Friday, September 28, 2012

Should Charity Be Profitable?

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

A news story this week asked “Is ABC Going too Far in Covering Robin Roberts Illness?” The journalist was speculating about whether the network’s “concern” had crossed the line to exploitation in an attempt to boost ratings.

It’s a very fine line and a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot lately because it applies to authors, charity, and book sales. Many authors have donated the profit, or part of the profit, of a new book to charity, typically a charity or medical cause that corresponds with a theme in the story. And in doing so, they boost their sales and visibility.

On the surface, this seems noble, and we did it here on this blog when the tornado tore apart Joplin Missouri. Those of us with published books donated all our profits during a certain time period—and others made cash donations—to a Joplin family, who was very grateful for the help. I even think it was my idea.

But the more I ponder this trend, the more I believe that for myself, charity needs to be separate from commerce. Any donation I make should be done out of compassion and goodwill alone—without profiting from it directly through increased sales.

But why not accomplish both things at once, when it seems so expedient? I’m not sure I can articulate why I’ve come to feel this way. Except that rooting for your book to sell is a completely different emotion and experience than sending money to help others in need—perhaps even a contradictory one.

I understand why authors do this. Their hearts are in the right place. And the readers who buy those books are even more commendable. They’re figure they’re going to spend money on books anyway, so why not make a donation to charity at the same time?

Many businesses also run these campaigns. A pizza parlor down the street often donates part of its one-day profits to a charity, school, or foundation. Everybody wins.

And I understand what ABC is trying to accomplish: educate viewers, raise money for medical research, and boost its ratings. But has it gone too far? Probably. Charities are by definition nonprofit, and raising money for, or donating to, a cause without directly profiting from the effort seems more noble. Yet goodwill results naturally from generosity, so indirect benefits are inevitable.

I’m not saying it’s wrong for authors to connect their books to a charity. It’s just not something I’m comfortable doing myself. But I'm probably in the minority here. What do you think?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ms. Fix-It

By Gayle Carline

I'm on travel the day this is supposed to post, having rushed through a whirlwind of events this week, beginning with the Southern California Writers Conference, which I'll probably be blathering about in my next post. This means I am writing this a week in advance and my head is trying to stay in the moment.

It was, of course, a great time for my printer to break. While I was trying to fix it (I am a DIY gal), I was reminded of a blog post I wrote in 2009. It was one of my more popular entries. My son was still in high school, I only had one dog, and my first mystery, FREEZER BURN, was about to be published. And yet, now that I have two dogs, two mysteries, and a son in college, it still tells a viable tale.

Let's step into the Way-Back Machine, shall we?

(From April 17, 2009)

I've started cleaning the house in preparation for my book launch party for Freezer Burn.

"But Gayle," I hear you say, "Your book launch isn't until July 19th. It's only April. And the party is at the Backs Community Building."

All true, friends. But after the book launch, I'd like to have my friends and family back at the house for food, drinks, and fun. And my house is in no shape to entertain. Trust me, I need a running start.

Oh, I can get the communal areas clean. We have a nice-sized living room-kitchen-family room arrangement that I can whip into shape within a day, when pressed. It's hard to keep it spic-and-span all the time because I live with a cat and dog who run through the house picking their fur out and tossing it on the carpet, and a son and husband who run through the house taking their shoes and clothes off and tossing them... well, you get the picture.

I either clean all day, every day, or I write. What would you want me to do?

But there are a couple of rooms I haven't tackled in awhile. They are spare bedrooms, one for guests, and one that pretends to be an office, with a desk and a daybed. They are also the reason behind how I clean the other rooms - all the extra "stuff" goes into those two rooms. And then I shut the doors.

I could just do that again for July, but I'm tired of boarding up rooms. I feel like Mrs. Danvers. ("NOT IN THERE! THAT'S REBECCA'S ROOM!")

On Tuesday, I opened the door to the office and forced myself to look around. After the dizziness passed, I took all of the boxes and bags of papers out of the room and sat in front of the TV, sorting. Sooner or later, I had a tall kitchen can bag full of trash, one stack of significant documents, and an Old Navy bag of items to be shredded. I dragged the shredder out of the office, plugged it in and stuck in a receipt.

Nothing. No shredding, no noise, nada. It was a dead shredder.

I tried to fix it. I stuck a knife into the slot (yes, I unplugged it, Mom) and tried to loosen the wads of chewed up paper clogging the machine, but I couldn't. I suppose if I had the right screwdriver and could unscrew the top of the motor, I could expose the blades and clean them off.

