Thursday, March 31, 2016

Publishing With Amazon's CreateSpace

Following our Amazon theme this month, I’m talking with critique partner John J. Rust about his experiences publishing with CreateSpace.

Welcome to the Blood Red Pencil, John. When you were first ready to publish a book, did you explore other avenues before you came to CreateSpace? (If so, why did you veer away from those choices?)

I did go to an ebook self-publishing site for my alien invasion novel Dark Wings. I’ve heard other people have had success with it. The publishing process was not very difficult, but I found I wasn’t making the sort of sales I expected. From that point on, all my ebooks have been done on the Createspace site via the link to Kindle.

Was there a substantial learning curve the first time you published? Is this something the average writer can do or does it take some knowledge of layout and formatting? What about cover design?

Oh yes, there was a learning curve for the first couple of novels. A lot of it is due to the formatting of the interior, mainly making sure all the margins are aligned and the words aren’t going off the page. I can’t tell you how many times I had to tweek and experiment and upload again and again until I got it right. It does get easier after you’ve published a few books, and now I've published five through Createspace, the latest, my invasion of America novel Fallen Eagle: Alaska Front.

One thing I really need to emphasize. Read the directions. Createspace does have an easy to follow page that shows you how to format your novel properly before uploading it, and sparing yourself some headaches.

As for the cover design, Createspace has a very easy to follow cover creator page. They also have about 25 different cover formats, and you do have to play around with them to see which one is the best fit for your cover design. I also imagine there are a few authors out there who, like me, have no artistic ability whatsoever. I can’t even draw a decent stick figure. Thankfully, that is no longer a major problem. You can find royalty free images to use for book covers on sites like Dreamstime and Shutterstock that are not very expensive, or for royalty free, professionally designed covers for between $70 - $80, there is That’s the site where I found the cover for Fallen Eagle: Alaska Front.

What are the Pros of using CreateSpace over other self-publishing venues? Over traditional publishing routes?

The big thing is the cost. There are some self-publishing sites that charge quite a bit of money to publish your book. The only cost you incur with Createspace is purchasing a proof of your novel, which only costs a few bucks, including shipping and handling. You also get to sit there and design the cover the way you want it and get a chance to preview the layout of the book online before you order your proof. The royalty you get is also higher than some traditional publishing routes. And being self-published, you have total control of the content of your book.

What would you consider the Cons to this method?

One is the stigma that still exists--that self-published books are not as, for lack of a better word, ”polished” as those from traditional publishers. It is also difficult to get these books in major bookstores.

Does this program offer marketing opportunities for its authors?

They do. Createspace offers professionally made marketing copy as well as the ability to purchase book reviews from Kirkus.

What is your advice to writers who think they are ready to be published?

Try to contact other people who have published through Createspace to get their thoughts about the process. Using a critique group, be it in person or online, is a very good idea in order to discover any grammar or spelling mistakes, or to get advice on improving plotlines or character development. Show your cover design and back cover blurb to others and get their reactions to it, to see if it works or if it needs improvement. Above all, don’t be afraid. Putting your work out for the entire world to see can make some nervous. But take the leap and see where it goes.

John J. Rust is the author of five novels, the sports-themed books The Best Phillies Team Ever and Arizona’s All-Time Baseball Team, the sci-fi action thrillers Sea Raptor and Dark Wings, and his latest one, the action/adventure novel Fallen Eagle: Alaska Front, which deals with a group of Alaska residents battling an invasion by UN forces. All his books are available on Amazon. Rust grew up in New Jersey, and moved to Arizona in 1996. He works for KYCA Radio as sports director, play-by-play man for Prescott High School football, and is the host of “The Tri-City Sports Round-Up” show.

Interview by Heidi M. Thomas. Heidi is a native Montanan who now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreamsis based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series is Dare to Dream, and a non-fiction book Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women, is also available. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Five Ways to Spring Clean Your Amazon Author Page

So, you have a book or multiple books on Amazon, eh? Great! You’ve probably taken time to head over to the Author Central page on Amazon to give readers some information about yourself.

And after you did that…

…you might have worried more about checking your book rankings on Amazon than providing a little feng shui to your author space.

If so, worry not, for below, you’ll find five ways to help you spruce up your author page!

#1 - An image can be worth a thousand words. The first thing readers see when they land on your author page is your face. Think about the personality you want to convey to your reader and change your image periodically to reflect that personality.

#2 - Well, hello, my name is… Just as your life changes, your bio should change. It’s your HELLO, your WELCOME, your INTRODUCTION to your reader, so it should pop. It doesn’t hurt to do a quarterly check on your bio, cutting descriptions that might detract a reader, adding information that reveals your awesome personality, changing the tone of the bio depending on where your writing career is currently, etc.

#3 - When in doubt, blog it out. If you keep an active blog, link it to your author page. This is a great way to make your author page a catch-all: a place not only to purchase your books but also to keep up on what’s going on in your personal and writing lives.

#4 - Give ’em something to talk about. Do you have trailers for your books? Do you have video of book signings, events, interviews? Do you have great pictures of you with your readers? Add those images and videos to your author page to add layers of cool information for readers to dig into and learn more about you and your product(s).

#5 - Sharing is caring. When you update your author page, share the link with your readers: add it to your e-mail signature and newsletter, and let your friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter know about the page, too.

Every home should be a space people feel comfortable in, want to return to. Your Amazon Author page is no exception. Spring clean your space and invite your readers to the goodies you leave for them!

How often do your update your author page on Amazon? How important do you find updating your author page?

Creative Passionista Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her author website.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Amazon and Oranges

Photos by Cara Lopez Lee

An arborist came by our house yesterday to diagnose our ailing orange tree, and he informed me that the aging tree has too much unplucked fruit, too many branches, and not enough food. I never met a citrus fruit or a metaphor I didn’t like, so let’s see if I can untangle my thoughts on Amazon the way I untangled excess branches on my little tree today:

When my memoir, They Only Eat Their Husbands, was first published in 2010, I listed more than 50 promotional ideas, all of which one pro or another insisted were musts for authors who craved success. I knew I’d never get to it all, but I did what I’m doing with my orange tree: starting with one task today, scheduling another tomorrow, another next week, and so on.

Perhaps the most critical thing I’ve learned about marketing is that if you and your product are not yet famous, your first task is to narrow your targets: target audience, targeted marketing ideas, targeted networking, etc. You cannot be all things to all people, but if you become an expert at a few things, you can become the go-to person for a group of people. When you hit the same few targets often enough, to your primary audience you appear to be everywhere. This is how growth begins.

I’m not growing an orchard, I’m seeking to invigorate one backyard tree. So I need not become an arborist, but can do a few targeted things an arborist suggested: prune, pluck, feed. I now know to prune dead branches because the tree will still try to draw water to them, wasting energy. I now know to pluck dying oranges to avoid attracting pests, and to pluck oranges when they’re ripe to promote vigor. I now know to feed roots the right fertilizer to promote the tree’s overall health. These are simple things I can do without becoming an expert or spending a lot.

There are also simple things I can do for my book without becoming a marketing expert or spending a lot. With Amazon, as with my tree, sometimes my efforts bear fruit, while other times the fruits of my labor look dark and desiccated. Here’s how I handle it:

1) Feed the tree:
I strive to keep my Amazon author page, book pages, bios, photos, book covers, synopses, and other information up-to-date, because this is the marketplace where people who want to buy my book online are most likely to end up. This is the first place most people will first spot my “fruit” and decide whether or not to sample it.

2) Pluck fruit when it’s ripe:
Some authors suggest not to check Amazon rankings regularly because it can be crazy-making, but I ignore this. I keep an eye on Amazon, and when my rank goes up (meaning the number goes down) I immediately post tweets with links to buy my book on Amazon. I like to take advantage of the momentum, building success on success. I’ve sold enough books over the years that my Amazon numbers fluctuate a lot when just one person buys.

Love Amazon or not, if it weren’t for this venue, fewer people would find my books because it’s published by a small press and most stores focus on major publishers.

3) Remove bad fruit so the whole tree doesn’t suffer:
When my Amazon rank goes down, meaning the number goes up, I tend to avoid pointing people to my direct Amazon link. Like my orange tree, my memoir has been around a while, and I don’t want my marketing efforts dragged down by Amazon numbers past their peak. During down times, I send people to Goodreads.

Amazon owns Goodreads, so readers can still link to Amazon if they decide to buy the book, however my memoir maintains a more consistent, meaningful rank on Goodreads, based on starred reviews and not on comparative sales to other titles. Amazon has star-rankings too, but the sales rank can overshadow that—comparing my book to other books based on algorithms that may have little to do with quality or the interests of my audience.

4) Prune the branches:
Although I flit around the Internet, I don’t spread myself thin. Yes, I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and the blogosphere, but I primarily promote my book on Facebook and Twitter.

