Thursday, February 28, 2013

This is for all us geeks

By Gayle Carline

One of the nice things about writing genre fiction is that there are organizations that celebrate practically each genre. As a mystery writer, I belong to Sisters in Crime, and lucky for me, there is a chapter in Orange County with monthly meetings. We have all kinds of guest speakers, from other authors to law enforcement experts to ex-CIA operatives. As both a writer and a reader, I find everyone fascinating.
This month, we had Daniel McKerren, a man who spent thirty years as a police officer and now works as a freelance investigator with insurance companies, law enforcement, etc, specifically as a computer forensics and data recovery specialist. It was an interesting talk, although it started out, well, I’d call it wonky. You might call it boring.
He began by telling us how computers work. They are full of on/off switches called bits and eight bits make a byte and they are arranged in sectors and accessed by pointers in another sector, and so on. As a former software engineer, I kept thinking, “Yeah, yeah, I know, I know, get to the crime solving part.”
Stay with me, here.
Eventually, I saw the point to his explanations: he had to educate everyone in the room so that his crime-solving discussion would have context. People think they can delete files and no one can ever find them again, even though we see on crime shows that the computer-CSI guys can recover deleted files… but how?
It’s all about the pointers. When you delete a file, you are only deleting the pointer to that file. The file contents are still floating around in their sectors, unless and until they are overwritten by a new file. There is something you can do called wiping the disk, which sets all those on/off switches to off, but don’t get cocky—there are still some labs that can use magnetic technology to reset the switches to their last position.
In which case, it would suck to be you, if you were trying to hide something.
I kind of knew this, but the one thing I didn’t know was the way forensics techs recover data. You see, they don’t just fire up the suspect’s computer and dive in. That’s because every time you start up your computer, you are altering the contents. Hardware and peripheral checks are always performed by the operating system, which results in updating the time stamps.
Instead of hitting the Power button, the tech removes the suspect’s hard drive and attaches a device that uses an old-school, read-only DOS program to copy the data to another drive that is read-only. At that point, the data can be extracted and the original hard drive is bagged and tagged.
Just hearing that information made me want to run home and re-write a few scenes.

In addition, they have to know how big the hard drive is because their warrant has to be that specific. Dan said if he took a 30G hard drive to a location and the suspect had a 60G drive, he has to go back and get another warrant, which gives the suspect time to try to wipe the drive. Hell, he might even destroy the drive.
I don’t know of any way to recover data from a hard drive that’s gone a few rounds in the garbage disposal.
I was reminded of Saturday’s post by J.H. Bográn, and how technology can be a stumbling block for thriller/mystery writers. Dan’s talk inspired me to find ways to use technology to my hero’s advantage.

His parting advice? “Technology is advancing at mach speed. When anyone tells you that ‘they can’t get something specific from a computer,’ add the word now to the end of that sentence.”

Any questions, class?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What Floats Your Boat?

By Jenny Hilborne
Author of mysteries and thrillers

Earlier this month, I found myself in an unfamiliar position – I went to a party. I was pulled out from behind my computer and my beloved writing/editing and dragged along invited to attend this thing. The event, organized by a professional tour group, wasn’t just any old party, either, but an evening of pre-show revelry for some of rock band Bon Jovi’s most loyal fans. It meant a lot to these people, many of whom (including my sister) had traveled all the way to Canada and were one day away from meeting their idol – the man himself, Jon Bon Jovi.

I wasn’t keen. As the hour drew near, I grew less keen. For one thing, I had picked up a nasty little cold on the plane ride over and it had found its grip. Secondly, I hadn’t been to a party (or dressed up and worn make-up) in ages. Lastly (though, if not for my sister, I’d have thought up a host of other excuses), I like the band’s music well enough, but I’m not a fan. I’d rather spend my time writing.

Anyway, I donned what I thought might be acceptable attire for a rock party, and cringed when the elevator doors opened on the 38th floor of the hotel and ejected me directly into the party - and into a throng of die-hard fans. No turning back, and no talking about books or writing. Not here.

My bag stuffed with tissues, I gravitated to the drinks line, got my tipple, then meandered over to the window where I downed it and looked out at the stunning views of Toronto - and wished myself back behind my computer, seventeen floors below. What did I have to talk about up here, with all these Bon Jovi fans?

Surprisingly, quite a bit, as it turned out. As I mingled, I discovered passionate people are happy people, good folks to be around. Their enthusiasm is contagious and I got caught up in it, forgot I wasn’t a fan and that I felt like crap, and enjoyed myself chatting with people about their passion (for some an obsession) instead of mine. 

While I won’t be attending a Bon Jovi concert any time soon, it was good to do something different, and for someone else. These fans couldn’t wait to meet their idol, and I felt a tinge of sadness that I don’t have one.

It’s hard not to be affected by the excitement and the energy radiated by passionate people.  There was no apathy in the room that night, only happiness and excitement. I’m glad I got to share in it, form new social bonds, and appreciate someone else’s passion. Indulging in my sister’s interests for a week gave me an opportunity to travel. I got to see Niagara Falls, the Toronto Islands, the CN Tower, and the underground PATH system. The experience was meaningful and satisfying.

Whether it’s music, books, sports, food…indulging other people in their passions is a chance to learn, and brings unexpected pleasure. It makes the world a more enjoyable place. I took a much needed night off from writing, and enjoyed a great night at the Bon Jovi pre-show party. I even got a few ideas for characters in future books.

Whatever floats your boat, get out there and enjoy it. When you’d rather stay at home, go out and get carried along with the hype. It’s infectious. Then you can bring those passions alive again—whether they are yours or someone else’s—when you write.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Editing: Increasing or Decreasing Your Word Count

Tom Schreck

Typically, the advice you get is to reduce your work by at least 10% with each editing session.

If you've got 100,000 words when you start you should have 90,000 after you edit the first time and
80,000 the second time.
"On Writing" is my favorite writing book

Good writing means using the fewest words possible to get your plot, characters and feel communicated.

Could your editing ever result in increasing your word count?

It does for me.

That used to bother me but it doesn't any more.

I've come to realize that my first draft is for me to get stuff out of my head and on to paper. I write for short bursts of time and when I go back and read what I've written I've almost always find that I need to develop themes more, get into characters more and smooth out the plot by adding seasoning.

It goes against Stephen King's, Syd Fields and Robert McKee's advice.

The lesson? Take advice, find out what experts say and then do whatever it takes to get your book written.

On the Ropes is on sale today for 99 cents on Amazon. Click here

Monday, February 25, 2013

Successful Sentence Styles for Stories, Pt. I

by Jodie Renner, freelance editor and craft-of-fiction writer

Fiction writers – do you pay conscious attention to sentence structure? If you’re a natural and your writing flows well, you probably don’t need to. But if it’s choppy, awkward, repetitive or confusing, it's time for some tweaking and editing. 

Today I'll talk about incomplete sentences in fiction. 

Nonfiction writing usually demands grammatically correct, complete sentences, but in fiction, partial sentences are often more effective to set a tone or mood, especially in dialogue.

Partial sentences can also be excellent to add tension or for emphasis, especially at the end of a scene or chapter, as in this chapter ending from The Sentry by Robert Crais: 

...he told himself the violence in his life had cost him everything, but he knew that was not true. As lonely as he sometimes felt, he still had more to lose. 

He could lose his best friend. 

Or himself. 

Sentence fragments are great for dialogue and thoughts.

To sound natural, dialogue needs to be casual and often consists of one- or two-word questions and answers, but even the narration of the story is really the thoughts of the viewpoint character for that chapter, so incomplete sentences can work there too, sprinkled in here and there, especially at times of stress.
But there are incomplete sentences and there are incomplete sentences.
For better flow of ideas, in most of the narration it’s usually best to complete a thought within a sentence. Otherwise, readers can feel subliminally irritated.

~ Don’t break up the natural flow of a thought. It's jarring and confusing.
To be avoided: half-thoughts or phrases that demand more, like these constructions I find in fiction manuscripts I edit:
Unfinished: He looked down from the helicopter. Speed boats and yachts crisscrossing the islands.
Better: He looked down from the helicopter. Speed boats and yachts crisscrossed the islands.

~ Finish the thought.

