Monday, November 27, 2017

'Tis the Season

Every year about this time I post a blog on the topic of giving, and since my personal blog is already booked up (no pun intended) for the next couple weeks, I thought I’d share the giving post here.

My giving post generally focuses on specific charities, but this year I’m including a word of caution, too. We’ve all gotten those phone calls asking for money for various deserving charities (and if you haven’t gotten those phone calls, please PM me and spill your secret), but it’s important to note that the companies that are hired to make those calls get paid with a significant percentage of the money they bring in.

If you want your chosen charity to get the most bang for your buck, give directly to the charity by calling or visiting its website. A much higher percentage of your donation will, in most cases, go directly toward helping people, animals, etc.

With that out of the way, I’d like to introduce you to Charity Navigator. If you’re not familiar with this website, it’s a place where people can go to get some important particulars about the charities they’re considering, such as transparency, accountability, and financial health. Charity Navigator rates charities based on these criteria and shares its results with donors in ways that are easy to understand.

Charity Navigator has a number of ways to help donors choose charities. A donor can search for a particular charity by name, of course, but he or she can also search for charities with perfect scores, trending charities, big and small charities, charities to watch, and the list goes on and on. The site also includes tips for donors as well as a blog with some helpful and informative information about giving.

Click here to visit Charity Navigator and check it out for yourself.

Interested in what charities I’m considering this year? Here they are:

United Methodist Committee on Relief

Cure Alzheimer’s Fund

Rainforest Trust

Make-A-Wish Foundation of New Jersey

Make-A-Wish Foundation of Hawaii

Books for Africa

These are just a few of the literally thousands of charities to choose from, and sorting through them to find the right ones for you is a time-consuming job. Charity Navigator does most of the work for donors. I urge you to check out the website and give during this holiday season.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Instagram: Not Just for Millennials

“Instagram is a cross between Pinterest and Twitter,” says Sonja Yoerg, author of contemporary fiction and a fan of Instagram. “Instagram shares Pinterest’s image-sharing feature and Twitter’s use of hashtags for categorizing and tracking topics.”   
Have you tried Instagram? No? Read on. Even if you’re a veteran, read on and share your tips and best practices.

I had long known about this mobile photo-sharing app that lets users edit and upload photos and short videos. I also knew that the typical user was between 15 and 35. Since my demographic skews older, I felt no need to add this particular social media service to my platform—and my time. But two years ago my curiosity won out and I signed up. I intended to simply lurk and see what was what. Within five minutes I had two followers. So I caved and posted a photo. I’m still there, posting, following, being followed.

As for the younger folks … well, Instagram’s no longer just for the Millennials. I’m not sure if they’re leaving in droves (my college-aged niece is still active) but the older folks are arriving in droves.

What’s to like about Instagram?
It’s fun and it doesn’t take a lot of time. Well, it can take a lot of time.

There’s no limit on post length (if there is, I haven’t reached it). 

Authors can engage with reviewers and bloggers. I must admit that I haven’t done this yet, but it’s an attractive option. At the very least, they may post your book cover.

Sonja Yoerg offers book giveaways on Instagram. For a chance to win, she asks interested readers to follow her and leave a comment. For some giveaways she directs readers to her Facebook page. She seems to do very well with this promotional gambit.

What’s not to like about Instagram?
A few things. While you can create live links in your profile, you can’t in your posts. Not a huge problem, but inconvenient.

Then you have to contend with those danged algorithms. Remember when Facebook and Twitter had chronological timelines before switching to an algorithm that shows you the “top stories”—meaning what the social media gods think are top stories. Last year, Instagram followed suit.

But while Facebook and Twitter give you the ability to restore the date/time order of your timeline postings, Instagram has yet to extend that courtesy. Hopefully they will, and soon. After all, Facebook owns them.

What to post
Post pictures of anything and everything: travel, movies, pets, fall foliage, snow, spring blossoms, and, no surprise, food!; promote your writing events, books (yours and others), and blogs; send holiday greetings with a season-appropriate image.    

Many use a theme in their postings, along the lines of sunsets, trees, babies, pets, etc. This approach is fine, but use caution—seeing Florida sunrises day after day gets old fast. 

Use hashtags to reach a wider audience and attract potential followers. But don’t go overboard with the hashtags. It’s easy to do because there are so many of them and it’s such fun to go wild after Twitter’s restrictions on post length. But hashtag mania will make your postings look spammy. I’ve been cutting back on mine.

Here are my cats, Morris and Olive, celebrating National Cat Day on Instagram:   

It seems that my image is too large. No problem, you get the idea. When I post pictures of my two scamps, I typically use these hashtags: #catsofinstagram, #cats, #norwegianforestcat, #manxcat, #oliveannking, #morristhecat. Maybe too many, but I can't resist! On Saturdays, I use the #caturday tag.

Writers have an extensive selection of hashtags: #authorsofinstagram, #bookstagram, #writersofinstagram, #writersofvirginia (pick a state), and #mysteries are just a few. Plus you can create your own, just like in Twitter.   

