Sunday, December 15, 2013

Jo Nesbo's POLICE


Jo Nesbo's POLICE

A superb Scandinavian suspense novel




The Scandinavian suspense novels aren’t popular with every reader. In direct opposition to the ever-popular Patterson reads which feature short chapters and to-the-point dialogue and prose, they are loaded with rich description of locale and setting, and sprinkled with dozens of characters whose names tend to be confusing to the American reader. One of Jo Nesbo’s chapters would equal about ten of Patterson’s!
Having recently read Nesbo’s disappointing, The Bat, I was excited to find with Police, Jo Nesbo’s writing once again captivated me with its intensity and rich characterization. Amazingly, Harry Hole himself, Nesbo’s series’ protagonist, does not appear in the story until nearly halfway through the book. The other characters fill the gap perfectly while the plot leads up to his entrance.
Bodies of police officers have begun turning up at former crime scenes. In order to solve the puzzling case, a retired psychologist is brought back to join the task force, along with our hero, Harry Hole.
Definitely Nesbo at his best in this one! A highly recommended (by me) suspense read.
Things new suspense writers can learn from Nesbo’s writing:
1.                     There is an audience for all types of writing. While some readers dislike books with too many characters, writers like Nesbo prove these naysayers don’t represent all readers.
2.                     If you’re a series writer, tread carefully with things that are risky! Only a seasoned writer with an established following can get away with omitting his main character until the middle of the book.
3.                     A successful series is built around one or more characters that readers form a bond with. Harry Hole manifests both the bad and the brilliant in his crime solving. Keep your characters multi-faceted.

Dear Readers,
Like all of you, I’m feeling rather overwhelmed with trying to get all my holiday chores accomplished and still work on my writing. It’s difficult to relax and let myself feel it’s okay to take a break from writing. I always find time to read though; for me, reading is the most relaxing thing of all!
            Take a break and pick up a book. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn by reading others’ works. And remember, books make the best gifts!
            Have a wonderful Christmas season,

Marla

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What new authors can learn from reading Storm Front

John Sandford’s Storm Front

What new authors can learn from reading Storm Front







            I’ve been a Sandford fan from day one. His Prey series has been my favorite; I eagerly awaited each new release. Unfortunately, some of his later works have not been favorites, and with Storm Front, Sandford’s latest, the author has hit an all time low. If I hadn’t been a long-time fan, I’d never have finished the book.
            Since The DaVinci Code became a blockbusting success, everyone’s writing books about an ancient relic that if made public, would change the world of religion, as we know it. For me, most of them are nothing but 400 page chase scenes. Not my personal taste, but they have become extremely popular.
            Who could imagine Sandford fitting this type of storyline into a Virgil Flowers novel! Storm Front stars Virgil Flowers, a character who, like Lucas Davenport before Sandford married him off, is a super-sleuth, and super-successful womanizer. The story opens when Flowers is assigned a case involving an ancient inscribed stone, whose message, if shared with the world, would create chaos in the middle east. The man who stole the stone from a dig in Israel is from Minnesota and is known to have returned to the US with it. Flowers is assigned the case, begins looking for the man, finds the thief missing (of course!) and within a matter of days, he encounters at least four factions (all armed and dangerous) that are also in pursuit of the stone, which is estimated to be worth millions of dollars.
            Now, despite the theme of the book, the story does captivate the reader. Flowers is an interesting character, and I did enjoy his investigation and interplay with the people seeking the stone. About halfway through, however, something happened, that if I weren’t a devoted Sandford fan, I would have quit reading the book.
            When Flowers finally gets the stone in his possession, did he find a vault to put it in? A bank? A police station? A Brinks truck? People have been shot at, nearly killed, assassins are part of the chase, (not to mention, once more, the thing is worth millions), and Flowers takes it home with him and stores it in his dishwasher. The reader is expected to believe this character, solver of all crimes, would be that stupid. It’s no surprise to the reader that the stone is stolen during the night.
            After that I had a hard time forcing myself to finish reading the book, but I finally made it through, extremely disappointed with the story.
            I couldn’t help but think of the valuable lessons new authors can learn from Storm Front.
1.    Sandford’s writing has two huge strengths: interesting characters and rich dialogue. These two things that can go a long way toward making a so-so story an interesting read.
2.    No matter how hackneyed the theme, Sandford, at least in the first half of the book, captivates the reader, proving once again the old adage: there are no new stories—just new ways of crafting them for the reader.
3.    Be warned that the John Sandfords of the literary world are the only ones who can get away with a character doing something as idiotic as storing the relic at home. Beware of making your characters behave as if they had an IQ the size of their waistline, or as a fellow writer puts it, too dumb to live.

Dear Readers,
Long before I became an author myself, I was a reader, and still am. I love suspense and follow most of the great suspense authors. I’m making an effort to learn from the books I read and to share these lessons with you.
Thanks for visiting and have a wonderful Thanksgiving,

Marla

Monday, November 4, 2013

DO FREE-DAY eBOOK PROMOTIONS STILL WORK?

DO FREE-DAY eBOOK PROMOTIONS STILL WORK?
 

The death of the free days benefit


  



  
I’ve watched my free downloads during a three-day KDP free-days promotion drop from totals as high as 20,000, to as few downloads as 9,000 in my most recent attempt last month. The first few times I used free days, I sold as many as 500 books post-free-days, and my latest promo sold almost none. And since I’ve been an advocate of paying for ads which promote these free days, this latest one not only sold no books, it cost me money!
            Why aren’t the free-day promotions benefitting authors anymore? There are multiple reasons for this change, among them:
1.     More and more authors are becoming independent publishers of their books. The competition for eBook sales has increased exponentially over the last two years.
2.     All the doomsayers who were against using free promotions began to see the amazing results other authors were getting and jumped on the bandwagon. The bandwagon crumpled!
3.     New online sites promoting free eBooks have sprung up like a crop of mushrooms during the rainy season. Readers looking for free books have become overwhelmed with choices.
4.     This wild expansion of promotional sites for free eBooks diluted the benefit of advertising free-day promotions.
5.     Over time, readers who’d been snarfing up free books by the dozens, discovered their eReaders packed with choices; why, they asked themselves, should I keep adding titles when I don’t have time to read the ones I have? The exhilaration of accumulating free eBooks has waned with the over-saturation of free eBooks.
6.     Since the inception of their KDP Select free day promotions, Amazon has changed how it calculates the benefit of free sales versus paid sales. I cannot tell you how Amazon does does it, as they hold this information rather close to their large vest!
Is all lost for the independent author? It’s hard to say, although as it becomes more and more difficult to promote one’s work, the pendulum will likely swing the other way as many authors get discouraged and drop out of the sales arena. Those who prevail will be the ones with the fiercest determination, the thickest skin, and the best product.
            Amazon’s KDP Select program is trying to help authors by instituting a new promotional plan called the Countdown. Rather than promote books free, authors will be able to promote them at discounted rates over the period of a few days to a week, until the cost of the book resumes its original price. Will this bring new life to book sales?

Dear Readers,
Many of you are fellow authors with the same marketing struggles. It’s easy to get discouraged, if not downright depressed. It’s an ugly place to be. I know, because I’m stuck in that place right now.
My spouse has reminded me that any business, (which we are if we’re trying to sell our writing) will have its ups and downs. Success is seldom on a constant, upward plane.
            I’ve picked myself up with this thought; now is a good time to focus on my writing, my newest novel and my bi-weekly blogs. It may be a good time to step back, regroup, and develop a plan for 2014!
Stick with it!

Marla

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Art of the RT.



To RT or Not to RT?
 

That is the question.



Many authors use Twitter to make friends in the book industry and to promote their writing. Do endless RT’s, given and received, sell books?
            When I began marketing my first suspense book, She’s Not There, I quickly became overwhelmed by how many avenues were available for promotion. It didn’t take long to come to the realistic opinion that it was not feasible do every type of social media and still have time to write. I came across an eBook by Kathy Lynn Hall called Blog and Tweet, advising authors to focus two things, Twitter and Blogging. This instantly appealed to me, since those were two formats that I actually enjoyed doing. Since then, I’ve accumulated 225 blog followers, and more than 800 followers on Twitter.
            I spend a lot of time RTing for my fellow authors and Twitter friends. While it is impossible to tell if this practice actually promotes book sales, it does do the one thing everyone says in necessary— it helps build an author platform.
            A few things I’ve learned NOT to do when adding RTs.
1.     RTing junk. I only RT a tweet that will aid the other person. RTing something they’ve RTed for someone else, or a piece of a conversation isn’t helpful. Take time to find the right one!
2.     RTing multiple thank you’s I’ll never understand why some people send out thank yous to multiple recipients. Seems like a waste of time to me. And RTing those things? Right up there with junk.
3.     Don’t use an automated RT service. Yikes! These will RT anything, even a simple “Thank You for following.” message. Another time waste.
4.     Don’t do too many RTs at any given time. It could result in a Twitter shut down for you, and you cannot tweet anything for hours. If this matters to you, keep your RTs to about ten every half hour.
5.     When building a following and a group of fellow RT tweeps, it might make sense to focus on authors of your own genre.

Dear readers,
I spend too much time on RTs! In order to get more writing time in, I’ve been forced to cut down. You can set Twitter to email you any time someone RTs you. As your following increases, responding to them all by RTing back can become extremely time consuming. I’ve mainly been returning RTs now with people I’ve known a long time on Twitter, and on writers of my genre, suspense. Sorry, but I can’t promise that RTing will reap huge rewards. It will make you some Twitter friends and get your name out there. Do it wisely.
Have a wonderful week,

Marla

Monday, October 7, 2013

Pitfalls of Writing Books in a Series

Serial killer or Serial Books?

                

What happens after your first novel is published? Is it set aside, thrown into solitary like a serial killer who’s gotten the ‘book’ thrown at him? Or is your first thought the one fan who wants to read more about your characters?
            Serials and trilogies are all the rage. As a reader, I tend to be quite judgmental of them, since they are difficult to do in a manner satisfying to both the people who requested the sequel and also to new readers who have yet to bond with the characters.
            The four major challenges of writing series books:
1.     The easiest to quit reading is the second (or fifth!) of a series that assumes the reader has not only read all the others, but has read it yesterday. The author of a series needs to find the right balance of information for the reader to make each book readable.
2.     Worst is the sequel that spends 50% of the book in a giant laxative dump, explaining every detail of the first book. Again, balance is everything. Add necessary back-story sparingly and when relevant to the plot.
3.     Another terrible-twist is the dreaded killer who manages to survive to make a comeback in every successive novel, managing to be more annoying to the reader than post-nasal drip.
Patterson is fond of this in his Cross series and I’m not sure Patricia Cornwell could write a book without a villain from the past in a starring role, or at the very least, the son, daughter, cousin, mother, father, or adopted child of said killer stepping in to repeat the pattern. Their are always exceptions, but the most successful series are those where the main characters remain the same but a fresh plot is introduced. Jonathan Kellerman does this brilliantly in his Alex Delaware novels.
4.     No matter how well written, unless a reader has read every book in the series, he or she will not have the same connection with the characters and their relationships. Often the relationships feel hollow because of it. One way to avoid this is by giving the relationships new problems, so readers can get involved in the characters' personal lives.
5.  Readers are annoyed by endings that are crafted with the next book in mind. This seems to be true more so in trilogies than series. A reader doesn't like to feel at the end of the story  like he's just been set up to buy the next in the series!

Since, as a reader, I’m so darn picky about them, I’ve been timid about doing a series. I'm working on my third suspense novel, and though not really one of a series, it does star a character from the first book, She’s Not There. My critique group has assured me I’ve added just the right amount of back-story for new readers. Unfortunately, my first beta-reader, even though she’s read She’s Not There, wanted more detail about the past! Proving, once more, how difficult it is to both maintain original readers and attract (and keep!) new ones.

Dear readers,
Please keep in mind the above suggestions and commentary are from my point-of-view as a reader. I’ve been an avid reader all my life, long before I became an author, and still find time to read. So, many of the above comments are personal opinion. Please give all of us the benefit of your thoughts and expertise on the topic by adding a comment.
            Hope you are all finding time to enjoy the wonderful fall weather.
Till next time,

Marla

Monday, September 23, 2013

Festivals and Fairs. A good place to sell books?

FESTIVALS AND FAIRS

A good place for authors to sell books?




Driving home from the Hayward Fall Festival yesterday, I began dwelling on the profit/ loss aspects of  selling books at this type of event. 
        I set up a tent with two other authors for the one-day festival. Note that our sign should read, "Book Signing," but due the wind, that was the only way we could secure it!
       The Festival drew a huge amount of people, and I sold about 16 books, which is the most I've ever sold at a festival or fair. I counted my money and thought, "Yes, I made a decent profit!" But I couldn't keep my mind from straying to what the drawbacks were despite the profits.
        I've devised a list of considerations for anyone contemplating doing something similar:

Drawbacks
1.    You can never predict the weather! We were fortunate to have hit a pretty good weather day, but it's always possible to have your day totally ruined by extreme weather.
2.    The amount of people attending can never be counted on!  These things have less attendance every year. I believe there are just too many of them, as every community wants to get into the act .
3.    It's a lot of work and time spent for the amount of profit made. It takes time to order books, pack everything, buy bookmarks, postcards, and on and on. I left home at seven, which meant getting up at 5:30. The day before was spent preparing. It was about a 75 minute drive each way, so gas is another cost item.
4.    You need to buy a state seller's permit.
5.    You have to pay for a space. Ours cost $90, and we split it three ways.

Advantages
1.   We all made a profit selling our books.
2.    Many people, although not buying books, took cards.
3.    Some of these will buy eBooks.
4.    In general, events like this provide exposure for the authors.

      5.  It's always fun to get together with fellow authors.

I have an author friend who believes it is more advantageous to sell by yourself. While that may be true, it is a lot easier to sit for the day with company. Or to take a potty break or go to pick up some lunch. Our tent was not a one-person set up, either! An outdoor event is definitely easier with more than one.

Dear readers,
In case you're wondering, in the above photo I'm the one on the right wearing my trademark black fedora, oblivious to the fact that with my sunglasses on, I'm a ringer for one of the Blues Brothers! We had a fun time at the festival, and met many interesting people. 
I hope you all are enjoying the beautiful fall weather we've been having. The air has been cool and crisp here, the leaves just beginning to change.
Till next time, wishing you good health and good times,

Marla

Friday, September 6, 2013

Choosing a Title for Your Novel




Choosing a Title for Your Novel

How Important Is It?





            I need help. I’m about 2/3 through my third suspense novel and I cannot decide on a title. I’ve asked my writer’s group and they think it would be easier to decide once they’ve read the entire thing. I don’t agree. My baby needs a name and I’m asking for your help.
           I believe a title needs to be three things:

1.     Reveal the Genre. This is most important because, along with the cover art, the title is what the potential reader/buyer sees first. This is a critical fact for eBooks, where the reader will not even bother to read the blurb if the title and cover do not seem to be the genre he’s interested in.

2.     Original. This is tough. But think about how many books with punchy titles are on the bestseller list. Gone Girl comes to mind and it’s been on the NYT list for more than a year now.

3.     Simple.  We could all point to bestsellers that have long, complicated titles, but they are the exceptions. We might need to save those for authors who have already made their niche.

I know this is a difficult task without knowing the storyline. But with genre

in mind, suspense, which one would make you want to read the blurb?


Lethal Liasons                                                 Tragedy
Nocturnal Liasons                                           Illicit
Illicit Liasons                                                   Trespass
Deadly Liasons                                                Night Travels
Incident                                                            Thy Neighbor’s Wife
Behind Closed Doors                                       Swapped
In Dark Houses                                                Illegal Entry
Deadly Seductions                                           Illicit Malice
Lust Struck                                                      Seductive Justice
Carnal Malice                                                  Carnal Justice

            I’m leaning toward a one-word title. Unfortunately, my favorite is Illicit, and someone else just published a book by that title. However, since mine won’t be out until 2014, I’m thinking that might not be a problem. I also like Carnal Malice, but another author is doing a “Malice” series and I wouldn’t want us to be confused with each other. So, you see, I really need help!

Dear Readers,
I hope you are all having a good time reading and writing. My third novel is coming along and I’m hoping to get to the point of editing in a couple of months. Summer has been distracting!
Thanks for reading and for your help in finding a title. It is much appreciated.

Marla

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Genre and the Older Writer

Genre and the Older Writer

– Are you writing the right one?








With the advent of independent publishing upon us, Genre is no longer a slave to formulas established by large publishing houses and longtime editors.
You only have to look at titles offered on the Goodreads giveaway list to see that there is a new trend—mixed genre. Along with other favorites like Vampire, Sci-Fi, and Zombie, the mixed genre, often mingling romance or fantasy with the others, tends to be favored largely by the under 30 crowd.
And then there is YA, the Young Adult genre, whose main characters tend to be in the 15 to 25-year-old range and are written mainly for readers in the preteen to under 21 category. Lately there seems to be quite a flux of writers aiming to capture this audience.
            What does all this mean for the older writer? Think before you leap into a genre that is not for you. Considerations:

1.     It is probably best to stick with a subject you’re familiar with. Don’t try to write a Zombie/Vampire/Romance novel unless you are an avid reader of, and familiar with, the genre.

2.     Don’t pick a genre just because it’s one you believe is marketable. Older people read too, and often read mystery, thrillers, suspense, westerns, romance, and also some of the same genres the younger readers enjoy.

3.     When they say write what you know, this doesn’t mean strictly what you know in life experience. Reading a genre exclusively over many years gives you a measure of expertise invaluable when drafting your novel.

4.     If your goal is to become traditionally published, be aware that editors look for certain genre standards and will reject a book that doesn’t follow them. Do your homework and make sure your book follows the expected guidelines.

Dear Readers,
It is truly amazing how genres fluctuate. I read suspense almost exclusively, so deciding which genre to write has been an easy decision. Writing a genre you aren’t familiar with will not only be difficult, but it will be difficult for you to determine what is original and will entice the reader.
Happy writing,
Marla




Tuesday, August 6, 2013

KDP Quality Notices

 Authors and KDP speak out!



         Last week’s blog on KDP Quality Notices to authors generated a lot of interest. Here are some things I gathered from your responses.
1.     Everyone is in favor of the Quality Notices. The end result will improve the reader’s experience.
2.     A universal concern is that KDP will send them to all authors as needed, not just independently published ones. In particular, everyone feels that big name authors need to receive them equally.
3.     There is a fear that by locating and complaining about a few errors, readers will be able to use that to demand their money back for the books they buy.
4.     Also, there is a concern that complaining about a few errors (which every book has, believe me, and I read about two a week!) will become a way to persecute the author for a grudge held against them.

I contacted KDP and asked if they would please share any information on how they distributed the notices. Here is their response:
Hello Marla,

I can understand you wanting to know how we get to the point of sending Quality notices to our publishers.

When you publish a book, it will be set to "In Review" status for a short period of time so we can ensure that we are providing the best possible eBook experience to our customers. Should we miss something (however small) in this process, our readers can submit feedback, report poor quality or formatting from the book's product detail page on the website.

If we get more of the same feedback from a number of customers about the same book, then we send a quality notice to that book's author.

I hope you will find this information helpful. If you have any further question about this or any other topic please feel free to contact us, we'll gladly assist you with your request.

Thanks for being part of the Amazon KDP family.


Then, in a response to a question about my own books, I got this answer:


Hello Marla,

We appreciate your attention to our recent notification.

Content published through KDP is held to the high standards customers have come to expect from Amazon. To ensure this, we react to reports from readers who experience problems when reading KDP books and perform random quality audits on books in the Kindle Store.

If we confirm the problem within a book negatively impacts the reading experience, we will always notify you of any problems we find and will make sure to point you in the right direction to get the problem fixed.

Thanks for using Amazon KDP.

Not sure why, but when responding to my direct question they only mentioned reacting to readers complaints, and in the other message, they did tell me that random audits were being performed. I think most of us would feel the notices were being handled in a more fair and consistent manner with the random checks. I must say, that KDP has been responsive to my questions and been professional and helpful with their answers.

Dear readers,
I think we all understand KDP notices a little better. Personally, at the risk of sounding whiny and whingy, it seems somewhat strange to spend time reprimanding an author for one or two typos, when all books, even the NYT best sellers, have a few.
What I’m hearing all of you say, though, is that there is an appreciation by authors for having errors pointed out in order to perfect the manuscript. I’ve fixed mine. And am once more resolved to learn how to do my own formatting so I can go in and clean up problems by myself! Probably won’t happen, though. I have little patience for formatting! I’ll have to perfect the proofing process.
Have a great week everyone!
Marla