Do men have a better chance at “literary success”?

An interesting editorial by Julianna Baggot in yesterdays’ Washington Post explores the phenomenon of literary awards and recognition being heaped overwhelmingly on male, and not female, writers:

I often hear people exclaiming that they’re astonished that a particular book was written by a man. They seem stunned by the notion that a man could write with emotional intelligence and honesty about our human frailties.

Women, on the other hand, are supposed to be experts on emotion. I’ve never heard anyone remark that they were surprised that a book of psychological depth was written by a woman.

So men get points for simply showing up on the page with a literary effort.

What’s interesting, however, in the Publishers Weekly list is that the books are not only written by men but also have male themes, overwhelmingly. In fact, the list flashes like a slide show of the terrain I was trying to cover in my graduate thesis, when I wrote all things manly — war, boyhood, adventure.

Playwright Julia Jordan pointed me toward a recent study about perceptions of male and female playwrights that showed that plays with female protagonists were the most devalued in blind readings. “The exact same play that had a female protagonist was rated far higher when the readers thought it had a male author,” Jordan said. “In fact, one of the questions on the blind survey was about the characters ‘likability,’and the exact same female character, same lines, same pagination, when written by a man was exceeding likable, when written by a woman was deemed extremely unlikable.”

That men scoop up most writing awards is pretty apparent. But the question I’d like to ask (and don’t know the answer to) is: Which gender makes more money at novel writing? My suspicion is that women novelists do better, because we write in more popular genres (romance and mystery), and because fiction readers are more likely to be women.

Does anyone know?

Awards are nice. But honestly? I’d rather be more widely read, and well compensated for it!

Selling your book — before it comes out

My new book ICE COLD / THE KILLING PLACE won’t be published for another seven months, but already I’ve been working on promoting it. In the old days, authors could leave all the marketing up to the publisher, but nowadays authors are shouldering more and more of the burden. There are a few things I do for every new release, and while I’m not sure how much they actually contribute to book sales, I do feel these are useful and relatively inexpensive ways to promote your new title.

First, bookmarks. Some of you may sigh and think, “how boring.” But I offer my readers a chance to get free signed bookmarks, if they’ll just send me a self-addressed stamped envelope. If a bookstore or library requests bulk numbers, I’ll mail them free of charge. What I love about bookmarks is how much information I can fit onto them — not only the cover and synopsis of my current title, but also a complete list of all my titles. I carry bundles of them with me to booksignings or speaking engagements, and whenever anyone asks for the order of the Jane Rizzoli series, I can simply point to the list on the bookmark. True, many of these giveaways probably just end up in the trash. But I don’t mail anything unsolicited, so I hope that if a reader takes the trouble to request it, that she’ll actually keep them around and look at it.

This time, I’m ordering two separate versions of the bookmarks, one for the US market and the second for the UK market, because the book will have different titles and covers on either side of the Atlantic. My UK readers can’t use the SASE option for requesting bookmarks (because it requires US postage stamps for me to return them), but again, if a library or bookstore requests bulk numbers, I will pay for the postage. Plus, I’ll bring bundles of them to hand out if I visit the UK this coming summer.

How many do I order? For THE KEEPSAKE, I ordered 7500. It sounds like a huge number, but I’ve given away almost all of them. And the company I use to print them offers incredibly reasonable rates. If you’d like to see just how economical it can be, pay a visit to www.earthlycharms.com. They specialize in promotional items for authors.

Another little giveaway I’ve used is signed bookplates. I think these are particularly good to mail out to bookstores/readers because there’s really only one good use for a signed bookplate — and that’s to paste it into a book by that same author. Which means someone has to purchase the book. These only get sent if a reader requests them with an SASE. I think unsolicited mailings are a waste of postage, which is why I don’t send out promotional postcards.

And this year, once again, I’m going to splurge on a book video. Yes, I know there’s some debate about whether these are worth the investment. I myself haven’t decided. But I was impressed by how many times the THE KEEPSAKE book video was viewed, and several of my foreign publishers used the video to promote the book in their own countries. For them, it was a quick and inexpensive marketing tool — all they had to do was dub in their own language, or add subtitles. I’ve already written a two-minute script, and the same young directors who shot my last video will be doing this one as well. Assuming they can find a few snowy days in which to film.

As the date of release gets closer, of course there’ll be online promotions, some of it arranged by my publisher. But at this early stage, it doesn’t hurt to be thinking of what I myself can be doing now, as well as months down the line.

re-entering life

It’s a weird feeling, finishing a manuscript. For the past few months, my every waking moment was overshadowed by anxiety about finishing my next book. I worked seven days a week, and into the nights. I practically lived in my office, scarcely stepping out of the house. I let the email pile up. I didn’t write any Christmas cards. Any holiday shopping I did do was while sitting at my computer screen (thank you, Amazon, for being a one-stop shopping mall for everything from bread makers to telescopes!)

