Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Author Q&A: Anne R. Allen

Anne R. Allen is an author, freelance writer and editor, blogger, and faculty member of the Central Coast Writers Conference. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in various literary journals; her novels Food of Love and The Best Revenge, previously published in the U.K., are being released for an American audience this Fall. Anne also has several comic mysteries coming out over the next few months. I'm so delighted to have her as a guest today - we're talking about her new books; women writers, labels, genres and publishing; and more.
"[Food of Love] is the book they said couldn't be published. It breaks pretty much all the rules ever invented by corporate publishing. I wrote what I wanted to read–but couldn’t find on the shelves: a can’t-put-it-down, laugh-out-loud mystery/thriller about women. I loved Carl Hiassen and Chris Moore and wanted to write that kind of socially conscious, but funny novel, dealing with women’s issues. I didn't know you're not allowed to be funny about women's issues." – from Anne's blog
Anne, your previously published novel Food of Love (a mystery/comic thriller) has just been released by Popcorn Press for the U.S., and you have not one… not two… but three new books (The Gatsby Game - a stand-alone mystery, and Ghostwriters in the Sky and Sherwood, LTD a comic mystery series) coming out soon. In one sentence each: who is your favorite character in each of these books, and what is the most interesting thing about him/her?

The most fascinating character in The Gatsby Game is the Fitzgerald-obsessed con man, Alistair Milbourne—who’s found dead in a movie star’s bedroom in chapter one—he’s based on David Whiting, a man I actually knew, who died mysteriously on the set of a Burt Reynolds movie.

Ghostwriters in the Sky has a yummy love interest—a rogue LA cop named Maverick Jesus Zukowski—who may or may not be affiliated with a Latino gang that is terrorizing a writer’s conference in California’s wine-and-cattle country north of Santa Barbara.

Sherwood, Ltd has an intriguing love interest, too, Peter Sherwood—a charming British publisher of kinky erotica who imagines himself a latter day Robin Hood—who unfortunately may be planning to kill the heroine.

You have said that your work doesn’t neatly fit into any one genre, and you do not seem to be alone, especially among women writers. What is your experience with labels, genres, and publishing, and what is your advice to writers whose work isn’t easily categorized?

Don’t do what I did, if you want to break into Big 6 publishing. I bloodied my knuckles on New York doors for years without realizing my combo-genre of upmarket romantic comedy and mystery was toxic to the Big Six. The only category they could put me in was the dreaded “chick lit” --which has been banned from New York publishing. I could only have been published if I wrote straight romance or straight mystery. (With emphasis on “straight”. Big 6 is also increasingly uncomfortable with gay and bisexual characters in certain genres.) Every time I came close to landing an agent, she’d ask me to remove either the mystery or romantic comedy elements (and the gay characters.)

Polly Courtney, author of It’s a Man’s World recently (and very publicly) dropped her publisher just as her book was coming to market, denouncing the cover design as demeaning. In an interview at Curiosity Quills she says “It was not a spur-of-the-moment decision; it was the culmination of three years’ pent-up frustration as a result of repeated errors in packaging and marketing.” Anne, you have also said that it is a common experience for authors to have no input into the cover of their books. What is your take on Courtney’s decision? Did she make a smart move or endanger her career? What kind of impact do you think her actions will have on the publishing process? How do you think her decision will inspire or influence other writers?

I admire what Courtney did and I think she’s made a good career move. Big 6 publishers have never allowed writers any input on covers or marketing. The wonderful agent Kristin Nelson has blogged a number of times about fighting marketing departments when her authors were given bad covers. The Rejectionist also blogs about how most books with black protagonists have pictures of white people on the covers—no matter how much the authors and their agents protest.

Big 6 publishers want to appeal to as many buyers as possible, so they figure since there are more dumb blondes and white people, they can’t go wrong with putting dumb white girls on the covers of all novels. I have a little problem with their logic, but that’s probably why the Big 6 has never wanted me. Now that Big 6 are coming up with draconian “non-compete” contracts, selling ebooks for ridiculously high prices and slashing author advances while paying miniscule royalties, most writers are better off leaving the Big 6 for more author-friendly small presses or self-pubbing.

There are so many publishing options available to writers these days, yet you still encourage new writers to go the traditional route and try for an agent first – why do you believe that process is important?

I’m a firm believer in teamwork. I guess that’s because I spent 25 years in the theater. A play is just a little paper booklet until you get all the people together—actors, designers, publicists, etc. I want people on my team, and a good agent is the best person to have heading that team if you’re a writer. Not all agents are good, and some are seriously behind the times, (and never, ever pay an agent a fee!) but I still think finding a good agent is the single best way to a strong writing career—I’d love to have one myself. Also, the query process helps a new writer in a lot of ways. It helps you learn to write about your own work, and often, helps you see structure problems, as you struggle with stuff like the dreaded synopsis.

You are wonderfully generous with advice, support, information and encouragement for new writers. Who were some of the writers who helped you the most when you were starting, and what were the most important lessons you learned from them?

My most important mentor is certainly Catherine Ryan Hyde, who wrote PAY IT FORWARD and so many other bestselling, inspirational novels. She kept telling me to keep at it, no matter what. Without her, I’m sure I would have given up long ago. She also taught me that helping your fellow writers and networking is the best way to help your own career—which is absolutely right. I started my blog mostly to share information with new writers. I was pretty sure my own career was over, but I wanted to help people learn from my mistakes. Instead my blog took off and I got a number of offers from publishers because of it. Paying it forward works. And Catherine and I are now working on a nonfiction book together. Working with my idol is pretty awesome. And yes, she’s that nice in person.

Many thanks Anne, for sharing your thoughts, and wishing you the best of success!

You can find Anne on her blog and on twitter.

The Gatsby Game is available as an ebook from Amazon. Look for Ghostwriters in the Sky and Sherwood, Ltd. - coming soon!


  1. Thanks to Ms. Allen for her valuable advice, it's so wonderful to see authors inspiring writers on their literary journey. Often times people think it's a cutthroat world, but many authors lift each other up and motivate them. I have found the agent route difficult to navigate, but I will keep trying. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks so much for the visit Lena! You might really like Anne's blog, always something informative or thought-provoking for writers there.

  3. Lena-I believe that the right agent can help authors whether they go indie, small press or Big 6, so definitely keep at it. And yes, authors have to mentor and help each other on our journeys.

    Jennifer--Thank you so much for hosting me here. Your questions and comments are insightful and got me thinking about my books in new ways. I really, really appreciate the opportunity to reach your readers. Thanks!

  4. Anne, it's truly been a pleasure! Thanks so much for sharing your expertise and insights :D


Thanks for visiting - thoughts welcome.