So give Instagram a try. Follow me at authormaggieking. And, like I said in the beginning, old hands are welcome to weigh in with your experience and advice on how to make Instagram a fun and rewarding part of a social media platform. 

Here's more information on Instagram.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Revision Re-visited

When my manuscript comes back from my editor with the first set of revisions, I get really excited. I’m not sure if this means I’m weird. Does anyone else enjoy getting their revisions back?

I guess I like it for two reasons. Firstly, I get to re-read my story. This will be for the umpteenth time, but it will have been awhile since I last read it. I love to meet up with my characters again. Plus, it’s one more chance to be satisfied, or make that last(!) change.
The second reason is that I really value the input from my editor. Not only does she bring her expertise to the table, she will identify  flaws, amend grammatical errors, and make comments on consistency, realism, and overall enjoyment of the book. Believe me, there will be plenty.
In addition to sending the edited version of my story, the editor will summarise her findings and overall comments. From the tone, I get a good feel whether to expect a lot of comments or not too many. My second book to be published, Guiltless, came back with very few, only needing to go through one round of edits. It was a different story with my first book, The Secret At Arnford Hall, where the story is much darker and some scenes needed to be handled sensitively.
After digesting the editor’s summary, the first thing I do when I open the Word document containing the manuscript, is make two saves, one as the original from the editor, and the second renamed to show it is the copy on which I make any changes or comments. Then, under strict instruction from the publisher, track changes goes on and stays on. This necessity is obvious. I desperately want to see what the editor has done to my original script, and, of course, she needs to know what I do. I may comment that I love the changes she has made, or I may even state that I don’t agree. If the latter is the case, I will justify my reasons as appropriate. There are strict rules in the contract about changes made and accepted, which I think’s fair enough. Although it will always be my book, I appreciate it’s important the publisher knows exactly what they are publishing in the end.
After settling at the island in my kitchen with a cup of herbal tea, I’m ready to read the whole script, going through it with a fine-tooth comb. I begin by scrolling down the “track changes” panel to scan for comments and points of significance. These usually stand out from formatting and grammar changes by being longer notes and tagged as comments.
If there is something significant, I will take time to consider the point raised.
Here’s an example. The editor commented, “If you keep repeating the character’s last name, you put artificial distance between the character and the reader, and that is the last thing you want to do.” This raised an important point for me. I was deliberately using the last name to emphasize the remoteness of Gabriel Black in The Secret At Arnford Hall. But clearly that point hadn’t gotten across to the editor. Therefore it’s very likely it wouldn’t get across to the reader either. It made me realize I had alienated the hero too much.
But like I said, I don’t always accept what the editor does. In another example, before my work went to my American publisher, Black Opal Books, an editor commented on the number of days I had left between a death and a funeral. She thought it was too many. But a post mortem would have been necessary and I had already checked with a policewoman friend who said my time period was realistic. So I explained this in my own comment.
Whenever I disagree with a comment from the editor, I always re-check my reasoning to make sure I’m still happy with my version. Like I said before, what the editor questions, the reader may well question. That may mean I’ve got it wrong somewhere and that’s the last thing I want.
Then there are the times I can’t see the wood for the trees. Once I had a car change from white at the beginning of a book, to silver by the end, without a re-spray.

There’s one more point I’d like to share. Going through the editor’s revisions makes me feel a part of team. Ultimately the editor, and publisher, are on my side – we all want to sell books and we want readers to enjoy them. The life of an author can be a very lonely one and it’s good for me to know someone is there with me, even if they are nearly five thousand miles away.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Getting Your Book(s) into Barnes and Noble's Brick and Mortar Stores

by Linda Thorne

Getting my book into a brick and mortar Barnes and Noble store has been a real challenge. Anyone who has a B&N Nook and wants to order it as a download can go to B&N online. Anyone who wants to buy the trade back version can also purchase it at B&N online and have it mailed. The problem is the market for books online (and a great many other things) is dominated by Amazon.

But book buyers still flock to Barnes and Noble's brick and mortar stores nationwide. In-store buying is where readers can peruse the bookshelves the old fashion way: hold a book in their hands and flip through the pages, read the back cover and run their fingers down the book spine.

When Just Another Termination was first released, libraries and bookstores were my challenge. I made it into Parnassus Books in Nashville - a big one locally. I've had my book in the Southern Bound Book Shop located where my book is set in Biloxi and Ocean Springs, MS since February of 2016. I have a supply at the Words of Wisdom (WOW) bookstore in the Hermitage suburb of Nashville. The manager at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Gulfport, Mississippi a while back agreed to stock my book one at a time. When the single book sold, her plan was to replace it with another and continue one by one, but when she tried ordering the first copy, she ran into a problem. First, it was not considered returnable and also my publisher was not on a recognized list for B&N warehouses. I worked with my publisher to get the needed changes made and submitted to Barnes and Noble's small press department. Rejection. I worked at it a second time this past August and lo and behold, I received an acceptance letter just last week. My book will be stocked in certain B&N stores of their choice. I don't know where these stores are, but I've made it to their warehouse and into some of their bookstores. A big step for me. Now, when I approach a Barnes and Noble store about carrying my book, I should have better luck. Here's the links to all the bookstores I mentioned here:

Parnassus Books - Nashville, TN:
Southern Bound Books - Mississippi Gulf Coast:
Words of Wisdom (WOW) - Hermitage, TN:
Barnes and Noble - Gulfport, MS:

Below is a picture of me and other authors at a Meet and Greet the Authors event at the Cool Springs (suburb of Nashville) Barnes and Noble store over a year ago. I participated in the event and sold some copies of my book through B&N, but still could not get the store to stock any because of those same roadblocks I ran into in trying to get into the Gulfport, Mississippi B&N.

I am hoping the recent Barnes and Noble acceptance letter will open many doors for me. I was ecstatic to receive the letter of acceptance last week after a two-year effort to do so.  

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Writing in Multiple Genres

I began my publishing career with a contemporary romance novel. This choice of genre was quite deliberate: it had nothing to do with the huge market for these books, and everything to do with the launch of Kensington's Arabesque imprint in the 1990s. Kensington was the first major publishing house to feature a line devoted to love stories about people of color, the absence of which had often been lamented by my friends and colleagues.

My publishing contract at the time included an option for a second romance novel, so I wrote one. It got caught in the meltdown of the publishing house, and I eventually recovered the rights and published it myself. Since then I have gone on to publish in several genres, using different names to keep things nice and orderly. I use my given name for literary work, and different pen names for historical fiction and interracial romance. I have a mystery series in the oven and I plan to use a variation of the Liane Spicer brand for those.

It can get a trifle confusing at times, I admit. In addition, I have a science fiction novella that I'm considering turning into a series, a completed memoir, and two works of nonfiction. Which names should I use for these? Should I come up with a new one for the SF series to eliminate the risk of confusing (and losing) my readers in a particular genre?

The bestselling author Judy Blume uses just one name for her juvenile, YA and decidedly adult titles. Others such as JK Rowling and Sue Grafton use different names for different genres.

My question is: How do you handle the multi-genre issue? Do you stick to one genre? And if you write in multiple genres, how do you handle the name challenge?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Guest author Marilyn Levinson: 12 Things to Keep in Mind When Writing a Mystery Series

Allison Brook is the pseudonym of Marilyn Levinson, who writes mysteries, romantic suspense and novels for kids. She lives on Long Island and enjoys traveling, reading, watching foreign films, doing Sudoku and dining out. She especially loves to visit with her grandchildren on FaceTime.

12 Things to Keep in Mind When Writing a Mystery Series
by Marilyn Levinson
  1. Your sleuth should be likable, interesting and resourceful, with a definite personality that includes quirks and personal issues that have yet to be resolved. Your sleuth needs to have a personal stake in solving the mystery.
  2. Consider your setting a major character. Use your setting well--its geography and flavor, its contrasting neighborhoods, businesses, parks and restaurants. Set your scenes in various locales to avoid monotony. Create annual traditions that are celebrated in your locale. Examples: a parade, a dance, a barbeque. 
  3. Occasionally change your setting. If most of the books in your series take place in a small town, you might have you sleuth solve a murder in Manhattan.
  4. Your sleuth needs a best friend or confidant with whom to brainstorm. Consider creating a nemesis, as well, to up the tension and add red herrings to the mix.
  5. A love interest (or interests) spices up your plot and adds another dimension.
  6. Choose your victim carefully. Why was he/she murdered? What connects the victim to the suspects? Why was the second victim murdered?
  7. Regarding suspects, have many, with various motives, and with varying connections to the victim(s). Don’t telescope the identity of the murderer, but let your murderer appear often enough so that your reader doesn’t feel cheated when all is revealed.
  8. Secrets relating to the past are like chunks of dark Belgian chocolate in a chocolate brownie. Every character should have a secret or two. Reveal each secret only when necessary. Use them to your advantage.
  9. Every mystery should have a theme. Be it a dispute regarding an inheritance, your sleuth’s relationship to an absentee father who shows up later in her life, each mystery should include a theme that reflects the concerns of your sleuth, the village or the outside world.
  10. Decide what role official crime solvers play in your mystery. Even if you’re writing a cozy series, the police must appear in your books. Is your sleuth friendly with the homicide detective? Do they have an adversarial relationship? Don’t have the police come off as idiots because they’re not.
  11. Subplots are essential to any novel, including your mystery. They may arise from the theme such as a dispute over land development, from characters in conflict, or from an issue in your sleuth’s personal life.
  12. Make sure your personal viewpoint comes through in your writing. You are unique. Your voice and your view of the human condition will help make your series stand out.

Marilyn's Amazon page:
Allison’s Amazon page: