Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Greater Challenge of Anthologies

Like most writers I’m a walking contradiction. For example, I hate writing short stories because I find them difficult to craft, but I love a writing challenge.

That’s how I end up in anthologies. They generally have a theme that establishes some commonality among the stories. For the last two years I’ve contributed to the annual Wolfmont Press collection of crime stories related to the winter holidays. I loved this year’s title: Dying in a Winter Wonderland. I also placed a story in the Echelon Press anthology Heat of the Moment. Published to benefit the victims of last year’s California wildfires, all those stories had a fire-related theme. Each time, the theme was a hook on which to hang an idea, and I really loved that extra challenge.

Recently, fellow author John French invited me to contribute to an anthology to be entitled, “BAD COP, NO DONUT.” This is slated to be a collection of stories about police behaving badly. This one comes with an extra helping of challenges.

First, and most obviously, one of the primary characters has to be a cop doing wrong. Since I’m generally positive about the police this calls for thinking outside the box.

Then there is the fact that John, aside from being a fine writer, is also a full time crime scene supervisor for the Baltimore Police Department. That means I can’t play fast and loose with the forensics or police procedure.

And then there is the matter of deadline. All the stories have to be in by a certain time for the book to go to print on schedule.

One reason I love being a novelist is the freedom it gives you. You can tell whatever story comes to mind, and tell it however you choose, in any voice, almost any length, at your own pace. But sometimes there is a weird appeal to having to write within certain restrictions. That’s why I write in a specific genre that has its own conventions and comes with a set of reader expectations. And that’s why I always accept the challenge of writing to a theme for an anthology.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thankful... for YOU!

When you look at the economy these days you might wonder just what we all have to be thankful for this year. Booksellers are taking the hit along with the rest of the retail community. When money gets tight many people see buying that latest novel as a luxury they can ill afford. I feel you.

But let me remind you that others have had it far worse. Remember, the Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. In fact, no Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.

So I may not have as many readers as I'd like. I'm still very grateful for every single person who has taken the time to read one of my novels. I'm grateful for fans like Chuck Hagar who recently sent me an e-mail that said:

"Just finished reading one of your books (Blood and Bone). I purchased it from you at the Dulles Expo center last sunday. You got a fan. I didn't see that ending coming, I was so into the story that I missed my bus stop on my way into work. Take it easy. I'll be buying the other books."

And just a couple days ago Kayla Williams wrote:

"Austin - I picked up your book when I had the privilege of meeting you while you were doing a signing at our mall - I'm also a local author. Wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed your book Collateral Damage - I couldn't put it down! The characters were rich and layered, the plot intricate, and the place descriptions spot on. Looking forward to reading more, and wishing you every success."

At this time of Thanksgiving, what can I say about how important these short notes are to me? Well, I'm particularly fond of this quote from H.U. Westermayer:

"If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, 'thank you,' that would suffice."

I hope you are thankful for the people in your life who hearten, support and encourage you. I sure am. They all - YOU all - mean the world to me.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Marketing at the Market

You may know that I spent the weekend at the 15th Annual Northern Virginia Christmas Market. I stood at a table in the Dulles Expo Center and explained to passersby what I write and why they want to read it. Now you may well ask yourself, why would a small press author who is trying desperately to mainstream himself buy books to resell at what amounts to a glorified flea market?

Well for one thing, I get to do the best kind of market research. I have several titles in print. When people approach my table, I get to see which covers most effective catch their eye. I experiment with different signage. (One that said, “If you like Alex Cross you’ll LOVE Hannibal Jones” was particularly effective.) It was a chance to test market my first hard cover (I met with less resistance than I expected to the $25 price tag.) And when you’re eye to eye with people you find out what they like or dislike about mysteries. As it turns out, being able to say, “no graphic sex, no graphic violence” is more important to most readers than “it will keep you guessing.”

And then there is the exposure. Hundreds of pairs of eyes scanned my covers during the weekend, and even those who didn’t stop will recognize my name and book titles the next time they hear them. A few people said, “I’ve seen reviews for Blood and Bone.” And three different ladies told me they would love to have an author come to a meeting of their book club. Those are almost guaranteed future sales.

And yes, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the sales mattered. I signed 89 books over the weekend and even though I had to buy them to sell them, I got to keep the big slice of cash that usually goes to the bookstore and distributor. This allowed my lovely wife Denise to troll the 300 vendors at the Christmas Market and get pretty much all of our Christmas shopping done. Bonus!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Author update

I’ve gotten so caught up in broader industry issues of late that I’ve lost track of the meaning of this log. I’m trying to document my own career here.

I mentioned a few weeks back that my collaborator had not begun her work on our shared urban fantasy novel. I should have told you that she has since stepped up with some beautiful work. I’ll have to really stretch to come up to her level of prose, which was just what I was hoping for in a writing partner. We now have the first ten thousand or so words of what will be a real fun thrill ride when we’re done.

I also have duties as President of Northern Virginia chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. I’ve set up a nice holiday meeting at a nearby restaurant/book store called Busboys and Poets. With luck, a broad collection of local writers will attend. One of my favorite thriller writers, John Gilstrap, will be our speaker.

Meanwhile, Intrigue Publishing is preparing the next Hannibal Jones Mystery, Russian Roulette, for a June release. Since many of my readers are also writers, I’ll bore you here with the details of the promotional activities as we go.

One thing you can expect with my next novel is that several copies will be given away - not just to reviewers but to my readers as well. Our thinking is that, with blogs and MySpace, Facebook and Friendster, LibraryThing, and Shelfari, everyone has a public forum where they can express their views. My expectation is that people who end up with my new book will mention it on their on-line vehicles and help me generate some buzz.

Ready to become a social media reviewer? Be on the lookout for your chance to pick up a copy of Russian Roulette for free.