Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Blurbs, Excerpts and Other Annoyances

by Janis Patterson

I’ve said many times the bane of my life is doing publicity. From the time I was nine years old I grew up working in my parents’ advertising agency where creating ads and placing them internationally was an everyday occurrence. I know how to do publicity. I can write a press release that can sell a thousand widgets. I can do a visual that is pure poetry. I just hate it, especially when one doesn’t have an adequate budget – or even much of a budget at all! Even worse is the fact that I was raised in a very old-fashioned manner, meaning that one does not put oneself forward, that is it vulgar to stand up and say ‘Look at me, look at me!’ My family was not quite so primitive as to believe that a lady’s name appeared in the newspaper only three times in her life – birth, marriage, death – but to blow one’s own horn was both crass and cheap.

Sometimes our earliest lessons are the hardest to unlearn.

Which brings me to blurbs. And their bigger cousin, the excerpt. Lots of places take blurbs and excerpts on certain publicity days. Everyone knows you need an excerpt on your website. What ‘everyone’ does not tell you is how we are supposed to take our complex, multi-character, multi-plot book and boil it down to 250-300 words that have any kind of clarity or appeal. Some of us cannot even say ‘good morning’ in 250-300 words!

And as for excerpts - ! Same problem,  just longer. You’re supposed to have a pithy, intriguing scene that will so enchant someone that they will immediately want to buy the book – all in about 1,000 words or less. Trouble is, in my books at least, intriguing scenes are not perfect little capsules. The action is ongoing and interlaced, not chopped up into precise soundbites. And by action, I mean the story – not car explosions and shootings and fistfights. Though all of those do happen occasionally in some of my books…

For that matter, how can you take a slice out of a book and have someone know what’s going on without any backstory or knowledge of the characters? In the excerpt John and Mary are talking – or fighting – or making love. Who are John and Mary? Friends? Lovers? Foes? What is their relationship? Do they have a backstory? What outside forces are acting on them? To get all that information into an excerpt brings it perilously close to an info dump.

Do you get the idea I don’t like either blurbs or excerpts?

On the other hand, I don’t know of any other way to get any attention for one particular book out of the bazillions that are flying around out there. No one book will please everyone. Some books please more people than others. How to get a reader to pick up and buy my – or your – book when there is such an incredible choice out there is a daunting if not downright impossible task.

And I don’t have any better answers. If I did, I’d be both smart and rich.


Now, if you will please excuse me, I have a blurb to write and some excerpts to choose. Darn it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Ins and Outs of Promoting Seldom Traveled by Marilyn Meredith


This is the last day of my blog tour and I'm at B.K. Stevens blog:
 http://http://www.bkstevensmysteries.com/category/the-first-two-pages/

For the most part, the tour has gone well. There have been a couple of glitches--I never get as many comments when they have to be moderated--people like instant gratification. And since I collect the names for a contest, I want to see the comments right away too. There is so much work to a tour that the more I can do right away, the better.

One host didn't put the post up until the afternoon of the day I appeared--that fouls up my schedule too because I like to do the promoting first things in the morning before things get crazy around here.

And of course, there was one who didn't put it up on the day we agreed on--that seems to happen at least once on a tour.

Of course that's  not all I've been doing for this book. I've sent out review copies--I'd love to see more reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

I've busily set up places to go and sell books--gave a talk about creating memorable characters for a writers group, will be headed to the mountain community of Oakhurst to participate this Saturday at an author and book festival and giving a talk about keeping series characters fresh, And on Thursday, September 20, heading over to the coast to participate in a book fair from 3 to 8 at the Mission Plaza in San Luis Obispo.

I'm also working on a Kindle book give-away for an earlier book in the Tempe series--more about that later. The book will fit the Hallowe'en season.

It's a good thing I'm an early-riser because that's when I get most of my work done.

Yes, I've had a tad bit of Bouchercon envy--but it's truly a good thing I didn't go.

And I've even managed to squeeze in a bit of writing now and then.

Tell me what you've been up to.

Marilyn

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Hanging Out At Writers Conferences

by Linda Thorne

Last month I wrote what I hope was a "simple" interpretation on steps to take to become an author. One of my suggestions included hanging out at writers' conferences. If you're an aspiring author, what you'll get out of a conference (and you'll get a lot) is a whole other post.

