Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Right Colour

By R.J. Harlick

How do you choose your titles? Put a bunch of words in a hat and pull them out at random? Use a title generator? Does your publisher do it? Do you find it easy or hard? Do you start with a working title, or just start writing? Has the title ever stayed the same?

I sometimes think that coming up with a title is one of the hardest parts of writing a book. I even make it easy, because I always use a colour in the title. But then again, perhaps, it makes it harder, because I need to first come up with the colour before finding the words that work well with the colour and also reflect the storyline of the book.
I will admit I am not the first mystery writer to use colour in a title. John D. MacDonald was the first. Since I loved his Travis McGee series and I love colour, I decided to use it in my Meg Harris series titles.  Coming up with the colour was easy for the first few books. I had the whole spectrum to choose from. But now that I have used up most of the main colours, it is becoming more challenging. Purple, as in Purple Palette for Murder, was the latest colour used.  Yellow and brown and black are still available. But since my publisher designs the cover around the title colour, I doubt I will ever use brown or black. I don’t fancy either a brown or black cover. 

I generally decide on the colour close to the outset of a book’s writing. Coming up with the actual title is an entirely different matter. For much of the writing of the book, it is generally known as ‘the red book, the green book, etc.’. As the writing progresses, I maintain a list of possible titles, dropping and adding as I go along.  Often it isn’t until close to the end of the first draft that I finally choose one. I try to use one that reflects some aspect of the story and hints at its murder mystery content using such words as ‘death, dying, murder, etc.’ 

I use three words not counting articles or prepositions. It was only after I decided on A Green Place for Dying, the 5thbook in the series, that I realized all the titles had three words.  I suspect that subconsciously I liked the flow of three words, plus I felt a shorter title would be easier for the reader to remember.  

Though my publisher has never changed any of my titles, I think that if I had diverged from the three word format, they would have asked me to return to it. On occasion, we’ve had discussions about the use of articles in some of my titles, primarily because of where ‘a’ or ‘the’ place the title in some automated catalogues. But I have generally won these discussions.

I decided to include a photo of all my books and discovered I don’t have copies of the latest printings for the first two books, whose covers have been entirely redone to reflect the colour theme of each book, so Death’s Golden Whisper is now entirely gold and Red Ice for a Shroud is red. Plus the title font etc., has been changed to reflect the later books. My publisher wants a common look for all the Meg Harris mysteries. So when you look at the photo imagine a gold book and a red one. A peek at their Amazon listing will give you their latest look.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

What's in a Title?

I'm thrilled to post my first blog as the newest blogger and look forward to sharing ideas with you. I'm a Canadian mystery author, living and writing in Ottawa Canada with eighteen published books. My latest projects include the Stonechild and Rouleau police procedural series (Dundurn) and an adult literacy series of novellas (Grass Roots Press) called the Anna Sweet mysteries. So with this brief introduction, I'll get right in to answering this week's questions!

How do you choose your titles? Put a bunch of words in a hat and pull them out at random? Use a title generator? Does your publisher do it? Do you find it easy or hard? Do you start with a working title, or just start writing? Has the title ever stayed the same?

Choosing a title is usually one of the toughest parts of the writing process for me. I say usually because the odd time, a title has popped out without much thought, however, this is the exception rather than the rule. A book title needs to satisfy a few criteria. It must:  match the story and tone of the book; attract/intrigue readers; and, be original, the latter being increasingly difficult with all the books on the market. 

So, my process for selecting a title. Since I'm writing murder mysteries, I try to have a word in the title that conveys some sense of crime fiction. My past titles include the words: mourning, bleeding, kills, graves ... you get the idea. I will choose a word and then play with word combinations, usually for an entire weekend, sometimes for an entire week. I've read poetry and music lyrics searching for a line or phrase that fits the theme of my latest book. Tumbled Graves came directly from T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" - In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing / Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel

I also like titles with a double entendre or two possible meanings. For example, Bleeding Darkness. Is the darkness bleeding or is something else bleeding the darkness? Both meanings actually work in the context of the story. Butterfly Kills - Are the butterflies killing or are the butterflies the 'kills'? Maybe, I'm only amusing myself:-)

To add to the challenge with my Stonechild and Rouleau series, the first two books have two-word titles: Cold Mourning and Butterfly Kills. My publisher called this a pattern and asked that all the books in the series have two-word titles. Once this limitation came into play, I of course, could only think of longer titles and the torment went up a notch.