My book is available not only on Amazon but also IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, Conundrum Press, Tattered Cover, Boulder Book Store, BookBar, and more. However, I primarily send followers to Amazon and Goodreads. This way, when I water the tree that is my marketing program, I focus on the branches most likely to bear fruit.

That’s the care and feeding that works for my Amazon marketing. Pluck what you like, throw out the rest, and maybe pop a couple in the juicer to give them a whirl...

Cara Lopez Lee is the author of the memoir They Only Eat Their Husbands. Her stories have appeared in such publications as The Los Angeles Times, Denver Post, Connotation PressRivet Journal, and Pangyrus. She’s a book editor and writing coach. She was a faculty member at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, a journalist in Alaska and North Carolina, and a writer for HGTV and Food Network. An avid traveler, she has explored twenty countries and most of the fifty United States. She and her husband live in Ventura, California.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Amazon Dangers

Amazon River image by Jon Rawlinson, via Flickr
This month here at the noble Blood-Red Pencil we are writing about Amazon the giant bookstore/publisher. But of course, there’s that other Amazon - the river and surrounding rainforest - not to mention the legendary race of female warriors. More on them later.

No one would launch a boat onto the Amazon without preparation - why would you treat the digital publisher with any less respect? Both arenas are home to:

Anaconda - the world’s largest and heaviest snake. Can grow as long as 30 feet eating up to 30 pounds of prey a day. On Amazon, the Anaconda would be the newest release by John Grisham or Stephen King.

Jaguar - a solitary killer that climbs trees as a vantage point when hunting prey prior to pouncing on their target. On Amazon, the jaguar is the person who hunts new successful authors and gives them one star reviews.

Piranhas - Perhaps the most famous danger of the Amazon River, red-bellied piranhas are actually scavengers. In the writing world, these might be authors who jump on the latest trend and have a feeding frenzy - people who wrote about wizarding schools or teenage vampires. I suggest you get ahead of the trend - maybe a zombie who never graduates from wizarding school, because he’s, you know, a zombie.

Black Caiman - this is an basically an alligator on steroids. These creatures eat everything in their path, including monkeys, deer, piranhas, and anaconda. We all know authors who eat everything in their path. The mega-bestsellers.

However…let us not forget:

Toucan - this thick-necked bird is known by its multi-coloured beak. He lives in the canopy of the Amazon rainforest. The toucan is very important to the rainforest because they help to disperse seeds from the fruits and berries they eat. Bloggers who spread the word on new books could be toucans. 

Amazon Pink Dolphin - a creature that has survived unharmed for centuries because of local belief that it has magical powers. Perhaps this is the successful author who recommends new writers to their fans and champions emerging authors. An author who attends writing conventions and is never too busy to offer advice or encouragement to all. They do exist. I’ve met a few.

Final thoughts …the Amazon river is responsible for the largest discharge of water in the world and that’s got to be one heck of a current. The digital Amazon is the same. Both should be approached with caution, but can deliver heart-pounding adventures to undiscovered lands.

 Swim safely. Remember, it's a jungle out there.

 Oh…and those legendary woman warriors? Some of them are here at the Blood-Red Pencil. I am honoured to write amongst them.
Elspeth Futcher is an author and playwright. Thirteen of her murder mystery games and two audience-interactive plays are published by Her A Fatal Fairy Tale, Deadly Ever After and Curiouser and Curiouser are among the top-selling mystery games on the Internet.  Elspeth's newest game, The Great British Bump Off is now available from her UK publisher, Red Herring Games, as is her Once Upon a Murder. Elspeth's 'writing sheep' are a continuing feature in the European writers' magazine Elias and also appear on this blog from time to time. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Futcher, Author.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

To Scout or Not to Scout

Last July, I submitted my book, Indiscretion, to Amazon’s Kindle Scout program.

Paraphrased from their website: Kindle Scout is reader-powered publishing for new, never-before-published books. It’s a place where readers help decide if a book gets published. Selected books will be published by Kindle Press and receive 5-year renewable terms, a $1,500 advance, 50% eBook royalty rate, easy rights reversions and featured Amazon marketing. If you do not earn at least $25,000 during any 5-year term, you'll have six months after the end of that 5-year period in which you can choose to stop publishing with Kindle Press and request your rights back. Same if you haven’t made $500 in royalties in a two-year period.

Amazon’s criteria are for authors to submit their professionally edited books with a well-designed cover, short blurb, and catchy tag line. The Scout people take a few days to look it over, then, if accepted, you have thirty days to do everything in your power to keep your book in the “Hot and Trending” column. That means promoting on Facebook, Twitter, and every other venue you can utilize to get people to nominate your book. In turn, they will receive a free copy if it's selected for publication. It also means begging, um, I mean suggesting to friends, other writers, and strangers to vote, um, I mean nominate your book.

After the thirty nerve-wracking days and a few more while Kindle Press decided if my book passed muster, Indiscretion was selected and benefited from an excellent Amazon edit. I didn’t have as many hours of “Hot and Trending” as some others, but I had lots of page views, which showed an interest in my story. My body of work and reviews may have contributed to Amazon’s choice of selecting Indiscretion, but what Amazon does and how they do it remains a closely guarded secret.

My book went on sale September 1, 2015. How is it working out for me? I’ve made my $500, but I haven’t done nearly as well as some of my Scout colleagues. I also didn’t get any specific promotion that I know of until the fifth month, whereas most Scout winners got promos long before. What does that mean? Not enough reviews? Probably. Though many readers have told me they loved the book, they didn't leave a review. (Writers, especially, should know how important reviews are to other writers. I review every four and five star book I read.) Not enough sales? My guess. But sales are closely related to marketing, and if you don’t receive any Amazon promotions, everything relies on the writer: me. I've done my best within the parameters that fall short of spamming, but more Amazon marketing in this day of author/book over-saturation would sure help to get my book noticed. There was no rotation of the front-loaded books to give other books a coveted position during the whole month.

What constitutes Amazon marketing? There are different types of promotions. Some books are priced lower and targeted to Kindle Fire owners or other specific groups for a short period of time. These promos seem to get a book sales fast, which in turn shoots the book’s rankings to low numbers. Some specially priced promos, usually at $1.99, are month-long and featured on sale pages. That’s the promo I got.

First, my book’s categories were Mystery, Thriller & Suspense/Crime Fiction/Heist, which it definitely is since the story incorporates details of the 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft of thirteen works of art, and a sub-genre of International Mystery and Crime. I’m still trying to figure out the International part other than one of my main protagonists stole diamonds overseas. As far as location, the book takes place in South Carolina and Boston. So not international in setting.

Was my book featured? The closest Indiscretion got to the front of the featured books on the monthly promo was on page ten of twenty, behind Amazon’s imprints and more well-known authors. Indiscretion showed up on an early page if a reader sorted by "average customer review" because my book had a 4.9 rating. I know Indiscretion went out in mailers, but all my books have over the years. How many times and to whom, I have no idea, but I saw no decrease in my rankings or increase in my sales during the first four months other than normal purchase numbers.

What do I think? I’m grateful Amazon chose my book to be a Kindle Scout winner, which is validation that the book has potential in Amazon’s opinion. I know Scout has been a miraculous boon for many of the winners, and they’ve hit bestseller status. I’m thrilled for all of them because they’re a fun group of talented writers. We even have a cookbook of recipes from our Scout winning books, free on Amazon: KP Authors Cook Their Books.

I also know it takes a while for some books to hit their stride. I’m a patient person, but I honestly thought the “featured Amazon marketing” would be more equally distributed, which so far hasn’t been the case for me and a few others. I have a sequel to Indiscretion in the works. Will I go through the process again or publish it myself like I’ve done with ten other books? If the latter, I will have the option to lower the price or make it free for promos when I want to stimulate sales, which in turn would hopefully stimulate the sales of Indiscretion. I’m nowhere near finished with book two, so I have time to see how book one does during the next few months before I make my decision. Meanwhile, back to writing.

Polly Iyer is the author of seven novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Conquering the Amazon Giant to Sell Your Books

Today’s interview with Tom Krantz explores the various programs Amazon offers to writers 

Hello, Tom. Welcome to Blood Red Pencil. You promote and market the works of fantasy writer S. K. Randolph, right?

Hi, Linda! Yes, I am privileged to assist my spouse in our “afloat business.” (We are retired and live on a boat cruising amongst the islands along the coast of Southeast Alaska)

This month at BRP, we are featuring all things Amazon — all things pertaining to writers, that is. Few would argue that any marketplace in the world is larger or more diverse than Amazon. How have you taken advantage of the various avenues available to authors?

When thinking of Amazon one must remember that it is a large family of international organizations and businesses. Revenue from the sale of books (printed, digital, and audio books) is a small sliver of the business. Some suggest Amazon is “out to get” self-publishers. The reality is we have a wonderfully flexible and encompassing partner in Amazon, providing opportunities for many a person who would never have made the “cut” imposed by the publishing houses of yesterday.

