Saturday, September 24, 2022

Why is it so Hard to Write Sometimes?

"Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen."

― John Steinbeck

With apologies to Mr. Steinbeck, it doesn't always work that way. Plus, long-haired rabbits make me sneeze.

At the moment, I've figured out the basic elements of a new book -- lead characters, overall plot, timing for major events -- and so on. I even have a rough draft of the first couple chapters. So why am I not halfway to the middle? 

For me, it usually means I have a lot on my mind. I do, at the moment, but nothing insurmountable. 

I think about the action a lot, and the pause in writing has led me to come up with really good title for the thirteenth Jolie Gentil cozy mystery. I'm trying to do something different, which is to have a second point of view character, one who has been away from the series for a while. That's hard to do. But why hide from hard?

Apparently, I'm doing this post to figure out why I'm not writing more. So, I'll commit to having a full first draft by the first week in November. That's a scary thought. 

Don't let me off the hook.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Saturday, September 10, 2022

When to Keep a Secret and When to Tell Readers More

 Authors who write a series -- whether sci fi, fantasy, mystery, romance, or family saga -- grapple with how much to tell readers about what happened in prior books. The second choice is whether to do it through narrative or dropping pieces of information in dialogue.

A lot depends on whether you write in first or third person. Whether a book uses a narrator or not, those in third person can have paragraphs of description about current or past events. The main character(s) in first-person novels can ruminate or discuss events in the past, though the information has to be part of the flow and not a convenient dump of material.

As my longer series progresses, reviewers will sometimes say it helps to have read some of the earlier books rather than jump in at, for example, book ten. I agree, not so much because of the plot but because the characters' lives have changed over time. 

The bigger question, especially with mysteries, is how much to reveal about past books in the book underway. Readers don't always read books in order (I don't), and they may not want to go to book two if they learn what happened as they read book five. 

One of my favorites is the Virgil Flowers series by John Sandford. Flowers is a state investigator for Minnesota, so he works fairly independently. In each book the rich character development and subplots keep things moving. And I love the humor.

Sandford does refer to past cases, usually by having characters comment on Flowers' success. Sandford doesn't dwell on them, and if some time passes between reading the books, a fan likely wouldn't remember the prior references -- except for the Trippton school board, which comes up a lot.

A friend who read a draft of Any Port in a Storm commented that no one would read a preceding book because I'd told the bad guy's identity and what he did. I realized that I could refer to an important point in the prior book without giving anything away. Since then, I carefully watch for this.

However, when it comes to the characters' lives, knowing some past events or general history can be important. In the Jolie Gentil series, I always mention that she and Scoobie first met in high school and didn't see either again for a decade. Other aspects of their -- or other characters' -- history or life stories may come up now and then, but not too much. Even more rare are details of prior things Jolie has looked into.

I had pages of notes on the backstory for the Jolie Gentil series and kept wanting to mention some of it. But readers didn't need to know much of it. So, I wrote a prequel. Jolie and Scoobie's High School Misadventures pretty much got that out of my system.

Authors make hundreds of decisions as they write each book. The what-to-reveal choice is one of the clearer ones. Like most options, it's up to the writer, and whatever s/he decides will be right for the book underway. 

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Writing in First Person vs Third Person

I write four mystery series, two in first person point of view (Jolie Gentil and River's Edge series) and two in third person (Logland and Family History Mysteries). 

First person comes more naturally to me, and I like the idea that readers only know what the sleuth knows. There are challenges, mostly the flip side of what I like -- I can't reveal anything to readers unless the sleuth discovers it directly or indirectly.

There's no getting around that first-person cozy mystery amateur detectives (at least in series) can come off as nosy. Generally, the first book in a series throws the crime solver into the mix because something happens to her (or him). In some series she discovers a body and is blamed for the murder. Other times it's someone close to the sleuth and she doesn't want to see them convicted of a crime she is certain they didn't commit.

After the first book, the protagonist needs reasons to get involved in (usually) murders that may not directly pertain to her. I like to pepper the two first-person series with townspeople who can come to the forefront in future novels. Jolie knows them, so at some level she cares what happens to them -- or to the person who is accused of the crime. I also have her as a real estate appraiser, which puts her into contact with lots of people and businesses.

In first-person mysteries, the crime solver does a lot of internal musing. They can in third-person books, too, but since information can be revealed in more ways, the sleuth's thought process doesn't have to be as detailed.

I don't use a narrator in the two third-person series, so there is no lecturer to describe the scenery, history, or what characters wear as they enter a scene. I may have the sleuth spend time observing a setting, but even in third person, if a room is to be described there has to be a reason beyond the character walking into it.

