Sunday, July 30, 2017

What Do You Know?

Over the last few months I conducted a writing workshops for a few teens. One young lady brought in a story that was quite interesting. After we read and critiqued it, she shared that the story had been a school assignment. Her teacher had asked them to write a story that included several elements including a pueblo blanket. It was clear from the list of items that the teacher wanted the students to write a story with a Native American theme. The young lady, however, decided she did not know enough about Native American culture to write comfortably about it and without the option for research she wrote something with which she could relate and in which the required elements made only cameo appearances.

I'm not sure how her teacher responded but I applauded her innate understanding of the idea of writing what you know. This is a complicated and often misunderstood concept. If it is interpreted at its most basic level it would mean the police should be knocking on Maggie King's door and let's not even begin to discuss Pynk. Writing what you know may have more to do with writing about emotions, feelings, and experiences you understand, even if they are then set on Mars, in locales you have researched but never lived in.

You may never have been accused of murder but you may have felt the injustice of being misunderstood or having your motives questioned.

You may not have lost a brother but you have felt the loss of something that meant a lot to you.

You may never have flown in a spaceship, walked on another planet, or encountered an alien race but you've probably felt the exhilaration of a new, exciting, and deliciously dangerous experience.

You may not have killed anyone but you may have felt the rage or longing that took you to the brink of committing a crime.

What has been your experience writing about locales and experiences foreign to you? What steps do you take to ensure your writing is authentic?

Thursday, July 27, 2017

What's in Your Swag?


            Today’s post is about swag. You know, that stuff authors give out at events to get people to remember them.

            I have several events coming up, so I had to think long and hard about the swag I’m going to give away. It’s not an easy decision for me, as is true with many other authors, because I want something that stands out and I can’t spend a lot on it.

There are authors out there who give away tote bags, bookmarks (and not just any bookmarks—the dangly kind with a charm on the end), cute little spiral-bound notebooks with a book cover printed on the front, even seed packets (which are great for authors who write about farmers and gardeners, but I’m not one of those authors), but I don’t have the kind of money one needs to give away things like that.

So at the risk of being the most boring author out there, I’ve ordered postcards. Again. Each one is printed with one of my book covers on the front and my photo and social media URLs on the back. I love how they look—I just wish I could do something really out-of-the-box. But out-of-the-box is expensive.

I’ve also ordered bookmarks. Again. These have the covers of each of the three books in my current series. Like the postcards, I think they’re nice-looking bookmarks. I hope people use them.

            But in addition to the postcards and the bookmarks, I have managed to include two more interesting things.

            First, I did a little research and learned that some of the most popular items for authors to give away are pens. Thus, I have ordered pens with my name and a small graphic of a rose on them. This is the same rose photo I use on my website’s Contact Me page and some of my newsletters. It’s not just any rose; it’s a rose from a bouquet my husband gave me when I signed my first contract with a publisher. It means a lot to me and I love the photo, so I use it often.

            Second, my most recent book and my next book are both set in Scotland. What comes to mind when I think of Scotland? Sure, the beauty, the majesty, the lochs, et cetera, et cetera. But I can’t give those things away.

            What comes to mind next? For me, it’s shortbread (it’s always about the food, as far as I’m concerned). Buttery, crumbly, delicious shortbread. I found a website ( where I could buy twenty individually-wrapped two-packs of Walker’s Shortbread Cookies for about $11.00. Since I only needed fifty packages (this particular swag is for gift bags at the Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival in August), I could get away with spending $33.00 or so and still have some cookies left over for another event. My plan is to staple a package of cookies to one of my Scotland-themed postcards.

            What do you think? Is it memorable, or would you do something different?

            I’ve got a book club appearance coming up in a couple weeks. The club is discussing my book set in Hawaii. I’d like to take a homemade dessert with me that the members can share at the meeting—something with coconut or passion fruit or macadamia nuts. I don’t know how big the group is, but I figured if I make a large pan of something, there will be enough for everyone. Smaller, more personal events like book club appearances make it easy for me to take something because I love to cook and I love to come up with foods that connect somehow with the setting of the book the club is reading.

            Incidentally, I do host giveaways once in a while through my newsletter. For the giveaways, I like to do something a bit more elaborate than postcards and bookmarks. For my last giveaway (to celebrate the release of my book set in Hawaii) I had a reusable shopping bag that I stocked with tropical-themed items and Hawaiian foods (pre-packaged, like macadamia nuts and candies). For my next giveaway I’ll probably award a tote bag with some Scottish-themed items.

