Thursday, December 28, 2017

Getting a Book to Readers through its Content

It sounds like a basic premise -- you reach a reader by letting them know what's inside a book. Another way to say this would be to focus on the subject matters the book addresses rather than emphasizing the plot or characters. Huh?

I pay attention to anything Joanna Penn says. She is a successful author and maintains a plethora of resources about publishing. Most are geared to self-publishing, but those who work with traditional publishers can learn a lot from her.

In a podcast on Content Marketing with Joanna Penn, she discusses how focusing on a subject matter can tell readers about fiction as well as nonfiction. As a nonfiction writer and editor for years, I understand how important it is to put work 'out there' in many formats, to many different audiences -- conference papers, professional articles, short newspaper pieces.

Penn talks about content marketing as attraction marketing. Write a (possibly free) short story, create a Pinterest board, or write an article about something that appears in your fiction. Those ideas struck home with me. I wrote a book set in the Roman Baths in Bath, England (Secrets of the Gap), and have visited the site and read hundreds of pages about it. Why not do an article on the baths? I'm not an expert on their history, but sometimes an informal article appeals to tourists.

Among her many ideas in the podcast, Penn suggests that authors publish largely on sites they own --- their blog, webpage, You Tube channel, etc. That is good advice, but sometimes you can draw people to your own pages by posting on someone else's, such as doing a guest blog post or an article for a trade magazine.

The bottom line is there are close to five million books for Kindle, and readers won't be drawn to yours solely through "buy my book" ads or posts. Without consciously using it as a marketing strategy, I've done some Pinterest boards on subject near to my (writing) heart. One has beach photos that inspired my books, another has nature photos. My settings usually start with images I've seen.

Get creative. I plan to do more articles or photos that relate to my books rather than talk about the books. Feel free to post links to some of yours in the comments section.
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Sunday, December 24, 2017

Holiday Books Make Fun Reads

In the age of television and movies, many have a favorite holiday film, often a Christmas film. Some of us are 'mature' enough that the film is It's a Wonderful Life (Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart), a black and white icon. You could add Miracle on 34th Street, Charlie Brown Christmas, Elf, and Home Alone. And dozens more.

Many children were read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (Clement C. Moore). You could add Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mommy (Selino Alko). Two older books that jump into my head are A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens) and The Gift of the Magi (O.Henry). Both of these have an  element of discovery, if not mystery. When I looked for the author of Night Before Christmas (sorry, Mr. Moore, didn't know your name), I found a beautiful list of thirty popular Christmas stories.

In my cozy mystery genre, holiday books abound, especially for Halloween and Christmas. Mary Higgins Clark has a mystery every Christmas, and Canadian Vicki Delaney writes the Year Round Christmas Mysteries. I'm very fond of Meg Muldoon's Christmas River series. Not all of them are set in December, but the spirit is there. If you want a book for almost any holiday, follow Kathi Daley.

I've had Christmas, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, and Fourth of July in my books. Other than Holidays in Ocean Alley, the festivities are not usually the center of action. I did a Christmas short story this year, on the spur of the moment. (Mildred Mistletoe Fixes Christmas) I had so much fun with it that I'll do more.

To write a really good holiday book an author starts months before the date. I'll have to ask author friend Karen Nortman if she wore a Santa hat as she wrote A Campy Christmas (part of the Frannie Shoemaker campground mystery series).

You can find holiday stories in any genre -- mysteries, literary fiction, romance, even science fiction. If you are tired of fighting traffic, pick up a good book and settle in for a treat.
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Monday, December 11, 2017

People and Pets in Books

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that while pets sometimes have roles in my books, they don't think for themselves the way pets do in some books.

Then I got to thinking about it. I'm not about to have a gerbil solve a mystery, but in my own life I ascribe feelings to my cats. They can communicate with me. I have been trained to know that when they look at a doorknob I am to open it. When Phoebe puts a paw on the bag of food I'm to feed her.
Stella and Phoebe

My true affinity is for black cats. Stella often sits within a foot of me when I write and (I hate to admit this) when I roll over in bed she may be at my head. She waits until I'm asleep to select her spot.

To experiment with writing from a cat's perspective, I created Mildred Mistletoe. Born under the family Christmas tree, she is very protective of high school twins Fergie and Freddie. And she needs to get some things fixed before Christmas.

I found it challenging to have a character who could not speak. Suddenly a flood of pet memories jumped into my head. My sister's cat swatting my dad as he walked by if the food bowl was empty (or perhaps just on principle), my former black cat Magic jumping into a bag of fireplace soot just to see what was in there, a neighbor's cat (Chowder) jumping on my kitchen counter to drink from the sink. All of these animals communicated very well.

Mildred Mistletoe finds ways to point things out to her humans, and they have no idea they are being led around by the tail, so to speak. I don't think I'll create crime-solving characters in my mysteries, but Mildred will appear in some additional short stories. She came into my head fully formed, so it's not likely she will leave.
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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Why is Everyone Writing a Memoir?

Okay, not everyone, but a lot of people.
We tend to think of memoirs as the work of older people, but anyone can have something to say. Some people have incredible life experiences to share. Others have overcome tremendous adversity and their story proves it can be done. Still others have had more ordinary lives but want to be sure family and friends have a record of them. 
    Why not just type an essay about your life and put it out there? You can, of course, but memoir readers have expectations, just as science fiction or romance fans do.
    Your piece has to convey a story, or perhaps a series of stories tied together and concluded in some way. This usually doesn’t happen without a lot of work.
Don’t be discouraged, just be willing to learn how to present your story in an interesting way.


