Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How Did You Do?

It's time for lists and resolutions. I'm great at lists, not so much for resolutions. I do set writing goals, however. I'm part of a group that posts weekly goals and this has been a tremendous help to me. I can see where I've fallen short and where I've succeeded each week.

One tactic of this group, a counterintuitive one, surprises me at how well it works. When you miss a goal, you don't try to make it up the next week, or try to get everything done better. You cut your goal back. You're after success, not failure. Setting a goal that you miss, week after week, is setting yourself up for disaster. Cutting a goal that you didn't meet seems to work really well. If I've decided I should write 10,000 words and I only write 8000, then I'll aim for that 8000 the next week. And if I meet it (or even surpass it), then I'll fell much better.

How did I do in 2010? Pretty good. Better than I ever imagined, in fact.

üCHOKE - query my whole list, then small pubs SOLD!

ü-SMOKE (sequel to CHOKE) - finish writing

finish editing (not done)

ü -ICE - keep querying (Jan-Aug & Oct)

sketch out a sequel to ICE, just in case (not done)

üshort stories - get more than 2 published [5 accepted, but don't know pub date on two, and one

is 2011] *

üstart new mystery blog - started three

üpublish short story collection on Smashwords, Amazon DONE (createspace paperback)

So, on to the next task. I guess it's time to put up or shut up. Here are my 2011 writing goals:


CHOKE - promote and sell (being published in May)

put together mailing list

start newsletter

SMOKE (sequel to CHOKE) - finish editing, submit to Mainly Murder Press in May

BROKE (3rd in series) - first draft

ICE - keep querying with new direction and possibly new title

sketch out a sequel to ICE & write first draft

short stories - get more than 3 published

publish book on self-publishing (createspace paperback)

I like to give myself a boost when I journal every day, so I put a little bit of motivation at the end. Last year I used GET 'ER DONE for six months and I CAN DO IT the rest of the year. Next year I think I'll use either DON'T QUIT NOW or KEEP ON REVVIN' IN 2011, or both.

I feel good that I'm starting the year with three stories accepted! TWELVE DRUMMERS DRUMMING will appear in "Dark Valentine" at the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas series. RESCUE 2005 was accepted by "Sniplits" and MAKE WAY FOR DONUTS by "Untreed Reads". I don't have publishing dates, but I'm VERY excited about these.

I'd love to hear about your goals!

Photo by Rich Tea

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Where do writers get ideas?

I'm not always sure. Sometimes I probably forget what got me going, but I CAN tell you where I just got my latest from. Facebook.

Facebook, in it's infinite tinkering decided to take away the place where I can find my "lists" that were created for our convenience, as I recall. (This may be faulty memory, too, as far as I know.) They WERE convenient. A mere click at the left and all my friends are sorted into convenient catagories: agents, editors, bookstores, libraries, local writers, famous writers, etc. One of my faves is my "frequent posters" list, by which I mean "too frequent posters". That's where I put all those people that post twenty times in a row. I seldom glance at those, but do every once in a while.

I posted a rant using bad language (in symbols, of course), then did a desperate search for someone that had something to say about lists. I found a discussion on Bill Crider's FB stuff, and even found the answer. Not a good one. To get to the "lists" now requires many extra clicks. You have to be on News Feed, then click Most Recent, then click the little arrow, then click to expand the list that shows up there. Grrrrr.

Now, to get to the topic. When I said I felt a short story coming on (this happens when I'm in a murderous mood), Bill Crider commented that "Facebook and convenience are two terms not often found in the same sentence."

Aha! My title! AS CONVENIENT AS FACEBOOK. This calls for something in the way of farce and bungling, of course. I will make reference to the very scary (to me) shifting staircases at Hogswart. And someone will die.

That, at least, is where that idea came from. I'll let you know if I can write it--and sell it. Bill is asking for ten percent, so I'll have to try to get top dollar for it. Short story writers know how easy that is.

darling photo from Daan van den Bergh at

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ho Ho Ho!

I love Christmas as much as the next guy (or gal, if you weren't raised in the upper Midwest and call both genders by the term "guy"), but doesn't it just overwhelm me every year? You'd think I'd learn.

I belong to a goal-setting group and we set writing goals every week, post them, and report on last week's goals. I'm usually pretty good about being realistic. I set light goals when I know something big and non-writing related is coming up. Did I not know it's December? Did I not know Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat? Please to put some hours in poor Kaye's cap!

I carefully mapped out the month: a week devoted to short stories (and I have one I'd like to turn in to an anthology by January 6th, another to a contest by December 31st), a week to starting edits on the manuscript that I completed a rough draft of last month, a week to examining and querying one project, and a week for Christmas.

Wrong! A MONTH for Christmas. No short story action, no editing, no nothin'. But hey, I'm blogging!

Does anyone get writing done in December? How???

(picture is in the public domain)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Interview of David Wisehart

To make up for not blogging last week (horrible cold that keeps hanging on and hanging on!), I'm offering a special treat this week. David Wisehart interviewed me in his Kindle Author newsletter and, the more I read about him, the more impressed I am. I had to know more, and think you might want to also, so I'm bringing you an interview he graciously granted me.

Kaye: First and foremost, I'm dying to know how you manage to get at least thirty hours in your day. It's obvious that you do, since you get so much accomplished! You're a novel writer, travel writer, a writer-producer-director of plays, film writer, video game producer, host of the Kindle Author newsletter and at least five blogs! How do you get all this done? Do you have a time-management secret?

David: Coffee.

Actually, some of the things you mentioned—video game producer, travel writer—are things I've done in the past and am no longer actively involved in. Of the various blogs I've started, the only one I'm focused on now is the Kindle Author blog.

However, it has been a very busy year for me. I published a novel and a short story, edited an anthology of plays, wrote an opera libretto, and completed the first draft of my second novel, among various other writing projects. I've acted in four stage plays this year, directed three (counting my opera), and produced one. I started a very successful new blog, Kindle Author, with nearly 400 posts in five months. I also tutor part-time.

My biggest time-management secret is this: turn off the TV.

I don't own a television. I watched TV when I was trying to break in as a TV writer, but even then it was for work. Likewise, I don't play video games as much as I did when I was in the industry.

I also had a relationship fall apart this year, and that freed up some time.

Kaye: I'm sorry for that last reason, David. What's your main area of concentration? Or are do your projects carry equal weight?

David: I have short-term projects, medium-term projects, and long-term projects.

Blog posts are short-term. Screenplays and plays are medium-term. Novels and operas are medium- or long-term. But this can change. "Valentino: a play in verse" was a long-term project that took three years to write, but became a short-term project when I decided to produce and direct it for the Hollywood Fringe Festival.

On the other hand, I started a screenplay last year—a script my literary agent has been waiting patiently for—but it moved from the short-term to the long-term pile because I've completely lost my enthusiasm for it. The script is almost done, and it's probably pretty good, but I can't bear to even look at it anymore.

I think this short-term, medium-term, long-term approach is actually a very good tool for productivity. It helps me avoid writer's block. Because if I'm blocked on something, I'll move it from the short-term pile to the long-term pile, and find something else to write in the short-term.

Kaye: Why did you decide for forego an agent and put your books on Kindle and your play on Lulu?

David: I tried to get a book agent for "Devil's Lair." The response generally was that they liked the writing but didn't think it was commercial enough. And they may be right. Agents are looking for the next big thing, something that will sell, say, 50,000 copies or more. I'll be happy to sell 5,000 copies on Kindle—and I'll get there soon enough. My novel is in a commercial genre—fantasy—but uses a literary style closer to Umberto Eco or Gene Wolfe than, say, Robert Jordan or Terry Goodkind. It also has some real Latin in it. If I had invented my own language, like high faerie or low goblin, it would have been fine. But people do seem to be put off by the Latin.

"Valentino" is even more esoteric. It's a full-length play in rhyming verse. I just assumed no agent would touch that. So, like most poets, I self-published. When I later produced and directed the play, it was nice to have printed copies to give to the actors.

I've had several agents in Hollywood. I've had scripts represented by ICM and CAA, two of the biggest names in the business. And I currently have a literary manager for my screenplays. But that's a different world.

Kaye: I've had agents say they like, even love, my projects, but don't think they could sell them, too. It's heartbreaking. How did you get the idea for the Kindle Author newsletter?

David: The newsletter is a natural outgrowth of the Kindle Author blog. It's another way to keep in touch with readers of the blog.

I got the idea for the Kindle Author blog after I self-published "Devil's Lair" and needed to find way to reach readers. I'd done other blogs, so it seemed the thing to do. At first I just thought it would be Kindle news and articles, and a bit about my own books. But then I read, in the comments of Joe Konrath's blog, that indie author Stacey Cochran was looking for blogs to add to his blog tour, so I emailed Stacey and he did an interview on my Kindle Author blog. Other authors asked to be interviewed, and I started inviting more self-published authors to discuss their books on my blog.

It proved to be a good service for the authors, and gave me lots of content and traffic for my blog.

Kaye: How have you publicized it and gotten followers?

David: I haven't publicized it much at all. I did start a thread at Kindle Boards and on the Amazon discussion forum. I'm on twitter. But I get most of my followers because I interview authors, post the interviews on my blog, and authors send their friends and family to read it.

Kaye: Do you think traditional publishing is in your future? Why or why not?

David: Yes, because I will be wildly successful as an indie author.

In a year or two or three, some traditional publisher will knock on my door and give me an offer I can't refuse.

Kaye: I hope that's true! How long have you been writing plays and novels? Have you had another career?

David: I wrote and directed and starred in my first play when I was eight years old. By high school I was writing spec TV scripts and screenplays. I went to film school at UCLA and wrote a bunch of scripts there. I returned to writing plays after I left the video game industry.

I've had lots of careers. I started in aerospace engineering. I worked for NASA when I was in high school, programming computers to analyze data for the HiMAT program. Then I put myself through UCLA film school by working as a programmer for The Aerospace Corporation. I got hired as a technical writer for a game company, then wrote narration scripts for art history documentaries, then wrote and produced children's educational CD-ROMs, then produced video games. Now I write, direct, produce, and act, mostly in theater. I also tutor the SAT and other subjects part-time.

Kaye: What keeps you going?

David: The need to tell stories that will outlive me.

Kaye: Where can we find your books and plays to purchase and how can we sign up for the Kindle Author newsletter?

David: You can sign up for the newsletter at my blog,

"Valentino: a play in verse" is available from, and will be available on Kindle soon. I've been reformatting the verse play, because Kindle and other e-readers don't handle the verse formatting very well.

My novel "Devil's Lair" and a short story, "Crimson Lake," are currently online. I will be publishing more novels and stories soon.

Kaye: What projects are coming up for you?

David: I'm revising and editing my second novel, "The Highwayman," which is adapted from a screenplay I wrote that until recently had an an Oscar-winning director attached. After the contract expired, the director chose not to renew. The script has been shopped all around Hollywood, so I decided to turn it into a novel.

Two other books are in the works. A horror novel, "Red Wedding," and a mystery novel, "Cold Reading." I'm also writing a new opera libretto, a new verse play, and have various other projects on my to-do list.

Kaye: Thanks so much for being my guest today!

David: Thank you!

(Visit the Kindle Author blog at and read more about David at

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Patchwork Blog today

To make up for not blogging last week, I'm having a triple header today.

***The first thing I want to do is promote an event for this Saturday: Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day. Even if you don't buy a book, every child needs to know what a bookstore is like.

This is the brain child of Jenny Milchmann and I hear a Take Your Child to the Library Day will follow soon.

***The second item of business is to pass along an award given me by Stacy Juba, the Irresistible Blog Award. I don't know what I ever did to deserve great friends like Stacy, but it must have been something good!

Now it's my duty, and my great pleasure, to pass it along! This award needs to go to the fine writers at Mysteries and Margaritas, the gang at Writers Who Kill , and Lelia Taylor at Buried Under Books . The owners of these sites are working hard to get the word out and going to great lengths to help other authors. It's SO much appreciated!

***And, thirdly, a personal announcement: my short story collection is available as a paperback at Createspace with a preview here . It should be on Amazon soon, any day now. I'm happy that I can offer it for only $5.99. Better get a copy for yourself and some to gift during the holidays. Right?

Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Kindness of Strangers (and Friends)

I'm depending lately, on the kindness of so many people. And they're coming through!

Since publishing my short story collection on a whim, as an ebook (A PATCHWORK OF STORIES), I decided to do some publicity on it. I'm sort of using my ebook as a test run for when my trade paperback novel, CHOKE, comes out in May from Mainly Murder Press. It might be good, I figured, to try out different marketing tools on the ebook and see if I have phenomenal success with any one thing. Or more than one.

I added my book to my signature line. For the first few weeks I put links to the purchase sites on Smashwords and Amazon. Then I thought that might be annoying and took those off. The links are front and center on my webpage, though.

Let me back up a sec, though. First, I had started publicizing my novel and put it in my signature line. Things I've done to get the word on on it (although it doesn't come out until May 2011):

*make sure I post on the lists I belong to so my signature line gets seen (not a problem, since I'm always posting anyway);

*get a new author photo and put together a preliminary press kit, and put it on my webpage;

*start consciously acquiring new Facebook and Twitter followers (20/day was recommended to me, but I haven't hit that yet);

*put up an author page on Facebook;

*start collecting emails of people I think might want to know about--and buy--the novel;

*register for a couple of big conferences next year, try to get onto panels, donate a silent auction basket at one, buy a group ad at another;

*and, lastly, get myself onto other people's blogs as a guest once a month until my pub date.

Here's where the friends and strangers came through, on that last one. And, in the midst of this, I put out the ebook and sort of switched my efforts over to it. So, the blogs are more about the short stories now, with just a mention of the coming novel.

I'm overwhelmed by people who have spontaneously blogged about me, and those who have offered me spots and interviews. Since August, I've averaged more than one every month.

Take a look at all the great publicity!


Carole Morden at Dry Bones

My blogmates at Dialog For Murder


A two-part in depth interview at Writers Who Kill, by E.B. Davis

Part One

Part Two


A nice essay from KB Inglee


A review of the short story book by Judy Alter

And an interview by David Wisehart, who promotes Kindle authors

I will have a guest blog at Lelia Taylor's Buried Under Books blog Saturday!

photo from

December and January are mapped out with one each so far, and several are lined up for May. I can NOT thank these folks enough for all of this!

Since putting the ebook on Amazon, I also created an Author Page for them. I guess I can add the new book in May to that. I have no idea who looks at those.

What works? What doesn't? That's what I'll try to decide as I go through the process for both books. Maybe some things work better for ebooks and some work better for print books. So far, with the only one for sale, A PATCHWORK OF STORIES, there's been a steady trickle of one or two sold every day or every other day. I'm kind of amazed at this. And anxious to see if anyone will buy the print version when it becomes available later this month (I hope). Right now it's at Smashwords and Kindle (hint, hint).

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Kindle Update

A PATCHWORK OF STORIES is at Amazon for Kindle now. I got it done before my surgery on Wednesday immediately sold some. Yay!

It is dang hard to keyboard one-handed, so this will be short. I'm in a sling for awhile, but should have a better than new shoulder eventually.

Image from

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Not quite there yet

Maybe by the next time I blog here. Here's what I WAS going to announce today.

My short story collection is NOW available for Amazon's Kindle.


My short story collection is NOT NOW available. But I know what I did wrong and how to fix it! In case anyone else runs into this issue, I'll tell you my problem and my solution.

Publishing from an HTML file is easy on Amazon's Digital Text Platform (DTP). What is you don't have an HTML file? I had a good Word Doc file that I had created for Smashwords, with a working table of contents and all (that was a little complicated to put together!), and two illustrations that had originally accompanied my stories in print, one from "Hardluck Stories", the other from "Mysterical-E". I had received permission from the illustrators and, after publication, had given them a link for a free copy. I wanted those pictures in my Kindle version, too.

But, when I reviewed my book before publishing, I failed to page all the way through, and did not catch the fact that the pictures had not magically uploaded with my HTML file. Doh.

Back to the Word file. I converted it to HTML by opening it with Open Office, a free application that comes in handy. After the document was open, I saved it as an HTML file. But what actually happened was, three files were produced, my text file, and a file for each picture. And I loaded the text file up to DTP, but not the picture files.

There was no "help" in the DTP help files, so I did a general Google search for something like Amazon DTP upload image (I forget exactly). But I found a PDF that explains how to do it. I had to put my HTML text file and my two pictures (JPG files) into a zip file and upload THAT file. So I just did. This time I checked, but don't see the pictures there.

Now I'll have to wait 24-48 hours again for some process to review and publish the ebook so I can buy it again, load it onto my free Kindle for PC, and see if the pictures are there. If they aren't I'll just take out the illustrators' names and publish without the pictures.

Amazon has announced they are working on a way for the author to download a free copy of their own book, but they haven't figured out how to do it or something. They should ask Smashwords. They know how.

Really, Smashwords was easier! I started with a plain ole Word Doc file with the pictures embedded and they stayed there.

So maybe next week I'll announce that the book is available for Amazon Kindle.

The picture is a public domain copy of the painting Sisyphys (1548-1549) by Titian, Prado Museum, Madrid

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


I spent September at my daughter and son-in-law's, part of it awaiting the birth of their first child, part of it helping take care of him (and them) after he arrived.
My daughter had to lie on the couch the last few days to keep her blood pressure down, due to the nasty gestational diabetes she had for the pregnancy.

He was a "sleepy baby" and didn't want to do his job, which is eating. His mommy refused to give up on the nursing, even though we had to pitch in and
force feed him when he wasn't gaining weight.

But he's doing great now and gaining just fine.

I was able to zip over to son and daughter-in-law's on the way home for Grandparents' Day at my four-year-old granddaughter's preschool.

Grandson's second birthday was just before I arrived and his grand present was a nifty train table.

I'm so happy I got to spend time with my far-flung kids and grands. Wish they lived closer!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I've been back from my travels to DC and Tennessee for a little over a week now and am almost caught up with things. I think. I'll journal my travels next week, but first--

My big accomplishment since my return has been to get my short story collection published! It was almost ready before I left--just the cover remained. I guess my subconscious gained clarity while I was away from it because when I got back, I was able to do it.

Tell me if you like it. If you don't, please don't tell me. Same with the stories if you go a step further and get the ebook.

If anyone is thinking of publishing with Smashwords, I'll give a little tutorial here, although they give step by step instructions to get you through most of it. The first thing you do is click on the Publish tab at, which will get you here.

This style guide will tell you how to format your Word doc to send through the "meatgrinder". It answers any questions I could ever think of, even nifty instructions to create a hyper-linked table of contents, which worked beautifully for me. The hypertext works in only some formats, though.

You'll need the document to send through the formatter, a separate document for the cover, and an idea of what to use for an online description. You can also set up tabs to make your book easier to find.

After submitting your book for publication, it's fun to watch your number in the queue go down. That first night, I sat up late, sipping a Scotch, and watching my number decrease until--TADA--I was published!

The cover gave me pause, but I did figure out an easy way to do it. I had a photo I wanted to use for the cover, but it wasn't the right size and I didn't know how to put words onto it. The cover has to be a jpeg file, so it's easiest (and maybe essential) to start with a photograph. Smashwords, in the Style Guide, can suggest places to acquire photos if you don't have one. They suggest a size of 600 x 900 pixels. Mine is 500 x 700 and works well. But how to do that? Irfanview to the rescue. This is a free download that I have gotten SO much good out of. You open the file you want to use, click Image at the top, then select Resize/Resample. Using Set new size, designate "pixels" as your unit and type in the numbers. I also check "Allow sharpen after Resample" and "Resample (better quality)".

At this point you should maybe save a couple three copies so you can mess up and start over. Just do a Save As.

Then, to add words, stay in Irfanview, and draw a box with the mouse (if it's too big, that's OK because the extra will disappear). Then click on the Edit tab and select Insert Text into Selection. If you have a busy photo, like I do, you can select a background color. You type the text and probably want to center it. There are a lot of fonts to choose from, and you can experiment with them, and with sizes, until you have what you want. When you're fininshed, the rest of the text box is there, but it won't be after you save the file.

The Word doc will produce a bunch of different files:
mobi for Kindle
Epub for most other e-readers
PDF for online reading or for printing
HTML for online reading
Java Script also for online
PBD for Palm Pilot and similar devices
LRF which the old Sony format (I don't think it's used anymore)
RTF for word processors
Plain text also for word processors

After you've produced all of these, you should look at them. The first two are easy, just download and look at them on your computer screen. Also true for PDF. You should download the PC version of Kindle if you don't have the device, just to check it out.

You can download Kindle for PC here.

I think this download will let you read an Epub file.

I ended up using the first 7 only. The last two gave unformatted, hard-to-read text. And yes, I published my book, then found some errors--after I had publicized and started selling it. You should NOT do this. Find the errors, then republish, then start selling.

You may get a notice that there are some errors, too, on your first pass. They should be spelled out so you can find and correct them. I only got one, which I am submitting for review because I don't want to change it. To republish, go to your Dashboard and, under Operations, click on "Upload new version".

Smashwords even provides a downloadable marketing guide, which I am just beginning to peruse.

After I pass the review and qualify for Premium Status, my book will appear on Sony after 2 weeks (Kobo would be the same, but I opted out of this one), Barnes and Noble after 8 weeks, Apple after one week, and Amazon "pending meatgrinder update". At the Dashboard, under Distribution Channel Manager, is where you select who you want to carry you.

When my Premium Status is achieved, I can also apply for an ISBN, required for Sony and Apple. If I just wanted to sell on Amazon, I could do that, too.

My price is now $1.99, but I'll raise it to $2.99 when it reaches Amazon to take advantage of their 70 percent deal. I opted out of Kobo because I've heard they keep lowering the price and messing up the Amazon deal. I'll have to keep an eye on the others to see if they do that, too. Seventy percent is a great deal! An author makes more on a $2.99 sale, keeping 70 percent, than on a $12 dollar book keeping the standard 15 percent ($2 versus $1.80).

If anyone wants a few good short stories, visit A PATCHWORK OF STORIES by yours truly. A sneak preview of two and a half stories if free. My Agatha nominated story is included, but not in the preview.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Gone to the coast

I've been silent lately, and will be for awhile after this, I'm sure. That's because, tada--there's a new baby in the family!

My daughter had a baby on 9/5/10 and I'm here in the DC area helping her and her husband cope with their first child.

Here's a peek at the little guy.

Meanwhile, check out Writers Who Kill tomorrow for the second part of my two-part interview there.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010


At the same time that I celebrate my own hard-won publishing contract, I feel bad for the many, many excellent writers I know who are struggling to get published traditionally, as I did for eight long years. And I'm at a loss as to why good writers have such a hard time.

Is it that agents don't recognize good writing? I'm sure that's a possibility. After all, there are no credentials needed for becoming an agent; all you have to do is say you're an agent and put up a webpage. How do you tell an agent is even qualified?

More likely than not recognizing good writing, it that the agents don't have good enough contacts and are at a loss as to how to sell good books. I've heard over and over that agents only have narrow, specific contacts and only know how to sell certain types of books. I wonder why that is and why the contacts can't be expanded, but that's a field I know nothing about, obviously. Lots of bestsellers don't fit neatly into slots, in spite of agents and editors seeming to prefer that.

Maybe the editors at the publishing houses are to blame for not recognizing what they can sell. I KNOW they can all sell mysteries if they want to. When I tell people I'm a writer and they ask what I write, and I tell them "Mysteries," I have never once--never once!--not gotten the response, "I love to read mysteries." They often go on to lament that there aren't more being published.

There's been a lot written lately about the financial trouble that major, traditional, old-fashioned publishing houses are in, due to their failure to change their business model and keep up with the times. It's not my purpose to discuss that, but I'm sure things will only continue to change rapidly.

On a recent visit to Barnes and Noble, I found they had reduced the mystery section to one shelf, and shoved it off to the side! Other mystery readers were milling about the one shelf, lamenting with me that Barnes and Noble is no longer interested in selling mysteries. I have no idea what this is a sign of. Barnes and Noble being out of touch with mystery fans? There seem to be no lack of them. Is everyone out of touch with the readers?

Which brings me, at long last, to my topic:


What keeps all the good, as yet unpublished, writers motivated to keep writing, to keep seeking publication, against enormous odds? Is it the example of the few who are tapped by the major houses? Is it the encouragement of new business models taking off and succeeding? Does every writer have inspirational quotes taped to the monitor, tacked on the bulletin board, scattered on the desk, like I do?

What keeps you going?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Taxi down the runway

I'm preparing for takeoff, which is now nine months away. The same amount of time it takes to grow a baby, coincidentally.

Here's a list I was given by a published mystery author friend--things I should be doing to prepare for my book launch in May:

1) My main advice is BOOK FIRST.

That's not an issue until I get some edits to work on. The novel is written and the publisher has it. So I'll go on to the next suggestion.

2) Then...get as much PR done now as you can, a day at a time.

OK, PR now, since I don't have any work to do on the book. Sounds like a plan.

3) Guest blogs? Line them up now and write them now. Don't do more than 12 and only do the ones that are friends or have big audiences. Don't say yes to every Tina, Denise and Harriet.

It's probably too late for that. I've accepted the first three blog invites, two of them interviews. I'm not sure I can be that choosy--not sure I know 12 people whose blogs have huge audiences. But I'm very pleased with the interview that went up Friday!

The second friend who asked wants to do an interview in September and another one closer to my publication date. Isn't she smart? That will be at this blog, Writers Who Kill. The first one should go up September 8th, I think. It will be a two-part interview! Not sure when the second day will be.

A third blogger invited me and I'll do hers next week. She has a feature called Made It Moment, where a writer relates the moment they considered they had made it.

I've been reading all three of these blogs and am very pleased to be on them!

So I guess I have 9 to go. I hope I can find 9 more places to blog, besides my own.

4) Don’t do too many conferences. Do only the main ones where the audience reads your style.

That's not much of a problem. I can't afford to go to many, unless that Texas Lotto comes through for me. Before I got the contract, I had already scheduled Left Coast Crime, mostly because it's going to be in Santa Fe next spring. I was on the fence about attending Malice Domestic again, although I love the conference, have gone many times, know lots of people who attend, and have a daughter and her family close by. I'm going now, of course. I may even be able to sell some books there, if they are printed in time. The publisher says that's a possibility!

5) Hit as many bookstores as you can - close to home. Go in now, have some artwork, a postcard, a PR package. Make friends. Shop first in the store so you're not just "an author" coming to pitch a book. Buy a book. Take in bookmarks, of your book, of friends' books.

I guess I can't do that until I have a cover. Shopping in the local bookstores is not a problem--been doing that for years. But I don't have any PR material until some things get finalized.

6) Start making lists of people you know and can send an email or snail mail to a month to two months ahead of publication as a reminder. Make it so it can be a label-producing list.

Ah, this I can do now! In fact, I've been copying off the email addresses of all the people who congratulate me. I figure they might possibly be interested in a newsletter and in buying my book. After I post this, I'll bet I won't get any more emails for awhile.

I plan to send an initial email to the whole list I've collected and ask them to opt in if they'd like. I hate opt out programs and won't do that to anyone.

7) Lastly, start making new friends on twitter and FB, about 20 a day and you won't feel overwhelmed.

That's an awful lot! I think if I did that many I'd be overwhelmed. But I am trying to accumulate followers and I follow lots of people, too. Many seem to magically appear and I have no idea where they came from. But I'm glad they're following me.

It also occurred to me, when I got an email about donating items to the charity auction for Left Coast Crime, that I could now do this! Maybe. My book won't be published until two months after the conference is ended, so I emailed and asked about that. I want to donate a gift basket that contains a preorder of my book and other items people might like. I have no idea if this is good form or not. I hope the coordinator will tell me if it's not! I did ask her to.

I visited Archie McPhee's, which I just learned about a week or two ago, and found some items that would be perfect for a charity basket. Or for just general publicity give-aways for CHOKE.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fastening My Seat Belt

I'm taking off! Finally! I'm ecstatic to be announcing that, after 8 years, 7 novels, and 441 queries later (detail below* in case anyone's interested), I have--ta da--a publishing contract! This happened so quickly, after all these years, that my head is spinning and I'm still kind of numb.

Here's how it happened for me. I noticed several Guppies being published by Mainly Murder Press. I bought a couple of the books, saw that they were nicely edited and produced--good covers even--but lamented that they only accepted submissions from writer in the Northeast US.

Then the publisher opened up to accept submissions from other parts of the country and, after only a brief hesitation, I jumped in. (See my blog from July 28th called THINKING ABOUT A NEW JOURNEY.) They were accepting submissions only until July 31st for next year, so I had to do it now or never.

I submitted to them July 26th and, voila, in sixteen short days, I became a published author. Well, an author slated for publication anyway. My first three chapters made the cut, then my whole project made it past the two readers--the next step.

The offer came in an email on August 5th. I didn't answer right away, thinking I should let it sink in and ponder what this meant.

I checked the next morning and that email was still there! I hadn't dreamt it. The email had recommended consulting my advisors, so I replied that I likely would return the contract next week.

To be fair to the agents who had partials and fulls (and in the hopes one would jump to represent me), I began emailing them. Two had full manuscripts and two had partials. I was shocked to find out, when I checked them on Query Tracker (, that one of them died on July 7th! So I emailed the remaining three. The one who has had my full since April 25th apologized for taking so long and congratulated me, then offered to help. She asked who the publisher was, what advance they were offering, and if I'd accepted the offer yet.

I replied with the name of the publisher and said they offered royalties, no advance, and that I hadn't signed yet because I still have several submissions out. I told her I didn't think the deal would include anything for her, without an advance, but that if she could get me something better it would be wonderful.

She said she still hasn't read my manuscript, but offered to negotiate the contract for either a flat fee or a percentage of royalties, and potentially represent future titles. Even thought she hasn't read the manuscript, she thought it needed some changes! Since the contract is non-negotiable and is clear and easy to understand (and is even posted on their webpage), I don't need any help with it (although the agent says contracts are always negotiable), I told her I would accept the offer.

Since there was a deadline for returning the contract, I asked the agents to get back to me by the 10th, but I never heard back from the others.

There remained one publisher who had a submission, so I emailed them, printed out the contract, signed it, and put it in the mail today. Whoopee!!!

My novel, CHOKE, will be out in trade paperback May of 2011. That's a beautiful sentence.

*First two novels, no records of my queries--and that's just as well

queries from my spreadsheets:

SONG OF DEATH 2002-2007, 133 agents
4 publishers
REQUIEM FOR RED, sequel to SONG OF DEATH 2007-2008, 77 agents

DEATH IN THE TIME OF ICE (queried at first as adult mystery, mostly as YA)
2008-2010, 160 agents

2009-2010, 65 agents
2 publishers
I'm now working on SMOKE, the partially finished sequel to CHOKE.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Short Story Structure

This is cross-posted on All Things Writing.

Members of the Short Mystery Fiction list started a discussion recently about the structure of the short story. So much has been said and written about the structure of a novel, even whole books devoted to mystery, thriller, and suspense structure, but I hadn't ever paused to consider the structure of the short story before that.

But I'm sure all short story writers should!

The first posting gave the opinion that short stories have two forms: vignette and mini-novel. The vignette, Graham Powell contended, has its action in the same place and it all happens at the same time. The mini-novel would give room for more character and plot development.

Mark Troy gave his opinion that a vignette is an expanded scene/sequel combination with the sequel being the most important part. He considers them incomplete and not as effective as the other form. Although he says he wouldn't use the term mini-novel, saying any effective story of whatever length should have protagonist/antagonist, setting, theme, 3-act plot, conflict. He said he does something that I think I will start doing: he marks the places where the acts begin and end, and marks the crisis, where the antagonist appears, where the theme is stated. I would imagine I would have to give a story at least two readings to do all that!

Graham answered that he thought his definition of a vignette story might be a 1-act tale and the other a 3-act story.

Fleur Bradley chimed in with the opinion that the vignette are stories that are like a fly-on-the-wall experience for the reader. Almost like an overheard conversation.

Then Jack Hardway/Dan said there IS a conventional short story form that has five parts, although many mystery stories don't contain all five. They are found most often in literary stories. When asked, he gave these two references:
If you click on them, you'll see they both reference a Freytag Pyramid. The first states the five parts as exposition; complication and development; crisis or turning point; falling action; catastrophe. It goes on to talk about other structure points, too.

The second reference says the five parts are exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement.

Wikipedia uses these latter terms for its illustration (I hope it's not illegal to copy wiki illustrations).

Then Chris Rhatigan posted this statement: A creative writing teacher explained another good five-part structuring technique for short stories similar to the one Jack discussed: 1) Action 2) Background 3) Development 4) Climax 5) Ending. One thing I like about it more--especially as a crime fiction writer--is that the reader gets dropped right in the middle of the story, then you get into the history of the characters, setting, etc. So in this case the piece would have two sets of rising and falling action.

I think I like this one best of all, at least for a mystery story. I'd love to hear from other short story writers and readers on this subject! Do you writers think you use any of the above structure devices? Do you readers see them?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thinking about a new journey

I'm been going down the same road for awhile. The road of querying agents, trying to get one to consent to represent me. And now I've begun to consider two new roads, one for novels and one for short stories.

Recently I believe I came about as close as I'm going to get. I've gotten some turndowns lately that make me think this is the end of this road. Not because the agent didn't like my work, but because she did. One agent liked my work very much, but didn't know where she could sell it. Another agent liked the project also, but didn't know what market it would fit, which is about the same thing, I think.

Discouraged by these rave rejections, I sent a couple of manuscripts to a small press that I admire. I admire them because they're putting out some pretty darn good books. True, I know some of the authors, but, because of that, I've bought and read some of the books. They're well put together, well edited, good covers, and the agent has submitted at least some of the authors for awards. I know this because they've won these awards. I plan on buying some by authors I don't know.

I'm well aware of the pitfalls of a small press, but I'm considering them against the pitfalls of a large, traditional publishing house, for which you need an agent, something I don't yet have. And may never have. The following is a post I made on a small list earlier today that prompted me to do further thinking about this, and this blog.

I've stopped to think it through. Do I really WANT an agent? An agent will try to sell to an editor at a publishing house. Maybe with success, maybe without. Then I'll be nowhere. If a sale is made, then what? I get a small advance, $5000 is the most I can hope for. If I don't spend at least twice that amount on promotion (and maybe even if I do), if I don't sell an awful lot of books, I won't earn their money back for them. Then I'll be dropped and I'll be nowhere.

There too many paths that lead right back to where I am now. So I'm looking for a new path, as I think a lot of writers are. I'm querying small presses, just beginning with this in a serious way, and would be ecstatic to be printed by one. I would be much more likely to keep getting books printed, especially if I'm not printed in hardcover, but trade paperback or ebook. I'm sure I could get dropped by a small press, too, but it's much more likely that the small press will fold on me. The latter would not be a good thing, and I might even have trouble getting my rights back, but it wouldn't damage my name like all the dead ends in the traditional world. The former, being dropped, would probably be the same as being dropped by a big press. I'd have to change my name and start over.

I'm also exploring the option of putting my short stories out myself. I'm gathering intell from people who have done this and just met a guy Monday who has put out 5 books with Smashwords and offered to steer me through the process. Other writer friends have encouraged me to do it, too. There would be NO downside to this. No one would drop me. I would print or sell electronically as many as I could, of course, and would promote as much as I can, but wouldn't be terrified that my publisher would drop me because I wouldn't have one, except myself. And if I could get a following for my short stories, I might just get a following for my novels, too. Another upside.

If this reasoning is faulty, someone please point it out! I'm deep into the considering stage at the moment and could be easily swayed.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Spreadsheets for writers, part two--plotting

Spreadsheets for Plotting
As promised, here's my second main use for spreadsheets. I know I've discussed this somewhere before, but can't find where. (If I could I'd copy it.)

I use a spreadsheet to keep track of my characters and my plot and don't know what I'd do without it. Probably make a lot of mistakes, like having a person's eyes change from brown to blue, having clues talking about before they're discovered, having them discovered twice--that kind of thing.

After using several methods, I've settled on this one. I label the first worksheet "names & desc". I could call it "characters & settings" because that's what it is, but that's long for that little tab.

I dislike reading books whose character names confuse me, whose characters I can't tell apart. One reason for this is sometimes that too many begin with the same letter. This is SO easy to avoid. See those columns labeled A to Z? (And beyond, but we don't need them for this.) I type "character names" on the first line, skip a space and type "first names", skip several spaces and type "last names". Then I slap the first and last names into their columns. If left to my own devices without this tool, many of my names end up starting with M for some reason.

I'm constantly collecting names, of course, as all writers are. Off signs, TV, radio, and I even look at the fictitious people who send me spam, trying to sell me watches and drugs and, well, that other product that, as a female, I don't really need. I collect these in a spreadsheet so I can alphabetize them and, when I see that I have names beginning with A, B, C, but no Rs or Ts, I can see if there's one on that list I can use.

Below those rows I have columns headed: complete name, description, age, role, vehicle, and other columns for more description if I need it. It's surprising how soon I can forget what vehicle I had a character driving, even though I carefully picked it to make a statement about the character, of course.

At the bottom I list the main settings and describe the main features in case I forget what I put where.

The second worksheet is the plotting timeline. But I do the third one first, plot beats. I use three acts and have three plot beats per act, sort ofin general. Act I has plot beat 1, plot beat 1, and plot point for the end of the act. Act IIa has plot beat 3, plot beat 4, and middle point. Act IIb has plot beats 5 & 6, and plot point. And Act III contains plot beats 7 & 8 and the end. These are just a phrase to tell me what important thing happens at that point. There are 12 items and, if I can get 5500 words for each one, I'll have a decent length novel.

I don't always have all of them filled out when I begin, but as the story unfolds, they all get filled in.

Then I put these on the second worksheet in RED. These are the writing points I'm aiming for. They can change, of course, but if I don't have something to aim for, I have a hard time getting started. The red events go down the first column under the heading "Events". The next column is "time" and the next one, for my current WIP, is "clue or suspect", that is what does this event relate to. Sometimes I color code by theme, by clue, or by suspect so I can see if too much of one thing is bunching up.

The rest of the columns have the names of the main characters, beginning with the protagonist. I fill in more detailed events leading up to the plot points, and put details about what separate characters are doing at that point in their columns. It's easy to glance across the sheet and see if I've been neglecting a theme, a clue, or a suspect for too long. It's also easy to see if I have a character doing two things in two different far-apart places in too short a time.

I like to bold the first column and unbold the event as I write it. It's very easy this way to make sure things happen in the right progression. Especially if you decide to make a big plot change and need to shift things around.

I used to have the characters on a different sheet, but decided that I'd like them all together. Just have to do control-page-up and control-page-down to shift between my worksheets. And I use other worksheets to keep track of things specific to that project.

That's how I do it! I'd love to hear other methods or ways this one could be improved.

Image used under the terms of the GNU Lesser General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation

Also posted on

Monday, July 12, 2010

Spreadsheets for writers - first of two

(This is a repeat of the post I made today on All Things Writing, so if you follow that one, you can skip this. I'll forgive you.)

A writer friend mentioned today that she had never used spreadsheets and was having fun discovering that tool. I thought to myself, How does one live without spreadsheets?

If you use them all the time and love (or not love) them, you can skip the rest of this. But if you don't use them and would like to explore, I'll try to give a Spreadsheet 101 class here, starting with the barest basics and moving to creating a timesheet.

Spreadsheets have columns and rows, obviously. But they have much than that. When you open a new one, the rows are numbered down the left side starting with 1. The columns are lettered across the top starting with A. The numbers go on for a long, long time. I've never reached the maximum. The letters go to Z, then start over with AA, AB, etc. Next is BA, BB, if you need that many columns. I've gotten into the AA/AB part often, but have never needed the Bs.

I'll tell you another way I use spreadsheets for my writing next time, but, for today, the first way is as a timesheet. Since I'm a retired (OK, I couldn't find any more contract jobs, but I call it retired) programmer, I was used to working from home and keeping track of my time. Since I'm doing writing full time and taking tax deductions for my expenses, it only makes sense to keep track of my time, if only to prove to the IRS (should they get curious) that I'm serious about being a writer and AM working pretty much full time at this.

I use the first row of my timesheet for a label, so if I print it out, I'll know what the heck it is. The next row I use for column headers and I used: DATE, START, END, HOURS, TOTAL, TASK, MILES, DAY OF WK.

The date is obvious, right? What's great about an Excel spreadsheet is, you can put the first date in, say space A4 (a little window below your toolbars tells you what space you're in), then, where you want the next date, just type =A4+1.

I type the time of day I start a project and the time I end it in B4 and C4. Then, in the HOURS column, I type =c4-b4. Voila! It figures out for me how much time I spent on that task.

If I drove, say to pick up office supplies or do business related banking, I put my miles in that column so everything will be in one place.

I like to know what day of the week it is, especially when I'm going back trying to find a reference to something a month or two ago. So I put the day of the week in the next column. If the month starts on Thursday, I can put =5 there.

Need to backtrack a moment here and talk about formatting the numbers. You can have the dates displayed however you want them. If you're on the HOME tab of your toolbar, there's a place for Number about midway across the top. On the first column, it will know you've typed a date and the window will display *Date*. But you can click the little arrow on the bottom right corner and change the way the date looks. Same way with the times you've typed in. On the DAY OF WK column, choose Custom for Category and ddd or dddd to display the name of the day. This enables you to type =5 and have Thursday displayed. Magic! Then you can type =h4+1 for the next day and Friday will pop up.

You can insert rows using the Cells block on the toolbar. If you insert rows a lot, like I do, you can click that little thing that almost looks like a down arrow, to the right of the very top small toolbar, and you can click More Commands and, under Customize, you can add Insert Sheet Row, Insert Sheet Columns to this little toolbar so you can do this with one click.

You can also hover your mouse over the line between one of the letters at the top, left click and drag to make the column wider, or narrower. If you want a lot of text in one box, but not in all of them, you should click Wrap Text to enlarge just that box and display everything you've typed into it.

I use that TOTAL column to add my hours for the day. If I type =SUM(d4:d16), it will add the hours that have been calculated from the start and stop times I've typed in, over in the E column.

The fun part is, if you set up one day, you can copy it and paste below. Put your cursor on the first cell you want to copy, press shift and, keeping it pressed, arrow to the right and then down until the cells you want to duplicate are outlined. Then press Control-C, move your cursor where you want that first cell to be copied, and press Control-V. In fact, if you want to repeat a sample day over and over you can do Control-V again and again without going back and copying again. Here's where you can change 7/1/2010 to 7/2/2010 by adding one, then copy and paste the cell displaying 7/2/2010 to the next 7/1/2010 and it'll turn into 7/1/2010. You may have to tell it exactly which cell to add 1 to if it gets out of whack. Then you can do the DAY OF WKs that way, too.

When you get to the bottom, you'll want to count the hours you've worked that month, and the miles you've driven. Put your cursor where you want the total to appear, in the TOTAL column at the bottom, and press AutoSum at the top right. It might sum only one or part of the numbers, and you'll have to put your cursor in the white box where the =SUM formula appears and type in the rest. For example, if it just says =SUM(E45), you can change it to =SUM(e4:e45). It will change your lower case to caps, which it seems to prefer.

I have another nifty use for spreadsheets, plotting, but I'll save that for another day. This is long enough! Is this at all clear??

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Michael Bourret at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management recently blogged on being pre-published. This, by the way, is a term that raises hackles in some people. But it just means a person who is seriously writing and trying for publication and who hasn't achieved it yet. Since the average time for getting published after that person starts seriously seeking it is ten years, there are a lot of people in that category! No matter what they want to call it.

At any rate, the point of Michael was making, as a result of an encounter at a conference, was that being pre-published is a time too many writers don't stop to enjoy. A time without deadlines, when no editors are breathing down your neck. A time when you're free to write whatever you want and your own pace.

The comments, as you can imagine, if you're a pre-published author, were lively. Check them out.

I can't go along with the agent, or the writer, here. I'm sure he's never been in this position and, in fact he states that he's quoting an author who is now published. I'll bet he caught her at a bad time--maybe a deadline coming up? Maybe her sales figures are down? She seems almost to wish she'd never been published.

Sure, we're free to write whatever we want. But if we knew what we could sell, we'd drop our creative vision and write THAT in a heartbeat. And Michael and his un-named writer don't know how I work if they think I have no deadlines. Of course I have deadlines. I set them up myself and I knock myself out to meet them. Without deadlines, I'd probably spend three years writing each book.

But when the book I really wanted to write, that I was so free to write, hasn't attracted an agent or a publisher after a year of querying, it's time to write another book that I think someone might want to read. After another year, it's time to write another one.

I really think a lot of us ARE writing books that other people want to read. In fact, people who have read mine usually want to read more. Now, how do I convince an agent that I have a market?

Long live the free, and may we soon be fettered.

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