If you start a sentence or clause with “When” or “If” or “Since” or “Because” or “But if,” etc., finish the thought in the same sentence, otherwise it can be annoying to readers. If…, then what? When…., then what?
Avoid disjointed fragments like:
While I was there. I picked up your mail.
Since you’re going there anyway. Could you get me a coffee?
With each bit of information they dug up. His concern deepened.
Instead, for better flow, turn the period into a comma and complete the thought within the sentence:
While I was there, I picked up your mail.
Since you’re going there anyway, could you get me a coffee? Etc.
Avoid: He shrugged. “I’m no expert, but if you add up all the stories. Well, it looks like the real thing.”
Instead, write: He shrugged. “I’m no expert, but if you add up all the stories, it looks like the real thing.”

~ Connect ideas for better flow:

Before: His birthdate showed him to be in his early forties. The tall, gaunt man looked to be sixty.

After: His birthdate showed him to be in his early forties, but the tall, gaunt man looked to be sixty.
~ Anchor a sentence with a verb, to complete the thought of a sentence that seems to leave us hanging.
Sentences can often do without a subject, if the context tells us who the subject is:
He quietly opened the door. Peeked into the room. Looked around. Not there. Backed out and closed the door.
But verbs are more important. What is the person/thing doing? That info is necessary for the reader to visualize what’s going on.
Vague: He looked up. A man on the roof.
Better: He looked up. A man was crouched on the roof, poised to jump.
Vague: She turned the corner and looked around. Some teens in the vacant lot.

Better: She turned the corner and looked around. Some teams were playing baseball in the vacant lot.

And here, the second sentence needs a verb: Karen Reilly climbed out of the car. Thin and gaunt, with stringy blond hair, her face lined with tension.
Like maybe: Karen Reilly climbed out of the car. Thin and gaunt, with stringy blond hair, she moved stiffly, her face lined with tension.

~ For better flow and a complete thought, it’s often better to join up sentence fragments with a word, a comma, or a dash:
Before: After their mother died, Jane’s father moved the whole family back to Illinois. A fresh start for them away from the painful memories of Texas.
One possible solution: After their mother died, Jane’s father moved the whole family back to Illinois for a fresh start away from the painful memories of Texas.
Before: Carol asked the taxi driver to take her to the Café de Paris on St. Jermaine. A quaint pedestrian street speckled with elegant boutiques and chic cafes.
After: Carol asked the taxi driver to take her to the Café de Paris on St. Jermaine, a quaint pedestrian street speckled with elegant boutiques and chic cafes.

Before: The SWAT team evacuated the building and then began tests for chemical or biological agents. Anything that could have a delayed release.
After: The SWAT team evacuated the building and then began tests for chemical or biological agents—anything that could have a delayed release.
In Part II on my blog on March 9, I talk about ways to tweak your sentences to create a more sophisticated, compelling sentence structure and a more natural flow of ideas. Any comments or suggestions you may have are most welcome!

Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, 
has published two
books (& e-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, both in e-book & print. Upcoming book: Immerse the Readers in Your Story World. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter, and read her blog posts on The Kill Zone and Resources for WritersTo subscribe to Jodie’s "Resources for Writers" newsletter please click on this link.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Going Low-Tech

A guest blog post by J. H. Bográn 

Last week I finished reading Intensity by Dean Koontz. The novel was written, and set, in the mid-90s. The premise of the novel depends heavily on the fact that the heroine is not able to call for help. Back then, cellular phones were not an everyday commodity and were only found clipped to a businessman’s leather belt or attached to a huge battery inside a briefcase. In our modern day of instant communication and gratification, it becomes very difficult for certain type of stories to work. Going low-tech is difficult nowadays, but not impossible. 

But what if you really want to have a low-tech environment for your novel setting? Of course I don’t have the absolute answer for this, because it would depend on the creativity of the author. However, here are some ideas to bounce around. 

~ Set your story in the past. If you set the novel in, say, the mid-90s, you can forget about annoying personalized ringtones, everybody taking a picture of you with their phone camera, and, most importantly, prevent premature calls to the cavalry. In The Assassins Gallery, David L. Robbins sets the action in the days around the end of World War II. He deals with fuel rations, curfews, racism, and plenty of other elements of the period that make this novel very rich.  

~ Stranded away from technology. Oh, how we depend on finding those signal bars in our little devices! Finding an unmapped island would be tricky, but you can play a little there. Similar to the island is setting your story in the mountains, with no cellular coverage. And while we’re on the subject of islands, when asked about the contents of the unopened Fedex package in Cast Away, director Robert Zemeckis has said the box contained a solar-powered satellite phone. Opening the parcel would have cut short the movie by at least 1.5 hours! 

~ Diagnose with OCD. A character with a fixation that technology can bring the apocalypse faster than you can say “twelve-twenty one-twelve” can go a long way. Oh, come on, don’t give me that look! We’ve had OCD characters even before the term was coined or people diagnosed with it—think Sherlock Holmes, for one. On the other hand, the BBC’s latest incarnation of the character goes the opposite way, with Sherlock’s use of technology. 

~ Time and Space travel. If you read a description of how to cook a thriller, you will seldom hear “add a dash of fantasy,” but sometimes working out of the box can take you to such unexpected places. For my short story, Deeds of a Master Archer, I have two modern-day guys falling through a portal and landing in a world where they become a village’s last line of defense against—you guessed it—dragons. I usually refer to this story as a standard thriller with a fantasy location. 

So, how would you make a character to boldly go where no character has gone before? 


J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. He’s a member of the International Thriller Writers where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator. 
Website:; Twitter: @JHBogran; Facebook: 

Friday, February 22, 2013


by Peg Brantley

When I asked a reader what she would like to see discussed at CFC, here's what she suggested:

… [A writer] having a character spring to life in her mind and having to write his story. As someone to whom this has NEVER happened, and to whom it is very unlikely to happen in the future, I was interested in what makes the urge to tell stories take root in a person’s mind.

Lordy, gordy. This tiny little bit set my mind on a roll. This is from The Missings—(I needed a minor character to give direction to a secondary character. See how small the role was supposed to be?):

“My sister has been murdered and I am looking for her killer. You and I have both heard about ‘the missings’ in our community, and I’m told you know something about them. There’s a good chance whoever is responsible for their disappearance is also responsible for my sister’s death. Will you talk to us?”

The entire time Elizabeth spoke, the man’s eyes remained fixed on Daniel. Those eyes, surprisingly light in a dark Chicano face, were hot with reined-in anger. His body signaled casual, easy: the kind of end-of-the-day posture all workingmen get, whether they’ve spent hours in the sweat of manual labor or sitting behind a desk. Forget that the clock said noon, his demeanor said relaxed. But his eyes told a different story. Intense. Unrelenting.

Elizabeth paused for a moment, waiting for an answer. The man’s attention never left Daniel.

“Do you always,” he enunciated in slow, precise Spanish, “let women do your talking?” The man did not so much as twitch. His voice remained low. Calm. “Did you leave your balls behind with your Mexican heritage?”

Daniel took a step closer. Pulled Elizabeth out of the way. Leaned in.

“My balls,” he replied in Spanish, “are where they’ve always been. Do you want to see who has the bigger pair?”

The man smiled. Then he laughed. Harder. So loud the rest of the bar once again grew silent. “I won’t work with someone who clearly denies who he is. You won’t get anything from me regardless of the beauty of the women you send ahead.” He cocked his head. “However, I’ve heard good things about someone in your department. Tell Detective Waters I will come to see him this afternoon. Tell him it’s time for me to find someone I can trust and that it isn’t you.”


This was my first introduction to Mex (whose real name is Carlos Alberto Basilio Teodoro Duque de Estrada Anderson). I met him just as readers met him. Fully formed. I knew immediately that he'd suffered tremendous loss. Strong. I knew he had a code he would not violate. I also knew how much that code had cost him. He showed up in the shadows of a bar in The Missings and threatened to derail the whole book. I was thinking Jack Reacher. I was thinking Lucas Davenport. He was thinking Mex Anderson.

I was soooo close to finishing the first draft of this book. I just needed a guy in a bar to help point my detectives in the right direction. Instead, Rambo showed up.

And he wouldn't shut up.

I became desperate. At the same time I was falling in love with this wounded-loner-strong-macho character, I was trying my damnedest to finish this story. My solution? Promise him one of his own if he'd just tone it down a notch.

Here's the deal: our "urges" take us onto the paths we're meant to follow. It's our choice. Writers, mathematicians, teachers, fire fighters, politicians, truck drivers or whatever… we get the urge and then we decide. Once we determine what path we're going to walk, we're at the mercy of the whims of that path. In my case, for this point in time, it was Mex Anderson.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Three Ways to Make Your Fiction “True”

A guest post by John Yeoman 

Well, knock me down with a typewriter. Truman Capote’s "true crime" classic In Cold Blood was fiction, after all. It was based upon true events, it seems, but not every event in it was true.  

New documents have emerged from the archives of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to show that Capote changed the chronology, inflated the importance of his central character (a man he liked), and cut a lot of people out of the story whom he didn’t like. What’s more, he invented entire scenes and passages of dialogue. 

Capote might have believed he was writing the truth. But as he never took notes or recordings and relied on his memory to write the book several months after doing his research, fiction was the inevitable result. And it worked. For nearly fifty years, his readers believed the book was honest. It wasn’t. But Capote had successfully created a “truth effect.” 

That’s our job as writers of crime fiction, to create a “truth effect” that readers will buy into. Here are three tested ways to do it: 

1. Give the story a verifiable setting. 

One strategy is to set the story in a real location, populate it with true events that the reader can easily find on Google, and drop in a wealth of other authentic minutia. David Lindsey’s detective novels are located in Houston, Texas. He knows the place intimately. Local residents would recognise every road junction. Those are real. So the story must be too... 

Daniel Defoe fooled the world for many decades that A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) was an eye-witness account. It’s packed with body counts, real statistics, the grim trivia of official records. Yet it was a work solely of his imagination. 

Mix real details in with imaginary ones and readers will buy into your “Big Lie.” 

2. Invest your characters with a complex past. 

Our characters gain dimension when we give them a rich and varied past but we allude to it casually. Peter O’Donnell did this very well in his Modesty Blaise thrillers. The hero Willie Garvin is a supreme martial artist who faces every dangerous event with a biblical quotation. The formidable Modesty has the gift of escaping into a meditative trance whenever she’s tortured (which is often). 

Why do these traits produce a “truth effect”? They allude to previous events in the characters’ lives. Garvin spent many years in a Thai jail with only the Bible for company. Modesty learned deep meditation from a mystic in a desert cave. These people clearly have a complex past, as we all do. But they don’t flaunt it, any more than we do. So they’re “real.” 

If you can produce a “truth effect” with characters developed from a cartoon strip, as O’Donnell’s were, you can do it in any crime novel! 

3. Convey the emotional truths behind events. 

Our plot may be absurd (“the moon landings were a Hollywood invention”) but our stories will still work if our characters are driven by recognisable emotions. The reader needs a character viewpoint in the story that they can identify with, even if that viewpoint’s weird.  

No character could be weirder than Grenouille in Patrick Suskind’s strange novel Perfume. Grenouille is a psychopathic perfumier who kills young girls to collect their odours. Creepy! But the reader can still inhabit his point of view across 260 pages, albeit uncomfortably, because Grenouille is a tragic orphan, grossly abused as a child. He never had a chance at normality.  

We can identify with that. His mind may be incomprehensible but his character is emotionally true. 

As crime fiction writers, our job is to create an illusion. But the illusion won’t work unless it’s grounded in truths that readers create out of their own experience, from the hints we give them. Truman Capote wrote fiction and called it fact, just as Daniel Defoe had done two centuries before. Both created a “truth effect” and readers believed them. Job done. 

Readers - Which stories have brilliantly persuaded you they were 'true'? And how did the author achieve that effect?

Writers - What methods do you use yourself to convince the reader: 'this can't be fiction. It's too real'? Share your thoughts with us! 

Dr John Yeoman, cwriting@btinternet.comhas 42 years’ experience as a commercial author, newspaper editor and one-time chairman of a major PR consultancy. He has published eight books of humour, some of them intended to be humorous. John Yeoman, PhD Creative Writing, judges the Writers’ Village story competition and is a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. A wealth of further ideas for writing fiction that sells can be found in his free 14-part story course at:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Creating Book Covers that Sell--From a Designer's Perspective

Book Covers.

It's no secret they can make or break a novel. Your prose may be brilliant, your story gripping from start to finish, but if your cover's a dud, you'd might as well kiss your sweet sales goodbye—because unless you build it….they won't come (a great cover, that is).

Linda Boulanger knows covers. 

That's because she's created hundreds of them, including several for fellow CFC blogmate, Jenny Hilborne. Folks, I’m not exaggerating when I say Linda does an amazing job at it. So I thought I'd have her here for a little cover cyber chat, to talk about what it takes to attract readers rather than repel them and hopefully bring in those sales.

Drew: As a cover artist, what are the most important elements for having a successful/impactful book cover?

