AWP 2012 Panel Review: Women in Jeopardy – Crime Fiction

R141. Women in Jeopardy: Crime Fiction
With Jane Celland, Danielle Egan-Miler, Jamie Freveletti, Julie Hyzy, and Joanna MacKenzie

I don’t write crime fiction, but when I found out there was a “genre-focused” panel geared specifically at women writers, I wanted to go regardless of the specific topic. I’m glad I did. There were two agents and three authors on the panel,  and each had some interesting things to say on the topic.

The general idea of the panel was to discuss female crime fiction writers and their place in the industry since it seems to be a very male-dominated genre. But it was quickly apparent that women, though fairly absents from the genre, are taken just as seriously and get paid just as much as their male counterparts. Especially since thrillers (a sub-genre of “crime fiction”) is the one of the best selling type of fiction out there, second only to romance. This was good to hear! But discussion did eventually head toward the sub-genres of crime fiction that women are most frequently writing.

According to author Julie Hyzy and agents, Joanna MacKenzie and Danielle Egan-Miller, women are most frequently seen writing in the sub-genre called “Cozies” which are crime novels centered around a hobby or conceit, such as a ghost. They are traditionally very domestic without any explicit themes. These tend to be mysteries solved by the main character without any science, but with simply their own intellect. Although these have small advances and don’t usually become best-sellers, they are heavily dominated by women and sell very well in stores.

However, author Jamie Freveletti was able to make serious money off writing her thrillers, receiving advances just as high as male thriller writers.  Freveletti is proof that a women can do just fine in the boy’s club.

The women of the panel made a point to add that women should write in whatever genre they want, not the ones that they think will make the most money or be easier to sell. And that really goes for all types of writing, for any gender and any age. Writer what you want, worry about selling when you get an agent.

Eventually the panel, establishing that women can write whatever they want, began to dig into more general questions about the publishing industry.

When it comes to the question of e-publishing or self-publishing, agent Joanna MacKenzie said that ebooks can screw you if they doesn’t put your best foot forward. People will always be able to access that book. Potential agents and editor will always be able to see it online and if it has any mistakes, you will be judged for them. She also suggested that authors always try and go the traditional route first. If e-publishing is the only way to go, then go ahead, but always try traditional first since it’s very difficult to get an agent or a publisher after the book is already available to the masses via the internet.

There was also a lot of talk about advances on books after they are sold. The ways advances work is that when a publisher buys your book, you are sent a check, then you have to “earn out” and make back that money through book sales. The kinds of advancements in the industry typically follow the same guidelines:

  • a “nice deal” ranges from $1 to $49,000
  • a “very nice deal” ranges from $50,000 to $99,000
  • a “good deal” ranges from $100,000 to $250,000
  • a “significant deal” ranges from $251,000 to $499,000
  • a “major deal” ranges from $500,000 and up

But when it comes to thrillers, and this is probably true for many genres, if you don’t “earn out” and the publishers can’t make any money off you, then you essentially get black-listed in the thriller genre. No publishers will pick up any more of your books because you’ve essentially proven that you can’t sell the big numbers.

Another topic discussed at the panel was about writing strong female characters, which according to the panel, is not unlike writing strong male characters. To write these characters, the agents and authors agreed, it’s important to know what is at the core of the character and what is informing all of their actions. They shouldn’t always be the victim, but should be capable and fully actualized beyond their gender. And most importantly, you are trying to sell this strong woman to people who don’t always see women that way. Make them believe and you know you’ve nailed it.

One piece of general advice offered by the panel was to reserve your name on all social media networking sites, even if you don’t use them or if you aren’t published yet. It’s not bad to have those on hand for the future!

They also said that to get anything published, the material has to be “fresh, but familiar.”

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