What I like best about third-person books is that there can be multiple points of view. In the Family History Mysteries, I used Digger's POV only in the first book, and expanded to add Marty's (a reporter friend) in books three and four. 

There's also the most popular character -- Digger's Uncle Benjamin, a companionable (if sometimes annoying) ghost. He a good example of a device that can become part of the drama. There's no way Digger can know all local history, or who did what to whom over the last seven or eight decades. (She's in her late twenties.) Uncle Benjamin can provide background and point her in varied directions.

Some of my earliest writing (which will never see the light of day) had multiple points of view, sometimes in the same chapter. I didn't switch heads within a scene -- or I don't recall doing that. It's painful to reread the stuff. Over time, I learned that I used several points of view because it was easier for me than to figure out how to discover information when only one or two people did the thinking. 

Note I said for me. Lots of books have multiple POVs. I'm not about to say five or ten is too many if it suits an author's purpose.

Every time I read, I learn what an author does well. Occasionally I spot something that seems awkward, but that can be interesting, too. Bottom line, point of view decisions are complex ones. I enjoy the challenges.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Friday, August 26, 2022

Remember When People Thought 50 Was Old?

My friends and siblings and I have discussed that we feel (and sometimes look) younger than our parents did at similar ages. Some of it's the increased emphasis on diet and exercise; add to that modern medicine and we can age more gracefully. 

If you're close to my age (which is 71), then your parents may have lived through the Great Depression and sorrows of World War II. Communal stress ages everyone.

We also define 'retirement' differently. Travel, new hobbies, maybe even a second (or third) career. When I swim at the Y, there are hordes of 'older' people exercising. At least a dozen white-headed people walking through my neighborhood daily -- usually more. If you're over a certain age, do you remember your parents exercising? 

And that, like most things, brings me to writing. There are plenty of young writers. However, there are also lots of people who write books after retiring.  As someone who produced a lot of stories on a typewriter, I firmly believe that the ease of production is at least partially responsible for the swelling ranks of published authors.

I started writing seriously in the mid-1980s -- first with plays and screenplays, later novels. I had a really busy first career and knew I'd have to stick with that for a good while. Sometimes when I was taking courses in fiction writing or working late to write a few more pages, I'd think of other things I could be doing. Like sleeping.

Other times, I'd be in an art museum and think of all the great talents in the world and wonder why I thought I could ever sell what I wrote. I don't know why art museums conjured that feeling more than libraries or bookstores.

The other side of that view was hockey player Wayne Gretsky's quote, which I placed near my home computer: "You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take."

I'm still aiming the puck toward the net.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

My Family's History Contributes to Mysteries

 Each summer for twenty-seven years, I've headed to Southwest Missouri for the reunion of Orr and related families. I should say twenty-five years, because we did 2020 and 2021 on Zoom. Still fun and lots of shared stories.

The reunion began in 1937, which marked the 100th year that the first Orr family (that of my GGG Grandparents William Orr and Jennie Adams) came to Lawrence County, Missouri. They were joined by other relatives beginning in the 1860s, and there were eventually Orr, Knox, and Campbell families, as well as Shirley families in the east and the James Orr family in Indiana. And then they spread to 49 of the 50 states. Vermont must have been too cold.

For the first seventy-plus years, massive amounts of food were piled onto wagon serving tables and the signature lemonade came from hand-squeezed lemons.

Some lemons still get the benefit of upper body strength, while others provide their juice through an electric squeezer. The same bucket is employed today as in 1937, though supervision in 2022 passed from Bobby and Margaret Samuels to a community effort.

More fun than squeezing lemons indoors was Bobby and Margaret's lemonade making on the back of his pick-up truck. He had help from every child who attended.

Those of us who have become used to cool indoor homes rejoiced when the Ozark Prairie Presbyterian Church (founded by Orrs among others in 1854) added an air-conditioned community room.

The food is just as good, but attendees don't wilt in the prairie heat. We're smaller than the initial years, when more than 100 people came from many parts of the U.S. This year we had only several midwestern states, but I expect that as COVID continues to wane the numbers and home states will rise again.

While this annual reunion may not seem to have a lot to do with writing fiction, the stories and time spent with relatives have a lot to do with my Family History Mystery Series. Not that I use direct experiences in the books. I wouldn't be able to return.

What I've learned is that large families and those they marry into have hundreds of tales. For example, when crops failed due to drought in Kansas, one gutsy widow brought a wagon to Mount Vernon and relatives filled it with corn. During the Civil War, large families in border states had sympathizers on both sides.

