Saturday, December 31, 2011

Resolutions for 2012

On the last day of the year, it seems fitting to post New Year's resolutions. Here's L.J.'s:
  • Worry less
  • Promote less
  • Eat less
  • Dance/play more
  • Read more
  • Write more
Oh, and most important: TAKE A VACATION!
Best wishes for 2012!

Gayle here: In reality, I think of resolutions as unrealistic and broken within the first week. But in theory, I love them and want them to work. So this year I'm going to do a few things differently:

1. Set my goals next week instead of on January 1st. I was trying to think of them earlier, but got swept up in the magic/madness that is Christmas. By December 26th, I was too pooped (see my blog post here). I could make my resolutions today, but I'm going to a party tonight - should I keep any promises I make after having copious amounts of champagne?

2. Write my resolutions down. I know, seems simple, but I kind of forget to do that and then I kind of forget what I resolved to do. Funny how that works.

3. Be more specific about what I'm resolving to do. "Write more" works for some people, but I need more like, "Set a schedule each week for writing goals," or some such blather.

I know they will consist of some things that need doing, like scheduling that mammogram and bone density test. There will also be a resolution about my writing schedule, which tends to be haphazard at best.

Whatever your goals, I hope you reach them in 2012. Happy New Year!


  • Live every moment as if it's my last.
  • Always be grateful and humble. Never take myself too seriously.
  • Realize that each experience, good or bad, is an opportunity to learn something new.
  • Be kind to everyone.
  • Be kind to myself in both body and mind.
  • Strive to improve with each word I commit to a page.
  • Never forget how much my readers mean to me.
Happy New Year, everyone. Let's make 2012 the best yet.


I stopped making resolutions some years ago, because I'd inevitably not succeed and then feel badly about myself. Since then, I've made New Year's "hopes".

So, for 2012, I hope to
  • Be optimistic.
  • Be a good friend.
  • Be thoughtful of both others and myself.
  • Try to think before I speak.
  • Listen to my body.

I wish for all the CFC members and our readers a happy and prosperous New Year!


Just the usual: Exercise more, eat less! 

Wishing my colleagues here and all of our readers all the very best in 2012!

Peg popping in:

I put up a re-post from another blog on my own today about dreams. You can read it here.

Just between us, I plan to have my first release out there in the second quarter, with a second to follow by the end of the year.

And I want to focus on spending more evening time with my husband. I've kind of missed him lately, even if we just stretch out and watch television.

My very best wishes to all of you for a fantastic 2012. With a little work, all of our dreams can become reality.


Although I'm on sabbatical until I finish my next mystery I couldn't help but chime in. I'm a big believer in small, achievable, measurable resolutions. So, mine is to take one picture every day in January 2012.
That's it.
Happy New Year to all.

Friday, December 30, 2011

L.J.'s Standalone Thrillers

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

I feel a bit like the kid in the Home Alone movie, having the place to myself while the family is away for Christmas. I've tried to be responsible and post blogs with wide appeal, but today is my last chance to be mischievous and I can't resist a little blatant self-promotion. So here's a post from my personal blog.

Readers are most familiar with my bestselling Detective Jackson books, but I also have three standalone thrillers, two that I wrote before I started the series. I worked for a pharmaceutical magazine for seven years, so the pre-Jackson books have subtle medical themes. I rewrote them before self-publishing to update the stories and to give Jackson a small cameo in each.

The seed of an idea that would become The Baby Thief sprouted one evening many years ago while I watched a few minutes of American Gladiator. I thought about how physically fit the winners were and how genetically superior their children would be. Eventually, I connected that idea to fertility science, and the plot for The Baby Thief was born. In essence, a woman goes to a fertility clinic, hoping to become artificially inseminated, but the clinic director takes one look at her and decides to steal one of her eggs to create a child of her own. Before that happens, the main character, Jenna, meets a charming reporter who won't let her disappearance go uninvestigated. Their relationship is a driving factor in the story, so I labeled the book romantic suspense, my only such label. As info, I'm giving the story away today on Amazon.

The Suicide Effect reflects my concern that some antidepressant medication actually makes some people feel suicidal! The story's structure is similar to a “woman in jeopardy” novel, yet it’s so much more. Sula, the protagonist, combats her deepest fears and risks everything to find the truth about the drug in question. Readers have said the ending made them shake in fear, then cry with joy. And for Jackson fans, he also makes a brief appearance.

My third standalone thriller is quite different. It features Detective Evans from my Jackson series, only it’s set twelve years in the future and she’s no longer a cop. She’s working as a freelance paramedic and enters a national endurance competition called the Gauntlet. Early in the story, she witnesses a crime, which later hinders her ability to compete. And then there’s Paul, the government official with access to personal data who complicates everything. The story was originally called The Arranger, but accidental market research recently told me that it needed a new name. So it's now called The Gauntlet Assassin, and I'm just waiting for the new ebook file to come back from my formatter.

The Amazon reviews/ratings are terrific for all three, and I hope you’ll check them out. 

My plan for now is to write two Jackson stories a year, plus one standalone. Eventually, one of those standalones may develop into a second series. Or I may run for Congress instead. You never know with me.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Why Killing a Character Can Be Murder on the Author

This favorite is by Andrew Kaufman, bestselling thriller author

Somewhere during the course of my novels, someone has to die—actually, several people do. That’s just the nature of the beast. My stories revolve around evil-doers, and most will stop at nothing to get what they want. Even murder. And really, what’s a mystery without a body or three?

That’s not to say writing them is easy—it isn’t. For an author, killing off characters is a big responsibility and in some cases, risky business. After all, plotting a novel is one thing—plotting a murder is completely another. It has to make sense, has to fit in with the story, and most importantly, has to move things forward in a logical manner. Kill the wrong character and you could wind up with a real mess on your hands (so to speak). The effects can be catastrophic, throwing everything completely off-balance. I know this because on occasion it’s happened to me, and when it has I’ve had to chuck the entire story and start all over again. Trust me, folks, it's no fun: we're talking pull-your-hair-out-of your-head, gnash-your-teeth-to-powder sort of moments.

Then there’s the emotional side. Like readers, we get attached to our characters, too, probably even more so. For me, they’re like my children. I created them, and sometimes I hate to see them go. So when the story dictates that one of them must die, it can be troublesome, to say the least. I often don’t want to do it. I struggle. That’s when I have to step away from my feelings and remember that it’s all about the story. The good news is that hopefully, if I’m feeling the pain, the reader might, too. Maybe it’s a sign I’m getting it right. Or maybe it’s just a sign that I’ve lost my mind. Not sure which.

And there are other risks, implications which can occur off the page. Killing the wrong character can make readers really angry.

That’s what happened to Karin Slaughter (SPOILER ALERT) a few years back when she ended the life of one of her most beloved characters. It created a huge backlash. Readers were furious, many accusing her of doing it for the shock value and vowing to never pick up another one of her books again. It got so bad in fact that Slaughter ended up having to post a letter on her website explaining her decision. Not sure whether it made a difference, but as an author I can understand what she went through.

So what about you? Readers: ever been really upset over the death of a character? And authors: What have your experiences been while offing one of your peeps?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Amazon's Quality Reviews

by L.J. Sellers, bestselling author of  provocative mysteries & thrillers

For today's post, I'm combining one of our most-viewed blogs with a piece I posted recently on my own blog—because they share a similar concern: Amazon's quality reviews.

Here's the core of the original post from Hitch, our ebook formatter.

Two other things have happened this month that are related to this. Which makes me think that this shan't be an isolated incident, and we in the biz need to pay closer attention to what we write, publish and produce. The two events are:

First, one of our top authors received a letter from Amazon, informing him/her that "During a quality assurance review of your title, we have found the following issue(s): Typo/formatting issues exist that may have been caused by an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) problem. An example is mentioned below:
"Don't forger that" should be ""Don't forget that"
Please look for the same kind of errors throughout and make the necessary corrections to the title before republishing it. 

The interesting part is that this book wasn’t scanned, nor OCR’d; and it was professionally edited more than once. Amazon only provided the one instance of an “error.”

Another client, having crafted some rather unique content, had deliberately written scenes that were incoherent, to represent a protagonist in a comatose state. Amazon flatly yanked the title after customer complaints about the unreadability of the text.

What this tells me is that Amazon, having purged innumerable over-represented PD (Public Domain) titles, and every PLR (so-called, "Private Label Rights") book they could find, have decided that they are going to tackle the issue that everyone's been talking about: Curation

Which means one thing: real editing. Not Word's built-in spellchecker; not your Mom; real editors with real experience. Here at Booknook, we like the Twin Lizzies; Elisabeth Hallett and Elizabeth Lyon. Elisabeth Hallett, (Email here) specializes in line editing, as well as proofing and copyediting; Elizabeth Lyon (website here) is a freelance editor with more than 60 books under her belt, and can assist you with revisions and developmental editing, in addition to line editing services.
(And I add our blog member, Jodie Renner's editing services.)

And here's what I posted recently on my blog, Write First, Clean Later:

Sorry, but I need to vent a little. An recent email from Amazon had this to say:
During a quality assurance review of your title, we have found the following issue(s): Typos have been found in your book. For example:
  • "blond hair off" should be "blonde hair off"
  • "teen-agers thought" should be "teenagers thought"
Please look for the same kind of errors throughout and make the necessary corrections to the title before republishing it.

Seriously? Of all the millions of books out there—many of which have never been edited—they find fault with blond instead of blonde? And teen-agers instead of teenagers?

First, editing styles and word-use changes over time. Second, who cares? These are not errors, not compared to some of the stuff I’ve found in my other books. And when I think about some of the manuscripts I evaluated for iUniverse that are now selling on Amazon through KDP, I shudder at the bad grammar, incoherent sentence structure, and lack of punctuation.

So I have to wonder: Why The Sex Club? A book written by a seasoned journalist and edited by a professional? Did some readers complain because they didn’t like the title and content? And did that complaint trigger a “quality assurance review”? Is Amazon just going through the motions to make the complainers happy? For those of you not familiar with my work, the book is a PG mystery.

The upside is that Amazon didn’t necessarily require me to do anything. The email says “before republishing it.” Since I don’t plan to republish it, I think I’m okay to let it go.

But it’s kind of annoying, and it makes me wonder what the heck is going on. I think Amazon is right to conduct quality reviews, and I think it should refuse to publish some of the crap that it does. But its email to me makes no sense at all.

Anyone else had this experience?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Moving Toward Amazon Only

by L.J. Sellers, bestselling author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

I suspect that blogging during the week after Christmas will be a lot like going into the office at this time—eerily quiet, with only a few other diehards around. But I'm trying to keep the site live during the break, so I'll be posting all week and running some favorites. But to start with, here's a recent (and updated) post from my own blog.

And the craziness continues! Last week The Sex Club, which is selling well again (after the giveaway), was suddenly being discounted on Amazon from $2.99 to $.99. Which means, I was suddenly making a third of the money. After cursing loud and long, I tracked down the culprit. Kobo was selling the title at $.99—even though I requested the retailer take it down two weeks ago.

I asked for the takedown because I had enrolled The Sex Club in the Kindle Select program and it requires exclusivity. So the fact that it was still selling there could have gotten me kicked out of the program. I did everything possible to correct it—including sending a legal "cease and desist" letter—but retailers are notoriously slow about taking down books, especially if they’re selling. (After 10 days, they finally removed it.)

I distribute to Kobo, Sony, Apple, and various other retailers through INgrooves, and this was not the first time I’ve had to deal with the discounting issue. For those not familiar, here’s the short version: Amazon will not be underpriced. If a competitor puts an ebook on sale, Amazon matches the price. This can be a serious problem for authors who make most of their money from Amazon and need to control what price their books sell for on Amazon.

When I starting losing money on Amazon, I see my mortgage payment for the next month disappearing. Which led me to finally withdraw all my books from INgrooves. The small amount of money I make from other retailers is offset by the profit I lose from the discounting issue.

My only hesitation, as always, was readers. I want them to have full access to my books, regardless of their e-reader device. But I’m running a small publishing business (Spellbinder Press), and I have to make smart business decisions. I have to be able to track and predict profit.
Also, I have to remind readers that my most of my ebooks are available for purchase from my website.
Other writers tell me I should upload to Smashwords as my distributor, but that doesn’t fix the discounting issue. And I’m tired of continuously having to scan the other retailers to ensure they’re not undercutting my ability to make a living from Kindle sales.

Pulling my books from INgrooves leaves me with ebooks available only on Kindle and Nook. But what I sell on B&N/Nook every month won’t even pay my cell phone bill.

After I see my first bonus payment from Amazon for enrolling in the Select program, I’ll have to decide whether keeping my Detective Jackson books on B&N is actually worth it. I predict I’ll be exclusive to Amazon by the end of the next year. Some people may see this as a sell out. But I have to make a living, and I’m worth more than minimum wage.

Readers: Can you sympathize with this decision?
Writers: How do you deal with the discounting issue?

Friday, December 23, 2011

ALMOND TOFFEE - Just Because

By Peg Brantley, who is generally a better writer than she is a cook. She hopes.

Here's the toffee recipe I made for the first time this afternoon. Fresh in my mind, I'm including the things I'll try different the next time. It didn't quite come out looking like Enstrom's, but hey . . . it's not half bad.

And, to keep this crime fiction related, I'm guessing if you had a real almond toffee fanatic, there would be an easy way to doctor the recipe to suit.


2 cups butter (hey, it Christmas. The only time of year you can get away with this behavior.)
2 cups white, granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt (I almost said, "Why bother?", but recognize salt as the taste bringer-outer of all time.)
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (I may, per LoML, make sure these are white chocolate the next time.)
1 cup finely chopped almonds (OMG, I typed onions first. Now that would be different.)

In a large heavy bottomed saucepan, combine the butter, sugar and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring until the butter is melted. Allow to come to a boil, and cook until the mixture becomes a dark amber color, and the temperature has reached 285 degrees F (137 degrees C). Stir occasionally.

While the toffee is cooking, cover a large baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper. (I used parchment, and since this was my first time making this, I have no idea how aluminum foil will behave. However, because of the copious amount of butter, I'm guessing it doesn't matter.)

As soon as the toffee reaches the proper temperature, pour it onto the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle the chocolate over the top, and let it set for a minute or two to soften. Spread the chocolate into a thin, even layer once it is melted. Sprinkle the nuts over t he chocolate, and press in slightly. Putting a plastic bag over your hand will minimize the mess.

Place the toffee in the refrigerator to chill until set. Break into pieces, and store in an airtight container.

Here's what I'll try differently the next time I make this:

At the end of the cooking cycle for peanut brittle, I add a little vanilla. I think I'll try adding a little almond to enhance the taste. Maybe a teaspoon.

I will crush extra almonds to powder (do they sell almond powder?) and sprinkle on top of the parchment paper prior to unloading the toffee. And maybe a little extra on the top with the crushed/chopped almonds.

My very best wishes to all of you for a fabulous holiday season. I've been blessed beyond reason with love in my life, and really go into an alternative reality to write the stories I write.

Cheers to my Crime Fiction Collective teammates, to all of the readers who make this blog worthwhile, and to an amazing 2012!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Sing-a-long

It's a busy week here at the Carline house. Baking, wrapping, getting the engine in my 14-year old minivan rebuilt... Ho. Ho. Noooooo. At any rate, nothing lightens my mood like singing a rousing Christmas carol or two. Of course, being an author with books to sell, a tie-in would be nice.

I was itching to do a promo video, and asked my son to provide the soundtrack. Unfortunately, he was all tied up with things like finals and juries (these are finals that you sing), so he was unable to help. That means it's up to you.

Let's have a sing-a-long! Here's your motivation (in addition to not being a singer, I'm also not a photographer, but play along):

Okay, in your best Karen Carpenter Dulcet Tones, sing along with me:

(insert beautiful piano/string intro here)

I'll be home for Christmas,
You can count on me.
Please have Nooks,
And lots of books,
And Kindles 'round the tree.

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the stories lead.
I'll be home for Christmas,
With lots of stuff to read.

Happy Holidays with much love for your support and friendship,


P.S. Here's the original, in case you'd rather listen to her.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Tangle with CreateSpace

By Andrew E. Kaufman 

One of the reasons I worked like a madman to get my latest novel finished was because I wanted to have it out by Christmas. Books make great holiday gifts. Lots of holiday gifts mean lots of sales, and  therein lay my motivation. As it turned out, I was able to release the e-book on December sixth.
Then there was the paperback.
I uploaded the file around the same time as the e-version, and to my satisfaction, it appeared I was on schedule. I ordered a hundred books—many of which already had buyers—then waited for the estimated December 19th delivery date.

They arrived on schedule, but when I opened the boxes, I got an unpleasant surprise: it wasn’t the book that I’d uploaded. Well, it was, but it wasn’t, because this one was riddled with formatting issues: paragraphs that had no breaks between them and other problems. Now granted, I knew those problems had existed, but I also knew that we’d fixed them, then uploaded the corrected version; yet somehow, the one with the errors was what ended up being printed.
I saw red.
Immediately, I got on the phone and called CreateSpace (the Amazon company responsible for printing and distributing the book). The lady I spoke with seemed dumbfounded. She confirmed they had the correct file yet had no idea why the bad version ended being printed. Apparently it was some sort of glitch on their end, but since she couldn't figure out what that was, she told me they’d need to have technical support take a look, assuring me they’d re-ship the new books once they knew what had gone wrong.
“How long might it take for them to do that?” I asked.
“Two-to-three days,” she replied.
“But you don’t understand. I have nearly a hundred people waiting to buy  books as Christmas gifts. I can’t give them these.”
“It would be impossible to get the new ones to you by then.”
A deep sigh. “But this wasn’t my fault.”
“I'm very sorry,” she said, “but until technical support investigates the matter, there’s nothing we can do, and that will take at least—”
“Two to three days. Yeah, I know. Isn’t there a way to expedite the process?”
“I’m afraid not. They’re very busy this time of year.”
Now, besides having three boxes filled with books that will never see the light of day, besides not being able to sell them before Christmas, there was another problem, a much bigger one: a lot of people had already purchased the paperback on Amazon. People I don’t know and have no way of reaching. People who laid down their hard-earned money expecting to have a good book to read. People who were not going to get that.
Those people  will likely take one look at my book and decide I’m some yayhoo who thinks he can write. And that, in my world, is far worse than having three boxes filled with very expensive firewood.
So I asked the lady: “What about the customers who have already bought the book? Isn't there some way to alert them that they got a bad copy, maybe send them the good version once it’s available?”
“I’m afraid not,” she said.
I don't know if I've mentioned this here before, but I’m fiercely loyal to my readers. I have great respect for them, and I always put them first. It’s why I work so hard to create the best work I can. They deserve that. So the thought of them receiving a defective book makes me want to gnash my teeth to powder.  Now, luckily, the majority of my sales are on Kindle, and that version is fine. But I wouldn’t care if just one reader had bought the paperback—as far as I'm concerned, that's one too many. I don’t want anyone getting less than what they paid for. Not one.  
As it stands now, I'm still waiting for technical support to conclude their investigation. There will be no books for Christmas; in fact, I've pulled the paperback from Amazon to prevent any further sales until the matter is resolved. And, of course, I have three boxes of books that will likely either be headed back to Amazon or to the dumpster.
So why am I telling you all this? For one, I think it's good to share these experiences with other indie authors so they can be aware. But beyond that,  I also think there’s a lesson to be learned here: technology is a beautiful thing, and it’s made our lives better in so many ways.
But it’s far from perfect.

Incidentally,  if anyone reading this post bought the paperback version of The Lion, the Lamb, the Hunted, please contact me as soon as possible (  so I can figure out a way to get the good version to you. I’m hoping Amazon will make good on this, but if they don’t, you have my promise: I will, even if I have to replace every one of them myself.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bad Santa: Uniforms, Costumes, and Perception

I saw a news story recently about a guy in a Santa suit who committed an armed robbery. Not exactly what we expect from the 2011 armed robber Fall season collection is it? We make certain judgements about uniforms don't we? That's one of the purposes of a uniform isn't it? Uniforms are nothing more that specific clothing or costumes designed to denote specific jobs or cultural icons. Think about the following list of uniforms. What are the first thoughts that come to mind?
  1. Police Officer
  2. UPS Delivery
  3. Priest
  4. Clown
  5. Pilot
  6. Hooker
Criminals actually use uniforms from time to time. They may impersonate a police officer in order to seize a gun or solicit a bribe. Some burglars may pose as repairmen to gain entry into a house or blend into a neighborhood. I once met a guy who wore hospital scrubs everywhere. He wasn't a doctor, he just dressed like one to meet women. By the time they figured it out, the uniform had served its purpose.

Of course, the real challenge is when the person wearing the uniform to commit bad deeds actually owns the uniform. How can you tell a fake policeman from a real one? First, it's the details. Fake cops don't typically carry all the appropriate gear. They can't provide the name of their watch commander and won't tolerate you wanting to call 911 to verify they are actually a cop. Secondly, people who wear uniforms often drive vehicles with similar markings. A fake UPS guy or telephone repairman would look pretty sill showing up in a Toyota Camry wouldn't they?

As crime authors you can use uniforms in very interesting ways. They are effective tools to deceive your readers and the other characters they interact with. Just as in real life, some witnesses may remember more about the uniform than the man wearing it. Think about the armed robber in the Santa Suit. Would you be surprised if every eye-witness described an old fat guy in a red suit and long white beard? Not much help to detectives is it? As you're writing your next scene you might want to consider how a uniform might add a little depth to the story.

Would a woman more likely open her door to a police officer or a clown? Would a policeman be more likely to give a warning to a priest for speeding, or a UPS driver? There are no absolutes and that's the best part. Our characters can perceive uniforms in any way we choose right? The reader just needs a little back story. A uniform or costume is no different than any other scene element but it might be a lot more subtle. The readers perception might remain unchallenged until that moment you want them spinning on their heels. Those are the moments I remember the most while reading. That moment where my world adjusts in a way I never saw coming; just like Santa sticking a gun in your face.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Amazon's KDP Select Results

By L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers
When Amazon asked me to enroll a few books its KDP Select program, I went along. Like many other authors, because of Kindle Direct Publishing, I now have readers and I’m able to make a small living. So I’m deeply grateful, and even loyal, to Amazon. I don’t necessarily like the 90-exclusivity requirement of the new program, but I don’t sell enough of certain titles in other venues for it to be a financial consideration.

So I enrolled three books out of ten, and promptly listed two for back-to-back, five-day giveaways, the main perk of the program.

The results were better than expected. First, I gave away The Suicide Effect, my lowest-selling book. Between the US and UK, in five days, I had 34,888 downloads. A stunning number for a book with suicide in the title. The book is now #61 in the entire Kindle store and actually selling for the first time. I know this effect is temporary, but still awesome. The bonus is that I have an excerpt of The Baby Thief in the back, and I sold several hundred of that title during the giveaway, and it's selling better than ever too.

I also gave away The Sex Club, a book that’s already had a lot of exposure. In addition to the 23,868 ebooks downloaded so far, I’ve also seen a bump in the sales of my other Detective Jackson novels…even though The Sex Club is no longer listed as part of my series. (I recently blogged about that decision.)

So it’s been a good move for me. Ironically, two weeks ago I announced to my husband that I was giving up writing novels and looking for an office job...because I was working too hard and making too little money in this crazy industry. The power of Amazon!

Those three titles won’t be available on Nook, Kobo, or any other e-reader for at least 90 days, but I can live with that. I haven’t enrolled my Detective Jackson books in the program, and I don’t plan to. I want readers everywhere to have access to them.

I may never really know the full effect of this promotion. Many of those people will never read either story. Many may not read them for six months or more. But with so much exposure to my writing, it’s inevitable that I’ll pick up thousands of new readers. I’ve already had several people contact me and say something like, “I just started your book, but the writing is so good, I bought everything you have.” When you’re selling ebooks for $.99 and $2.99, it’s not a big commitment for a reader.

I’m sharing this information because many of my writer friends have contacted me to ask about my participation. How can I not recommend it?

But I’m leery of putting all my books in the program. Amazon would have to sweeten the deal considerably, such as by offering me a contract and/or promotional support. But I’m not holding my breath. I’ve worked myself into this position without any help from agents or publishers so far, and I suspect I’ll be indie for the long haul.

What do you think about this program? Have you participated?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The $2,400 Question

By CJ West author of The End of Marking Time 
Seems like an odd number right? Actually that’s my marketing budget for 2012 (well, most of it) and I’m giving it directly to readers to thank them for spreading the word about my work. This is something new for me, but I’ve been trying new things for years.

For those of you who can’t wait for the next 439 words to find out how to win your share of the $2,400, click here.

I’ve tried a lot of things over the years to reach out to readers. Some of them have worked. Some of them have been total flops.

Anyone remember The Million Dollar Home Page? Didn’t think so. Back in the days when I was focused on print books, I bought an ad there for about $250. If you click over, you can find the word SIN about two inches down from the Contact Me link. I’m scrunched in there between A free Xbox, a liquor add, and a dollhouse furniture gallery.

When I made the transition to e-books, Kindleboards was the place to be. Everyone was excited about e-books and after a few months in the discussion forums, I learned they were going to start selling ads. I quickly bought a week’s worth. By the time my ads ran it seemed that only authors were on Kindleboards anymore. It is still a great place to visit, but advertising there didn’t help me reach new readers.

In January of 2011, I made friends with Christian, the owner of eReaderIQ. This is a fantastic site that lets readers track the price changes in e-books they are interested in. Christian has developed some fantastic technology that works with amazing speed.

I was the first advertiser on eReaderIQ and I sold a boatload of e-books this January. It takes a lot of electrons to fill a boat! Seriously, I was delighted. EReaderIQ has been the brightest spot in my e-book marketing struggle.

Next I found the Amazon Kindle Page on Facebook. I gave away a few hundred copies of The End of Marking Time there and I made some great friends, but unfortunately as the page grew from 30,000 friends when I joined to over 1.4 million now, there is no longer room for conversation. E-book authors continually blast the page with promotions and the people who used to visit the page several times a day no longer visit. 

This is one of the sad realities of indie publishing. There are so many authors and it is so hard to reach readers that the marketing noise often spoils some of the best places to get to know other humans who happen to read fiction. The Amazon Customer Discussions forums is a prime example of this. The hostility to authors there has grown and Amazon has imposed restriction after restriction to keep authors from monopolizing the conversation.

So, if the forums are jam packed, and the venues that accept indie advertising are hit or miss, what is an author to do?

This year I’m giving my marketing dollars to the people who market my work best: readers. Each month I’ll hold a drawing for a Kindle Fire. Winners who already own an e-reader or would prefer something else can choose a $200 gift certificate to Amazon, BN, or an independent bookseller. My hope is that $200 is enough incentive to get people excited about the contest. At the very least I hope to make one new friend each month.

Anyone can enter by tweeting, posting on Facebook, or emailing their friends. Register here.

Do you have e-book marketing woes or triumphs to share? I’d love to hear them.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Indie Doesn't Mean Solo

By Terry Odell, mystery author,

Thanks so much to L.J. for letting me post here at Crime Scene Collective. I met her at Left Coast Crime and became an immediate fan.

Indie publishing is, according to Carina Press editor, "the new black." Although I've never been much for fashion, this is one trend I'm happy to follow.

Of my nine novels, I've "indie-published" seven titles. Only two of them would qualify as "indie" books, since the other five are back list titles, previously released by several different publishers.

I opted to release DEADLY SECRETS myself for a variety of reasons.

First, I did approach a more traditional route. However, feedback from agents and publishers was that although the writing was strong, the book didn't fit into their neat little packages. It's a mystery with a police chief hero, so it should be a police procedural. However, there are also two main secondary POV characters who aren't cops. That makes it fit the cozy sub-genre, where crimes are solved by amateur sleuths.

Given the upsurge in indie publishing, I decided not to rewrite the book to fit inside the publishers' boxes. Readers don't really care about boxes if they like the story and the characters.

Instead I went indie. I'd had success with other titles, and I'd always preferred mystery, even though my other novels are all romantic suspense. But again, that's a definition imposed by the industry. Believe me, if there was a category called, "Mystery with Relationships" I'd be all over it. But if you're a relative unknown without mega sales numbers, publishers don't want to touch you. Add breaking into a new genre, and it's a virtual kiss of death, short of changing your name and starting from scratch.

Indie publishing. Self publishing. No matter which you call it, there's a subtext that you're isolated somewhere. Just you and your manuscript. While it may be true in some cases, I think anyone with a modicum of success publishing their own work doesn't go it alone. Sure, there are those who enter the world of indie publishing because they don't have the patience to learn the craft. Their friends say they've written a "great book" and that's enough for them to slap it up on Amazon. But once their friends have bought their copies, it's not likely they'll sell more.

So, it's me and my manuscript. And my critique partners. And my RWA writing chapter. And workshops. And when I think the manuscript is good, I ask people whose advice I respect to read it. (In this case, L.J. was kind enough to read the draft of DEADLY SECRETS and give me her professional opinion that it was ready for the next step.

But that step ISN'T publishing. No, it's hiring a professional editor. Someone who has an objective eye and isn't afraid to hurt your feelings when things aren't working. Someone who can show you where you might have strayed from the path and set you back. Or, in the case of one of my earlier books, where I'd tried to take the easy way out and gloss over a combat scene, insist that I write those seven minutes I'd merely mentioned in passing. And some authors will hire two editors. One for content, and then one to do line edits. They're different skill sets.

Then there's a cover artist. Cover design for indie books is a rising industry. It's not the same as a print cover, because you've got to catch a reader's eye in a thumbnail sized image. Less becomes more.

If you're not tech-savvy enough to format your book, you need more help, also at a cost.

And then, there's the marketing and promotion. Here, you ARE alone with your manuscript. Getting the word out becomes your sole responsibility.

Traditional publishers do almost everything I've mentioned above for you. In reality, you're more "indie" when you publish traditionally than when you become your own publisher.

Monday, December 12, 2011

So you want to read a holiday mystery?

There are those who enjoy reading mysteries set during whatever the current season happens to be. Coincidentally, there are several places to find titles of such books.

I'm not going to try to reinvent the wheel, so here are some links to lists of holiday mysteries.

- Cozy Mystery List - this one includes Hanukkah and New Year's mysteries:



- Stop You're Killing Me!

Happy whatever-holiday-you-celebrate!


Friday, December 9, 2011

A Long and Winding Road . . . Gets Me Lost

By Peg Brantley, Writer at Work, Stumbling Toward Publication

Technical difficulties.
Brain farts.
Frequent stops.
Blurred vision.

I need help.

There must be some fabulous, fool-proof (and I mean that literally) method to keep details straight. Something even those of us who are technically challenged can use.

My main characters are fine. We've been living together for so long I know their idiosyncrasies and habits well. But minor characters? Even in real life, I have trouble remembering people's names. Let alone some walk-on who insists on being referenced again ninety-seven pages later.

What about those loose threads? Those little bits of information I introduced to later feed into something bigger and um . . . where are they? what were they?

I have folders. They're pretty (I buy the printed ones at the office supply store—a different design for each manuscript). They're also closed unless it's a research item, or a character study.

I have a spiral notebook. Somewhere. And while it might have some information in it, I can't count on it to be thorough. Because I'm not even quite sure where it is. And whether or not I actually took the time to write down what I'm looking for at this moment.

Stickies? Where would I stick them? Eventually my computer screen would be covered, and then it really would be a hit and miss proposition.

And unless someone wants to come and sit down with me to teach me Excel, I'm not inclined to spend much time inside the big green "X" icon. I have enough trouble with the address list I keep in it somewhere. It frustrates me beyond belief.

There's probably something cool in Scrivener for this. If so, please tell me where it is and how to use it.

Is that what edits are for?

It could also be that I'm at that place with this manuscript where it's all suddenly become a muddle and I'm convinced it's a mess and hopeless and what in the world have I barfed up?

Seriously, smart and organized writers . . . how do you keep things straight?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Holiday Chaos

  By Gayle Carline

Everyone here at the Collective has been trying to get their latest novel finished, editing done, book released, etc. They are all nearly collapsing under the weight of their deadlines and begging for a holiday break. Personally, I'm fresh as a daisy.

The guilt is staggering.

You see, I'm working on the third book in my Peri Minneopa mystery series. I keep saying that I'm "in the middle of writing" it, but the truth is, I've only gotten 13,000 words, which is not nearly the middle. While not wanting to rush the process, I want to get it written and edited and out sooner, rather than later.

Time IS money to writers, these days.

In addition to getting this book finished, I have an idea for another mystery, either a standalone or a new series. I can only work one story at a time, so I'm just jotting notes here and there to remind myself what I want to do with the new book while I work on the current project.

So I should be carving out time each day and getting a goodly number of words on the page. It's my plan. My goal. My raison d'être.

But it's also Christmas.

I promise myself I'll write, just as soon as I:

1. Get the Christmas picture taken (see this blog post for how that went).

2. Get the Christmas letter written.

3. Print Christmas card-letter and mail (see this blog post for how that went).

4. Clean living room to prepare for tree.

5. Go get tree.

6. Decorate tree (oh, just go here for the rest of this).

7. Decorate rest of house.

8. Clean rest of house before attempting No. 7.

9. Shop.

10. Shop some more.

This isn't the whole list and you can see how my writing is going. In addition, I still have riding lessons to teach, and riding lessons to take (don't judge, this is my de-stresser), and a Corgi who pouts when bored, so I must walk him and/or play with him at intervals.

So I have one question for my fellow Collective: How the hell do you get anything done during December?

Happy holidays, anyway, from me and my familia!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Damaged Goods?

By Andrew E. Kaufman

For those of you who haven’t heard me shouting it from the rooftops, I’ve just released my second novel. A lot of things happen to me during the course of writing a book. Quite often between my fits of frustration and desperation, I also have bursts of revelation, and those moments seem golden. As I dig deep within myself to create my characters and my stories, I also discover things about myself and about the world that I never knew before. Sometimes those discoveries are immediate, but sometimes I don’t see them until after I’ve had a chance to decompress and breathe a little.

In this case, my main protagonist taught me the lesson. His name is Patrick, and to date, I think he’s the one I’ve enjoyed writing the most. Like many of my characters, he’s deeply flawed. Some would call him damaged goods, but I don’t see him that way at all; he’s human, and like all of us, he has challenges. When I created him, I wanted to raise the stakes like I’ve never done with any other character before, to push obstacles in his way that seemed insurmountable—at least to him—both on an internal and external level. Then I wanted to see him fight like hell to overcome them. Funny thing happened in that process: as I wrote the book, I found myself struggling right alongside him like I’ve never done before—I had to, in order make the story come to life.
Patrick suffered a horribly abusive childhood, has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and as if that weren’t enough, he’s a bleeder. The blood disease is a metaphor; he’s been deeply injured, and as a result, is deeply vulnerable. On a physical level, he lives with the day-to-day fear of being injured, of bleeding to death, and his emotional state is much the same—he’s scared of being exposed, of being wounded. Because of those internal and external fears, instead of living his life, he becomes imprisoned by it.

Enter the next layer. With the OCD, his particular compulsion is listing; he writes the same words over and over. To raise the stakes even more, he’s a journalist: a writer, trapped by his own words. The irony in that fascinated me, and I used it as a device to show his tension. As his situation becomes more dangerous, his disorder becomes more pervasive, so he's fighting his battles on two levels.

I grew to love Patrick just as I would my own child. It happens with many of my characters, and I’ve often tried to figure out exactly why that is. True, I create them, and in order to portray them in a realistic and meaningful way, I often need to throw myself into their minds and experience their emotions much as they would. Mentally, it can be exhausting, however, in the process, I suppose, some sort of bond occurs. But I’ve always suspected there was more to it than just that; I just couldn’t figure out what it was.

Then Patrick showed me.

I began to realize that the reason I liked him so much was because those very flaws, the ones he felt so crippled by, were the ones that made him seem so much more real, and as a result they endeared me to him.

Imperfections aren’t what separate us; they’re what connect us as humans because we all have them. And just as in real life, watching people triumph over them makes us feel like we can do the same. Think about it (I’m dating myself here): how did it make you feel watching Rocky climb to the top of those steps while that exuberant theme song played? For me, I might as well have been right there alongside him; I sure felt like I was.

Being vulnerable is like opening a door; it allows people in, helps them understand us a little better, helps us connect.

Patrick taught me that.

The Call Before the Call

by Tom Adair, author and forensic scientist
Have you ever lost your temper? Done something in that state of mind you regret? I'll bet even money you have. Now imagine that episode is caught on tape and played out on the nightly news. We've all seen those dashcam videos of police officers acting poorly, sometimes criminally. Some videos can be very disturbing and we're all left wondering "what the hell is wrong with that guy?"

There are two very broad possibilities. One, the guy is a bad cop who should look for other employment. The other is that he or she is human and may just be losing their temper. Contrary to what most people think, police officers are human and there is NO training regiment sufficient to turn a police officer into a robot. Now, training can help subdue and re-direct our instincts but emotions are primal and in stressful situations primal instinct always wins out over training.

After 15 years in law enforcement I can tell you that in my experience there is always way more to the story than what you see in the video. When I watch these episodes unfold the first question I usually ask is "what was the call he just left?" Behavior doesn't develop in a vacuum; it is shaped by a myriad of experiences. Police officers have to deal with a lot of issues that shape their behavior over the short, and long-term.

Now, I am in no way excusing bad behavior, let alone criminal acts. What I am saying is that certain behavior should be viewed in context of a broader range of experiences. As writers, this recognition can give your characters much more depth and dimension.

For example, imagine you're a police officer who gets a call to meet mall security to take a 14 year-old girl into custody for shoplifting. Not exactly an exciting call. Most officers would much rather be chasing down real bad guys but you have a job to do. Then imagine the little smart-ass spitting in your face and kicking you in the nuts. You're going to be upset but you can't react the way you might with an adult male gang member or homicide suspect. But, don't you think that experience will change your mood for the day?

Imagine taking a drunk into detox when he pukes all over the backseat of your patrol car. There's no maid service; you probably have to clean that up yourself. What if your kid gets arrested for burglary? Now stack of three or four of these events in a day or two and imagine how you might react to an otherwise minor confrontation with a citizen? I'm not suggesting we throw a pity party for police. They know what they're getting into and they choose to do that work.

As authors, we have an opportunity to use events like these to give depth and definition to our characters. Is your detective going through a messy divorce? How will the stress of infidelity or gambling addiction (financial instability) affect their concentration at a murder scene? Can clues get missed or will they say something improper to the victim's family?

The point I'm making is that peoples lives and careers are often intertwined and never one-dimensional. Consider giving your characters obstacles in their personal lives that may shape their professional ones. I think you'll get a lot of satisfaction from the depth it can add to your character and your readers will hopefully connect with them as humans.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Researching Police Work

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

For the last two months, I've attended weekly sessions of the Eugene Police Academy. It was a huge time commitment and some of it was tedious, but overall, highly recommended for crime fiction authors. I got some great ideas for the story I was writing, and I connected with some detectives I hadn't met yet. One provided great details for the fraud investigation in my story, and the other loaned me an old case file (a foot thick), including tapes of the interrogation in which the suspect confessed to murder. A treasure trove I'll dig into this weekend.

There's much I could share about this class, but I'll stick to some visuals from the crime lab where the lead criminologist gave us a two-hour crash course in processing evidence. Many of the chemical references didn’t stick with me, but what I learned is that real-life evidence technicians (versus the CSI kind) spend most of their time processing latent fingerprints and watching/editing surveillance videos. Both are tedious pursuits that require attention to detail and patience, but what they produce is the critical evidence that leads to criminal convictions.

Here are the photo highlights of my visit.

This is a downdraft table where technicians use various colors of powder to process fingerprints. The downdraft sucks up the excess powder, which would otherwise go everywhere.

Technicians don't really use superglue, only one of its chemical components: cyanoacetate, which mixes with steam to form a coating all over an object. The coating reveals latent fingerprints when it hardens.
The lab refrigerator holds many things, including entomology evidence. Evidence technicians grow and kill flies at various stages to establish time of death for bodies that aren’t found in a timely manner.

The large bay where technicians process cars, ATM machines, and other big items looks a lot like a homeowner's garage, including a little blue kiddie swimming pool.

No lab is complete without a shower. Many of the chemicals technicians use are dangerous, and they must have access to an immediate way to rinse of their clothes or bodies.

The last class I'll attend is this weekend, and we'll be doing simulations scenarios, involving people with guns and others with babies in their arms. I'll be making split-second decisions, and I'm nervous. I hear it makes your adrenaline pump almost like the real thing.

Have you taken a Citizen's Police Academy? What was your favorite part?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What are you saying?

By CJ West author of Addicted To Love
Lately I’ve been thinking about perspective. Not a character’s perspective, but the author’s perspective. We all have different points of view and often an author uses his work to advocate a view on an issue. Sometimes this really bugs me, but when I think about the books I really enjoy, they are about more than an entertaining story.

When I first began writing I read about oral tradition and the idea that fiction grew out of stories told around the campfire. Campfire stories of old were used to pass down the history of the people and also to embolden young members of the tribe to act bravely in the face of challenges in war or during the hunt. When I first read this I wondered if it was my obligation to inspire readers to live better lives.

Soon after reading this, I was told someone had acted out a scene from one of my books. It wasn’t a scene I’d want anyone to imitate and from that point on I worried a bit about the types of things I portrayed in my writing and what affect my work had on my readers. I write suspense so murder and mayhem comes with the territory. On one hand I’d like to believe my readers are intelligent enough to make good choices. On the other, I don’t want to contribute to a real life catastrophe.  

So what then is our role as writers?

For me a story is richer when I learn as I read. When I wrote Sin & Vengeance, I did a great deal of research on wine and winemaking. I get lots of feedback on how evil Randy is and how people can’t sleep at night after finishing the book, but I’m always pleased when someone tells me how much they have learned about making wine.

To me the lessons in that book somehow make it more worthy than something that is pure entertainment. When I read The Lock Artist, I felt I’d learned quite a lot about locks and safes. As I think about this I also realize that in some cultures making wine is sinful, lock picking even more so. Does that make writers evil? Are we inspiring readers to do things they shouldn’t? We have to portray evil characters in our stories, don’t we?

What I’m thinking about goes beyond villains. Underneath it all, writers put a bit of ourselves on the page and we let readers view the world through our eyes. Maybe challenging readers to see things a different way is an important part of our role. Sometimes they will accept a new viewpoint and sometimes they’ll reject it.

Nothing illustrated this for me better than reading Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke. I picked up this book after reading numerous recommendations of Mr. Burke’s work, but when I finished I knew I’d never read him again.


Dave Robicheaux is a detective in one of the grittiest places in America. He deals with drug dealers, rapists, and murderers. He spends his days chasing these people and yet he stops numerous times during this book to tell us that he doesn’t blame them. It’s the fault of the rich white people who victimize them. In this book he shows us a kid who rapes and tortures women and then (Burke) let’s this kid escape punishment because the things he does aren’t his fault.

When faced with a story like this I think readers with strong opinions do one of two things. Those who agree with Mr. Burke love the book and applaud him for his courage. Those who don’t shake their fists and yell at the pages that absolving people of responsibility for their actions is very dangerous.

What do you think?

Are writers better off climbing the soapbox and galvanizing those who think like they do, surely knowing they’ll lose those who disagree? Or would you rather your favorite authors keep their political notions to themselves?