Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Should I query agents or self-publish?

By Andrew E. Kaufman, author of psychological thrillers

As soon as I started selling a lot of books, I also started getting a lot of emails from other authors, and one of the most frequently asked questions (besides "what’s your secret?") was whether they should self-publish or query agents.

I’m never quite sure how to answer that question, because it seems like an extremely personal choice--kind of like, “Should I go to college or try a trade school?” Only a qualified counselor can help answer that question, and they need a lot of information to help you make an informed decision.

Besides, what’s right for one person certainly isn’t right for the next, and I always feel hesitant to give advice when it seems so subjective. I don’t know an author’s circumstances, so it’s difficult to help them decide. I’m not an expert; I’m just another author, and all I can really do is speak from my own experience, which really is just one perspective of many.

But having said that, I did learn a few things along the way, and I’m always happy and willing to talk about them, because I know how frustrating and heartbreaking it can be to have something you’re proud of and then struggle to find others who will feel the same enthusiasm.

First, there are some questions you should ask yourself, ones I asked too, that helped me choose my own path. Here are a few of them:

What stage are you at in your process?

Have you already gone the querying route and found little success? If so, self-publishing may very well be a good option.

I tried for traditional publishing at first, because back then it was the only option available. I wanted more than anything to find an agent and publisher, but after receiving hundreds of rejections, I gave up. Then, once e-publishing (specifically, the advent of the Kindle) came along, I decided to try that. 

Within a few years, I was selling a lot of books, making a nice living, and most important, was doing what I loved. Even better, I was the one in control. It was a great feeling, and suddenly having a publisher didn’t seem to matter much at all. 

As it turned out, I was eventually approached by agents asking if I was interested in representation and ended up going with one of them. So in the long-run I ended up exactly where I'd been trying to go in the first place—I just found a different door. 

How important is it to have a publisher’s name behind your work instead of your own?

Once I found success as an author (which incidentally, is a relative word, and in my opinion, should be defined by much more than sales) I realized that having a publisher’s name behind my work paled in comparison to the strides I was making on my own. Were there people still snubbing their noses at me? Absolutely. Did it bother me? Not so much because I knew I was achieving exactly what my “legitimate” counterparts were. I was just doing it in a different way.

For some, it’s still important to be associated with a traditional publisher, but I believe that’s quickly changing, and eventually, it won’t much matter. For me, getting my books into readers' hands was all I wanted, and now I'm doing that.

Are you willing to give up certain things?

If you go the traditional route you will make sacrifices—at least if you’re just starting out—and depending on which publisher you go with, the degree will vary. For one, you won’t have as much creative control over your work. Largely speaking, most traditional publishers have the final word over the content of your work (including your cover). As an indie author, it’s all up to you. For some, that's a big bonus.

Same thing goes for your profit margin. Being an indie author gives you far more leeway in this area. KDP currently offers a 70% profit on gross sales (for books $2.99 and up). Being with a traditional publisher will likely get you far less.
For some, this is extremely important. For others, not so much. So you should ask yourself how much control you’re willing to hand over to a publisher, and even more important, understand the terms of your agreement before you sign with them.

Can an agent help you reach your goals?

First of all, what are your goals? This was a question I struggled with before making my decision to finally work with an agent. When mine approached me, my first question was, how will I benefit from this relationship? His answer was that he wanted to help take my career to the next level, which made sense because that was also my own goal. Right now, he manages the foreign, audio, and television/film rights for my work, as well as those for U.S. publishing. I’ve recently signed a lucrative deal, which I hope—at least from my perspective—will indeed take my career to the next level.

The thing to keep in mind is that whatever decision you do make, you should be fully aware that this industry is changing at breakneck speed, and you have to think on your feet. What works for me—or anyone else—is likely going to change sooner rather than later. Do I think going indie is a great way to go? Absolutely. Do I think it’s a way to open doors that were previously closed off? You bet.

Do I think it’s the best route for you?

That’s for you to decide.

Andrew E. Kaufman is the author of The Lion, the Lamb, the Hunted and While the Savage Sleeps, both Amazon top 100 bestsellers this year. His books are the most borrowed, independently published books in the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, and his combined sales have reached well into the six-figure mark. He is represented by Scott Miller, Executive Vice President of Trident Media Group in New York. For more info about his work, please visit his website at:

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cyclone Sandy and the Library of Alexandria

By:  Kimberly Hitchens is the founder and owner of, an ebook production company that has produced books for over 1000 authors and imprints.

So, today, like the rest of the nation, and even the world (which I know because I had concerned emails from many international clients today) I watched the progress of Sandy, the Storm that Ate Manhattan, snacking on Atlantic City on the way, as if it were personally aiming to make Donald Trump's life as miserable as possible.   While watching, for some reason, I was reminded of the fate of the Library of Alexandria, which arguably perished either due to Julius Caesar's careless smoking or Aurelian's attack some 200+ years later, and was finished off by either, or both, Theophilus, carrying out his Pope's decree against "paganism," or Muslims attacking sometime during the Crusades.  (Equal Opportunity Destruction, it seems).  I suppose I was thinking about it due to the possibility that  paper libraries across the Coast could be badly damaged--their books, at least--due to rising flood waters, storm surges, etc.

Not very cheery to think of the last copy of a beloved book being lost to Sandy, is it? If you had a book in paper, on the first floor of a library in Manhattan, your book would be lost.  However, if you had an ebook, you could simply download a new copy of the file.  I know, I know, it is self-serving, isn't it?  But that does not make it any less true.  And, yes, computers can drown as well, or rebel, go on strike, crash, kill off disk drives, and the like. 

"The Computer Ate My Homework"

Some folks will reply with the horror stories—I lost 60k words on my computer, and all that—but nonetheless, a few simple precautions can save your keister.  If you are using certain pieces of software to write with, you can automatically save backup copies of your WIP ("work in progress"), or any other documents.  Liquid Story Binder XE does this; has a built in auto-backup that you can set to backup wherever you want.  My big recommendation has nothing to do with software, per se; it's simply this:  The "cloud" is your friend.  And if you're too paranoid to use the Cloud--think about your thumbs. ;-)  In any event, the message is this:  backup your work to someplace other than your own computer.  It's all well and good to make "backups," but if you backup to the same computer that's going to crash...well, give that some thought.

