Monday, November 21, 2016

6 Things This Small Press is Thankful For

As we slow things down for Thanksgiving week I want to express my appreciation for some of the people that keep our business moving forward and growing. This is what we at Intrigue Publishing are truly thankful for.

Our talented authors: Let’s face it, nothing happens until someone writes a great book. We read a lot of manuscripts and we never publish a book we just like or think is good. We have to be excited about that story, those characters and the prose style that brings it all together. Not every book we’ve published has become a big seller, but that hasn’t stopped us from loving every one. We have been privileged to read so many great books created by so many hugely talented writers.

A spectacular editor: Almost every book we’ve published has been touched by Melanie Rigney, a fine writer herself who brings a lot more than a finely honed sense of what makes a good and commercial novel. Melanie has a way of making a writer understand that she loves their book almost as much as they do, even as she explains in clear plain language how to make that good book into a great one. Several authors have thanked us for having Melanie help them refine both their book and their ability to write.

An amazing proofreader: commas go inside the quotation marks, a character’s hair should stay the same color throughout the book, and the Marine Corps emblem has a fouled anchor, not a fowled anchor (yep, that one was me.) Cynthia Lauth has one of the sharpest eyes in the business and she has saved us from uncounted moments of embarrassment. If you see a mistake in one of our books it is sure because for some reason we chose to ignore her input.

Phenomenal cover artists: No matter how great a book is, no one is going to pick it up to look inside unless the cover grabs them. Like any publisher we’ve made the occasional false start but in the end we’ve ended up with some incredibly good book covers – the kind other authors compliment us on. In particular Paul at Iconix has helped to create our thriller brand (check the new covers of the Stark & Obrien series) and Ryan Anderson (Look at the replacement cover of our new romance title THE INHERITANCE) knows how to make readers want to check a story out. Both these talents are able to create commercial work that doesn’t look like everyone else’s. We are so grateful to have found them.

A fabulous distributor:  It took us three years to establish ourselves well enough to be accepted by a national book distributor and how lucky we are that we found Small Press United (SPU) This  subsidiary of the Independent Publishers Group (IPG) does more than push our books into bookstores across the continent. We have learned so much from their connections with the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), the publishing industry's leading educational organization. And their sales force has offered valuable feedback about how titles, cover art and other factors impact their ability to place our books in stores. They are in large part the reason three of our titles are on IPG's bestseller lists this week. Like the people listed above, SPU is a valued partner that helps us move from success to success.
READERS: Despite the horror stories we all read at the turn of the century, people do still read books! And we are very thankful for every person who has ever purchased one of our novels. We are even MORE thankful for all those who have emailed or tweeted feedback to us, and those who have taken the time to post a review on Amazon or Goodreads. YOU are the people we do it all for, and if we give you a couple of hours of joy, of thrills, of intrigue, then we can feel that we did your job! So THANK YOU for reading. You are also our partners in this grand enterprise and we are eternally thankful for all the people we are connected to through the act of publishing what we hope are some of the most enjoyable novels you’ve ever read.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

What's next for Ebooks?

At one time a lot of people I knew thought that ebooks would replace paper books completely. While I still see no sign of that ever happening, it is true that ebook have the potential to evolve in ways that our beloved dead tree editions can’t, and can offer new marketing options as well. In so doing they may find new audiences.
For example, a company called Neoglyphic Entertainment has created a platform that lets publishers create enhanced multimedia ebooks. The idea is to enhance the book’s storytelling capacity. Will motion graphics and a musical score improve the reading experience?  Could be. At the very least I think a lot of people will want to give it a try. 
It’s true that enhanced e-books and apps with sound and video have not been well received by readers in the past, but Neoglyphic has assembled focus groups to help direct their efforts to create new experiences around traditional storytelling. The company plans to offer its multimedia platform as a for-pay service to publishers. As a demonstration they published Sunborn Rising: Beneath the Fall, an illustrated middle grade fantasy series. The series (in Kindle but also hardcover and trade paperback) follows an elf-like civilization facing environmental doom. 

