Thursday, August 30, 2012

Reader Reviews

This week, Type M founder Vicki Delany tweeted regarding an Aug. 25 article in the New York Times titled “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy.” The headline surely caught my eye, and I read the article, which offers the story of Todd Rutherford, who launched a book-review-on-demand business that once had authors paying $99 to $499 for reader reviews, which in some cases, propelled the books to best-seller lists.

I won’t go into all the details of the article here, but it is well worth reading. What it does make me consider, though, is how much weight a reader review carries. More than a professional review such as one by Kirkus or Publishers Weekly? Publishers Weekly (July 6 edition) claims the New York Times review still has major juice among book buyers, swaying sales figures down or up by more than 50 percent in some cases. On the flip side, I have a Prime account (free shipping, a free book a month) at Amazon.com. Just this week, before I bought a bounce-back lacrosse net for my daughters, I sought customer reviews of the product. (One father said it took only 15 minutes to assemble and worked well. Sold.)

Do book buyers operate the same way, seeking product feedback by similar non-professional reviewers?

I had a college roommate who insisted he’d only pay to see movies that had gotten bad reviews because, he claimed, “The reviewers don’t know what makes a good movie anyway.” That’s a little drastic and way oversimplified, but there might be something to his line of thinking. My wife, for instance, is an excellent first reader because she reads only for enjoyment. She reads a draft and offers me a thumbs-up or down. The book or scene either held her interest or it failed to do so. No analysis offered—and none needed.

So how much do reader reviews matter to authors? How do they impact book sales? I’d love to hear other thoughts or opinions on this topic.

business/book-reviewers-for-hire-meet-a-demand-for-online-raves

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Big Brothers

Barbara here, venturing very cautiously into the blogsphere today. Every now and then, something happens to remind me how far into the cyberworld we have all blundered, and how many fingerprints we are leaving behind for others to read. This time, it was the purchase of a new computer, a MacBook to replace my aging PC. This required setting up a whole lot of new software, reinstalling old software - often an updated version of it, which claimed to be new and streamlined - and generally hooking my computer to my wifi, my turbo stick, my email account, and probably other places that in my befuddled state I have now forgotten. In doing so, I realized just how much Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, and God knows who else knows about my life. They know who my friends are, what websites I visit, what goods I purchase, what posts I read. In the interests of "seamless" browsing or synched programs, they are always trying to link the various parts of my life together. To link Facebook to Twitter to Linked In to my blog, my website, my contacts folder, and so on. My documents are all on a Cloud. Where, only Apple knows.

It wasn't always so. I am from the pre-computer era. I spent most of my life anonymously buying newspapers in the store, borrowing books from the library, researching material in the dusty card catalogues and stacks of university libraries. Records of my activities were available, to be sure, on scribbled little cards filed under some heading somewhere, but with no computer to search them all in a microsecond and connect them all together, no one knew what I was reading or buying or thinking about.

Now Amazon knows whenever I click on a book. Google knows my searches and uses that information to create a profile of everything from my political leanings to my leisure pursuits. At best, this results in more targeting advertising. I don't even want to contemplate the more sinister possibilities. As a writer, I do many searches of very strange things, so I have no idea what Google makes of me.  Facebook chooses what feeds I get to see, and regularly posts ads targeted to my age, location and occupation. And now, just about every company I interact with on the web, from Skype to Expedia, wants me to set up an account with a login, a password and a personal profile. The minute I idly search for flights to Hawaii, ads for them start showing up in my email.

All this is very unnerving to someone who came of age in the 60s and has a healthy suspicion of big power and big money. I want to feel free to move about unnoticed and uncontrolled. The internet has been a boon to writers, making it possible to research everything from guns and lock picking to bird songs. But there are days I fear the price has become too high. There are days I long for the anonymity of those dusty stacks.

If only libraries weren't all going digital too.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Girding my loins*

My latest novel, The Fallen One, is on the cusp of being available throughout the free world (or at least as far as Amazon’s fingers extend into world markets). As any author knows, it’s an exciting time to be sure, but it also has its challenges.

First of all, I’m self-employed, which means that in many ways my time is not really my own. I don’t have to ask anyone for time off, but when customers come calling, I’d better be ready to answer them promptly. In the graphic design business, timelines are generally incredibly short. Everyone seems to want their job done now, and I turn them down at my peril. (Musically, I’m not all that active at the moment, so the chances of getting a call for a gig is minimal.) So for the months of September and October, I’m going to have to be juggling work and book promotion. Even though I believe I can handle it, the thought of working through the night to complete something is pretty insomnia-causing. Not a good thing when I need to have my brain in good working order.

Second, I have to handle pretty well all of the promotional detail myself. Some of this I bring on my myself, since I prefer to design my own promotion pieces. But it also means that I have to arrange most appearances, usually bookstore signings – since I can do those on weekends – as well as searching out media coverage (I’ve hopefully lined up an interview for sometime in September with one of the major CBC radio broadcasts) and other promo opportunities.

Invariably, when one has so many balls in the air, things can hit the ground. At 3:30 last Wednesday morning, I realized I hadn’t yet done anything concrete for the book’s launch. That oversight brought me up short, I can tell you. Not being able to sleep, I went downstairs to my studio to begin pouring over notes and emails to see how far I’d taken my ideas for the launch. It turned out to be not very far.

The Great Hall: a perfect room for a book launch – or a murder!
When it got to a decent hour, I hit the phone. An operatic colleague of my wife had indicated willingness to help and came to my rescue, offering to organize something at her club, Toronto’s famed Arts and Letters Club. I really like to celebrate the “birth” of a book, and I don’t think most book gatherings at bars and bookstores generally come off as much more than pretty lame events. (Certainly it hasn’t been too successful when I’ve tried it.) Some people come, a speech is made, maybe the author reads, wine and cheese is consumed, some books are sold, and the whole thing ends in less than an hour. Dammit! I’ve worked many months on this silly book and people at the publisher have sweated bullets to bring it all to fruition. We deserve a real celebration!

The amount of work is daunting, since we’re going to have singing and other entertainment. Rehearsal, or at least some sort of run-through will be needed for the singers, the club’s piano needs to be rented. Books have to be brought in, food ordered and the bar organized. That’s just for one event and all of this on the back of a very full-time job.

But I’m not complaining. It’s a fact of life to us mere mortal authors. In the end, it will all have been worth it, not just for any books sold, but just as a celebration of the culmination of a long journey through the publishing pipeline. The day after the launch, I’m sure I’ll feel that all the work was worthwhile.

And by the way, anyone reading this post is invited to the launch. Here are the details:

Date: Wednesday, September 19th
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Place: The Arts and Letters Club, 14 Elm Street, Toronto, ON
No need to RSVP. Just show up and be very welcomed. Join us, please!

-=-=-=-=-=-
*When it came to titling this post, I realized I wasn’t really clear on exactly what girding one’s loins actually meant historically. God bless the Internet, because it’s so easy to indulge ourselves when we want instant info. Want to know to what this term refers? Just click HERE and be enlightened!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Crossing Words - And Discovering An Author

As a sometime wordsmith - even if rather inactive these past few months - I take a lot of pleasure in solving crosswords. Just for fun. I have a long history of that, and at one time took huge pleasure (mixed with mental pain) in solving cryptic crosswords. I can even claim to have solved some of the real brain-knotters in The London Times and The Guardian. Although not very many of them. They are really difficult.

I had an interesting start on cryptics. Back in the scarce-remembered days of my youth, I toiled for my crust (as my Brit ancestors would have said) working on Parliament Hill here in Ottawa. That was with the Research Branch (as it was then) of the Library of Parliament. One of my recurring duties/tasks was to work with House and Senate Committees - and occasionally Special Committees, or Joint House-Senate Committees - on issues that fell, sometimes raggedly, into the sphere of "science". That word covers a lot of real estate; agriculture, environment, fisheries, and health; as well as their many and various offshoots.

Anyone who has worked with Parliamentary (or Congressional, for readers south of the border) Committees will know that the hearings can be tedious. One colleague referred to Committee work as long periods of numbing tedium, interspersed with moments of sheer terror. As in, a Member or Chairman wants an answer, and s/hewants it RIGHT NOW! But tedium predominates.

During one such brain-numbing session, I noticed that some of the interpreters - or simultaneous translators, as they are also called - the people who work in the "glass booth", and keep Canada's bilingual federal system functioning, would spend their off-duty time doing crosswords. (They were, if I recall correctly, in the booth for a 20-minute period, and out for the same amount of time.) And not the easy kind of crosswords, but the hard ones. The cryptics. Never having done one, although I had occasionally cast a wary eye over them, I asked for instructions, which they happily gave me. And that started a twenty-plus-year preopccupation with the cryptics. I, even, for a short period, tried my hand and mind at composing them. I was only partly successful. And I never had one published, or even tried. Writing fiction, I later found, was easier.

Here's one of my favourite clues, from years back:

'I am a corn product, served with sauce'.

The answer? "macaroni", which is an anagram for "I am a corn"; and the operative clue for an anagram here is "product". Easy, no? But, I hear you say, macaroni is a wheat product. So, what gives here? The answer is almost as nebulous as the clue itself. Cryptic crosswords are a British invention, and in Britain, the word "corn" is used for all cereals, wheat included.

If anyone is interested, there is even a book, a memoir, on cryptic crosswords, by one Sandy Balfour. The title: Pretty Girl In Crimson Rose.


Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8): A Memoir of Love, Exile and Crosswords


The title itself is a cryptic clue. The answer: 'rebelled'. A 'pretty girl' being a 'belle', and a synonym for 'crimson' being 'red', and the two together - belle + red - being an anagram for 'rebelled'. Meaning 'rose', the verb.

It's really easy when you think about it.

To continue. I have now given up cryptics more or less completely, but I still like a challenge with crosswords. On Sundays, I get to work on the latest offering by Merl Reagle, who is one of the best. His weekly crossword is published in the Ottawa Citizen; and a host of other papers, in the USA and Canada.

You can read about Merl Reagle on Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merl_Reagle

Reagle's creations are tricky, and often humurous. He likes puns. Sometimes his creations could almost qualify as cryptics, at least in part. He has even appeared as a 'guest cartoon character' on The Simpsons, in an episode titled Homer and Lisa Exchange Cross Words. In addition to being very entertaining and challenging, Reagle is one of the few crossword creators who actually makes a full-time living at his chosen craft.

Which is not something that I am likely to achieve with my mystery writing.

But to get back to the title of this post, Reagle's crossword this past week had, as a clue:

'Author Zora _____ Hurston'.

That one really stumped me. I had to confer with Google to find the answer. Which is, Zora Neale Hurston. I had never heard of her. And that's really a shame, because she deserves to be known by anyone who takes pride in reading serious literature.

You can read about her here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zora_Neale_Hurston

And here: http://zoranealehurston.com/


                                         

Zora Neale Hurston was born in Notasulga, Alabama in 1891. She died in Fort Pierce, Florida in 1960. She was 69 years old. She had a distinguished career on several levels; as an American folklorist, an anthropologist, a novelist, and a short story writer. When she arrived in New York city in 1925, she became an important writer in the Harlem Renaissance, then at its peak. Her best-known, and arguably her best, book was Their Eyes Were Watching God:


                                         TheirEyesWereWatchingGod.JPG


The book was published in 1937. Although the book did not do well when it was published, and was even severely criticised by prominent African-American writers of the day - including Richard Wright, the celebrated author of Uncle Tom's Children, Native Son, and Black Boy - the book and the author both have earned great respect since her death. A re-issue of the novel in 1978 sold out its total printing of 75,000 copies in less than a month. Time Magazine included the book in its list of Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.

Hurston's house in Fort Pierce, Florida, is now a National Historic Landmark. Her life and legacy are celebrated every year in Eatonville, Florida, at the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities.

Happily, the Ottawa Public Library has several copies of Their Eyes Were Watching God, including in electronic format. I ordered my copy yesterday.


Friday, August 24, 2012

The Scorched Earth


It's hot in my new book. I write about Western Kansas and the whole state is burning up.
One of my son-in-laws, David, comes Hoxie, Sheridan County, Kansas, the town I regard as my home town, even my husband and I were both raised in Anderson County in Eastern Kansas. Our happiest years were spent in our little house on the prairie. Don managed to keep our truckline afloat for 23 years, although, he was overjoyed when he had a chance to sell the business.

I’m usually happy to go back to Kansas and visit, but this year it’s painful. Although David and our youngest daughter, Mary Beth, live in Denver, he has farmland back in Sheridan County. This week David and I talked about the drought devastating all of Kansas. He was worried about the possibility of water wells going dry.

He wasn’t talking about irrigation wells. Kansas is all too aware of the grave damage done by those. He was referring to water wells on people’s farmsteads and the possibility of those wells drying up. What then? If there is no drinking water? What if the water dries up for whole towns?

Can that happen? Of course it can.

The Great Plains is watered by the massive Ogallala Aquifer. The water table was depleted at a tragically rapid rate before folks understood the supply was not endless.

I started the book I’m finishing now before I realized it would be such a dry year. Up the road from where we used to live, the little town of Norton set a national record this summer—118 degrees. Hoxie had a whole week of days when the temperature was 115. That’s Death Valley territory.
The corn crops burned up. Corn is in everything from food to ethanol and crayons. The financial impact will hit in another six to twelve months.

It’s creepy to start a book and see events I’ve imagined start to happen in the next week. This happened with one other book too. It gave me a gloomy feeling that I created a disaster.

It’s not true. But still!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hiding and stealing

For those of you who don't know, I am the president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. Two weeks ago, the chapter had the pleasure of hosting MWA-University, a roadshow of selected MWA authors who have both publishing credits and have taught writing at the collegiate level.

Even though I have a fair amount of experience in writing fiction (I tell lies so well) and have taught classes addressing writing novels, I was eager to soak up whatever extra knowledge I could from MWA-U.

Jess Lourey discussed her writing process, and how she develops an idea into a viable story through the use of a logline and a pitch. Then she explained how she expands that pitch by using an outline. Then at last, she tackles the manuscript--the easiest part of the process (of course).

All the instructors at the seminar were very good but my favorite was Rex Burns, a much acclaimed writer and now a professor emeritus at the English Department of Colorado State University in Boulder, Co. Burns shared several great examples--one of which came from Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and another from Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms and both completely different in style and voice--of how descriptions can help propel the plot by enhancing the mood, foreshadowing drama, and developing the characters. Interestingly, for me the examples presented techniques that a critique group would, out of ignorance, red line unmercifully.

All of us writer hacks love words and Burns inspired us with two of his two gem-like quotes:

"Description is a great curtain for the author to hide behind."

"Poets are wonderful to steal from because they never complain."

So go hide and steal. And keep writing.

Novel Endings

I just finished working with my editor to make final (pre-copy-editing) revisions to my forthcoming novel This One Day (Five Star/Gale, late 2013 or early 2014). The editing process was relatively simple, aside from my having no experience editing a novel in electronic format. (We used Microsoft’s marginal comments to do so, which made me long for the days when I’d receive a marked hardcopy in the mail.)

I had been surprised when, in June, a pre-reader read a draft and told me she liked the ending. When we discussed the book, I realized that she interpreted the character’s final thoughts far differently than I had intended. So I asked my editor to walk me through his interpretation of the final paragraph as well. He did so—and read it the same way my pre-reader had. Both found the ending satisfying.

It got me thinking. I believe the novel plays fair with my readers. The elements of the mystery have been resolved; there is no question as to who committed the crime—and when, where, why, how are all explained. The dénouement is, though, I have learned, ambiguous. Max Tyger, who suffers from stage-two esophageal cancer, is leaning on his car roof, staring at the sunset, contemplating the tumor in his throat that he has just been told is not shrinking. What’s next for him? This is where readers seem to interpret differently. When I originally received my pre-reader’s comments, I wrote a second concluding paragraph to clarify my ideas at the end of the book. However, thinking it through, I’ve decided to go with the original conclusion, allowing for ambiguity at the end. After all, by the end of the story, I don’t want the book to be mine any longer; I want the reader to have taken over.

It all brings me back to what we look for in story endings. I thoroughly enjoy open-ended short stories, and I love novels like Winter’s Bone, where I close the book and can’t stop thinking about some aspect of it. (“Who killed Jessup in Winter’s Bone?” has Kindle Forum participants at odds.) However, critics have long considered Charles Dickens’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which went unfinished at the time of Dickens’s death, to be the only “perfect” mystery because the “play-fair” components of the story are not complete. Dickens died before completing the manuscript, so the ending is quite literally unknown, making it the only truly “perfect” mystery. This is because for a writer to simply choose not to reveal the antagonist in a murder mystery breaks the rules, goes against the conventions of the genre.

But there’s a difference between playing fair and offering a satisfying conclusion. If I spend $27 on a hardcover and give up six hours to read it, I trust that the author is going to end the book in a manner that allows closure. (If not, I’m not dropping $27 on his/her next effort.) But that doesn’t mean I need to know everything in the end. Winter’s Bone is indeed a murder mystery, but it is more: it’s a coming-of-age story, it’s an epic journey, it’s a story about a girl discovering who her father was and who she wants to be. Do I need to know who killed him to be satisfied with the ending? Given my description of the novel (and thus my interpretation of it), no, I don’t. The central conflict of the novel has been resolved by the story’s end: she found her father; she saved the house. And of course there’s always something to be said for exceeding the conventions of the genre.

So what do we want in endings?

And where does ambiguity exceed playing fair with readers?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Happy Reading! All Best Wishes!

My co-worker Tamara has been one of my staunchest supporters from the very beginning of my writing career. Over the past decade or so she has lived through my painful relationship with screenwriting in the ever fickle world of Hollywood; listened to my “I’ll never get published” cries of anguish during the dark years of writing into a black hole and—at last—graciously bought a copy of each of my four books.

So it was with a sense of deep shame that her comment, “You have written the same inscription to me in each book,” cut me to the quick.

Guilty as charged.

It wasn’t deliberate. In fact, I only have six different “personal inscriptions” that I trot out at book signings. If someone buys all four books at once, I practically have a coronary. One author bemoaned the fact that someone dumped 18 books on his table (I’d kill for that kind of problem) and asked that each one be inscribed differently. I sigh with audible relief when someone says, “Just sign your name” which is immediately followed by a subconscious, “Why? Is he or she going to sell it on Amazon? Give it to Goodwill?”

If friends compare inscription notes, I cringe with embarrassment. I see disappointment on their faces. How can I have written novels of 80,000 words but I am unable to come up with an original, witty, personal-to-you one-liner? And what about fellow authors who buy my books? There can be no lame “Happy Wishes” or “Enjoy!” for my kindred spirits. It’s insulting. Surely, they deserve some more thought?

Who started this inscription lark anyway? Do author signings illuminate the bond between writer and reader? Do inscriptions give a sense of responsibility? Are there rules? Is it arrogant to sign one’s full name when inscribing to a family member or a close friend? Are inscriptions supposed to give an air of permanence?

We’ve all heard the horror stories. Rumor has it that George Bernard Shaw once inscribed one of his books “To ---, with esteem.” Years later he found the book in an antiquarian bookshop, whereupon he bought it and sent it back to his friend with the addendum, “To ----, with renewed esteem.”

The next question is—where do we store all those signed books? I have a friend who devotes an entire closet to “author friends’ books” that she admits she will probably never read. Another says she rents a storage space.

As for me, I always keep personalized books and yes I do read them all, eventually. There is a something very magical in meeting the author—friend or stranger—that makes that book come truly alive. A personal inscription is very dear and cherished. It’s one thing I intend to improve upon for my new series (not out until 2014—plenty of time to practice). And Tamara—I promise, my inscription to you will blow your socks off.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The new “cover paradigm”

I like that word. “Paradigm” makes you sound as if you really know what you’re talking about, doesn’t it? Whether I do or not, my post today (late as has been usual for the past while) is in response to Aline’s. Being the self-appointed guru on cover duty for Type M did you really expect anything else?

Let me start by saying that Aline is correct: as we move more towards e-books and away from paper, things will most definitely change, but I think she’s wrong when she posits that “the days of the persuasive cover are almost over”. I think they’re entering their golden age. Allow me to explain.

Book covers have always been the “poster” for the book. At their best they cry out, “Pick me up now! I’m something special.” (And at their worst they scream, “Step away from the book.”) Yes, when you look at that puny thumbnail of a book cover on retail websites (or just to the right of this post), covers are generally pretty underwhelming.

But with technology under the hood, as long as you can get a perspective customer to click on that cover, all sorts of wonderful and persuasive things can now happen (not that they are quite yet). In current usage, the cover just expands to something more readable. But there is a lot more they can do than get bigger. As Aline points out, covers can now be animated. They can also have effects attached. How about having that click link someone to the fantastic book trailer, the author’s website, an interview with the author, or really, any place on the Internet.

One idea I had recently is that an audio track could be attached (because they’re very small and quick loading). That track could be the author telling you something interesting about the book, or maybe someone reading a terrific scene that would make the listener just have to throw that e-book in their shopping cart. I think that would be very cool, wouldn’t it? And simple to do.

Not only that, e-books as well as paper books need to have that poster to at least get the deal moving, so at the start, book covers will look very much the same as they always have, and must have an effective design if they’re going to do their job.

It’s when you click on them that the fireworks will begin, and I’m looking forward to that.

-=-=-=-=-
And unfortunately, the Blogger.com software won’t let you link an image to an outside site, otherwise, the cover of my new novel would have sang “Libiamo ne' lieti calici” from La Traviata.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Covers of the future

I'm waiting at the moment with some anxiety to see the proposal for the cover of my new hardback.  Covers are a topic I've mentioned before but at the moment the question of effective design is much on my mind.

But perhaps the days of the persuasive cover are almost over.  Amazon UK recently announced that sales of e-books had overtaken sales of print books for the first time. The little oblong picture, barely bigger than your thumbnail, which represents your book is the most that half of all readers will see when they click on the Amazon page.  The sort of 'Oh, that cover looks interesting, I must check out the book' reaction that drives book purchase by browsing isn't going to happen in the same way any more.

It could, of course, be quite a relief for an anxious author (to take a random example like, say, me) who is almost always sure that the idea the artist and the marketing department have come up with isn't going to persuade anyone to take my book off the shelf.

So, has Kindle killed the book jacket?  Particularly nowadays when so many sales happen by way of recommendation or review on the Internet, a very high percentage of books are likely to be bought by people who already know what they're looking for and the little oblong won't matter.  It's only a portal, after all.

But technology never stands still.  Exciting, new-style covers are appearing now, interactive ones, with colours that ripple as you drag your cursor down them, or featuring numbers that give a countdown to the launch date, or with a surface that produces a splash when you put a finger-tip to a touch-sensitive screen.  Something that moves always attracts more attention than something that's static, so there's no doubt that having something like that attached to a book will be a distinct advantage - at least until everyone else has one too and the stakes are raised again.

I'm sure it's all terribly clever, but being a self-admitted neurotic author, it has occurred to me to wonder, will the person who clicks on the image want to read the book - or just play with the cover?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Things Remembered While in Maine

Looking at my colleagues lovely photos always make me wish I were better with a camera. Or even remembered to have one on hand (not counting the one on my cell phone that I have yet to use). I should have taken photos when I was in Maine a week ago. But I barely make it there -- not because the 6 + hour drive from Albany, NY to Belfast was that difficult. Instead because I was hemming and hawing (Southern speak) about whether I could take the time (with my massive to-do-list) to finally sneak in a late summer vacation. Since I had the option of canceling up until 48 hours before arrival date, I allowed myself to be indecisive.

What finally decided me was the 10-day weather report and the noise in the hallway outside my office. We have renovations going on here at school, been going on all summer. The guys doing the work are great and try not to be too disruptive. But I haven't been able to focus at the office or at home, and I was tired and grouchy and it was time to get in the car and go.

Now, I should say here that my indecision had nothing to do with my fondness for Maine. Maine resonates with me at some soul-deep level -- in the same way as other favorite places such as London and Seattle. Perhaps I love the whole state of Maine because I got to see quite a bit of it the first time I went there. It happened years ago when I was on my way back to Albany after a conference in Rhode Island. I took the wrong exit and was trying to figure out how to make a course adjustment when I realized I was not that far from the Maine state line (yes, I was really lost). So, on impulse, I decided to head to Maine. It was summer, I had some time, so why not? Why not go to Bar Harbor. Yes, Bar Harbor is way up there. But I hadn't looked at a map. And I thought I could get there before nightfall. I ended up stopping at a motel, and then sitting out again in the morning. Bar Harbor or bust.

I finally made it the next day. And -- luckily -- I had arrived in May rather than June. And was able to get a motel room. If only I had brought along the proper clothes for exploring Arcadia National Park (I did mention I had been at a conference, right?). But my lack of hiking boots aside, I fell in love with Maine. It was everything I expected it to be.

And I remembered why I love Maine when I went back last week. I won't rave here about seafood and nature and nice people. What I will mention is what I remembered while I was in Maine:

1. Sometimes, no matter how much you have to do, it's good to just hang out your "gone fishin'" sign. If you die while sitting there at your desk, the work still won't get done.

2. It's amazing how much you can accomplish sitting on a porch or in the park looking out at beautiful scenery. I love the water. I love being near it. I came home planning to redecorate my house to remind myself of how much I love water and cottages.

3. It's also a good thing to give yourself permission to do nothing at all. I remembered this not in Maine but on my way home via Lowell, MA. No, I didn't get lost again. I went to Lowell to go to the American Textile Museum, but as soon as I checked into the hotel, it started to pour down raining. And even though my obsessive self said I should go out in the rain and drive to the museum, instead I got into bed and took a nap. A lovely nap that reminded me how much I enjoy naps.

And then I drove home the next day -- encountering a major cloud burst less than an hour from Albany. And my to-do-list is even longer. And the construction is still going on in the hallway. And my washing machine (inherited with the house I bought a couple of years ago) just went belly up. But I'm still in a pretty good mood. That's because one of the things I remembered in Maine had to do with how I work best.

I know I have raised the topic of multitasking before. I finally have accepted that trying to do several things in a day so that I have the sense that I'm making headway on each task simply stresses me out. I've spent the past two days trying to complete an Author Questionnaire for my new book. For those of you who haven't done one yet, that's the document that your publisher has you feel out for use in marketing the book. I've spent two days on it because once I let myself get into it, I started enjoying thinking it through. Except for yesterday, when I needed to come up with an "official' 200-250 word description of my book. I couldn't seem to figure out how to summarize approximately 85,000 words in such a way that didn't give away the plot. My brain froze.

So, of course, I went to the Internet. And, as with everything else you can think of, when I typed in the question, several people had written blogs or articles providing instructions. They agreed that a "cover blurb" should provide an overview of the plot, identify and provide a capsule description of the protagonists, identify the goal(s) the protagonists are trying to achieve and what stands in their way -- i.e., the villain, physical challenges, emotion conflicts. This blurb should be written in third person, in the present, and provide a clear sense of setting. It should be written in emotional terms that will appeal to the reader who picks up your book.

Having been given a pep talk about writing book descriptions --and, no, I didn't pull books from my shelves to read their cover blurbs. I was too lazy to get up -- I focused on writing a bad first draft of my official description. I neglected the e-mails that were waiting to be answered. I focused on this one task. And a couple of hours later I not only had the long description but the 50 words or less version that was also requested.

I am now committed to doing one thing at a time and relying on "the power of flow." There is a marvelous book by that title, by the way. Don't remember the authors, but it will pop up if you Google that phrase.

So that's it from my office, with the sounds of construction still going on outside. And, thank you, Maine, for helping to restore my sanity. 




Thursday, August 16, 2012

An Author’s Revenge



Last week, I read Charlotte Hinger's excellent "Botched Signings" post with great interest and would like to continue the thread here.

First, what constitutes a successful signing?

I’ve done my share of signings. Some have been enjoyable. Some have been downright infuriating. I had the experience of driving three hours only to discover the store didn't know I was coming.
"You can sit on the second floor in the back,” the assistant manager said, “if you'd like." I did—and hand-sold a total of two hardcover copies. All in all, on that night, I considered two sales a successful event.

The publicist at my former publisher, the University Press of New England, told me 10 hardcover sales constituted a successful event. I've heard others say you don't judge a signing by the number of copies sold, that you are there to build relationships with readers and bookstore personnel.

I sold 80 hardcovers of my Jack Austin PGA Tour novels in a country club bar one Friday night. (Happy Hour: Order a rum-and-Coke and a Jack Austin mystery!) If you judge that event by royalties, it was successful. But I never got an email from a reader saying they liked the book, saying they were Jack Austin converts. So was the night successful in terms of building a fan base? Who knows?

So what constitutes a successful book signing?

The answer depends on the individual writer and his or her circumstances. When Jonathon and Faye Kellerman’s publisher had them write a novel together and then flew them from LA to New York City for a signing that only a handful of people attended, I'm pretty certain the event wasn't deemed successful.

Unlike the Kellermans, I’m in no financial position to drive three hours and not sell a book. I've been told a signed copy on the shelf sells 35% faster than an unsigned book; therefore, I travel with "Signed Copy" stickers. So that night when I sat on the second floor behind the kids' section and saw not a single soul, I asked the assistant manager if I could sign the stock. When he said sure, I did, and I signed and put a sticker on every copy I left behind. Did they sell? Who knows?

I do know this, though: it's damned hard for a store to return a signed book.

Call it an author’s revenge.
#
(As as aside, I’ve attached a picture taken during a vacation in Baxter State Park in Maine.)





Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Celebrating the good

Barbara here. As Tom mentioned in his Monday post, The Ladies' Killing Circle, of which I'm a member, was honoured at Scene of the Crime this past weekend with the Grant Allen Award for our contribution to the advancement of Canadian crime writing. It was a wonderful tribute and it was very touching to be singled out and acknowledged for what we have done. In the hectic life of a writer, with the constant pressure of deadlines, promos, planning book events, blogging, etc., there is often precious little time for looking back to celebrate how far we have come.

In the case of LKC, there is much to celebrate. This weekend, during our awards presentation and talk, we had a chance to take stock. We have produced seven anthologies, published stories by forty-eight different authors, received numerous award nominations and wins, and helped to launch the solo careers of many of those authors, including myself. In the process, we gave a voice to female crime writers at a time when there was little opportunity for publication, and we became the longest-running anthology series in the country. We only stopped because, thanks to LKC, most of us had gone on to publish novels and novel series, and time was limited for such a labour of love.

Today, sad to say, there appear to be very few paid markets for short stories once again. Amazon does a brisk business in free or .99-cent short stories, suggesting the stories are out there, and authors are eager to connect them with readers. Yet for me, nothing can quite compare with the thrill of a professionally published print book. Most of our anthologies are still in print, including Cottage Country Killers, which was published in 1997. Anthologies, and short stories in general, don't make much money, but in the case of LKC, it was their intangible contribution to the authors' and readers' lives that far outweighed any income. In some years, the income could have bought a cup of coffee and little else. But, for the authors, the boost in confidence, hope and belief was often enough to galvanize them to dust off or finish that manuscript.. And it offered readers a chance to savour new authors and perhaps discover a new love. A short story anthology is like a box of chocolates, a sampling of different tastes and textures, each a perfect bite-sized morsel, one for every mood and preference.

It takes a leap of faith, not to mention lots of time, to edit and publish a short story anthology, yet LKC has proved it is worth the risk. LKC started off more than twenty years ago as a group of unpublished women critiquing each others' stories. Last weekend, seven anthologies, forty-eight authors, and much laughter and hair-tearing later, they stood on the podium at the Anglican Church on Wolfe Island, being honoured for their courage, foresight and belief that lots of short stories were out there, looking for opportunity. To borrow a phrase, "build it and they will come.".

Monday, August 13, 2012

Scene Of The Crime

Not sure how many of our American, or international, readers are familiar with the Scene Of The Crime - SOTC - Writers Festival, held annually for about the last 17 years.

The festival is held on Wolfe Island, which is in the St. Lawrence River between the Province of Ontario and New York State. It is a short ferry ride - free, btw!!! - from the city of Kingston, Ontario.

Wolfe Island, like the festival itself, has a history. It is the largest of the "Thousand Islands", part of Ontario's Frontenac County. The largest community on the island, where the ferry from Kingston docks, is Marysville: population in 2011, 1864. Originally, the island was part of the traditional hunting lands of the Tyendinaga Mohawk people; the island's original name, from the Mohawk, was "Long Island Standing Up". First claimed by the French, the island was named Grande Isle. After the defeat of the French forces in Quebec, at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, the island was renamed by British settlers for the General who commanded the British forces in Quebec, and who was killed in the pivotal battle, General James Wolfe.


File:Benjamin West 005.jpg

                         Death of General Wolfe

Wolfe Island was chosen as the site of the SOTC Festival because it is the birthplace of Canada's first crime writer, Grant Allen (1848-1899).



                    Grant Allen

Grant Allen is reckoned to be the first Canadian crime writer to actually make money in the trade - something we, myself included, aspire to, but most of us not so successfully. When Allen did turn his talented mind and hand to the mystery genre - from an earlier interest in science, evolution, and philosophy - he became very prolific, producing some 40 novels. He was successful enough that he and his wife could spend their winters in the South of France - something else that most of us, again myself included, would aspire to. He is generally regarded as the first author to make a hero out of a thief; that was in his collection of stories, An African Millionaire, and his anti-hero (if you will) was one Colonel Clay, a conman and master of disguise. Allen was also a friend of Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes.

This year's SOTC was held this past weekend, Saturday August 11. As usual, a number of Canadian crime writers were invited to participate. I was pleased to be among them.

Three of the others were:

Y.S. (Ying) Lee, author of three young adult - YA - novels in her Agency series: A Spy in the House, The Body in the Tower, and The Traitor in the Tunnel.



                        Y.S. Lee

Visit Y.S. at: http://yslee.com/

D. J. McIntosh is the author of the best-selling historical mystery thriller, The Witch of Babylon.

           

                   D. J. McIntosh

Visit D.J. at: http://www.djmcintosh.com/

John Moss is the creator of two Toronto homicide detectives, Miranda Quin and David Morgan, whom he describes as a "virtual couple who could not possibly live together, yet are incomplete living apart."




                        John Moss

His three published novels are: Still Waters, Grave Doubts, and Reluctant Dead. His fourth in the series, Blood Wine, will be released in 2014.

Investigate John in more detail at: http://www.johnmoss.ca/index.html

Each year, SOTC gives the Grant Allen Award to a deserving Canadian author; this year, for the first time, the award went to six authors, the current members of The Ladies Killing Circle, a group of - obviously - female writers, who first came together as a homicidal collective more years ago than some of them might want to admit to. (Or not!!) The late Audrey Jessop was a founding member of the group; she was replaced by Type M's own Barbara Fradkin.



From Left to Right: Mary Jane Maffini, Joan Boswell, Vicki Cameron, Barbara Fradkin, Linda Wiken (aka Erika Chase), Sue Pike.

The "Ladies" have made a signal contribution to crime writing in Canada. The have provided an inspiration and a venue for Canadian women writers to write and publish short stories in the mystery genre. To date the Ladies have produced seven collections of stories:

  • The Ladies Killing Circle (1995)
  • Cottage Country Killers (1997)
  • Menopause is Murder (1999)
  • Fit to Die (2001)
  • Bone Dance (2003)
  • When Boomers Go Bad (2005)
  • Going Out With a Bang (2008)

The past weekend on Wolfe Island was a great success, for me, and for all the participants. Fellow writer John Moss told me that he had "counted the house" on Saturday, and reckoned that there were 100 people in attendance. Pretty darned good, I think. For the most part, the weather cooperated. No one really minded the torrential downpour on Friday evening when the authors were greeted and treated with a BBQ. If anything, it only added to the general mysterious atmosphere.




Friday, August 10, 2012

Botched Signings


This week, an intelligent savvy mystery writer wrote about her recent experiences during signings at various book stores. The presentations offered struck me as innovative and pitch perfect. She even had a slide show and furnished her own projector.
The slide show was well received by the audience, but most of the books stores did not advertise it.

Book orders from the stores were inconsistent and illogical. Some of her line was available, although some stores hadn’t ordered books at all. She suggests writers take a stock of books whenever they possibly can.
I have a few comments of my own to add. There is nothing more dispiriting that book signings when few people (or none) show up. Second to this, is having booked the event with managers or owners who clearly wish you weren’t there to begin with. In fact, they wish that so fervently they didn’t bother to order your books.

Something has gone very very wrong in the relationship between store owners or event managers and authors. They have soured for a number of reasons. Here are I couple I’ve observed:
Managers resent shilling for on-line vendors. They are furious when the store has gone to the time and expense to promote an event only to have readers show up with copies purchased from Amazon for a much cheaper price. That is the reason some stores now charge readers a fee of about $10.00 to attend a signing and hear the talk. The money is refunded when the attendee purchases a book.

A charming Barnes and Noble events manager told me their own Nook is their biggest competitor. When customers walk in the door, they are hit with on-line promotion that competes with the very trade books they are trying to sell.
Writers are often so very, very unpleasant. They look around for the nearest cat to kick when an event is a dud. This is especially true of self-published or first time published authors. Because they don’t understand how things work. They think it the owner’s fault if no one shows up.

It’s crucial to grit one’s teeth and smile if everything goes wrong. If it’s a multi-author event and your books aren’t there, do everything possible to promote the other writers’ books. The manager will always remember.
I now analyze my chances of having a successful signing in a town. Do I know anyone there who might come? Do I care enough to put forth the effort to ferret these people out? Do I care enough to troll through the membership lists of organizations? Do I care enough to make posters and supply press kits?  

If not, for the sake of the store and my sake, why go?
The winners are going to be those do care. These people are tough enough to do what it takes to adapt to changing markets. I really admire the super resilient and ambitious writers who give a new meaning to hard work.

The winners will plan ahead, work their contacts, and empathize with worried store owners who are trying to keep from being sucked under in the whirlpool of changes in the published world.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Writing from the Bush




My family has owned a camp in the northern Maine woods for nearly a hundred years, and my immediate family gets one week each year. Our week just ended, so this post comes to you as I depart the wilds and search of not a hot shower and a change of clothes, but cellular service.

It was a great week, one of rest, fishing, swimming, late-night fires, and reading. I finished "Winter's Bone" by Daniel Woodrell. I have not seen the movie, but the book is to die for. Woodrell's language is stunning, his sense of place captivating, and his story line ferocious.  

My own work this week consisted of going back and re-examining the novel I sold in July. I wrote "This One Day" three years ago and wanted to revisit it with fresh eyes. After I had listened to the entire manuscript, catching small errors as I went and revising the conclusion, I e-mailed my publisher to say I had an updated manuscript for them.

This, I learned, is a no-no. They bought the book as is, and I cannot turn in a second version. Interesting and a little frustrating. Am I to print the new version, lay it side by side with the old, and manually insert my changes? I'm waiting to be assigned an editor and will attempt to reason with him or her.

I'm sure there is a logical reason for this stance. The house publishes many books each year, so from a logistical point of view I can see the reasoning: No one wants two versions floating around in-house. However, the book is better after a careful revision, and my goal is to produce the best book I can. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Laughter Most British


Last Sunday I was the guest reader at the monthly meeting of Sisters in Crime Los Angeles. 

I always hate reading aloud so it was particularly gratifying to have an audience (and an American one at that) who actually laughed in the parts they were supposed to. Humor is subjective, after all—and finding the funny in a subject as serious as death is always a little tricky. 

Fortunately, humor permeates every aspect of English life and culture. In other cultures, there is a time and place for humor. In English conversation, there is always an undercurrent of humor. We can barely manage to say “hello” or talk about the weather without somehow making a joke out of it. 

Most English conversations will involve at least some degree of banter, teasing, irony, understatement, humorous self-deprecation, mockery or just plain silliness. And of course we excel at gallows humor. 

One American friend said, “The problem with the English is that you never know if they are joking or whether they are really being serious.” Aha! And that’s our cunning plan. 

So how do we tackle a sensitive subject like death and make if funny? Serious matters must be taken seriously – but one must never take oneself seriously. Incorporating humor is a way to deflect extreme emotion away from pain and make it more bearable. It can be a protective device to take away the horror. It should lighten the moment but never degrade the crime. Humor is in the story well after it happens as in “we’ll laugh about this in 20 years.” 

It’s not murder itself that is funny (obviously). It’s the human foibles that abound in the attempts to solve the murder and the floundering people surrounding the deed that can be funny. The more stressful an event, the more it brings out the extremes of human nature and the more it places people in impossible situations. 

Give your characters idiosyncrasies, weird habits and unusual afflictions. Maybe introduce a deaf cat. Be authentic. Remember that your own true sense of humor is unique and will always be your single greatest asset. Real people and the absurdities of life are rich sources of comedy. Write with honesty. Write from your heart. Comedy writing at its best exposes our common vulnerabilities that others can relate to. 

Sol Saks, the legendary creator of Bewitched says, “Humor comes from conflict or misfortune.” Add reader-identification, throw in Murphy’s Law and you’ll hopefully get a laugh. 

It’s not bad to laugh in the presence of death. It’s probably healthy. After all we’re all going to be there some day. Take this short trailer from Death at a Funeral. A typically British take on finding the funny ... at a funeral.

And a final comment—

Joseph Campbell says, “Tragedy is the shattering of the forms and of our attachments to the forms: comedy, the wild and careless, inexhaustible joy of life invincible.”

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

There shouldn’t be no free lunch

Two of my blog-mates, Barbara last Wednesday and Aline yesterday, have posted interesting takes on what is probably the major issue in publishing today: just what are a writer’s books worth?

In Barbara’s case, she was not discussing books at all. Her piece dealt with social media, specifically how authors are now expected to spend larger and larger portions of their waking hours trolling the depths of social media all in an effort to promote themselves and their works. The bottom line for her in this is whether the dubious promotional value of Twitter and Facebook is worthwhile, considering that an author must trade off valuable writing hours in order to Tweet. Scroll down a few entries to read her thoughts. Barbara is an intelligent, pragmatic and thoughtful lady, and I suggest listening when she speaks. (In this case, it’s easy to see where her allegiance lays.)

Aline’s post from yesterday (just below this one) discusses the actual monetary worth of a writer’s output. When scribblers gather, one of the hot topics of conversation is always the paltry lack of monetary recompense for the weeks and months spent writing a novel or book of non-fiction. I suspect that if one could go back to a chance meeting of the storytellers and playwrights of ancient Greece, the situation would still be the same: how come we don’t get paid all that much? Read Aline’s piece. It’s well worth your time.

As she rightly points out, there always will be superstars in publishing, but increasingly (and worryingly) even really excellent, good-selling authors are making less money than in the past. The really salient point in her piece is that now authors themselves are slitting their own throats with the advent of cheap e-book offerings of their works. Yes, these authors (or publishers who go in for this sort of cutthroat marketing) might sell more “units”, but are they really doing themselves any favours in the long run? When the buying public begins to expect that e-books should cost less than a box of Kraft Dinner, we’re doomed – if we expect to make our living by the fruits of our prose.

My own point today is to share an article that appeared last week in Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper. It concerns the recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling about what constitutes legal copying in our educational system: Like lunch, writing isn’t free.

So now, in Canada at least, a copyright to an author’s work means even less than it did in the past. Maybe it would be more accurate to start calling it a “copyfreely” the way things are going. All these people who seem to believe that culture (music, movies and books) should be free probably have never created anything of their own (other than a blog, Facebook shout-outs or the odd Tweet) and therefore don’t understand just what direction their wrong-headed idea is leading.

Creators of culture should be properly recompensed for their efforts. They must be. It’s fast getting to the point where full-time writing jobs just won’t exist. Writers need time and mental space to do their best work. Any of us will tell you that our jobs are infinitely easier when our minds are not cluttered with the detritus of day jobs and weakened by mental exhaustion. Writing should not be forced into the “interesting hobby” category.

Suffice it to say, the tide is now lapping a little more at our ankles, and writing is a little bit closer to becoming a hobby rather than the work of a lifetime.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Price or value?

At the recent Harrogate Crime Festival in North Yorkshire, a panel debate with the title 'Wanted for Murder: the ebook', gave rise to some heated comments, as you might expect. What you might not expect is where the sympathies of the audience lay.

Thriller writer Stephen Leather, who boasted of selling his ebooks for less than £1.00 – and was happy to admit to using doubtful methods to promote them – found to his surprise that the response from the crime-fiction-loving audience wasn't applause for cheap books, but hisses and boos.

The panel comments that did find favour were the ones that made the point that if you spill your cup of coffee over your book and it's cheaper to replace the book than the coffee, literature has in some way become devalued. Leather's talk of 'punters' and 'units' when referring to readers and books reinforced the impression that writing for him wasn't about telling a story and crafting it with joy and skill for the reader's pleasure – just pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap.

Everyone likes a bargain, but the countries of Continental Europe have a different approach. If you go into a French hypermarket the range and number of volumes in the book section, from the latest thriller to the great French classics, all at full price, is astonishing. Since big supermarkets aren't noted for their sentimental and reverential approach to literature, the books are there because the French buy them, without them being cheaper than the cards in the greeting section. And in Norway, apparently, the new Jo Nesbo can cost you £40.

I can't see any of us going for that. But the reaction of the Harrogate audience and the responses from the public to the US Department of Justice suit against Apple just could be a sign that readers are becoming uncomfortable with the trend things are taking.

There will always be a few authors who make the big time – but very few. Many who are household names, who write beautiful, thoughtful and sometimes even life-changing books which take a year, or two or three, to produce, have an income that kids with a vacation job in McDonalds would call derisory. Books are already 'cheap as chips', as one member of the Harrogate audience put it. If the prices fall further, writing will become a hobby not a profession with aspirations and standards and everyone, not least the book-loving public, will be a loser.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Teaching Mystery Writing

Sorry I'm so late today. Life intervened on my way to the blog.

I've been asked to teach a writing course this October. This will be the second time that I'll have the  opportunity to put together a four-part course. Last summer, I did a course on writing. This course will be offered through a library and specifically about mystery writing.

Of course, I intend to cover the basics in my mystery writing course:  getting an idea, creating characters, setting, plot. But thinking about teaching this course has me going through the process I do every semester when I'm preparing to teach a criminal justice course to undergraduate or grad students. The questions always are how to engage students, not bore them to death, get them involved in the process of learning (and teaching each other and me) and at the same time make sure that we have adequately covered the material in the time available. And, of course, there is always the question of what material should be covered and what is less important, interesting if time turns out to be available, but not essential. And then there's the fact that, even in an intro course, students will be at different stages in their knowledge and development.

With this writing course, the students will be self-selecting and they will be there to learn. But there is still the same issue. How to whittle down what I might cover to what I have the time to cover.

I've been thinking about how I learned to write mysteries. I started writing in my teens. I wrote short stories in a correspondence course and (bad) poetry and eventually built up the courage to think of writing a novel. Learning to write mysteries was about learning to write within a genre rather than starting from scratch. I came to writing mysteries because of the subject matter.

I need to think some more about the process of writing, about the things that I have learned to do and now take for granted. Definitely a required exercise before I tackle developing materials for this class.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Blogs and websites and Facebook, oh my!

Barbara here, with a fairly brief and somewhat late post. I am in the throes of the final edit on my next novel, which is hard enough amid distractions like the Olympics and the lake. To erode my enthusiam still further, I read an article yesterday that left me questioning why I should be blogging, or tweeting or what have you, in the first place. My friend Vicki Delany sent me the link and since then numerous other writers have posted in agreement.


Essentially the article says that as a promotional tool to increase sales (in the case of writers, books), social media is one big, huge, over-hyped lie. For years we have been told that internet networking is the way of the future, and that authors who don’t connect and expand their visibility through blogs, websites, Facebook, Twitter, etc. will stagnate. Publishing companies have dumped most of this promotional responsibility down onto authors, and successful web marketers have been only too happy to tell us how it is done. Apparently the model to ensure success is to spend 80% of your time on self-promotion and 20% on writing. Furthermore, of that 80%, only 20% should be about your product because nobody actually wants to read promotional stuff, and 80% should be about your pets, your dinner preparations, your holidays and other “homey” personal details. The mind boggles. How did we end up so far away from writing the novels we really wanted to in the first place?

And yet evidence is beginning to suface that even all this frenetic blogging about cats may be in vain. Only a handful of people read them and even fewer are influenced by them. The only people making money are the social media giants and the web marketers, plus a handful of authors who either have an established fan base or who spend very waking hour flogging on the internet. At this point, the internet is awash in blogs, Facebook is full of irrelevant posts and Twitter is cluttered with junk. If I am an example of the typical social media user, I never bother reading Twitter unless I am after some late-breaking news and on Facebook I scroll past all the promotional announcements, pithy reposted sayings and yes, even pictures of cute cats, in order to read the personal posts from my friends and family. I am on Linked In, but never use the site and have no idea what it’s useful for. I am on Goodreads, but am never persuaded to read a book by the reviews posted there. Quite simply because you can’t trust the rave peer reviews any more than those on Amazon.

An example of the limited reach and persuasive power of Facebook can be found on our Ladies’ Killing Circle fan page. We are being given the Grant Allen Award for our pioneering contribution to Canadian Crime writing at this summer’s Scene of the Crime Festival on Wolfe Island (www.sceneofthecrime.ca). For the past couple of weeks, Linda Wiken has been posting updates on Facebook about the successes of the various contributors to the anthologies. Yet when I received my latest stats on Facebook activity, there had been two new likes on the page and 2 people talking about it. Really? Maybe we should just stand on a street corner and shout.

This is not to say I’m giving up. Interested readers and other writers do find me on Facebook, and I enjoy the network of fellow writers and readers that I have built up. I like hearing others’ news, and I do like to let people know about my news, about pets or books. But I don’t expect to make millions at it. For that, I need to get back to writing that book.