"The Cloud" is geek-speak for nothing more than servers on the Internet.  That's it.  Nothing sexy, nothing fancy--but it's a computer somewhere else.  Someplace unlikely to suffer the same fate as your computer, whatever that is--crashing, flooding, fire, and the like., for example, has backups in Ireland, Seattle and the East Coast.  I figure if all three go, it's the Apocalypse, anyway, I'm looking for the Four Horseman, and the computers can fend for themselves.  A girl's gotta have her priorities.   

"Oh, Yeah, Sure, Spend More Money"

Ha!  Not only is the cloud your friend, it's free.  You can get free space from Box, Dropbox, SugarSynch or, for big-name companies, how about Amazon?  Amazon will give you up to 5 gigabytes—that is 1,000 megabytes of storage for every gigabyte.  5,000 megabytes.  Given that the average book manuscript is about 250-400 kilobytes, which is 1,000th of a megabyte...suffice it to say you'd have to write the Encyclopedia Britannica, replete with pictures, to start worrying about running out of space on your Amazon Cloud storage.  (Did I say, FREE?) 

"People Will Steal My Stuff If I Put It On The Net!"

Don't trust the Net?  Well, hard to blame you. 
In the alternative, you can buy (and, for that matter, wear if you wish) thumbdrives.  For a few pennies, you can load up 16gigs on a thumbdrive.  I like this one, myself:  Kingston Digital Data Traveler, 16gigs, (with the hole in the end) but to each their own.  I like that one because it's small, not bad-looking, and you can wear it around your neck on a chain if, like me, you misplace "stuff" all the time.  Or a keyring.  This one (pictured, black) is tiny, tiny, tiny: SanDisk Cruzer Fit 16GB.  If it were me, I'd lose it but you more-organized folks might love it.  Unobtrusive, too. Complete peace of mind for under $10.00.  Woot!

See ya next time.


Monday, October 29, 2012

The Ends Justify the Means

A guest post by Hank Philippi Ryan.

Guilty, guilty, guilty. Yes, I’m guilty, and here, since it’s just us, I will confess to it.

Sometimes I read the end of a mystery first.

Okay, not completely first. I’ll read the first chapter, and then, read the end. (Don’t groan! Don’t hiss at me and click to another article. Listen. It’s for a reason. And I do go back and read the whole book.)

Before I started writing mysteries, I didn’t read the end first. In the time before
Prime Time, I read mysteries and thrillers and suspense just the way authors hoped I would. Starting at the beginning in a really good book, turning the pages as fast as I could, and then getting to the end at, well, the end. And that method of reading, time honored, was completely successful.

Then (at age 55, so all of you who want to write but thinking: it’s too late for me—well, it’s not) I started writing Prime Time. I had no idea what I was doing, so I powered along, happily typing and churning out pages. Outline? NO way, la dee dah, I was a pantser before I even know what a pantser was. Writing by the seat of my pants. But I figured I knew the story, and who got killed, and how, and who the bad guy was, and certainly, as a result, the ending. I absolutely knew where this book was going.

So one night, late, lying in bed, I was, of course, thinking about the book. I was about half-way through Prime Time, maybe 40,000 words. And I had been dipping into a how-to book by G. Miki Hayden. In it, she suggests an exercise where you try out each character as the villain. The point, she said, was to get a deeper view of your characters’ relationships with each other. That made sense to me, and seemed like a fun idea to try.

On the other hand, it also seemed like a waste of time, because I knew who my bad guy was.

But, sleepless in Boston, I gave it a shot. “Person A as the bad guy,” I mused. No, that wouldn’t work. Person B as the bad guy. Hmm. Nope, that wouldn’t work. Person C as the bad guy—nope, that wouldn’t—wait.

Wait. A. Minute.

My brain started racing, careening through my manuscript, checking chapters and mentally turning the pages as fast as I could. Had I—chosen the wrong bad guy? Had I—written half the book thinking I knew whodunit—and was I wrong?

I couldn’t believe it. I tried to talk myself out of it (luckily my husband was asleep) but the reality was staring me in the face.

I had chosen the wrong bad guy. It was all I could do not to run down to the study and bang open the computer and pull up the half-done manuscript and check.

The next morning, I realized I was right. To change the ending to the new (and real) villain, all I had to do was change—ah, maybe four of the thousands of words I had already written. The bad guy was already there, lurking in the pages, guilty. I just hadn’t noticed it. And I wrote the thing!

Talk about a surprise ending. I had surprised myself!

By the time I got to writing The Other Woman, I learned to let go. I had no idea about the twists and turns along the way. It’s a thriller, right? And there were plenty of thrills for me along the way as I discovered—as you will!—what the story turned out to be. If I had known at the beginning what would happen, the book would be completely different. Because that ending I thought I knew would have pulled me along—and not let the magic of the story create its own true ending.

It’s gotten me thinking about endings. How, in a well-written mystery or thriller, something about the ending is right there in the beginning. It has to be. That the book is a cohesive whole, every little individual word of it creating the big picture. And when the author brings you to a terrific, original, unique ending, it makes the whole book work. The puzzle pieces rearrange, right? And you say: oh, now I see what the author was doing!

Shutter Island. Murder on the Orient Express. The Sixth Sense. Whether you like them or not, knowing the ending would make you read the book or see the movie in a different way, right? You would see the clues, you would see the foreshadowing, you would understand what techniques the authors used to fool the reader and how they lure the reader into believing one way—when reality is another. How they play fair—or how they don’t.

Knowing the ending, and reading “for” it, is a wonderful learning experience for me. It lets me reverse- engineer the story and the writing, and understand all the techniques that come into play.

