Friday, May 25, 2012

What the Experts Say: My Love Of Thrillers by Stacy Green

Stacy Green writes suspense thrillers with romance, and her debut novel, INTO THE DARK, will be available from MuseItUp Publishing in November. Her popular Thriller Thursday series features true crime stories, forensics, and the occasional ghost story. She lives in Marion, Iowa with her husband and daughter and their three lovable but annoying dogs.

Imagine a giant ticking clock hovering overhead as you race down a darkened tunnel. Four minutes to save your life or die trying. Your heart’s hammering so fast the beats are nearly continuous, your hands are numb from being clenched into fists, and your lungs burn from the rapid intake of air. Thundering behind you is a force so terrifying you don’t want to look back, and yet, you must. Look, gasp, run harder, and look again.

That’s a thriller. A plot so intricate and chocked with twists and turns you not only can’t put it down, but you’re physically altered while reading it. Remember the books that have you looking around the corner, leaving the light on, or staring at complete strangers as though they might morph into a kidnapping psychopath right before your eyes? There’s a reason they stick with us.

I love every kind of thriller, but my personal favorites are psychological suspense thrillers, with The Silence of The Lambs being the standard. To this day, no villain has terrified or enthralled me more than Hannibal Lecter. Author Thomas Harris makes Lecter crawl into our minds from the moment he steps onto the page. When Hannibal calls Clarice Starling at the end of the novel, even though the main story line is all tied up and Buffalo Bill is dead, our hearts still pound at what the good doctor might say. That’s the essence of a thriller – the ride doesn’t stop until the very end.

So what do you need to write a great thriller? There’s no formula, but there are some must have elements.

1)    Hook readers on the first page. An action scene can be a great way to snag a reader, but there are any number of books that start off more subtle, with the initial hook tapping into a reader’s deepest fear. Harlan Coban is a master of hooks that dig into our psyche and compel us to read on.
2)    Unforgettable hero/heroine. Readers love characters with flaws, ones that push themselves to the edge. Lisa Gardner’s heroine in Say Goodbye is a great example of this: she’s pregnant, but she’s lured to a case that might get her and her baby killed. Married less than a year, she’s also attracted to her partner, and yet she loves her husband. She moves through the book with a mixture of guilt and determination–a state most of us can relate to.
3)    Most importantly, an all-powerful villain. In Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, Robert Langdon is up against the powerful and secretive Illuminati as he tries to thwart their efforts to destroy the Catholic Church. These guys are willing to sacrifice themselves – and each other – for their cause.
4)    Put your characters through hell and make it personal. What do you fear? Spiders? The dark? Abandonment? Death? Losing a loved one? Whatever it is, make it happen to your characters. Torture your characters until the end, but give them the strength to persevere.
5)    Balance. Keep the rollercoaster moving. Lull your readers into a sense of calm by making your characters get what they want–and then drop them to their knees one last time.

Thrillers thrill; it’s that simple. What’s your favorite thriller? What books have kept you up at night lately?

Visit Stacy Online

Friday, May 18, 2012

What the Experts Say: Transitioning from Category Romance to Women’s Fiction by Joyce DeBacco

There was a time when women’s fiction was synonymous with bodice rippers. Thankfully, those days are long gone. Although romance is still a large part of our reading material, women today want more from their fiction. With more women in the workforce now, either by choice or necessity, our reading time is understandably limited. While it’s fun to occasionally indulge in a fluffy romance, many women prefer to read what’s relevant to them. It’s the reason little girls want dolls that reflect their ethnicity or coloring. And, because we’re strong women, we don’t always want the female to follow the male’s lead; we can think for ourselves. On the other hand, sometimes we want to be taken care of. It’s a fine balance.

It’s not hard to figure out from my writing that my preference is for women’s fiction. Although at one time, I tried my hand at category romance in order to submit to the popular romance publishers of the day, I just couldn’t adhere to the publisher’s strict requirements as to length or timing. I didn’t want my hero and heroine to meet, fall in love, and live happily ever after according to some arbitrary formula. I wanted to do it my way.

Of course, at the heart of any good women’s fiction is authenticity, and family dynamics is an important part of my fiction. One of the greatest compliments an author can get is when a reader says their characters seem like real people. As mothers, we’ve all dealt with a toddler’s temper tantrum or a teen’s rebellion. And it’s the rare woman who hasn’t experienced sibling rivalry or mother-daughter issues. The characters in my books face these problems as well. They may not always say the right thing at the right time, but that’s what makes it real. It’s also why some of my characters are well-educated and some are not; some are professionals and some are not. They’re a microcosm of society. The important thing is that they’re all motivated by their love of home and family.

In the end, women’s fiction is about life. As wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, we strive to keep our home lives and professional lives separate. When they do overlap, we do the best we can to blend them; multi-tasking has always been part and parcel of a woman’s life, from pioneer days to the present. Today’s woman can be the head of a corporation or the head of a family, and women’s fiction has evolved to reflect that. Today the hand that rocks the cradle is just as apt to rock the business world. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

About Joyce DeBacco

After reading women’s fiction for many years, Joyce knew she wanted to create stories of her own. As the mother of four grown daughters, she’s familiar with the problems women face finding love, raising children, and stepping back when necessary. While raising her daughters, she also ran the office of her husband’s sub-contracting business, so she’s quite familiar with multi-tasking. She is happiest when she’s secluded in her office creating new worlds and people to populate them. When she’s not taxing her brain with plot, structure, and grammar, she likes to sew, particularly quilts. When she really wants to rest her brain, she sprawls out in front of the TV and tries not to fall asleep. Please visit her website, for information about her books, one of which was named Best Indie Romance of 2011 at Red Adept Reviews.

Friday, May 11, 2012

What the Experts Say: Catherine Astolfo on Background Playing

Catherine Astolfo is the author of The Emily Taylor Mysteries, published by Imajin Books.  Her novels have been optioned for film by Sisbro & Co. Inc. Catherine is a Past President of Crime Writers of Canada and a member of Sisters in Crime Toronto.

Background Playing

There’s an old adage that says, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” Most authors of fiction would probably agree that we can’t get all the research right every time. Often the situation just calls out for a manipulation of the facts. However, the background information provided in a novel is often fascinating, if not entirely accurate to the last drop.
We are all familiar with the detective story, police officer or private detective variety.  Think of how much we’ve learned about processing a crime scene because we’ve read these books. Doesn’t mean we could conduct one, but still… Other writers opened the world of forensic pathology , autopsies and morgues with the result that many shows on the subjects turned up in television.
Fiction covers the gamut: law, medicine, education, government…name the field and there is more than likely a novel that has, in its background, some details about that world that are new to you.
           The background playing is often part of the fun, the fascination, and the transportation of reading. By transportation, I mean getting carried away into another realm, one that was probably —and will likely continue to be—unfamiliar, but interesting. You can virtually learn something from every single book.
           In fact, the new plans from that big computer software company that we all know, are to introduce electronic books for schools. The “e” texts would include features whereby students can click on a name and find the entire history of that person. Currently, our ereaders give us definitions of words and other links that we can pursue for information. More services and tools are being offered all the time. What a huge education all in one little story/textbook!
Even in the “simplest”of novels, the background information is important. By simple, I mean they’re not necessarily focused on a field of work. They’re not primarily detective or legal or medical fiction, but tell a tale about rather ordinary folk. In my first book, The Bridgeman, I portrayed an old-fashioned lift bridge and the person who managed it.
My protagonist throughout the series (the Emily Taylor Mysteries) is a school principal in a small town. When the bridgeman is murdered in the school, I have to explain about how the education system would handle such a thing. Then there is the puppy mill: for this section, as difficult as it was, I wrote about the experiences of my niece as a veterinarian’s assistant. In Victim, I did a lot of reading about Ojibwa folklore—and shared that with my readers. Legacy (number three) returns to the school and its processes, plus there are tidbits about the effects of fire, inquests, and hypnosis. My fourth book, Seventh Fire, discusses a wrongful conviction and how these tragic mistakes often come about. My books are mysteries, but they still teach.
Although the stories are fiction, and some of the facts may not be one percent accurate, there is enough background information to give the reader a more in-depth picture of the setting, the characters, and how the plot plays out. It may even lead a reader to investigate the topic further. Just like an “e” text.

Tips for Writing in the Hashtag Age

Don’t misunderstand – I love Texting, Facebooking and Tweeting.

But I wonder what the impact will be on the current generation focused on these cryptic forms of communication. Will we forget how to write a complete sentence? Will the next generation even know about adjectives and adverbs? Will we be able to write anything without adding the ubiquitous hashtag?

I suspect my concern might be inflated.  After all, our schools still teach reading, writing and arithmetic. Well, at least reading and arithmetic. How much longer will they count writing as a requirement? As we eliminate music, art, and sports form our schools, can writing be far behind? 

OK, OK. I’m exaggerating again maybe just a little – but I fear JUST a little.  However, just in case, I’m thinking that we might want to offer some tips to assure we continue to think in sentences and paragraphs. And what better place to hone our writing skills than having fun with our family and simultaneously increasing quality time together?

FunFamily Writing Exercises

My suggestion is that you schedule time for family activities and include some writing exercises as one of the “games.” Don’t make the timing inflexible – after all we’re all very busy being cryptic. And if it works better for your family just to do it extemporaneously, then so be it. But make it a priority.

Maybe Sunday evening as part of an informal family dinner you could do some of the following exercises to involve as many family members as possible. I suspect if you’re a parent you already know that you’ll have to work on topics of interest to the age group of your kids, although superheroes seems to be a subject for all ages at the moment. 

By the way, you might also consider this as a great way to tell Mom what you think of her for Mother’s Day; or Dad for Father’s Day; or for any member of the family on their birthday. Eventually you might like the exercises so much that you start to write prose and poetry. 

Consider using one or more of the following as part of your routine family gatherings. Once you start, you will most likely think of lots of other exercises that your family will appreciate.

·      A special gift for Mother’s Day or for Mom’s birthday: each family member choose a topic to build a story about Mom.  Then put it together in one document. You can print it out or read it to her. Suggested topics:
o   Her sense of humor – she always laughs at my jokes
o   How she makes dinner after a long day at work
o   Her fantastic appearance
o   The cool way she tells me I’ve made a mistake
o   How she helps me with my homework
o   Her favorite movies
·      Each family member is to write a paragraph that includes a topic sentence and at least 2 detail sentences and a conclusion about a favorite super hero without telling anyone who it is. Write a physical description, special gift that makes your character a super hero, and why you like him/her. Read your description to your family. The first one to guess gets to go next.   
·      Each family member writes a paragraph describing the family getting ready for school or work in the morning.  For a little something extra, include some dialogue. This should make for some interesting discussion when you read your paragraph aloud to the rest of the family and then they read their paragraph. The different perspectives could be very enlightening.
·      Write a dialogue that occurred between you and your teacher, friend or even a stranger. Ask the rest of the family to act it out. 
·      Write a paragraph describing a room. Include shape, use of room (does it have bars?), smell, humid or dry. Each family member is to draw the room within ten minutes.

Reminder: Tips to Write an Effective Message

In addition to honing our writing skills by having fun with our family, we can all write effective messages such as e-mails or letters by remember the following easy tips:

1.     Identify the recipient’s characteristics.  Is it someone who is always in a hurry and thus will only read part of your message?  Is it someone who needs to be convinced, requiring more details?  Is this a procrastinator who you know will need follow-up messages to achieve action?  Is this a group of people who you don’t know?  Does the group have any common characteristics you could address? Or, do you have no idea about the recipient, suggesting a more general approach?
2.     Know what you want to accomplish.  What is it you want your reader to do?  There are many reasons for writing: 
a.     to introduce yourself or your company;
b.     to correct a mistake – theirs or yours;
c.      to complain about poor service or a defective product. 
If you are clear in your own head what you want to accomplish, you will have direction when you write.  This is true for the simplest e-mail.  Just ask yourself when you start writing it:  What do I want the recipient to do?
3.      Inform the reader immediately what you want—in the opening statement.  There are some exceptions to this rule, but in general your first sentence should be an action statement:  this is what you want them to do or this is what you want them to know.  I find it exasperating to get a message that doesn’t tell me until the end what I’m supposed to do.  Or worse, the requested action is buried in the middle somewhere. Often, I miss the requested action, and neglect to respond appropriately.   If you tell us immediately what you want, we are more likely to read on to understand why we should do it, and are more likely to do as you request.
4.     Provide supporting statements.  After you have stated what you want, amplify your request.  This is where you provide the details for the reader to give your message credibility.   When you have clearly stated your goal in the beginning, these supporting statements help to convince the reader to do what you want.
5.     Inform the reader clearly what the result or benefit will be of doing what you ask.  Make a simple concluding statement:  the result of learning about my new company is that you will have a place to go to buy the most unique widget.  When you need a widget, you will be happy that you know about it.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Marketing Tips and the 99-cent Book

Self-published authors have a long list of activities to bring their books to readers besides taking a year or more to write. One of the more challenging activities is how to market once a novel is published. And one of the first decisions is pricing.

Unknown authors especially agonize over pricing: should we price low to encourage readers to investigate us even if it means painfully low revenue?

Melissa Foster, bestselling, award-winning author of three novels, Megan's Way, Chasing Amanda, and Come Back to Me and founder of World Literary CafĂ©, a social networking support community for authors, in an article in the Huffington Post reviews the pros and cons of the 99 cent price point for eBooks. Some authors strongly believe that this price highly devalues their work, while other are sure that no one will read their book at a higher price. Book reviewer Ritesh Kala, for example, says the maximum he’d pay for a book by a new author is $2.99, although he allows that research is needed for this area. 

Authors have to sell a lot of books to make any money at 99 cents a book. Foster estimates that an author would have to sell 5,134 books just to break even. To make a salary of $12,000 a year, an author would have to sell 100,000 eBooks at 99 cents. To earn $40,000 per year, that author would have to sell 333,333 books per year. There are only 30 authors who have sold over 100,000 copies of their books. 

Some authors claim that pricing may not be the issue at all. People will buy for other reasons, like a recommendation from a friend or a favorite character.  A recent survey published in Publishers Weekly    by The Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project reinforces the argument that people buy on recommendations from friends:  “owners of e-reading devices are more likely than all Americans 16 and older to get book recommendations from people they knew (81% vs. 64%)”

The discussion about the pros and cons of the 99 cent eBook is prolific.  Its use today is compounded by the fast-moving pace of eBook publishing and the marketing tools available from platforms such as Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes and Noble’s Nook, and Apple’s iPad. Its need by new authors is being undermined by the growth in the acceptance of self-published authors.

If there is a consensus among experts, it is that pricing is not the only tool in the marketing arsenal. Following are some tips from various experts.

John Locke: Success More than Just a 99-cent Price Point

John Locke, who has sold more than a million eBooks, is frequently cited as responsible for stimulating the use of the 99 cent eBook. A strong proponent of self-publishing, he credits the arrival of eBooks as offering the opportunity to compete against traditional publishers. 

In his book, How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months! Locke is quick to criticize the traditional world of publishing and the denigration of self-published authors. “How is it that self-publishing is the only business where self-funding is considered undignified?” 

However, initially he did use traditional methods of promoting his books – and spent approximately $25,000 on various forms of promotion.  The failure of these techniques led him to his own marketing platform.

And, yes, he definitely used the 99 cent price point as one tool.

However, there is far more to John Locke’s sales of a million eBooks than just offering his books for 99 cents.  After all, four of his books were available at 99 cents for more than eight months before they started to sell. 

He fueled his sales using the following “system” which I am providing here in total because I focus on tips in this blog and his system seems an excellent blueprint for self-published authors. In addition, he offers more actionable tips in his book to achieve each of these Keys to Success.

Locke’s Four Keys to Success as offered in his How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months!

(1) Have a plan

·      For writing books
·      For marketing them

(2) Know your target audience “Love your readers and personally respond to them!”
·      Write to them
·      Blog to them
·      Email them
·      Build loyalty

(3) Take a business approach
·      How to write, publish, and price your books
“My decision [to price my novels at 99 cents] came down to whether I thought I could sell seven times as many books at 99 cents as I could at $2.99. I felt I could, because my target audience was big enough.”
·      Turn your books and characters into a brand
·      Think of your books as employees
·      Maximize your profits

     (4) Use your tools properly “Twitter cost me no money to join and my blog cost me very little. But these two platforms became the one-two punch that made my marketing successful.”
·      Your books – “Keep writing books!”
·      Your website
·      Twitter –
                                               i.     “Use Twitter to create a Friendship Circle.” “
                                             ii.     “Drive your Twitter friends (and book readers) to your website. . . and your blog site”
                                            iii.     “Use Twitter to generate buzz and create leads.”
                                            iv.     “Use Twitter search and hash tags to create a Viral Circle.”
·      Your blog
Bottom line: it takes more than a low price point to be successful. Consider inexpensive and available social media as a way to promote. Price your book according to the size of your target readers.

Bloggers' Tips for Self-Publishing Success

Blogger and Author Lindsay Buroker (THE EMPEROR’S EDGE; FLASH GOLD; ENCRYPTED) offers the follow marketing tips

3 Tips for Self-Publishing Success

1.     Hone your writing skills before you publish
2.     Figure out what your unfair advantage is and exploit it
3.     Have an attitude of gratefulness instead of one of entitlement


H is for Handy Marketing Tips for Authors  – A Blogger’s Perspective

Book Reviewer and Blogger Ritesh Kala offers some marketing tips to authors that he values.

1.     Blog Tours: for a “concentrated marketing boost” as authors are exposed to different readers across the blogs
2.     Contests/Giveaways: not necessarily a good way to sell books or get reviews. Great for bloggers because they attract traffic
3.     Paid reviews, such as Kirkus Reviews:  Not sure if they’re worth it. Be careful of scams.
4.     Online accessibility:  with online bookstores it’s much easier to track down books in specific genres. Also author web sites helpful, particularly excerpts, which help to understand writing styles.
5.     Author interaction with readers: he became interested in author based on interactions at Goodreads
6.     Reviewer etiquette: authors should remember that bloggers/reviewers are helping authors. Don’t insult personal opinions. Also, when you choose reviewers it is wise to choose those who read your genre.