PSWA 2011 Conference

I attended the Public Safety Writers Association 2011 Conference in Las Vegas this weekend. The attendees are not only authors of mystery, suspense, and thriller, many of them are also current and former law enforcement officers. Sitting among defense lawyers, prosecutors, retired military officers, firefighters, and others who really have lived to protect and serve this nation, I feel more than a little inadequate. These men and women are real heroes practicing the “Write what you know!” theory.

Listening to their stories, I don’t have much to offer. Secret Service. OSI. Undercover narcotics. Defense security contracts. These authors have material.

Writing requires a mix of life experiences and serious research. Readers of genres such as police procedurals and military fiction know the facts because so many have personal connections to law enforcement, the legal system, the military, et cetera. If you want to write in a particular genre, you need to immerse yourself in the culture, history, and technical details associated with the genre.

Because I’m on the road, I don’t have enough time to write reviews of the panel presentations. However, when I have a moment of peace and quiet, ideally sometime next week, I’ll write about what I learned (or was reminded of) during the discussions.

If you are interested in mystery, suspense, procedurals, military, or other public safety topics — fiction or non-fiction — consider learning more about PSWA. The website is:

Self-Publishing is the Future

I admit that I have long been skeptical of “self-publishing” in the print industry. The value of good editors and the supports provided to writers by traditional publishing houses is difficult to overstate. Yes, I realize the huge publishers are gatekeepers, selecting a handful of writers to promote, but they also have steady incomes from their backlist titles. This income stream allows good publishers the opportunity to fund and nurture promising talents.

We need a publishing industry, in my view. I cannot read thousands of books a year, but the army of acquisitions editors, working together, can and do read thousands of manuscripts. When a publishers decides to support a writer, there is some promise that the writer is good. I know some great talents are missed or turned away because of financial constraints, but the gatekeepers of popular imprints have done well for two centuries.

But, in the digital world I do see the important contributions being made by the self-publishing movement.

There are a few stories of bloggers signing book deals. These men and women do one thing that improves writing: they write and write and write. Blogging is self-publishing.

What is the difference between posting a blog and turning that content into an eBook? Nothing.

Aspiring writers can quickly and easily create an eBook. Placing a book on or takes a few days for many writers. You can upload a Microsoft Word file to some self-publishing websites. It doesn’t get much easier than emailing a Word file.

Self-published books are unlikely to sell millions or even thousands of copies. But what if your book is read by the right person? What if the self-published book leads to a traditional publishing house? I’ve met three writers who self-published a book only to later sell the rights to publishing houses.

Yes, self-publishing means you are your own marketing department. It also means you should consider hiring a good freelance editor and maybe a separate proofreader. I’d also hire an artist to create a great cover that looks fantastic at small sizes. You should admit to yourself that the book is likely an imperfect work, so paying for professional advice is a good investment.

I would not be surprised if in five years a third of books sold online are self-published. However, with hundreds of thousands of self-published books, most titles will sell only a few hundred copies. You need to stand out among the other self-published authors to attract publishing houses.

Don’t be afraid to consider self-publishing. It is the future.