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 left 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.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Five Places to Go Before...A Volcano Erupts (Again)

A ticking time bomb is an invaluable element for increasing the page-turning factor in your mystery or thriller. What better way to incorporate a ticking time bomb than to set the novel in a location that's about to disappear? This post marks the inauguration of the "Five Places to Go Before..." series, which will highlight locations on the verge of extinction. Incorporate one into your thriller to up the stakes just that much higher.

Pasto, Columbia
The Las Lajas Sanctuary is a spectacular cathedral built into the side of a gloriously green mountain. But it might not be around forever, because Mt. Galeras sits right above it. See this architectural wonder in person before it is destroyed!

Las Lajas Sanctuary, Pasto, Columbia
Saint Pierre, Caribbean
Once known as "The Paris of the Caribbean," St. Pierre has already been completely obliterated once by Mount Pelee. Much of the old city has been rebuilt, so come see this lovely French community before it is gone once again.
Saint Pierre, Caribbean
 Pompeii and Herculaneum, Italy
Of course, this list would not be complete without the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum - the ticking time bomb in my novel, The Vesuvius Isotope. Another eruption of Mount Vesuvius is long overdue, and these priceless sites might not survive the next one. I love the image in this fresco from Pompeii showing Mount Vesuvius covered in green - sort of like Mount Pelee above...yikes!
Fresco of Mount Vesuvius From Pompeii
Shimbara, Japan
This glistening white castle is just one of a series of similarly constructed beautiful castles in Japan - but it might be the one most in danger. Looming above the castle is the active Mount Unzen, just one of Japan's dangerous volcanoes.
Shimbara Castle, Japan
 Seattle, Washington
Although quite a distance from Mount Rainier, Seattle lies in the path of destruction should the volcano erupt with sufficient force. It is expected that lava flow from a major eruption would pour right into the downtown area. And then, you'd be confined to the space needle replica in Las Vegas. The horror! See the real one when you can.
Seattle, Washington
Originally posted on Novel Travelist.

The impending eruption of Mount Vesuvius lends a ticking time bomb to the action in The Vesuvius Isotope, the best-selling debut novel by Kristen Elise. Buy The Vesuvius Isotope on Amazon.

When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that increasingly pervaded his behavior in recent weeks. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the esoteric life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague, introducing it into the twenty-first century.

Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, stepson, and three canine children.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Release of The Doc! An Interview with Timothy Desmond

Hi, Tim! Welcome to Murder Lab and congrats on the release of your new thriller, The Doc. This sounds like an interesting story combining several elements including my favorite topic, a medical thriller component. Tell me about your protagonist, Dr. Hank Houston.

TD – Hank has a mixture of interests besides his medical career. He is a shooting sports enthusiast who was an active competitor in high power rifle matches. Those matches cover several rifle types from United States military service rifles to custom built match rifles. With that sport, many reload their own match ammunition, and have dealer licenses, which Hank had also. So, he was a gun dealer, and then quit that in mid 1990s. Too, like many professionals, he is a private pilot, owning his own plane. Another hobby he is involved with is Civil War reenacting.

The novel begins when Hank is contacted by a dying friend who happens to be a Civil War reenactor. That's intriguing! Care to comment about how you came up with this character?

TD – There was a doctor friend of mine, who was the initial real life model, combined with my own interests. As I mentioned, novel character Hank is a Civil War reenactor also. His friend, Matt Sweet, was a patient who introduced him to that, after Hank quit competitive shooting. I believe it is very tough writing original and different characters. In art and science there is simultaneous invention happening. One can have different treatment and style, but it is still difficult to be original. Civil War reenactors are portrayed as “yahoos” in movies like Sweet Home Alabama and others, and even in the book Confederate in the Attic by Tony Horowitz [Vintage 1998], there is a comic or tongue-in-cheek point of view of reenactors. And while there are many novels with Civil War reenacting in them, like South of Shiloh by Chuck Logan [Harper 2008], and Tishomingo Blues by the late Elmore Leonard, both which I liked very much, they had killings at reenactments in them. I wanted to portray reenacting in a different light. I wanted Hank to be an unforgettable and different character.
Is the Civil War era a particular interest of yours?

TD - Yes, the Civil War events and the history are an interest of mine. I became a Civil War reenactor after going to a few events as a spectator. Then a friend took us to a Sons of Confederate Veterans dinner social and we joined a reenactment group there. I was in a Confederate infantry company and there were many different guys and gals in the unit. One was a veterinarian. Others were students, teachers, construction guys, gulf war veterans, history professors, civil engineers, corrections officers, accountants, manufacturing line workers. You get the picture.

It sounds like the story takes a rapid turn when a domestic black ops unit comes into play. What can you tell us about this unit?

TD – The core unit is a security private contractor called Safety Research Institute – SRI. They work in and out of their cover offices in the fictional Federal Accounting Office in Washington, DC. The SRI unit is one of many federal government contractors, and they are contracted with the real DHS.

Is this modeled on black ops you're familiar with in the nonfictional world? Or, if you told me, would you have to kill me?

TD – You are safe, as I honestly have no idea. This unit is a combination of musings over the years. I must say that it was first written in 1999, as I mention in a note at the end of the book, before TV’s 24, before 9/11, before Patriot Act, and other now-known dark things about government. But, here was the question I asked myself. If you were in charge of creating an operation that must be completely buried from the public and courts, how would you do that? In the mid 90s I wrote a short story about a private company security man, who’s job it was to get hostages released from third world entities. One might ask, if that company were a real company or a cover government company. I realize that many refer to CIA as “the company.” I’m not talking about CIA, but something larger and more sinister, with a multitude of companies.  

The excerpt posted on your blog is also of interest. Here, we delve into Hank's day job a bit. To what extent is The Doc a medical thriller? How else would you classify it?

TD - The idea is that there are several layers of sub-contractors that operate as private companies all over the country. Another arm of the SRI has their own hospital type institution which contracts with the federal court system to do the psychological evaluations of detainees or other wards of the courts. That unit also has done chemical induced interrogations. It is not a truth serum, as there is no such thing, but the drug these units use is a classified powerful formula of a conscious sedation type medication.   

Conspiracy writer Jim Marrs has said that the government and military use of drug experiments in the late 50s and 60s has stopped. But, what if it hasn’t stopped? Are ther still biological weapons here? That is dark, huh. In the 1930s, the German government used medicine, their medical community, to kill their own people.

I'll return to the murder of Hank's friend's daughter. What can you tell us about this character and how much we will see of her? Any specifics about her murder you'd like to tease us with?

TD – Dana Sweet is half the book, but she is the premise of the whole story. That is that Hank is trying to fathom, the reasons and answers for her loss. She was raised as a reenacting kid, and reenacted as a Confederate infantryman. She had a certain point of view of excessive government control that was caused by and increased after the Civil War. As a grad student in Virginia she was working on a paper about population control, which she thought would delve into a larger “control” premise for a thesis. She gets hired as an accountant in the FAO and also befriends some members of the SRI unit. One of those fellows likes her, but she falls in love with another Virginia Civil War reenactor who is a DHS agent. 

What else should I know about this novel that might not be evident from its cover blurb?

TD – At first I thought the latest blurb gave too much away, but I do realize there has to be the “hook,” as we know.  The recent news and stories about Snowden and the NSA where bloggers last year were posing the question, “do you think Snowden is a hero or a traitor?” brings up so much about what is close to us. The privacy issue and those pros and cons of abuse points of view are all relevant to this novel.

What else should our readers know about you?

TD – I was at a writers’ conference once. I had purchased extra interviews with agents or publishers. I sat before a publisher from a Los Angeles press.  Her first question was “Are you a cop?” Then “Ex- military?” My answers were, “No,” and after her brief view of my sample of novel, I was dismissed with the admonition that it was OK to say I had researched conspiracies for thirty years. I’m not a cop, CIA, nor NSA. I am an ex-state government school employee – high school science teacher.

And last, please tell our readers where we can buy The Doc.

Black Opal Books at:

Timothy J. Desmond
Amazon author page at:
Writing at:
Art at:

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Death by Gin - Question From a Reader

Jessica Hatfield asks Murder Lab:

The victim is injected with 10 ml of gin directly into the the lungs with an insulin needle. Here are my questions: 

1) Is the needle of an insulin syringe long enough to inject into the lungs? 
2) Would fluid of any kind in the lungs kill someone? 
3) If the fluid was gin, how would the body metabolize it? 
4) Is this the least bit plausible? 

We've directed this question to Elliott Garber, army veterinarian and Murder Lab Member. Please visit Elliott here for more about his work and his works. Here's what Elliott has to say about Jessica's conundrum:

Here are my initial reactions, with absolutely no extra research done on my part:

1) No, the needle on an insulin syringe is not going to be long enough to reach into the lungs. Maybe if the victim is VERY thin and the murderer presses really hard into the flesh, but I don't think so.

2) Yes, fluid of any kind in the lungs can kill someone. That doesn't mean it always will, though. The lungs can absorb a small amount of fluid on their own without causing someone to drown. However, even a small amount of water can cause someone to drown through a phenomenon called secondary drowning. This is when the water/fluid acts as an irritant in the lungs and results in an inflammatory reaction, causing the lungs to secrete more fluid and leading to pulmonary edema and possibly death. You might be able to make your murder work this way.

3) The lungs would almost certainly absorb some of the alcohol from the gin, probably leading to the same effects as alcohol taken by mouth.

4) I like the idea, but you'll have to figure something out for that needle. It would also be really hard to quickly inject 10 mL through the tiny insulin syringe/needle. Come to think of it, you probably couldn't even put an insulin needle onto a 10 mL syringe. Insulin syringes are only 1 mL or even smaller, and they're using made with the needle permanently attached.

Thanks, Elliott! Jessica, your book sounds intriguing. Let us know when it's ready for the prime time!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Second Time Around (Part 2) - Self-Publishing a Second Time

Guest post by Lance Charnes

Last time, I talked about the things that didn’t change between publishing my first novel (Doha 12) and my second one (South). Some things were just fine the way they were, while others really should’ve changed – sometimes in a big way – but didn’t.

What did change in that one-year interval? Glad you asked.

Things That Changed for the Better

I’ve gained some more beta readers from Doha 12, so this time I could get feedback from more people faster. This is a good thing. In order to get South out within the one-year window I’d set for myself, I didn’t have time to put the whole thing through my critique group, something that made me more than a little nervous. My new network of beta readers gave me enough good feedback that I came out reasonably confident that South held together to the end.

I waited months before I finally submitted Doha 12 to Midwest Book Review, a legitimate (i.e. not pay-to-play) review outlet that actually carries some weight with librarians. I used my MBR review to place Doha 12 in several libraries. This time, I catapulted copies of South to MBR as soon as I had a couple good reviews to tout.

One of those reviews was from Macmillan’s Criminal Element, a mystery/thriller-oriented blog to which I started contributing shortly after Doha 12 came out. Not only is it good exposure, but I was able to get South reviewed for their Fresh Meat feature. This meant several thousand readers were exposed to a very nice and lengthy review on launch day. You can’t buy that kind of publicity if you’re an indie author.

While flogging Doha 12, I discovered a couple promotional sites that seem promising.
·      eBookBargainsUK is actually eBook Bargains Everywhere but the U.S., with newsletters going to Latin America, Asia, Africa, and various European nations; it also runs links to non-‘Zon outlets. The associated blog boosts e-book outlets all over the world, and while it veers into breathlessness, I’ve used the info to locate my books in places I’d never otherwise know about.
·      Kindle Books and Tips is the only paid-ad placement on which I’ve broken even or profited – twice. It’s a combo website/newsletter/tweet-and-Facebook operation with a potentially large reach and very reasonable ad rates. It is, unfortunately, Kindle-centric, and most of its readership is in the U.S. Still, I’ll be slamming South in there once it keeps enough ‘Zon reviews (see Why Did That Have to Change?).

There are more e-book sales sites opening up around the world every day, and nearly all of them carry English-language books. Kobo in particular has been very aggressive in partnering with these sites. Collectively these outlets make up an increasing chunk of non-U.S. e-book sales. Getting listed beyond the Kobo partner sites is still a challenge for an indie author, although I hear that Smashwords is making deals with a number of foreign sites.

I now know a lot of little things that helped save time. For instance:
·      The Ingram catalog accepts limited HTML code for the product descriptions in its catalog. I discovered this too late with Doha 12, after I’d spent a huge amount of time trying to get my horribly mangled back-cover copy fixed on bookselling websites I never previously knew existed.
·      Got your book in Amazon or iTunes, and you’re tired of posting all those links to all their various storefronts? SmartURLs will save your life. This lets you create a single URL that will figure out where the clicker is located, and send him/her to the right storefront for his/her location. For instance, my URL will take you to ‘Zon’s U.S. storefront if you’re in America, if you’re in Canada, or if you’re in Germany. If nothing else, it makes for much cleaner email signature lines and blog posts.
·      Just knowing where the last book showed up made it easier to find the new one. Between Ingram and Kobo, my books are popping up all over the world. It took months for me to find all the channels selling Doha 12 (I’m still discovering them); I’d located South in the same outlets in the span of a couple weeks.

Why Did That Have to Change?

I was able to build my Kindle edition of Doha 12 in Calibre and upload it directly into KDP, meaning I had much more control over how it came out. Not anymore. KDP now has an online converter, but it’s not nearly as capable as either Calibre or Amazon’s own Kindlegen tool. This means you can use Kindlegen to create your Kindle MOBI file, and the online converter will then convert (and mangle) your already-converted file. The KDP people were very apologetic about this, but still…really?

Several of the review sites I placed on last time are either closed to new submissions or have gone belly-up. That’s too bad; I got some good reviews from them. At the same time, I haven’t found others with the same reach replacing them. It seems like every third blog out there now is a book-review blog, and they each have their thirty or so followers. I’m sorry; if I’m going to both give you a book and wait six months for you to review it, I want more eyeballs on the result.

Not only is it harder to get a review, but Amazon is deleting reviews seemingly at random. I lost two of my four ‘Zon reviews for South without notice, and I’m pretty sure neither broke the terms of service (the reviewers aren’t related to me, nor did I pay them). This is probably a reaction to last year’s sock-puppet scandal. The capricious and non-transparent way enforcement is carried out is cheesing off a number of reviewers and authors. Losing legitimate reviews also shuts books out of the better promotional opportunities.

Discoverability was a bloody awful mess last year. It’s worse now. Just that many more people have piled on, increasing the size of the ocean in which our books swim (or sink). The few publicity outlets that seem to work are either (a) overwhelmed, or (b) have discovered their worth and are either increasingly restrictive or significantly more expensive, or both (I’m looking at you, BookBub). As hard as it was to write and produce your book…that’s the easy part.

There’s very little about publishing a book (as opposed to writing it) that you could call “fun.” However, when you’ve gone through it once, you’ve largely paved the way for all the others that come after it. I fully expect it will be easier still when I put out my third novel, but other things will have changed in the interim, making this the perpetual learning experience.

Lance Charnes is an emergency manager and former Air Force intelligence officer. His international thriller Doha 12 and near-future thriller South are both available in Kindle, ePub and trade paperback editions around the world, in case you want to buy a copy in Finland. He tweets (@lcharnes) about scuba diving, shipwrecks, art crime and archaeology, among other things.