One-Time Visual Artist Now Draws With Words

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Visualize the working life of most folks and you will see a checkered pattern somewhere along the way.

Betty Webb's checkered past is at the start of her working life.

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Betty Webb has found success as a mystery novelist in her retirement years. She offered advice to aspiring writers at a recent Press Women's meeting.

She studied graphic arts and found a job on Madison Avenue. Co-workers frequently came to her, asking for help with a clever turn of phrase or just the right word for an advertisement. She was encouraged to move from graphic arts to writing.

Webb took the advice to heart and began writing. She had two plays produced and success as a syndicated columnist.

She kept her hand in the visual arts, though, and while living in the Los Angeles area met with resistance when trying to get her work in galleries.

"There were very few women artists being shown," she said.

Frustrated, she vented her aggravation in writing and came up with a novel, which had the good fortune to be bought and published.

"Having a first novel published is very rare," she said.

That first novel came out in the 1970s and then Webb went on to other things.

Eventually she became a journalist with the Tribune newspaper in Scottsdale and a book reviewer. She was in the newspaper business about 20 years before retiring three years ago.

While still working full-time for the newspaper, Webb returned to fiction writing. She would get up at 4:30 a.m. to write and be at her job by 8 a.m. Her most recent book, "Desert Cut" is the first on which she worked full time -- so far.

Novelist's success fueled by revenge

It is often said, living well is the best revenge. A better revenge is killing the sucker -- at least on paper. That's the advice Webb offered at a recent writers' workshop presented by the Rim Country chapter of the Arizona Press Women.

Her current occupation as a mystery novelist began after visiting galleries in Scottsdale about 10 years ago.

"My husband and I were visiting some galleries in Scottsdale and I was really disappointed in what we saw -- I just wanted to kill some of the gallery owners. I'd been thinking about trying to write fiction again, but didn't really know what kind of story I wanted to do. My husband suggested I go ahead and kill a gallery owner -- on paper. So I did."

The driving force of the series, the main private investigator Lena Jones, did not materialize until Webb had started writing the first book.

"She came to me in a dream," she said of the birth of her main character. "Her whole life, her history, her problems."

Webb said characters are what sell books. Readers need to see the souls of the characters, not their clothes, she told the group at the workshop.

Webb recommended all characters in mysteries (and other fiction) be based on real people.

"Writing about real people helps avoid making your characters stereotypes," she said. She added that these real people need to be disguised -- so you don't have people coming after you threatening lawsuits.

The sixth Jones book is due out in 2009.

Webb is launching a new Gunn Zoo series this fall -- mysteries set in a fictional California zoo with such titles as "The Anteater of Death," "The Koala of Death" and "The Penguin of Death."

The research for the books is the product of Webb's other passion -- volunteering for The Phoenix Zoo.

Webb's Jones novels are based on stories she covered as a reporter and she does extensive research on her topics -- as much as three and five years in some cases.

Real work starts after "The End"

Webb said the real work for authors is selling their work to readers.

It is something she shares with aspiring authors at her workshops and in the classes she teaches for Phoenix College. It is also something that surprised her.

"Publishers will pay for the John Grishams to go on tour with their books, but for authors like me -- mid-level we're called -- the book tours are my job. The publisher will help with some of the expenses, but just some."

Webb tries to keep her tour expenses under $4,000. Tours are generated in a variety of ways.

She offered the following marketing strategies at the APW workshop:

  • A year in advance of publication -- the minute you sign your publishing contract -- figure out what groups most likely will be interested in your book and join them (actual groups that meet face-to-face and those online) and be an active participant. This kind of networking is the most important part of the marketing process.

Webb said she is a member of Arizona Press Women, Authors Guild, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Society of Southwestern Authors and Arizona Authors Association. She is also planning to join Women Writing the West and Romance Writers of America, plus several zoo and animal organizations.

  • Nine months in advance of publication get used to public speaking -- join Toastmasters to build the skill if needed.
  • Eight months in advance of publication start a mailing list.
  • Six months in advance of publication set up a killer Web site and blog; also this is the time you need to make your tour budget. Authors need to get out and get to know bookstore owners and managers; they are the people who will decide to carry your book. She recommends the publication "Booksense" for targeting bookstores to contact and visit.

Webb's books are available through www.poisonedpenpress.com. Learn more about Webb and her work on her Web site, www.bettywebb-mystery.com. The five titles are: "Desert Noir," "Desert Run," "Desert Shadows," "Desert Wives" and "Desert Cut."

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