Saturday, July 18, 2015

Mortis: Understanding Body Changes After Death, and How Authors Get it Wrong

Purchase No Witnesses To Nothing on Amazon
I recently had an email discussion with retired homicide detective and forensic coroner Garry Rodgers about death--specifically, about the ways writers screw up when it comes to decay. As a professional biologist, I was a bit appalled at how wrong I was personally getting some of these things. For example, I was only aware of one mortis--rigor. And I pronounced it "ri-gore" (short I.) According to Garry, not only are there FIVE mortises, but the pronunciation is on the first syllable and it's a long I (RYE-gore). 

Garry's unique background and expertise is now evident in his best-selling crime fiction. His novel, No Witnesses to Nothing, is based on a true crime story Garry was a part of in which many believed that paranormal intervention was involved. Whoa!

No Witnesses To Nothing can be purchased on Amazon and is a permanent part of our "Find a Book" page here on Murder Lab, where you can read the back cover blurb and find more links to Garry (also below.) Last, but not least, you can read an interview with Garry in which we discuss Garry's life as a criminologist, author, and blogger. So, without further delay, here's a little truth about what happens when you die and how to get it right in your novels.

Mortis: Understanding Body Changes After Death
Guest post by Garry Rodgers:

Many writers mistakenly believe there’s a precise science to estimating time of death (TOD). Although there’s a progressive process, the sequence and time intervals can widely vary and are influenced by many factors.

Mortis is the anatomical term for changes in a body after the moment of death. Medically, that’s when the central nervous system becomes unplugged and oxygenated blood is no longer delivered to the tissues, which naturally start recycling. The five types of mortis are:

Rigor –  stiffening of muscles
Livor –  settling of blood
Algor – change in temperature
Palor – change in color
Decomp – breakdown in tissue

All these mortis conditions are integral to a decomposing process. Death is a part of life and decomposition is a part of death. Just as life is not always predictable, neither is estimating the post-mortem interval (PMI) between when death anatomically occurred and when first examination of the body begins.

Death investigations work on a triangle of Body – Scene – History. It’s a holistic approach to determining cause of death (COD) and it’s the coroner’s responsibility to answer five universal questions:

Who is the deceased?
Where did they die?
When did they die?
What caused their death?
What was the means of death?

Some people are confused about the difference between cause and means. Cause is the medical reason – gunshot to the head. Means could be – homicide. Or, it could be – suicide. Or it could be – accidental.

There can be thousands of causes of death, but there are only five classifications:


How this ties into mortis is that in satisfying the five universal questions, great emphasis is placed on interpreting the body’s condition when first examined. This is where understanding the mortis process is so important and a lot of the interpretation comes from years of experience. Let’s look at each one.

Rigor Mortis is the stiffening of muscles. It’s caused by the body’s energy source, adenosine triphosphate (ATP), being depleted. With no energy left to keep the muscles flexible, they naturally go to a rigid state until another enzyme begins the breakdown of tissue and relaxation returns.

Immediately upon death, the body enters a brief period of primary flaccidity where it’s dead limp.

Depending on many factors, temperature and body mass being the big ones, the muscle stiffening begins in 1- 2 hours, setting into the eyelids, jaw, and neck. It proceeds to the limb joints and extremities after 4-8 hours and fixes in the organs in about 12 hours. Rigor releases in the same sequence and can be absent in as little as 12 hours or can stay for days, again depending on factors.

Livor Mortis is the pooling of blood caused by gravitational settling once the heart stopped pressurizing the vascular system. It’s evident by purplish-red blotching where blood is free to pool and blanched-white where pressure points restrict it. Lividity, as it’s also known, sets in between 30 minutes to 1 hour after death and ‘fixes’ in about 8-12 hours. ‘Fixing’ is the entire settling where the blood has coagulated and no longer runs free.

Algor Mortis is the change in body temperature. A cadaver will always achieve ambient temperature, regardless of time. A normal, living human’s core temperature is 36 Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit) but the scene temperature could be anywhere. In a cold environment, the body will drop to equilibrate. In a hot environment, it will rise. Here’s where so many peripheral factors come into play. Body size. Layered Clothing. Air movement. And the list goes on. A rule of thumb is that a body will change about 1 degree Celsius per hour.

Palor Mortis is the change of color. Live humans are pretty much a reddish tinge due to oxygenated blood flowing (different tones for different races). Immediately upon death, a bluing phase occurs, following by a grey, then a white, then it can be a rainbow of colors as decomposition takes over.

Decomp, or decomposition, is not really a true class of mortis – rather it’s the culmination of the four mortis processes which leads to a breakdown of the body tissues and a return to nature.
Decomposition is a complex and unpredictable thing. There are two processes that morph into one:

Putrefaction – action of bacteria on body tissues
Autolysis – body breakdown by endogenous substances

In most deaths these two work in tandem, starting with a breakdown in internal organs which produces gas. This causes bloating and skin discoloring, as well as the foul odor from purging or ‘gassing-off’. As the muscle tissues change, the skin begins to dislodge, the joints become loose enough to disarticulate, fats become liquefied, and bones become exposed. Advanced decomp can become skeletonized, mummified, or consumed – again depending on so many factors, which all start from the mortis process.

The changes in a human’s body after death can be just as varied as their experiences in life. Biological, environmental, and circumstantial factors will shape your death, just like they’re shaping your life.

Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective and forensic coroner, now turned BestSelling crime writer and deadly blogger at Follow Garry in Vancouver, Canada, on Twitter @GarryRodgers1 or email him at

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Book Promotion Sites For New Releases

As I’ve been gearing up to launch my new thriller The Death Row Complex, I have done some investigation into various book promotion websites. I have invested a large chunk of change into these, and I have learned a great deal about which promo sites directly translate to sales and which don't. I have collated this into an Excel spreadsheet which is available to readers for subscribing to my mailing list. Please, if you haven't already, sign up before you waste your money on promotion that doesn't sell books. And if you're already on my mailing list, I'll be sending you this info with the next Murder Lab Report (or sooner if you'd like... just let me know.)

This is the first of two blog posts listing what promo sites are out there with no filtration or prioritization. This first post focuses on sites that can be used for a new release, meaning that they don’t require you to already have ratings and reviews on Amazon. You only need the ASIN or link to your Amazon site. I've also listed costs and how long it takes to get a listing there. Please note that this list only contains promo sites for discounted books, not for free books. They are sites I found of interest for promoting 1) The Death Row Complex as a new release with no ratings or reviews yet, and 2) At a discounted price of $0.99 (which, FYI, is going on for a month starting June 27. So, pick up your copy while the discount lasts!)

There are many other sites out there for promotion of free ebooks, which I won’t cover unless I do a freebie promotion (not planned at this time.) There are also lots of sites that require ratings and reviews; my next blog post will detail those, and my spreadsheet also includes the luck I’ve had with historical thriller The Vesuvius Isotope and with The Death Row Complex after racking up the required number of reviews.

Disclaimer 1: The costs listed here are not necessarily the only options; they are the options that I wrote down as being of interest to me personally at this time. Many of these sites have multiple options for promotion, including free options, so check them out and decide for yourself based on your budget.

Disclaimer 2: In many cases, the website didn’t mention what their reach is, so I looked to see how many Facebook, twitter, and other followers they have. Those numbers are listed when I found them, which was circa June 10, 2015. As you'll see in my Excel spreadsheet, numbers of followers doesn't always translate directly to sales, but the sites that sold one of my books almost always sold the other one too.

Disclaimer 3: This probably isn’t comprehensive. Please feel free to suggest other sites in the comments, but please keep in mind that this post is reserved for sites that *do not* require reviews and ratings, sites that can be used immediately to promote a new release. Please hold your Book Bub rant until the next post in this series.

Disclaimer 4: The comments are strictly my own observation and you might not agree with them, and that’s OK. As always, please feel free to beg to differ in the comments.

Without further delay:

Kindle Nation Daily: 
  • 170,000 viewers
  • $125 for Thriller of the Day ad
  • I booked ~2.5 weeks in advance and got my preferred date.
  • They take books that aren’t yet on Kindle, you just have to tell them the absolute last day it WILL be on Kindle if you can’t provide the link yet… but, if you don’t have the AISN, you need to give ~10 day advance notice 
Kindle Books and Tips:
  • $25-$50
  • Normal books require 8 Amazon reviews, 4 of which have to be verified purchases
  • **But! They now take new releases without the review requirement!*
  • Takes a little time to get booked
Just Kindle Books:
  • $18 or $26 with extra Facebook blast
  • They claim 50 average purchases per ad
  • 20K Facebook followers
  • I booked ~2.5 weeks in advance and got my preferred date.
Read Freely: 
  • Free promo site, you just sign up
  • Looks like a ton of romances; I don’t know how many mysteries/thrillers 
  • $10
  • Requires booking approximately 1 month in advance
  • This is one of those sites that asks readers for their taste and then (supposedly) only sends what the reader asks for in a daily email
  • They have ~7000 Facebook followers and 18K twitter followers
  • No evidence of how many people get their newsletters
  • Costs 5 GBP (currently $7.84 USD) to be on first half of newsletter that is mailed worldwide
  • They have multiple options for promo
  • For Amazon UK and other international sites
  • They have a sister site for US
  • I booked ~2.5 weeks in advance and got my preferred date.
Readers in the Know: 
  • 20 GBP annual membership, you can promote in advance
  • They also have a customizable matrix of promo sites you can use
  • 17k Facebook followers but unclear how many are reached via promo
World Literature Cafe:
  • They typically require ratings/reviews but they have a “new releases” section that does not require this 
  • New releases ad is $45
  • New Releases ad goes out once a month (beginning of the month) to advertise all of their new releases
  • They don’t specify how many subscribers they have but 11K Facebook followers
Bargain Booksy (Sub-site of Free Booksy)
  • $50
  • I booked ~2.5 weeks in advance and got my preferred date.
  • 20K facebook followers
Indie Book of the Day
  • $50 for an entire month of promotion
  • They also have a $300-500 “guaranteed bestseller” package
  • I booked ~2.5 weeks in advance and got my preferred date.
Kindle Book Promos
  • $25 
  • Requires ~48 hour notice
  • I booked ~2.5 weeks in advance and got my preferred date.
Indie Book Promo
  • $50
  • Books ~1 month to 1.5 months in advance
  • 14K twitter followers, 2.8K Facebook followers
  • Alexa 240K
Book Goodies
  • 15K Facebook followers
  • $20 for 1-week promo
  • I booked ~2.5 weeks in advance and got my preferred date.
  • $10 “donation” for prioritized promo (otherwise they don’t guarantee it)
  • 50K twitter users, 1000+ Newsletter subscribers
  • I booked ~2.5 weeks in advance and got my preferred date.
  • Has a "new releases" offer
  • 5000 Facebook followers
  • For Amazon UK readers
  • $10
  • 48K Facebook followers, 11K twitter followers
  • 48 hour notice
Tweet Your Books:
  • $49 for one-day promo
  • I booked ~2.5 weeks in advance and got my preferred date.
ebook daily deals:
  • No charge but you have to buy a $2.99 ebook
  • I booked ~2.5 weeks in advance and got my preferred date.
Buck Books:
  • You have to sign up as an affiliate and advertise on your site
  • Then you can apply for promotion
  • They don’t respond to rejections
  • Incredibly amateur-looking spammy emails are sent every day once you sign up, and I never heard back again on my requested promotions. I’m removing them from my list and unsubscribing from their annoying email list.
Most of my bookings clustered around June 27, the official launch date for The Death Row Complex. A few that took longer to book are still forthcoming. So, my spreadsheet is constantly being updated and should be "complete" by August 6, but the vast majority of data is already in it now. The spreadsheet details exactly how much money I ended up paying, how many sales I got via during the promo period for each site, other things I have done for promotion (outside of paid promo sites) and how successful those things were, and other such stats to let the Murder Lab community know if I think it was worth it.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Call for Excerpts: Murder, USA and Murder, International

Updated to address FAQs:

Hello, Murder Lab Community!

This is a special invitation/call to action for authors. 

I’m putting together an anthology of sorts. In contrast to a true anthology, which implies a collection of short stories, this is actually going to be a collection of excerpts from published, full-length novels--sort of like a compilation of Amazon "Look Inside" features from similarly-themed novels, all in one nifty little, e-mailable, downloadable, linkable, social media promotable package. It will be free, and it will be uploaded as a perma-free ebook to all of the major ebook platforms. Personally, I will also give this out as a freebie to people for signing up on my mailing list, upload it to my social media channels wantonly for the taking, and talk about the various excerpts from different authors a great deal.

The perks of this project, as I see them: 

1) It will be ebook-only format, so there will be minimal production costs, which I will absorb.
2) Already-published material means you're promoting your actual novel, not a short story which may or may not reflect your novel(s) in a way that resonates with readers.
3) Already-published material is already-edited, so again, there's no work or expense on your part. You'll just send me your excerpt and a few key pieces of info/supporting materials and you're done.
4) The full-length novels will be linked to each excerpt, just as they are with those handy "Look Inside" features, except that you won't be a slave to Amazon. You can link whatever you want. You can also link other books in the series, your website, etc. etc. And you get to choose the "Look Inside" pages to be included.
5) Each excerpt will be categorized by sub-genre (i.e. "cozy mystery", "political thriller") to give readers a chance to head straight for the book that interests them.
6) The more authors that contribute, the more help I'll have spreading the word and getting readers to peek at your novel.
7) You have nothing to lose and everything to gain, since I'm doing the work and paying for it. And if the whole thing bombs, well, then, nobody will ever even know your work was in there, will they?

Interested? OK, then, here are the details, the theme, and the rules:

1) There are actually two books to be made: One is entitled, Murder, USA and the other, Murder, International.
2) Your excerpt must be from some form of mystery/suspense/thriller full-length novel
3) The setting/location must be somewhat prominent, relevant to, or featured in the story (even if it's just a cool description of where a murder takes place...)
4) US-based excerpts will go into the "USA" book and internationally-based excerpts will go into the "international" book (duh!)
5) The tables of contents will be organized geographically by state or country, respectively, so the collection can be marketed as a "tour" of sorts
6) The table of contents will mention the title, the author, the sub-genre, and the location for each excerpt. So (if you're counting) that's four ways readers can glance at the table of contents and decide which excerpts they want to dive into.

7) Your full-length novel MUST already be published and online to be included. I don't care if it's self-pubbed or traditional, as long as it's available.
8) You must have the rights to republish the content (and be able to prove this.)
9) Ideally, I would like each location to be unique, so we don't end up with twenty-five So-Cal-based authors with books set in San Diego and LA. I personally think it would be bitchin' to get an excerpt from every state, but I don't know that many authors. Incidentally, feel free to forward this along to others who might be interested!
10) Priority will be given to authors with reasonably established platforms who I can count on to help metastasize the book. You don't have to be famous, just making a concerted effort to get there.
11) As mentioned, I'll pay the expenses (it will just be artwork, formatting, and publishing, which I'll do through Murder Lab Press) but I'll ask for donations from contributing authors to help absorb the cost. Donations will be small and they won't be mandatory (in case you're worried I'm going to run off with your money!)

12) What do you have to do? For right now, just say, "Yes, I'm in" by subscribing to our group below. (Lance, you're already subscribed, and Kelly, I shot you an email on your website to get your email address.) This doesn't subscribe you to the Murder Lab Report or any other email correspondence, it only gives me your email address so I can keep track of you as part of this project.
13) I'll gather interested authors for the next few weeks, and once I have a better idea of how much interest there is and how many authors will be involved, I will send out an email to participating authors with detailed instructions for what to send and when we need it. This will also specify the length of the excerpts and suggested donation amounts, both of which will go down with increasing numbers of participants.

So, here’s an example using an excerpt from The Vesuvius Isotope:

Excerpt from: The Vesuvius Isotope, by Kristen Elise, Ph.D.
Sub-Genres: Historical mystery/thriller
Locations: Italy, Egypt

(Insert Excerpt Here)

Did you enjoy this excerpt? Purchase the full-length novel here (insert links). For more information about the novels of Kristen Elise, visit her website here (link.)  

Sound good? Great! Then sign up and let's make this happen...

Murder USA/Murder International Authors

* indicates required

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...