Wednesday, February 3, 2016

How Do They Do That?

by Janis Patterson

Not long ago on one of my writers’ loops there was a discussion on how you couldn’t sell without reviews. Then some of the writers talked about how they only – only! – had six or seven hundred good reviews. Only six or seven hundred reviews? A goodly number of the writers I know would commit murder to have that many reviews, myself included.

It’s impossible to get on one of the best sales sites – such as Bookbub – without a set number of good reviews and those sites drive a lot of sales. Perhaps that is a good idea, as some of the books out there are pure rubbish, but in another way it is unfair to books which are good but have no reviews.

So how does one get reviews? If you want heavyweights, Publishers Weekly and Kirkus do reviews, but they are hard to get even if you’re with a legacy publisher and pretty much impossible if you’re an indie. Not too long ago Kirkus started offering a paid review with a very hefty pricetag and – if I remember correctly - no guarantee of whether it would be bad or good. There’s Netgalley review service, but it’s very expensive. There are those who sell lists of blogger reviewers, but there’s no guarantee that the book you send them will get reviewed at all, or even that the bloggers are still in existence.

There’s another risk in seeking reviewers, too. While there are very many good and honest people who review books – even if not all the books they receive – there is an unpleasant sub-species who get the books for free then either sell them on eBay or post them as free at pirate sites all over the internet, all probably without ever reviewing them.

I ask again – how does one get reviews? There are lots of writers who have tremendous fan followings, fans who wait with anticipation for each new book and who lavish rave reviews on every one. That’s an enviable situation where we would all like to be, but how do you get those legions of fans in the first place? Without reviews your book sinks like a stone to the bottom of the byzantine Amazon algorhythms.

And speaking of Amazon… it would seem logical that the first place a writer should look for reviews is to family, friends, other writers and paid reviewers. Except that Amazon does not like and will pull reviews if they know they are written by family, friends, other writers and paid reviewers. I don’t know how Amazon justifies accepting paid reviews from Kirkus and other top-level sources, but the ways of Amazon have always been strange and inexplicable. Just recently there’s a rumor going around that if you use a certain kind of Amazon link (a ‘super’ link, whatever that is) in your social media publicity, Amazon automatically assumes that whoever buys from that link is a friend of yours and if they do a review, it will be pulled down. I don’t know if it’s true or not, and I really don’t know why Amazon makes it so hard for authors to get and keep reviews. Yes, I know all about the sock puppet meme, and that was inexcusable, but why punish all authors for the arrogant sins of a few? Sometimes it seems that Amazon is dead set against ordinary, non-best-selling writers earning money, but then I’ve always believed that Amazon is not our friend.

So what does that leave? Nothing that’s in the writer’s control. All that can be done is for the writer to ask readers to leave a review. Most writers do in the back of their books. Most readers don’t.

But it would be lovely if they did.

By the way, if you’re in the Bonham, Texas area on this coming Saturday, 6 February, thirteen wonderful romance authors and I will be featured at the Eighth Biennial “Romance in Bonham” panel discussion/reader event. It will be held from 11am to 1 pm at the Bonham Public Library, 305 E. 5th Street. Please come by if you can – it’s free, of course.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Why Do We Torture Ourselves?

The "we" I'm referring to is authors--people like me.

We sit down in front of a computer screen and begin to write. Some of us have already written or thought out an outline, have a cast of characters, and now we're ready to start our latest mystery.

During the days and weeks and months that we're writing we're keeping track of the plot, making sure things are happening, when they should, planting clues and red herrings along the way, that the characters are responding as they should to what's happening to them, all the while trying to choose the best words to describe the action, making sure the dialogue sounds realistic, while following the rules of grammar.

Of course, we know that this first draft will be edited and rewritten, but still, we're going to do the best job possible. None of this is easy.

After the editing and rewriting, if we're self-publishing we'll probably hire an editor to go over it and make sure we did our job well--or if we're sending it off to a publisher we'll be hearing from an editor with things to change and fix.

After all that's done, while we're waiting for the book to be published, we're busy planning promotion--all the while though, there's that nagging thought--will anyone like what I've written?

So the book is finally available for people to read and we wait for that first review. What are readers going to say? For some this is a real worry.

What about sales? Only a small percentage of authors really make enough money writing to live on. So if we're not in that percentage, why do we do it?

I can only answer the question for myself--I have to write. It's what I do. Because I'm writing two series and I love my characters, the only way I can find out what's going to happen to them next is to write another book. So, in a way, maybe I'm writing for me with the hope that there are some readers out there who will want to read what I've written.

What about the rest of you?

Marilyn aka F. M. Meredith

Coming soon: A Crushing Death

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Freedom of Finishing by Mar Preston

I’ve just sent off my sixth novel to my editor and my two best and trusted writer friends. I am hoping to get insightful comments that help me better this mystery. It is the second in my series about a Kern County Sheriff’s Detective investigating a murder in the far from tranquil village where I live.

I’ve turned it over after two years work on it. After four unpublishable novels which served as an apprenticeship in learning how to write, then five modestly successful crime fiction novels, I thought I had the process down fairly well. This last one has almost defeated me.

Perhaps it was one I did really want to write but felt I had to. Four previous novels were set in Santa Monica and featured an SMPD detective. But my bestselling novel had been a standalone set in my mountain village. I thought it should be the debut of a series.

It’s advanced slowly through many fits and starts. I tried outlining which is against my nature. I changed the killer half way through. I gave the killer a sidekick. The only constant through this agonizing process was that the story took place in a cat sanctuary. I knew the animal rescue world and it unfailingly intrigues me.

In the meantime I wrote and published 3 eBooks on the topic of Writing Your First Mystery. The book, still untitled, just wouldn’t come and I had now put so much time into it, I couldn’t abandon it. Finally I summarized the process in a 4th eBook called Finishing Your First Mystery, now in the process of publication. I worked at the wretched novel almost every day for two years. Of course there were lapses, but not many.

Quoting one of my favorite writers, Neil Gaiman: Creative work is often a slog and the only way you'll really get good at it is to finish what you start even when it's not going well. You'll end up learning more from that experience than if you quit.

Gaiman is right. I feel some sense of satisfaction, it’s true, even if I can’t say yet it’s ready for publication. By now I know it will be finished and I will feel pride when I hold it in my hand.
More than anything I feel the freedom of finishing. My first waking thought is not dread at what lays ahead of me when I open the file for the day. I can play at writing. Blogs, do some long-needed promotion, write a catch up email to my friend in Australia, pick up the phone and have a long gossipy conversation with a friend, start a new novel.

I’ve learned again that writing a novel-length piece of crime fiction is a marathon endeavor. My good friend tells me I always say I will never do this again at the finish of a novel. I don’t remember that but I believe her.

A story is already bubbling in my mind, this one in Santa Monica.

Writing Your First Mystery is available free here on my website.

Writing - thumbnail2

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Gumshoe: Same Work, No Hat

Kathleen Kaska

I’m writing a mystery set in the early 1940’s in Manhattan. It’s the first of what I hope will become a series. My protagonist is a private detective. He drinks too much and is starting to show signs of paranoia. He doesn’t eat right, wears a chip on his shoulder, and carries too much emotional baggage. It’s a wonder he can get through the day. But he’s a crackerjack detective; intuitive and fearless in a what-have-I got-to-lose sort of way. In other words he’s your typical hardboiled, wisecracking detective.
            I read a lot of the classic hardboiled mysteries, especially the ones written during the early half of the twentieth century by the great writers: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Dorothy B. Hughes, Patricia Highsmith, and James M. Cain. With these icons as my mentors, I’ve learned to weave a pretty good plot and develop appealing characters. For the story I’m working on, my research is focused on setting. I want to make sure I capture the essence of the decade, so I’m not just rereading many of these detective novels, but reading about the guys who wrote them and the happenings during that time.
            Nowadays no longer do women dress in pearls, heels, and stockings just to go to the grocery store, or to take the kids to school. Men, no matter what their social status, no longer dressed in suits, ties, and fedoras. Even the foremost reasons for someone to hire a detective have changed. Sure, cheating spouses are still out there and murders continue. But today’s gumshoe is more likely to spend his/her time investigating corporate security leaks and computer hacking. Those changes are most evident in a company that’s been around for almost 166 years.
            Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency started up in Chicago in 1850. Dashiell Hammett worked for them for seven years before he began writing mysteries. Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters from his Sherlock Holmes’s stories, Birdy Edwards in The Valley of Fear, and Leverton in “The Red Circle,” worked for them. Since then, the company has grown into a global security agency. It is now housed in New York City and still offers gumshoe-type services, but its website describes the business as “the industry’s leading provider of risk management services and solutions for organizations.”
            The most legendary Pinkerton cases from the 19th century are:
·      In 1861, Pinkerton discovered an assassination plot on President Lincoln and thwarted it.
·      In 1866, they tracked down notorious train robber Oliver Curtis Perry.
·      In the 1870s, Pinkerton agents were busy pursuing Jesse James, the Dalton Brothers, and Butch Cassidy and his gang.
·      On the Mona Lisa’s voyage across the Atlantic in 1968, Pinkerton was hired as an escort.
            And here are some more notable facts:
·      Kate Warne was hired in 1856 as their first female detective. She later was put in charge of the female division.
·      John Scobell, hired during the Civil War, was Pinkerton’s first African-American intelligence agent.
·      Pinkerton developed the first criminal database by collecting newspaper clippings and mug shots.
·      By the turn of the twentieth century, they had more than 2,000 agents.
      Finally, here is the original Pinkerton code:
·      Accept no bribes.
·      Never compromise with criminals.
·      Partner with local law enforcement agencies.
·      Refuse divorce cases or cases that initiate scandals.
·      Turn down reward money. 
·      Never raise fees without the client’s pre-knowledge.
·      Keep clients apprised on an on-going basis.
            Now the code is simplified to three words: “We never sleep.” The company’s key values are integrity, vigilance, and excellence.
            Chances are you will never need the services of Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency, but you can “friend” them on Facebook, “follow” them on Twitter, and “link” to them on LinkedIn. Its blog offers a wealth of information for mysteries.
            Oh, by the way, Pinkerton’s is hiring.
Fedoras and Ferragamos
Kathleen Kaska

Friday, January 29, 2016

Writing for Seniors

I write senior sleuth novels because there’s a growing market for retirees who enjoy  reading about characters in their own age group. I was intrigued years ago by Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, who were wise and introspective, but never seemed to have any fun.

That’s not true of today’s seniors who are less inclined to retire to their rocking chairs than previous generations.

The late Pat Browning, who wrote Absinthe of Malice, said: “A St. Martin's editor gave me a piece of advice I have never forgotten: ‘Be careful not to turn your characters into cartoons.’ I try to picture older characters as they are--the same people they always were, only older. This is especially true when it comes to romance and sex. For all the jokes about senior sex, it's a very real part of senior life, and it's no joke to those lucky enough to have a romantic partner late in life.”

I agree. Not unlike Janet Evanovich’s character, Grandma Mazur, who is eccentric enough for a cartoon character, most seniors have the same interests they’ve always had, with the possible exception of roller blading and downhill skiing. On second thought, I once interviewed Buffalo Bill’s grandson Bill Cody, who learned to downhill ski at 65 to keep up with his much younger wife.

Mike Befeler writes what he calls “Geezer-lit.” His novels feature his octogenarian protagonist, “who is short on memory but has a sense of humor and love of life. He accepts his ‘geezerhood,’ solves a mystery and enjoys romance along the way.”

My second senior sleuth mystery, A Village Shattered, takes place in a California retirement village. The plot is generously sprinkled with humor but none of the seniors resemble cartoon characters, although a couple come close with a redneck Casanova and love starved widow. Diary of Murder followed and I portrayed the two 60-year-old protagonist widows as quite capable of traveling the country in their motorhome as well as chasing down killers who happened to be drug dealers. 

Another senior writer, Beth Solheim, spent years working in a nursing home and says she loves the elderly and their “humorous, quirky insight to life, love and longevity.”

Chester Campbell, an octogenarian, writes the Greg McKenzie Mysteries. He said, “My friends in this [age] bracket are out going places and doing things. Some, like me, continue to work at jobs they enjoy. I chose to use a senior couple in my books who are long married, get along fine, and do a competent job as private investigators. Greg, who narrates the books, is aware of his limitations from age and makes up for physical shortcomings by outsmarting his adversaries. My hope is to dispel some of the absurdity of the stereotypes about seniors that are all too familiar. Like the old song says, "Anything you can do I can do better."

Like so many other novelists, I write what I enjoy reading. My readers are mainly retirees and baby boomers who number over 78 million. Some 8,000 boomers are moving into the senior column every day, the fastest growing potential book buying market on record.

We’re experiencing the graying of America. What better age group to write about and for?

~Jean Henry Mead

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Two Stories Brewing - The Start of a Series

by Linda Thorne

I’ve read a lot of reasons why authors write book series. A common explanation is the opportunity to hook readers onto their protagonist, so that they’ll want to follow her wherever she goes. Some authors say their first book started out as a standalone, but during the writing process they were bombarded with ideas for a sequel.

My ideas for my first two mysteries in my series evolved about the same time some twenty-five years ago, way before I decided to write books. I thought the stories would make good movies, books, or both, but I had no intention of doing a thing to help them get there. I carried them around in daydream mode only. Sometimes I’d share parts of my stories with others and I’d say without meaning it, “I’d like to write a book.” Looking back in time, my daydream continued brewing, gaining momentum until the day I decided to write books. By then it felt like this was my destiny.

One of these brewing stories came from numerous experiences in human resources that I’d taken from true events and created a loose plotline. My story begins with a young female employee, a no-call-no-show for work, who is found murdered. This really happened at a manufacturing plant I’d worked at in Denver. Then, at another time and workplace, I watched another young woman be continually blamed for things she had not done. I created a story, a mystery, to solve the case of the no-call-no-show who turned up murdered, to find justice for the mistreated young woman employee, and make certain bad bosses got their comeuppance. I shared this with others adding, “I’d like to write a book” with no intention of doing so.

Over the years I began to add other experiences and create new characters, fictionalized from people I met. The plot for both stories began to thicken and when I finally decided to write a book, I chose the story in the paragraph above for my debut novel. My original title was The Termination of Jolene Cromwell, based upon the young woman ill-treated by one of my employers. By the time I started writing the book, the story was about a lot more than the person I renamed Jolene Cromwell, so I changed my book title to Just Another Termination. The book was published in August of 2015.
My other story had come from a harrowing experience I’d had when I was twenty-two. My roommates had gone to their parents homes for Thanksgiving. I didn’t have family nearby and I worked, so I stayed alone in the huge rickety old house we rented during a wind-driven blizzard. In the middle of the night I heard someone come into the house and start up the stairs toward my room, but a one-in-a-million-chance phone call scared the person off. Another woman in the neighborhood about the same age as me was murdered shortly afterward. Was she murdered instead of me? A few months later I moved out of state and lost track of the case. In creating this loose storyline, I had my lead character, years later, move back to where this had happened, put her in danger of a second attempt on her life by the killer, and allowed her to solve the original murder of the other young woman. I shared this story with others too, always ending it with, “I’d like to write a book,” never really meaning it.

The story I just mentioned will be my second book when I’m finished writing it. I had to give my protagonist, Judy Kenagy, a reason to return to the area where the harrowing event took place, and someone else murdered, but what could it be? She loved where she lived. So, I let Judy's husband lose his higher paying job then wrote in a job promotion for her to become vice-president of human resources. The promotion required her to relocate back to where she needed to go. The title of this work-in-progress is A Promotion to Die For.

I don’t have a story yet for the third book and while writing the other two, ideas have not come knocking. For the third in the series, I only know that after Judy loses the job she was promoted to in book two, she moves to the greater Nashville, Tennessee area where I’ve lived since 2008.

Buy Links:  Barnes and Noble  Google  Black Opal Books      

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Ever-Growing Peril

by Janis Patterson

Being a writer is a hard life. Not only do you have to come up with a multitude of ideas that you can shape into a coherent, interesting story, you have to then write the thing, all the while you have to check your facts, make sure your grammar and spelling are correct and your character names are appropriate to the time of the story. Then once the book is finished, you have to edit it to the best of your capability. Once that is done you can start the unholy dance of submitting it to agents/editors and waiting for months if not years for an answer. Then even later once the story is contracted you begin editorial combat, reworking your story to fit their prejudices and guidelines. Sometimes more than once. Then you continue to wait until your time comes up in their publishing schedule, which again can be more than a year. Or two. Or, if you are self-publishing, you send your story to an independent editor for their version of editorial combat. This time, however, you have the final say – it is your story after all – but never forget that you are paying them for their expertise and you very well may be too close to the story to see the holes. Then you get do work with cover artists, formatters, publicity/advertising and the various vendors.

