Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Can We Stop Calling Amazon a Bully?

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

Amazon is a company. Granted, a retailer with aggressive tactics meant to support long-term growth. But it is not an oversized kid (or childish adult) with personality problems who deliberately picks on weaker people for sport. And when people call Amazon a bully, they dilute the term's meaning and diminish the experience of human beings who have been personally victimized, bruised, and emotionally scarred by such human behavior.

Amazon functions much like other companies, only more successfully than its competitors. Its tactics, as far as I know, are legal. (The tax issues are still being debated but that's another subject.) Some people would argue that its tactics are not fair, but what does that mean? Does the word fair apply in business? Again, we're not dealing with children. The concept of one for me and one for you is not how capitalism works.

Some businesses are content to coast along, partner with others, and not worry about the future. Other businesses are more ambitious. They have long-term goals, and they work aggressively to meet those goals, even if it means putting competitors out of business. Barnes & Noble was once that kind of business. It bought up competitors, closed many retail outlets, and forced hundreds of indie bookstores to fold. People called it a bully too. But it was just business, capitalism in action.

Now the same people who denounced B&N (small bookstore owners, small publishers, and writers clinging to the old model) are crying foul on Amazon and worrying that B&N, now the underdog, will not survive the competition for customers.

I too worry a little that Amazon will dominate the publishing industry, at least for a while, and that customer choice will begin to be limited. But Amazon won't get to that point by being a bully, just a savvy, fast-growing company with an eye on the long-term future.

And yes, this blog was inspired in response to the struggle between Amazon and Independent Publishers Group, which I blogged about yesterday in more detail. A struggle in which Amazon held firm on its terms and lost the right to publish all of IPG's ebooks. I saw Amazon called a bully over and over yesterday, but I think the word is misused.

I don't mean to imply that the human owners of indie publishers and bookstores aren't feeling emotional about what's happening in the publishing industry as a result of Amazon's success. I'm sure they are and rightfully so. But Amazon's success is not a vendetta, and there's no point in taking it personally. Those emotions will just keep people from making rational business decisions.

What do you think?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Preparing for Battle...

I always believed my greatest challenge would be writing a novel. Until recently, I had no idea how naive that belief was. You see, writing the novel was only the first step in the long march of becoming a successful writer. It is, by definition, the lowest common denominator of the writing equation. Even the most gifted writer can not sell a novel if they don’t finish it right? But it’s a mistake to believe that simply writing a novel is enough, just as in the false belief that getting a college degree will lead to a career. It is simply the standard by which all comparisons begin.

I love battle metaphors. They seem appropriate when describing struggle, sacrifice, and sorrow. In many ways I equate self-publishing with a battle. Not because anyone dies or loses a limb but because you have no idea what it is really like unless you’ve actually experienced it. I suppose that’s true with many endeavors, especially crime scene work.So I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was to discover I was not fit for battle.

I feel like that soldier who has been issued his pack, his uniform, his rifle and then walks out onto the battlefield filled with a sense of invincibility. That feeling lasts right up to the moment a rocket propelled grenade streaks towards him. That’s because no matter how much you prepare for battle, no matter how advanced your gear, no matter how many lectures you’ve heard about the pain of war, there is nothing that compares with reality. It’s about confronting the unexpected. As an author I thought I had a good strategy. I thought I had a plan. But as every experienced General will tell good plan survives the battlefield.

And when those unexpected obstacles rear their ugly faces you have two choices. You can freeze or you can move. I choose to plow forward; strategically. I’m not abandoning my plan, I’m simply modifying it. I go back to the veterans and seek council. But I keep moving forward. I am convinced that, by whatever means, I will take that hill. I will be victorious. Even if I fail, I see no other way to achieve the success I desire.

So when you find yourself unprepared for the battlefield of Indie publishing don’t give up or lose hope. Simply re-evaluate you plan, adjust your maneuvers, or reorganize your battlefield. The publishing landscape is changing before our very eyes and none of us has a crystal ball. This is good news. This is a time of opportunity; a time to influence the shape of the battlefield. So keep moving....keep up the pressure. No surrender, no retreat.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Interview with Thriller Writer, Ian Walkley

I love your action-thriller No Remorse. It’s your first published novel. How did that come about?
My kids were almost finished school and I had the opportunity to sell my business. Also, a couple of friends’ health scares made me realize I didn’t want to die wondering if I could write the action thriller I had always dreamed about... So I took the plunge, just as I had when I started my own company. I’m single-minded on a task (so my wife says). Once I put my mind to it, I just wrote. And wrote. The plot and characters sort of evolved. I wrote 300,000 words in nine months.

Three hundred thousand words?!
At the time I had no idea a novel was supposed to be around 80,000-110,000 words. Later, of course, attending writers’ courses, I found out many things I hadn’t been aware of.

You chose to write a thriller with the main character having a military background – why?
I’ve always loved thrillers and have had an interest in all things military, so I guess maybe it’s a way of linking this interest with my writing. No Remorse isn’t a military thriller though – the main character just happens to have that background.

The main character, Lee McCloud, is described as “a loose cannon” by his superior in the secret organization he is forced to join. Why?
McCloud is a special ops guy, trained for the toughest missions, deniable, highly intelligent, used to making quick decisions under extreme pressure. You can bet his bosses worry about whether someone like that can be controlled. Especially after McCloud leads an unsanctioned mission to rescue two kidnapped girls, which goes terribly wrong. As it turns out, they actually want a military man who is a loose cannon. Can’t tell you more than that…

And what’s the background on Tally, the woman Lee McCloud has to work with?
Tally is a computer specialist with a photographic memory. McCloud feels that Tally belongs in an office, not in the field where it’s dangerous. Tally also has a haunted past, which sets up some good conflict and humour, because McCloud has had problems with women. Recall the Moonlighting TV series, and the movies Mr & Mrs Smith, and Romancing the Stone? Tally’s a strong woman, but not a stereotype. She has her own unique traits and point of view that make her strong in her own way.

How much research did you do for the book? You live in Australia, yet No Remorse starts out in Mexico, then is mostly set in the Middle East. Did you go to those places to find out firsthand what they’re like? Or did you mostly rely on online searches?
I enjoy the research side. I’ve travelled extensively through the Middle East, thankfully just before the “Arab Spring”. And I like to get hands-on experience. For example, I want the weapons to be right, to understand more about how they feel, so I go out and shoot a sniper rifle. 

What made you decide to go the self-publishing route?
I probably submitted my manuscript before it was ready. It was rejected by about twenty agents and publishers. Later, I was told by an agent that out of 120 novels submitted to him at Thrillerfest, about 85 were about terrorism. They were looking for something fresh. Still, I wasn’t going to have my work sacrificed, so (thanks to Amazon) with self-publishing considered a viable route for both new and published authors, I decided to publish it myself. I’m glad I did. With the industry in its current state of turbulence, there are many authors out there waiting for a publisher or agent, who will die before they find one. The world of publishing has changed dramatically in the last three years. 

On the upside, we’re also seeing a large number of new publishers emerging that are offering a new publishing model, with higher royalties, and fewer levels of bloated bureaucracy than the traditional firms. The first thing the industry should do is combine wholesalers and distributors, to cut out one of the unnecessary layers of people on the take. I have now created a publishing imprint, Marq Books, which I am making available to other indie authors. Even so, I would still prefer to use a traditional publisher to do the marketing, so I can spend my time writing. 

But you used professionals?
Oh yes, this is critically important for any indie writer. I used the editing services of Jodie Renner, who, in addition to copyediting, was of vital assistance in suggesting several new chapters and various other changes that improved both character and plot. Jodie also helped with American idiom and French. I also used a professional designer for the cover. 

What are the things you’ve had to overcome, in order to be published?
Having confidence in what I’ve written. Of course, not everyone will like the story, but so far all the reviews have been quite complimentary. The second thing is the distribution network. Most buyers of fiction buy debut authors on impulse. So I am working hard to get the book known through social marketing and traditional media. I’ve produced marketing material, media releases, and information sheets, and have had copies printed for the Australian market, where I can take a more active role. Again, I am using professional PR people and distributors.

Is there any advice you would give to emerging, unpublished writers?
Listen to the criticisms carefully. Most people are reluctant to be critical enough early on, but it’s important to identify weaknesses so you can address them. Network in the industry wherever possible. The wallflower writer will not be published. Attend writers’ courses and writers’ conferences, and buy books about writing such as Donald Maass’ The Breakout Novelist. And don’t give up – keep writing, submit to wherever you can, and start the second book while you’re still editing the first. And dream about being a best-selling author by all means, but don’t expect this to happen. You can build it, but they won’t come without the marketing.

The process seems frustrating. Why would anyone want to be a novelist?
Good question. I think publishing must be one of the toughest industries to be in. Many people tell me they have a novel inside they’d love to write. But most won’t. You have to be a certain type, and willing to sacrifice money and social contact to follow through. I gave up managing thirty-five staff, a good salary and profit share for a solitary existence with a computer screen, living off my wife’s income for three years. It’s not for everyone. Sometimes I think I’m crazy.

Has writing changed you as a person?
I’m definitely more relaxed, more self-reliant, and paradoxically a more social person. Still very driven, but I don’t have to worry about others delivering to the standard I expect. I only have to meet those standards myself. And I enjoy the social networking with other writers and readers.

What is your next challenge?
Finding the balance between promoting book one and working on book two. Credibility is built through completed works in this industry. I’m also keen to help other writers get published, so they don’t have to spend the time I did learning what to do.

I’ve sold several thousand copies of No Remorse in about six weeks, which is good for a debut novel, I’m told by other authors. And having a book in print is a great motivation to keep writing.

Ian’s debut action thriller, No Remorse, is available at

If you don't have an e-reader, you can download the free Kindle reader for PC or iPad or phone at:

Ian’s second novel, Bait, a crime thriller set in Australia, will be released in late 2012.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Digital Lack of Control

by L.J. Sellers, author or provocative mysteries & thrillers
The greatest thing about ebooks is the ease of selling and sharing them. It can also be the worst thing too, because it leaves authors with little control of their content. With print books, no one can sell your novel unless you supply them with products. With ebooks, once a distributor or retailer has your file, they can keep selling it forever—with or without your permission.

Why reputable businesses would do this makes no sense, and yet, they do. Take Sony for example. First, the retailer kept discounting my books again and again, causing Amazon to discount my books and me to lose money. My distributor would contact them, and they’d stop for while. Then out of nowhere, Sony would put my books on sale.

Then Amazon Select came along, and I decided I was done dealing with Sony permanently. So INgrooves, my distributor, had my books removed from their ebook store. A few days later, three of my Jackson titles popped up in the Sony store. They were old versions from my previous publisher, supplied by a different distributor. I contacted both my ex-publisher and the other distributor, and they quickly took care of the issue.

For a while, I had no books on Sony’s site, and everything seemed fine. Then suddenly, they were back, selling on Sony again. I know this because Amazon called to let me know I was not in compliance with my Select program agreement. They were very nice about it in person. But two days later, I started getting emails about each of the titles that was still selling elsewhere, with a 30-day notice to get in compliance or have the book removed from Amazon’s program.

Of course, I had already contacted my distributor and asked them to communicate with Sony, using a lawyer, if necessary. INgrooves sent an email to Sony and within two days, the books were down again.

But why did they start selling them again in the first place? What happened to the royalties during that time, since I no longer have an agreement with them? And will it happen again? Is Sony purposefully violating my rights to make a few extra bucks off my inexpensive e-books? Or is it an error? Does it have a computer program that keeps picking up files that should have been deleted?

Sony is not the only guilty one. I’ve heard authors complain about Kobo doing this as well. And several authors who were published with Dorchester have complained that the publisher made and sold e-books of their work—after the company gave the rights back to the author. The Amazon person who called me said many authors are experiencing similar scenarios.

This is such inexplicable behavior all around. Just because it's an electronic file doesn't mean anyone can sell it for profit. Authors are calling for a boycott of Dorchester, and it’s tempting to ask readers to boycott Sony as well. And Kobo too, if they’re guilty of this form of theft—also known as pirating.

Authors: Have you experienced this?
Readers: Have you joined any boycotts?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Do You Know How To Sell?

by C.J. West
Last week I attended a webinar on e-book marketing and was really struck by something the presenter said. “Amazon knows how to sell stuff and they don’t care if they sell your book or James Patterson’s book or a toaster.”

Amazon is a marketing machine and they flex their muscle for big guys and little guys alike.

The immediate contrast for me was Smashwords. Don’t get me wrong, I love Smashwords. They convert and distribute books amazingly well. But I’m thinking of the Smashwords storefront. It doesn’t sizzle. At all. If you buy something from Smashwords, it’s because the author sent you there on a mission. You bought the book because you really wanted it. You weren’t sold.

A few weeks back I told you about the owner of a small store who turned her back on me to sell a customer something by one of the industry heavyweights. Four different books actually. Her reputation with the customer was too important for her to take a risk on me. The only way she would sell one of my books was if I brought the customer to her store to purchase it.

This model does not work. If I have to find the customer, bring them to the store, and sell them the book, what on earth do I need the store for?

At that point in the seminar I realized two things.

First, Amazon can help me reach well beyond my established audience.

Second, I’m the Smashwords of author marketing. Bear with me and I’ll show you what I mean.

There are two groups of people who buy my books. People who have read my work and their friends. My audience has grown steadily, but it takes time to read a book. Sometimes readers have a novel on their TBR pile for a year before reading. By the time they read and recommend that one, I’ve written three more.

When I say I’m the Smashwords of author marketing, I mean that I’m selling books to people who have already been convinced to buy. I could sell them my books at Smashwords or even in that little indie bookstore because they really want a particular book and they are going out (electronically or physically) to get it.

To be successful, we need to captivate folks who are casually browsing. Most authors have turned their books face out on a store bookshelf, but what have you done to make your books stand out on the digital bookshelf?

This week I’ve made great strides and I’ll share some of the things I’ve done.

The most important real estate I own is twelve pages on Amazon that describe my books and allow readers to buy them. This week I revved up the copy on all twelve pages with quotes and improved the readability.

Next, I evaluated my keywords and categories. I discovered that some had been entered incorrectly. Some of my keywords were laughable in SEO circles. I fixed those and by doing that I hope to improve the chances of being found. Remember, when readers are searching millions of times, any minor improvement can mean a perceptible change in sales.

In the next few weeks I’ll be evaluating my covers. I’m thinking about rebranding my entire line of books, but haven’t pulled the trigger yet. We’ve all heard dozens of times how important covers are, but until this week I never realized how much my covers could be holding me back. Covers need to captivate the casual browser and mine just don’t do that.

Finally, the most important thing was to run an Amazon KDP free book promotion. Last week I gave away Addicted To Love for 5 days. It hit #2 in the Free Kindle Store. Since my last blog here at CFC, I have “sold” over 65,000 copies of that book alone.

In the coming months I hope to shed the marketing doldrums and add a whole lot more sizzle.

What have you done to make your books stand out?

CJ is giving away 12 Kindle Fire e-readers this year and will be offering several free books. If you’d like to be advised of his free book promotions sign up for his newsletter or enter the Kindle Fire contest at

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"Oh, Sweet Myster(ies) of Life, at Last We've Found You..."

By:  Kimberly Hitchens is the founder and owner of, an ebook production company that has produced books for over 500 authors and imprints. 
I don’t know about you, but I’m ecstatic about Penguin Group’s decision to relaunch Dutton Guilt-Edged mysteries as a digital imprint. Sure, in a way, they’re competition for us here at Booknook; but at the end of the day, anything that signals a Noir comeback is okay with me. Penguin eSpecials, launching this summer, will specialize in original crime shorts and novellas. For one, I’ve missed the days of Black Mask and other great platforms from which budding mystery novelists could springboard their careers—and you know what? I’m just bloody EXCITED.

Some of you may also recall those tedious blog posts and newsletters in which I’ve nagged you to put freebie teaser fiction on sites such as Scribd, Wattpad etc . Well, now (yes, I’m sure you hear that “I told you so” coming, loud and clear), Brittany Geragotelis has inked a deal with Simon & Schuster to re-launch her (serialized) Wattpad-published title, Life’s a Witch, which commanded a very respectable 18million readers (yes: Eighteen MILLION). In addition to relaunching the original book (which was also released as a Createspace title via POD), she’s agreed to publish both a sequel and a prequel to this popular YA book.

This Week's Things That Make You Go..."Hunh?"

Lastly, this week’s query, which always makes me scratch my head in ponderment: invariably, at least 1-2x per week, I get an potential authosher (it is my new work for Author-publishers—remember, you read it here first) asking me—in ever-so-polite, disingenuously couched terms, "…if I send my manuscript to you, how do I know that you won’t steal it?"  It’s always crafted a bit less bluntly than that—but that’s the gist.

Now, here’s my question: firstly, even if I wanted to respond cheerfully and robustly, (without taking offense, which frankly is a lot to ask), how the hell does one prove a negative? And secondly—and far more amusing to me than my initial question-- if someone’s a thief, why do you think that they’d be honest enough to tell you? My working hypothesis is that if someone’s a thief (ahem, rather, “copyright infringer,”) they’re probably also a liar, as a lack of morals in one aspect tends to make me presume similar deficiencies in other facets of their personality—but I could, of course, just be caving to baseless bias.  Do these folks really expect me to respond, “[w]ell, yes, of COURSE I’ll steal it, put it under my own name and put it up on pirate sites as soon as it hits my servers?” Would a real pirate say that? Can we all agree that the likelihood is slim? Then, logically—what’s the point of asking?   Of all the choices (an honest person, a dishonest person), who's going to respond that they'll steal the book? 

I understand that people get nervous about sending their “children” into the unknown of cyberspace—I do. But a large number of these questions come from the same people who’ll, without a worry in their minds, send hundreds of digital copies of their manuscript, willy-nilly, to any Tom, Dick or Harriet that hangs out a shingle on the Internet that says “Literary Agent,” with no credentialing whatsoever. If you’re sending your manuscript to anybody on Planet Earth who’ll set up a blogsite claiming to be an agent (or, for that matter, a new publisher)—for the love of heavens, folks, why would you ask the book converters for promises of security? If your book gets stolen, will you automatically think of the 100 agents you contacted, the 50 people in your online critique group—or will you instantly blame the conversion house which, of ALL the people mentioned in this paragraph, are the only ones who DON’T take the time to read it?

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve read on various writer’s groups that it’s a “deadly sin” to send a manuscript with a copyright notification on it to an Agent, because it will insult her integrity. The next time you’re tempted to ask some poor conversion house for proof that they’re not thieves—try to keep that in mind. If you've blithely sent your manuscript to 100 strangers you don’t know, simply because they claim to be agents or publishers—that “piracy” train has already left the station.
On a bright note, however, despite all the doom and gloom, statistically (as depressing as this is to many writers' egos), you are indeed more likely to be struck by lightning then to have your book pirated (unless your book is Playboy or Hustler, or Excel macros or video-game cheat tips).  So cheer up!
This week's chuckle, from Reader's Digest:  ""I just read a great book on my Kindle. It was a real button-pusher!"

Monday, February 20, 2012

Disappearing Act

Poison Flower by Thomas Perry.

A review by Marlyn Beebe.

When Jane Whitefield married Dr. Carey McKinnon, they both hoped that she could leave behind the former life where she helped people disappear. It worked, for a while. She became a model surgeon's wife: working on committees and raising money for the hospital. They thought about having a child. But eventually, someone desperately needed her help and she couldn't say "no". As Carey thinks to himself at one point during the story
"To her, saving people was just something a person did, if she happened to have the skills".
This book begins with the third "runner" Jane has helped since her marriage. James Shelby was framed for the murder of his wife. The people who set him up try to have him killed in prison, and he is taken to court to testify against his attacker.

Posing as an attorney, Jane helps him escape, then acting as a decoy,she is captured, taken to a remote warehouse and tortured. She manages not to reveal where James is, but her captors do learn who she is. When they discover that many powerful people would like to get revenge against her, they decide to auction her off to the highest bidder.

Jane Whitefield makes all of her cunning and intelligent moves seem like simple common sense. She is so attuned to the world around her: the people, the animals, trees and even physical structures, that she is able to anticipate almost exactly what will happen in any situation. Her actions are almost always calm and measured and planned. She has the enviable ability to focus on whatever task she happens to be doing, yet still remain aware of her surroundings.

Many of these traits can be ascribed to her upbringing as a Seneca, and her study of Native American history and folklore. It's only a tiny spoiler to reveal that there's a wonderful chapter in the book when Jane goes to the riverbank and gives a tribute to the Jo-Ge-Oh, the little people, as thanks for helping her to return alive.

Make sure to set aside a block of time to read this book. Once you open it, you won't want to put it down until you reach the end.

Poison Flower will be released on March 6, 2012.
*FTC Full Disclosure: Many thanks to the publisher, and to NetGalley for providing me an e-galley to review.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Quick Look Behind the Scenes

By Debbi Mack

When people think about writers, I think they tend to imagine their lives looking something like this.

But that’s not at all accurate.
That’s (ironically) a complete fiction.
Being a writer is pretty much like any other job. In order to do it, you have to set a schedule, determine what must be done, show up and do the work.
So when I think of writing, the image that comes to my mind is this one.

In my work ethic, I take a page from my personal hero, Robert Crais, who’s called himself a “blue collar writer” because he shows up every day and does his job. And this is a man who’s written a whole lot of novels and won many awards. Plus he’s a New York Times bestselling author. All of which is to say, he’s proven himself, many times over. Yet, he continues to show up for work every day and get the job done, not unlike Rosie the Riveter. Or like the true professional that he is.
This is why I take pride in calling myself a blue collar writer instead of a bestselling author, even though I qualify.
And I continue to show up for work, despite suffering the occasional bumps and bruises. J

But this all part and parcel of what it takes to be a writer. Not only creating the work, but doing what you must in order to get it published, marketed and sold, regardless of the obstacles.

A note from Peg Brantley:  I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of Debbi's newest release, RIPTIDE. With every book, she gets better, and I am officially a fan of Sam McRae. I read RIPTIDE in two days, and I'm not a fast reader. You'll be able to get your own copy of her newest release soon. It launches the week of March 12th. Be looking for it!

Debbi Mack is the author of the Sam McRae mystery series, featuring her lawyer protagonist Stephanie Ann “Sam” McRae. RIPTIDE is the third book in the series, which includes the New York Times ebook bestseller IDENTITY CRISIS and the sequel LEAST WANTED. Both books have been Kindle Top 100 bestsellers on and Amazon UK. She’s also published FIVE UNEASY PIECES, a short story collection that includes her Derringer Award–nominated story “The Right to Remain Silent.” Her short stories have appeared in various anthologies and publications, including SHAKEN: STORIES FOR JAPAN, an anthology created to benefit Japanese tsunami relief efforts.

A former attorney, Debbi has also worked as a journalist, reference librarian, and freelance writer/researcher. She’s currently working on a young adult novel, planning Sam’s next adventure, and generally mulling over other projects. You can find her online at her website and on her various blogs, including My Life on the Mid-List, The Book Grrl and Random and Sundry Things.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The conference is calling me

By Gayle Carline

I'm off to the Southern California Writer's Conference this weekend in San Diego. It's only a couple of hours from my house (but no, I won't be commuting). From Friday through Sunday night, I plan go to every workshop I can stuff into my schedule during the day, and join my many friends at the sushi bar each evening, until they kick us out.

If I'm lucky, I will come home exhausted, wired, inspired, and possibly with a cold.

Okay, I could do without the cold.

I don't know where the publishing industry is headed. Right now, mainstream publishers seem to be floundering about, and self-publishing is a free-for-all, but that could all change. The only thing I still believe in is writer's conferences. Here's a clip of Wes Albers, co-director of the SCWC, explaining why:

I completely agree. We need to get out of our own heads.

My first conference was in 2006, in Palm Springs. At the time, I was a newspaper columnist. I wanted to write a book, but didn't know what kind. At the end of that conference, I knew two things:

1. I didn't know nearly as much as I thought I did.

2. I won the Topic Award contest, so even if I didn't know much, I didn't suck as much as I thought I did, either.

The funny thing about winning that contest is, those 250 words gave me the idea I could write 70,000 more and make a book. Or maybe it was the way the conference directors kept telling us that we didn't suck. (They're an irreverent crew, which endears them to me all the more.)

The SCWC has a couple of conferences each year, and each year I attend both. They validate my writing and smack me upside the head when I start feeling too smug. I've met some wonderful people who have become friends. I advise all writers, especially those without a steady critique group, to seek out a good, working writer's conference in their area.

Trust me. You need to get out of your own head!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How I Became a Brand

By Andrew E. Kaufman

For a long time, I had difficulty getting my mind around the concept of author branding. I’d heard the term being bandied about a lot—probably for as long as I’d been writing novels—but for me, it seemed like some nebulous intangible. Crunch and Munch is a brand. Lays Potato Chips are a brand. Saltine Crackers too. But me? As a brand? I didn’t get it.

When I finally figured it out, I discovered that, in essence, the concept is pretty simple. Branding yourself is much the same as branding a product. It involves finding one unifying theme with which consumers—or in this case, readers—can identify you. Perhaps Theresa Meyers of Blue Moon Communications says it best:

Today when we talk about an author brand we are talking about building an image, perception or identity that is used to create "emotional Velcro."

Here are prime examples: Doritos, Pepsi, and Home Depot. As I mention those names, I’m willing to bet you're able to picture their logos in your mind and probably a few other commonly associated images.That’s what successful product branding does, but as authors, we can do much the same.

So once finally I got it, I began wondering whether branding myself as an author would actually benefit me. It turned out the answer was yes.

But not for the usual reasons.

I’d recently hopped genres, going from horror to psychological thrillers. It was a risky move. I’d built my audience from the former and was concerned they might not follow me to my new place on the cyber bookshelf. After giving it a good deal of thought, however, and weighing the risks, I decided I had to go with my heart and write what inspires me. So the next step, I figured, was to establish myself in that genre, to grow roots there. Branding myself as such seemed to be a logical move in accomplishing that.

Here's what I discovered in my quest to become a brand:

I found that branding really isn’t that complicated. In essence, it’s simply a way to make you and your books recognizable as one and the same. How do you do that? Visuals help a lot. Consistency does too. For example, if your website, your books, and your business cards all look like they were designed for different authors and from different artists—not so good. So the first thing I did was create a unifying theme or logo. In the interest of being consistent, it's a variation of my latest novel's book cover.

You'll find it on my website, my blog, my business cards, my email signatures, and just about anywhere else I can stick it. Why? Because it makes a statement, defines who I am, and tells people: “This is what I write.” I want readers to think of me when they see it, and I want them to see it a lot, hoping that eventually, it will become synonymous with me. The more they see it, I figure, the more familiar they will become with me and my work.

I also revamped my website to fit with the new theme. I tailored the overall mood and color scheme to match my logo as well as my book. In other words, everything is connected.

Some authors who write series use covers that follow a particular theme. Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum is great example of this. You could remove her name and readers would still be able to identify them, not just because of the titles, but because of the overall theme. They're eye-catching, and they're unmistakingly "her".

Does branding help sell books? There’s really no way of knowing. One slice does not a pie make, and if I’ve learned anything in this business, it’s that the whole is equal to the sum of its parts. On its own, probably not, but it does add to the overall picture and help readers to define who you are.

How about you? Authors, what have you done to set yourself apart from the pack and become a brand? Readers, does author branding make any difference to you?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Do Detectives Really Taste-test Drugs?

We’re all familiar with the scene right? The detectives bust through a door on a search warrant or chase a guy down in an alley and after capturing the suspect they find a bag of "suspicious white powder". Without hesitation (or gloves) the detective manhandles the bag open and plunges a pinky finger (why is it always the pinky finger?) into the substance. Then, like a ghetto sommelier they dab the powder to their tongue and identify the substance quicker than a $120,000.00 gas chromatograph mass spectrometer!

While it makes for "good television" the scenario is completely false. I’ve often wondered how that scene was ever developed in the first place. A real cop would never have suggested it to a writer or director. Maybe some addict actor simply did what came naturally when confronted with a big bag of white powder and the director loved it! Who knows? But the prevalence of these types of scenes might convince some authors that this is common and proper procedure.

In reality, detectives don’t taste suspicious powders for all the obvious reasons. First, it could be poison. I searched desperately for a YouTube scene from the movie Showtime with Eddie Murphy and Robert De Niro. If you haven’t seen it you should do so without haste. There is a scene about this topic that is simply hilarious. People, in general, don’t stick foreign substances in their mouth. You wouldn’t take a drink from some bottle left lying around a party even if you knew it was beer would you? It’s just gross. More importantly though, even if the white powder is cocaine…it’s cocaine! It’s illegal. Some drugs can affect your system for years to come (flashbacks) and even if the effects are short-term you’ve just committed a felony and your career would be over as a cop.

Real detectives use small color field tests. NIK is the most common manufacturer of these field tests. There is a different test for each different drug you might encounter. Basically, each test kit consists of a small 2" x 3" thick plastic "pouch" containing two to three glass ampules of various chemical reagents. Detectives simply place a small amount of the suspected drugs into the pouch and seal it. Then they break the glass ampules (left to right) by squeezing them with their fingers. As each ampule breaks the fluid mixes with the drug and the detective shakes the pouch for a pre-measured period of time and then breaks the second, and so on. In the end, the test is presumptively positive if certain color changes occur. For example, if it turns blue the substance is presumptive positive for cocaine. Easy-peasy. Once completed the sealed test is simply thrown away.

So when you’re writing about detectives or CSIs encountering drugs avoid making that rookie mistake of having them taste-test the substance. It makes your writing look silly and could easily get your character fired…or worse!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Some Dialogue Don’ts

by Jodie Renner, editor & author, @JodieRennerEd 

Real-life conversation is no excuse for confusing, irritating, distracting, or boring dialogue coming out of your fiction characters’ mouths. First off, these days you don’t want to frustrate or annoy your readers by trying to reproduce regional dialects exactly as they sound. Also, I’d be cautious about using the very latest slang expressions, which could backfire on you and end up dating your story within a year or two. That would not be cool! (Pun intended.) And overloading dialogue with in-your-face profanities can lose you readers. And finally, please, please, for all of us, leave out all the boring yadda-yadda blah-blah filler stuff!

Don’t mangle characters’ speech

Don’t make the mistake of trying to reproduce regional speech patterns phonetically. As Jack Bickham says, “There was a time, not so long ago, when fiction writers strove for authenticity in some of their stories by attempting to imitate regional and ethnic dialects and pronunciations by purposely misspelling words in their dialogue. Today such practices have fallen into disfavor.”

Why? Because it’s distracting and irritating. Not only that, it runs the risk of obscuring your intended meaning. All of which will result in taking your reader out of your story – the exact opposite effect you’re going for. Also, you could easily end up offending people from that region if you depict their everyday casual language as a kind of inferior, laughable sublanguage.

Here’s an example of what I mean, from an older story about slaves and the Civil War. The passage was narrated by a slave:

  “So dey jump on dey horses and gallop ‘way. An’ we ain’t see’d dem since. Dey friends say dey be kilt in one o’ de firs’ battles o’ de war. Dat be good lesson fo’ we, shure ‘nuf! Black folk ain’t gonna go off ta fight in a war. Life be tuff enuf here wid’ Massa an’ his whip, widout uder buckra be shootin’ at de menfolk an’ killin’ ‘em dead.”

And it went on like that for pages! Ouch!

So these days, phonetic spelling, misspelling words to show different pronunciations, the overuse of apostrophes to indicate missing letters (unpronounced sounds), and other deviations from standard North American speech are frowned upon by most editors, agents, and discerning readers, and may earn a rejection for your otherwise compelling story.

An occasional elision (dropped sound, indicated by an apostrophe) and plenty of regular contractions, with the odd regional word or expression thrown in, is usually enough to get your regional flavor across to your readers.

Don’t try to keep up with the very latest slang expressions
Many new authors try to appeal to their audience by using the latest slang expressions, especially in YA fiction. This is usually a mistake. The language is changing so fast, especially fad expressions, that what’s trendy or “in” today may be already dated by the time your short story or novel sees the light of day. The moral? Be careful with using cutting-edge street talk or just-coined slang expressions. It’s usually best to stick to slang expressions that have been around for at least a few years.

Don’t overdo the profanities
Another area where beginning writers mess up is in replicating every F-word in real life on their page, leaving many readers wincing. Profanities and obscenities can often slide by in real life, depending on the situation, but they usually jump out at us on the printed page, so use them judiciously, to get the general flavor, rather than on every line.

As Jack Bickham says, “Dirty talk often looks dirtier on the page than it actually is.” So save the worst of your swear words for those story situations where a strong curse word is really needed to convey the emotion.
Also, consider your genre. Readers of cozy mysteries, for example, are mostly women aged 60 and up, so best to use less graphic language in those stories. The odd “Damn!” or “Crap!” or "friggin/frickin'" will usually suffice.

Don’t reproduce actual conversations verbatim
By this I mean all the uhs and ums and ers and you knows and How are you? I’m fine, and you? Not to mention introducing people, chitchat about the weather, and other empty social niceties that lead up to (or follow) the real meat of the conversation. That’s a sure-fire recipe for putting your readers to sleep! And they won’t be eager to pick up your book again when they wake up. As Ingermanson and Economy say, “Dialogue is war!” You need tension on every page, including in your dialogue. So if it doesn’t drive the story forward, add conflict or tension, or contribute to character development, take it out.

So, oddball spelling, attempts at reproducing regional dialects phonetically, and heavy use of profanities all risk offending someone, whether it’s a member of a minority or someone who doesn’t like swearing. And the latest slang expressions may soon appear outdated and ridiculous. And really, empty blah blah is boring, isn’t it? So be wary of reproducing characters’ dialogue exactly as it sounds in real life—it could backfire on you.

What do you think? As a reader, how do you feel about the attempted reproduction of regional dialects in fiction? As a writer, how do you show the accent and expressions of a specific region? And how do you research expressions for a region you’ve never lived in or visited? Also how do you feel about stories peppered with obscenities? Are you okay with it, or do you find yourself wincing inwardly?

Jack M. Bickham, The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes      
Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy, Writing Fiction for Dummies
and Jodie’s editing experience

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. She has also organized two anthologies for charity, incl. Childhood Regained – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers. You can find Jodie at,, her blog,, and on Facebook and Twitter

Friday, February 10, 2012

Invest in Your Own E-Book

by L.J. Sellers

After self-publishing ten books, I've come to two conclusions:

1) Digital self-publishing is a straightforward process that isn’t particularly difficult or expensive.

2) There is nothing a small publisher can or will do for writers that they can’t do better for themselves. I don’t mean literally do everything yourself, but a writer can contract for production services as well as a publisher can.

Why? Small presses are often run by a few dedicated, but overworked individuals. They typically contract out most services, and they often pay bottom dollar. I know this because I’ve worked as freelance editor and turned down all of the work offered by small presses because they simply don’t pay enough. Small presses are trying to profit and survive like everyone else and they cut costs where they can.

A large publisher can offer distribution and promotional backing, but most small publishers don’t offer either, so what’s left for the author is the label of being traditionally published and the convenience of having someone else contract the production work. Giving up most of the profit for these small advantages is a hard bargain that I don’t recommend. As the author, you have to sell the book no matter who publishes it, so you might as well make the investment, publish it yourself, and reap the rewards. I know a lot of authors who remain loyal to their small publishers. I understand the sentiment. But those authors are hurting themselves and possibly their sales (if they have no say about price).

The three main elements to producing a quality e-book are editing, cover design, and formatting. Many authors are tempted to do all three themselves to save money. But unless you’re incredibility talented and have all the time in the world, it’s probably not a cost-effective decision.

Editing can be expensive, especially if you contract for content evaluation, but you can keep the cost down by sending your manuscript to beta readers or working with a critique group to fine tune the plot and structure. You should, of course, print and read the manuscript out loud before paying anyone else to proof it. After carefully reading it yourself, send it to a professional editor for line editing and proofreading. Many editors charge $1500 and up, but you don’t have to pay that much. You can find someone to proofread or edit your manuscript for $300–$800. depending on the length of the novel. If you pay less, your editor will be in a rush and probably won’t do a good job. If you pay more, it may take a long time to earn back your investment.

A good cover is also essential. Most cover artists charge a flat fee, and you can expect to pay between $150 and $500. Some charge a lot more than that, but why spend that much if you don’t have to? One way to save money is to find the right image yourself, so you’re not paying the artist for that time. One of the great things about self-publishing an e-book is that you can revise it as often as you want, including creating a new cover down the road or changing the title if it's not working. The best way to find a cover designer is to network with other writers, including joining listservs that focusing on marketing.

Formatting: I originally thought I would learn to format my own e-books to save money. Other authors make it sound easy. But I quickly decided that the time and frustration spent on the learning curve was not cost-effective. Time is money. For me, it made more sense to send my Word files and cover jpgs to a professional for formatting. The e-book I got back was gorgeous. In fact, I received two files: a mobi file to upload to Amazon and an epub to upload everywhere else. I recommend working with a formatter who produces these two types of files.

Readers’ biggest complaint about e-books is the formatting. Getting it right is essential. Rates may vary, but if you’re starting with a Word document, it shouldn’t cost more than around $150, depending on how clean your file is. For authors who have a backlist and novels that are in book form instead of Word documents, those books will need to be scanned, and the cost of e-book production will be more expensive. The number of errors from the optical character recognition is also much higher.

Taking the lowest rates I’ve mentioned ($300, $150, and $150), you can conclude that it will cost at least $600 to produce a quality e-book. I raided my very small retirement account to publish my first six books, and I considered it a small business loan to myself. I now treat my novel-writing career as a business instead of a hobby and it has paid off for me.

How long does it take to earn back a $600–$1000 investment? That depends on many things, including how many novels you have on the market. The more books you have, the more credibility you have, which is why I decided to do mine back to back in 2009. Assuming you’ve written a terrific story and produced a quality product, the biggest factor is how much time you’re willing to spend promoting. I spent at least two hours a day for six months, plus one exclusive two-week period during which I promoted eight hours a day (blogs, press releases, reader forums, etc.). I continue to spend at least an hour every day on promotional activities. For the record, I made my money back by the end of that year....if you don't count all the years I spent writing. :)

It’s your book and you’ve invested your time writing it, you might as well invest your money too and make it pay off.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Is It Time To Abandon Print?

by C.J. West
Last week I finally made the move and enrolled three of my books in KDP Select. This weekend my new book, Addicted To Love, will be free in the Kindle Store until Valentine’s Day.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with KDP Select, it’s an Amazon program that allows authors to make their e-books free on the Amazon website. Enrolled e-books are available for Prime members to borrow free. The authors receive a fee per borrow that’s determined at the end of the month based on how many books are borrowed. The catch for authors is that the e-book must be exclusive to Amazon for 90 days.

I’ve had excellent response to free books in the past and I hope this one will be bigger than anything I’ve done on my own. The reasons that a free book on Amazon reaches so many people go well beyond the fact that Amazon is the biggest book retailer in the world. Sites like EreaderIQ, Pixel of Ink, Ereader News Today, Kindle Nation Daily and others redisplay data from Amazon’s catalog. They reach out to a wide readership and let them know about free and bargain books that look interesting and Amazon provides the platform to deliver all those free books.

These sites above have all helped me by promoting my work.
How does this compare to my bookstore experience?
On my walk today I remembered a time when I was signing in an independent bookstore and a customer came up to the owner and asked what she could recommend in suspense. I was standing about 10 feet away with 5 titles spread out in front of me. One of my books had recently been optioned into development as a feature film. I’d known the owner of the store for a few years, coming back to sign a the store with each new release.

I was stunned when she walked past me and showed the woman books by brand name, bestselling authors on the shelf off to my left. The woman walked out with four books without ever speaking with me.

It’s hard to blame the store owner  for not recommending me. She hadn’t read my work even though I’d given her a copy personally. The scenario illustrates the difference between print and electronic books. In print, the bestselling authors are not only well known, but they also have a price advantage because they print and ship so many books.

On the digital shelf I can offer readers a book that is 50% less, sometimes 90% less than offerings by more recognizable names. That’s why I sell 100 e-books for every print copy I sell.

I asked myself today if I should give up on print completely.  That would remove one more headache from my plate and wouldn’t affect my sales in any appreciable way.

I came up with two reasons to keep printing books on paper. The first is mom. She loves talking about me and my books. She carries them around in her trunk and sells them to anyone who reads. She’s almost 70 and she’s not going to open a website and start linking to Amazon. Could I take that away from mom? I think not.

The second reason to stick with print is who is buying them. I sell signed trade paperbacks from my website and ship them all over. When the orders come in I recognize most the names. These are people that I’ve never met in person for the most part, but they have been supporting me online for years. I can’t write a book and not make it available to my most loyal supporters.

From a purely business perspective, cutting print would mean one less cover to produce. A whole lot less accounting at the end of the year and no orders to place or books to ship. I could spend a bit more time writing or marketing e-books.

But this is one decision I’m not ready to make.

Are you still attached to dead tree books?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

J Carson Black: A Kindle Sensation

Posted by L.J. Sellers
Thriller writer J. Carson Black has sold more than 100,000 ebooks and recently had another 80,000 downloaded through Amazon's Select promotions. She's been traditionally published as well as self-published and likes the indie route better. Best known for her Laura Cardinal series, Black also signed with Amazon's Thomas & Mercer to re-release a thriller called The Shop, which published yesterday. Here's more in Black's own words, including her experience publishing with Amazon.

LJS: You started out writing horror, then switched to thrillers and police procedurals. How do you characterize your author brand and what are you writing now?
JCB: I am a reader as well as a writer, and the more I read, the more my tastes have changed. Starting with Sue Grafton, I began to gravitate toward crime fiction and crime fiction thrillers, and my writing followed. I find crime fiction and thrillers a challenge to write—which adds spice to my life. Reading crime fiction thrillers is my passion, and writing them is my other passion.
LJS:Tell me about your series protagonist Laura Cardinal. Who did you model her after and what makes her distinct as a crime fiction protagonist?
JCB: Laura Cardinal is not one of those tough female cops with a chip on her shoulder. She’s a thinking cop, although she’s been trained to act fast if she has to—she relies on her training. Good cops know how to deescalate situations, to calm people down. As a detective she’s scrupulous and innovative. She lives on a guest ranch in the desert. Sometimes she talks to her dead partner, Frank Entwistle.
LJS: What do like best about writing a police procedural series and what do you like least?
JCB: I love the challenge of crime fiction, and I love the thriller aspect as well. All my Laura Cardinal books are thrillers.  It’s a challenge to approximate a detective’s day, to find that sweet spot between fiction and reality. It’s easy to get into the weeds and slow the story down, when you’re talking police procedure, so I mention some aspects of police work without going into detail. For instance, I will say, “After measuring the scene, Laura drove to the family’s house.”
LJS: Your standalone thriller, The Shop, has been a breakout bestseller on Amazon and was picked up by Thomas & Mercer. What do you think draws people to the story?
JCB: To be honest, I don’t know. I felt that I wrote a faster-paced story. I wanted The Shop to be sophisticated enough to please hardcore thriller readers. I wrote it in line with the books of writers I enjoy, but I had no real internal compass to follow, except for the fact that I loved writing it! I wanted the book to be interesting, to pull people along. A writer friend I really admire said to me after I’d just finished writing The Shop, “This book will change your life.” And it has.
LJS: How is your experience working with Amazon as your publisher?
JCB: I love them. They are responsive to my needs but more than that, they include me in every single decision.  They put me together with a crack editor.  I’d never been worked so hard.  She pushed me through a barbed wire fence and pulled me out backwards and pushed me through again. She made The Shop a much better book than it was. Thomas & Mercer consulted with me on marketing, the cover, the copy edits and the copy proofs, they asked my opinion and worked with me on the cover copy and product description.  They asked me who my target audience was—and listened to what I had to say! They even wanted to know my writing style so the copy editor would not alter my way of writing. 

LJS: You’ve been published by several of the Big 6, and now you’re mostly self-published. What has the transition been like for you and has indie publishing been as rewarding?
JCB: Here’s my experience with traditional publishers:
1) Agent makes the deal.  Editor calls to say, “We love you!”
2) Two months go by.  Editor asks for a handful of revisions and decides to change the title of your book.
3) Eight months go by.  Editor sends photo of the cover.  “Here it is!” 
4) Publisher sends copy edits. (Or, in Kensington’s and Dorchester’s case, just the galley proofs, and if you change more that 15% you pay for the changes.)
5) At New American Library, they gave me a publicist. The publicist writes a few lines down on one sheet of paper, describing you and your book.  She gets it wrong, so you ask her to change it, and you never hear from her again.
6) Book comes out.
7) Two to four weeks later, the book vanishes from view.
What’s not to love?
Indie publishing: My husband and I put up our books and, yes, it took a while to get traction. But we designed our own covers and positioned the books the way we wanted. It’s fun to be creative, it’s fun to go through tons of photos at Istockphoto or Dreamstime and come up with something that uniquely fits your book.
The toughest part for us is the editing.  It’s easy for mistakes to slip through.  We have a copy editor and still things slip through!  But it’s fun to position the books in the market, it’s fun to present them to the world through social media and by working with other authors, it’s great to make choices regarding price and promotions etc.  And those books will always be there, pulling in some money, big or small.  I’ve met some wonderful people in this game, and seen some astonishing results for myself and others.

LJS: What are your predictions for the next big changes in publishing?
JCB: I think ebooks are here to stay. I think the Big Six will go more and more in that direction. The horse is out of the barn, so to speak. I have a wise friend, Scott Nicholson, who sees Amazon’s dominance should last at least another five years. He’s a deeper thinker than I am, so I’ll go with that prediction.  Amazon is way ahead of everyone else, and is consolidating its power. 
The problem for book publishers, as I see it, is the fact that their one big selling point—distribution—has been taken away from them. They had special deals with the chain bookstores and no real competition from small publishers or the guy selling books out of the trunk of his car.  But distribution has changed with the wireless age, and Amazon has quietly and systematically taken over.  So the publishers woke up one day and realized, “We’ve been occupied!”  I would never underestimate Amazon. They are in it for the long haul, and they know how to plan strategically. Right now they’re out there destroying the competition. One thing I do see coming: the opening up of foreign markets. That’s where the real boom will be.

LJS: Which authors inspired your writing originally and who are your favorites now?
JCB: There are four writers who have taught me to become a better writer, although they don’t know it. I call them “my boys.” They fit with my comfort zone. I will get their latest hardcover books and mark them up (even though my mother told me never to mark up books) and study what they do—how their stories flow, how they write effective scenes, etc.  My Boys are: Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Jonathan Kellerman, and T. Jefferson Parker.  But I purely adore Sue Grafton, J. A. Jance, John Lescroart, Lee Child, James W. Hall, C.J. Box, Harlan Coben, Lori G. Armstrong, Randy Wayne White, James Lee Burke, David Baldacci, Joe Finder, Stephen King, Carl Hiaasen—the list goes on and on and on. There are some wonderful indie authors on that list as well.  You, Michael Wallace, Scott Nicholson, M.H. Sargent, Carol Davis Luce, Michael Prescott—I know I’m missing a ton.
If you have questions or comments, please leave them.