For authors Amazon can act as the manufacturer, distributor, and retailer. Amazon’s CreateSpace manufactures print on demand (POD) books, ACX creates audiobooks, and Amazon creates the e-book files. On Amazon’s Marketplace, an author can sell printed books from traditional printings (as well as a million other physical items).

We initially got involved with Amazon by placing S.K.’s first book, The DiMensioner’s Revenge, with them in 2011. We later added the rest of the books in the trilogy and ten companion shorts and made them available as Kindle e-books as well as POD. In its role as a global online retailer, Amazon presents a fantastic avenue for self-publishers.

Do you find all options offered by Amazon to writers are equally viable? Or have you found that different genres may benefit differently from certain options?

A challenge in selling through Amazon is one’s lack of personal contact with customers. You are never able to contact them directly to find out why they did (or did not) buy your book. You are left with good data about what happens (sales, pages read, giveaways, ranking of your book vs. others, etc.), but you do not learn the “why.”

There’s no lack of opinions, some free others for sale, on how to “make a killing” selling your book on Amazon. I have a couple favorites, but this is still an evolving market with changes happening daily.

Have you found the broad appeal of S. K. Randolph’s books to make your Amazon marketing easier or more difficult?

Amazon marketing is limited, so it’s most important to ensure the piece has properly identified categories, a selection one makes in the meta data when uploading the work, as well as the seven search keywords. Here’s another option: if you are willing to give Amazon exclusive sales rights, the e-books can be promoted with discounts and promotions through the KDP program.

Having the books on Amazon is necessary but not sufficient for sales success. Bear in mind the usual marketing and promotion is still your responsibility.

Sometimes there are surprises. The magic of the Amazon computer analysis can sometimes place your work in front of a wealth of interested buyers one day but not the next. It is all in the Amazon algorithms.

Such a massive store may be intimidating to some newcomers. How do you recommend a first-time writer approach Amazon book marketing?

First and foremost, have a good product—well written, edited, copy edited, rewritten, proofread, and so on. The days of dumping slapped together junk on Amazon is over.

Format it yourself if you can. Otherwise, budget money for help with POD and e-book formatting. Again, make sure it is well done. Amazon recently announced it will be removing e-books that have had too many complaints about formatting. Consider starting with the Kindle format first; then move on to POD if there is traction with the e-book.

What would be your best advice to those of us who want to take advantage of selling books via Amazon.

The best advice I can offer is “try it.” The barrier to entry is very low. Amazon charges you nothing to place an e-book or a CreateSpace POD publication with them. So why not? In our case, if it weren’t for Amazon and e-books, none of this would have played out the way it did.

The next advice is prepare to change. Once you think you have everything figured out, it will change. But not to worry, it will change again tomorrow.

We found some things seem to work and others not. S.K.’s Companion Shorts offered in between the novels, for example, found favor with some readers. The trilogy has been a hit with many fantasy buffs, as well as readers of all ages who are exploring that genre for the first time.

As the technical guy, I have come to appreciate the amazing power to quickly try, correct, or delete e-books. I can correct typos or modify them and have them updated on thirteen Amazon e-business sites around the world in the matter of a few hours.

A sale in Japan one day and the US and UK the next are fun to track. Running a free promotion of an e-book and watching it become the #1 download in its classification in Germany that same day is all fun. It happened to us. It can happen to you, too.

Raised on an island in the middle of the Mississippi River, Tom Krantz has done much of his best work on islands: Hawaii, Bermuda, Sicily, and now Baranof Island. Technology has changed a lot since he ventured into marketing in a Fortune 50 company in the 80s, but marketing principles of building awareness and preference continue to apply in the Amazon arena. He now finds more accessibility and reach though the Internet in an instant than he had through that “ancient” corporate model. He lives with his favorite author, the beautiful S.K. Randolph, on a boat cruising the southern coast of Alaska. They spend their summers out in one quiet cove or another, cut off from civilization. S.K. writes and Tom studies the tide (when not fixing something on the boat.) Their days are interrupted by bears, eagles, and whales…they thank them for visiting and enjoy being one with nature and with each other. In the winters they are back ashore, connected to the Internet getting more product out.

Interview by Linda Lane. Together with her editing team, Linda mentors and encourages writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Amazon Self-Publishing on a Budget - Dos and Don'ts

You’ve written a story, and want to share it on Amazon, so the whole world will see it. Before doing so, you need to make sure everything is up to speed. There's lots of ground to cover, but here are a smattering of helpful hints to get you rolling.

  • Do a title page with your book's name, then skip down a few lines and add your author name. Speaking of titles - Don’t choose one that’s been around the block. Readers get confused easily, and if someone recommends a title, the reader might go to the wrong book, instead of yours.
  • Do single space your document. Do indent the first line of your paragraphs, instead of tabbing. Do make page breaks for each chapter and number the chapters.
  • Don’t repeat certain words, especially unusual ones that readers will remember. Do use a Thesaurus or Google to find synonyms.
  • Don’t begin every sentence the same way. Vary the structure.
  • Don’t tell the reader too much backstory. Sprinkle it in a little at a time.
  • Don’t let the cat out of the bag too soon in your plot. Keep your readers guessing.
  • Do use spell check. It may not catch every mistake, but it will catch a lot.
  • Don’t think your work is perfect. Do get an editor, or if you can’t afford one, at least submit your work to some top-notch beta readers for critiques.
  • If you use Microsoft Word as I do, use the Inspect Your Document feature to catch certain items that shouldn’t be there, such as personal data, headers, footers and more.
  • Don’t settle for just any book cover. If you like someone's book cover, see if you can learn who designed it and/or where the picture came from. Then, decide if you can afford that cover illustrator or if you need to do the cover yourself.

Available from Amazon

I used Stephen R. Walker of to design the Girl of My Dreams cover, which is my favorite. First, I selected a stock photo and he changed it a bit, then jazzed everything up to make the cover stand out. He’s reasonably priced, easy to work with, and open to suggestions.
  • If you design your own book cover, which I’ve also done for some of my books, to avoid confusion, don’t choose pictures you’ve seen on other book covers. There are plenty of stock photo sites to peruse. Some I’ve used are,, and Don’t settle for the first choices, but skim further down, so there’s less chance of duplication. Once you find a picture you like, you can use, Amazon Cover Creator found in the Bookshelf section of, or one of many other programs to design your cover. When you do, make sure to spell everything right in your title and author name.
  • When everything looks as good as can be, before taking the final plunge, do email your document to your kindle, if you have one, so you can check everything again. You’d be surprised what errors you can find that way.

Okay, you’ve come this far. Now, take a deep breath, click on that bookshelf at and fill in all the blanks with your preferences, then upload your cover and book. Amazon has a tool there which will ask about correct spellings of certain words, which you can change if needs be. You also can check to see how your book will look on various Kindle devices.

If you discover later that you did make a mistake somewhere along the line, never fear. You still have an option to fix it by resubmitting the new version while the initial version is still live on Amazon.

Remember, though, first impressions are important, so you’re better off being thorough the first time around.

I hope this helps you create a masterpiece on Amazon, without breaking your piggy bank.

Experience Morgan Mandel's diversity and versatility. Check Out Her Standalone Romantic Comedy,  Girl of My Dreams, the romantic comedy series, Her Handyman, and A Perfect Angel. For Mystery/Suspense, try Killer Career or Two Wrongs. For the small town of Deerview series: Hailey's Chance: Will Baby Make 3? and Christmas   Carol.Websites:Morgan Mandel.Com Morgan Does Chick Lit.ComTwitter:@MorganMandel   

Twelve Fascinating Fe/male Spies

History is written by the victors, mainly male victors, leaving the tales of heroic women buried in the sands of time.

A simple search for female spies led me to a hundred different heroines whose stories deserve to be told.  I present a few of the most fascinating.

1. Mary Bowser and Elizabeth Van Lew

Mary was born a slave on a plantation in Richmond, Virginia owned by the Van Lews. Upon Mr. Van Lew's death, Mary was freed but remained as a servant of the household. She was sent to the Philadelphia School for Negroes by Elizabeth Van Lew and learned how to read and write. That would make a riveting literary tale, but it gets better. Elizabeth was unpopular for her Union sympathizing and pretended to be crazy to deflect from her efforts to aid a spy ring and hide escaped soldiers on her estate. Mary adopted the pose of a feeble minded servant to spy on Jefferson Davis in his own home. These two actress activists deserve at least fifteen minutes of fame.

2. Belle Boyd

Belle was a confederate spy caught after she killed a Union soldier. Instead of ending her days in a dark prison, her Union captor became her lover and let her go. They reunited in England and married but later returned to the United States. Belle trod the boards as an actress but her lover died in prison. Truth really can be stranger than fiction.

3. Sarah Emma Edmonds

Sarah Edmonds was destined for an arranged marriage, but escaped with her mother's help and traveled as a man to the Connecticut colony. Sarah's disguise allowed her to serve as a male field nurse during the Civil War. She used many disguises, even posing as a black man to infiltrate and spy on the Confederates. She developed malaria and left her post to avoid discovery. When her alter-ego was outed as a traitor, she simply reverted to being female and continued to work as a nurse/spy.

4. Chevalier Charles Genevieve d'Éon

The Chevalier was a gender-fluid spy, French diplomat, and freemason, at times posing as male and others as female as needs suited. He was part of a secret network of spies, Secret du Roi, employed by King Louis XV. He posed as a woman to infiltrate the Russian court to work against the Habsburg monarchy. As Lea de Beaumont, he served as a maid of honor to the Empress of Russia. He returned and resumed his male identity to fight in the Seven Years' War. d'Éon claimed to be born female but raised as male because of inheritance issues. At his death, doctors found he had "male organs in every respect perfectly formed," but also feminine characteristics.

5. Zora Fair

Zora lived a short but adventurous life as a spy. She disguised herself as a black servant to infiltrate Sherman's headquarters in Atlanta. Little is known about her life and sources disagree about whether she was caught and questioned by the Union Army. She died in North Carolina shortly after the Civil War ended.

6. Eileen Mary "Didi" and Jacqueline Nearne

This sister duo worked as Britain's Special Operations Executives (SOE) during World War II. Eileen worked as a home-based signals operator, receiving secret messages written with invisible ink on the back of typewritten letters. Eileen was caught and tortured by the Germans. She escaped and fled to Leipzig until the arrival of US troops. Meanwhile, Jacqueline was sent to France to work as a courier. She was trained in Morse code and was outfitted with a suitcase radio. She also had parachute training. She carried spare parts for radios inside her cosmetics bag. She spent fifteen months aiding the French resistance and returned to Britain in 1944.

7. Cecile Pearl Witherington

Cecile was born in France to British parents. Along with her mother and three sisters, she escaped occupied France and went to London. Like the Nearne sisters, Cecile joined Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE) where she became an expert marksman. She was parachuted into France in 1943 and worked as a courier posing as a cosmetic saleswoman. When her boss was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944, Cecile became the new head of SOE Wrestler Network. With the help of her fiancé, Henri Cornioley, she played an important role in fighting the German army. The Nazis issued a one million pound bounty for her capture. Her small force was attacked by thousands of Germans in June of 1944. She escaped, regrouped, and launched a large-scale guerrilla attack on the Germans. She ultimately presided over the surrender of 18,000 German troops.

8. Violette Morris

Violette challenged female stereotypes and sexual norms. She was born in 1893 and raised in a convent. She married briefly, then lived life on her terms. She was real-life super hero (or villain) material depending on your point of view. Any sport a man could do, Violette claimed to do better: shot put, discus, women's football, water polo, boxing (defeating men), road bicycle racing, motorcycle racing, car racing, airplane racing, horseback riding, tennis, archery, diving, swimming, weightlifting, and wrestling. She earned two gold and one silver medals at the Women's World Games in 1921–1922. Her smoking, swearing, and bisexual lifestyle got her banned from the 1928 Summer Olympics.

She was invited to attend the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin by Adolf Hitler and became a German spy. She served as a military nurse during the Battle of the Somme and a courier during the Battle of Verdun in WWI. She is credited with gifting the Germans with partial plans of the Maginot Line, strategic points in of Paris, and schematics of the French army's Somua tank S35. She lived through the German occupation of France in a houseboat on the River Seine and worked against the British SOE. She was sentenced to death in absentia and was murdered by members of a French resistance group on 26 April 1944, at the age of 51.

9. Loreta Janeta Velázquez

Loreta was born in Cuba but raised and educated in New Orleans. She dodged an arranged marriage by eloping with a Texas soldier. With the outbreak of the Civil War, her husband joined the Confederate army. Upon his death, Loreta posed as a male to enlist. After fighting in major battles such as Bull Run, her disguise was blown. She changed identities and locations and reenlisted. Her second cover blown, she turned Confederate spy/double agent working at times as a man, others as a woman. She died in 1923  in a public psychiatric facility.

10. Majda Vrhovnik

Madja was raised in Ljubljana, Slovenia. While enrolled in medical school, she joined an underground Communist movement. She became a courier during the occupation of Yugoslavia and was sentenced to life in prison in absentia. Her parents were held hostage for months as leverage. She continued her work organizing a print shop for the resistance and carrying manuscripts. She assisted her brother in setting up a bunker in May 1943 reproducing copies of The People's Justice and the Slovenian Reporter. She then turned to instructing students for Young Communist League of Yugoslavia (SKOJ). In the fall of 1944, she disguised herself as a peasant girl and spent months organizing committees for the Liberation Front. She was betrayed and arrested, tortured, and killed by the Gestapo but lives on as a people's hero in Yugoslavia.

We rarely hear about the hundreds of brave women who served during the wars, much less the successful spies. Beyond biography, you can bring their stories to life through Literary Fiction, Historical fiction, Suspense Thriller, or screenplay. There is no shortage of intrigue to work with.

I love a story where a character is undercover with the possibility of exposure around every corner. Stories that encourage me to learn more earn bonus points. Stories that highlight history's forgotten female heroes earns higher bonus points.

Continue Reading:

New Stories

History's Mysteries

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Top 10 Reasons to Publish Through Amazon

Whether you love or loathe shopping on Amazon (I love it) and whether you agree with all of their tactics (I don't), it is still the single best platform for self-publishing. They have more tools and outreach than any other entity can offer you.

1. In addition to e-books, you can upload a print copy through Create Space for those readers who prefer paper over plastic. I cannot recommend this highly enough. I only read print books.

Tweet this: “Textbook makers, bookstore owners, and college student surveys all say millennials still strongly prefer print for pleasure and learning, a bias that surprises reading experts given the same group’s proclivity to consume most other content digitally.” @mikerosenwald

2. Their upload process is extremely easy as opposed to some of the other e-book platforms. They accept multiple file types: PDF, Word® .doc, docx, or .rtf. They offer free templates that make formatting an interior (print), e-book, and cover easy.

A Step By Step Guide to Formatting Your File

Cover and Interior Templates

3. Their preview tool allows you to read through a virtual copy of your book before hitting publish or purchasing a proof. I highly recommend buying a printed proof. You will still find errors in print that you missed on screen. You may need multiple proofs. Share copies with willing readers who may also find things you missed. Yes, even e-books should be printed on paper and proofread.

Interior Reviewer Tool

4. It’s free! There is no need to order a ton of books up front to gather dust in your basement. However, you can order books as needed in any quantity.

5. There is no need to pay someone to format and upload for you if you can use Word® for Windows (any version). But if you truly need help, they offer professional services for a fee. Note: editors, designers, etc. do not work for free, nor should they be expected to.
 6. Their algorithm promotes your book through BISAC codes (Book Industry Standards and Communications) which are used by the book-selling industry to help identify and group books by their subject matter.

7. Their algorithm promotes your book through keywords. As readers browse titles, locations, and subjects, your book may pop up below it. This list regenerates often.


8. They email suggestions to readers beyond your own email list (if you have one).

9. They have national and international market distribution. In addition to the Kindle store and, they offer your print and e-books through Amazon Europe: Great Britain (, Germany (, France (, Italy (, and Spain ( They have plans to expand to more markets. No other self-publishing platform comes close.


10. With an assigned ISBN, your book can be ordered by request through their expanded distribution at bookstores, other online retailers, libraries, academic Institutions, and the CreateSpace Direct wholesale store.

You can do all of this without enrolling in their Kindle Select/Kindle Unlimited program. So, you can also take advantage of other platforms that don't require exclusivity, such as Nook, Smashwords, KOBO, iBooks, etc.

To sum up, Amazon makes it easy to produce a quality product and helps market it. That does not get you off the hook for self-promotion, but you don't have to beg, plead, or blackmail them like you do friends, family, and complete strangers!

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The March to Amazon

Amazon is the search engine of buyers.

I recently read this statement online and after giving it some thought, agreed wholeheartedly. Think of all the times you've needed to buy something, and how often you've sought information about a product, or checked prices and availability online. Amazon was probably one of your targets.

For authors, whether traditionally or indie published, Amazon is a must to generate advertising and book sales. A few years ago, I experienced first-hand the power of KDP Select, and the incredible reach of this platform for e-book publishers. Since that project, Amazon has added new tools and opportunities for writers.

One recent change is the enhanced author page that allows readers to click a follow button, and receive new information direct from Amazon when the author adds books, giveaways, and other notices about their products. 

Encouraging readers to follow your author page is akin to building a mailing list without all the personal effort. It's easy to get readers to follow you. Just find the short-link for your page, and strew that information all over your social networks on a regular basis! You can see what I mean by the screen snip below:

Notice the yellow highlight on Polly's page? That shortened link is ready to copy and paste all over your social media pages with a message that reads: Follow me on #Amazon!

Amazon has many other new enhancements, and during March, we're going to explore what's available from this giant retailer. You might be surprised at what you've been missing, as an author and as a buyer.

Please leave us a comment about your favorite Amazon program or feature!

Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter