Wednesday, July 31, 2013

It's worth spending the time

By Jenny Hilborne
Author of psychological mysteries and thrillers

Title is a big deal, maybe more important than the cover. Just like newspaper headlines, it has to have the power to grab attention. Choosing a good book title is difficult and it takes a lot of time.

As I remain undecided about the title for my upcoming suspense, I wonder how many other authors struggle with choosing their titles. How much attention do readers give to a title? Often when I've read a good book, I'll remember bits about the plot, perhaps not the characters, but I'll always remember the title.

A purchase could be based on a title alone, especially if it's a cool or intriguing one. I'm trying to remember if I've ever bought a book based on the title alone, but I'm sure I've certainly picked one up. I see it happen at book festivals, when a potential reader sees a book on a table that catches their eye and comments on the title. An interesting title gets the book in their hands. A great title offers the promise of a terrific story.

Some authors find it difficult to work on an untitled project - myself included, and we spend far too long analyzing labels instead of writing. When I think of titles for my work, I try to come up with key words in the story. If any jump out at me, they go on the possible list. In two or three words (I prefer short titles), I have to convey what the general story is about. It's not easy.

Putting on music, having a glass of wine, dimming the lights....none of this works for me when choosing a title for my books. Not even staring at the ocean. For my work in progress, I've put it out for a vote - and still can't decide. Maybe I'm overthinking it and if I forget about it for a while, the right title will come to me. That's the plan for now. While I was hunting around the web for ideas on creating a compelling title, I stumbled across a blog post by Michael Hyatt using the acronym PINC, which stands for Promise, Intrigue, Need, Content. Hyatt's post includes some good info. For anyone interested in reading it, I've included the link:

In his blog post, Hyatt states great titles do one or more of PINC: make a promise, create intrigue, identify a need, or state the content. This helps. I've noticed when I buy books, I'm drawn to the intrigue part of PINC, to the titles that raise questions in my mind; what's this book about? I think he's right that a title goes a long way towards making or breaking a book's success and it is worth spending the time to come up with the right one.

Readers: do you ever buy books based on title alone?
Authors: Do you change your title as your story develops? How do you know when you've found the right one?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Megan Abbott and Reed Farrel Coleman

Tom Schreck, author of the Duffy Dombrowski Mysteries

I've been trying to catch up on my reading and I've made a conscious decision to read books out of my usual wheelhouse.

Most recently I've selected two authors who are constantly receiving accolades. Reed Farrel Coleman and Megan Abbott are two crime authors that seem to win awards every time they release something new. They aren't on the New York Times best sellers list but they almost never get a bad review.

I'm not going to write reviews of Onion Street and Dare Me. Instead, I just wanted to share my impressions.

Now, for full disclosure, Reed is a buddy of mine and I've met and chatted with Megan.

I think what makes both of these writers so exceptional is that when you're reading their work you forget you're reading. They are both good at writing like a real person thinks. They don't bring you out of your reader's reverie by jarring you with words or situations that seem unrealistic.

Their story lines are tight, their characters are consistent and the voice of their books are just so smooth. In short they make it appear easy.

And that's what pisses me off.

For the last nine months I've been dedicating myself to learning the song "Baby What You Want Me To Do" on the guitar. I want to be able to play it exactly like Elvis does. Every day I go over the mechanics of it. I can play it from beginning to end and it sounds like the song.

No one has yet to mistake me for Elvis, though.

I think writing is a lot like music. The best at it make it seem easy. They don't force it and they don't make you, the audience, work too hard.

It's what Reed and Megan both do so well that you can miss it.

And it's what I'm aiming for.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Tips for Writing Compelling Back Cover Copy

by Jodie Renner, editor, author, speaker
You've written an engaging novel and have revised and polished it. Now you're getting ready to publish it or pitch it to agents. Time to compose a book description that will capture attention and compel readers to open the book and read more. To accomplish this, you need to put a lot of care and attention into your back cover copy. 

Your back cover copy is the biggest deciding factor for readers picking up your book for the first time. Not only does it have to be enticing and polished, but it has to strike at the heart of your actual story and incite curiosity among the readers, to compel them to open the book and read the first page – which is also critically important.

And if you’re publishing it in e-book form, your back cover copy becomes your all-important book description on Amazon and elsewhere.

So your back cover copy or book description needs to: 

– Grab readers’ attention – in a good way

– Incite curiosity about this book

– Tell us roughly what the story is about

– Introduce us to the main character

– Tell us the protagonist’s main problem

– Leave us wanting to find out more

James Scott Bell gives us a great template for writing strong, compelling back cover copy in his excellent book Plot & Structure.

His outline is a perfect jumping-off point for creating your own book description.

Paragraph 1: Your main character’s name and her current situation:

__________________ is a ________________ who ___________________________________.

Write one or two more sentences, describing something of the character’s background and current world.

Paragraph 2: Start with Suddenly or But when. Fill in the major turning point, the event that threatens the character, disrupts his world and forces him to take action. Add two or three more sentences about what happens next.

"But his world is turned upside down when..."

Paragraph 3: Start with Now and make it an action sentence, for example, “Now (name) must struggle with....”

Or use a question or two starting with Will: Will (name) be able to....? Or will she....? And will these events....?

Then add a final sentence that is pure marketing, like “(Title) is a riveting.... novel about .... that will the ... twist at the end.

Now polish it up, making sure every word counts and you’ve used the best possible word for each situation. Aim for about 250-500 words in total.

There are of course many other ways to grab your readers in your book description, but be sure to use the main character’s name and hint at the threat that has upset his world and the obstacles he needs to overcome to win, survive or defeat evil and right wrongs. And leave the readers with a question, to incite their curiosity and propel them into the story.

Then, if there's space, you could squeeze in a great blurb or two, or a short author bio.


James Scott Bell, Write Great Fiction - Plot & Structure. I highly recommend this book of Bell's, as well as his excellent Revision & Self-Editing, which is at the top of the list of recommended resources on my website, and I also recommend it to all my clients. (The updated edition is called Revision & Self-Editing for Publication.)

Anyone want to share your back cover copy or book description with us?

Jodie Renner has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing a Killer Thriller and Fire up Your Fiction which has won two book awards so far and is a finalist for 3 more. Look for the third book in the series, Captivate Your Readers, out in late 2014. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, her other blogs, The Kill Zone and Resources for Writers, or find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Also, sign up for her newsletter.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Crisis of Character

by Peg Brantley
Evocative Characters. Intriguing Crime. Compelling Stories.

"What's your next book going to be about?"

"Can't say, but you're gonna love it!"


Like most writers, I have file folders (on my computer and in a file cabinet) filled with story ideas, not to mention all the "what if" scenarios that roll around my head on a daily basis. I figured I could write a story a month for the next five years and not run out of material.

Recently, when my attention was focused more on family than plots, I began to feel a certain amount of dissatisfaction with the story I was building. Nothing specific mind you, but a general "ugh-ness" to the story. I didn't feel the spark, and considering arson played a huge role in my concept, not having a spark was concerning.

After all of the research, the hours gathering information and creating different scenarios, I was unmotivated to continue.

Not to worry, I thought. I'll just open up all of those idea files, I thought. I'll find the perfect plot replacement, I thought.

I thought wrong.

What I learned with that little exercise is that while I have a gazillion different story ideas, very few of them actually translate to novel material. In fact, I couldn't find one I was excited about.

I wanted to fling myself off the highest Colorado cliff I could find. End the agony. Stop the train before it derailed and took others with it.

And then…

It hit me.

My post two weeks ago talked about the kind of antagonist shrinks might find intriguing. I'd sort of picked out a general profile, but I hadn't developed that character.

Although as a crime fiction writer plot is important, of equal importance to me are the characters. Until I had this one major player fleshed out a little more, I wasn't going to be happy with anything.

After tackling the bad guy, my arson-ish plot is sizzling again and I'm feeling a little better. For now.

Writers: How do you find your sizzle? Is it always plot or is it character?

Readers: What are you more drawn to? Plot or characters?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

And the Winner is…

Two weeks ago, I blogged about my new book cover and gave my readers a chance to vote on four different color schemes. I was overwhelmed by the huge number of readers who chose to cast a vote for The Advocate's Ex Parte cover. I presented the option because I thought it only fair that my readers be more involved in the process. I am so thrilled with them. When I start to slow down, it's my readers who keep me motivated to. I receive emails every day, often from someone new, who encourages me to keep going. They often say how happy they are that I communicate with them, but I don’t think they realize how much they mean to me, and how much I need them.

Having my readers vote on the cover turned out to be a wonderful experience for me, and from the comments I received, for the readers as well. And to top it off, they made a great choice. 

I thought about having the vote on Facebook, but I decided instead to just send it out to my newsletter participants. I’m glad I did because these are my most loyal supporters. Last year at my online launch for The Advocate’s Dilemma, my readers helped me pick the title for The Advocate’s Ex Parte, and now they have picked the cover. Having their input has been really helpful. 

By the way, the results from this venture were very interesting and a little surprising. If you missed the last blog where the cover choices were presented, you can check it out here

I'll start by telling you that the last place went to Choice B, the gold cover. Choice C, the white cover was in third.

That leaves Choice A & D, the teal and the charcoal covers in first and second place with a very small margin between them. The newsletter went out to 2,000 of my favorite readers. A little less than half voted and it came down to a difference of only 7 votes. I was flabbergasted at how close it was. Here's the winner: 

How important do you think it is to involve your readers in this whole writing process? Of course, there are many parts of it that have be done solo, but there are some things they can do. Have you ever tried it? If you were asked by an author to participate, would you?

Teresa Burrell
Author of The Advocate Series

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

It’s Labor Day

By Sheila Lowe

William and Kate are not the only ones to welcome a new baby into the world this week. After many months of hard labor, I've just uploaded my new book to Kindle and am sighing a huge sigh of relief. Which is silly, really, because now the hard work begins—marketing it!

After publishing four books in my Forensic Handwriting Mysteries series with a major publisher, What She Saw is my first standalone novel, first self-pubbed. It follows a young woman through the terrifying labyrinth of amnesia, where no one is who or what they appear to be. Writing this book gave me the freedom to explore a somewhat different writing style. My series books are a little breezier, and though my main character Claudia Rose and some of her friends have important roles in WSS, the tone is somewhat darker. After all, how would it feel to wake up and find yourself on a train to an unknown destination, realizing that you don’t know how you got there or who you are. That’s where What She Saw begins.

The subject of amnesia has always fascinated me and I knew that someday I would write about it. That day has come and early reviews (including Peg's) are gratifyingly positive. But that doesn’t mean I’m not terrified. I’ve always had a publisher behind me, so this foray into the world of independent publishing is brand new. I think of it as flying without a net.

I made this choice after being orphaned. In the publishing arena that means the editor who loved my work left the publishing house and the one who took her place was not so enamored. Therefore, without a new contract and left to my own devices, I certainly wasn’t going to stop writing. And with Kindle offering much nicer royalties than the big houses, it seemed like a no-brainer.

The one nice thing the big guys offer their authors, though, is distribution. They may not do anything to promote our books (they save that money to spend on the big bestsellers), but they do get them into the stores, which is worth quite a lot. This time, I’m counting on some of my fellow bloggers on CRC to coach me on how to spread the word. Right now, I just know enough to be a little bit dangerous.

Here's the link: I’m asking my FB friends to post it to their walls and ask their friends to do the same. Maybe we can get it to go viral. It's a start. Another strategy is to give away a back list book with the motive of getting new readers hooked on the rest of the series. I plan on giving away the Kindle version of Poison Pen, the first of my series from July 30-August 1.

And lastly, my new bookmarks have just arrived. I'll happily send one, or a bunch if you have a book club. Email me a request with your snail mail address:

Monday, July 22, 2013

Adieu, Izzy

The Last Word (A Spellman Novel) by Lisa Lutz (Simon & Schuster hardcover, 9 July 2013).

This was the perfect vacation read:  light, funny and with a plot that's fairly straightforward.

Isabel is a bit over her head trying to run the Spellman Agency after taking it over*.  She's just not cut out for administration.  It doesn't help that half her employees (her parents) insist on showing up to work in their pajamas, and refuse to attend staff meetings.

She's having trouble keeping up with the accounts, mostly because she's not sure how, and then she's accused of embezzling from one of her major clients.

She's living in her brother's basement, and trying to avoid babysitting his toddler daughter Sydney (aka, Princess Banana) who exhibits a curious disdain for her Aunt Izzy, trying to convince herself she doesn't miss her ex-boyfriend Henry, and wondering if her parents' marriage is falling apart.

Salvation comes from where she least expects it (no, I'm not going to tell you), and Izzy and the Agency survive.

Sadly, as the title implies, this is the last of the Spellman Documents.  Izzy and her family will be missed.

FTC Full Disclosure:  Many thanks to  the Publisher for the e-galley of the book.

*See Trail of the Spellmans

Friday, July 19, 2013

When Bad Things Turn Out Well

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

We discovered water in our bathroom wall recently, and the damage was extensive. My initial reactions were to first blame myself: How could I let this happen? Next, to be stressed about the time and cost of the repair.

Fortunately, my hairdresser (love this woman!) reminded me that insurance pays for things like this. The transition will be inconvenient and annoying, but in the end, the bathroom will be essentially remodeled for about the price of the deductible. A nice outcome.

I'm trying to keep that in mind as I go through a similar situation in my writing career. With my latest book, a standalone thriller, my editor wants me to make a major plot change, one that I disagree with. My initial reactions were the same as they were for the water problem—a sense of failure, then stress about a negative outcome.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize this could turn well. My beta readers (including a professional) love the story the way it is, and I'm not inclined to cut a plot element that ratchets up the tension on a global level. So, as much as I love publishing with Thomas & Mercer, I'm going indie with this one.

Even though I call it a standalone, the book features Agent Dallas—introduced in Crimes of Memory (Jackson #8)—and will launch a new series. Although publishing with Amazon has been great for my career, it's not a bad idea to diversify and keep some control of my work.

Additionally, I'll be able to bring the book to market sooner on my own, and I'll earn a higher royalty. So this could turn out like the bathroom situation—more benefits than drawbacks.

In the meantime, I have to get my head back into indie mode and start thinking about marketing again. This transition will also be a lot of work and at times frustrating, but ideas are coming to me, and I think my wonderful readers will support me. 

What do you think? Am I crazy for sticking with the story instead of the publisher? If you're one of my readers, will you try the new book?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Portrait of a victim (sort of)

By Gayle Carline
Author of Peri Minneopa Mysteries (and other fun books)

Peg's recent post about characters that shrinks love to read was very timely for me. I'm in the midst of writing a brand new mystery with spankin' new characters. It's not set in my hometown this time, but it is set in my world - the world of American Quarter Horse Association horse shows.

My murder victim (at least the first one, so far) is a man who is popular and charming but not nice. I had a general mental picture of him before I started writing him and thought I didn't need much more, since, well, tick-tock, his life is on a short timer. Physically, he reminds me of this guy:

(Sorry, Guy Fieri - love you on Food Network!)

Then I realized I needed to write a chapter in his point-of-view. He had a lifestyle and some practices that I needed to show instead of tell. This meant I had to figure out what made this smarmy guy work.

Hello, Journal. Meet Bobby Fermino.

I want to win. Doesn't matter what at - I want to win at everything. It's my parents' fault. If they hadn't spent so much time fawning over my big brother, I wouldn't have had to try so hard. Tony could do no wrong. He was so shiny and perfect. I don't get it.

I mean, for Chrissake, he always had his head stuck in a goddamned book. Yeah, he got the grades, but what fun is that? They gave him everything, just for a few goddamned A's. A free ride to college, hell, a car to get there. Not just a car, a brand new car.

School was boring. I couldn't wait to get outta there. Mom and Dad kept telling me I was smart enough to apply myself. To what? Didn't really know what I wanted to do, so I spent most of my time out with the guys at the ranch. Watched them ride fast, rope cattle, then drink a few beers. That looked like fun.

As soon as I was old enough, I started riding and roping and drinking with them. They were good guys. Not book smart. Not worried about anything. That's the way to be. When you're not worried, you can figure out how to get ahead.

Tony graduated from high school and got a BMW. I graduated from high school and got the boot. No car, no college, just an invitation out the door to the "real world" and a promise to take me back when I "straightened up."

Don't do me no favors.

Good thing I'd been playing the angles. I met a gal, Gillian, whose parents owned a big spread in Arizona, near Phoenix. I managed to bullshit my way into starting their young horses which gave me some income while I was banging their daughter. She was a nice kid. So nice I married her when she said she was knocked up.

Turns out, she was a sly one. There was no baby, but at least now I was in the family so I could slide my chair up to the big table.

Soon I had a real trainer shingle, Bobby Fermino, All Around and Performance Horses. I could take a mediocre horse and turn them into a champion. Okay, so sometimes I needed a little more than just "training." Better living through chemistry, as they say. And of course there are procedures.

The clients didn't mind. Their horses were winning at shows. I was winning. Winning money at reining. Winning prestige and a name at pleasure events. Being paid for endorsing products. I didn't even have to advertise. My clients took out ads in the AQHA Journal telling everyone what a hot shot trainer I was.

The key was to get clients who didn't want to show their own horses. None of these amateur riders for me. I worked with horses, not people. That way, I didn't have a lot of eyes scrutinizing what I do. Who cares how I did it?

Not that I don't like people. The horse show world is a great place to meet folks, especially the female kind. Could I help it if these girls flirted with me? My wife was hounding me for kids. I wasn't in the mood to raise any brats. Besides, she was starting to look her age. I still needed an outlet for my urges, though.

Gillian walked into the tack room one night to find me with one of my outlets, Brittany. Funny, I never saw her until Britt had put on her panties and left. That Gillian is sharp. She had pictures. Lots of pictures, and not just the action shots of me and young girls.

Pictures of my training methods.

So my methods are harsh. So what? They're just horses, for Chrissake. The clients can't care, they're winning. But the AQHA would care. I'd be lucky to get a suspension. Probably banned for life.

I was given choices: get out of town or else. She didn't even care if my crimes tainted her family's name. "Daddy's got enough money to shield us." She tossed me the keys to the ranch foreman's 15-year-old Chevy pickup.

"Daddy can buy him a new one. Send me an address and I'll ship your clothes."

Luck is a funny thing. Bad luck had put my ass on the road at two in the morning. Good luck had put me on the road at the exact time to take pictures of my own - pictures that would keep my bills paid for life.

Actually, that last sentence is not what his journal says. But a writer's gotta have some secrets.

So... show of hands: How many of you want to kill Bobby yourselves? How many of you think he just needs a hug?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


By Jenny Hilborne
Author of mysteries and psychological thrillers

Advertising is necessary, but most people detest adverts. They slow a movie (unless you record and fast forward). Magazines are filled with them. They even find, or used to find, their way into some paperback books. At least with a print copy, we can see the ads upfront.

With eBooks, the ads are unseen - until we get to the end of the book and find sample chapters of the author's next work. Not everyone has an issue with this, but for some readers, it's a problem. I recently read an online discussion about how readers feel cheated by the inclusion of sample chapters.

The problem is not so much the insertion of the additional chapters, but with perception.

On an eReader (I'm using Kindle as an example as I've never read on a Nook) the percentage of the book read is shown. This gives the reader an idea of how much story is left. Imagine getting to the 70% mark, believing there is 30% of the story left, only to find it wraps up within the next few pages. We weren't prepared for that. What happened to the rest? This is not a good kind of surprise.

It doesn't matter that the novel itself was full length and that with the added excerpts we actually got more for our $2.99 or $3.99 than if we'd only received the novel. What counts is that we feel misled, conned, cheated. Even with free downloads, readers do not like the story to end with 30% left on their Kindle. Not even 10%. Some of those who paid for the download commented that they feel as though they've been tricked into paying for the author's advertising.

I've seen it with books I've downloaded to my Kindle. I understand the frustration. We can't "see" that the author gave us more than we paid for because we only see that book ended before we were at the 99% or 100% point on our progress bar. It feels like the story ended too soon and the author filled out the remaining percentage with the excerpts to reach 100%.

Readers getting pissed off is the last thing an author wants. Once they've been turned off, we've lost them, along with everyone to whom they might have recommended our books. An author can argue all they want that the reader got more than they paid for, that the excerpts did not reduce the length of the book, but it does no good once the reader is annoyed.

Yes, readers can ignore the excerpts (and from the comments on the forum, the majority do), but they are still unhappy about what they perceive as a shortened story. 1% or 2% left for advertising seems to be okay, or just one page of links to the authors next work. Readers commented that if they enjoyed the book, they still don't read the excerpts. If the quality of the blurb or the sample pulls them in, they trust the rest of the writing is as good, and they will find the author's next works on their own.

Readers: how do you feel about excerpts? Even if the book was great, does it leave you feeling misled when an eBook ends at less than 100%. Would it turn you off recommending or reading other books by this author?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Warning: Blatant Name Dropping Ahead

by Tom Schreck

For the last couple of years Ruth and John Jordan, who put out Crimespree, the best mystery magazine there is and Penny Halle, the world's coolest librarian, invite me to Murder and Mayhem in Muskego. It's a day long conference with about 20 mystery writers. Inexplicably, the Jordan's and Penny like me and my books.
(I drank Schlitz with this guy)

A couple of years ago at the Jordan's house party, I drank Schlitz beer and talked boxing with Dennis Lehane. He's a real regular guy (which you should've deduced from the Schlitz and boxing.) He just happens to be a genius and a brilliant writer. Word is his advances are nearly double mine.

Anyway, I'm currently listening to an unabridged version of The Given Day. It's captivating and enthralling like his stuff always is.

It got me thinking though.

Every morning I get up, walk and feed the hounds, write and then while I'm washing up and getting dressed for the day gig, I listen to cd's, dvds, podcasts, books on tape, etc on writing craft. I've committed the advice of Stephen King, Robert McKee, Syd Fields and William Zissner to memory. I've listened to every episode of Writing Excuses, the MWANY presentations and have read books on writing by Lawrence Block, Todd Stone and Evan Marshall and compilations from Writer's Digest.

I've learned to eliminate unnecessary words, go easy on symbolism, make sure each scene changes a value and make sure the plot twists every quarter. I do research but go lightly on it in my prose, I make sure my minor characters don't outshine my major ones, I keep to 80k words and I try not to bore people with exposition.

Dennis Lehane's "The Given Day", is well over 80k words, he goes deep into symbolism, expounds on Babe Ruth's history and I'm not sure what it has to do with the plot. He uses tons of extra words, seems to go on an on with exposition and I'm not sure if values change every scene like they're supposed to or when the plot twists come.

I know I love the book--a lot.

I'm sure someone will comment and tell me I'm too dumb to recognize where Dennis does all this.

I'm also confident that if I turned in a book to an agent or publisher of that length, with that much exposition, symbolism and without predictable plot turns every quarter I'd likely get one of those patronizing notes rejecting me.

Of course, my writing isn't as good as Dennis's.

What's the moral of this blog?

1. Rules can be broken

2. If you sell books like Dennis Lehane you can write however the hell you want.

ps-- I've been dying to point something out and find anyone who gives a shit. In the opening chapter Lehane describes a pro boxing card taking place around 1917. He says that the card featured lightweights, welterweights, featherweights and cruiserweights. The cruiserweight division, however, wasn't created until 1980.

 I believe I am entitled to a portion of the profits of his future earnings.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Thrillerfest 2013

by Jodie Renner, editor, author, speaker

Just got home from Thrillerfest in NYC and realized it's my turn to post a blog here! Hope I can stay awake long enough to say a few words about THE biggest (only?) thriller writers' conference of the year.

This was my fourth Craftfest/Thrillerfest in a row - and maybe my last, as The Big Apple is expensive - especially in July! But I had such a great time that I may just scrimp and save to go back again next year...

The conference is four days long, with all day Wed. and Thurs. a.m. devoted to Craftfest workshops and a luncheon. Thurs. pm is Agentfest (which I didn't attend), followed by two days of Thrillerfest panels, interviews, author signings, book-buying, cocktail parties, and general schmoozing and catching up with or getting to know other authors and aspiring authors.

Janice Bashman, David Morrell, Jenny Milchman, Pam Stack
As always, there were a lot of bestselling authors signing books, giving talks, and mingling at the parties. Michael Connelly, David Morrell, Michael Palmer and Steve Berry, among others, drew large crowds for their workshops at Craftfest. Lee Child didn't speak this year, but was at all the social gatherings. Anne Rice was interviewed by her son, bestselling author Christopher Rice, Michael Palmer was interviewed by his son Daniel Palmer, Michael Connelly was interviewed by Jon Land, and T. Jefferson Parker was interviewed by DP Lyle. All were insightful and inspiring! (Apologies - my photo-taking was sporadic this year.)

Lee Child, Anne Rice
I highly recommend Craftfest, the first day and a half, for aspiring authors and anyone wanting to hone their craft. The workshops are always excellent, and are presented by accomplished authors who are also great teachers. And most of them are pretty entertaining, too!

Steven James introduces David Morrell
Thrillerfest is mostly panels and interviews, and of course a lot of socializing. This year I was on a panel for the first time, called "How to Become a Masterful Editor - of Your Own Work."

Brad Parks was highly entertaining as our panel master. I had prepared handouts on three self-editing-related topics, all of which were scarfed up immediately. I had no idea we'd get a packed room for our panel! Click HERE to read the handouts on steps for revising and self-editing, how to save on editing costs, and cutting word count.

And a great spin-off was that a lot of people came up to me at the end and asked for my card and expressed an interest in my two craft of writing books, Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power, and Writing a Killer Thriller. I ended up selling a lot of books at the conference - way more than I thought I would.

Janice Gable Bashman, Allison Brennan, Jodie Renner
The best part of the four-day conference was connecting and networking with author friends from Facebook -- and also meeting a bunch of great new people.

with Doug Lyle
Stimulating and fun, and I came away with so many ideas, from writing and editing to publishing to marketing and promoting!

If you attended Craftfest and/or Thrillerfest this year, what were some of the highlights for you?
Pam Stack, Jodie, Amy Shojai
Conferences can be expensive, but they're so worth it in many ways. And there's always the option of trying to find one close to home...

Do you enjoy writers' conferences or conventions? Which are your favorites, and why? How about ones you'd like to attend but haven't yet?

And by the way, as with many big conferences, all the workshops, panels, and interviews were recorded, and you can buy the CDs at

Jodie Renner has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing a Killer Thriller and Fire up Your Fiction (Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power), which has won two book awards so far. Look for the third book in the series, out soon. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, her other blogs, The Kill Zone and Resources for Writers, or find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. And sign up for her newsletter.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Characters Shrinks Love to Read

by Peg Brantley
Evocative Characters. Intriguing Crime. Compelling Stories.

I'm working on piecing together an antagonist or two for my next story. Since my characters always have a lot going on psychologically, I thought I'd get some help from a good friend who happens to be a psychologist. She's been helpful in the past, but usually after the fact—helping me bend a few things to make everything possible. (It might be fiction, but it needs to be plausible fiction.) This time I've decided to pull things a little tighter a little earlier.

When I ran my first rough character concept by her, she mentioned something about antisocial and narcissistic personality disorder clusters (which sounded good to me in a maladaptive behaviorally intrigued kind of way), and ended with saying, "But they would generally just be criminals, rather than psychologically interesting cases."

You can guess my next question to her.

Here then, are some characters a shrink-type might find intriguing:

  • Fallen angel types who are trying to climb back up the ladder to reach redemption. They will inevitably slip on a rung and seal their fate.
  • People with strong positive traits who can also be charming. And who find their Achilles' heel due to their unremitting hubris or unremitting ambition they simply can't control.
  • Similar to the mad dog analogy ("just criminals"), people who you don't really want to have to shoot, but they either can't or won't stop themselves from doing bad things. The good guys have to reluctantly put an end to them for the good of the whole.
  • True dissociative personalities (multiples), though rare, are fascinating when real. However, most of them would do no harm, so there might not be too much in the way of thriller fodder here. The same with people who have more severe forms of PTSD. They tend to be more self-destructive, and according to my shrink-friend, don't need the bad PR.
  • Types along the lines of Bonfire of the Vanities, when someone makes a small mistake that anyone could make, but then reacts in an overly defensive or cover-up manner due to pride. One inexorable step at a time, he or she moves toward being truly evil without any kind of awareness that's what they're doing.

When you read about a deeply wounded character who has gone over to the dark side, what is it about them that fascinates you? What causes you to want to know more about them? Are there some character types who aren't on my list? 

As writers, what psychological profiles have you used?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Run for Cover!

There are so many exciting moments throughout the development of a novel from start to finish. It's actually, a very exciting process. At least it is for me. I start with a blank sheet of paper and it all seems impossible, quite overwhelming, really. But somehow, I manage to write the first line, and even if I change it later, it’s an awesome feeling. I think it’s just because I actually started.  I no longer have a blank page.

I keep writing until the first chapter is complete. It’s a big step forward. Then day after day, I continue writing page after page, and I watch my baby grow, 1000 words, 10,000 words, 30,000 words, and it goes on. I’m always thrilled when I reach the halfway mark because it feels like I’m no longer peddling uphill, and the pace seems to pick up. And by the time I’m 10 or 15 thousand words from the finish line, I’m at full throttle.

When I final finish the first draft, it’s like a weight has lifted. “Whew…I did it.” Even though, I know I’m a  long way from finished. Then the editing process begins. I like that part. For me, the pressure is off and I don’t need the “quiet space” I needed for the creative part. 

However, one of my favorite parts is creating the book cover. That’s probably because I don’t do it myself. I have a wonderful graphic designer, Karen Phillips, who is extremely patient with me. I send her ideas and she creates. Then I send her comments and she tweeks. More ideas. More creating. More tweeking. Eventually, I see it and it hits me, that’s the one. But this time, for book #5 in The Advocate Series, I can’t seem to decide on the color. I have the graphics like I want them, but uncertain about the color. So I sent an email out to my newsletter list (a few thousand of my readers) asking them to help with this decision. I just sent the email so I don’t have many results yet, but here are my covers. Please feel free to pick your favorite. If you want to see what my other book covers look like, please go to my website at I’m trying to build a brand so I want it to fit in with the others.

Choice A                                                                                    Choice B

 Choice C                                                                                     Choice D

There are still a lot more steps beyond this one, writing the copy for the back cover, sending it out to Beta Readers, obtaining reviews, formatting the manuscript, planning the launch, etc. The list goes on and on. And when that is all done, the real work begins…marketing! I’m a bit of a freak in that I love the marketing. I know so many authors who really hate this part, but for me it’s as exciting as writing the book. But that’s for another day. 

So, if you saw these covers online or in a bookstore which one would you be most likely to purchase?

Teresa Burrell
Author of The Advocate Series