other hand, man, you rocked that Sleuthfest!!!! I. AM. SO. HAPPY. FOR. YOU. xox

    • Ha! Marie, I love you. We writers are often deep inside ourselves and turning inside out is seriously traumatic. My sleeping and eating schedule is all out of whack…residual fall-out. So yes, my confidence was boosted by the outcome, but now there is all of this anticipation simmering beneath the surface. I closed my eyes and put on my ocean meditation, listened to the sounds of the surf and breathed slow and deep…the theme music from Jaws entered my head and I couldn’t shake it out. That’s just too weird. It’s the weekend now and I’m playing, bottling kombucha, and re-potting plants. Come Monday, I’ll start my routine “five things to do today” list and get myself back on track. {{{HUGS}}} I greatly appreciate the support. ❤

      • {{{HUGS}}} back to you. That’s so funny about the theme of Jaws! Anxiety is so sneaky. I love how you’re rolling with this. Very healthy. Even if these 3 opportunities don’t pan out, I’m confident there’s more to come. I love you too 🙂

  11. Oh my gosh–this post just made my day! How fabulous for you. I’m so glad you had such a great time at the convention, as well as getting three “SCORES!”
    You were so super prepared. I will try to remember this, if I am ever in a similar situation. Congratulations!

    • Yeah. I might have gone overboard on the preparation. That’s what us bipolar people do. I was going to bed reciting my pitch and waking up reciting my pitch. I have a new appreciation for actors and actresses that have to memorize lines. I used to sleep with rapiers shooting across warps when I worked in a textile mill. Thanks for the congats!

  12. Wow! That’s incredible! I’m so happy for you, it sounds like you did great, well done! You show perfectly well that success can be had, but you have to WORK for it. Best of luck with the three manuscripts, this is such an exciting time for you. Hope you don’t have to wait too long. All the very best of luck!

    • Thanks, Ali! It’s been a week now and the rush of adrenaline is fading ever so slowly. I’m doing some reading and getting the house in order for marketing. I have a fleshed-out outline for book two, but it needs lots and lots of work. I’m now settling in for the next adventure. 🙂 The sooner I get back to that the better. 🙂

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