And frankly, it allows me to take more time to enjoy it. When I was reading the new Think of A Number, I realized I was turning pages so quickly to find the secret, I wasn’t really “reading” the words. So—another confession—I asked my husband to just tell me what happened.

I’m not telling you what happened, he said, astonished. That would spoil the whole thing!

No, I said. Not knowing is spoiling it.

So he told me. And it was good. And then I read it, more slowly and even more appreciatively, because I knew what was coming.

And that is why, fellow readers and authors forgive me, I sometimes flip to the end. And then start at the beginning. Yes, I am guilty. Are you, too?

PS. Okay, fine. Do NOT read the last page of The Other Woman first. Still, even if you do—you won’t know exactly what happens. So go ahead. I dare you. And we’re giving away a first edition (they’re all gone!) of The Other Woman to one lucky commenter!

Hank Phillippi Ryan is the on-the-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. Her work has resulted in new laws, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in restitution. Along with her 28 EMMYs, Hank’s won dozens of other journalism honors. She’s been a radio reporter, a political campaign staffer, a legislative aide in the United States Senate and an editorial assistant at Rolling Stone magazine working with Hunter S. Thompson.

Her first mystery, the best-selling Prime Time, won the Agatha for Best First Novel. Face Time was a BookSense Notable Book, and Air Time and Drive Time were nominated for the Agatha and Anthony Awards. Hank’s short story “On the House” won the Agatha, Anthony and Macavity.

Her newest thriller, The Other Woman, is already a bestseller and in a second printing. A starred review from Library Journal says “a dizzying labyrinth of twists, turns, and surprises. Readers who crave mystery and political intrigue will be mesmerized by this first installment of her new series.” The Booklist starred review calls it “A perfect thriller…” It is an Indie Next Great Read, an RT Top Pick, and is being translated into three foreign editions.

Hank is on the board of MWA and is president of National Sisters in Crime. 

Please visit  Stuff and Nonsense today for a review of Ms. Ryan's latest novel, The Other Woman.

Friday, October 26, 2012

SEO Best Practices for Your Website

by guest blogger Melissa Woodson
When you write a book, you’re writing for a particular human audience that you probably know well and know how to talk to. When you write blog posts or website copy, you’re trying to engage that same audience, but in order to reach them, you also have to engage search engines. You may already know how to write intelligent, well-organized and engaging material for your human audience, but unless you’ve been around the blogosphere for a while, you probably don’t know how to write search engine optimized (SEO) text. Here are a few quick pointers on how to get Google’s attention so that you can then attract readers:

Identify Your Keywords
Including keywords in your blog posts or website copy is one of the most basic ways of letting search engines know what you’re writing about. But first, you have to figure out the best keywords to describe your book. Joel Friedlander recommends using Google AdWords as a way to identify often searched-for phrases relevant to your subject. They shouldn’t be too general, because then you’ll likely be beaten out in the search results by larger players, but they should be common enough to generate significant traffic for your website.

Choose Anchor Text Carefully

Writers new to creating online content often neglect to include relevant links in their writing, or if they do include links, they do so without much thought. But links can be an important way to associate yourself with other content creators, and how you link can be important. First of all, make sure that you’re including links to content that your readers will value and that the links have a natural place in the flow of your writing. Which part of a sentence constitutes the actual link also matters; link a brief description including a relevant keyword for maximum emphasis.

Start Strong

Many authors like to begin their novels with a hook, an irresistible sentence or paragraph that will convince a reader to buy the book if they happen to pick it up while browsing in a store. One of my favorites is from Tony Morrison’s Paradise: “They shot the white girl first.” How can anyone stop reading after that? Just like human readers, search engines often peek at the beginning of a document before deciding if they want to read the whole thing. Including keywords and links to closely related articles in the first paragraph of your post is sure to keep the search engines’ attention, attracting readers to your site.

Writing SEO text for your book’s website will probably feel a bit awkward at first, as any new writing challenge does. But as you become accustomed to the new conventions, it will begin to feel as natural as writing in complete sentences. And as your writing begins to attract a wider audience, you will gain confidence in your online voice. And as you begin to establish an authoritative presence on the web, people will be more inclined to read your book and recommend it on their own websites.

Melissa Woodson is a social media and outreach coordinator for 2U Inc., a higher education company that helps top-tier universities bring their masters degree programs online. The online LL.M. degree offered through Washington University in St. Louis and the Masters of Public Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are among their partnered offerings. In her free time, she enjoys running, cooking, and making half-baked attempts at training her dog. Follow her on twitter @hungryhealthymj.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Got any good muse?

By Gayle Carline

I recently spent a couple of Saturdays meeting the public and hand-selling my books. I do a few of these gigs every year, where I have a table of books and promotional materials, and spend several hours signing books and talking to everyone. My table typically looks like this:

The tiara is optional.

These guys are always present.
Booker (l), Hatch (r)

I bought them originally because they are part of my first mystery, Freezer Burn. One day, someone asked me who they were and I said, “They’re my muses. The one with the book is Booker. He reminds me to always write well. The other one is Hatch. He says if I don’t sit my tush down in the chair and write, he’s going to use his axe to start chopping fingers.”

Here’s the thing: it’s a total lie. Gnomes are not my muses.

This is my muse:

Me and Frostie (aka, One Zip in Time)

When I was little, my favorite activity was to take a big sheet of paper and my pencils and crayons, and draw a picture that told a story. The drawing would start small, as a house with a tree and a girl. Then as I told the story, more things got added, from cities to dragons to horses to fighter jets — sue me, I had an imagination. What my visual-arts-centric family saw was an artist.

What I see now is that I wanted to be a storyteller.

I also loved horses, but like storytelling, it wasn’t encouraged. Instead, I was sent down the road of painting and "safer pets," like canaries.

Fast forward a few (okay, a lot of) years. The storytelling bug was nipping at my heels, so I told my hubby I might want to write. He bought me a laptop. I started many, many, MANY stories.

I finished the Christmas letter.

Fast forward a few more (this time I’m serious) years. Hubby knew I’ve always wanted to learn to ride a horse, so he bought me horseback riding lessons. I took lessons for about six months, started showing my trainer’s champion trail horse, then a year later purchased the sweetie in the picture above.

When I bought her, a lock was broken in my spirit and I started writing. I began with articles that ended up getting me a paying gig with Riding Magazine. With that boost in confidence, I asked for a column in my local newspaper. After I got that, I started writing fiction.

Getting to know my little red mare has taught me about myself. She can be spooky (we tease that she sees dead people), and knowing I can calm a 1,000-lb animal has given me confidence. When I first started riding her, I admit I was frightened, but it taught me that I was too stubborn to quit. Standing in the arena with her, letting her rest her head against my arm, I learned how to let my mind alone and be in the moment.

It is a simple thing to say, but perhaps a difficult thing to understand. A horse enabled me to write.

Who is your muse, and what do they give you?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Isn't it supposed to get easier?

By Jenny Hilborne, author of mysteries and thrillers

I've heard a familiar grumble from lots of multiple book authors who find each book they write is more difficult than the last. I'm no different. Each new book is harder and takes me longer to write. I've asked myself why. Is the difficulty a sign of improvement, or an indication I'm somehow lost in the process, buried under all the new information I pick up? Am I trying too hard?

I'm currently working on my fourth novel, Stone Cold, and I'm finding it is my most difficult book yet. I said the same thing when I wrote book #3, Hide and Seek. I thought the writing process would be easier with each book -  I've picked up more and more tips, learned many of the "rules" along the way, and attended numerous workshops and writing conferences.

I first attended the Southern California Writers Conference in 2008, with a completed manuscript for my first book, Madness and Murder. I paid for a one-on-one critique with a publisher, who later became my publisher, but not until they'd rejected me, given me advice on how to fix my mistakes, and presented me with a rare second shot at submission. You see, I thought I knew enough to write a good book at that early stage, and I didn't. I've attended SCWC several times since, and always learned more and come away with great advice. Even after all this, I still find every book harder to write than the last.

Drew Kaufman and I briefly discussed this in a recent Facebook exchange. With all the feedback we've received, with what we now know and have learned along the way, why does each book become harder to write? Do we present our protagonists with more complicated challenges? Weave in more subplots? Do all authors feel this way? Are we improving or getting lost?

The more prolific an author is, the more readers expect from said author. Is this right? Fair? Well, I expect a lot from the well-known authors whose books I choose to read, yet I find I'm currently enjoying the books from lesser known authors much more. I've stopped reading Harlan Coben altogether. His later works don't impress me as much as the earlier stuff. I wonder if he got bored, or stopped trying as hard to please his audience, having "made it." In the works of some prolific authors, it's often easy to note similarities between books, a pattern if you like, or the authors voice. In some cases, this makes the outcomes of the stories predictable.

It's a challenge I struggle with myself. Only on my 4th novel, and I already find I have to work hard to avoid repetition, to stay creative and bring in new and unique threats, problems, and plot lines. After the release of my 2nd book, No Alibi, a returning reader remarked how my first 2 books were so dissimilar, they could have been written by different authors. Rightly or not, I took it as a compliment. I noticed from watching the X Factor how judges want new singers to be instantly recognizable to an audience by their style, their voice. This raised a question in my mind: do all authors have a "style"? Should they? Does it work the same way for emerging authors as for singers?

Back to difficulty: The hardest part of my first book was how to finish, writing a satisfactory ending. In subsequent books, this has become the easier bit. Now, I get lost in the middle. I know more about my writing and understand myself better as an author than I did several years ago, have learned more about character development, energy, pacing, consistency, small detail, yet it feels more than ever like work. Hard work.

Authors: Why are subsequent books more challenging to write? Is it because we continually raise the standards for ourselves as authors and strive to make each book better?

Readers: Do you like the authors you read to have a recognizable "style"?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Criminal Choice Behind Burglary

by Tom Adair author of the 2012 Crime Thriller The Scent of Fear.

As a former CSI I tried to understand how the criminal thinks. It's impossible to consider every single motivation but there are some generalities that may aid investigators in uncovering certain clues. As an author I find this insight very valuable because weaving this mindset into your storyline gives a sense of realism I think readers respond to. Everyone wants to understand motive. It's how we begin to make sense of things and challenge our world view. As a reader I want to understand the motivations of the killer, victim, cops, and others too. It helps me understand why they do what they do.

I've talked to a lot of victims that ask me a simple question; "why me?". It's not a dumb question. While it is true that some victim's may just be int he wrong place at the wrong time (like a shark attack), others increase their vulnerability to crime and criminals (like joining a gang). So it's helpful to consider what types of factors criminals may consider when choosing a victim. I thought it would be simpler to frame the discussion within the topic of burglary. In truth, some of the selection criteria can be applied to other crimes as well but let's just stick with burglary for now.

Burglars typically choose a place to burglarize for one of three reasons. These are broad categories with some cross over but they will serve for the discussion.
  1. Inside knowledge (intelligence)
  2. Vulnerability with reward
  3. Opportunity (wrong place wrong time)
Inside Knowledge: 
In the military this is called intelligence. You'd be amazed how often a burglary can be tied to intelligence. The world war two warning of  "loose lips sink ships" actually works with criminals too. If criminals find out that you have things of value they may want to look for an opportunity to take them. I often say that many criminals want "easy" so you have to do your best to avoid helping them. Here are some of the biggest sources of "intelligence leaks" in the household.
  1. Children. Children are the worst. Kids love to tell stories and brag to their friends. "We just got a new computer", "My mom just inherited a bunch of money", "I just got a brand new XBOX", etc. Even when talking to 'trusted' friends the conversation may be overheard by others.
  2. Social Media. I am always amazed at people that tell the twitterverse that they are on vacation. They get on Facebook and say "Hey! We're a thousand miles away from our house and NO ONE is watching it". Many don't have the smarts to lie and say something like "Thanks God my brother is on leave from the Marine Corps and is watching the house with an attack dog!".
  3. Visitors to the house. This can be anyone from your son's new "gangsta friend", ex-boyfriend, or repairmen. We often don't consider what a stranger might see in our homes like jewelry being left out, or even where we keep money (when you pay a serviceman).
Vulnerability with Reward:
I link these two together because the burglar is more likely to exploit a vulnerability if they know there is a reward for their risk. One of the biggest vulnerabilities is easy access to the residence or business. Some of the biggest culprits are;
  1. Open garage doors
  2. Open windows or unlocked doors (houses and vehicles)
  3. Items of value with easy access (like a purse or wallet left on the front seat of your car)
Other things can include ladders propped up against houses (for easy access to second story windows that are usually left unlocked) or newspapers or fliers piled up outside (indicating you're on vacation). The reward/risk issue is equally important. Wanna guess a percentage of how many homes displaying signs like "Dangerous dog", "Video Surveillance Used" or "Trespassers will be shot, survivors will be shot again" get burglarized compared to ones not displaying butterfly flags? Most criminals want "easy". Now all of this changes if your house is the only place to get what they want. So if you have a rare and valuable item (like the Hope Diamond) then the motivated criminal will look for a way to get it but, that is usually not the case. However, the higher the value of the item being sought, the more risk one may take to get it.

This embodies the "wrong place, wrong time" meme. Obviously, the best way to avoid being in the wrong place is being more selective about the places we visit. I spend a fair amount of time in the back country of the Rocky Mountains. I feel much safer walking through the woods at midnight than an alley in many metropolitan cities. Some places are "wrong" for some folks no matter the time of day. Your characters may increase their risk of being attacked (mugged) because they are forced to go places they wouldn't normally choose. Maybe your PI has to go into a seedy bar or maybe somebody gets arrested and goes to jail for a few days. These exposures put them at increased risk. They may survive without incident but the tension is still there. From a criminal perspective it is literally the fly in the spider net. They simply wait for some unsuspecting victim to cross paths with them. The single attractive woman or suburban teenager with the iPod that has to ride a subway through the bad part of town at midnight.

Considering these factors when developing your plots, characters, and dialog will help explain the motivations of your characters and give a perspective for the reader when digesting the story. Remember, the motive has to align with the risk/reward calculus to be believable. A criminal won't rob a homeless man with a shopping cart full of old smelly clothes, empty liquor bottles, and a dead fish ;).

Sunday, October 21, 2012


by Jodie Renner
New England Crime Bake
I'm compiling a list of resources for crime fiction writers and readers, and I'd love your help with it! So please, if you have any organizations, conferences, blogs, or other resources to add, let me know in the comments at the end and I'll add them.

Part I – Organizations, Conferences, and Conventions in North America and Great Britain, and a short list of good Blogs


Click on the organization’s name to go to their website.

International Thriller Writers - an honorary society of authors who write books broadly classified as “thrillers.” This would include murder mystery, detective, suspense, horror, supernatural, action, espionage, true crime, war, and action-adventure. ITW brings together almost 1000 writers, readers, publishers, editors and agents at its annual conference, ThrillerFest, as well as at CraftFest, a writing workshop program, and AgentFest, where aspiring authors can meet and pitch top literary agents.

Mystery Writers of America - MWA, founded in 1945, is the premier organization for mystery and crime writers, professionals allied to the crime writing field, aspiring crime writers, and folks who just love to read crime fiction. Each spring, they present the prestigious Edgar® Awards. MWA also helps to rebuild libraries and offers numerous symposiums and events for both authors and fans. 

Sisters in Crime – SinC has 3600 members in 48 chapters world-wide, offering networking, advice and support to mystery authors. Members are authors, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers and librarians who love the mystery genre and want to support women who write mysteries. Membership is also open to men.

Crime Writers of Canada – CWC is a national association for Canadian mystery and crime writers, associated professionals, and others with a serious interest in Canadian crime writing. Promotes Canadian crime writing. Newsletter, information on authors, awards, and links. The CWC has sponsored Canada’s Arthur Ellis Awards for Crime and Mystery Writing since 1984.

Crime Writers of Great Britain - A professional body which sets out to represent writers of crime fiction and non-fiction. The CWA has played a major role both in discovering and supporting the careers of many of Britain’s finest writers, including PD James, Ian Rankin, Frederick Forsyth, Ruth Rendell, Val McDermid and Alexander McCall Smith. Presents the annual prestigious CWA Dagger Awards to recognize quality in today’s crime and thriller fiction writing.

Click on the name to go to the website. Also see list of Writers’ Conferences and Book Festivals.

THRILLERFEST and CRAFTFEST – International Thriller Writers annual conference, New York, NY. July 10-13, 2013. A four-day celebration of suspense-thriller novels, the authors who write them, and the fans who read them. Includes Craftfest, the first day and a half, crammed with excellent craft workshops to choose from presented by bestselling authors, and Agentfest, a half-day of pitching to as many agents as you can cram in. Thrillerfest, the last two days, features excellent panel discussions on various topics.

BOUCHERCON Crime Fiction Convention – world mystery convention, open to anyone; a place for fans, authors and professionals to gather and celebrate their love of the mystery genre. Includes book-signings, panels, discussions, and interviews with authors and people from the mystery community covering all parts of the genre. Anthony Awards, named after Anthony Boucher, presented at the convention. Latest one: Oct. 4-7, 2012, Cleveland, Ohio.

LOVE IS MURDER MYSTERY WRITERS CONFERENCE, Chicago, IL. Feb. 1-3, 2013. The Love is Murder Mystery Authors, Readers and Fans Con is always Super Bowl weekend, at the Intercontinental O'Hare Hotel, just outside of Chicago. Draws more than 300 writers and readers from the U.S., Canada, and overseas. Features panel discussions, author signings, demonstrations, Lovey awards banquet, entertainment, and opportunities to meet mystery authors and network with other readers and fans.

