Thursday, December 23, 2010

Guppies Revisited

Elizabeth Zelvin

I recently had the pleasure of compiling a list of 2010 publications—novels and short stories—by members of Sisters in Crime’s online Guppies chapter. I joined Guppies in 2002, shortly after becoming a member of Sisters in Crime’s national, or rather international, organization in support of women mystery and what we’d now call crime fiction writers. At the time, Guppies was a small interest group rather than a full fledged chapter devoted to the Great UnPublished, hence the name. Without naming names, let’s look at the stats. When I joined, only one Guppy had a book, a woman whose novel had been published by a small press in 2000. Another woman, whom I met in my local SinC meeting in New York, had left the Guppies when her first mystery came out in 2000 and gone on to write several more books in the series.

In 2003, three Guppies I knew got published, two with a small press that later folded, a victim of its own expansion, the other with a venerable house that decided a couple of years later to abolish its mystery line. Two of the three left Guppies on achieving publication, the third chose to stay. In 2004, a Guppy who had failed to find an agent published the first of a series with a prestigious small press. She left. In 2005 and 2006, two Guppies who had been active on the group’s e-list published their first novels. They decided that the group was so supportive and such a good resource that they didn’t want to let it go. They stayed, and I believe this was the turning point.

Today, Guppies serves five hundred hundred writers, both Sisters in Crime and what I’ve heard called Mister Sisters, who are seriously seeking publication, emerging writers trying to develop their careers past the first novel or short story, and established writers who have observed the camaraderie among us at conferences and heard that as a group, we have abundant information to share about the rapidly changing and often chaotic course of publishing in our genre. After wondering why it took me fifty years of dreaming of being a writer to publish my first novel, I realized the simple answer was that I’d tried for far too long to do it alone. Guppies help each other critique their manuscripts, write query letters and synopses, seek agents, deal with rejection, start the next manuscript while the last one is making the rounds, and rejoice at each other’s successes, whether it’s a rave rejection, an offer of representation from an agent, a book deal, or a good review.

In 2009, Guppies published a total of four first novels, fourteen additional novels, and sixteen short stories. In 2010, Guppies published ninety-five novels and short stories, including more than a dozen first novels, an impressive tally indeed, especially compared to none in 2001 and 2002, less than a decade ago.

No author, aspiring, emerging, or established but not immune to setbacks, can afford to take today’s crazy publishing climate personally. Guppies avoid this particular trap by schooling. We keep swimming along together through disappointments and rejections and the occasional triumph, and when we voice our hopes and fears, we hear all around us a chorus of, “Me too.”


Julia Buckley said...

Great post, Liz! As a fairly new Guppy, I can attest to all you've said here.

Norma Huss said...

I'm a Guppy of long standing, and one of the 2009 first-published authors. I'm not thinking of EVER leaving the Guppies. I've partaken of various mini-groups from time to time, mystery analysis, agentquest, cozy writers, several times trading MSS or chapters for feedback, and goals. I read with great interest Guppy instructions on Twitter (and I may start doing that one day) self-publishing, and all the opinions and experiences of writing.

Definitely, Guppydom is the single most effective resource for a mystery writer. Also, it gives the lonely writer a sense of community and the knowledge that there are your friends out there.(Okay, I haven't tried a few others, but I feel no need to.)