Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Quick tip for Writers

Budding authors would do well to remember to read their prose aloud to try to hear how a stranger might interpret their words. Remember, if a sentence can be read two ways we can count on a reader to see it the OTHER way. One way to help avoid this problem is to be very careful with the placement of subject and object, and be aware of the immediate antecedent of any modifier. For example, how would you read this sentence?

"She had a boyfriend with a wooden leg, but broke it off."

Right. The funnier way.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Keeping busy, getting reviewed

It was a weekend of ups and downs but with good points throughout. The weather was awful Friday night so the St Charles Town Center was empty, which means almost no one wandered into the Borders Express there to pick up one of my books. It happens that way sometimes, but I did make more plans for the big release of Russian Roulette and thanks to my good friend Beth I did have some excellent barbecue at a Waldorf eatery.

On the other hand, my class at the Chesterfield County Public Library Writers Workshop was well received Saturday, and the short book signing afterward was very successful. BTW, tomorrow I’ll do another library gig, but it’s not just about me. I’ll be at the Howard County Central Library with several other contributors to “New Lines from the Old Line State: An Anthology of Maryland Writers.” Between 7 pm to 8:30 pm we’ll each read a bit of our contribution to the anthology and sign copies of it afterward. If you're nearby, the library is at 10375 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, MD.

By Sunday the weather was downright beautiful, so Fair Oaks Mall was packed and I signed enough books at the Borders Express there to make up for Friday’s disappointing showing.

Even better, I was alerted to the very first published review of Russian Roulette. I sent an advance review copy to Thomas Duff (aka "Duffbert") who is one of the Top 25 Amazon Book Reviewers. He wrote back in due time to thank me for the book and let me know that he posted his review to Amazon, Twitter, and his blog. Now the review won’t actually appear on Amazon until the book leaves pre-sale status and becomes available, but you can read it now.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Brad Meltzer, Super Genius

Yes, I know I said I’d keep you posted on my personal progress here and so I will briefly mention that we have arranged for print ads in Crimespree Magazine and Mystery Scene to announce the release of Russian Roulette in June. I’ll also admit that my internet provider has had some serious issues preventing me from updating my web site for a couple weeks. We’ll have that fixed by next week and at that time I’ll announce the big book giveaway.

But what I really want to talk about today is my hero, Brad Meltzer. Brad has written some serious best sellers. Before that, he wrote some of the best comics in history, including the “Identity Crisis” storyline in Justice League of America. I also learned at the Virginia Festival of the Book’s Crime Wave Luncheon that Brad is the best keynote speaker I’ve ever heard. But beyond all that, Brad is my hero because he’s at the cutting edge of book promotion.

Ten years ago Brad had what some say was the very first professional author web site. He set that up for his first published novel, Tenth Justice. He posted a lot of the things I’ve tried to emulate, like sample chapters and character interviews. It wasn’t super high tech at the time, but since no one else was doing it, it was pretty spectacular.

Over the years he has stayed at the leading edge of book promotion. He made not one, not two but three videos for his latest thriller, The Book of Lies. One of them has Christopher Hitchens and Joss Whedon in the cast (yes, the guy who created Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) The video itself is a fine piece of writing, about a theoretical missing book of the Bible.

Of course my book trailer for Russian Roulette will be produced by Circle of Seven Productions, the company that invented the things back in 2002, and I’ll be debuting it soon. It won’t be nearly as impressive as any of Brad’s but I’m starting small like he did and following in the great man’s footsteps. It’s good to have such a great and successful example to follow.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Update - What’s Austin up to?

I know I’ve been mired in industry happenings lately, and the broad view of how they affect all of us, but I was just reminded that I started this blog as a journal of my personal journey. So I think it’s time to let you know more of my progress.

I’ll start with an up close example of how the chaos at Borders has affected me. I was scheduled to do a signing Friday night at the Borders superstore in Waldorf, MD. We always send posters and brochures for the stores to hand out days before I arrive to raise awareness of the event. We also call to verify the date and that they received said posters and brochures. Well, when I got there Friday nobody knew anything about a signing.

The girl on duty went into the back and returned in about a minute with the envelope with the posters and brochures. They were embarrassed and would have been happy to do the signing, but the manager hadn’t ordered any books and I wasn’t about to set up with the ten or so copies of my books in the store. I met the new General Manager (moved from Annapolis Borders 3 weeks ago) who apologized profusely. I have to conclude that losing layers of management and shuffling managers around stores will cause more events to slip through the cracks unless I am even more vigilant.

Meanwhile we’ve made a lot of progress in preparation for the June release of Russian Roulette, the next Hannibal Jones mystery. We have lovely new bookmarks, and have ordered both a mailing list of mystery readers and the post cards I’ll be sending. Coasters and a print ad are in the design phase. I’ve received blurbs for the book from some great friends: JoAnn Ross, NY Times bestselling author of the High Risk Series; Robert Randisi, Founder of the Private Eye Writers of America; Libby Fischer Hellmann, author of the Ellie Foreman mystery/suspense series; and Jon Jordan, publisher of Crimespree Magazine. I also mailed out 25 review copies of the new book to various newspapers, magazines and respected reviewers. 25 more when to some of the top rated Amazon.com reviewers.

We’ve scheduled a giant private release party in June, and a second public release party in a Borders store in Maryland. More details to follow. I’ve ordered a dandy new book trailer that I’ll be showcasing soon. And I’ve scheduled my appearance at Bouchercon in October where my wife and I will shamelessly flack the new book.

And you shouldn’t think I’ve abandoned the writing side of writing. My collaborator, Meloney Crawford Chadwick, and I have written some dandy material for the urban fantasy work in progress. It’s a slower process with two writers pruning, trimming and polishing each other’s contributions but at this point we have more than 17,000 words that we’re really proud of (that’s about 65 manuscript pages, or about 20% of a novel.) Our scenes dovetail nicely - better than I would have expected. An outside would be hard put to see where her work ends or mine begins and that’s as I think it should be. We continue to grow the project organically and I am quite happy with what we have so far.

So there’s my progress report. Next week, back to kibitzing about the publishing world.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Why This Mister's a Sister

You know I’m a believer in writer’s organization. I pay my dues to Mystery Writers of America , Private Eye Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, American Independent Writers, the Virginia Writers Club and even the Maryland Writers Association in the next state over. But why would an otherwise masculine guy like me be a member of Sisters in Crime?

Well, originally I joined because I wanted to support the cause - to combat discrimination against women in the mystery field and raise awareness of their contribution to the field. Soon after I joined I realized that I knew more female mystery writers than male, so maybe they didn’t need my help. But then I began to feel the advantages of membership.

This group is more proactive than any of the other national organizations from the point of view of training. While the MWA is focused on enhancing the reputation of mystery writing, and the ITW are all about marketing, Sisters in Crime focuses on nurturing new writers and helping them to improve their craft. They are also big on networking and maintaining close ties to publishers and agents, which helps members get into the business.

But perhaps the biggest advantage to me is the electronic newsletter, In SinC. The editors do a very good job of scanning the industry and letting me know which articles in Publishers Weekly or other pubs I need to read. They link me to the most useful and informative articles and interviews with agents and publishers who have the inside view of the publishing industry.

The best part of the newsletter to me is the encouraging news. While we’re all hearing about how the publishing industry is going into the toilet they print the details of new deals members have landed. When I read that Clea Simon has sold the first book in a new paranormal mystery series to Severn House in a nice two-book deal, that Lorraine Bartlett sold the next three books in her series, and that Carolyn Hart's next three books sold to Harper in a significant deal (significant deal = somewhere between $250K and 500K) I know that editors are still buying, and I find that fact very encouraging.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

With a Little Help from my Friends

I did not go to the South Carolina Book Festival expecting to get rich. In fact, I fully expected to lose a good deal of money on the trip. But the life of an author can be a solitary existence and every so often you have to do something about that.

So the Festival began, for me, with a seven hour drive south, accompanied by my lovely wife Denise. Most days we are both occupied with our individual professional pursuits. This provided an excuse for seven consecutive hours with nothing to do but talk to each other, followed by three nights in a hotel room that was purposely more expensive than it needed to be.

I spent Saturday and Sunday in a booth with Echelon Press publisher Karen Syed and a most amusing group of fellow Echelon authors. Perky little Jackie Sylvan writes young adult fantasy with an edge. Sam Morton is an ex-cop whose thrillers feel like true crime. Diana Black and Mary Cunningham write for children, but also have a book called WOOF for Women Only Over Fifty. Then there was Regan Black, a charmer whose work is best described as sci-fi, but better read for its own merits. Her daughter Jordan will soon be published in her own right. Marlis Day writes cozier mysteries than mine, and fantasy author Marc Vun Kannon makes a business of selling all Echelon books, not just his own.

So what did this crew have in common aside from a publisher? Well, only two things that mattered.

First, everyone at the Echelon booth was outgoing, open and eager to sign their books. I was surrounded by people who, like me, wanted to speak to every person who walked past and tell them all about our writing. I got a chance to hear each author’s individual approach to explaining why someone facing them should want to own their latest book. It was encouraging to be part of a group instead of standing alone in a bookstore.

The other commonality was the consistent upbeat attitude shared by everyone. We were there for business, but there was constant laughter generated by bad jokes, smart remarks and witty responses. There is no better way to keep your mind sharp than to dive into a random conversation with a booth full of writers.

So yes, this is one of the unsung differences between self-publishing and placing a manuscript with a small press. The kind of camaraderie that comes from being part of a team can make writing a somewhat less lonely pastime.

And if you think I might be alone in this thinking, just check out some of the outlandish photos Karen and Regan posted on their blogs.

Oh, BTW - as it turns out, I came out a little ahead on the trip thanks to lots of books signed.