Screw that. I went out and bought a new one. It's black and silver and shiny and I love it so. It has a special light to tell you when the bin is full, and another one to tell you when you've worked it too hard and it has to cool off. It also has a little row of pictures to warn me of things I'm not supposed to do. These I understand:

Don't feed paperclips or your fingers to the shredder. That's an easy request.

Then it gets a little more difficult.

I can understand not sticking your tie into the shredder, unless it's your boss' tie and he's wearing it (I'm sorry, did I say that out loud?) but what's with the aerosol can? Surely, no one would try to shred a spray can. Are they saying not to try to oil the shredder? Or perhaps they're warning us about the effects of aerosols on the environment?

This one is marginally tougher:

It's either don't put your head in here (no matter how drunk you are), don't shred your hair, or don't feed your scrunchy to the shredder. All of which are good rules.

This one, however, has me stumped:

Pardon my French, but Holy Merde. Don't shred your baby? Don't allow your child to sit on the shredder, don't shred diapers, not to be used as a car seat, I don't know. Whatever it means, I'm just glad my only child is 16 and I don't have to try to figure out what this is warning me about. Maybe it's just a general warning: Don't have kids. (Just joking - our son's such a good kid, we're going to renew his contract next year.)

Here's the thing: if I point these pictures out to hubby Dale and ask, what do you think it means, he won't laugh. He'll just say, "I'm sure somebody tried to stuff an aerosol spray can down a shredder so they're required by law to tell everyone not to do it."

You see, I know my husband. I was once reading the instructions to my curling iron. In very bold letters, it read, "WARNING: Do Not Use While Sleeping." I'm sorry - how do you use a curling iron while sleeping? The whole process is: wind a slice of hair, wait 30 seconds, unwind. Repeat with another slice. Can you really sleep through that?

I read that to my husband, who replied, very matter-of-factly, "You know someone has tried it."

What bizarro instructions have you encountered on your appliances, small or large? I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I've started so I'll finish...or maybe not

By Jenny Hilborne, author of mysteries and thrillers

Confession: I watch reality TV.

Some of the shows are fun to watch, although I find it often takes time to get acquainted with the cast and build any sort of connection to the players. If the first episode is weak or uninteresting, my attention drifts elsewhere and I'll switch channels. I'm fickle, and I'm busy. I'm also not likely to come back. When a great group is thrust together, the connection starts right away and I’m immediately hooked.  

It’s the same way with books. I want instant action, strong characters, drama, and a great plot. I want to be drawn in from the first page, held to the story, and care about the cast. I'm at my most critical right after I finish a great book and start a new one. At the end of a great book, I'm vested in all the characters and don't want it to end. This makes it tough for the next author. Like a new job, I have to get to know all the new people and find out if I like it in this world. Unlike a new job, I don't have to stay long in the fictional world if it sucks.

Some readers persevere with a "bad" book and read it to the end. I've done that once; a) because the book was short, and b) because I couldn't believe how truly bad it was. The book was penned by a well-known author and I convinced myself it had to get better. After I finished, I was annoyed with myself for wasting the time, and struck said author off my to-be-read list for good. According to the reviews, so did lots of other readers. With so many great books, who has the time? 

So, what draws me in? What keeps a reader reading?

A Big Brother series just ended in the UK. Normally, I don't like Big Brother, but the cast in this series had all the right qualities and reinforced what I want to find in the books I read (what I expect most readers hope to find): drama, shock, great character interaction and strong personalities. Likable members of the cast brought out the better side of the uglier personalities, added humility, redeemed them for the audience, and brought a wonderful balance to the house.The mix created a good level of intrigue and excitement. It played out like a great story that held my interest. I had to know what would happen next. But most of all, what really kept me - I cared.

Instant intrigue draws me in to a book, but I'm a wriggly fish and the hook alone is not enough. What keeps my interest is the growing suspense and the character dynamics. I want to see the flaws exposed in the heroines and heroes; the virtues of the villain. I want conflict, both external and internal, humor and humility, a little chaos. I can't identify with perfect people, not even in the fictional world. Unbelievable characters are one of the fastest turn-offs for me in books. I don't care about them. 

Here are five reasons I continue reading a book:

1) Hook - it's got to be there or it's all over from the start.
2) Immediate intrigue and growing suspense. I want to have questions as I read.
3) Character dynamics - I must care about the characters, even the villains.  
4) Volatility. I love the unexpected, especially when I'm not prepared.
5) Good dialogue. Make it believable.

 and 5 reasons I stop (and I haven't even mentioned typos):

1) Weak plot - nothing more boring.
2) Poor motive or no motive. If the book fizzles, I'll never read another by the author.
3) Unnecessary filler and long clumsy sentences. Okay, that's two. Both drag me out of the story.
4) Unanswered questions. You can string me along for a while, but give me my answers.
5) I can't identify with either the characters or the story. Most fiction is grounded in some kind of truth. I want to relate to what's happening. 

I'm not as patient as I once was. If I'm not at least partially vested within the first two or three chapters, I'm done with the book, and probably the author. What makes you continue reading? And what makes you stop?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

How to Write a "Bad" Expert Witness

by Tom Adair author of The Scent of Fear (2012)

One of the most interesting observations I have made in the courtroom is what passes for an "expert witness". In the United States, judges act as "gate keepers" for the admissibility of scientific evidence and expert testimony. The legalese can get pretty convoluted but in the end the judge can pretty much rule any way they want and let the jury decide how much "weight" they prescribe to the evidence or testimony. Also, in the US the burden of proof is on the prosecution and some judges give a bit more latitude to the defense in terms of whom they offer to testify for their client. I know of one case where an "expert" in entomology was allowed to provide expert testimony in a murder case. Their qualifications? They worked at the local zoo and raised insects to feed to the reptiles.

At times throughout my law enforcement career I have worked as an independent expert for both the prosecution and defense. Defense experts sometimes get a bad rap in my opinion just because they work for the accused. In truth, there are some really good experts out there whose only allegiance is to their analysis. However...there are some "experts" who may not follow a strict ethical code. When you come up against one of these folks it can get really frustrating. They may seem very credible to a lay jury, judge, and even the attorney unless someone is there to point out the inconsistencies. As a writer, understanding how these experts behave can add some real texture to your dialog and storyline.

One of the biggest tells is their tendency to set standards for others that they themselves do not meet. They love to make grandiose statements about how investigations or analyses should be conducted.  In one case an opposing expert said that a "good investigator" reviewed every single photo and every single piece of evidence in a homicide. He sat up on the witness stand with a semi-large photo book so I had the prosecutor ask him if those were the photos (provided by defense) that he had examined and then had him count them. Long story short he had reviewed only 10% of the photos taken at the crime scene. I then had him review the evidence log showing which items of evidence he had checked out for his examination. This time it was less than 5%. So in a few questions he confirmed though his own definition that he was a "bad" investigator and his testimony was largely ignored by the jury.

Sometimes it is not the expert but the attorney that lays the groundwork. They may attack the opposing expert for not having enough training, experience, or certifications. They basically set the bar very high for the opposing expert. However, they don't consider (or maybe they hope no one else will) whether their own expert meets those same standards. So you could have an attorney challenge an expert on the basis that they lack a board certification in a particular forensic science field. Of course, when their expert takes the stand and lacks the same qualifications the jury is left wondering just how seriously the attorney believed what they said.

In another case which happened about a decade ago an expert claimed that a new DNA process (and machine used to do the testing) were unreliable and shouldn't be considered by the court. The opposing attorney called the manufacturer to provide a rebuttal and imagine their surprise when they discovered that the expert in question had bought one of the units for their practice at the cost of over $80,000.00! They had even used it for examinations in other cases and never once mentioned their hesitation to use the technology when testifying in those cases. So the opposing attorney simply asked something like "why would you spend so much money on a technology that you claim is unreliable and then use it in other cases?"

It has been said that a courtroom is two thousand square feet surrounded by reality. In truth, each side is allowed to advocate their own position and interpretation of the evidence within certain rules and guidelines. This reality leave a lot of wiggle room though. A good attorney can convince a jury of the absolute truth of their claim. That is, until the opposing attorney takes the stage. Trials can seem like a roller coaster ride going up and down and upside down. Your experiences range from nausea to unmitigated joy. I thing that is the essence of good writing too. So if you are writing a courtroom scene don't just settle for a he said, she said type of exchange. Give your characters some secrets or positions they can't possibly maintain. After all, that's what the "experts" do.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Some Great Resources for Kindle Authors & Readers

by Jodie Renner, editor, author, speaker
As an editor and a new Kindle author, I'm always on the lookout for resources for me and my clients. I just discovered a great new website for e-book authors and readers. This site looks like a gold mine for both Kindle readers and writers who publish on Kindle.

Scroll down for links to other great sites for Kindle authors.

The Kindle Book Review reviews and features e-books. They also have a “Freebies” page, with daily alerts, and they feature Kindle books by talented authors who have at least 10 reviews with a 4.0-star rating or better. According to their home page, they strive to be a filter for readers, weeding out Kindle books with poor reviews.

They have separate pages for novels under various genres, like Horror/Suspense, Literary Fiction, Romance, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Thrillers & Mysteries, and Young Adult.

They also offer a Best Indie Book Contest, and you can advertise your e-book with them, for a fee.
In addition, they have an excellent "Author Resources" page, with lists of links to many other sites where you can promote your Kindle book.

Author Resources:

Great Websites for Marketing & Connecting with Readers:

Places to Promote Your Freebie Days:

Get Reviewed:

Tweet Hashtags “#” and Twitter Folks to Help Promote Your Freebie:

  • #kindle #kindlefire #ebooks #FREE #mustread #goodreads #greatreads #freeebooks #Kindlefreebooks
  • #AmazonPrime #Kindledeals #kindledeals
  • @FreeKindleStuff @FreeReadFeed @free_kindle @Freebookdeal @freebookpromos @frebooksy
  • @KindleBlaze @KindleBookBlast @KindleBookKing @KindleDaily @Kindlbookreview @digitalBKtoday
  • @KindleFireDept @KindleEbooksUK @KindleFreBook @KindleFreeBooks @KindleFreeStuff @KindleKing
  • @KindleSurprise @KindleUS @KindleUK @KindleDE @KindleES @Kindle_Max @kindle_mojo @Kindlefreebies
  • @Kindlestuff

If you know of other Twitter groups, Facebook pages, etc., please let us know in the comments.

Great Websites to Learn From:

Kindle Book Reviews also offers a short list of cover designers, formatters, and editors, as well as  advice for getting your book noticed and sold, including specifics on your book cover, book blurb, price point, marketing, reviews, and strategies for gaining the maximum sales through offering your book for free for short periods.

Website:  Twitter: @Kindlbookreview

Readers and writers: If you know of other great e-book author or reader resources, please let us know in the comments! Thanks!


Jodie Renner, a freelance editor specializing in popular fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing a Killer Thriller and Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power (soon to be re-titled Fire up Your Fiction), which won a Silver Medal in the FAPA Book Awards, 2013, and Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest Self-Published E-Book Awards, 2013. Upcoming title: Immerse the Readers in Your Story World. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, her blog, Resources for Writers, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Jodie also blogs alternate Mondays on The Kill Zone blog. Subscribe to Jodie’s newsletter here.  




Friday, September 21, 2012

The Biggest Single Mistake

By Peg Brantley

I'm stoked. My second book will be published next month if all goes according to plan.

The Missings will have been written, self-edited, beta-read, edited again and then edited once more as a pre-edit edit, then professionally edited, then proofread. Then it will be formatted for both ebooks and paperback.

It has a great cover. (I love this cover!) There are even some readers who are waiting for it.

That's all it needs, right?

I've been thinking about this, and I've come up with what I think is the single biggest mistake indie authors make on the business side of their books. And I'm pretty sure I know it's true because I'm sooooo tempted to make the same mistake.

We get too damned anxious to publish.

We all know about the pipeline involved with traditional publishing: that long and seemingly Endless Wait for your book to finally become available. One of the pluses for doing everything yourself is to be able to be more immediate with readers; more immediate with your career.

But we miss some things—some important things—if we rush too fast. These are a couple of the things a traditional publisher would be working to put in place during the Endless Wait.

Since I just published my first novel, I know these items might be more difficult with a debut novel, but for a second? I think they're imperative, and should be done before publication:

  • Line up some reviewers—preferably reviewers who read and liked your previous book—and have those reviews ready to go;
  • Ask at least one published author (in your genre) who outranks you in terms of sales and readers, to endorse your new book;
  • Line up some advance readers who are willing to help you hit the floor running with some Amazon reviews, blog reviews, list reviews, tweets, Facebook, etc.

The hard part is letting your book that is ready sit for a week or two longer in order to get these other plans in place. But a week or two is a whole lot better than a year, don't you think?

The exception to this line of thought might be the author out there who is publishing his or her eighth or  ninth or eleventh book—they're a known quantity and might not need the bump from reviews and endorsements.

But for those of us in the early stages of the game? You've taken the time to do everything right up until the book is ready to publish. You've fed it, nurtured it, educated it and clothed it. Now make sure it has the support system and social contacts it will need to rise above the millions of other books that are out there.

Writers, what other things do you think help impact the success of a well-written book?

Readers, what helps pull you toward a relatively new author?

