Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Guest author J.L. Greger: Are they talking about us?

Janet & Bug

J.L. Greger, as a biologist and professor emerita of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, enjoys putting tidbits of science into her mystery/suspense novels. So far that’s Coming Flu and Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight. A third in the series is on the way.

Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” Was he right? All publishers seem to agree publicity (now politely called a platform) is necessary for sales.

Is publicity really just a form of advertising?
That question demonstrates I’m no expert on communications and perhaps a bit cynical. Here’s what the experts say:
  • Advertising and publicity are two very different communication tools, even though both employ the mass media as a vehicle for reaching large audiences… Advertising buys its way into the media… Publicity is presented by the media because it's "newsworthy." (

Even so I think book authors can improve the publicity for their books by studying what advertisers have learned

What works in advertising/publicity?
Probably thousands, of blogs, articles, and books have been written on the topic. These two ideas may be useful to authors.

Extend engagement. Consumers are more apt to buy a product if they spend more time looking at an ad or better still interacting with the advertiser (

Accordingly, I am starting a contest: Be a character in my next novel. To enter, post a comment to this blog or any of my guest blogs or my blog ( during the next six months. I’ll draw the winner out of a hat and name a character after them in an upcoming book in my medical mystery series.

Create a positive image. Advertising often sells products not by providing factual information but by surrounding the product with other things shoppers liked, thus creating positive attitudes about the product (Journal of Consumer Research [Dec 4, 2010] Vol. 37).

It’s not easy for an author of medical thrillers (like Coming Flu) to generate a warm, cozy feeling about the book. Maybe I did a better job when I titled my second novel Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight. The heroine Linda Almquist loses ten pounds in fifteen days as she investigates a “diet doctor” for two murders. Almost everyone thinks losing weight is a positive thing.

I also tried to add coziness to my novels and to my blogs by including my adorable Japanese Chin Bug (pictured). Besides I owe him, he sits by me as I write, no one else would.

You’ll probably have better ideas, but maybe this blog will get you thinking positively about getting readers engaged in your novels and blogs.

Bottom line?
Oscar Wilde was right. Maybe that’s why so many authors are writing blogs. The next questions are:
  • Do these blogs generate sales?
  • When they give you a positive feeling, do you read more?
Please extend your interaction with this author and leave a comment. Thanks.

Murder: a New Way to Lose Weight

Janet's website:

Monday, May 27, 2013

Star Power

Recently I don't make any significant purchases without checking to reviews. If it is a non-book item, I try to find professional reviews and if these are not available I weed through user reviews, keeping in mind that most people don't go back and write a review unless they really hate or really love a product.

Even more recently, I have started leaving reviews of my own, especially for books. Why? Because honest reviews help people make decisions about books and by extension help authors sell books. However, I recently came across a bit of a dilemma, and that is determining how many stars a book should receive.

The first time that one of my books received a three-star ranking I was crushed. This was from someone who liked but did not love the book. The second three-star rating was from someone who wrote "Carol Ottley-Mitchell's "Adventure at Brimstone Hill" is an exciting children's story that educates with true events from history!" They went on to say that they would recommend it, so at first, I couldn't figure out why they only gave it three stars. When I was able to consider the situation objectively, I realised that if you write a lot of reviews, you have to rate on a sliding scale and if you give a five star rating to my book that you love but consider to be flawed in one way or another, what do you give to a Pulitzer Prize winner, for example?

Since each reviewer clearly has a different view on what makes a five-star book, how much value is really in the rating levels? Would you immediately decide not to consider a book that had a below-average number of stars? Or do you take the time to read the narrative behind the reviews and between the lines?

Saturday, May 25, 2013


Many a sage has opined on the value of cross-pollination as a marketing tool, so I decided to try it out.  I’ve been reading Joe Konrath’s blog for more than a year, as well as about twenty other blogs on a daily basis.  And one bit of wisdom I’ve encountered again and again is that the best marketing device for your current book is probably your next book.

In my recent posts, I’ve been discussing my ebook The Mummies of Blogspace9, and my frustrations with finding readers.  Since then, Mummies hasn’t exactly taken off, but when I look at my sales numbers, I can definitely see that I’ve sold more copies of my other titles.  I have ten titles on Amazon now, which can be viewed on my Author Central page.  And as the ball gets moving (it's barely budging), I hope the synergy will propel sales.

Why?  I don’t know.  Maybe its because once people start paying a little bit of attention to you, they start paying more attention to you.  Maybe too, it’s because I’ve aggressively promoted my books in each new book.  The Mummies of Blogspace9 has twenty hotlinks that will take you to my Amazon author page, my blog, my website, and directly to my Amazon Author Central page.  You cannot get through Mummies without learning about American Caliphate.  

So I got to thinking -- one other frequent bit of blog wisdom I’ve come across is that nonfiction is a much easier sell than fiction.  And that never did much for me because I’m a mystery writer at heart, and I don’t want to start writing nonfiction.  BUT, I have been working on a little back-burner project for about three years, and I thought maybe it was time to bring it to the front burner, or maybe even microwave it into fruition.  So I did.

I’ve been a college professor for fourteen years now, and I’ve learned a lot about college, so I’ve been feeling it was high time to write a book about college.  Well, here it is.  If you have any loved ones about to take that trip to college, please consider picking up a copy of How to Do College Right.

And just in case you’re wondering - no, you won’t be able to read through it without hearing about my mystery novels.  And the hotlinks will take you directly to my webpage.  You could have yourself a copy of Grave Indulgence or American Caliphate in no time.

Will this experiment in cross-pollination work?  You can guess I’ll keep you posted.  And if you keep reading, I’ll tell you a little bit about How to Do College Right.

The secrets of college success have been passed down from professor to professor for many centuries. Now, for the first time, these secrets are revealed!

How to Do College Right is a guidebook, providing essential insights on how to navigate the foreign land of college. Without a guidebook, a traveler might wander around for a long time, missing out on some important landmarks, or wasting money by focusing on the wrong things. A student can just as easily wander through a couple years of college without accomplishing much. And that can prove costly. 

Other than the purchase of a home, a college education is the biggest expense that most American families have. With tuition at some colleges approaching $50,000 per year, a four-year education can cost $200,000. Most people don’t think twice about consulting a realtor or a lending consultant before buying a house. They want to be sure that their investment is sound. But those same people will shell out a great deal of money for college tuition without making sure it’s well spent. 

How to Do College Right can help you make the most of your college experience by laying bare some of the expectations that guide professors in educating and evaluating students. College is hard; it’s meant to be. And it’s easy to screw up. I’m a professor. I know what it takes to succeed in college, to make the most of it, and to graduate fully prepared to take the next steps in life. 

And I’ve seen too many students who don’t make it, students who have the ability to succeed but fail anyway, or otherwise waste their time. College is a program of expectations, and you would be wise to learn the rules that underlie those expectations. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, or if you’re headed to the Ivy League or to the local community college. This is an important stage of your life, and you have to treat it as such. 

The secrets revealed in this book can help you make the most of your college experience.

For more information, please visit

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Whole New World

In my March 25th post, "Something Different", I wrote about my experiment in writing as a business and my aim to pen a 30 000 word novella in a whole new genre based on popular fiction in three weeks.  There was more to my motivation than just the desire to do something different. That motivation came from a relatively lucrative assignment with a rigid deadline that gave me four weeks to complete the assignment. That assignment was part of the launch for Amazon's new publishing platform, Kindle Worlds.  Kindle Worlds is the first commercial publishing platform that will enable an writer to create fan fiction based on a wide range of original stories and characters and earn royalties for doing so.

In a press release today Amazon Publishing announced that it "has secured licenses from Warner Bros. Television Group's Alloy Entertainment division for its New York Times best-selling book series Gossip Girl, by Cecily von Ziegesar; Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard; and Vampire Diaries, by L.J. Smith; and plans to announce more licenses soon.  Through these licenses, Kindle Worlds will allow any writer to publish authorized stories inspired by these popular worlds and  will make them available for readers to purchase in the Kindle Store....Beginning today, interested writers are encouraged to visit Kindle Worlds ( to learn more and get a head start on writing.  In June, the Kindle Worlds store is expected to launch with over 50 commisioned works from authors such as #1 New York Times best-selling author Barbara Freethy, Bram Stoker Award -winner John Everson and RITA award winner Colleen Thompson.  At that time, the Kindle Worlds self-service submission platform, where any writer can submit completed work, will also open."

