“Write What You Know” : An Author’s Experience of Living in Africa

by Guest Author, Victoria Tait

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A common piece of advice given to school children and new authors alike is “Write what you know”.  But many established authors dismiss the principle.  Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, told The New York Times, “One of the dumbest things you were ever taught was to write what you know.   Because what you know is usually dull.”

So where does an aspiring writer begin?  Unlike most authors, I had no lifelong desire to write a book and only considered it as a potential career two years ago.  We moved back to the UK from Kenya so my husband could begin training for his next military posting in Sarajevo, in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  I realised that as I didn’t speak Bosnian, and the country had a high unemployment rate, I was unlikely to find a job.

Further, as a family we would be moving around the UK, and potentially the world, for at least the next eight years.  I needed to keep myself busy and engaged, but not with a physical business like the farm shop I had set up in Kenya.  My new venture needed to be portable and flexible to work around the demands of my family.

I first considered writing as a method to convey the incredible experience I’d had living in Kenya, in Eastern Africa.  I’m not sure if moving to Kenya or returning to the UK was more of a culture shock.  In Kenya I’d become used to a way of life lived at a slower pace, with no judgement of what people wore or what car they drove, and far less emphasis on the material side of life.

Giraffe samburuIn Africa, the first priority is to survive and so each day, and certainly every birthday, is celebrated.  After that come friendships and community and, of course, enjoying the glorious sunshine, fantastic scenery and amazing wildlife that Kenya is famous for.

P.D. James wrote in her “10 Tips for writing novels” for the BBC, “You absolutely should write about what you know.  There are all sorts of small things that you store up and use, nothing is lost as a writer.  You have to learn to stand outside yourself.  All experience, whether it is painful or whether is is happy is somehow stored up and sooner or later it’s used.”

My Kenya Kanga Mystery Series is set in Nanyuki, a small market town three hours north of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.   It is dominated by the often snow-capped Mount Kenya which, at over 17,000 ft, is the second highest mountain in Africa.  This is where I lived for six years, and it’s the perfect setting for a cozy mystery series.

Mkt St SceneIn my books I’ve used actual locations, such as Dormans, a town centre coffee shop and a hub of gossip, and the relaxed garden location of Cape Chestnut restaurant.  Other places, such as the Mount Kenya Resort and Spa, are recognisable as being based on real settings which I’ve altered to suit my stories.

Small towns in cozy mystery series can develop the “Cabot Cove” syndrome; if Cabot Cove existed in real life it would top a number of categories of the FBI’s national crime statistics. 

To avoid this phenomenon, I themed the second and subsequent books around actual events.  These include an important elephant focused wildlife summit, a 4×4 off-road charity event in the Maasai Mara and, in the book I am releasing in May, a marathon in a UNESCO World Heritage wildlife reserve.

Elephant Mother & Child PuddleA sense of place is important to me and my writing.  Has a certain smell or the call of a bird transported you back to a memorable location? I try to convey the smells, sounds and sights of the individual settings and it does help that I’ve visited most of them.  And if I haven’t, as P.D. James said, I can use snippets of other places that I have stored up to successfully create them.

The characters are another aspect of my books which I’ve developed as I’ve expanded my writing craft.  Mama Rose is based on an incredible friend of mine, now in her 80s, who is a community vet, a staunch catholic and a member of various committees.  The help and assistance she has given, and continues to provide, those less fortunate than herself can not be fully conveyed in my books. But is it important to recognise, and remember, that there are still people who put others before themselves and work for what is morally right and just in life.

The other characters have developed from meeting people and observing situations in Kenya: the interaction of customers and stall holders at the local vegetable market, street sellers trying to persuade tourists and visitors to buy their wares, and the ability of a charismatic priest to captivate his audience in a town centre park.

A snippet I have woven into one of my books occurred when I took my young children to mitumba; a large jumble sale of donated thrift clothes, and other items, from first world countries which are shipped to Kenya and sold in makeshift markets.

Mitumba 3Two raggedly dressed, and shoeless, children tentatively approached our car holding out their hands in a begging gesture.  I remembered two squares of jam sandwich which my boys hadn’t eaten.  I handed the pieces to the children expecting them to stuff them into their mouths, but instead they just stood and waited.   Slowly they were joined by a group of similarly attired children, and those who had the sandwiches carefully divided them up until every child had a small morsel to eat. 

This was an incredibly humbling experience.  So perhaps it is not necessarily “write what you know” but “write what you feel”. After all, as writers we strive to elicit an emotional response in our readers’ minds.

Finally, Dan Brown said, “You should write something that you need to go and learn about.”  As writers we do need to expand our knowledge, and understanding, and researching is one of my favourite area in the writing process.  I have learnt so much more about Kenya than I knew, or understood, when I lived there.

RHINO CHARGERhino Charge, my third book, has many Kenyan Indian characters.  It evolves around events at a 4×4 vehicle off-road event which is popular amongst the Kenyan Indian community.  Whilst I had Indian friends, I wasn’t aware of how, or why, their ancestors had settled in Kenya.  Researching this aspect of the Kenyan culture was fascinating.  I learnt that Indians came to Kenya with the British and supported the creation of the East African Protectorate, which became Kenya, as clerks, accountants and police officers.

Two and a half thousand Indian labourers died during the construction of the Mombasa to Uganda railway line, including those killed by the infamous man-eating lions of Tsavo.  The rupee was the first currency used in the colony which was ruled using an extension of Indian law.  On the 22nd July 2017, President Kenyatta officially recognised the Indian community as the 44th tribe of Kenya.  Researching and learning this extended my knowledge and increased the depth of Rhino Charge.

Not all authors are luckily enough to live in extraordinary locations such as Kenya, or Bosnia and Herzegovina, but small towns still have their own customs and query characters. 

I’m currently planning my next series which will be set in areas of the UK I have lived in and visited. The theme is antiques, of which I have no knowledge.  I enjoyed, and was fascinated by, auctions which I attended on my return to the UK, to buy furniture for our house.  And I observed some fantastic people for the basis of my characters.  I’ll research collectibles, antiques and related crimes to build interesting stories with “can’t put down” plots.

Mostar, HerzigovinaWhen I can finally move freely around Sarajevo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, I will begin researching for a future series.  I’ve already discovered that everyone here has a story to tell from the devastating war and various sieges, including the longest in modern history in Sarajevo.  As I search for potential locations, characters and stories my attention will be more focused as I learn to observe and record even the smallest incidents.  Who knows what snippets will make into future books.

 

Author Links

You can find Victoria at https://www.victoriatait.com/ or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/VictoriaTait

Blog/News: https://victoriatait.com/news/

GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20373879.Victoria_Tait

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/vataitauthor/

Purchase Links – Amazon – B&N – Kobo – 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JH

Things native english speakers know….

…but don’t KNOW they know!

Ajectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-color-orgin-material-purpose Noun.  So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you will sound like a maniac. 

It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list. But almost none of us could write it out. And as size comes before color, green great dragons can’t exist.

Try it in your own writing. Check out your most recent book, or the book lying nearest to you right now. It’s a phenomanon!

Green dragon yard hanging.

 

 

Two Murders in One Book: A Story-Within-a-Story

by V.M. (Valerie) Burns

Each book in my Mystery Bookshop Mystery series features a story-within-a-story. My protagonist, Samantha Washington and her late husband, Leon, dreamed of quitting their jobs and owning a mystery bookshop. When her husband dies, Samantha realizes life is too short not to follow your dreams. So, she quits her job, buys the building she and Leon always dreamed about, and opens a mystery bookshop. Owning a bookshop that specializes in mysteries was a dream Sam shared with her husband. However, she also had another dream. She dreamed of writing British historic cozy mysteries, which she does to fill her time after her husband’s death. Each book in the Mystery Bookshop mystery series includes two mysteries, the mystery that Sam is solving in her real life and the British historic cozy mystery that she’s writing.

People often ask, what inspired me to write a story-within-a-story. The truth is this series didn’t start out that way. When I first started to flesh out the idea for the series, my initial plan was that the only murders would take place in the book that my protagonist was writing. I didn’t plan on having Sam solve a murder in her personal life at all. This is where I got the title for the first book, THE PLOT IS MURDER. My theory was that it would be more realistic that way and I wouldn’t have dead bodies littering the streets of the small fictional town of North Harbor, Michigan. However, I wondered if mystery readers would be satisfied with that. Then, I had my eureka moment. What if, I had two mysteries? The protagonist would solve a mystery in her life AND there would also be a murder to solve in the book she was writing. As a mystery lover, I thought that would be a book I would want to read. As an author, I wondered, what was I thinking? It’s hard enough to write one mystery. How was I going to write two?

I tackled the task of writing two mysteries in every book the same way you eat an elephant—one bite at a time. When I started, I didn’t have an elaborate plan (or much of a plan at all). I knew I wanted parallels between my two storylines. My thought was that writing the British historic cozy would help my protagonist (Samantha) solve the mystery in her real life. So, if Sam was faced with a locked room mystery, then there would be a locked room mystery in the book she was writing. 

Another common question I get is whether I write the stories separately or simultaneously. For me personally, I write in sequence. I have friends who can write scenes out of order. However, I can’t do that. I have to write in order. Occasionally, I get stuck (it might be more than occasionally) and I have to move forward and come back and finish a scene later, but that’s about all I can do out of sequence. It’s probably just a personal quirk (I’ve got quite a few). 

My best advice for writing, whether it’s a story-within-a-story, a stand-alone, a series, short story, whatever, is to figure out what works for you and do that. Writing isn’t a one size fits all activity. Just because one method works for one person, doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. Each person and each writer is different. Writing a book from beginning to end is hard. Don’t make it harder on yourself by trying to be someone else. Also, keep in mind that everyone doesn’t like the story-within-a-story concept. I’ve heard from readers who found it distracting and have told me they skip the British historic cozy. I’ve also heard from readers who prefer the British historic cozy over the contemporary mystery. Every person is different with their own unique likes and dislikes. It will be impossible to please everyone. As a writer, all you can do is focus on writing the best book you possibly can. Keep your fingers crossed. With perseverance, hard work, and a great deal of luck, your dreams can come true, just like Samantha Washington.

Tourist Guide to Murder_TRD

While visiting the land of Miss Marple and Sherlock Holmes, bookstore owner and amateur sleuth Samantha Washington finds herself on a tragical mystery tour . . .
 
Sam joins Nana Jo and her Shady Acres Retirement Village friends Irma, Dorothy, and Ruby Mae on a weeklong trip to London, England, to experience the Peabody Mystery Lovers Tour. The chance to see the sights and walk the streets that inspired Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle is a dream come true for Sam—and a perfect way to celebrate her new publishing contract as a mystery author.
 
But between visits to Jack the Ripper’s Whitechapel district and 221B Baker Street, Major Horace Peabody is found dead, supposedly of natural causes. Despite his employer’s unfortunate demise, the tour guide insists on keeping calm and carrying on—until another tourist on their trip also dies under mysterious circumstances. Now it’s up to Sam and the Shady Acres ladies to mix and mingle among their fellow mystery lovers, find a motive, and turn up a murderer . . .

You can read more about Samantha Washington in the other Mystery Bookshop Mysteries.

THE PLOT IS MURDER

READ HERRING HUNT

THE NOVEL ART OF MURDER

WED, READ, AND DEAD

BOOKMARKED FOR MURDER

Purchase Link

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About the author

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V.M. (Valerie) Burns was born and raised in Northwestern Indiana. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Dog Writers Association of America, Thriller Writers International, Southeast Mystery Writers of America, and is on the national board for Sisters in Crime. V.M. Burns is also the Agatha Award nominated author of The Plot is Murder, the first book in the Mystery Bookshop Mystery series; and the RJ Franklin Mystery series. She now lives in Eastern Tennessee with her two poodles. Readers can keep up with new releases by following her on social media.

Website: http://www.vmburns.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vmburnsbooks/

Instagram: https//www.instagram.com/vmburnsbooks

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/v-m-burns

 

This article was posted for V. M. Burns by Jackie Houchin.

 

Challenge Yourself to Read 100 Books THIS Year!

Yep, 100 books!  That’s what I read in 2020 and I hope to duplicate in 2021. I have a few secrets and methods I’ll share.  One of the best helps I can suggest if you want to give it a try, is to join a Reading Challenge on Facebook. There are many out there, and I’ve joined three for this year. They keep you inspired, and they help you with choices.

Reading in the Dryer. a51880cb8ed871ed003cd9eab01b33ff The 52 Book Club (formerly, The 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge)

I found this one last year in February, and had fun reading in the 52 prompts that founder Liz Mannegren listed, and then posting the titles (and covers, if you wish) on the Facebook page .  For instance, which books would YOU read in such categories as; #3 – By an Indigenous Author? or #6 – Written in the 1970’s?  or #40 – Used on the Mensa reading list for grades 9-12?  or #48 – A Character who wears glasses?

For those prompts, I chose Whitefly, by Abdelilah Hamdouchi, Kindred, by Octavia Butler (recently deceased), Nine Taylors by Dorothy Sayers, and Andi Unexpected by Amanda Flower, respectively.  All excellent books, the first two I wouldn’t have read if not for the challenge. So glad I did.

Two very difficult ones for me to find and read were: #50 An Author You Previously Disliked, and #51 A Genre You don’t care for.  I chose a 30-page children’s book by James Patterson (the shortest I could find), and a sports book that turned out to be excellent, The Boys in A Boat by Daniel James Brown. (Think  Chariots of Fire.)

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Among this year’s 52 prompts are:  #3 – A dual timeline, #17 – A character on the run, #19 – Book with a Deckled edge (Huh??), #24 – A book you think they should read in schools, #27 – First chapter ends on an “odd” page (harder to find than you think!), #35 – Set in a Country that starts with the Letter “S,” and #48 – A cover with a woman facing away.

Fun, huh? I bet you thought of books YOU would choose just like that!

A few difficult prompts for me to settle on this year are; #14 – Written by an author over 65 when first published (I hope to get the guy I chose as a WinR Guest later in the year!), #15 – A book mentioned in another book, #18 – An author with a 9-letter last name, #31 – Shares a similar title to another book, and #49 – A flavor in the title. (I chose Naomi Hirahara’s Strawberry Yellow.)  By the way, I chose another of Naomi’s books, Clark and Davidson (to be released in August) for the #26 prompt – An author of color.

One more prompt that everyone on the Facebook group found difficult was #8 – A book in the 900’s of the Dewey Decimal System.  Yikes!  After several librarians commented about geography, history, and biography, I eventually chose the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

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Liz Mannegren announced this year’s new prompts (categories) on November 30, 2020, and wow, did the group go crazy!  Suggestions and questions flew back and forth. By mid-December, most everyone had settled on the books they wanted to read.  BUT… now was the hard part. Reading was not supposed to commence until January 1st.

So…hard…to…wait.

Liz solved the “terrible itch to read” problem with giving the group a Mini-Challenge just for December. Three books with the Prompts: books about or with these words in the title – Light, Holiday, and Snow.  Pretty easy to find. I used a couple short stories (Jacqueline Vick’s The Christmas-s-s Party for one, and two beautiful Children’s books, which I then gave as Christmas presents.)

The Mini-Challenge prompts for February (she does this every other month for speed readers) are: A book with a red spine, a book related to the word “magical” and a book with a great platonic relationship (can be with a favorite pet). I’ve gotten three books picked out, whether I’ll get to reading them this month, I’m not sure. (They can be extra reading, or books in the current 52-book challenge.)

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Okay, I’ve hinted at a “method” or “secret” I use to read 100 books.  I simply read some of the prompts in Children’s or Middle-grade books (which I enjoy anyway, and which usually end up as gifts or put into my Little Free Library).  They are usually shorter and take less time to read.  Also, in this “secret” is that I occasionally read short stories. (Confession: the challenge likes the books to be 100+ pages, but I don’t always do that. See bottom of next paragraph.)

Here’s something else I did. I found a book for last year’s #18 prompt – A book written by Stephen King (not going to read!) by Googling other authors by that name and finding a delightful Children’s book by “Stephen Michael King.”  Cheating? Nope. Over and over, you hear “It’s YOUR challenge, so YOUR choice” when people ask if they can use a certain book for a category.

And… another cool thing that’s done is that parents and children are doing the challenge as well. Older kids read in their age books while a parent reads in theirs. Or, busy moms of little ones do the challenge by reading children’s books in each prompt ALOUD to their kids.

One note: The 52 Book Club is a private group (to keep out spammers and such) but anyone can join at any time.  Here’s the link to join.  You can find the list of prompts, and even suggestions for each one.

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  1. The 2021 Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge.

This one is easy, and you can use books you read in other Challenges.  Simply read a book with the first main word of the BOOK TITLE (OR do it with the Author’s LAST NAME) for every letter in the alphabet. They discount the prefixes “A” or The” etc.  The letters “Q  X and Z can be found anywhere in the title (or name).  It’s a public group, anyone can join at any time. There are three moderators who keep a lookout for off color posts.

Founder, Lori Boness Casswell also suggests a one-book Mini-Challenge each month. For January it was, a book about or in the title: COLD. In February it is: LOVE.

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  1.  The Literary Escapes Reading Challenge.

Another easy one founded by Lori Casswell. You read books that are set in each of the 50 states. You can also do countries as well. And again, they can overlap with other challenges.

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So you see, by reading in these challenges (with my secrets & methods, and, okay, “cheats”), plus the ARCs I get for review, AND my books for pleasure, it is easy to read ONE HUNDRED books.  Don’t worry about “the time” just pick up a book and read.   And, if you review the books on Goodreads or Amazon, the authors will love you.

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Comics from Bookbub blog

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An Interview with CeeCee James

[In a conversation with CeeCee, she made this statement, “It’s funny how each of my stories is an evolution in my own writing.”  It intrigued me, so I asked her to explain how that worked in her mind and her writing. She graciously agreed.]

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Hi, everyone. I’m CeeCee James, a cozy mystery writer. I have seven series out at the moment (that number kind of surprises me!) Each one has a slightly different flavor.

How did I write so many different series? It boils down to the fact that journeys are important to me. We’re all on one, right? I find people’s stories so fascinating. It’s why I used to love sitting in a coffee shop or at the mall and people watch. And what I see inspires me to write. I wish I could tell more!

I also draw on my own personal struggles, short-comings, and victories. I had a rocky childhood. I moved all the time, spent some time in foster care, and went to quite a few different schools. I think, more than anything, that fueled my desire to write as well. My characters are always based on fiction, but I like to think they’re relatable in what they go through. I usually only have a vague idea of who they are when I first start writing my characters, and as I write their story I see where they’re going to lead me.

So far my characters have taken me on quite the adventure! Angel Lake Mysteries was my first cozy mystery series and centers around new beginnings. Elise Pepper learns a lot about herself—how to be independent and confident—and it was an apt journey for me at the time.

After that, I explored the curiosities of hotel life with my Oceanside Hotel Mysteries. Maisie Swenson and her mom crack me up. They have a fun relationship, and Maisie is a smart woman.

From there, I moved to my Baker Street Mysteries where I delved into melding American Revolutionary history with mystery with my darling tour guide, Georgie Tanner.

Cirque de Slay. good 516T4-PSPiLThe writing journey took a turn for me, and I wrote a short story Circus series,* starting with Cirque De Slay. Trixie was my evolutionary step into deeper thoughts as she overcame some serious insecurities. She’s a trooper. Is it weird to say she inspired me to be stronger as well?

This brought me to the Flamingo Realty Mysteries where Stella O’Neil navigates through some relationship complexities in her family. This series was also my first to merge with another one as the characters of Baker Street play a big part, and even Maisie Swenson and her Momma make an appearance in the last book.

From there I moved on to Chelsea in the Mooved to Murder series. This series also has the biggest funny side. I had a great time with Chelsea. A city girl, she’s roped into watching her friends’ pets, only to find out too late the exact nature of these pets. I laughed so hard during many of those scenes.

Tall Tails. 51V73wR6tJL

Now I’m on my newest, The Secret Library Mysteries, beginning with the Tall Tails Secret Book Club. This book catches the flavor of the mysterious mansion and peculiar people back in Mind Your Manors, which I always wanted to return to and explore.

Phew! Now you know my writing road map and how ideas come to me. I’m not one to plan out my books, more of a “fly by the seat of my pants” writer rather than an outliner. I’ve tried to do outlines because I know how other authors have great success with them. Not for me. They’re the biggest road block. Now I just accept how my mind creates and go with it.

I love writing. I can’t imagine too many other careers that are as rewarding, and I feel blessed I’ve been able to realize a childhood dream to be able to share my stories with others. I appreciate everyone who reads them!

My favorite cozy mysteries always have a dash of humor, maybe a tinge of romance, animals, and tons of friendship. There are always a few of my favorite pups, and a kitten or two. I love the small town feel with a hint of juicy gossip and friendly relationships that comes with it. I also love good food and my characters love it too! That’s why a bunch of my mysteries include free recipes.

I have a few published in Large Print paperback and as audio books.

One of my favorite places to write is curled up this fat oversized chair I found on sale someplace, with a cup of coffee. Usually there are dogs sleeping by my feet, or in the chair with me where somehow, they double in size to hog up all the space. 🙂

CeeCee. Ghost. 51U7Z+NMrGL

Writing has been a lifelong passion of mine. My first published work is nonfiction: Ghost No More; a True Story of Escape. Most of all I love writing about the celebration of life.

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CeeCee James is a USA Today bestselling author who first started this writing world as a kid and continued on with bedtime stories for her own kids. She has a few mystery series –the Baker Street Mysteries, Angel Lake Cozy Mysteries, Flamingo Realty, Oceanside Hotel mysteries and more! She loves creating new worlds and puzzling through cozy murder mysteries. Her favorite sleuths are curious, kind, and a bit flawed. But they all learn that being flawed isn’t being broken, and that’s a life lesson she works on for herself.

CeeCee’s web site

Facebook author page

This was posted for CeeCee James by Jackie Houchin

Marketing our Mysteries

by Jill Amadio

Marketing our mysteries is probably one of the least preferred tasks on our to-do list but it is crucial if we wish for success and sales. I truly dislike having to hawk my books and with so many different avenues than ever from which to choose, the effort becomes far more onerous than ever. But with writers’ conferences shut down and virtual meetings on the rise I found time to think about how to increase my book sales.

Five Guides

In isolation, I decided to buckle down and educate myself further about book promoti0on, buying five guides to add to the two I already own which are The Frugal Book Promoter by Carolyn Howard Johnson, and Red Hot Internet Publicity by Penny Sansevieri.  I must confess I barely cracked open either of them but added them to five new books from amazon:  The Tao of Book Publicity by Paula MarguliesHow I Sold 80,000 Books by Alinka  Rutkowska, Marketing Books on Amazon by Rob EagarBook Marketing…Reinvented by Bryan Heathman, and another by Penny updated in 2019., titled 5-Minute Book Marketing for Authors. Naturally there are overlaps in all of these guidance books, some of them explained well with detail and others just glossed over. I offer my opinions herewith.

Five Minutes?

The 5-Minute book intrigues me the most. Five minutes? That’s just 30 minutes spread over a six-day week. Surely we can all handle that. Packed not only with advice on how to promote, Sansevieri includes a generous selection of web sites to contact after each point she makes. For example, to promote eBooks Penny presents dozens of free sites where you can list your book, as well as sites on Twitter worth notifying. She also  has several advice sections on how to use amazon’s author page, book page, reviews, how best to demystify amazon’s categories, key words, etc. if you self-publish with them. Her book offers the main benefits of Instagram, Pinterest, BookBub, Goodreads, Facebook, Google Alerts, blogs, and other social media, as well as creating your own newsletter for visibility.

Amazon

While on the subject of amazon, Bob Eagar’s guide focuses entirely on making the best use of the online global bookseller. He tells us how to find and understand their bestseller rankings, how to estimate your book sales, and why the rankings aid marketing efforts. Eagar also debunks a few myths about those rankings, as they change every hour of every day but at least give an idea of your sales, unlike traditional publishing houses. If there’s a spike upwards does it mean that your recent marketing campaign was effective? Or vice versa?  Your non-amazon publisher probably buys ads on the amazon site which means you can check your rankings without self-publishing with them. Is amazon advertising your book? You can find out from the site he cites in his book.

How to Sell 80,000 books

Moving on, I was eager to know how to sell 80,000 books. The author’s name alone fascinated me and I wondered who Rutkowska is. Turns out she is a bestselling USA Today and Wall Street Journal author and founder of Library Bub that connects indie authors with 10,000 libraries although you can find this list yourself online now.

A third of the book sets out interesting interviews with bestselling authors as to their promotional strategies, and Alinka shares how she sold those 80,000 books and more not only on amazon but also through online sites, bulk sales, foreign rights (there’s a service site for this), networking, and clubs. Happily, most of us are already skilled as panelists and speakers. She tells us something I never knew – that Apple is the second-largest book market player after amazon and publishes books, she says. Something also new to me, that Kobo is the second largest eBook retailer in Japan and has 3% of the market in the U.S. Is your YA plot linked to the ocean? If so, Alinka says we should contact the retail department of the cruise lines. They ordered hundreds of copies of her children’s books for their gift shops.

Selling the Sizzle

Heathman’s informal and friendly book includes branding and marketing formulas and understands the angst authors feel about the work that is necessary. He gets down quickly to the nitty-gritty of selling the sizzle, and like the other guides, talks about the various avenues available except that he adds how fortunate we are these days to have so many ways to promote our work and exactly how you approach Barnes and Noble through their CRM author signing schedule. I like his emphasis on reading local print media so you know what they are looking for regarding author interviews, and especially regarding radio. Don’t leave it up to organizations and clubs to publicize your event, get to work! However, his advice to create a daily series of social media posts sounds a bit daunting. I like Heathman’s list for getting quality book endorsements you can use for your back cover, press releases, and on your website and blog. Particularly useful is his 15 Week Book Marketing Checklist chart.

A ‘How-To’ Guide

The how-to book promotion guide I have taken a special liking to is The Tao of Publicity. Margulies directs it to beginners trying to figure out how to publicize one’s books but even those skilled at it can learn something from her pages. Like the other guides mentioned above except for Penny’s lengthier tomes, the Tao is around 145 pages but is crammed with tips, ideas, website content advice, timing your launch, Q and A questions for the media to ask, the pros and cons of a blog tour, why limiting social media sites can be a better way initially to build relationships with readers, and many other issues.  Ever heard of dashboards Hootsuite, Threadsy, and Tweetdeck to post information about your books? And make sure you take into consideration America’s different time zones.

After reading all seven guides I found something in each one that was individual enough to make a note of, writing down the page numbers. However, I am now too exhausted to figure them out.

 If you care to share, which promotional ideas bring you the most reward?  

Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

How Writing Has Become My “Virtual Vacation.”

by Author Hope Callighan

After a tumultuous 2020 (Who saw that coming??), I’ve found writing has become easier – easier for me to escape what’s going on in the world and become immersed in my characters’ worlds.

I’ve also discovered that readers are looking for an escape these days, more so now than ever before. I hear it over and over in the emails that I get.

For those of you who have never heard of me, I’m a Christian cozy mystery writer, with several published series. Most feature a mature female character who has faced some life-altering event and been forced – or decided to – start over. As each series progresses, the characters develop strong and lasting friendships and relationships.

So…if you’re a seasoned writer or just beginning, I’ll share a few tips on how I have decided what to write and then once I start, how to find my happy place so that the words flow.

I love what I write. Back in 2015, my husband and I were brainstorming one day, tossing out ideas for a new series. We came up with the idea for me to write one about a woman who became assistant cruise director on board a mega passenger cruise ship since cruising was something that we both loved.

Not long after, I released “Starboard Secrets.” After writing the first book, I was hooked. I had so much fun joining Millie, my main character, on her cruise ship adventure. That series has continued for five years with book twenty releasing a couple weeks ago.

The joys of research. Researching about cruising makes me happy and when I’m happy, the ideas flow. What better way to write a cruise ship adventure than when I’m sitting on my private balcony gazing out at the vast ocean and breathing salty sea air?

I use my own experiences. Adding my own experiences helps make my stories more authentic. Readers are smart – they pick up on that and appreciate it.

I love cruising, but I also love visiting Savannah, Georgia. Thus, the idea for my “Made in Savannah” series, which is also popular with readers.

After the third or so visit to this great city, I decided that Savannah would be the perfect location for a new set of characters and adventures.

The main character, a mobster’s wife, promises her husband on his deathbed, to get their sons out of the “family.” After his death, she discovers a key in his pocket that leads her to a property he owned in historic Savannah, Georgia.

Keeping good on her promise, she moves from New York and starts over. It’s a bumpy journey and the lead character realizes escaping her past isn’t quite that easy. Readers love learning about this unique location, her commitment to her family and they are emotionally invested in her and her children’s success.

The latest release, “Christmas Family Style” is a fan favorite – and one of this writer’s favorites, as well. It has elements of things that I love…Savannah, Christmas, family. I’m already getting emails from readers, asking when the next book will release.

What’s new? I currently have three “WIP” – works in progress. Actually, they’re the first three books in a spinoff series for my first cozy mysteries, The Garden Girls, set in the fictitious town of Belhaven, Michigan.

So…if you happened to hop off here to take a peek at my author page, you know that I have several ongoing series…four to be exact. I have devoted, die-hard readers for each and am convinced they would hunt me down if I ended any of them.

How do I successfully keep them running, keep readers buying the books and turning the pages? I’ll share a couple of my tips with you:

Be mindful of “Cookie Cutters.” If you write a series, or plan to write a series, always remember that your readers have expectations. They want to pick up your book and know what they’re getting. That’s why they bought it, right? But there can be a fine line between meeting expectations and writing cookie cutter books. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase wash, rinse, repeat – but that can be misleading, because there is SO. MUCH. MORE.)

If you write the exact same (for example) mystery story over and over – and the only thing you change is the basic mystery, the names of the suspects and the “whodunnit,” you run the risk of cookie cutter burnout – for you as the writer as well as the reader. I believe that a series needs to progress…just like life. New characters are added while others fade away. Difficult circumstances arise – divorce, death, yet the main character prevails no matter what.

If your plan is to start a new and long series, spend some time thinking about it. Where do you want to start? Where do you want the series to go? How many books do you plan to write? How will you keep the series the same – to meet readers’ expectations, yet fresh, where they’re eagerly and anxiously waiting to find out what happens next?

Be original! A few years back, the hot, new cozies were all about donuts. There were donut shop settings everywhere. After a while, the covers and stories all looked and sounded the same. I couldn’t tell one from the other.

So, be original and your work will stand out.

I’ll end with this – a piece of advice I wish I’d had before writing my very first fiction story. Keep notes, notes and more notes.

I keep copious notes on each of my series…characters, descriptions, locations, a synopsis of every story. I even track the seasons. This helps me “jump right back in” when returning to a series, so I’m not totally overwhelmed or completely lost.

It also saves me from backtracking, spending valuable time poring over previous books to track down details that are important to the story, which takes me out of the moment and makes it harder to get the creative juices flowing again.

A lot of my readers re-read my series and they read straight through from one to the next, which means I need to be on my toes with the details. This is particularly important if you write long series.

We’ve certainly faced some challenging times this year. As I write, I keep reminding myself that those words mean something to readers…to my readers. I’m helping make the world a little brighter by bringing a smile to someone’s face or have touched their heart.

Perhaps it was a Bible verse I included that struck just the right chord and encouraged someone. (I have gotten emails from readers who have told me this and let me tell you, it never fails to give me chills that God is able to use me in such an incredible way.)

My last piece of advice is to find joy in your writing, because when you love what you write, your readers will, too.

*****

If you would like to find out more about me or my books, you can find me at:

Website:  hopecallaghan.com

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/authorhopecallaghan/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Hope-Callaghan/e/B00OJ5X702/

This blog post was posted for Hope Callighan by Photojaq (Jackie Houchin)