Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Writing in the Time of Covid

Forgive me for word-playing on the title of one of my favorite books, Love in the Time of Cholera, but Gabriel García Márquez won’t mind.

I’ve finished my book titled we are but WARRIORS (No initial caps), even created the cover (posted) and formatted the paperback. Clap, clap. My problem is I’m not sure what I want to do with it. I’ve self-published nine mystery/thriller/suspense novels. All at one time or another have been an Amazon bestseller, one was a Kindle Scout winner. I haven’t published a new book in almost two years. I’ve worked on my current novel off and on for a few years, mainly because there are political aspects that I felt might change, so I picked it up and put it down, over and over again. Now it’s finished.
Do I want to go my usual route, try for an agent, or send it to a publisher that doesn’t require an agent? Would I be wasting my time with the two latter possibilities? If I choose one of the latter two, why? Is it for the validation a self-published book doesn’t get and a traditionally published book does? Is that even true anymore? If accepted, do I want to wait for the time it would take to see it traditionally published―maybe a year or more―when I could publish it myself? Would the fact that I’m solely self-published work against me in the eyes of a publisher or an agent? Is the book good enough? I’m really at a crossroad.

This is a stressful time. We are in the midst of a pandemic with no end in sight, hundreds of thousands have died, and then there’s what's sure to be a contentious election on November 3rd. A definitive result could take days if not weeks before the winner is declared, then we expect discord because of the unprecedented political dynamic. I know I'm not alone. These things have weighed on people across the nation, world, and political spectrum as we curb our anger, fears, and plans for the future. I'm not usually wishy-washy, not prone to depression, so I'm experiencing emotions I'm not accustomed to. My answer has been to stop watching the news and reading more. Those things don't solve the problem but they sure help.

Now, back to the book. Decisions, decisions.

Polly Iyer is the author of nine novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and four books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, Backlash and The Scent of Murder. 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, September 24, 2020

Moving Forward While the World Stands Still

This morning, I read Pat Stoltey's excellent post on the Colorado Writers Collaborative. Because I was a Colorado writer for many years, my curiosity was piqued. If you have not read her article, I suggest you do so, whether or not you are in Colorado and especially if world events have neutralized or totally drained your creative juices.

When I was raising my children, I looked forward to the time when I could sit down unhampered and transfer all the stories running around in my head to a written format. "Unhampered" means unbridled, unrestrained by circumstances, and I needed that freedom to write. The children long ago reached adulthood, their youngsters are grown, and most of them have grandchildren. So what's the excuse now?

Circumstances change. Mates die. Homes are gone. Families scatter. Estrangements shut down communication. Incentive wanes. Minds and bodies grow weary with age. Illness saps energy. Depression suppresses creative expression.

The list of potential creativity stiflers goes on and on, and the brass ring that seemed just out of reach in days gone by eludes all efforts to grasp it. Dulled by the tarnish of passing years, it no longer holds the appeal it once did. Seeking another way to reach it requires too much effort. Is there a brighter side to all this negativity?

Actually . . . yes. Even when the writing habit could not (or did not) take root and grow during earlier years, it's likely hibernating. It needs only to be awakened and pressed into service. That sounds easy enough, but the process can prove daunting. Then along comes a pandemic, and the chuckholes in the road to rehabbing it grow into major sinkholes. So what's next? Does the lemon-into-lemonade cliché apply here?

Perhaps it does. Stories can come from a deep well of memories, rather like Phoenix rising from the ashes. Historical events, current or past news, experiences, changed circumstances, and a host of other sources can fuel the creation of a blockbuster book. Take a pandemic, for example.

What happens if a worldwide plague grows out of a new virus in a single country? What if the extent of its spread is kept secret from the people? What if a huge disparity of the "facts" develops between scientists and authorities? What if flourishing businesses must close their doors, albeit temporarily, while struggling businesses cease to exist. What if unemployment rises sharply, and families are forced from their homes into the streets? What if food prices escalate, store shelves are empty, and penniless people, young and old, have nothing to eat? What if authorities seize the opportunity to take control of populations accustomed to being free to make their own choices? What if the world comes under the control of a single government that claims to have the interest of all at heart? And what if that government dictates what all citizens must do, although not necessarily in the best interests of the people?

Whether we write women's fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, romance, or whatever, within those parameters of "what-ifs" lie a plethora of gripping stories that can touch readers' hearts, possibly even offer them hope. People are starving for honesty, for reassurance, for a positive word about their future, the future of their children, grandchildren, other loved ones, and the world in general. We have a unique opportunity to explore a situation such as noted above from a variety of angles. We can move forward even if the world stands still. Could this be the inspiration we need to begin writing—or continue writing? What do you think?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels typically fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. You can contact her through her websites: LSLaneBooks.com and DenverEditor.com.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Are You Tuned in to the Colorado Writers Collaborative?

When this coronavirus pandemic lurched on to the conference and convention scene, live events all over the world were cancelled. We writers, just like the rest of humanity, had to stop in our tracks, go home, and scrap the schedule. Our calendars began to look pretty empty.

But then planners and managers got creative, online opportunities grew like wildfires (sorry, that reference is very painful for some folks these days), and we social butterflies jumped on board. We found new ways to indulge our occasional attacks of extrovertness, see the smiling faces of our friends and acquaintances, and connect.

In Colorado, three major writerly conferences were cancelled: Northern Colorado Writers and Pikes Peak Writers in the spring and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold in the fall. Not to be sabotaged by a nasty virus, the brilliant minds at these organizations, with additional support from others such as Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime Colorado, put together an extensive September event called the Colorado Writers Collaborative.

Pre-recorded presentations and conference-like sessions prepared by a wide variety of writers and writing-related experts are available this month (and maybe a little beyond if we’re lucky because there are some I’d like to watch again). Over thirty-five offerings are on You Tube in one easy location.

The ones I’ve watched so far, from motivational talks to self-publishing have been excellent. Some will make you laugh. Others will have you scrambling for a notebook and pen to take notes. Mark Coker from Smashwords is there with three in-depth workshops. John Gilstrap talks movie deals. Do you have questions about organization? Check out Post-It Planning or Storyboarding. Can’t figure out Amazon ads? There’s a session to help.

Time is running out, so take a look at the Colorado Writers Collaborative now. 

Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017), a finalist for the 2018 Colorado Book Awards. This novel is available in a large print edition, ebook, and trade paperback. Her short story, “Good Work for a Girl,” appears in the Five Star Anthology, The Spoilt Quilt and Other Frontier Stories: Pioneering Women of the West, released in November 2019.

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was interviewed for the Colorado Sun’s SunLit feature that you can find at the Colorado Sun website.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Advertising Merchandise

I have to admit I am not a hoarder of book advertising merchandise. Every month charities inundate our mailbox with with canvas totes, mailing labels, note pads, pens, calculators, blankets, pins, calendars, greeting cards, even nickles and dimes.

However some readers love them. And they must be somewhat successful or the charities wouldn't keep sending them.

1. Should you include merchandise items as part of your marketing strategy?  

It depends. Do you make personal appearances (pre-quarantine and hopefully again post-quarantine)? Do you go to conventions, writer meetings, book clubs? Do local independent bookstores or libraries allow you to display items along with your book? Do you have a mailing list? Do you hold contests and raffles and giveaways?

Can you afford it? There may or may not be a return on investment. You may want a few instead of hundreds.

The allure of Free Stuff

Christmas is only three months away, so they also make terrific presents.

2. Do you have the appropriate permissions?

If you are published by a traditional publisher, make sure you have the rights to your own words and images for this purpose.
If you are self-published and someone created the artwork for your cover, make sure you have a merchandising license for the images. There are restrictions you can read about here.

If you would like someone to design merchandise for you, consider hiring artists on places like Fiverr or Deviant Art. Even a graphic arts student at a local college or high school can help. See article on stock images and custom designers.

3. What should they contain?

At a minimum, merchandise should feature your cover image which has your name. You can add a tag line. It should offer contact information such as your website, blog, social media account names, and ordering information.

4. Where do you get them?

If you are a savvy Photoshop or photo manipulation program user with a color laser or inkjet printer there are some things you can make for yourself. There are printing fabrics, stickers, photo paper, card stock, etc.

If not, there are quite a few sources. I will only mention a few here.

Your local office supply store and Fed/Ex Kinkos work with suppliers of customized items from T-shirts to totes, to cupholders. They can help design your products too.

Other printing sources are: 4imprint, Smart Press, Got Print, National PensShutterfly, and Discount Mugs.

Lithographs can put book cover designs on many items. I ordered a scarf with part of my first book's texts on it for my daughter.

Depending on the quantity, your local retail store or pharmacy photo department has options for a few merchandising items like mugs, calendars, and greeting cards, even canvas prints. Even Costco has joined the fray.

Vistaprint is another source for customized t-shirts, mugs, pens, usb memory sticks, even candies.

