Saturday, August 29, 2015

Book Signing - Be Active

Last week we talked mostly about how to set up a book signing. But what do you do when you finally get there?

Well here’s the number one thing NOT to do: Don’t just sit there. A surprising number of people are uncomfortable about walking up to an author and talking to them. So if you want your event to be a success, stand up and talk to people. Say hello to everyone who passes by. If they speak, or stop, or even make eye contact, continue the conversation. Ask if they like the kind of book you write. Tell them you’re an author – you’d be surprised how many people will see you at a table behind a stack of books and not make the connection that you are a writer. A sign on your table with your name and the words “author signing” can help, but don’t count on the bookstore to supply one.

It’s also a good idea to have something to put in people’s hands. Bookmarks are good. Post cards are good. Flyers are better. People who walk right past you might read the exciting copy (like what I hope is on your back cover) and stop back to chat with you on their way out of the store. Because I write series novels, I have a trifold with the covers and a short blurb about each of my novels. Sometimes people circle back to my table after wandering all around the bookstore, point at one of the covers in the trifold and just say, “I want this one.”

For those that do stop to chat, have your elevator pitch ready. Your one-minute talk should deliver the who-what-when-where, and most important, why someone should want to buy your book. Something like this for my next novel:

“I write mysteries. Hannibal Jones – the star of my mystery series - is an African American private eye based in Washington DC. In my newest novel, PYRAMID DECEPTION, he takes on the most important client of his life: his own girlfriend. She gets taken in a scam so he’s trying to get her money back. When Hannibal finally tracks down a lead he goes to question the woman, but she gets gunned down right in front of him in a drive by shooting. Then her body disappears and Hannibal is the top suspect. So he’s got to clear his name, recover his girl’s money AND solve a murder. It’s a mystery that will keep you guessing right to the end. And I’d be happy to sign one for you.”

It’s less than a minute and leads directly to a yes or no.

More book signing tips next week.

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.