Monday, December 30, 2019

It's All in the Appearances

“The mystery story is two stories in one: the story of what happened and the story of what appeared to happen.”
― Mary Roberts Rinehart

The next line should be, "The great mystery writers can manipulate appearances without being dishonest with readers."

I just finished Louise Penny's book Kingdom of the Blind, an Inspector Gamache novel, which has a great premise -- the suspended head of the Sûreté du Québec finds himself drawn into the estate of someone he's never met. The elderly woman must have had her reasons for naming three seeming strangers as her executors.

Add to the requisite murder associated with the strange will is Gamache's intense need to locate a cache of drugs he's let loose on Canadians. While done in the interest of solving crimes in a prior book, the potential deaths weigh heavily on him. And the earlier decision has caused his suspension.

As I neared the end, I told a friend I knew she would enjoy it. Then the end arose and it turns out Penny had two unreliable narrators throughout the book. So, it wasn't just that what appeared to be was not. The author thought she would lie to her readers.

As much as I have enjoyed prior Gamache novels, I won't be able to read another. What's the point of being drawn into a plot when you are in a character's head but (throughout the book!) you don't know what the character knows?

A sleuth, professional or amateur, will often learn (or understand) something before the reader does, but the reader isn't kept in the dark for too long.

I wish books with the so-called unreliable narrator would have a stamp on the cover. Then I wouldn't waste my time.
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Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Power of Persistence

When asked if one thing helped them succeed, authors are likely to mention persistence. Of course the book or poem has to be good. Much of what is written and submitted is.

When a new (or experienced) writer accepts feedback and keeps writing, they are likely to achieve what they define as success -- publishing a book, having stories appear in literary journals, being asked to read their work in a bookstore. The people who get discouraged after a bunch of rejection slips and stop writing or submitting won't get there.

Sounds simple. No magic formula, no particular writing style, just persistence -- and perhaps a teflon ego.

Today someone asked me for general advice to a new writer. Without thinking much, I dashed off the following.

My basic advice is always the same. Nothing is finished until you place your fanny in a chair and just keep at it. It's really important to get that first draft done. It will not be (cannot be) perfect, so don't take time to try to make it so. Give yourself permission to do some good rewriting, but at some point stop. If you go over the same work a lot, it can lose its edge, and you won't be doing anything new.

C'est tout.
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Monday, December 16, 2019

Increase Book Availability via Smashwords and BN Paperbacks

I tend to write more about writing than marketing these days. However, I had puzzled about how to reach more readers on ibooks, Kobo, and BN (via Smashwords), and have come up with something that works for me.

Many authors give away free ebooks sometimes. I decided to make the first four books of the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series free and wait to see if it made a difference. 
These are not books I sell on Amazon -- you cannot price a book less on another site than you do on Amazon. You agree to this when you publish with KDP.


Waiting was key. For the first few months, Smashwords reported no downloads -- keep in mind, it was free. Three months ago I saw downloads of the free book and sales of the NEXT box set began to grow on Apple. Since sales are up (I assume) my books are showing higher in Apple search results.

 Sales have also increased on Kobo and Barnes and Noble, but not as dramatically. This could be because I already had more sales on these sites. 

Pretty much the only promotion I do is regular tweeting about the free box set. I occasionally mention it in a cozy mystery Facebook group.

I now do my books also as BN paperbacks as well as Amazon. It means people can walk into a Barnes and Noble store and staff can immediately find a book and order it. There is no independent bookstore in my town (Springfield, IL) and BN has become very supportive of local authors.

A book uses the same Library of Congress Preassigned Control Number in all paperback editions. I choose to use a different ISBN from my own company, but I believe BN gives them free for paperbacks. If you use a site's free ISBN, they are listed as the publisher. The author still holds the copyright, of course.

Books have to be priced a dollar higher than on Amazon, where I no longer do expanded distribution. They could be priced the same, but the revenue per book would be less.

BN lets you work on covers in three pieces (front, back, spine). You can create them in Microsoft Publisher or jpg, and convert/load the front and back as pdfs. They do the spine. I like this method very much.

My books are largely self-published, which is why having easy access via BN stores is so important.


My Tarot cards and crystal ball have malfunctioned for months, so no predictions here. The experience does tell me it seems to pay to offer a free box set for Apple, BN, and Kobo -- via Smashwords. I publish some single books directly to those websites, but it's simply easier to do one big book via Smashwords. You only fix the epub once if there are errors.

Caveat. Free books used to increase sales a lot on Amazon. I'm not sure they do now -- at least not mine. Of course, books in KDP Select do pay some when people borrow (and read) them via this exclusive-to-Amazon marketing program.

Perhaps there are fewer free books on the other sites, so free still attracts readers. Keep in mind the book has to be a good one for readers to then buy the next books in a series. And keep writing more.
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