Saturday, June 27, 2015

Twelve Years of Perspective - How You're Growing as a Writer Without Even Realizing It

The Death Row Complex is here!

In honor of launch day, I posted on my author blog the long, convoluted story of why this book took twelve years to release. I won't reiterate that story for the Murder Lab crowd, but what I would like to do is point something out: when I went back and looked at the book I was both horrified and thrilled. Horrified because I realized how cheesy the book was to begin with. Thrilled because I realized how much I have grown as an author in the last twelve years.

Here are a few things I found a ridiculous quantity of when re-reading Death Row for the first time in a long time:

1) Cliches galore
2) Extreme cheese
3) Painfully lengthy tangents that didn't bring anything to the story
4) Approximately 40,000 extra words
5) An entire character who needed to be deleted
6) Etc.

The funny thing is, I didn't even realize over the last twelve years that I was learning to recognize these things. I never took a class in de-cheese-ification or made a list of cliches to omit during editing. I think I just read a lot and learned what bothers me in a book. Or maybe I'm just growing up. Or maybe practice makes perfect. I don't know. But whatever the reason, I can tell you with certainty that The Death Row Complex in its final iteration is a much better book than it was twelve years ago. And that's worth a collective celebration for all of us, because there are a lot of us authors out there trying to get better.

Let me just tell you... you are getting better. You are.

I challenge the authors of the Murder Lab community to go back and try to dig something up that you wrote twelve years ago. What do you think of it? Is it awesome? Embarrassing? Or a great kernel of a story buried beneath a lot of bad writing? I'm inclined to think that whatever you love about it is what you were good at to begin with. What you hate about that story now is probably where you've improved.

Twelve years after writing the first draft of The Death Row Complex, I still loved the bones of the story. It was the writing that I was cringing at. So I'm inclined to think that my storytelling ability hasn't changed much over the last twelve years (whether that's good or bad remains to be seen...,) but I think my writing has gotten much better. And I'll take that... for now.

At long last, you may download the Kindle version of The Death Row Complex (discounted this month in honor of the launch!), order a paperback from Amazon, or purchase a signed copy from me. Finally.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015 and The Author Biz Podcasts

Do you like to read ‪#‎crimefiction‬? If so, check out, an excellent podcast by Stephen Campbell. Steve interviews authors in all kinds of ‪#‎mystery‬‪#‎thriller‬, and ‪#‎suspense‬ genres, including, this morning, me. Give a listen to hear our short discussion about the Katrina Stone novels, the genres in general, and some of the funny things that happen to scientists who write books.

And, if you're an author, do yourself and your career a huge favor and check out The Author Biz podcast, another podcast run by Steve. In this one, he interviews the biggest and most successful players in the book business, who share their secrets for how they came to be that way. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Why Your Favorite Book is Not in the Bookstore (And What to Do About it)

I've recently become increasingly cognizant of something: readers who are not themselves in the
book business often have no idea what today's book business is like. This is not an insult, any more than it's an insult to say that a patient doesn't know everything the doctor knows. It's not necessarily a reader's job to know the book business. However...

It is to the disadvantage of both reader and author, as the whole landscape of writing, publishing, selling, and buying books has changed dramatically in recent years... and it continues to be a moving target. So I've decided to write a few blog posts that will constitute a sort of "Book Business 101" geared toward readers--and toward anyone who wants a high-level overview of how the business works these days. It is my hope that this series of posts will help readers to find great books that they might not be aware of, and that will be of benefit to some great authors. So here goes:

I've decided to start this little mini-series with a post about bookstores and where the books in them come from. Here's how it used to work:

If an author wanted to "get published," he or she had but one option. Get a publisher to notice your book, sign a publishing contract, and then watch your book enter the bookstore, if you're lucky. What the traditional publishing model established was a monopoly on the part of the big publishers. Authors had no choice but to beg for their attention. So the publisher could sell books and treat their employees--the authors--however they saw fit. Here's how they did it:

Big, well-known authors, those with a track record for selling a lot of books, were the publisher's most valuable commodity. So they got the publishing dollars. When those authors released a new book, the book would be on the front shelves of the bookstore, and the publisher would spend a fortune on promotion, which included sending the author on a world-wide book signing tour to further increase his or her exposure. The occasional, incredibly lucky breakthrough author, would become a part of this literary elite, this one percent.

The lower ninety-nine percent of authors didn't get this royal treatment. If they were lucky enough to get a book deal at all, their book would be edited, possibly re-titled, their cover designed for them without their input, and then they'd be handed a couple of boxes of books and instructed to go find a way to sell them. Their books would be placed in the bookstores--on the back shelves, where a reader would have to search to find them. If they didn't sell, which was frequently the case since the publisher did nothing to support or promote them, then the unsold books would be returned to the publisher and the author's royalties would go in reverse.

There was also a window for this: typically six weeks to three months after launch. If a book didn't sell during that period of time, it was yanked out of the bookstore and the next author's books were placed on those back shelves instead. End of story.

Here's the kicker.

This is pretty much still the traditional publishing model. But here's the landmark change: This is no longer the only option for an author. Today, authors can self-publish or publish with a smaller, more personal publishing house, and sell their books online, bypassing this whole annoying and expensive process. Increasingly, authors are doing this, often abandoning traditional publishing contracts to do so. There are many advantages to this, but the biggest disadvantage to the indie-publishing model is that it's practically impossible to get your books into bookstores or libraries.

Let me say something again: Increasingly, great authors are abandoning traditional publishing contracts to self-publish or indie-publish their books. What this means to you as a reader: Increasingly, great books are no longer on the shelves in brick-and-mortar bookstores. 

What can you do about it? Well, there are two things. First: buy books online. Amazon is really the biggest online bookseller, to the point that it has almost replaced brick-and-mortar stores in controlling a monopoly. But the reason it's so popular is that it has a ton of great books, and they are easy for readers to get. A future post will detail how you can filter through the crappy books to find the really good ones, but for now, just be aware that if you're looking for a good book, you are as likely to find one online as in the bookstore. Perhaps even more likely.

With that being said, most bookstores WILL order a book for you if you ask for it. If you hear of a good book online, but you want to support your local bookstore, go in and ask if they carry the book. If they say no, ask if they can order it for you. If a particular book is requested by enough readers at enough bookstores, the bookstores will take notice and will start to carry it. And this is HUGE for the author.

So there it first installment of Book Business 101 for Readers. Readers, please feel free to post questions in the comments section if you're wondering more about how these things work. And authors, please feel free to share your experiences, whether they agree with or contradict what I've just said. My goal here isn't to be the authority on the subject, which I certainly don't profess to be, but to encourage the dialog that gets the info out there and helps readers find books they want to read. Happy hunting!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Death Row Complex Launch Party

Italy Thriller Novel

It's time for a celebration! If you're in So Cal, please join us Saturday, June 27, at Cucina Italiana San Diego for the official launch of The Death Row Complex. There will be wine and appetizers, and Kristen Elise will be signing copies of Death Row as well as the first Katrina Stone novel, The Vesuvius Isotope.

Cucina Italiana San Diego
4705-A Clairemont Drive
San Diego, CA 92117
(858) 274-9732
Saturday, June 27, 2015
noon-2:00 pm

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Author Brand and Social Media: Should the Real You Show Through?

Art Credit: True Identity by Chris S Calf on
I was listening to Stephen Campbell's The Author Biz podcast this morning (Episode 7) and the subjects of author brand, platform, and social media came up. This is a highly educational podcast (I recommend it to all authors!) and in this particular episode, there was a statement about something that should really be obvious: that your online presence should reflect the brand you want to convey. I believe the specific comment was something to the effect of, "If you write mysteries and thrillers, you probably shouldn't be posting cat pictures on your social media sites three times a week." On the one hand, duh. On the other hand, guilty.

The thing is, there is more to an author, particularly a novelist, than the novels they write. Many of us write in one particular genre, as we certainly should do, but we still love to read and discuss all kinds of books. And, (gasp!) reading and writing are also not the only things we do.

Personally, I try to stick with my brand online for the most part. But I have to admit, I do have a split personality on Facebook. My Author Kristen Elise page is for all of those brand-related posts (along with all of my other channels, including this one.) But my personal Facebook profile is mine. Not the author's. This is where I post twenty seven pictures of my dogs per day, tell goofy stories about things my family said or did, and laugh with my old friends about things that happened when we were little kids. It has nothing to do with author-biz marketing and promotion.

So it doesn't surprise me that a lot of my friends and family don't follow my author page--because they aren't all readers, or readers in my genre, and that's OK. On the flip side, a lot of my author page followers don't friend me. I guess they're not into dogs. It all seems like a reasonable idea, but perhaps worth a bit of discussion: Is letting one's true identity out of the bag, when parts of that identity are incongruous with a brand, potentially harmful to one's online presence?

It's possible that the answer is a resounding "yes." As thriller and mystery authors, we write stories that are dark and serious and a little bit sick. Perhaps our fans like to think of us as being a bit sick-in-the-head ourselves, perhaps right on the verge of snapping and carrying out whatever we've described in our novels. Perhaps the MOST successful author branding strategy would be one that leads readers to that belief, whether that persona is real or invented. Perhaps a mystery author should herself be a mystery. Perhaps a thriller author should seem... well, thrilling. Perhaps it damages one's credibility as an author in the darker forms of the art if one reveals that the figure behind the curtain is actually a total clown.

With that being said, an important part of one's brand is what was referred to in the podcast as "your special sauce." This is what makes you you. It's what makes you unique as an author, what gives you a "niche," to use some business-ese--and it's also what makes you human to your audience. I might not be the only mystery/thriller author in the world, or even the only historical medical mystery/thriller author with a background in science in the world. But I just might be the only one who has three dogs, speaks Arabic and Spanish, played lead guitar on a metalcore album, and has ridden a camel. Somewhere in there, there's something that makes me me.

Does that qualify as special sauce? I'm not sure. Does it damage or help my image, to let readers see the human side of the author? Time will tell. But what I will say is this: a lot of my Facebook friends, the ones whom I speak to about things beyond books, became my friends through my author platform. So they must have decided that they like the human side of Kristen Elise enough to hang out. And I think that's awesome.

If you're reading this post, you obviously know me through Murder Lab or through some form of my social media platform (all of which is linked on the right hand side of this page.) I'd like to hereby extend the following invitation, and with no obligation, of course...but here it is: If you only know me as the Murder Lab Mistress, or as the author of The Vesuvius Isotope and the forthcoming prequel The Death Row Complex, but you're curious about the human behind the books, please feel free to friend me on my personal Facebook page. I don't bite. Or kill. Except in writing.

Authors, do you let the real you show through in your social media sites? Do you think it's helpful or harmful to your brand? Readers, what do you think? Are you more or less likely to pick up a book because the author shows a personality that doesn't necessarily fit with the genre he or she writes in?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Kristen Elise Ph,D. : The Death Row Complex Cover Reveal

Some posts are cool enough to put up on both of my blogs... this is one of them.

Kristen Elise Ph,D. : The Death Row Complex Cover Reveal: An anonymous warning is sent to the White House, and a genetically engineered biological weapon is released in a California prison. The un...

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Oops… I Did it Again...

When I published historical thriller The Vesuvius Isotope, I swore I would be smarter next time. I would allow *plenty* of time between editing and the launch party to take care of the details… the cover art, the formatting, the revised cover art, the revised formatting, the monstrous self-publishing checklist for first-time authors and the monstrous self-publishing checklist for second-time authors. I thought I had done this. I was SO wrong!

As it turns out, I had forgotten just how long artwork and formatting take to perfect. Especially if you've outsourced your formatting, as I have, and you have to spend a lot of time biting your nails while waiting for that next draft to come back instead of being able to control it yourself (this is a clear advantage for self-formatters.) So here I am: It's April 25, The Death Row Complex is still being formatted, the launch party is June 6, my editor has already bought plane tickets, my husband has already planned to reserve the restaurant for the event, and my best friend is moving to Hawaii the next day. So I really hope there are books by then!

Here are the financial implications of this mistake:

1) Because I'm now formatting and editing at the same time, which I swear I wouldn't do, I pay $1 per edit to the formatter for things that are "edits" and not "formatting changes." This adds up quickly. Ouch!

2) Because I'm going to be slammed for time to get the print books in my hand, I'll probably be paying exorbitant shipping costs. Meaning, even more exorbitant than they already are. Double ouch!

3) If I don't pull it together and convince myself that the books will be ready, I get to reschedule the launch party, pay for my editor's change of flight, and cry a bit about lost wages in the restaurant caused by rescheduling. (Do you see the irony of this? We're paying to close the restaurant for the launch party, and part of our income to pay for this comes from said restaurant… hehe… ) Thank God I have a day job.

So, please, readers and self: don't do this. Don't do this again. Instead, do the following:

1) Remember that formatting takes at least a month.
2) Read your book, ALL THE WAY THROUGH, three more times after editing and BEFORE you submit it to the formatter.
3) Remember that back-cover art won't be done until after the formatted manuscript is in (because the print book cover is made as one file which takes the final page count into account.) So the cover art will NOT be finished until after the formatting is done.
4) If you're tempted to think that a couple months is enough time for final editing, formatting, and printing, smack yourself upside the head.

That is all!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Are ARCs the Prologues of Marketing?

I have read a lot of criticism of prologues. The general theme of these critiques seems to be that the prologue is a false start, an easing in to the novel that should have started with a bang. "Just start at Chapter One," acquisition editors instruct. I personally have ignored this piece of advice and incorporated prologues and epilogues into both of my thrillers, because I like them that way and because I can, but that's a topic for a different blog post. Here, I want to talk about the ARC.

It seems to be standard protocol for publishers to generate ARCs--advance reading copies--of novels for pre-release prior to launch of the final version. The reason I assume this is standard protocol is because my PO box is constantly full of them. They come with non-glossy, simple covers upon which is plastered the disclaimer: "Uncorrected Advance Reading Copy," as if to assure that the reader that he or she isn't getting the real thing.

I understand the function of these, I think. You can give your novel out to a selection of readers and reviewers as a sort of beta testing and then make adjustments as appropriate before publishing. And you can generate some buzz, whet the appetite of eager fans, and incorporate the glowing reviews from your ARC into the final version. 

But can't you do all of that anyway? As I gear up to publish The Death Row Complex (without an ARC,) I'm asking myself what ARC advantages I'm missing out on. Why give readers a false start, a prologue, if you will, instead of blessing them with the final version from the get-go? Once those glowing reviews come in, and a subset of readers has caught your mistakes, can't you just make the tweaks and call it a new edition? And for the love of God, why give them the *uncorrected*--i.e. unfinished--version to base their reviews upon? Am I missing something there?

Having pondered this a bit, I've come up with (I think) three possible reasons for the ARC. 1) It must be cheaper to produce, given the simpler paper covers. So maybe the idea is to give away some freebies for publicity, but to save money by giving away cheaper versions. At the very least, it will save you the cost of the ISBN you would use for re-releasing the same novel. 2) Given that my PO box is constantly full of these, it's clear that they go to readers who will write reviews but aren't particularly important people. So maybe the idea is to generate some reviews on the down low, pick and choose the ones you want to highlight, and avoid the embarrassment of releasing your novel to Oprah until it's been vetted by some unimportant people. And 3) Perhaps the ARC is a way to make a subset of readers feel special, a way of saying, "You're one of the lucky few getting this book before its out!" And, let's face it, a good ego stroking is a clear avenue to a favorable review. 

Do you release ARCs? Why or why not?

Purchase the best-selling historical thriller The Vesuvius Isotope

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Sophomore Self-Publisher: The Checklist

When I self-pubbed The Vesuvius Isotope, I blogged this self-publishing checklist to help keep track of all of the details as I was going through the process. Subsequently, I offered retrospective advice for the "DOs" of self-publishing here and here, and the "DON'Ts" of self-publishing here and here, all of which were lessons learned along the way.

Then I solicited some advice on self-publishing for a SECOND time, courtesy of Doha 12 and South author Lance Charnes, as he had just gone through the process with his second novel. Those posts can be found here and here.

Today, I give you my current checklist as I prepare to self-pub my second thriller, The Death Row Complex. The Death Row Complex is a prequel to The Vesuvius Isotope.

My business and author channels are already established, so I won't reiterate how to set those up here. For first-time authors, please see the above posts for detailed instructions on how to do this. But there are still a lot of new and additional steps involved, and I'm hoping to learn from Lance's experience so I don't have to reinvent the wheel. I've gone through the writing and editing processes and am now on the final proofreading step. So... here is a distillation of the steps I have left, which incorporates elements of my previous checklist, my own dos and don'ts, advice from Lance's posts above, and a few changes. As always, please feel free to add to the discussion with your own experiences and lessons learned! And without further adieu...

The Checklist:
  • Before publishing:
    • Final proofreading
    • Assign ISBNs - I purchased a block of ten for Vesuvius, so I've now got them ready to go
    • Obtain LCCN
      • See previous posts to decide if you want to obtain one of these-- it's not required
      • I failed to do this properly the first time around, but I'm trying to get it right this time
      • It must be done after assigning ISBN but before finalizing, as the LCCN must be printed on the copyright page
      • Print both the ISBNs and the LCCN on the copyright page
    • In parallel, initiate artwork design - I've gone back to Damonza, who rocked the first time
    • When artwork and proofreading is done and ISBNs/LCCN assigned, format book
      • I let Damonza's handle all of my formatting for Vesuvius and it was worth every penny
      • The only mistake I made was not being 100% DONE with all edits (a comma here, a hyphen there…) before sending the manuscript for formatting. Damonza's offers unlimited formatting changes as part of their artwork and formatting packages. But if you ask them to change a comma, which is editing, not formatting, they'll charge you per comma. Which is fair enough. So, please, be finished editing at that point.
    • During final stages of artwork and formatting tweaks, this is an excellent time to update your websites and/or branding. I'm currently reading Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur by Joanna Penn, and it's got me really thinking about the business and marketing side of things. In keeping with this, I'm thinking it's a great idea to revisit one's brand with the completion of each book. So I'm planning to spend the time I have between drafts from Damonza's to consider this and my audience and to tweak my websites and social media pages accordingly. Stay tuned…
    • After artwork and formatting are completely done, register your copyright
  • Publishing:
    • Direct ebook upload to Kindle Direct Pubishing, Nook, Kobo, and iTunes
    • Print book upload to Createspace and Lightning Source
    • Order print copies for launch party and subsequent signings/promotion
    • Upload print book to Amazon, Barnes And Noble
    • Upload to author website and Murder Lab
    • Update Goodreads, Shelfari, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts to link new book
  • Post-Publishing:
    • My launch party is going a different direction this time, and to be frank, I'm taking a huge gamble. Last time, I sold thirty-three books at the launch party, which was pretty good for a self-pubbed debut historical thriller, methinks. It put a nice spike in my Lightning Source sales record. This time, I'm hoping to sell more than a hundred. But here's the gamble: I'm not doing it in a bookstore. Instead, my husband is closing Cucina Italiana and we're having the hard launch in our restaurant. Why? Because TONS of my local fans were found through this venue, and they love the place. So, we're using the enticement of free appetizers and wine to draw people who love both the restaurant and my first book. That's the advantage. The disadvantage is that none of these sales will go through a bookstore, and therefore none of them will "count" in the publishing world.  
    • See Lance's posts for some excellent advice about book reviews, library, and bookstore placement (or lack thereof…)
    • Regarding bookstore placement, I canvassed the entire Southern California area in the first few months of the release of Vesuvius, and here's what I've learned: there are three bookstores in Southern California that are REALLY helpful for me. Vesuvius is still selling in these stores, and I keep supplying copies when they need more (which is a great feeling.) The book also did great at my signings there. So… since I now have a full-time day job and don't have time for signings that won't sell, I'm focusing on these three stores. If I find myself out of a day job again sometime soon, I might do some signings elsewhere as well. But for now, it's these:
    • Stay tuned for additional posts about how else my marketing strategy is changing this time around...

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Work-in-Progress Wednesday

I'm officially declaring today, "Work-in-Progress Wednesday." I'm not sure if that's already a thing, but if it's not, then it is now. In honor of #WIPWEDNESDAY, here's a happy little diddy from mine. It's called The Death Row Complex and it's the prequel to The Vesuvius Isotope. It's scheduled for hard launch June 6! Details will follow, but there will be food and wine involved. That is all.

In honor of the new national holiday, please feel free to tease us all with a blurb from your own WIP in the comments below!

James Johnson glared at Guofu Wong and drew a breath. “OK, look Guofu,” he said. “First of all, if I was so greedy as to bulldoze some pissant girl for funding, I’d be running a multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical company right now, not working for the government. I’m not quite that desperate.”
     He laughed softly, and several others laughed with him. The two women at the table—not laughing—exchanged a glance.
     “You and I both know,” Johnson continued, “that I’m a pioneer in infectious disease research. I’ve been doing this since you were a child, and I’m most certainly not in competition with young Katrina Stone.”
     He turned to the rest of the task force. “Now, the fact is: the decision not to fund this woman’s grant was made before the emergence of the so-called Death Row strain of anthrax. I would like to review the data that Dr. Wong and his team have put together. If I agree with his conclusions, then I will absolutely agree with Dr. Wong. If Stone’s inhibitors are as promising as he claims they are, then she is definitely the most promising researcher to combat this bug. 
     “However, I have a much bigger concern.” He turned to once again address the other scientist exclusively. “How do you know she didn’t engineer it?”

The Death Row Complex
An anonymous warning is sent to the White House, and a genetically engineered biological weapon is released in a California prison. The unpublished data of biologist Katrina Stone may hold the key to harnessing the lethal bacterium--and to its creation within the desperate world from which biotechnology is born.

To read a free sample, click here.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Self-Pub or Traditional? Revisiting the Debate

I've stumbled across the blog post from Joe Konrath below and found it interesting, informative, and at times, hilarious. Please give a read to the link below… you won't regret it!

My take is that no matter which road you choose, there are two inevitable truths: 1) You have to sell a shitload of books to make money in the writing business, and 2) Nobody else is going to sell the books for you. Whether you're self-pubbed or "legacy" published, you have to a) write a book people want to read, AND b) either luck out with a book that just metastasizes on its own or else find the readers who want to read it. And that's all on you.

Joe, you may add me to your list of self-pubbed authors who have turned down deals. I have personally turned down two. I didn't turn them down to be a rebel, nor to thrust a middle finger at the publishing industry. Simply put, I literally just didn't see any up side to taking the deals. Am I a best-seller? Nope, at least not in the "rich and famous" sense (although The Vesuvius Isotope did hit #17 on Amazon's Top 100 Historical Thrillers and was a finalist in the San Diego Book Awards.) Do I regret turning down those deals? NOPE. My debut novel didn't make me any real money, but it sold well enough and garnered good enough reviews OUTSIDE of my friends and family that I've convinced myself I can crawl out of the mass grave of new authors and eventually make some semblance of a career out of this. I just have to keep writing.

And so, while I head off to do so, please read this blog post, and we'd love to hear your take on the issue.

A Newbie's Guide to Publishing: A Case of the Shatz - Fisking Mike Shatzkin: Mike Shatzkin, sounding more and more like an apologist and less like the forward-thinker he's been in years past, took a stab at poking...

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Real Deal About Epidemics and Their Cures

The medical or science thriller almost always has a ticking time bomb in the form of disease and a fight to cure it. From The Andromeda Strain to Outbreak to Contagion, the fight against the disease frequently becomes almost secondary to the conflict between those seeking to benefit, either from the disease itself or from its cure. In some cases, both.

Attached is an article that was recently published in Bio World Today, a publication created by scientists and for scientists. Its explanation of how the ebola crisis has been and continues to be handled is exemplary of how we respond to epidemics in general.

May your next medical or science thriller benefit from a dose of authenticity.