In response to my blog post, "Something Different", William Doonan commented, "I'm eager to hear/read the results of your experiment."  Well I'm happy to announce that in June, with the official launch of Kindle Worlds, you will be able to see, read and I know you'll enjoy the results of my experiment: a 35 000 word novella written in three weeks in the Pretty Little Liars universe.

I am pretty psyched about this new non-traditional publishing platform as it gives authors greater access to getting their work published.  To learn more about this platform and how you can submit a completed manuscript go to, or Kindle Worlds for authors.  I would love to hear your take on this new publishing platform.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Art of Choosing Cover Art (and a Giveaway!)

Self-publishing has become easy and viable for many authors. Even mid-list and best-selling authors are self-publishing either new books or books from their backlist. Choosing cover art, which is something most of us have little experience in, is suddenly a crucial decision we have to make. In the midst of all the other new techniques we have to learn it can be more than a bit intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Ideally you’ll want to hire a graphic designer, but finances being what they are that might not be possible. With a little practice you can design your own covers. Here are a few tips to help you on the way. 

Once I’ve written a synopsis and have a fairly good idea of the story, I start searching the stock photo sites for images I think will work for a cover. There are a lot of stock photo sites out there. Some of them are insanely expensive, while others are reasonably priced. The most I’ve ever paid for a cover photo is $70, but most are somewhere around $30. If your cover will be figural it’s a good idea to find photos that look as close to your characters as possible. Obviously, if you’re self-publishing you can base your characters on the photo. Even when I traditionally publish, I attach any stock photos I like with the art form from the publisher. It’s a bit of a crapshoot, but they’ve used it more than once, and it certainly can’t hurt. A lot of writers use celebrity photos for inspiration, but to me, stock photos make more sense as you can actually use those pictures if need be. If you’re working with an artist, keep in mind when looking at the pictures that a good cover artist can change such things as hair and eye color, and even skin color within a certain range. Tattoos can be added or removed (though I understand removing can be a bit of a pain). It’s more important to convey the proper mood and concept of the story than to have exact representations of your characters.

Size:    The vendor sites are requiring absolutely huge files these days, but you also must keep in mind that the first time a reader sees your cover it might literally be the size of a postage stamp. That being the case, it’s a good idea to use clear, crisp images. Highly cluttered images don’t read well, especially when reduced down to microscopic sizes. I always open a picture in Photoshop and look at it as small as possible to get a good idea of how it will look on the vendor site.

Orientation: This would seem to be a no-brainer, but I’ve seen some covers made with horizontal images. This just looks…wrong. Most of the stock sites will let you search with a filter for orientation. This limits the frustration of finding the perfect image with the wrong orientation. A good artist can do some cropping, but it’s best (and cheaper) to start with a good image to begin with.

Color: This is just a personal observation, but dark colors don’t seem to “read” as well on the vendor site as brighter colors. Obviously, if your book is a dark police procedural with serial killers and whatnot you’re probably not going to go with bright pinks and yellows, but you might want to add some lighter colors so the image “pops” more visually.

Fonts: Some beginners make major mistakes as it pertains to fonts. There are a lot of fonts out there and it’s easy to get caught up in all types of funky designs and special effects. That is not a good idea. It looks amateurish and it’s unreadable when your cover is the size of a postage stamp. Stick to one or two crisp and easy to read fonts. If you’re going to have two fonts on a cover they should be opposites, for instance, a nice traditional serif font with a script font is usually a safe bet.

These tips should help you calm any qualms you have about choosing a cover that’s perfect for the book you’ve worked so hard on. 


Roslyn Hardy Holcomb is the author of the best-selling novel Rock Star. Her most recent books are: Hot for Teacher, Dark Star and Pussycat Death Squad The Lion in Russia.  She grew up in North Alabama and currently lives in the Atlanta area with her husband and two young sons. 

