Friday, May 27, 2011

The Perfect Timing of James Scott Bell—and Frustration

A lot of you know I've been struggling with the ending for my manuscript. Endings are at least as important as begininings, and I want to do this right.

I also want it to be memorable. I have a terrible time remembering endings . . . movies or books. It's critical, to me, to write one that fits this terrific story and sticks with readers who are like me.

So, the battle rages. I've squeezed out only a few hundred words a day (I haven't hit 800 a day since I can't remember when) and frustration is building.

Because I've read both his fiction and non-fiction, seen him at writer conferences, kept him in my "Must Read" tweet column on Tweetdeck and occaisionally pop into Kill Zone, I feel like Jim Bell and I have been friends for years. And this morning, he did what any good friend would do.

He kicked me in the butt.

NOTE: Through the Memorial Day Weekend, my published partners at Crime Fiction Collective are donating their profits to a family in Joplin, Missouri who lost everything. One of my other partners is splitting hers, to include victims of the same rash of tornadoes in Minnesota. And, another author has joined us, offering his profits as well. Please, please, please . . . if you're looking for a good read, consider buying either a download or a paper book. To learn more about the books, and the family, see Crime Fiction Collective.

CR: Alone by Lisa Gardner.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Amazon Tips

A lot of people elect to go the independent route for a variety of reasons. Amazon is a key component. Eddie Jones recently offered a one-hour online seminar covering ways he feels you can obtain amazing results on Amazon.

Here are a few of things worth mulling over:

1. Short non-fiction can help pay the bills. Brevity sells. Understand where your background and experience can translate into a platform for non-fiction. Consider putting together an incredibly easy, short, book to sell on Amazon. Or, if you have more than 200 pages for one of these, consider a series. $$$

2. Optimize your title. Has anyone ever seen a sub-title applied to fiction before? That's my question. It didn't come up in the class, but it could catch some attention. On Amazon, your title is 'shelf space', and the longer the title is, the more shelf space and attention you get. You have 200 characters. Use all of them.

3. Cover. You can do the typical, or you can do the a-typical. A square cover. Square is good because square is different. Different gets noticed. Since there is no hand-selling on Amazon, your cover is very important.

4. The Search Inside feature can be wonderful because the entire book is searched for key words/phrases. (Probably more important for non-fiction.)

5. Ranking. Although this is changing based on the sheer volume of new books, a ranking of 50k - 200k is not quite hot. 50k-10k is a fairly good performer. Better than 10k and you have a winner over time.

6. Customer reviews are key. The more the better. Even if some of them aren't that great. The more reviews you have, the higher your book will appear in the 'relevant' search rankings. 10 reviews or less = not so much. 100 reviews? Way cool, even if some of them are poor. Having a neutral or even a negative review actually increases the credibility overall.

7. Tags. Tags (via votes) will increase your presence in search results. (One online loop in particular had a HUGE push for tagging amongst its authors.) I find that to be one of the cheating/unethical things LJ Sellers referred to on a recent post on Crime Fiction Collective.

8. Author page. KEEP IT CURRENT. Duh. Make sure it reflects not just your bio, but a passion for your subjects and books. Plug your blog with an RSS Feed. Video/Trailer . . . you can ask customers to drop trailers into their reviews, but keep it real. If the trailer was an instigating 'buy' for the customer, cool.

Okay, you guys have the benefit of an hour of my time. I hope there's at least one thing in here that can inspire you and move you forward.

Do you have any tips to add?

NOTE: Through the Memorial Day Weekend, my partners at Crime Fiction Collective are donating their profits to a family in Joplin, Missouri who lost everything. One of my other partners is splitting hers, to include victims of the same rash of tornadoes in Minnesota. Please, please, please . . . if you're looking for a good read (and I can recommend all of them), consider buying either a download or a paper book. Crime Fiction Collective.

