Friday, March 25, 2016

Who Does Best as an Indie Author, Why Write Funny Mysteries and More!

Anne Talks with Debbie A. McClure

This is a conversation I had with Canadian author and motivational speaker Debbie A. McClure on her blog last summer It was really fun to talk with her. It's interesting to see how well (badly) I predicted what the next six months would be like. Ha!  


Debbie A. McClure
You combine comedy with mystery writing. That can't be easy, or is it? What is the easiest and/or most difficult aspect to writing this type of book?


Actually, what's hard for me is taking the comedy out of my writing. I find humor in everything. Always have. When I was about seven, I used to put on puppet shows in my backyard. Lots of carnage. Lots of laughs. I was a twisted kid. LOL.

When I try to write "heartfelt" and deeply emotional stuff, it falls flat. I like fast-paced stories that are fun, but leave you with something to think about later.

Mysteries were an obvious choice for me. I've been a mystery fan since I read my first Nancy Drew book, and since then I've read all the classics: pretty much everything by Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey, Chandler, Hammett, etc. I've written a few books that aren't standard whodunnits, but they always have a mystery element. I think I like the structure involved with the mystery genre.

My newest novel, So Much for Buckingham, is the 5th in my Camilla Randall series of comedy-mysteries. It deals with some major issues: cyberbullying and character assassination. I also delve into the mystery of whether Richard III really killed the princes in the Tower. (I don't think he did.) Camilla's best friend is accused of killing an historical re-enactor dressed as the Duke of Buckingham. The only witness is apparently the ghost of Richard III. I hope people will find it funny and thought provoking.

Book #4, No Place Like Home, deals with homelessness and "bag lady syndrome"—the fear many older women have of ending up homeless.

Because I write funny mysteries, I get to deal with these issues in an unsentimental, detached way that examines all sides and still provides a lot of entertainment.


Many writers today struggle with how to fit into this new e-landscape we're seeing. What advice would you give to someone just starting out?


Number one: let go of the idea that paper books are the only "real" publishing. Most authors now make the bulk of their money from ebooks.

Also, accept social media as a necessary evil and then find aspects you can enjoy. For me, it's blogging. Every author needs to find a place online where they can interact and make friends. That's where we find readers and mentors—and maybe an agent and publisher.

I'd also add this advice to new writers: don't believe everything you read online. Lots of the publishing advice on the internet is old, misguided, or just plain wrong. Always consider the source and read widely.


Who has been your greatest life or business mentor, and why?


I'm very lucky that I made friends with my California Central Coast neighbor  Catherine Ryan Hyde (author of Pay it Forward and Amazon superstar) early in my career. She has been an inspiration and mentor to me for the last two decades. She's an amazing human being. I am so blessed that she agreed to co-write a handbook for writers with me: How to be a Writer in the E-Age: A Self-Help Guide.

Her ups and downs over the last twenty years have shown me that there is no certainty in this business, and you need to keep in touch with your readers and stay true to your voice no matter what.


 You and I are both representatives of the "Boomer" generation. What advantages would you say we have over our mother's and grandmother's generations?


Oh, there are so many! Tech alone has totally changed the process. I started writing in the days of typewriter ribbons and carbons, and younger people don't realize how time consuming all that stuff was. No cut and paste. One typo and you had to start the page over with a carbon.

And now we have email queries. I still have some of those old nesting boxes we used to send out our manuscripts with postage for return. Expensive! Plus all that postage …

And of course there's the fact women have so much more freedom and respect than they did in the early and mid-20th century.

As an unmarried female, I'm not expected to live with other family members as their live-in servant, the way "old maids", divorcees, and widows did in my grandmother's day.

Even my mother had to fight hard for respect, even though she had an Ivy League PhD. in English literature. People accept me as an authority because of what I say, not my gender. That's such a huge thing that younger women take for granted.


Writing is far more difficult than most people understand. Was there anything in your past professions as an actress and/or stage director that helped prepare you for this role of writer?


Acting and directing are great preparation for a novelist! As an actor, you learn you always need motivation for whatever action you take on stage. A novelist needs to remember that even the most minor characters need to have a goal and a purpose in every scene.
Anne as the evil queen in "Pippin"

As a director, I learned what short attention spans audiences have, and how to keep up the pace and never let up. The immediate feedback of rapt attention and laughter vs. coughing, rustling programs, and trips to the restroom lets a director know what works and what doesn't.


What would you say has been the most difficult personal lesson for you to learn in life?


I used to be way too trusting and giving. When I was younger, I always assumed everybody had honest, altruistic motives the way I did. That was childish. I've had to learn that accepting people as they present themselves can lead to grief. Learning to recognize narcissists and sociopaths and avoid letting them dominate my life has been a huge (and tough) life lesson for me. 

But I've had so much fun killing them off in my novels! LOL. My novel The Gatsby Game was inspired by a narcissistic ex-lover whose death is still a real-life Hollywood mystery.

Also, I've had to accept that I have more highly tuned senses than most people, so I can easily get over-stimulated—which leads to health problems. So I can't push myself past my limits with things like NaNoWriMo, big conferences, or marathon book tours.

Learning that I'm a "highly sensitive person" has finally allowed me to learn to say no to overload and overwhelming situations.

(Update: Haha! I failed to follow my own advice and did the overload thing, big time--see my update below.)


What do you see as the future for publishing and the new e-technology, and why?


Obviously the e-reader has changed the publishing industry in a major way, and the changes keep coming.

I'd like to believe the publishing industry won't go the way of the music business, where everything is expected to be free and people think artists shouldn't be paid. Definitely the new paradigm has led to a lower bottom line for most traditional authors.

It has also given rise to the self-publishing movement, which is great for a lot of authors, and I've even self-published some of my own books.

But the "Kindle gold rush" is over, and lots of amateur writers who hoped to make millions are giving up. Kindle Unlimited has cut into the self-publishing bottom line in a major way for a lot of us.

Most self-publishers need to spread a wide net on many retailers in many countries in order to continue to thrive

Things will never return to "business as usual" pre-Kindle days, but we also can't party like it's 2009. Self-publishing will continue to be a viable option, but only the savvy and hard-working will make a living at it.

I think bookstores will continue to exist, the way movie theatres do, in spite of Netflix, Hulu and other streaming sites. People like the whole experience of visiting a bookstore.


You've collaborated on two projects now, one with author Catherine Ryan Hyde, and one with NYT million-seller author, Ruth Harris. Can you tell us a little about them, and what you feel are the advantages of writers partnering?


I collaborate with Ruth on our blog, but we don't actually write together. Ruth writes her own posts once a month. I don't have much input into her posts, except to catch the occasional typo (which she does for me, too.) She always comes up with great topics. It's been a very friendly and smooth-running partnership. 
Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris
The book I co-authored with Amazon superstar Catherine Ryan Hyde, How To Be A Writer In The E-Age, came together very easily because it was a nonfiction book and we wrote alternate chapters. We were already good friends, so it was a great experience.

I've also worked with other novelists on boxed sets and anthologies, and we worked a lot on co-promotion. These were fantastic opportunities to network with other authors in my genre and meet new readers. I think authors should jump on any chance to collaborate with other authors in boxed sets and other co-promotions. It's a fantastic way to expand your readership.


Blogging has become something more writers are discovering, but often struggle with how to create a "voice"or meaningful content. What recommendations would you give to writers just starting out on this blogging path?


Actually, I'm writing a book the subject. Because I've managed to build a very successful blog, averaging about 90,000 hits a month, with nearly 4000 subscribers, I think I am uniquely qualified to help new authors build a blog. (update: I'm referring to my other blog, Anne R. Allen's Blog with Ruth Harris here.) 

The most important thing to remember about blogs is that they are part of social media, and social media is, well, social. So authors need to interact and respond to comments, as well as visit and comment on other blogs.

A good way to find your voice is to pay attention to how you comment on other blogs. Use that voice on your own. Don't preach, brag, or condescend. Just chat. Treat people as if they're visitors in your living room.


What are your thoughts on the traditional vs self-publishing debate so prevalent in our industry right now?


I don't think all authors are cut out to self-publish. It's very hard to make the big time if you're starting to self-publish right now and you've never been published before.

The days of breakout Amazon stars like Hugh Howey are pretty much over because Amazon's algorithms no longer favor indies, and Kindle Unlimited has drastically reduced royalties. It's also hard to get traction on other retailers like iTunes and GooglePlay if you're an indie.
Should everybody self-publish?

But self-publishing is fantastic for established midlist authors who are tired of the games Big Publishing plays, or who want to supplement their income with novellas and stories between "big books."

I would recommend that non-tech-savvy writers try for traditional publishing first, especially if they write literary fiction or children's lit—which sell better in brick and mortar stores.

I don't know of any literary writer who has an exclusively indie career that has taken off. I think that's because literary readers mostly depend on reviews in established print magazines.

And children's books (except for YA) don't sell as well in e-books as adult genre fiction does.

But it is true that writers going the traditional route need to be much more wary than in earlier times. They need to find agents or small presses that understand the new paradigm and will allow them to self-publish between books, and won't offer odious contracts that tie up work for your lifetime plus 70 years.

I've been with a series of small presses, some of which were better than others, but they always gave me my rights back with no problem. I also learned a lot and got great editing.

Now I have some books with a small press and some are self-published. That works for me.

I think most authors will do well if they self-publish at some point, but I don't think it's a good first step for all genres, unless you're really a savvy marketer with a lot of books in the hopper ready to go.

Romance, mystery, and thriller writers may be an exception. I think they can do well self-publishing right out of the gate, especially if they write fast and have a lot of titles. I know a number who do.


What is it about writing mysteries, especially those with, ahem, older female protagonists that draws you in and holds you?


I love writing stories that mix mystery and romantic comedy, especially when the protagonists are older people. In No Place Like Home, 60-yr old former billionaire Doria Windsor, reconnects with her homeless high school sweetheart. That was so much fun to write.

And how often do you read romantic stories about older people? It's fun to do something different.


What's next for you, Anne?


 So Much For Buckingham launched July 8th and is now available in paperback and ebook.

After that, I'm working on a series of short books for new authors on subjects like blogging, building a platform, writing that first chapter, etc. I'm calling them "two-hour courses" –simple, "just the facts ma'am" type information you might have to plow through a lot of big books or blog archives to get. Plus, I put my own humorous spin on things.

I'll also be starting my next Camilla book, which has the working title, The Knight of Cups. (Update: yes, I know this title is taken now. Sigh.) 

Updates from Anne: 

The best laid plans go kerflooey when you have to deal with personal challenges.  Ever since I gave this interview in July, I've been tied up with medical and technical issues beyond my control. Ironic that I said I was going to say "no" to stress-inducing situations just befor all the stress hit. Haha!

First I lost the ability to walk due to a terrible attack of gout. Then in October, my writing blog got hacked and we've been going through 12-hour a day tech hell ever since. 

That's one of the reasons I started this blog. I have no idea if I'll lose that blog at any minute. Hackers are constantly trying to break in and steal the content and redirect our links. Success has its downside! That's why I like this quiet little blog where I can talk about my books and repost interviews and guest posts.

But my writing has suffered big time. I've hardly started on the short ebooks, and the WIP is now called the Queen of Staves because of that new film called The Knight of Cups (what were the odds? I thought it was kind of original.)


Debbie A. McClure is the author of two paranormal romance mystery novels, In The Spirit Of Love, and In The Spirit Of Forgiveness, and the upcoming historical fiction novels, The King's Consort and Forsaking All Others . 

With a background in sales and marketing, as a motivational speaker she talks about following your passion in life and making life changes that matter. 

Debbie motivates and engages her audiences by advising them to "Step Up and Step In" to their lives, their business, and their relationships, take ownership of decisions, and pursue their dreams with solid intent. Too often we allow others to "should" on us, influencing our direction, our thoughts about who we are, and what we're capable of.

For more about Debbie, check out her website.


  1. Love that photo of you (Pippin) Anne!
    I have such an ethical issue when I teach about self-publishing on Amazon (week 13 of my Crafting a Novel course at Sheridan College.) I have to tell students that if they are going to self-publish, they need to be prepared to do mountains of social media promotion. Especially if they are just now establishing a blog and profile, and aren't known.
    At the same time, I *don't* want them flooding the net with promo-tweets every hour of every day.

    How to reach a happy balance? Not sure I have the answer.

    1. Melodie--You're so right about the difficulty of finding a "happy balance". I thought I had, but things really got away from me in the past few months. I've heard from two bestselling trad authors who tried going indie and found their income dropped and their workload quadrupled. So it doesn't work for everybody, even if they're well known.

      On the other hand, trad pubs are getting greedier and sneakier, so writers can lose out either way. I want people to stay optimistic, but it's tough when things seem to be going in the wrong direction.

  2. This was such a fun interview, Anne! It's been a real pleasure connecting with you and reading your work! Let's hope things ease up for you for a while though. Enough is enough. 😊

    1. Debbie--Thanks for your great questions! I figured this one deserved another outing.

      Let's hope the Universe hears you about the "enough" stuff. I need a break right now. :-)

  3. You offered so many great nuggets of wisdom I'm still soaking it all in. I could relate to many things in this piece (what specifically isn't for public consumption). So, thank you Anne and Debbie!

    1. Sue--I'm glad you like this new site. It's just a simple Blogger template, but it does the job. I'm glad you relate to the post. Thanks for stopping by!

    2. Glad you enjoyed the interview, Sue. Anne has so many really great insights and information on writing and publishing, she's become one of my go-to resources.

  4. Debbie, thanks for great questions! Anne, thanks for great answers!
    Funny makes all the difference: in mysteries and IRL, too.

  5. Thamks, Ruth! Having the opportunity to interview so many extraordinary, talented writers, like you and Anne, has become an unexpected bonus to my own writing. And yep, funny goes a long way. 😊

  6. Great new blog. May the hacksters spring a big leak in their boat. I never thought about giving minor characters (even walk-ons) needs and goals, but it makes sense. Thanks.

  7. Steve--Thanks for stopping by! I always love my minor characters! My problem is keeping them from taking over the show. Mistress Nightshade, anyone?