Leave a comment below for your chance to win a copy of Roslyn's most recent book, Pussycat Death Squad The Lion in Russia. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Guest author Julie Luek: What's your writing personality?

Julie Luek
Julie Luek has her MA in Education and Counseling and is a freelance writer living in the mountains of Colorado and is published in regional, national and online publications and is the author of two blogs A Thought Grows and In Fine Company. She is also a biweekly contributor to the international writing site, She Writes and has appeared as a guest blogger on sites like WOW (Women on Writing), Chiseled in Rock, and others with writer-based content. She can be found on Facebook and Twitter and enjoys supporting the community of writers.

For over twenty years I worked in the field of higher education, much of that time spent working as a career counselor. One of the ways I helped students discover their major and career choice was by administering a personality inventory called the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). It’s based on the theories of Carl Jung, famed psychologist who believed, in short, that there were temperaments or “types” of personalities.  The idea for students, of course, was if they could identify their personality preferences and learn to apply it to evaluating job functions, the fit might be better for both parties.

As I’ve ventured into the world of writing, I’m brought back to this inventory and have reflected on how it might relate to my writing style. Although in consideration of space, this is a very short and non-scientific look at the application, it provides an interesting angle on our writing personality.

The Types

Extrovert (E)—Have an external focus and energy source. They like to talk their ideas out loud and will process as they do. They are stimulated by their external environment—for example, music may energize them and writer’s groups are wonderful for processing.
Introvert (I)—Have an internal focus and energy source. They can get lost inside their own heads with little need to verbally process. They tend to like quiet and find external stimulation distracting. While not always loners, their need for socialization is more limited than their extroverted counterparts.

Sensing (S)—Into the details: the who, what, where, when and whys of things. They often enjoy precision and research and are exacting in their attention to details.
Intuitive (N)—Into the big picture. They love brainstorming and ideas. They are dreamers, but have a more difficult time and find it more tedious to get down to the “brass tacks” of an idea.

Feeling (F)—Make decisions through their heart. The first question they often ask is how do I feel about my choices? How will it influence others? Is it a kind/merciful decision? They lead with their hearts and may process decisions based on emotions.
Thinking (T)—Make decisions through their heads (even though they are aware of feelings) and ask questions like, does it make sense? What are the consequences? Is it just? Decisions, and even relationships, may be filtered through their sense of logic first.

Judging (J)—Enjoy a planned, organized lifestyle. High amounts of loose ends and unplanned interruptions will disrupt a judger’s sense of calm. They’re great with checklists and love the sense of completion of getting a task crossed off. Deadlines and a clean, organized workspace are comforting.
Perceiving (P)—Enjoy a more fluid, open-ended lifestyle. Although messes aren’t ideal, a sloppy desk isn’t a reason to panic; a Perceiver knows where everything is. Perceivers are more flexible with interruptions and have a higher need for variety. They’d love to be more organized and appreciate the need; they just seldom are.

In the theory of the MBTI, you would choose one type/letter from each of the four categories and this becomes your personality “type”.

What Does It Mean?

For me, being an INFJ means I can work, and in fact prefer to work, for hours in complete silence—only the hum of the refrigerator to keep me company. I love solitude and don’t crave writers’ groups, even though I know they are good for me. I love to brainstorm ideas in my own head and have a tougher time with the details, especially those pesky grammar details. I lead with my heart—I love to converse and relate to readers on a heart level. Despite my aversion to details, I crave organization. I keep bulletin boards with organized projects, a list of due dates for articles and love a sense of completion when I submit a piece.  I can’t stand a cluttered work desk—it makes me nervous. The downside is I tend to sometimes get overwhelmed if there are too many due dates or open-ended projects on my to-do list.

Looking at this list, how would you describe your writing personality? Does this help shed light on your style? Are you a planner or a pantser? What does your work space look like?

For more information on the MBTI, visit here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Tips for living with a writer? A list, deconstructed.

