Friday, September 30, 2011

A Lesser Me

Well, it's author photo time again.  The one here on the left is the one that my publisher likes best.  Truth be told, I'm not entirely sure that I agree.  I don't like the sloppiness of the shirt in the front.  I wish the photographer had told me that the shirt was all bunched up.

The exciting part of the author photo this time around is that for Damage Control (July, 2012), my ugly mug will dominate the back cover of the book.  I wish I were modest enough to say I didn't care about that, but we all know each other too well for me to pull that off.  I think it's very cool.

Now, if I had my 'druthers, the chosen pic would be the one in the sports coat.

I just think it's a sleeker look.  It also shows me in the first Armani jacket I have ever owned.  Trust me, it was bought at a steep discount, but still.  Armani!  Note to the uninitiated: I learned a long time ago that while expensive clothes are, well, expensive, they also fit better and last longer.

For me, though, this particular author shoot is a milestone event for me.  As you read this post, I will have officially crossed the one-year mark for having kept off the fifty pounds that I lost.  Not to get all sappy, but in May of 2010, I had emergency gallbladder surgery that didn't go entirely well, but left me alive.  I didn't enjoy looking mortality in the eye.  On the day I left the hospital, I vowed to my wife, Joy, that I would take life's warning shot for what it was, and change my gluttonous ways. 

I understand that no one is more annoying than the recent convert who presumes to preach to others.  I, too, remember that moment when Oprah celebrated her weight loss by rolling a wagon full of animal fat onto the stage to show what a wonderful thing she'd done, only to apply all of that fat back to her waistline within a year or so.  Having been prone to weight issues my entire life (I've been way more self conscious of my profile than I ever was of my hair line), I know better than to boast, because I know that I could backslide anytime.  Still, it's a good sign that I like vegetables now, and that they don't have to be fried for me to get them down.

Does it help a weight loss regimen to spend a few months barfing up food that annoyed your gallbaldder?  You betcha.  It's God's ultimate diet plan, and I credit Him with half of the fifty pounds.  The rest of it, though, is on me, and I'm proud of it.

My pride and narcissism aside, let's turn this into a discussion about books.  Do author photos matter to you when it comes time to buy a book? 

Does the fact that Bob Crais looks like a friggin' movie star make you more likely to buy his books than if he were, you know, more Gilstrapian?  Does putting an author's mug on the outside of the cover where it can be seen by the casual observer make any difference at all?  Or is book buying really about the quality of the writing?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

There's a Story in Every Picture - Come Tell Us Yours

By Jordan Dane

I still get chills on release day. Officially released September 27th, Reckoning for the Dead (HarperCollins) is book #4 in my Sweet Justice novels, my second series with Harper. My thriller novels have the feel of being ripped from today's headlines because real crime inspires me. With an international setting, these books focus on a covert vigilante organization called The Sentinels that wields its brand of justice on a global scale, without the hindrance of jurisdictions or courts of law.
With a starring role, Jessica Beckett is a former bounty hunter from Chicago with mad skills in outsmarting fugitives on the run. She has a no frills, tenacious pit bull personality, with a Colt Python and a dark past that never stops punishing her. International operative, Alexa Marlowe, is the polar opposite. Living in New York City, she’s sophisticated and into high fashion. She’s well-traveled and loves the good life and pampering, yet she can be fearless when it comes to leading the men in her tactical unit through the fiercest of hostage rescue scenarios on foreign soil. Her strong sense of loyalty makes her willing to take risks by putting her own life on the line. These women give Lady Justice a whole new reason to wear blinders and their brand of justice is anything but sweet.
In Reckoning for the Dead, Jessie and Alexa’s worlds become embroiled in upheavals stirred from their shadowy pasts. For Alexa, her former lover and Sentinel’s chief, Garrett Wheeler, is reported dead, killed in a mysterious covert op that’s “off book.” When a new leader suddenly assumes control of the elite vigilante organization overnight—a man Alexa can't afford to trust—she isn’t buying anything he tells her. In search of Garrett and the truth, she goes rogue and off the grid, following a deadly trail that leads into Mexico, behind the fortress walls of a murderous drug cartel boss. Alone, Alexa has no one to watch her back, not even her new partner, Jessie.
Ex-bounty hunter, Jessie Beckett, has troubles of her own. When her DNA turns up as evidence in a gruesome murder committed when Jessie was only a child, before her life was shattered by an infamous killer, Jessie’s world is turned upside down. Solving a very cold case may hold the key to who she really is or kill the only memory she has of a woman she believes is her mother.
For Alexa and Jessie, the dead must have a reckoning.

