Monday, October 8, 2012

Mystery Party 101… Or how to drive yourself crazy in three easy steps.

Not sure about the three part, but the crazy is dead-on.

To launch my first cozy mystery, Iced Chiffon, I though it would be fun to do something different. I’ll have a mystery party at my house, I decided! I have the house, I like parties. A match made in heaven.

Sixty is a nice number and I can just buy the party online. Piece of cake.

You can see where this is going, can’t you. Murphy’s Law on steroids.

First off there are no mystery parties online for sixty that has everyone involved all the time. That means I have to write the mystery. And if people are coming to my house I have to feed them and drink them.

Thirty years ago I decided I wanted kids and my husband went along with it. That gave me four waiters and barkeeps for my party. It took me a week to write the party with characters and clues.

A few things I discovered along the way. The most important is the more alcohol, the better the party. The second is that your friends are there for fun more than finding out who-done-it.

The theme was Roaring 20’s and Duffy’s Speakeasy. Lots of decorations online to buy and an easy theme to dress in costume for and did I mention the alcohol? I divided the guests into families...Manicotti family, Ravioli get the picture. I think I did this at night when hungry. Working in families made everyone pull their info and come up with the killer.

I’ve had three parties now and each time it gets better. If you’re a mystery author it’s a great it. If you’re a mystery reader get invited to one. If I do party four I’ll let you know. I’d love to have one at the Cincinnati conservatory with a Clue theme. You know, Miss Scarlett in the conservatory with the candlestick. That’s my dream. I’ll let you know when the invites go out.

So…what is the best party you’ve been to? What makes a party special? Got any suggestions if we go to the Conservatory? I’ll give away three Iced Chiffon totes from the answers.


Dr. Watson here with my staff, that would be Duffy Brown. I have her so wrapped around my little paw. All I do is look cute and she coughs up the treats. But life wasn’t always this great, I got dumped in a DQ parking lot. I  made pitiful kitten sounds and looked pathetic and Duffy came along and  gave me her cookie-dough ice cream cone. Talk about an easy touch. She named me Dr. Watson. Her license plate is Sherlock. Personally I think the girl needs therapy. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Niche Marketing

You’ve written a new book, published it, and people aren’t buying. Publishing is definitely not a case of “build it, and they will come.” It’s hard work to get the word out about a new book when tens of thousands are published every month.

There are two groups of people you should be marketing your new book to. The first of these consists of the people you know, and the second group is made up of people who like the type of book you’ve written.
Humans are social creatures. By identifying yourself as a member of a group, you’ve identified a niche market for your novel. Look at unique opportunities to market to that audience. Maybe it’s as easy as telling a group of fishing buddies that you’ve published a book, or perhaps the group is so far-reaching that you’ll need to consider advertising.  Each group is unique and will present distinctive ways of communicating that you’ll be able to tap into. For instance, college alumni groups typically have both nationally distributed magazines, and local meeting groups. Your high school alumni group will most likely have neither.

So what groups are you a member of? I’m going to start by listing some of the more common groups. I’m sure you’ll find that you belong to one or more. Then you can brainstorm for additional groups of which you’re a member. You’ll be amazed at how many groups you can come up with in a short period of time.

The first group that most of us belong to is the workforce. I’m not saying that we should define our audience as the entire workforce, but you certainly can slice up your job in a variety of different ways. First, what company do you work for? Most of your co-workers will be interested in hearing about a new book—particularly one written by someone they know. Make a point of telling the people in your office about your new endeavor. There will be some of you who will not be able to talk about your writing. Some bosses will think that your newfound fame as an author will spell the end of your job at work. You’ll have to make the call on that. Still, your workplace can be a source of sales.

Beyond the company you work for, you are part of a professional group as well. Currently, I teach middle school English. I belong to the National Education Association as well as the National Council of Teachers of English. Submit an announcement of your publication to your professional organization’s in-house magazine. Most publications have a column or feature announcing member news. You can tell all of the people in your profession about your book in this manner.

Now that you’ve covered your workplace, consider covering your former schools in a similar fashion.  Most of you went to high school and college, so you’ll have at least two avenues to pursue. Schools, colleges in particular, are ideal places to promote your work. While attending institutions of higher learning, you were in the process of becoming who you are today, which includes your writing. Now that you’ve accomplished something, they are a great place to tell people about it.

