Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Win 30 Crime Fiction Novels! Via Sue Coletta

Readers! Don't miss this one...

Marred author Sue Coletta has initiated a Rafflecopter to win 30 crime novels... among them The Death Row Complex!

Sign up here for 30 freebies from award-winning and best-selling crime fiction novelists.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, November 28, 2015

A Grain of Salt: Why Writers (Sometimes) Make the Worst Critics

Guest Post by Josh Rutherford

One of the worst forms of feedback I’ve ever received came unexpectedly – from another writer.

It happened at the start of my writing career, when I was trying to establish myself as a screenwriter. My third script, Torero, had started to rise in the ranks in certain screenwriting competitions. No, it never placed first or second or even third. But it had finished as a semi-finalist and quarterfinalist in a handful of contests, which exceeded my expectations and boosted my confidence as a writer.

Emboldened, I made the next logical move: I joined a writers’ group. I answered a craigslist ad, met a few screenwriters at a coffee shop and proceeded to do the regular routine of exchanging e-mails and projects. After a few group meetings, I met a fellow writer for coffee to discuss his thoughts on Torero. For the sake of this article, let’s call this writer Ted.

I didn’t know Ted that well, but he was a regular in our group and had offered to read my work. Eager for feedback and camaraderie, I provided him with a copy of Torero. He read it thoroughly and by the time of our meeting, he had hinted that he had a lot to say about my script.

I remember the moments leading up to our meeting. You have to understand that at this point in my life, I took any discussion of my work very seriously. I felt as though this was a precursor to a pow-wow with an agent or manager. While I tried to limit my expectations, I also convinced myself that any rookie mistakes I had made would be outshined by the story and characters I had crafted.

As I approached the coffee shop that fateful day, my heart raced. My ears perked. I was wide awake. I was ready.

Ted’s discussion of my work reflected less enthusiasm though. As our discussion began, he commented on miniscule choices I had made, such as why I wrote ATV instead of All-Terrain Vehicle. Then he moved on to more substantial elements of my work, such as his disagreement over my use of flashback. I took all his advice with a grain of salt, nodding and taking notes, until he made the following comment:

“I think your screenplay would work better as a dark comedy.”

That stopped my pen on my paper. Dark comedy? What was this guy talking about? Torero was primarily a drama with a peppering of comedic moments. I had never considered it being either darker or more comedic or both. I immediately asked him why he felt that way. His answer was a muddled combination of screenwriting jargon and examples from my work where it could work.

However, I felt his argument was less than sound. I argued to the contrary, insisting that such infusions of dark comedy in my script would only confuse the audience and disrupt the narrative. After some more back-and-forth, we parted ways, with me scratching my head and feeling insecure about my project. I asked myself “Why was he so insistent on me choosing to retool my script as a dark comedy?”

My question was answered at our next group meeting, during which we read excerpts from Ted’s own screenplay. Lo and behold, he had written a dark comedy. In fact, just before the reading, he divulged that his specialty was dark comedy.

I felt betrayed. I had offered him my work in an effort to receive unbiased, honest criticism. What I received were his not-so-subtle opinions infused with his own personal preferences as a writer. I didn’t come away from that one-on-one with objective feedback. I came away with his thoughts on how he would have written my script.

And there you have it. Perhaps the most common instance of déjà vu you will ever experience as a writer. The kind where you request feedback from another writer, only to receive suggestions reflecting his or her own biases.

We are all guilty of it. Every single writer. While I feel this is more common amongst amateurs, I have also witnessed this phenomenon from agents, consultants and managers I have approached with my work, nearly all of whom bill themselves as writers in one form or another. My favorite example of writers’ prejudice happened a few years ago, when I submitted a query letter to a consultant for review. His ultimate (and lingering) response: you need to have a singular protagonist. Nevermind that my script was a buddy film or that examples from Hollywood abound of onscreen duos or ensemble pieces. Only later, after talking about the feedback with other writer friends, did I learn of this consultant’s unwavering advice of standalone central characters, no matter the story.

This tendency amongst writers to give tainted advice is often misleading and detrimental. It sounds harsh, but it’s true. One of the ultimate goals of writing is to develop your own voice as an author. It’s a monumental task, one made more difficult when you have others imparting their voice on you and insisting you conform to their tendencies.

Sadly, we writers subject ourselves to this flaw in our profession time and again, because while our comrades-with-pens struggle to part ways with their bias, they also serve an invaluable role. Writers’ circles and groups do provide the support we need, especially when we first begin our journey as scribes. I still remember the first discussions of my work with other writers. It was electrifying and inspiring, made more memorable by the opportunities to listen to and comment on other projects. Meeting other writers promotes discussion and exchange, tools necessary to discovering your own voice.

Examples of the benefits of fellowship are endless. You may have met a seasoned writer at the beginning of your career who served as a mentor. You might have been introduced to your agent at a writers’ forum or conference. Or perhaps you still rely on feedback from partnerships you formed with authors years earlier. The list can go on and on.

So, how do you safeguard yourself from the pitfalls of biased criticism while remaining open to help from other writers? There are numerous ways to protect your writing and your self-esteem, including the following suggestions I still practice to this day:
1) Develop realistic expectations – If you walk into a writers’ group expecting mountains of praise, you have set yourself up for failure. If you convince yourself that your work isn’t good enough for serious consideration, you have set yourself up for failure. Somewhere in between these two extremes is a sustainable middle-path, one that prepares you for the constructive feedback you need as a writer. Before passing off my work to another writer or to a group, I always ask myself, “What do I want from this experience?” or “What are my strengths and weaknesses?” That internal discussion in my mind prepares me for the possibilities of what I may receive.
2) Avoid negative energy – This is a tricky one, but I included it out of necessity. Because it never fails that in every writers’ group, there seems to be that one god-from-on-high-writer who believes that his or her advice is correct and beyond reproach. That one writer will argue their opinion with you until one of you dies. Such writers are impossible to avoid, but never let them discourage you from feedback, no matter their level or arrogance or self-worth. When faced with these critics, definitely take their advice with a grain of salt. Discard their negative, biting tone. But listen to them as well. Seek out the hidden gems of their discussion to find out why they did not approve of your work and if there is a way you can improve it while still maintaining your voice. This exercise will take some restraint and patience on your part, but the reward of becoming a better critic of your own work is well worth it.
3) Ask yourself why you are receiving the type of feedback you’re getting – Perhaps you submitted your work to your group expecting comments on dialogue, when in fact they focused on your character descriptions. Or maybe you had written a mystery, but your group chose to discuss the romances of your characters. What your group has to say can be very telling, so put aside your pride and listen. Especially if there is consensus. If one person makes a certain comment or suggestion, it holds less weight in comparison to one agreed upon by a group. Analyze why you’ve received the feedback given. By dissecting such comments from peers, you’ll develop the ability to discern between the biased thoughts and objective evaluations you need.
4) Become the critic you want others to be – You may be reading this post only to realize that you suffer from your own form of narcissism when offering advice to other writers. It’s fine. You’re in good company. We all do it. To better your own skills as a critic and to practice what you preach, consider how you offer help to others in your circle. Think of instances of when your own prejudices may have filtered through. Better yet, try to remember a missed opportunity when you could have offered advice that reflected the author’s needs and not your own. Such mental preparation on how to be a better critic, especially when practiced right before your next writers’ meeting, can improve your own powers of evaluation.  
Digesting criticism from fellow writers – your peers – takes years to master. I’m far from such professional maturity myself. But I keep at it. More importantly, I weigh the effects of my comments and suggestions. I do this not necessarily out of concern for the other writer’s feelings, but as a courtesy to the voice they are trying to create.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Murder, U.S.A: A Preview

Murder, U.S.A., our forthcoming "Crime Fiction Tour of the Nation," is at the formatter! At final tally, the collection is comprised of thirty-one U.S.-based crime fiction excerpts with multiple sub-genres represented, offering prospective readers a vast sampling of works to pick and choose from. Below is a preview of the Table of Contents with links to the individual books and their authors. 

And in case you didn't know... Murder, U.S.A. will be free.

A Psychological Thriller/Mystery
Set in Alexandria, NH

A Cozy Mystery
Set in Susquehanna River Valley, NY

An International Thriller
Set in Philadelphia, PA, Brooklyn, NY, Manhattan, NY, Washington, DC, Detroit, MI, Burbank, CA, Beirut, Tel Aviv, Rotterdam, Modena

A Medical/Science Thriller
Set in Washington, DC and San Diego, CA

A Cozy Mystery
Set in Great Bridge, VA

A Romantic Suspense Novel
Set in Greenville, SC

A Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mystery
A Cozy Mystery
Set in a small town in Arkansas and Kansas City, MO

A Murder Mystery
Set in New Orleans, LA, Tampa, FL, and Los Angeles, CA

A Cozy Mystery
Set on the Gulf Coast, MS

A Detective Novel, Female Protagonist Romantic Thriller
Set in Tampa, FL and Ybor City, FL

A Traditional Mystery, Police Procedural
Set on the Treasure Coast, FL

A Political Thriller, Young-Adult Dystopian Action/Adventure
Set in Columbus, OH, Knox County, KY, and Washington, DC

An Action Mystery, Private Investigator Novel
Set in Des Moines, IA

A Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mystery
A Cozy Mystery
Set in Kansas City, MO

A Humorous Suspense/Mystery/Thriller
Set in North Idaho and Spokane, WA

A Corporate/Legal/Financial Thriller
Set Near The Rocky Mountains, CO

A Contemporary Suspense/Cozy Mystery
Set in Dallas, TX and East Texas

A Cozy Cat Mystery
Set in Eagle Pass, TX

A Paranormal Mystery, Historical Thriller
Set in Santa Fe, NM

A Historical Dark Thriller
Set in the New Mexico desert, NM

A Legal Thriller/Mystery
Set in Spokane, WA, Oregon, and Idaho

A Romantic Suspense, Spy Thriller
Set in the Napa Valley, CA, Berkeley, CA, and France

A Historical/Gothic Novel
Set in San Simeon, CA, London, England, San Francisco, CA, and Los Angeles, CA

A Police Procedural, Amateur Sleuth Novel
Set in the Sierra Nevada Foothills, California

A Psychological Suspense Novel
Set in Southern California

A Noir, Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction Novel
Set in Los Angeles, CA

A Literary Mystery
Set in the Mojave High Desert, CA

A Dana Mackenzie Mystery
A Cozy Mystery
Set in San Bernadino County, CA

A Mystery
Set in Southern California

An Archaeological and Historical Mystery/Thriller
Set in San Diego, CA, Campania, Italy, and Egypt

A Near-Future Thriller
Set in Southern California, Yuma, AZ, and Mexicali, BC

Friday, October 9, 2015

Is the "One-Thousand-Copy" Book Sale Benchmark Obsolete?

The Death Row Complex
The traditional model of book selling goes something like this: When you've sold 1000 copies of your book, particularly if you can do so in the first year of its launch, you have succeeded. The vast majority of authors never achieve this benchmark, capping out their sales figures somewhere between 50 and, say, 250 copies total. The dogma states that if you've sold 1000, you have clearly done something to expand sales beyond friends and family, and that's what you need to accomplish in order to generate a long-term, sustainable proliferation of the book among readers.

It's great to have a goal, but I suspect that the target may have shifted when we weren't looking. 

The 1000-copy mantra was invented at a time when books were always sold through traditional publishers, always as hard copies, and always sold for somewhere between $5.99 and $27 per copy. So, selling 1000 copies would not only generate a significant chunk of change for the author, it was also a fairly safe assumption that people who spent the money to buy the book were actually going to read it. Methinks that's not the case anymore.

In today's world of online promotion platforms, one-click "buy" buttons, and $0.99 e-books, it's MUCH easier to sell 1000 copies. For the purpose of this post, let's ignore the fact that earning 70% of $1000 does not a professional author make. I prefer to focus here on a much bigger hurdle.

The bigger concern with selling books so cheaply and effortlessly online is that we have created a generation of book hoarders... you know who you are! Readers scoop up those $0.99 ebooks like a blue whale ingesting thousands of pounds of krill, and then they end up with a TBR library jam-packed with books that they may or may not ever get around to reading (guilty!) So, as an author, you can no longer be sure that those 1000 copies you've sold WILL EVER be read, and you can't know how how large of a buzz beyond friends and family you've really generated.

So what's the new benchmark? I'm setting mine at 10,000, for now, and dreaming that when I achieve that, it will become 100,000, and so on and so forth. I'm choosing 10,000 both because it's a nice exponent away from 1000 and because I think there's an important metric to be found in it. And here it is: I personally am finding it relatively easy to sell 1000 copies with online promotion tactics, regardless of how good my books actually are and how many of those 1000 buyers will read the book. I can't say the same for 10,000. I think that achieving the 10,000-sale mark will require that people actually read, like, and recommend my books to others. And that has been the TRUE benchmark all along.

The wildly successful marketing guru Nick Stephenson seems to agree with me. Nick has developed a comprehensive platform for finding your first 10,000 readers (indeed, it's entitled, "Your First 10K Readers") and he makes almost all of it available for free to anyone who signs up on his mailing list. Just by clicking that "subscribe" button, you'll receive step-by-step training that WORKS in your inbox. Concrete action items that have led many others to success. I've downloaded this program and am working my way through it, and I can honestly say I've learned a lot, and continue to learn a lot. If you're struggling with sales and finding new readers, check out the system for free. And join me in the race toward this new goal. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

An Experiment in Serialization

Guest post by Bruce Cantwell

In 2014, the long-running radio program/podcast “This American Life” decided to conduct an experiment in long-form storytelling called “Serial.” 

This was a canny decision. Although the show was very successful with one-off episodes featuring stories built around a common theme, if the theme for a given week’s show didn’t particularly grab me, I didn’t feel compelled to listen to every episode. 

Ira Glass knows an awful lot about storytelling, and every author who keeps her eye on the bestseller list understands the value proposition of a series. It’s a staple of books, television, movies, why not podcasts? 

As a long-time reader and short-time author of mysteries, I didn’t find the pilot episode of “Serial” presented on “This American Life” to be particularly compelling. I'm a stickler that mysteries should have conclusions. “Serial” told the story of a real life murder. Someone had been arrested, tried, and convicted for the crime. For the series to have a compelling conclusion, its creator Sarah Koenig would have to conclusively prove that the person convicted was wrongly accused or strongly suggest who the actual murderer was.

I was in the minority. When “Serial” became the most popular podcast around, and I came down with a nasty case of the flu, I decided to binge listen to see what all the fuss was about. The rest of the series didn’t win me over, but I was really curious about how this huge audience would react to a true crime mystery…

…without an ending.

Sarah Koenig, also very cannily, did her pledge drive appeal for a second season with the penultimate episode. The audience responded. The money for a second season was in the bank before the inconclusive conclusion.

As a long-time writer/marketer, relative newbie mystery writer getting the word out about my first mystery in years, which did have a definitive conclusion, I decided to take a stab at serialization.

Here are some of the marketing virtues of “Serial” approach as I saw them. By telling a long-form story into twelve episodes, I lowered the barrier to sampling. If “Serial” had offered its first episode free and tried to get me to buy the remaining episodes as an audiobook, it would have been a hard sell. Each episode was less than an hour. I kept my episodes to under 30 minutes of reading time. Reasonable even for people who don’t read books.

“Serial” used an RSS feed to automatically notify subscribers of new episodes. No one questions the need for authors to maintain an email list. Aside from notifying subscribers about new episodes, I created Mysterious News to make the communications more social. I gave precedence to subscribers’ pre-sale dates, encouraging reviews, and on-sale dates. These are all very important for authors in driving visibility on Amazon. It benefited subscribers and saved me time in content creation. If you write in the mystery and suspense genres and would like to subscribe, I’d love to announce your work, too.


People could listen to “Serial” on a wide range of devices, including their smartphones. I know from feedback that readers of my serial have consumed the episodes by reading them on laptops, on their smartphones, on Kindle, and on paper (deciding to print each episode out).


“Serial” used its website as a repository for additional information about the case to increase listener engagement. With each episode of my serial, I provided a discussion of a related movie in the noir and neo-noir genres, a music link (including an actual karaoke playlist for my karaoke episode), and an establishment to drink beer and/or grab a bite before or after exploring a Portland location mentioned in the episode.


“This American Life” funded season one of “Serial” as an experiment to see whether there was a market for it.
This is something I really found appealing. As series fiction writers, especially as series fiction writers, we often have to write several books before we get enough sales data, reviews, and other feedback to know whether there’s a market for our first book. All I had to do to gauge my market was leave a tip jar at the end. If it fills up, I’ll know I’m onto something. If not, I can go back to the laboratory and try another experiment.


Full disclosure. My decision on whether to try this again may not be completely scientific. The experiment was a hell of a lot of fun!

Reviews for Last Heartthrob

"Get your noir on!" Cindy Brown, author of the Ivy Meadows mysteries

"Totally hooked on The Last Heartthrob serial by Bruce Cantwell. Checking each day hoping for the next episode." – Stephen Campbell, The Author Biz and CrimeFiction.FM

"Evokes memories of the past era of detectives, femme fatales, and action set pieces that grip the reader." – Robert Hellinger on Amazon Write On for Kindle

"I'm hooked!" – Femme Noir

About Bruce Cantwell
My sixth-grade research paper traced the modern detective story from Edgar Allan Poe’s the Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin to Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, who had yet to face his final Curtain. Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth, Ira Levin’s Deathtrap, and CBS Radio Mystery Theater met in my first full-length play Who Shot Captain Dark?, which received a staged reading at Northlight Repertory before its subsequent Chicago production. Last Heartthrob was conceived when an overheard aha moment for a murder mystery, coupled with the tale of a most unusual real-life romance became an on-the-fly movie pitch. A former advertising co-worker turned indie movie producer called frantically searching for a low-budget, quick-turnaround script for a director to shoot as a calling card between his no-budget debut and a much more ambitious project. The director went in a different direction, and the more ambitious project never happened, but the idea for Last Heartthrob got stuck in my head.

Visit Bruce Cantwell's website and sign up on his mailing list!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Good Things About Bad Reviews

You wake up on a Saturday morning, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and glance at your Amazon review page. And, lo and behold, there's a nice, shiny, new little nasty-gram for you on the page. What do you do?
(a) Cry
(b) Throw things
(c) Vow to stop writing forever
(d) Shout, "Woohoo! A bad review!" 
If you picked (d), I think you've got the right idea. Here are some reasons why.

First of all, you need bad reviews. You have to have bad reviews on your page to show prospective readers that the reviews on your site are real. There is no such thing as a book that is beloved by every single person who reads it. A review page that has only four- and five-star reviews sends the message that those reviews all came from the author's friends and not from legitimate readers. The negative reviews prove that strangers are really reading your book, and they give credibility to the positive reviews. I also suspect that the Amazon algorithms probably think the same way, and that a book with a mix of reviews will probably get more face-time on the site than one that only has positive reviews, but that's just my guess and I could be wrong.

Second, as authors we are lucky to have a beautiful system in place for receiving honest customer feedback--something every good business should have, in my opinion. Reviews are that system.

I know a lot of authors who don't even read their reviews. Personally, I read every single review I get. And if it's harsh or critical, I read it several times. Then, I have a fairly systematic approach for dealing with it.

First and foremost, if I'm truly hurt or offended by the review and this is clouding my ability to look at it objectively, I have a top secret (until now) way for getting over that. I go to the Amazon pages of some of my very favorite authors and read some of *their* one-star reviews. This tends to put things into perspective. Then, once the initial pain has subsided, I mentally place the negative review into one of three buckets:
(1) This reviewer is just mean, offers no constructive criticism, and might even perhaps have some kind of emotional issue causing him/her to lash out at strangers online
(2) This reviewer has some very good points which I want to keep in mind when writing my next book
(3) A lot of other people specifically liked the things this reviewer disliked, and I did those things on purpose, so I'm probably not going to change anything based on this review. Sorry, reviewer!
The bucket (1) reviews get ignored or laughed at a bit. They can be quite entertaining sometimes, even if they aren't very helpful. You know the ones I'm talking about.

The bucket (2) reviews get a lot of attention, because those are the ones I intend to learn from. A good bad reviewer can call my attention to something I wasn't even aware of which I don't want to repeat in future books. Thank you, good bad reviewer!!

The bucket (3) reviews are a bit tricky. If the negative points are one-off (i.e. of all the reviews on the novel, this person seems to be the only person who felt that way...) I tend to shrug and think, well, my book isn't for this person, and that's OK. However, if I start seeing a lot of people making the same points, I will *consider* the notion of changing something in future books. Because there has to be a balance between writing for one's self and writing books people want to read, if you're interested in selling them.

The bottom line is that a negative review can help you grow as an author if you use it. If you're Stephen King, you probably don't need to pay attention to your bad reviews, because readers already expect a certain signature style from you and that style sells. So that's going to be your style until the day you stop writing books. But if you're not Stephen King, you're lucky. You still have the opportunity and the freedom to develop your voice as an author. Reviews, good and bad, are a priceless tool for doing this.

Authors, do you read your reviews? How do you deal with the negative ones?

Friday, September 18, 2015

Murder Lab Report - Connecting Readers With Authors

Happenings from the mystery/thriller world...
View this email in your browser

September 12, 2015

Hello, Murder Lab Community!

Today's Murder Lab Report is all about connections. Connecting authors with readers and connecting readers with books they will love. To that end, some of you are involved in or otherwise aware of the Murder anthologies. I'm thrilled to announce that Murder, USA is officially "beyond the point of no return." This book WILL exist, and somewhat soon!

For those of you who might not know what this is, Murder, USA is a collection of excerpts from published novels in the various mystery/thriller/suspense/crime fiction genres. Each novel takes place somewhere in the USA and the location is a bit of a "character" in the book. I like to think of this anthology as a "murder tour of the nation." There are twenty-two excerpts (and maybe a few additional stragglers coming in under the wire,) so readers will have a convenient package in which to sample a variety of books and pick the ones you'd like to read. They range from cozy mystery to paranormal thriller to near-future action thriller. There is something in here for everyone. And the excerpts are awesome. I can't wait to share this with you, and as subscribers to this list, you'll be among the first to get it. The anthology will be free and will contain links to the full-length novels so you can easily access the ones you're interested in! An international version with the same idea will follow... so stay tuned!

How else are we connecting authors with readers? See Murder Lab for an incredible blog post about how Andy Peloquin got 200 people to help him launch his latest novel. As of today, Blade of the Destroyer: The Last Bucelarii: Part 1 has been on the market for twenty-two days and has accrued forty-three customer reviews on Amazon! Check out Andy's post for the secrets to that success.

See below for even more ways to find a great book if you're a reader or to find a great reader if you're an author.


Murder Lab Mistress

A few happenings in cyberspace

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Were you forwarded this email? Please subscribe for future monthly updates. And if you know of anyone who might be interested in the Murder Lab Report, please feel free to forward this email along or use the share buttons below.

Call to Authors: Send Me to Your Blog

Have you noticed how every Murder Lab Report has mention of a few blog posts I think my readers will find interesting? Are you wondering why your blog has never been mentioned? It's possible I don't know about it! If you're an author, reviewer, blogger, or ANYONE who has a blog or website that focuses on crime fiction/mystery/thriller genres, please direct me to it! Even if you don't run the site, if there's a website or blog that you think Murder Lab members will like, please call my attention to it. I'll follow the blog and when a post catches my eye, you'll find it linked here in the Murder Lab Report. 

It's Bouchercon Time!

October 8-11, 2015
The Sheraton Raleigh Hotel
421 South Salisbury Street
Raleigh, North Carolina  27601
United States

Signing at Warwicks, La Jolla, CA

If you're in So-Cal, I have a signing event coming up and would love to see you! If you're on my author mailing list, I'll remind you again when the event gets a bit closer.

Warwick’s Signing Event
Author Kristen Elise

Sunday, November 8, 2015
Noon to 2:00 pm
7812 Girard Ave.
La Jolla, CA 92037
(858) 454-0347



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