Publicity Responsibilities versus Author Payment

An interesting article appeared in the January 2010 issue of The Writer. Author M.J. Rose suggested that book authors should be compensated for publicity duties. Since the marketing effort is no longer born by the publisher, revenues should be more equitably split.

Read what the WinRs have to say and then let us know what you think!

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Jacqueline Vick self-published her children’s book, Logical Larry. She has several mystery manuscripts making the rounds.

I hadn’t really considered this issue before, assuming that advances were destined to be spent on marketing, but Ms. Rose’s comments made me wonder if I’d been going with an outdated assumption.

Her two suggestions in the article were to allow authors to subtract marketing expenses from their book advance so they could collect royalties sooner and to give athors a highter royalty rate.

I’m a big fan of “buy in”, and if authors saw a benefit to spending those hard earned dollars on marketing (other than possible increased sales) then more authors might be effective at selling more books–a benefit to publishers.

Why not a tiered royalty system to give writers something to work for? This system has been used to incentify sales people for decades.

Would this system keep publishers from purchasing as many manuscripts? I don’t see why. There would be more opportunities to earn revenue.

That being said, publishers are in control unless an author self-publishes. If the current business plan says that authors have to cover publicity costs out of their own pocket, then those serious about a writing career will do it.  I think that’s what defines a successful person–she jumps in and does the stuff that most people complain about and avoid.

Another interesting note from the WD article (paraphrased): If you run into a musician and they’ve hired a studio and musicians and put together their own CD, you don’t automatically thinks it’s sub-par, that if it was good, he’d have signed with a label. Why is it that we assume self-published books are “unworthy?

Some of my favorite books and CD’s have been put together by the artist. I’m smart enough to flip through a book to see if I like the writing style before I buy it, and I’ve bought plenty of traditionally published books that I’ve hated. I’d rather run into a grammar error in a fabulous story than have a perfectly edited book that’s a stinker. I also don’t sneer at hand-crafted goods that aren’t mass produced and sold at department stores. I actually hold them in higher esteem.

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Jackie Houchin is a photojournalist and a book and theater critic. She has written several manuscripts, so she can give us the perspective of one who isn’t actively seeking publication but may do it in the future.

If I ever did anything with the kids’ stories (or the women’s novel) I wrote, I would DEFINITELY self publish, no if’s, and’s, or but’s, about it. That way, I would not have to deal with sharing any of my advance with the publisher over marketing strategies and profits. (Of course, I wouldn’t be getting any advance – ha-ha). Instead, I’d be able to decide just how much effort I wanted to put into the project. I definitely wouldn’t be doing it “for the money”.

Since being in the SinC and MWA organizations, I’ve heard countless authors bemoan the facts of publication:

—that it is very hard to get an agent or publisher even interested in your work…

—that it takes years to publication even after one agrees to look at your work…

—that you don’t get any money to speak of…

—that you are supposed to market yourself or at least come to them with a huge “platform” so they don’t have to do much but reap the benefits…

—that you may not get a contract for another book…

—that you may be dropped if you don’t sell as much as they like…

—that your publisher may go out of business.

It makes me wonder why anyone would want try to break into the fiction industry right now.

All this sounds depressing, I know, but that’s the reason I would go FIRST to a self publishing and/or POD method.

Of course another factor for me might also be that I’ve always worked for myself (in photography and reviewing) and could pretty well set my own parameters. 
As for your original questions, I don’t think authors have much say in what publishers do at this point. They may feel a larger advance is warranted or that they should be able to deduct marketing expenses from their advances – but that is really up to the publishers. I do feel that marketing should be a tax-deductible item…but, isn’t it already for the serious writer?

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Bonnie Schroeder has finished her first novel manuscript and is shopping it to agents.

First off, from everything I’ve read and heard, nobody earns a living off their books – except for a lucky handful of writers. My biggest gripe is the lack of attention given to new authors, but the reading public has to share the blame. Few people seem willing to invest their time and money in an unknown author not sanctioned by Oprah. Publishers make their money off superstars like King and Evanovich, and it appears from the sidelines like these writers don’t even need much marketing beyond an announcement of their next new blockbuster. It doesn’t seem fair (the “F word” in business) that these writers get free publicity that they don’t even need.

So, if I did get past all the gatekeepers and obstacles and finally sold a book and then if had to pay for my own marketing and publicity, my first question would be, what the heck is the publisher even doing for me besides (maybe) strong-arming the local Barnes & Noble into stocking a few copies of my book? I’m still looking for an answer.

However, since I guess I understand the realities of the marketplace, and since I’ve chosen to play this little game, I’d swallow my resentment and do whatever I could afford to do, to show the world what a great book I’ve written. It would then make sense that if I do a good job and work up enough interest to generate sales, that after a certain threshold (and I have NO IDEA what that would be), I’d get reimbursed for my expenses and that the publicity for the second/ third, etc. book would be covered by the publisher.

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GB Pool is the author of several short stories which have appeared in Anthologies and penned the novel Media Justice.

The End of the Buggy Whip

Fair? Who said life was fair? Or for that matter, the publishing business.

Publishing came to America around 1800. Many famous publishing houses started back then. By the end of the 19th Century there were hundreds of publishers and a smattering of writers. The vast majority of Americans worked on farms or in factories with no time to write. Today there are five major publishers still in existence, most owned by foreign enterprises, with a smattering of small publishers picking up the slack. Farms have mechanized, factories have moved to China, but now there are thousands and thousands of writers.

What used to be a hard back book business changed into a paperback and trade paperback enterprise. It’s cheaper to make those paperbacks. Then came discount stores and Amazon. Now there is Kindle and the other downloadable reading devices that don’t require paper at all. And don’t forget the self-published author. Even the few name publishing companies provide POD (print-on-demand) books.

As the changes in the publishing business hit, the revenues shifted. No longer are people buying those expensive hard cover books. The trade paperback sometimes comes out six months after the hard cover version. And the downloadable book will soon follow.

As the revenue shifted, so did the perks. Editors disappeared. Book tours and publishing house publicity vanished. (They got rid of the buggy whip, too. Want to go back to the horse and buggy?)

Publishers aren’t making the money they used to, even with the outrageous cost of those hard cover books. Most of the old publishing companies don’t exist. If you are lucky enough to get one to publish your book, show them you will go all out to help sell that book of yours. Your effort will not only help to sell more books, but your publisher will see you as a go-getter and they might be more eager to take on your second book.

With the tremendous number of would-be writers clamoring for their books to get noticed and eventually be published, it will be the writer with the skill and nerve to face those audiences and sell their book themselves who will succeed.

Welcome to the new normal.

Interview with Leigh Rubin

Anyone who’s opened the Los Angeles Times to check out the “funnies” has seen Rubes. We wanted to know about the creative process that joins images and words to make these clever, often hilarious, cartoons. Creator Leigh Rubin generously offered to spend some time with WinRs.

How did you wind up writing cartoons?

I’ve always loved to draw and had wanted to be an artist from a very young age. The first cartoon I ever drew was in kindergarten. I also enjoy a good joke and it’s especially fun making them up so if you put the two skills together you have a cartoonist. Seems like the perfect profession for someone with absolutely no other marketable skills.

As a cartoonist, you both write and illustrate. Do you come up with your commentary first or doodle until an idea strikes you?

There really is no one way. Sometimes I doodle for a bit until an idea hits me just right or I may think of a phrase or hear a comment that someone says. There’s no real magic formula. If there was I’d bottle it and make a fortune selling it to other cartoonists.

Do you consider yourself an illustrator or a writer first?

Sometimes the writing is the main challenge. I really strive to make the captions just right. They have to fit the cartoon without giving too much away and leave something to the reader’s imagination. That’s the important part to me. I want the reader to contribute something to the cartoon. That’s what makes it art. Of course, having a funny picture along with the right words can be a bit tricky but that is the fun and challenging part.
What kind of hours does a cartoonist work? Do you ever get cartoonist’s block?

You call this work? Ha! …But seriously, my boss is a real jerk. He’s not going to see this interview is he? He makes me draw at least one cartoon per day but quite often he’ll make me draw two a day because I’m often out and about the country doing my goofy cartoon presentations and speaking engagements. I am going to be hitting the road even more often this year as I have a nifty new 25th anniversary cartoon collection coming out in March so I am sure my evil boss will be working me extra hard to make sure all my cartoons are drawn before I leave town…Cartoonist’s block?…Listen, I had a colonoscopy when I turned fifty and I guarantee you, after that there wasn’t any blockage whatsoever.

You were originally self-syndicated. What does this mean?

Self-syndication means that in addition to writing and drawing you also have the opportunity to call on editors, make the sales, send out promo material, do the billing, chase down the people who don’t pay you, etc. , etc., etc. It is not for the faint of heart and I did it for the first four years of Rubes. Being self-syndicated gives you a terrific appreciation of what syndication sales reps have to do on a daily basis, only most syndicates represent many features, so the reps have many features they must know inside and out…and there’s a lot to know.

How did you become widely syndicated in newspapers? Did markets approach you after you had built up a following or did you try to get people to take a chance on you?

My first paper was the Antelope Valley Press in Palmdale, California. I had met the entertainment editor when he wrote a feature story about a book signing event I was doing. We became friends and he, as well as a couple of the other editors at the paper wanted to know if I’d like to draw a daily cartoon for them. That was my first “big” break. After I drew about one hundred cartoons I started contacting all the major, as well as some of the smaller syndicates, but they all turned me down. Looking at their reject letters now makes me laugh. I’m a firm believer in persistence. I don’t easily accept “no” for an answer, so I started calling on newspapers myself….Big papers, little papers, weeklies, college papers, it didn’t really matter. Within a year or so I had built up a client list of around 160 papers…all while I was working a full time job. I only wish I still had that kind of energy! I did have a couple of papers approach me but as my dad used to say, “Don’t wait for your ship to come in, row out and meet it.” He was right. If I hadn’t made hundreds of phone calls and sent out an equal amount of letters I’d still be standing on the dock.
You give cartoon workshops and presentations all over the country. Do you find there are a burgeoning number of cartoonists out there?

Yes, it’s amazing how many closet cartoonists are out there are of all ages. From little kids, to teens to adults and that includes senior citizens. People really do love cartoons and cartooning and not just for financial reasons. They enjoy the fun of just being creative for the sake of being creative, which is absolutely wonderful.

Are the markets shrinking for cartoonists as they are for writers?
The newspaper market has definitely shrunk. There used to be many two or more newspapers towns but those days are gone. Still, newspapers will be around for a long time and with the internet it’s wide open. The trick will be to see how to get paid for your writing and cartooning on the internet. Some people have figured that out and I am certain that there will be new avenues that no one has even thought of yet to make a living writing and cartooning so I do remain optimistic.

If someone wanted to get into cartooning, what advice would you give them?
Stay in school, study hard, become a doctor or a lawyer because I don’t need the competition!

What’s up next for you?

I’ll be hitting the road in a week or so bringing the Rubes cartoony show to San Antonio. In between private speaking engagements I have lots of public events lined up. With the new book, The Wild and Twisted World of Rubes coming out this March it will be extra fun. It’s wonderful sharing laughs and connecting with a live audience. Nothing beats being a sit down comedian.

Thank you so much! You can pre-order The Wild and Twisted World of Rubes at Amazon, and you can learn more about Leigh at his website.

Interview with Professional Coaches Tony and Andrea Voirin

Tony and Andrea Voirin are the professional coaches behind AVA Coaching , a company dedicated to assisting clients in finding the tools and practices they need to move toward success and remain focused on their goals.

I had the opportunity to work with Tony on my writing career. I was stuck. With a plate filled with projects and an aversion to marketing my work, I had difficulty organizing my time and making concrete steps forward. Tony helped me to recognize my blocks and find ways to overcome them. Since working with him, I’ve placed several short stories and articles, have a serious marketing plan for three completed manuscripts, and am putting the finishing touches on a fourth.

At first I thought my problem was organization. If I could only get my paper piles under control, I’d have several published novels! Coaching helped me see that my ineffectiveness had more to do with my values and commitments–something I’d never considered. Clarity came in small steps, but boy, did it make a difference!

I admit I first thought that professional coaching was created for people with a certain self-help mindset. I’m a pragmatic Mid-Westerner, and this sounded like an introspective celebrity-type trend. But Tony was born in the US and Andrea hails from Germany, and you will see they embrace the same coaching concepts. And since the client brings her own values to the process, it can work for anyone. It’s an exciting process, and one I wanted to share with other writers, but I’ll let the experts explain how it works! Welcome Tony and Andrea!

You’re both professional coaches. What exactly are you coaching people through (besides authors trying to be more effective)? Weight loss?

Andrea: Most of my clients wanted to make changes in their life-style – meaning – going to bed earlier, working out more, drinking less, eating healthy, working less and sometimes the plan includes a weight loss. A very common topic that I coach my clients around are relationships. How can they be improved, how can they handle difficult conversations or conflict, etc.

Tony: I predominantly work with people taking on large projects or change and people having difficulty balancing their personal and professional life. Some examples are a person having difficulty completing their doctoral dissertation, a newly graduated student trying to start her own chiropractic clinic, an author wanting to focus her efforts and a surgeon wanting to improve the quality of his family life.

When I first heard of professional coaches, it brought to mind an analyst or a bully! What is a professional coach?

Andrea: A professional coach has had professional training and is holding a certification. Coaching is a profession that is not regulated yet. If I were to hire a coach, I would make sure that they had formal training, are holding a certification and belong to one of the professional organizations, like the ICF (International Coach Federation) and have some references.

Coaching is non-therapeutic and therefore no threat for counselors and therapists. There is a place for all of them. Coaching is about setting goals and having someone assist you in figuring out what your barriers are and how to overcome them, so you can reach your goals. A coach’s perspective is to hold their clients as capable. There is no need to “fix” the client.

People say I give great advice. Does that qualify me to be a personal coach?

Andrea: Coaches do not give advice! In fact, giving advice, if you think about it, leaves the client possibly thinking that they are not capable of handling a situation themselves. As a coach, you pre-suppose that your client is whole, healthy and complete and perfectly capable. Advice should only be given with permission – and that counts for everyone.

Tony: Coaching assumes that you are the expert of your own life. You know better than anyone how things work in your life. My advice comes from my view of the world which includes my past experience, objectives and values. A coach works to assist the client in coming up with their own best “advice”.

As someone who is undergoing the coaching process, I’ve already seen marked results. When I make a discovery that moves me forward, it seems so obvious in hindsight. Couldn’t you just tell me what to do? My career could move much faster that way!

Andrea: This is very simple. What works for me, might not work for you. You have all the answers within you. It usually makes the client also feel a lot better if they come up with their own solutions.

Tony: Trouble is that before going through the coaching process with my client, I wouldn’t know what to tell you. Each coaching call is truly a discovery process. Coaches are trained to “peel the onion” by asking the client powerful questions.

Are you ever tempted to “lead” your client to the right answers?

Andrea: Yes! That is why it is so important that a coach has had formal training and has learning to be neutral. Sometimes with my clients we touch on areas that I have not worked out for myself and it is hard to stay neutral and not give advice or lead your client into your direction. As a coach, you learn to “self-clean” and stay out of your client’s business. Those are all things you learn during a formal coach training.

Tony: I agree with Andrea, that part of the formal training a coach goes through is focused on unlearning this desire. If you are looking for someone with experience in a field that can tell you what to do, you want to mentor, not a coach.

Your website focuses on family/relationship coaching, but my experience has been individual/career coaching. Am I the exception to the rule, or do you take on career coaching as well?

Andrea: I simply do not want to coach business clients. My areas of coaching are Relationship, Leadership and individual coaching. All those areas could include a change of career as well but that is not what I am focusing on.

Tony: I have recently completed training as a leadership coach which focuses on individuals.

Sometimes a writer can’t focus because of what’s going on in the household. For those with family/relationship problems, how can coaching help them? Does the entire family have to be involved?

Andrea: I think coaching is a great way to assist families in getting better results. Traditionally, if one of the family members are “not working” the whole family is out of balance. For one family member to go to counseling, hoping that they will be fixed and things will be changing is usually not working. Counseling is a great way to figure out what went wrong in the past and why…coaching is a way to plan for the future having that knowledge.

In cases where they family includes teenagers, I would absolutely include them…if the kids are under 10, it might be more effective to just coach the parents.

What led you into personal coaching?

Andrea: My 13 year old son that had counseling for 7 years went out of control and we looked for help. That is when we were introduced to coaching.

I’m sure I’m not the only writer who could use help discovering effective methods to advance his or her career. If you could give one piece of advice to our readers, what would it be?

If you are interested in being coached, ensure the coach has completed formal training. Most coaches will also offer a session at no charge which can allow you to experience coaching before you commit to a contract.

Thank you Andrea and Tony! If you’re interested in trying professional coaching, you can contact the Voirins through their web site .

Guest Blog by Laura Childs

It’s no surprise to anyone who read our Christmas blog that the cozy readers among us love Laura Childs. We are happy to start the New Year with a few words from that author, and we are especially pleased with what she has to say about women over forty!

Known for her Tea Shop and Scrapbooking Mysteries, guest blogger Laura Childs paints a cozy portrait in her New York Times Bestseller, Eggs Benedict Arnold, a Cackleberry Club Mystery.

I’m a big fan of women over forty. Not just because I am one, but because “women of a certain age” have a certain type of sassy smarts. Before I sold my marketing firm and took up mystery writing, I had occasion to work with an awful lot of high-test forty-plus women. These were women who ran companies, served as communications directors, and knew their way around the media. They were savvy, forward thinkers who didn’t get rattled by deadlines, details, and decisions.

Those are pretty much the same attributes I tried to imbue in my characters, Suzanne, Toni, and Petra, the major protagonists in my newest mystery Eggs Benedict Arnold. At their cozy café, the Cackleberry Club, eggs are the morning specialty – fluffy omelets, slumbering volcanoes, toad in the hole, and foggy morning soufflés. But my entrepreneurial ladies also work a double shift as amateur sleuths, because in this go round local mortician Ozzie Driesden is discovered on his own embalming table!

I had a great time writing pulse-pounding scenes that feature a mortuary murder, car chase, terrible discovery in a deserted cemetery, and hostage situation. Of course, the ladies of the Cackleberry Club also managed to pull it together and hold a Knit-in for charity, serve afternoon tea, and stage a cake decorating contest.

I made a special effort to intersperse pulse-pounding action with the genteel art of tea and scones, because I think we all crave a little comfort right now. With all that’s going on in the world, a lot of folks long to return to basics like homemade breakfast, cake and cookie recipes, and neighbors who are quirky but pull together when they have to.

And, of course, I had such great fun celebrating women over forty. They possess such caring souls, entrepreneurial spirits, and have such rich life experiences to draw from. You really can’t find a better model for an amateur sleuth!

Have a wonderful New Year!
Laura Childs

Eggs Benedict Arnold, which just spent two weeks on the New York Times

Bestseller List, is available everywhere for $7.99.

Laura Childs writes the Tea Shop Mysteries, Scrapbooking Mysteries, and
Cackleberry Club Mysteries, several of which have made the USA Today and New York Times Bestseller Lists.

An Interview with GB Pool

A former private detective and once a reporter for a small weekly newspaper, Gayle Bartos-Pool has one published book, Media Justice, and several short stories in anthologies, including  LAndmarked for Murder and Little Sisters Volume 1. The former Speakers Bureau Director for Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles, she is also a member of Mystery Writers of America. Her latest short story appears in the anthology, Dying in a Winter Wonderland, which was voted one of the Top Ten of Softcover Books as selected by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association (IMBA) of 2008. Welcome Gayle!

With a background as a private investigator and a journalist, crime fiction seems a natural career choice for you. Do you use the experiences and skills you learned in your previous jobs to make your writing realistic?

Both previous jobs have given me insight that I probably wouldn’t have had. As a reporter, I learned that truth matters. In writing fiction, that means make sure you have the facts right. When you guess, you have a 50/50 chance of getting it wrong. Sometimes you might not realize you are guessing, but when somebody says you goofed, you try to do better the next time. I do lots research.

As for the P.I. thing, I learned two things. One, cops will cut you some slack if you make a mistake. Just don’t make the same mistake twice. And second, I learned to blend in. An undercover agent lives his environment. That means you have to be a good actor and have a nimble imagination. In the year I worked as a private detective I never blew my cover.

You went the self-publishing route with your first novel, Media Justice. What did you learn from that experience?

Hire a professional editor to go over your work. No matter how good your Aunt Mabel is, unless she’s a professional editor, she won’t catch every mistake and she won’t know ways to make your book look like Random House published it. I hired a pro to edit and another one to lay out the format and do the cover. It looks professional.

Also, self-publish as a last resort. I wanted my book published so my mother could see something of mine in print. She helped with the cost of publishing and read the next to final draft. She passed away before the book came out, so I dedicated it to her. Bittersweet results.

But if you keep hitting that brick wall with agents and just want to see your own book in print, go ahead and do it, but know that you have to sell that book, too. And if you don’t know how to get distribution, or approach bookstores, or do a book tour, or write press releases, or get on local TV, or…. There is a great deal of work AFTER you write the book. Be prepared. Or better still, write another book and see if the agents like that one better.

Recently, you put the finishing touches on your latest Ginger Caulfield mystery and presented it to your agent. Can you tell us what the book is about?

Here’s the book jacket blurb for Hedge Bet.

Gin Caulfield figured a bullet wound in the back had ended her career as a private eye, but when she and her husband stumble across a murder at the racetrack, all bets are off.

The first victim, Deirdre Delvecchio, had a loveless marriage of convenience. In less than twenty-four hours, Dee’s philandering husband, Donald, has not only convinced Gin to help him prove his innocence, but he also drops an even larger problem in her lap.

Racine Ingram, a pricy interior designer, is the problem. She does her best work at night, alone, in multi-million dollar companies.

Another possible suspect is Phil Lester, a guy with a temper, who was seen talking with Dee right before she was killed. And Phil has a few more surprises for Gin.

Gin manages to get copies of Racine’s business files and finds bloody evidence that ties someone to the murders. Then the prime suspect is killed …and Gin has to start all over again.

Can she still hack it, or is it time to hang up her .38s for good?

Several of your short stories have been published in anthologies, the latest in Dying in a Winter Wonderland. You also teach a seminar on short story structure. Is writing a short story like writing a mini-novel? Does it take as much thought?

Writing a short story takes just as much thought. Part is to ask yourself what you should include, and part is convincing yourself that you have to leave something out. You may have fewer characters, locales, and sub-plots, but they have to be interesting, maybe even more exciting than in a novel because you have less space to describe them, so you make them memorable. You must get to the point faster and you exit a lot quicker, so every word really counts. Short story writing will certainly sharpen your skills as a writer, and you will probably use those skills in your novels to make them sharper.

Can you share one tip from your writing seminar for authors who are considering the short story form?

The perfect plot is simple, not complex. Aristotle said that in The Poetics.

But something I tell my students is to always ask yourself three things about each sentence and/or paragraph you write:

Does it advance the story?

Does it enhance the story?

Is it redundant?

 You have two protagonists–Ginger (Gin) Caulfield and Johnny Casino. How do you decide which character’s project to work on? Or do you work on multiple projects at the same time?

I always have a main project in the works and several other smaller projects going at the same time. I also work on my many miniature doll house projects, or other craft projects. The art work activates another portion of my brain that needs exercise every now and then. But I will certainly work on the one my agent is most interested in, even if I think the piece is finished.
 One thing that reader’s can expect from your writing is razor-sharp wit. Do you ever “soften the blow” in rewrites?
No, I do just the opposite. I punch it up even more in rewrites. My characters take over and I let they have their way with the dialogue.

Until recently, you were the Speaker’s Bureau Director for Sisters in Crime/LA. You successfully built that program up over several years, putting on over seventy author panels and events. Could you share some tips with author groups looking to set up the same kind of events?

Work thy butt off. That is the only way you will get the name of your organization out in front of the public. This will also get other authors as well as yourself some valuable face time and help you all see what it takes to sell that book you just wrote, regularly published or self-published authors. Contact every library in your area and ask if they would like you to set up a panel or do a solo. Try senior centers and women’s clubs in the area. Even schools. Everybody loves to hear from real writers. Writers do what most people can’t do, so you are ahead of the game from the git-go. Make good contacts, spread your business card around, and remember to smile at everybody and talk to the audience. They are all potential customers.

 There are several Johnny Casino shorts available. Are you planning to compile them into a collection?

I have already put the first eight Johnny Casino short stories into a book called The Johnny Casino Casebook. They are in chronological order and you meet several characters a few times as different cases come up. My agent has the book in her hot little hands.

What’s next for GB Pool? A Johnny Casino novel, perhaps? Or a Gin Caulfield short?

I have the third Gin Caulfield book in outline and the first four chapters completed. I am also lengthening a novella about a young woman and what might be a ghost into a novel. It’s a romantic adult fairy tale.

Thanks Gayle!

Happy Holidays from WinR!

With the Holidays in full swing, we at Writers in Residence wish you all Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Happy Kwanzaa,  and a wonderful New Year!

Just because it’s hectic this time of year doesn’t mean you have to abandon your mysteries. Au contraire! Here are a few options that will fit into your holiday schedule.

MERRY, MERRY GHOST
By Carolyn Hart
Harper Collins, 2009

Carolyn Hart opens her second Bailey Ruth mystery in Heaven, but readers get only a brief glimpse of its celestial delights. The inquisitive, impatient, and often rash “dearly departed” Bailey Ruth is a novice emissary for the Department of Good Intentions, and that special band of “otherworldly” (never ghostly) beings return to their hometowns on earth to help people in trouble.

After her first visit (GHOST AT WORK) there were doubts about Bailey Ruth going back. Having broken nearly all the “Precepts for Heavenly Visitations,” she is definitely on probation. But Station Agent Wiggins has a soft spot for the lively redhead and cautiously assigns her to another “adven-mission.” Her special qualification: she’s “always loved Christmas.”

But even as the earth-bound Rescue Express approaches, the task she’s been given escalates from a “calm overseeing” of an orphan’s future, to “impending danger,” to Wiggin’s last shouted words as she races for the train, “Protect that dear boy!”

Bailey Ruth’s real talent goes beyond that of a Guardian Angel however, and she’s soon assisting the police in not one, but two murder investigations.

It begins a few days before Christmas with the unexpected arrival of four-year-old Keith Flynn to the doorstep of the largest mansion in Adelaide, Oklahoma. Bailey Ruth is there to comfort the abandoned boy (kids can see Heavenly Agents) and to observe what happens.

The boy’s ailing grandmother, Susan Flynn, is overjoyed to learn that her wayward son had a child before being killed in Iraq. She immediately decides to change her will in favor of the boy. The previous beneficiaries, none of whom are blood relatives, panic when they see their inheritance slipping away. One of them takes steps to prevent it.

Since Bailey Ruth rearranges a few things at the crime scene (for the best of reasons), she feels obligated to help Police Chief Cobb with the investigation. Writing in his notebook and on his office chalkboard are her usual methods, although she occasionally speaks aloud and even swirls into sight briefly. This unlikely pair – each breaking their own sets of “precepts” – set a trap for the killer.

I hesitate to call MERRY, MERRY GHOST a paranormal mystery, for Bailey Ruth is no spooky specter. Rather, she’s a flashy, fun-loving and clever sleuth who just happens to have unusual abilities. And she’s good hearted to a fault…but why wouldn’t she be, considering where she lives?

Hart’s reputation for writing fast-paced, well-plotted cozies with delightful characters and “heavenly” endings remains secure with this book. And, as in her Death on Demand series, she’s the ultimate book title and author namedropper. (Look for them!) A perfect book for a rainy day and a cup of tea.

But what if you don’t have time to finish a novel before the in-laws show up for dinner? There are many great short story anthologies that revolve around the holidays. Let us recommend one from the 2008 Top Ten Best Seller Softcover List, an anthology that benefits Toys for Tots, and, as a special benefit, includes our own WinR, Gayle Bartos-Pool!

Dying in a Winter Wonderland
Wolfmont Press, 2008
 
There’s something in this anthology for every type of mystery reader. Since I prefer traditionals and cozies, let me start out with “The Alternate Plan” by Allan Ansorge. When two fake Christmas Santas discover that they aren’t the only crooks in town, they have a change of plans and hearts. 
 
 “In the Nick of Time”, by Gayle Bartos-Pool,  two misfit criminals rob a corpse and…well, I can’t say more or I’ll give away the twist ending.
 
And speaking of twist endings, Tony Burton’s “Taking Her Medicine” will make you think three times about the consequences of drinking and driving.
 
For those who prefer a hard-boiled edge, Austin S. Comacho presents “A Mother for Christmas” featuring his regular character, Hannibal. A little girl wants her mom home for Christmas and only Hannibal and his brand of investigation can make it happen.
 
Christmas isn’t the only holiday of the season, as we see in “On the Sixth Night of Hanukah” by Helen Schwartz. A local police officer helping out at a temple open to the homeless, investigates a case of vandalism with surprising results.
 
There are more stories by talented authors–thirteen in all. You may just set aside the baking sheets and read a few!
 
But what if your holiday fantasy involves putting your feet up and drinking a glass of eggnog? Why not rent a Midsomer Murder made especially for the season?
 

Ghosts of Christmas Past
Midsomer Murders, Season Seven
Acorn Media @2007, Approx 100 minutes
 
It’s immediately apparent that all is not well at the Villier family home. Nine years ago, brother Ferdy committed suicide, something they don’t talk about though the subject hangs heavy in the air. Tension also arises from discussions about selling the house, a financial albatross that’s falling apart. When a Christmas cracker reveals a sinister threat, at first the family dismisses it as a practical joke. But then people begin to die.
 
Inspired by the novels of Caroline Graham, the Midsomer Murders series falls under that delightful umbrella,  British cozy. John Nettles is fabulous as Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby, and it would be a surprise if you guessed the murderer, though the clues are all there.

Whatever your choice, enjoy the holidays and have a Healthy, Happy and Prosperous New Year! See you in 2010!

An Interview with Heather Ames

Heather Ames has two published e-books to her credit, along with numerous short fiction pieces and non-fiction articles. She has also produced, written, directed and edited two documentaries that aired on cable access on the East Coast. Along with her writing, she works with clients as a writing coach as well as keeping her day job in healthcare. A native of England, Heather lived in France, Spain and Italy before emigrating to the U.S. She recently settled in Portland, Oregon, where she’s working on her thriller series. Set in Miami,  Indelible and its sequels, Swift Justice and Maine Issues, feature a Miami-Dade homicide detective and a feisty, atypical socialite.  Welcome Heather!

There are many ways to e-publish today. Which method did you choose for your books, and what factors led you to choose them?

After researching the e-publishers, I picked one who was open to submissions and was actively looking for new writers with out-of-the-box romances. Unfortunately, although the editor liked my writing, she didn’t like the plot line or the characters in the book I submitted.

The second publisher on my list, Romance At Heart Publications, was a new publisher. I figured I stood a better chance with them, since their inventory had to be low. I submitted to them in late spring and waited, then waited some more. I even tried emailing them during the summer to find out if they were still considering The Sweetest Song. Suddenly, the week of Thanksgiving, I received a “Congrats, we want to publish your book” right out of the blue, accompanied by a contract and an explanation that they had been through some editorial changes since my manuscript reached them.

My fellow writer and friend, Vikk Simmons, kindly gave me an intro to AweStruck. She told me they were accepting manuscripts after being closed to submissions for a while, and gave me permission to use her name in my query letter. She’d had two young adult novels published by AweStruck and really liked both the editor and publisher. By the time I got everything pulled together for All That Glitters, I really squeezed under the wire by sending my partial right before midnight on the day the submission period closed again. Thankfully, Vikk didn’t have to find out she had recommended a dud, because I received another “Congrats” and a contract in a much shorter timeframe than with RAHPubs.

What are some of the pluses and minuses to e-publishing? What should writers consider when they’re contemplating the e-publishing route?

For me, there have been a lot of pluses: I got answers from all 3 publishers within months, versus manuscripts hanging out more than a year on average with the print pubs. I received a lot of very positive feedback, my editors were terrific (knowledgeable, supportive and very perceptive) and everything was accomplished online. The pub dates for my novels were also a lot earlier than they would have been with any print pub, so I had two publishing credits to my name within a relatively short period of time.

The biggest minus is the pay. Yes, I get a bigger slice of the pie with the e-publishers, but because their distribution isn’t via book stores, I have to do a whole lot of marketing. I also have to get potential buyers over the “Can’t I just get it in book form?” by explaining that they can either read the novels on their computer screens or download and print them. It’s surprising how many people balk at printing up the necessary amount of pages, when they’re spending a lot less on the actual download than they would if they bought a physical book at a bookstore.

Nowadays, of course, there are also the readers, such as the Kindle and the Sony. They are changing a lot of minds when avid readers figure out that they can have access to a large number of books at any time without having to drag around an extra suitcase when they travel or agonize over which books to recycle when their available space fills up at home.

Your e-novels tend toward the romance genre, with a bit of suspense and mystery in the mix. Your current book, Indelible, is a thriller with elements of romance and murder/mystery. Any tips on how to successfully balance multiple elements within a novel?

It’s more of a juggling act than a balance. I try not to overwhelm the plot with the romance or the romance by the plot. I tried submitting to Harlequin Intrigue and Harlequin American while agented, but despite being asked to send a couple of entire manuscripts after the partials had been submitted, they were rejected because my themes were too graphic or scary for romance readers, or the editors felt the plot overwhelmed the romance. I learned a lot from those submissions, including the fact that what I write won’t easily fit into genre fiction.

Based on the feedback I received, I completely reworked Indelible’s original plot line and I’m much happier with the result. I stopped trying to fit myself into a genre box and instead ended up with a novel that allowed me to explore the complexities of human relationships, including what happens when two people come together during a crisis and discover there’s more between them than self-preservation.

There’s no easy formula to my writing. Sometimes I get elements of a relationship, other times part of the plot. I try to place myself in my characters’ shoes and react as they would instead of how I would. Somewhere in the middle of the first draft, they tend to take over and tell me what they’re going to do, anyway. They just take me along for the ride, and hopefully, take my readers, too.

You’ve done a huge amount of research on the Miami scene, as well as on police procedures and firearms. Can you tell us a bit about your research process?

My first order of business in research is to make sure I familiarize myself thoroughly with the backdrop. Fortunately for me, I have friends all over the U.S., and they don’t mind accompanying me on scouting trips for locations, including everything from scenery to restaurants and in the case of Indelible, the local marinas.

For my next series, friends in Seattle took me to underground teen clubs, where I met with a manager and got his take on the runaways who frequent his establishments. I’ve also dragged Vikk Simmons down alleyways in Chicago and toured the Blue Ridge Parkway and the affluent areas around Asheville with another friend for settings I used in The Sweetest Song. Working in a county hospital system and an emergency room have given me frequent opportunities to weave less-than-desirable characters into my novels, but they have also allowed me to gain insight that I might never have obtained from any other source.

As far as the firearms are concerned, my son took me to a shooting range and I got to use a Glock, my detective’s weapon of choice. I actually learned how to reload it faster than my son could, and I was able to authentically channel my female protagonist’s feelings when she had to handle the gun in a crisis. GB Pool was also more than generous with her critiquing of the action sequences in Indelible. I’m always on a learning curve with firearms, as well as police procedures.

I watch a lot of TV shows, such as Forensic Files, Snapped and The First 48. I got my hands on a used copy of What Cops Know by Connie Fletcher (Pocket Books,) which tells stories from the streets in the words of the police officers themselves. I was fortunate enough, during the time I worked in the ER, to have frequent contact with the detectives working homicide cases. They gave us the backgrounds behind the killings and even updated us when the cases were solved. I saw some really gruesome sights, but I also learned what happened when bodies that were burned beyond recognition or were too decomposed needed to be identified. So often, it was the little things that made the difference, even in the years before forensics changed the entire playing field.

I bought the entire Writers Digest Books series to study procedures, firearms, etc. Now, of course, they are all out of date. It’s difficult to keep current these days. Everything changes so rapidly. I try not to go into too much detail, because I’m a lay person. I’ll leave the police procedurals to those in the know. I prefer to deal more with the emotional aspects of the cases I send my protagonists out to solve. I also tend to make them solve the cases with less fire-power and more brain-power.

You’ve also done work as a writing coach. What are some of the big issues that come up when trying to critique another writer’s work? What advice do you give a novice writer?

When I work with a fellow writer, I always make sure I’m not substituting my voice for theirs when I critique. The editing part is the easiest, although I have gone three rounds with people over sometimes the smallest details. It’s funny how they don’t object to having entire paragraphs reworked or even deleted, but they’ll quibble over a sentence or the placement of a certain small paragraph. It just shows how close we get to our work and how difficult it is to remove ourselves to a position of objectivity.

The first thing I do with clients is to work out a deadline for project completion. It can be dynamic, but it has to be there. As soon as that date is set, the project gets off the ground. The same applies to any novice writer–set a goal–whether it’s for completing a chapter, a section of a novel or the entire manuscript. For non-fiction writers, getting the first draft finished, the interview/s set up or even done, with the notes, etc. transcribed.

Having an outline is like having a game plan for the majority of people. I work with an outline on non-fiction projects as well as documentaries, but the only time I used an outline for a novel, by the time I finished the outline, I was done with the novel. I never wrote it past the first three chapters, because all the excitement of the project was over for me. We all have to figure out how we work best.

Novice writers need to take writing classes, attend seminars, workshops, and any other opportunities they can find to interact with other writers. They need to learn how to plot, how to structure, how to get inside their characters’ skins if they’re writing fiction, and how to cut their non-fiction pieces by a third or even a half. They need to know how to write a query letter, how to polish a partial, and how to pitch if and when they get the opportunity to sell themselves to an agent or an editor.

Lastly, they need to understand that they are not the next best thing that has ever happened to the publishing community, unless they are some sort of phenomena, in which case there will be no stopping them, and they won’t need my advice. And they also should understand that although writing is a solitary profession, it doesn’t need to be a lonely one. There’s a big community of fellow writers out there, and the majority of those writers are nurturing, supportive and completely understanding when it comes to burned dinners, forgotten hours in front of the computer screen, loss of sleep and dehydration.

The Sweetest Song, Heather’s first published e-book, is available through Romance at Heart Publications  and All That Glitters can be found at Awe-Struck Publishing . Visit Heather on her web site .