Writing and Selling a Mystery, Lauren Weisberger Does NOT Wear Prada…and Judy Blume! Dispatches from Printer’s Row Lit Fest 2013

Last year, I attended my first Printer’s Row Lit Fest (read my blog about it here) and I had so much fun, I decided I would make the trip again this year.  I can’t really compare last year to this year – it really is an apples and oranges kind of thing.  However, I may give a teeny tiny edge to 2013 because I got to meet the heroine of my adolescent literary dreams, Ms. Judy Blume.  Squee!

But more on that in a bit.

Writing and Selling a Mystery
First up, was a panel discussion presented by members of the Midwest Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America and the 

Truth be told, I wasn’t familiar with any of the panelists, but I love discovering new authors and soaking up as much information as I can about the publishing business.

There was a robust turnout and the audience was engaged. Except for the incessant cell phones . . . and the one guy who took something like four phone calls in the middle of the presentation. One of the authors finally decided it was someone calling with a question.  

The takeaways:
- Among the technical mistakes the authors copped to with their first books were too many characters, over-describing everything and not keeping character traits straight (say that five times in a row).

- Everyone wished they’d proofread more carefully and been more vigilant in general with their manuscripts.  The assumption was made that the publishers would catch any and all mistakes (lesson here: the buck stops with the author.  Always.).

- When working with beta readers, take your ego out of it. If you hear the same thing more than once, pay attention.

- The prevailing wisdom is that publishing is changing and agents don’t hold the same importance they once did. 

- Best and worst book promo activities? Get the most professional looking website you can afford.  Be more aggressive as a promoter, have a newsletter and get on Facebook (mental note).

- Book signings don’t sell books.  None of them will do straight signings anymore, but will do panels such as this one, instead.

- In the old days, publishers would promote you.  These days, only the top two percent of authors (from a sales standpoint) get those very limited publicity dollars.

-Big, Big BIG Takeaway: “The moment you publish your first book, you are now a small business owner.” (even the traditionally published know this).

Overall, a highly entertaining and informative session.  There was a signing afterwards and I bought Clare O’Donohue’s “Life Without Parole.” I was mostly attracted to the cover (it is gorgeous, no?) and it sounded like it had some psychological suspense leanings, which of course, is my bag.  Clare chatted with me a bit and was absolutely lovely.  Thumbs up!

Image from penguin.com
Lauren Weisberger Does NOT Wear Prada

Like so many, I read “The Devil Wears Prada” back in the day and of course have seen the movie only about a million times (the endless cable airings aside… I own it on DVD).    

There were about 200 people in attendance and I have to admit, I was surprised by the audience.  I was expecting a cadre of clackers, a room filled with latte-swilling Trixies (if you live in Chicago, you know what I mean.  If you don’t, read this.)  All my preconceived notions were completely blown out of the water as folks from all walks of life filed into the Chicago Public Library’s Multi-Purpose Room.  Women as young as twenty-something, all the way up to at least eighty-something, black, white, you name it. 

Weisberger was in town to promote the sequel to “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns.”

Image from SimonandSchuster.com
The takeaways:

- “The Devil Wears Prada” started as a non-fiction piece she wrote in a writing class and is based on Weisberger’s real-life experiences as Anna Wintour’s assistant (Wintour is the editor-in-chief of “Vogue.”  She never had plans to turn it into a book and says if she had, she might have held herself back more.  It was her writing instructor who encouraged her to turn it into a novel.

- She had a brief cameo in the movie as the twins’ nanny as they ride the train reading those pirated “Harry Potter” manuscripts.  She rode the train for 12 hours for that nanosecond of screen time. 

- She wrote “Revenge” because she always wondered what happened to the characters.  She revealed she just finished her final edits in April and was shocked at the quick turnaround in getting it published (it was published on June 4.) because it used to take a lot longer.

- Doesn’t mind the chick-lit label and “understands it.”  She said she personally hates genre naming and is just excited that people want to read her books, especially young girls.

- Much like Andy, she has zero knowledge about the fashion industry and everything she wrote about it came from being an observer and consumer of media (she subscribes to “US Weekly” for the pictures.)  She said “fashion isn’t compelling” to her and has no connection to Prada (“I have no free bags,” she declared to the disappointed audience)

- Ten years ago, she worried that not enough people would know what the brand “Prada” even was, as there weren’t the fashion blogs and shows that there are today – it was definitely out of the mainstream back then.

