Saturday, August 22, 2015

Book Signing - Make it Special

A couple of weeks ago I did a book signing at the nearby Barnes and Noble in Bowie MD with my label-mate DB Corey (Yes, they still have signed copies of our novels. Hint! Hint!) I always enjoy these events. I won’t deny the importance of social media, but for me nothing matches the face-to-face connection I make when I’m talking to people about my novels in person. As cool as it was, my mind has wandered since then, mulling over what could have made that good experience better. A lot of ideas have come to mind, so I figured I’d share.

Of course, it’s hard enough to even GET a book signing. There are fewer bookstores every day, and many of those that remain have no interest in doing author events. Various Barnes and Nobles stores have given me a broad variety of reasons they don’t do signings and they all say it’s “company policy.” I believe the real reason is the manager doubts any writer they never heard of will bring new people into the store. After all, if someone comes in and buys your book instead of another one they would have bought, the store hasn’t gained anything. You’d need to sell a book to someone who would have bought nothing or sell a book in addition to another they wanted. In other words, the manager has to believe you’ll bring your own crowd.

So, when you talk to a bookstore manager (or in the case of Barnes and Noble, the Community Relations Managers) be sure to tell them that you will promote your book signing aggressively through regional media and your  local mailing (you do have one, don’t you?)  And assure them you haven’t done another signing within an hour’s drive of their store. That way they know you won’t burn out your local market before you get to their store.

The store I most recently signed in only does multi-author events and I see nothing wrong with that. More writers usually mean more publicity. But to make the best of it, have some actual activities planned. Want to do a reading? Give a talk? (I plan to do my “why people love mysteries” presentation next time) or offer a workshop? Each author can offer something different and in the meantime the others are available to sign books.

So much for what to offer the bookstore. Next week I’ll talk about what to do when you get there.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Pre-Release Marketing My Novel

If you visit here regularly you already know that my next novel, PYRAMID DECEPTION will be released November first. If you’re wondering why I’d be talking about it now, you might be missing out on an important part of getting your books noticed. Promotion for your novel needs to start long before anyone can buy it.

Most of this pre-pub promotion is fun for me. The one part that is not is the very first step. Major reviewers want their Advance Reader Copies 120 days before the release date. That means that review copies went into the mail before July 1. Luckily I have a small press behind me so someone else does the really hard work – build a list, address envelopes, haul books to the post office – but it will be well worth it when the guys at Publisher’s Weekly finally wise up and review one of my novels. So far my biggest successes in this arena have been Library Journal and the local papers.  But I remain optimistic.

Everything else is getting the attention of actual readers and building anticipation. That starts 3 months out. I kick it all off with a cover reveal on Facebook and my web site. Then I leak the story ideas and synopsis. I’m purposely stingy with details because, just like when they’re reading a mystery novel, fans enjoy the suspense.

In September I’ll get help from the characters. I’ll post interviews of Hannibal and his supporting cast. I might let the characters give some more hints as to what the book is all about. All this time I’m also chatting with book stores about staging events around the November release. I’m also bugging bloggers about visiting their pages at release time. Guest blogs are pretty easy – the cover, synopsis, a sample chapter and/or one of the interviews I’ve already created will generally do the job.

I wait until the month before release to start sharing sample chapters. I post these on my web site and leave links on Twitter and Facebook to draw people in. I also plant those links on LinkedIn in the writer and reader groups I’ve joined. Asking other writers’ opinion of your samples can be exciting or humbling, but either way it does get engagement.

If pre-publication marketing interests you, stay tuned. In December Intrigue Publishing will release its first anthology and, trust me, promoting a book when you don’t have an author’s brand as your basis is a whole ‘nother thing. But it might turn out to be even more fun!  

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Elements of Mystery II

Last week I listed some of the essential elements of a mystery story and asked what you thought was missing. I got quite a bit of feedback and, luckily, all the suggestions do appear in my upcoming novel, PYRAMID DECEPTION. Here are the elements I didn’t discuss last time.

It’s not really a mystery without clues embedded in the story. It’s best to mix them up between material, behavioral and informational clues. Physical clues can be hidden in the setting or the crime scene. Clues can be detected from interactions with the suspects. The best clues are both subtle and clever. But don’t make the mistake of dropping too many clues. If they’re really clues that makes the solution too easy. If there are a lot of false clues readers will resent the artless misdirection.

Readers appreciate the weapon or means of killing, so a physical description of the “how” (how the victim was killed or how the missing item was stolen) is essential. This offers a great opportunity to embed clues so don’t skimp on the description.

I list tension as an essential element because stories without it are boring. There needs to be dissent between the characters, especially between the suspects and your detective. It’s just not realistic for the suspects to happily comply with the sleuth. Detection is more fun to watch if each clue is hard won.

And there must be misdirection, or at least serious distractions. This is where a writer gets into the art of mystery writing. False clues should be woven in with real clues, or tied to a sub plot. They can’t be used gratuitously. Readers will consider that a waste of their time.

Finally, every mystery must have a logical resolution. For your mystery to be satisfying, you must play fair with your readers. They must see all the clues necessary to solve the puzzle, even if they are cleverly hidden. You must not simply pull the solution out of the ether. The readers must have been able to both follow the path and feel that they could have – and SHOULD have – predicted the ending.

For many mystery writers these elements arise automatically as they create their stories. But don’t trust to luck. If you are a plotter, like me, you should make sure all ten of the essential elements are in your story before you begin to actually write. On the other hand, if you are the kind of writer who flies by the seat of his pants you will need to stay aware as you proceed, and not miss the opportunities to include these elements.

NOW… are there other essential elements you feel a mystery needs? Let me know.     

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Essential Elements of Mystery Fiction

Saturday I was lucky enough to participate in the Virginia Writer’s Club annual symposium.  A big part of the fun was teaming up with fellow mystery author Rosie Shomaker to deliver a workshop called “Writing Mysteries: the Why, What and How of it.”

After giving our class a clear definition of the mystery story, and spending some time explaining why writers should choose to create mysteries, we enumerated what we think are the ten essential elements of a mystery story with some do’s and don’ts. I thought you might like to know them too.

First, of course, you must have a mystery. There must be a secret, something missing or an unsolved crime. And of course there has to be a victim. Most important here is to explain the damage and the stakes. In other words, who was harmed, killed or put in danger? And the stakes need to be high, otherwise readers won’t care.

Next you need an investigator. Please don’t use some random, passer-by as your sleuth. He or she needs to have a vested interest in solving the crime.

You’re going to need some suspects. The guilty party should be among them, and you need to introduce this person early. When you bring the real villain in late the detective’s examination of earlier suspects feels like a waste of the reader’s time. And, while we need a selection to choose from, you shouldn’t have too many suspects. Agatha Christie’s “little Indians” aside, ten is too many.

The setting is a necessary element of a good mystery. Be specific about where your mystery is happening and make that setting three-dimensional, that is, describe it with all your senses. Mysteries take us where we want to go, or sometimes they just show you the places you already know.  My detective, Hannibal Jones, lives and works in Washington.  He shares the city with James Patterson’s Alex Cross and George Pelecanos’ Derek Strange.  Of course Laura Lippman’s Tess Monahan rules Baltimore, Robert B. Parker's Spencer owns Boston, and Paula Woods redefines L.A. urban noir with Charlotte Justice. Janet Evanovich takes a rather satirical look at New Jersey. And Alexander McCall Smith’s books about the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency are set in Botswana.

And of course your mystery must have actual detection. Your sleuth has to examine, investigate, and interview those suspects to build their motive, means and opportunity. The detective must ferret out both physical and relational facts and connections. Don’t let your protagonist luck into the information he or she needs. Likewise, don’t have your sleuth endlessly listening to gossip or hearsay. The information gained from interviews should be validated and compared in order to learn who’s lying.

But we said ten essential elements, didn’t we? I’ll talk about the others next week.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Don't Judge Me for Judging

After assembling my own anthology for publication (Young Adventurers, due for release in December) I thought I was fully ready to help judge a short story contest that would result in an anthology for fellow publisher.  Well… maybe.

Nancy Sakaduski of Cat & Mouse Press invited me to be one of the six judges for this year’s Rehoboth Beach Reads Short Story Contest. I was honored, but still didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. Nancy is tapped into a pretty vital writing community in Delaware, which resulted in more than 130 submissions! When I got my first batch of 40 stories to review I figured I’d blow through them pretty quickly. I just needed to pick my top five choices with no reviews, comments, or explanation required. We were judging the stories based on their creativity, quality of writing, their suitability as a beach read, and how well they fit the beach theme. Eliminations should be easy, right? You know a story’s too weak  by the end of the first page.
The problem is, almost none of them was weak. This was a pretty darn good bunch of stories. I wanted five great reads to float to the surface, but it was more like twenty. I had to get really picky to choose the 5.
But then we all needed to read the entire group of semi-finalists. Six judges,  five stories each.  That means thirty counting my five, but surely there’d be a lot of overlap that would reduce that number, right? Well, not so much. We had 28 semi-finalists to consider. And shoot, almost all of these were really good! Plus there was the apples vs oranges issue: is this really well written romance better or worse than that well written humorous story? Or the thriller? But hard choices had to be made. We each shared our top three choices (although I couldn’t resist mentioning two that were an eyelash away from the top three.)
Finally, we judges met to hash out which of these fine efforts would be declared first, second and third place winners. There was lively discussion but no conflict really. These people were definitely my respected peers and we all made passionate arguments for our favorites. Ultimately we all loved the top stories to some degree so settling on final winners was not that hard. And we each got to give a Judge’s Award to a favorite that didn’t make it into the top three.

It was exhausting but SO rewarding, and I now know several authors I want to pursue for a Intrigue Publishing. If you are an accomplished writer you should look for an opportunity to judge. It’s a wonderful experience.

Monday, July 13, 2015

It's All About the Dialog III

Last month I wrote a bit about dialog, but it was all just mechanics. But remember that good dialog is so important to your fiction because dialog is the best place to reveal your character’s inner self.  It is also the place where you can most easily destroy your character, and your book.  I know you’ve been told that every writer should have his own individual voice.  If you want your characters to become real people, they too should each have an individual voice, and that voice should grow organically out of who that person is.

You must think of every character you create as a real person, as real as you or me.  How you speak is the result where you come from, your age, your ethnic background, your gender, whether you’re a leader or follower, and whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert.  So you need to know all of that and more about every character before he opens his mouth. Your speech is also affected by what groups you have belonged to.  For example, ex-cons and retired soldiers have distinctive speech patterns that are very different.

One final tip on making your dialog fresh and believable.  When you have a conversation written and you think it’s the way it is supposed to be, the final test is done by ear.  Read your dialog aloud.  Say exactly what you wrote, and if you find yourself tempted to change it in the reading, consider changing what is on the page.  If you stumble over an unintentional tongue twister, change that too because people don’t usually say things that are hard for them to say during conversations.  And pay attention to the word choices.  Consider this sentence from a book I was asked to critique: 
“Your sourpuss persona is rubbing off on everyone, including Whimsy.  She’s seven years old and by now you should have adjusted to being a parent—-she deserves more from you.  It’s Christmas, for pity’s sake!”   

Now, if you had written that and then read it aloud, I hope you would ask yourself - would the person who used a phrase like “sourpuss persona” also use a phrase like, “for pity’s sake?” 

The test by ear is the final test of whether you’ve written strong, believable dialog.  I hope these few tips will help you put better words into your characters’ mouths.

Friday, July 3, 2015

What Genre Do I Write in?

Today's guest author, B. Swangin Webster, is the mother of five grown children and the "Nina" of seven grandchildren. She continues to write because if she didn't, she believes she would stop breathing. "Live life with passion" is her motto and this is something that she does every day. She has written two successful novels that strike close to reality, yet people still ask what genre her work falls into. Today she explains.

What is the genre I write in?

Well with a name like B. Swangin Webster you may assume, erotica. WRONG!

I write Contemporary Dramas. It can also be called Urban Drama.

Next question…oh, like street lit? WRONG!

Contemporary/Urban dramas are nothing like street lit. There are no drug dealers in my novels (well one time there was but he was just passing through) and there are no women stripping for money or marrying a man for money.

Street lit is hard core literature that has taken the literary world by storm. Most street lit novels will have titles that include the word, (pardon my language) Bitch and Nigga. Most likely they will have covers with stacks of money on the cover or a scantily clad woman or man.

My novels have none of that. Yes, it may contain the word Bitch but not in EVERY conversation.
Contemporary dramas are stories that can be lived right now. They could be your neighbor’s drama and most of them are LIFETIME movies. You know; the ones that have the stalker, the mistress or the missing child. 

What I write is taken from today’s headlines and fictionalized to put you in the middle of the situation and have you going through all of your emotions. If you don’t use at least 4 (or 5) emotions (well some say there are 6 emotions; but that’s another blog) while reading my novel, than I haven’t done my job.

So take a look at one of my novels and see what I write. Don’t assume that you won’t read an urban or contemporary drama because most movies that aren’t mystery, suspense or action are in fact contemporary dramas.

Give me a try and see if you enjoy it. Please feel free to contact me after you do; I’d love to hear from you. Just write to - and make sure to LIKE my fan page on Facebook: