Claire Johnson interview with David Alan Binder

Post date: Jun 10, 2016 1:14:25 PM

Claire Johnson interview with David Alan Binder

Bio from her website: Claire M. Johnson graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a B.A. in history. Upon applying to graduate school for a PhD in history, she received a letter congratulating her upon being accepted, and, by the way, academic positions were thin on the ground, as in none. Switching gears, she indulged in a lifelong passion for making and eating desserts. After completing the professional chef program at San Francisco's California Culinary Academy in 1983, she worked as a pastry chef for eight years during the height of the food revolution. The passion and frenzied pace characterizing the food scene in the 1980s are well documented in Ms. Johnson's first novel, Beat Until Stiff, for which she won the 1999 Domestic Writers Grant. This book was nominated for an Agatha for Best First Novel and was a Booksense pick. The second novel in this series, Roux Morgue, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

Pen and Prejudice is not a classic mystery, but a pastiche of the brilliant Jane Austen classic Pride and Prejudice. Instead of our saucy heroine and arrogant suitor waging a verbal war in the drawing rooms and ballrooms of the nineteeth century, this novel transplants them to the present day and has them verbally sparring at various mystery conferences on the circuit. It is available as both an e-book and a trade paperback.

Roux Morgue "Food Channel addicts will enjoy the inside details on cooling school politics, while fans of quirky mysteries will like the outrageous adult behavior on display." --Library Journal

"...highly amusing action in Johnson's superior second cosy to feature funky pastry chef Mary Ryan... This enjoyable romp should gain Johnson new fans." --Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Sexual tension, cooking tips, and a neatly package mystery. All in all, a tasty tale." --Kirkus Reviews

Her Blog:

1. Where are you currently living?

Northern California

2. What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?

That there will be people who don’t like your writing. You can hit it out of the park every time with everyone. If you get a majority who like your writing, take that and run with it. Don’t bash yourself to bits by the people who trash your writing. Revel in the people who do.

3. What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?

I’m not really a quirky person. What I have learned in that every writer I know approaches the process differently. Some writers do very involved outlines, some just jot down a few ideas and take it from there. I always have a beginning and an end. The middle can be squishy in that it can move around a bit. But the beginning and the end never change. This tends to keep me in focus and not get distracted by shiny ideas that don’t move my story forward.

4. Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?

I have published with a traditional publisher and I have self-published. If you are a social media guru, self-publishing can work for you in a big way. If you loath self-promotion like I do, then it’s an uphill climb. If you do decide to self-publish, then I would suggest picking a niche that you can exploit. I wrote a novel that is a pastiche of the novel, Pride and Prejudice, titled Pen and Prejudice. I set the book in the mystery publishing world in which I have a tiny presence. But I capitalized on the popularity of Jane Austen knock offs. I didn’t sell a million of them, but I did sell some, and most of my sales came from Janites. Find a niche. If you a crafter, then that’s a market that is huge. If you are a gardener, then pitch to that market. See if your local nursery will let you set up a display of books.

Traditional publishing? That market right now is in such upheaval, I can’t possibly offer any good or even relevant advice. What I do know is that it’s 500% more difficult to find an agent and 1000% to get something published than it was when I first tried to enter the market. No one seems to be accepting non-agented manuscripts, and it’s very difficult to find an agent.

a. Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they?

Poisoned Pen Press, Scottsdale Arizona. They are a mystery publisher.

5. Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?

Amazon basically killed the bookstore market, but it’s coming back, albeit nowhere near the level it was pre-amazon. Even amazon is opening a brick and mortar store. The eBook market has stabilized and its increase among sales seems to have plateaued. I tend to read paper because I think you have a much deeper read on paper. I am a professional editor and for my final draft of any manuscript, I have to print it out for that final run through because I always miss things on the screen. I think it’s a physical thing. Your eyes get tired from the light and just turn off a wee bit. That process doesn’t happen as readily with paper. So for books that are quick beach reads, like my novels, I think that an e-Reader is great. I never read non-fiction on a reader. They work and are an important subset of the reading market. My mother now reads on a Kindle because she has macular degeneration and can bump up the font. Basically for books that I think I’ll want to keep, I buy paper. For books that I want to entertain me, I will buy an eBook. Essentially, I think the eBook market is what the mass market paperback was to the reading public.

6. Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?

(1) Spring for an professional editor before you start shopping your book. If your manuscript contains typos, you will lose that opportunity even if you have written a stunning book. (2) Make your beginning as exciting as possible. The first ten pages are key. This is probably the most important tip. We have become a nation of “fast food” readers. We want the beginning to grab us. A lumpy middle can be fixed. But if your book opens with a ho-hum beginning and you have a superb middle and end, they’ll never get there. (3) Invest in setting up a professional website and professional photographer even before you’ve published anything. This says you’re serious and not writing as a hobby. I’m not keen on blogs anymore. I think we are too inundated with information and that unless you have a sizeable market already, they are, IMO, pointless. (4) Get savvy with social media. You should have as an minimum a Facebook account, a twitter account, and a website. You can’t constantly bombard your friends, etc., with requests to buy your books, so you have to create an author persona on these sites. You can’t use them as merely tools to sell your material. You need to sell yourself. The reading public now wants to know authors. I don’t like this trend, but it’s real and something you have to seriously consider.

7. How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent? Any tips for new writers on getting one?

(1) Find your niche—mine is mystery—and start attending conventions that focus on that genre. I think it’s very difficult for general fiction writers and much easier for genre writers to break into the market. Most conventions have meet and greet the agent panels. (2) Join industry groups: for mystery writers it’s Mystery Writers of America or Sisters in Crime, which are the two largest trade organizations for mystery writers.

I think it very difficult to cold case an agent with manuscripts but it can be done. There are several publications/websites out there that list agents that are accepting manuscript for review and also those agents to avoid.

8. Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)?

The best advice I can give is, ala Cheryl Strayed, write like a motherfucker. The most important aspect of you as a writer is your voice. Once you develop your voice, then the writing has something to hang its plot, characterization, and pacing on. It’s the gas that feeds the engine. Some people just have their voice right off the bat. Lucky them. Others of us just have to write a ton and find it slowly come together the more we write.

9. What was one of the most surprising things you learned your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?

That it evolves over time and that it gets harder the better a writer you become. Now I can see the flaws but they are harder to fix, and I am a much harder self-critic.

10. How many books have you written?

Three. I am shopping a fourth and am working on my fifth.

11. Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be as specific and information as you possibly can)?

Write a lot. The more you write, the more apparent your rhythm will be to you. Even writer has a beat to their writing, a pulse, if you will. By developing a beat-language has a rhythm—you carry the reader along YOUR beat. Study writers you like, the writers you love, and dissect what their beat is. What is it about their story that carries their story forward.

12. Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?

Take the reader out of their comfort zone. For me the most perfect example I can think of is Stephen King’s use of topiary animals in his book The Shining. I first read that over 30 years ago and I STILL cannot walk by a topiary animal without looking back over my shoulder. Take the mundane and make it terrifying. The child with a gun, the old lady with a switchblade.

13. What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?

Again, this comes back to voice. Again, you have to understand that while some people (perhaps a lot of people) will love your voice, a lot of people won’t. But your voice is unique and once you hone it, then it becomes your signature.

14. What are some ways in which you promote your work?

Like I said above, Facebook and twitter are the current modes of selling one’s self. I find that very difficult personally but the people who are good at it sell books. I was on a panel at Left Coast Crime with a bunch of people who were self-publishing and I was the poster child on what not to do! But it’s a digital world. Those six degrees of separation are KEY to marketing yourself. I happen to suck at self-promotion, but if you’re good at it, you go!

15. What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?

These days it’s key to keep writing. I had a big hiatus between the publication of my first and second book. That’s a death knell. If you can publish at least a book a year, you’re doing well. This is also key for the self-publishing market. Those writers making a killing on self-publishing are the ones churning out a book every four months. That doesn’t say that they are well written books, but it’s a fact these days that there is so many books available on both the legacy and self-publishing market that you need to keep your “product” front and center. And the only way to do that is by refreshing your brand on a consistent basis.

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