Friday, December 20, 2013

Both Brains Required: Getting the Most Out of Left and Right When You Write

I was working on my WIP yesterday and I started falling asleep. I take it as a bad sign when my own manuscript is putting *me* to sleep. The words just weren't flowing. The sentences were awkward. The dialog, not credible. What happened?

Faced with writer's block, or a simple lack of enthusiasm, or whatever you want to call it, I like to go back to the beginning. I start reading through the current draft with the freshest eyes I can muster, imagining myself in the shoes of a reader, picturing the opening scenes of the movie (yes, this does help!) In going back to the beginning, I find I can usually identify the place where I would be getting up for popcorn instead of riveted to the screen. That's the part that needs fixing.

I often find (as I did yesterday) that the issue is a left-brain* one, rather than a right-brain one as I would have expected. It often turns out that the creative juices are flowing just fine, but they don't have the right channel to flow through. This is when it helps to go back and turn on the left brain. Start asking those basic questions again:

  • What would my protagonist really be thinking at this moment? What would her actions be?
  • Would that secondary character react as I currently have him reacting? Or would he be likely to do something else, given what we know about him? 
  • Are we in the right POV for this scene? 
  • Is it even the right time for this scene?

Yesterday, I found that the problem was a plot hole. The sentences were awkward because I had put my characters into a situation that wasn't very strong to begin with. The dialog was not credible because it was out of character for the characters. Once my left brain figured this out, I spent the latter part of my day butchering said scene and then reworking the plot to make more sense. A total left-brain activity.

I find that the creativity tends to follow a strong plot and strong characters. If I'm excited about what's going to happen and who it's going to happen to, I find it easy to write the scene in a captivating way. That's when the right brain gets its time in the spotlight.

*Disclaimer: I'm using left-brain and right-brain in this post in the classic sense: the right-brain being responsible for creativity, and the left-brain for analytical thinking. So please don't go all left-brain on me here and point out that recent studies suggest this is not the case as we previously thought. I know that. It's a metaphor.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Most Over-Used Protagonists in Today's Novel Part III: The Porn Star

OK. So Fifty Shades of Grey sold fifteen gazillion copies. I get it. Sex sells, and we have known this ever since the first sexually reproducing hermaphroditic flatworms evolved out of an amoeba's binary fission gone wrong. But please understand something, dear reader (by which I actually mean, dear writer.) The fact that sex sells does NOT mean that writing porn is going to make you E.L. James. It won't, indeed.

To put a little bit of perspective on this "new" trend of writing porn disguised as literature, let's take a moment to review the evolution of porn.

In the beginning, there was Ron Jeremy.

Ron Jeremy at 2007 AVN Awards
Ron Jeremy at 2007... by CrazyJ attributed to CC by 3.0

For those of you who are too young to remember him, Ron Jeremy was the Christian Grey of his time. In fact, he was the Christian Grey of everyone's time, even more so than Christian Grey.

Jeremy starred in more than two thousand smut movies over the course of several decades. He was ranked number one by Adult Video News (AVN) on their Top Fifty Porn Stars of All Time, and for those of us who don't watch these goofy flicks, he's probably the only name in the biz that we can even come up with. I see the resemblance to Christian Grey, don't you?

But then, Jeremy's life and career took a turn for the worse. In the natural course of human evolution, the species came to understand that, actually, pornography is stupid, and anyone over 13 years of age doesn't need to watch porn and pretend to be all dark and devious in order to have sex. 

At the same time in history, another trend was occurring. Our species began to figure out that the music inevitably associated with pornography sucks.
Disco Dancers
Disco Dancers by eeyrsja open clipart public domain

The 8-track soundtracks and the VHS videos began increasingly to grace the bargain sections of adult bookstores, and the popularity of the industry faded. The ruin of his career forced Ron Jeremy into a life of terrorism. He later confessed to plotting the September 11 attacks.

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed after capture
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed Taken by US Forces Public domain

So you see, dear reader (and by that, again, I mean writer,) writing porn will only land you in Guantanamo Bay. And...your novels will suck. So please, stop doing it. Just stop it. Thank you.

For additional examples of the Most Over-Used Protagonists in Today's Novel, click here and here.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Launched! I'll Sleep When You're Dead, by E.A. Aymar

E.A. Aymar's new book is here! And it looks creepy. Here is the trailer and a bit about the book, now available from Black Opal Books.


“I'll Sleep When You're Dead is a haunting tale of vengeance and its toll. It is both thrilling and tender. The domestic scenes are every bit as gripping as the action sequences. E.A. Aymar weaves a touching tapestry loaded with surprises.”

- Michael Sears, author of Black Fridays, winner of the Shamus Award for Best First Novel

Tom Starks has spent the three years since his wife’s murder struggling to single-handedly raise their daughter, Julie, while haunted by memories of his dead spouse. When he learns that the man accused of her murder, Chris Taylor, has been released from prison, Tom hires a pair of hit men to get his revenge.

But when the hit men botch the assassination of Chris Taylor, Tom is inadvertently pulled into their violent world.

And now those hit men are after him and his daughter.

Set in the DC, Baltimore and northern Virginia triangle, I'll Sleep When You're Dead is a thriller about assassins, one man’s search for vengeance, and also parenting.

But mainly vengeance and assassins.

And it’s available now through Black Opal Books. Click the links above to order your copy.

A short prequel to the novel, When the Deep Purple Falls, featuring original artwork and photography by Angela Del Vecchio and Janet Bell, is available for $0.99 from

5% of all of my royalties for I'll Sleep When You're Dead will be donated to BARCS (Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter). Learn more information about BARCS here.


CHAPTER 1: Just Fall

I was going to kill someone later in the afternoon, so I canceled classes that Monday and spent the morning on the couch, watching crappy television judge shows and trying to keep calm.
I took a long shower at eleven then, at noon, drove my truck out of Baltimore and toward D.C. The sky grayed as I headed around the curves of the Beltway and, eventually, thick rain splashed against the windshield. You could never tell what November weather was going to do. Neither Baltimore nor D.C. had real seasons. It was always too hot or too cold, buried in snow or heat, running back and forth between extremes like rats or people who believe in politics or religion.

I finally reached my destination, a neighborhood in Falls Church, Virginia. I slumped down in my truck and slipped on sunglasses and a black baseball cap. It was probably obvious that I was trying to disguise myself—completely defeating the purpose—but I didn’t want to take the chance of getting spotted.

I waited.

An hour passed, then another, and my nervousness rushed ahead of my impatience. Light rain bounced off my windshield. I reached over to my small gym bag on the passenger seat and touched the edge of my Glock 30. I touched it every few minutes to calm myself down, even if petting a loaded gun wasn’t the smartest idea in the world.

Using it probably wasn’t too bright, either, but Chris Taylor was out of prison. Three years ago, he’d been sentenced for killing my wife, Renee Starks.

“I haven’t talked to her in years,” Chris Taylor protested after his arrest.

I, myself, in a daze, was one of several people who’d even told the police that, to my knowledge, Renee and Chris hadn’t spoken since their brief relationship in college—so brief that she barely ever mentioned him. But his initials were on the baseball bat found in the bushes near her naked body and so were his fingerprints. He was given a life sentence, but released in three years when a retrial cast enough doubt on his conviction to overturn it.

Renee was so palpable—even now, such a presence, that sometimes I lost myself in thoughts of her. Sometimes I felt her return, like she was sitting here in the passenger seat of my truck, looking at me with her wide brown eyes, one hand brushing bangs away from her face.

‘What are you doing, Tom?’ she asked.

“Trying to kill this guy.”

‘How are you going to do that?’

“I’m going to wait until he’s alone then shoot him.” I paused. “That’s not much of a plan, is it?”

Renee shook her head. ‘You were never good at planning things. That was one of my complaints about you.’

“You know,” I said, “you’re awfully critical for a dead chick.”

A door slam startled me. I peered out my window and, through the hedges, watched an elderly woman emerge from the house with a man I didn’t recognize. But I remembered the woman. Chris Taylor’s mother had been tall and delicate with long, black hair—which was now short and gray. Throughout the trial, she bore a constant expression of determination on her face. Now her face was old and pained, droopy as a melted candle, all signs of her previous determination gone. She looked like a shrunken version of herself.

Chris Taylor came out of the house behind them.

End of excerpt.

Reposted from

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Night Before NaNo: A Halloween Poem for the Eve of NaNoWriMo

In honor of Halloween, and, more importantly, in honor of NaNoWriMo Eve, here's a happy little diddy for those who will spend NaNoWriMo writing mysteries, thrillers, and horror stories. Get ready to get the NaNo murders started!

Twas the night before NaNo, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, except for my mouse.
The outlines were written and plotted with care,
In hopes that a massacre soon would be there.

The children were huddling, scared, in their beds,
With visions of Leatherface sawing off heads.
And mamma in her sweatpants and I in my socks,
Were just rousing our brains for a month with our Glocks.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed just to watch the blood splatter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters with a butcher knife's slash. 

The moon in the cemetery from which I rave
Cast shadows of ghosts upon headstones and graves.
When, what to my horror, should appear through the fog,
But a skeletal carriage and eight demon dogs.

And, inside, a Grim Reaper, his scythe like a ruse,
I knew in a moment it must be The Muse.
More rapid than vampires his canines they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Killer! Now, Slayer! Now, Strangler! Marauder!
On, Hangman! On, Headsman! On, Hit Man! And Slaughter!
To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
Now suffocate! Sacrifice! Execute all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to my window the canines they flew,
With their carriage of mayhem, and The Murderous Muse too.

And then, with a scratching, I heard, like a saw
The scraping and slashing of each little claw.
And the window grew weaker, until, with a bash
In through my window The Muse came with a crash.

He was dressed all in black, his robe flowing like oil,
And his scythe like the death of me made me recoil.
His eyes! How they cauterized! Searing like fire!
His face like a skeleton, bones for the pyre!

A bundle of murders he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
Pulling out my next carnage, then he turned with a jerk.

His guillotine mouth was as silent as blood,
But the murders inside him spilled out like a flood.
And I felt my new novel pouring forth from his hand,
And the torch of his vision scorched through like a brand

With the gnash of his teeth and the bones of his skull
He released my new novel, unleashed it in full
And a flash of his evil eye, twist of his head,
Soon filled my poor mind with the story he bled.

And I staggered straight backward and clutched at my breast
As it slammed into me like a demon possessed
The inspiration engulfing me forced me to writhe
And he graced my new story with a flash of his scythe

Then he sprang to his carriage, and called to his dogs,
And away flew the demons, back into the fog
But I heard him exclaim, as he forded the swill,
"Bloody NaNo to all, and to all a good kill!"

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

South on the Horizon: Lance Charnes' Anticipated Follow-Up to Doha 12

Lance Charnes' debut thriller, Doha 12, is a "High Quality, Compelling Thriller. Terrific Reading!" Today, Lance's highly anticipated second novel is on the horizon. Here we reveal the details of South. For more information, visit the South website. See an interview with Lance here.

by Lance Charnes

Luis Ojeda owes his life to the Pacifico Norte cartel. Literally. Now it’s time to pay.

Luis led escaping Muslims out of the U.S. during the ten years following a 2019 terrorist attack on Chicago. He retired after nearly being killed by a border guard. But now in 2032, the Nortes give Luis a choice: pay back the fortune they spent saving his life, or take on a special job.

The job: Nora Khaled – FBI agent, wife, mother of two, and Muslim. She claims her husband will be exiled to one of the nation’s remote prison camps to rot with over 400,000 other Muslim Americans. Faced with her family’s destruction, she’s forced to turn to Luis – the kind of man she’s spent her career bringing to justice.

But when the FBI publicly accuses Nora of terrorism, Luis learns Nora’s real motive for heading south: she has proof that the nation’s recent history is based on a lie – a lie that reaches to the government’s highest levels.

Torn between self-preservation and the last shreds of his idealism, Luis guides Nora and her family toward refuge in civil war-wracked Mexico. The FBI, a dogged ICE agent, killer drones, bandits, and the fearsome Zeta cartel all plan to stop him. Success might just free Luis from the Nortes… but failure means disappearing into a black-site prison, or a gruesome death for them all.

In a day-after-tomorrow America where government has been downsized and outsourced into irrelevance, and none but the very wealthy few can afford hopes or dreams, Luis and Nora must learn to trust each other to ensure the survival of the truth – and of the people they love.

Lance Charnes has been an Air Force intelligence officer, IT manager, computer-game artist, set designer, Jeopardy! contestant, and now an emergency management specialist. He’s had training in architectural rendering, terrorist incident response and maritime archaeology, but not all at the same time. Lance tweets (@lcharnes) on shipwrecks, archaeology and scuba diving.

Contact Details

South by Lance Charnes

Released by Wombat Group Media
Distributed through Ingram
Word count: 128,000
SRP: $2.99 (e-book) $14.95 (TPBK)
ASIN: B00AOYOMQK / 0988690306
ISBN: 978-0-9886903-4-9 (Kindle)
978-0-9886903-3-2 (TPBK)
Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Indiebound, Collins
Also on Nook, Kobo and iTunes

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Secrets of Inferno - A Review of an Analysis

Dan Burstein and Arne de Keijzer are the world's leading authorities on the novels of Dan Brown. Their first fact-checking analysis, Secrets of the Code, was in its own right a mega-bestseller, topping the charts for more than six months solid.

Much like the author they analyze, Burstein and Keijzer have found a formula that works, and they aren't afraid to use it. Each time Dan Brown graces the world with a new novel, Burstein and Keijzer recruit the leading experts on the subject matter explored in that book. The experts offer short, easily-digestable commentaries, interviews, and essays. Burstein and Keijzer also include their own two cents based on meticulous research of the subjects at hand. In 2003, it was the Priory of Sion and the workings of a cryptex. This time, it's population control, transhumanism, and most of all...Dante.

The thing that surprised me about this book was that it actually gave me a new respect for some of Dan Brown's apparently horrific writing. Although I have read Dante's Inferno, I certainly don't proclaim to be an expert on the subject, nor can I recall every stanza from memory. Secrets of Inferno highlighted several places in Dan Brown's Inferno that were in fact tongue-in-cheek references to Dante's Inferno disguised as classical suck-tacular Dan Brown literary technique. Here's an example:

One of the most crap-arific Dan Brown-isms in the novel, at least on the surface, is this one:
"As Langdon stared into his own weary eyes, he half wondered if he might at any moment wake up in his reading chair at home clutching an empty martini glass and a copy of Dead Souls, only to remind himself that Bombay Sapphire and Gogol should never be mixed."
This sentence may go down in the Cheese Hall of Fame, but look beneath the surface and you find something a bit more interesting:
  • Langdon's amnesia at the beginning of Dan Brown's Inferno parallel's Dante's Inferno in that neither protagonist has a clue how he got where he is at the beginning of his descent into Hell.
  • Dead Souls, by Nikolai Gogol, was almost a Russian version of Dante's Inferno, originally intended as a three-volume work that would parallel Commedia.
  • Dante's Purgatorio opens with a reference to the "sweet hue of Oriental sapphire," signaling the start of a new day and the beginning of Dante's climb out of the Inferno.
  • Today's Bombay (Mumbai) is the location of one of the original surviving manuscripts of Dante's Divine Comedy.
With this kind of analysis at one's fingertips, it is tempting to go back to awkward sentences throughout Dan Brown's Inferno and look for secret parallels to Dante's Inferno. Which is exactly what Brown wanted, and exactly what Burstein and Keijzer have done.

Because Secrets of Inferno pulls so many experts into the equation and gives each of them free reign with their commentaries, there are a lot of redundancies. I think I read about thirty times the same observation that it was Dante who originally coined the word "transhumanism" (or a variant thereof) and that Dan Brown (for whatever reason) failed to make this observation in the novel. On the one hand, the redundancies are a bit annoying, but on the other hand, they lend credibility to the statements.

Like so many Dan Brown admirers and simultaneous bashers (myself my own review of Inferno here) Burstein and Keijzer do not mince words, and they are never afraid to point out the awesome badness in both Dan Brown's writing and his plots. Some of their comments made me giggle, others made me cringe, and still others made me feel a bit sorry for Dan Brown - until I remembered that he sells more novels than just about every other author in the world combined.

I would love to see what these guys would do with The Vesuvius Isotope.

**Addendum: This just in: a couple hours after I posted this, Dan Burstein picked up the gauntlet I threw down on that last line. I got an e-mail from Dan saying he is buying The Vesuvius Isotope and will let me know what he thinks. Holy crap! Excited and nervous...

****See the symbolism behind Brown's use of the caduceus here, and the caduceus versus Rod of Asclepius here.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Murder Lab Report October 4, 2013

Many of you are signed up to receive my newsletter via e-mail. But in case you're not, I'm going to start posting it here as well. Please feel free to hop on my e-mail list if you'd like a copy all to yourself. These come approximately bi-weekly.

Here's the latest!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The First-Person Novel, Part II: Creating Depth in Secondary Characters

So you know that the main character is the protagonist and his or her nemesis is the antagonist. Do you know what the second main character is called? Most of us refer to this person as the sidekick, but it turns out, he/she is technically referred to as the deuteragonist (I had to look this up, I don't know about you.) More importantly, in a first-person novel, it's easy for this character to come across as one-dimensional.

Here we continue our discussion of the first-person novel.

I have learned that in first-person, it's easy for the story to become more of a mystery and less of a thriller. The reader is seeking resolution to a dilemna alongside a single character and thus lacks the total picture of what is happening overall in the story. If done well, this can still be thrilling, and the mystery can add to your story.

But this comes with a price tag. On top of the pitfall of protagonist narcissism, it's easy for other characters to come across as stereotypes. We don't witness their perspectives or the thoughts behind their actions. We don't know anything about their peripheral actions, those that don't directly relate to the protagonist. Maybe the bad guy was lovingly tending to his quadriplegic child before building that bomb, but we, the readers, will never know that.

But there are ways to get around this issue. For one thing, characters can be fleshed out in dialogue. Instead of learning of an antagonist's motive through his inner monologue, the reader can learn of it through his conversation with another bad guy or with our hero. This is something that takes a little finesse, because the dialogue has to come across as realistic and not just as an info-dumping opportunity for the bad guy to tell the reader about himself. Don't pull a "so you see...I'm going to put you in this easily escapable trap and explain to you exactly what I have done up to this point, so that you may escape and foil my crimes! Muahahahahahaha!" That's bad. Very bad.

Instead, put the bad guy in a situation where we can see his humanity. I used the quadriplegic child example above because I recently re-watched "Extreme Measures." In this flick (which I thought was pretty good, as a scientist and thriller lover...) the bad guys are converted from stereotypical murdering goons into sympathetic, real people. And it only takes two scenes totaling about one minute each. Because we see that their motive is from the heart. I like that. But it can't be done in the first person.

So a lot of authors mix in third-person sections within the first-person novel. I'm a little on the fence about this approach and haven't used it to date. I think if done well, the third-person pieces can add depth to the story. But in many cases, they do come across as just an opportunity for an author to tell you something you need to know in order to understand what's going on. And because they bring you out of the POV to which you have grown accustomed, they can sometimes cause some jarring transitions. That said, I'm considering forging down this path in my third book.

Last, while we can diverge a bit from the "show, don't tell" rule with the protagonist, this technique is critical in developing secondary characters. You can't hear a character's frustration through her inner monologue, but you can figure out that she is frustrated when she bursts into tears and throws something across the room. You may think that the bad guy is a heartless, murdering goon, but what if he hesitates for a moment before pulling the trigger? Of course, the protagonist's role in this scenario is to witness the event.

How do you create depth in your secondary characters?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Correlation Between Crime Rates and Creativity

A guest post by Carmen Amato, author of the political thriller THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY and the EMILIA CRUZ mystery series set in Acapulco

It seems counterintuitive, but the most popular international mystery series are set in locations with the lowest crime rates.

In Oslo, Norway, the setting for Jo Nesbo’s terrific Harry Hole police mystery series, there were 52 homicides in Norway in 2012, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics of Norway, against a population of 5,051,275. The rate isn’t even worth calculating.

Henning Mankell’s Wallander series is set in Ystad, a provincial town so small I couldn’t even find murder statistics for it. The closest is 2010 European Commission homicide rates for Sweden. Overall, the country enjoyed a homicide rate of 1 in 100,000, also known as nil.

Bottom line? Both Norway and Sweden have such low murder rates that on occasion both authors have imported murderers, such as in Nesbo’s The Redeemer and Mankell’s Faceless Killers. Hole and Wallander shy away from guns, for the most part, too, while keeping readers guessing with intricate plots and moody atmospherics and self-destructive main characters.

Edinburgh, Scotland, home to Ian Rankin’s fantastic DI Rebus mystery series, has a darker side but only barely. European Commission statistics record 2 homicides per 100,000 people in 2010 for all of Scotland, while Edinburgh only had 14 murders in 2011, against a population of 482,640, according to the Scotsman newspaper. The Rebus series, while containing its fair share of murders, has a focus on Edinburgh’s organized crime scene that keeps from being gory. Once again, the protagonist is a heavy drinker whose own demons are as much of the series as the plots.

So are there mystery series set in a high crime location?

The late Leighton Gage’s Inspector Silva series centered in São Paolo doesn’t flinch from Brazil’s murder rate, which skyrocketed in 2012. According to local newspaper El Universal, there were 1497 homicides there in 2012, up from 1069 in 2011. In a population of over 194 million that might not seem like much, but consider the fact that over 10% of the city’s homicides are cops targeted by gangs. Gage’s Inspector Silva is well acquainted with Brazil’s violence, including murder, assaults on police, express kidnappings, etc, making the series prime reading for those who like their mysteries with a lot of action.

My own Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco, Mexico, has the distinction of drawing inspiration from the second-most violent city in the world, according to NBC and other news sources. In 2012, Acapulco had 1170 homicides in a population of 880,000, making the rate 148 per every 100,000 inhabitants. Emilia Cruz is the first and only female detective on the Acapulco Municipal Police force, confronting Mexico’s drug war as well as the country’s culture of machismo. Two versions of Acapulco, the one tourists know versus the one being fought over by drug cartels--claw at each other and force Emilia to survive between them.

What can we conclude from all these statistics? Maybe the lesson is that a good mystery writer doesn’t need a grim location to involve the reader in the story. And where the crime rates are highest, the main character can’t afford to drink so much.

Carmen Amato is the author of political thriller The Hidden Light of Mexico City and the Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco. She currently divides her time between the United States and Central America. Visit her website at and follow her @CarmenConnects. All her books can be found at

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Crypt Thief, by Mark Pryor: A Review

Hugo Marson isn't your typical investigator. He's not an alcoholic. If he has an estranged wife, I'm not sure I remember her. Indeed, he's actually quite gentlemanly. Perhaps because his author is a Brit.

But don't let Hugo's politeness fool you. He gets into some nasty stuff. Did you know there's an entire underworld in Paris? By which I mean, a literal underworld? A world beneath the city? Because, there is. 

The Crypt Thief is a fun, fast-paced romp through the seedier sides of Paris. Mark Pryor's characters are colorful and entertaining and his story is intriguing. Having now read The Crypt Thief, I look forward to going back and reading The Bookseller.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Marketing Your Debut Novel: Bookstores

Trying to sell one's first book can be a daunting experience. And a discouraging one. We work so hard to prepare that first title, and despite our deep-down knowledge of reality, we still expect it to fly off the shelves. But what if it doesn't?

This post is the beginning of a series of blog posts that will offer a step-by-step plan for post-launch marketing. Before I "launch" into it, I'd like to distinguish between marketing and promotion. For my purposes here, I'm defining "promoting" (in simplistic terms) as "getting the word out." I'm defining "marketing" as "selling the book." Previous posts on this site have discussed many ways you can "promote" your book and yourself as an author in the years, months, and weeks leading up to publication of your first title, as well as post-launch. For ideas from the Murder Lab community, please see this post and this one.

Here, I focus on post-launch marketing to bookstores. Future posts will detail other avenues for selling your book.

First, Write a Marketing Plan

If you're a reader of this blog (or any other writers' blog,) you already understand the importance of marketing your own book. So I won't reiterate the importance of this here, but rather, I'll share some insight for what has and hasn't worked for me.

Here's what doesn't work: Having abstract marketing ideas. Abstract ideas only lead to procrastination, because the execution of abstract ideas is not a straightforward task. For example, if you think to yourself, "I'll hit up some local bookstores," but you don't know exactly what bookstores, how you'll "hit them up" or what you'll say, then you'll never do it.

The benefit of a written marketing plan is both organizational and psychological. As long as the list is in front of you with items still not checked off, it's easier to keep a positive attitude - even if your book isn't flying off the shelves like you wanted it to - because you still have things you need to do in order to sell it.

So, first, write down a step-by-step, concrete, crystal clear list of action items that can be checked off as you go. Ideally, you should write this plan long before your book comes out, so that you have time to prepare all of the required materials, your 30-second elevator pitch, your hook, and all of the other details that you'll need in order to execute it. Here's the snippet of mine that relates to bookstores:
  1. Research local bookstores online to identify indie stores in your area. Here's an indie bookstore finder that you can use to get started.
  2. Generate a list of the stores who might be interested in carrying your novel. Here's a list of indie bookstores in the Southern California area, with notes about each one and contact info. (If you live in Southern California, I've already done steps 1 and 2 of this plan for you.)
  3. Call the bookstores and ask whether or not they carry:
    1. New books
    2. Mysteries/thrillers
    3. Local authors
    4. Self-published
  4. If no, cross off list.
  5. If yes, ask to speak to the person who sets up events and/or the book-buyer.
    1. Offer 30 second elevator pitch about book
    2. Offer to deliver introductory/press kit
      1. Copy of novel
      2. Book flyers
      3. Business cards
      5. Printed reviews
    3. Emphasize 100% returnable
    4. Emphasize that Baker&Taylor and Ingram are in place
    5. Try to set up a signing or other event
The above example is just one aspect of the overall marketing plan (marketing to and within bookstores,) but you get the idea. A word about steps 3-5: actual discussions with bookstores can be done either on the phone, via e-mail, or in person. Personally, I made the mistake of wasting a bit of time and gas driving around to bookstores that never would have supported my book (whoops!) As an example, bookstores that carry mostly used books are a tough sell. Their clientele don't enter the bookstore expecting to pay full price for any book, so the odds of an unheard-of debut novel selling there are slim. Most used bookstores won't even try.

After that day, I figured out that step #3 should always be done over the phone.

For step #5, I now use my judgement when calling about step #3. If I get the feeling that I'm talking to a bookstore owner and/or buyer, and that person seems to be receptive and have time to speak to me, I'll continue the discussion on the phone. If they seem in a hurry to hang up, or if they're not the right contact person, then I'll try to set an appointment to discuss things further. 

Execute Your Marketing Plan - Step by Step, Day by Day

My overall marketing plan for The Vesuvius Isotope is ten pages long. On top of that, I have multiple additional lists of things I need in order to execute the plan (such as the mother bookstore list I started out with, which in itself was 15 pages long.) Hence, the benefit of having this stuff in place *before* your book comes out.

To execute the plan, set aside a chunk of time each day for exclusive focus on marketing. Have a day-runner with one or more bullet points from your marketing plan assigned to each day. Then do the work and cross off the bullet points each day. It's as simple as that. If you can't call every bookstore in L.A. in a day, just block off the chunk that you *will* call each day and then get cracking. Next to each, annotate whether or not they answered the phone, what they said, and what your follow-up steps will be.

Initial marketing to San Diego bookstores took me about a week, between generating the list, calling the stores, and dropping off introductory packages. Had I not wasted a day (see above) it would have been shorter. And had I already had the list (as you do, So Cal people!) it would have been even shorter.

Ultimately, I was led to four San Diego bookstores emerging as the clear best bets for my novel.
  1. Mysterious Galaxy
  2. Warwick's
  3. Unicorn Books (Ramona)
  4. Upstart Crow
The first three bookstores were quickly receptive to The Vesuvius Isotope. Each of them first asked me to leave a book for the powers-that-be to look over. Within a few weeks, each of them got back to me and set up a signing event (details for upcoming events here.) The launch party, which was held at Mysterious Galaxy, was a fantastic success. The Vesuvius Isotope is on sale at Mysterious Galaxy now. 

Because my calendar is already full for the next couple of months, I haven't followed up with Upstart Crow...but I'll keep my readers informed as to whether or not they are receptive.

Look Forward

For the first couple of months after The Vesuvius Isotope launched, I found that marketing took up the majority of each day. After that, I found that my schedule was filling up with marketing/promotional events. Because I don't want to "overbook" myself on any given month (and thus dilute the attention given to each event,) I made the decision to decrease the focus on marketing for the next month or so. Instead, I'm promoting in steady-state mode (twitter, Goodreads, etc.) and have moved on to the fun stuff: I'm now working on my second and third books.

The next post in this series will address DOs and DON'Ts for the signing event itself. Readers... what have you done to succeed in the bookstores?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Introducing the So Cal Author Academy

A guest post by Susan McBeth, Events Coordinator of Adventures by the Book.

As an author events coordinator, I am frequently asked advice by writers (especially self-published and small press authors who do not have designated publicists) who are overwhelmed with the marketing process and setting up book events. Who do I hire for my author photo; do I need a book trailer; what do I invest for a professional website; where do I start with social media; how do I set up interviews; how do I develop my presentation skills; what good is a press release and how do I write one; how do I best approach bookstores and libraries for events; what other event options are available, etc.

The SoCal Author Academy will answer those questions and much more, as it takes you methodically through the process of marketing your book and setting up events in Anne Lamott fashion, Bird by Bird. Designed as a series of intimate workshops, taught by experts in each subject matter, the SoCal Author Academy will offer you a cohesive and interactive plan to market your book. Starting with a brief overview of Everyday Book Marketing, experts will guide writers from a logical first step thru planning and execution of an actual author event.

The inaugural workshop on Sunday, September 29, 2013, is divided into two parts, starting with a
general overview of Everyday Book Marketing that covers essential book promotion basics, followed by an interactive workshop that builds upon the morning session and in which, using a checklist, you will create your own customized marketing plan.

And who better to teach an Everyday Book Marketing workshop than Midge Raymond. Midge has been a writer, editor, and teacher for more than twenty years. She has taught at Boston University, Grub Street, San Diego Writers, and Richard Hugo House, among others. Midge’s short story collection, Forgetting English, received the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction. Her award-winning stories have appeared in numerous literary journals and magazines, including American Literary Review, Bellingham ReviewNorth American ReviewBellevue Literary Review, and the Los Angeles Times.

Future workshops will include websites, social media, author photos, event planning, presentations and interviewing, press releases, and book trailers.  And for those of you who graduate from the SoCal Author Academy, we will celebrate with you at an author event that we plan together!

Further information and registration is available at  Questions? Contact Susan McBeth at or at (619) 300-2532.  Susan has been an events coordinator for over twenty years, seven of which have specialized in author events for a major independent bookstore and now as founder and owner of Adventures by the Book.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Cover of Snow, by Jenny Milchman: A Review

When her seemingly happy husband commits suicide, Nora Hamilton suspects something fishy. Her quest to belatedly find the truth leads to mysteries both within her marriage, and within the small town where her husband grew up but she is an outsider.

Having read many five-star reviews and just as many one-star reviews of this novel, I agree with both, so I'm offering three stars. There are some exciting elements and the book is appropriately chilling. The main plot is very intriguing and I kept turning pages. On the other hand, there are some amateurish elements consistent with a first effort by a debut novelist. Below (in the spoiler section) are a few specific examples.

I have met Jenny Milchman and found her to be a lovely person. The fact that this novel took so long to publish is a testament to her passion for her work and her determination to succeed as a novelist. I think this book will provide a solid stepping-stone for Jenny's career. Because I agreed so wholeheartedly with many of the comments that have been made (both positive and negative), it is my hope that Jenny will take those critiques to heart and use what she learns from them in her next work. I think she has the potential to become a fabulous mystery/thriller author and I look forward to her next effort.


Here are a few of things about the book that I would have done differently:

1) The "I'll tell you tomorrow!" As soon as I read that part, I knew Jean was going to die. That scene came across as a poorly veiled attempt to raise the stakes, but unrealistic. Given Nora's drive to understand her husband's suicide, I don't think she would have been satisfied to leave key info at that point.

2) Nora's failure to answer the mysterious phone call that keeps coming in. Same reason. I didn't find it credible that she would ignore the phone call for any reason. It would have been better if she tried to call but couldn't get through, or the line got cut off, etc.

3) The romantic tension with Ned struck me as...frankly, tasteless. Her husband just died! It damaged Nora's likeability and her credibility as a grieving widow.

4) Nora's tendency to become distracted with ideas and thoughts about home restoration. I understand that the goal was to give her some back-story and depth, but the execution of these pieces made her come across a bit ADD. Again, it damaged her credibility as a grieving widow and a woman driven to understand her husband's suicide.

5) I would have liked to know Brendan a bit better. Instead of integrating the third-person segments, many of which struck me as a bit unnecessary, I would have liked to see (for example) some flashbacks to Brendan and Nora's marriage when he was still alive. I would have liked to have seen it with my own eyes. We keep hearing directly from Nora how happy she and Brendan were, but with all evidence to the contrary it's difficult to believe her. I think her proclamation of happiness would be more credible if we could have witnessed their relationship first-hand. Perhaps the incorporation of some flashbacks could have killed two birds with one stone by showing their happiness on a "normal" day when she's restoring houses (see point #4.) Then, the evidence to the contrary would have been that much more impactful and the reader would have shared her confusion about the events unfolding around her.

Overall, a solid first effort. I would recommend this novel to those who like a good "why-dunnit" and I would suggest that mystery/thriller fans keep an eye on this author.