Thursday, July 19, 2018

Going Up?

From Jim

Is it a part of an author’s responsibility to develop a good “elevator pitch”? If so, why; if not, why not? Any advice for those trying to develop a good/better one?

If you believe writers, the two hardest things they do are writing a synopsis and crafting an elevator pitch.

The inherent problem with elevator pitches is that there’s little time to describe your book. Therefore, you probably won’t be able to give a complete rundown of the plot and characters. What you must do is grab the interest of your trapped audience.

I don’t have an elevator pitch for any of my books, but this week’s topic inspired me to give it a shot. Here goes.

Book 1
January 1960. Newspaper reporter Ellie Stone, returns to her childhood home after her estranged father, a university professor, is attacked during an apparent burglary. Questioning the randomness of the assault, Ellie embarks on a thorny journey of discovery and reconciliation. Her investigation offers her both a chance at redemption in her father’s eyes and the risk of losing him forever.

Book 2
NO STONE UNTURNED (2015 Anthony Award finalist)
Thanksgiving 1960. A society girl found dead in the woods. Three little oil spots on the dirt road. A Dr Pepper bottle cap in the shallow grave. And a young female reporter, armed with nothing but a camera. Wading through a voyeuristic tangle of small-town secrets and big university grudges, Ellie makes some desperate enemies who want her off the case. Dead if necessary.

Book 3
STONE COLD DEAD (2016 Anthony, Barry, Lefty Award finalist)
January 1961. A child’s life is precious. Unless she comes from the wrong side of the tracks. A fifteen-year-old girl disappears from the school parking lot. The police assume she’s a runaway, so, without options, the girl’s mother turns to reporter Ellie Stone for help. Stone Cold Dead takes Ellie on a chilling journey to a place of uncertainty, loss, teenage passion, and vulnerability—a place where Ellie’s questions are unwanted and her life is in danger.

Book 4
HEART OF STONE (2017 Anthony and Macavity Award Winner; Edgar and Lefty Finalist)
August 1961. In the waning days of a lazy lakeside holiday, two men plummet to their deaths in an apparent diving accident. The two victims, one, a stranger to the lake and, the other, a teenaged boy from a nearby music camp didn’t know each other. But that’s only the first clue something’s amiss. Wading into a slippery morass of left-wing, Jewish intellectuals, rabid John Birchers, and charismatic evangelicals, Ellie must navigate old grudges and Cold War passions, lost ideals and betrayed loves. Her difficult questions put her in jeopardy. But this time, it’s her heart that’s at risk.

Book 5
CAST THE FIRST STONE (2018 Anthony, Lefty, and Macavity Award finalist)
February 1962. Local boy Tony Eberle lands a big role in a Hollywood movie, but he vanishes just when it’s time for his closeup. His agent is stumped, the director is apoplectic, and the producer is dead. Murdered. Reporter Ellie Stone is dispatched to Los Angeles for the story. There she unearths secrets no one wants revealed. But before she can solve the murder, she must locate Tony Eberle.

Book 6 
August 1962. A double murder, committed on a ghostly stud farm in the dead of night, leads reporter Ellie down a haunted path, just a stone’s throw from the glamour of Saratoga Springs, to a place where dangerous men don’t like to lose. Unraveling secrets from the past–crushing failure and heartless betrayal–she’s learning that arson can be cold revenge.

And why not a couple of short stories? These should be even shorter. I’m going to go with a single sentence for each.

“Pan Paniscus”
A mischievous bonobo named Bingo escapes from the zoo and embarks on a collision course with tragedy.

—UNLOADED Vol. 2, July 2018 

“Who Is Stuart Bridge?”
A deathbed confession reveals a long-buried crime no one wants to remember.


I’m not sure if these are any good. The truest test is whether they sparked your interest. All suggestions are welcome. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

In a nutshell

Is it a part of an author’s responsibility to develop a good “elevator pitch”? If so, why; if not, why not? Any advice for those trying to develop a good/better one?

by Dietrich Kalteis

It didn’t occur to me when I typed ‘the end’ to my first novel that somebody was bound to ask what the book was about, and that I needed to do more than blink and ramble.

The first time I went to Bouchercon was months before the release of that first novel, and I met an author I admired and I was asked what my book was about. That’s when I learned the importance of having a pitch worked out after I fumbled for the right words, and ended up sounding like I didn’t know what my own story was about. Suffice to say, that author couldn’t have been impressed with my pitch.

And I guess I could have copped the attitude that if I wanted to tell my story in a couple of short lines, why did I bother writing the other 300 pages. Instead, I learned that whether I’m talking to a friend or a filmmaker, and if I want to sell them on my story, I need to be confident and persuasive, leaving them wanting more. So, I need to be concise, express my ideas effectively, but do it with as few words as possible. 

It’s called the elevator pitch to give an idea of how much time you’ve got. You get on, press the button, and go. By the time the doors reopen, you’ve got the storyline across and hopefully you’ve impressed your listener. That or you may as well press the ‘door close’ button and keep talking until security arrives on the scene.

It may seem a simple thing to effectively express a novel in a few lines, but boiling down a story to a few right words can be anything but simple. The pitch needs to be short, to the point, convey the protagonist and the conflict, and it needs a hook — a ‘so what?’ — a reason why they should care.

Another thing I’ve learned is not to talk too fast, don’t cram five  minutes worth of words into sixty seconds of time, like one of those commercials with the medical disclaimer at the end.

To me, loglines, taglines and short synopses follow along the same lines as the elevator pitch, boiled down to just a single line or two. Writing them is challenging and follow the same rule: keep it short and to the point, and with a hook. 

Here’s the one liner for my next novel Poughkeepsie Shuffle, coming out in September: Just released from prison, Jeff Nichols is looking for easy money, not letting lessons from past mistakes stand in the way of a good score.

And a few from some favorite novels and films that really grabbed me.

“A 1940’s New York mafia family struggles to protect their empire from rival families as the leadership switches from the father to his youngest son.” — The Godfather, Mario Puzo (1969) 

”Her life was in their hands. Now her toe is in the mail.” — The Big Lebowski, Coen Brothers (1998)

"A lot can happen in the middle of nowhere.” — Fargo, Coen Brothers (1996)

"Protecting the Earth from the scum of the universe!”— Men in Black, adapted from the Men in Black comic books (1997)

"A man went looking for America. And couldn't find it anywhere.” — Easy Rider, Peter Fonda (1969)

“On every street in every city in this country, there's a nobody who dreams of being a somebody.” — Taxi Driver, Paul Schrader (1976)

“A young F.B.I. cadet must receive the help of an incarcerated and manipulative cannibal killer to help catch another serial killer, a madman who skins his victims.” — The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris (1988)

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Difficult, but a must do

By R.J. Harlick

Is it a part of an author’s responsibility to develop a good “elevator pitch”? If so, why; if not, why not? Any advice for those trying to develop a good/better one?

Yup, definitely a must. But this is only something I have learned in hindsight. When I was starting out on my writing adventure, I never gave developing a short snappy pitch a second thought. I was too busy perfecting my book. When people asked me what it was all about, I would go into lengthy descriptions, which only served to put them to sleep.  I knew I had to shorten it, but I found it impossible to boil a hundred thousand word story into a few succinct attention-grabbing sentences. Writing a brief synopsis for query letters almost killed me. I was too close to the story and had great difficulty picking out the few kernels that would entice an agent or publisher to read it.

I remember, at the time, reading advice from a best-selling author, sorry, I can’t remember the name, who said one of the first things a writer should do early on in the writing of a novel is come up with a single sentence that describes what the books is about. Not only would it help in selling the book, but it would also help the writer keep focused. Sound advice. I remember trying, but found myself wanting to mention the various sub-plots until this sentence became many paragraphs. I was afraid of missing some key element. I was too concentrated on the story itself, instead of standing back and looking down from forty stories above to grasp the essential theme. 

Fortunately for me, a short snappy pitch didn’t prove necessary when I ultimately attracted interest from a publisher.

Seven books later, I still have difficulties seeing the book for the words, but my publisher forces me to hone in on the key elements. As part of my marketing plan for a new book I am required to come up with several descriptions of varying word counts from 25 to 300 to be used in their sales process and for the book cover and catalogue.  It’s a challenge, but a very useful one. I frequently call on these descriptions for when I need to provide information for conferences and other events and for publications, blogs etc. And of course, it’s at the ready for when a reader asks me that all important question, what’s my book about.

As you can see, the need for a short snappy pitch doesn’t end with signing of the book contract, but continues on during its published life. 

I’ve also found it useful to develop one or two sentence descriptions to describe my main character and the series itself, for I am often being asked about Meg and the series. 

If you haven’t already done so, I suggest you read Terry Shames’ blog of yesterday. She did an excellent job in offering advice on developing a snappy pitch. 

In signing out, I wish you much luck with your sales pitch.  

Monday, July 16, 2018

Should You or Shouldn't You?

The Pitch
By Terry Shames

No, this isn’t a blog about baseball. And I'm not going to try to sell you a hot, new product. It’s about pitching a book. And I’m all for it! Here’s why:

“Oh, you’re writing a novel? What’s it about?” Ahem. “Well, it’s about a man who….”

Are there any words that strike more fear into a budding writer’s heart? Being asked to describe in a few words the novel you’ve been slaving over for months, or even years; the novel that you’ve pared down from a sprawling 150,000 words to a manageable, 95,000; the novel whose every word is dear to you; is daunting.

A few years before I was published, elevator pitches were all the rage, so I developed one for the novel I was shopping. I went to Left Coast Crime and promised not just myself, but my writer’s group, that if I found myself on an elevator with an agent, I was going to trot out the pitch. I figured I was safe making that promise. How likely was it that I would be alone on an elevator with an agent?

In the “be careful what you carelessly promise” category, at the conference I stepped onto an elevator, and at the last second an agent slipped on with me. Not just any agent, but one known for being tough and unapproachable. I won’t name her, but she was notorious for having a sharp tongue. I had a tenth of a second to decide: would I or wouldn’t I?

Friends, I did! Here’s how it went:

Me: Elevator pitch!

Tough Agent: Go for it!

Me: I give well-rehearsed pitch. (NOTE: Well-rehearsed!)

TA (handing me her card): Send it to me.

I sent it to her. In the end, she didn’t take on my book, for the best of reasons: I had another agent interested. When I told TA that, she said if I could wait a few weeks, she would get to it, but that she was headed on vacation (note, she was very cordial).

I signed with the  other agent. But I have never for one second regretted doing the elevator pitch, not because she asked for the manuscript, but because doing it gave me confidence. And it made me hone my pitch to a fine few lines.

One of the hardest things we writers do is promote our work, both before and after it is published. It’s ironic, because presumably we’re proud of our work and want to see it published and read….and yet we struggle with what is deprecatingly called “tooting our own horn.” The term BSP is often used to disparage one’s efforts to publicize books when in fact it is only P—promotion; not blatant and not egotistical. Not that BSP doesn’t happen, but not nearly as often as we accuse ourselves of doing it.

I urge everyone to develop an elevator pitch, even if you never have a chance to use it on an elevator. It’s a way of distilling your understanding of what your book is about, your understanding of what was so important to you, that you spent months writing it. And once you have it down, you won’t have those moments of panic when someone—reader, fellow writer, agent, or publisher—asks what your book is about.

To practice, think of a few lines you’d say to describe your favorite books. What is the elevator pitch for Pride and Prejudice? For one of Timothy Hallinan’s Poke Rafferty books? For Laura Lippman’s Sunburn? For Laurie King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice? For Silence of the Lambs? You can be sure the description doesn’t start the way many people start out describing their books to me: Well, it’s about this woman in the early nineteenth century. Her name is Elizabeth Bennett. She lives in a house with her four sisters and her parents. There is no male heir, which means…..blah blah blah. No. Here’s the pitch: Set in 18th Century England, it’s the story of a proud young woman of limited prospects, and a wealthy, arrogant man; and the things they discover about each other and themselves that allows them to fall in love. Give or take, that’s what it’s about. That’s it. Tell where and when, who and what. Maybe sometimes why.

P.S. At another conference, after I had a couple of books out, I ran into the agent who was the recipient of that first elevator pitch. I told her how important it had been to be able to pitch my book to her. Her first question? “Was I nice?” The takeaway from that is that even if they are “tough,” agents are people. They may be tough because they are overwhelmed with work, or because they don’t suffer fools gladly, or because they are introverts…or for a host of other reasons. But they probably aren’t tough because they don’t like good books. They want you to give them a good pitch.

Don’t be daunted because you are afraid of being rejected. You probably will be, plenty of times. Remember, the worst thing you can hear is, “Sorry, this doesn’t work for me.” They aren’t going to say, “Not only do I not like it, but I’ve put out a hit on you and your family for telling me about it.”

Polish your pitch, and tell it to anyone who will listen!

Friday, July 13, 2018

To Tweet, or Not to Tweet

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Blogs, Newsletters…what social media do you use and how do you use it? What don’t you use, and why not? Any advice for those in a quandary?

by Paul D. Marks

I use a variety of social media, but not just to market my books. It’s also to keep in touch with people. And it’s my “watercooler,” since I work at home and don’t have a real watercooler to gather round with fellow employees or writers to shoot the breeze.

Facebook is the social media outlet I use the most. Initially, I didn’t want to go on it. I thought all it was was people showing what they had for lunch and there was some of that and still is – and sometimes those lunches look so good while I’m having my protein drink. And when I first landed there I didn’t know what to do, how to use it. Eventually, I found my place, found my niche, posting pictures of Los Angeles and film noir alerts, as well as other things. And I started making friends. People would friend me or I would friend them. So now I look forward to hitting FB every day, seeing what’s up with people, their good news and sometimes their not-so-good news. And I do promote my books there, but that’s probably less than 10% of what I post or more like about 3%. But I do think it’s helped get my name out there – and that’s a good thing.

I actually have two Facebook pages, a personal page and an author page. I use the personal page much more frequently but usually put announcements about blogs posts or books on the author page. But cute pix of my dogs, noir pix and posts, my La La Land posts, and other things mostly end up only on my personal page.

My personal Facebook page

Twitter’s another ballgame altogether. A ballgame where it’s impossible to see the ball and more impossible to know the rules. Like: Don’t use more than three hashtags. Fine. Uh, now what the hell is a hashtag? And where do I find the hashtags that apply to what I’m posting? Can I make up my own hashtags? Would you like some ketchup with your hashtags?

Twitter, to me, was a mess that I just couldn’t follow or understand when I first signed up. Tweets would fly by faster than a speeding bullet. I couldn’t figure out how to use it. How do I make – uh, get – friends? I mean followers. Who do I follow and how? How do I participate in a conversation? And HOW THE HELL do I say anything in 140 characters? And DOUBLE HOW THE HELL do I say anything at all when I’m retweeting and only have 3 characters left to add my own comment to? It’s enough to make you batty, though they have doubled the number of characters now and that’s a good thing.

And then I heard the bugle. The cavalry was on the way led by Captain Tweetdeck and Colonel Hootsuite. Oh no, more things to worry about. But no, these were good things. And the light shined down.

Hootsuite and Tweetdeck are “social media management systems” – say that five times with a mouth full of cereal. They help you organize Twitter, the tweets, the followers, everything. So I signed up for both and magically Twitter became manageable. And I began to use it.

In both Hootsuite and Tweetdeck, you can create lists and put different people or groups (like magazines, writers, friends, publishers, etc.) on different lists and then put them in different columns. These columns allow you to see things more clearly and at a more manageable pace. And it makes all the difference in the world (at least to me) in terms of being able to use Twitter (though you can manage other programs on these systems as well).

Hootsuite dashboard

I find that Tweetdeck is good for some things and Hootsuite for others. So I use both. But it’s too much of a “lesson” to go into here and explain the intricacies of each. Suffice to say, they both make Twitter much more user-friendly and once you get the hang of them you’ll be able to use Twitter to much better advantage. But like with FB or any social media, you shouldn’t use it only to promote your books. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do some promotion. Just have fun with it.

Other social media: There’s about 33 million different social media. I’m also on Instagram, Tumblr, Google+ and Pinterest, and use them to varying degrees. For a while I had been doing a fair amount on Tumblr, but nothing there lately. It’s not that I don’t like it, it just comes down to the time spent and it adds up. I really want to make more use of Instagram and I’m working on trying to figure out how to do that. Some other social media that I signed up for I really never did much with. There’s just so many to choose from. But you have to pick two or three, maybe a couple more. Because you just can’t focus on all these things. It’s too hard to follow people and too hard to keep up with your own accounts and you’ll never have time to write.

My Pinterest page

My Instagram Page

Blogs and Newsletters: Well, yes, I blog. See 7 Criminal Minds every other Friday – I’m blogging here now 😊 . I also blog at It’s a lot of work to do 2-5 blog posts a month, but I enjoy it. I also do a newsletter that comes out a handful of times a year. I’d like to build up my mailing list of a few hundred to a few thousand, but you gotta start somewhere. So check it out at the link below, please.


Have FB and Twitter, etc., made me a NY Times Bestseller? No. But they have definitely helped get me more readers and connect with people with similar interests, which is more than I could have done by going on a cross country book signing tour…and it costs a lot less. I also figure there’s not a state in the country that I couldn’t have lunch with someone if I happened to be passing through – and if I do I’ll be sure to post the photo of the meal. Hell, there’s several countries on different continents that I could have lunch with someone I know from social media.

So yes, in answer to the question today – yes yes yes. Social media is great. I’m a total convert. So, uh, here’s what I had for breakfast.

Website: I also have a website ( ) that I try to keep up to date, but that’s not easy sometimes. Still, it’s the best place for people to go to find news, bios, updates, past interviews (though most of those haven’t made the page yet…), and other info on my books and me, such as my encounter with Cary Grant or the time I pulled the gun on the LAPD – you know, fun stuff like that.

Broken Windows, the sequel to my Shamus Award-winning novel White Heat, is coming September 10, 2018:

Please join me on Facebook: and check out my website

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Just add hugs

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Blogs, Newsletters…what social media do you use and how do you use it? What don’t you use, and why not? Any advice for those in a quandary? 

By Catriona

Clearly, I blog. Right? Here with the Minds and also with Femmes Fatales (CLICK HERE). It's about four blogs a month. Except it's not. Because one of the lovely things about having so many pals in this community is that someone I like as a person and admire as a writer is always on a blog tour for a new book and, like a landowner in a Jane Austen novel with a living in my gift, I bestow blog spots. In the next few months, Ellen Byron, Jess Lourey, Shannon Baker and Eileen Rendahl are all stopping by. 

Eileen Rendahl

And then there's the blog tours I go on once or twice (or three times) a year. I love stopping by Dru Ann Love's "A Day in The Life", and making up a new drink for Mystery Playground. The Mysteristas do a mean set of interview questions and Wicked Cozy stretch the definition of New England to include California, which is nice of them. 

In between books launching, there's still the odd bit of book-related news: reviews, new jackets, conventions, translations . . . and it would be beyond obnoxious to choke friends with it all. Enter the Facebook Author Page. I don't know if this is how everyone else views it, but I reckon that - because I never have and never will ask someone to like my page - I can post all the book stuff there, guilt-free.

And that frees up other Facebook (I think of it as Life Facebook) for cats, politics and other fun stuff. (Like how Brits wonder why American people never have a washing-up basin and American people wonder why every kitchen sink in Britain has got an outsize plastic bowl jammed in it.) There's plenty books in Life Facebook, because, let's face it, most of my life is books. 

I love Fb Messenger for quickly getting in touch with distant family in different configurations. How did weddings ever happen without Fb Messenger? And video-chat! I've met brand-new nephews and nieces over video-chat and tracked their first words and and early attempts at eating pasta. It's shrunk the world so that emigration has lost much of its sting. 

I don't do Instagram, Tumbler, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Pinterest or newsletters. Maybe I should. How would I know? I don't sign up for the kind of classes, or read the kind of "content",  where I'd ever find out.

But here's the thing. I LOVE Twitter. Facebook is nice, when it's not so infuriating that I want to drive down to Menlo Park with a custard pie on the passenger seat and . . . but Twitter is a daily delight. I laugh more and learn more on Twitter than  anywhere else on the internet. (Should say I don't get my actual news online, mind you.) Mrs Betty Bowers, America's Best Christian (TM) and Rob Delaney alone would be enough to keep me going back there. 

And the daily trending hashtags?  Yesterday was #nationalkittenday on Twitter and tonight I just clicked over and found #myfuneralgotweirdwhen. If you don't click on that, there's something wrong with you, imho. 

As ever, please don't anyone use me as a guide to savvy promo. But that's my life in social media and I wouldn't be without it. One of the sweetest things about a Left Coast Crime, Malice or Bouchercon these days is meeting someone in the hug-o-sphere, that you've known for years online. You beam and and laugh and throw your arms around one another. And if you sit in a quiet corner of the lobby bar you can see it happening all around. These are real friendships, hashtags and share settings or no.