Today, Thursday September 15th, is my first day at the 2016 Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, Blood on the Bayou. I'm here now in New Orleans attending as one of the many published authors; so, although my purpose at this convention still includes learning as much as I can, promotion and networking has taken on a much bigger role.


I'm assigned to a non-traditional panel today from 1:45 to 2:45 p.m. It's an interactive author panel/workshop called the Continuous Bouchercon Conversation and also referred to as the Magna cum Murder. There will be many different authors participating in this panel all day today, tomorrow, and Saturday, each coming in at their designated time and leaving an hour later.

Here are some pics from my two panels at the recently concluded 2016 Killer Nashville Writers Conference:

Session 5 Friday August 19, 2016 Building Your Network at Killer Nashville 2016. 


Left to right in the picture of all of us: Linda Sands,
me, Tom Wood, Bryan Robinson, and Kay Kendall.

The next panel I was tagged as moderator for How To Write Effective Plot Twists. Below from left to right is me, Tom Wood, Sharon Potts, Ray Wenck, and Kris Calvin.

 
Killer Nashville was a fun time. I started going in 2009 when I did not have a book published. I do now and this is the second year I've been included on authors' panels. Always a great time.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Why Readers May Not Like Your Books by Mar Preston




Did anybody sit down and draw like Michelangelo after a few tries? Play like the master cellist Pablo Casals? Till his death at 96, Casals practiced every day “because I feel as though I’m making improvements.” Don't give up if you're a new or aspiring writer.

You get better at it the more you write. No one else brings to your manuscript the same life experiences that color the characters, setting, and plot that you are writing. Your story is important.

Don't give up.

 

Liking a book--or not--is subjective.  It may be something as simple as the setting is a place where a reader may have broken up with an old girlfriend. Your reader picks up your book and the first five pages remind him of heartbreak. That is not a judgment on your book.

Your book description may have conveyed the impression this was a light-hearted “cozy” featuring cats and an amateur detective. Instead your book is really noir, dark in tone, and not something your reader is in the mood for. Again, not a judgment on your book.

Your reader may be the kind that reads only a few books a year and may face your book with many competing agendas for his time. Just because you read dozens of books a year and are in the habit of reading, too many others aren’t. They’re TV watchers, or gardeners, or like to hang out with the family in their leisure time. 

Another book may have taken precedence. All this publicity over Harper Lee’s new book may have compelled your reader to take another look at To Kill a Mockingbird. 

Your first five pages may have started slow. There’s no zing there to keep the reader turning pages and to get them away from the TV.

A speaker, at one of the first writer’s conferences I went to, said when you’d written a million words you’d be published. I’d written about 5000 at that point so you can imagine how those words resonated. Now when writers no longer have to win their way past the bottleneck of agent and publisher to publication, these words may no longer to true in one sense.  You can publish your second draft, without the advice of an editor, critique group, or proofreaders. Your mother loves it. That’s good enough.

The reason readers may not like your book is that you may not be at the top of your game yet, sad to say. Your next story, or your next novella or full-length piece of crime fiction may be the one that grabs notice. 

Sometimes it’s perplexing to look at two books side by side and wonder why one succeeds and another doesn’t.  It’s all subjective (when you hit all the high points that are currently popular in your genre.) 

The important thing is to honor your own voice, to keep going when the shadows creep in and darken your optimism.  Keep going when the most published author in your critique group, the one with the most insistent loud voice, tells you to make your heroine a hero, rewrite the ending, or just give up on this story. Don’t do it. Persevere.

If you have completed a manuscript that has a beginning, middle, and end, with a plot that makes sense, characters that are alive and engaged with each other, and a colorful setting—whatever else is wrong with it can be improved. 

If your spirits are sagging, along with the middle of your story, don’t give up. Take an online writing course, find a critique partner, trust a friend who loves reading your genre. If you’re ready to listen and learn, and take criticism to heart, there are techniques you can learn to improve your writing.
I know a little about writing mysteries and the craft of telling stories. You might check out my eBook series on “Writing Your FirstMystery.”

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Car Curse

by Janis Patterson

It doesn’t matter how good a car you have, or how well you maintain it, you are going to have car trouble, and usually at the worst possible moment. Both The Husband and I are absolute maniacs on keeping our cars in the best possible condition, believing that it is easier and cheaper to do good maintenance than to fix problems caused by neglect. In spite of everything, though, cars will maniacally develop problems, and always when you need it the most.

This week at a simply gosh-awful early hour I drove an elderly friend of mine to have a cataract operation. My pampered and petted car started fine, but immediately showed that I had a low tire - the right rear. As there was no time to look for that fast-becoming-extinct institution the full-serve gas station (and do I miss them!) I simply started driving. Our cars have special run-flat tires and on visual inspection the tire looked just like its fellows, so I picked up my friend and off we went - slowly, as you aren’t supposed to go over 40 on a low run-flat - and got to the surgical center in plenty of time. As soon as she went into surgery - where I knew by experience it would be at least two to three hours before I could take her home - I asked the staff if there were a tire shop around. No one knew of one.

God bless Google! I got on my phone and searched and found three tire companies within two miles of the surgical center. I chose the one with the most good reviews and off I went - slowly. I’m glad the place had so many good reviews, because it certainly was unprepossessing to look at and without the reviews I probably would not have stopped there. I’m glad I did, though, because the man there was so kind - he not only put air in my tire, he checked all four tires and even put the car up a little so he could be sure that no tire had any kind of puncture. And - they even did state inspections, which I had been trying to fit into my schedule for almost a month! Total cost? $25. That unattractive little shop is many miles from my home, but I really intend to go back there next year for the inspection.

There are a couple of neat little wholesome lessons in this rather drab little tale - sometimes unexpected things happen no matter how well you prepare, and sometimes appearances really don’t count. I wish I could remember that.

Addendum :
After I finished this blog post, the Car Gremlins showed that they weren’t finished with us yet. Our house is very unusual; we have a large parking area in the back, but it can be accessed only through a long, narrow drive to the street through which, because we have several vehicles, we must back if we want to get out. The Husband leaves earliest and arrives back latest (I work from home) so his car is almost always on the outside of the queue. He parks in the driveway itself, where there is more cover from the depredations of birds. Yes, he pampers and pets that car even more than our beloved dog. We won’t talk about my place in the pecking order!

The other night we decided that I should run to our local Whataburger (best burgers in the world!) and pick up supper as I was too wiped too cook and The Husband had a headache. I go outside and as I always do when I drive his car move back the seat (he won’t drive unless his knees are halfway under his chin like a cricket’s) put the electronic key in its slot and suddenly the car goes crazy. There is a loud ticking from the trunk, all the running lights and some on the dashboard start to flash and I can neither get the car to start nor remove the key.

Of course, being a rather melodramatically-minded mystery writer, my first thought was ‘someone’s put a bomb in the car!’ The Husband, after I had quit screaming, poo-pooed the idea, but he couldn’t do any more to make the car behave than I could. After a long and hamburger-less night (we ended up eating frozen pizza) we called the service number at our dealership and they immediately sent out a tow truck. I had been fearful about how they would tow it, as our cars tow only from the front and the back was sticking out to the street with less than two feet clearance on either side.

However – the tow truck driver was a kind and knowledgeable man. He didn’t laugh at me and said all we had was a dead battery. I did know, having driven clunkers for many of my poor years, that batteries could fail in a single heartbeat (though usually not so spectacularly), but The Husband was skeptical that such a thing could happen to his pampered baby – until the driver started the car with a single jump and was able to drive it up on the flatbed tow truck with almost insulting ease.


As the tow truck drove away I could swear that our car was sniggering at us. The Car Curse rolls on, but the good news is we only have one vehicle – a close to 25 year old pick-up truck with almost 200,000 miles on it – left to go. However… it will probably outlast all of us.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

How Different My Life is from the Lives I Write About

My favorite topics to write about are murders and the mysteries surrounding them. I also love writing about people who do terrible things and those who put themselves in danger to solve the crimes.

Only once was my life touched by murder and that was back when I was a kid, and one of my mother's church ladies killed her husband with an ax to the head while he slept. I don't remember either of them. What I do remember, is another of my mom's friends saying, "He was so boring, if I'd been married to him I'd probably have done the same."

Because in both my mystery series my main characters are in law enforcement, I'm often asked if that is my background. The answer is a simple, "No." However, growing up my uncle was an L.A. police officer as was a neighbor--I babysat his kids. I had a son-in-law who was a cop and then a deputy, who shared his stories with me, and now I have a grandson who is a police officer and a grandson-in-law who is a deputy.

