A Revelation and a Lesson in Reality

Moving from California to Connecticut, coast-to-coast, during the first months of the COVID pandemic resulted in flying out of an airport almost devoid of staff and passengers. I sailed through Security with only two other people in line. In fact, the airport was a ghost town, as was LaGuardia when I reached New York. No coffee shops or stores were open, but, warned ahead of time, I’d brought my own travel cup and, of course, my kindle loaded with eBooks.

It had been 23 years since I had lived in CT and discovered that I knew not a soul any longer except for my son and daughter. I searched the Obituaries pages for news of long-lost friends and called up a newspaper I used to work for but no one had heard of my fellow reporters from so long ago.

Needing to get back into the writing community I joined the New York chapters of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and renewed my Authors Guild membership, but there were no actual meetings scheduled except for Zoom. Like most writers I thrive on in-person contact where we have an opportunity to pick up characteristics of other humans, locales, and other, often small, details we put to use in our books.

I cast around for any group related to writing that met in person and this month, lo and behold, I was told of a women’s book club that was actually meeting at a coffee shop. There was also a memoir group at someone’s home. I’d been to several book clubs in California as their speaker when one of my books was the subject of discussion but what would it be like sitting on the other side of the table? I’d been treated with great respect, gentleness, and politeness each time with questions that were easy to answer and expected the same for this author and his work.

Instead, it was a revelation and a lesson in reality.

The book under discussion was a pretty hefty novel by a renowned author.  I was struck the most by everyone’s intensity, enthusiasm, and deep knowledge of each character and their supposed intent; the proposed meaning of every scene, and talk about the author’s hidden message on almost every page even if there were none. It was fascinating to hear that three members said they were in disagreement with the author because one character didn’t really mean what he said and other members backed her up. Another lady said a character should not have done what she did and offered an alternative to what the author wrote, and yet another lady said two of the characters should never have had the argument they did if only they had done so-and-so.

Wow!

Suggesting rewriting parts of an important classic to suit varying ideas about where the plot and its people should have gone gave me an introspective that I knew was impossible to achieve. There are a couple of classics wherein the author addresses the reader as “dear reader,” in his/her books but I doubt it is a plea for understanding the book’s intent. Authors cannot please everyone, and occasionally cannot please themselves when they re-read a book they wrote years earlier, perhaps, and see one or two parts they’d like to edit.

I enjoyed the back and forth between the ladies who were diplomatic in their critiques despite opposing opinions. One tended to hog the limelight by going on and on until the group leader gently cut her off. I was surprised that 4 or 5 of the 14 in the group remained mute the entire time but the others made up for their silence with well-articulated points of view, albeit wishing the author had written some scenes a bit differently.

As the newcomer I mostly listened and didn’t reveal I was an author.  Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered but I was there to discuss someone else’s work.  Only at the end did I disagree with the general conclusion that the main character had redeemed herself by her ringing endorsement of a couple in love rather than try to split them apart as she had earlier in a book-long fit of jealousy. One member asked if the author wished readers to come to like his previously nasty main character at the end by having her do a complete turn-about of herself.

My take was that she was self-serving by pretending to have changed in order to receive everyone’s good wishes instead of their usual disparaging remarks when she dissed them ad nauseum. She was congratulated and basked in their comments, but to me she was still living up to her me-me-me attitude. My statement was then discussed and agreed to by a slim majority of members, while others said they hadn’t thought of it that way but, yes, it made sense.

Perhaps had the author been at this meeting he would have been flabbergasted at the suggestions for changes, as sensible as they were, and probably even a little daunted at the thought but, all in all, I liked the fact that these book clubbers genuinely loved books and discussing them in depth was important to their lives. I am glad I joined and plan to attend every month.

Should I take a lesson from the discussion? Yes, very much so except I am still writing what I want to write. If a reader finds problems in a book that is fictional the author can be excused. What have been your book club experiences?

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Jill Amadio is a ghostwriter and cozy mystery writer. This is her new novel.

A leggy wildflower of a girl, teenage Sofia runs away from rural Oregon to big city Portland where she meets and marries a charismatic Saudi Arabian later known as 9/11 hijacker #13. While a slumbering America embraces feng sui and pizza she is present when terrorist sleeper cells are organized in her home, maps of landmark buildings, airports, and bridges are studied, and teams of recruits take flying lessons.

IN TERROR’S DEADLY CLASP, a novel, is based on her true story, providing a rare, chilling glimpse under the radar of the terrorists’ daily lives as they enjoy strip clubs, fast food, and freedom from their religious rules. After warning the FBI of the Arabs’ photo sessions, driving several men into America illegally from Mexico, and other suspicious activities, she goes undercover for U.S. intelligence agencies with deadly consequences.

A Novel Based on a Terrifying 9/11 True Story

by Jill Amadio

The big “What if…” offers writers a limitless world of characters, plots, settings, and time frames, a chance to change history, to bend it a little. What if Henry VIII died at birth? What if General William Sherman never undertook his famous March to the Sea? Shakespeare would have been deprived of many of the plots for his plays and Scarlett O’Hara would have had no reason to be created.

The good news is, much of our past provides those who write historical fiction with stepping off points for their novels, with real characters who resound throughout the ages but can be given sham qualities they never possessed in real life.

Yet, how much twisting of the truth do these books require to suit the author’s fictional story? Is it a dilemma, a difficult choice, or a decision to blithely rewrite history? As for those writing non-fiction, do the same criteria apply?

The case of James Frey comes to mind as I mention it in my new novel that is – surprise! – based on a true story. Frey’s memoir, “a Million Little Pieces,” was revealed as fake although he was reported to have asked his publisher to release the book as a novel. However, Random House decided sales would be greater as a true story. To his credit Frey admitted he fabricated and exaggerated parts of the book.

Which brings me to a personal point regarding fiction, non-fiction, and writing the truth. A few months after September 11, 2001 I was approached by a young woman who said she had been married to one of the hijackers. She wished to tell her story.  As a ghostwriter I published several memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies under my clients’ names.

Long story short, I wrote the book for her. Then I printed it out and slipped it into a drawer. I didn’t look at it either in hard copy or digital form but kept the document on my laptop and on a thumb drive during all the years since.

The pandemic, forcing writers into greater isolation than usual, and for more than a year, has changed our way of life, and in my case, shredded any writerly income I was making as a hired hand. During those 13 months I thought about books I’d written and set aside, and decided to take a second look at the 9/11 story.

For several reasons I decided to turn the true story into as a novel. Luckily, I had retained all the documents including the marriage certificate, divorce decree, photos of her with the Said Arabian she married at 17 years old, and cassette recordings of her and her family. I also had written a 40-paqge non-fiction book proposal which resulted in my being signed up by a top New York literary agent. It was 13 months after the 9/11 attacks. However, the upshot was that no publisher would touch it.  The agent suggested they were afraid of reprisals because the book provides a rare, under-the-radar- glimpse into the terrorists’ personal lives in America, their loves of strip clubs and pizza, for instance, and the kinds of activities that should have served as red flags to law enforcement agencies.

Turning the non-fiction story into fiction was easy. I had all the background I needed both on tape, with photos,  and in documents. With Frey’s experience in mind I was careful to stick to the truth to back everything up but as the book was fiction, who would worry about its origin? The subtitle clearly states that the book is based on a true story.

Over the past two weeks I have received glowing reviews, all 5-star to date, and my dear neighbor, a retired CEO of a large company who writes a newsletter, said he’d be happy to give it some space. He added as an afterthought that would have to write the word “true” in quotes. He did not believe any of it happened, that it was too far-fetched. At first I remonstrated, then told him I really didn’t care if he believed it or not. I knew the truth.

Which brings me back to the point of this post: authors taking actual history, or history as reported, and subverting it to their own ends to make a book more interesting as some of our greatest writers have done. Is there a lesson here? Will youngsters believe the fiction or the real truth?

 

 

 

 

 

Words, Words, Words. Who keeps track? Writers!

By Jill Amadio

Words, words, words. More than three million of them.

That’s how many a Tamil in India wrote. Granted, the words were spread over 26 volumes but still, quite remarkable. Chinese authors wrote lengthy books, too, while contemporary writers like J.R.R. Tolkien confined himself to a mere 558,003 words to complete The Lord of the Rings.  J.K. Rowling wrote 1,084,170 words in the Harry Potter series. Carl Sandburg threw half a million words onto the pages of Remembrance Rock, while Stephen King prefers to write long, and his thriller, It, has a whopping 1,138 pages for a paperback price of around $30.  A bit heavy for reading in bed. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five is around 500 words under 50,000, and Tolstoy’s War and Peace that everyone thought to be the longest book in the world offers 587,287 of text.

I was curious last week as to word count while putting the finishing touches to my 9/11 novel. Based on a true story, I found, to my horror, that the manuscript only contained 61,000 words. I know for cozies that is acceptable but anxious to check out what the going word count was for novels these days I went online to research.

Happily, the consensus is that the majority of publishers are content with a range of 50,000 to 100,000 of an author’s polished prose. One site claimed that anything over 40,000 is acceptable. However, books by C.S. Lewis, Roald Dahl, and George Orwell among others were bestsellers with books under that number of words.

It actually depends on genre. A literary novel, one site tells me, and by the way what the heck is a literary novel as all writing is, by definition, literary, no? No. It turns out that literary fiction must be intellectual, have depth, character and style. Surely, mysteries fit right into the middle of those requirements.

Publishing industry standards can vary. Authors of romance novels typically write between 80,000 to 100,000 words, and science fiction and fantasy can exceed 140,000. Westerns are, surprisingly, shorter, between 45,000 and 75,000, and novellas can be from 18,000 to 40,000 words The Reedsy blog site points out that a too-long word count is a symptom of a major plot or pacing problem.  First drafts can usually tell us whether we’ve overstepped the yardstick, and where to cut. Most editors warn writers not to edit their manuscript until that first draft is complete, and keep an eye on bringing too many characters into your story.

It is tempting to include extraneous material when your write about a favorite hobby or pastime you love but it’s a no-no for publishers unless it’s a theme like knitting, baking, or cheese. Frankly, I enjoy learning something new and my current read, The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths is an archaeological mystery that briefly explains many of the basics of the discipline in dialogue, the perfect place.

Thus armed, I began to edit my latest novel’s first draft and found I was right in the ballpark of acceptable word count. Of course, if you are going to self-publish with KDP, or other places, you can make up your own rules. But if readers expect a certain number of pages in your series it makes sense to adhere to that. Another point to keep in mind is that if you are adding an audiobook to your editions it could require a rather lengthy listening period that could get tiring.

A godsend to writers is the software that continually counts your words as you write and at the same time posts the page number you are currently on. A few writers I know never look at those results over periods of days or weeks in order to be wonderfully surprised when they finally do take a peek. Or not. They say that being required to produce or eliminate a certain number of words is soul destroying.

As several authors have commented when considering word count: “When it’s done, it’s done. When the tale is told, it’s told.”  End of story.

Mystery People

by Jill Amadio

CeeCee James was recently a guest blogger here. Her story interested me as a multi-series author. I interviewed her for a UK magazine, and thought The Writers in Residence might like to read what she told me.

Several authors on both sides of the pond pound the keyboard with more than one mystery series but few write as many as bestselling CeeCee James. She has no fewer than seven different series out there. Most of them cozies, their eclectic plots feature pets, farm animals, flamingoes, recipes, a book club, circus life, history, a tour guide, and a host of other characters that people her world.

Her first published books, however, comprised a three-book award-winning series based on her own life that brought brilliant reviews as “heart-breaking, raw, and inspiring.”

Childhood experiences, good and bad, are often expressed in a writer’s fiction whether consciously or unconsciously and can be, say therapists, a way of working through them and letting them go.  In James’s case she frankly talks about her difficult times as a young girl, bringing a compelling depth, compassion, and growth to her characters and her writing.

But why so many series?

“My life has been full of adventures and journeys. We moved 40 times and I attended 10 schools from coast to coast. In all of my works I draw on my own personal struggles, shortcomings, and victories. I had a rocky childhood, and spent time in foster care,” she said. “I feel blessed I’ve been able to realize a childhood dream to be able to share my stories with others. I can’t imagine too many careers that are as rewarding,”

No surprise that her first series was largely autobiographical and based on many of her personal experiences, but then she lightened up and plunged into the world of murderous cozies. Starting with the Angel Lake Mysteries, it centers around new beginnings, marking a significant turnaround in James’s own life. 

“My first mysteries are about the character, Elise, who is starting over and not quite sure where she fits in. Her journey is about finding confidence in who she is. There’s always a little bit of me in these characters, a voice for thoughts I didn’t know I had.” Next James explored the curiosities of hotel life with the Oceanside Hotel mysteries with plenty of humor from a mother and daughter team.

 

Then came the Baker Street Mysteries. Set in Pennsylvania the books feature a tour guide who presents re-enactments of the American Revolutionary War. The author moved on from 1775 to take readers into circus life, with the first in the series titled Cirque De Slay.  

Time to switch hats again, and James produced the Flamingo Realty Mysteries, wherein she blends in a couple of characters from her previous series.

Among reader favorites are the Mooved to Murder mysteries with their covers of cows, lambs and other farm animals, and her books with kittens and puppies. The newest series stars members of a book club in The Secret Library Mysteries

How does she manage to keep them all straight?

“I write one series at a time so that gets all my focus. I time going back to my other mysteries when I’m ready to take a break from my current series. My favorite place to write is curled up in a fat, oversized chair with a cup of coffee and my two mini dachshunds sleeping at my feet.”

A favorite character among the many amateur sleuths? She said that each main character takes a turn as being her favorite at the time, especially when they are going through something she can relate with, and their vulnerabilities make her fiercely protective of them. When she moves on to a new series, she’s infatuated all over again “with a new baby.”

As for choosing settings James said she writes what she wants to read and what interests her at the time. She researches towns and villages looking for small restaurants and shops to get a feel for it and its flavor, many of which she has lived in at one time or another.  She looks up local plants and landscape terrain, and of course researches for toxins and poisons.

A “pantster” rather than an outliner, James finds her stories emerging as she writes.

“I tried outlining and immediately hit writer’s block. I have to have the freedom to let the story lead me. If I am really struggling with it I’ll reread an old favorite like Lord of the Rings, or The Stand. I admire those authors’ skills so much it almost always inspires me.”

The past that has provided grist for the mill drives her intense interest about how other people experience their lives. The pandemic, too, has brought back memories of feeling trapped.

“I was surprised to find that feeling lurking around in my subconscious. I remember the strength and hopelessness of that emotion while growing up. It hit me in a very weird spot.”

In between James’s massive literary output, she paints in several media including watercolor, ink, and acrylics. She also makes miniatures, and crochets during which one imagines her mind is working overtime to plot another crime.

 

Phew! Makes me feel pretty lazy – again.

Attempts To Get Off The Sofa

by Jill Amadio

Like most writers I have read dozens of how-to books, joined Sisters in Crime; Mystery Writers of America; the Authors Guild, and even ASJA – the American Society of Journalists and Authors. I’ve been a panelist at conferences, given talks all over the place, and enjoyed writing for this blog and magazines.    

These days I have suffered from a lack of inspiration.

JILL inside-weather-348dJPXEFHk-unsplash

 Previously I had deadlines that worked when I had a demanding publisher or if I was ghostwriting for a client. At present neither apply and I find myself with days, weeks even, of time to work on three books of my own that have been on the back burner.
 
They include a biography of a woman who pioneered aviation art in America; my third mystery, and a book about a terrorist event that was originally to be ghostwritten.
 
This last one is a true account of a teenager who was married in 1992 to a Middle Eastern college student who later became a terrorist. Divorced in 1994 she went on with her life. When she saw her ex-husband’s photograph on TV as one of the terrorists she contacted the authorities.
 
I interviewed her years ago in Oregon, made copies of her marriage certificate and divorce decree, and wrote a 40-page book proposal. I was quickly signed up with a top-five New York literary agent. However, no publisher was willing to touch it back then and a few months later, at the age of 31 and just before I was due to meet with her again, the young woman died in a suspicious car accident reminiscent of the Karen Silkwood story.
 
Last year, before moving to Connecticut, I emptied my storage unit and found the two bins of research I’d collected containing recordings of the girl, her mother, sister, and brother who knew the terrorist husband. Mindful of the fate she suffered I decided to fictionalize the book.  I’d signed a contract with her mother giving me all rights, registered the book proposal with the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress, and went to work. So far I have nine chapters.
 
The decision to go forward with this project was easy. The implementation almost impossible. I just haven’t been able to get myself to work on it further for the past few months, perhaps because of the overwhelming amount of research I had gathered.
 
My research includes several books on the event and I have great quotes from the young woman and the family. I visited locations and took photos, and had lunch in the same restaurants her ex-husband had taken her to where they met up with  “friends.”
 
The bins are brimming with marvelous, usable material. I was pumped and eagerly dove into writing. I became so engrossed I made dozens of cups of tea and left them in the kitchen forgetting they were there. The agent lost interest because the subject was no longer alive to promote the book. I stored the names of the detectives who investigated her death; transcriptions; the coroner’s report; the death certificate, and her obituary. So I went on to other projects.
 
Now, I want to complete it. But guess what?   
 
I can’t get myself to open the document. I’ve thankfully avoided writer’s block for decades and I have come the conclusion that I am simply lazy. This condition is exacerbated by the virus causing enforced isolation more than usual, and my discovery of the wonders of Netflix.  Or maybe the 123 files staring me in the face are too intimidating.
 
I remember reading how John Updike solved his lack of excitement for a story when he lived here in Connecticut, incidentally. In his den he set up three typewriters on which he was typing three different stories, During a day he walked from one to another when he ran out of ideas for one novel and moved on to the next for a while.
 
What to do? After a stern argument with myself last week which got me nowhere I reached out to friends for a solution and received some excellent advice. 
 
Peggy Ehrhart who is on her eighth mystery in her knitting series, had a suggestion. She told me to start at the front of a bin, pull out the first file and insert whatever material was in that file into the appropriates chapters.  And so on. Great idea.
 
Sandy Giedeman, a well-published award-winning poet who often edits my books offered more advice. I told her one of my favorite guides was “Writing Down the Bones,” by Natalie Goldberg. Sandy told me to re-read it and start putting flesh on the skeleton I had already created in the synopsis that included a sentence or two for each of the chapters. That helped. I had a terrific, ready-made skeleton for the entire book in the book proposal I had shelved years earlier. (It is one reason I am a fanatic for flash drives and printing out hard copies of precious writings)
 
A third friend said I should listen to uplifting music. I dug out my favorite CDs and heard the Mamas and Pappas singing “California Dreamin’” Well, that was a little sad as I was no longer in California and had a hankering to be back there. I also listened to ABBA, again a bit of a mistake since instead of writing anything I sat on the sofa and daydreamed about my life when the band was famous many years ago.
 
I also played “The Standing Stones of Callanish,” Celtic music composed about an ancient site in Cornwall but then I remembered I had bought that disc to put me in the mood for my Cornishwoman mysteries. I replaced it with “Puccini Without Words,” which is quite lovely but again, maudlin in parts because operas are so melodramatic. Nevertheless, all three suggestions helped and I am now happily engaged in methodically sorting through the first bin of files.
 
It is so easy to waste time instead of sitting down and writing. Such a strange paradox as we all share the passion and when inspiration smacks us on the jaw it is thrilling to get our ideas onto the electronic page – and just as disappointing when we don’t or can’t.
 
I’m sure most writers have their own solutions, even quirky ones, and someone has probably written a book about them. I still like Goldberg’s book not only because I write mysteries and love its title, “Writing Down the Bones,” but also for its content.
 
My current plan is to finish the first draft of the story by May 15, self-publish, and see how it goes. 

 

Photo by Inside Weather on Unsplash

FINDING YOUR PLACE

                                       by Jill Amadio

TombstoneThe 17h century English poet Andrew Marvell wrote the line, “The grave’s a fine and private place,” in his poem, Upon Appleton House. To My Lord Fairfax. I wondered if one could write there and discovered that an author actually set herself up in her small village cemetery where ancient gravestones had fallen in a heap to hold her laptop. She sat on a folding chair like a plein air artist in southern Spain in a Cost del Sol hamlet where weather was hardly a factor. I also heard of an author converting a coffin to serve as a desk. Hunters wrote in the jungle while on safari, Mount Everest climbers wrote with frozen fingers in their tents. Charles Darwin wrote aboard ship, and others wrote wherever they happened to be, as evidenced by their diaries-turned-books.

Coffin

I learned to write on the fly as a reporter in different countries, the babble of foreign languages never fazing me. Deadlines were inviolable jill valle bookand the discipline is still embedded in my bones, which helps me with setting up and meeting deadlines today, especially for my column in the UK magazine, Mystery People. When I began to write books after settling in America I discovered I need privacy to write my books. Plus perfect silence, a fine view, classical music, and endless cups of tea. I need my files that are always brimming with notes, press clips, drafts, character bios, settings, maps, and travel guides. When I wrote the Rudy Vallee biography I had close to 86 separate folders, one for each year of his life (he died watching television as President Reagan presided over the centennial in New York harbor.

 

 

Ladies StudyLike many writers, I jot down notes while travelling or dictate into a digital recorder if I’m visiting settings in my books, luckily all local so far. I also love eavesdropping. Restaurants and airport terminals are great places for this.  But for writing crime-ridden scenes no other place beats sitting in front of my laptop at home. My needs are simple and thankfully realized. A desk and chair in front of a window with a view to the horizon. Considering the many times I have moved house this requirement has not always been met but today my writing place faces sliding glass doors to the patio embraced by jacaranda trees through which I glimpse mountains far, far away. I have potted flowers scattered around, an Asian-style bistro set, and in the north nook the perfect lounge chair for reading. My trees are home to many birds and squirrels. The hummingbirds who visit are always thirsty, it seems, probably because I add extra sugar to the water, assuring myself it won’t cause diabetes or whatever. The crows gather late in the day and I always wonder what they are telling each other with their harsh cries.

 

RestaurantLast year I picked up Catriona McPherson at the Orange County airport. She was the main speaker at a conference. When I arrived she was sitting on a bench in baggage claim tapping merrily away upon her computer, oblivious to the crowds coming and going. A few days later we were early for her return flight. I went into the café for some tea. When I brought it over to her, there she was again, still tapping away. She told me she can write anywhere, anytime. What a blessing. No wonder she is so prolific. But what about the research and files? She said she makes a note if research is needed and she can’t find it online but knows it might be in her office files. When she gets back home she makes the additions. How sensible. Why can’t I do that? Perhaps I miss the sturdy, heavy electric typewriter too much anchored to my desk with its keys clattering to reassure me that sentences were being formed, sleuths were on the case, and victims were being murdered. The typewriter eventually died, throttled by its ribbon. Now, my laptop accepts my written words silently, the keyboard flat as a pancake, and no need for paper until printing.

I suppose all writers have their own preferred place for getting the story on the page but surely it doesn’t really matter to readers as long as you keep providing them with their favorite books. Where do YOU write best?

Promoting Pointers

     by Jill Amadio

 

MegaphoneDo you spend time each week promoting your books? Many of us loathe having to leave our fascinating work-in-progress and slog through the various social and publicity sites. While there are tons of how-to books out there to provide guidelines, there’s nothing like hearing expertise straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

 

One of the hardest working U.S. publicists with a long list of international fiction and non-fiction clients is Penny Sansevieri. She’s a whiz on how to grab publicity, and writes a free tips blog on her web site, www.amarketingexpert.com.

 

She has written several books on marketing including her latest, “50 Ways to Sell a Sleigh-Load of Books,” and “How to Revise and Re-Release Your Book.”  I wish I had read the latter after my traditional publisher went belly-up and I re-released my mysteries with KDP on amazon. I missed several ways to promote them including asking for reviews from new readers and new Facebook friends. Here are some tips Penny recently revealed:

 

  1. Create an eBook. More and more readers buy kindles and iPads.

 

  1. Write for popular blogs like The Writers in Residence (sorry, I added that myself!) Social media, said Penny, can be a black hole in effectiveness so choose wisely. Build a fan base by writing a newsletter and/or a blog for your web site. Knowing your core reader through your fan list is a must. You might divide the list into general mailings, fan reviewers, and a super-fan group. If your readers are on Twitter then there is no need to be on Facebook. Time is limited so spend the time and investment finding where your readers are. If social media is part of your overall campaign, don’t spend more than ten percent of your time there. For a quick and easy way to find out where your readers are, follow the big authors in your genre and watch where those authors are investing their social media efforts. This will tell you a lot, especially if they have much engagement on particular sites that you may not have considered using.
  • Add content to your amazon.com author page periodically.
  1. Assess the market. An important part of that is your book cover. If your publisher produces one you don’t like, complain.
  2. Give yourself time for your book to get some traction. Allow at least 90 days to get reviews and gain exposure.
  3. If your settings are real places, set up library and bookstore events there. Or find a similar setting and compare them, and target their local media.
  4. Call radio stations weeks ahead to set up phone interviews.
  5. Set up virtual events. For instance, if you have a book, say a YA that resonates with schools, you could do Skype events, which are very popular with schools, or Skype events for book clubs.
  6. For indie authors in general the best way to maximize exposure is to take a hard and realistic look at who your core readership is.
  7. Personal recommendations are 95 percent of books sold and are the best and most powerful marketing you can have. However, only three percent of readers will review your book without any prompting. Solution? Include back matter asking for a book review, or to contact you directly, plus a reader letter that asks for sign-ups.
  8. Send out ARCs. Amazon will be doing them soon so authors can order copies. Or send out review copies of your manuscript nicely set up like book pages when your book is 90 percent complete. Include high-profile bloggers and media.
  9. Following other authors is a terrific way to share your recommendations and network. Help big authors with launches by sharing their newest titles in your social feed. Share content, and, guess what, when it comes time for you to promote the book, they’ll be sharing your stuff too.

 

Penny told me that she loves giveaways whether you’re doing a Goodreads giveaway or an eBook promotion. As an indie author you have full control of your book’s success. How about discounts on your books? This is called ‘stacking’ and quite literally refers to the piling up of multiple promotional opportunities that are important to an indie author. Once your discount eBook price and dates are set, it doesn’t stop there. Research all the opportunities available to ensure the discount dates are seen by as many readers (and potential fans) as possible. Keep it varied and have a mix of both free and paid opportunities.

Climbing Books

‘Free’ is a bonus if you don’t have much of a marketing budget. Submit your promo to all of the free sites you can find since placement isn’t guaranteed. Remember, it’s easy on the bank account, so embrace the legwork. Paid opportunities vary in pricing but no matter what, if they charge you, you get what you pay for, so you can count on that exposure. Have a budget for every discount eBook promotion you can do, however small. For the amount of quality exposure to real readers, Penny suggests a budget of between $50-$100 if you’re doing book promotions once a quarter. As for a discount price for your book, aim for no more than $1.99 if you can’t offer it for free, Keep it at that price for five days.

sign

Marketing sites online include many to which you can submit discounted books. They include BookBub which is the Holy Grail. They are tough to get into so submit every month no matter what, because the time you do get up on that site is a different level of book marketing. Also, Free Kindle Books & Tips has a free author newsletter; other sites include Frugal Freebies; Indie Book of the Day, and StoryFinds. Paid sites include Awesome Gang that also has an interview option; Book Bassett that includes an indie author guest post; Bargain Booksy; BookGorilla; eBooksHabit for paid and free options; Digital Book Today, paid and free, and two other paid sites, Booklemur, and BookGoodies.

 

That’s an awful lot of advice from a real pro, so I shall end this blog, fellow authors, and get myself in gear to follow as much as I can. Still, I would much rather be writing my next mystery!

 

(Posted by G.B. Pool for Jill Amadio.)

A New Year, A New World by Jill Amadio

Books Pop ArtWriting a novel from the perspective of a client – hardly a fictional character, luckily  – is a matter I had not considered in depth until the week of December 15-31 when everyone was between holidays. Living alone and becoming a hermit when I have a deadline, I found myself in limbo after a wonderful Christmas dinner with friends and awaiting a New Year’s Eve party. Those six days in between when families are gathering up the torn wrapping paper and ribbon and buying champagne for December 31st, are quite welcome because I figure I can use the time to write and everyone else is still baking or returning gifts. I always open my Christmas gifts as soon as I receive them which greatly irritates one of my daughters and evokes laughter from the other.  In any event I had long trashed the ripped-off sheets of Santa paper and was back in my mesh office chair to play Solitaire.

 

The hiatus included time spent wondering why on earth I’d wasted months without working on my third mystery during which time my small press publisher went belly up, and accepting freelance assignments instead. But of course, one must keep the wolf from the door.

 

Writer Lady 2During the first week in December I signed a contract to ghostwrite a book, my 15th. A book of fiction. Now, I ghostwrote a crime novel a few years ago, and in fact it catapulted me into writing my own series after that book went into bookstores, and I continued to ghost biographies.

 

Creating a biography is one thing; creating a make-believe world envisioned by someone else is an entirely different experience, in part because they haven’t thought it through and have no idea how necessary an outline or summary is. Memoirs practically write themselves as we use interviews with the client, relatives, friends, and colleagues. Research provides descriptive settings and one-on-one tape-recorded sessions in person allow us to observe body language and behavior. Often winkling out moments of their lives that they considered irrelevant but were actually crucial to the story as a turning point can take persistence on the part of the ghostwriter.

 

Coast LighthouseGrowing up in a Cornish village at the very southern tip of the UK where fishing and shipwrecks were the main topics of conversation, as well as my mother’s hats, our fictional heroines were the young Secret Seven detectives in Enid Blyton’s books (she sold 600 million!!), and adventurous children in The Dandy and The Beano comics. We had no superheroes until Marvel came to town. Steeped in moral issues, we learned all about good and evil in the written word and illustrations, but Superman and Batman were beyond my sphere. I was considered a pragmatic child, and indeed grew up with a practical, realistic attitude.  Space travel, illusions, and magic held absolutely no interest.  To me, everything was explainable instead of an unreal figment of someone’s imagination that could not possibly actually happen, unlike the action in mysteries.

 

Then, I was offered this gig writing a sci-fi fantasy.Space City

 

Could I translate her vision into a saleable book? Sometimes memoir clients simply want a few copies printed up for their families. Others go full blast for commercial sales. This client wanted a blockbuster, sure-fire book that would top the best-seller lists instantly. She had done her homework on sci-fi and had a fascinating plot and characters. So far, so good. Then we got down to brass tacks and it turned out my pragmatism threatened to ruin the deal. I asked silly questions like, “Which pharmacy dispensed Captain America’s serum?”

Superhero

I needed explanations of how and why characters did things, I wanted backstory and detail. I found it simply too difficult to enter her world and believe in it enough to write it. I’d ghosted books for a nuclear-physicist, an Olympic athlete, an arborist, and sundry others but, alas, dipping my toe into a world where I had to suspend belief took two weeks to accept and almost ruined Christmas. But, like all authors, I turned to research, picked myself up and dug into the story, and now I am enjoying exploring this new world of fantasy. Who knew? Come on down, Batman!

Robo Man

A WRITER’S CHRISTMAS IN CALIFORNIA by Jill Amadio

EnglandWhile the wildfires raged north of Los Angeles and Sacramento, the state capital, and tens of thousands were required to evacuate their threatened homes with little assurance as to when they could return, I longed to be home for Christmas. By home, I mean Cornwall, specifically St. Ives where my dance teacher mother presented pantomimes and my father dispensed medications for the local chemist and played the lead in The Emperor’s New Clothes. The holiday was usually subdued compared to the frantic, joyful goings-on across the pond, with only a few presents, and nothing like the Christmas gift of a handgun a Wisconsin glassware company is giving each employee.

Television

 

Here, the telly has turned into a Christmas monster, hawking gifts, edibles, and anything else to which the word Christmas can be attached. The commercials are relentless and have been so since August. One TV channel has been broadcasting movies for the past three months with the yuletide holiday theme overshadowing Thanksgiving, which I grudgingly celebrate because I love turkey stuffing and gravy.

 

Some Christmas cards one can buy in Southern California are localized with illustrations of Santa Claus sunbathing on the beach attended by bikini-clad maidens wearing little else but white fur-trimmed Santa hats. The idea is to mail such cards to friends and relatives suffering from the cold. I once received a rather rude thank-you note in response that sympathized with my having to celebrate in such an un-Christmas-like climate as Orange County, and asking me not to remind them of my sun and sand in the future.

 

fruitcake

For my December 25th Grand Meal dessert I buy Christmas pudding and brandy-soaked fruit cake at the Indian grocery shop down the road. They sell clotted cream, scones, Marmite, Bisto, and many other British products. I tried what they call a Cornish pasty. Nothing like mother made. But the cream is imported in small glass jars from Devon and is delicious.

 

BoxThere’s a big sales push on by a Nebraska company that ships a very large white foam polystyrene box filled with prime steaks, hamburgers, chops, and roasts packed in dry ice. What does all this have to do with my current job of finishing up my next mystery? Well, these gifts save a lot of time in the kitchen, and the box I received from a friend who decided I was a starving writer is large enough when empty, I realized once I’d transferred the food to the freezer, to hold a small body or bits of one.  The top fits tightly and is leak-resistant, leading to the assumption that any blood will remain inside. The U.S. post office is used to accepting and mailing all sorts of odd-shaped packages and this one passes muster whatever it may contain except for petrol, pot, explosives, and ammunition.

 

Dozens of authors have been writing Christmas mysteries since last spring and one can see the results of their intellectual labors at online bookshops as well as in brick-and-mortar buildings that devote several shelves to the kind of killings the holy holiday can inspire. Aside from the bakery, and dog and cat Noel cozies, some titles are clever, such as How the Finch Stole Christmas by Donna Andrews, and Christmas Stalkings, several stories collected by Charlotte MacLeod.  In fact I counted ten other Christmas Stalkings titles before giving up on Amazon’s lengthy list on its site.  Other holiday titles include Every Vampire’s Christmas Wish by M.L. Guida, and a collection of yuletide thrillers by Edgar Wallace and Arthur Conan Doyle. Lee Child’s A Christmas Scorpion continues as a best-seller. Meanwhile, mistletoe, the three wise men, the guiding star, and reindeer haven’t escaped being borrowed for the holiday and are included in several titles by authors such as P.D. James, Shelley Coriell, Anthony Litton, and Lena Bourne.

 

Christmas cracker

I’m a bit surprised that traditional Christmas crackers haven’t emerged as a themed title because these English table decorations offer so many possibilities for the inclusion of small body parts such as fingernails, eyelashes, or a hank of hair into the cracker’s middle section. I know one can remove the gift already included because as children my brother and I often did so when no one was looking. If we didn’t think it was worth keeping we’d slip it back in and try another cracker.

 

I wish everyone a Happy Holiday and a wonderful New Year.

AUTHOR NEWSLETTERS AND THE NEED TO REACH READERS by Jill Amadio

HandshakeHow important are newsletters to authors?  Some complain about the time spent writing them and maintaining their content, but readers appear to be experiencing a desire to bond personally with authors they read, and with privacy practically a thing of the past fans clamor for details of a writer’s life.

Letters A few authors still take the old-fashioned route for visibility and reach readers via print, then use e-newsletters to drive traffic to their Web site or blog, and vice versa. I interviewed a couple of bestselling writers a while ago about their newsletters. Thriller mega-author Dean Koontz considers himself a traditionalist as far as promotion goes and is one of the more reclusive of writers. He has never done a national book tour.

“I keep publicity to a minimum and try to reserve my work time for writing rather than for promotion,” he said.

Nevertheless, Koontz has both an online newsletter and one that he home-brews himself. “Useless News” is how he describes his seasonal printed newsletter (Spring, Summer, Holidays) and, indeed, that is its title. He goes on to declare in the sub-title: “but you’re on the mailing list, and there’s nowhere to hide.”

Snail MailHe’s happy that talented people at Bantam, his publishing house, produce his e-newsletter and send it floating into cyberspace where computers grab it for those who‘ve signed up. “I don’t know much about digital marketing”, he admits.   But the snail-mail version is created by Koontz and his assistants at home, one suspects in his Southern California kitchen but actually he has an entire wing of his house, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, devoted to work.

Both versions of Koontz’s newsletter contain glad tidings about upcoming books but the print version is packed with more personal pieces about his travels, home life with his dog, sources of inspiration, and two pages filled with answers to questions from readers. Given away to the 25,000 people or so who have asked for it, it’s obviously a labor of love. The postage costs alone to so many recipients around the world must be astronomical but he enjoys the hands-on task of creating the informal eight-pager whose back page invariably bears a photo of Anna, his golden retriever.

“We let readers know when a new book is coming but otherwise the purpose of the snail-mail thing is to have fun, evoke a few smiles from readers, and thank them for their loyalty,” he said.

But does Koontz’s author newsletter work as a marketing tool for this world-famous writer? “Not so that I can tell,” he said”.

World InternetSara Paretsky told me she began her e-newsletter after she’d published 14 novels. Readers fell in love with her private eye, V.I. Warshawski, and wrote enough fan mail for her to build a large mailing list.  A box on her Web site is provided for people to sign up. Because she has about three times the Facebook followers as she does for her newsletter subscribers she also directs FB readers to her latest newsletter.

“With the newsletter I wanted to expand the number of ways that I could connect with readers,” she said. “Any time someone writes to me I add their name to my list. My blog and newsletter have very different content. I don’t write either very often but the newsletter tends to be more specific to events in my publishing life – tour dates, book synopses, or contests”.

Unlike Koontz, though, Paretsky enjoys electronic communication. She Facebooks frequently and her page is especially well read by fellow authors. She posts about her family, her friends, feelings, and trips, and she replies to comments. Both her Facebook page and blog are informal and friendly. They often feature photos of her golden retriever, Capo – obviously the preferred breed of famous scribes. Readers are interested in anecdotes about her writing life, she said, and are fascinated by her physicist husband’s (Courtenay Wright) history, and her dog stories. She appreciates and values most the reader responses that show her work has touched their hearts.

As a marketing tool she doesn’t find a newsletter particularly important but agrees it can be useful for those who work the Web more than she does.  Terry Ambrose, a former skip tracer and author of a thriller series, is more forceful in his opinion. He considers author newsletters to be nothing more than blatant self-promotion.

Internet Friends World “The better solution is to provide value to the reader,” he said. “My e-newsletter is called The Snitch and talks about how to avoid scams as well as a little about my writing news. Authors should find subjects that readers like to read about, and make it the primary focus. Your books should feature secondarily most of the time.”

Generous as always about sharing her expertise, Sara Paretsky provided a few tips for newsletter writers:

  1. If you send out too many they are really annoying to the recipients.
  2. The most important part of my list are the overseas readers. Facebook doesn’t always allow international readers to join in the kind of simple contests I run, so I always set those up in my newsletters as well.
  3. Keep to a regular but not too frequent schedule. Include pictures. Keep the stories short.
  4. If I am writing about a new book I include a link to my web site where someone who wants more information or a sample chapter can go.
  5. If you receive an award or honor, mention it in your newsletter but don’t be fake humble or overly vain!