New Jersey born clinical psychologist Roberta Isleib took up writing mysteries to justify too much bad golf. Her Cassie Burdette series was nominated for an Agatha and two Anthony awards. Her new series debuted in March with DEADLY ADVICE, starring a psychologist/advice columnist. PREACHING TO THE CORPSE will follow in December 2007. Roberta is the president of Sisters in Crime International. You can visit her website at http://www.robertaisleib.com
Welcome to Beyond the Books, Roberta. Can you give us the title(s) of your book(s)?
My seventh book will be published in December 2007, PREACHING TO THE CORPSE.
What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?
FINAL ROUND was a prequel to the Cassie Burdette golf mysteries. This was the book that landed me an agent (Paige Wheeler of Folio Literary) and sold a 3-book series to Berkley Prime Crime. However, in Final Round my main character was caddying for a guy on the men’s professional golf tour, with aspirations to play herself—once she got her act together. The editors at Berkley decided they wanted to start her out playing golf in the first book of the series. After a lot of grousing to my husband, I put the book in the drawer and started on SIX STROKES UNDER. I was able to use a lot of the backstory from Final Round in the series and also realize that I’ve grown a great deal as a writer!
For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?
It was no picnic, but I did find an agent and she did sell my book to a mainstream publisher. None of it came easily or quickly. I studied Elizabeth Lyon’s The Sell Your Novel Toolkit and Jeff Herman’s Writer’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents. I contacted agents who had interests like mine (mystery, sports, psychology), or who had some feature in their personal background that made me think we might connect. I hired an independent editor to give me fairly inexpensive but useful feedback on my manuscript-she directed me to several agents. I attended mystery conventions and talked with people there about the process. I attended the International Women’s Writers Guild “Meet the Agents” forum in New York City. I groveled in front of everyone I even remotely knew connected with the publishing business. And I suffered through multiple rejections and shouldered gamely forward, my skin toughening by the hour. After a good year’s worth of rejections, Paige Wheeler offered to represent me. It took her another 8 months and a number of rejections before she sold it to Berkley.
How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?
Each rejection was a kick in the gut. I gave myself a day or two to wallow, then moved ahead. Publishing is an extremely competitive field right now. Writers sell themselves short if they don’t spend as much time as possible learning the craft and polishing their work before they start to submit it. I still work with a group of readers who critique my manuscripts and I’ve spent a fair amount of my (admittedly small) income hiring an editor to help me learn more about writing, plotting, and breathing life into characters.
When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?
SIX STROKES UNDER, 2002, Berkley Prime Crime (Penguin)
How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?
I was absolutely thrilled. I threw an enormous book launch party at the local bookstore, RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison CT. I invited everyone I knew. They had to move the event to the library across the street because 200 people came. I gave a talk about the book and getting published and we all drank champagne and ate cake. It was a wonderful, wonderful night.
What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?
See above. I contacted the bookstore well in advance and told them how many people I thought I could bring in. I sent out press releases, kept a mailing list, attended conferences, networked like crazy. And you must have a professional-looking website.
If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?
Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?
Four more golf mysteries were published, along with my two books in the new series, DEADLY ADVICE and PREACHING TO THE CORPSE. These two books feature a clinical psychologist who writes an advice column. I work hard at improving my writing for each book—I never want to be the kind of author that people shake their heads over saying, “she started out strong, what happened?”
Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up? What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?
There are no shortcuts. I only wish I had started earlier—like taken the creative writing classes offered at Princeton when I was an undergraduate! But I wasn’t ready to write then and I sure am now.
What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?
I’ve just been installed as the 21st president of Sisters in Crime. SinC was founded in 1986 by a small group of writers including Sara Paretsky and Nancy Pickard, and has grown to an international organization with over 3400 members. Sisters in Crime began by monitoring review space in newspapers and pointing out potential biases to reviewers. The group found that a book written by a man was seven times more likely to be reviewed than a book by a woman, important because libraries and fans make choices depending on reviews. Over the past twenty years, Sisters in Crime has continued to combat discrimination against women in the mystery field, educate publishers and the general public as to inequities in the treatment of female authors, raise the level of awareness of their contributions to the field, and promote the professional advancement of women who write mysteries. It’s an amazing organization!
Would you give up your profession to be doing something else?
I love what I’m writing now. I can highlight my background in psychology and write about folks in that field who are competent and caring, rather than the idiotic and downright hurtful professionals you often see in movies and on TV.
How do you see yourself in ten years?
Maybe the author of 16 books, rather than 7—a grande dame of the mystery world!
Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?
Polish, polish, hone your craft. I know that traditional publishing is a hard road, but self-publishing brings its own problems, including distribution, getting reviews, and more generally, respect. There are some good reasons to go that route—if you have a niche market or a small audience—but make sure you know what you’re in for. Actually that advice works for any kind of publishing!