A lot of years ago, and stop me if I’ve told this story before, a friend sent me a postcard of a painting which depicted a woman wearing three hats. I was that woman, said the accompanying note: mother, teacher, writer were the hats I wore.
I teach only rarely these days. I’m still a mother, but not in the close-up, hands-on way I was then. Only the writer is there in any time-consuming way, and that’s a whole other blog post, which I may write next week if nothing happens in the meantime, which it probably won’t; it is August, after all.
But it occurred to me as I took my morning health-and-weight-loss walk the other morning (the 5-2 diet is working, thanks for asking; slowly, but we’re getting there) that in the course of a ftymumble-year career I’ve worn a lot more than three hats. In fact, in a way, I suppose I’ve filled most of the slots in the Dead Guy brief.
Mystery writing from page to bookshelf; wasn’t that the original summary of what this blog is all about? Writer > agent > publisher > editor > publicist > reviewer > bookseller/librarian.
OK. Let’s see how I fit into that.
I started out as a writer. None of the novels languishing in the cupboard at the other end of the room qualifies as a mystery, but there are distinct thriller elements to one, and extensive notes on the first version of another, in response to one agent’s comment: ‘I kept expecting a body at the bottom of the stairs and Inspector Morse (American translation: Columbo) to walk in.’ I may yet work on that. See that other blog post mentioned above, if I get around to writing it.
I’ve never been an agent, though a senior figure in publishing did once say that since one of my strengths seemed to be spotting the occasional diamond in the slush pile, maybe it was something I should consider.
I was a publisher of crime and mystery novels for more than seven years, and have the backlist to prove it, so I certainly qualify there. In fact, if memory serves, that was the slot I was invited to fill when I received Jeff Cohen’s extremely flattering e-mail back in 2007.
And since my publishing house was essentially a one-person operation, and I was the one person (though I did have a lot of help from freelances who did the bits I couldn’t, and picked up the slack when I ran out of time), editor and publicist were two roles I quickly found myself adopting. Editing I had some experience of, but I was a stranger in a foreign land when it came to marketing and publicity. Then again, having read Josh’s post, I now find that most people in the book trade feel like that. And it was a great source of chagrin that the books I believed in most strongly, and really thought would succeed, weren’t necessarily the ones which caught the bookbuying public’s eye. (Note to Josh: Typepad threw another wobbly when I tried to post a comment this morning. It said if you ever learn the secret of successful book marketing, bottle it and sell it; publishers, agents and authors will queue at your door, and you’ll make your fortune.)
And so to reviewing. This is a role I’ve taken up in the last few months. I review for just one e-zine, Mystery People (www.mysterypeople.co.uk) and I love it! I get to read books I wouldn’t otherwise have discovered, and so far there haven’t been many I didn’t enjoy. I’m open to offers, if any other publication, e or print, has a reviewer slot they need to fill.
And finally, bookselling. (I’m not a librarian. That’s a specialism I never explored, though I did go through a phase of wanting to be one when I was about ten. I think it was the thought, even then, of spending my days surrounded by books. Bliss.) I’m certainly not a bookseller in the way Marilyn Thiele or Robin Agnew are booksellers – but I have sold the books I published at festivals, book fairs and events. Marilyn would call it hand-selling, and I’m sure it plays only a small part in running an entire shop as she does, but I suspect it’s one of the most enjoyable parts. Chatting to the customer, finding out what they like to read, who their favourite authors are, and guiding them to something different which they may enjoy too: it’s tiring, by mid-afternoon your feet hurt and your voice is a barely audible croak, but you end the day with a smile on your face.
There you have it. My life, or at least my hatbox, in a nutshell. And it’s all about books. No surprise there, then.