    When my nieces and nephews were younger, I wrote a series of humorous essays from an aunt’s perspective. Since I value relationships with them as adults, I would never consider publishing the essays – not even showing them to someone outside the family. But they were rewarding and fun to write.
Don’t avoid writing essays just because you don’t intend to publish them. Like all writing, the effort will hone skills you will need when you do write to publish.
If you want to write essays or a memoir for yourself or your family, you can prepare a paperback (using Create Space) and order (quickly) a bunch of copies for your family and then take the book off sale. The only problem with that is that the book will show up forever on Amazon, even if it isn’t available.
You can also make a dozen copies using a three-hole punch and a binder. What is most important is sharing your story or essays. The extent of the audience is up to you.
Too informal? Check out sites such as or 
     Always, always, always read the fine print. These firms are not trying to take advantage of you, but they know their lingo and you don't.


    The American Scholar published an article on memoir by William Zinsser, and republished it at the time of Zinsser’s death in May 2015.
My favorite quote from the Zinsser article is, “Writers are the custodians of memory, and that’s what you must become if you want to leave some kind of record of your life and of the family you were born into.”
In a simpler form, Reader’s Digest has an article on the topic. Wise advice in this article is, “The challenge is getting started, coaxing the story out. (Indeed, there are those who say beginning is half done.) Since there is inherent worth to the endeavor beyond public acclaim, you don’t have to be a professional writer or someone with connections in publishing to succeed. You can write it for yourself.”
There is no one way to approach a memoir, but it can’t be a rambling series of life stories. The first draft can be, because what’s important is that you get the ideas on paper without worry about what people will think or whether something is written well. After you’ve worked for a while, you can polish and add or subtract.
Classes are everywhere now, in part because baby boomers have the time to write their stories and the computers to do it.
There could be a regional arts group near you that offers memoir courses or workshops, or the community college may do so. Search for online classes -- no need to find the most expensive course.
    Once you start looking, you’ll find other writers trying to balance living life with writing about it.
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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Thoughts on Publishing a Paperback

A paperback copy of a book signals completion in a way no digital book can. Frankly, most family, friends, and colleagues won’t consider you ‘published’ until they see a hard copy.

Besides self-satisfaction, a paperback enables you to:
  • Provide review copies to local media
  • Donate (or sell) a copy to the local library – which is also a form of marketing
  • Conduct a book signing
  • Submit a copy to the Library of Congress (via their LOC Identifier Number)
  • Adapt the print copy to large print, which broadens your audience
  • Have more flexibility with photos (which can only be so large in an ebook)
  • And …ta daa..
  • Share your book with people who don't read ebooks
 As a self-published author, your first choice is probably going to be the size of the book. The cheapest to produce is 8.5 by 11 inches, because the printer does not have to cut the paper. That’s fine for a cookbook or family history, perhaps some children’s books, but it is not appropriate for fiction and most nonfiction

When I first began self-publishing, I used the 6x9 size for regular paperbacks, but for shorter books I have converted to 5x8. I find the smaller size closer to that of mass-market paperbacks.

However, because smaller books require more pages, they cost more and you may need to price them higher. Thus, I only do the smaller size for books less than about 55,000 words.


I do the paperback, at least in near-final draft, weeks before publishing the ebook. Since you aren’t rushing to get a book published (because that guarantees errors), you have time. Your formatting might not be perfect for the first round, but that’s why you order a proof.

You might choose to do the paperback (in draft form) even earlier so that you can use it as a tool to consider revisions. If my critique group and I are happy with my (probably fifth) draft, I may format the paperback before sending the book to a copyeditor. Usually I do it after editing is complete, but perhaps before proofreading.

You have a choice for a digital or printed proof. I have a proof printed, and it arrives quickly (at least from Create Space). I can review the proof to see how it looks and spot typos. Then I fix the typos in the ebook and paperback.

The discipline of doing this also means the revised paperback can be ready prior to the ebook. Some authors may have an ebook available for preorder but make the paperback available. That way, people can write reviews before the ebook (usually the bigger seller) is formally issued.


You are the publisher, your choice is which firm to pick to print and distribute. I prefer Create Space, an Amazon company. If you think you will sell a large number of paperbacks, you can consider Ingram Spark; working with them facilitates placement in bookstores.

Ingram Spark's process is a more complex one than Create Space's, and you need to price a book higher to make the same amount of money. I've used both. Most self-published books tend to be sold in local bookstores, with the author providing the copies, and online.

An important difference between the two companies is that Create Space has no fees.

Recently, Amazon began offering a paperback option after you publish a Kindle book. Because Create Space offers more sizes and additional flexibilities, I plan to stick with them.

Some people think Amazon (which owns Create Space) will eventually close Create Space and force authors to go only through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Though Amazon is ending customer ordering through Create Space, I find it hard to believe they would fully merge paperback publishing with KDP. They are different animals.

For more information on the two firms, check the help pages on their web sites. You can also download my paper on publishing a paperback with Create Space.\
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Monday, October 30, 2017

Taking Care in Naming Characters

I spend a lot of time naming characters -- but perhaps not quite enough. I was recently writing a scene in a new book (Demise of a Devious Suspect), and had four characters meeting in a diner. One was the protagonist, Melanie. The others were Sandi, Syl, and Stooper. And the food server was Shirley.

Gee, four people whose names begin with S. It's not a crime, but it's not helpful for readers. In my (weak) defense, I named them at separate points in the series, and this is the first time they've all been in one room. But how did I not see this?

Though I'm not sure another writer should take advice from an author who puts four S named characters in one scene, here are some things I consider in naming characters.
  • Does the name fit with the client's nationality or residence? For example, Lars could be a name to use in Minnesota (where many people descend from Swedes) but it might sound out of place in Mississippi.
  • Is the name so hard to pronounce that readers will stumble over it each time they come across it? Conversely, you could do that deliberately, so a character can be irritated that people don't say his/her name correctly.
  • Similar names can be confusing. Rob and Bob should generally not be in scenes together. Nor should Mary and May.
  • Are you considering a name that also happens to be that of a close relative or friend? You might not think of your friend as your write, but they may wonder why you used their name -- especially if the character is a bad guy.
  • Does the name have such historical significance that your reader will envision that person instead of your character? Personally, I wouldn't name anyone Margaret Thatcher, Hank Aaron, or Benjamin Franklin.
There are no hard and fast rules in creating character names. Do avoid using the same first letter for four people who will sit at a table together.
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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Getting Comments from Family and Friends

Close friends or family are not only aware of an author's work, they may be their biggest cheerleaders. Some of them may have adjusted their schedules to help a writer find time to work. 
Often authors turn to friends and family as first reviewers of a draft. However, they may be so impressed that we finished a book they are not sufficiently critical, in the literary sense. 

It is natural that those close to you are among the first to read your work, perhaps even chapter by chapter. A spouse or best friend may have the interest or talent to comment on character or plot development. 

More likely, friends and family will provide general reactions. My sister's reviews always lead to at least one forehead slap, with me asking, "How did I not see that?"

Once you have comments from family and friends, you—and only you—decide which to incorporate or which to disregard. You may have a friend who thinks because they took the time to read your project that you should take their advice. Not so, though it's important to thank everyone who offered feedback.

After you make revisions based on the friendly fire, approach someone with expertise. Perhaps a librarian, English teacher, or local journalist will be willing to read a draft. This is a major request, so you need to be professional in how you approach them, and you need to make it easy for them to decline.  

What?! I’m serious. I don’t believe in guilting people into something. Let them know they are seeing a second or third draft. This could encourage them to read your work.


We wouldn’t start a book or blog post if we didn’t think we had something worth saying. No matter how modest we are, we like that first draft or we wouldn’t be passing it around for comments. 
Even so, our work can always be improved. An author is too close to a project to see its flaws – perhaps even to spot inconsistencies or inaccuracies.  

That’s why we ask for input. 

Stay confident in your work. When it comes to comments, take what you like and leave the rest.

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Friday, October 6, 2017

PTSD: A Family Affair in Falling Into Place

Some books rattle around in your head for years. The idea for Falling Into Place grabbed me more than a decade ago, and I wrote perhaps 10,000 words. It is the story of Everett, a father of four who prefers his gardens to a lot of people contact. In the 1970s, he's a stay-at-home dad before it was a choice.

And he has a secret.

Since readers see the world from Everett's point of view, they know he used to be an electrician, but can no longer work because of the 'qualms.' His wife, Sue Ellen teaches, and has been pretty good at not showing resentment. His four children don't understand his passive interactions with the world.

Readers have the vantage point of the 21st century. Everett's memories of airplanes and poppies in North Africa during World War II and ensuing anxiety seem to be PTSD -- a term not used to describe World War II veterans who had difficulty coping with the world.

N. Africa, as Everett saw it.
I remember my father using the phrase shell shock to describe someone, I don't remember who. Such topics were not discussed. Nor are they in Everett's home.

Falling Into Place opens as Everett's world turns upside down. His wife's cancer battle doesn't look winnable, and his four twenty-something children aren't sure he'll be okay on his own in their town of Burlington, Iowa.

As an author who usually writes light mysteries, I found Everett to be his own mystery. I made the puzzle, so I had to figure it out.

Through the years, pieces of his life -- present and past -- came into focus. So did his wife, children, and a precocious granddaughter. But how to reveal his secret? If I had tried to force the discovery, something less than perfect would have emerged. Not to say the book is perfect now, but as his past surfaces, the influence of his World War II experiences becomes clearer. To him and his family.

The past and its impact can't be erased. But awareness can lead to understanding. I describe the story as one told with humor and grace. To me, that's Everett's world -- when he lets people in. I think you'll find him worth getting to know in Falling Into Place.
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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Grab a Chair and Enjoy Pompeii

Someone asked me to recommend a few books, and the first one that came to mind was Pompeii, by Robert Harris. I've read it two or three times, which is unusual for me. 

We all know how the story ends, right? What makes this fascinating is the forewarning from the aqueduct that brought fresh water to a quarter of a million people in towns around the Bay of Naples.
A young engineer (who oversaw the water supply) realized that whatever stopped the flow into some of the towns was caused by a lot more than a broken pipe.

Marcus Attilius would have a huge task if all he had to do was find and fix the source of the problem on Mount Vesuvius. The bigger personal threat is a corrupt "real estate developer" (to use a modern term) who has benefited from special access to all that water. (Think bribes.)

I love books where science and engineering have a role, especially as they relate to water. Background about Roman engineering feats mixes well with intrigue and a touch of romance. I highly recommend it.  Kindle   Barnes and Noble  
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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Finding Ways to Share Books with Readers

What's better than sharing a good book? Reading it. I was reminded during a hospital stay, when working with an occupational therapist. (No big problem, knee is fixed.) We hadn't been talking two minutes when we realized we both loved to read. We talked books nonstop until we were done.

In the pre-ebook days, I traded books often with friends. A good book could get tattered.
Remember the huge tables of used books at garage sales and bazaars? Or library sales of used books? Books cost something, but not much. Sales continue, of course, but it will be interesting to see if they have fewer books over time.

Ebooks are easier to share -- you can do it across continents with a couple of keystrokes. You can also get a number free just by searching retail sites for such things as "free cozy mysteries." Authors can also choose to let purchasers lend an ebook, usually one time only. (Not true for all books.)

What if an author wants to share books with a bunch of readers? We like to sell books, so why share for free? The primary reasons are to encourage reviews and create enthusiasm (a.k.a. buzz). Though authors are the primary audience for these ideas, readers can use them to ask an author for a book.

Popular methods authors use are:

1) A pdf sent to the reader's laptop. Clunky but functional, and works for everyone willing to read an electronic book.

2) Copy (in one of several formats) sent directly to a reader's Kindle. Every Kindle has a 'free' address that can receive documents from approved senders. If you aren't familiar with this terrific sharing method, check out my earlier blog post.

3) Smashwords coupons. Authors who publish on this site can create coupons for free or reduced priced books, in any format. I create them with long-term effective dates so I don't have to remember to check expiration dates.

4) Instafreebie lets authors load a book and give it away as a mobi, pdf, or epub. The site can be used for books published anywhere, as long as the person providing them to Instafreebie is authorized to do so. (Here's a sample of one of mine, Falling into Place.) FYI - authors can use Instafreebie for (dare I say it?) free, or pay a monthly fee to publicize a free book and garner names for their email lists.

5) Book Funnel also lets authors provide copies of their books, in multiple formats, via a link to their site. Books here can also be published anywhere. While Book Funnel has no free option for authors, fees are less than Instafreebie if an author provides relatively few books per month. This site is also integrated with programs that provide authors with recipient email addresses.

6) Goodreads Giveaway is still for paperbacks only, and prizes are by random drawing. Generally it has newer books. Unlike Instafreebie and Book Funnel, readers can peruse a list of free books. However, no guarantee they'll win one.

7) Author group giveaways are generally tied to Instafreebie or Book Funnel, but some are run independently and can be found on Facebook, or referenced on Twitter. Readers can choose one or all of a group of books promoted together.

8) Bookshare is a site for individuals with a print disability -- such as low vision or difficulty holding a book. There are requirements to be certified to use the site (and who can certify), but if you have difficulty with print books, the site is worth checking. Annual fee required.

9) Ebook Discovery lists free books daily, generally organized by subject or genre. Links are usually to a site such as Instafreebie. I hesitated to mention them, because there are many such sites, but I've used them and found it a seamless process.

Some sites have lists of available books, some simply give authors a place to direct readers and authors publicize the availability. You can search some of these sites passively, but you can also email an author to see if they have books on sites such as Instafreebie or Book Funnel.

Readers are most likely to get books if they say they will review them. Free books do not require you to leave a good review (or leave one at all). Sites such as Amazon require that reviewers indicate if they received a free copy.

As one who sells books, I love buyers. The hope is always that a reader may borrow or receive free one book and choose to buy others by the same author. Bottom line, keep enjoying books!
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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Thinking Through Writing Options

      When I was about twelve, I had a lot of ideas for stories, but no idea how to share them. This was the 1960s, so books were in the library or you could buy them at school under the Scholastic Book Program. It didn't seem that kids wrote them.
Back yard games. No wonder I didn't finish anything.
     Still, I'd take a notebook and go into the backyard -- wearing my charm bracelet -- and think about the stories in my head. But I was afraid they were dumb, and I tore up what I wrote. Not to say they were good, but it would be fun to look at them now.
     Regret that I didn't have the courage to put my ideas into stories may be why I write books with titles such as Words to Write By: Putting Your Thoughts on Paper. I honestly believe that any of us can write -- maybe not always sell, but write. And maybe get good enough to sell.
     Writing is not a lifestyle, it's hard work. That hard work can lead to a flexible schedule, but any busy person (especially parents) will tell you that working at home does not mean you can drink coffee all morning.
     Perhaps you have a specific idea for a novel or want to share the method you used to pay off student loan debt in only five years. Maybe you worked in retail during college and have ideas that would help managers motivate younger employees more effectively.
    Some might say writing is the height of arrogance. Why should we assume anyone cares about our stories, experiences, or how-to guidance?
     A lot of people won’t. But if you’re writing books to sell, you need to reach a relatively small audience to earn a hundred dollars each month. If these readers tell their friends, you have a larger audience.

     New subjects mean learning a lot and meeting new people. I find it boring to write what I know, but it can be a good starting place.Familiar topics mean less research and faster completion.
     If what you have is the idea of writing but aren't sure what to write, think about the following points.
  • Games you play
  • Kinds of books you read
  • Music you listen to
  • Movies you’ve liked
  • TV documentaries you watch
  • Sports you play
  • Hobbies you enjoy
  • Things you collect
  • Places you have visited
  • Places you want to visit
  • Comic strips that make you laugh
  • Teachers who inspired you
  • Things you have been complimented on
  • People you taught to drive
     People you taught to drive? That’s in case you want to write about how you handle frustration so others can model (or avoid) your experiences.
     The bottom line is, no matter what your life experiences, they can inform your writing. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction.

     Some print magazines pay for articles, or your local paper may pay small fees for freelance articles. Web content is always needed and many writers are freelancers. A search for online writing opportunities turns up dozens of sites. (A couple references are at the end of this post.) Finding opportunities is the easy part. Studying their guidelines and writing to them take time. Handling rejection takes guts.

      Because of sites such as Amazon, itunes, Kobo, Barnes and Noble (Nook Press) and other retailers, literally anyone can write a book and publish it themselves. That doesn’t mean you should, but at least you have options. You can also seek an agent to help you get a publisher.

     HOWEVER, unless you are passionate about an idea for a novel, I would start with something shorter. Writing 60-80,000 words of high-quality content takes time - much of it in the rewriting phase, which could frustrate a novice.
      Revisions are essential. You only get one chance to make a first impression with an agent, publisher, or readers. Do you really want to spend several thousand hours on your first project?
     If the answer is yes, find a critique group and go for it. Buy stock in a coffee company. Avoid snacking when you aren't sure of the next plot point. Smile.
     If you aren't sure you want to invest that time for an uncertain outcome (a.k.a. rejection letters), visit the library to browse the magazine racks. Google "blogs that deal with [insert favorite topic]" to see what's on the web. Don't be discouraged if your ideas are already out there. Your take may be different, and each publication has its own audience.


     If you are considering a writing career because you're fed up with your day job, that's fine. But  don't quit. Consider how long it took you to learn what you needed to know for your current job. You don't need years of post-high school education to write an article or book, but you will want to read how-to articles or perhaps attend a local writers' conference.
     Finally (really) nothing makes it into print or to the web until you put your tailbone in a chair and begin to write. Set up a schedule (even an hour per week) and don't stop.


How to Make Money Writing for the Web, Brian Klems, Writer’s Digest Blog, July 19, 2013. Good overview of places to find opportunities and how to approach them.

For an example of providing good content and monetizing your blog, look to: The blog posts are useful, but they also lead you to the blogger’s books and courses. If you see yourself making money as a blogger, keep in mind that blogs like this are full-time jobs!

Every Writer’s Resource lists the 50 best places to publish literary fiction.

The Write Life publishes a list of 20+ magazines that pay for short stories.

Mark Coker founded Smashwords, a site that permits self-published authors to load a book once and have it appear on multiple online retail sites. His books on ebook self-publishing and formatting are free at Amazon or his site, Don't read these until you are close to finishing a book or article.
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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Continuing Connections Find Their Way into Fiction

I've never been one to model characters on real people. It's always seemed limiting. Each August I realize that even though I don't populate fiction with familiar faces, my books are imbued with the traditions of time spent with family and friends.

Why August? I attend an annual family reunion in Southwest Missouri, and usually get together with one or two groups of long-time friends. This year I missed the Iowa book club, but spent a few days in the Colorado Rockies with gracious friends. I recommend the steam engine ride through peaks near Georgetown, CO.

August is also state fair time. If you want ideas for characters (all shapes and sizes) I recommend sitting near the major food tents or any vendor that sells edibles on a stick. You can skip the Midway -- no different than an ordinary amusement park.

Discovery Garden - IA State Fair
The Iowa State also gives a flower-lover lots of images, especially if a major character in a series is a gardener. I didn't realize until I started reworking a novella this summer how much nature has featured in most of my books. You think you see what's in front of you, but the routine aspects of life can fade into the background.

My favorite example of ignoring the obvious came in the form of a wall of an A-frame living/dining area in a house I owned in Maryland years ago. After about six months, I had a dozen or so pictures on the largest segment of the wall. About six months later, I realized every one of the paintings and prints had water in them. No wonder one of my series is set at the Jersey shore.

Despite the visual effects of summer in several states, it's the people who leave the lasting images -- or help create new ones. In the Hobby Building at the Illinois State Fair, I watched one woman look at quilt after quilt. After passing her a few times, I finally asked if she had an item on display. "Oh, no. I don't think I could enter."

When I asked her why not, she said her work wasn't good enough to win. I pointed out that, while it's more fun to win, I've entered items and not won. (Nothing so creative as a quilt.) I love looking behind the exhibit glass at something I entered. I told her I'd look for her next year. Her face is etched in my brain, so she may end up as a character in a book I'm considering.

More than specific people being fodder for fiction is the lasting impact of friendships on the imaginary relationships we create. In one series, I have a few friends who occasionally finish each others' sentences. One pre-publication reviewer remarked that I did that several times in a 60,000+ word book. "You don't have friends like that?" I asked. No, she really didn't. She doesn't know what she's missing.

Life is so busy, especially with school-age children or aging parents to look after. I wish everyone could have time for an 'August Pause.' And the friends to visit during that time.
                                                                        *     *     *     * Check out Elaine's web page, sign up for her classes, or receive her newsletter.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Tell Readers How to Get Your Free Audiobooks

Authors who work with the talented narrators at ACX (which produces books for Audible) receive twenty-five free coupons for new books. These provide a great way to introduce new readers to the joy of listening to books in their car or jogging around the neighborhood.

The folks at Audible have created a more passive way for readers to access books with a free trial membership. It's easy.

Go to and find a book you want. When you click on the book title, part of its address will be its asin (a unique Amazon ID number). Place that ASIN after the following address:
Make sure you leave in the = sign.

Here are a few links to my books, to use as samples for plugging in an ASIN.
Trouble on the Doorstep (5th Jolie Gentil cozy)
Behind the Walls (my favorite cover) (6th Jolie Gentil cozy)
Vague Images (7th Jolie Gentil cozy)
Demise of a Devious Neighbor (2nd River's Edge book)

Since this is for a free trial membership, it's obviously not for current Audible members. However, every ACX/Audible author who has a new book can ask ACX for twenty-five free coupons. That's right, coupons they can give to reviewers, bloggers, or enthusiastic readers.

Most authors have websites with contact information. If you see a new book, it's worth asking an author if they have free coupons. We love to hear from readers.

Of course, you can always head to your library for books on CDs. Ask your librarian about borrowing digital copies of audiobooks. So many books, so many ways to listen, and so little time!
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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Writing Fun for Fourth Graders

Springfield, Illinois is fortunate to have a nonprofit organization called Compass, which hosts after- school homework help and activities at several local elementary schools. In the summer, Camp Compass brings together children from around the city -- part fun, part maintaining skills during the long break.

Compass Director Molly Berendt asked me to teach a couple of sessions on writing to kids roughly ages eight to ten. Hmmm. I lecture a fair bit to adults, but elementary school children?

It took a couple of weeks of thinking, because 'writing' is not always a favorite activity for children. Plus the difference between the skills of eight and ten-year olds is great. I finally decided to read a story, and then offer an exercise disguised as fun.

You probably read O. Henry's The Ransom of Red Chief in school. Bottom line, some industrious kidnappers are more than willing to return their red-headed victim. I had wanted something with humor and a surprise ending, and I abbreviated the story to accommodate the timeframe. You could have heard a pin drop as they listened.

Now, the writing part....

The adage of a picture being better than a thousand words is apt. What if we had a picture and the kids had to come up with the words, a.k.a., tell a story?

As an amateur photographer of sorts, I have thousands of photos  on my laptop.  First, I chose the construction scene at right. Actually, it's a destruction. These are the remains of the old DC Convention Center, taken from a (usually locked) porch on the 11th floor of a nearby building. Anything with heavy equipment would garner interest. Right? Sorry to say, several of the ideas dealt with burying bodies at the site.

Next, something peaceful. My River's Edge mystery series is set in a fictional town along the Des Moines River in Iowa, so I could load several albums with those photos. This bench faces the river in Keosauqua, Iowa. These stories were sometimes more cheerful -- two involved rescuing children who fell in the river.

The third photo was the first to come to mind. Years ago, a young niece and nephew visited me for a week in Iowa. Aside from the unusual aspects (for them) of visiting a farm and sitting at a  train station watching the Amtrak go by, we visited a playground. My then four-year-old nephew found shoes and socks encumbered his actions. When I noticed he wasn't wearing them, here's where they were. I promise, this is not a staged photo.Don't ask how he got over the fence. I must have had my back turned.

Stories about the playground tended to involve a child being kidnapped, but unable to take his shoes and socks. Vivid imaginations, these kids.

I had 5 by 7 inch copies of each photo, and sheets of paper for them to write or draw on. Plus pencils and crayons, of course. Each sheet had one of the pictures on top, so they'd remember the photo. No one had to talk about their work, but about half of the twenty or so kids in each group did.

Since I don't usually teach children, I found this invigorating and exhausting. I liked the idea of starting an exercise with a photo. Maybe I'll use it with adults...
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Friday, July 21, 2017

Whirlwind Month of Audiobooks

Though most of my audiobook listening is of others' books (I'm devouring Daniel Silva's and Louise Penny's at the moment), the past six weeks I've been reviewing three of my own as they moved through the production process.

Like many authors, I work through ACX to find narrators, listen to their draft chapters, approve the books, and let readers know how to find my audiobooks. ACX is an Amazon company, and books appear on Audible, Amazon, and itunes. ACX also creates a supportive system for authors who are way more used to keyboards than microphones.

If an author is tempted to record his or her own book, studying the ACX help pages will help her rethink. Not that a writer might not have the expensive equipment and audio editing capabilities. You simply have to ask yourself why you'd want to spend soooo much time recording when you could be writing.

I'm always grateful to narrators. A book that ends up as a nine-hour production may take them 30-40 hours of work. Why? They first read to understand the books as a whole, then learn the personas of the various characters. Even if the books are read more than acted (which is my preference), the narrators vary voices somewhat. I can't imagine how hard it is to remember how they did a voice for secondary characters who may not appear in every chapter.

The first book to come out in the last two weeks was Tip a Hat to Murder (narrator Kevin Iggans). Set in small-town Illinois, Tip a Hat to Murder also has some rowdier (and funnier) characters and more focus on the investigation itself than life in the town than some of my other books. Still, no graphic violence. The protagonist is the local police chief. Usually my sleuths are amateurs, so this was a departure.

Second to appear was Demise of a Devious Neighbor, narrated by Brad C. Wilcox. Authors like all their books, but for some reason I especially loved the way this second book in the River's Edge series evolved.

It could be because I have the most vivid mental pictures in mind -- the book is set in Iowa, where I happily lived for years. I also had a lot of fun with plot twists in this one.

Last but not least is Vague Images, narrated by Paula Faye Leinweber. Paula also did the first two books in the Jolie Gentil series. She really 'nails'  Jolie's personality and irreverent thinking. For the eleven books in the series (ten and a prequel), only three are left to be recorded. In fact, the ebook and paperback of The Unexpected Resolution will only be out next week.Whew! Vague images also brings into focus a romance element in the mystery series.

The full Jolie set should be finished by the end of the summer (only two left). You can check out all my audiobooks at  my web site. I have them organized by the sites that sell the books, to make it easier to find the ones that will play on your device. Amazon   itunes  You can also search for me by name (as Elaine Orr and Elaine L. Orr) on Audible.

I'm proud of and grateful to these narrators. Links to their web pages are also on my site.

Finally, while audiobooks can be expensive, I did a blog post on finding affordable audiobooks. There's something about bring the characters to your ears as well as your eyes that makes them more real. You don't want to miss the chance to 'see' them through your ears.
                                                               *     *     *     *     *     *
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Friday, June 30, 2017

How to Get the Most from Twitter

Nearly all of us keep in touch with one another through social media. It's fun, and the geographic distances melt away when we look at pictures of an adult child's birthday celebration or college roommate's report on a new job.

While some people use these communication tools for insults, most are respectful. A lot of people do as writers do and find ways to connect with kindred spirits in meaningful ways. Why writers? Because we not only work alone, we don't have a group of nearby colleagues. Or most of us don't.

I signed up for Twitter in 2012, but didn't use it much for a couple of years. What could be said in 140 characters? Why just 'put stuff out there' where you could talk to people or have more meaningful social interactions on other media?

It turns out you can reach people all over the world via Twitter. Some you eventually meet in the real world. My books had no international readers (that I know of) until I began tweeting regularly.

If you are an author who wants to meet readers and other authors, here are some Twitter strategies.

1) Set up an account with a brief statement that says something about books or your writing interests. If you want to talk about your favorite foods or grandkids, consider a separate Twitter account.

2) Pick a professional Twitter name, called a handle. It can be your name -- mine is @ElaineOrr55. A professional name doesn't have to be serious, but you want it to convey something about your work. A friend's mysteries are set in campgrounds, so her handle is @RVMysteryAuthor.

3) Promise yourself that you will post about more than "here is what I write" or "please buy my book." If you have nothing to say, you don't want to be absent for days, so post links to interesting articles or quotes from noted authors -- or others you admire. Stay away from controversial topics. That doesn't mean deny your values, it's simply a matter of staying focused.

4) Start a blog. Huh? We're talking about Twitter, aren't we? If you have a blog you can regularly send out tweets that link to articles on your blog. You'll be providing useful information, and a number of the posts can relate to your books, articles, or subjects you write about. My blog is called Irish Roots Author, and largely deals with writing and publishing. An index lets people search the now hundreds of posts. It's a lot of work to write a blog. I want the pieces to be relevant over time, so I tweet about them.

5) Keep those tweets organized. I have a ridiculously long Word document that has hundreds of prior tweets, organized by the book or blog post they refer to. A single book may have been the subject of hundreds of tweets through the years, because I focus on various aspects of the book or use different hashtags. (More on those in a minute.) I certainly don't scroll through past tweets -- I search for the book title, a holiday I referred to, or whatever piques my Twitter vision for the day. The Word document lets me reuse tweets instead of having to constantly compose new ones.

6)  Tweets have to be targeted to people with similar interests or they are just Internet blather. Hashtags (short phrases that start with #) draw people interested in those phrases. You see them everywhere now -- news stories, Facebook -- but they started on Twitter. The more specific the hashtag, the more likely you are to find people interested in your topic. Using the hashtag #mystery is probably too broad. Saying #JerseyShoreMystery could hit a more targeted audience, assuming you write, as I do, mysteries set at the shore. I keep lists of relevant hashtags, and wrote an (inexpensive) booklet of 500+ Hashtags for Writers. It can get your juices flowing

7) Be selective in who you follow. In a nutshell (you could write a book on this topic), there is no point in 'buying' followers, because they have no interest in your tweets. In fact, many of those 'followers for sale' ads provide large what are called bots (fake Twitter accounts).
Almost every day I look for people with similar interests and ask them to let me follow them. Sometimes their Twitter handles pop up on my screen as suggestions from Twitter, other times I search for a hashtag such as #cozymystery or #amwriting to see who comes up. People ask to follow you. I agree to most of these, but I'm careful not to associate with accounts that promote (for example) erotica or graphic violence via books. To each her own, but those aren't my interests.

8) A key point about followers: there is no point in following people who don't follow you back. When you click on a person's Twitter name, it shows the number of folks they follow and the number who follow them. They only see your Tweets if they follow you back. I don't bother following famous people -- other than a few authors I'm interested in.

9) Create lists of Twitter users whose topics interest you. I won't outline the steps to do this (Twitter has good help pages). Essentially, you group Twitter users by topics so you can refer to the lists of people who like the same kind of books, live in your part of the state, write blogs you like, etc. If I have a new book I may send some people on a given list a note about it. Twitter is not set up like email -- you can't send Tweets to specific groups of individuals. So while it can take a while to send these notes, it keeps all of us from getting spammed.

10) Consider joining a Tweet Team or two. Tweet teams are groups of people with a common interest who retweet one another's posts. You post a tweet, copy the address for the tweet, list that address on a team's Facebook page for that day. Then each person who does so on a given day retweets the other tweets. You need to join Tweet Teams that closely align with your interest -- too broad and you're wasting your time because you won't reach those who want to, for example, read your book. Tweet teams are valuable, but there is such a thing as too much exposure to the same Twitter users.

11) Tweets with images are read far, far more often. You can use book covers or learn basic software (Microsoft Publisher and an inexpensive photo program) to make graphics. Take pictures -- one of my series is set along a river, so I'll post pictures of the river. The protagonist is a gardener, so I post flowers. Here's a sample of a book graphic -- these take me less than ten minutes to make. It's all about having a system.

12) Have fun. You get a sense of people if you join a team or simply pay attention to tweets of those who write books like yours, have similar hobbies, or whatever. I've met several other writers at conferences -- good to put names and faces together.

13) Finally -- limit your time on Twitter. I try to do no more than 10 minutes per day, unless I have a new book or am plugging a couple of blog posts. Twitter is terrific, but far better is dropping by the library and talking to readers or grabbing a book.
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Monday, June 19, 2017

Fun Reads with Real-Life Perspecvitves

One of my goals in writing the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series has been to add a touch of real life to the books.

Jolie is a Jersey shore real estate appraiser who has the occasional misfortune of stumbling over bodies. She also heads the local food pantry, has homeless veterans as friends, and (when she can't get out of it) gets dragged to a 12-step meeting by her friends Scoobie and George.

Authors can't put 'messages' in their books – fiction is for enjoyment. However, unless you live in Alice's rabbit hole, we all deal with diverse people, some of whom who need a helping hand.

In the first book of the series, Jolie has just left an ex-husband who cleaned out her bank account, so she is largely focused on herself. A couple reviews noted that. I thought, “Good, they’ll enjoy how she evolves.” I hope they came back for more.

By the second book, she's been encouraged (or conned) into running the food pantry. The work does provide the opportunity for crazy fundraisers. She also develops friends of all ages and careers, including a couple who always bring a laugh. Some of those friends, especially high school buddy Scoobie, make some marked changes in their lives as the series progresses.

Book nine, Holidays in Ocean Alley, was the first (and I think will be the only one) not written from Jolie’s point of view. Novella-length, it’s told from the perspective of Aunt Madge and longtime friend, Scoobie. I especially enjoyed the chance to let Scoobie's humor shine through.
By the tenth book (preorder The Unexpected Resolution now, available July 25), many of her closest friends would not be part of her life if she hadn't moved back to Ocean Alley and been roped into running that food pantry. And the books sets her life on yet another new course.

For an overview of the books (and links to them at all sites), check out my blog page devoted to the series. If you'd be interested in a review copy of one of the books, let me know.
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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Finding Cozy or Traditional Mysteries

I've been asked many times "what are cozy mysteries?" -- it's an occupational norm for those who write them. Essentially they are mysteries that feature an amateur sleuth, minimal violence and swearing, and usually a small town setting. The sleuth's profession or hobby is often an important feature.

Similar to traditional mysteries, the cozy term is a more specific identifier. Traditional mystery authors (Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammet, Earl Stanley Gardiner, Dorothy Sayers, Louise Penney, Terence Faherty) are not 'gory,' but have detailed murder descriptions and (dare I say it?) more elaborate plots. Their protagonists tend to be professional crime solvers, though not necessarily police. I think of these traditional crime solvers as spending more time in their heads than protagonists in cozies -- or thrillers, for that matter.

If you'd like to listen to podcast discussions about traditional mystery authors' books, head to the Classic Mystery Backlist. There are many wonderful lists of the books, this site gives you an audio option. It's a wonderful resource.

I use The Cozy Mystery Blog List as a resource for cozies. There are so many Facebook groups that deal with cozy mysteries, that you could hardly get through them in a morning. I often visit Lisa K's Book Reviews, Cozy Mysteries 24/7, Murder and Mayhem Cozy Mysteries, Joy's Clipboard Reviews, and Save Our Cozies.

One group that gives a great entree to the genre is Craving for Cozies, which has a 2017 challenge of sorts. Individuals post information on books they are reading or have read. You don't need to join the challenge, you can simply peruse the lists of those who have chosen to participate. You indicate the number of cozies you plan to read by 'joining' one of the categories. You could think of the grouping names as a level of addiction to the genre.

Peckish – 1 – 10 Cozy Mysteries
Famished – 11 – 20 Cozy Mysteries
Yearning – 21 – 40 Cozy Mysteries
Starving – 41 – 60 Cozy Mysteries
Ravenous – 61 – 80 Cozy Mysteries
Voracious – 81 – 100 Cozy Mysteries
Completely Satiated – 101 or more

I wish I had come across the group earlier, but it's never too late to join. I joined at the 'famished' level. The only drawback to trying to write three books this year is that I read less!! And I do read many other types of books. 

If you say you don't have time to read, think audiobooks. Probably half of my reading is done in the car -- I do drive a lot. I buy a few used ones to keep in the trunk (to avoid the agony of being without a book), but I generally get mine from the library. To share the joy, I did a blog post on inexpensive access to audiobooks.

Now that hot weather has reached the northern hemisphere, it's time to pull out a lawn chair and grab a book. Or five.
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