A few weeks ago, I was reading my Facebook news feed when I came across a graphic posted by one of my friends, offering yet another "Top 10" writing advice list. Its title? “How to Survive a Relationship with a Writer: Top 10 Tips.” The graphic offered no author for the list, but a website was cited at the bottom: Writers Write.

Graphics such as this often are played at least to some extent for the humor, with some tidbits of truth and/or wisdom thrown in to anchor the whole thing. I went through the list, conjuring memories or pet peeves that matched up with the “tips” listed, or things my wife, kids and friends have to endure as they tolerate the writer in their midst. So, I decided to post each of the infonuggets here, along with my take on them:

  1. Never ask when the book will be published.
    This one makes no sense to me. I love when somebody asks me this question. It (usually) means they’re interested in what I’m doing. I’m always telling people when my next book will be out and I keep a running “monthly wrap-up” on my blog, detailing the progress of every project I have in the hopper. My regular readers appreciate these updates, and they know they can ask me about the status of a given project at any time. What can I say? I’m an attention-whore.

  2. Do not ask a writer if they wish they had written the latest best-seller.
    I’ve never gotten this question, but 1) All writers wish they had a best-seller, and 2) It depends on the book in question. I’m okay with not having written Fifty Shades of Grey, for example, but I wouldn’t mind writing something like Darth Vader and Son.

  3. Never say you’re thinking of writing a book. Never ever say you’d also write a book if only you had the time.
    Okay, this one can bug me on occasion, mostly because it’s probably the one statement I’ve heard the most over the years. I frequently get asked some variation of, “How do I become a writer?” The most fervent askers of such questions don’t seem to like hearing that to be a writer, you have know...write.

  4. Don’t call the police if you happen to see a writer’s browsing history. The average writer is not planning to poison you, hire a hitman, or move to Afghanistan. It’s simply research.
    This, of course, is what we want you to think.

  5. Leave the writer alone when the writer is actually writing. You have no idea how difficult it is to enter “the zone.”
    I agree with this one, for the most part. When I’m in my home office and the door is closed, that’s the universal signal for “Writer at Work.” Family and friends know that they open said door at their peril. You’ll know when I’m on a crash deadline, as I’ll have enabled the office’s protective guillotine and laser grid features.

  6. Don’t pick unfair fights with a writer. Writers do get their revenge in print.
    And the dumber the fight or argument, the more painful your fictional namesake’s demise. For example: If you want to argue with me over how much you think the latest Star Trek film sucks, I’m sending you and your hovercar over the cliff on some winding Martian mountain road. Political discussions usually mean I’m going to make you the main course for a horde of zombies. Your mileage may vary.

  7. If you do want to fight, make it memorable. The writer is always looking for material.
    I actually did craft an exchange of dialogue in one novel based on a string of comments from a Facebook discussion. Some of the more memorable conversations and/or arguments definitely make good fodder. However, no one from the original discussion died in the resulting book.

  8. If your writer wanders off at a party, don’t panic. Writers love to inspect the host’s bookshelves and medicine cabinets.
    I can honestly say I don’t peek into cabinets or drawers in other people’s homes or offices. That’s just rude, but I do peruse your movie collection, if for no other reason than to see if you’re bold enough to display your porn alongside the mainstream titles. I’ll also definitely be checking out your bookshelves...mostly to see if any of my books are there, and I then judge you accordingly.

  9. Buy your writer notebooks and cute pens as gifts. Do not buy flowers. Chocolate is also acceptable.
    I’m not much of a flower person, but I imagine at least someone out there would appreciate the thought. I’m okay with notebooks, but feel free to substitute “vodka” where it says “cute pens.” In fact, sub it for “notebooks,” too. On the other hand, the chocolate is always welcome.