In celebration of my new release, I thought it would be fun to post some images and have YOU tell US a short story. Pick an image and tell a brief tale--the start of a story. Think of it as ZUMBA for the brain. Inspiration can come from anywhere. Tease us and make us want more. Are you up for the challenge?

Cry Baby Creek Bridge - Every town has a legendary bridge

The Dungeon - The Stuff of Nightmares

There's definitely a story here. Please, no booking photos.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book Giveaways

As Writers, we want to get our books into the hands of as many readers as possible. One of the easiest ways to do this is to give away books for free. Here is a sampling of sites that promote giveaways plus some other suggestions.

Goodreads: Click on Visit your Dashboard, then scroll down to where it says Giveaways. Note that your book must be available on Amazon before you’re allowed to list it or it’ll deny your request and say your book doesn’t match anything in their database.

International Thriller Writers:
You have to be a member to offer a giveaway.

Library Thing
Or scroll down right column and click on Member Giveaways, then sign up to participate in the program

MWA: Mystery Writers of America offers monthly reader book giveaways. You must be a member to participate as an author and donate your book.
Who else should you consider?
  • Your Service People
Give your book as a holiday gift to people who serve you, i.e. the hairdresser, doctor, dentist, accountant, etc. Include a chocolate treat or Starbucks gift card with a nice coffee mug.
  • Speaker Engagements
When you give a talk, give out a book or two to folks who ask questions or for door prizes.
  • Key Niche Market People
Send a free copy of your book to key people in your niche market along with a cover letter explaining why your book matters to them
  • Book Club Leaders
If you can find book club leaders who are willing to accept ARCs, and you have enough to spare, you might see if you can interest them in reading your book and recommending it to their group.

Giveaways are fine when you receive author’s copies from your publisher but not so cost effective when you have to pay for a POD book yourself, so economics may not always make this a feasible tactic. However, even a free ebook edition will be welcome by many readers.

are another way for you to offer your book to a lucky reader. As an example, often I will offer a signed book from my collection to a blog commenter during a certain month. I use the Random Integer Generator at to pick the winning numbers.

**Chance to win a free book! Leave a comment on this blog, and I will enter your name into a drawing for a free signed book of your choice from my collection of fifteen novels (if available). Winner will be announced as a final post on this site.
What other suggestions do you have for book giveaways? Does the format of your book make a difference? As a reader, do you prefer print or ebook editions?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

FISHING FOR READERS: It’s all about the Hook

By: Kathleen Pickering

Some hooks look like this: 

fishing tackle 

Other hooks look like this:

- I bared my balconet-supported breasts on the grocery line to see if they matched the bosoms the gossip magazine hanging on the rack featured as mine.

- Stella broke his arm with a thought; the sickening snap thrilling her like a deep, wet kiss.

- Leaning forward in their chairs for his next answer, the audience remained clueless to the fact that Rodger Heller no longer stood before them. (Future hooks by Kathleen Pickering)

Fishing tackle 2Not just for fishing any more, hooks are considered the number one lure for catching readers.

Your first line—your highly polished bait--attracts readers and gets them to bite again and again, turning pages and creating fans.

imagefishing tackle7

While ancient fishing tackle and cave paintings suited small communities and worked for plying waters close to shore, today's audiences are huge and are easily distracted by flashing media and super-speed technology. Today's hooks, although still the ultimate writer-tackle of choice, must be sharper than ever.

Hooks--so many types! Of the various suggested techniques, I've listed my five favorite hooks below.

1. Three-Pronged Hook. This is a wonderful approach using three sentences to pull the reader deeper into the story.

Here are three, expertly crafted Three-Pronged Hooks:

“I sleep with the dead. I don’t remember the first time I did it and try not to think about why. It’s just something I do.”  (In the Arms of Stone Angels, by Jordan Dane)



“Two Whom It May Concern: My name is Wilfred Leland James and this is my confession. In June of 1922 I murdered my wife, Arlette Christina Winters James, and hid her body by tupping it down an old well. My son, Henry Freeman James aided me in this crime, although at 14 he was not responsible; I cozened him into it, playing upon his fears and beating down his quite normal objections over a period of 2 months.” (Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King)



“The boy stood naked in the middle of the road. Sam Hall’s headlights caught him there, frozen in position, like a deer. He was covered in something slick and it dripped down his flesh.”  (The Evil Inside, by Heather Graham)


Makes you want to read more, yes? You'll also see that expertly composed hooks manage to combine techniques to create a masterful atmosphere. With hooks created by the guest authors I’ve featured here today, if readers were fish, they'd be jumping into the boat.