5. What are the options?

The options are endless: 

Coloring Books with your characters and setting scenes

Matted poems or lines from your book for framing

Maps of your story world

Book Marks

Buttons and Magnets

Character Cards or Trading cards

Crafting Book Marks and Cards

Customized fabric and home decor items from SpoonFlower (for masks?)
Customized journals from Shutterfly

Stickers and Vinyl decals

I have even seen car decals

Read more:

How to Promote Your Writing with Author Merch

How to Create Merchandise for Your Books

Tips for Selling Merchandise for Your Books

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 DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

How to Surf a Trend

La horde - Surfers riding a wave in Paea, Tahiti
Photo by Brigitte Bourger / CC BY-SA, WikiMedia Commons
Have you ever been tempted to drop what you're currently working on and instead try and catch the latest trend for... zombie apocalypses, sparkly vampires that stalk women decades younger than they are, epic alternate-history fantasies with dragons and excessive violence against women, epic alternate-history fantasies with Highland tartan and excessive domestic violence, mainstream bondage erotica with excessive abuse of one particular woman..., angsty teenagers leading rebellions against dystopian governments, etc., etc.?

If you were able to rub shoulders with acquisitions editors, agents, and traditional publishers, and ask their opinion of the ideal time to jump into a trend, they would probably tell you, "Five years ago, unless your name is [insert bestselling author popular in the trend you're talking about]." In the traditional publishing industry, when something is already a trend it is already out of date (because those books were optioned a year or more ago). Nobody really knows how long the wave of any one trend will last, but publishers can't take that risk on a brand new author.

It's a little different on the Indie side of the fence. If you have gone through the publishing process a few times and know the ropes, and if you know you can write quickly and write multiple books, then you could very well succeed at catching at least part of that wave. But sometimes that's all you need. If you like the type of story you chose, and you manage to find your loyal audience, you could set yourself up for a decent run. If you end up hating it, you can quit and pick up a new pen name and start something completely different.

Genre has a longer shelf life, although you'll find popularity of different genres will wax and wane according to what genre the latest bestsellers fit into. But each genre will always have fans, and they will always want books that adhere reliably to the genre tropes they love. In some instances you could bring elements of the latest trends into your books without having to stop and fully commit to chasing one that might ebb just as you launch.

Write as well as you can, edit carefully to make your writing crystal clear and readable, and try to build an audience by putting out some samples, testing, asking questions, and using their feedback to give them what they want. You might soon find you no longer need to worry about trends because you have fans who want just exactly what you write, whatever that turns out to be.

Elle Carter Neal is the author of the middle grade fantasy The Convoluted Key (first in the Draconian Rules series), the picture book I Own All the Blue, and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. Find her at ElleCarterNeal.com or check our her programme for new writers at Fully Booked.

Photo by Amanda Meryle Photography

Thursday, September 10, 2020

What's in the box?

There was great excitement in the Neal household this morning: our library books were delivered!

Stick & Fetch Investigate: Barking Up the Wrong Tree, audio book; Magnolia Moon; Elle the Thumbelina Fairy; Tom Gates Super Good Skills (Almost), audio book; Maths in 30 Seconds; Kidz Bop 2019 CD; and Pokémon guides X2

Here, we have been under varying but strict stages of lockdown since March. My kids, in Grades 6 and 3, have been schooled remotely from home for most of that time (they only went back on-site briefly for a couple of weeks in June). The library has been closed, and I felt sorry for my little bookworms as they read and re-read and re-read the books we have at home.

But our library has done everything they could to try and keep their service going during this insane year. During the first stage of lockdown, they organised a click-and-collect service. We already had the option to reserve books via the website and pick them up from a dedicated shelf (perfect for busy parents); now the librarians simply checked the books out to us, bagged them, and popped them outside the library door for collection. But most amazingly, the library made the decision early on to turn off fines for late returns. The policy is now to return books only when we are able and it is safe to do so. Renewal limits have also been lifted (previously items could be renewed twice for three weeks at a time), unless another member has reserved the book.

With stricter lockdown stages we were no longer allowed to make trips to "unnecessary" places like libraries, so ours switched from click-and-collect to click-and-have-delivered. We reserve the books we would like, and when they become available they are checked out to us, boxed up, and we can request a free home delivery (one per family per month).

The librarians also try to fill up the box with books, so they ask what our author and book preferences and favourites are and look at our check-out history to work out what they can add as their random surprise picks. I think this is the best part - we now have two new-to-us series that we're into thanks to our librarian's cleverly targeted selection (Vet Cadets and The Hounds of Penhallow Hall). 
Our librarian's clever selection for us based on our preferences and check-out history
The delivery system also allows for us to leave a box of returns outside our front door on delivery day, which is collected by the delivery person.

Our returns for this round
I'm so glad we live in a place with such a fantastic library system - and also in a community where people can be trusted with an honour system for borrowing and returning books and no one would dream of interfering with packages meant for other people's collection. Although I've already written notes and emails, I can't wait for the chance to thank our wonderful librarians in person.

Elle Carter Neal is the author of the middle grade fantasy The Convoluted Key (first in the Draconian Rules series), the picture book I Own All the Blue, and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. Find her at ElleCarterNeal.com or check our her programme for new writers at Fully Booked.

Photo by Amanda Meryle Photography

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Book Launch Dos and Don'ts

First off, one should not schedule the pre-order release of a book, then promptly be pretty much out of commission for a couple of weeks. That is the big DON'T on the list.
Early in August, I got the edits back from ALTO Editing for Desperate Season, and sent the manuscript to a professional to format the book for Kindle and paperback. I already had the new cover, so it was good to go as soon as formatting was finished.

Luckily, about the same time I set up some ads in advance at sites like Kindle Book Review and Kindle Nation Daily. A friend offered to feature the book on his blog if I sent him an excerpt and the ordering information. I put all that together right away, except for the link to order. That I could send later. Here is the sample at Caleb and Linda Pirtle's terrific website where they promote other authors as much as their own books, which are quite good, by the way. 

It's a good thing I did all that work early on, because I got slammed again with lots of pain from the Trigeminal Neuralgia I have that was a gift from Ramsay Hunt Syndrome. I never know when the pain is going to get out of control, and it always seems to come at the most inconvenient times. Not that there's ever a convenient time for pain, but you know what I mean.

Part of my pre-order plan included sending out a newsletter to my subscribers, as well as some folks selected from my contacts list.  During the first few days of the big push, I offered Open Season, the first book in the series, as a free read, then left it in the KDP program so it could be free for KU. It's still a bargain book at only .99, and I may keep it at that price indefinitely as a loss leader. 

Offering the book free led to a couple of new reviews, and quite a few people are reading the sample pages that generates a few sheckels for each page read. 

What I haven't been able to do yet, is set up a giveaway on Goodreads. Their website isn't the easiest to navigate and even after watching a Webinar about how to effectively use Goodreads for promotion, I've had a hard time over there, but I haven't given up. I need to get the paperback ready to go, then I'll do that after the book releases October 2.

One thing I've learned in the past three and a half weeks is that there is only so much a person can do, then they have to just stop. Taking care of ourselves has to take top priority, otherwise we won't be able to write another book. And I'm already starting on book four in the series. I didn't plan to. I thought the series would end with Desperate Season, and I even tied up a few sub-plots, so fans of the series would be satisfied if there wasn't another book. 

Yet, Sarah and Angel started talking to me again, mainly telling me they had something to say about current affairs. Those familiar with the series know that racial issues have played a part in the lives of the characters and the story lines, so it's really not a surprise that the detectives have strong reactions to police brutality and the protests against systemic racism. 

After reading Pat Smith's post, Putting the P back in Productivity, I had an "aha" moment. She wrote about pulling aspects of the pandemic into a current WIP, and how that had spurred a bout of creativity. The minute I started listening to my characters, I had the same excitement for the writing that Pat had. Excitement that had been missing for a lot of us for weeks and weeks.

So here's my list of what to do for a pre-order book launch. 
  • Get professional editing, formatting and artwork before publishing
  • Set up ads in advance to run on different dates
  • Send out a newsletter, offering the subscribers a free book or gift
  • Offer another book free, or at a discount, as a loss leader
  • Set up release day events on Facebook and Goodreads
  • Announce it on your website
  • Promote on social media
Regarding that last suggestion, be careful not to bombard people with Tweets or posts that are always about "buy my book." That's tantamount to walking into a party with books under your arm and accosting other guests. I post once a day on Twitter and am happy when that Tweet gets shared by a number of people that are following me. The other fifteen or twenty minutes I spend on Twitter twice a day are devoted to sharing other people's posts and joining conversations about books and writing and other topics of interest. 

Marketing experts say that we should always end with the "ask" so people don't overlook the opportunity to buy when reading all the verbage in an ad or newsletter, or even a blog post. 

So, here's my ask. You can pre-order Desperate Season for only $1.99 before the release date of October 2, when the price will go up to $3.99.

