Interview with Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets has been a friend and sometimes client of mine for several years now. She’s an extraordinary woman and a talented writer. Elaine agreed to take a few minutes and do a short interview with me. Hope you enjoy what she has to say and that you rush out to buy a copy of her latest book – Final Sail!

PJ: How long have you been writing?

Elaine: I was a feature writer and then a syndicated newspaper columnist for more than 25 years, which was good training. I learned a lot about research, deadlines and dialogue. My first mystery was published in 1997 and I’ve been writing novels and short stories ever since. I write two funny, best-selling series, the Dead-End Job mysteries and the Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper mysteries and currently have nineteen books in print. I just turned in my eighth Josie book and I’m starting another Dead-End Job mystery.

PJ: At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer?

Elaine: I’ve never felt successful as a writer. I keep trying to write a better book. I think I turn in a good one, but when I re-read it, I can see the flaws.

PJ: Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?

Elaine: I was surprised by how much promotion I have to do. I somehow thought that if I wrote the books, the publisher would take care of the promotion. My publisher is a good one, but I still need to do a lot of media interviews, Facebook, Twitter and more.

For “Final Sail,” which is released May 1, I have a 40-second book trailer. I’ve had longer trailers, but I think the short ones get the message across quicker. We live in the world of Twitter, where everything is shorter now.

PJ: The general public seems to think authors are relatively wealthy. Without prying too much, has your writing income lived up to expectations?

Elaine: Sue Grafton, author of the Kinsey Milhone mystery series, says it takes about eight years for a writer to make a living off her novels. Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Lawrence Block gave writers some wise advice in this article.  I recommend that all aspiring writers read it.

PJ: Early on, so much focus is given to getting published. Now that you’re published, how has your focus changed?

Elaine: I want to stay published. To do that, I have to keep writing books that will entertain my readers. It gets more difficult to come up with plot twists and subjects.

PJ: How long did it take you to get published the first time?

Elaine: I was very lucky. My agent sent my first novel, “Backstab,” off to six New York publishers. Five rejected it and the sixth bought it. It took me about six to eight months before I had a publisher.

PJ: Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over again?

Elaine: I would start out promoting BEFORE I was published. Writers should go to the major conferences for their genres. For me, the three I go to most often are Malice Domestic, Sleuthfest and Bouchercon. Conferences are good ways to meet future fans and booksellers. We need independent and big chain bookstores. New books are sold by word of mouth and by enthusiastic booksellers.

I’d join authors’ organizations as soon as possible. The Mystery Writers of American and Sisters in Crime were especially helpful for

Elaine Viets (orange shirt) moderates a Sleuthfest panel with authors Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner (front, from left), Brendan DuBois, Chris Grabenstein and Dana Cameron. (back,from left)

me. Volunteer for committees in those organizations. That’s a good way to make useful contacts and learn the business.

PJ: What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?

Elaine: The day my first mystery, “Backstab,” arrived. I was so proud of that book. My heroine was Francesca Vierling, a St. Louis newspaper reporter. My Aunt Betty even made me a baby carrier for the paperback.

Even after 19 books, I’m still excited when my new book arrives and I take time to admire it and celebrate.

PJ: What is the single most disappointing thing that happened to you as a writer?

Elaine: When my Francesca Vierling series was canceled after the fourth book. Dell eliminated an entire division. I was devastated.

PJ: What’s the most memorable thing (good or bad) that’s happened to you while promoting your work?

Elaine: I did an interview for a show called “Authors Connection” on Radio Ear Network. The network CEO called me later and asked if I’d like to have my own radio show. I now host a weekly half-hour talk radio show called the “Dead-End Jobs Radio Show” and interview people about interesting and offbeat jobs. You can listen to the show at Details are on my Website at Click on “Radio.”

PJ: With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?

Elaine: My sense of humor and an insider’s view of the working world. Publishers Weekly said “Final Sail” was “an eye-opening exposé of spoiled yachters and the not-so-glamorous lives of their crews in this action-filled cozy.”

PJ: What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet?

Elaine: Learn from your rejections. If an editor or agent turns down your submission, but tells you why, pay attention to their suggestions. Writing is a team effort. My editor will make many suggestions for changes on each book. I mope for a bit, but I follow most of them. Thanks to her, I’ve gotten starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and reviews in the New York Times.

PJ: Do you have a local independent bookseller you’d like to mention?

Elaine: Donna Mergenhagen, who owns Well Read Books, 1374 S. 17th Street in Fort Lauderdale. Well Read Books is near Port Everglades, so Donna gets the cruise ship crowd and boaters. It gives your books a chance for a worldwide audience. I’ve had people from Belgium and Germany at my Well Read signings.

PJ: Give us a list of your published titles in chronological or series order:

Dead-End Job mysteries:

(1) Shop Till You Drop
(2) Murder Between the Covers
(3) Dying to Call You
(4) Just Murdered
(5) Murder Unleashed
(6) Murder With Reservations
(7) Clubbed to Death
(8) Killer Cuts
(9) Half-Price Homicide
(10) Pumped For Murder

(11) Final Sail

Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper mysteries:

(1) Dying In Style
(2) High Heels Are Murder
(3) Accessory to Murder
(4) Murder With All the Trimmings
(5) The Fashion Hound Murders
(6) An Uplifting Murder

(7) Death on a Platter

PJ: Share with us an elevator pitch (no more than 30 seconds) of your latest title:

Elaine: PI power couple Helen Hawthorne and her husband Phil Sagemont both have their hands full in this adventure. Helen has to catch an emerald smuggler while serving snobs, scrubbing floors, and cleaning up after a pampered poodle. She’s undercover as a stewardess on a luxury yacht, and one crew member disappears during the trip. Was she lost without her boyfriend – or lost at sea?

While Helen cruises to the Bahamas, Phil has to catch a sexy gold digger who may have murdered her rich old husband. Phil’s working undercover as the new widow’s estate manager – and she wants Helen’s hunky husband to go really undercover.

PJ: Where can we buy it?

Elaine: Most stores should have it. You can order it from Barnes & Noble , and . You can also get signed copies from Mystery Lovers Bookstore  and all the other stores on my “Final Sail” tour. Tour details are here.

PJ: What last thing would you like to share with us that nobody knows about you and your work?

Elaine: When I’m working, I live on takeout from Seasons 52, a restaurant where all the entrees are 475 calories or less. It’s my version of Jenny Craig.

Elaine, thank you so much for taking time to share with us a little bit of your life! Folks, she’s one of the best. If you’ve read her work, you know that’s true. If  not, it’s high time you did. Do any of you have a question you’d like to add for Elaine?


11 thoughts on “Interview with Elaine Viets

  1. kevin tipple says:

    Good interview and thank you both.

    I have also learned from my rejections. I have learned I need to buy lots more ammunition.

    (unfashionably strange since 1961)

  2. jennymilch says:

    Elaine, this is great advice for all writers–published and emerging. Your publication path was fast, but you’re clearly still working hard! I was sorry to miss seeing you at Malice this year, and will look for your latest book. Thanks for the interview, PJ!

  3. I love author interviews, and Elaine’s was fascinating. Thanks to both Elaine and PJ for an interesting read. Special thanks to Elaine for all her fun-to-read mysteries. Please keep them coming!

  4. Great interview with Elaine Viets. Wow, what a great track record for books in a series. Thanks!

  5. Nice interview, ladies. Congratulations on all your success, Elaine!

  6. Brenda says:

    Most interesting and inspiring. And thanks for the link to the Lawrence Block article.

  7. Phyllis Vanlandingham says:


    Looking forward to your book release tomorrow and to hopefully meeting you at Bouchercon in Cleveland. I really miss The Lipstick Chronicles. PJ, thanks for a great interview.

  8. Terry in Alaska says:

    Excellent, informative, fun and the perfect length for such an interview. I love Elaine’s books (and always leave $5 a day for the housekeepers whenever I stay at a hotel after reading her advice some years ago based on asking workers how much of a tip would make a big difference in their lives; they said $1.)

  9. pjnunn says:

    Thanks for stopping by – glad you’ve enjoyed it!

  10. Pat Reid says:

    Loved the interviw but appreciate having the titles of Elaine’s books listed in order.

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