WRITERS’ POLICE ACADEMY, Jamestown, NC. The Writers’ Police Academy offers the most hands-on, interactive and educational experience writers can find to enhance their understanding of all aspects of law enforcement and forensics. This is a one of a kind event, featuring real police, fire, and EMS training at an actual police academy. Top instructors and experts! Most recent one: Sept. 20-23, 2012

THE NEW ENGLAND CRIME BAKE Conference, Dedham, Mass, just outside Boston. Nov. 9-11, 2012 - an annual conference celebrating the work of New England crime fiction and nonfiction authors. Features panels, seminars, and interviews with authors, literary agents, and experts in forensics and other fields related to crime writing, as well as classes on writing craft, manuscript critiques, and book signing events. 

CAPE FEAR CRIME FESTIVAL Feb. 1-2, 2013 – New Hanover Library, Wilmington, NC.
The festival is an intimate gathering for writers to learn about the craft of writing and promotion with other writing professionals.

LEFT COAST CRIME MYSTERY CONVENTION - March 21-24, 2013 - Colorado Springs, CO. LEFT COAST CRIME is an annual mystery convention sponsored by mystery fans, for mystery fans. It is held during the first quarter of the calendar year in Western North America, as defined by the Mountain Time Zone and all time zones westward to Hawaii.

MALICE DOMESTIC, annual traditional mystery fan convention, in Bethesda, MD. May 3-5, 2013. Malice Domestic is an annual "fun fan" convention in metropolitan Washington, D.C., saluting the traditional mystery—books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie. The genre is loosely defined as mysteries which contain no explicit sex or excessive gore or violence.

CRIMEFEST, Bristol, UK – First organised in June 2008, CrimeFest has become one of the most popular dates in the crime fiction calendar. The annual convention draws top crime novelists, readers, editors, publishers and reviewers from around the world and gives delegates the opportunity to celebrate the genre in an informal atmosphere. Includes author panels, crime writing workshops, a pitch-an-agent strand, etc. May 30-June 1, 2013, Bristol.

PUBLIC SAFETY WRITERS CONFERENCE, Las Vegas, Nevada. Open to those writing fiction or nonfiction about or for any public safety field. Conference speakers include a coroner, fire fighters, police officers, and others in the writing field. July 11-14, 2013


Click on the blog name below.  If you have any more suggestions for blogs aimed at writers and readers of thrillers, mysteries, and other crime fiction, please let me know.

~ Crime Fiction Collective

~ The Kill Zone

~ Mystery Writing is Murder           

~ Murderati

~ The Writer’s Forensics Blog    

~ The Thrill Begins

~ Suspense Magazine’s blog

~ Sisters in Crime

~ Poe’s Deadly Daughters

Crime fiction authors and readers: Do you have any crime fiction organizations, writers’ conferences, fan conventions, or blogs to add to this list? If so, please use the comment boxes below and I’ll add them. Thanks a lot!

Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced 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 (Silver Medal winner in the FAPA Book Awards, 2013). Both titles are available in e-book and paperback. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Line in the Sand

by Peg Brantley

If you draw a line in the sand—over which you affirm you will not cross—where do you redraw it when a wave washes it away? Or when a jogger comes along and tramples it? Do you draw it in the same place or move it somewhere out of the way?

Integrity only means something when you stand strong. It's mist in the wind if you adjust your values because they become inconvenient. Keeping your integrity might mean you have to lose a few quick sales, or build your career a little slower than you'd like.

Here's what I've seen with many authors recently—traditional or indie:

A lot has been made lately about phony or paid reviews. Most of us were righteously indignant, and deservedly so. Some people unfortunately, simply wish they'd thought of it first. But that's only one piece of the game.

What about biographies? Is your biography dead-on, or have you played with reality a bit? I've heard it referred to as "permissive puffery" which to me is just another way of moving that line in the sand. Did you really make your living as a journalist or is the truth that your local hometown paper published two letters you wrote to the editor? Or that you were a star for your school newspaper?

How about calling yourself an award winning author because you came in second place in some obscure writing contest? (I have a framed certificate on my wall. Does that count?) I remember when I won that award, a friend told me I could now refer to myself as an award winning author. I think she meant it tongue-in-cheek, but it did make me wonder.

Then there's calling yourself a bestselling author because your book hit the top 100 of a free list, narrowed down by three or four categories? Are you serious? The NYT's Bestseller list has a few ethical issues of its own—don't compound it by adding yours.

Or review trading—explicit or implied. This was kind of a new one for me. No one actually came out and said "I'll give you a great review if you give me a great review", but the timing of their review and suddenly receiving their book made it hard not to hear those words. And when I wasn't crazy about their book? I sort of felt like I should somehow move to have their review taken down. It felt fake and sleazy.

To be perfectly honest, I asked a few readers who had given my first book a positive review to take a look at The Missings early in order to give it a nice bump at its launch. But I also spread that request out to others who may or may not have ever read my first book. One of my first 5-star reviews is from such a reader. Dishonest? Unethical? Lacking in integrity? I don't think those were any different than publishers sending out ARCs to try and get that same bump.

Writers, what about you? Have you seen things that made you shake your head? Were you ever tempted?

Readers, especially readers… have you begun to see through some of this stuff? Does it make you doubt everything?

Peg Brantley was never a journalist or a screenwriter or a sought after speaker. Although Amazon might say she has some bestselling books, she's still trying to reach that mark. Yes, she did receive second place in a writing contest once and even an honorable mention in another… but award winning? Net yet. RED TIDE rose as high as number two one time when she happened to look at the list. That was a kick. It didn't last.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Why I Chose Traditional Publication

A guest post by author Jaden Terrell 

When Peg invited me to submit this guest post, I had a moment of déjà vu. She had just read the first book in my Jared McKean series and said, “I don’t understand why you went with a traditional publisher. You’re good enough to make it on your own.”

Several years ago, an early version of the book was released (under a different title) through a self-publishing company. At the time, I kept hearing, “Why did you self-publish? You’re good enough to get a traditional publisher.” The paradigm has shifted that far and that fast.