When I land on a perspective title, I do an Amazon search to see if the title has already been used. Sometime, the title can still be a contender if the title was used many years ago, especially if the book is somewhat obscure. A couple of times, I've sent my choice to the publisher and they've asked me to come up with something else. Usually though, they like my choice and the designer works to create a cover to match - another key marketing piece to the puzzle.

The manuscript that I'm working on now is book seven in the Stonechild series, and it will be the last. I have a working title that miraculously appeared and might just be there when all is said and done. I'm halfway through the book and Closing Time is still in play. For this once, the stars may have aligned and saved me from another drawn-out, painful search for the perfect word combination. Let's hope my publisher agrees.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Dancing With Myself

Rejection is part of the publishing process. Tell us your most memorable rejections—whether it be from queries, agents, editors, or reviewers.. Anything from your funniest to your most devastating (and how you recovered), and anything in between.

by Paul D. Marks

Oh, have I got material for this one. Not all are rejections per se. Some are just funny anecdotes about why something didn’t get bought. And many of these stories pertain to scripts and Hollywood, rather than publishing stories and/or novels. Some of the names of people and companies have been changed and/or left out to protect the not-so-innocent.

I used to collect aphorisms or sayings or quotes that I liked. I still do, but not nearly as much these days. And one of my favorites was/is “Literature is an occupation in which you have to keep proving your talent to people who have none.”—Jules Renard—Yes, those people who often have none also often have the power of publish or perish over you. So let’s talk about some “rejections” I’ve received.


Little green men: I was trying to get an agent at one of the big Hollywood agencies. And I was able to submit a script or two to a middling agent there (big agency). Said Agent read said spec script and called me into said Big Agency and said, “Read your script and it’s very good.  Really liked it a lot, but there’s a couple of problems.  First off, people don’t take trains anymore.  Why don’t you set it in the airport?”

Said I, “Part of the thematic structure of the piece is to contrast the old vs. the new. The old Los Angeles as opposed to the new. Union Station typifies the beauty of the old.”

“I don’t know, I think LAX is a pretty cool place.  Besides, no one will believe your character takes the train.”

No one but the person who wrote it, but what does he know?

“Then the other thing that bothers me is if I’m to believe this premise I’d have to believe in little green men from Mars.”

Guess you’ve never heard of the Terminator movies.  Alien, Aliens, the Robocops, Stepford Wives, Westworld or Star Wars—you gotta remember these stories happened a long time ago.  Say it, go ahead, tell him.  Call him on it.  He’s not going to buy it, so what if you burn your bridges?

“What about the writing?  Did you like the writing?”

“Yeah.  The writing was tops, except the characters don’t develop properly.  They don’t have any quirks.  I mean like your detective, maybe he could have an ear tick, smoke a big stogie, or something.”

“Character develops through action.  They don’t need....”

“Well, I’d like to finish this conversation, but I’ve got another call.  Good luck.  I’ll send the scripts back to you.”

With coffee stains, no doubt, so I can’t use them again.

I did ultimately get an agent with said Big Agency, but not this guy.

Boy Genius #1: I met with a young producer, by young I mean he hardly had anything to shave. He gave me a meeting, I mean he took a meeting with me. I pitched him several ideas. His ultimate line to me was “Why should I help you?” Well, of course, he didn’t have to. But it seemed to escape him that he came from well-known Hollywood producing family, so he might have had a little help along the way. He didn’t exactly get where he was simply from his good looks and work ethic. So maybe he could have had a little more empathy for someone trying to make it, let alone the fact that he didn’t seem concerned about the projects I was pitching. Oh, and I had known his cousin too. But I set up the meeting without using that connection.

Boy Geniuses #2: I had a meeting with two young producers, both fresh out of USC, but who had a deal with a major company, so it’s not like they didn’t know anything about the business. Just the opposite: at twenty-two they knew everything. And they’d heard everything. I pitched them several stories and they didn’t want to see paper on a single one of them. This is the only time I never left a treatment, outline or script with someone. Oh, and I knew one of their brothers pretty well, too. But again, I hadn’t used him to set up the appointment…as I hadn’t seen him in years. So I walked out with everything I’d come with. And I sort of waited and watched ‘cause I wanted to see what big epic they’d come out with for their first movie. It was a “monster under the bed movie.” I guess because that had never been done before. And certainly it was unlike anything I’d pitched them.

The Best Dialogue I’ve Ever Heard: So, I pitched another producer on a high tech thriller script. He liked the idea. I left the property with him. Got a call a few days later—he wanted another meeting. So we met again. He loved the script. Loved the dialogue: “The best fucking dialogue I’ve ever heard.” To make a long story short, he showed the script to a director-friend of his. She hated the dialogue. Somehow, magically, he wasn’t quite so fond of the dialogue after that. But he did option it. Then he wanted me to change the genders of the two leads. The man became a woman, the woman became a man. Well, I guess anything’s possible these days 😉.

I made a well-known producer cry: There’s a first time for everything and that’s the first time I made a producer cry, at least in a positive way... I pitched him a story. He liked it. I left paper with him. He called me the next day—that’s also something that usually didn’t happen with me, such a quick turnaround. He loved the story! It made him cry. He had a deal with a Big Studio, so we had several meetings there, the producer, my agent, me. Others.

Just one little itty bitty problem, well, two really. Of course, like all producers, directors, actors and janitors in Hollywood, he knew better what the script should be than the writer. And since there were no major women characters he wanted to add several, but that wasn’t the story I was trying to tell. It was a story about soldiers who had fought together getting together to figure out what they fought for in a war that tore the country apart, helped depose a president or two and whose wounds still haven’t been sutured. For me it was very important that this story be about the men without any other elements. I didn’t want the story to be about their relationships with wives, girlfriends, moms, etc. If I had I would have written it differently. I wanted it to be about their experience with each other…

But that wasn’t the end of it:

“Oh, and by the way, you—me—won’t be able to write it.  You may have lived it but you can’t write it.  We’ll get a name writer.” I had a name, didn’t I?

I had the courage of my convictions then.

I had integrity then.

I had pride then.

I didn’t know that pride comes before a fall.  I told my agent to can the deal.  The producer said he’d do his own version of the story.  Never mind that he wouldn’t have anything had I not come to him.

If I knew then…

If I did I would have let him do it his way.  The hell with principle and what would have made a better movie.  I would have given in.  Caved.

The Golden Turkey Leg: Not really a rejection, but bad enough: And then there was the Golden Turkey Leg. I had a spec script that dealt peripherally with Voodoo, but it wasn’t “supernatural”. Another producer optioned it and wanted to make it more mystical, scary, more Voodoo-ey, sci-fi, sleazy, seedy, make-Ed-Wood-look-like-a-genius-bad, and to that end he wanted me to add something about some golden object that was magical and mystical and for want of a better word I called it “the golden turkey leg”—well, not to his face. He also wanted me to bring a character back from the dead—now that’s Voodoo...—turning a pretty good thriller into a grade Z schlockfest horror story that would even make Roger Corman at his cheapest cringe. Then, as if it couldn’t get any weirder, he knew the “perfect” guy to do the theme song: Michael Bolton. And when I say he “knew” Michael Bolton I mean he really did; they were buds or something. And no offense to him or anyone who likes him, but he’s just not my taste. Give me Ian Gillan and Joey Ramone. So maybe I’m glad that that one never got out of development hell. Then to top it all off, my wife and I were at a toy show in Pasadena (one of my hobbies is collecting old toys) and we ran into said producer, who’s there with his wife and kid, maybe around six or seven years old, selling old dolls. So, he asks me to look after said kid, who at least was a sweet said kid, so he and his wife can walk around the toy show, unfettered. The worst part is he wasn’t even selling the kind of toys I was looking for. So in addition to working on screenplays, I’m also a great babysitter, I just don’t cook or do windows, except Microsoft Windows. And another one bites the dust, another one that never made it to the silver screen, but at least I got paid. Were this producer’s ideas better? Well, if you like Golden Turkey Legs, I suppose so. But did that make me doubt my decision to be a writer? Hell no, I’m a glutton for punishment.

Deader Than a Doornail: Another script for an interesting TV show had a big TV producer interested.  Until he dropped dead and everyone dropped the ball again.

Think long-term: The first novel I completed was accepted for publication at a major publisher. It was a satire on a screenwriter trying to make it in Hollywood. (Gee, where did that come from?) Eventually, the whole editorial staff at that publisher was swept out and as a new broom sweeps clean my book was swept out with them. And since much of the humor was topical it was pretty dated even after only a couple of years so it couldn’t really go to another publisher. The lesson: don’t write things that are so topical that their shelf life is shorter than yogurt left on the counter on a steaming, hot day. Remember what George S. Kaufman said, satire is what closes Saturday night.

Stained Letter: There was one point where I got so tired of getting form letter rejections that I decided to fight back. I got an obvious form letter rejection in the mail. It said something like Dear_____: but they hadn’t even bothered to write my name in the blank. And the form looked like it had been Xeroxed about 500 times, the words were crooked on the page and it had all kinds of spots and smudges from overuse over the years. It was so dehumanizing to get something like that in the mail—I wasn’t even deserving of a freshly Xeroxed form. So I created my own form letter thank you. I typed a letter on an old typewriter so the print was uneven. I made smudges and cross outs on it, placed a couple of cups of leaky coffee on it and then Xeroxed the hell out of it. It said something like “Dear X (purposely left the X in), thank you so much for taking the time to read and carefully consider my manuscript. And I appreciate the personalized response. Sincerely, Unknown Writer.” I do understand that agents and editors get tons of queries, but really …. Can’t they at least try to make it seem like they give a damn that you’ve just poured your heart and soul into a 120 page screenplay or 80,000 word manuscript?

The Mossad: I once had a producer threaten to send his friends in the Mossad to get me when we vehemently argued about a script I was developing for him. I was warned about him before I started, but I thought I’m a brave soul, I’ll give it a shot. He’d hired me to write a script based on his idea—then hated everything I came up with, even though it was exactly what we’d talked about, but it wasn’t him, his writing, in every nuance. Hell, he should have written the damn thing himself... But he couldn’t and wouldn’t. No he’d rather just threaten me. So, of course, I sat up every night with night vision goggles, a CAR-15 (it was a while ago), flame thrower, a couple-a cruise missiles (Tom Cruise Missiles ‘cause he could protect the hell out of me) and an AWACs circling overhead, and lay in wait for them to swarm the hill behind my house. A .50 cal would have been better than the CAR-15, but since they never came I guess it didn’t matter. Maybe they’re still on their way and I seem to have misplaced the CAR-15. But did the Mossad threat make me doubt my decision to be a writer, hell no. I just bought myself a new Kevlar vest. 😄  — And, since he’s also an actor I see him in things now and then and it makes it hard to watch them. On occasion I’ve turned them off. And I’m still looking over my shoulder every day…

Mid-Life Crisis: There was the producer who spent a year rewriting a script with me at one of the major studios. Before the days of the internet I would go there 2-3 times a week to meet and work with him. Big producer. He had worked with the likes of De Niro and others of that caliber. He was talking Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer for the leads, and he could have done it. Until he had a midlife crisis and decided he wanted to make family films. Dropped my project like a hot hand grenade. And my agent didn’t carry the ball either.

Ah, Hollywood.


But on the fun side, among other interesting tidbits, Cary Grant did call me and Gene Kelly invited me to his house. But if you want to find out about those stories you have to go to my website and find them. ( www.PaulDMarks.com )

That’s Hollywood.


I had a lot of fun and a lot of frustration. I did a lot of work as a script doctor, no glory, no screen credit, so my dad could never figure out exactly what I did. And I did option scripts I wrote, either by myself with a partner, to various entities. It was fun and aggravating and maddening. But these are some of the rejections that come to mind.

And speaking of rejection: I can’t get an agent if my life depended on it. I think I have the bonifides and various people have come up with various theories, but this isn’t the place for that. But I have a new manuscript that’s a little different from much of what I’ve published. A homefront mystery set in L.A. during World War II. With a very unusual leading character… I like it a lot and I can’t get anyone to look at it. Not like it’s been rejected since they won’t even look at it. And it’s lonely for an agent. So if anyone knows anyone, give ‘em my name and number, please.


And now for the usual BSP:

Broken Windows is releasing on September 10, 2018. Its available for pre-order now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Down & Out Books.

Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The never-ending story.

"Rejection is part of the publishing process. Tell us your most memorable rejections—whether it be from queries, agents, editors, or reviewers. Anything from  your funniest to your most devastating (and how you recovered), and anything in between." 

by guest-blogger Lori Rader-Day

Catriona writes: I'm at the beach and Lori is on a launch-week blogstravaganza for her splendid new novel UNDER A DARK SKY, so she's popped into Criminal Acres to answer this week's question. Lori, take it away!

I love that this question includes reviewers. I talk with not-yet-published writers all the time who are meeting the solid wall of rejection that comes (almost universally) when they’re just starting out, and they seem (almost universally) to understand that if they could just get an agent, all their troubles would be over.

Alas and alack, that is a total lie. You get rejected by agents, and then by editors, and then by reviewers and then? You forgot one, 7 Criminal Minds. Readers.

Writing is a never-ending fun fest of rejection. There’s only one proven way to avoid rejection entirely, and that’s to keep all your writing to yourself. Or I suppose you could never write at all. That’s an option.

But if not writing isn’t an option for you, then buckle up, buttercup. Rejection is a part of the job. Part of the failure you’ll experience, and part of the success. "Success?" you’re wondering. Yes. Because getting rejected by total strangers and written about on Goodreads means that you are writing, publishing, and getting your work read. Sometimes by people who will not like you.

I’ve had plenty of rejection since I started getting serious about writing and publishing. When I first started submitting short stories, you had to send paper copies and include self-stamped, self-addressed envelopes to get your rejection sent to you. (Acceptances you usually got through a lovely email, and you forfeited that stamp, happily.) So if you got a very slim envelope in the mail, that was probably bad news, and even better? The bad news came addressed to you in YOUR OWN HANDWRITING. “Message from Lori! Oh, Lori says Lori sucks.”

My most public rejection was my lukewarm review for my first book, The Black Hour, in the New York Times. I had no business in the New York Times: debut novel, Midwestern setting, new small independent press. I was the first NYT review for my publisher, in fact, so when I opened the review on the day it went live and read, with a sinking stomach, some rather meh observations about my book, I felt as though I had let down my editor, my publisher, and all the other authors there. That rejection hurt mostly because it was so public.

The good news is that even in this failure, I can see (now) the good news: I was in the New York Times, and that mediocre review sold a lot of copies of that book. A lot of copies. That’s a rejection I wouldn’t mind getting again. Flog me, New York Times. I’ll have tougher skin this time around. And that’s what rejection is good for: making sure you can ride the inevitable ups and downs of this business. What we all want is the chance to be rejected (and accepted) again and again—a lifetime of readers taking a chance on us.

Catriona again: I know what you mean. I calibrate my film choices using Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian. If he says a film is startlingly original and though-provoking, I know I'll be bored stiff. if he says it's hokum, I know I'll love it. So, readers of this blog, have you ever bought a book because of a bad review? 

Lori Rader-Day is a three-time Mary Higgins Clark Award nominee, winning the award in 2016 for her second novel, Little Pretty Things. She is the author of Under a Dark Sky, and of The Black Hour, winner of the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, The Day I Died, a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark, Thriller, Anthony, and Barry Awards. She lives in Chicago, where she is active in Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America and co-chairs the mystery conference Murder and Mayhem in Chicago.


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

I know I can...I know I can... by Cathy Ace

Rejection is part of the publishing process. Tell us your most memorable rejections—whether it be from queries, agents, editors, or reviewers. Anything from your funniest to your most devastating (and how you recovered), and anything in between.

When I began to write short stories I didn’t plan on taking things further. Then I decided to try my hand at a novel, and wrote the first few chapters, plus a detailed outline. At least I THINK that’s what I sent to an agent (who really should remain nameless). Whatever it was I sent, it must have been pretty shoddy, but I received the polite reply below on April 14th 2009.

“Dear Cathy: Thank you for sending me your manuscript.  I enjoyed reading it.
While your pages are interesting and well-written, after careful consideration, I feel that your project is not right for my list at the current time. 
I wish you the best in finding the right agent who can successfully champion your project.”

It’s the only rejection email/letter I have (other than one which says, basically, “Thanks, but no thanks, I’m retiring”…I have always chosen to believe that receipt of my manuscript was not a factor that contributed to that decision).

I then received the following email on April 23rd 2009, from a local writer who had organized an event which I attended:

“Thank you very much for participating in last night’s event. I think we gave the audience a good combination of hearing our words, and learning a bit of what we do as writers.  
I heard great comments from many of the audience members (too bad there weren’t more) I know that you will be getting positive word of mouth about your books, which I hope will result in a bump in sales for you.”

My first novel, published in 2012
At the event I met a traditionally published author who put me in touch with his publisher, who read my self-published collections of short stories and novellas, and then – in May 2010, they asked me to submit a manuscript for a novel. I did so in December 2010, and in May 2011 they said YES! The book came out in March 2012.

The moral? I have no idea – but I got one “NO” and a whole lot of “YES”, so I’m happy about that. 

Advice? Keep writing. Keep believing – but also keep learning and striving to improve. 

That’s today’s PSA done! 

I'd be honoured if you'd consider reading my work - you can find out about it and me here: cathyace.com 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Keep on sailing

Rejection is part of the publishing process. Tell us your most memorable rejections—whether it be from queries, agents, editors, or reviewers. Anything from  your funniest to your most devastating (and how you recovered), and anything in between.

I can't tell  you much about my rejections, as I tend to forget them pretty fast. Well, I guess I forget everything pretty fast, the wins and the loses. 
But some memories remain. I do have a vague recollection of standing by the mail box, reading a letter and then crushing it into the tightest wad my hands could manage, and then crying hard.
I also remember the editor at a small publishing house who expressed interest in my novel - my first taste of success. He asked for the whole ms. I sent it in. Silence. After what felt like a year of intolerable waiting I emailed him politely asking for the status of my submission. His acidic reply shocked me. I replied back telling him to just shred the ms in that case. He replied back saying gladly. And that was that.
I confess that to this day I remember his name, and he remains one of my top motivators. Just being good isn't enough -- I want to be great. I want my name to be on marquees, so that he'll see it, and remember me, and go, oh damn.
It's just a bit of fantasy of sweet revenge -- I think I share it with most people who go out on a limb and face rejection. Also I have to say I'm damn lucky that book didn't get published then. It was far from ready. 
To recover from rejection, besides fast forgetfulness and maybe a drink or two, I use perspective: Things could be so much worse. I could be sick, dying. I could have been born an ant. Could have been born a serf in the middle ages. Instead I'm here in this more or less enlightened place and time, where ordinary people can push for their dreams to come true, so might as well take advantage of it and keep pushing.
I also take comfort in the stories of other writers who have faced the pain of rejection, and there's no end to those. And as corny as it sounds, I try to be the best I can be, so that when rejection happens, I can say what Jack Nicholson said, playing Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest:
"But I tried, didn't I? Goddamnit, at least I did that."

This is my last post on this fabulous group blog. I've had a really good time, have learned a lot, and will miss the twice-a-month challenge of answering the question of the day.
Upcoming... Spring 2019!! 
If only I had double the hours per day, I'd happily carry on. Right now I've got a book to write, though, and it's due at the end of November, and if I don't do my very best with it ... well, you know. I won't be able to quote McMurphy.
So thank you to all my fellow minds and all those who have been reading along, and a warm welcome to my upcoming replacement. 
Take care, all.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Say Yes, Say No....

Q: Rejection is part of the publishing process. Tell us your most memorable rejections—whether it be from queries, agents, editors, or reviewers. Anything from your funniest to your most devastating (and how you recovered), and anything in between.
-from Susan

Whoops. Posting late today with apologies. Maybe it’s because rejection isn’t my favorite topic. No one likes being turned down for anything. It makes us feel vulnerable, not good enough, inadequate. And our manuscripts are our children or alter egos in a way, so even though they’re nothing but words, having them rejected is like 80,000 or 100,000 small cuts. I think that’s why so many fine writers never feel their manuscript is ready to submit – the feat of rejection is almost worse than the actual rejections that come with the business of being a writer.

But, if we can back up enough to look at manuscript rejection more objectively, we can or should be able to realize it’s not about us personally, or even, in many cases, about our specific manuscripts. My anecdote proves this. I did find an agent (by gulping and asking an agent at a conference to read my 20 pages) and she took me on. The manuscript was duly sent out to a handful of acquiring editors at top houses. So far so good. We even got word that an editor at a major house was very interested and was going to bring the manuscript into the committee that makes the decisions. I was flying high. Then – boom – it turned out that the USA banks and investment companies that were too big to fail were about to throw us all into a recession that could become a 1930s-style depression. The editor emailed my agent to say the word from the top of the publishing house was no buying anything for three months. Sound of Susan’s balloon popping.

But that rejection, as big as it was for me, had nothing, or at least very little, to do with me or my precious manuscript. Had the editor said, “but don’t sell it to anyone else because we want it whenever the freeze ends,” it would indicated how much they loved it. Instead, radio silence and we mooched around and it eventually sold to a smaller publisher for less advance money and less serious attention.

So be it. The business of being a writer is made up of passion, excitement, camaraderie, inspiration, hard work, success, and rejection. I don’t think you get one without the others, frankly. But in the end, would you give up all the pleasure of writing a book that you know in your bones is the best you can do, and the anticipation of seeing it in print, just to avoid a few – or even many – rejections from agents or publishers who have to weigh how a story fits into their mix of clients, their imprint’s upcoming plans, or their analysis of how much money they can make off it? They have their calculus, you have your story! 

Friday, August 3, 2018

Property Values

"I just updated my newsletter, my bio, and my website. That smell?
That's book sales, son! Or my following. I'm not sure."

By Danny Gardner

My website stinks. I can't even lie. I envisioned it as a hub for some self-branded platform. Corral everyone interested in my work with random musings, fun anecdotes, and socially relevant asides as I ready each novel for their continued enjoyment. Man, oh man, if websites were houses and crime fiction was the block, my crib would be the one bringing the entire neighborhood down. Oh, it still has all its shutters and windows and doors. No one has come along and stripped all the plumbing and wiring and drywall. It's not exactly the Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" version of destitute, but it ain't exactly 5th Avenue either. To put you through another metaphor, if this were Monopoly, my website would be a Chance card, which says "There's no chance of finding anything here you can't find everywhere else."

So when I say there's no excuse for the way my website looks, it isn't an anecdotal notion. I'm not the accountant with tax trouble or the attorney who can't close out his own divorce. It's not terrible because I'm lazy. I had a crisis of conscience. Well, actually attitude and surliness, but my conscience was at the bottom, like a parfait of frustration. The granola on top was the truth that nothing sells books quite like getting off your ass and selling books.

Websites that exist on their own are silos of interest, and I question the merit of silos in a world where everyone is fast realizing they've been wrong about a lot of stuff they once followed as gospel. An unknown author becomes a known quantity, the common wisdom is that the author now has a platform. By that measure, you harness value and crystallize something that commodifies that author's work and image. Boom! Easy street. An author with a successful book and a platform for marshaling readers into a tribe (cult) built around the personality. "You liked my book? Well, get in here, friend! Meet your brothers and sisters. Here comes the Good News-letter." Yo, this isn't square-dancing. Individual readers aren't partners to do-si-do with. This game is a straight-up rave, where you're dancing only if you can get in where you fit in, and you're going to keep moving. You haven't found a spouse when the song stops. You've found yourself alone again.

Book people like a lot of books. The TBR-pile is where we came from. The IDR-pile (I Done Read it already) is where we end up. Once we hear from a reader, the notion is we have a new converted follower. Nah, dawg. You're just hearing someone speak with pride about checking off another completed task, of which we each have far too many. "I loved your book" isn't "Where do I sit in your temple, Author-person?" More like, "Yay! Let me mark my accomplishment trophy over at Goodreads for everyone who hasn't read it yet. #winning" That's, like, Ta-Nahesi Coates/Roxanne Gay's whole hustle. "Wow, you haven't read that yet??" No, but I own it, so back up with them hashtags.

It has nothing—c'man, you know it's true—absolutely nothing to do with our books. Unless it does. And if it does, that person is already dancing with the next person in the joint as you're updating your tip sheet with new pull quotes. Think of having a hot time on the dance floor. The song changes. The two of you are thirsty. You head to the bar at the same time (you're not quite together, yet.) In the middle of the jam, you hand them a form to fill out for your newsletter, where you discuss dancing when you're not dancing. They don't want to discuss dancing, but dance, thus you lose them, even after you bought them a drink. Seems rude, except in this scenario, you're the DJ, standing outside the booth. The music has stopped.

"So...Bouchercon this year?"

Everyone and everything has its proper place. Selling what you've done and what you gon do isn't selling your next book. You ain't really selling anything until you're selling your current book. No one has the time to hang out in your waiting room as you write the next one. You have to allow readers to leave and, if you lose them, trust you'll attract the right readers at the time, if and when you sell THAT book. Maybe that is a bit of the logic surrounding the "No more series" edicts from editors I've been hearing lately. No one wants to commit to all those books now that selling the first one doesn't automatically sell them all.

I believe in leaving folks alone. You read my book. That's enough. When I have another to sell, I'll sell it. This ain't Applebee's. I won't seat you in the bar until your table is ready. I want my career to be a music festival. The Electric Daisy Carnival of crime fiction. We all sweaty, jackin', singing along. And when the music stops, I'm not following you home. We danced. We good. Maybe see you at the next get-down.

- dg


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.


Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Interwebs

Tell us about your website…how does it work for you as a business tool? How did you decide upon its content, design and tone?

From Jim

Here’s a link to my website. https://jameswziskin.com/

I look at it this way: you don’t necessarily score any points for building a great website, but you definitely lose points for hosting a bad one. Or if you don’t have one at all. I don’t believe websites sell books, but they’re necessary to provide essential information for your readers.

I think any writer’s site should include the following:

A. All your books, in order, with links to buy them

B. Contact information, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, if you have them. And you should. Now, do as I say, not as I do. I confess that I do not have a public Instagram account. I’ve been meaning to do that, but...

C. High-quality photos and graphics. Lots of them. Pictures are great. But they have to be high quality. You don’t want your site to like it’s 1999 again.

D. A few options for someone who wants to browse. On my site, I’ve got a page for my blog posts and profiles I’ve done for the International Thriller Writers. In the past, I had links to my short fiction and various posts on language. Also, I post photos of me with many author friends. Ignore the pictures of me and enjoy my talented friends.

E. Clear, simple navigation. I hate sites where you have to figure out how to find the hidden links.

F. A neat look, but with its own personality.

A word about Facebook. We’re all on Facebook, even if people like to complain about it. My advice on FB posts is similar to my advice for your website. Don’t post blurry, old, low-res photos. Try to post regularly, but don’t overload your followers with multiple posts per day. And ALWAYS post promotions about other authors. Mix them in with your own posts. No one want to be badgered by “BUY ME” posts. Go ahead and brag from time to time about your accomplishments. Your friends and readers love that. But like everything else, everything in good measure.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

An untangled web

Tell us about your website…how does it work for you as a business tool? How did you decide upon its content, design and tone?

by Dietrich Kalteis

It’s like home base on the internet, a place where I can easily be found, my main presence on the web. It’s got content and updates about my existing and upcoming books, ebooks and audiobooks, as well as a bio and contact info. It lists upcoming events, with links to my publisher’s site, Facebook, Twitter, review sites and blog sites like this one and Off the Cuff.

I update my site regularly, hoping to get viewers to come back. It’s all about marketing and communication, right?

I used to work as a graphic designer, so getting the look of the site right wasn’t a big challenge. Plus, most of these platforms have decent design templates to choose from, and they’re easy enough to work with. As far as the design, I went for a simple, clean look, keeping in mind the site needs to work across various devices and aspect ratios: computer, tablets and smartphones. It’s interesting to note that more than half of north American adults have smartphones, about a third of the population have tablets, and most people move between devices. So, giving the viewer something simple, quick and easy seems best when considering the technical limitations. 

An easy to remember address was another key consideration for me, it’s just my name dot com: dietrichkalteis.com.

In keeping things simple, I chose a user-friendly platform, compatible with Android, Windows, IOS, and Mac. I looked for one with an interface that is easy to use, a help line, customizable templates that let me insert pages, images, contact forms, all with a minimum of fuss. Simple also means faster page loads — because nobody wants to wait while a complex page loads up.

Another way to go would be to hire somebody who knows their way around coding, understands frameworks, Doctype, HTML and CSS — someone like your average six-year-old.

As far as content, I think the latest book has to be the feature for the site. It’s on the front page, along with key information like that one liner we talked about last time, and what the book’s about, where it can be found, with links to my publisher’s site, and online sites where the book can be ordered. I update it by posting recent reviews and any other pertinent information. Then I’ve got a page for my other novels, with pretty much the same information for each. Then there’s the bio page, an events page and a contact sheet.

I’m always looking for ways to improve my site, and when I make updates, I always check and make sure the pages work, that links are linking. And I’m always viewing other sites to see if there’s something I’m missing from my own. Check it out here and let me know what you think.