Ain’t none of it easy. Any way you look at it, writing takes time, some money and an emotional toll.

That just adds insult to injury when others take your stories and either give them away for free or, what is worse, sell them without your permission and with no benefit to you. There’s a reason they’re called pirates.

Now of course I’m not talking about the promotions the author her/himself does through legitimate outlets. I don’t always agree with that attitude – training readers to expect a full book that has taken perhaps several years to write for nothing or for a pittance cannot be good for any of us or for the industry as a whole. Plumbers and carpenters and pastry chefs and just about everyone else don’t give their services for free or close-to-free in hopes that you’ll come back to them when you’re ready to spend money. More and more most people will just go on to the next freebie. However – free or .99 is a legal decision when made by the owner/author.

What really frosts me is the blatant way in which our works are simply taken. “If it’s on the internet it has to be free” is something we hear a lot. Pirate sites simply scoop in books and give them away to anyone. To my mind that’s theft, but apparently beyond a feeble ‘that shouldn’t be’ our legal agencies aren’t doing much of anything to stop it.

Amazon itself is fostering a kind of theft – the returns scam. A customer will buy a book, read it, then return it for full credit, which is then subtracted from your earnings. Now I’ve returned a book I’ve bought – when I find out it isn’t the book I thought it was, or my sometimes unreliable and arthritic hands click when I don’t mean them to, or some other legitimate reason, but almost always within the space of twenty-four hours, and not very often – like less than once a year. However, some people brag that they get the books, read them and return them – sometimes as many as four or five a week! I know Amazon is proud of its commitment to customer service, but surely they should be able to see that this is a form of theft, not only from us but from them! Surely they keep some kinds of record about who returns what and when…

And we won’t even go into the subject of plagiarism, where someone gets a book, sometimes does a search-and-replace on names and towns (and sometimes not!) then publishes the book as their own creation. Even when such an egregious crime is exposed Amazon does nothing about giving just recompense to the actual author. The plagiarist walks away with the unjustly ‘earned’ money.

Even though it doesn’t seem possible, it does get worse. A bunch of crooks on eBay are selling multi-book collections – sometimes numbering in the thousands – to which they have no right. Worse, they are also selling RE-SALE rights, telling their customers that they not only have the rights to these books, that they can sell them the rights to re-sell them themselves. Everyone makes money – except the creator of the books. After all, what do we matter? All we did was write them… To add insult to injury, in spite of being told many times about this situation, eBay has done nothing about it.

There’s another scheme out there that seems a little bit shady to me, but it is legal. The site – and there are many of them –  advertises that they have all kinds of books, but when you click on a book, it takes you to the Amazon page, where you can purchase the book. It’s an affiliate scheme, where the site gets a few pennies for every book sold because the purchaser came through their link. It’s true they’re using your book to earn money without your permission, but it is a legal purchase and the author does get what they’re due. That alone makes it acceptable.

However – as loath as I am to support crime, there is a bright spot on the horizon. There are sites that claim to have just about any book in the world for free, but to access them the freebie hunter (i.e., the thief) has to give them his credit card number in order to browse, or to pay for a membership, or to make some token payment like a dime a book, or whatever. The good thing is that the site has no books – it either uses the freebie hunter’s visit to plant ad/malware/viri on his computer or it’s just a plain old phishing scam that rips off his credit card number. The thief looking for free books thus gets stolen from. Golly, karma is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?

So it’s not enough that we have to research and write the books, we must also be our own policemen, sending out DMCAs, which are more often than not ignored, and be constantly alert against the theft of our books. Some authors have just given up, saying that it takes too much time and the people who steal books aren’t going to buy them anyway, but that sends out the signal that theft is okay, and that offends my sense of what is right. I don’t know what the solution is, other than our government and legal agencies stepping up to the plate and actually doing something about such blatant theft, but that ain’t a-gonna happen. Anybody got any ideas?