2. Startle Hooks. These hooks capture audiences quickly because the readers can't quite believe what they’ve just read (like those hooks above). Folks will keep reading to discover what is really going on. Another example, and shameless plug, is in Mythological Sam-The Call, where Sam Wilson starts the first chapter with a surreal visual:

"I steer around the bend and my breath catches in my throat. A hideous, mythological hydra suspends across the bay, clawing each shore with twin, snarling heads straining towards the sky." (Mythological Sam-The Call by Kathleen Pickering.


Couldn’t help but include myself here, especially in such good company, but  I hope you’ll agree that no normal dude driving along the road is going to see a snarling, mythological beast where a bridge is supposed to be. I'd like to think the startle factor will keep the audience reading to learn what's really happening.

3. Describe a personality and elicit emotion.  See how a master handles this one:

“Myron lay sprawled next to a knee-knockingly gorgeous brunette clad only in a Class-B-felony bikini, a tropical drink sans umbrella in one hand, the aqua clear Caribbean water lapping at his feet, the sand a dazzling white powder, the sky a pure blue that could only be God’s blank canvas, the sun as soothing and rich as a Swedish masseur with a snifter of cognac, and he was intensely miserable.” (The Final Detail, by Harlan Coben).


Superbly done. (Applauding from my chair!) This hook flashes Myron as a law enforcer of high caliber who knows danger, attracts sexy women, lives life like a hedonist and is bored out of his gourd, eliciting both envy and concern from the reader over a intriguing personality. All done in one sentence. Amazing.

4. Establish a Setting. Mr. Coben also combines setting into the above hook, so I will cite the same quote. While establishing a setting is a gentler hook, when professionally cast as Coben has done, the results reel readers in hook, line and sinker. (I just know you were waiting for me to use that cliché!)

5. Introduce the Main Character. This hook is most effective when working with character driven plots, especially if the author is establishing a series with a particular character. Here, F. Paul Wilson's character, Repairman Jack, has developed a cult-like following by portraying a darkly dangerous Jack with a quirky yet endearing, under-the-radar life style.

"Jack looked around the front room of his apartment and figured he was either going to have to move to a bigger place, or stop buying stuff. He had nowhere to put his new Daddy Warbucks lamp." (Conspiracies - Repairman Jack Series, by F. Paul Wilson)


Paul told me Repairman Jack was only supposed to be a few books. Instead, Jack's huge success spawned fifteen Repairman Jack novels. Paul recently released a Repairman Jack young adult series to explain Jack's formative years. Yes, indeed. Dr. Wilson must own a pretty snazzy tackle box to hook such a huge fan base.

So of the various techniques for creating hooks, including use of dialogue, and introducing conflict and/or problems, these are my top five picks. What are your hooks of choice? Feel free to give examples. I'll check back later because I'm off to bait another hook. I'm going deep sea fishing, this time!

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Big Apple

I'm off to New York today to attend a friend's 10th wedding anniversary party and to see my agent. I'll be back online (I hope) next week. In the meantime, any pearls of wisdom (?) - I am saying 'a few words' at the anniversary/renewal of vows ceremony and hope not to sound too soppy, sentimental or dull. Any advice??

Sunday, September 25, 2011

An Open Letter to Traditional Publishing

James Scott Bell

Dear Traditional Publishing,

You've been taking it on the chin pretty good over the last year, so I wanted to write you a little letter and buck up your spirits. You're an old and good friend. I want you to know that.

We've had great times together and they're not over. We've done almost 30 books, you and I, and we have more in the pipeline. You send me royalties and never once has one of your checks bounced. I appreciate that!

But your head must be spinning like Victor Ortiz's after Floyd Mayweather coldcocked him. With the e-reader revolution hitting harder than virtually anyone predicted, you've really hardly had time to get up off the canvas. I don't want you to be counted out (and I certainly am not one of those in the cheap seats shouting for your demise!)

There is, however, something you need to understand. A lot of my writer friends are suffering right now because you're dropping them. Yes, this is business, and the cold hard truth is you just haven't got the dough coming in you used to. This limits the amount you can spend on new and midlist writers.

But there are lots of writers who signed contracts back in the day, before 2005 or so, whose books you've let go out of print. These writers would like to bring out these old books as e-books to try and make themselves some much needed scratch, but you are in most cases steadfastly refusing to give back any "electronic" rights. You're going to hang onto those forever and just let the books sit there in digital land hoping they bring in a few beans.

Can I make a suggestion? Don't play hard guy on this just because you're bigger. Don't pummel the struggling authors. Let them have their books. You're not going to make a ton of lettuce on these. Being generous at this point would go a long way toward re-establishing some good will.

As for me, I am glad that it's not either/or with us. I have you and I have self-published books that complement what we're doing together. In point of fact, I'm doing what you always tell your authors to do: increase their platform, increase their readers. I'm making hundreds of new readers each month with my e-books, and that will only increase. Any author making new readers who feed into traditional offerings is creating a win-win situation. You can use a little more of that, I daresay!

Well, I know there's a lot on your mind and you've probably got meetings to attend (watch out for those three martini lunches, though. Things aren't that bad), so let me just give you some props and thanks. You let me have my dream. You have treated me fairly, and even though we've had a few disappointments, I am grateful that I get to be a working writer because you once took a chance on me.

Which is why I am hoping for your recovery. Of course we both recognize that things will never be the same. Too much has changed and will continue to change. But we still need people who love books --  yes even books printed on paper! -- collectively working toward the production of quality literature. You've been doing that for a long time and I'm pulling for you to keep on doing it in some form or fashion in the future.

Hope this helps a little. Keep in touch. Maybe next time I'm in New York you can buy me a drink.

Yours truly,

a.k.a. K. Bennett

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Zombification of Miller

John Ramsey Miller

I’ve been reading a lot of Zombie books lately, and I'm not truly remorseful. A guilty pleasure. There are so many, and so many authors writing in that horror sub-genre write great books indeed. Damn it, people just like Zombie hoards. It seems to me that before NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, Zombies were unfortunate people brought back to life by a Voodooie priest to become a slave of some sort. Usually there was a secretish herby drug involved that accomplished this and (supposedly) there have been actual cases of Caribbean-based people who were once dead, and had no memory of their prior existence. Whatever. But the point is (as far as I know) they didn’t spend their time above ground, looking to eat flesh and brains until John Carpenter’s low-budget Chittlin’ yard party outside the old farmhouse near Pittsburgh.

James Scott Bell’s Zombie lawyer, Mallory, breaks the mold, and it’s an hilarious book. A Vampire’s trial held at night is a hoot I know he thought his book through, and made his zombie more realistic than most authors writing about Zombies. But his book is comedy and not horror so much.

Each Zombie book, like the Vampire ones, is different but shares certain similarities. There are lots and lots, but I’ll list a few.

1) Some sort of virus (celestial based or scientific experiment gone bad) gives the dead their locomotion fuel

2) The physical sharing Zombie Juice, or the airborne Zumbo-dust that covers the world, makes you become one upon dying

3) Being Zombified cuts IQ toward single digits. They can move around mostly in a shuffle, but can’t open doors, or use ladders, although steps are not a problem.

In some of these books Zombies learn tricks like opening doors and even setting up ambushes.

4) only opening the skull and scattering brains stops the things. They can see other Zombies get their brains scattered but (in denial like living people) do not think it can happen to them.

5) They do not respect old relationships and will eat their immediate family as soon as they’ll eat a politician

6) They begin to rot out and decay which adversely affects their appearance and gives them an unpleasant odor

7) They can walk if they have retained their legs, or crawl if legless, but wheelchairs are too complex to operate. If immobile, a zombie head can lie waiting like a rock until an ankle or a finger finds its way into its mouth.

8) All they think about is eating flesh and or brains

9) They have a keen sense of smell, see and hear well above the average living human

10) They often repeat old habits like going home to eat their friends and family, or go to the mall

10) They tend to gang up

11) The children zombies are usually faster moving than the adults

12) They coexist peacefully until preying

So this got me to thinking about how much disbelief I should suspend. I was asking a Chiropractor the other day how if tissue and muscle was rotting normally, how long could a Zombie walk around before critical disconnection and failure of the ability to locomote. If they can “live” just fine for years without eating, why do they go to so much trouble trying to eat something they can’t digest or pass? He said, “None of it is possible.” He wasn’t willing to theorize. I can believe all of it in a well-written story, but I do have questions galore that I often wonder how the writer can deal with. Bodies decay to bones, which are connected by living tissue and not even a reanimated brain can make tissue regenerate.

I think people are so into Zombie books because it appears society could degenerate and the institutions that keep us safe, break down. When anarchy is the norm, the strong will try to subjugate the weaker members of the non-society. I suppose that is a big factor in the surge of popularity. Plus, I think people just like seeing Zombies get it, more than they do ghouls or politicians.

If you want to read two very good series, try Stephen Knight’s GATHERING DEAD series, or Joseph Talluto’s White Flag of the Dead series.

What's your guilty pleasure in novels?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Reader Baggage

By John Gilstrap
A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a "fan" who loves my books, but is deeply annoyed that I allow my “left wing liberal politics” invade my work. I’ll give those who know me well a moment to stop laughing.

As evidence of my “politically correct bullshit” he notes that in Threat Warning, my fictional terrorists are “God fearing Christian men and women” when “we all know” that the true terrorists are Muslims. In my reply, I ignored the substance--including his assessment of who my fictional terrorist truly are--and thanked him for reading my work. Some conversations are just not worth having.

For the record, I work very hard to keep politics out of my writing. It just doesn’t belong. I’ll leave that subgenre of the thriller market to Brad Thor and Barry Eisler—between the two of them, the ends of the political spectrum are well covered. Still, I guess it makes sense that because Jonathan Grave is a former Delta operator and he uses a lot of weaponry, people might assume that he’s a right-winger, but that would be based only on the clichéd assumptions made about groups of people. Truth be told, I don’t think that Digger would have much time for any politician.

This email got me thinking, though, about how much of our reading is informed by the baggage we bring to the material we choose. We’ll all give a second (or third or fourth) chance to a writer whose earlier work impressed us, but think about how hard it is to give that same break to the same author who everyone loves, but whose first effort you experienced was sort of meh.

And it’s not just true of books. I like just about everybody, but there are a few folks on my shit list whose email correspondence always seems snide or hurtful. I have to remind myself that it’s entirely possible—maybe likely—that no offense was intended, and that where there’s no intent, there’s no foul, right?

When I was in junior high, I read my first Great Novel: Lord of the Flies. I was a better than average student, and as I read it, I remember being so proud of myself for catching on to the social subtext—the symbolism—of the book. My cousin was a high school English teacher at the time, teaching Lord of the Flies to seniors. When he told me that the pig-killing scene had Oedipal overtones, I thought he was making it up. Even after he explained it, I didn’t get it. That’s because I was reading an adventure story while he was teaching literature.

In Threat Warning, I wrote a thriller that my fan apparently read as a political treatise. At a book signing years ago, a very enthusiastic fan lauded Nathan’s Run for its symbolic depiction of the plight of the American Indian. She meant it as a compliment and I took it as such.  I never told her that American Indians never once entered my consciousness as I wrote the book.

I’ve come to the conclusion over the years that once my words are published, my opinion of what I meant to say has no more validity—perhaps even less validity—than the opinion of those who read the words through their own filters. That’s the nature of art in any form, I think. I get my shot when I create it; after that, it’s all up to the observer/consumer.

What do you think? If a book arouses in you an intense emotion, does it matter that it might never have been the author’s intention to do so? Do authors’ intentions for their own work matter at all after the book is published?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Marketing in a Digital World – Maximizing FREE

By Jordan Dane

After Joe Moore’s interesting post yesterday – More Signs of the Times – about ebooks, online book pirates, & marketing, I thought I’d share what I’ve been focused on with my upcoming Young Adult book – On A Dark Wing (Harlequin Teen, Jan 2012) and the advance marketing we’re targeting for this release.
You might assume that targeting younger readers would automatically include a more savvy online promo approach, but more and more adult readers are turning to online resources to discover authors. With the growth in smart phones, having an aggressive online marketing strategy is important to create buzz for your books.
Below are some things I’m doing. I’ve also added promo ideas that I’ve heard lately and hope you’ll find some have merit.
1.)    GROUP Blogs – The Kill Zone is a fine example of how a group blog can draw online traffic, provide a service to its followers and share the workload. I’ve just started a group blog – TEENSHIVER – for Texas authors who write dark young adult books that make a reader shiver. TeenShiver will have an outreach to area schools, libraries & retail stores, as well as to readers of YA in our state, yet with an online presence that is global. Since publishers tend to spend money regionally, rather than on more costly national campaigns (unless you’re James Patterson), this concept has been well received by our publishers since we are optimizing our traffic while featuring our books too. We are offering our publishers a better place to justify spending budget dollars. Our followers will benefit too. Texas has amazing book conferences and the TX book review/blogging community is vital, thriving, and supports homegrown authors.
2.)    Virtual Book Tours – Many of you might be familiar with virtual tours, but I wanted to share a link that I think might help you figure out who to include on your tour stops. Quantcast ( is a site where you can query a domain to see how much traffic they get and their demographics. Many blogs may request a spot on the tour, but since we are all tight on time or on deadline, writing a post or answering questions for an interview take time we may not have unless the site is active. Virtual tours today have hosts, generous bloggers willing to take on the host duties of pulling their community together for an effective tour, plus an author’s publisher can add a budget for a grand prize to generate buzz and participation. There is so much more to say about how these are run today, but not enough space here. Physical book tours are hit or miss as far as foot traffic & how successful they can be, but with virtual tours you never leave home and the blog traffic keeps coming long after you’ve posted.
3.)    Twitter – I’ve found twitter to be a wonderful community to get to know and if you post your blog link or website or stir up a virtual tour, you can actually track the stats on your blog. This is quantifiable data. Social media spots like Facebook don’t have stats on traffic because they are not set up to conduct business well. Twitter is free and can be used effectively to enhance the draw to your blog or other objectives. Cultivate the book blogging & review community. They are truly amazing & avidly into books. We use twitter here at TKZ. If you’re a TKZ fan, follow us at this LINK.
4.)    Blogging – Whether you do a group blog or fly solo with your own, blogging is free and has stats for traffic analysis. If you have an active blog with commenting followers and an even more active lurker community (reflected in stats for your site hits), blogging is a resource that can be especially useful to the self-published author, the aspiring author trying to get their name out, and the pubbed author with “out of the box” promo objectives. Used in conjunction with twitter, this can be an effective way to post interesting articles to the blogosphere without costing you the money that a website domain would.
5.)    Street Teams – This is a concept that may be more prevalent with young adult readers, but there are adults volunteering their time for this too. Street teams started with the music community for people wanting to support their bands. Authors have taken this concept a step further and created clever ways to tie this promo function into their books. You can post a sign up on your website (like a yahoo group) where avid readers can send contact info to participate in a buzz campaign for your next release or an ongoing support group. You set up the criteria they need to be approved (ie must have a blog or post to X number of blogs for an advance review, etc. Publishers’ qualifications are posted on and gives guidelines on what these pre-qualifiers might be.) These avid fans (with special team names you create) are promised special insider information about your upcoming release, sent advance teaser quotes from your book, given swag like bookmarks or other token gifts or signed book covers, sent bookmarks/postcards to hand out—in exchange for help to spread the word about your next book, both online and word of mouth. Again, this is a huge topic without room to expand here.
Bottom line—take advantage of what is free on the internet. Get to know the growing technology that readers are using and come up with fun new ways to get your name or brand out there. Even if you are an aspiring author or thinking about self-publishing, having an online presence is important to develop a solid foundation of marketing your work and exposing your name to the publishing industry and readers who might be looking for you.

If you’re a reader, I’d love to hear how your search for books has changed in this more digital world as newspaper review sections have declined and other resources have dried up? Where do you go online for book recommendations?

And if you’re an author, I’d love to hear any other ideas for online promo that you think might be worth consideration. What has worked for you?
Reckoning for the Dead (HarperCollins, Sept 27, 2011. Book #4 - Sweet Justice adult thriller series)
"Jordan Dane crafts nail-biting thrillers with fully-realized but very damaged characters, and plots that twist and turn and double-back to bite the unwary. Her novels are 21st Noir with guts and heart and a wicked sense of humor."
—Jonathan Maberry, New York Times Bestseller

More Signs of the Times

By Joe Moore

In a recent article in The Economist, it was reported that in the first five months of this year, sales of consumer e-books in the U.S. surpassed those of adult hardback books. Only a year before, it was 3 to 1 in favor of hardbacks. Amazon now sells more e-books than paper copies. It’s predicted that as more bookstores close, that will just continue to increase.

Another sign of the times: furniture manufacturers like IKEA are introducing book cases that aren’t designed to hold real books.

The publishing industry is running behind newspapers and music in moving into the digital world. But while the music and newspaper industries are in decline, many publishers feel the transition to ones and zeros will have better results. One big reason is that digitization will breathe new life into old titles and out-of-print books. Some genres, such as serialized romance novels, has a very short shelf life. This will no longer be a big factor since e-books never go out of print. Fans can access these books any time after publication thus extending the income potential for the publisher and author.

Despite this glowing advantage, the article also points out a couple of darker concerns. Number one on the list is piracy. Unlike a digitized movie or music album, e-book files are very small. BitTorrent-powered peer-to-peer websites make sharing and downloading books easy. Accessing the latest bestseller for your e-reader takes only seconds. And it’s widespread and growing like weeds. I get a couple of Google Alerts a week notifying me of new websites where my e-books can be downloaded for free.

Pricing is another threat and directly contributes to piracy. The higher the price, the better the chance that someone will go looking for a free download.

Then there’s the demise of the brick and mortar bookstore. As more stores close, the ability of a publisher to market and promote their books disappears. In the case of Hollywood, fully produced movie trailers run on TV and the Internet, and with music, radio stations are the main path to promotion. But as the number of bookstores decreases, so does the ability of publishers to promote their latest books, virtually the only cost efficient marketing outlet they’ve had up until now.

So with the steady growth of e-books, which one of these issues has directly affected the writers out there? Is your backlist being given a rebirth in digital format? Are your books being pirated? Are the bookstores in your town hanging on or vanishing? Has your publisher found other avenues to promote your work?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Milking a "crime" for all it's worth

As a writer, I'll admit it--I don't get out much. My days mostly revolve around my laptop, the dog park, and reruns of K9 Cops on Animal Planet.

So whenever something mildly interesting does happen, I run with it. Like last week. A guy driving an over-sized pickup ran into a parked SUV at the dog park, whacking off a good-sized chunk of fender. I left to find the SUV's owner, while the pickup driver sought a pen and paper from other bystanders.

I returned with the SUV's owner, and discovered that the guy in the pickup had taken off without leaving a note. It was a hit and run. A young girl, a budding Nancy Drew type, had had the presence of mind to jot down the pickup's license plate. The police had already been called.

I had actually recognized the guy's face, so I stayed while the police arrived and took statements. When it was my turn, I gave a detailed description of the pickup driver. Unfortunately, I didn't know his name. "But his dog is a white German Shepherd named Freedom," I added helpfully. I kept referring to "we" as I described what had happened.

"Who was with you at the time?" the patrolman asked.

"Just my dog, McGregor."

"I wonder if I should write that down," he said, looking like he was trying not to smile.

From that day on, every time I went to the dog park, I was on high alert. I was determined to spot the pickup driver, just in case he tried to sneak in his white Shepherd for a game of fetch without being caught.

Two weeks later, I saw him. He was lounging by the fence, chatting up the owner of a Great Dane like he had nada a care in the world.

I leashed McGregor, stole back to the parking lot, and located the pickup. After a brief struggle over the morality of turning snitch, I called 911. I gave my name to the operator, recounted the hit-and-run incident, and said, "The guy's here right now if you're still looking for him."

I expected the 911 operator to chide me for taking up emergency time with a minor call--after all, this is Los Angeles. But instead, she put me on hold. And then, by God, I was patched through to an officer. It was the patrolman I'd given my statement to two weeks earlier.

He told me that they'd found the pickup driver after running his plate.

"The guy copped to the whole thing," he said. "We told him we had a solid witness on him, so he had nowhere to go on it. The insurance companies are working it out. Thanks for calling it in, though."

I slunk back to the dog park. Maybe it was my imagination, but I was sure the Shepherd's owner gave me a stare down. I felt certain I'd find a pile of poop on the hood of my car later on.

I think I'm too much a sponge for this sort of thing. I make notes over every little event, thinking that someday I'll use it in a story.

I guess I really should get out more. Take up skydiving or something.

How about you? Do you "use" real life events as kindling for the fire in your fiction?  Are you oddly pleased when something unpleasant happens in your life, just so you know what it feels like?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Proposals vs. Manuscripts

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

A friend of mine asked me the other day about how and when published authors use proposals to sell their work as opposed to having to write another complete manuscript. I said that authors under contract typically do a proposal for their next book and that often their publisher has an option (or first right of refusal) on any other project they may be working on, so authors will probably submit a proposal for this too. I have to admit though I have only my own, limited experience, to go on, so I thought I would throw the question out to my fellow killzoners and find out what they have to say.

Although I do know a fellow mystery writer who managed to sell a new cozy series based only on a two page concept, I have heard of others who supply a synopsis plus the first few chapters as their form of proposal. An editor I spoke to in the romance genre said it was typical for a published author to do this rather than having to provide a completed manuscript (the reasoning being that they have proven their ability to complete a book already) but my own agent seemed to suggest that when venturing outside one's genre a writer might have to finish the book first before it could be 'sold' to a publisher.

So fellow killzoners, what has your experience been?
  • Since your first publication (which almost always is sold on the basis of a completed manuscript) have you typically submitted proposals or completed works for future projects?
  • If you use proposals, are these only to your own publisher or to other publishers too?
  • What format do these proposals take? A short synopsis plus chapters, or a more detailed chapter outline, or something else?
  • A friend of mine has a great proposal template that includes subtitles such as 'backdrop', 'hook', 'set up' and 'character snapshots' - do you use similar elements or just a short summary?
  • If you were advising a newly published author in this regard, what would you tell them to bear in mind regarding proposals?
  • How many books did you have published before you could typically get away with using a proposal rather than writing the entire thing?
And for our blog readers, do you have any questions regarding the use of proposals to sell novels? If there are any agents or editors out there, how do you view proposals and in what circumstances are they (or aren't they) the way to go.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, September 18, 2011

What Makes a Novel a Page Turner?

James Scott Bell

When you get right down to it, what is it that readers love most about the reading experience? I think it can be summed up quite simply. It is the emotional pleasure of being so engrossed in a story that they must turn the page to find out what happens next.

That means there is one thing your story absolutely cannot be, and that is predictable. To the extent that it is, reading pleasure is dissipated. This applies to any genre, of course. 

So one of your goals as you begin to craft a novel is to figure out ways to pleasantly surprise the reader. For example, you avoid creating flat characters. You give us rounded characters, which E. M. Forster described as being able to surprise us in a convincing way.

Another way you create the page turning effect is through the element of mystery. Not just something you find in a whodunit. No, it's well beyond that. The skillful withholding of information is one of the best things a novelist can learn to do.

Especially in the opening chapters. My rule for openings is to act first, explain later. This simple guideline will greatly increase the readability of your first pages, and even beyond. Leave mystery inherent whenever possible and explain things only progressively. Drop in hints and actions that make the reader wonder, “Why is this happening?” or “Why is she doing that? Feeling that?”

Pull the reader along with unanswered questions, saving final revelations until well into the book.

Our own John Gilstrap does this masterfully in his novel At All Costs. In Chapter One, we see Jake Brighton, by all accounts a highly competent body shop manager for a Ford dealer. He's going about his business when a heavily armed team of Feds busts in and arrests him. As he's handcuffed and on the floor:

He fought back the urge to sneeze and tried to make the pieces fit in his mind.
We've been so careful.

Careful about what? Gilstrap doesn't tell us. Not until the final line of the chapter:

He wondered if he and Carolyn still owned the tops slots on the Ten Most Wanted List.

Whoa! Another question raised: What could this outwardly normal and hardworking man have done to be at the top of the FBI list?

Again, Gilstrap makes us wait. For almost a hundred pages. As Jake and his wife Carolyn try to escape town with their thirteen-year-old son, putting a long-ago plan into effect, we are drawn further in by the mystery of their background. (In a nice twist, not even the son knows what his parents have done).

It is only when the chase is on that Gilstrap reveals their hidden secret. By then we care for these people and we are hooked by the action.

Here is an exercise that will pay tremendous dividends for you: Go through the first five thousand words of your manuscript and highlight all the material that is explanatory in nature, that tells us things about the character's past.

Then step back and find a way to withhold the most important information. I believe in a bit of backstory up front to help us bond with a character, but not in giving us an entire life history. It's a judgment call, but that's what this writing craft is all about. This exercise will help you make an informed choice.

For example:

Rachel had never been the same since her daughter, Tessie, died at age three.

Obviously, this is a major piece of information about Rachel's emotional state. Instead of coming right out and telling us about it, consider showing us something about Rachel that indicates the trauma without revealing its source. For instance in a restaurant scene:

Rachel reached for the teapot. And froze. The tea cozy had a flower pattern on it, the same one––

"What is it?" Mary asked.

Rachel opened her mouth to speak but no words came out. She noticed her hand trembling in mid-air. She withdrew it to her lap. "I'm sorry," she said. "Would you mind pouring?"

Only later will it be revealed that the last time Rachel was with Tessie they'd had a "tea party" with a set that looked exactly like what is on the table at the restaurant.

Look for opportunities to keep readers wondering what the heck is going on––in plot, in character emotions, and in the world of the story itself. If you want to see a master at work on all three levels, read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, or see the film version directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Think back on some of your favorite novels. Do they not contain this essential element of mystery in the opening chapters, and even well beyond?

Note: the first part of this post is adapted from The Art of War for Writers