Sex, Lies and Book Sales

Sex, Lies and Book Sales

An Interview Publishers Weekly April 7, 2003 – By Michael Archer

Publishers Weekly Interview with Libby Fischer HellmannWhen three female mystery writers met online, the “Sex, Lies and Videotape” tour was born. Libby Fischer Hellmann, Deborah Donnelly and Roberta Isleib were regular members of several Internet mystery sites and began contacting each other “off-list.” They began discussing their projects and upcoming promotional ideas. Finally, the women got together in Austin, Tex., during Bouchercon, the 32nd annual SF/mystery convention.

The trio realized they’d all be participating in Left Coast Crime, the annual conference for mystery authors taking place in Pasadena, Calif., in late February. They decided to get together in Northern California the week before and tour down the coast together. The three got along well and thought that their books—mysteries with a sense of humor—complemented one other. So, after the conference, they decided to continue traveling down to Southern California.

The tour’s title came from the occupations of the authors’ amateur sleuth protagonists. Donnelly’s mysteries, Veiled Threatsand Died to Match (both Dell), follow a wedding planner; Isleib’s A Buried Lie (Prime Crime) features an aspiring golf pro; and Hellmann’s An Eye for Murder (Prime Crime) stars a video producer.

“Libby came up with the name, but Deborah didn’t want to be ‘Sex,’ ” said Isleib. “We tried other alternatives—’Matrimony,’ ‘Love’—but they just didn’t have the same ring, so we talked her into it. She said she didn’t have the wardrobe to carry it off.”

The tour started in San Francisco and went well. “Bookstore owners have been great about publicizing,” Donnelly told PW. “We’re trying to work with a lot of independent bookstores, both mystery and general. They’ve been great about putting up flyers and telling their regulars. Also, it’s really important for us to connect with the booksellers, regardless of the crowds they bring in, because they can become familiar with our work and recommend our books to customers.”

The women found traveling together to be beneficial on other levels as well. “On a big tour like this, it would be miserable going on your own unless you were a huge name who’s being escorted, and we’re just not there yet,” said Isleib. “We’re all in the same place, basically, in our careers, so we can commiserate and congratulate. It really works out well, because we’re not competing against each other. My experience has been that someone comes in with the idea of buying, say, the wedding planner mystery, and leaves with all three. It’s been helpful to have someone bring in the kind of readers that might not be interested in a golf mystery.”

The authors joke that keeping their expectations low has paid big dividends. When they reached Ann’s Books in Atascadero, Calif., they were simply expecting to sign some inventory in the small shop and move on. However, when they got there, owner Jolee Watembach had posted a huge sign announcing their arrival and an event was in place. The ladies had to act fast.

“We stopped in a mall to do laundry, taking things out and asking, ‘Does this need washing?’ ” said Isleib. “We finished, popped into the back of Ann’s Books, changed from our road clothes into our nice clothes, and had a great event.”

The trio, who bill themselves as “three women of a certain age who turn to a life of crime,” said future tours on the East Coast are a possibility. “We’re three strong personalities, and we’re still speaking,” says Donnelly. “We’ve sorted out all our strengths—who drives the rental car at which points, who navigates, who needs to sleep in the backseat.”