Linda: I think the majority of designers would agree that the #1 element you’ll see on successful covers has to be the achievement of a true focal point. The eye needs a place to land and linger before beginning to take in the rest of the cover. If you don’t want your cover overlooked, it needs to grab a potential reader’s attention—and quickly—or they’re going to choose one that does. That focal point can be the first step in making yours the cover they look at long enough to click the magic button.

Drew: What are some of the mistakes you see with covers?

Linda: I would say the biggest mistake I see are ones that don’t tell me a thing about the story or fail to draw me in—that, and covers that lose all appeal in the “postage stamp” test. Looking at Amazon’s Top 100 books, you'll see a lot of very tiny covers! The very best covers can lose details in those tiny thumbnails, so make sure your overall image still makes an impact when it’s very, very small. (btw, CFC’s own Kimberly Hitchens posted aboutLousy Book Covers a couple of weeks ago. It’s definitely worth reading.

Drew: What kind of consideration do you give to genre?

Linda: Consideration to genre is very important. If I had my way, all covers would be “pretty” – which definitely doesn’t work for all genres! But, just as the stories differ within genres, so do the covers. I do have to say that my main goal is creating a certain feel from the information I gather from the author about the story, more so than getting hung up on a particular style. Surprisingly (or not), the covers seem to work out and fit not only the story, but the genre as well.

Drew: Author name first, or title: your thoughts?

Linda: As a designer, I prefer to let the placement of title and author name fit into the design, though I know there are many that believe it should be one way or the other. Authors need to let their designer know if one is preferred over another because it definitely impacts the elements chosen. On sequels or series, the use of placement as well as particular fonts can help a reader know the book is a part of something bigger, with or without a subtitle.

Drew: What is your process for taking a cover from concept to finish? How do you bring an author's wishes to life?

Linda: This question is a blog post in itself! In fact, I was a guest on Karen S. Elliott’s blog in October where I allowed readers to “creep into my mind” to see a bit of the process. I basically start all covers with a few simple steps. First, I ask questions because I want a feel for the story. I want an author’s blurb or elevator pitch. I’ll ask about characters, whether there’s a particular scene that stands out. And I may come back more than once to get more information. Gathering images comes next, and that’s usually where the ideas begin to come together in my head even before I open my design program.

Part of bringing an author’s wishes to life is getting us on the same page, which means there may be several cover concepts to choose from. Once we’re certain of our direction with those, we’ll usually go back and forth a few more times with little details (which can make a big impact). I’ll then fine-tune the elements, and the cover gets sent to the author. Once it’s revealed by the author, I’ll post it on my website(s) and social media haunts. I also ask authors to let me know when they’re doing promotions so I can share that information. I tend to walk away from every project feeling as if the book is partly my baby, and I want the world to love it just as much as the author does.

Drew: What do you enjoy most about creating covers?

Linda: The ability to couple my love of reading with creativity and know my design gives potential readers a glimpse that the story inside is truly exhilarating. I also enjoy getting to know authors from all over. We definitely tend to develop more than just a simple working relationship. And when I get to help promote their books and see them doing well—that’s an added bonus.

Drew: What advice would you give authors who are looking to have covers made for their books?

Linda: Feel comfortable with your designer, and don’t accept a cover you aren’t completely in love with. I tell authors all the time: If you don’t love it, you can’t sell it, and that’s not good for any of us. Try to find out a bit about the designer before going in, and look for one you think would be a good fit for your style. For example, if you don’t like being an integral part of the process, then I’m probably not the designer for you. Figure out how you like to work, and choose accordingly. Also remember that creativity takes time, so you need to have realistic expectations of your designer.

As mentioned, your cover is probably the biggest draw for potential readers. It needs to be right and you, the author, are a designer’s #1 resource for creating that perfect cover. No one knows your book like you. YOU are the key to creating an attention-grabbing cover that truly fits your story and that you and the world will love.

Linda Boulanger has designed book covers and created layouts across many genres. Authors who work with her will let you know you receive much more than the creation of a book cover or beautiful interior layout when you choose her services. Visit her at:


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Critique Crap-tastrophe

By: Kimberly Hitchens is the founder and owner of, an ebook production company that has produced more than 2,000 books for over 1,000 Indy authors and imprints.

Hi, Guys!

Sadly, this week I'm not only slammed, but I've managed to aggravate the Dreaded Frozen Shoulder again, so I can't handle a full-blown blog post.  But I've been saved (hallelujah!) through the good auspices of author G.L. Drummond, (not a client), who blogs at "Feral Intensity."  This week, Gayla (G.L. Drummond) interrupted a multi-part series she was running on book marketing to discuss a particularly disturbing thread that we saw at the KDP Forums.  The thread itself is here:    CLICK HERE TO VIEW THREAD

Here's the thread the author started:

"Happily Annoucing Two Great Books! Opinions Wanted! "

...and this is her first post:

"Take a look and your opinions are welcome! The 1st, Tangled Hearts, is a wonderful romance. The 2nd, Skylark Blues, is a story about Air Force Basic Military Training. Everyone that has been in the military should read.
Waiting to hear your thoughts,"

About 8 or so pages later, when all of us were so gobsmacked by this author's incredibly rude and offensive retorts to the feedback she had requested, Gayla couldn't take it any longer, and decided to blog about it, for the same reason I'm pointing you newcomers to that blog:  Please, please, please:  if you're a new author, and you've posted your first book, sans the benefit of an editor, or beta readers, or a critique group, and the type of feeback that this woman received is the type of feedback that YOU receive:  whatever you do, don't react as this woman didEvery single possible thing she did was wrong, culminating in this doozy to a forum full of authors, some of them top-sellers:

“Well, all of you are a waste of my time. I need to find a more intelligent group of real authors to have a sound discussion with.”
My Book is TOO Wonderful!  Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah Nyah!

Gayla's blog posting about this is to be found here:   CLICK HERE to read the blog post.  I can't say what she said any better than she did--so I'm simply linking to her blog.  For those of you who are new authors, you may also find her series  on Book Marketing worthwhile.  (For those of you who were fans of the early Anita Blake, Vampire Executioner series, before it became so porn-tastic that it was no longer readable, you might also really like Gayla's book, "Arcane Solutions," which I thought was fun.)

Sorry to be so brief--but that's all the typing I have in me this Monday night, February 18th, 2013.  I hope I'll be far more fascinating next time, but in this instance, I think Gayla said everything I would have said--but better.  ;-)


Monday, February 18, 2013

Dangerous Ivory Towers

From the Mary Higgins Clark awards short-list:

Dead Scared (Lacey Flint #2) by S.J. Bolton (Minotaur hardcover, 5 June 2012).

Detective Constable Lacey Flint has just recovered from the injuries she suffered apprehending a Jack the Ripper copycat (Now You See Me, 2011).   Although assigned to a task force on serious crimes against women, Detective Inspector Mark Joesbury, with whom she worked on the Ripper case, has asked her superiors to let her go undercover as a Cambridge psychology student.

At first, Flint is reluctant, apart from her strong attraction to the very attractive Joesbury (much is made of his "turquoise eyes"), she doesn't feel emotionally prepared to immerse herself in another difficult case.  But once she understands that they are investigating a rash of apparent student suicides, and sees the results, both successful and not, she agrees.

The suspicions were first raised by Dr. Evi Oliver, a counsellor at the university clinic who had expressed her concerns to a former Cambridge connection, Joesbury's colleague DI Dana Tulloch.
Lacey's assignment is to pose as Dr. Oliver's research assistant Laura Farrow, and is installed in St. John's College in the room where the most recent victim had lived.

This is a complex story.  Though told primarily in the first-person from Lacey's point of view, the short chapters also focus on other characters in third-person narrative, and jumps around in time.

This very dark psychological thriller is utterly consuming and difficult to put down.  Be warned, it may not be a wise choice for bedtime reading.

FTC Full Disclosure:  I borrowed this book from my local library.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Binge Entertainment

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

We've all heard of binge drinking and binge eating, but the latest indulgence is binge viewing, in which consumers download an entire season of a series and watch it in big gulps of three and four episodes at a time…or maybe even over a weekend.

I've done that with shows I came late to, such as Rescue Me and White Collar, but for some viewers, that's the way they watch everything. Nexflix's recent release of House of Cards—all 13 episodes at once—signals that entertainment companies are starting to recognize this preference and are giving customers exactly what they want.

Personal experience tells me that some readers have been doing this all along and that many others are now joining the trend. (An interesting side note: the House of Cards episodes are called chapters.)

