Mardi Link will be joining us this year as a speaker. We asked her about her writing process and the 10th anniversary of her first book, When Evil Came to Good Hart.
What are you working on these days?
I just signed a contract for a new historical true crime book. I’m in the early stages of research, which means I’m reading, visiting libraries, and digging up old files, documents, and photographs that have not been accessed in years or sometimes, ever. I like to write (obviously) and I’m a proficient interviewer, but research is my favorite part of a book project. I love it. It thrills me to uncover information hidden for decades.
How do you stay focused on your writing and producing book projects when life gets in the way?
My family would say, Could you please get her to focus on us for a while? I tend to go all in when I’m working on a book and ignore everything, and everyone, else. It’s a problem, but my friends and family know this about me and love me anyway. What is more difficult for me to focus on is marketing once the book has been written. For that, I have learned to spend some time every week on filling my calendar with book events, working months in the future, but not filling it so full I get overwhelmed or forget to have a life. I live in Traverse City, where summers are short and precious, so I try to relax in those few months.
What is the thing that has surprised you most about publishing?
How small the window of attention is for many books. Publishers and agents used to say you have three months to promote a new book, when news and review outlets will be interested in what you have to say and what the book is about. Now I think that has shortened to a single month, maybe less. I try to write books that are “evergreen” meaning that the subjects I write about don’t have to be new to be compelling. My true crime books are about cases that are decades and sometimes even a century old. I think that has helped those books continue to sell and attract readers year after year.
How do you approach the initial research on a writing project?
I have a system for this that works well for me, but when I share it with others the reaction is often, “But that’s so much work!” When you write nonfiction, and especially investigative nonfiction, accuracy is paramount. You cannot afford even tiny errors, or readers will wonder if the bigger themes and facts you’re revealing are true or false. So, before I write a single word of what will become the book, I build a chronology of the crime as I research. Readers will never see this document, and neither will my editor, my agent or my publisher. It contains what happened, when, and my source for the event. For my first book, When Evil Came to Good Hart, this chronology was about 24 pages. For the book I’m working on now, it is 45 pages and I’m just getting started. Yes, it is a lot of work, but it becomes an outline for the book and is essential as I’m writing because I don’t have to use time to look up dates and facts and sources. I just refer to my chronology.
What are your long term goals as a writer?
Being able to make my living as a writer feels like winning the lottery. I’m not sure how I got so lucky, but my long term goal is to be able to continue to do it, and to shine a light on stories of wrongdoing so we as a culture don’t make the same mistakes again. We’ll make new mistakes, I’m sure, and I’ll write sentences, and paragraphs, and chapters about those, too.