Most alumni organizations have local chapters and a nationally distributed magazine. All of them have a place where alumni can announce their promotions, weddings, and children. Tell the editor about your new book. Local groups usually put out a smaller newsletter for the graduates in the area. Obviously, if you went to school close to where you now live, you’ll probably have a bigger population of graduates to whom you can promote your book. With local groups, always try to get a mailing list of the members. Some groups will give or sell you their lists if you’re a member.

Your high school can be another place to sell your book. It’s a bit more difficult to get the word out because most high schools are not organized or financially secure enough to send mass-mailings to former students. And typically alumni events are only held every five years, so you could have a book published and out of print in less time than it takes to get around to the next reunion. Still, if an event is coming up that asks graduates what they’ve been up to, be sure to include your book title.

Having covered the basic organizations, there are numerous other organizations that you belong to, some you might not even be aware of! If you live in an apartment complex or a condominium, post signs about your signings on the public bulletin boards, and ask to have a notice about your book put in the complex’s meeting minutes. These minutes are often sent directly to residents.

The number of organizations that you belong to will surprise you. Even your choice of religion can provide you with new marketing opportunities. Your church has a newsletter that can announce your new book. If you fish or hunt or collect glass animals, most of these activities have national organizations that allow announcements as well. Many cozies these days contain a unique hobby or craft that interests the reader. These avocations can be used to market to the relevant craft people; perhaps you can even set up a signing at the local hobby and craft show.

Your family is another source for your work. If your wife works outside the home, she can promote your book to her co-workers. If your husband belongs to the Elks or the Masons, he can tell that group to buy your book. Boy Scouts, Brownies, soccer teams, bowling leagues, PTA, and others are all places where you can find a niche to promote your work

Jeffrey Marks is the long-time moderator of MurderMustAdvertise, an on-line discussion group dedicated to book marketing and public relations. He is the author of Intent to Sell: Marketing the Genre Novel, the only how-to book for promoting genre fiction.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Want to Get Published? It’s as Easy as 1, 2, 3

OK, no, it’s not. Publishing is hard. Really hard. But the 1, 2, 3 thing is true in one sense. You see, there are now three distinct paths to getting your work to readers.

That’s a pretty revolutionary change, though by now we often pass over the
Photo credit: Rob Fillion
fact of it, unremarked. But until recently, if you weren’t given a contract by a major house or one of a handful of smaller ones, your only publishing option was a vanity press that would take your money and usually your dignity and pride as an author as well.

Many bits and bytes have been devoted to how indie publishing has changed the reading and writing landscape, if not the world. Indie publishing has resurrected the midlist. Expanded the number of authors who are able to make a living off their work. Offered published authors another way to pursue their careers, and emerging writers a way to break in.

The issue has become polarized, which is unfortunate, since it isn’t even an accurate representation of what’s happening. Some authors pursue both indie and traditional publishing at the same time, if, say, they write more books than can be published in a year, or if their books straddle different genres.

But for whatever reason sometimes this is more of a debate than a conversation. There are moderate voices, of course, but also zealotry—the ardor of the convert—on the part of some indie authors. And from traditionally published authors? Well, I hear less. Their voices seem to be quieter, which has allowed myths to be perpetrated (editors don’t edit anymore) and arguable predictions to be put forth as fait accompli (traditional publishing is on its way out).

I don’t have an answer for why the discussion breaks down in this way, beyond noting the similarity to other, hotter conflicts, political and religious ones, which also seem to become polarized instead of explored with nuance.

So, in the interest of promoting nuance, I would like to list the pros and cons of each of the three main paths.

1.     Traditional publishing with a major house or established independent (e.g., Algonquin)

·       Pros: Up-front money; a whole team working to make your book the best it can be; close, personal relationships with team are possible; anywhere from a lot to some support with marketing; broad distribution; review attention from mainstream media; strong print presence; potential for sales to foreign publishers and other subsidiary rights

·       Cons: Takes a long time to find a publisher, if one is ever found; long delay between acquisition and release; need to make a big splash right away or possibility of future deals is diminished; desire to brand the author or have author publish in one niche

2.     Traditional publishing with a smaller independent or niche press (e.g., Oak Tree, Echelon, Entangled, Wild Rose, Belle Bridge)

·       Pros: Close, personal relationships with editor and publisher; press might be focused on and expert in a smaller slice of the fiction market corresponding to author’s work; less pressure to take off right away

·       Cons: Usually no upfront money; bookstore presence and review attention can be harder to come by; risk of newer presses dissolving

3.     Indie- or self-publishing

·       Pros: Control over entire process; independence from constraints of publishers; potential to proceed very quickly

·       Cons: Control over entire process; independence from constraints of publishers; potential to proceed very quickly

OK, that last is a little tongue-in-cheek, but it does seem that the advantages of indie publishing are its potential disadvantages as well. The wise indie author is able to turn them to his or her benefit and suffer none of the drawbacks.

In the above list, there’s a lot of room for nuance, no? There is much in the way of information and issues to consider if you choose to do so. What’s important is to open up a conversation. Because if someone tells you only one path is right, they’re probably wrong.

There’s just the one that’s right for you.

 All my best in finding it. 

Jenny Milchman is a suspense writer from New Jersey whose debut novel, Cover of Snow, will be published in January by Ballantine.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Pumping Up

Jeff asked me to share my experience of working with a paid publicist to promote  A DARKLY HIDDEN TRUTH, book 2 in my Monastery Murders, so here goes.

My friend, noir writer Vincent Zandri ( told me about his great experience with Pump Up Your Book back in 2010 when we both returned to publishing after a 10-year hiatus, working for the same publisher and with the same agent. Vince rose to almost instant super stardom and credits a lot of his early success to the job pump up Your Book did helping him get the word out. He signed up for continuing tours with them. The fact that he writes amazing books, of course, has kept his meteor aloft.

I determined that when I could manage it I would do a Pump Up Your Books tour. It took me two years to get there, but in May I finally got to do so. Dorothy Thompson at Pump Up Your Book ( offers 4 levels of tours:

Bronze, 10 - 12 stops over a one month period for $299

Silver, 15 - 20 stops over a one month period for $399

Gold, 30+ stops over a two month period for $599

Platinum, 45+ stops over a 3 month period which includes professional book trailer, reader and blogger incentives, AuthorVid, Goodreads Chat, banner advertisement in sidebar, personalized press releases, pre-buzz on minimum of 10 blogs and websites before your tour even starts and much much more for $1399. (

I chose the Silver.  It took Dorothy about a month to set up my tour which included guest spots on 25 blogs— more than she had guaranteed and many of them syndicated (interviews, book reviews and articles from me evenly balanced) an article in an online newspaper, a podcast radio interview and an author video.  You can see the schedule on my homepage: (scroll down a bit)
Dorothy is an absolute delight to work with and her bloggers were enthusiastic about my book, although the review copies (which I mailed out) are sent with the understanding that they will receive an honest review. And many of those bloggers have hundreds of followers.

I received what may be my all-time favorite review from one of these bloggers. You can see it here as a good example of the exposure my book received.
Each day of the tour I went to my tour stop, left a comment, got the permalink for that post and added it to the schedule on my website, then tweeted, facebooked, etc. To help get the word out. I tried to resist driving my friends crazy, so I didn’t promote everything to every contact list every day. Near the end we were in California visiting family and I failed to get a couple of the permalinks added, although I did visit the blogs those days.

Bottom line: Rankings for print book were two times better, sales rank for ebook was 4 times better. (A month on the ranks have returned to their earlier positions.)Did this pay for the tour? I won’t know until I see my royalty statement— and then I may not be sure.
Would I do it again? Yes. I am. My Arthurian epic GLASTONBURY, A Novel of The Holy Grail has just come out in ebook and I’ve signed on for a tour in September. (Dorothy offers returning tourees $100 off.)

Whether or not the experience paid off in sales I was very satisfied with it in terms of exposure and career-building. It was fun.

Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 40 books, mostly novels dealing with British history.  The award-winning Glastonbury, A Novel of the Holy Grail, an Arthurian grail search epic covering 15 centuries of English history, is her best-known work.  She is also the author of The Monastery Murders: A Very Private Grave  and A Darkly Hidden Truth, as well as the Lord Danvers series of Victorian true-crime novels and the romantic suspense series The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries. Donna and her husband live in Boise, Idaho.  They have 4 adult children and 11 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener. To read more about all of Donna’s books  and see pictures from her garden and research trips go to:

Saturday, June 9, 2012

My Love Affair with Book Marketing

By Karen Dionne (

I’ll admit it: I enjoy marketing my books. For me, thinking up fresh ways to get the word out about my novels is almost as much fun as creating the story and the characters.

