Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Library Lifeline

There is a wonderful article on libraries on the Crime Writers Blog. Annamaria Alfieri focuses on The Library of Congress in Washington, The British Library in London, and the New York Public Library, where she goes four five times a week.  Her broad point is that libraries are an important part of the fabric of any culture, and those of us who live in countries with public (free) libraries are fortunate.

Alfieri publishes this article at the end of every year, to encourage support of local libraries.

My mother took us to the library in Garrett Park, Maryland constantly. It was a tiny library by any standard of measurement. Eventually it merged with the library in Kensington, Maryland. Although I'm sorry the library in the town of 1,000 is gone, the Kensington Park Library is able to be something the old library could not--a modern facility with a large collection and constantly evolving technology.

Many times I heard the story of Seneca, Kansas, my mother's town. In the 1920s, there was no public library, so my grandmother was one of the women who raised funds to build one. My mother and her younger sister checked out the first books. Her love affair with books started early. Thankfully, she passed on the affection for reading.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Modern Murder on a Train

Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express has always been one of my favorite mysteries. You know that a man was murdered when the train was stopped in its tracks (wow, a literal use of the term) by a snowstorm in Yugoslavia. Figuring out who did it when no one saw the killer is something else again. Some readers think it was Hercule Poirot's finest case.

With modern communication tools and multiple travel options it gets harder to isolate characters for more than a brief time. Nevada Barr does it well with the Anna Pigeon mystery, Firestorm. Park ranger Anna is with a group fighting a forest fire when the fire and a then murder leave two dead. A snowstorm keeps rescuers and law enforcement away for more than a day. It's not a closed-room murder, but it's definitely a whodunit with limited suspects and no way for them to leave the scene.

Robert B. Parker's Spencer generally roams the streets of Boston, but in Rough Weather he's hired to protect the mother of the bride at the daughter's wedding -- which is on an island,  complete with a raging storm. Although someone could argue an unknown person snuck onto the island at some point, weather makes it unlikely and there are enough motives among the wedding guests.

Both of these books are limited by time as much as environment-- the murder has to be solved before a storm lifts.

Perhaps no one has done the 'closed environment' better than Edgar Allen Poe in The Rue Morgue, which adds the locked-room element and a twist that even the best reader-detective is not likely to see coming. Not a modern mystery, but perhaps a good challenge for mystery writers. I can't think of a better locked-room type story in a modern novel. Maybe time for someone to write one...

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For more on Elaine Orr's writing, click here. She's thinking of a murder in an island lighthouse.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Environment for Murder

There are so many wonderful books in which weather is almost an additional character. Think of the tornado in The Wizard of Oz. (Yes, it was a book before a movie.) If there were no snowstorm, The Shining (Stephen King) would have simply been attempted murder with a fairly easy escape.

For years I have carried the memory of one of the Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie books. Winter is one storm after another, and they sit numbly by the fire. Near the end a train is able to make it to town and it has a barrel of Christmas presents from relatives back east. They can even eat the turkey, because it stayed frozen.

Then there are the books that would not have been written except for a weather event. The best example may be The Perfect Storm (Sebastian Junger). It's a fictionalized account of a massive Nor'easter that swallows a Gloucester fishing vessel. I didn't see the movie because my mind still sees the men trying to lash down whatever they can on the deck of the boat.

Why am I thinking of this today? Because we finally had substantial snow in my part of Illinois, and I'm thinking about how to create a murder that takes place in a snow storm. A devious mind is always at work.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

To Bundle or Not to Bundle

Several writer friends are banding together to sell bundles of books for the holiday season.  The most innovative is from my friend Aurora Lightbourne, with whom I sell books  at festivals. She and dozens of other authors present their books at

What makes this different is that the books are shown now (complete with a Santa welcoming you to the site), but you don't purchase them until December 24th, to give as ebook gifts--or for yourself

Between now and then, you have various ways to win one of the bundles, which are grouped by paranormal, sci-fi, new adult, contemporary/historical, and children. For example, if you go to their twitter site and retweet one of the tweets you are automatically entered for one of the bundles.

As you read through the site you'll see the opportunities to win bundles. At first I could not figure out why some of the contest headings did not link to the contest, then I figured out that the link did not become active until the contest started. No doubt others would figure that out faster than I did!

The artwork for the bundles is really pretty, making me wish I had some of those skills. I guess I'll have to be satisfied with the writing skills...

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Bookselling Then and Now

There have been hundreds of news articles and TV spots about changes in the book industry. The three things that have made the biggest difference are the large bookstore chains, online book selling, and ebook publishing.

If you're older than twenty-five, you are scratching your head over the first one.  Haven't there always been big-box bookstores, such as Barnes and Noble?  Nope. Even B&N started small.

Online book sales? Internet sales of paper books were not possible until about fifteen to
eighteen years ago, and not widespread until the Internet rose to ubiquity in the last ten to fifteen years. For those who scoff at these timeframes, remember that not everyone had easy access until more recent years, and there are still parts of the U.S. and Canada that only get Internet through phone lines or satellite communication.

Ebook sales are the new kid on  the block for most readers. The dust has settled into just a couple of predominant formats, and ereaders are relatively simple devices that are fairly easy to learn to use and pretty hard to break. And nothing in paper can beat the prices of many of the ebooks. Of course, I still visit the library almost weekly, but I have taken out my first ebook from a library.

The upshot is that many independent bookstores were driven out of business by the larger stores, online book selling, and ebook publishing. And I helped put them there. I love to wander in the larger stores and I self-publish ebooks--and paperbacks, but those sell only a few hundred copies per year. All but a few of the paperback copies are sold online.

That's not to say that I don't like smaller stores. I almost cried when Danner's went out of business in Muncie, Indiana, and I was a regular patron of the store in my former Iowa town until the owners of the last one could not sell it before they moved. (A fitness business/coffee shop bought the Iowa one, but with far fewer books mixed in with the other businesses, it's far from the same. And they won't carry my books, so I doubly don't count them!) Now I live in Springfield, Illinois, and there is no independent book store. There is a Barnes and Noble, and I'm thankful for that--even  though they won't carry my paperback books either.

Don't think this is a 'gripe blog.' Businesses exist to make a profit. If they don't think an author will contribute to that on the limited shelf space they have, then they won't carry a book. I use the same principle for selling my ebooks. It is worth my time to load the books myself to Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and I would try iTunes if they'd have me (they won't). Luckily for authors, there are book aggregators like Smashwords who accept ebooks into their system and then distribute them to other sellers. They take a cut, of course, but it gets the book to the iTunes, plus the smaller outlets whose systems I'm not willing to take the time to learn.

All of these thoughts ran  through my brain cells yesterday when I read a New York Times blog on Helpful Definitions for Modern Authors. It's a bit tongue-in-cheek, which makes it a sometimes humorous read. Here's a short segment.

Your Agent: Acts as Book’s Editor.
Your Editor: Acts as Book’s Publisher, handling how it will be packaged and marketed.
Your Publisher: Creates Book’s mold ahead of time, insofar as it curates the existing market into which book must fit. (Additional duty: being dumbfounded by that market.)

When it comes to writing (and reading) we live in a very different world from our parents or even ourselves of twenty years ago. It is a more democratic one. I have sold tens of thousands of books because I decided to do it. There was no three to six-month wait for rejections before moving on to the next potential agent or publisher. There was also no publisher's editor, and if you get a good one they do improve a book.

However, look again at the definition of a Book Publisher. I have a couple of very successful author friends who self-publish more now because a twenty-something book publishing company editor wanted to dumb down their books for "today's readers," and then wondered at lower sales than prior books.

What is constant is authors' support of one another and independent book stores. That's why book stores were in so many stories about this year's Small Business Saturday, a day in which shoppers are encouraged to use their shopping dollars to support local small businesses. USA Today has a great article on readers' love of independent book stores and their role in Small Business Saturday.

Now that I live in a town with no independent book store, I've had to get creative. Another author and I do a table at a nearby arts festival, and we have a booth in a Springfield gift shop. As I get more familiar with Illinois, I'll find book stores in other towns. There will always be people who love to read, it's just a question of finding them in the new age of book publishing.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Behind the Walls Hits the Streets

Books have their own pace for reading and writing. I envisioned the sixth book in the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series, Behind the Walls, appearing earlier in the fall. However, I like the book a lot better for the extra six weeks it took to write, so all's well that ends well.

Behind the Walls is one of two books that acknowledges the force that was Hurricane Sandy. As a storm that changed the face of the Jersey shore in many ways, I thought the series should deal with some of its aftermath. In Behind the Walls, Jolie and Scoobie are working on a storm-damaged bungalow she bought when they find something that has likely been hidden for decades.  And someone else wants it, and they're willing to kill to get it.

Even though Jolie and friends are tracking a killer, there is the trademark humor and a rowdy fundraiser for the food pantry Jolie chairs. As if trying to ferret out a murderer isn't enough, Jolie can't seem to get her cat Jazz to be happy without Aunt Madge's dogs. There may be room for another, albeit strange, kind of pet in Jolie's new house.

Behind the Walls is available in paperback, Kindle, and Nook, and will soon be available for itunes users.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Craft of False Clues

It's relatively easy for me to think of who the bad guy will be in a new book. Also doable are knowing how they commit the crime and how they hide their involvement. The big challenge for me is planting false clues so the reader cannot figure out the evil-doer until they are unmasked.

When Trouble on the Doorstep was released in March a number of readers commented that they hadn't spotted the antagonist until the very end.  I had to chuckle, because while there were a couple of 'bad guys' in the book, I switched some things after I finished the first draft. In other words, I didn't know myself which one was going to be the preeminent evil-doer.

That might be a method to use, but it wouldn't be one to recommend. It does make a book more interesting to write.

As I've been writing Behind the Walls (sixth in the Jolie Gentil series) I've done more reading than I usually do when writing. Reading is the best way for me to learn. After dabbling with several authors I had not read, I found that M.C. Beaton's Hamish Macbeth series was a great example of a detective who makes a number of wrong suppositions as he solves a crime. In other words, there are some good false clues and the Scottish detective follows them.  The books are also a great example of weaving the setting into the plots.

Since my sleuth is not a professional, her methods have to be different. She has no right to poke into a crime and has very limited access to what the police uncover. That's not to say she doesn't stick her nose where it doesn't belong. It's her specialty. However, the crime has to touch her in some way or it's not realistic for her to try to solve it.

So now that I've finished the first draft of Behind the Walls I'm inserting more false leads in various places. It's a little like a multiple choice test, with more options for the answers. In a few weeks I'll know if readers are as surprised at the ending for this book as they were for the last one.  My fingers are crossed.
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If you'd like to see how Behind the Walls turned out, click here.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

First Three Jolie Books in Ebook Set

Saturday and Sunday (October 19 and 20) you can get the first three books in the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series free as an ebook "boxed set."

Ocean Alley Adventures lets you get to know Jolie and friends as they get reacquainted and into get trouble in their Jersey shore town.

The included books are:
  • Appraisal for Murder
  • Rekindling Motives
  • When the Carny Comes to Town 
Though I am somewhat biased, I do think they get funnier by the book, so to speak.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Author Networking Group Forming

Writing can be lonely. Come meet (in the Springfield, Illinois area) other published authors (or those about to be published) who want to set up a monthly group to talk about things such as marketing or…anything.

Not a critique group, but participants may want to form some.

We’ll also talk about the November 1, 2013 Arts Event in Jacksonville, where some of us will have a display table. You can join us!

 And we have a date!  Join Springfield authors at the first Author Networking meeting on Saturday, October 19, at 2 p.m. at Monacal's Pizza. Info and directions are at Goodreads.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Producing An Audio Book: Lessons Learned and Tips for Success (Updated)

Audio books area major investment for the companies that produce them. They have to pay the author for the rights to the book, which may be a one time payment or a share of the royalties.  Sometimes the book’s narrator is a well known actor, which can be expensive—worth the expense, of course.

Until fairly recently, audio books were produced on a cassette tape or compact disk.  I bought all of the Harry Potter books on tape, and they were bulky (and wonderful, of course). The seventh book has seventeen tapes. Imagine shipping those to stores or mailing them directly to buyers. CDs, with their greater storage capacity, reduced the size of a book’s packaging. Still there was a physical product.

Enter the world of digital music, MP3 players,itunes, Blue Tooth, and guess what?  You can load a digital book on the players or a home computer. You can also listen to them on e-readers, such as the Kindle or iPad. Suddenly, the packaging element was out of the equation.  A reader could simply download a book from the seller.

Audio book publishers still pay for the story and the actor who reads the book, but the per-unit costs do not include a physical product. Or, they do not have to.  CD audio books are still widely available.

With the potential for reduced costs and the relative ease of producing digital products (can you say U-tube?) digital audio books met self-published authors.  A good audio book is much more than the author reading their book on recording software on a laptop.  Self-published authors met professional narrators who owned high-quality recording equipment.

The way I and many other self-published authors have books made into what used to be called talking books is through Audio Creation Exchange (ACX). created ACX, and Audible is an Amazon subsidiary. (Check out for basic information.)

What is ACX?  Authors can post information on their books to see if a narrator will read (produce) them. Narrators (called producers) can post samples of themselves doing all kinds of work – straight narration, comedy, men’s voices, women’s voices, and more.  A narrator can find an author’s work and provide an audition, or an author can listen to a narrator’s samples and ask the narrator to audition. The author provides a sample of the book for the narrator to read.

There is no up-front cost for authors if they choose to split royalties with the narrator.  That option makes audio book production possible for any writer. On the other hand, if the author thinks a book will sell well, it may be worth paying the narrator up front and collecting all royalties.  Rates are set in terms of produced hour of reading, not how long it takes the narrator to do the work.

Considerations for Narrator Auditions
  • Recognize that writing and narrating are separate skills. The odds of an author having the skills and equipment to produce a good audio book are pretty slim.
  • Decide if the book should simply be read or if it should be acted, with the narrator making each voice distinct.
  • Provide guidance about individual characters (the hero has a deep voice) or accents (though the action takes place in the south, the author does/does not want the narrator to use southern accents). This helps the narrator know what the author wants and provides a better audition.
  • Create audition text with varied voices within the book. The audition sample can do this by providing sections from different parts of the book.  A lot of books open with narration; if the opening is all that is in the audition text, the audition won’t be very representative of the book.
  • Ask for a second or third audition if there is any doubt as to whether a narrator can do the work as the author believes it should be done. There is no obligation to pick a person who auditions, but a revised audition can be more of what the author wants, so why reject a narrator after just one sample of their work?
The Creation Process

Once selected, the narrator loads the first fifteen minutes of the book for the author’s review. It’s really important to listen carefully and suggest changes if something should be done differently.

After the author approves the first fifteen minutes, the narrator will load the book to the ACX web site in individual chapters. If they want to wait until the end, make sure to ask the narrator to load a few chapters at a time. Though the audition and first fifteen minutes are meant to be the chance to come to agreement on how a book will be done, hearing the chapters individually lets the author spot unanticipated issues. A narrator cannot be expected to redo hundreds of lines of text after they have completed a book.

Ask the narrator to record the book at a consistent volume. A listener does not want to have to turn the volume control up and down to accommodate changing narrator volume. It’s not live theater. If the narrator whispers and shouts, the reader will get very frustrated.

When the narrator has finished the ‘first draft,’ listen to every word of every chapter. Ask for important changes (especially if it is hard to hear something), but don’t be a nit-picker.

Try to pick an experienced narrator.  True, some book has to be the narrator’s first. However, if it’s their first and your first, it may not be a good combination. I did not grasp how hard it was to hear the male voices that my first narrator did, and we ended up redoing parts of the book after it was issued. (ACX allows this – once.)  Clearly the narrator was very professional; she wanted it right as much as I did. We’ve worked together again and will in the future, but we both wished we had been more experienced to start!

The book I have been happiest with was done by a male narrator. I had not initially considered this, since my protagonist is a woman. Finally, I listened to several males voices and asked Michael Spence to audition. When the book (When the Carny Camy to Town) was issued I described his voice to friends as being smooth as melted butter, but with inflections. It was also the first of the Jolie Gentil series to be read rather than acted, and I liked it this way. Michael did Behind the Walls (for which ACX paid a bonus).

With Ground to a Halt, eighth book in the series, I decided to pay the narrator up front rather than do a royalty split. This means I keep all royalties. Since the audio books are selling better all the time, this seemed like a smart investment.

I had more auditions and they came in faster. The idea of an upfront payment is popular among narrators. Dan Gallagher, the selected narrator, also did the work faster than any other narrator I've worked with.

Audio book production takes a lot of time for the author and narrator, and the author might be tempted to think that if they like the first few chapters that’s all they need to listen to.  Not!  The royalties per book are higher than with other formats, and the author and narrator’s work should be commensurate with the income. That is an incentive to not just do an audio book, but to do it right.

If your friends are not familiar with digital audiobooks, make sure to let them know they can join Audible for free, and get one free download. They can later quit, commit to a monthly purchase, or just keep a $10-per-year  membership so they can buy books at lower prices.

You will also get twenty-five free downloads of each book, to be used for publicity--or whatever you want them for. This can encourage a potential reviewer to listen on an ereader. The email giving you the free link comes a couple of weeks after the book is published.
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Check out Elaine Orr's web page, or her online classes, or sign up for her newsletter

Finally, what kind of an author would I be if I didn't tell you about my audiobooks?

Appraisal for Murder, Read by Paula Faye Leinweber
Rekindling Motives, Read by Paula Faye Leinweber
When the Carny Comes to Town, Read by Michael Spence
Trouble on the Doorstep, Read by Christy Lynn
Behind the Walls, Read by Michael Spence
Ground to a Halt, Read by Dan Gallagher
Holidays in Ocean Alley, Read by Christopher Bateson
Biding Time (a coming-of-age novella), Read by James J. Fouhey, Jr.
All audios recorded by ACX narrators are on Audible, itunes, and Amazon. Mine are either listed as Elaine Orr or Elaine L. Orr.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Why Writers Need Their Friends

Writing is a lonely occupation. It would be nice if there were book signings on a regular basis, but that's not the real world for most of us. And those book signings will never happen unless we do spend those lonely hours writing.

Since moving to Illinois I've been struck by how much I miss my various Indiana networks -- whether it's the book clubs, Sisters in Crime meetings, events sponsored by Muncie's Midwest Writers Workshop or the Indianapolis Writers Center...and I could go on.

At the Not So Square Arts & Literary Festival in Mt Vernon, MO.
I've been preoccupied with trying to live in one place and sell a house in another. Add that to a fresh vertebra fracture and trying to finish two books, and I'm spending a lot of time alone. Salvation has been a nearby Starbucks. I can sit there and write for hours, paying no (or little) attention to others' conversations and ignoring the dirty dishes. I don't have to do them. Just enough people contact to keep me feeling part of the human race.

Still, no Sisters in Crime in Springfield, IL and I don't see me driving to Chicago. Imagine how thrilled I was to pull into a parking lot today and see a van advertising a writer who wanted to do cross promotion with others. We exchanged information and she seems to know good places for book sales and signings. I told her about a group I had just joined in Missouri.

I met Schyrlet Cameron and other members of Homegrown Books at the Not So Square Arts and Literary Festival on September 7th, in Mount Vernon. They had organized the authors who participated and gathered us together for an informal dinner afterwards. Homegrown Books finds coffee shops and other businesses that are willing to sell books in a rural area that has no commercial bookstore. They arrange author book signings and other activities.  I almost drooled.

So, I have a model for what a Springfield group might do, and maybe a partner in crime, so to speak. This local author (Aurora Lightbourne) writes sci-fi with a touch of romance. Wish us luck. 

And we have a date!  Join Springfield authors at the first Author Networking Meeting on Saturday, October 19, at 2 p.m. at Monacal's Pizza. Info and directions are at Goodreads.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

New Audio and Ebooks!

It's a big weekend for my books.  When the Carny Came to Town was just issued as an audio book. You have not listened to a super narrator until you have heard Michael Spence read When the Carny Came to Town. Michael has a great voice and he gets the book's humor. Don't miss it!

Jolie and Scoobie High School Misadventures is also live today. People kept saying they wanted "more Scoobie" or more about their high school years, so here it is!

When Jolie Gentil’s parents leave her with Aunt Madge for her junior year so they can “work things out” in their marriage, she’s angry. She knows no one at Ocean Alley High School. Some kids snub her, but she makes friends with the irreverent Scoobie. He’s quirky and fun, but he’s skipped school and smoked pot in the past, so people avoid him. Jolie learns how to shoot a squirt gun from under the boardwalk and tries not to flunk geometry. She also learns that the family she babysits for has a secret, one that puts Jolie in danger. You’ve met Jolie and Scoobie as crime-solving adults. Check out their high school friendship. Same humor, different challenges. Plus a couple of hints about why Jolie wants to get to the bottom of murders when she’s all grown up.

It was a bit of a challenge to write because I wanted it to be a good read for anyone from high school to adult ages. It's funny and poignant, with the chance to learn why Jolie and Scoobie grew into who they are today. You'll meet a couple of the characters who are in the later books, especially Aunt Madge. But the focus is on Scoobie and Jolie, and you'll get a chance to watch them grow.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Not So Square Arts Festival

I will be in Mount Vernon, Missouri Saturday (9/7/13) to participate in the Not So Square Arts Festival. There are many dozens of visual artists, writers, editor, and publishers who participate in this free festival. It is a testament to how a group of dedicated volunteers can create an event.

Mount Vernon is not a large town -- about 4,700 people, in Lawrence County in southwest Missouri. I have roots there and have published some local history materials about the area. Thus, my slogan for the event is "author of cozy mysteries and local histories." It should be fun.

Not So Square Arts and Literary Festival
Date: Saturday, September 7
Time: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Place: Mt. Vernon Arts and Recreation Center (MARC)
Location: 822 W. Mt. Vernon Blvd, Mt. Vernon

Friday, August 16, 2013

Spread the Word with Hashtags

No, not the kind of hash your grandparents swear they were happy to eat when they were kids. These have no taste.

Twitter, the 140-word communication tool, is a boon and a bane for authors who want to publicize a book. Even if they buy into the idea of tweeting a link to a book, it takes a long time to get a lot of Twitter followers (aka fans) who will read the tweets.

And then there is the time-suck element. Can tweets lead to higher sales or just take time away from writing? The answer is yes and yes.

First, a definition. says that "a hashtag is an easy way for Twitter users to categorize Tweets that share a common topic or belong to a particular group. The hashtag is used to highlight keywords or topics within a Tweet, and can be placed anywhere within a post."

Basically, when you put the number sign (#) before a word/phrase, people with this interest see your tweet.
If the right audience reads your tweets sales may go up a bit, but there are a lot of variables. First is how to reach people who might like a book, which is where hashtags come in, and second is timing.

Which Hashtags to Use

While you could make up hashtags, there might be no recipients. To know if a certain hashtag exists, type it in the search box that is just above the tweets received (the box with the little magnifying glass). For example, type #mystery or #mysteries to see if there are people interested in those topics. (There are.)

A hashtag will likely exist for anything you think of. If not, you can create one by following instructions on It takes time for a hashtag to get many followers, so initially find ones that are similar to your interest. For example, a woman is the protagonist of the Jolie Gentil series, so I initially checked #womensleuths. Later I found #femalesleuth and #womansleuth. Plural versions often exist. I send tweets to all of these hashtags from time to time.

Hashtags count against the 140 characters you can have in a tweet, but the links to sites do not.

Samples for Writers at Work

#writer or #writers
#author or #authors

Samples to Publicize Books or Articles

Genre-specific hashtags generally help promote a book more efficiently, but if your work crosses genres or you think everyone wants to read your book (dream on), try those below. Make sure the link corresponds with the hashtag--use the BN link for the #nook hashtag.
#novel or #novels
#goodread or #goodreads
#ebook or #ebooks
#bynr (which stands for be your next read)

Samples for Mystery Writers

There are hashtags for every genre. I write mysteries, sometimes with a touch of romance, so these two genres are highlighted here.

Consider staying away from general terms such as #crime or #cozy, which go to more than readers. If your mystery is not a thriller or hardboiled, stay away from those hashtags. You won't snag more readers by targeting an uninterested audience.

Samples for Romance Writers

#RWA (stands for Romance Writers of America)

Varied Other Samples

Some of these are general, others give you a way to get started in genres other than mystery or romance.
#youngadult  or #youngadults
#newadult or #newadults
#lowvision (for audio books)
#audiobook or #audiobooks

UK Readers

#kindleuk (the Amazon hashtag for the UK)

If you use these hashtags (or those for any other country) make sure the link to the book is the Amazon (or other) site for UK buyers.  Amazon has a list of all its international sites. This matters because, for example, a German reader cannot purchase a book at the Brazil Amazon site.

Finding Relevant Hashtags

One hashtag can lead to others. If you go the the list of tweeters who get the #mystery hashtag there may well be similar hashtags in the tweets you see.


...really is everything. While there are night owls, more people see a tweet during typical waking hours. Maybe that means more sales, maybe more sales come when fewer people are awake at night and they don't see as many tweets. Whatever you think, it's probably best not to do all tweets at the same time every day.

People generally see only a few of the tweets that come to them--those that come while they are looking at the screen. After posting a tweet, the screen will soon say how many have been posted in the next half-minute or so. That could be 150 or more! I send similar tweets to the same hashtag every day or so, because almost no one will see the same tweet twice.

And speaking of time. Let yourself have ten minutes a day for tweets. Perhaps more if there is a new book. If you keep a list of hashtags and copies of 140-character tweets, it's possible to send dozens in ten minutes. More than a few minutes a day and marketing tweets can detract from writing.

Here are a couple of my samples.

Get ready for weekend w fun cozy mysteries. Start w boxed set--humor & murder at the Jersey shore. #throwbackthursday

#author #writer I donated books to libraries damaged by Sandy and you can too. For indie authors. Well run effort.


Unless you construct elaborate tracking scenarios that are linked to your books (not!), there is no easy way to judge impact except in the broadest sense. I can say that, as a self-published author, I had no international sales until I started tweeting. I have fewer overall sales if I stop tweeting for a few days. That's good enough for me.

If you want more, check out 500+ Hashtags for Writers, which I wrote in spring 2014

Many of my tweets deal with the Jolie Gentil Cozy Mystery series. You can learn more here

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Family and Fiction

From mid-July to mid-August I focus on several family history projects, notably updating a publication about descendants of my Irish grandparents and keeping the Orr family web site current. (  A few years ago I accepted the (self-imposed) challenge to gather hundreds of stories about thousands of close and distant cousins, and to try to tell a cogent tale.

Success is in the eye of the reader, but I did see a number of common elements in the diverse families. For example, widely dispersed family members worked in mining at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth. Some were in the Pennsylvania coal mines, others in the strip mines that dotted states such as Kansas. These shallow coal deposits also became the reason many farm families had heat during the Depression.

While mining was not work that these families did in Londonderry, milling was. Two rivers ran through Aghadowey Parish (similar to a county), and one early history of the Orrs of that area says that my fourth great-grandfather had "a mill on the Reaf." It took awhile for me to associate his work there with what many families did in Jasper and Greene Counties in Missouri--operate grain mills.  In Greene, the Likins Mill evolved into Polar Bear Flour, a fairly large firm.

Mills were a place to congregate. Farm families that had little opportunity to see one another during the long months of sowing and harvesting crops brought corn or wheat to a local mill (always on a stream, which powered the mill).  During the day or two that the miller ground the crop into a usable flour or meal a family would often camp by the stream to socialize.

At the Adams Mill in Jasper County, the Adams family also operated a store on the site. They sold everything from food to fabric to farm implements. The photo at right is a set of lace collar and cuffs that was sold in the Adams Mill Store. The mill burned, and the store survived for a few more years. Minus the business that came from families waiting for their flour, widow Isabella Campbell Adams eventually closed the store as well. Today the woods have reclaimed the spot.

The far flung Orr relatives have congregated at the Ozark Prairie Presbyterian Church every August since 1937. The timing is no coincidence. Some crops would have been harvested, others were soon to be. What better time to gather?  While few of today's attendees have grown the food  they bring, except tomatoes and perhaps watermelon, we can all cook. When you look at the spread at left, you'll wish we were related. Yes, that's homemade ice cream. The brownies in the foreground were my contribution.

Family traditions nurture as much as food. My fiction gets a boost from these traditions. The boost comes in the form of humor. We Orrs (by whatever name we have now) do tend to laugh easily. That's a legacy to envy.
           *         *         *         *
If you would like to know more about how this far-flung family moved across America, check out Orr, Campbell, Mitchell and Shirley Families in Ireland and America

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Adapting Reality to Fit Fiction

Or is it the other way around?  The advantage of a fictional town is that no one can say something like, "Eighteenth Street is one way north, not south! Don't you know anything about DC?"

On the other hand, if you have a fictional beach town that is set in a Mid-Atlantic state (as Ocean Alley is), when you describe the way the ocean looks it cannot sound like the lighter blue-green of the Caribbean.

The characters who populate Ocean Alley are busy with their own lives when their peaceful pursuits are occasionally interrupted by a dead body or two. I choose to have parts of their lives focus on people who have less. So Jolie heads a food pantry committee and the fundraisers can take her focus off a crime--or be part of one.

At some level, I hope that a reader will realize that they can volunteer for a good cause without having to devote huge amounts of time to it. However, if action or dialogue deals a lot with people who need food or the couple of homeless veterans whose paths cross Jolie's, then it appears the books have "a message." And when fiction seems to want to educate, readers are likely to tune out.

So, Jolie sits above a dunk tank for a fundraiser and Scoobie chases cans of donated beans across a parking lot when a box rips. In book six, which I'm writing now, other members of the food pantry committee gang up on Jolie, Scoobie, and their friend Ramona by deciding the fundraiser will celebrate the trio's 30th birthdays. With any luck, the party games won't be deadly.

The major reality in New Jersey is recovery from 2012's Hurricane Sandy. That is not fun. But as the Ocean Alley boardwalk is rebuilt, even that reality can give readers a chance to make reality a better place.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Freedom to Read and Express

There are many things to think about on Independence Day--whether it's July 4th in the U.S. or Bastille Day in France, or various days in other countries. Each year I think about our freedom to not only read but publish anything we want to.  (The seven especially bad words aside on television.)

Each year in Garrett Park, Maryland there was a parade and an annual essay contest.  I won two years, until I got into a different age group and there was more competition. The parade also had a costume contest, and one of my brothers won for best costume one year. (Can't say which one, he'll get back at me.)

Those annual rituals made 4th of July more than an occasion for fireworks. Each year there was a theme, and we talked about it.  One year we celebrated the admission of Alaska and Hawaii to the union, which is why my sister was wearing a bathing suit in this one--Hawaiian beaches, not Alaskan tundra. I only have one sister, so no need to guess, for those who know her.

Another town I lived in also had parades. Coincidentally, Takoma Park, Maryland was the nation's first nuclear free zone and Garrett Park was the second. Very interesting places to live. The picture at right shows one of my brothers introducing a niece and nephew to the 4th of July Parade in Takoma Park in 1993.

The biggest takeaway for them was the Shriners Club's clowns in their small cars. Not exactly the most patriotic entry (though a good lesson in charitable giving), but memorable.

Whatever you are or will do this 4th of July, keep thinking about those freedoms. And enjoy the fireworks.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

You Found a What?!

In the sixth book of the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series, she finds a skunk in her house. Technically, her cat Jazz and Aunt Madge's dog, Mister Rogers, lead it in. The skunk is Pebbles, who belonged to the house's elderly former owner, who recently died. (Not murdered, as far as we know.)

Since the skunk has had its odor glands removed and the local animal control officer really doesn't want to take it home, Pebbles has taken up residence. 

I can think of lots of trouble for the cat and dogs to get into, but would love to know stories of pet skunks. Any takers?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Jersey Shore is Back

There's nothing like sun and warm weather at the beach on Memorial Day Weekend. Unless it's cloudy and cool at the New Jersey shore in 2013. Why is this good news? Because the Jersey shore is back! Not an October hurricane or wet long weekend can dampen spirits. There's plenty of cotton candy and salt water taffy to go around.

If some things are missing, they will turn up later. Seaside Heights, whose roller
coaster landed in the Atlantic surf, plans to have eighteen rides open later in the season.

The Jolie Gentil mysteries did not want to ignore Hurricane Sandy, whose vicious path took and altered lives in the region. However, the  fifth book, Trouble on the Doorstep, chose to deal with recovery more than the storm itself.

The fictional Ocean Alley was placed near Asbury Park, which is about 80 miles north of where Sandy came ashore. Thus, it can deal with repairs to a senior living complex rather than rebuilding, and the food pantry Jolie runs can restock freezers rather than having to find ways for people to buy new freezers. That's a big difference.

While things were not as damaged in Ocean Alley as towns further south, some things are the same. Retired Dr. Welby volunteered to give vaccinations and help people get new prescriptions, and when Jolie and friends run a food pantry fundraiser half of  the proceeds go to the Red Cross. In other words, the spirit of giving survived the storm.  That's New Jersey. People helping people.

Now, get to the Jersey shore and have some fun, even if you do need to wear a windbreaker for Memorial Day Weekend.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sisters in Crime and Social Media

I was pleased to give a presentation to my fellow authors of Sisters in Crime in Indianapolis in mid-May. Prior sessions dealt with electronic publishing, and this one dealt a bit with that but primarily discussed using social media as a marketing tool. 

There is never a shy woman or man at these meetings, so we had a lot of fun discussing what has worked for me and how others reach out to their fans. Barnes and Noble is always a good host.

The Indy Sisters in Crime group (Speed City Sisters in Crime) is always well attended and always has projects in process. At the moment there is an anthology underway--the first from Indy SinC to be published as an ebook.

Our Sisters in Crime group will have a panel at Magna Cum Murder this October, and will host a reception. Come and get to know us!

Monday, May 13, 2013

What We Read Says a Lot

I have been reading mysteries since Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and Mary Stewart (the first adult mystery writer I was allowed to read). Reading these and similar books eventually took precedence over swimming, which is probably why I always wish I weighed ten pounds less than I do.

Why mysteries?  The sense of discovery must have been important, and it seems to have gone beyond fiction. For many years I did evaluation work, mostly looking at government programs. Some skills needed for this work are similar to those of detectives—willingness to dig into information, asking probing questions, and writing reports (a regular activity of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone).

However, unless I was riding with one particular carpool mate there were no fast cars, and certainly no fancy hotels or gin and tonics at four o’clock.

As I write more I read less, so I have recommitted to reading at least one book per week, preferably two. I will do some skimming. When I’m not particularly engaged in a book I tend to try to follow the plot threads, with less attention on inner dialogue. This can mean I miss things and have to go back, but mostly not.

Almost any mystery appeals to me, though if sadistic criminal acts are a big part of the book I put it down.  Same reason I don’t watch Criminal Minds. Who needs to be reminded (for entertainment yet) that people are that sadistic?

The only other thing that truly turns me off are what I think of as “cheats.”  In Mary Stewart’s The Ivy Tree, the reader is in the mind of the protagonist (Mary Grey) throughout the book. When she travels from Canada to England to visit the ancestral home, she is often taken for Annabel, a cousin who disappeared eight years ago.  Annabel’s appearance would be a threat to others, as Annabel—if alive—would inherit a family fortune.

Mary Grey spends a great deal of time looking into Annabel’s background and denying that she is Annabel.  And then at the end of the book, lo and behold, Mary and Annabel are one and the same. What?! No claim of amnesia, just a basic deception that renders the novel (to me) ridiculous. If told from another person’s point of view, fine. But to be in first person and hide who you are from the reader? Doesn’t work. 

Only Mary Stewart could get away with it, and if was the first book of hers a person read it might be the last. I enjoyed many of the other books, particularly the environmental web she creates as you read.

I love the Dublin Murder Squad mysteries by Tana French. You stay in her world of intricate crimes and resolutions for days after you finish a book. Yet, dare I say it, there are times when the first-person narrator knows a great deal more than they let the reader know, especially in The Likeness.

Novels all in first person are a challenge. There is only so much the protagonist can know, and the reader has the intrigue and frustration of reasonable discovery. The sleuth cannot expound on clues or opinions to an admiring friend, as readers today don’t usually want to sit (or read) through a lecture.

No matter the limitations, I prefer books with only one or perhaps two points of view. When there are many—especially if one is the mind if the criminal—then a reader knows almost everything and it’s just a matter of when the good guys and bad guys will come together. And, as my father said when I was a scared eight-year old during TV shows, “You know the good guy will win. It’s his show.”

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Quick Promotion Via Twitter

A writing friend recently said that she did not see that Twitter was at all useful in promoting a new book. She sent a tweet noting where to find the book on Amazon and BN, and she didn't see any bump in sales at all.

There is no reason that she should.

People sometimes think of Twitter as they would their email inbox, believing that the 1,000 (or even 20) people who follow them will sign onto Twitter and see something a fellow tweeter posted a few hours ago. Not realistic. In the time it takes you to push the tweet tab there will be 10 or 20 new tweets that flash through your line of vision. Did you read them? Not likely.

Think of Twitter as the chance to "speed promote" several times a day, for perhaps five minutes each time. If you send a bunch of Tweets a couple of times a day, at least, you will randomly reach a certain number of people--the number varies with how you address the tweet. Who are these people? They are likely the folks who have just signed onto Twitter as your Tweet appears.

To tweet two or three times a day, you need two things:  a standard message or set of messages, and a list of tweet addresses or hash tags.

Create five or ten tweets that promote an individual book or series. Vary them a bit, which is not hard to do. You can't say all you want about a book in 140 characters. Here are three I use to promote Any Port in a Storm, the fourth book in the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series.

#series  Fun Cozy. Any Port in a Storm. Who knew Talk Like a Pirate Day could lead to murder?

#cozy Mystry-humor, friends & occasional murder in a NJ beach town. "Any Port in a Storm."

#nook Now available for Nook, Any Port in a Storm, humorous mystery at New Jersey shore. Friends, fun & murder.

The number sign and word that adjoins it are hashtags. That means there are people who have associated themselves with this concept. If you like cozy mysteries, you will have 'joined' the hashtag cozy. If you have a Nook, you'll want to get tweets that start with #nook.

There are hundreds, sometimes thousands of people who associate themselves with some hashtags. Popular ones to use when you do a free book via Amazon's KDP Select are #freekindle and #kindlefree.

Once you develop your list of hash tags and a number of cogent tweets you can send 10 tweets in about two minutes. Twitter does not want you to repeat the same message many times, so you will need to vary them a bit.

At the moment, I have coupons for free books at Smashwords, so I rotate through the books in the Jolie Gentil series with some standard tweets and hashtags. For example:

#bookmarketing Free--Talk Like a Pirate Day and mystery-humor in a NJ beach town. "Any Port in a Storm." Coupon TM59W

It takes awhile to create your list and tweets, but it's worth the initial effort. My next post will contain a list of hashtags I find useful, as well as individual addresses of people who say they will retweet information about books.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Book Giveaway on Goodreads

This is the first time I've done a Goodreads Giveawy. Five copies of Trouble on the Doorstep are available and will be mailed soon after the April 24 end of the giveaway. Reviews have been very positive.

Orr's characters are engaging and have never disappointed on the interesting situations they manage to get themselves into. There's something for everyone in these stories- plenty of mystery and intrigue, loyal friendships and a spark of romance--and it's fun to reacquaint with the old friends from volumes 1-4. I'd love to see more stories from this series!  luv2read on Amazon

Another fun mystery from Elaine Orr. I love the way Jolie gets herself caught up in murder when she tries hard not to. Scoobie cracks me up. Colorado Pie on Amazon

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Mystery of Mysteries

There are many sources of advice for those who write or want to write a mystery. I am not about to offer any. I have published several cozy mysteries and written others that will never make it that far, but there is always more for me to learn.

Once you write, you learn as much by reading others as studying books. I recently finished China Trade by S.J. Rozan. It is one of the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series, which is set in New York City. Lydia has been hired to trace porcelain that was stolen from a museum near Chinatown. Rozan deftly creates a story of Chinese gangs, art collection, and sibling friction that takes more turns than a mountain road. Rozan's books are often a good study in how to weave a distinct culture into a plot, and there is a lot of humorous dialogue.

Tana French imbeds Irish customs in her Dublin Murder Squad mysteries. French's stories take a slower pace than Rozan's, and there is a lot more internal dialogue. I've read In The Woods and The Likeness, which are the first two in the series. Each has some of the same characters, but the first is from Rob's point of view and the second from Cassie's--each a detective, each very different from the other. If you want a thriller, these books are not for you, but they will especially appeal to someone who wants a more 'literary' mystery.

Back to learning. One book that is a useful overview for mystery writers is Writing Murder, an anthology by fifteen authors with Midwestern roots. Anthologies are meant to be a mixed bag, but not all pull the pieces together as well as this one, which was edited by S.M. Harding and published by the Writers' Center of Indiana.

I am piecing together ideas for the sixth book in the Jolie Gentil series, so I am especially conscious of learning from good writers. Fortunately, there are many from whom to choose.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Fun with Audio Books

Audible ACX recently published Appraisal for Murder as an audio book, and Biding Time should be out in a few days. This has given me the opportunity to work with some talented readers, Paula Faye Leinweber for Appraisal and James Fouhey for Biding Time.

It is humbling to have talented artists who are willing to make an investment in my work. Generally, they make money only as the audio books sell. They invest a tremendous amount of time (and sometimes studio fees) as they make the recordings.

Paula will soon be recording additional books in the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series. Keep your ears open!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Books and Choices

There are so many choices when it comes to books. What to read next? Borrow or buy? Paper version or e-reader?

I appreciate that so many people have thought about questions such as these and decided to buy Trouble on the Doorstep, which came out March 19th. It has been in the top five for cozy mysteries on Amazon since a few days after it came out, and it's so much fun to hear from people who have enjoyed it. I keep pinching myself.

There are many book choices in my life at the moment, since we are preparing to move to Springfield, Illinois. What to keep and what to give away? And of course the local Friends of the Library had one of their quarterly sales recently, so they were no help.

I used to move all my books, but about ten years ago I forced myself to consider what I might reread and what might just sit on a shelf until I gave it away. Now I keep books by my friends, books I most enjoyed, and those that I may refer to as I write. It's tough.

Of course, if I end up with empty shelves when we unpack...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Trouble on the Doorstep

Trouble on the Doorstep is now available! I have to work on the large print version. Same humor, a bit more reality because of the hurricane. I didn't think I could ignore the damage, given that the books are set at a NJ beach. In the first book, I placed Ocean Alley near Asbury Park, which is about 80 miles north of where Sandy c
ame ashore. (ebook)  (ebook in many formats) (paperback) Barnes and Noble (ebook)

There are descriptions with the books, or on my web site ( Here is a really short one:
From Hurricane Sandy to Cozy Corner B&B repairs to Aunt Madge's wedding in three weeks. If Jolie can handle that surely she can deal with a sobbing woman who shows up at midnight playing a scary message on a cell phone. Between burning muffins for guests, appraising houses, and murder Jolie may be in above her head. The police, best bud Scoobie, & boyfriend George think so. And maybe the murderer.

If someone would like a review copy, let me know.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Memories of Sea View Secret

Director of the annual Magna Cum Murder Conference, Kathryn Kennison, asked conference friends to write a few sentences about their favorite childhood book. Mine was "Sea View Secret," a short mystery by Elizabeth Kinsey. It features children who move to a new town and become friends with two children staying with (or maybe being raised by) an elderly aunt.The aunt is about to be evicted from the family home because she can no longer afford it.

My most vivid memory is of a large cast-iron stove that makes the house unbearably hot. And the mystery, of course, which the kids solve.

I have searched for this book many times.Thanks to Internet retailers, there are now a few copies available (which I won't buy for $40). My memories were confirmed, and I won't spoil the reading experience in case it is reissued and you can read it to children in your life.

What made the book so special? I believe it is because it depicts ordinary children who accomplish something important. They are not super heroes and do not have extraordinary resources. They use their wits.

A generation that likely can search the Internet by age four might not be impressed. It would be their loss.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Pacing through the Years

Our perception of time -- more particularly how quickly we should be able to get what we want -- evolves. Wait to talk to a friend until we get home and use a phone that is wired into the wall? Ridiculous. We complain if it takes a few extra seconds for a mobile phone to place a call. None of this answering machine business. If we can't reach someone via phone it's time to text. Email is soooo last century.

Mysteries have changed, too. There's always a puzzle to solve, but the amateur sleuth of today rarely ponders clues during a walk in the garden or a train ride. Even the detectives of old operated at more of a Jessica Fletcher pace than a Jason Bourne race. When I think of a thriller a few decades old it's Alfred Hitchcock's work that comes to mind, and he kept us on the edge of our seats without the protagonist having to leave a room--or a chair.

My thoughts about pacing became more focused when the Women of Murder Book Club of Muncie read Wilkie Collins' Woman in White, which was issued in the mid-1860s. I groaned my way through the first 100 pages, sticking with it only because we were going to discuss it the next night. Then my husband read about it on a web site (something I never do when I start an unknown book). I don't know that this was exactly what he read, but here's the gist:

The Woman in White is credited with being the first of the sensation novels, and one of the finest examples of the genre. A young woman's husband defrauds her of her fortune, her identity and eventually her sanity. She is saved by her sister and a loyal man who loves her, and her two rescuers attempt to expose her husband. They meet a woman dressed all in white whose fate seems curiously intertwined with that of the young woman. In the tradition of the sensation novel, the story contravenes boundaries of class, identity and the private and public spheres.  (This is what Barnes and Noble said in promoting its issuance of a classic edition of the book.)

Without saying so, my husband's message was more or less, gee, maybe you should be quiet and keep reading.

I got quieter, and by the last 150 pages was reading to see how the book ended because I really cared. I cannot say it was easy to follow every clue, because some of them were buried in the lengthy internal dialogue of the time. However, patience is a trait I keep trying to develop, so The Woman in White was a lesson in its acquisition.

 It's still not a pace I care to read too often, but I came to want to learn more about the author enough that I took Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone out of our local library. T.S. Eliot describes it as, "The first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels."  It is long, but it grabbed me more at the beginning, so I will read it and try to be quiet about it.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Seminar on Getting Into Print...Electronically

The February 16th seminar I presented at Muncie's Kennedy Library brought together ten people who have written or plan to write a book or article they want to publish. Some had explored self-publishing electronically, several were new to the idea, and at least one has a book in paperback that they believe would translate well to electronic format.

We talked largely in terms of how to format a book for Kindle, since Amazon has more sales than any other site. We did touch on Barnes and Noble and Smashwords, in part because BN did a signing for my first book many years ago and in part because the Smashwords Style Guide is easy to read. I do find BN's upload screens much easier to follow than Amazon's.

I'm meeting with at least one class participant soon to go over her specific publishing project. She has that essential ingredient many writers sometimes lack -- a completed project.

I plan to do the seminar for other libraries, though I don't expect other libraries' staffs to be as attentive to a presenter's needs as those at Kennedy Library. I had never done a Power Point presentation, and they helped me learn. See, older dogs can learn new tricks, whether it's electronic publishing or not.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Publishing an Electronic Book - Part II

Have you ever opened an ebook and come across odd type fonts that appear in the middle of a page? You might be surprised to know that an author may not see these in their computer file -- they are only visible in the online previewer (when the book is loaded to Kindle, via Amazon's KDP, or another online retailer).

Taking Out the Formatting

Rogue text and spacing can be avoided by taking formatting out of the computer file and reinserting it. Once a book has been taken through the "no formatting" step (using a a program such as Notepad in Microsoft Word) then you can begin to put the formatting back into the book.

If you skip the "take out the format" step you could spend hours trying to fix an uploaded book file. And you may never fully fix it all, so your book will look...weird.  And it will annoy readers.

For info on taking out formatting, go to this post.

After you take the formatting out using Notepad (or whatever), you select the book, copy it, and put it back into your word processing program.

After you take the formatting out of a book try to work on it on just one computer -- the one you used when removing the formatting. I'm no technology guru, so I cannot tell you why transferring the file to another computer (or different word processing program) can mess it up, but it can.

Always remember, computers are dumb. They can only do what you tell them to do, which is why you need to provide good instructions.

Word Instructions to Reinsert Formatting

Save your new file in Word 97-2003 form (doc vs. docx). You can do this in later versions. It will not be obvious to the author that they are working in the older format.

Word 97-2003 does not have all the bells and whistles of newer versions, so it does not "mess with"
your manuscript as much as newer versions.

Here are specific steps.

1) Make a copy of your file and work on that copy. Never work on your only copy.

2) If you have not already done so, make your document single-spaced and take out all spaces between paragraphs EXCEPT paragraphs that separate two scenes. (Yes, it takes awhile. You have to do it or you'll only get about ten lines per page on the e-readers.)

3) If you still have tabs, take them all out. Do this by doing a "find and replace."  In the find you will put ^t --the symbol for a tab. (The carrot is usually above the 6 key). In the replace put nothing.  Use "replace all." Eek! You have no way to tell if it's a new paragraph. No worries, keep reading.

Now you are ready to create the basic "style for your book."

4) From the tool bar, click on format and select "Styles and Formatting." You see a column on the right.

5) The white rectangular box at the top of the column needs to say "normal." If it does not , look at the top left of your toolbar.  You'll see "AA" and next to that another white box. Click the down arrow and select Normal.

6) Back to AA at the bottom of "Styles and Formatting." Right click and click on "New Style."

7) In the top white box that appears, name your style, something you will remember, such as "book format" or basic book format.

8) Style type will remain "paragraph."

9) Style will remain based on "Normal."

10) Leave as "Style 1" in style for following paragraphs.

11) Below where it says "Formatting" is a box that shows the font you will use.  I suggest something simple like Book Antiqua or Times New Roman. Leave fancy styles for your cover.

12) Font size does not matter too much, since an e-reader can make text bigger or smaller. I use Book Antiqua 11.

13) At the bottom put a check in "Add to template" and "Automatically Update."

14) At the bottom left, click on the tab that says "Format." The second item in the list that appears will be paragraph.  Click on that.

15) At the top of the paragraph formatting box, make the outline level "body text" and alignment "justified." (Left justified looks sloppy in an e-reader, but it's your choice.)

16) Leave all zeroes for the "indentation" and "spacing."

17) Under line spacing make it single and leave the white box next to it white.

18) "Special" -- use the drop down arrow and select first line.  To the right, I suggest .3 for the indent amount. (Your choice, but on an e-reader .5 looks huge.)  Now the reader can see your paragraphs.

19) Click Okay (at the bottom).  This take you back to the "New Style" screen, shown above.

20) Click Okay (at the bottom).

21) The blue box will disappear and on the right the style and formatting menu will now have a style with the name you just gave your style -- book format or whatever.

Here is where all of what you just did is worth it.

22)  For practice.  Select (highlight) a few paragraphs and click on the style you just created.  The paragraphs you selected will be indented .3 (or whatever you chose) and will have the font you selected, etc.

Now what?

You have a choice. I select the entire book and click on whatever I named the book format style set. Then SAVE the book, maybe giving it today's date.

Then I add back centering for chapters. I add back centering by selecting the line of the chapter head (or anything else) and then click "clear formatting."  Then I highlight the chapter heading and select center and the font size I want.

I add bold and italics by selecting the text and clicking on bold or italics, as in any document.

Adding bold and centering this way DOES NOT always work well, but 99% of the time it does.

Mark Coker, who wrote the Smashwords Style Guide, suggests that you create a few more new styles, just as you did for your basic book format.  For example, for a chapter name, a style might be centered, a slightly larger font, and bold.  You would then select the chapter name and click on that new style, which you might have named "Chapter Name" (or something like that).

My guess is that for newer versions of Word it is more important to create the separate styles, and it only takes a minute once you have done it for the first time. You could create a style called "front page matter" and have it centered, and in a different font. You can create 25 styles if you like.

Is this tedious as all get out? Yes.  Be assured it takes less time than not doing this. And you are a publisher, so you cannot expect it to be a total piece of cake.

After doing this, you should have a file you can upload and have few problems with. The good thing about uploading to sites such as Smashwords, Kindle (Amazon), or Nook (Barnes and Noble) is that after you upload they give you a simple way to page through your book as it will look on the e-reader. This is not a time to proof (you did that already), but it does let you see if you have extra spaces somewhere, or an odd font.  You can fix that and reload the book.

One final thought. When you load to Kindle or Smashwords (which puts your books on Apple, Kobo, and other sites) you can have page breaks between chapters. If you load directly to Nook Press (the Barnes and Noble publishing site) you can only use section breaks.

Do You Really Have to Do All This?

Maybe not. Amazon continues to improve its processes, and I have tried loading files without doing all these steps. I start by saving the file in Word 1997-2003, removing tabs, and replacing them with indents (using the paragraph formatting guides described above).

My caution would be that there can still be rogue formatting errors, which will appear when you preview the text in the Amazon previewer. You can correct these and reload.

The reason I still do the full process described here is that you don't know what those rogue formatting errors will be, or which you don't see. The process described here will take only an hour or two (depending on the book's length), and when you are done the book has no formatting errors.

Onward and upward. (This post was updated in 2017.)
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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Publishing an Electronic Book - Part I

As I prepared to teach a free seminar on ebook publishing at Kennedy Library in Muncie, Indiana, I outlined the processes I used to get a 'clean' ebook.

After beating myself over the head for the better part of eighteen months to do my own ebooks, I had learned a lot.  It's probably about three percent of what there is to know, but it's the three percent that will get your books uploaded in a good format, ready to sell.

This is the first of a series of articles about the process. Toward the end of the series I'll talk about how to get people to buy your books, but early on that should be at the back of your mind. Of course you want people to buy them! But if they are not ready to sell (content and format) you might get a few sales, but there will be no repeat customers or word-of-mouth sharing about your book.

The points below deal with books that are text, except for the covers. I am also using a PC, though the concepts would apply to formatting a book using an Apple product.  In case you are wondering, YOU do not need to worry about formatting beyond what it presented here.

Online publishers called 'aggregators' will convert your book to work with various ereaders. That means you will load your work to their web site and they will put it in all formats (epub, mobi) for you--for free.  Two popular aggregators are and But, don't get ahead of yourself.

1)  Finish your book 100 percent before you start formatting for an ebook.  That means you have written it, given it at least a few weeks to settle so you review it with a fresh eye, read it with a cold eye, made revisions, and had someone else proofread it. Sound like a lot of extra work? If you want people to spend money on your books, you need the best possible product.

 Why? Because you only get once chance to make a first impression.  Done? Okay, what's next?

2) Take that beautifully written book and make an electronic copy of it. Save that copy in a different folder (or a flash drive) so you do not lose it or get mixed up about what copy you are working on. (You should always have a copy away from your computer. I email myself books as I work on them and when done.)

3) Using the copy, get rid of all the formatting.  What?! If you do not do this, you will have no end of problems with the copy you upload to Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon.  There will be crazy fonts, even symbols, in the middle of your text. If you try to remove these manually you will do it over and over again, and will spend far more time (and still have it wrong) than if you simply take out all the formatting and reinsert it.  How do you do that?

4) Copy your entire book.  In Microsoft Word (which can be the friendliest program for this) you do 'select all' and then copy.  You put this version in Notepad.  Notepad comes with every PC and basically has no formatting capabilities.  When you paste your book into Notepad it will look awful.  However, any formatting that could mess up an electronic copy will be gone. You do not have to save a copy of the Notepad version, but I do.

5) In Notepad, use 'select all' again and copy.

6) Open a totally new document in your word processing program (preferably Word 97-2003).  Paste the unformatted book into Word. If you have a later version of Word, save this new document as a doc, not a docx.

Below is a summary of instructions. For details and graphics, go to Part II of this series.

7) Turn off all automatic formatting.  In Word 97-2003 you click on the tools tab and then on autoformat. You will see lots of boxes checked.  Uncheck all of them. Then click on autoformat as you type and do the same thing. Make sure you click on 'apply' so you save changes. You do this because you are actually smarter than the computer.  You do not want it making any decisions about how your document should look.

(In later version of Word, Click on the colorful Microsoft logo, usually at the bottom left. Then go to Word Options, Proofing, Autocorrect.  At the bottom of this post you will see a link that will give instructions for these later versions of Word.)

8) Now you will reinsert all formatting using the Styles and Formatting menu. I'm going to list a couple of things to do.  There are more.  We'll get to that. Remember, whatever word processing program you use will permit you to do any of this, you just need to explore how. If you do not know how to do something, or my instructions seem unclear, use the Help program.

a)  Make sure you can view the standard and formatting toolbars. In Word 97-2003, click on view and toolbars.
b) Change the document to Normal style.  (Top left of page, usually.)
c) Take out all spacing between paragraphs. This will take awhile, but you have to do it because keeping spaces will make your book hard to read on an e-reader such as Kindle or Nook. Trust me. I leave an extra line between scenes.
d) The next instructions look like a lot, but they take almost no time.  Practice on a document other than your book, if you like.

Select (highlight) one line in your book.
Click on format, then styles and formatting. A long box opens on the right.
Click on new style (at top).
A box opens and you name your style in the top white space. I call mine Book Format

The box below says style type:  make it paragraph.
Then style based on: select Normal
At the bottom right is a box you click that says automatically update.  Click it.
At bottom left it says format. Click on that and select paragraph.
Then you do this:
Alignment is justify,
Outline level is body text.
Make sure these things are all zero: indentation and spacing, all boxes.
On the right it says Special.  I make that first line and .3 (paragraph indents, for fiction)
Click OK at the bottom.
Click OK again.
The line you selected (highlighted) has this format.

e) Here's the easy part.  Now that you have done this, you can select your entire document and click on the format you just created.  It will be on the right, with the name you called it. Wait, you say, I want some things centered.  You can select one paragraph (or ten) at a time, but since most of your book will be in paragraph form, it may be easier to center a chapter title than to do all the paragraphs/pages separately.
f) Whew!  This will take a lot of time.  Just pour a cup of coffee or tea and take your time.  If it is more boring than you can stand, take a break.

In the next post, I will tell you how to put back in centering, and bold and such.  In the meantime, be assured I'm not a genius. (You've already figured that out.)  I learned all this through trial and error and the Smashwords Style Guide, by Mark Coker.  It is very wordy, but Mark has an irreverent writing style, so you don't usually mind.  If you cannot wait until the next post, click on the guide and download it as a pdf document.  Do not try to read it all at once.  Much of it you do not need for a book of text.

There are also style guides at other sites. The Smashwords Guide is generic, and works for all.

Finally, before you do all this, make sure you proof your book! Sure, you can always make corrections, but you want to stop with the best copy you can produce.