Peg Brantley's debut thriller, RED TIDE, has found it way into the hands of more than 30,000 readers in the six months since its publication. THE MISSINGS, a police procedural, will be available in October.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Is It Worth It to Create a Buzz in Print?

by Jen Blood, author of the Amazon-bestselling Erin Solomon mysteries

For the past year, I’ve done contract work for a local author’s cooperative here in the great state of Maine. The coop focuses on helping indie authors get their work published and distributed, offering services like book design, editing, printing, e-book formatting, marketing, and promotion. As a result, I’ve been in a unique position to watch indie publishing from an entirely different perspective than the one most common in the publishing world today: one where a great deal of emphasis is still placed on print books, while the majority of my online indie pals are firmly entrenched in the camp where digital is King.

Since I’m an indie author myself, these seemingly conflicting viewpoints have necessarily gotten me thinking: In this day and age, is there truly an advantage to the printed word, or are my cooperative cohorts clinging to a dying industry? To answer that question, I started crunching numbers, looking at stats, and talking to authors in both camps.

The first issue whether you're selling thousands of books every month or merely dozens, is the question of profitability. Since editing will be the same whether you’re going with digital or print, the next big cost to look at is book design. It used to be that designing print books was prohibitively more costly than it was to whip together an e-book for Kindle and Smashwords. Today, however, there are a proliferation of quality book designers who offer their services at surprisingly low rates—starting at as little as $100 and moving upward from there.

CreateSpace, Lulu, and a few of the other big-name POD publishers also provide free templates that are fairly simple to follow for the DIY indie looking to save a few bucks. So, unless you’re looking to create an aesthetically mind-blowing coffee table book, there isn’t a huge financial disparity between print and e-book design nowadays. As for book covers, I personally pay $99 for my cover through; for an extra $30, my designer will do a high-res PDF of the full cover: front, back, and spine. As with just about everything else in this biz, the DIY option is cheaper and there are, of course, always more expensive options if you’re looking for something above and beyond. Either way, though, there’s not a big difference between coming up with a digital cover and the full print version.

That brings us to printing costs. Print on demand (POD) means that we indies are no longer stuck with a basement full of books because the only way we could get printing costs down enough to create a respectable profit margin was to order a print run of 500+ copies. Today, you can order as few as ten copies of your masterpiece and still be paying as little as $4.50 per book through CreateSpace for a full-length novel (including shipping).

My first novel, All the Blue-Eyed Angels, sells in print for $15, which means my profit is over ten bucks when someone buys a copy directly from me. As for shipping, with the exception of the books you’ll be purchasing to sell yourself, POD means that the publisher will handle the labor-intensive act of shipping your books, and the cost is passed on to the buyer.

To me, the bigger issue is what you plan on doing with them after the fact. Is it worth it to approach bookstores and libraries far and wide? What, exactly, does that do for the average author in today’s digital-centric world? I personally have taken the time to approach the local bookstores that know me, and they’ve been great about carrying my mysteries, promoting the series, and keeping me apprised when they’re running low on copies.

I’m asked frequently by locals here in my hometown which bookstores outside of the immediate area are carrying the novels, however, and I used to feel a little weird telling them that there were, in fact, none—like it somehow took some of my legitimacy away because I wasn’t shopping my titles around to every indie bookseller in the tri-county region. I stopped feeling badly about that, however, once I looked at the financial realities of placing my novels in bookstores.

Between time, travel expenses, the cost of creating and printing professional-looking sell sheets, and then factoring in a 40% standard bookstore discount, the reality is that I feel I’m better off investing a little bit of money in advertising or a little time in PR and selling more e-books that way, than I am spinning my wheels trying to convince bookstores to carry a couple of copies. I always have those sell sheets and a few extra copies handy when I’m traveling, of course, so that if I happen to be in or around a bookstore I haven’t approached before, it’s a simple matter.

 Otherwise, however,  I just can’t afford to make them a priority. So what, exactly, are print books good for? Paranormal suspense author Lisa Rayns notes, “Some people still only read print books and I also like to have hard copies. With the time you put into a novel, it’s nice to have something tangible to show for it.”

Beyond vanity, there’s the issue of having print copies for reviews and contests, many of which still don’t accept digital submissions. I’ve found opportunities to sell print copies at readings, signings, lectures, workshops, and seminars. I use them for giveaways, book club packages, donate them for raffles to local charitable events, and occasionally foist them on friends and family members as gifts.

What does this actually do for my profit margin overall? Not much. However, whenever I have an event at which print copies will be available, I invariably manage to get some PR from that event, which means more exposure and in turn more digital sales, not to mention more cool stuff to add to my portfolio and the media page on my website.