Contributing to the binge reading pattern are the major changes in publishing. Authors who reclaim the rights to their backlist titles will often self-publish a whole series at once and market it to new readers, who have the opportunity to consume the series very quickly.

Or in my case, Thomas & Mercer bought my backlist of Detective Jackson books, revamped it, and released six stories all once. My publisher heavily targeted new readers—who are buying the whole series at once, and in many cases, reading the books-to-back in a short time. I know this because some of those readers contact me and say things like, "Once I discovered your Jackson stories, I was hooked and read them all in a week."

I can remember doing this when I was younger with series I discovered after the fact, such as John MacDonald's Travis McGee stories and Lawrence Sanders' Deadly Sin series. I believe the human desire to consume a whole bunch of what we love all at once has always been there.

In fact, many mystery fans won't even begin a series until three or four have been released. They want to know that there is more of a good thing once they get started.

But only recently has the binge viewing opportunity occurred with television because of the confluence of digital recording, Netflix, and new entertainment companies. Yet it's become so popular so quickly that it makes me wonder if watching weekly TV episodes will become a thing of the past, even if broadcasting companies continue to release them that way.

Now with the major changes in publishing, the opportunity for binge reading is greater than ever too. So I also think that publishers (including authors) might starting waiting until they have at least three books in a series before releasing them.

From a marketing perspective, it makes sense. Promoting a whole series at once is not only cost-effective, it can earn reader loyalty much more quickly.

What do you think? Are you a binge watcher or reader? Do you ever wait for a series to have three or four books before trying it?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

If you won't listen to reason, will you listen to nonsense?

By Gayle Carline

Tomorrow I'm going to San Diego for the Southern California Writers' Conference, to spend a weekend with writers, talking about all things writing, from the craft to the business end of it. I will return on Monday feeling both energized and frustrated by being around other writers.

Some writers know how to get the most out of any writer's conference. They are a joy and I've made some great friends among them. Some writers still don't get it, no matter how many times you offer to show them the ropes. So, since they won't learn from positive example...

How To Have a Crappy Writer's Conference Experience

1. Attend with the only goal of getting your book published. I can't tell you the number of people who are convinced their novel is ready for publication by a major house and spend the entire weekend stalking every agent to get signed. Maybe it's a brilliant piece of work. Maybe it's a piece of something else. Doesn't matter. Here's some news: you send off a needy-creepy vibe that makes most agents turn and bolt out the door.

2. Don't talk to anyone the whole weekend. Yes, we writers can be shy, but if you are too tongue-tied, you will miss opportunities to network with other writers and possibly even publishers and agents. Put on your Big Girl/Boy pants and resolve, at each workshop, to walk up to a stranger and say, "Hi, my name is (blank). What do you write?"

3. Make your every conversation about YOUR book. Yes, we do talk about our work, within the context of problem solving and our craft, but if you are sitting with a table of others, wondering how you can turn the conversation back to your post-apocalyptic dinosaur thriller, well, knock it off. Invest yourself in the topic at hand, or find another table.

4. Spend all of your time in Read & Critique workshops. This particular conference offers all-day sessions of read and critique groups, and some people spend the whole weekend going from one R&C to another. If you're convinced your work is gold and want to read it aloud all day to an admiring audience, stand outside a Starbucks and give it a go. If, despite having at least one room of people tell you what is and isn't working in your first five pages, you're still not sure, one more of these sessions is not going to help you. Go back and study the craft of writing. Take some of THOSE workshops.

5. Be rigid and unwilling to learn anything. Some writers come with strong convictions, from their skill set is stronger than it is, to spelling/grammar aren't that important, all the way to self-publishing is the only way to do it or the mark of Satan. If no one can change your mind about anything, why are you attending a conference that is supposed to offer teaching?

6. Take yourself seriously. We work hard and we play hard. When we're not in workshops, talking about writing, we're in the bar talking about everything. I'm going to go out on a limb here and tell you that if you think we're a flippant and disrespectful group, you are going to have a hard time when your work is published and you start getting those one-star reviews. Learn to chill now, or your head will explode later. 

I will be teaching two workshops. One will offer tools to writers who are unsure of how to correctly pace their work. The other is a discussion about what it takes to self-publish.

When I'm not teaching, you'll find me checking out some of the other workshops, learning something. Or I'll be at the bar, maybe hanging out with Drew Kaufman. If you are at the conference, come hang out with me. We have a lot of fun!