In other news, Indie authors who use Smashwords to distribute their ebooks may want to check their new service – Smashwords Alerts. This service automatically lets readers know about new releases from their favorite authors. To track an author, readers just go to the author profile page at Smashwords and click the button labeled, "Subscribe to Author Alerts."  When the author releases a new book, readers will receive an alert. If a book is on preorder, readers will receive the alert the day the book goes on sale. And Smashwords says they maintain a strict email privacy policy, so readers’ email addresses remains private and are never shared with anyone. 
To get the most out of the new feature, writers would encourage their readers to subscribe to alerts so they never miss another new release.  Authors can track the number of subscribers and "favorites" in real time from the Smashwords Dashboard. 
Ebooks may or may not be the future of reading, but they do offer more options in presentation and marketing than any other publishing choice.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Case of the Vanishing Detectives

When I decided to write a hardboiled detective series I did what most fiction writers do.  I set out to explore my detective’s predecessors, the characters he’d be compared to when he made his appearance.

That turned out to require a lot less time than I expected it to.  As a hardboiled detective with an African heritage, Hannibal Jones turned out to have few predecessors.  The best known black mystery characters, chronicled by Walter Mosley, James Patterson, Chester Himes and Hugh Holton, are policemen or amateur sleuths. 

So where are all the men of color following in Phillip Marlowe’s gumshoe footsteps?  Ed Lacy introduced the first credible African-American private eye, Toussaint Moore, in 1957.  He won an Edgar, but no one followed his
lead.  I assumed that John Shaft would turn the tide when he appeared in 1971.  Ernest Tidyman's Harlem private eye was so hardboiled that at the time my friends and I jokingly referred to him as “Sam: Spade Detective.” Yet despite his film success, there was no rush of imitators.  All the African American private eyes seem to have vanished mysteriously.

I can hear all the Caucasian authors out there now, shaking their heads and muttering, “Don’t blame me.”  Well, why not?  African American authors write white characters all the time, so why not reverse that spin.  And white authors don’t seem to have any trouble writing black characters as sidekicks, or villains.  Why not write them as detectives?

Of course, there is the danger of stereotyping.  Your ethnic readers will look very closely at any characters you introduce who don’t look like you.  So how do you get it right when you’re writing about people from another race and culture?  Here are three hints that will help you.

Observe:  spend time in the grocery stores, restaurants and bars filled with mostly faces of color.  Don’t worry, no one will assault you as long as you mind your own business.  And by listening closely you’ll get a feel for the attitudes and interests of that group, not to mention their food and drink preferences. You will also develop a feel for the rhythm of language and common phrases they use.  I’ve found this works for Latin, Korean and Iranian characters too.

Avoid dialect:  When we change the way words are spelled to imitate the sound of someone’s voice we not only insult them, we make it harder for readers to get through our writing.  All you need to do to get the dialog perfect is to use the words your characters would use in their own unique order.  Your reader will “hear” what you meant, be it North Dakota Swedish or inner city black.

Get a reality check: First, make a black friend.  Next, have that friend read your work and beg them to be honest in their feedback.  Watch their face as they read.  Ask them to test the dialog aloud, and listen for changes they may make unconsciously.  If your friend balks at something, don’t debate it, change it.

The most important thing, of course, is to remember that we are all more alike than different.  Human motivations, desires, fears and joys are universal, so make sure your black characters are first and foremost human. 

And in case you’re skeptical about writing a black detective, you should know that Toussaint Moore’s creator, Ed Lacy, was actually a white guy named Leonard Zinberg.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

8 Ways to turn up the suspense in your fiction

After sharing theory and concept, I figured I should share a few actual tips on how to keep the suspense building when you write. So here we go.

1. Let the characters tell readers their plans. That doesn’t mean give away all the secrets.  It means show the reader the characters’ agenda.  Readers know something will go wrong because they know, on some level, that the story is about conflict. A bad guy hiding in the bushes is creepy, but how much stronger that scene would be if earlier we heard the good guy tell his girl, “I’ll meet you by the bushes at 6 o’clock.” Now we’re not only worried about him getting jumped, we also get to worry that she’ll see it, or that she might be the next victim.

2. Cut down on the violence.  If you read my thrillers you might be surprised at how few actual fights there are. I think the more violence there is, the less it will mean.  That’s why we don’t see all the fights Rocky has to go thru to get into the position to face Apollo Creed. 

3. Always be one step ahead of your readers. As you write, keep asking yourself what your reader is hoping for or wondering about each point in the story. Your job is to give them what they want, when they want it – or maybe a little later than they want it – or to add a twist so you give them more than they bargained for. How do you do that?

4. As you develop your story, appeal to readers’ fears and phobias. Phobias are irrational fears. To be afraid of a tarantula is not a phobia, but to be afraid of all spiders is. Most people are afraid of helplessness in the face of danger. Many are afraid of needles, the dark, drowning, heights and so on. Think of the things that frighten you most, and you can be sure many of your readers will fear them as well.

5. Be sure to describe the setting of your story’s climax before you reach that part of the story. This is necessary to protect your pacing. So let someone visit it earlier and foreshadow everything you’ll need for readers to picture the scene when the climax arrives. Otherwise you’ll end up stalling out the story to describe the setting, when you should be pushing through to the climax.

6. Countdowns. Countdowns and deadlines can be helpful, but can work against you if they don’t feed the story’s escalation. For example, having every chapter of your book start one hour closer to the climax is a gimmick that gets old after a while because it’s repetitious and predictable—two things that kill escalation. Instead, start your countdown in the middle of the book. To escalate a countdown, shorten the time available to solve the problem.

7. Isolate your main character.  As you rush toward the climax, remove his tools, escape routes and support system (helpers and defenders). This forces him to become self-reliant and makes it easier for you to put him at a disadvantage in his final confrontation with evil.

8. Make it personal.  Don’t just have a person get abducted—let it be the main character’s son. Don’t just let New York City be in danger—let grandma live there.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Top 10 Reasons to Attend the Creatures, Crimes and Creativity Con

It has become an annual tradition! Every year at this time my blog is dedicated to explaining why every writer, aspiring author and avid van should be attending the Creatures, Crimes & Creativity (C3) Con this year. The C3 Con is the Mid-Atlantic’s book lover event of the year. And this year, we have two international bestselling authors as keynote speakers. But that’s only the beginning.

We draw readers AND writers of genre fiction: horror, mystery, thriller, suspense, science fiction, fantasy and paranormal authors will gather in Columbia MD, Sep. 30-Oct 2. 

So let’s count down the top ten reasons for attending the C3 Con:

#10 – FELLOWSHIP: Imagine being surrounded by avid readers and excellent writers for an entire 3-day weekend!

#9 – REED FARREL COLEMAN: Author of the heralded Moe Prager series and Jesse Stone novels, he’s been called our noir poet laureate. He’ll give a keynote address at dinner and teach a class.

#8 – ALEXANDRA SOKOLOFF: Known for her Huntress/FBI thrillers, her smooth blend of paranormal and crime fiction is some of the most original and unnerving work around. She will give the other dinner keynote talk and offer a one-woman class on writing for the screen.

#7 - MEALS: The registration fee ($275) includes five meals: Friday’s dinner, 3 meals Saturday and Sunday breakfast, so readers and writers dine side-by-side. One day registrations are available too, and that day's meals are included.

#6 - PANELS: Readers and fans will enjoy 36 panels and presentations from favorite authors, including the keynotes and local guests Donna Andrews (mystery) and Cerece Rennie Murphy (science fiction.)

#5 - GOODY BAGS - Each attendee will receive one filled with cool stuff, including free books (from Mulholland Books, Stark House Press, authors Alan Orloff and Debbi Mack, ) magazines (like Mystery Scene and Writers Digest,) our exclusive anthology filled with stories written by attending authors, and a flash drive from Smashword pre-loaded with ebooks.

#4 - TWITTER CONTEST: the attendee who tweets the most leading up to C3 using our hashtag (#MDC3Con) will get a new Kindle Fire.

#3 - FOR AUTHORS: EXPOSURE: Published authors get to spend time with their fans, and to expose new readers to their writing by presenting on one or two of the 36 panels. Their name and a link are posted on the C3 website.  And they will be pictured in the C3 program book. 

#2 - BOOK SIGNINGS: Novel Books provides an on-site bookstore and hosts two giant book signings, open to the public, featuring all the attending authors and their books. This is how people who don't actually attend can enjoy the C3 Con, both Friday and Saturday from 5pm to 6pm.

And the #1 best reason to attend the Creatures, Crimes & Creativity Con: BE A STAR: The Baltimore County library will shoot a video interview for as many authors as they have time for, and Diana Belchase will be there in person taping for a segment of her show, Book Smart TV!

You can still register, and get more details, at

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Keep Them in Suspense III

For the last couple of weeks we’ve been talking about suspense, the element that can make or breaks the end of your story. To give your story a truly satisfying climax, you need to escalate the tension. You can raise the stakes by making the danger more imminent, more intimate, more personal or more devastating. For one familiar example, if the shire is at risk in the first film, the world better be in danger at the end of the trilogy.  If the tension doesn’t escalate, your suspense will fade.

One technique to keep the tension high is to give us more promises and less action.  Suspense happens in the stillness of your story, in the gaps between the action sequences, in the moments between the promise of something dreadful and its arrival.

If readers complain that “nothing is happening” in a story, they don’t usually mean no action is happening.  It usually means no promises are being made. Contrary to what you may have heard, reader boredom isn’t solved by adding action – the solution is to add apprehension. Suspense is anticipation; action is the payoff. You don’t increase suspense by adding events, but rather by promising that something will happen.  So don’t ask yourself, “What needs to happen?” Ask, “what can I promise will go wrong?”
My favorite scenes in the Star Wars movies grow from one inspired bit of dialog.  Han Solo looks around and says…”I got a bad feeling about this.”  Actually, five different characters say that in the series but only Han Solo says it twice.

When Scarlett swears she’ll never be hunger again, or Marley tells Scrooge he’ll be visited by three ghosts, a promise has been made.

Suppose a jilted lover in a romance says something like, “if I can’t have her nobody will.” Maybe he hides in the bushes until his rival shows up. The bad guy pulls his knife. The good guy looks around, looks right at the bush but doesn’t see the bad guy hidden there.  He turns his back to the bad guy...
Milk that moment. That’s the suspense.

But make sure that eventually you show us what happens in front of that bush. You have to keep every promise you make.  And the bigger the promise, the bigger the payoff has to be.  A huge promise without the fulfillment isn’t suspense—it’s disappointment. That’s why Frodo can’t simply pull off the ring and toss it, and Rocky can’t knock out Appolo Creed with a lucky punch in the third round.
And remember, every word in your story is a promise of some sort.  If you spend three paragraphs describing a woman’s fabulous shoes, those shoes better be vital to the story. The cliché is, if you show me a gun on the mantle in chapter 2, somebody better darned well aim that thing at someone before the books’ over.

Stories sometimes fail because writers don’t make big enough promises, or they don’t fulfill them. Don’t let that happen to you.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Keep Them in Suspense II

Last week we talked about the importance of creating suspense in fiction. Because I think that applies to all genres it only makes sense to say that there are different types of suspense.

The most common kind of suspense is probably “will the hero accomplish his major goal?”  That can take different forms based on the genre you write in.  In a mystery, where the violence usually takes place before the protagonist is involved, the question may be “who done it?”  You maintain suspense there by keeping your villain one step ahead of your detective, and your reader.  In a thriller the reader may be anticipating the antagonist accomplishing his goal so the question is “how can this impending crisis or crime be averted.”  The reader might know about dangers the protagonist doesn’t know about – that in itself creates suspense.  In a horror story the question may be “will the protagonist survive?”  

So as we write, how do we ratchet up the suspense to keep readers on the edge of their seats?  Well, part of this is why we talk about conflict and suspense together.  Because to really create suspense you need to create characters that readers care about, and then put those characters in jeopardy.

Narrative suspense is built out of four parts: reader empathy, impending danger, escalating tension and reader concern – or as i call it: worry.

We create reader empathy by giving your protagonist a goal or objective or an inner struggle that readers can identify with. The more they empathize the better.  Once they care about and identify with a character, readers will be personally invested when they see that character struggling to get what he wants.

We want readers to worry about whether or not the character will succeed.  Readers have to know what the character wants so they know what’s at stake, and they have to know what’s at stake to get engaged in the story. So, to get readers invested in your novel, make it clear what your character desires, what is keeping him from getting it; and what huge, horrible consequences he’ll face if he doesn’t get it.

Suspense builds as danger approaches. Readers experience worry when a character they care about is in peril. This doesn’t have to be a life-and-death situation. Depending on your genre, the threat may involve the character’s physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual or relational well-being. Whatever your genre, show that something terrible is about to happen—then postpone the resolution. That’s how you sustain suspense.

Next week I’ll share some rules for building tension in any story.