Tuesday, July 31, 2018

An Absolute Necessity

By R.J. Harlick

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?

I think an author website is likely THE most important tool an author can use to tell readers about their books and about themselves as writers. As a reader, I often go to an author’s site when I’m deciding on whether I want to read one of their books and will become quite annoyed when I don’t find one. 

Once my first book, Death’s Golden Whisper, was well on the road to publication, I set out to implement the rjharlick.ca website. 

My first decision was to come up with a domain name. One or two of my fellow authors used their series name for the website, but I found that too confusing, because invariably I couldn’t remember the name of their series. But I could always remember their author name. So I decided that ‘rjharlick’ it would be. I also had a choice of registering it as ‘.com ‘or ‘.ca’. Since I am Canadian and my series is set in Canada, I decided to use ‘.ca’, though most of my fellow authors went with ‘.com’. 

Next was registering the domain name with the appropriate authority, which was easy. The only difficult part is to remember to renew the name when it expires. I always go for the 3 years, but one year did forget and found myself unable to access the site and more importantly use my email, which uses the domain name.  It caused many frantic moments, while I figured out what the problem was and how to fix it. Fortunately, it was only a matter of days, so the service provider hadn’t yet removed the site, only limited access. Otherwise I would have found myself having to rebuild it from scratch.

I debated designing and building the website myself with the tools that were available from my web provider, but decided I didn’t want to find myself spending all my time on my website at the expense of writing my books. So I went with a web designer who had developed very good websites for some of my friends.  He did a masterful job. 

Though I had the website redone several years ago to keep it fresh, I have stayed with the original design with the links to the left of the page rather than below the banner. I don’t think one way is better than the other. It was just a personal choice. 

I decided to go with a ‘welcome’ page to make my website more personal and to give my readers a sense of the reasoning behind my Meg Harris series.  I also felt it was very important to have a separate page for my books and for my short stories, and of course a separate bio page, which has proven invaluable to event organizers. They often use it in their promotional material.  I mustn’t forget the contact link, which is basically an email link. This has also proven to be crucial. Readers and event organizers can easily contact me without having to go through my publisher.

Initially I included an events page, but found it cumbersome to have to rely on my web guy to make the updates, which could be frequent. I then transferred my event information to my blog, but when I joined Facebook I realized it was a much better vehicle for keeping my readers informed of my events.  I changed the events page to a list of my many appearances to give prospective organizers an idea of the events I have done. 

I added ‘rj on the go’ to provide photos of me at various events. 

Since the wilderness setting is so much a part of the Meg Harris series, I also have a page called ‘meg’s world’, which includes photos from my research trips.  I want my readers to view first hand, the northern paradise where Meg lives and the many fabulous wildernesses she visits.

Though I still have a link to my blog, I hate to admit that it has been several years since I have updated it. I found it no longer of any value and haven’t gotten around to having my web guy remove the link.

I forgot to mention that I also have a window to my facebook page on my welcome page, which serves to lead readers to the R.J. Harlick Meg Harris Mysteries page.

That is pretty well it for my website. I’d love to hear from you, as a reader the types of information you want to learn about on an author’s website, or as an author, the aspects of your website you find your readers can’t live without.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Websites for Authors

Terry Shames here. This week we are discussing our websites—how they work as a business tool and how we decided upon content, design and tone.

Long before I was published, I heeded advice to have a website all ready to go when I did get published. I hired a popular website designer who was expensive, but responsive to her clients’ needs. Here are a few things I wanted:

1)    The designer’s look was a little romantic for my taste and I told her I wanted a clean look. I wanted the tone to be conversational and professional.
2)    My sister is an artist, and I wanted her art to be part of the visuals.
3)    I wanted visitors to be able to find sections easily.
4)    I wanted a separate section for photographs.

It must have worked pretty well, because someone writing an article about good websites wanted to feature mine. Unfortunately, I wasn’t published yet, and they wanted to feature only published authors.

The only problem I had with the site was that I could not make changes myself—they had to be done by the web designer's team. Not only did that mean I had to lay out the edits carefully, but I had to pay for the updates.

Fast forward to last year. My son is in music marketing and he told me the look of my website was dated and that he could do a new one for me that would look fresh and new, and that I could revise myself. He made a few suggestions that I was a little hesitant about, but they turned out to be very workable. For example, he thought I should not have a separate heading for photographs, but instead write blog posts and put the photographs in the post. That’s the only part that has not worked for me—and that is my fault, not the design fault. One of my goals is to get used to posting a blog with photos.

I love the look of the new website. It’s clean and uncluttered, and easy to negotiate. I also like how easy it is to update.

As a marketing tool, it’s among the best resources available. When someone goes to your website she should be able to read descriptions of your books, short stories, and articles, including review excerpts and “buy” links. The visitor should be able to find out about events you will be participating in; read a biography; see some photos; link to your blog, both personal and professional (7CriminalMinds); and get in contact with you. The name of your agent should be on your contact page as well, for media, editors or publisher who might want to discuss professional opportunities. It should also be very easy to sign up for your newsletter. The website went live in February, and since then I have almost doubled the number of newsletter subscribers.

When I write emails, both professional and personal, in the signature line I direct people to the website. I’m proud of the website and I often get emails from fans via the contact page.

One thing I really like is being able to update things myself. Being able to do it myself means I don’t have to do double the work. I can go straight to the website and play it by ear. The only drawback? The same as with having someone else do it: I have to remember to update!

Here's a link to the website: https://www.terryshames.com/

In other news, I’d like readers to know that I have a short story in Unloaded 2, Edited by Eric Beetner, out July 16. The story, “You Kill Me,” was mentioned in the Publishers Weekly review.

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Man Behind the Curtain

Overheard at a recent convention: “I don’t read the way I used to before I was a writer.” Is this something you can relate to? What does it mean for you? Pros and cons?

This is definitely something I can relate to. And no, I don’t read the same. 

I’ve been writing one thing or another for most of my adult life. First screenplays, then some non-fiction, then stories and novels. And for all these types of writing working “behind the scenes,” so to speak, has skewed the way I watch a movie or read.

It’s kind of like seeing the little man behind the big curtain in The Wizard of Oz. On a different level, it’s like the old saw about sausage making, they may taste good but do you really want to see how they’re made? Or seeing how a magician does a trick—it just sort of loses its magic. Things lose their majesty when you see the little man behind the curtain or know how a story is put together.

So, when I’m watching a movie or reading a book I’m often thinking about all those things that go into the making of it, structure, dialogue, foreshadowing, character arc, etc. Of course, some stories do things differently, like Pulp Fiction, where things are out of sequence, but if you put it together in sequence even that pretty much follows the infamous Three Act Structure.

My mom read a lot and we would discuss books often. A lot of times she would enjoy something and I wouldn’t, because I was seeing the skeleton beneath the surface with all its flaws. She would say she just read for pleasure. Well, I read for pleasure and escape too…but while I’m doing that I often can’t help but notice the structural elements beneath the “skin”.

For example, while I think The Da Vinci code is a fun book and a fun ride, I think it’s very poorly written. And that affected how I liked it overall and whether I chose to read anymore of Dan Brown’s works. But for my mom it was just a fun ride.

Making it even harder is when I personally know the author/writer of something. Then I see them behind the characters and sometimes that makes it hard to separate the two. I know when I write there’s a little of me in some characters and some of me in all characters and everything (pretty much) is based on my life experience or at least filtered through it. So when I know the writer I see them in what they’re writing and that, too, can make it difficult to suspend disbelief, but I’m getting better at it. I’m pretty guarded, but people who know me well say they see a lot of me in the things I write, and how could it be otherwise? Though they haven’t said if it affects how they view the finished product.

So, if something really sweeps me up, whether a book or a movie, and I don’t see the nuts and bolts holding it together, then it’s magic. Raymond Chandler does that. When I read him I get totally lost in the story, the characters and his remarkable description that takes me back to another time and place. And I forget that I’m reading a book because I’m there, with those people, in those locations. Another book that totally swept me up was The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati, which I’ve probably mentioned before. The story of a young soldier waiting for something momentous to happen—waiting and waiting and waiting, like so many of us do. Also, Tapping the Source by Kem Nunn. I’m there. At the Huntington Beach pier, feeling the sting of the saltwater, hearing the rev of motorcycles and I don’t see the girders holding up the story. The same goes for The Count of Monte Cristo, my favorite revenge story and I love revenge stories—who doesn’t want to see justice done? And my favorite book of all, The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham. When I read that I’m transported to that post World War I era. I’m absorbed—so absorbed I’m not thinking about all the ingredients that go into the pie. And there’re many other books that will carry me away like that. But unfortunately there’s also many books whose skeletons show through the story and when I’m paying attention to that I know I’m not really enjoying them.

I’m always hoping a book will carry me away so I forget my surroundings, forget my little troubles and get wrapped up in the story and characters. That’s what I’m hoping for when I crack the cover. And when it happens it’s sublime. What about you?


Broken Windows – Sequel to my #Shamus-winning White Heat drops 9/10/18. A labyrinth of murder, intrigue and corruption of church and state that hovers around the immigration debate. #writers #mystery #amreading #thriller #novels  

Available for pre-order now on Amazon.

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

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Shell Game

READING: Overheard at a recent convention: “I don’t read the way I used to before I was a writer.” Is this something you can relate to? What does it mean for you? Pros and cons?

By Catriona

I'm sitting in Jess Lourey's house in Minneapolis right now, with Terri Bischoff here too, and we're carving out an answer together.

Yes. That's the short version. 

But there's a longer version. There's an inevitable loss of innocence once you've learned how a book is put together: the bones and musculature; the shading and highlights; this metaphor is a mess.

It's not a bad thing. I like to see how someone else moves the cups whether or not I can track the ball. And every so often someone else finds the perfect way to express something you've been struggling with.  For example, I was trying to say that a group of people who had all shared a stressful experience in the past found it tough to hang out because that shared past could always intrude. I wrote and deleted and wrote and deleted and then read Laurie King in A Grave Talent saying "A memory swept into the room". GAAAHHHH. A memory swept into the room!  Exactly. 

There are a lot of beloved writers who do things better than I do but so accessibly I can hope to get there if I work hard and pay attention. Nick Hornby, Stephen King and Kate Atkinson inspire me. If I could write a Hornby-esque relationship, a Kingly description or an Atkinsonian one-liner I'd be very happy. And if I ever write an argument as well as Joy Fielding does, I'm going to buy myself a box of doughnuts.

But then there are the books you read and the fact that you're also a writer is irrelevant. Genius books. Books where the writing is so far above anything you could ever do that there's no point paying special attention. I would put Anne Tyler, Joyce Carol Oates, and Margaret Atwood in that category. Jessie would add Daniel Woodrell.  I wouldn't argue with that.

I would no more feel envious of them than I would of Chopin or Caravaggio, Usein Bolt or Simone Biles. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

A lesson learned...by Cathy Ace

READING: Overheard at a recent convention: “I don’t read the way I used to before I was a writer.” Is this something you can relate to? What does it mean for you? Pros and cons?

How I remember school
I can absolutely relate to this, because I now read in two very different ways…and this might be a controversial take on the topic.

I find that if I enjoy a book (be it in the crime genre or my preferred sub-genre of traditional crime), I can still disappear into it and read it as I always have read, for pure pleasure. On the other hand, if I find the book in question isn’t quite what I'd hoped it would be, I pull it apart as I go and find all the clangers, annoyances, and pitfalls I can, mark them up and try to learn from them. 

I know that might sound awful, but those who follow this blog will – by now – know I use it almost as my confessional, so I’m just being honest. 

You’d think I’d say that life’s too short to read a book I’m not enjoying, but I try to learn all the time, so, yes, analyzing what doesn’t work for me is – I think – important. Do I try to analyze what does work for me in the books I enjoy? Yes, I do that too, but only during a second reading. 

Before I was a writer (as in a published novelist) I wouldn’t have bothered finishing a book I wasn’t enjoying, and I wouldn’t probably have read a book I enjoy a second time, immediately. Now I do. So that's a big change. I need to learn, and I think there's only an upside because of the different way I now read. 

However, I admit I read fewer books now than I used to, overall, because I'm finishing more of those I would otherwise have set aside, and am re-reading those I enjoy PDQ. And there are SO MANY books I want to read...it's a bit of a problem in that respect.

I'll keep my fingers crossed and hope it's paying off, though that would be down to me being able to implement what I learn - so there's that...which means I have to keep trying/writing. 

BLATANT SELF PROMOTION WARNING: Please consider reading my books? You can find out about them at my website: CLICK HERE

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Reading Road - by RM Greenaway

READING: Overheard at a recent convention: “I don’t read the way I used to before I was a writer.” Is this something you can relate to? What does it mean for you? Pros and cons?

I don't remember a time I wasn't a writer, and what I read has influenced my writing all the way along, but the relationship between reading and writing has definitely changed over the years.

As a very young writer, I didn't know that rich-and-famous was a thing.  The picture books I read -- Madeline being my role model, or the exploits of Winnie-the-Pooh as bedtime stories teaching me about society and empathy -- were shaping my world, and naturally the seed of desire to tell my own centre-of-the-universe story began soon as I learned how to cobble letters together. My ambitions were pure back then, though. Writing and drawing was just something you did, and books were just simply there for me to read, and everything was good and perfect and forever. 

Through my teens I came to the amazing realization that nothing is forever, and I wasn't even close to the centre of the universe. But I got over it. I learned that real people wrote books, and that I could too. I both wrote and read then for entertainment, vicarious thrills, and companionship ... fictional characters and problems were easier to deal with than the real thing. Still at that point I wasn't consciously trying to learn the craft from what I was reading, as I didn't place much value on my own angst-ridden poetry or rambling fiction. But as always, I was picking up skills along the way in spite of myself.  

Grew up, had a kid, got married, got a job, bought a house, in that order, and for several years to read the occasional novel was all I cared to do, to heck with writing. The adventure of life was fulfilling enough. I was not reading in order to learn the craft then either, though the critic inside was always muttering. What works for me, what doesn't? It was all part of the learning.

Then in my mid-thirties, when the adventure of life became more humdrum, I jumped back into writing with a passion, and at that point began to dissect what I was reading, trying to understand the mechanics of style, plot, word choices, etc. What makes a blockbuster (still don't understand that one) and what makes a book tank? I suppose reading has never been the same since.

Following being published though, I've regressed a bit. I easily forget to be analytical about what I read, except in a background kind of way. Truth is I've never been good at breaking a novel down to its skeletal form. I joined a book club this year run by my brilliant and enthusiastic neighbour, but soon dropped out as the discussion ran deep into the subtext of the books we read. I felt bad about my lack of ability to participate, and part of that is social awkwardness. All these smart things I'm thinking about don't come out so well, in a crowd. But also, my main criteria when reading, much like my evaluation of food or art, is do I or do I not like this, and I don't spend a whole lot of time trying to figure out why.

Maybe that's wrong, or maybe it's a good thing. Maybe it means I'm still more or less reading as I did When I Was Very Young, which is quite okay, at least for now. I'll get academic about it some other time. 

Also, I now know that rich-and-famous is a thing. It's just not my thing … yet!



Monday, July 23, 2018

Show me the bones

Q: Overheard at a recent convention: “I don’t read the way I used to before I was a writer.” Is this something you can relate to? What does it mean for you? Pros and cons? 
- from Susan

A: Good question and my answer is sometimes, depends. If I’m reading narrowly within my genre – a traditional mystery – yes, I read differently most of the time. I can’t help it. I am alert to the red herrings and buried clues, to the too casual way something is dropped into the story and then ignored for the rest of the book until the ultimate scene and revelation. I am paying writerly attention to character arcs and secondary plot devices, and am conscious of the places where the author is pulling it off or where she’s too obvious. One thing that bothers me is where I see slackness, paragraphs that go nowhere, don’t add even peripheral value but may be there to stall while the writer digs around for what to do next, or are just adding padding to a light manuscript.

Once in a while now, a writer of traditionals will grab me with a great story – be it leisurely or fast-paced – and not let go. Excellent writing, sly humor, a character who is too wonderful to take my eyes off, a setting that is alive and breathing. These are the gems I hope for every time I buy a book and open it to page one. When that happens, I’m into the book and don’t have any desire to step out of it to look at the craft. The craft disappears into the product.

It’s easier for me to set aside my writing hat when I’m reading thrillers or psychological suspense or most police procedurals because the form is different enough that I can’t anticipate what might come next. I imagine, though, that if I wrote those, I’d soon have the same experience of looking at how the writer is doing it.

Pro or con? Both. I learn from the good and from the not so good books. As a writer, I’m always looking for ways to improve my own work, to make the next book better than the last. Because the outstanding novels I read shut my critical brain off, I can enjoy them wholeheartedly, so I don’t think I’m missing anything.

One reason I read other kinds of fiction and read a fair amount of non-fiction is precisely because I will take it as is. I may critique the ideas or the literary value or the prose itself, but at least I won’t be peeking under the hood to see how the engine works.

BSP: My latest traditional mystery just came out and is available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. I’ve been having a great time at bookstore events, sharing the stage with Cara Black, who writes about a part of France – Paris – as different from my rural village as it cane be. But still, Vive le France!