All of this leads back to the original question: Is it worth it to create a buzz for your books in print? While the answer will vary to some extent based on your goals as an author, I think at the end of the day it depends on just how much time and energy you’re expending to create that buzz in the first place. Signings, readings, book clubs, seminars, giveaways—these are all great opportunities to enhance name recognition and spread the word about your work, but in my mind it’s essential to strike a balance between these types of events and the online marketing necessary to maintain steady e-book sales.

Beyond that, it’s a matter of personal preference and comfort level: I have several friends who thrive on public appearances and face-to-face interaction with their readers and loathe time at the computer. I think those who can find a happy medium between the two—and still manage to eke out some time to actually write the next novel—will ultimately find the most success.

What do you think? If you’ve already published, did you choose to go with both digital and print copies? Have you tried the bookstore route? I’d love to hear what your experience has been in these changing times.

Jen Blood is a freelance journalist and editor, and author of the Amazon-bestselling Erin Solomon mysteries, ALL THE BLUE-EYED ANGELS and SINS OF THE FATHER. She runs the mystery book blog, and teaches seminars on social media and online marketing to indie authors from her home in midcoast Maine. Her third novel, the noir thriller MIDNIGHT LULLABY, will be released in December.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Rare Glimpse Inside Amazon

By Andrew E. Kaufman

I had a unique opportunity a few weeks ago, one I don’t think I’ll soon forget.

Authors Jessica Park, Michele Scott
(and some funny looking dude)
Amazon invited me and a few other of their top-selling authors to their big news conference up in Santa Monica (I say “up” because I live “down” just a few hours south in San Diego). At the time, I didn’t have a clue why I was going—none of us did. All we knew was that we were invited guests and there would be a lot of photo-ops. They also said we’d be staying at Shutters, a beautiful beach hotel, for a few days.

Even better.

As it turned out, the purpose for the conference was to announce the new line of Kindles (including the re-vamped Fire, which, incidentally is likely to give Apple a run for their money), as well as to promote the Kindle Direct Publishing program; it's where we all found success.

Courtesy of
There were indeed plenty of photo-ops. As we rolled into the lot, I nearly swallowed my stomach when I saw all the satellite trucks, reporters, and photographers surrounding the place. I did even worse when I saw Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, standing on that stage…along with my book on the screen directly behind him. I think someone might have nudged me at that point. I’m not really sure. I was too stunned/numb to actually feel it.

Excitement and hoopla aside, it ended up being so much more than just that. It was a rare chance for a first-person glimpse inside Amazon, to see why they’re changing how publishing is done. Not that I was completely surprised. It’s no secret I have a special affection for them. After all, I’m fully cognizant of the fact that I wouldn’t be where I am today if our paths hadn’t met. They opened doors for me during a time when everyone else was slamming them in my face. I don’t think I’ll ever forget or lose sight of how they changed my life in ways I never imagined, nor will I ever stop being grateful to them for it.

But like I mentioned, I already knew what Amazon had done for me and countless others—what I never fully understood, was how or why.

Now I do.

At a special dinner the night of the news conference, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with the people of Amazon, many with whom, up until this point, I’d only communicated through emails. And while there were certainly quite a few discussions about the nuts-and-bolts of publishing, there were others that went far beyond that.

As I spoke with each of them, one thought repeatedly popped in my head: these people get it. They really do get it. They understand that the relationship between an author and publisher is an important one; it’s a partnership built on trust and respect.

That notion was repeated during each of my conversations when I kept hearing two words, ones I hadn’t expected.

“Thank you.”

Though I couldn’t help but feel like I should have been the one doing the thanking, their sincerity and genuineness told me that it was a two-way street. They were as appreciative of us for helping them make the program a success as we were of them for giving us the chance to do it. And I wondered: how often in publishing is a message like that spoken with such clarity and intent? How often, in fact, is it said at all? I suspect that before Amazon came along, it didn't happen often.

And I learned something else. Not only do the people who work for Amazon have great passion for what they do—they also have great passion for the authors they represent. Our success is as important to them as it is to us. That kind of sentiment is not only unheard of in publishing, it’s thinking outside the box at its finest moment.

When I got home, I noticed a Facebook invite from one of the Amazon publishers I had met. After accepting it, I looked at her latest post and couldn’t help but smile:

Goddamn, I love authors.

Words that say it all.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

25 Reasons to Self-publish, Part II

By:  Kimberly Hitchens is the founder and owner of, an ebook production company that has produced books for over 750 authors and imprints.

Today, we continue, "25 Reasons to Self-Publish, Part II," continued from the first post, "25 Reasons to Self-Publish, Part I." 

Last time, we wrapped with #13 (25 inconveniently being an odd number).  Read, rejoice, and be merry!

14. EBooks on the rise. "Since April 1 2011, Amazon sold 105 books for its Kindle e-reader for every 100 hardcover and paperback books, including books without Kindle versions and excluding free e-books. (after less than 4 years of selling ebooks) " NYTimes. Printed May 2011.

15. More ebooks on the rise while print falls. "According to the Association of American Publishers (AAP), in 2011 e-book sales rose 117%, generating revenue of $969.9 million, while sales in all trade print segments fell, with mass-market paperbacks plunging by nearly 36%." Publishers Weekly. February 2012.

16. Interest in and loyalty to authors over publishers. (Yes, L.J, Drew, I'm talkin' to you!) "A 2006 survey (conducted by Spier New York) found that book readers were visiting publisher and author websites; half have purchased books as gifts. 18% of readers have visited a publisher’s website. 23% of readers have been to an author’s website." via Publishers Weekly (expired, can't find original source)

17. The rise of the Kindle Millionaires. "Hocking says she’s sold 900,000 copies (mostly electronic) of nine different books since April 2010. If you give her the highest price point and royalty for each book, that would mean she’s made close to $2 million." Forbes. March 2011.

18. And for paper....Those of you who are old-fashioned types can cheaply self-publish paperback copies through Amazon's CreateSpace. "For $25, the on-demand book publisher will list a book on Ingram and Baker & Taylor, two of the national distribution catalogs from which bookstores order new copies." How to Use CreateSpace:

19. Genre fiction sells well as ebooks. "Crime, sci-fi, Christian fiction, and other genres drive e-book sales. Deborah Reed wrote "A Small Fortune" while waiting for her literary novel to take off. The success of her thriller drove up sales of her first book." Christian Science Monitor May 2012 (For all my buds here at CFC!)

20. You retain all rights to your manuscript. "It’s typical for publishers to take 50% of the advance on rights deals they make themselves, and if your agent brokered the original then she’ll take her 15% commission out of your 50% share; whereas if your agent sells those rights for you directly, you’ll get all your advance minus your agent’s cut." June 2011. More details on author rights in traditional publishing contracts: Morris Rosenthal. 2011. (Hitch note: for those of us who are control freaks, this one is hard to resist.)

21. The Tide! "Since 2008, there have been more self-published titles than traditionally published ones. In 2009 there were 764,448 self-published books." A list of the most successful self-published Sci Fi and Fantasy Authors: i09 Books. May 2012.

22. Publish Internationally. "In a move that could cut some agents out, Amazon now allows those authors to distribute their print books through European Amazon sites for free." Paid Content. May 2012.

23. Ebooks in Translation: Romance author Barbara Freethy "sold 1.6 million copies total and is taking an unusual step: Self-publishing foreign-language editions of those e-books ... Freethy’s The Sweetest Thing, which costs $2.99 and was originally published by Avon in 1999, is now #35 on the New York Times (NYSE: NYT) combined print + e-book bestseller list and #22 on the e-book-only list." Paid Content. March 2012.

24. The Write Stuff: "In 2006 there were around 51,000 authors who self published books. By the end of 2010 that number had exploded to more than 133 thousand." Self Publishing Gives Budding Authors The Write Stuff. CBS. May 2012.

25. Editors, Editors, Editors: (Jodie, my friend, this one's for YOU!): You can employ an editor yourself. "In the past, self-published books lacked one thing that traditionally published books had - a good editing and revision process. I think that greatly affected the opinions of the bookstores, reviewers and even readers. I have witnessed a great turn in traditionally published writers choosing the self-publishing route." Hattiesburg American. May 2012.


And that's all, folks! Go forth and conquer the authoring world.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Cellular Memory

What the Heart Remembers by Debra Ginsberg.

Reviewed by Marlyn Beebe.

Cellular memory is the theory that the body's cells retain memories independently of the brain.  A more detailed explanation can be found here.

The protagonist of Debra Ginsberg's latest novel, What the Heart Remembers, is Eden Harrison,
an elementary school teacher and a marathon runner, engaged to the love of her life.  One day while out for a run, Eden collapses, and discovers that she suffers from a condition called symptomatic arrhythmia, which is severe enough that she requires a new heart.

After her  heart transplant, she inquires about the identity of the donor, but is informed that the family wish the information to remain confidential.  At first, Eden seems obsessed with the idea, but when even her fiancé Derek (who generally thinks she's perfect) thinks she should let it go, she appears to agree.