Because I post family trees on, I had a call from an adoptee who learned a recently deceased man was her birth father and wanted a photo. (I obliged.) Another caller thought he looked exactly like a member of our clan and wanted contact information for potential half-siblings. (I didn't oblige, but they later figured it out on their own.)

Do either of these scenarios sound like fodder for a book? Maybe. More to the point, I've learned that there is no such thing as an unrealistic plot line when it comes to writing mysteries about extended families. If you can imagine it, it can happen -- and probably has.

My Family History Mysteries take place in Western Maryland, about 100 miles from where I grew up. But the trouble the characters get into could happen anywhere, in any family. Trust me, I've heard it all.
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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Sunday, July 31, 2022

It's Fun to See Who Buys Your Books

 I often tout the benefits of selling my books at all online retailers (termed "going wide" by some). I sell books directly through Google and a few through Kobo or BN. But for the most parts, I sell non-Amazon books through Smashwords, an aggregator who puts my books on many sites. For this, they take a small percentage of a sale.

Smashwords also sells books directly through its own store. This gives me great joy. Every week when I look at books sold directly by them, I see the buyers' countries. Look at today, for example.

Other sites show me regions of the world and perhaps individual countries. However, I have to hunt a bit more for the information.

I believe this is my first sale in Antartica (The Art of Deliberate Distraction). In the past month, Smashwords sales have been for the countries shown, plus Nigeria, Canada, Mexico, Ethiopa, the UK, Philippines, and Portugal.

The site does show where books are sold on Apple, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble. However, these tend to be more my main four sales countries, U.S., Canada, UK, and Australia.

Smashwords recently merged with Draft2Digital, and one of the reasons D2D was interested in the site was the Smashwords Store. As you can imagine, I was happy to hear that.

I would be remiss if I didn't tell you how to find my Smashwords Profile and list of books.

Happy reading!

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Saturday, July 16, 2022

The Frantic Finale -- Finishing a Book

I am a very methodical writer in the sense that it's my job and I keep at it. I like tying the book strings together to create a final package. I can handle glitches because I (usually) allow enough time for a project.

Not with Gilded Path to Nowhere, the fourth book in the Family History Mystery Series. With just a couple months before final publication, a few vertebrae in my cervical spine decided to sit on top of one another. With six weeks to go, I did a compression fracture of a thoracic vertebra -- the 12th, if you're keeping score. How? I sneezed.

To top it off, Blue Cross had a watering contest with one of the major clinics in Springfield, IL, and I couldn't go to my regular back doctor! My always helpful primary care doctor found another clinic, and when I realized how bad the cervical problem was, I found another specialist in St. Louis. It's only 100 miles away.

I finally ended up in the ER for the compression fracture, but I did get some nice drugs. Do you know how hard it is to concentrate when taking opioids? Or muscle relaxers? But this was not a "tough it out" situation.

It also was not a "delay the book" situation, since I had a few hundred preorders. But I could barely sit in a chair for three weeks and could do little writing or polishing.

This is when you know who your best friends are.

My husband is a trooper, my neighbors and Maryland family were very supportive. But my sister, critique group, and a few other writing friends made time for chapter reviews and more on short notice, with quick turnarounds. I'll never be able to repay them. The book will publish on time on July 29th.

I have learned something important. I always have a better-than-general idea where a book is going, especially in terms of character growth. But because decades of crafting nonfiction made me an efficient writer, I don't do a full outline. 

I work from notes and do brief chapter summaries as I go. From now on, I'm going to write the ending after I finish the first twenty percent of the book. Because you can't think straight when your brain is mush, and who knows when it will turn to mush again? 

The other option would be not to announce a publication date until the book is finished. However, I set it almost 90 days in advance when the book was more than half done. I use deadlines to ensure I do three books a year. Otherwise, it's easy to sit around and read books. 

So, that's my Summer of Frustration story. It will be more fun to describe when it's in the rearview mirror.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Building New Interest in Older Series

I write four series, but a couple of them have been "stuck" with only three books. Hard to say why, because I like the characters. I suppose it's an analog to the saying about reading -- "so many books [to write], so little time."

Finally, I have ideas for additional books in the series, and I've actually written the fourth for the Family History Mystery Series. But how to generate more interest in the two older series -- River's Edge and Logland?

There's nothing like a free book to get readers interested.

I've been offering one book free in these two series to secure more attention. It does increase sales of all books in the series, but more important (to me) is the books get more reviews.  

I sell at all sites and have box sets of the Jolie Gentil series on Kindle Unlimited. So how can I make a book free on Amazon if it isn't in KU? I start with all sites except Amazon. I change the price on Smashwords to free and the book appear free of all the sites except Amazon -- Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, etc. If you try this, don't forget any books that you may sell, individually, on other sites.

With Amazon, I can't make the books free myself. Eventually, Amazon's computers notice a book is free on the other sites and they do a price match for Amazon. If this doesn't happen within a week or so, I go into my KDP account and send a note saying there is a lower price elsewhere. Lots of Amazon downloads begin.

After about a month (yes, one month) I move the price back to $2.99. The thousands of downloads during that month entice a lot of readers. After a couple of weeks, review numbers begin to go up.

This is not a strategy for those who want an immediate big uptick in income. But it does make a difference over time. In the meantime, you get nice notes from readers. That's the best part.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Friday, June 24, 2022

Building Worlds in Fiction

Often, world building refers to creating cast/setting/story line for a fantasy series. I'm in awe of those who do this well -- Tolkien with The Lord of the Rings, J.K. Rowling with Harry Potter, and C.S. Lewis with Chronicle of Narnia. Star Wars and Game of Thrones (based on the books by George R.R. Martin) come to mind for movies.

I work in a middle school part-time and fantasy books are those most often checked out from the library.  So much reading is to escape, and what better place to bolt from homework than a fictional realm?

There are lengthy treatises about world building in fiction. If you want an overview, a Wikipedia article is a good start. 

There is a degree of world building in some mystery series. By that I mean the characters and setting are so strong that readers look forward to reestablishing relationships as much as following the story line. I especially like Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey works and Jeffrey Archer's Clifton Chronicles. 

I also enjoy the Hamish Macbeth series by M.C Beaton and Virgil Flowers books by John Sandford. Hamish largely works in the same setting (with the quirky residents of Lochdubh and nearby towns in the Scottish Highlands), but Virgil is all over Minnesota. His approach to crime-solving can be unusual: don't take the gun out of the car safe unless you'll definitely get shot at, and involve civilians by telling people what you've found and getting them to help you. His nickname is also striking.

What keeps me looking for new books in the Virgil Flowers series are the relationships among several character (Johnson Johnson, Shrake, and Jenkins, and now Frankie) and dry humor. I would love to see him solve another murder in the fictional Tripton Minnesota, but I suppose it's too much to hope for another crime wave in that small a town. And yes, one character is Johnson Johnson, whose father liked outboard motors. He has a brother named Mercury Johnson.

I'm not as fond of series in which the protagonist has superb skills and ties to powerful organizations. I like my lead characters to be more fallible. 

Blogger K.M. Weiland talks about world building in various posts on story structure. Naturally, I couldn't find a specific post, but the entire site is worth going through.

I challenge you to find a series that is so good you put aside writing your own book. Or at least doing laundry.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Why Buy Directly from Smashwords?

Though this 12+ year-old company was recently merged with Draft2Digital, Smashwords still operates. One reason D2D gave for their interest in the acquisition was the Smashwords Store. What is that?

Ebook publishers not connected to a retail site that sells more than what they publish themselves, such as Amazon and BN, may choose not to sell the books they produce. For example, D2D has not. Other, smaller sites may get your books formatted so they or you can independently load them to online booksellers, but don't maintain their own store.

Smashwords does not publish as many books as Amazon, but nearly 600,000 is nothing to sneeze at. Here are some reasons to buy directly:

1) Books can be downloaded in multiple formats, including epub and pdf, and you can download a book in varied formats multiple times. 

2) New books may be available on Smashwords a day or two earlier than other sites.

3) Smashwords has sales several times a year.

4) Smashwords lets authors give coupons for free books on that site, even if the book is sold for a much higher price on other sites.

It's this last point that is a special benefit. As an author, I make coupons available to readers of my newsletter for a few weeks at a time. If you see an author on Smashwords, you can ask them for a coupon to try one book. They can say no, but you could also get a discounted or free book. 

As a reader, Smashwords sales let you buy a book for less than at other retailers without that retailer requiring the author to lower the price on their site. It's a benefit for readers and gives an author the incentive to periodically reduce prices. It's a great way for readers to find new authors and for authors to attract new readers.

Publishers can use Smashwords, but most who do are self-published authors or those who run a press that largely publishes their work (as I do, with Lifelong Dreams Publishing). However, you'll also find authors who have gotten the rights back for older books and are reissuing popular titles. Check out Leigh Michaels. Or authors who publish prolifically with traditional publishers and add some independent titles via Smashwords. Check out Heather MacAllister or Jeffrey Marks.