For my first novel, Freezing Point, I held an online book launch party that simulated a real-world book launch as much as possible.

The party lasted three days, and included video clips from the authors who endorsed my novel welcoming people to my party -- clips that in themselves ended up being a fantastic marketing tool. (Imagine seeing and hearing a #1 New York Times bestselling author wishing me well and saying how much he loved my book!)  Other video clips are just for fun -- a montage of authors (including another #1 New York Times bestseller) offering their opinions on what their characters would think of my novel.

I started planning the party a year in advance, lining up Penguin swag from my publisher, Penguin (the book is set in Antarctica, so items featuring the Penguin logo were particularly appropriate), and traveling to conferences, where I filmed most of the author video clips.

2,700 people visited the website during the party, and 400 posted comments in the guest book for a chance to win prizes.  The online party was a terrific way to launch my first novel, and allowed me to reach a far larger audience than if the party had taken place in the real world. (Just think of the catering costs!)

I began marketing plans for my second novel, Boiling Point, even earlier, before I wrote the book. The story takes place at an active volcano in Northern Patagonia, Chile. Because my publisher bought the novel before it was written, I was able to travel to the volcano for onsite research.

As I was planning the trip, I thought about how I could use my research adventure to publicize the novel. I bought a bright red raincoat, knowing that in photos, the red color would stand out.

 During the trip, I loaded up on authentic Chilean handicrafts to give as promotions and gifts. I also brought back 20 pounds of Chaiten obsidian that I collected from a stream bed less than a mile from the volcano, some of which I had made into jewelry to give away as prizes.

When the editors of RT Magazine heard about my trip, they offered to publish what turned out to be a fantastic two-page spread with photos timed to when my novel released. And my local newspaper, The Detroit News, ran a page-2 feature article about my research adventure. "Local woman writes novel" isn't newsworthy, but "Local woman visits active volcano to research novel" certainly is!

Of course these marketing ideas won't work for every author, because every book and author is unique. But it's that same uniqueness that makes marketing a novel so much fun. The key is to find the things that make your book special, and capitalize on those to get the word out. 

I'm currently writing an original novel based on a popular Fox/AMC detective series.  Unlike my first two books, this novel won't need a big marketing push from me, since the show already has millions of fans. That said, I do have a few ideas . . .


Photo by Robert Bruce

Detroit native Karen Dionne is the internationally published author of Boiling Point, an environmental thriller about an erupting volcano, a missing researcher, and a radical scheme to end global warming. Karen's first science thriller, Freezing Point, was nominated by RT Book Reviews as Best First Mystery of 2008. Freezing Point has been published in Germany and the Czech Republic, and both novels are available in audio from Her short story, "Calling the Shots," appears in the anthology First Thrills edited by Lee Child.

Karen is cofounder of the online writers community Backspace, and organizes the Backspace Writers Conferences held in New York City every year. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the International Thriller Writers, where she serves on the board of directors as Vice President, Technology.

 Karen blogs at The Huffington Post and has written about the publishing industry from an author's perspective for DailyFinance. She also reviews for The New York Journal of Books.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Life from both sides now

 I've seen life from both sides now, to paraphrase the Joni Mitchell song. Actually, I'm about to see it (the writing life) from all three sides. The writing life is an amorphous thing lately. Confusing and exciting, causing fear and hope in writers. The changes happening in the publishing community are so rapid, this article might be out of date by the time you read it.

 The three methods:

The old route for a successful writer was this, of course: you write a few things, you get an agent, that agent sells to a publisher, and you are a published author. The hard part is getting an agent. I've queried hundreds of them over a ten year period.

 That route got harder and harder for everyone who was still unpublished, and small press publication became a viable, respectable alternative. The small presses could get you published without the agent, but they couldn't get you into bookstores across the country. Still, you were a publisher author. This field is getting more and more crowded as it gets harder for experienced writers to get a New York contract. Those writers are migrating to small presses and taking up the precious few slots each of them have available. That caused the next wave.

 Suddenly, it became possible to self-publish, to bypass both the agent AND the editor. Many writers did this, so many that it's hard now to tell what's out there.

 And writers who are published all three ways are now feeling the burden of promotion. Very, very few authors get publicity help from anywhere.

 My history, just so you know where I'm coming from.

My first short stories were sold to magazines who edited them and paid me. Many, many more of my stories were "placed" in magazines for no pay, but still with skillful editing, when needed. My first novel was published by a small press, which made it eligible for the nomination it won (Agatha, Best First Novel of 2011). I am now self-publishing the second and third in the series (and republishing the first one). Until now, I've experienced everything but the agent.

That changed, however, a few days ago. I'm probably jumping the gun, but a contract with a literary agency is in the mail, on its way to me. When everything is signed and in place, I'll officially announce it with names!

What are the pros and cons of the three methods of publishing? Here's what I've found.

Self-publishing. Being able to freely publish anything you want, any way you want if freeing, but with freedom comes responsibility. I'm having my novels professionally edited, even though I'm self-publishing them. As a publisher, you have access to all the sales figures. It's a thrill to watch the numbers climb, and agony to watch them sink. But it's all in your own control.

Small Press. This carries the advantages and disadvantages of traditional publishing AND self-publishing. You don't have direct access to the numbers, but you're still responsible for every single sale you make. Because your royalty statements are for sales six months in the past (at least that's how mine worked), it's hard to tell what works and what doesn't. A small press bestows a widely-recognized legitimacy, and eligibility for certain prizes and memberships, that self-publishing doesn't, but less money for your sales.

 Traditional agented publishing. This is the only way to get into the "big" New York publishing houses. Membership in that club gives you access to sales outlets that the other two methods don't, and books on shelves across the country. Promotion is still expected, but I'm expecting the results of that to pay off in a bigger way because of distribution (if I DO land a "big" contract) because the print books will be more widely available. This is a camp I don't really have both feet into yet, so I can't speak in an informed way, to be honest. But I'm holding high hopes.

 Ebook.  This is the other game changer. Most of the above was written with physical, paper books in mind. The ebook market has exploded beyond anyone's expectations. They're are easy to publish and, after initial outlay for covers and editing and possibly formatting, cost nothing to produce in quantity. The possibilities for profit to the author are better than they've ever been, especially with self-published books and stories. You can hire distributers too, I've hired Untreed Reads for distribution of a couple of my works (and I've had a couple others published there) because that outfit has amazing distribution capabilities and marketing savvy.

The future. Wide open and completely unknown!

Kaye has been a janitor in a tractor factory, a mental health center secretary, a bookkeeper and a short order cook. She's been a mainframe computer programmer and a nurse's aide along the way.
Kaye at Boston  harborKaye is also a violinist, an online mystery reviewer, an award-winning short story writer, and the author of several unpublished (so far) mystery series besides the one being published by Mainly Murder Press.
Kaye George photo 1Kaye is serving a two-year term as president of Guppies, an online chapter of Sisters in Crime devoted to assisting and supporting unpublished and newly published mystery writers.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Promoting your book as a self-published writer

Promoting your book as a self-published writer might feel like trying to juggle with hands that aren’t cooperating.  Your strong hand does what it does best – writing.  The other hand finds itself responsible for the job of getting the word out. How to share your writing with the world can be a real mystery.
The first thing to do is to make sure that your piece is properly edited.  I am lucky to have an English professor from Northwestern University who is willing to do this for me.  There are services online that will help for a fee, but you can also try local community collages and universities that may have people working in or toward editing professions who might help. 
Additionally, it’s important to distinguish your book as different from others while keeping it attractive to readers.  My mystery novel, The Shattered Swan, is set in Peru during an earthquake, but has a female sleuth who goes through challenges that most readers can empathize with.  I give ten percent of my proceeds to charity - which may seem like a gimmick but it’s my way of giving back after having survived an earthquake. 
Once the book is edited and uploaded to sites like Amazon, Smashwords and Lulu, the real work begins.  All of those sites have amazing support services for the self-published writer.  With a few clicks you can set up your own pricing, discount your book for special promotions, or discount with a code to give to specific people. You can use this last one to contact reviewers so that your book gets objectively reviewed.  Another option open to you is Amazon’s “library” service where someone can “borrow” the e-book for a short time for a nominal fee.  The only disadvantage is that you must have your book exclusively on Amazon for a period of time.
Now the big challenge becomes figuring out ultimately who will be your fan base.  This is where the beauty of the Internet comes into play.  If you are anything like me, when you go shoe shopping you try not to make eye contact with the salespeople.  Your greatest wish is to look for shoes without being pressured to try on that latest sky-high wedge or the snazzy new dress shoe that would go great with any suit – when all you want are a pair of sneakers.  Or conversely, you’re that hapless salesperson, which indeed we all are, trying to make a sale when all the client wants is to do it all themselves.  The Internet has unlimited ways of linking the salespeople with clients who actually want to connect.  And even if along the way there are those clients who insist on circumventing you, or those insistent sales clerks, there’s no need to blush at avoiding them since it’s all done through the computer.  It is easier than ever to focus exclusively on exactly what we are looking for online.
Finding those communities may take a little digging, but is not difficult.  First, there are the obvious ways: start a Facebook page, blog regularly, Tweet, and subscribe to online services like Murder Must Advertise.  Don’t forget to use tagging features where available and put as many relevant tags on your posts as you can to avoid “shoe shopping” situations. 
Other alternatives are also available to you.  In my case, I advertised in paper mystery magazines like Crimespree Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.  I sent flyers to mystery conventions and as soon as I finish my second mystery novel later this year, I plan on actually going to a convention.  It’s not all easy going and some of my efforts have flopped.  For example, gosh darn it, I just cannot figure out how to get my novel onto Google Books so that my local bookstore can have me in for a book talk – but if you happen to be more technically savvy than I am, many small book stores offer that option, you just have to ask.
There are also more unconventional routes.  Make sure that you talk to everybody and anybody about your project.  You may find unexpected connections, like opportunities to perhaps publish in Europe, or have your novel translated into another language for additional promotion opportunities.  Because of my networking, I was able to give a talk on The Shattered Swan at the Library of Congress in D.C. last year, parts of which are available to watch on youtube.
Most of all, be persistent and don’t get discouraged.  It is becoming more acceptable to be self-published, and the number of people that do their reading on portable devices now is increasing daily.
Krystiana Stacy Kelly

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Reinventing Your Hometown

I’ve written four archaeological mysteries starring museum curator Lisa Donahue, all contemporary stories set in Boston and the Middle East. When I began to think about a new series set in the past, I thought of Jeanne Dams’ wonderful Hilda mysteries set a hundred years ago in her hometown of South Bend, Indiana.

My hometown, Champaign-Urbana, IL, was and is a railroad town, with growth occurring first along the tracks that run from Chicago all the way south to New Orleans. Before the railroad station came to town and Champaign got its current name, it was “West Urbana.” Always a university town, Urbana is known as the campus hub and center of most of the faculty housing (professors like to walk and bike to work), whereas Champaign attracts more business people and permanent residents.

I already knew some of this history, but researching The Bootlegger’s Nephew taught me so much more. During Prohibition, speakeasies and bars disguised as “blind pigs” clustered near the railroad tracks. Many buildings built between 1900 and 1920 still exist and have morphed from theaters to museums and department stores to office buildings, restaurants, and apartments. To recreate the town of “Big Grove,” I searched the Sanborn fire insurance maps that displayed not only street grids but also businesses with the owners’ names. I consulted the Sears Catalog for details on 1920s fashion, furniture, kitchen fittings, and appliances.

Then I had some decisions to make about my story. To what extent would my characters be “real” historical figures? Which historical events would I include in my story, and how much would fiction and truth overlap? Would I use real place names and family names? If I used real names, would I get into legal trouble?

While plenty of wild tales about Prohibition exist, few local people remember the details with accuracy. What they do remember, they are happy to tell—with embellishments. And so I consulted our former mayor, retired neighbors, downtown historians, and librarians. I decided to use real street names and family names (but not first names) to create familiarity for local readers. The characters themselves are complete fiction—or so I will claim when my neighbors think they recognize someone in my story.

The story itself is a blend of fact and fiction. I focused on downstate Illinois (so many other writers have written about Chicago), and chose southern Illinois gangsters as my villains instead of Al Capone. My protagonist, a forty-year-old physician with a German wife and a flapper daughter, never existed, but people like him did. The real issues of the 1920s—anti-immigrant feeling, resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, and the production of illegal booze of every variety—fueled the story while providing plenty of scope for fiction. I particularly enjoyed adopting some of the many Prohibition-era words for “drunk” and “booze”: “ossified,” “spifflicated”, “half-seas over,” “giggle-water,” “panther piss,” and “coffin varnish.”

The best part of writing historical fiction is borrowing some truths and ignoring others. Instead of providing a balanced, truthful account that includes all the facts, the writer can pick and choose incidents, people, and places that improve her story without worrying about an exact fit. For example, one of my speakeasies actually existed in Cincinnati, Ohio, not central Illinois: the bar is in a downstairs room, and the ten-year-old son of the owners dispenses liquor down a tube from upstairs. When an alarm tells him agents are on their way to inspect, he whisks a rug over the booze tube and artfully strews his homework around to hide the evidence.

The hardest part of writing this kind of fiction after doing contemporary mysteries was that so many things on each page had to be checked: what a character was wearing, drinking, saying; what his house looked like, what kind car he drove, what movies he watched and books he read. Every chapter produced questions: Did the local farms have electricity yet? Were all the roads paved? How long did it take to travel to Chicago in 1923? And since my protagonist is a doctor, I had to learn about early medical practice before antibiotics.

During the research phase, my writing room looked like a tornado hit it, with maps and books and scraps of paper everywhere and two fat notebooks full of material. Now that the first book is finished, I look forward to returning to the 1920s to visit my characters again and write the sequel. 

Sarah Wisseman,
Archaeological mysteries:

Monday, May 14, 2012

Is the second time the charm or the ugly stepsister?

Amazon’s free promotion days:

Is the second time the charm or the ugly stepsister?

Amazon Select offers writers an opportunity to place their eBooks up for free on Amazon’s site. Free downloads push the book up on eBook charts, giving it a huge exposure to readers.

               I put my suspense novel, She’s not There, on “free” for two days in February. It had 8,200 downloads and after the free days had expired, I sold about 750 books in the following week, and about 150 the following month. Since then I’ve averaged about 1-4 a day.

               On April 30 and May 1, I tried it again. This time I promoted it on sites that highlight free eBooks. As a result, I doubled the downloads, about 17,000. My sales however, were not nearly as good. In the three days since it was free, I’ve only sold about 60 eBooks.

               Some might say this was due to the waning popularity of the “free” gimmick, but I think I got it wrong. The right way to take advantage of free promos is to push the promo as much as possible. Get your book on as many sites that feature free eBooks as possible the first time around and ditch the ugly stepsister!

Marla Madison

She’s Not There,



Thursday, May 10, 2012

You Should Be in the Movies, Kid

Well, I’d heard the term “author video” and even heard one PR guru say she didn’t do book trailers for her clients, but she did recommend that they make author videos. Still, I would never have taken the plunge if the lady who is helping me set up a blog tour for my latest release hadn’t strongly urged that I make one. Well, I was paying her and I needed to get every penny-worth of value, so I gulped and decided that, low-tech though I am, I should at least make the effort.

My husband found that I have moviemaker on my computer and we have an inexpensive camera which we routinely use for Skyping with our children. That was the basic equipment, although we found— on about take 6, as I recall— that the sound was crisper if we used an external mic.
I knew from my Skyping experience that lighting is all-important. I turned on all the lights in the room and set up two extra lamps. And that was it for technology.

As to the script I considered doing an interview format, but settled on a combination of talking about my book and reading an excerpt. I wrote an outline of the points I wanted to talk about and selected my cutting.

As always when doing a reading, I edited the passage by selecting from my manuscript, cutting out anything extraneous to the immediate action, bumped up the font size, and inserted the printed pages into my book so it looks like I’m reading directly from the book.

Timing was a problem. Although this is a much more free-flowing format than a video, I knew it should be short. I think 3 minutes would be best. I had to keep it under 5 or the file would be too big to upload to YouTube. After several takes and edits of my manuscript (I lost count of the retakes), I still came out at the long end and can only hope that viewers will stay with me.

Someone more tekky than I am could go from here, add a cover, put music behind it, insert your website or book-buying information in printed form rather than the sign I simply held up,. . . Still I was pleased with the results. Exhausted, but pleased.
You can see the results here and judge for yourself:

And you can find A DARKLY HIDDEN TRUTH here:

Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 39 books, mostly novels dealing with British history.  The award-winning Glastonbury, an Arthurian grail search epic covering 15 centuries of English history, is her best-known work. Donna and her husband live in Boise, Idaho.  They have 4 adult children and 11 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener.

 Her newest release is A Darkly Hidden Truth, book 2 in her clerical mystery series The Monastery Murders. She also writes the Lord Danvers series of Victorian true-crime novels and the romantic suspense series The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries. To read more about these books and to see book videos for A Darkly Hidden Truth and for A Very Private Grave, Monastery Murders 1,  as well as pictures from Donna’s garden and research trips go to: