Friday, December 15, 2017

Elaine Ash, Editor & More, On Publishing

by Paul D. Marks

Since this will be my last post before the holidays, I want to wish everyone a terrific Holiday Season and a Happy New Year!

Today I’d like to welcome Elaine Ash, editor, writer and friend. Elaine was born and grew up in eastern Canada, but calls L.A. home these days. Under the pen name “Anonymous-9,” her crime fiction is included in numerous “Best of” lists every year. It’s won consecutive Readers’ Choice Awards from the House of Crime and Mystery, as well as Best Short Story on the Web, 2009 from Spinetingler Magazine. Anonymous-9 was invented as a blind for her hard-hitting, experimental short stories. Her work has been praised by T. Jefferson Parker, Ray Garton, Johnny Shaw, Douglas Lindsay, Josh Stallings, Robert Randisi and many others.

But Elaine also edits fiction writers, from established authors to emerging talent. As the former editor-at-large for Beat to a Pulp webzine, Elaine worked directly with writers of all genres to develop stories for publication. Some of those writers went on to fame and fortune such as recent Edgar nominee Patti Abbott (Polis), Jay Stringer (Thomas and Mercer), Chris F. Holm (Mulholland), S.W Lauden (Rare Bird), Kieran Shea (Titan), Hilary Davidson (Macmillan) Sophie Littlefield (Minotaur, Delacorte) and more.

Today, she works with private clients, helping them shape manuscripts, acquire agents and land publishing deals. She also ghostwrites and edits for industry clients.

Organizations book her for speaking and teaching engagements, such as West Coast Writers Conferences, the Greater Los Angeles Writers Society, Sisters in Crime, the Mystery Writers of America, the Coffee House Writers’ Group, and more.

Elaine has a new book out called BESTSELLER METRICS. It’s a different approach to writing novels and one definitely worth checking out. But today she’s the perfect person to respond to our question of the week. Take it away, Elaine:

Q: Business—If you were in charge, what big change would you make to the publishing business?

A: I would change the query process. Crafting a great query letter is a specialized skill. Most novelists need help writing a synopsis—they're long distance runners, not sprinters. After creating a full-length novel, the novelist might find it unfair that everything balances upon the fate of a one-page missive. But, that’s the way getting an agent currently works. Until we find a better way, mastery of the query is necessary.

There is a bright spot: The way you summarize your story in a query can translate well to in-person conversations. It focuses the mind on information pros want. Countless writers catch the attention of agents and publishers at conventions or writers’ gatherings with a quick verbal version of a query. This is commonly known as the “elevator pitch” and it’s a 30-seconds-or-less overview of your story, genre, word count and writer’s bio told in short.

Here’s the query synopsis for THE BIG CRESCENDO, a humorous private eye novel by Jonathan Brown:

—Synopsis — When Lou Crasher falls head-over-cymbals for a femme-fatale customer at The Practice Joint, a low-rent studio on the wrong side of  Hollywood, he’s soon embroiled in a musical equipment theft ring. Lou is forced to go undercover armed with only his quick wit and deadly dialogue. Clues lead to a missing colonial snare drum once owned by none other than Frederick Douglass—the African American social reformer and  abolitionist. But this precious artifact is now owned by a degenerate Beverly Hills music producer with a hardcore coke habit, forcing Lou to get funky with druggies and dealers. Good thing Lou can throw a drum stick as straight as a Bowie knife—he’ll need to watch his own back while dealing with local police, who are none too trusting of this amateur sleuth.

(Tip of the hat to Mr. Dan Kelly who added secret wordsmith sauce.)

Here’s the same synopsis translated into a more casual, conversational elevator pitch:

Lou Crasher is a journeyman rock drummer and an amateur P.I. His day job is working at a rehearsal space in Hollywood called the L.A. Practice Space. When the place gets robbed, Lou agrees to get the gear back for one of the musicians, Angela, because she happens to be a dime-piece knockout.
His thought is: get the gear—get the girl.

The trail leads him to a theft ring, which later takes him to a very rare snare drum once owned by Frederick Douglass, but currently owned by a big time coke-head Hollywood music producer. As Lou falls hard for Angela he bumps up against a dangerous drug dealer, the cops get involved, and there’s a dangerous little pissant bent on taking Lou out of the picture for good!

 See how that works better for casual conversation face-to-face?

There’s a lot of information out there on crafting a query, but not so much on pitching in a live situation. The key is to be practiced and ready. Be prepared to mention the word count, the genre, and a few writerly accomplishments without fumbling for information on the spot. You want to appear practiced and smooth.

When your query letter grabs agents, most will google your name. This instantly reveals if you have a social media presence, a blog post or two, and if you have a website. The more presence you have online, the more weight it lends the query.

Be mindful of your attitude as you compose. You’re ready to tell the world about your story, so be positive and confident. Seriously, get in the mood; watch a comedy, even have your mother tell you how wonderful you are. Whatever it takes, get a good state of mind going. Your energy and positivity will translate to the letter.

Agents and publishers really do want to hear from you. Their businesses depend upon you, the creator of fresh material. If cramming it all into one page causes stress, remember that a query is nothing more than a taste and a tease. It’s meant to pique interest, not tell the whole story or relay your entire history as a writer. A few highlights will suffice.

If the prospect of querying still fills you with dread, all is not lost. You can outsource the whole shebang to someone like me, who will synopsize your story, whip up a letter, source the right agents and handle correspondence.

For a free pdf copy of my query guidelines and samples, please go to and use the contact form to make a request. A free copy will be sent to you.

Thank you for stopping by Elaine!

And now for the usual BSP:

Check out my website:

Thursday, December 14, 2017

"It's a compliment, really!"

"If you were in charge, what one change would you make to the world of publishing?"

by Catriona

Easy! I'd make the penalties so horrendous that people were too scared to . . . or just tweak people's brains so they didn't want to . . . or maybe do something technologically so far beyond me that I can't even imagine it that meant no one was able to . . . have you guessed yet? . . . pirate e-books.

It's weird, but even people who're not Zen Buddhists most of the time, people who believe in possessions as a concept and disapprove of theft like they disapprove of assault, somehow have a blind spot when it comes to pirated books.

I've heard:

  • It's flattering. You should be grateful they want to read your books at all.
  • Maybe they'll read one for free and then buy the rest.
  • Everyone in sales gives out samples of merchandise.

And usually I've bitten my lip and not said:

  • No it's not. Buying them would be flattering. And there's no way to tell if the pirated books are read.
  • Or maybe they'll read one free one and then another free one and then another. 
  • But that doesn't mean they welcome shoplifters. 
If we could stop pirated books, writers would be paid more fairly for their work and more people would be able to keep writing and the literary landscape as a whole would benefit. Like music would be the winner if people would stop downloading illicit album files. (Are they still called albums?) And everyone in the film community from directors to corn-poppers would be well served if YouTube went down in flames, and don't get me started about the plight of photographers and . . .

Just this morning, fellow writer and pal Dean James outed "Open Library", a website that not only provides thousands of books, including thirteen of his and two of mine, free to download, but also has a Wikipedia style pop-up on the homepage saying  'please donate money to Open Library so we can keep stealing'.  Words fail me. And it's uncool to make words fail writers.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Changing (or using?) the Cathy Ace

If you were in charge, what one big change would you make to the business of publishing?

The entire business seems to be in a constant state of flux, so it’s hard to pick on just one aspect to change. I wouldn’t change the people – who are usually delightful – nor would I change their enthusiasm and passion for books, which seem all-pervasive. It’s a bit of a Catch 22 question really – because I think it would be hard to change one thing without everything else changing too.

Since it is the way it is – at the moment – maybe the best thing to do is to tell you how I as an author choose to use the system that’s available. new book!
I have just re-self-published a collection of novellas and short stories I first self-published ten years ago. I have spent the past six months rewriting them, working with an editor to polish them, have dropped some I originally included in the collection, and have inserted some new ones. It’s been a fascinating process which has allowed me to go back to where I "began" and apply what I’ve learned in the past five years of working with two different “traditional publishers” on two different series of books. 

I have set up a new corporation to facilitate my works

I have also worked through the process of formatting and setting up a manuscript for both e- and print versions, and working with designers directly to get a cover I want, as well as choosing typefaces etc for the whole book. It’s been a blast!  And now – this week – there’s an e-book up on amazon, and a print book too…actually in my hand. It’s amazing.

Now my readers can find out how my characters (Cait Morgan, Bud Anderson, the WISE women) all met and set up together in the first place. It’s been a weird feeling for me to do this because – having written all these “genesis” stories ten years ago – I always knew my characters’ backstories, even though they were a mystery (or something alluded to) for my readers.

By self-publishing, what I have learned is that – unless you’re a big name with big five publisher – you stand pretty much the same chance of getting the word out about your work to those who might read it as you do with a small publisher. But I believe the book is doing well only because I have the twelve books published traditionally behind me, with the Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Globe and Mail etc. reviews to go with them.

