Author: Susan Breen

Susan Breen is the author of The Fiction Class and the Maggie Dove mystery series. Her short stories have been published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

Publishing roulette

I spent last weekend at the NY Pitch Conference, working with authors who were pitching their books to publishing agents and editors. Very exciting. Very nerve-wrecking, and very unpredictable! One editor will love a book, the next editor will hate the exact same book, and a third will look just bored. It’s like playing roulette. You just don’t know where you’re going to land. Some years ago I attended the same exact conference, but then I was one of the authors, not a workshop leader. I was hoping to sell my first novel, The Fiction Class. Bad news, better news, good news You can only imagine my trepidation when I approached the first editor. I’d never met a book editor before. This young woman was from one of the big publishing houses. I gave her my pitch. She peered at me and said, “No one will want to read that.” I had one of those moments when time seems to stop and the tips of your fingers go numb. However, I persevered. Met with two other editors who were more pleasant, though not interested, and then finally, on the last day of the conference, I met with the very last […]

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6 Ways to Improve Your Pitch

Come this Thursday I’ll be leading a workshop at the New York Pitch Conference. This is where I sold my first book (The Fiction Class), met my agent, and met the editor who bought Maggie Dove in its first incarnation. So it’s a happy place for me. But it’s also a really intense place. People come from all over the world to pitch their novels to editors from the big traditional publishing houses. There’s a lot at stake. My job is to stay calm. (In the picture below, I’m the short one in the middle. 🙂 ) I’m also there to help the participants write their pitches, which usually involves me saying many times, “You can cut that.” Which brings me to some pitching advice. 1. Keep in short. I have read a 150-word pitch for War and Peace. It can be done. The idea is not to cram every last fact down the editor’s throat, but rather to entice her with your book so that she will ask to read it. Then you can start cramming down facts. 2. Make sure you include setting in your pitch. So many people buy books because of where they’re set. (Read Sharon’s […]

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3 Stories & a Moral

Some years back the Mystery Writers of America had an open call for stories about odd partners. I came up with a truly fabulous idea, wrote it. Sent it in. Rejected. Usually I’m philosophical about rejection, but this one stung. Took the story and stuck it in a drawer and festered until, last year, I saw an open call for a new MWA anthology with the theme of Crime Hits Home. I remembered the old story, rewrote it, sent it in and….. But wait. Meanwhile, I was working on another story and I absolutely loved the first line. I liked the rest of the story too, but I didn’t think any part of it beat the first line. Then I saw an an open call for the Malice Domestic anthology titled Murder Most Diabolical. Something about the word diabolical took root in my mind. It gave me a way to reframe the story, and so I set to work and…But wait. Meanwhile, I spent years workshopping a mystery novel about Anne Boleyn. The people in the workshop loved my novel. My agent loved my novel, but unfortunately, after a valiant effort, it didn’t sell. So I put it aside, but […]

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Holbein: Capturing Character

Last night I went to the Morgan Library’s new exhibit on Hans Holbein the Younger, who lived and worked in England during the reign of King Henry VIII. The exhibit was titled “Capturing Character,” and, as a writer, it was fascinating to have a chance to look closely at these paintings.

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So you’re under house arrest…

I’ve been reading Amor Towle’s miraculous novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, which is about a man sentenced to live out his life at the Hotel Metropol. Definitely better than being sent to Siberia, but years of house arrest do wear on him. Though they also force him to grow. The novel set me to thinking about which hotel to which I would like to be exiled. That led me to ask my fellow Miss Demeanors which they would choose, and they had many wonderful things to say.

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What Joan Didion Was To Me

Some writers you read because you like their plots or their dialogue. Others because you connect with their spirit. This was what Joan Didion was to me. When I was a young woman, of course, I was awed by her writing. Later, when I adopted my oldest son, I loved reading what she wrote about her adopted daughter, Quintana Roo. She had an entry in a children’s book about adoption and we used to read that every night. Her daughter died in 2005 and two years later my son died. Then she became for me a touchstone. I looked to her for grace and wisdom and honesty. Always honesty. When Joan Didion died in December, I mourned her as I would a friend. A writer can’t ask for more than that. Joan Didion wrote so many wise things, but here are a couple of my favorites: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”― Joan Didion, The White Album: Essays “I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 […]

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That Time I Threw a Book At the Wall

I don’t generally throw books against the wall, but when I read Tana French’s book the first time, I was so aggravated by the ending that I tossed it. The story was engrossing. The characters richly detailed. The book won an Edgar when it was published, in 2007. But the ending drove me crazy because it left something important unresolved. I actually thought I’d got a misprinted book that had lost the last twenty pages.

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Fantasy New Year’s Eve

I’ve always dreamed of celebrating New Year’s Eve in Vienna, listening to the Philharmonic playing Strauss waltzes. Possibly waltzing around myself. Of course, between the pandemic and the difficulty of getting tickets, that’s not looking so good for this year, but a person can dream. (You can, however, listen to the program on WQXR.) I asked my fellow Miss Demeanors what their fantasy New Year’s would look like, and this is what they said. Tracee: I’m not a big New Year’s Eve party person but I did spend a magical New Year’s Eve in St Moritz and would repeat it! Plenty of snow on the ground and everyone gathered around the lake to watch fireworks. Very lovely and fun and peaceful all at the same time! Alexia: I fantasize about going to bed early and waking up January 1 to find that 2022 is less of a 💩 show than 2020 and 2021. Connie: Susan, your fantasy came true for my cousin’s father-in-law, a cardiologist. After his wife of many years died, he met a fascinating woman, the widow of a diplomat, who’d spent most of her life traveling the world. The first Christmas they were married, they spent NYE […]

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Visiting A Christmas Carol

I’ve lived in New York all my life, but up until about a week ago, I had no idea that the original version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was in New York City, in the Morgan Library, which is a brief walk from Grand Central.

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3 Lessons from the NY Pitch Conference

I’ve been a workshop leader at the NY Pitch Conference for more than a decade. That means that four times a year (except during pandemics) I lead a group of writers in polishing pitches and then presenting them to editors and agents. It’s a thrilling job. I meet people from all over the world and hear their stories. It’s also a hair-raising job because I have to take a group of people who don’t know each other and guide them through an intense process of joy (when they get requests) and despair (when they don’t). What I always find moving is how close the members of my group become. They support each other, hug each other when things go wrong, buy each other (and me) drinks. See picture below. Although writing is a solitary occupation, the community of writers is a very generous one. Over the course of the four days, I go over a number of obvious things that pitches should include. Conflict. Protagonists. Cliff hangers, and so on. But I was thinking that there are some things that can really affect a pitch that most people don’t think about. Make it interesting. A lot of times, people are […]

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