I've used Smashwords to download a bunch of children's books so I have them on my Kindle when I'm with very young friends or nieces and nephews. You email yourself the book to your Kindle email address or jus on a computer. 

If you haven't looked at the Smashwords bookstore, check it out. You could find a new author to love.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Monday, May 30, 2022

Ways to Remember

Like most people born in the first couple decades after World War II, I had a dad and uncles who fought in that war. They all came home, though it's safe to say that some of them lived quietly with emotional trauma. They saw many people die horrible deaths. 

I include troubled veterans in a number of my stories. They aren't 'bad guys,' but they are anxious or unsettled. I don't want people to forget the sacrifices they made.

A veteran features most prominently in Falling Into Place, the story of Everett and his family. It would be called literary fiction, and I sell few copies. I think it's the best thing I've written. Life is funny like that.  

My dad's poetry dealt with loss several times, though it wasn't presented as battlefield deaths. His Portrait Through Poetry mixes his poems with letters he wrote to his sister during World War II. I put this as the last one in the book (published after his death).

What Does the Future Hold? by Miles D. Orr

The snow will melt and we will see 

that the rivers will always flow to the sea.

The tide will always ebb and flow

the sun will rise and set aglow.

The rain will come and the wind will blow,

thunder and lightening will hit below.

The earth will tremble and start to shake,

our homes will sway and begin to break.

And when the mountains decide to explode,

we will have a sea of lava, without a road.

I wouldn't call this pessimistic, but there an air of fatalism he didn't seem to have as a young man (based on stories from aunts and uncles).

And those letters he and his sister exchanged? They talked a lot about the books they read. She would send him one and he'd pass it around his tent, and read those the other flyers received from their families.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Can You Start Writing Before Knowing the End of a Story?

The short answer is "sure," but the longer one would be, "Start if your characters and their motives are known, as well as the setting and how it contributes to the story."

If you write series, these items would be clear, but that's not a green light to meander as you write. My suggestion would be that you know at least these four things:

1) The main characters' regular routine(s) -- because you are about to disrupt their lives. How do they spend their time? What matters to them? Who do they love or especially dislike?

2) Understanding of what will disturb their daily life. It doesn't have to shatter their routines, but it has to spur them to action of some sort. Action does not have to be dramatic -- the outcome it generates does have to matter to readers.

3) The ability to plan ahead at least a few chapters. 

4) Options for how the main characters can resolve the situation/tragedy/romantic break-up so they can get back to their routines -- even if those will be altered.

I've adapted a phrase I learned when writing nonfiction reports. It is: If you don't know where you are going, how will you know when you get there? 

In fiction, if you don't have an idea of where you are heading, how can you prepare the characters and readers for what they need to know as the book progresses? For example, you could add foreshadowing later, but that can result in choppy writing. 

I usually do these things and have at least a couple pages of notes about where I want the story to go. Sometimes an idea seems so good I jump in and start writing. That usually results in a stall after 15 or 20,000 words. Then I do some more heavy thinking.

Leaping into an idea can also lead you to think that's where the story should start. That's not necessarily so. It's where you needed to start writing, but it could end up as the middle of the book after you figure out more aspects of the story. 

I'm somewhere in the middle of the panster/outliner equation. I write a better book when I do more planning, but I'm not capable of doing a full outline. Too impatient.

When I do a post, I look for outside resources to refer readers to. K.M. Weiland's comprehensive blog and writings often have something. Lo and behold, this week she has Six Ways to Find Your Best Ideas Before You Start Writing.

It's a good approach. Most writers have lots of ideas pinging around in their brain. Weiland offers a thought process to filter through them.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.  

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Mobi is Mosey'n On

I often encourage readers do download MOBI files from Smashwords and email them (via Amazon's Kindle email) to their Kindle to read. I can thus easily give away free books even if they aren't on Kindle Unlimited.

That will be a no-no by the end of 2022. 

New Kindle ereaders will only support epub, which has become the gold standard for ebook formats. I'll have to tell readers to send themselves epub files, which they can download from Smashwords.

MOBI, which has been unique to Kindle, has been the platform's software since I started publishing in late 2009 and early 2010. It feels a bit like losing a notebook that has all the information you need for a test.

For authors uploading books in MS Word (as I do), there will be no difference. And I can still mail myself long grocery lists as PDF files (they arrive as documents, not books).

This is the email I received from Amazon. It's geared to customers who email things to their Kindle, not authors.

Dear Kindle Customer,

Thank you for using the Send to Kindle service to send personal documents to your Kindle library. We wanted to let you know that starting August 2022, you’ll no longer be able to send MOBI (.mobi, .azw) files to your library. Any MOBI files already in your Kindle library will not be affected by this change.

MOBI is an older file format and won’t support the newest Kindle features for documents. Any existing MOBI files you want to read with our most up-to-date features for documents will need to be re-sent in a compatible file format.

Also, compatible formats now include EPUB (.epub), which you can send to your library using your Send to Kindle email address. We’ll also be adding EPUB support to the free Kindle app for iOS and Android devices and the Send to Kindle desktop app for PC and Mac.

If you have any questions, please visit our help page or contact our Customer Service team.

The Kindle Team

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

You Can't Write Well if You Don't Read

 "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."

--Stephen King

I wish there were a way to place that thought in the mind of every three-year-old. It's a time before the instant gratification of online and other digital games replace the love of stories to be savored. 

When adults or older siblings read to them, younger kids learn words -- stories -- go beyond the confines of their home and can be shared. I've never met a young child who didn't enjoy being read to. 

All of this leads to the ability to think about the world around them and someday helps foment critical thinking. It can start early -- watch a child's face as they try to figure out how to unlock a door or place blocks on top of each other. Eventually they find out that if they put the big blocks on the bottom, blocks can be stacked.

We don't all have to write fiction, but we have to convey our ideas whether we paint houses, build medical devices, or play the guitar. The key to doing any of this well is reading.

I have little time for pleasure reading now, so I play audiobooks in the car. I'm just getting into using earbuds to listen to books via apps on my phone.  

I feel sorry for people who don't care whether they find ways to discover new books. They won't learn to write well. And if they can't do that, it will be hard to succeed (defined in whatever way feels right) in any endeavor.

Every time you hear a child dismiss the idea of reading, ask them what they'll do if the power is out for a few days. If they have books, they'll never be bored.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Subscription Services and Libraries Can Save Money for Readers

 Everyone is trying to squeeze an extra quarter from a dollar these days. For me that means nearly all books have to come from the library or the used books in my library's small cafe-bookstore. I make exceptions for reading for my book club (if I can't get a book another way) and books of close friends.

Someone may say, "But why don't you want the new book by [insert name such as Tess Gerritsen, James Patterson, Daniel Silva, or Carolyn Haines). I do want them. But do I need them right this minute? Probably not.

In fact, some terrific authors make their ebooks available through subscriptions services such as Kindle Unlimited or Scribd. For a fee of $9.99 (Kindle) or $11.99 (Scribd) a reader has access to millions of books at no added charge. 

The sign-up and selection processes are simple. Scribd includes audiobooks.

These services have fees, but the ebooks borrowed from your library are free -- for the cost of a (free) library card. Local librarians can guide you through their processes. For background information, head to Overdrive, one of the best-known services. 

Libraries have access to some of the more popular authors who don't place books on commercial services. As with paper copies, libraries have a certain number of each ebook or audiobook, so you may encounter a waiting list. Isn't that better than paying $28.99 for a paper copy?

Subscription or library services don't keep income from authors. For example, Kindle Unlimited (KU) pays authors by pages read. Via Smashwords, my books are available through Overdrive and Scribd and I'm paid monthly.

I keep certain box sets and a few other books on KU, and all my books can be borrowed via Scribd and Overdrive.

Mostly, I read audiobooks. I have to be in the car at least 45 minutes per day, and that's a lot of reading. I save money by borrowing library CD books or getting ebooks via CHIRP, which always has a few for $1.99 and $2.99.

You may be saying, "But what if I want books not available through a service." You can buy them or go to the library. The big question, for me, is "How many books can you read in a year?" I bet the various bargain or free services can keep you in books for a lifetime.

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Monday, March 28, 2022

Words Matter

I put this on Twitter this morning.

Mean humor is an oxymoron and has no place at the Oscars or anywhere else. People like #ChrisRock and #RickyGervais should try FUNNY jokes. We could all ask ourselves why we laugh at mean 'jokes.'

I certainly don't think we should hit one another when we disagree. But I get standing up for someone who is pained by an illness or disability. It is never humorous to mock someone. Ask any kid who's been bullied.

Largely in America, mean and mocking humor has been more popular than true humor, but the Internet has helped spread the habit.

As long as we laugh at meanness, people will continue to tell those 'jokes.'

To be clear, Chris Rock was not paying a compliment to Demi Moore, who was gorgeous in GI Jane -- as she always is. He was saying something unkind about Jada Pinkett Smith, who has alopecia, an auto-immune disease that makes hair growth difficult and spotty. You had only to watch Jada's face as he said it to know it was mean.