            I’d like to hear what other authors are using for swag. What do you give away, if anything? Is there something you received at an author event that was particularly memorable? Share your ideas in the comments below—I’d love to hear them and I’m sure other writers would, too.


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Book Promotion: What Works for Me and What Doesn't

Like many of my fellow authors, I’m on an eternal quest for promotional ideas—preferably ones that generate sales. For the first book in my Hazel Rose Book Group series I had a hit-or-miss approach, but I’ve been much more pro-active with #2 in the series. Here’s my assessment of my activity and findings:

In February, I appeared on Virginia This Morning. I was beyond nervous and recount the experience on my blog. But my sales soared that day and I got an invitation to visit a book group.

I used an e-mail service called Ereader News Today (ENT) and also had a huge boost in sales. I’ll be going that route again. My publisher wanted me to use BookBub but I balked at forking over close to $1,000 (ENT is $50).

I’ve joined four tweet groups on Facebook. My Australian friend Christina Larmer invited me to the first one, which is “secret.” All I can say is that it’s for cozy authors.

Next I tried T4US, a group that anyone can join. It has many members and they tweet everything from books to skin care to jewelry.

A member of the aforementioned secret cozy group sponsored me for Authors Social Media Support Group (ASMSG). This is a multi-function group with a newsletter, several tweet groups, forums, etc. I haven’t tapped into ten percent of what ASMSG has to offer, but I share tweets with the group daily.

My most recent tweet group is part of the Mystery Authors International Facebook group. I've been a member for less than a week but already love the enthusiasm and support. We can all use a hefty dose of that. 

There are lots of tweet groups and you can find the right one for you. It’s a great way to get retweets. Everyone who posts on a given day is expected to retweet all the other posts for that day. 

I’ve created what amounts to a portfolio of memes to accompany my tweets. This is the fun part for me. Here's an example:

What else? I’ve been interviewed for radio and podcasts. As for blogs, I continue to post here on NovelSpaces, on my own blog at, and on Lethal Ladies Write. Aside from the requisite Facebook and Tweet accounts, YouTube, Instagram, Google Plus, and LinkedIn complete my platform. I have all but abandoned Pinterest.
But how does all of this activity impact sales? Aside from the obvious sales boosts from my TV appearance and ENT promo, it’s hard to measure, especially when I’m using several promotional tools on any given day. But it all helps. Before joining these tweet groups, I’d been a half-hearted tweeter, always feeling like I was shooting at a moving target. But some of these tweeters have thousands and thousands of followers—so with that many retweets hurling around in cyberspace, someone must be taking notice. 

As for Facebook groups, there are hundreds of them and I belong to many—but, aside from a few, I’m not sure if my posts make any impact. And these days I feel much the same about my Facebook author page.

Here’s an idea I haven’t tried yet. Amy Vansant has a service called Authors Cross Promotion and one of the options is a Series Spotlight Newsletter Feature. Here is more info. If anyone has used Amy’s services, please share your experience. 

Of course, engagement is key on social media, not promotion per se. But my purpose in writing this post is to consider promotional tools. And the best tool of all: my next book. I hear that time and again from seasoned authors. So excuse me while I get back to writing mine!

Please weigh in with your thoughts and suggestions. What works for you? What doesn’t?       

Friday, July 14, 2017

Don’t make me angry.

 Hi. This is my first blog for Novel Spaces and I’m delighted to be part of this great team of authors.

Here in the UK, I’m involved in the running of Cheshire Book Connections. Based in the heart of England, we describe ourselves as “a book club with a difference.” Unlike the more traditional clubs where members read the same book and everyone discusses it at the next meeting, we have a guest speaker every month, who provides entertainment and generates discussion. Usually the speaker is an author, but it can be anyone who is connected with books. We proclaim that our club is “for lovers of all things bookish” and speakers can vary from authors to bloggers to book cover designers. Do such clubs exist near where you live?

At our last meeting, the speaker was an author, Robyn Cain. Robyn writes in several genres, including horror, and it was fascinating to hear how her horror stories provide a release for her anger.

It got me thinking about influences on my own writing. I don’t often get angry, and I don’t write horror. Even at my age, I rarely read horror and can only watch the really scary movies in daylight, if at all. My genre is romance suspense with more than a hint of steamy sex. I had a lot of fun coming up with my logo, only getting “angry” when it didn’t quite line up.

So if feeling angry can influence someone to write horror, what might influence an author to write romance suspense with explicit scenes of passion?

Delving deep into my inner soul I confess, for me, it is a love of love. I adore reading romance, watching romance and hearing about people who fall in love. I’m happily married and cherish the gift of being with somebody I love everyday of my life. Knowing that a man loves a woman, or a woman loves a woman, or a man loves a man—it all cheers my heart. Whilst love alone may not make the world go around, it certainly helps to make us human.

Well, that might explain my romance, but where does the suspense come from? My stories are not for the faint-hearted—they’re not cosy or sweet. My heroes and heroines have to fight for love. They must overcome difficulties, and survive dangers. I deal with issues of physical abuse, sexual abuse, kidnapping and murder. I don’t have enough anger to feed these themes. But I do have a need for challenges in my life. As a young child I wanted to do well at school and grow up to make more money than we were used to having at home. Training to be an accountant left me determined to pass my professional exams. Having done that I was driven to work up to the position of finance director. At the age of forty, admittedly urged on by my husband, I cycled a hundred miles in one day. Twice! I even learned to ride a motorbike. One of my latest challenges was ticked off when Black Opal Books issued me with a publishing contract for my first book, The Secret At Arnford Hall.

I wonder, therefore, if my desire for suspense comes from needing to give my characters challenges. Of course, I go one step further in my stories and create adversities for them to overcome. Or perhaps it’s just that I love thrillers as well as romance, and I infiltrate my stories with hooks of danger, to keep the reader turning the page.

That just leaves me to ponder where the steamy sex scenes come from… I’ll let you ponder that too.

Monday, July 10, 2017


Greetings! I was looking through some interesting articles and blog posts that I'd written years ago. I thought I'd share this one, which my fellow author Brandon Massey asked me to write for his blog. This was written 10 years ago, in 2007, just after Dr. Feelgood was released by Kensington Books. I listed the 7 steps that I took to go from being a self-published author, to being offered a book deal by a major publisher in 2001.

I thought I'd share it today. Some, if not all of the 7 suggestions are still relevant today. Social media is much more of a factor now, and self-publishing is way easier and more prevalent now. New authors, see - there is so much work to be done in order to get signed by a major, before and after you've penned your book. Enjoy!


By Marissa Monteilh

Author, May December Souls, The Chocolate Ship, Hot Boyz, Make Me Hot and Dr. Feelgood

First, it is important to note that while many authors secure agency representation, and/or sell their manuscripts without self­-publishing first, self­-publishing proved to be an important avenue that led to my two book deal with HarperCollins in April of 2001, and opened the door to my full-­time career as an  author.

You should determine whether or not self-­publishing is an option you’d like to explore. Being that I had shopped my manuscript for nearly six months and only received offers from small publishing companies who first wanted upfront fees (a big no-­no), and after attending Michael Baisden’s book signing where he suggested that I self-­publish first, it was pretty much a no-brainer for me. Michael suggested that I purchase a copy of The Self Publishing Manual by Daniel Poynter. Not only did I run out the next day and pick up the book, I followed every suggested step book like clockwork. 

Once you decide to take this step, do not make any excuses that will block your blessings. The steps outlined include a time frame that is extremely easy to follow, and the entire process took me eight months. Before I knew it I had my first shipment of 3000 books delivered to my home office. Holding that bound book in your hand will surely make all of your hard work well worth it. Stay disciplined and follow through!

Joining the PMA – Publishers Marketing Association, and other organizations, allowed me the opportunity to participate in various wholesaler programs for self-published authors like Baker & Taylor and Ingram. Wholesalers are invaluable because most bookstores purchase from wholesalers as opposed to going to each author directly. And, being a member of a particular organization can entitle you to receive big discounts from printing companies, etc. 

Invest in marketing materials like bookmarks and flyers. Make sure prospective readers have something in hand to remind them that your book is out there.

Thank goodness for the Internet!! Search the Internet for book club contact information and send each contact person an email, offer to send review copies, etc. Book clubs are an invaluable tool toward spreading the word.

Search the Internet for bookstore listings. Call the owners, visit the stores, request book signing dates, etc. Bookstores are very accommodating and they are usually willing to distribute your marketing materials as well. Also, list your title on and other online listings.

If you can afford to, plan a book tour, if possible, so that you promote your title in person. If money is an issue, sign locally in your area. Research book fairs and other events. Focus on spreading the word. And always bring a sign-­in sheet for readers to jot down their email addresses. Very important!

Come up with marketing angles such as giveaways, hair salon contests, free gifts with proof of purchase. Contact various companies whose products match well with your book title and with the target age of your readers and ask them to donate their goods or services. Also, offer a free book to readers who will in turn write a review on 

Contact radio stations and newspapers and request that they do a feature  story on you and your book. Most people like to hear about the author's journey or how that book relates to the world or the life of the author. Find an angle that ties in and promote it. And always research how to write a good press release. You can email the release or fax it. Last but not least; GET A WEBSITE. I recommend, an awesome company that creates websites for most AA authors.

One reason to self-­publish is to prove that your title will sell and that the subject matter is in demand. I prepared a Marketing and Distribution Summary, which the agents found very helpful. My agent used the information in his cover letters to publishers. It should include your target market, genre, sales history, list price, distribution strategy, reviews, media outlets, and other avenues of promotion.

Once I felt the title was circulating fairly well, I decided to submit the self­-published version to agents. I compiled a list of agents based upon various agents I’d noticed mentioned in the acknowledgment sections of authors in  a similar genre. I scoured the Internet for agency listings. I flipped through the Literary Marketplace by R.R. Bowker for specific agents who were accepting submissions. NEVER PAY AN AGENCY FEE and check out agents to make sure they're reputable.

Once I narrowed down my list to eight agents, I contacted each agency via  telephone to see if they were accepting submissions and if so, what the guidelines were. I also inquired as to which agencies were accepting email queries.

I decided I would submit via email on the first round. I included the cover image and a brief query letter, maybe three paragraphs. The first paragraph indicated that I was seeking representation on my newly  released, self-published title, (include word count) and mentioned a  precise one-liner as to the plot. The second paragraph was a brief synopsis about conflict, about the ending and lessons learned, and the third paragraph covered the fact that I was hard at work on my next novel. I briefly covered the success rate of my first release. The closing sentence was simply, “Please let me know if you would like me to forward the perfect bound novel, May December Souls. Thanks for your time and consideration.” 

Once four of the agents contacted me and expressed interest in my complete submission, I prepared a presentation folder, which included a cover letter, news release, more detailed synopsis, marketing summary, marketing brochures ­ bookmarks, reviews and reader comments. Obviously, I included the bound book and a stamped, self-addressed envelope for their convenience. The Self Publishing Manual also covers information on preparing these items.

Make sure you give an agent sufficient time before you call to follow up. I’d say four to six weeks. And sometimes, like in my case, they may even call within the first week. If not, repeat Steps Three and Four again. Be persistent.

I contacted another author who was also represented by the particular agent I felt expressed the most intense sincerity and confidence in their ability to sell my title. My agent asked me to give him one month and within one month, we were involved in auction. Make sure the agent is a member of the Association of Author’s Representatives or other  professional organizations.

There is a book called How to Be Your Own Literary Agent by Richard Curtis. Educate yourself on all aspects of the agreement, ask other authors for advice, or hire an attorney to review the contract before you sign. Most agency contracts are fairly brief. It is the publishing contact that is quite lengthy.

Some publishing companies are accepting submissions directly, i.e., HarperCollins, particularly for African American authors. Skip the agency submission if you choose to go this route, however, if you’re starting out, an experienced agent can prove extremely valuable. And don't be unrealistic about the deal amount offered to you. Most times we hear of dollar amounts for book deals and the amounts are TOTALLY exaggerated. Walk before you run, and then take time to crawl, too. Understand that getting to the point of quitting your job takes time. 

Once you decide to sign (yeah!) I suggest you let your agent handle the business of submitting your title. It is very important that the two of you build a rapport based upon mutual respect and a fiery passion for your title. There has to be a level of trust. Inform him/her as to which houses you would like to approach, however, follow their lead and be patient. Know that the final decision as to which publisher you sign with ­ is yours.

Write on!

Marissa Monteilh