Then, last week, after completing the fourth draft of ICE COLD, I finally got up the courage to press “send”. For better or worse, off it went to editor and agent. It was only one day late.

For the rest of the day, I wandered around the house feeling lost. I cleared piles of papers off my desktop and discovered unopened mail from seven months ago. (“Sorry for the tardy reply” sounds pretty lame at this late date.) I tackled the emails in my in-box. I invited my mom for dinner. I finally wrote Christmas cards. I watched some mindless TV. Mostly, I just felt relieved.

Writing can be a schizophrenic existence. There’s life “before delivery” and “after delivery”.

But that’s only true for some writers. Last weekend, I attended a party with a very successful novelist who seemed puzzled that I would feel any writing pressure. He’d never experienced deadline hell. He didn’t understand why I’d feel so frantic about delivering my manuscript on time. For him, writing isn’t a panic-stricken process of creating with one eye on the calendar. That’s because he doesn’t have deadlines. He writes literary fiction and his publisher allows him to take as long as he needs to to complete his novel. If it takes five years, that’s okay with them.

Genre writers can’t enjoy that relaxed schedule because most commercial publishers want their authors to turn in a book a year. It’s hard to build a successful career as a thriller author if you only turn out a book every few years. Even though I envy that literary author his relaxed schedule, I know that my ability to be (relatively) fast and prolific is one of the reasons for my success. Even if it does mean life sometimes gets frantic.

The cover designs are in!

Thought you’d like an advance peek at the cover designs for my next Rizzoli and Isles thriller. It’s the same book, but it will be published with different titles, depending on whether you buy it in the US or in the UK.

In the US, the title will be ICE COLD:

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And in the UK, the title will be THE KILLING PLACE:

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Either way you look at it, the book looks scary!

Doing it

I just turned in my latest manuscript (my 22nd!), so I’m feeling a bit adrift today. Thought I’d address an emailed query that I received recently, because it addresses exactly what my brain has been so thoroughly occupied with over the past few months — writing, and finishing, a book.

A reader/writer asks:

I was wondering if you would discuss on your blog what your process is, from starting a book through your final edits. Do you write a certain number of words per day? Do you write your books straight through, or do you skip around? Do you put it away for a while after you finish your first draft?

The writing process is something every writer evolves on her own. After having completed this 22 times, I’ve grown to learn what works for me.

First, above all, comes the idea. It’s amazing how often aspiring authors tell me they’ve got a great idea for a novel, and my reaction to it is “ho-hum.” Great ideas aren’t easy to come up with. Just saying “my book is about sex trafficking of Russian girls” isn’t really what launched VANISH. What really launched it was the idea that Jane Rizzoli is in labor and gets taken hostage. The sex trafficking angle occurred to me later. Notice where I found the excitement — in the predicament of the character, not in the machinations of the plot.

For my most recent book, ICE COLD (THE KILLING PLACE in the UK), the idea I had was this: Maura gets trapped during a snowstorm in a remote Wyoming village where everyone has vanished, leaving behind dead pets and uneaten meals. The explanation for why it happened is where the plot takes her, but the thing that really grabbed me was the idea of being trapped. In a blizzard. And every attempt at escape ends up in worsening horror.

So my number one piece of advice for a writer is, find an idea that focuses on a character’s predicament. Not on generalized concepts like sex trafficking or serial killers or global catastrophe. Start your story in a very personal place, with a character who is facing a crisis.

Once you’ve got that, your story will follow what happens to that person. My next job is to find out why is it happening? Maura’s in a weird little town, trying to get out, and she doesn’t understand what happened there. That’s where the plot and detective work comes in. What clues will she find? What worse things will happen? And meanwhile, how will Jane Rizzoli try to find her missing friend?

During my first draft phase, I try to write about four pages a day. I know that I’ll get through a first draft in about eight months, on that schedule. I don’t stop to revise — I just forge ahead, through thick and thin, and through some really rough work. Some of it is horrible. That’s okay — I’ll come back and fix those scenes. Since I don’t outline ahead of time, I don’t always know the solution to the mystery. So I’ll wander in the wilderness along with my characters, until I get about 2/3 of the way through and I’ll be forced to find answers. And then I can finally write to the end.

May I repeat: I don’t stop to revise during the first draft. Because it’s all going to be changed anyway, when I finally figure out what the book is about.

The second draft is pure hell. It involves going back, seeing how horrible the first draft is, and re-writing the entire thing. But by then, I know where the story is going. I know where the solution lies, and I know who my secondary characters are.

The third draft starts to look a little better. Here’s where I try to hone the logic and the motivations, where I try to make the dialogue more subtle. My first draft dialogue tends to fall like a sledgehammer. Characters say exaggerated things, or have exaggerated responses. That’s because I’m painting with broad strokes, just to help define the emotions. The later drafts are about keeping those emotions intact, but allowing the characters to express them in less overt ways.

