By Connie Berry
When a woman enters a competition to complete a famous author’s novel, she doesn’t expect to find herself hiding on a tropical island, fearing for her life.
—The Finalist by Joan Long will be published by Level Best books in March 2022.
I first met author Joan Long in Florida at the Sleuthfest Annual Conference for Writers and Fans of Mystery, Suspense, and Thriller Fiction. I knew immediately, not only that she was someone I wanted to know better, and after learning about her work also knew she was a writer to watch. Later we met up again at Malice Domestic and then Bouchercon in Dallas.
Joan earned her graduate degree in Journalism and Communications from The University of Florida and has been a finalist in several writing contests, including the Minotaur Books/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. Her short story “The Extra Ingredient” is published in the Anthony Award-winning anthology Malice Domestic: Mystery Most Edible. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, its Guppy Chapter, Mystery Writers of America, the Authors Guild, and International Thriller Writers. You can find out more about Joan at https://joanlongbooks.com.
I recently asked Joan a few questions about her writing journey, and she graciously agreed to share her story with the Buckeye Crime Writers.
Welcome, Joan, and congratulations! Like many authors (me included) the path to publication has been long and twisty. Tell us a little about your writing journey.
I’ve always wanted to write a mystery and attended college with that in mind. I majored in English/Creative Writing, then earned a graduate degree in Journalism and Communications. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a single class named “How to Write a Mystery,” and I knew nothing about how to structure one. I needed to learn.
I studied every book on novel writing I could find. I read books in the genre, joined critique groups, attended conferences, and wrote. But my first completed mystery barely reached 40,000 words. And it was boring!
Rather than revise it, I wrote two more manuscripts. The first became a finalist in the novel-in-progress category of the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. The other — a cozy mystery — became a finalist for both the Minotaur Books/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel, and MWA-Florida’s Freddie Award for Writing Excellence. The key word here is finalist. I didn’t win. But I didn’t stop writing either.
People often say to write what you know. I sat down and wrote a new novel — a traditional mystery about (you guessed it!) a finalist.
This time I created deeper characters, an island setting I loved, and a plot that intrigued me. I joined Sisters in Crime and its online Guppy Chapter, Mystery Writers of America, and the Authors Guild. I developed a website and a social media presence. Still, my manuscript did not sell.
With my ego bruised, I buried the manuscript in a drawer and began another project. But I liked the story too much to give up on it. Eventually, I pulled it from its grave and rewrote it. Twice. Soon, I received offers of representation from two agents, plus an offer directly from a publisher. After careful consideration, I chose to publish with Level Best Books and hired a literary attorney to negotiate my contract.
What “magic” happened in that rewriting that made a difference?
I did a manuscript exchange with two good friends. Both are published authors. Grace Topping writes the Laura Bishop Mystery series, which are cozies about home staging, while Tammy Euliano is the author of the thriller Fatal Intent. They both gave me excellent feedback, and I made changes. They didn’t always agree, but I paid very close attention when their comments were similar. One important change I made was cutting unnecessary description in the first few chapters to make the crime occur sooner in the book.
It took almost exactly five years from the day I came up with the idea for my book until the day I signed the publishing contract. I’m so glad I pulled the manuscript out of the drawer. The Finalist is scheduled to launch on March 15, 2022.
Why did you choose traditional publishing? Did you ever consider self-publishing?
I chose traditional publishing mainly because The Finalist is my debut novel. I wanted to have the expertise of an established publisher behind me.
How would you describe what you write?
I’m a third-generation Floridian who writes mysteries and suspense, usually set in Florida or in tropical locations. I am always fascinated when ordinary people are placed in impossible situations. How will they react? Can they thwart an evil antagonist and survive? Will justice be served? I want to know!
What have you learned that you can pass along to other writers on the same journey?
My advice is to never give up. Your dream might come true today, next week, or next month. But it will never happen if you quit.
What’s next for you?
Oh! My next project is a suspense novel set on the beautiful Gulf Coast of Florida. I hope to tell you more about it soon.
Thanks for stopping by, Joan. Best of luck with The Finalist and your new book.