CR: Alone by Lisa Gardner.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Fact in Fiction: Research Ain't What it Used to Be by LAUREN CARR

Lauren Carr fell in love with mysteries when her mother read Perry Mason to her at bedtime. The first installment in the Joshua Thornton mysteries, A Small Case of Murder was a finalist for the Independent Publisher Book Award. A Reunion to Die For was released in hardback in June 2007. Both of these books are in re-release.

Last year, the first installment of her new series, It’s Murder, My Son was released. It has received only rave reviews from both reviewers and readers. The Mac Faraday Mysteries take place in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, where Lauren and her family vacation. The second installment is entitled Old Loves Die Hard.

She lives with her husband, son, and two dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

(Lauren tells me that the beautiful canine balancing out her headshot is Ziggy. And the one who is keeping her company while she writes in her office is Beagle Bailey.)

Last year, when It’s Murder, My Son was released, I received a phone call from a reader. In the first installment of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, bankrupt homicide detective Mac inherits an undreamed of fortune and an estate on Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. The reader hunted me down to discuss a scene in which Mac and Archie are served a bottle of champagne at his five-star inn.

The former wine steward told me that I had written the scene wrong. When I explained that I had modeled that scene from numerous personal occasions at many fine restaurants, he replied, “Well, those weren’t five-star restaurants.”

Maybe a hundred years ago, before the information age of the Internet put all of the facts right at the readers’ fingertips, writers could get away with fudging on the facts. Not so today. Readers are much more savvy.

Back in the 1940’s, movies showed police interrogations with them locking suspects in bare room with nothing but naked light bulbs glaring in the suspects’ face to force a confession, and private eyes investigating murders on a regular basis. Most of the population, having never met P.I.’s or encountering the police trusted what they saw on the silver screen to be the truth.

Then came cable television and networks like the TruCrime channel, Discovery, and A&E with shows like Cold Case, Forensics Files, 48-Hours, or American Justice to give readers a glimpse into how criminal investigation and the justice system really works.

As a result, much of the mystique behind all of these genres has dissolved away. The facts are now common knowledge. A fourth grader knows that a homicide detective is not allowed to smoke a cigarette over a dead body and then toss the butt to the ground and grind it into the dirt with his heel because he will be contaminating the crime scene.

Research. The word creates flashbacks from my first research paper in college. The topic was on the playwright Henrik Ibsen. Before the Internet, I had been sentenced to spend hours in the library reading the driest material you could ever imagine. I almost dropped out of college because I thought I was going to die of boredom. If this was what writing was about I didn’t want to do it.

When I first started writing fiction, I considered research a fence around my imagination of where I was prohibited to go, but I have discovered that the opposite is true.

Research for fiction is actually more fun! In the last year, I took a gun class in the name of research. I’ve been on ride-alongs with real police officers. This September, I’m going to the Writer’s Police Academy in Greensboro, North Carolina, to train with the pros! All this in the name of research.

Consider research an opportunity. If you jump into writing a book based purely on your imagination with nothing else, then you have a limited number of ways to go with the plot. But if you do your research, talk to people within that profession, gather stories, then you will find other avenues that can lead your story in interesting and unexpected directions.
Remember the saying, “Fact is stranger than fiction.”

For example, in the gun class I took last summer, a classmate brought in her Smith and Wesson revolver. It was pink. Not painted pink. It was made of pink metal. Before that class, I never knew they made pink hand guns. I held it. Fired it.
Now, Archie Monday carries a pink Smith and Wesson in her purse. That piece of reality added an interesting little detail that helps to bring the character of Archie to life for the reader that I never would have thought of if I hadn’t taken that class.
The murders in Old Loves Die Hard are committed in Mac Faraday’s private penthouse suite on the top floor of the Spencer Inn. As I had planned the scene, the hot water is on, but after running all night it is cold. However, the bath room is not flooded because of the overflow in the tub.

As I was writing that scene, the question crossed my mind: Do hotels run out of hot water?

This is a five-star hotel. If they run out of hot water, guests will complain, the hotel management will investigate, and the murders will be discovered sooner than I wanted for my storyline. (They may not know how to serve champagne, but they aren’t going to let their guests complain about having no hot water without investigating the matter.)

With a half hour of research on the Internet, I discovered that most suites in many top hotels and resorts have their own hot water heaters. So, if the hot water ran out in that suite, only the murder victims would have been affected and they weren’t going to be complaining.

I did not expect to discover that, in recent years, a lot of hotels, in going green, and as a safeguard, have put timers in their units. If the water runs too long, either because it has been left on or a leak in the plumbing, then it will automatically shut off in order to save water and prevent flooding and water damage not just to the suite but the floors below it.

With the use of this research, I was able to have the body of Mac Faraday’s ex-wife found in the tub, the faucet is turned on, but the water is not running because it had been shut off by the timer.

Look at research as a way to build content for your novel instead of thinking of it as a boundary or chore you have to do.
While the word "research" may bring back those images of a boring night spent in the library feeling like your eyes are going to bleed if you have to read one more dry word, research for your fiction can actually be a fun process, especially when you’re holding a pink handgun imagining yourself as a character in one of your books brought to life.

Lauren has her books priced at a fantastic $3.99 on Amazon for Kindle. Check 'em out and make sure she has her facts straight.

CR: While the Savage Sleeps by Andrew E. Kaufman

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Introducing . . .

The Book.

This is old, but still funny.

I'm so focused on trying to finish up the last few scenes of Irrefutable Proof, it's hard to do anything else.

If you know what I'm talking about, take a break and enjoy.

CR: While the Savage Sleeps by Andrew E. Kaufman.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Some Thoughts from Independent E-Author, Colette Duke

Please welcome Colette Duke to Suspense Novelist. Colette's focus (well, sorta—read the post) is science fiction, but we all know the very best science fiction has a lot of suspense going on.

SPECIAL NOTE: Even though the bones of the story are available for free on Colette's website (she's way too generous, but she and I haven't had a chance to talk about that), she's agreed to provide a FREE download that unveils deeper characterization to one lucky person who makes a comment to her post on Suspense Novelist.

Science-fiction romance writer Colette Duke has been a sci-fi fan all her life and considers the countless years she's spent watching Star Trek in all its forms Very Important Research. She prefers Picard and Data over Kirk and Spock, and Lieutenant Worf will always hold a special place in her heart. She doesn't care if that gives away her age.

Colette's books explore the dangers and pleasures of romance in other galaxies, and sometimes the dangers and pleasures of falling in love on an Earth colonized by alien races. Because love can happen anywhere.

She loves to hear from her readers. You can contact her at her website:

SN: Self-publication used to mean the writer wasn’t good enough to be published traditionally. Has that changed?

DUKE: It’s changed completely. You see plenty of successful traditionally published authors releasing backlist titles as self-published e-books. They’ve certainly proven they’re “good enough.” For new writers who choose to bypass traditional publishing completely, the issue of quality depends on the writer. There are some stars of self-publishing who’ve rocketed to success on a combination of good storytelling, good covers, good networking skills . . . I don’t know about the actual statistics, but I’d guess the percentage of mega successes in the self-publishing industry might be about the same as the percentage of mega successes in the traditional publishing industry. You hear about the ones who make it big. The rest, not so much. There are literally hundreds of thousands of books on Amazon that are selling pretty much zero copies.

SN: What do you see as the major differences between the traditional and independent publishing?

Duke: The big difference is who pays for and performs the work that goes into turning a manuscript into a book.

Traditional publishing: The publishing house pays for multiple editors, cover art, interior layout/design, formatting, marketing, (OK, maybe not so much in this department unless the author is Dean Koontz), advertising, and more.

Self-publishing: The author either pays professionals to do some/all of the above or learns to do it herself (or himself, but I’m a girl so I’ll say herself). It’s tremendously time consuming.

Either way, the author is expected to handle most, if not all, of her marketing.

SN: What about the quality of e-books?

Duke: Some are fantastic. Some suck. It depends on the writer and her ability to either wear a lot of hats (and look good doing it) or hire competent people to take care of all the things that go into making a great e-book.

SN: Don’t most writer organizations have certain publisher requirements in order for books to be considered for contests?

Duke: Yes, but they’re gradually changing their guidelines and requirements. Writers are the lifeblood of every writers’ organization. The organizations have to evolve along with publishing, or they’ll have no one to pay their annual dues. Oh, woe, right?

SN: What was the hardest part of the process?

Duke: What part of the process wasn’t hard? Writing is hard. Learning enough HTML to create a cleanly formatted e-book was hard (you should have seen the little piles of my hair scattered around my computer). Learning to use graphics software was hard. And try setting up publisher accounts and online payments with Amazon, PubIt!, and All Romance EBooks as a non-American—it’s a wonder I have any hair left at all. But to answer your question: for me the hardest part was stepping forward as a self-published author in a publishing climate that’s traditionally frowned on self-publishing.

SN: How will you know if you’re successful?

Duke: I will sell enough copies of my books that self-publishing is my sole income (a scenario that doesn’t involve eating only generic mac and cheese, by the way). I’m a long way from that point right now, but I’m in it for the long haul. I have plans to publish in several genres rather than putting all my eggs in the science-fiction-romance basket, though I heard recently that a major publisher has picked up a fair number of SFR titles recently—which is very cool if you write SFR. Which I do. ☺

SN: Will you continue to seek traditional publication?

Duke: Yes. 1. I like validation (some people think a publisher’s validation isn’t worth much, but hey, they can think what they want and I’ll think what I want). 2. I know how much time and energy goes into publishing a book, and it’s OK with me if a publisher wants to share that. 3. Self-publishing and traditional publishing can complement each other very well; while I think self-publishing offers a lot of creative freedoms and opportunities, I’m not going to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

SN: What would you like everyone to know about self-publishing?

Duke: I’m doing it! Buy my book on Amazon! Buy my book on Barnes & Noble! Buy my book on All Romance eBooks! Tweet @ColetteDuke! Like me on Facebook!

Seriously, though: The publishing industry is changing. Change can be good. But writers, we need to keep our heads on straight. Don’t just barge forward and neglect to learn the skills that will enable you to self-publish well. Realize it’s like anything else worth doing: it’s a lot of work, and there’s a steep learning curve (think Everest). We need to take the time to get the details right.

SN: What question should I ask that I haven’t?

Duke: Who is the lovely couple in the photo of my work area, you ask? They’re my grandparents. Of all the people I’ve ever known, they had the happiest, longest marriage. A good source of inspiration for a romance writer!

Thanks a bunch for having me on your blog, Peg.

CR: While the Savage Sleeps by Andrew E. Kaufman.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Writing the Legal Thriller - by DOUGLAS CORLEONE

Please welcome Douglas Corleone to Suspense Novelist. I'm pleased beyond words to host him, and encourage you all to check out his work.

Douglas Corleone is the author of the Kevin Corvelli crime series published by St. Martin's Minotaur. His debut novel, One Man's Paradise, won the 2009 Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award. A former New York City criminal defense attorney, Douglas Corleone now resides in the Hawaiian Islands with his wife and son. Night on Fire is his second novel.

Writing the Legal Thriller

The dust jacket for my latest novel Night on Fire reads “A Kevin Corvelli Mystery.” Indeed, the story is a mystery. But it’s also a legal thriller. The protagonist Kevin Corvelli is a hotshot Honolulu criminal defense lawyer who is tasked with defending a stunning but troubled young newlywed accused of killing her husband and committing arson at a popular Hawaiian beach resort. Technically, Kevin’s goal is not to solve the mystery, but to do everything in his power to have his client acquitted, regardless of whether she’s guilty or innocent. It begs the question: how does a legal thriller differ from a traditional mystery, and what must a writer take into account when constructing a legal thriller?

Most legal thrillers feature an attorney protagonist. (There are exceptions, including David Ellis’s Edgar Award-winning debut Line of Vision, in which the accused, an investment banker, is the hero and narrator of the story.) Often the lawyer protagonist is a criminal defense attorney, which means, unlike a police detective, his duty isn’t to identify and capture the killer, but to defend his client, the accused, to the best of his ability. Fortunately for authors, finding the real killer is often the key to creating reasonable doubt. At least it is in fiction; in real life, a defense lawyer creates reasonable doubt by impeaching the prosecution’s witnesses and undermining physical and circumstantial evidence. As any decent defense lawyer will tell you, criminal trials are not about getting to the truth, but rather about what the prosecution can or cannot prove.

Legal thrillers often include courtroom drama. Which means an author must construct both sides of the case. The hero must therefore view clues much differently than he would in a traditional mystery. He must consider each fingerprint, each weapon, each witness statement, not only as a clue but as a piece of evidence. He must determine what to introduce at trial and what not to. And the writer, acting as judge, must decide what’s admissible at trial and what must be suppressed. The rigid rules of criminal procedure must be followed, creating obstacles for the hero that otherwise would not exist.

The verdict sometimes serves as the climax of the legal thriller. Other times, the climax occurs when the intrepid attorney finally confronts the real killer. In either case, the ending must be emotionally satisfying for the reader. That generally means that the good guys have prevailed, regardless of which side of the aisle they stood on for the duration of the story. But getting to that climax, the reader is often taken on a much different journey, as the lawyer makes questionable decisions, unsure of whether he is on the side of right or wrong. That internal moral conflict adds a dimension to legal thrillers that isn’t often found in traditional mysteries. And it is what I enjoy most about constructing Kevin Corvelli’s courtroom dramas.

Praise for One Man’s Paradise

“Fans of John Grisham, Lisa Scottoline, and other legal thriller authors will enjoy this for the sheer pleasure of seeing a master defense attorney at work in the courtroom.”
---Library Journal

“This novel won the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award, and it’s no wonder. Former defense lawyer Corleone has created a crafty and memorable character and placed him in a suspenseful and layered story. . . . A sequel to this fine debut would seem almost mandatory.”

Kevin Corvelli---a hotshot New York defense attorney who packed up his bags and hung his shingle in Hawaii to dodge the spotlight---is deep in his mai tais at a resort when an argument erupts down at the other end of the bar. It’s a pair of newlyweds, married that very day on the beach. And since Corvelli doesn’t do divorces, he all but dismisses the argument.

That’s at least until the fire breaks out later that night, and he barely escapes his hotel room. Most weren’t so lucky, including the new husband. His wife, Erin, becomes not only the police’s prime suspect for arson and murder but also Corvelli’s newest client, and she has a lot working against her, like motive and opportunity, not to mention a history of starting fires.

The heat gets turned all the way up in Douglas Corleone’s scorching legal thriller Night on Fire, his second following the MWA’s/MB First Crime Novel Competition winner, One Man’s Paradise.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

OT: Perfect Timing and Character Development

You're saying that timing and character development are all part of the writing process.

You're wondering what's Off Topic about those things?

You're about to find out.

Take a minute and enjoy the angst one man creates in um . . . man's best friend.

CR: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Choose Your Beta Readers Carefully

When the St. Paul Pioneer Press refused to pay for her little red convertible that was fire bombed while she covered a riot, Judith Yates Borger decided it was time to get a new gig. She began writing fiction and hasn't looked back.

Borger draws on her 30 years experience as a journalist to chronicle the escapades of her protagonist Skeeter Hughes, wife, mom and reporter.
In real life, Borger is passionate about her work, her children, her grandchildren, and her marriage. In her reporting days she would never have taken the risks that come naturally to protagonist Skeeter. She lives with her husband, John, and her dog, Honey, in downtown Minneapolis on the Mississippi River, where she rows crew with the Minneapolis Rowing Club.

Her short story, Hunter's Lodge, is included in Resort to Murder, Thirteen More Tales of Mystery by Minnesota's Premier Writers. Where's Billie? is her first novel published by Nodin Press, which will publish The Skeeter Hughes sequel, Whose Hand? in fall 2011. Both are available on Kindle and Nook for under $3.

Judy's website

Website written by protagonist Skeeter Hughes

Please join me in welcoming Judith Yates Borger to Suspense Novelist.

Choose your beta readers carefully

Before I wrote my first book I asked Larry Millett, who had about a dozen Sherlock Holmes books to his credit, for advice. "Be careful whose advice you seek," he said. It was probably the best advice I've gotten so far. But choosing your advisors is difficult business. I've made a few mistakes along the way. Mistakes I'd like to spare you. So here's my advice when it come to choosing advisors.

1. Choose people who know your genre.
Everybody's got an opinion on how to write a book. You just sit down and type, right? Most people think they "have a book inside" just waiting to burst out when the moment is right like a chrysalis waiting to be a monarch butterfly. Eliminate from consideration people who say anything even remotely like this. They're clueless.

Instead, look for people who enjoy reading the type of book what you want to do, or something similar. Get to know them. Find out why they care about, what scares them, what makes them happy. If you're a mystery writer don't get a beta reader who only likes nonfiction.

2. Choose somebody who has time.
This is tricky. More than once I have given a manuscript to people who never got around to reading it. Very frustrating, and, frankly, a waste of paper. Choose somebody who really wants to read your work, not someone who thinks it's just cool to be able to say they did after it's published.

3. Get investment from your beta readers.
I find that the best way to do that is promise to include your beta readers in the acknowledgement, with some title, like Queen of Commas, or Forward Fashionista. Then chat them up after they're done. If they tell their friends about your book you've made some advanced sales.

4. Rotate beta readers.
This is probably the toughest part, especially after you've gone to all that trouble to choose the right readers, but I think it's important, especially if you're writing a series. You want someone with fresh eyes to comment on your work.

5. Apply a skin-thickener liberally.
Comments are made with the idea of improving your work. You're beta readers aren't going to circle the entire book and shout "Brilliant." Remember that in the end, it's your book. You don't have to change anything a beta reader recommends. I have an author friend who listens to the first comment about a particular passage, takes note when a second person mentions the same thing, then changes the suspect passage when she hears about it the third time. I think that's good advice.

CR: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Just a Little Rant

When I first began this writing quest thing, one of the admonitions I heard was that your manuscript had to be better than good. It had to be better than very good. It even had to be better than great. It had to be powerful. Magic. Inspired.

Who said these things? Agents. Publishers. Editors. They said these things at writers conferences, workshops, online, in rejection letters. The word definitely got out.

It seemed quite clear to me that the vanguard were intent on upping the game. They would publish only the best of the best. Ensure that not one substandard novel would take up space either on my nightstand or a bookstore shelf.

C'mon. I know you know exactly what I'm talking about.

So here's my problem. Assuming this all began seven or eight years ago (and not before, which I'm pretty sure it did), why are bookstores still filled with piles and piles of mediocre (at best) books? Why aren't we bowled over with phenomenal choices? Why is the lousiest manuscript in my drawer as good as something with a cover on it?

Did publisher's cave? Were they aware they were publishing books that weren't powerful? Or magic? Or inspired?

Or did they get to a point where they would take any old thing because they knew exactly how to sell it?

Aha . . . maybe lazy and a lie.

What do readers have to say about this? Shouldn't their minds be boggled by all of the brilliant choices?

Just askin'.

CR: Just finished Where's Billie? by Judith Yates Borger. A wonderful debut novel written by a former journalist about a journalist. Well done!

I'll make a new selection either tonight or tomorrow, depending.

It's all better with friends.