When I finally get to around draft four or five, I don’t let it sit around and season, because I’m usually bumping up against a deadline. Besides, by then I’m sick of the whole thing and don’t want to look at it again. So, for better or worse, it usually goes off to the editor. And then comes the wait as she comes up with the editorial letter suggesting changes.

Every book is different. Every book has given me high anxiety. Every book has been agony to write, and has made me question why I’m in this profession.

Keeping the Dead (The Keepsake) on “best of 2009” list

The UK Independent has included KEEPING THE DEAD (US title: THE KEEPSAKE) in its list of “Best genre fiction of 2009.”

In a list that includes books by Stephen King, Ian Rankin, Stieg Larsson and Jeffrey Deaver:

“KEEPING THE DEAD by Tess Gerritsen and Sophie Hannah’s THE OTHER HALF LIVES are spectacularly gory and utterly gripping in equal measure. Gerritsen uses her considerable medical expertise to focus on CSI-style autopsies and a centuries-old victim…

“It’s easy to complain that the market’s getting smaller, but a look at their novels makes it obvious why these authors are doing so well; each excels at either plot or character, and often both.”

Readers: help name that TV show!

“Rizzoli” is the working title of the pilot TV show that’s now in production. But it’s not the final title, and no one has yet come up with a catchy alternative. I myself am hoping it will be “Rizzoli and Isles,” in the spirit of “Cagney and Lacey.”

Do you readers have any ideas? I’d love to hear them!

On the set with “Rizzoli”


I spent Tuesday and Wednesday star-struck. And who can blame me? There I was on a film set, hanging out with Angie Harmon (Rizzoli), Sasha Alexander (Maura), and writer/executive producer Janet Tamaro. I was there to watch them shoot the TV pilot of “Rizzoli,” which is based on the characters from my crime series.

I have long heard that filmmakers think novelists are troublesome and they don’t want them hanging around during filming. But as soon as I arrived, the whole cast and crew couldn’t have been more welcoming. When the First Assistant Director announced to everyone, “We have the author on the set today,” the crew broke out in applause.

I’d never been to a film set before, and I was overwhelmed by the sheer scale of it all.

Here’s a view of some of the trucks parked on the street. They were filming in a private residence, which they’d rented as the location for a crime scene, and a lot of effort went into protecting the interiors of the house from being damaged by camera equipment. The walls, floor, and furniture were protected by cardboard and bubble wrap. The property was so large that they were using a different part of the house as Maura’s residence, and yet a third area as a funeral parlor. The house is in Hancock Park, a very nice section of Los Angeles, and the neighbors must have felt like they were being invaded by an army. Imagine looking out your window and seeing this parked outside on the street:

(Not to mention the three fake “Boston PD” cruisers” parked nearby!)

I was impressed by the sheer number of people involved in a film shoot. It really is an army. At one time, I counted sixty people bustling about. Here’s what the “crime scene” looked like between takes, and it shows just a fraction of the crew involved.

As the locations manager told me, “if you wanted to plan a military invasion of a foreign country, you wouldn’t go wrong hiring a Hollywood crew to coordinate things for you!”


The director Michael Robin (above), seemed delighted to have me there, and he’d often turn to me after a take and ask, “Is that how you envisioned this scene?” The work is painstaking and exhausting, and the film crew works a full six hours before they break for what they call “lunch” — even though “Lunch” may be at 4 PM. Then they come back for yet another long stretch. Each scene requires multiple takes, and it took them about seven hours to finish filming what will probably end up as only three minutes in the show.

(I confess: after only four hours, my husband and I wimped out and left the set for lunch and a break. When we got back, the crew was still at it. And they went on to film late into the night. By which time, I was already in bed in my hotel room!)

Not only did I get to meet the actors, including Bruce McGill (Korsak), Lee Thompson Young (Barry Frost) …

… and Billy Burke (Gabriel Dean), here with Director Michael Robin…

I also got to hang out with some of the many other people on the set. One of them turned out to be from Boston.

Detective Russ Grant — a real homicide detective, not just an actor! — flew out from Boston to be a consultant on the set, and to advise the actors how to approach a crime scene. He noted, with some amusement, that Hollywood crime scenes have about ten times more personnel than real detectives would ever get to assist them — and far better lighting, too! We both laughed about this as we stood outside in the front yard. It was after dark, but the film set’s lighting blared down so brightly it was like daylight.

Greg Varela was the medic on the set, and he told me about some of the situations he’s had to deal with during his career in the film industry. He’s attended everything from sprained backs to cardiac arrests to amputations. The equipment is heavy and potentially dangerous, and he said that knees and backs give out early in this business. “A lot of these people live on Advil,” he noted.

Because it’s a film set, you just never know who — or what — you’re going to find sitting off in a corner.

Here’s actor Dwayne Standridge, a man of immense patience, who spent many cold hours in his underwear, playing a corpse. But even corpses need to take a break every so often!

the road to hollywood

Read all about how the TV pilot “Rizzoli” came to be. It’s posted over on Murderati.com.