Some may say it's political correctness to object to mocking people with an illness. I disagree, as many did a few years ago when a presidential candidate made fun of a reporter with cerebral palsy. Why is Chris Rock's mockery of Jada Pinkett Smith any different?

Think about it. Words matter.

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Saturday, March 19, 2022

Getting to the Point

I've been told that at times my writing is too sparse. A reader won't want to know only that a sleuth walked into a large room with antiques from several eras, they'll think I should describe several of them. 

I can see doing that if it relates to the plot. I think it was one of John Sandford's Virgil Flowers books that featured a large antique desk. Fortunately, someone knew the design well enough to know that if you pushed a button, it could reveal a secret compartment. Thus, the detailed description of the desk was very relevant. Otherwise (to my way of thinking) who cares how many drawers were on the left or right?

Readers. Especially in historical fiction. How else can one know about a style of carriage or what a Victorian house looks like?

I like to let readers know things that reach the point-of-view character's senses. Are there odors in a house? Do the dead flies seen on a windowsill say something about how long a house has been vacant? If it's really cold out, it matters if the sleuth wears a sweater or a parka.

It matters if a character is tall or short, black or white, or if they speak with an accent. And many other things. If someone is a fastidious dresser, then they'd never pair a brown purse with blue shoes or a patterned tie with a striped suit. But if fashion choices aren't integral to the plot, how much does a reader need to know about an outfit?

I do mention a character's clothes some because color gives a good image. Also, the ghost in the Family History Mystery Series (books 2 and forward) can change clothes by thinking about it. His wardrobe choices add humor or occasionally let a reader know something before the sleuth (Digger) knows.

For the genre fiction I write now, I think I'll stick with more minimal description. More may come later...

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Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Start a Book -- Even if You Don't Know How

Authors can be asked what got them to take the idea of being an author to the reality of a published book. My standard answer is that you have to stop thinking about it and start writing -- write anything related to the story.

What does "write anything" mean?

You may have ideas for scenes, a conversation, or even the ending -- the latter is good to know, but not necessary when you start a book. What stops many writers is seeing how to build from scene to scene to something cohesive. 

Just write the scenes. They don't need to connect, you can change a character's name later, and you can reorder scenes. You can't do any of that until words go on the page.

The one thing you need be certain of is whose story you are telling. If you write mysteries, is it the sleuth's story or that of the murderer? You may have both points of view, but one is likely more prominent, and that determines a lot.

Do remember you aren't writing a screenplay in which the camera bounces from person to person. If you think you need ten points of view, you likely don't. It does depend on the story, but keep in mind that the more points of view you express the less there is to reveal over time. After all, the reader knows what most of the characters are thinking.

Here's a helpful article by Angela Ackerman on K.M. Weiland's blog. Ms. Ackerman tackles writing when you have no idea where to start. We've all been there and may stray back to that position from time to time.  

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Monday, February 28, 2022

From Resolving Childhood Conflict to Peace

My parents made many smart decisions about how their kids should behave. They were the opposite of mellow in many respects, but they approached parenting calmly. They were also older when they had their first kid (29 and 36, which was almost elderly in 1951). That maturity may have been their guide.

Their egos weren't involved in parenting or our behavior, they just figured out the best way to do things. They may not have always agreed, but they didn't argue about it in front of us.

Their best decision? If we squabbled, my mom would say, "Oh, brothers and sisters don't fight." Then she'd point us to a way to resolve what we were arguing about. 

A child psychologist might say she reduced our ability to resolve conflict, but that would be incorrect. We all talk first, no matter the life situation. And we five are close friends.

Since I can't clone my parents' philosophy (or insert it in the parents of political leaders) I've done what I always do when I have a problem. I look to books.

Here are some articles or books about helping children resolve conflict and, more broadly, talking about what peace looks like.

Say What's Wrong and Make it Right    Amazon    Barnes and Noble

Please feel free to put other examples in the Comments section. 

Peace be with you.

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Friday, February 25, 2022

What Does a Publisher Do With and For You?

If your knowledge of the publishing process comes from television shows or reading about book publicity tours, you know something about how publishers work with authors who sell a lot of books. Not everyone gets those services, though publishers always want an author to succeed.

What are some things a new author can expect? Publisher's wear a lot of hats. I divide them into acquisition, production, and marketing.


  • Read a draft your agent submits.
  • Let the agent know they are interested.
  • Present the contract for your agent and you to review.
  • Negotiate to get to a contract that the author and publisher agree on in terms of – royalties, submission deadlines, author input to final product and cover, publisher contribution to marketing, number of (free) copies to the author, foreign rights negotiation, and more.
  • Let the literary world know you are under contract and when your book will appear.


If you think your work is done when a publisher accepts your book, think again. Among the things to expect are requests for:

  • Revision, usually with detailed information on what the publisher believes will improve quality and marketability.
  • Information needed to fact-check your book. Or, the publisher could ask you to submit this material. (More for nonfiction)
  • Contact information if others need to sign a release saying it is okay to quote them or refer to them in any way.
  • Consultation on cover design.
  • Review of galleys – edited copy the publisher has prepared.

Publishers spend a lot of money to get your book to readers, and they want it to be perfect. It may seem that some requests detailed, even picky, but authors need to remember that they are one of many.


A contract specifies what the publisher will do to promote a book.
Ultimately, authors do much promotion. A publisher will do more when the book is released, and an author wants readers to be continually aware of their books.

Try to get the publisher to agree to at least do the following:

  • Send press releases to trade publications or local media, with follow-up calls from the publisher’s representative.
  • Give you well designed bookmarks and/or other marketing tools, preferably well before a book is out.
  • Provide you with author’s copies that you can use for marketing. Ask for fifty and be prepared to receive fewer.
  • Send copies to book review publications or websites, including review writers in local media.
  • Maintain an active social media campaign through at least Twitter, Instagram, BookTok,and Facebook posts.
  • Create a short video and load it to You Tube.
  • Talk to you a few times a year about how well the book is selling and if there is more promotion they want you to do. 

Your role in marketing is key. Suggest local media to notify, visit local bookstores, and encourage local libraries to purchase your books. If you stress your willingness to work hard to keep the book in front of potential readers, it could help you secure a publisher.


Don’t be a pain in the tailbone to work with. You want to be firm when needed, but mostly you want to be a joy to work with. Whiners don’t get a second contract.

It may sound corny, but the fictional author Jessica Fletcher (played by Angela Landsbury) in Murder She Wrote, is a good example of a no-nonsense author who is pleasantly businesslike. 

For every author selected there are thousands who would love to work with a publisher – whether one of the big five, a university press, or a niche publisher. If you are a royal pain but your book sells well, you may get a second contract. You’ll also get a reputation for being difficult. 

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Monday, February 14, 2022

Varied Types of Publishers

When an author says "my publisher" it's a great feeling. If you're considering whether to seek a publisher or self-publish, it helps to understand the different types of publishers and how the process works. For any method or firm, ask other authors to share their experiences or at least get information through a Google search.

I recommend Writer’s Market, an annual publication. It has good overview articles and describes many publishers. If you aren’t sure about spending money on the book, examine a copy in your library. 

Major (Trade) Publishing Houses. Termed the “Big Five,” all are in New York. The are:

  • Penguin/Random House
  • Hachette Book Group
  • Harper Collins
  • Simon and Schuster
  • Macmillan

They have absorbed many smaller publishers, so some of their imprints will sound familiar. For example, St. Martin’s is part of Macmillan and Little Brown is within Hachette.

Small Presses, which often cater to literary fiction or specific genres. Jane Friedman's blog has a good article about them.

University Presses, which publish more nonfiction than fiction, and generally the latter only if it has some ties to their school or region.

Textbook Publishers. Their contacts and contracts with school systems make them important to deal with if you want to publish a text.

Independent or “Really Small” Presses. Some are newer and use print-on-demand technology. Others have been around for years, but publish only a few titles per year.

Hybrid Publishing Firms. These help an author with some of the steps, for a fee. They may sell authors’ books on their website and place them on other retail sites, but authors usually do most marketing. If you don't intend to publish a lot of books or really don't want to tackle self-publishing, these could be an option. 

Vanity Presses. They are essentially printers who, for what I consider a large fee, print books and mail copies to the client. The author promotes and distributes the books. Avoid them. (Some now call themselves hybrid publishers, so you need to watch for this.)

The major publishers give an author the visibility most dream of and can get books in any bookstore. Don’t give up if your agent can’t get you a Big Five contract. Some of the best authors will not make it to these ranks, but their books are well read.

And there's the important word -- agent. All of the major publishing houses require them. Essentially, an agent separates the wheat from the chaff for them. At the Writer's Market site there is also a book on literary agents, and Poets and Writers has a good list. Agents have to be picky. They don't represent all kinds of books, and they only get paid if they sell your work.

I sound like a broken record sometimes, but you only get one chance to make a first impression. Whether you're submitting to an agent or publisher, make sure you have a polished product. Equally important, follow their guidelines.

The next article on publishing will focus on issues to consider as you consider a publisher.

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