So maybe I wouldn’t change the way the business works, but I am hoping that using the way the business works in a different way will prove fruitful for me. Fingers crossed! Oh, and if you fancy giving a book as a gift, you could do worse than my anthology MURDER KEEPS NO CALENDAR which contains the first three Cait Morgan Mysteries ever, the first WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery ever, introduces you to DI Evan Glover of the Glamorgan Police Service, and several standalone tales of murder, and dark deeds! The links are below. Thanks!

Cathy Ace is the Bony Blithe Award-winning author of The Cait Morgan Mysteries and The WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries.  You can find out more about Cathy, her work and her characters at her website, where you can also sign up for her newsletter with news, updates and special offers:

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Free-Range Writers - by RM Greenaway

If you were in charge, what one big change would you make to the business of publishing?

It's difficult to answer, because to me it feels as if the business of publishing is already going through changes, a kind of mutating freefall in fact. eBooks have made borders obsolete, Goodreads reviews can make or break you, every writer needs social-media-platform shoes, the crowded market, bewildering technology, endless new options, robots writing pretty darn good stories, book-selling websites dictating just about everything, megastars snowballing into mega-mega-mega stars for no clear reason (that I can see) ... and so on.

I went into this business with no idea of what it was all about, especially the fact that, hello, it's a business. Having little understanding of what was expected of me or what I could expect in return, I was not disappointed with how it turned out. I think I've been treated well. But I do feel caged by marketing responsibilities.  

In fact, there's my answer to this week's question...

It's a dumb fairy-tale answer, but if I was in charge, I would free authors from this pressure -- overt, subliminal, ubiquitous, unceasing -- that you must not only write your damn good book, but become a marketing whiz as well.

Yes, marketing can be fun and rewarding -- travelling, meeting readers and writers, sharing stories and knowhow -- but it has aspects that are difficult, time-consuming, expensive, even scary. 

Many writers cope well with the whole ball of wax, and even thrive on the challenge. Others not so much. Some may even give up because they feel they can't swing the demands of the public persona. Their wings are clipped.

I fall somewhere in the middle, depending on the day, my mood, and my self-esteem-o-meter.

So it's an unserious answer to a serious question, but in my perfect, imaginary world of sweetness and light -- that's of course quite separate from my crime-fiction world of darkness and evil -- once I've cured all ills, I would set writers free to do what they love best (aside from sitting around in bars): dip their quills in their inkpots and write!

Photo by Ron Jake Roque on Unsplash

Monday, December 11, 2017

Memo from the corner office

Q: If you were in charge, what one big change would you make to the business of publishing?

- from Susan

I'd go backward in time, to the era when publishers felt it was their job to encourage, nourish, and support promising writers. Instead of pouring all their support into the few proven successes who bring in the most bucks, publishers would be delighted to help authors who wrote well, worked hard, had fresh ideas, and ambition to write The Best Damn Book of the Year.

No more using the star power of one author who is in his or her literary dotage by having junior authors take on the work for less pay as long as they were willing to drown their own styles and ambitions.

I'd go back to glamorous cocktail parties to launch books, budgets for author tours, budgets for ads in the New York Times for mid-list players, and in-house PR staff to court newspaper and magazines reviews for "our exciting new talent."

The people in charge of a company would be the taste-makers with taste, not those who count beans instead of reading. The point of publishing would be bringing wonderful writing to the world while making some money, instead of making as much money as possible by bringing only the most likely to make money to print.

This is why I am not in charge of a publishing company in the 21st century.

...and on that note, happy holidays to you all. May you find a corner of this unhappy world in which to enjoy a peaceful respite with family, friends, and a damn good book!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Success Only Makes It Harder

If you knew anything you wrote would be published and successful, what would you write?

This is a good question for me to make up for my absence on the Friday after American Thanksgiving. My post was halfway composed before I had to avert a crisis-level garbage disposal malfuction. I dusted off advanced-level plumbing skills I developed long ago, and for no apparent reason in the moment. I certainly didn't expect to learn to plumb. I hadn't endeavored to be a plumber. I didn't foresee a need to dismantle my Insinkerator, disconnect the pipes and snake the blockage that soaked my kitchen floor all the way to the sewer main. I certainly didn't expect to learn how to write. I hadn't endeavored to be a writer. I don't have an idea for the greatest American novel ready to apply to the concept.

I've lived a life of fascinating incongruity, likely due to my insistence upon making absurd choices that don't conform to anything that makes sense to anyone else. See, I come from a place and time where your value was determined by your slot. Once someone figured out what to do with you, they put you in a lane on a track and that's where you stayed if you wanted to be treated as a productive member of society. Success meant maximizing every opportunity on that track. You didn't change lanes until you were overtaking someone else on the same track. If you decided you didn't like your lane, the track, or being in the race at all, you were written off. Perhaps that's the function of the Midwest. Someone has to produce the staples of life, like food, steel, cars, weapons. Can't have dreamers on the assembly line holding up production. I'd imagine many an aspiring writer found themselves yanked up the grain harvester never to be seen or read again. Dreams are nice. Dreamers provide the cautionary tales dispensed by school counselors and job supervisors.

When you go it on your own in the Midwest, you become the talk, and what you do is how you're identified. This doesn't apply to lanes and tracks. No one is going to take a look at a spot weld and say "There goes Murray. You see those beads he struck? Tighter than the stitch your grandma put in your knickers. He could marry my daughter, that guy." No one autographs the alternator they replaced in your car. Get published, tho'? That's what you are. Not something you did with one of the many aspects of your being. It's "There goes the writer." If no one has a need for a writer, your function becomes the example, especially if your novel isn't a hit. "Don't wanna wind up like that guy." I have actual scars on my knuckles for fighting against that shit. It was easier to just pick up and move to a place where no one cares about you at all.

Perhaps it's my conditioning, but more likely my personality, to meditate upon my choices for as long as time will allow. In my life, it's not the work that takes the time. It's the decision making. This is why I go unseen until I have something I feel is worth seeing. In private, I'm examining my wants and matching them with what I believe would be their effect on my life, as well as the lives of folks I care for. I'm considering how I want to be regarded in the outcome. What I want to be known for. Forever. I'm trying to see everything that could happen if someone took my words as gospel. Ran with them. Caused trouble with them. It isn't easy. Knowing my book will be a hit from the get-go compounds the difficulty in choosing what to let out into the world.

Maybe I'd write a memoir, but as a handbook. I'd start it from the point where the reader has made the choice to leave that lane, abandon that predetermined track and forge ahead in the wilderness of warped reflections. If it resonated with a person, great. If it provided insight to help the reader, even better. Otherwise, it was just my own mess. Navel-gazing. What you take it seriously for? Didn't you read the disclaimer that said none of this has been proven in anyone's life but mine, so your results will vary? Follow at your own risk? No? Well then, I'm sorry your lit teachers let you skip the introductions and forewords.

I think the only responsible way to do it would be to offer up my guarded privacy in sacrifice to the illumination of the reader. It couldn't be fiction because that'd make it too easy, and a large part of the thrill I have writing it is the risk of failure. If something I wrote would be published and successful from day one, it'd have to be a book that was more valuable to the reader than the writer. Perhaps that's a part of my Midwestern conditioning as well. Part of me feels that shit is warped. Part of me thinks it's right. I'm fairly certain I'll never know. Better to just make the most of it. For everyone.


For those interested in the works to which I frequently refer, check out these titles at your local bookseller, your local library, or online where you enjoy purchasing your print and e-books. As always, thanks for your support and encouragement.

Works By Danny Gardner


Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Midas Touch

“If you knew that anything you wrote would be published and successful, what would you write?”

From Jim

My last book. I would quit writing.

There would be no challenge. No wondering or hoping or wanting. There would be no dream. I can’t imagine a more dreary life. Who wants to end up like Midas?

Bear in mind that a superstar hitter in baseball only succeeds about thirty percent of the time. How boring if batting became a conga line.

And since we’re on sports now, if I knew that every shot I took on the basketball court would go in the hoop, I’d quit that too. And golf? Imagine if every shot were a beauty? Every putt in the center of the cup? I think I’d end up cheating against myself.

Even the NFL understood that extra points had become too automatic so they changed the rules. Much more interesting now that it’s no longer a chip shot.

And soccer? If they wanted to make it easy to score, they would have made the goal bigger, tied goalies’ hands behind their backs, and never come up with the offsides rule.

That said, I wouldn’t mind hitting 52% of my shots on the court and maintaining a two or three handicap on the links. And, I would love to sell more books. But if a genie promised me that everything I wrote would be a wild success, I’d lose interest in heartbeat.

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.”
—T. Roosevelt

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Overnight $uccess

If you knew anything you wrote would be published and successful, what would you write?

By Dietrich Kalteis

Doing what you love is anybody’s best shot at success. And I love sitting at my desk and making stuff up. And I don’t think any of us can predict what’s going to be a best-seller. I know if I tried to write what I guessed would sell, rather than writing what I loved to write about, it would be crap.

Okay, it sounds corny, but it’s the best thing in the world to get to do what I love every day, and that’s success in it itself. And if money follows, then that’s even better. Who’d turn it down? 

For most of us, it’s more of a slow grind than instant success. So, anytime I need a shot of perseverance, I recall that J.K. Rowlings was turned down a dozen times on the road to becoming the first author billionaire, Stephen King’s first novel Carrie was rejected thirty times, and Elmore Leonard’s The Big Bounce was bounced back over eighty times. The New York Times ran an article about him some years ago, the headline: Writer discovered after 23 novels. 

Writing every day is my best shot at standing out in a crowded field. And that need to write is an in-the-blood kind of thing. Being able to stay focused and positive helps, so does not thinking about success or the lack of it. And almost as important is reading and being inspired and influenced by great books.

And speaking of great books, since the Holidays are rushing up, I’ve listed some of the crime novels that I’ve read over the past year which stood out. As I’m writing this I just finished my friend Sam Wiebe’s second novel Invisible Dead, and I can tell you the guy writes like a champ. Then there’s Black Orchid Blues by Persia Walker, a bright and funny book. The Force by Don Winslow had to be the best-paced novel I read all year, and Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen had to be the funniest. Also very funny and well done (and Canadian) are No Fury Like That by Lisa de Nikolits or One Brother Shy by Terry Fallis. 

I reread a couple of crime classics that stand the test of time, ones that I’d highly recommend: Miami Blues, from 1984, and New Hope for the Dead by Charles Willeford, published 1985, and The Moonshine War by Elmore Leonard, published 1969. As much as I enjoyed Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels, I started his Jesse Stone novels and I loved Trouble in Paradise, the second in the series, published in 1999.

All the best to everyone over the Holidays.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

What is Success?

By R.J. Harlick

If you knew that anything you wrote would be published and successful, what would you write?

It depends on what defines success, because money isn’t everything.

I have had many markers defining success along my journey as a writer. The first measure was to complete the writing of a full-length novel.  I tell you there was much hooting and jumping up and down when I finally wrote THE END on the first draft of my first attempt. I had actually written a book, all hundred thousand words of one. I was very proud of myself, because when I had started out I didn’t know if I had it in me.

My next measure of success was to get it published. Many rejections, many re-writes later with considerable amount of persistence on my part, I finally had a publisher say yes. They would be happy to publish my first book, Death’s Golden Whisper. Once again there was much jubilant hooting and jumping up and down with the added addition of a champagne toast to mark the momentous occasion. And when I finally held the printed book in my hands there was even more celebration. I could call myself a published author and here was the proof.

Once it was tossed out into the big wide reading world, I had many measures of success. My first email from a reader who was neither family nor a friend, who told me how much they loved the book. Seeing the book on a bookseller’s shelf and then learning that it was on many booksellers’ shelves across Canada. My first book review in a major newspaper and amazingly she liked it. More yipees.  Learning that it had been picked up by libraries across Canada. Lastly, Death’s Golden Whisper sold enough copies to satisfy my publisher that the second book in the series, Red Ice for a Shroud was worth publishing.

Since then I have achieved other marks of success. A nomination for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Novel, invitations to literary events and book clubs, radio and newspaper interviews and most importantly the continued publication of the Meg Harris mystery series. For as we know, few mystery writers go beyond the 3rd or 5th book in a series. I am now onto my 8th.  The 6th, Silver Totem of Shame, was selected as a top ten summer read by the Globe & Mail and  the 7th, A Cold White Fear was recommended by CBC All in a Day. The latest book, Purple Palette for Murder has been selected by Indigo, Canada's largest bookseller, as a local book of interest which means it is being stocked in greater than usual numbers in all Ottawa area bookstores. The reviews have expanded from Canadian media outlets to American review publications such as Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Kirkus Review.  

Perhaps one of the greatest marks of success for me are the fans. Nothing makes my heart leap for joy more than when a reader comes up to me and says I’ve read all your books. I love Meg Harris mysteries.

And you know what, I’ve achieved all this success by writing the book I wanted to write from the outset, a very Canadian mystery, set in the great Canadian outdoors that tells Canadian stories.