Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Trigger: It's Finally Launched!

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

After a long six-month wait, The Trigger is finally available!

Even better news: The ebook is $.99 for a few days—as a thank to readers who have supported my work.

Better yet: If you buy a copy of The Trigger on January 1 and email the receipt to lj@ljsellers.com, you'll be entered to win a trip to Left Coast Crime 2015 (airfare, hotel, registration)!

And on top of that: I'm also drawing winners for 10 gift certificates of $50 each. More details here. (Just click one of The Trigger links to get started.)

But if you're still reading this and would like to know more, here's the book description:
Agent Jamie Dallas loves undercover assignments that get her out of the Phoenix Bureau. But when a woman and her baby disappear from an isolated community of preppers in Northern California, she knows the risk of infiltrating the armed group is dangerously high.

Once inside the compound, she discovers that the brothers who founded Destiny are scheming something far more devious than kidnapping or murder. Meanwhile, her local FBI contact, Agent McCullen, is pulled from her team and assigned to investigate the murder of a woman with phony ID, found at the bottom of a motel pool.
Soon Dallas finds herself in deeper trouble than she's ever encountered—with no way to reach her contacts. Can she break free of the bunker and stop their bizarre end-of-world plans? Will Agent McCullen identify the killer in time to help?
The Trigger is a gripping story that highlights our greatest fear—how a megalomaniac and a hacker-for-hire can threaten civilization as we know it.

Early readers have given it 5 stars, calling it a "“An exciting mystery with a kick-ass heroine. Great fun!”

Grab an ebook now. And maybe one for a friend. At $.99, it's a steal.

Thanks for your support—and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Bad Guys Who See Themselves as Heroes

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

The villains in thrillers are often extraordinary human beings. Super smart, physically indestructible, and/or incredibly powerful because of their money and influence. As a reader/consumer, those characters are fun for me too, especially in a visual medium where we get to watch them be amazing. But as an author, I like to write about antagonists who are everyday people—either caught up in extraordinary circumstances or so wedded to their own belief system and needs that they become delusional in how they see the world.

In my Detective Jackson stories, I rarely write from the POV of the antagonists. That would spoil the mystery! But in my thrillers, I get inside those characters’ heads so my readers can get to know them and fully understand their motives. I’ve heard readers complain about being subjected to the “bad guy POV,” but that’s typically when the antagonist is a serial killer or pure evil in some other way.

I share their pain. I don’t enjoy the serial-killer POV reading experience either. But when the villain in the story is a fully realized human being, who has good qualities as well as bad, and who’s suffered some type of victimization, and/or has great intentions, then I like see and feel all of that. And I think most readers do too.

In The Trigger, the antagonists are brothers, Spencer and Randall Clayton, founders of an isolated community of survivalists, or preppers, as they’re called today. As with most real-life isolationists/cult leaders, they are intelligent, successful professionals—with a vision for a better society. But these everyday characters decide to mold the world to suit their own objectives and see themselves as saviors—becoming villains in the process.

From a writer’s perspective, they were challenging to craft—likeable and believable enough for readers to identify with, yet edgy enough to be threatening on a grand scale. On the other hand, my protagonist, an FBI agent who specializes in undercover work, was such a joy to write that I’m launching a new series based on her.

The first book, The Trigger, releases January 1 in print and ebook formats, with an audiobook coming soon after. To celebrate the new series, the ebook will be on sale for $.99 on launch day. Everyone who buys a copy (print or digital) and forwards their Amazon receipt to lj@ljsellers.com will be entered to win a trip to Left Coast Crime 2015. For more details, check my website.

If that weren’t enough, I’m also giving away ten $50 Amazon gift certificates. So there’s a good chance of winning something. But the contest is only valid for January 1 purchases.

Who are your favorite villains? Supermen types? Everyday delusionals? Or something else?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Liar, Liar: Deceptive Characters Can Be Fun

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers (reprinted from an earlier post at Criminal Minds)

Every once in a while, a crime fiction book goes viral and crosses over into mainstream reading, selling millions of copies. Last year it was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. A well-known reviewer claimed that “part of its success, I believe, is this current vogue for the unreliable narrator and also the unlikable protagonist. This book has both these factors in spades.”

Those features typically are more common in mainstream fiction than in mysteries and thrillers, but the trend is growing in crime fiction too, and readers are often divided on whether it works for them.

As a reader, I don’t connect well with unlikable main characters, but I can occasionally enjoy unreliable narrators because they add uncertainty, creepiness, and distrust to whole the story. Yet as a writer, I haven’t tried that structure and maybe never will. My connection with readers feels too important to abuse. And by nature, I’m painfully honest. So the idea of lying—directly—to my readers is foreign to me.

However, I’ve recently discovered that I love writing from the perspective of a protagonist who practices deception with others in the story. When I was researching Crimes of Memory, my eighth Detective Jackson story, an FBI agent I interviewed mentioned a real case involving the eco-terrorist group Earth Liberation Front and how the bureau used an undercover agent to break the case and arrest nearly all the members.

I knew immediately I needed to add that element to my story for realism. So I created Agent Jamie Dallas, a young woman who specializes in undercover work—and has to lie, cheat, steal files, seduce targets, and put on performances to accomplish her goals. Once I got inside her head and wrote her part, I had so much fun, I knew she had to have her own series.

The Trigger, launching January 1, is the first book featuring Agent Dallas as the main character. But even though she lies to, and spies on, the people in the prepper community she infiltrates, she doesn’t lie to readers. She doesn’t hold back either. She’s not only reliable, she kicks ass on occasion too. All of it, deception included, is for the sake and safety of her country, but Dallas loves her work in a special way.

Readers who recently encountered the agent in Crimes of Memory say Dallas stole the show. So it’s fair to say she’s likable, even though she’s a chameleon on the job. But you can decide for yourself.

If you buy a copy on January 1 and forward the Amazon receipt to lj@ljsellers.com, you’ll be entered to win a trip to Left Coast Crime 2015. Even if you miss the grand prize, I’m giving away ten $50 gift certificates too. And to celebrate the new series, the ebook will be priced at $.99 on launch day. You can see more details at my website. (http://bit.ly/I1audT)

What about you? Do you like unreliable narrators? What about characters who lie for a good cause?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Housing Is the Best Gift of All

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

People get into the spirit of giving this time of year, and I love to see it. For my charitable foundation Housing Help, it has been a special blessing.

Recently, a local philanthropist & consultant contacted me and asked if I wanted to discuss my foundation and take advantage of his experience. I was thrilled! All of my previous efforts to network with local groups had been meet with silence. And, other than calling St. Vincent de Paul, I had no idea how to find and screen families in need.

My new mentor put me in touch with Shelter Care, and few days later, Housing Help assisted a single father of two school-age kids, living in Springfield, who needed help with December rent so he wouldn’t lose his new apartment. It was a great feeling to finally accomplish what I’d set out to do years ago when I visualized this foundation.

I posted online about it, and several friends, both online and local, made contributions to the foundation. Thank you! I matched those donations, and we were able to help a second household. Two Eugene single mothers, with a combined three children, had received an eviction notice from their landlord—for no cause. They'd scraped together what they could but had still come up short of the $1300+ needed for first month’s rent plus a security deposit on a new place—which they felt lucky to find and quality for.

Housing Help provided the other half of the move-in costs, and the two families—which had nowhere to go—will have a new home, rather than live in their cars.

This is such a critical service!

I thank everyone who’s donated to this foundation, and I hope you’ll make it a habit. My original goal was to help one family a month. But I want to do more. So I’m aiming for two a month all next year. The list of families in this situation is endless, and not just in Lane County. Millions of people are one paycheck or one unexpected expense away from homelessness.

To motivate others to get involved, I’m offering an incentive: Anyone who donates $5 a month all next year, for a total of $60, will get a free book from me with every new release next year. And I plan to publish four! Two are already written and scheduled.

Find out more about the foundation at its website, where you can also donate through PayPay (or credit card). A mailing address is listed as well. Or contact me with any questions.

Thank you! And Happy Holidays! We’ll see you January 6 after the break.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

With love, from my house to yours

By Gayle Carline
Mystery Author and Woman-Whose-Sanity-is-Slipping

This is my last post for 2013, and I want you all to know how much I enjoy being a part of this crew. I learn a lot from the other folks, and I can only hope I've been of some use to everyone, even if it's only for comic relief.

My family has its holiday traditions, one of which is the Christmas photo. We began in our living room when our son was a tot. One year, we included the dog in the picture. The next year we added the cat. When I bought my first horse, we had to get creative, so we moved everything (including the cat) out to the ranch where Frostie is stabled. Over the years, we've lost one dog, gained two more, and of course, have two horses now.

We've also gotten the photo session down to a science. In the old days, we used to do a lot of scrambling to find the perfect location, get the animals settled, and pray that there were more than six exposures left on the roll of film. Our prayers were rarely answered, so with each click of the camera we were hoping that everyone was at least facing the same direction.

Now, Dale and Marcus take the dogs and cat while I get the horses out. Frostie, my little red mare, stands with either my hubby or my son. I have to hold Snoopy, because he's a nibbler. It begins with his muzzle on your shoulder, followed by his lips, then the teeth come out.

At one point this year, Snoopy wanted to sniff Duffy's butt. Duffy was not having it, and turned around to bite Snoopy's nose. It could have been World War III if I hadn't been there to spank the horse and kick the dog. (Oh, I didn't KICK him, really. I just pushed his tush around with my boot.)

All I can say is, thank God for digital cameras.

This is what we started with:

This is how it all ended:

If you'd like a very badly narrated version of the Carline Christmas letter, go to my blog post. Otherwise, I will see you all in 2014. I'm really looking forward to it - it's gonna be great!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

You Are What You Eat

by Michael W. Sherer, thriller author

In honor of the holidays, when we all likely indulge in too much rich food, too many glasses of our
favorite libation, too much stress and too little sleep, I thought I’d offer up some food for thought. We’ve all heard the old saw “you are what you eat.” It turns out it may be true in ways we never dreamed of.

We think of our physical selves as skeletons and organs wrapped in muscle and covered with skin. Most of our parts are similar to those of everyone else. In some cases they’re even interchangeable (though not exactly plug-and-play). Scientists have discovered, though, that the cells comprising all the microorganisms on and inside us—the flora and fauna of our individual ecosystems—than there are body cells.

Some of these microorganisms are good for us, some bad. H. pylori, for example, a bacterium sometimes found in the gut, causes peptic ulcers. Scientists once thought the acid environment in your stomach was so hostile that no bacteria could live there for long. Up until 1982, most thought that ulcers were caused by spicy food or too much acid. A couple of Australian scientists (a doctor and a pathologist) finally cultured the bacteria when they unintentionally left their Petri dishes out over a five-day Easter weekend. To prove that H. pylori actually caused ulcers without having to go through years of experiments with lab animals and human trials, one of them drank a beaker of the culture and within ten days had developed gastritis and an ulcer.

Scientists now are learning even more about these little creatures that live inside us, and some now think that microbes in our gut may actually influence how we think. And you thought that gut feeling was just instinct. MRI exams of people’s brains show that connections between different areas within the brain vary depending on which species of bacteria dominate their gut.

In mice, scientists have exchanged the gut bacteria of anxious mice with that of fearless mice, and the behavior of each changed. Fearless mice became more timid, and anxious mice took more chances. They also measured changes in brain chemistry and found that feeding the mice probiotics or antibiotics to change the mix of microbes in their gut also changed brain chemistry that affects mood and behavior.

One of the ways the gut “talks” to the brain is through the vagus nerve that runs from brain to abdomen. When researchers in Ireland cut this nerve in mice, the brain no longer responded to changes in gut microbes. The experiments have even expanded to include symptoms of autism in mice. By altering the mix of microbes in the gut with probiotics, researchers have been able to ameliorate autism in mice. A study on people with bipolar disorder is having similar results so far.

Perhaps even more far-reaching, though, is the fact that researchers now believe that soon it may be possible to identify people by their unique “microbiome” signature. On a body farm at Sam Houston State University in Texas, pathologists are learning how to improve time-of-death accuracy through the study of microorganisms, not just insects. And researchers say that someday pathologists may be able to use microbiome signatures to identify how and where someone died, and even the perpetrator if the victim was murdered.
A researcher at Sam Houston State University's
body farm, also known as  the
Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science Facility. 

When you’re tempted to have that extra helping of turkey and mashed potatoes or another slice of pie during the next week or two, remember that it’s not just the extra calories you’ll be packing in—you literally are what you eat.

Happy holidays!

Michael W. Sherer is the author of Night Tide, the second novel in the Blake Sanders thriller series. The first in the Seattle-based series, Night Blind, was nominated for an ITW Thriller Award in 2013. His other books include the award-winning Emerson Ward mystery series, the stand-alone suspense novel, Island Life, and the Tess Barrett YA thriller series.

He and his family now reside in the Seattle area. Please visit him at www.michaelwsherer.com or you can follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thrillerauthor and on Twitter @MysteryNovelist.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Help someone you don't know just because you believe in them

by A.M. Khalifa, thriller writer, Google+

Pierre-Auguste Renoir [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Browsing the Twittersphere, I recently stumbled upon a young London-based singer-songwriter who had posted on YouTube some of her original songs and a few ingenious mash-ups of cover songs. She’s only twenty-one but has an amazing voice and presence. The sort of talent that screams “I’m the next big thing.”

Instinctively, I tweeted her and said something along the lines of, “Are you just doing your thing, or are you looking for a record deal?” She responded with humility saying she’s in her last year of college but was actively looking for contacts in the industry. Without thinking twice, I proceeded to connect her to a friend of mine who works as a senior talent manager at a Los Angeles-based entertainment company founded by Jay-Z and connected to Sony Music and Universal Music Group.

As it happened, my friend was in London the same time I wrote to him, so they met in person and so far things are looking extremely promising for her. Her life may change dramatically as a result of this serendipitous chain of events. All I asked of her is to pay it forward one day. And of course to send me front row seats to the Grammys when she’s accepting her award at some point in the not too distant future.

Why am I telling you this?

As a new writer, my focus is often to foster relationships that may somewhat benefit my writing career. There is nothing wrong with that mindset, but if that’s all I am doing it could ultimately harden my heart and turn me into a calculative self-serving machine. All the advice on the business side of indie publishing seems to say the same thing: To invest my time and energy in the activities and relationships that will pay off. There is an 80/20 rule out there that I’m still trying to get my head around. Even when I seemingly reach out to do selfless acts like promoting fellow writers I admire and respect, it’s often with the implicit expectation they will do the same for me. Again, it’s fair and symbiotic, but it can’t be the only outlook.

Sometimes it’s soul-quenching to support someone simply because I believe in them. To undertake a totally selfless act based on the desire to help a talented, hard-working person who deserves it. And to put my money where my mouth is when it comes to my commitment to support and enhance the arts. In this case, rather than lament the sorry state of music produced today, I wanted to actively play a role in helping someone with raw talent to get a fighting chance to prove it to the world.

Mind you, I am not confusing this with karma, because even that is not entirely altruistic. There is nothing wrong with helping someone expecting the universe to look out for me one day, but it doesn't taste quite as gratifying as helping someone simply because I believe in them.

I am still relatively obscure as a writer as I am only just getting started in this gig. But so far, I've been fortunate to have mostly come across people who sought to help me because they believed in me. Even within the realm of strictly professional relationships where money is exchanged for services, most of the people I have hired have ended up becoming solid friends and genuine supporters who look after my best interest because they think I merit it.

I therefore feel it’s incumbent upon me to repay this kindness with people who equally deserve it, in whatever line of work they may be.

Fellow writers, were you the recipients of selfless kindness along your career from someone who believed in your work, and how has that affected your life? Readers, do you actively promote your favorite writers because of your belief in their work, over and above buying and reading their books?

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Holiday Gifts for Mystery Readers and Writers

If you're a reader of this blog, chances are you know somebody who's going to get you a book you've already read for Christmas. Print the following list, and give it to that person.

typewriter bookends,



There are many, many gifts to be found for people like us.  Tell your friends to try sites like Think Geek, Cafe Press, The Literary Gift Company, or just google "gifts for mystery book lovers".  Many places will ship in time for Christmas until December 20th.

And if they're really running late, tell your friends you'll be happy with a gift card from your local bookstore.

Happy holidays!  Merry Christmas!  Joyeux Noel!  Buon Natale! Feliz Navidad!

Friday, December 13, 2013

This Time of Year

Tree's up!
By Peg Brantley
Evocative Characters. Intriguing Crime. Compelling Stories.

This time of year my brain pretty much shuts down, tunes out, and gets all fuzzy-warm with family and friends.

As much as I want to work on my story, the holidays (which begin on November 19th at our house with my husband's birthday) seem to demand my full attention, and I'll roll in the holiday mode until January 2nd.

Between decorating and baking and planning for get-togethers and designing a Christmas card and trying to find that one perfect gift, there's very little time left for the work I love. Writing takes a back seat.

It is what it is.

This time of year is also a time for reflection. We've lost some wonderful authors this year, voices in our writing community who have been extinguished forever. Beyond their families, they've left a legacy in their words, and in those we'll continue to find light.

And we've lost Nelson Mandela. A light for our world, who showed us how love and compassion can overcome both fear and betrayal. It's a choice. I'm having trouble figuring out who will come next. But I firmly believe someone will. Maybe it will be Malala.

And that reflection extends to each one of us in our personal journeys. Some things we've done well and those need to be acknowledged. Other things we've slipped with and may need to reevaluate.

Which brings me to the fact that this time of year is when we traditionally look ahead. Gather our ideas. Prioritize our desires. Work to make them legitimate. And move our energy into making the next year one we can be proud of.

This time of year is exhausting.

But this time of year, and all year long, I wish you every ounce of love and hope and comfort you have room for.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Tribute to a Special Man

Everything that happens in my life helps me to write -- the fun stuff, the good stuff, and even the sad stuff. Sometimes I think the sad stuff and the scary stuff helps the most. It invokes emotions that we sometimes forget we have. Without these experiences we wouldn't be able to convey those emotions to our readers and make our characters believable.

Writing what you know is more than just writing about places or events or careers that you have had. As a lawyer I can write legal suspense because I practiced law for over a decade. It's believable to the reader because I can provide enough detail to make it realistic. But that's about the plot, and I think the real meat of any novel lies in the characters, and for that the writer needs to have experienced some real hardship and pain otherwise the characters will be flat.

I recently lost a family member who I have known most of my life. His passing evoked so many emotions for me, adoration as a child, love as an adult, and gratitude for the legacy he passed on. I'll miss you, dear brother-in-law. May you rest in peace.

Writers: Do you find yourself writing emotions you have felt? Do you ever have trouble writing an emotion that you haven't felt strongly?

Readers: Do you feel the emotions your characters are experiencing?  Do you ever read books where the emotions don't feel real?

Author of The Advocate Series

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

More Thoughts from a Random (and Sleeping) Mind

By Andrew E. Kaufman: Author of Psychological Thrillers

Ok, time for another confession.

I write in my sleep.

Well, not all the time, and not all of it amounts to much, but sometimes I do, and sometimes it does. For those who know me, this should really come as no surprise. It’s kind of how I roll. Random? Definitely. Stream of thought? Without question. Chaotic? God, yes.

Yep, I’m all of that, but since I’m also an intuitive writer, I rely a lot on my subconscious mind to tell my stories. Some call this their Muse, or their inspiration, or their alter ego or...whatever. I call him Bob (don’t even ask, because I have no explanation).

But the truth is, the subconscious mind really is our “better half”, so to speak. It’s the place where we don’t over think or judge, where no idea is too outlandish, and where anything goes. In short, the lizard brain throws it out there, then the logical mind reels it in. 

My first novel, While the Savage Sleeps, came to me as a dream, and while some might call that a nightmare, I woke up knowing I’d nailed it. The images, the mood, the tone--all of it-- seemed so clear that I hopped right out of bed the next morning and couldn’t wait to put my fingers to the keyboard. From that point on, the words seemed to pour seamlessly from my brain to the screen. In fact, more than any of my books, people most often comment that reading it was like watching a movie in their heads, and maybe that’s because the dream felt like one. Oddly enough, there was background music and rolling credits at the end (again, don’t ask).

Trust me when I say, it’s not the first time something like this has happened. From what I understand, apparently, I talk a lot in my sleep, and that makes sense, because I’ve had some rather lively discussions during dreams. For example, Patrick once read me the riot act inside a grocery store (he was very unhappy about the way I was portraying him), and I caught Tristan trying to hot wire my car (she’s a career criminal). 

Of course, I don’t always go with what my dreams tell me (I guess that’s where the logical mind comes in). Originally, Tristan lived in a treehouse, and that was just plain crazy. And there was that S&M dungeon in the Clark Compound basement (where my editor gently said, “um...no.”).

As is often the case, I don’t always remember my dreams, but I’m pretty sure my writing is a reflection of them, because some of the best ideas always seem to come in the morning, and maybe that's why.

The point of all this (besides that there’s some crazy-assed stuff going on inside my head)? Hell, I don’t know. That the subconscious mind is a terrible thing to waste? 

How about you? Do you dream in color?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Is any PR good PR?

In regard to the question, "is any PR good PR," the answer goes something like this: “Yes, as long as you spell my name right.” What's implied is, “Just talk about me.”

In the Information Age, everyone is talking, and Andy Warhol’s precognition that some day everyone would have their 15 minutes of fame is already old history. Anyone with a web cam or a smartphone can be a star on youtube in under five minutes. But is it true that any PR is desirable?

Last week on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation (a nonprofit educational organization of which I'm president) and its Campaign for Cursive committee were lampooned. Colbert made fun of the fact that the "AHAF" on the logo is printed, rather than cursive. Then he showed our C4C logo, the pink blob with googly eyes that we fondly call “Brainy,” and suggested it would give kids nightmares.

So, was that negative publicity, or did it matter because an influential TV show was talking about us? What were the results? We got about a dozen emails, two of which were from trolls (when you anonymously email a stranger, there’s apparently no need to be either polite or kind). They both stated basically that just because they don’t like to write in cursive, nobody’s kids should have the opportunity to learn this skill. Of course, that left ten supportive emails, and in fact, two of them said that if we offered a C4C T-shirt, they would buy one (we’ve decided to do just that).

No doubt a lot of people saw the segment, most of whom would otherwise never have heard of AHAF or C4C. That’s probably a positive. I am left wondering, though, what Stephen Colbert’s true feelings are about keeping cursive handwriting training in the curriculum--and what does his handwriting look like? A friend has suggested I mail him a copy of my book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis, but I think the title might just open up a can of worms. The important message is that current research indicates cursive training helps develop young brains--if they want to quit using it later, so be it, but there is a window of opportunity when it positively affects reading, spelling, and remembering.

Many people are not aware that more than 40 states have removed the requirement to teach cursive writing from the public school curriculum, Private schools still do teach it, putting public school kids at a distinct disadvantage. Kids who can't write cursive can't read it. Anyone interested in why removing cursive training is a very bad idea is invited to visit www.cursiveiscool.com. Happily, seven states have seen the need to keep it alive and have made new laws to return this important training to the curriculum.

I don’t have an answer to the question I posed at the beginning. But I’m hoping you, dear reader, will have some input. Please leave a comment.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

10 Tips for Attracting a Top-Notch Freelance Editor for Your Novel

a section of Jodie's reference library
by Jodie Renner, independent fiction editor and craft-of-writing author

With so many authors self-publishing these days, the best independent editors are in high demand, so if you’re looking for a knowledgeable, experienced professional editor to help you make your fiction manuscript the best it can be – and improve your overall writing skills in the process – be sure to take some care with how you seek out and approach them.

Due to the high volume of requests, sought-after freelance editors turn down many more writer clients than they can accept, so it’s important to make a good first impression. 

First, make sure your manuscript isn't still in rough draft. Try to find time to hone your craft (see my to-the-point editor's guides to writing compelling fiction), then go over the manuscript a few times to spark up the characters, raise the stakes, add conflict, tension, and intrigue, pick up the pace, and tighten the writing.

Next, do your research and look for editors with good credentials and reviews, who edit mainly fiction and read and edit your specific genre. Google “freelance editors, mysteries” or whatever, or go through an editors' association like EFA or EAC.

Then read through the editors' websites to find out about their services, process and requirements. What kinds of problems/issues do they look for? If it’s only grammar and spelling, you can get an English teacher friend to do the same, for a lot less money or even free. To make the most of working with a professional, choose someone who first looks for other, more important possible issues, such as a shaky premise, a boring plot, cardboard characters, confusing viewpoints, stilted dialogue, insufficient tension, inconsistencies, slow pacing, plot holes, info dumps, showing instead of telling, and convoluted or too-formal phrasing.

You need an editor who can ferret out big-picture issues and help you with all the various techniques that, when ignored or botched, can sink a novel, and when flagged and addressed, can turn a mediocre or good novel into a real page-turner that sells and garners great reviews. 

Once you’ve determined that the editor is up on current fiction techniques and industry expectations, be sure to read and follow their submission instructions. On my website, for example, I specifically request the following from potential clients: the genre, total word count, first 15-20 pages, 10 pages from somewhere in the middle, a brief synopsis (a few paragraphs to half a page), and a brief description of each of the main characters. 