- Unbeknownst to Weisberger, her publisher “stoked the fires” by sending Advanced Reader Copies (ARC’s) of the book wrapped in plain brown paper to every editorial assistant at Conde Nast and “that’s what got the buzz going.”

Image from Wikipedia
- She considers herself very lucky because her agent sold the book in one week especially since it was a total fluke she even wrote the book, much less found an agent and then landed a publishing contract.  With that said though, she encouraged aspiring writers to be tenacious, detailing an anecdote about a new author her publisher passed on four times before signing him on the fifth.

- The negative reviews/chatter will always come.  You have to learn to tune it out.

- Her favorite 80’s hair band is Bon Jovi. And with that, she is A-ok in my book.

It didn’t occur to me until I was sitting in the presentation that I probably should have brought my copy of “The Devil Wears Prada” to see if Weisberger would sign it.  Ah, well.  Lessons learned.

Day 2 – Judy Blume!

There was a butt in all 385 seats of the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium at the Chicago Public Library.  The audience was what I would expect: predominantly women, including moms who read Judy Blume themselves and were now bringing their daughters.

The presentation was to begin at 2 p.m. and voluntary silence descended on the audience as the magic hour struck.  At about ten minutes past (following an introduction, of course) Ms. Judy Blume took to the stage, apologizing for the touch of laryngitis plaguing her.  A wisp of a woman in slim black pants and black t-shirt with a bright orange half blazer, she seemed overwhelmed, yet humbled by the cheers she elicited.

Without Judy Blume, there would be no "YA" (Image from biography.com)
As I tried to explain to my sister, who’s permanently enamored with Sarah Dessen and inexplicably has only read one Judy Blume book, there would BE no Sara Dessen without Judy Blume.  Note to self – buy her a Judy Blume box set.  That I make myself.

The takeaways:
- As Blume pointed out, when she first came onto the scene in 1969 with “The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo,” there was no “Young Adult” genre (like Lauren Wiesberger, she too hates genres), but is happy for her fellow writer friends who have benefited from being in a “genre.”

- She says she “couldn’t write a ‘Young Adult’ novel if [she] tried.”  She just writes what she likes (sensing a theme here?).

- “Otherwise Known as Shelia the Great” isn’t her favorite book, though Shelia personifies all of her childhood fears and anxieties.  She said it was too hard to name a favorite, but said Sally J. Freedman is most like herself (it’s one of my favorites, too.  Along with “Deenie” and “Are You There God?  It’s Me, Margaret.”)

- Whenever she’s asked for writing advice it’s “read, read, read, read, read.”

- Her newest novel is set in the 1950’s, and one her husband terms as “historical,” which makes her want to chop his head off (because she hates genres.)

- She writes three drafts before she lets anyone see her work for critique.  She sends the fourth out for edits, then does a final polish.  Although she works on a computer, she still edits like she’s on a typewriter and prints out the drafts and makes her edits by hand.

- A little girl in the audience wanted to know why she made Fudge swallow the turtle in “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” (Fudge was based on her now-grown son).  She read a newspaper article about a little boy who swallowed a turtle, which gave her the idea to include it in the story.

- “Tales” actually started as a picture book and was roundly rejected by publishers.  An editor she knew took her to lunch and suggested she turn it into a chapter book.

- She used to get so many letters from readers pouring their hearts out to her.  It became so overwhelming, she sought therapy herself to try and learn how she could help everyone who reached out to her.  As a result, she published, “Letters to Judy: What Kids Wish They Could Tell You.”

- She turned her novel, “Tiger Eyes,” which I’ve never read, into a movie, which just had a showing here in Chicago.  She loved the experience of producing it and shared that it is available OnDemand, for those who can’t see it at a theater in their town.

This time, I remembered to bring my copies of “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” and “Deenie,” to be signed.  Alas, because I didn’t purchase them on site, I was told she would only sign one of them.  I had her sign “Deenie.”  And so it goes

All in all, Printer’s Row Lit Fest 2013 was awesome.  Looking forward to 2014!


  1. Just found this. Thanks for the nice write-up on our panel. Glad you had a good time, despite That Guy and His Phone!

  2. Hi Lori,
    I had a great time! It's so awesome to have something like this in my own backyard to take advantage of. Thanks for stopping by!


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