Gradually, she realizes that she doesn't feel the same about things as she used to.  She loved pink so much that Derek (who owns an athletic shoe company) designed a pair of pink running shoes for her. When it gets to the point that she doesn't feel a physical attraction to him anymore, Eden known something has to change.

She changes everything by leaving her home in Portland, Oregon, and moving to San Diego.  Once there, she heads directly to a restaurant called Poquette and gets a job waiting tables.  Every move she makes seems determined by something inside her; she doesn't know what.  And San Diego, Poquette, and many of the people she meets there seem somehow familiar.

As she settles into the city and her job, she meets some of Poquette's regular patrons.  She has flashbacks that seem like memories of one woman in particular, a wealthy widow named Darcy Silver.    Then she learns that Darcy's husband died recently enough for it to be possible that he was the original owner of her heart.  

Did her heart come from Peter Silver?  Is this why she feels she knows Darcy so well?  Eden is pretty sure that this is the case, and sets out to make sure.

Debra Ginsberg is extremely skilled at getting inside a character.  She feeds us bits of the story at a time, first through one character, then another.  She communicates equally well from the viewpoint of  Eden, Derek and Darcy, and in doing so manages to increase the suspense of the tale until almost the very end.  

What the Heart Remembers is definitely a read-in-one-sitting book, so don't start it at bedtime!

I was fortunate enough to do a short Q & A with Debra Ginsberg.  It's published today on Stuff and Nonsense.

FTC Full Disclosure: Many thanks to the publisher, who sent me a copy of the book for review purposes.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Killing Off a Regular Character

Please welcome Douglas Corleone as a guest blogger to Crime Fiction Collective. With a last name like his, is the title of his post such a surprise?

DOUGLAS CORLEONE is the author of the Kevin Corvelli crime novels set in Honolulu.  His debut novel ONE MAN’S PARADISE was a finalist for the 2010 Shamus Award for Best First Novel and won the 2009 Minotaur Books / Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award.  Doug’s third novel LAST LAWYER STANDING will be released on August 21, 2012.
A former New York City criminal defense attorney, Doug now resides on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu, where he is currently at work on his next novel.

Many authors are loathe to do it, and for good reason.  Killing off a regular character in a series can be hazardous to your career.  Receiving angry letters from readers is just one of the reasons to keep your regular characters among the living.  There are other risks; a supporting character could be more important to an author’s series than he or she realizes.  Removing such a character could be like removing part of the foundation from a perfectly fine house of cards.  Or worse, a vital organ from a living, breathing work of art.  

In suspense fiction, killing off a regular character can also have an upside.  The entire goal of suspense fiction is to keep readers on edge.  Killing off a regular character leaves your readers wondering who you’ll kill off next.  By killing a regular character, you’re opening a whole new door of endless possibilities.  Taking away the safety net – the heart-warming sense of “oh, he’s too important to die” – can really shake up a series that might otherwise be running out of steam.
Killing off a regular character also gives your protagonist a terrific opportunity to grow emotionally.  If you find your hero unchanging from book to book, you may want to do something to turn his world upside down.  Kill off a spouse or a sibling or a business partner and see how your protagonist reacts to the death.  Is he resilient?  Or will he crumple?  Pick himself off the floor or fall deeper into the bottle? 

Maybe even make your hero directly or indirectly responsible for that death.  Guilt is an emotion that many of us can only wish on a fictional character – that’s how powerful it is. 

One alternative to killing off a character is sending him somewhere he can’t come back from.  That’s the approach I take in my third Kevin Corvelli novel Last Lawyer Standing.   Although I won’t give away his name, the character who leaves the third book first appeared in my debut One Man’s Paradise.  He’s one of my favorites and I already missed him during the writing of a short story I recently submitted to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.
Of course, it would be easier to kill off a regular character who no one likes – and it could have nearly as much impact to the series.  A nemesis or an annoying in-law can exit stage left and actually improve the series overall.  I can think of a few characters I’d like to see vanish in some of my favorite series. Unfortunately, it would probably be unethical – if not unlawful – to kill them off in my own books. 

Are there any killed-off characters you wish were still alive in your favorite series?  Any examples in which a hero gained depth through the death of a regular character?  I'm looking to reading responses below.      

 Douglas Corleone

"A perfect blend of mystery and thriller, with laugh out loud moments sprinkled liberally throughout. Corleone is as good as it gets.”
~ David Rosenfelt, National Bestselling Author of the Andy Carpenter mystery novels