  10. Leave your writer alone when a rejection letter arrives. After the deadly silence, screaming, crying, moaning and muttering have subsided, offer your writer a cup of coffee or tea. And a cupcake. Add a huge hug.
    I know no writer who gets that worked up over a rejection. It happens to all of us, and it’s just part of the game, right? Personally, I shrug it off, see if there’s anything in the rejection letter I can use to improve the story I submitted, and then I move on. This goes double for bad reviews, which we all get, too. Stuff happens, but feel free to send along the cupcakes. They can’t hurt.
Most of these, we’ve heard before in one form or another, though the one about browser histories is something I’d never really considered, and any tip involving chocolate is a proven winner with me. Anyone have their own unique tips for successfully cohabitating with a writer?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Ye Olde Bait-and-Switch

by Sunny Frazier

I'll admit it—I'm a sucker for a good headline. The ones on the tabloids are so outrageous that I can't stop myself from reading them while standing in the check-out line. I love a good pun in a book title (my next is A Snitch In Time). I want to be teased, tempted, tantalized. What I don't want is to be tricked.

I subscribe to a lot of industry-type blogs for information. I don't tweet, but there are people online who send out Twitter feeds and do the hard work for me. And yes, I'm suckered into opening these URLs because I can't help myself. I'm always looking for that Holy Grail of info that will reveal all the secrets of publishing and selling. Move over, Dan Brown!

I'm especially prone to anything with a number cited:
4 tips for completing your manuscript (oh, please help me!)
25 Ways To Be A Happy Writer (you mean I don't have to be depressed?)
12 Ideas for Email Updates That You'll Actually Enjoy Writing (email can be fun???)
Break it down in simple steps for me. This is what I'm looking for. Except, it's not.
When I open up these blogs, more often than not I find old news re-hashed. All the poster has done is slap a new title on stuff we already know. It seems the writer invested more time in coming up with a catchy title rather than content. I feel cheated. No, I feel used. I was looking for a new insight and all I got was generic information.
Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice and I don't trust you anymore. I won't be lured to your blog again. Go ahead, dangle all the enticing titles at me that you can come up with. I won't take the bait.
I've decided to steal the premise of these blogs and do what the originator was too lazy to do—stretch my brain and come up with fresh info. You want to know “7 Odd Places to Sell Books?” Okay, here you go: Funerals. Coffee shops. Flower shops. Stationary stores. Social Security Office. Hospitals. Insurance offices. Yep, I've sold my books to all these places and I can tell you how I did it. I'm not one to make promises I can't keep.
I know many of these disappointing pieces are written because bloggers need to fill space. But, I don't have time for blather. Neither do any of you. Instead, make it a practice not to just read and absorb but read and riff off the unfinished idea. At least you'll get something productive in the end.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Great Beginnings

"Fury on Soufriere Hills," the fourth novel in the Caribbean Adventure Series, is finished, sort of. Although I have worked out most of the kinks, developed my characters, created and resolved tensions, I am still struggling with the most important part of a middle grade novel, the beginning.

While youngsters are more tolerant of flights of fantasy than adults might be, they are less likely to keep reading a book that does not grab them immediately. The main comment that I got from the critique group I attended a few weeks ago was that the action started too late, page 8 for goodness sake, definitely too late for a middle grade novel. I consulted with my local experts (aka my children) and they concurred. My son, an avid reader, mentioned that his friends disliked some of the books he loved and especially the ones that had a slow start. He was willing to stick with them, but many of his friends were not.

He suggested an alternate beginning. In this one, the action started on the first page, with Mark, the main character tumbling down a hill into a … wait a minute, you’ll have to read the book to find that out. Mark would then gripe about how he had found himself in this predicament, thus giving me an opportunity to go back a little in time and create the setting. I wrote it this way and sent it off to my first level of readers.

“I thought that this paragraph was here by mistake,” was the response to the very opening of the book. Clearly this did not work the way that I had done it. It is a great idea, but I had so much background to cover that there was too much (those pesky 8 pages) between the fast paced beginning and the resumption of the action.

So I am now on the fifth version (I can count, just did not want to bore you with each revision) of this opening and I think that I finally have the right balance. I hope you will too, when this book is finally published.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Flash Fiction

Still reeling from the disappointing results of my ebook experiment, I entered a period of depression, followed by a period of heavy drinking, and culminating with alternating bouts of anger, self-loathing, and giggling.  It was a rough time, I won’t lie, but it only lasted about an hour, and I’m over it now.