I belong to the Public Safety Writers of America and I'm friends with many men and women who are or were in all different kinds of law enforcement, so I have many people to ask questions.

As for people who do terrible things--I've known a few--no murderers, but those who haven't made the right choices in far too many ways. However, I've never totally based a villain totally on a real person, but rather drawn on bits and pieces from this one and that one, molding a fictional character into someone who will, under the right circumstances, do something horribly wrong. And the most fun is to create someone who is just down right evil.

My own life, though certainly not boring, is more what you'd expect a grandmother (and now a great-great) to live. Hubby and I are surrounded by family of all ages, and we truly enjoy it. We don't do much traveling anymore--but once we did. I still do book festivals and attend Sisters in Crime meetings in Fresno and over on the Central Coast. Love to give talks to writers and service groups.

One of the best things about being a writer is you can still write about everything, whether or not you can still do them.


In my latest book, there is intrigue, murder, a huge forest fire like California is experiencing in many places now (we had one right up the highway in the mountains only a few days ago)--and I have a friend who works on these fires who helped me. And as with all of my Deputy Tempe Crabtree books, there is a bit of Indian mysticism. (And that seems to just pop out of my imagination.)

From the publisher in all different formats:


And of course available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


Monday, August 29, 2016

A JILLION DIFFERENT WRITERS

After more than twenty years in the profession I have decided that no two writers are alike.

We share a fascination with words and what they can do--yes. Most of us share an urge to succeed in being published--yes. We want to acquire appreciative readers--yes. But beyond that?

We are as varied as humans who read are.

The first big division of types comes, of course, in whether we write fiction or non-fiction. Non fiction ranges from blogs like this and letters to the editor ("opinion pieces?") to complex college texts and dissertations, to picture books about battlefields or butterflies, plus cookbooks and repair manuals, how-to books on health issues, articles and essays. (Though I know from experience that essays are often fiction-enhanced.)  Non fiction offers a huge variety of choices appealing to a jillion interests and needs. And the authors? As varied as those choices of course.

As to fiction--whooo. What do YOU like to read? Perhaps, since you are reading this on Make Mine Mystery, you are a mystery reader, but even in one category there is a mind-whirling variety from horror, blood and gore to gentle cozies. Me? I wonder what kind of mind produces horror stories.  Those writers seem like ordinary people. But . . . . I regret that I have never known a horror writer well enough to see what makes that person tick when it comes to words on a page or screen.

Romance--porn to sedate stories found in religious bookstores. Westerns--all over the fiction world: cowboys (and girls but, oh, she's usually the ranch owner), rodeo riders, bandits, outlaws, sheriffs and marshals, (good and bad), horses (that's consistent at least).

Then there's science fiction--and more, more, more.

Ah, well. The other thing I have learned is that writers' backgrounds vary as widely as their types of writing. For example, I write relatively cozy mystery fiction now, but I began as an essayist and article writer as well as a news reporter. (And, in truth, much news reporting is touched with fiction if only in the choice of stories covered and the manner in which they are told.) But, non-typically I think I had no interest in writing for paid publication until, as a senior adult, I discovered the Arkansas Ozarks. Being there interested me so much that, every day I woke up with a story to tell. At first it was all non-fiction, but then I began writing fiction set in real Ozarks locations.

Over and over I have heard writers talk about an interest in writing beginning something like this: "I wrote my first story when I was six, and . . . .  I also hear them say, over and over, "I create the locations for my fiction so I can put every activity in the type of place where I want it to occur. That way I have no problems with people saying 'Oh, that river isn't in XXXXX town.' "

And here I am, beginning fiction writing later in life, and choosing to set stories in real locations, all of them popular with tourists and Arkansans and described accurately down to the last doorknob and wildflower. (Want a visit to Arkansas's Buffalo National River, or the War Eagle Mill with its yearly craft fairs?  Read A River to Die For or A Fair to Die For. ) Yes, real locations take quite a bit of on-site research but I said that my chosen locations are popular with tourists and Arkansans. And, with my husband and me!

So--what's your personal story as a writer or reader?  All your stories are unique. Now, isn't that interesting?