Sunday, December 14, 2014

Why a Private Eye?

Today’s guest blogger, Dana King, works at an undisclosed location. It’s not classified; he’s just not going to tell you. Dana’s writing has appeared in New Mystery Reader, Powder Burn Flash, A Twist of Noir, Mysterical-E, and the original Thuglit web site. He also has several novels out including his latest, The Stuff That Dreams Are Made of: A Nick Forte Mystery. Dana stopped in to tell us why he writes what he writes…


First, thank you to Austin for allowing me to share his blog space today. He suggested I write about how I chose crime fiction, specifically private eye fiction, as my preferred genre.

I’ve read PI stories ever since I started with The Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown. When I got serious about writing myself, crime was the obvious choice for a simple reason: it was easy to tell when the story should end. I’d read literary and mainstream fiction and, too often, otherwise excellent books seemed to peter out toward the end until they reminded me of a former music teacher’s description of Impressionism: music that gets sicker and sicker until it dies. (John Irving is a notable exception. The endings of A Widow For One Year and A Prayer For Owen Meany are damn near perfect.)

But crime stories, well, they ended when the case was solved. Sure, there would be some housekeeping to tidy up, but the thread of the story was the crime, its investigation and resolution. Other things could go on, but those touchstones were always there.

It was the private eye aspect that allowed me to go deeper. First person has been the default mode of telling PI stories pretty much since their inception, and describing how the detective saw and interpreted things allowed me to do a lot with character. The more I wrote in the genre, the more, and better, PI fiction I read. Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ross Macdonald, John D. Macdonald, Robert B. Parker, Robert Crais, and others taught me there were things the PI could get into cops never bothered with. Cops have to close cases, and they have more than they can handle. PIs—at least fictional ones—can worry about closure. (I’ve written about this in more detail on my blog, One Bite at a Time.)

I chose wisely. Declan Hughes gave an impassioned speech at Bouchercon in 2008, arguing that the PI story, when done well, is the highest form of crime fiction. Listening to him, I felt proud to write PIs. Last year I joined the Private Eye Writers of America, and attended the banquet at Bouchercon in Long Beach. The camaraderie there was obvious, a group that felt strongly about the genre and were delighted to share their enthusiasm with like minds. To have my novel, A Small Sacrifice, nominated for the Best Indie award, was truly an honor. Never mind that I didn’t win.

I write procedurals now, too, but I’m always on the alert for an idea that can work as a PI story. Some say the genre is dying; I don’t buy it. Why not? As his core, even the modern, flawed PI meets the standard set by Raymond Chandler in his essay, “The Simple Art of Murder,” distilled to its essence:

If there were enough like him, I think the world would be a very safe place to live in, and yet not too dull to be worth living in.


Seems to me to be a worthy spot for a writer to stake out.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

What Writers Want from Readers for Christmas

What most writers I know want more than anything is readers. We all want to be someone’s favorite author and would love to have lots and lots of those kinds of readers.

Well, few of us have legions of fans, but many of us have a few. We have a handful of true fans who love our work, eagerly await our next books and usually want to help our writing careers. Why don’t they? I think very often they just don’t know what to do that might help. SO, for all the avid readers who visit my blog, I’m going to be blatant. If you want to give your favorite writer what he really wants, here’s an author’s Christmas list. Here’s what we’d really LOVE to get from you for Christmas.

Number one on my wish list, and I suspect on many other authors’ lists, is reviews. Whenever I am at a live book event I give my card to every person I sign a book for and ask them to send me an email after they read my novel to tell me what they thought. Many of them do write to me, giving me a chance to thank them for reading my work. At the same time I always ask them to post a review on Amazon.com. It’s hard to underestimate the value of real opinions about your book, written by a reader. I fear a lot of readers don’t post reviews because they think their opinion matters. Readers, please believe me when I say it does! If you like a book, please review it. In fact, if you DON’T like the book, review it. Constructive criticism is almost always welcome.  

Avid readers who want to give their favorite writer something more special can consider putting their review on video.  Amazon will post it and imagine how thrilled that author will be when he checks his book’s page and sees a video there. It’s easy to make your video a special gift. Just make it short (try not to go over a minute) smile, hold up the book and, when the video is done you an upload it to Dropbox and get it onto amazon. What a great way to form a personal connection with a writer.


Next week I’ll give avid readers some more hints of what their favorite author really wants for Christmas.  And writers – you might want to share these hints with YOUR fans.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thanksgiving Aftermath

This is a difficult time of year for those of us who are both family oriented and small business owners. The real holiday, Thanksgiving, tempts us to focus entirely on the beloved visitors. We had 16 at the table this year, family up from Florida and down from New York State, plus a few from closer to home. Nothing beats a house full of love and a vast variety of yummy food.

We've all had some losses and challenges in the last year, but we were all focused on how thankful we are for our many many blessings. And I was thankful for my family who were able to join together this year.

However, the artificial holiday, Black Friday, tempts us to focus on business. Advertisement rises almost to the level of white noise because all businesses know that a lot of money will be spent on this official start of the 30 day gift-buying binge. As a publisher, I owe it to our authors to try to capture some of those dollars. So even though my parents are here with us for a few more days, and Christmas decorating starts the day after Thanksgiving, I had to turn my mind to business.

Luckily, Intrigue Publishing Marketing Director Sandra Bowman put out a call a few days ago for video promotions from each of our authors. We received some great ads and Sandra took a break from building the best tabletop Christmas village ever to post the first video online, starting with Annie Rose Alexander’s ad for her upcoming thriller, Retribution.  This video is the leading edge of Intrigue Publishing’s holiday sales push.

As an author, I want to get readers’ attention to my own work too. So I released a compilation of three longish short stories that are all set at Christmas time. These Hannibal Jones Mystery: Christmas Short Stories are available on Kindle for just 99 cents.

So the day AFTER Thanksgiving, I am thankful for a lot of people I haven’t met. Not just my fans (although I am of course very thankful for them) but also for all avid readers and everyone who loves a good story enough to keep trying new authors.

And, in case it isn't obvious, I’m also thankful for all the writers who keep at it, and risk harsh rejection by sending their manuscripts to publishers, small and large.


So thank you, readers, for supporting us. And thank you, writers, for feeding our thirst for new stories.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Sound Decision

Everyone knows that audio products are effective for getting people’s attention. The question is, do they sell books? Well, we’re going to try to find out.

Sandra Bowman, Marketing Director for Intrigue Publishing has asked each of our authors to produce a short Christmas commercial to run on Facebook. After about a half-second of consideration I realized it was not only a great idea, but a wonderful first step to see how effective audio could be.

I decided that, while I’m doing that, I’ll just voice a book excerpt. I’ll just do a reading from my newest book, BeyondBlue, and post it on my website. I've noticed that some other authors have an audio file on their sites that loads as soon as you get there. It’s usually more of a “Hi there!  Welcome to my world” type of thing than a sales pitch. I don’t mind encountering such a thing, and it might be a cool idea for you, but I don’t think it’s quite my style.

Years ago I did a weekly podcast, but that doesn’t fit into my time budget these days. I must admit it was a great way to get attention for my latest novel. These days there’s no need to download software and record a podcast yourself. It’s pretty easy to do through BlogTalk radio and other platforms. And if you have the personality, why not engage other authors in interviews? Urban drama author B. Swangin Webster does a weekly show on Listen Vision Live and now draws an international audience. In fact, this afternoon Intrigue authors Penny Clover Petersen and Jeff Markowitz will be guests on what she calls the We B Swangin show at 4pm Eastern time. If you tune in you’ll get a good idea of how this medium can be used well. 

It might take you some time to build up an audience the way the We B Swangin show has, but in the meantime don’t overlook other people’s shows. I definitely saw a spike in sales when I was interviewed on Conversations Live with Cyrus Webb. Cyrus has been doing this a while so he gets the big names on his show (from Oprah to the cast of The Walking Dead) so being on his show puts you in great company!

Of course, there’s commercial radio too, but there you’re more likely to get a three minute interview, not the 30 minutes you usually get on computer broadcast shows. So you need to prepare differently, with bullet points and short but hard-hitting answers to questions. Quick, pithy comments can drive listeners to the bookstores looking for your book.

So think about how audio can help your book sales and do your research. Of course, I've offered some easy research steps above, so be listening for Intrigue Publishing authors audio spots on Facebook, check my web site in the next couple of days for an audio excerpt, and be sure to tune in to the We B Swangin show today (Wednesday) at 4pm for an example of online broadcasting.


And let me know how it works for you!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

‘Tis the season for live book events

As the holiday season approaches, fall bazaars, winter festivals and Christmas markets pop up. These events are all thinly disguised craft fairs – great shopping opportunities, and book signing opportunities as well. This is also the best time for book signing events in bookstores and other venues. We at Intrigue Publishing participate in these events and prompt our authors to do so as well.  

Like them, you've surely heard stories of authors sitting at events where no one shows up and no books get signed or sold. In part, this can happen because we all spend so much time and energy on our online marketing that we slight our offline marketing efforts. Reversing that trend can be very profitable.

Marketing the event itself is important, and not just through social media. If you’re going to be in a store, give the store some help promoting you. Create some flyers that will pique peoples’ interest. I like a tri-fold that shows my book covers and synopses. I create them on my own computer in Word and bookstore workers can drop one in every bag. If you don’t want to take that much trouble you could just order a bunch of bookmarks and ask the store to use them as bag stuffers. Don’t listen to people who tell you bookmarks are old fashioned.  People still love them.

When the time comes, plan to give a talk rather than just a signing. Sometimes people who have no interest in an author sitting at a table may be drawn into a discussion.

Your event might get more attention if it takes place in a unique place. I've known of writers to speak in gyms, greeting card stores, electronics and video stores. I've done it myself in bars and restaurants on slow nights. Anyplace that’s not a bookstore, like those bazaars and festivals I mentioned, gives you the advantage of not competing with a thousand other writer’s books.

Wherever you plan your event, make friends with the people in charge. For the festivals, welcome their suggestions for your display. Ask if a reading for the whole event might be appropriate. You might consider donating a book as a door prize. Showing yourself to be a team player can result in better placement at the event or being a featured vendor.  If it’s a store, see if you can leave those bookmarks and pamphlets at the Information desk in addition to the register. And it can’t hurt to let the folks at nearby stores know about your event. If you draw a crowd it helps them too.

Events often benefit from some sort of special. Consider offering two books at a small discount. You can add a less expensive book, or even an ebook that you send to their Kindle or Nook. And, price aside, make your books easy to buy. Especially at festivals and fairs, be sure to bring enough change, round your prices to whole dollars, accept checks and be able to take credit cards. I use the free software that allows me to photograph a credit card and load the payment directly into Paypal.  You can also swipe the card or just punch in the number.


Don’t short yourself during gift giving season. Remember that getting your name, face and book title out there is almost as important as selling books so make the best of live in-person events. You might even find it to be fun! I do.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Art of the Blog

As bookstores dwindle and the cost of advertising rises, online promotion becomes more and more important. But when I mention it I see many writers’ eyes glaze over. There are two reasons. First, it can be very time consuming. Second, there are so many things a writer could do it can be overwhelming. I recommend writers keep it simple… like I’m doing right now.

Blogging is easy, it can be fast, and it gives you something you can share online to keep your writing in peoples’ minds. It also helps to keep you at the top of Google search results, as long as you do it regularly. Higher search ranking is well worth blogging once a week, like I do.

But, you ask, what should I blog about? Well, your writing is a good place to start. You can blog as one of your characters to give readers an inside view. My fictional detective Hannibal Jones blogged every week for a couple of years.

What else are you interested in? You can blog about what’s happening in publishing today. You can write reviews about other writers’ books in your genre.

How about posting short stories? I taught myself how to write flash fiction by posting 1200 word mysteries. Or post snippets of your next book (what a great way to get reader feedback AND pique reader interest.)  Or you could interview other writers, editors, anybody you know in the publishing industry.

And if you run out of ideas, you can get some from the idea generator. Go to http://www.hubspot.com/blog-topic-generator and type in any three nouns. The software will spit out five related blog ideas.

Once you’re on a regular schedule posting items of interest on your blog you need to let everyone know. So share it on all your social media outlets: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, whichever you’re comfortable with. And don’t just post the same thing. Posts on each site need to be a bit different. For example, Tweets need to be very short, and Facebook posts work best if you ask questions. But they should have one thing in common – attach a picture. Most recent research indicates that photos are very important on social media.

And remember that social media is about having a conversation, and that conversation is a two-way activity. So follow other writer’s blogs, and comment on their posts. Answer questions. Send invites to grow your social media following. Offer your opinions. Above all, support other writers. This is how you build your credibility and gain followers.  


And aren’t those good reasons for maintaining a blog?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

More Author Mistakes

After my first two blogs about the biggest mistakes writers make when they get published, or self-publish, other writers have been giving me their suggestions. So here are some real biggies I didn’t mention before:

Ignoring the timing is a huge gaffe. If you want reviews from good sources you need to build it into your schedule, which is why you have to have a marketing plan. Magazines, newspapers and other major review sources want copies of your book four months before the release date. There are, in fact, lots of things you should do before publication, and timing is important to all of them. There is a best time for cover reveals, character interviews and sample chapters, and it takes time to get a distributor if you’re self-publishing. You need to examine your market and set the dates.

Yet another big blunder is not giving your website the attention it deserves. Facebook and other social media engines may get all your attention and web sites might seem passé. But remember, social media posts are transient. Your web site is your standing billboard, every hour of every day. And if you learn enough about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or hire the right web site builder, you may well learn how to “convert” web visitors into buyers. Done right, your web site can help your ranking in Google Search, and even sell books.

A couple of friends mentioned that being isolated was a big mistake new writers often make. They mentioned how important conferences and places like The Writers Center in Bethesda, MD are to their careers. To be successful, a writer needs to be part of the writing community and build relationships. You will get more (and better) interviews, reviews and author blurbs if you remember to send those thank-you notes. Read and comment on other writers’ books. Comment on their blogs too. It is a networking business.

As a small publisher I want to throw in one more error authors make: failing to trust their publishing team. Believe me, no one wants you to succeed more than your publisher. If you’re self-publishing, the cover artists, editor, and designer you hire all want to use your book as part of their resume so they want it to be the best it can be. Either way, check those people out before you decide to work with them.  Once you make the decision, trust their expertise. Publish with (or hire) people with solid track records and then TAKE THEIR ADVICE!


I don’t know if anyone can avoid all these mistakes, but if you do it will certainly make writing success a lot easier to attain.