I’m not going to give up.  In fact, as long as people refuse to read my work, I’m going to keep writing.  That’s what it’s all about, I’ve decided.  So I’m revisiting one of my first loves, Samantha Horowitz of Paramus, New Jersey, for the hell of it.  And then I’m revisiting another of my first loves; flash fiction.

I can’t write poetry, but I can write brief stories.  What I like the most about flash fiction is that it forces you to be creative in a limited space.  It’s like painting a sunset with only two colors, and not the colors you want.  

The storyteller John Daniel crafts massive little stories with only 99 words.  I can’t do that.  I need 150-250.  But with 150 words, you can make a story out of nearly anything, like this:


“I don’t have a lot of money,” I told the liquor store clerk.  He knows me; we go way back.  “But that doesn’t mean I’m willing to sacrifice on quality.”

“How much do you have?”

I held up a handful of coins.  “$2.34”

He reached for a miniature bottle of Smirnoff.  “This is the best I can do.”  

“No.”  I shook my head.  “It’s really too small.  What else do you have?”

“Nothing, nothing at all, except,…no.”


He sighed and pulled a liter bottle from under the counter.  The label was Russian.  “I don’t know if you’re ready.  It’s made from turnips.”

“What’s it like?”

“It’s a low-born vodka, sullen with a harrowing finish.  It’s the kind of tipple you’d want along on a cold November morning if you were stripping wallpaper in Minsk.”

“How much?”


I did the math.  “I’ll take two.”

If you’d like to read more, consider investing 99¢ and picking up a copy of The Mummies of Blogspace9.  It’s been called “original,” “evocative,” “mind-blowing,” “far-reaching in scope,” and “genre-bending,” all by me.  This could well be the best 99¢ you spend all day.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Writing is not for the faint of heart

My first two books were published by the now defunct Dorchester Publishing company.  A year ago Amazon bought out Dorchester and after two years of little activity, my books began selling again.  In the month of January I sold over three thousand copies of my first book.  My husband was ecstatic.  He was happy that I could actually make a living by my writing.  He couldn’t wait for the February statement.  I was, however, cautiously optimistic.  I know in the business of writing, consistency of remuneration is not always the norm.

When the February statement rolled around, I had only sold a few hundred copies.  My husband’s disappointment was obvious.  I calmly told him it was the nature of the business.  He told me he could never be a writer.  My response was, “Writing is not for the faint of heart.”

A professional writer’s life is one of crests and valleys, and a trial of patience.  You write a wonderful masterpiece, you edit it, you submit it to a publisher and you wait and wait and wait, only to be sent a form letter telling you that your masterpiece was rejected.  A person without tenacity or one who sees writing as a high-returns-low-investment scheme would give up.  After the sixtieth rejection letter even the dedicated writer might give up.  But who knows, the sixty-first could be the one who accepts your masterpiece.
Let’s say you’re fed up with the anxiety and stress of the traditional publishing houses and you decide to go the Indie route.  That still has its crests and valleys.  Many authors write and produce really wonderful literary masterpieces and publish them via indie publishing.  Some even offer free books and sweepstakes.  Yet often times the sales are erratic.  Sometimes they sell a lot, other times months go by and the sales are in the single digits.  Does it mean he or she should give up?  No, a true writer keeps writing regardless.  Even if a traditional publisher grabs up the book, sometimes the sales will be through the roof and other times they may lag.

Now you’ve gotten your book published and it is selling relatively well.  The reviews are good initially, but then you read one bad review on a blog that has an extensive comment thread, where people vow they will not purchase the book because of that bad review.  Do you give up?  Only if you are thin-skinned.  I remember reading a review of one of my books, where the reviewer began by saying all of the other reviews were good so she felt she had to give a bad review too even it out. Seriously?  No matter how good a book you write, there will always be negative reviews because not everyone will like your book, your writing style, or your characters.  So we have to grow really thick skin and like a duck, let the water slide of our backs and just keep writing.

So if you’re gonna write professionally there are a few things you have to do. 
1.    Get a backbone – you need it for the reviewers and critiques
2.    Be patient – getting published requires some waiting
3.    Ignore negativity – it’s not worth listening to naysayers
4.    Grow really thick skin-- again you need it for those negative reviews
5.    Be tenacious – just keep writing regardless
And finally, if you are going to be a writer, write for the love of writing.  If you’re in it for the money and not for the love of the craft, the anxiety, the stress, the waiting will kill you, because writing is not for the faint of heart.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

An Experiment of My Own

With William's experiment in mind I decided to conduct an experiment of my own with my latest release.  Storm Warning, my collection of short crime fiction set on the fictional St. Crescens, was uploaded to Amazon via KDP on 23rd April. I duly informed my FB and Twitter circles and over the next few days SW appeared at #32 in the Bestselling list of African-American Mysteries in the Kindle Store. It remained in the thirties for the most part that first week, rising once or twice to the lower 20s.  This ranking represented the sale of 12 ebooks at $3.49. (There are five stories in SW with a total page count of 167 pages or around 56,000 wds.)  SW also rose to #5 in the Hot New Releases on African-American Mysteries.

I'd entered SW in KDP Select and chosen two free days for the week after the launch. I spent some time combing through mystery blogs culling the email addresses of possible reviewers and checked who had been reviewing other crime fiction somewhat similar to mine.  I also listed it with a few of the free ebook listing services such as Awesome Gang and One Hundred EBooks.  I chose 1st and 2nd May for my free days since they fell in the middle of the week which I thought might help me avoid any weekend crush (if there are such things).  I didn't inform my FB friends or Twitter followers because I wanted to see what kind of boost these smaller listing sites would give me. On the free days, I contacted all the reviewers (about thirty of them) with a request for a review which included the blurb and a link to SW's page.

By the second day, SW had risen to #1 on the African-American Mysteries list and to #26 on the more general Fiction Literature Short Stories list.  On the other hand, it completely dropped off the Hot New Releases list I mentioned earlier. It got a total of 432 downloads. Since coming off Select, there have been no sales as of Saturday 4th May. None of the reviewers I contacted on the free days has gotten back to say they will do a review (which doesn't mean they won't but I thought I'd also make that point).

By contrast - when I launched Collision, one of the bigger stories in the collection as a novella on its own I'd only gone the FB and Twitter route and gotten more than 900 downloads but it didn't rise as high in the rankings.  This may be because Amazon's algorithms put a greater weight on higher-priced books or maybe because it rained in Timbuctoo those days, I have no idea.

So what are my conclusions? Actually, I'm not quite sure but the following are some of the things I'm thinking about:-

1.) Using social media certainly does make an impact on downloads and also on sales.  Sales, though by no means huge, originally drove SW up the rankings.

2.) Ebook listings can also help an author to reach new audiences.  I've noted, however, that few African-American authors are using these services - have they tried and concluded that the audience for their books doesn't make it worth the effort? When I have more titles out and can afford the expense I'll try one or two of the heavyweights like BookBub and EReader News Today to see what results I get.

3.)  I've also put another of my books, The Water of Sunlight, on sale at .99 and I've finally got more sales of that than I have fingers on one hand. :)

4.) Success, in terms of being able to make a living from my writing, will probably not come from genre hopping nor will it come from writing in genres that are not hugely popular such as historical fiction. If I'm not writing what lots of people want to read then I can hardly moan about not being read.  This doesn't mean I'm going to rush out and start in on a European billionaire vampire who embarks on a sexual odyssey with some virginal college student - no, I'm going to make my billionaire a werewolf! :)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Writing advice from the greats: John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck
In my first post on writing advice from the greats, we looked at what the Slaughterhouse-Five author, Kurt Vonnegut, had to say about writing good stories. The good writing advice does not stop there; John Steinbeck famously claimed that no one has been able to reduce story writing to a recipe, yet even he had a few ingredients of his own for creating good stories.

John Steinbeck's 6 writing tips:
  1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
  2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
  3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
  4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
  5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
  6. If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.
Even the writers who claim there are no rules admit that there are a few that they live by. The only one I've taken to heart is that you never, never show anyone your work until the first draft is complete. Do you have one unbreakable writing rule? Please share it with us.

Next up on Advice from the Greats: Henry Miller's 11 commandments.

Liane Spicer