Saturday, March 29, 2008

How the Mind Works

Donis thinking, here. I may have mentioned that I finished a book a few weeks ago, and consequently became brain dead. This had happened to me every time. I despair of ever being able to write another word. After a period of time, though, I feel the machinery beginning to turn again. Ideas start to float up from the depths, rather like the cryptic messages in one of those old Eight-balls. They don't seem to have anything to do with anything at first, but then they begin to cohere like a string of DNA. Eventually, if all goes as it has before, some sort of literary creature will take form, stand up, and walk.

And I'm off again.

When I was in college, I'm afraid I was a crammer. I never studied much for tests until a day or two before, then I'd study until my eyes fell out. I'd never recommend this process to anyone, though it seemed to work all right for me. Even at the time, I was aware that in order for cramming to work, I had to have a literal change of consciousness, and become almost hyper- aware. When I look back on it, I think it was just a matter of paying close attention.

When the writing-muscles start to engage again, it feels to me like the same process. I become hyper-aware of what is going on around me, of what other people are saying, of what is in the news, of the weather, but especially of what I'm thinking. Most of the time, my thoughts float around in my head like fluffy little clouds that I pay no attention to, but when I'm in this state, I stare at them until I find interesting shapes.

This is how it works: (I'm not making this up. I sat in a restaurant and wrote my thoughts down.) I see a little girl cross the room coloring. She's left-handed. I notice she has on red cowboy boots. I start noticing the footwear of the other people in the room. A lot of women have pointy-toed shoes. Carrie on "Sex in the City" wears incredibly expensive, uncomfortable shoes. Manolo Bialiks. Manolo is an interesting name. It corresponds to Manuel. We don't have a corresponding English name. Some Jewish guys are named Manny. My brother-in-law's name is Gary, but everyone in the family calls him "Man", because he was such a little man when he was a kid. My husband Don told me that he and Man to throw raw eggs at fence posts when they were kids. That would be a great scene in a book.

And Bob's your uncle. (See Hornswoggled).

I would love to hear about other writers' processes. I imagine everyone's mind works the same, but writers just tend to pay attention.

One word about problem words, if I may (see previous entries). I fear that "lay" and "lie" get me, too. I used to teach English, and I can recite the difference between the two with no difficulty, and I will swear on a stack of Bibles that I know how to use them. My editor doesn't seem to agree, however. So my characters tend to lean back, recline, repose, and set things on the table.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Word Goes Out

If this is Friday, this must be Paris. And I must be Charles.

Debby, you are so right. (If you haven’t, skip down and read her post. I’ll wait here till you get back.)

You’d think that authors that crank out 80,000+ word novels would have these few down, but we don’t. Well, me anyway. That lay/lie thing gets me every time. While writing Noble Lies my loving editor pointed out that I did not know (or refused to accept) that there is a difference between blond and blonde. Not that I ever figured it out, but fortunately Rose did, and the right words were used. Debby notes that she has noticed authors misusing the word reticent. The rule that I use when it comes to this word is easily remembered – find a different word. This rule applies equally well to most words that I have trouble remembering the correct usage and I believe this will work equally well for you.

What I want is for everybody to agree on some new words to fill some much needed gaps in the language. Rich Hall made a semi-career out of creating ‘sniglets’, but most were for obscure little things that, if a word did exist, it would be considered jargon. What we need is agreement on a few words that everyone encounters, every day.

#1 on my list isn’t a word but an exception to a rule that would allow us to use an already existing word. Here is a grammatically incorrect sentence that will illustrate the need:

When a man or a woman buys a house, they need to get a loan.

I’m sure you see the problem – I should say ‘he or she needs to get a loan’ – and this is one we struggle with every day. Not getting a loan (although that may be a problem, too) but using that awkward, rhythm killing, clunky and all proper ‘he or she’. Rich Hall might suggest we adopt ‘heorshe’ to fill that need, but that’s worse than the problem it was coined to correct. Besides, when people create a word to fill a need it seldom get’s picked up for general use. No, what we need is for everyone to agree that, yes, grammatically it is wrong, logically it’s wrong, but it’s okay anyway.

Accepting a logical/grammatical error as accurate is already done in English. There isn’t a logical/grammatical reason why ain’t shouldn’t be used – the rules themselves are not logical – but you can’t. So I say what’s good for the contraction is good for the pronoun, and we just let the logic and correctness slide.

#2 would be a word for the noise we make when we suck air through our teeth with one tongue-stop click at the end. Everybody does it, but nobody knows what you call it. In Trinidad it’s called ‘chupps’ and god help the kid that chupps when his or her parent tells him or her to clean his or her room (see why we need #1?). It’s not clicking your tongue, it’s, well, sucking air through your teeth with one tongue-stop click at the end.

It’s interesting to note that we have words for the noises we make with our nose (sniffle, snort, sniff) but we lack words for non-word noises we make with out mouth. We have the slang term ‘raspberry’, also known as a Bronx Cheer, for that noise we make when we stick our tongue between our lips and blow, but that’s not a common term and I bet many folks, while they have heard/made the sound, have never heard either term. Who knows, in Canada it may be called the Winnipeg Cheer, or, more likely, an American Hello. And what about the noise we make when we blow air through loose lips, a’la a fake snore or bad imitation of a horse’s whinny. You’re making that noise right now, aren’t you? Fun, yes, but what is it called?

The more I think about it, the more I am amazed that we can communicate at all.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Words that can make you look great (or stupid)

I love getting caught up in the creation of a hair-raising scene or an exciting plot twist. But a couple of hours later, I reread and despair. My stuff can suck! I'm wordy; I've got misspellings, repetition, and clunky sentences. I get words confused with others! So I thought I'd share--gulp--some of my discoveries/mistakes.

Most of these rules come from my favorite reference book, Patricia T. O’Connor’s Woe is I. Some were verified by the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus (another favorite).

How often have you read a sentence similar to this, “He was reticent to descend into the dark basement.”? Oops--reticent is NOT a synonym for hesitant. It means quiet, shy, or reserved.

I’ve heard people rant about the sick words, nauseous and nauseated. And sure enough, I’ve misused them. Nauseous and nauseated is the difference between sickening and sick. Debby was nauseated by the nauseous paragraph she'd just finished typing. Nauseous and nauseating are synonyms.

Here are some other mistakes I’ve probably made:

Among, amid, and between: Between refers to two. Among is used to refer to three or more individuals. Amid is used when the reference is to a quantity of something you don’t think of as individual items. He got lost amid the trees. And amidst is a no-no altogether—put that out of your mind.

Lie and lay. To lay is to place something. She lay the book on the table. Yesterday, she laid the book on the table, and she has laid the book on the same table for the past week. To lie is to recline. Betty is going to lie down for a nap. Yesterday, she lay down for a nap. And she has lain down for a nap every day for the last week. No wonder this gets confusing.

Less and fewer. Fewer refers to a smaller number of individual things. Less is a smaller quantity of something. The less money he makes, the fewer dollars he spends. Yikes, I still wonder if I get this one!

Farther and further. Farther refers to physical distance. Further is more abstract, usually indicating a greater extent or degree. Alice was exhausted. She could walk no farther, and she would discuss it no further. Okay, I can get my head around this concept.

E.g. and i.e. E.g. is short for exempli gratia, which means “for example.” I.e. is short for id est, and means “that is.” Both e.g. and i.e. must have commas before and after.

Discomfit/discomfort: Discomfit means defeat, rout, or overthrow, though this word isn’t used as much as it used to be. Discomfort means pain, uneasiness or dissatisfaction.

Disinterested and uninterested are not the same thing. Disinterested means impartial or neutral; uninterested means bored or lacking interest. A good courtroom judge is disinterested, but not uninterested.

Each other/one another. each other is for two, whereas one another is from three or more.

Bad/badly. This one is messed up all the time. Use badly to describe an activity, but use bad to describe a condition. For example, Susan swam badly at the meet. Afterwards, she looked bad. I felt bad when he didn’t make it to the party, and the party went badly without him.. If you’re still not sure, O’Connor recommends substituting a less confusing adverb to test the sentence. Good and well work: Susan swam well at the meet; afterward, she looked good.

This is barely scratching the surface. So if you see mistakes in my work, be nice when you tell me, okay? Please don't post it on Amazon.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Authors...authors who need readers

(sung to the tune of "People")

Blechta at the helm once again.

I'm exhausted, totally out of gas. The worst part is my goddam book launch hasn't even happened yet -- and that promises to be a major production. After that comes April. I have 14 signings/appearances so far. And I work full time. Waa, waa, waa...

Re: Vicki's blog entry yesterday. I'm not nearly that funny or fast. I suspect that I made those comments 10 minutes after the people had walked away. She's just being kind to make me look more clever. And actually, I probably meant to pick up her book that one time, instead of mine. ;)

I just re-read Charles' most recent entry to again get his thoughts firmly fixed in my head. I had them there on Saturday when I signed at a busy Toronto store and moved 32 books, including one of each of my 3 RendezVous-published books to one woman who could not decide which one she wanted. I offered to dedicate my next novel to her. I was cheerful and happy throughout and enjoyed myself far more than I ever have doing a signing.

Did I do better because of The Great Benoit's advice? You bet. No matter how many people walked by me with a grunt at my sales come-on, or those who turned their head and pretended they didn't hear (Vicki will testify that when I use my "teacher's voice", I am completely non-ignorable), I just smiled and waited for the next target to wander out of the relative safety of the magazine aisles.

The thought that went through my head continually is this: how could I have possibly expected everyone to want to buy my book? This is something I'm sure most authors think as yet another person brushes them off. It's a ludicrous expectation. The only time we might be able to feel bad is when a person says, "I love crime fiction. It's the only thing I read," and then walks right on by. The way I'm now looking at it is: it's their loss.

So, Saturday is another book-signing gig, then the launch on Sunday. Then April begins and I really hit the road. If I think of any snappy comeback lines such as those Vicki wrote about, I won't say them out loud, but I will report them here!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Bookstores and US

Because we tend to have a lot of writer friends, and to hang out with writers around the bar at conferences and such, I think we (well me) do tend to forget, as Charles has so eloquently pointed out, that being a writer, a published writer, a writer of books that people have actually paid hard-earned money to read, and to whom companies pay money to produce books, is a pretty neat thing. At Left Coast Crime in Denver I was in the hotel elevator with a group of chattery teenage girls and an older woman. The woman asked what we were here for. “A conference for mystery writers and readers.” “Oh, my GOD, are you a writer?” Rule Number One = always have cards or bookmarks on hand at every occasion. I handed around my bookmark. “Oh, my GOD! Did you write this! You’re an author?” I modestly admitted that I am. “I am so going to go out and buy this book because I’ve met the author. How cool is that?”

Pretty darn cool. Open elevator door. Depart happy Vicki.

I actually enjoy bookstore signings. Sure you can feel like a right fool standing there trying to greet people as they rush past. I remember this conversation on the Rick and Vic Magical Mystery Tour:

Rick: Are you looking for a good book today?
Miserable patron, snapping: No
Rick, picking up a copy of his newest book: Then you’ll enjoy this one.

And this exchange:

Rick makes his pitch.
Miserable patron, holding bunch of ‘bestselling’ paperbacks (buy three get one free): I only read authors I know.
Rick (amazed), gesturing to the books: You know all these people?

And then there are the wanna-be writers who corner you for ten minutes to tell you all about their idea for a great book (they never, ever buy). In Phoenix, after her fifteen minutes about telling me about her book (something to do with THE TRUTH), a woman actually pulled out three pages of handwritten manuscript and shoved them at me before (finally) taking her leave. I glanced at it. One of the truths that the modern world is apparently failing to heed is that women must submit to the God-given authority of men. It is part of THE TRUTH that those pages ended up in the nearest trash bin.

But you also meet people who love books and would be very happy to read yours because you’ve gone to the trouble to talk and be friendly to them. It’s particularly gratifying meeting people who like to support Canadian authors and so they’re happy to read yours. Even in the U.S. I met people who wanted to read Canadians.

So you travel a day, stay in a hotel, eat at a restaurant, put the dog in a kennel, and sell a handful of books. Cost effective? Of course not. But if you’re lucky, someone takes your information sheet and remembers you; you’ve met people who sell books and they’ve liked you; and you’ve had a lot of fun.

Last week I went to the Pacific Festival of the Book in Victoria. Complete and total waste of time, except for two things:

1) I was at a table next to James Hawkins (Inspector David Bliss series), salesman extraordinaire. James is famous for the way he can flog his books and he gave me a lot of tips on how to do a signing.

2) I met an interviewer from CBC radio. We chatted for about ten seconds; I said I’d send her a copy of my book. I did so, and she called me just a few days later to set up an interview (Tuesday March 25th, All Points West, between 4:30 and 5:00 Pacific Time, everywhere in B.C outside of Vancouver)

Oh, and Number Three: Met my B.C. CWC comrades and we went out for a great dinner.

Next week I’m heading back to Ontario. But on the way (not exactly on the way, unless I’m going via China, but you know what I mean) I’m doing several signings in Vancouver and Victoria. If you’d like to know where I’ll be so you can come out and say hi (mention this blog and I’ll give you a free bookmark), please go to my web site: www.vickidelany.com and click on the link for Vicki’s tour.

I’ll try out James Hawkins’ tips and, whether they work or not, I know I’ll have fun.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Reasons To Go On

This topic thread has been interesting. There's no doubt that all the things we do to promote ourselves work to a greater or lesser extent, and we are each better at some parts of it and not others. From all I have heard from other authors, we all go through our own 'dark night of the soul' about our promotional activities, too. I certainly have wondered why I continue to put myself through it. I knew I was down in the dumps a few months ago when I did a signing, and a very sweet woman came up to me and said, "I loved your book so much that I read it all in one day!" I thanked her, and I really did appreciate her enthusiasm, but I was thinking, "Gee, Lady, it took me eight months to write. You could at least have read it four or five times." This is not a good attitude.

And then some event goes particularly well, or like Charles, you get an attitude adjustment, and you get your strength back and push on. I have had similar experiences with all of my career endeavors, both in academia and the private sector. I was an English teacher, an academic librarian, and a shop owner before I took to the writing life, and in all three professions, I knew it was time to move on when whatever joy I had taken in it was completely replaced by a continual desire to leap over the desk/counter and throttle the student/patron/customer standing before me.

I love the writing, though. Like Debby, I go to my world and live there for a while with people I really care about, and things happen just the way I want them to. I was always fairly successful at my various careers, but I never got the joy out of any of them like I do out of the writing. Which is not to say that there isn't suffering involved - oh, is there ever. But the glorious buzz from world-creating and actually having people read your work is worth the pain.

Not even the continual publicity push is all bad, either. Day-before-yesterday I spent a lovely half-hour being interviewed by our own Vicki on Internet Voices Radio (check out the links to the right), and it felt to me like a long talk with a good friend, and all about me and my beloved writing, too! What could ever be better than that? A couple of weeks ago, I enjoyed one of the best bookstore signings I've had in ages. I signed at a Borders in Tucson, AZ, along with three other authors, all of whom are fairly well known, especially in their own bailiwick (one is even up for a Pulitzer this year!), and I sold a bunch of books to people who hadn't even come to see me. I got another couple of gigs out of it, too. Until I become a big draw on my own, I may seriously consider doing a bunch more of these gang signings, if I can arrange them. I also did an extremely energizing mystery writing workshop. Sometimes if you get a really engaged and enthusiastic crowd, a strange synergy happens and you become far more brilliant than you really are.

So you just keep plugging, and do whatever you have to do to be able to keep getting your writing fix, and you try to always remember that, like Charles says, you're a published author, by damn.

Friday, March 21, 2008

For what it's worth

Charles here.

Rick’s entry (below) outlined lots of good info on the art and science of book signings, and he makes a valid argument that, by meeting new readers, book signings make economic sense for authors like us, meaning all those without massive PR/marketing budgets to blow through. I can’t improve on his advice and I won’t disagree with his economic thesis, but I can tell you that for me, book signings have stopped being about sales. Now they are about something much more important.

If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog – and who isn’t? – you know I’ve been going through a bit of a crisis of faith about this whole publishing adventure. I won’t bore you any more than I did the first time I wrote about it, but suffice it to say that my heart has not been in to the non-stop marketing, advertising, branding and self-promotion that I enjoyed so much – and frankly was rather exceptionally good at. Oh, I believe it all works – I didn’t make it as far as I have by my books alone, let me tell you – it’s just that the joy it used to bring has been lacking. And, being me, I’ve spent way too much time analyzing it all – but I guess it was worth it because I came to some truths about book signings (small t, very subjective and personalized) that have brought that joy back, ten fold.

I can honestly say that now when I do a book signing, I have stopped thinking about sales and have focused instead on what’s really important. No, it’s not ‘getting my name out there’ and it’s not networking or building a buzz or pushing my brand, all very important things but things I am no longer worried about. It’s nothing about the sales at all. If you should see me at a book signing, this is what I’m thinking about:

Holy shit, I’m a frickin’ published author doing a book signing – is that frickin’ cool or what?

One sale, ten sales, a zillion sales – I can’t control that. What I can control is how I feel about it, and when I think about it, I can’t get over how frickin’ cool it all is. Me, the kid who devoured crappy paperbacks propped up in my bed back on Straub Road. Me, the kid who could not get through Across Five Aprils no matter how many times I tried. Me, the kid who spent hours and hours just wandering the shelves at the Mitchell Road library, loitering in the Waldens in Greece Town Mall, joining book clubs so I could get the ten books for a penny and then desperately trying to figure a way out of the iron-bound contract. Me, the kid who skipped a class in high school so he could sneak into the library* to see the author of The Day No Pigs Would Die, not because I read the book but because he was an author. Now I’m an author doing a book signing. Un-frickin’-real.

This is going to sound ridiculously righteous, but to be asked to do a book signing is a privilege, and I am truly honored. I guess I never really lost the joy – it was always there, but for a while I misattributing that joy to success. But I’ve found it again, and I promise you, this time I won’t forget.

One sale, ten sales, a zillion sales – it’s all the same. It has to be.

*Got caught, sent back to class, didn’t go, went outside and drank a beer with Louie Romano.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Writing, Conferences, and Signings

This is Debby, six hours behind many of you, which means you're in bed already, dreaming up exciting new plots.

That's why I write. Telling a story is like working a puzzle, except it changes as you go along. You all know that great quote by E.L. Doctorow: "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see as far as your headlights, but you can make the entire journey that way."

It's exciting to build a story. The characters are real to me, they grow as the tale progresses. I wouldn't want to miss out on their adventures. Plus, some part of me is shy. Don't get me wrong; I like people and enjoy conferences. But working alone, specifically writing novels--fits my needs, it satisfies me. I'm energized by it. And I have a hunch most writers share this characteristic.

So my first priority is to keep learning how to write better. I want each book to be better than the last one. I want to satisfy readers the way I'm gratified by a great story. When I started to write, I didn't know my second priority would be to try to sell my books. But hey, I'm learning. It seems that a lot of complicated (and often expensive) efforts coalesce to make a bestseller. Conferences and booksignings may not be a big part of that story, but they have their hidden rewards. Some of my favorites are meeting other writers. Booksellers, too--those people are great. And the opportunities to make personally satisfying connections are plentiful.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Back from the road again...

(Turn on your mental Willy Nelson soundtrack for the title)

Blechta at the controls once again.

Last week flogging books in Eastern Ontario and Montreal: it was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

That sort of sums it up. For those of you not in Canada, we have only one big bookstore chain up here: Chapters/Indigo. They also own the old Coles chain. Just like has happened elsewhere, they've done in a great number of the indies. I signed in seven of them last week, and on your behalves (is that a word?), I kept my eyes wide open.

Since we've been discussing the value of conferences, the same question might apply to a book tour by a virtually unknown writer: was it worth it?

And as always the answer has to be yes and no.

The yes part:
* meeting new readers and hopefully future fans
* honing your sales pitch to razor sharpness. This will come in handy if you're lucky enough to get any interviews.
* talking to the staff in these stores some of whom will recommend my book
* ditto for the manager
* selling books that wouldn't otherwise be sold
* just getting the book and my name out there
* doing a signing at my alma mater (McGill University) and having the dean of the Music Faculty buy 10 books!

The no part:
* showing up at a store and finding that, even though you confirmed with them 10 days earlier, they still somehow didn't remember you were coming
* finding they hadn't ordered in extra books
* finding they hadn't put up anything in the store saying you were going to be there -- even though you supplied very nicely designed posters for this purpose
* ditto for the website
* driving through snow and sleet (we've had a dreadful winter)
* people who drop by, chew your ear off and then walk away saying they're not interested in crime fiction while several who might have been walked by your table
* absolutely NO interest from the media in any of the places I visited, even though a number of them were NOT media capitols by any means

Okay, I am a bit burned out, but I also spent the end of the work day yesterday arranging yet more signings.

My wife went along for the first (and last) time, asked me if all this was worth it. I did have to think awhile about an answer and came up with this: it's the only promotional tool over which I have ANY control. I sold around 150 books that wouldn't have been sold. I also planted a lot of "seeds" by liberally handing out my 2-page newsletter. History tells me that about 10% of these will result in later sales.

In the bookstore that forgot I was coming, the general manager kept saying that I has to be mistaken. Nothing had been booked. I had left my info sheet in the car and didn't remember the name of the person I had initially spoken to when the signing was arranged. It turned out to be him. From being a bit aggressive about "your mistake", he turned 180 degrees and went all out for me. He also wants me to come back so they can do a proper signing. I'll also get an endcap display or be put on the staff picks table. He also bought a copy for himself. The man showed great class and humility, and made me feel a lot better.

I could have stayed home, but in the end, I have to say that hitting the road was a better thing to do.

So here are Blechta's rules for bookstore signings (especially chain stores):

* Be prompt with getting them the information they require and with showing up at the gig.
* Be professional -- even if you don't know what you're doing or have to fake the enthusiasm part.
* Always have your happy face on. When things go wrong, keep smiling and kill them with kindness and understanding, even when you want to strangle someone. Hissy fits don't accomplish anything.
* Have a handout of some kind. Make it look really pro. If you don't know anything about design, get someone who does.
* Know what to say and say it succinctly. If you find yourself babbling on, shut up!
* You won't sell books to everyone. You might sell them to 10%. If you sell 20 books in 2 hours, you're doing very well indeed.
* NEVER sit there looking sorry for yourself. It doesn't help. Look open and ready to talk to people. Engage them with something as they walk by. "Do you enjoy reading mysteries?"
* Being lighthearted really helps. "My publisher threw me out of Toronto and told me to flog my new book. That's why I'm here today. Want me to tell you about it?"

Take the above for what it's worth.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Cybertravel

Donis' turn today. Thanks to everyone who commiserated with me about not winning the OK Book Award. I appreciate your good wishes, especially those of you who said you would have awarded it to me. The truth is, though, that I wasn't particularly disappointed. Those who pointed out that it's pretty good news to be a finalist for the award twice for two different books are right, and I was most happy about it both times. If I had won, I would have been pleased, but not beside myself with joy, because I would have been disappointed that I wasn't there to read the spiffy acceptance speech I had written. Now I can save it for when I do win something.

Now that I think about it, I have to admit that I don't readily feel disappointment when something doesn't pan out, nor am I particularly elated by success. I've had a lot of both, and when the dust settled, nothing much was changed and I was still me. Another author told me once that she shopped a novel around for eight years, and she grew so calloused by rejection that when her agent did sell it, she felt nothing. I can easily be seduced by praise, though, and I wouldn't say no to an award of any ilk. Something has to keep you going in this business, because the likelihood is that it won't be riches.

I was going to write a bit about the exceptionally fun workshop I did last weekend, but I think instead I'll put that on my own website and stick with the conference theme my fellow bloggers have been persuing. I've really enjoyed the conferences I've managed to attend, but talk about ROI (see previous entry by Charles) - I don't know. In fact, there may be an incredible payoff that is difficult to measure, but that's almost a moot point, because I simply can't afford to do a lot of traveling. We're a couple of retired academics, and an acadmic pension doesn't cover too many trips to Bouchercon. In fact, at this point in my career, the major part of my royalties go for travel and publicity. Am I getting a good return on my investment? I'll be able to judge better the next time I get a royalty check.

Considering the price of travel, no matter how it's done, I'm finding myself more interested in cyberspace publicity, which as I may have mentioned five or fifty times, is problematic for me, since I really am only semi-computer-literate. I've been looking at other authors' websites lately, and I can see that my site could use some tweaking. I've been hearing that book clubs like to see study guides on author sites. I see that Charles mentions that he has study guides that he will e-mail to any interested group, but I haven't yet seen a study guide actually posted on anyone's site. Has anyone done that, and have you found it useful?

Another thing I'd like to do is post excerpts from the books. A Very Famous Author once told me that she'd never post excerpts because she discovered early on that people will read them, then when the browse the book at a bookstore, they think they've already read the book! Of course, she's Very Famous and everyone browses her books anyway. I've discovered in my website travels that posting excerpts is quite common. Debby does it, and so does Rick. A reader friend of mine said she's bought many a book after she became intrigued by the excerpt.
What kind of excerpt experiences have others had? Readers, do you read them? Authors, do you think they've helped your sales?

Friday, March 14, 2008

FYI: ROI and Conferences

The good news is that it’s Friday. The bad news? Charles’ turn to post!

First, a note to Donis – sure, you’re disappointed your Drop Edge of Yonder didn’t win the 2008 Oklahoma Book Award for Fiction, but two finalists positions for the same award equals a win. In my world, anyway. You’ll just have to be happy that everyone who has read the book has loved it. May you make millions happy!

Interesting post about conferences from Miss Vicki – here’s my take:

The Always Good:

· Bumping into strangers who have read my books

· Meeting interesting people

o Some of whom are authors

· Hanging with people I already know

· Meeting new book dealers

· Participating in a panel discussion

· Drinking at the hotel bar

The Sometimes Good

  • Attending panel sessions
  • The main dinner and the speaker
  • Seeing the sights of the city/town/street
  • Business related discussions at the bar
    • Until they become brag sessions
    • Until they become complaint sessions
      • Unless someone’s picking up the tab
  • Meeting pre-published authors looking for advice
  • Meeting highly successful authors
    • Until they let you know just how below them you are
      • Unless they are picking up the tab

Usually Not Good

  • The hotel bill
  • The airline bill
  • The bar bill
  • Book sales

A note on book sales. At an average conference I sign maybe 30 books, which would be a great library event or Mall signing. But when you consider I fly X number of miles to get to the event, I can’t say that it’s worth it in sales. Even future sales. Seriously, what will my attending the conference lead to sales wise? 20 more. 30 more? A 100 more?

In advertising, clients are always concerned (rightfully) on the ROI – the Return On Investment. Last October I took a hard look at my ROI for attending conferences as opposed to other forms of marketing. Since then I have not attended a conference. Normally I hit Left Coast Crime, Malice Domestic and Sleuthfest. Not this year. For me, the measurable ROI from conferences just isn’t there. Sure, maybe it’s stuff I can’t measure, but I’m not convinced and I’m weighing different strategies for 2008. I will be at some conferences (NoirCon, Murder in the Grove, Magna Cum Murder, Bouchercon) but mostly my time will be spent devising different ways to get my name/books out there. Plan #1? That mass-giveaway I mentioned in the comment section of Vicki’s blog.

I’ll keep you posted.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Conferences - the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Vicki, back from Left Coast Crime. I've been mulling over the value of conferences. Are they worthwhile or not? Some conclusions.

Bad:

• Expense. I used my credit card reward points to buy the air fare so that only cost me about $120 in taxes. Nevertheless the total cost of the weekend was over USD 1000 (that’s about CAD $999.99)

• Time: Not so much of an issue for me as I don’t have to work, but still two full days of traveling for two full days of conferencing isn’t much of a return on investment.

• Meet people who are doing so much better in their careers than you are.

• Long way to go, lots of money to sell a handfull of books.

• Expense: Did I mention the expense?

• Not a good way to see the area. So I’ve been to Denver. Hurray! I didn’t see anything outside of the downtown core and (Denverites stop reading here) it isn’t very attractive or interesting.

• Expense: Did I mention the expense?

Good:

• Opportunity to buy a wide variety of books that you don’t always see in the bookstore. I bought The Silk Train Murder by Sharon Rowe, among others, and am looking forward to reading it.

• Meet new and interesting people. I spent quite a bit of time with Sharon Rowe of Vancouver and got to know her. Sat at the dinner with an ATF agent who had been on course with the O.P.P. and thought they were so funny theyway they said 'eh?' all the time.

• Meet up with good friends. Such as Julia Pomeroy (Cold Moon Home, Caroll and Graff) that I only ever see a mystery conferences. And it is nice, as Julia said, to have the opportunity at our age to meet a whole new group of people.

• Mix with writers. As has been said many times before writing is a solitary activity and even when we venture away from our computers to go on tour we only meet readers (if any show up!) and book store employees. It is necessary, sometimes, to get that inspiration that only comes from talking about writing with people who really get it.

• Good way to see a city. As you know, I always prefer to drive rather than fly. I drove to Anchorage because I had the time. So although the fly in, fly out trip to a conference isn’t worthwhile in the way of visiting a city, if you have the time to explore, it’s a great opportunity.

• People coming up to you and saying “I love your books!” (And they hadn’t even mistaken me for someone else.)

Ugly:

• Me when I got up at 5:15 AM to catch the plane home. And that was really 4:15 AM as the clocks had changed the night before.

• Me when I realized that instead of driving four hours to Kelowna, flying to Calgary, and catching another plane to Denver, I could have driven two and a half hours to Spokane and got a direct flight to Denver.

Indeterminate.

• Promotion. Who can say if someone you met will remember you? Who knows who’ll run home and tell all their friends about the great new author?

I'd be interested to know what other writers think of conferences. Worth it?

Ever the Bridesmaid

Donis here. Due to back-to-back out-of-town events, I missed my regular blog-day, but I want to drop in as promised and report that my Drop Edge of Yonder did not win the 2008 Oklahoma Book Award for Fiction. This is the second time that one of my books has been a finalist and missed out at the end, but I was in good company. Ever the optomist, I shall keep trying.

The winner was Harpsong, a straight historical novel by Rilla Askew. Rilla Askew also beat out The Old Buzzard Had It Coming for the 2007 Centennial Oklahoma Reads Oklahoma prize with her novel Fire in Beulah. Therefore I have to ask, who is this Rilla Askew and how is it that she keeps winning my book prizes?

In fact Rilla Askew is a professor at the University of Oklahoma whose novels Mercy Seat, Fire in Beulah, and Harpsong comprise a trilogy based on Oklahoma history, folk tradition, and myth. I haven't read Harpsong yet (you can bet I will), but I have read the other two, and they're excellent. The very same night that Harpsong won the OK Book Award, it also won the Western Heritage Award. So I can't feel too bad about coming in second (I always tell myself I was second) to quality like that.

Other than that, I'm feeling pretty good, all in all. The weather is heavenly - high 70s today. This is why people live in Arizona. We enjoy it while we can, for it'll be a different story in July. I had a spectacular weekend conducting a mystery writing workshop in Fountain Hills and participating in a gang booksigning in Tucson and selling a load of books. I'd like to write a bit about the workshop, but I'll wait until Saturday, because after all, it's not my turn.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Quick reads vs. Good Reads

Vicki quickly dropping in from Left Coast Crime in Denver. I've stirred the pot a few times here by mentioning my reading of James Patterson's Double Cross. An interesting discussion immediately ensues. To a person everyone says - You know he doesn't write his own books, and then they all say - I don't know who reads these books. Here is my conclusion - mystery lovers don't like Patterson, and probably other best sellers that we could name - but they suit people who are grabbing books off the shelf at the bookstore when rushing for a plane. A quick read that you can finish on a long flight and leave behind, whether you've finished it or not. I'd like to read that article that Charles mentions on aliteracy, to see if it suits my theory, but I'm unlikely to ever walk into a store and ask for Playboy. Back to the conference.

Friday, March 07, 2008

What's up

Charles here with today’s specials. We’ll start with a strong rebuke, move on to an even stronger recommendation, then a few observations, and close with some mild horn tooting.

First the rebuke – Mr. Blechta, you are launching a new book and you are not shouting it from the treetops? No sir, I will not stand for this.

The recommendation. Ladies and gentlemen, the latest Rick Blecta novel, A Case for You, is now available from RendezVous Crime. Rick’s books are the kind of books that book lovers love to read, filled with intricate, compelling plots, unforgettable characters, and writing that’s as strong and distinct as Canadian whiskey. They are pigeonholed as mysteries but that’s a mistake. They are also novels about music, about relationships and memory, novels where settings are characters, and the characters more alive than people you know. Like all readers, I have a limited amount of time to dedicate to books. Rick’s books jump to the top of the stack. And as a writer, I will admit I read authors who I would love to emulate, authors who amaze and inspire me. It’s like a magician watching a fellow magician – they know the tricks but, damn, how they did pull that off? I have pre-ordered my copy and I encourage you to do the same.

There, that’s better.

Now the observations

  • In this month’s Playboy there is a fantastic short article by Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason. Entitled Zero-Narrative Nation, the article discusses the (irreversible?) trend toward aliteracy, the causes and the long-term consequences. It’s a concise piece (2 pages) and it does an outstanding job summing up the situation. It would be ideal for classroom discussions and book groups. Yes, it’s in Playboy, and if you promise not to make any snickering adolescent comments about reading the articles, I promise not to call you ignorant. It was Playboy that first published excerpts from Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451. Also in this month’s issue is an exclusive excerpt from Kurt Vonnegut’s last book, a short story thriller by Robert Stone, and a true crime piece on Indian Casinos. So there.
  • Folks on a yearly salary should get paid extra for working Leap Day. Yes, it makes no logical sense, but I wouldn’t say no to the cash.
  • To answer Debby's question (below) I am both nauseous and nauseated - as well as nauseating!
  • That 5-Hour Alert stuff you seen on TV works as advertised.
  • You can safely put on any album by the late blues singer Irene Reid and know that you are in for an exceptional time.
  • Band From TV, the band fronted by Hugh Laurie (House, Jeeves & Wooster) do a fantastic rendition of Cab Calloway’s Minnie the Moocher.
  • It is quite possible to singe off an eyebrow when blowing out a candle.

Now the horn tooting.

Noble Lies is a finalist for Book of the Year (mystery) from Foreword magazine.
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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Plan B, or am I at C already?

I've been feeling guilty about not keeping up here, so I put together a writerly list of a bunch words that I find easy to misuse. But then I caught up on reading everyone's past blogs and now I've got to jump in. In my whine about finishing a book (I'm still scrambling like a fiend, albeit a confused one), I tried not to mention Patricia Cornwell. So now I've done it. Also Ann Patchett's Bel Canto (the bad ending, if you recall. What I'm trying to avoid).

But I, too, would love to get paid what these people, including Patterson, Clancy, V.C. Andrews, and Robert Ludlum (how can those last two spend all that money, oh, that's right--someone else is). I don't think I can say how I'd compromise until someone hands me a million bucks and a promise of more to come. And this is from a middle-aged mom type, who tries to be a moral example to her kids. My mantra to them has been, "Remember, you've got to get up every morning and go to 'work.' Make sure it's something you love to do."

I read Edgar award winners and think, "What made this book special?" And if I admire what the author has done, I'll try to incorporate some of that--whatever--character development, lean and clean writing style, regionalism (I already have that, and some people criticize it) into a novel. Usually I learn something about telling a better story. I'd probably try a bodice-ripper for the hell of it, though I haven't yet. Might be fun. So far, I've had other priorities.

I do hope I never have anyone else write my books. I may want more money for the effort, but I still love sitting down and cooking up these stories, keeping all those threads running and attempting to tie them up neatly at the end. Okay, back to the manuscript.

Next week, I'll post my list of words. Meanwhile, who's nauseous and who's nauseated?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Disputation with Charles!

Richard M. Blechta at the wheel.

You probably knew this was coming, but Charles, much as I love you too, I have to say I'm going to stick by my guns on what I said, and if you want a shoot-out the next time we see each other, I'm suggesting martinis at 50 paces! Then martinis at 25 paces. After that it will probably need to be martinis at less than 10 and sitting down.

I would not want to get a gazillion dollars and have to sell out my writing. I'm not alone. I know of one Very Famous Author who's had Hollywood come calling hoping to purchase rights and she sent 'em packing, sent 'em packing, I tell ya! I think Sara Paretsky might also be in with me on this one, too, after what they did to V.I Warshawski on the silver screen.

A friend was asked to write a craft-based series for one of the big NY publishers. It would come complete with patterns for making jewelry. (I'm sorry, but I think this sort of thing is ridiculous, but it does sell. Go figure.) She produced a book according to what they asked for, but added a subplot about something, shall we say, a little more hard-hitting and socially aware. They told her this wasn't quite what they had in mind, and she bowed out of the deal. Bully for her, I say!

Now I'm not saying that I wouldn't mind getting paid a lot more than I am at the moment when I take pen in hand or switch on the old steam-driven computer (I hear they have ones that run on electricity now.), but to me, there is more to life than having more money than you can spend in a few weeks. I don't need houses on 3 continents. I don't want employees. Trust me, if you became a "brand", you wouldn't have time to write the stuff you'd like to.

I wonder how J.K. Rowling sleeps at night? She could be the patron to the lot of us and still have ample pocket change available!

Maybe we should ask her if she would consider the idea.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

I can tell you all right now that I'm going to miss my turn next week. I'm sorry. Here I am late again this week, and that's because of the new book which only came out last Friday. My apologies, but I'll be on the road with the 2008, Eastern Ontario & Quebec version of the Rick and Vick Show. Except, I'll be Vick-less! Actually, that's not true. I will NOT be Vick-less since I'm taking my wife, also named Vicki. It won't be the same, but I will manage somehow.

A Case of You got its maiden review this past weekend: Hamilton Spectator. Needless to say, I'm pretty darn happy.

So order your copy today! AND If you call our hotline in the next hour, we'll also throw in, absolutely free, a set of Ginzu knives. But that's not all! You'll also receive a weekend stay at our luxury resort in beautiful downtown Buffalo. That's right, our operators are standing by and they'll...

But I'm not selling out.

Monday, March 03, 2008

On the road Again

Vicki checking in...
Spring has sprung here in the mountains and the mud and dog poop is bubbling to the surface. And it’s time to be on the road again. I’m off this week to Left Coast Crime in Denver, and then to the Pacific Festival of Books in Victoria the weekend following. On April 1st it’s a library event in the town of Trail and then back to Victoria and Vancouver for some book signings and then Shenzi I hit the open road heading east. We drove out here through Canada, and I am considering going back through the U.S. Back to Ontario and to a somewhat more settled life. Though not entirely settled – I still plan to travel quite a bit and I hope to come out to Nelson for a month or so every year.

It’s been a wonderful winter. I said I was going to hibernate and that’s pretty much what I did. I finished the second Smith and Winters book and got a good start on the third. I ventured the half-hour drive into town on Tuesdays for Yoga and grocery shopping, Wednesdays for breakfast, and Fridays for dinner. And the occasional other event.

I shoveled a ton of snow and walked a lot. I snowshoed out to the woodpile and down to the compost bin (such an expedition that I carried my cell phone in case I needed to call for help!)

I never did see a movie, but I read, and read and read. Lots of great books, a few not so great (see prior discussion of one James Patterson).

Hibernating is nice – but it’s time for this bear to wake up.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Various and Sundry Observations

First, in re Vicki's, Charles', and Rick's discussion about James Patterson's practise of basically letting someone else write his books for him. I was raised in the American West by long, tall, laconic people who lived by a code. I was bred to have standards, and I actually do. In my youth, I was an uncompromising idealist, and in my dotage, I have become philosophical, tolerant, and forgiving of human foibles. However, if I could be assured of making hundreds of thousands of dollars at it, I'd write porn. I would want to do as Vicki suggests and use a pseudonym, though. Perhaps fortunately for the ethical state of my soul, the only difficulty is that I am far too delicate and ladylike to know anything about that.



I will be teaching a workshop on how to write a mystery novel one week from today (March 8) at the Fountain Hills, Arizona, Book Fair. I hope all who are in the vicinity will drop by - it's free, but one much pre-register. Preparing for this workshop has been enlightening. The truth is that I've never tried to articulate the process I use to construct a mystery. There are innumerable books written or edited by authors of all kinds, including some heavy-duty mystery novelists. It's all very well and good to learn about constructing story arcs and the like, but I actually learned the conventions of mystery writing from reading and deconstructing my favorite novels. So that is more or less what I'm going to say at this workshop. Who do you like, why do you like her, and can you figure out how she did it? The more I write, however, the more I find that I want to depart from the formula and strike out into storytelling parts unknown. I am always fascinated to hear how other mystery novelists came to practise their craft, and how their craft has changed over time.



Fellow Poisoned Pen Press author Betty Webb was kind enough to host me on her blog last month. Betty has an eye-popping new book out this month called Desert Cut, and I've just posted a conversation we had about it on my website. She shares some of her thoughts on writing, as well.



After the aforementioned workshop is over, I need to start thinking about the next book in the series I'm writing. This is difficult. I'm always brain dead for weeks after I finish a book. Once I do start writing, it takes me a year to get a book done. I haven't learned the secret of popping out a book every six months. I don't know if I want to. It's all hard enough as it is. The series I'm writing has an end. I'm planning a ten book arc, and that is all. I'd like to plow ahead and get the series done, then work on a couple of stand-alones that have been percolating for a while. Back in 2005, I did the launch of my very first book with Rick Riordan, the author of eight successful (and deservedly so) "Tres Navarre" mystery novels set in Texas. Shortly after we did that program together, Rick, who at the time paid the bills by teaching fifth grade language arts in San Antonio, began writing a series of young adult novels about a boy who learns that he's the son of a Greek god. That series took off like a rocket, and Rick now supports his family handsomely as a full-time author.

I don't know why Rick's experience has been on my mind lately. Perhaps it has to do with all this discussion about the vagaries of mystery-writing. I'm wondering if writers in other genres have it better or worse.

I heard Diana Gabeldon speak about how her first book, the mega-bestseller Outlander, came to be. She said that her publisher told her that they were going to market the book as a Romance, and her first reaction was to object. She told him that she didn't write the book as a romance, and though it did have romantic elements, it was more Historical, with bits of Science Fiction and Mystery. Her publisher told her that a best selling Sci-Fi book will sell about 50,000 copies, whereas a best selling Romance does about 800,000 copies. To which she replied, "well, then, call it a Romance, by all means."

Perhaps if I am not equipped to write porn, I might be able to manage a bodice-ripper.