Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Wonderful Book Club Experience

Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours with the members of the Wisdom Seekers club. The group meets once a month to discuss a book they all have read. This month they selected Beyond Blue, and invited me to take part in their discussion of the book.
I met Yvonne Kinney at the Black Authors and Readers Rock Weekend, an event designed to draw book clubs together. Generally these groups are all female, mostly mature ladies who love reading so much it provides a regular part of their social life.  If they like a book they’ll talk it up and can be the basis of an author’s platform. After hearing me speak became interested in my books. I mentioned that I enjoy meeting with book clubs so after reading one of my novels she emailed me through my web site. I was happy to accept her invitation to a meeting.
Book club meetings generally have a set protocol. They generally begin with a fine shared meal. In this case an assortment of Chinese food was laid out. Nothing relaxes and bonds people like sharing a good meal.
Then we moved to the meat of the meeting, an experience every fiction author should try to have. After expressing how much they enjoyed Beyond Blue the ladies spoke, very clearly, about what it was about the book they liked. They discussed which characters were their favorites, what about my writing style appealed to them, and what story points stood out. Not only was it clear that they got the subtext of every storyline as I intended, but they linked the events in the book to real-life current events in a way that even enriched the novel for me. They read meaning into some situations that I was not conscious of putting there, and made recommendations about the future of many of the characters.
One of the coolest parts of all this was the way the conversation freely flowed. Often one club member would ask a question and before I could respond another member would give their perspective of the answer. The fact that one member had a SWAT team member in her family and another was related to an undercover cop deepened their understanding of the material. And it was gratifying to know there were other people out there who still support good cops and understand how challenging their lives can be. One of the ladies actually said, “There should be a Beyond Blue agency in every city.”

An hour flew by, after which we took photos, and I offered Ms. Kinney a Beyond Blue tee shirt in thanks for inviting me. A few of the ladies purchased other books of mine (glad I always have some with me) and we had dessert. Then I said my goodbyes while the club eased into their business part of the meeting. I did overhear that they designate a part of their dues to literacy charities. Fine ladies, these. I’m proud to know them and look forward to visiting them and other book clubs in the future.  

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Price is Right

As a publisher I have to make any number of decisions that authors don’t have to consider, unless of course they’re self-publishing.  One of those decisions is product price.
Every author invests hundreds of hours of sweat into creating a novel. Every novelist (myself included) believes his books deserve to sell far more copies than they do. And most of us believe our hard work, inspiration and talent are worth far more than the cover price on our book suggests. I think that explains why so many books I see on Amazon, especially ebooks, are so costly. Unfortunately for them, book buyers are very price sensitive, so a price that’s even a little too high could kill their sales.
Remember the battle Hachette got into with Amazon over pricing? Amazon was trying to force the publisher to lower its ebook prices. Like other major publishers, Hachette was trying to sell ebooks at a price almost as high as their paper books. I have to believe that cuts down on sales.
So how do you find the right price? We start by checking out the competition. After looking at a lot of fiction ebooks for the Kindle we decided that $2.99 was the best choice. If your ebook is one of the genres we publish and it’s around our usual page count but costs more, well, thank you. People who see your promotion may well decide they want that kind of book. But when they see your price they may also decide to get one of ours instead.
It’s just as important for print books to be priced close to their competitor books if you want strong sales. It’s a bit more of a challenge because hardcovers are very expensive to make, and other things like paper choice and the number of pictures, can impact cost. To keep the price of your book in the ballpark of others like it you might need to be flexible about the number of photos or pictures. And you might need to give up hard cover production and stick to paperbacks in the most economical size. 
If you really want your book to be more expensive, and still sell, there’s only one way. Again, check the prices of other books and you’ll see that those that are both successful land higher priced are by authors whose names you recognize, authors whose fans will buy their books without looking at the price. To raise your price without lowering your sales you’ll need to build a platform as substantial as those authors. When you have enough fans who will buy a book with your name on it, without caring about a couple more dollars, THEN you can raise your cover price.
Can you get there? Maybe, if you build your fan base. So increase your email list. Get lots more reviews! Make contacts at appear at conferences.

But keep your cover price low while you are still an unknown quantity to most readers. When more people know that your books are a sure thing, price will no longer be an issue.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween – A Writer’s Worst Nightmare

Many writers I know use various holidays as inspiration for their writing. I’ve written Christmas-themed stories, and stories inspired by what the New Year brings or why Veterans Day is important. But Halloween is the worst holiday for me and I think lots of other fiction writers, just because of who and what we are.

For most people Halloween is a time of make-believe. We laugh and make fun of what’s frightening, and dress up as other people (or things.) It’s all in fun and nobody takes it seriously. Except…

Some of us are cursed with too much imagination. Writers really can imagine those pranks being real - those demons might actually be there. A stroll thru a graveyard might make most of you giggle nervously. For some of us, it could be a truly horror-inducing experience. That’s because we can’t help but imagine an real encounter with the undead, or a ghost, or a serial killer.

So if your traditions on this night include telling scary stories in the shadows – playing scary pranks – or watching The Exorcist with special effects added – you might want to leave your author friends out. Or maybe just me.

BUT if you want to READ something appropriate for this holiday, I can recommend some writers who will be at the Creatures, Crimes & Creativity Con next year:

Start with Alexandra Sokoloff: THE HARROWING was nominated for both a Bram Stoker award (horror) and an Anthony award (mystery), for Best First Novel. THE PRICE explores troubling questions of what people will do for love, or personal survival, in the eerie setting of a Boston hospital. THE UNSEEN centers on a team of psychology researchers who decide to replicate a long-buried poltergeist investigation. In BOOK OF SHADOWS a Boston homicide detective must join forces with a beautiful, mysterious witch from Salem in a race to solve a Satanic killing.

Then move to Cerece Rennie Murphy: lovers of the paranormal will enjoy her bestselling Order of the Seers trilogy  - a harrowing tale of people who can see the future.

Even Donna Andrews, known for her humorous mysteries, can give you a chill in her Turing Hopper series, about an artificial intelligence that actually solves murders. Creepy, right?

So pull up a good book, put on your mask and enjoy Halloween, even if it IS the holiday that makes me want to stay inside with all the lights on. 

Monday, October 26, 2015


So here I am again. I’m within a week of the release of my next mystery novel, THE PYRAMID DECEPTION, and I’m wondering as I always do at this point, if anyone wants to read the book badly enough to pay for it.

With each release I experiment with the marketing. I sent my previous Hannibal Jones novel to a ton of writers and ended up with a long list of big-name blurbs. That tactic didn’t move the needle on sales. I also recruited a street team, but that cost me more free books than it sold. I did still send off review copies to lots of reviewers.

This time I’ve posted several samples on my Facebook page -  – and worked Twitter more. I made my cover reveal an event. And I posted an interview of Hannibal so people could get to know him.

I introduced the new book to the book club crowd at the recent authors and readers weekend. I offered it at a reduced price and sold quite a few copies. I’ve made sure it’s available at Barnes & Noble and offered it to several private bookstores. And I put the ebook version up for pre-order on Amazon.  But mostly I rely on word of mouth to spur early sales. I can only hope that fans of the Hannibal Jones mystery series really are eager for more.

Of course, I can’t focus on my book release the way most authors can. As a publisher I must divide my focus. I cannot slight the new acquisitions we are shepherding into publication, or our upcoming Young Adventurers anthology release, or the effort to secure keynote speakers and guest authors for next year’s Creatures, Crimes & Creativity Con. So my novel may not get the flashy opening our other releases get.

Still I hold the thought every author holds less than a week from his book’s official birth. What else can I do? What last minute task have I overlooked or forgotten that could make a difference to the success of this novel?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Why Black Authors and Readers Rock

The event I attended this last weekend - The Black Authors & Writers Rock Weekend - was one of those reader-oriented parties I try to be part of every year. The concept is as simple as it is beautiful: bring a number of book club members together with several authors so that they can get to know one another. Sharon Lucas, the lady brave and ambitious enough to execute that concept has wisely broken it into two parts. On Friday evening she offers a cash bar and hor d’oeuvres to the roomful of avid readers and has the authors present in a fairly formal way. This year I was lucky enough to be on a panel, “Men of Literature” with five other successful writers who are book club favorites:  Dwayne Alexander Smith, EarlSewell, Brian W. Smith, RM Johnson, and Curtis Bunn. Their work deserves your attention.

Then Saturday 40 or so authors gathered for an all-day book fair, during which attendees enjoyed panels in other rooms. With lunch we got a nice keynote address from Dwayne Alexander Smith, author of 40 ACRES. It turned out to be a great place to introduce my newest novel, and I signed quite a few for the roomful of appreciative avid readers.

Everything I’ve said above would be great for any kind of reader oriented literary con. But why do we need a BLACK authors and readers weekend? When you pick up a mystery or romance novel do you really care what the author looks like? Well, we can debate whether or not anyone should, but the truth is, some people do. Some readers prefer to read books by people who are part of their own culture. This event had attendees from at least eight book clubs, all of whom were African American women. The clubs were as much social groups as literary groups and much of their reading is about Black culture in the 21st century.

It is also true that some authors don’t want to speak to a general audience. Personally, I think this is a mistake that limits an author’s progress, but some of the writers at this event have proven that targeting an audience and giving them what they want is one path to a certain level of success.

Another truth: books aimed at the African American reader rarely get the display space and attention in bookstores that others get. Worse yet, all such books are often lumped together and displayed with “street lit.” Trust me, none of the authors at last weekend’s event were writing about thugs, drug dealers or hookers.

So to an extent it is a vicious circle. Authors who don’t expect fair treatment in bookstores rely on these book clubs to get the word out about their work, and the word-of-mouth support of these book clubs really can make an author a success.

So I will continue to attend Bouchercon and Thrillerfest, but I will also make sure I get to the Black Authors and Readers Rock weekend. Because it lets me reach an important audience who are not represented at the mainstream Cons. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Bouchercon Afterthoughts

Bouchercon isn’t just a mystery fan conference. It’s an experience like no other. It absorbs two large hotels. Programming fills four days. And with 1500 attendees it can give you Disney World flashbacks when you’re lined up for a popular panel or to get a book signed.

Many writers’ Cons are designed for writers to learn and network. At Bouchercon fans outnumber writers 4 to 1. Of course, most of us writers are fans too. I still can’t get used to having Heather Graham, John Gilstrap and Alifair Burke call me by name.  I still get a little tongue-tied when I get to chat with Karen Slaughter, Kathy Reichs and Alexandra Sokoloff. Those are the best moments of the event.

The hour-long panels can overwhelm you, not so much because of the content but because there are so many choices. Seven different panels at any one time and all sound so interesting.  How do you choose between “Just the facts: T
Police Procedural,” “The Private Sector: Professional Investigations” and “Crime Mystery and the Far East?”  (Actually I bypassed them all to see a panel called “Beyond Hammett, Chandler, MacDonald & Spillane” which featured my pal Peter Rozovsky, plus Kevin Burton Smith and Laura Lippman.)

And then there were the awards. The Anthony Award is voted on by the Bouchercon attendees and most of the nominees attend. It’s fun to see who’s book is the most popular in 5 different categories. This year was a special kick as my friend Art Taylor won for best short story.

Of course, some of the best moments of the Con take place in the bar after the panels and ceremonies are over. The hotel bar was way too noisy but they did have some interesting specials. I had something called The Red Death and I have no idea what was in it but it sure did the trick. Blood Spatter was less sweet but I swear it had even more alcohol.

Meanwhile I, and the other 2 principals of Intrigue Publishing, were hunting keynote speakers and guests for next year’s Creatures, Crimes and Creativity Con. Networking galore took place, and I’ll let you know how successful we were in a later blog.

So? What were YOUR most memorable moments at Bouchercon? 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Life Between the Cons

The Creatures, Crimes & Creativity (C3) Con is over but that doesn't mean the work is over. In the military we called the next step a hot wash. It's that meeting where you go over everything you did during an operation, critique your actions and the results, and make decisions about what you could do better next time. Which panels were hits and which were misses? How should those panels run? (It's clear now that panels do need moderators.) What started too soon, or ran too late? Were the name tags the right size? How was the food? There are so many details involved in making a 3-day Con happen.

Once the decision was made to do it again next year, we had to confirm a venue, and dates. We're on the hunt for keynote speakers and local guests. We have panels to choose and a menu to put together. Not to mention all the work involved in turning last year's web site into this year's web site. We even decided to set up a Facebook page to make it easier for people to give us suggestions and keep up with Con happenings thru the year.

This year there are only ten days between the Con Intrigue Publishing puts on and one that we all attend - Bouchercon. That involves preperation too. Thursday through Sunday we'll be fishing for C3 keynote speakers and attendees among the 1,000 authors, fans, publishers, reviewers, booksellers and editors who will be in Raleigh NC for that 4-day event. We must go over the schedule to figure out which panels we'll get the most out of (7 at a time over 4 day!) Plus I'm on a panel Friday. It's called "Research: Alcohol, Drugs, Weapons & the Psychology of the Insane." As you might guess, that calls for a little research itself, so more prep.

Plus, I'm promoting my novel that willt be released next month, Intrigue's anthology that will be released in December, rewriting my next novel, and there's the usual day-to-day business of running a publishing company.

So it's a very full life in between the two Cons. But I'm not complaining. It's like the working space between two great vacations!