Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Adding Hearts to the Story Line

One of the things I wrestle with in a cozy series is whether to add a love interest and, if so, when to have the protagonist fall in love with the guy. Or should there be a different love interest every couple of books? While cozies don't feature loose women, single women in their late twenties don't generally marry every man they date.

If there is to be a long-term romance or marriage, when should it occur? If it  happens too soon, does that signal an end to the series? It's certainly killed some TV shows. 

My Jolie Gentil series has a longstanding friendship between Jolie and a former high school pal, Scoobie. The books have progressed very differently than planned. The original series outline had the third book titled "Justice for Scoobie," and Jolie was going to solve his murder! 

Things evolved differently. Partly because I liked Scoobie, and more because readers really liked him. So, I'm working on the tenth book, and Jolie and Scoobie are going to take their relationship to a new level - with a twist, of course. 

"Ground to a Halt" is the eighth book, and Jolie and Scoobie explore thinking differently about each other. Actually, Scoobie has been interested since book one, but he's a smart guy. He knows when to make his move.

The ninth book, novella length, lets family and friends in on a secret, and the one I'm writing lets the world know. I've having fun with the story. It's tentatively titled "The Best Way to Start a New Year," but I don't think the title will stick.
I look forward to letting readers in on Jolie and Scoobie's new path.   
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Monday, February 6, 2017

A Broad-Brush Look at Self-Publishing

     You may dream of working with a major publisher whose editors help turn your draft novel or book of essays into lauded prose. Unless you have written something as powerful as To Kill a Mockingbird, this won’t happen. 

    Your work may be good, but publishers get thousands of manuscripts each day. In addition, most publishers will only accept manuscripts from agents,
and those are difficult to secure.

    Should you try to get an agent if you want to go that route? By all means! While it can be as daunting to find one as a publisher, if you’ve written a good book and know how to present yourself well, it’s possible.
      I don’t point out these challenges to discourage you, rather, to inspire you to take charge of getting your high-quality material to readers yourself. 
     Good writing and working with an editor are always essential, but today it’s possible to publish a book yourself, at no cost. You work with online ebook sales points (such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble) or on-demand printers (such as Create Space and Ingram Spark).   
    If your reaction is to say you don’t want to learn the how-to steps of publishing yourself, that’s okay. If there is not a fellow author or friend to assist in this fairly straightforward process, you can hire someone to help.

A quick look on Twitter or other social media platforms will reveal hundreds of people who provide these services for modest fees. It does not take special skills, just the ability to follow instructions to format books.
    Though there is no guarantee you can make money with your self-published books, it is possible. You probably want a sense of income possibilities before you spend time writing and getting a book to readers.
    Amazon pays a 70% royalty for ebooks priced from 2.99 to 9.99. For a 2.99 book, that’s $2.06 per sale. Amazon pays 35% royalty for books priced less than 2.99 and those priced more than $9.99. For a 99 cent book, you make 34 cents. Amazon charges a small delivery fee, which is why the 70/35% royalties are not exactly that.

   Barnes and Noble pays $1.94 for a book priced at $2.99, and Smashwords pays $2.46 for books sold at their site.

   Smashwords sends books to almost twenty other places, including the site from which libraries buy ebooks (Overdrive). You make less when Smashwords serves as the go-between (it’s called an aggregator), but who wants to load books to all those websites?

   Income from paperbacks can be less per unit, unless you charge a high price for your books. However, since it costs you nothing to publish a paperback, it makes sense to produce them. If you don’t, what will you show your friends? How will you do a book signing? Oh boy, book signings!
    I do my books in regular size type and large print, generally using Create Space, an Amazon company. I use Ingram Spark some, but they charge fees.

   Bottom line, if you work with a publisher you probably make $1 or $2 per book or less, so you have nothing to lose by trying it yourself.

   If you have not written your book and are thinking about publishing or marketing, push aside those thoughts. Nothing gets to readers until you write regularly (which could be an hour per week) and are willing to revise to make your writing better.

   You only get one chance to make a first impression, so make it a good one.
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Friday, January 27, 2017

Deadly Dialogue Makes Murder Boring

I bought a book a few days ago because I liked the premise and setting, and pets were part of the mix. What could be better?

I won’t know, because I put it down after ten pages. I rarely do that, but I couldn’t take 150 pages of multi-sentence dialogue that was supposed to provide background. Who talks like that? No one even took a sip of coffee.

Sometimes paragraph-speak is part of one character’s persona. When they all talk like that it comes across as an author’s character flaw.

That doesn’t mean short bursts of conversation are essential. In fact, when characters talk as if they’re in a snappy sitcom, that doesn’t seem very genuine either. So what makes for fluid, natural conversation?

In a screenwriting course with the late theater director Davey Marlin-Jones (more years ago than I care to admit) he stressed a key point. People talk in spurts and they interrupt each other a lot. They talk over each other and they finish each other’s sentences.  Maybe not in Shakespearean plays, but in today’s world.

Here are the things I consider as I edit what my characters say. 
  • Would it take more than one breath to get it out?
  • If two or three sentences are essential, can some natural movement break up those words? After all, we rarely sit with our hands in our laps.
  • Can spoken information be revealed another way?
  • What is the person listening to the speaker doing? Can their action or expression alternate with the speaker’s words?
  • Would I (or others in the room with the character) be willing to listen to someone go on and on without interrupting them? If not, why would the reader want to put up with that?·
For every reason to use natural speech patterns, there are requisite opportunities for some characters to be windbags. If there is scientific evidence to present, an investigator would probably let the medical examiner present it. Even then, if you watch Law and Order, you’ll see the detectives pepper the ME with questions. She does tell them to be quiet and let her finish sometimes.

In a couple of books I’ve had a funeral scene. No one interrupts a priest or rabbi (usually), but a character listening to the talk can have a thought of their own in the middle of the soliloquy.

 I had a lot of fun with the editor’s eulogy in FromNewsprint to Footprints. The deceased was a jerk. Every time a former colleague made a well-crafted, tactful comment, the protagonist (Melanie) had a thought about what the editor was really like.

"A lot of small papers have closed or cut back to one day a week. The News is still at three days, and Hal hired dedicated staff to cover events in our community."
He also fired a lot of them.
"As we move forward to serve the people of South County, everyone at the paper will use the skills Hal taught us."
Except no one else will throw staplers.

Structuring the eulogy that way let me convey some needed information without putting readers to sleep. Plus it gave me a chance to have some fun.

I honed my dialogue-writing skills in several screenwriting classes. The screenplays I wrote weren’t very good, but reading them aloud as I wrote taught me more than any books.

If an author isn’t sure their own reading aloud will provide enough distance to evaluate conversations, they can ask a friend to read, or speak into a recorder and listen. There’s a good chance the characters’ words will take on a life of their own.
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Monday, January 9, 2017

Finding Affordable Audio Books

    I always have a book going in the car. For me it takes a CD, since my car doesn't have Bluetooth. I don't want my car to die. But I'm looking for any excuse to buy a car that lets me listen to digital books -- which are books in mp3 format.

     You can listen to digital books on any portable device -- your ipad, Kindle, most phones. I have used my Kindle with headphones to listen to audiobooks. It works fine, but if I'm driving I pay too much attention to the technology. Better (for me) to have a built-in system in the car.

     Without digital listening, the library is the best bet. I take out three or more at a time, and if I'm going on a long trip the local library extends the due date.

     Retail sellers of physical audiobooks include Penguin Random House Audio, Audio Bookstand, and Goodwill Books Online.

     Yes Goodwill. They don't have all books every day, but a search for J.K. Rowling's books (on CD) showed they were less than half the price of other sites. Sure, it's more convenient to order a book today for $55 than to check back to see if you can get it for $22 later, but that's a big price difference.
     In a pinch, I stop at a Cracker Barrel and rent books on CDs. You pay an up-front deposit, but if you return the book you pay only about $3.50 per week and get the deposit back. I'd rather pay that than listen to blaring music or argumentative talk radio. (See the bottom of this post for the Cracker Barrel program. No, they aren't paying me. I just love affordable options.)

     My audiobooks are published in digital format only. A CD set would be cool, but I don't see people paying $45 for my books. Using Audible (an Amazon company that provides digital copies) they are under $20.

     The HUGE advantage to using Audible is that Amazon sometimes offer people who buy the Kindle version a discount on the audio version. I just looked at Behind the Walls (Jolie book 6), and it shows the Kindle version for $2.99 and audio narration added for $1.99.

        Buying the Audible book and a Kindle copy means reading is synced between devices -- if you read ten percent on the Kindle and switch to the audiobook, it starts you in the same place. Amazing.

     An author has to permit Whispersync, but many do. You do need a Wi-Fi connection to make the sync.

     How does Audible work? The one-month free trial lets you borrow one book (of any price) for free. After that it's $14.95 per month for one book, and you get 30% off of others. Very affordable compared to buying audio CDs. (You provide a credit card, so you have to remember to cancel within 30 days.)

     What happens if you cancel an Audible membership? The books you bought are still available to you. Very consumer-friendly. See the Audible Help Center.

     Why did I write this today? My mom would have been 95 today (January 9th) and she lost most of her sight because of MS. She would have gone bonkers without the Library of Congress' Talking Books' Program (what she called the service for those who cannot see or hold a book). It's officially called the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and is free if a person provides appropriate information. Your library will have info.

     I hope you have what you need to enjoy listening to a book. If you want to listen to what I deem the absolute best audio books, borrow a copy of any of the Harry Potter books, as read by Jim Dale. You will be mesmerized -- as we are by a good book.

 Cracker Barrel Rental Program
Purchase a Books-on-Audio title at full retail price at any of our over 630 locations, listen to it, and return it to any of our locations for a full credit less a $3.49 per week exchange fee (plus tax where applicable). Book prices range from $9.99 to $48.00 (plus tax where applicable) based on the number of cassette tapes or CDs (or size of the book). If you are not able to return it to a location you may mail it back to Guest Relations at P.O. Box 787, Lebanon, TN 37087.
 **  Want to get updates on my books and occasional special offers? Get on my email list. I'd love to be in touch!
*** If you are an author who wants to know how to produce audiobooks at no cost, check my blog post on audiobook production. It's a lot of work, but very rewarding.
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Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Getting a Book to Readers

   Sportswriter Red Smith is known for saying, "Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed."

   I don't find writing especially easy, but telling people about a new book is even harder. It's kind of like looking for a job. You need to let people know you're hunting, but you feel a little as if you're imposing.
   Still, it's fun to be in touch with readers. I love sending a note to my email list and getting replies saying they've been waiting to know what a set of characters is up to.
   I had a welcome holiday gift of sorts when my publisher (Annie Acorn LLC) put Demise of a Devious Neighbor for sale (preorder) Christmas Eve. Savvy marketer that the firm is, they believe that readers will be anxious to use those new Kindles and Nooks they received as gifts.
   As we look to a new year, I thought I'd share some marketing ideas. They'll help authors, but can also give readers places to look for new books or bargain reads.

Goodreads has hundreds of reader/author discussion groups, and authors sponsor giveaways of paperbacks. Even better, it's a place where readers can list all the books they are reading or have read, and many review their favorites.
BookGoodies reviews and promotes dozens of books each week. Many are new, some are presented at reduced prices.
Facebook Groups bring together readers and authors interested in particular genres. Though some individual authors have created groups, I find those such as Cozy Mysteries 24/7 and Crime, Thrillers,  and Mystery Readers Cafe, better places to meet readers. Still, if you have a favorite author, search for them on Facebook. Mid-sized groups seem to have more interaction among members than larger ones.
Choosy Bookworm features books by authors from multiple countries. It also lets authors post books they are willing to provide to readers in consideration of a review. (This meets Amazon guidelines, because authors are providing a copy, just as they would for a paper's book review supplement.)
A Girl and Her Ebook does longer features on the books on its site, and also promotes new releases and giveaways.
   I'd love it if readers would add comments about sites where they look for new books.
   And by the way, Happy New Year! May your writing and reading bring you joy.

                                                             *     *     *     * Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Setting a Book Where You Live

I envy people who lived in one place for years and had a natural following of friends. I've had that, but I move a lot, so the hometown elements vanishes. The friends I keep.

Then I had a major Duh Moment. If I set books where I live now, I meet more friends.I was a bit late for Iowa, the River's Edge series came out after my husband I left the state. (Still root for the Hawkeyes!)

2006 Ottumwa signing, with Alberta
Even so, my Iowa friends rallied for the first book in the 2015 series. KTVO television did a fun interview, and the Ottumwa Courier and Van Buren County Register in Keosauqua featured From Newsprint to Footprints. The book felt like home, even though home had moved.

It's not all about publicity. It's fun to have your friends read your books and ask how the writing is going. Especially fun when your book club reads them. You also learn a lot about your neighbors. The photo at left shows the late Alberta Lambeth. Because of a book that came out ten years ago, she invited me to her apartment to see some of her incredible craft creations. Art takes many forms, and I would not have seen hers unless I promoted my stories.

As I wished for more contact with reading and writing friends, I was starting a new book, Tip a Hat to Murder. For some (inexplicable) reason, I initially set it in Nebraska. Perhaps because of good-natured ribbing with a cousin who roots for the Corn Huskers.

Then I thought, "Why am I setting this in Nebraska? I live in Illinois now!" Thus was born the fictional town of Logland, Illinois, set in south central Illinois. Why Logland? Because Illinois is the Land of Lincoln, and I played with Lincoln Logs as a kid. The path through a writer's mind has many curves. Plus, the book is meant to be wacky.

So, I have now murdered people in New Jersey, Iowa, Illinois, and Bath, England. I only kill people in places I like.

I love to take pictures, which means local books are a big plus. Though my towns are fictional, the images in my head are not, largely because I drive through Iowa and Illinois a lot. Not so much New Jersey, but I asked a friend to take photos of the Ocean City, NJ boardwalk this summer, so I have a new crop to feed my imagination. As I start a new book in the Jolie Gentil series, those boardwalk scenes become even more delightful.
                                                           *     *     *     * Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.