Without this information, I have no idea whether we’d be a good fit and I’d be the best editor for you. I can’t assess the level of work required to bring your manuscript up to industry standards or whether your story would fire my passions so I can give it the zeal and commitment it deserves. Nor can I provide you with an estimate of my fees without doing a sample edit or reading several pages to see what's involved. The quality of writing and the storytelling skills vary hugely from one manuscript to another, so of course the amount of work (time and effort) – therefore, cost of editing – will also vary hugely. 

Here are 10 tips for attracting a top-notch, in-demand editor for your fiction and getting the best possible edit or critique for your manuscript: 

1. Search for experienced, proficient editors who mainly edit fiction and who also read and edit your genre. Most nonfiction editors are unaware of critical techniques such as point of view and showing instead of telling. And an editor who reads only romances and cozy mysteries isn’t in the best position and mindset to help you add tension, conflict, suspense and intrigue to your thriller, for example.

2. Check their testimonials/reviews and contact some of the authors mentioned to discuss the process with that editor.

3. Peruse the editor’s website to find out about their editing process and the services they offer before contacting them. Do your homework, rather than just contacting the editor and expecting them to explain all about their process and services to you, a potential client whose work they haven’t seen and may not want or be able to take on.

4. Follow their submission requirements and provide as much information as possible about your book. If you just contact them and say “How much do you charge to edit a book?” there’s a good chance you may receive no response or a quick rejection.

5. Indicate why you’ve contacted them in particular – perhaps you noticed they edit your genre, you’ve heard good things about them, an author you know recommended them, or you’re impressed by their credentials and testimonials. Show that you’ve done your research and have concluded that they are your best choice/fit. 

6. Be open-minded about the possible state of your manuscript. Even if you're an accomplished nonfiction writer, if you're relatively new at writing fiction, you may be unaware of issues in your writing style or fiction techniques that appear amateurish or get in the way of reader enjoyment. Your story may still need some or a lot of big-picture advice, even developmental editing, as well as content and stylistic editing, then rewriting/revising before it’s ready for the final copyediting stage.

An experienced editor will be able to tell quite quickly what level your story is at in terms of the editing process and where they should begin. So if you want a final product that can compete in today’s marketplace, it’s important not to be adamant that it “only needs a light final copyedit or proofread.” 

7. Tight deadlines do not produce the best results. Proficient editors are often booked weeks or months in advance, and some juggle more than one manuscript at a time, so start contacting editors well before your manuscript is ready, and leave ample time for the process once it’s begun. If you tell the editor you’re under a tight deadline and need the whole 90K edited and ready to publish within a month, don’t be surprised if they turn it down, especially if it needs a lot of work, including checking over all your subsequent revisions!

8. Don’t forget your social skills. A “Hi, hope you had a good weekend” or “You come highly recommended” can go a long way. And if you do start working with an editor, for a positive, mutually beneficial working relationship, be sure to continue to add those little friendly or appreciative notes. [Editors should also follow this advice, of course!]

9. The writer-editor relationship requires commitment on both sides. Be sure to express your willingness to apply yourself and do any recommended revisions and even consider deleting or rewriting weak scenes. If you tell the editor you don’t have time to revise those scenes to make them stronger and more compelling, it speaks volumes about your work ethic and motivation and the ultimate success of your project, and can be discouraging to the editor, who may feel that she cares more about your story than you do.

10. Get a sample edit or hire the editor to work with you on a chapter or two first. Maybe go on a 20- or 50-page "date" with a prospective editor. That way you can see how that editor handles your work, and he/she can see how you respond to their suggestions and edits.

Good luck with this very important step in your self-publishing process!

Writers – do you have any questions or suggestions?

Editors – do you have any tips to add for writers who are seeking out an editor?  

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


Friday, December 6, 2013

An Author By Any Other Name…?

by Michael W. Sherer, thriller author
When is a writer truly the author of the book his or her name adorns?

I’m not sure where and when it started. Maybe with the Stratemeyer Syndicate back in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. Those of you who grew up on The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew mysteries, Tom Swift, Jr., science fiction adventures or The Bobbsey Twins know about it. They were books written by multiple authors under a single pen name. (I actually preferred the Judy Bolton books to Nancy Drew, and all of those except #39 were written by Margaret Sutton, but I digress.

The point is, these series were written in the same voice under a single name to preserve and market a brand, and it was a highly successful way of packaging books for kids and young adults.

Though ghostwriters have been around as long as books, I can’t think of an example of that kind of syndication in adult books until authors started building their own brands. Sure, many an author—quite famous ones at that—adopted a pen name to dash off a dime novel or three back in the late 18th Century, and pulp magazines and novels in the 20th. You probably know that Asimov, Bradbury, Elmore Leonard and John D. Macdonald all wrote pulp fiction, but did you know the list includes names like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie, Tennessee Williams, Dashiell Hammett and Cornell Woolrich?

But that still doesn’t get at what I’m thinking of. What I’m talking about are authors who write for other authors to grow their brand. The earliest example I can come up with is Robert Ludlum. Ludlum, the
author of the very popular Bourne series, died, of course, leaving fans in the lurch. Since his death, several authors, including Gayle Lynds and Jamie Freveletti, have penned terrific Ludlum novels, keeping the franchise alive.

A prime example of a modern living author farming out projects to other writers is James Patterson. Patterson wrote a book with Peter Kim in 1991 and another in 1994, then his first with Peter deJonge in 1996. In 2002, he hooked up with Andrew Gross for the second Women’s Murder Club. Since then, Patterson has published a slew of books in different series in conjunction with several other writers. Tom Clancy also developed several series co-written with other authors before his death.

After essentially retiring in 1999, Clive Cussler has kept not only his Dirk Pitt series, first published in 1973, alive and well, but has launched several other series with the help of other authors, including his son Dirk. Also keeping it in the family, Felix Francis collaborated with his father Dick on the last four books before Dick died, then took over the franchise after Dick’s death.

The latest trend, though, is collaborative efforts, where two authors of nearly equal recognition combine talents to broaden their often different audiences. Examples include James Rollins and Rebecca
Cantrell, Catherine Coulter and JT Ellison, Allison Brennan and Laura Griffin, Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg, Brett Battles and Robert Gregory Browne, J.A. Konrath and Ann Voss Peterson—hell, Joe Konrath and Everybody-And-His-Brother (except me, of course).

In almost all cases, the use of other authors besides the one whose name gets top billing is brilliant marketing, a way to expand an audience, introduce a new series, and grow a franchise (or continue one after an author’s death). But is it really kosher? Is a reader who pays $5.99 or $32.99 or even $0.99 for an author’s new book somehow gypped when the book is written by someone else? Do partnerships between authors add up to less than the sum of their parts because they’re neither one author’s work nor the other’s? And when the marketing juggernauts of co-authored books compete for the reader’s entertainment dollar, are solo, “midlist” authors squeezed out of the picture? Should the rest of us be looking for writing partnerships?

What do you want, readers? Do you like collaborations? What do you think of ghostwritten books (a la Patterson’s series)? Will the trend grow? If so, what value do you find in reading solo authors?


Michael W. Sherer is the author of Night Tide, the second novel in the Blake Sanders thriller series. The first in the Seattle-based series, Night Blind, was nominated for an ITW Thriller Award in 2013. His other books include the award-winning Emerson Ward mystery series, the stand-alone suspense novel, Island Life, and the Tess Barrett YA thriller series. He and his family now reside in the Seattle area. Please visit him at www.michaelwsherer.com or you can follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thrillerauthor and on Twitter @MysteryNovelist. Some day he plans to write a book with Joe Konrath, or maybe Lee Goldberg, or perhaps Robert Gregory Browne. Better yet, Allison Brennan. That is, if any of them ever ask him to.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Everyone's favorite station

By Gayle Carline
Mystery Author and El Presidente

Back when I was a software engineer, I took a course in leadership. It was a fabulous course, not just for my engineering job, but for my life. One of the highlights was when the instructor told us that everyone listens to the same radio station, WII-FM.

What's In It For Me?

She was using this to talk about how to get what you want, as the supervisor, by giving your employees what they want. It's also known as the win-win situation.

I'm bringing this up because I recently agreed to be next year's president of my local Sisters in Crime. I originally joined when I first published Freezer Burn and thought I should belong to an organization whose mission is to promote the professional development and advancement of women crime writers to achieve equality in the industry.

I admit, my first visit to a meeting was less than stellar. I hadn't quite gotten my bearings as an author, was unsure of my participation, and ended up not meeting many people or making any new friends. I didn't go back.

Fast-forward a couple of years, and I decided to give it another try. At this meeting, they were looking for new board members. I wanted to meet people and become involved. Why not be on the board?

Here's the thing: it's a quiet group. The folks are pleasant. We have interesting guest speakers. But I'm not certain if that's all we can do with this organization.  I mean, my gal pal Tameri belongs to the Romance Writers of America and those folks know how to party and promote. They have huge conferences. And pajama parties. And guest speakers in kilts.

Mmm... kilts...

So one of the things I plan to do as president is take a poll or two to figure out why people come or don't come to the meetings. What's in it for them?

If I can figure out what they want and give it to them, perhaps I can get what I want, which is, well, two things: I want more readers, and I want to promote good writers.

Anybody else out there belong to an organization like SinC or Mystery Writers of America, etc? What do you want from your group? Do you receive it?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Are The Blacklist Writers Sexist?

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

I’ve been watching The Blacklist because I’m a James Spader fan from way back. The show has a variety of plot-hole problems, which I mostly ignore because it's fast and engaging. But recently an episode irritated me so much, it made really dislike the character. But it’s not her fault, of course.

I’m talking about the episode in which the FBI’s secret location is attacked by a group of machine-gun wielding thugs who want to capture or kill Reddington. In one scene Agent Keen encounters an evildoer who has just murdered several agents—and she has seen the bodies. She demands that he drop his weapon, then punches him in the face. He conveniently falls down and she walks away. Without cuffing him or taking his weapon or anything. WTF?

First, it wasn’t rational human behavior. The bastard would have killed her in a heartbeat, so the only move to ensure survival is to shoot him dead. No conversation necessary. It also went against law enforcement training. They train for shooter/siege scenarios, and once they’ve determined the person in front of them isn’t an innocent bystander, which takes only a second, they shoot. Their job is to protect human beings—citizens or other law enforcement personnel—from imminent danger, and they are trained to shoot to kill in those circumstances. I've volunteered to practice with law enforcement groups in those scenarios, so I've seen the training. They even handcuff dead suspects.

I know Keen killed one of the invaders earlier, but she also waited and gave him too many chances, including standing way too damn close. Law enforcement training also teaches cops and agents to keep twenty feet back from an armed suspect until their weapon is on the ground and kicked away. (Which doesn't make for good video, I know.) Not only was the whole scene stupid and unreal, Agent Keen has been reprimanded for that kind of bullshit before.

 But she’s just a character, an actress doing her job. I blame the writers. More important, I think it’s sexist. Would they write that kind of crap for a male agent? I don’t think so. Male protagonists are allowed to shoot the bad guys. Sometimes, we see a male lead knock people out, take their weapons, and secure them somehow. But that’s usually in a milder one-on-one scenario. In the case of an assault on an FBI building with multiple shooters, with several agents already murdered, I don’t believe writers would have forced a male agent to act so weak and stupid.

I’m not going to give up on the show—because  I still love James Spader—but I am going to write the producers and let them know what I think. For the record, the female FBI agents in my stories would have shot the man dead, as would have I. What do you think? Was it sexist and stupid? Or just lazy and stupid?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Music and Writing: a Harmonious Match, or an Off-Pitch Proposition?

by A.M. Khalifa, thriller writer, Google+

Christof Unterberger, Austrian Cellist and Film Music Composer
You may not immediately associate music with fiction, but in my world, music plays an integral role. Often when I write particularly visual or emotional scenes I hear music in my mind. I also write better when I have music playing in the background. For instance, the soundtrack of the film Rush, as scored by Eric Clapton, is the perfect mood-setter when I am writing about fallen heroes, conflicted protagonists, or psychologically charged scenes. Music touches me on many levels and unclogs my creative pores. Other writers may find this process distracting, but listening to music while I write invites an additional dimension to what I create and amplifies the state of hypnosis that is creativity.

But it doesn't stop there. I have gone a step further to involve music in my writing.

I work in the film industry. My friend Christof Unterberger is a talented and successful film composer and cellist. He is also my musical partner in crime. Almost every project I have produced in the last six years has been touched and elevated by his music. As with any creative partnership, Christof is also interested in my writing.

When I started working on my debut novel Terminal Rage, Christof was only the second person after my wife to know about it and to read the synopsis. He started composing small vignettes, spontaneously and inspired only by the little he knew of the story. And he nailed it. The musical pieces he composed back then were so reflective of the essence of my thriller, and so sublime and cinematic, that I started listening to them as I was writing. As a result, my writing and writing regimen improved. My story inspired his music, and his music inspired my writing - cyclical and symbiotic creativity at its very best.

Now that Terminal Rage has been published and Christof has read it, we are doing something even more daring. We are composing a soundtrack for the book. One piece for every chapter. You can listen to the entire sequence here.

I believe we are breaking new ground with this derivative work, which we plan to sell as a companion product once all thirty-two chapters have been scored.

Here is the opening sequence of the Soundtrack, which sets the tone for the entire work:

And this piece is from an action-packed chapter in the book at the halfway mark. Notice how the music is layered and develops subtly:

Finally, here is a sample of a more emotional,  melancholic chapter towards the end:

What intrigues me about this process, is that people who've read the book connect emotionally with the music almost immediately. They appreciate it as a bonus and unexpected layer of the story that expands and enhances their experience with my work.

Mind you, Christof is a highly sought-after film composer, and time is his most precious commodity. Working on the "book" soundtrack of Terminal Rage is a labor of love for him that comes with no material benefit in the short run. He just fell in love with the story and decided to score some amazing music to it while we wait for the film version. Talking of which, can you guess who will score the music to the film adaptation of Terminal Rage, one day? I joke with Christof and say: Alexander Despalt of course!

As a new and independent writer, thinking out of the box and innovating ideas is an essential component of setting myself apart and building my brand. It's not enough to follow the script dictated by the archaic traditional publishing universe we have all inherited.

Readers: Do you hear music in your minds when you connect with a good story? And are you able to read with music in the background? Writers, what do you think of my literary musical experience: does it add value to a book?

As a special promotion for thriller and music aficionados, if you buy the paperback edition of Terminal Rage before January 1, 2014 and let me know about it on my site www.amkhalifa.com, you will find a copy of the Terminal Rage CD in your mailbox sometime early next year!

A.M. Khalifa, author of international thrillers, writes exhilarating, contemporary stories pulsating with life and unforgettable characters. His debut novel, Terminal Rage, is a layered thrill ride that moves seamlessly from inside a nerve-wracking hostage situation to far-flung locations across the world, challenging readers to stay ahead of its unpredictable plot.

The ebook version of Terminal Rage is now on sale for $2.99 on AmazonBarnes and Noble, and Kobo