An Interview with Sue Coletta, author of Marred and Wings of Mayhem
(Quick opening note, leading to a postscript: If you are one of the Storyfix subscribers over the past few days, please make sure you read the important update at the end of today’s post. Thanks. For now… meet Sue Coletta).
I have to be honest, Sue Coletta discovered me before I found her. She surfaced as one of the most enthusiastic endorsers and gracious reviews of Story Engineering, and then — I suppose because she wanted to see if the author walked the talk — she went on to read and review all of my novels, and in a way that novelists hope but rarely experience. We’ve gone on to be friends, but frankly, she intimidates me. Because she’s done so much more for me than I’ve done for her. Which is not how I prefer the scales to tip when it comes to friends.
She’ll freak when she reads that, but it’s true.
Sue does everything right. She writers killer books — two of them, at this point — founded on a deep understanding of the deep craft of the crime novel. She writes “how-to” ebooks for her peers in the genre. Her website is… perfect. Her brand presence is what they term as exploding on all the usual venues, including a recent interview on The Kill Zone and Authorinterviews.com, among others. And she is a master of the writers tool chest, from publicity to the jungle of self-publishing to
And she’s willing to engage with serious authors and share everything she knows.
Yea, we should all be like Sue Coletta. But for now, let’s just hear what she has to say. Trust me, you’ll want more… be sure to click through her links in the bio below.
This is me in bold, with Sue’s responses following:
I see your name everywhere, it seems. How have you managed to create a “brand” with real visibility, and is that something other authors can do in a similar fashion?
Absolutely. Anyone can build their brand. All it takes is discipline, passion, and determination. When I first decided to crawl out of my writer’s cave and join the community I started a blog, and it remains the best thing I’ve ever done. I blog about my passion…crime. Over time I’ve focused my efforts on providing research for other crime writers. Things like, police procedures, forensic science advancements and protocols, crime writing tips, as well as flash fiction and true crime stories. The latter two I include for those in my audience who aren’t writers.
As far as social media goes, many authors advocate picking one or two sites and being active, rather than trying to spread yourself too thin. And for the most part, I agree. Unless you share a name with another author like I do. In which case you’ll have to work twice as hard. When I first set out to build my brand, this other Sue Coletta used to dominate Google’s search results. “Used to” being the key words there. J She is now somewhere around page 10 or 11. And it’s because I remain active on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, and LinkedIn. By the end of the summer I’m hoping to veer into YouTube, as well.
In order to be everywhere and still find time to write we need to plan our time wisely and stick to the schedule no matter what. Also, we need to be careful with our brand. That means, no losing our cool in public, no responding to bad reviews, even if they’re incorrect or it seems like the reviewer never read the book. Go for a walk (or a run, if you’re really ticked me off), then come back and turn the reviewer into a character and murdered them in unspeakable ways. Works for me!
My point is, we need to conduct ourselves as professionals at all times while still being genuine. Because once you tarnish your brand, it’s very difficult to erase the damage.
Your two novels seem to be doing well. Are you happy with where you are? What would you do differently, if you could?
LOL That’s a loaded question. I have such huge dreams. So, am I happy with where I am? Happy, yes. Content, no. I’m not sure I’ll ever be content. It’s what drives me. That said, I am comfortable with who I am as a writer.
What would I do differently, if I could? Hmm…for one, I’d study story structure much earlier. I spent years writing one novel after another that weren’t publishable. But I can’t really say that time was wasted because stumbling, getting back up and forging ahead brought me to where I am now. So I’m thankful for those early failures, rejections, and harsh critiques. It’s how we grow; it’s how we hone our craft.
You are an advocate of self-published authors, but yet, you aren’t one (where your novels are concerned). Do you work through an agent? If not, how did you land with your current publisher?
I don’t have an agent, no. And that’s okay with me, for now.
My current publisher, Crossroad Press, doesn’t normally accept unagented submissions. It was kind of strange how it all came about. Originally I had signed a contract for Wings of Mayhem with Marred’s publisher (a small press), but I had this overwhelming feeling that it wasn’t the right move. For months I struggled with what to do. Finally trusting my intuition, I bought back my rights one month before Wings of Mayhem was set to release. Bold move, I know, but I had to take a chance or I’d always wonder, what if?
Once my rights reverted I sent out queries to a handful of publishers. Then one day I was chatting with this girl on Twitter. I had no idea who she was until she invited me to submit to Harper Collins (she was the acquisitions editor). Which I did, even though she warned me that Wings of Mayhem wouldn’t release for a full year after acceptance. The more I thought about it, the more I feared I’d lose my audience if I kept my readers hanging. I liked the work Crossroad was doing, so I took a chance and reached out to them, never expecting that it would amount to anything. They were very clear about no unagented submissions. Anyway, rather than send a formal query I sent a friendly email introducing myself and leaving a link to my blog and social media. That afternoon they wrote back, with a contract for a three-book deal.
The moral of this story: always trust your gut.
How would you categorize your publisher? They’re not a “big-5” outfit — those seem to be largely inaccessible these days — so how it this experience different?
I’d categorize Crossroad as a medium-sized publisher. I say “medium” because unlike my first publisher, who is the epitome of a small press, they run the company as if they are a Big 5 outfit, by having an online store, publishing in every medium—audio, print, ebook—and helping an author’s overall career. They also pay for a lot of the marketing and are willing to do the legwork to get their authors into libraries and brick-and-mortar stores. With the average small press, after they demand more rights than they ever intend to use, and the book is available for sale, you’re on your own.
The difference in contract terms is vastly different, too. For example, with Crossroad I still own my characters, the setting, and several of my rights, including all subsidiary rights. Whereas with Marred, I don’t. They could sell the subsidiary rights and I’d never see a penny. And unfortunately, those terms aren’t unusual with small presses.
In your opinion, what should a self-published author do themselves, versus farm out (through Fiverr, for example)? How does a new author ramp-up to knowing what they need to know, both on the writing/storytelling side, and the manuscript prep and submission side?
Unless they’re a cover artist or want to take the time to learn Gimp, I’d encourage them to farm out their cover. There are so many bad covers out there. It’s a shame, really, because the cover is our number one marketing tool.
Secondly, hire an editor. Not only for a line edit but content edit, as well. We can’t see our own work. No one can. Lastly, if you’re a technophobe like someone we know (cough. Larry), it might be a good idea to farm out the formatting for at least the print version. Formatting for all the different book sites—for wider exposure authors should list their books with all book distributers, not just Amazon—will quickly drive you to drink.
As far as writing goes, study story structure, principals, and physics. It’s the most important thing you’ll ever learn. Read Story Engineering. You’ll be so glad you did. Another amazing craft book that I highly recommend is Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets Novelists Can Learn From Actors by Brandilyn Collins. It will help you grasp the finer details of writing, like your inner rhythm, emotion memory, subtext, and restraint and control.
What’s your writing process, and how did you end up there? What have you tried that perhaps didn’t work, and what have you discovered that does?
My writing process stems from years of studying craft books, but everything changed for me when I read Story Engineering. It was like someone flipped a switched, and I finally got it. All that I had learned fell into place while I devoured that book in one sitting. It was one of the most amazing days I’ve had as a writer. I’ll never forget dancing around my living room, high on craft.
Since then, I’ve planned my novels using an Excel spreadsheet based on the principals in Story Engineering, with a few milestones thrown in from James Scott Bell, like the Mirror Moment, and Save the Cat’s Dark Night of the Soul. I also use a notebook for characterization and index cards for scenes.
Early on, I pantsed four novels, all of which aren’t publishable without rewrites. They are now trunked.
What’s the most valuable piece of writing advice you’ve ever heard… where did you hear it… and how do you apply it?
“Competencies of storytelling aren’t your call, any more than you get to invent a new way to swing a golf club or take out a spleen. However you create your work, if you want to sell it, eventually it will need to align to these principals. The sooner it happens in the process, the better.” ~ Larry Brooks, Story Engineering
That quote slapped me with a reality I will never forget. And ever since, I would never even consider writing a novel, novella, or short story of any significant length without planning my story in advance. The only form I don’t plan is flash fiction, but even then, I’m thinking of the overall structure while I’m writing.
What’s next for you, near term and beyond?
I’m hoping to release Blessed Mayhem by late September/early October and Impaled and A Deadly Yearning by January. I’m also involved with a multi-author thriller that’s set to release this fall. I have a flash fiction piece, entitled Betrayed, which is set to release any day now in 100 Voices anthology, published by Allegiant. They’ve asked for a story for the 2nd edition, too, so I’m working on that. And I’m working on a short story for the dark fiction anthology, RUN, that releases Halloween day.
What would you say to the newer writer reading this, perhaps something you wish you had been told when you were staring into the abyss?
Eventually we all find our way, in our own time. But I’ll share a few things to keep in mind.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t achieve your dream, whatever that might be.
Dream big. Dream often. And never settle.
Persistence really does pay off.
Keep writing, keep studying, keep honing your craft. Your day will come. I promise. And someday, you’ll pass along the same advice.
A win for one is a win for us all.
Support your fellow writers…share their good news, pick them up when they fall, root for them, and inspire them every chance you get. The writing community is filled with so many awesome people who will do the same for you. That’s just how we roll.
Don’t measure your success by the success of others.
If you do, not only with self-doubt rear its ugly head but you’ll lose the forward momentum needed to stay motivated. Instead, set small-scale and large-scale goals. For example, a small-scale goal might be having a flash fiction piece accepted into an anthology to begin building up your publishing credits. A large-scale goal might be a featured story in Ellery Queen, or winning a notable literary award, or seeing your name at the top of the New York Times bestsellers list. If you think these goals are unrealistic, refer back to my first tip. Most of all, take the time to celebrate your achievements, no matter how small. You’re one step closer to your dream!
BIO: Member of MWA, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is always searching for new ways to commit murder…on the page. In her books—Wings of Mayhem, Marred, The Rendering, Crime Writer’s Research, and 60 Ways to Murder Your Characters—she offers an honest peek behind the crime scene tape. Sometimes that can be fascinating, other times it’s a frightening place. A multi-published author in numerous anthologies, Sue’s also published forensic articles in InSinC Quarterly. In addition to her popular crime resource blog, she’s the communications manager for the Serial Killer Project and Forensic Science, both groups founded by homicide detective (Ret.) and cold case expert, Joe Giacolone. And she’s the founder of #ACrimeChat on Twitter. To learn more about Sue, visit her website at: www.suecoletta.com. Or her Amazon author page: www.amazon.com/author/suecoletta
Chasing Bliss Update: had some WordPress problems yesterday, this tag didn’t post, after three tries. Strange. I didn’t get this via normal Feedburner distribution, which may have happened for you, as well.
Anyhow… if you’ve purchased Chasing Bliss over the past few days… first, thank you. If you’ve started reading, you may have noticed the book has a few more typos and little glitches than one should expect. My apologies for that, I hit the button too soon. All those fixes are in process, in preparation for the paperback (which comes out in about 12 days or so), and will be implemented in the Kindle, as well. Which means you can get the updated version on your Kindle.
How to do that? If you have Automatic Book Updates turned on (on your device), it’ll happen automatically. If you don’t… click HERE for a walk-through on how to do that (it’s pretty simple). Hope this makes you feel whole. Moreover, I hope the book is contributing toward your experience within your relationship. Sorry for any inconvenience.