Started in 2006 by Clay Stafford as a charitable project of his media company American Blackguard, Killer Nashville is a terrific meeting place for authors, agents, and fans. Its website calls it an “International Thriller, Mystery, Crime Literature Writers Conference held annually in downtown Nashville, TN.” The actual location is Franklin, 15 miles south of Nashville, in the frigidly air-conditioned Embassy Suites Hotel. We occupied most of the hotel’s 9 floors.
I’m not good at estimating crowd size, and I never discovered any official stats, but I’d guess we numbered about 300. That meant you could strike up a conversation with anybody wearing a nametag, and easily find them again (or not) later.
Clay Stafford’s opening speech reminded us that we were all there for the same reasons, starting with making contacts. So this was a notably friendly conference. I enjoyed chatting with my fellow Point of View panelists Kathleen Cosgrove, Charley Pearson, and the staggeringly prolific guest of honor Robert J. Randisi, as well as dozens of agents, authors, and fans who’d come from New York, San Diego, and points in between.
Randisi, who wrote a book set in Nashville called The Honky Tonk Big Hoss Boogie, received a Fender acoustic guitar as a farewell gift. So did guests of honor Janet Evanovich (left) and Kevin O’Brien (who was heard to mutter, “What am I supposed to do with this?”) Some 30 or 40 presentations were made at the gala closing buffet dinner, culminating in the Claymore Award for Best 50 Pages of a New Book. The spirit of fun and generosity that infused this conference also included a comic video, fabulous homemade cookies, spectacular chocolate cake, wonderfully dizzying glass elevators, and a mind-boggling array of panels, agent-author roundtables and evaluations, breakout sessions, and a daily breakfast and booze-&-schmooze so we could bookend each day by exchanging information and maybe even relaxing.
Among the useful tidbits I picked up:
- Literally millions of new books are published each year. In 2016, Amazon alone has been launching 5,000 books a day.
- “Cozy” is out; identify your genre as “mystery” or “amateur sleuth” instead.
- Agents currently tend to rank voice ahead of plot. Your query letter as well as your manuscript should display your voice. A fresh unique story also is key.
- Along with an introduction, synopsis, and bio, your query packet should include comps (other books in the same market niche as yours), identify your genre, and confirm that your ms. length matches what’s expected in that genre (i.e., what publishers’ marketing & manufacturing departments have determined is their ideal price point).
- All crime novels should fall between 65,000-120,000 words, preferably around 80,000. Amateur sleuth mysteries in particular should be under 100,000 words.
- Suspense should escalate from the first sentence, with a dead body or crime or highly alarming threat within the first chapter.
- Prologues are frowned upon. Italicized sections are out. Flashbacks are frowned upon, especially in the first few chapters. Short chapters are preferred.
- Agents try to respond to queries they want to follow up within a month or two. Those they don’t want to follow up, they may just ignore. Once they’ve received a requested full or partial ms., they’ll usually get back to you within 1-6 weeks.
- An agent may offer a ms. to a dozen or more publishers, all at once or in rounds. An editor should respond in about 6 weeks.
- It’s very hard for an agent to sell Book 2 in a series if Book 1 was indie published. If you want representation, you’re better off starting over with a new series.
- Your agent wants to see a ms. that’s as perfect as you can make it. Then she’s likely to edit it (often heavily) before sending it out to editors. If an editor accepts it, she’ll edit it again. That’s one reason the commercial publishing process takes so much longer than indie publishing.
- The other main reason is marketing. Your publisher expects to push your book for about 3 months. Preparation — e.g., sending out ARCs (advance review copies) — starts 4-8 months before your pub date. You may want to hire your own publicist to work with your publisher, to take full advantage of those 3 months in the spotlight.
Armed with all this, it’s back to the grindstone, AKA keyboard, and onward into the arena. Best wishes to everyone who took part!