Sunday, November 28, 2021

Can Income-Earning Authors Take a Break?

Can income earning authors take a break? The short answer is "no." The longer answer is "it depends." The more you earn, and can thus save, the longer you can take a break between books. 

It also depends on whether you used income from well-earning books to buy items (such as houses or cars) that require regular (high) payments.More expenses, higher earning threshhold required.

I make enough to pay many of my normal expenses. I'm fortunate, but I do work hard. 

I had a slow publishing period a couple of years ago and learned that my income does not stay consistent without at least three genre-fiction books per year. No complaints.

To reaffirm this premise, I recently downloaded sales and income data from Amazon and Smashwords (an aggregator that handles sales of most of my books for ibooks and Nook). 

I learned several things.

1) I do need to publish consistently or income drops quickly.

2) If I lower the price or give away the last book in a series before issuing the new one, sales of the new one are highter.

3) If I give away books on Amazon via Kindle Unlimited, it makes little difference in sales.

4) If I give away non-KU books on Amazon because of a price match with other siters, it not only helps sales but I get a lot of Amazon reviews.

5) If I keep the first box set of a series free on all sites but Amazon (via Smashwords), succeeding box set sales are very good. The moral here, for me, is to leave the first books free all the time. (The next two box sets are always in the top ten of box set sales, and have been number one or two at times. Other authors' sets come and go. My Jolie Gentil series stays high.)

6) Better to write some every day rather than try to crunch out three books at the end of the year. That's kind of a big 'duh,' but worth noting.

It's a good idea to pull historical data every year. You can obsess by examining data weekly or monthly, but it works better if you use that time to write.

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To learn more about Elaine, go to elaineorr.com or sign up for her newsletter

Sunday, November 14, 2021

A Look Into the 'Real' World

When revising my website this year, I spent time considering how to describe my writing. Not in terms of genres, but how to put forth broader perspectives. This is what I came up with:

What makes Elaine’s fiction different from other traditional mysteries? Some might say the dry humor (only a few say lame), but she thinks it is the empathy her characters show to others. Fiction can’t ‘lecture’ readers. But it can contain people whose paths we cross every day — whether we know it or not. The bright colleague or grouchy neighbor who’s actually in severe emotional pain, the families struggling to provide enough food for their children, the vet with PTSD. 

While characters solve crimes or plan silly fundraisers, they can tacitly let us know there is a world beyond those activities. And maybe they can make it a little better.

I don't "have" to embody these ideas in stories, but they seem to arise naturally for me. The challenge is to convey the daily world in a way that fits in with the stories without implying that people should behave in a certain way.

Fiction offer the chance for characters to move beyond their routines. It's not every day a person falls in love, finds a body, or saves the world. While they're they're solving a crime, maybe there's a chance to show a little kindness. As long as things stay interesting.

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To learn more about Elaine, go to elaineorr.com or sign up for her newsletter


Friday, November 5, 2021

What to Learn from Reviews of Your Books

Most authors I know read at least some of the reviews of their books. I've learned a lot from reading them, especially if a reader doesn't like something. 

I've talked a couple times about early reviews of the Jolie character in the cozy mystery series, set at the Jersey shore, that bears her name. In Appraisal for Murder, she's left a gambling husband and settled at her aunt's B&B as she reorganizes her life.

To me, it made sense that she was a tad sarcastic and more than irritated at her ex-husband. She also had a fling (a cozy, so not that kind of a fling) and focused on her own needs to a greater degree than she would in later books. 

These seemed like things someone might do if their life turned upside down. And if she found a woman dead in bed on her first day on a new job.

Readers commented some on the humor, a lot on Aunt Madge (whom they liked), and some on the pets. A number of reviewers liked the story but said Jolie was self-centered. I realized that while I created her to behave as a woman in her situation might, readers wanted a more likeable protagonist.

I had planned for her to eveolve as life got happier, but I changed more of her internal thinking than I might have had I not read the reviews. Less sarcasm, more dry humor. And as she gets more involved in the food pantry and life in Ocean Alley, she focused outwardly more.

As I wrote new series, I consciously made the protagonists more likeable -- or at least more relatable. Is this kow-towing to others' opinions? A bit. I write for me, I publish to entertain readers and make money. Readers have to like my genre fiction or they won't keep reading.

Mixing Mystery with Life

My next big learning experience was a head slapper. 

I am very critical of TV mystery series that devolve into soap operas. House was a good example. It started with such keen medical mysteries and eventually became the story of Dr. House's addiction and love life, plus various life and love events of other characters. Boring.

As the Jolie series has evolved, I've had reviews such as this recent one of Vague Images:

The mystery is sort of in the background but the relationships are what make books great. Full of friendships, family relations and a touch of romance. I had actually forgotten about the main mystery by the end but I enjoyed how it all wrapped up.

Gulp. 

On the other hand, here's a review of Mountain Rails of Old, the most recent book in the family history mystery series. Memorable characters and intriguing plot combine with genealogical research to make a fun read.

Lesson learned, perhaps not as consciously as I should have, but I do let the stories have a life of their own.

As with much of life, I suppose there has to be a middle ground.

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To learn more about Elaine, go to elaineorr.com or sign up for her newsletter


Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Halloween and Books

Remember when Halloween became a holiday for adults? I do -- roughly the mid-1980s. I lived in the Washington, DC area at the time, and it was great fun to wander around Georgetown in costume.

Lots of classics deal with scary things. I suppose every mystery does, in a way. The best ones present situations you think you could actually find yourself in. And with most of them, it's the anticipation of the scare more than what actually happens.

The scariest story I remember was one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes Stories -- Adventure of the Speckled Band. One woman has died and her sister worries that she will be next. It's a classic, so I think a spoiler is okay.

Holmes' logic considers all options, but ultimately we learn that the evil murderer sends a snake through the air vents. It crawled down a bell-rope and bit the sister. Of course, it had to be a wealthy family, which would have a bell-rope to call servants. It's Watson's point of view, but my mind was "with" the sister, Helen, waiting for someone to kill her.

I was propbably twelve or so when I read it, and I had to sleep with a light on for a week or more! That's a sign of a truly scary story. And we certainly didn't have a bell-rope.

If you're looking for other spooky stories, I recommend The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving and Will Moses. Agatha Christie's Hallowe'en Party: A Hercule Poirot Mystery is intriguing, but not the kind of story to make you look over your shoulder.

If you want some new stories, check out Trick or Treats: Tales of All Hallow's Eve (A Speed City Crime Writers Anthology). I like the way this SINC chapter describes the holiday -- All Hallows’ Eve, when the veil between the afterlife and this life thins, and the night fills with wonder and dread.

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To learn more about Elaine, go to elaineorr.com or sign up for her newsletter

Friday, October 15, 2021

Positive Delay Tactics --- Maybe

I believe that the best way to write enough to publish is just to keep writing. Well, duh. What does that mean?

Ideas for stories come fairly easily. What does not come eaily is bringing those ideas to fruition in a story that matteres -- and all good stories matter, whether they deal with a serious topic or something that may be thought of as frivilous.

Sometimes you reach a point and realize a story has nowere to go. It's buried in the "maybe later" file and you go on to something else. If that happens too often, it may mean your "keep your buns in a chair" gene is not working properly. My gene has been known to wander.

Writers have different indicators for when a story is stalled. We may:

  • Have characters repeat (to another character, or while ruminating) recent action. As if repetition will clarify where what should come next.
  • Start a new chapter or scene with a phrase such as, "The next day dawned bright/cloudy..." Moving action forward without showing the transition because, well, how did we get there?
  • Have characters deal with daily life beyond what's needed to move the story along. Mindless activity may help an author think, but it loses readers.
  • And the tried and true distraction, clean something in one's own home.

I used to place characters on a bus or train. In Falling Into Place, I have the grandpa accompany a sick child home from school on a city bus -- because he wasn't sure what they'd do when they got to his place.

In Toxic Traces (which will never see the light of day) I put several characters on the D.C. subway. As if that would get to the next plot point. In both cases, I took long breaks from the stories as the characters got their bearings.

These were early books. Now I know I can't stop. I always have ideas for scenes, so I'll write a few paragraphs or pages even if I don't know how they'll fit into the story. I generally use the scene in some way, but even if I don't, the process of putting pen to paper has continued. 

Of course, those who outline carefully before starting Chapter One will say, "See, this is why you outline." I do make notes as I start and along the way, but I'm way too impatient to outline. One of these days a diversion will waste too much valuable time. In the meantime, I enjoy the ride.

                         Soon after I wrote this, I read K.M. Weiland's new post, 6 Questions to Help You Avoid  Repetitive Scenes. I commend it.

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To learn more about Elaine, go to elaineorr.com or sign up for her newsletter

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Balancing Murder and Family

Balancing murder and family is a true skill -- as long as you aren't thinking about killing someone you're related to.

The 12th book in the Jolie Gentil series is underway: working title is "Sticky Fingered Books." Among the many facets of their lives. Jolie handles ordering food for the day care center their four-year old twins attend and Scoobie runs a poetry group for the kids.

Say what? Kids like to rhyme, and Scoobie is a natural clown. Most kids like clowns, as long as the make-up is friendly.

These activities are fine, but readers pick up a mystery to find out how a crime gets solved. They like some excitement along the way and a bit of humor is almost expected now.

As characters evolve, readers may come to care about them, their friends, and families. But not  if a good murder mystery takes a back seat. 

Another key factor is the amount of danger parents would put themselves in to solve a crime. Pretty dumb for a female sleuth to set her husband and kids up to be without her. Ditto for daddy.

Then there is the question of aging the kids. Mine are twins (Lance and Leah) because I find it easier to manage (in a book at least) two kids of similar age rather than a single kid. Much less need to entertain them, and more opportunity for humor. 

Mine entered the stories at age three and are now four. I don't believe they will age much more, for several reasons. Early thirties is okay for how I see Jolie and Scoobie. Forties not so much. Too staid.

The biggest reason to keep them young is that as they aged some older characters would eventually have to die. That or live to be 100+ and eat only soft food. Neither appeals to me, and I think readers would bombard me with bad reviews if Aunt Madge died.

I've written several other books since the 11th (Underground in Ocean Alley). In retrospect, one reason I've avoided #12 is addressing the kid factor. Now, it's time.

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To learn more about Elaine, go to elaineorr.com or sign up for her newsletter

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Talk Like a Pirate Day is Here Again

     I'm not sure why this eclectic annual event tickles my fancy. Perhaps because it's just so....odd.

    If you are a fan of Talk Like a Pirate Day, make sure to greet your friends appropriately. Shiver me timbers, look who's here. Ahoy, maties. 

    I grew fond of the September 19th holiday when searching for an event to use as a fictional fundraiser for the food pantry in the Jolie Gentil mystery series. Any Port in a Storm developed around the theme, and it may have been the most fun book to write.

    Scoobie was able to find humor in all aspects of the day. Here is one of his pirate limericks.

A pirate charms, that's not new.

Me ladies he said, what to do?

Said the wench this is fun

But from spouse I must run

Or t'will be no chance for a screw.

Jolie's comment? "Not exactly PG-13, is it?" 

    Part of the planning for the event entailed coming up with a list of things people would pay 25 cents to do. (It's a fundraiser, remember?) The list was single-spaced, and included items sure to offend any group. 

  • Talk like a pirate
  • Talk like a grouchy pirate
  • Pretend you are a dead pirate
  • Fart like a pirate
  • Act like a girl pirate (if you are a boy)
  • Act like a boy pirate (if you are a girl)
  • Act like an androgynous pirate (if you aren't sure what you are)
  • Walk like a fat pirate.
  • Show your junk like a pirate
  • Drink from your tankard like a pirate
  • Walk the plank like a pirate
  • Not walk the plank like a pirate
  • Stop talking like a pirate
All this and a murder, too. The book is on all sites, and is included in a Kindle Unlimited box set that's free until September 20th. Enjoy!

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To learn more about Elaine, go to elaineorr.com or sign up for her newsletter