The short answer to why I chose to go with a traditional publisher is that I’d tried self-publishing, and I didn’t like it much. I’m shy by nature, and being the sole person responsible for marketing my book was daunting. Successful self-publishing requires a thick skin and a skill set far outside my comfort zone. It requires the author to spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with things that have nothing to do with writing, which is why Amanda Hocking, who made more than a million dollars self-publishing, snapped up a traditional offer as soon as it was offered. If you don’t like or aren’t good at those tasks, or even if you just prefer to devote the bulk of your time to the actual writing, it’s a lot like being nibbled to death by geese.

Even if you take on the challenges, the odds of success are slim. According to Amazon, 30 self-published authors have sold more than 100,000 copies, 145 have sold more than 50,000, and “more than 1000” sell more than 1,000 copies a month. That sounds great until you realize that Lulu publishes 4,000 new titles a month and that there were more than 200,000 self-published titles last year. Bowker predicts as many as 600,000 self-published titles by 2015. So yes, there are more authors than ever making a living through self-publishing, but for every one of those, there are thousands more making little or nothing.

With traditional publishing, I have the support of my publisher, Marty Shepard of The Permanent Press. Although I still have to work at creating an online presence and building name recognition, Marty promotes his authors tirelessly. His company is well-known in the industry, and doors that were closed to me as a self-published author have opened because of his reputation. On my own, I was lucky to get a few reviews from bloggers I knew from DorothyL and other newslists. Since signing with The Permanent Press, I’ve received favorable reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus, and Booklist. I’ve been reviewed in and interviewed by Suspense Magazine and given an excellent review in Mystery Scene Magazine. Would these reviewers have liked the book as much in its earlier incarnation? I’ll never know because I could never have gotten in the door.

I have my doubts, though, because the main reason I chose to go traditional is that, as Dean Wesley Smith says, writers are terrible judges of their own work. For many authors, including Dean, that’s an argument for going ahead and putting the book out: let the readers decide. But for me, it’s the best argument in the world for holding off.

Let me back up a minute. When I started submitting the first Jared McKean book, I got an agent very quickly. We got a lot of “good” rejections from the big houses—the kind with complimentary comments and encouragement—but no takers. I knew there was something wrong with the book, but neither my agent nor I could put a finger on what it was. I did an extensive edit, and then a friend offered to publish it for me through iUniverse. “Worth a try,” my agent said, “since we’re not having much luck with it.”

So my friend and I published it, to little fanfare, and most people who read it seemed enthusiastic about it. Established mystery authors, like Kathryn Wall (who had also gotten her start by self-publishing), Sarah Shaber, and Patricia Sprinkle, treated me like one of the club. Despite the stigma attached to self-publishing, they never ostracized me. But I knew I hadn’t made the cut. And there was a reason for that. Looking back on that version of the book, it wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t ready. The book as it is now is so much richer and more polished. I learned a lot of valuable lessons from my self-publishing experience, but I do feel a pang every time a copy of that first version floats up on Google or Amazon, because it wasn’t the book it could have been. For me, that’s the peril of self-publishing. It’s so easy to “put it out there” before it’s ripe.

When I started getting rejections for the second book, A Cup Full of Midnight, I went to more workshops, read more books on craft, studied my favorite novels, revised, and rewrote. When my new agent, Jill Marr, sent me the contract from The Permanent Press, I felt like I had finally earned my place in the club. Most important, when I got Marty’s edits, his input made the book a thousand percent better than it would have been had I put it out myself. So those agents who rejected the book were right to reject it, and I’m grateful they did, because the result was a better book.

I don’t say I would never self-publish again; some of the most talented and successful authors I know, like Timothy Hallinan, have a foot in both worlds, publishing some titles through traditional means and others on their own. Once I have a few more books under my belt and know I’ve developed “the chops” for it, I’d like to do the same. But I will always be grateful for the chance to publish with Marty. As Spock might say, “May he live long and prosper.”

There are more options for writers than ever before. For those of you who write, are you choosing to self-publish or pursue a traditional contract (or both)? What led you to that decision? How will you meet the challenges of the option you chose? 

Jaden Terrell is the author of the Jared McKean mysteries and a contributor to Now Write! Mysteries, a collection of exercises published by Tarcher/Penguin for writers of crime fiction. Terrell is the executive director of the Killer Nashville Thriller, Mystery, and Crime Literature Conference and a recipient of the 2009 Magnolia Award for service to the Southeastern Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Learn more at

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How Should a Character be Killed?

By Andrew E. Kaufman

I know it’s an odd question coming from someone who writes thrillers, but recently, I had to give it a lot of thought.

I was about halfway through my latest novel, when I suddenly realized that one of my characters needed to die. It made perfect sense, and most importantly, was a crucial element in driving my plot.

Admittedly, I’ve killed off plenty of characters in my books, and figuring out the method was never a problem, but with this one, I actually hadn’t planned on it, so the surprise caught me a little off-guard.

I really had to think about this.

While killing off a character has to work well with the plot, just as important, is how they are killed. It has to connect with the suspect’s frame of mind and their motivation, fit perfectly within the story, and it has to make emotional as well as logical sense.

I’ve often read books where the method of murder made me scratch my head. It didn’t fit, seemed illogical, and as a result, bumped me out of the story. I remember one in particular where fancy explosives were used, and yet there was no mention prior to this that the killer had any knowledge on the subject. As a result, I lost confidence and interest in the story and in the author. I stopped reading.

In this instance, in my book, the killer was sending out a message, so it not only needed to be powerful, but it also needed to be specific and had to resonate strongly with my protagonist. I wanted it to shake him up in a very personal way. In other words, I couldn’t just shoot the victim dead because it wouldn’t have meant anything to the reader and would feel like a copout.

After a lot of struggling, a lot of thought, I did finally figure it out. I don’t want to give away the story before the book comes out, but I will tell you this: the message was that my protagonist was playing with fire.

I think you can figure out the rest.

But how about you? Authors, what goes into your thought process when you decide to kill off a character? Do you ever struggle with it? 

Readers, what’s your experience been? 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Mystery of the Missing Rejection Letter

By:  Kimberly Hitchens is the founder and owner of, an ebook production company that has produced books for over 1,000 authors and imprints.

As some of you know, I spend a fair amount of time at the Amazon KDP (Kindle Digital Platform) author's forums, a task I was requested to do by KDP personnel when our company apotheosed to the Amazon Professional Converter's List.  Even though that was a few years back, I still visit the forum and provide helpful hints to DIY publishers, and a recurring thread has led me to this post.

Two of the most common posts at the KDP, in the General Questions forum, are variants of these: 

"Can you please take a look at my book listing here (insert link), and tell me what you think?" or, "OMG, I received a bad review!  I've read and re-read my book, and this is obviously a malicious review, this person is out to get me, and I want everyone here to agree that this is clearly evil."

Now, this inevitably leads to an unhappy author, as people will unfortunately tell him/her exactly what they think.  In the case of the former, often, the author has never asked a stranger what they thought of her novel--this is the first time that someone who isn't near and dear to them has viewed it.  Almost inevitably, when I view the "Look Inside" for someone in this category (of unaudited books) I wince.  It's usually pretty awful. 

In the case of the latter (malicious review complaint), another unhappy series of occurrences happens in rapid sequence, which usually inflames the situation.

When an author on the KDP posts that s/he has received a bad review, you can rely upon the instantaneous angry reaction from his fellow authors.  A mob mentality arrives faster than an ambulance to an accident scene, and the poor upset author is urged to report the malfeasant for "malicious reviewing."  Unfortunately, they almost always follow this advice and try to a) get the review removed, and b) "report" the reviewer for malicious reviewing.  It's enough to put me right off reviewing books, I can tell you that for nothing.

Now, I recently wondered why this happens.  I mean, I get it; a person's feelings are hurt, they're angry, and they want revenge/payback/gratification that they're right, and proof of their theory that the reviewer is secretly their 8th-Grade frenemy Charlotte who's come back to haunt them.  But--why does this happen?  I don't remember, even a mere 10 years ago, this type of crushed reaction to a simple "bad review." 

The Rejection Rumba

Then it dawned on me--we're now talking about an entire generation of authors who've never known a rejection letter.  I mean, think about this seriously:  authors who've never thrown a manuscript over the transom; who've never received a rejection letter.  Who've never been ignored, or turned down by, an Agent.  They've determined to write and  publish a book, and they do so.  Isn't the phrase itself, "author who's never received a rejection letter" oxymoronic?  Isn't it practically a fantastical creature?  When this struck me, I wrote a  post on the KDP, with words to this effect (the KDP "upgrade" seems to have nuked older entries, so I can't find what I originally wrote):

There was a time when a rejection letter was a rite of passage for any writer.  Everybody had them; everyone you know who wrote anything had them.  Some took them hard; some took them apparently lightly; but a rejection letter was always a cause for an authorial get-together, usually over a bottle of booze with ever-declining levels, during which everyone commiserated with you and diligently searched the rejection letter word-by-word, poring* over it, seeking any tiny pearl, any wording or phrasing that led you to believe that the Acquistions Editor didn't think that you were a completely hopeless loser.  Usually (in private), there might be tears.  Maybe the now-empty bottle would meet a hapless wall.  And always, a hangover ensued**.  But then life would go on; you'd curse the tasteless acquisitions editor, who after all, turned out to be a cretin (obviously); and you'd start writing again.  Maybe you'd rewrite bits of what you'd submitted; maybe you would start on something new while you submitted and resubmitted the rejected manuscript...but you'd keep writing.  And the cycle would repeat. 
And if it didn't...if you couldn't take the rejection'd leave the game. 

And that, I believe, is the difference.  The difference in why so many new authors, self-published through the KDP (or any other platform) never develop the traditional Rhino Hide (Of the genus Nauagahyde) formerly required for a writer to truly make it in the world.  They've never undergone the Rite of the Rejection Letter, or the abusive snark of an overworked Agent.  Nor have they, it seems, in ever-increasing numbers, used critique groups, editors, proofreaders, manuscript assessment services (caveat emptor), writing partners, or even beta readers that aren't their family or their best friends.  Like far too many politicians, they've only developed synchophantic "readers" of their work.  No one ever tells them what they don't want to hear. 

The Planet is My Critique Group

Thus, when they unwittingly decide to use the entire English-speaking portion of the planet as their critique group (Amazon, Barnes & Noble), they're devastated to learn what they should have learned in a Creative Writing 101 class, a good writing course, or simply by using a rotten human as a sounding board.  When I've mentioned this to those who've inquired, they reply that "critique groups are mean," and thus they won't use them.  Is it truly better, I must wonder, to use the public as a critique group?  How is that less painful?  How can they possibly be prepared for the reality of reviews, when they've never even had a critique?  Is there greater anonymity in being blasted with scathing reviews than suffering the slings and arrows of a writing partner or class or group?

I'm not sure when this happened.  I don't know when the tide turned, and people who'd always wanted to write a book simply sat down and wrote one, without what used to be "de rigueur" for a published work.  But turned it has.  If you spend a week of time glancing at the books promoted/asked about on the KDP, that much is clear. 

But now, in addition to the "kindness of strangers" known as the Amazon review, we also have Amazon itself playing the game, sending ever-more-frequent takedown letters to authors who have even the slightest of typos--never mind unreadably bad writing--in their books.  How will this affect these selfsame authors, if at all?

I'm left to wonder.  I wonder if reviewing, given the recent scandals and what I see daily on the KDP as near-hysteria over bad ones, will be eliminated from Amazon.  I wonder if the Customer Service burden of investigating every reported "malicious review" will cost Amazon so much money, and so much brain-damage, that they'll decide it's not worth it--either self-publishing or reviews. I wonder if the flagrant disregard of any type of pre-publication critique means that these lower-quality books will create a permanent underclass of books that tars Indies with the same brush. 

I hope not.
# # # 

* (Yes, I mean poring, not pouring.)
** Now I eat Haagen-Dazs, no demon rum for this girl, with far too many Irish ancestors.  ;-)