If you have any tips on marketing and launching a book to add to this, please do share, especially if you are proficient in using Instagram. Do you agree about the "ask?" I always have such a hard time with that. :-)

Posted by Maryann Miller  Still maintaining social distancing, you can find out more about Maryann, her books, and her editing services on her Website and her Amazon Author Page, read her Blogand follow her on Facebook and TwitterHer online workshop on self-editing, part of a series of online writing workshops from Short And Helpful, can be found HERE

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Creative Character Descriptions

I’ve spent most of my time during the pandemic getting my next book ready for publication. To be honest, the only thing different about this particular time of my life is my concentration isn’t worth a damn. I keep switching back and forth to the online newspapers to see what’s happening, putting my work on hold as I get lost in the confusion. I have managed to finish the book, though I’m still nitpicking it.

When our brilliant webmistress, Elle Carter Neal, put my book, The Scent of Murder, up on the blog as a Friday Read, it got me thinking about how to describe our characters without really describing them in the usual way. Then, as I was listening to an audio in the car, another example caught my attention. That’s when I thought about how writers describe their characters. In many cases, a few words can tell the reader more than a full paragraph. Some writers like John Sandford, of the Lucas Davenport Prey series, describe what every character looks like and what he wears on the first meeting. I’ve always found that distracting. Yes, it gives the reader a picture of the character, but it stops the action, especially at the beginning of a book when it’s important to draw the reader into the story. I prefer a character’s visual image develops in the same way as his/her personality.

The example I heard in the car was from Memory Man, the first book in the series, by David Baldacci.

“He’d pulled into the driveway of the modest two-story vinyl-sider that was twenty-five years old and would take at least that long to pay off. The rain had slicked the pavement, and as his size fourteen boots made contact, he slipped a bit before traction was gained.”

Size fourteen-size boot says it all. He’s tall, probably a big man. We know he’s a cop, but it also hints that he might have money problems. Baldacci follows it by our character describing another person in the scene as “a big burly guy, like him.” We have a picture of Amos, big, burly, with Shaquille O’Neal size feet. (Not that I would deign to critique Baldacci, but I would have written, ‘he slipped a bit before he gained traction,’ in keeping the sentence more active.)

My book Mind Games begins when our heroine, Diana, describes what other people think of her, and she rattles off every synonym that defines a cheat. She thinks to herself:

“They were all right. She was a fraud. And a damn good one too. A thirty-three-year-old, five-foot-two bundle of fraud.”

We see Diana on stage, get a slight vision of her, know her age, but on she goes with her act without much more.

In book four, the one that Elle chose to highlight, she tells the reader who might not have read book one, more of what she looks like, and in doing so, she also describes her love-partner-in-crime, Ernie Lucier. They’re walking in New Orleans’ Jackson Square:

“Diana struggled to keep up. “Hey, put on the brakes, will ya?”
He slowed his pace. “Sorry. I forgot you take girly steps.”
She came to an abrupt stop, hands on her hips. “Wait one minute. You’re six-two; I’m a foot shorter. They’re not girly steps, they’re five-feet-two steps.”

Mirror descriptions are kind of a cop-out, but Michael Connelly does it well in the first Harry Bosch book, The Black Echo. Harry’s also a cop.

“He went into the bathroom and brushed his teeth without toothpaste: he was out and had forgotten to go by the store. He dragged a comb through his hair and stared at his red-rimmed, forty-year-old eyes, for a long moment. Then he studied the gray hairs that were steadily crowded out the brown in his curly hair. Even the mustache was going gray. He had begun to see flecks of gray in the sink when he shaved. He touched a hand to his chin but decided not to shave. He left his house then without changing even his tie. He knew his client wouldn’t mind.”

No eye color, no size or weight, no description of what he’s wearing, but we get a picture of Bosch as not only turning gray but growing old before his time. We feel his exhaustion.

I’ve used offbeat descriptions often. Here are a couple from my book, Hooked, that the female protag uses to describe the male protag, Lincoln Walsh.

“The man might have been a New York cop, but his taste in suits was European and expensive. … To make matters worse, or maybe better, he was damn good looking. Big, brown eyes, with a face resembling those on old Roman coins. His name, Walsh, spoke of Ireland, but she’d bet there was a Mediterranean gene hidden somewhere in his DNA.” That’s the only description of him in the book, but if the reader knows anything about Roman history, she has an idea what he looks like.

In my new book, as yet unpublished, my antagonist is a man of many disguises, but without them, he’s anonymous looking. My hero is sure that when he’s not face-to-face with the man, he would be unable to describe him.

I love creative descriptions. Anyone have a great example from either your book or someone else’s?

Polly Iyer is the author of nine novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and four books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, Backlash and The Scent of Murder. 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.