Sunday, February 26, 2017

Why Write Mystery Series?

I ask myself this question periodically. Mostly, I feel a responsibility to continue the characters, as if they cease to exist if I stop writing them. (Maybe an inflated opinion of my powers?)

The first series (Jolie Gentil) I wrote because I wanted to write about the Jersey shore and thought I could not do it in one book. Of course, the books are about the characters more than the place, but the setting was important to me. I never thought there would be ten books (more coming).

I'm not from Jersey, but I LOVE those towns along the ocean. Most had their size established before the ocean condo craze, so they feel more homey than the Maryland and Delaware towns I've visited much of my life. Several of those exploded in concrete.

At Bonaparte, Iowa 2008 floods
Because I love my adopted home of Iowa, a series there was almost inevitable (River's Edge). It grew from experiences working in several towns along the Des Moines River. The combination of rural life and water living is compelling.

Sadly, what made river towns so captivating were the floods of 2008. People sandbagged for days and still lost so much. And then they shouldered on -- which meant cleaning a lot of mud from basements and tackling mold, among other things. I met so many fantastic people during those summer weeks.

Now, here's the funny part. I wrote "Tip a Hat to Murder" in 2016, intending it to be a stand-alone book set in an Illinois town. I now live in that state, and thought writing about it would make it feel more like home.

Dang, if I didn't really enjoy those characters and want to continue them. So, three series! That's a lot for me to juggle. I've noticed others are far more prolific as series writers, especially for mysteries. I will read anything written by Carolyn Haines -- if you have not read her, do so.

Sometimes I wonder if it's...lazy to want to use the same characters, but I don't think so. They just kind of grab your heart and won't leave.
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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Adding Hearts to the Story Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Broad-Brush Look at Self-Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   You only get one chance to make a first impression, so make it a good one.
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