Friday, May 27, 2016

Kicking and Screaming into the Social Media Mosh Pit

Do you use social media to market your books, and if so, do you think it’s made a difference?

by Paul D. Marks

Yes. And Oh yes.


I went kicking and screaming onto Facebook a few years ago. Publicist and friend Diana James “gently” suggested that I should go on Facebook.

“I don’t want to see pictures of what people had for breakfast…or worse,” I said.

So, after much cajoling from Diana I took the dreaded step and signed onto FB. At first I didn’t know what to do, how to use it. I was an evil lurker. Of course, since I had few FB friends I didn’t have much to lurk at. So I’d check in every few days or so, still not knowing what to do, but gaining a few friends here, a few friends there.

And eventually I started posting. Don’t remember what those early posts were. But not too long after I started on Facebook I began to find my way. I began to post things that meant something to me or that I related to. Things like pix of my breakfast: cereal can be fun and entertaining pop art. And pix of my scars – want to see them? Just kidding.

Actually, I started posting things about noir and film noir and putting up “Film Noir Alerts” when I knew a noir movie was coming on television. Also stuff about mystery and noir writing, Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson, et al. And I started posting about Los Angeles and LA history, something I’m very much into on many levels. I began to be known as the LA Guy or the Noir Guy. People I’d never met in person would come up to me at conferences and other events and say, “You’re the Noir Guy”. I had to plead guilty.

And then when White Heat came out I put up some posts about that. And other people shared them. And I think it did help get the book known, get reviews and make sales. But the key is, as everyone says, not to only push your books. People get majorly turned off by that. Be a friend. Be part of the community. Comment and share other people’s posts. Participate.


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 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/how do I follow someone? How to 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 now I have 3 characters left to add my own comment to? It’s enough to make you batty.

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.

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 even and 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).

A small part of my 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.

In closing – other social media & tying it up:

There’s about 33 million different social media. I’m also on Tumblr, Google+ and Pinterest, and use them to varying degrees. For a while I had been doing a fair amount on Tumbler, 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. 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.

Have FB and Twitter 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 booking signing tour …and it costs a lot less. And I figure now 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.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Book Buy My Book Buy My Book Buy My Book Buy

By Catriona

Everyone back from rushing out to the bookshop because of that irresistible message?

Then I'll begin.

Q: Do you use social media to market your books and, if so,  how do you know if it's working?

A: No.

I got a Facebook author page five years ago because my editor told me to (and I'm a wimp), then I got a Facebook person page because friends kept asking why they couldn't tag me. I got a Twitter account round about the same time because . . . I can't remember why. Probably someone I needed to be in touch with didn't use Facebook.

And don't get me wrong: I post news, events, trade reviews, new jacket designs and some truly thrilling pictures of my laptop and bundles of printed paper on the author page. Stirring stuff. If someone should stumble across my website and click the Fb button, there are writer-y things to see .

But it's the other page where I feel at home and spend most time. On my personal Fb page I talk about the monster zucchini I'm accidentally growing if I'm not careful, that time I hosed my screens with the windows open, that other time I reverse parked into the no-parking sign, the Chewbacca mask lady, and why I can't spell beureu  beaureu "bureaucracy". No faking.

It's not marketing though, is it? It's just life. I love that even though I'm thousands of miles from my family and I don't see them for ten months at a stretch, I know what my great niece's birthday cake was this year and that my mum's wisteria is blooming. When I talk to my sisters on the phone, they know how I've been and I know how they've been and we can just witter on a load of mince (like we always did) without having to do a massive catch up.

It's exactly the same with friends I first met on Facebook or only know on Facebook - we just hang out, keep up with one another, share all of life's rich strangeness. We soothe sorrows when the world delivers a kicking (as it does), share joy when the gods smile on us (as they can) and let one another rant when only ranting will do.

And, because I'm a writer, a lot of my Facebook friends are other writers or the blessed readers (thank you!) as well as the occasional scientist-in-law. So it's inevitable that we talk about the books we love, the books we're reading, looking forward to, have just bought, are saving for a long flight . . . And almost as inevitably some of the books some of us are reading are books others of us have written. But again, it's not marketing, is it? It's just the love of books. (And the Chewbacca mask lady.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Real vs "real" by Cathy Ace

Do you use social media to market your books, and if so, do you think it’s made a difference?

The "public" me - currently in??
When this blog appears I’ll be heading from Swansea, Wales (where I’ll have enjoyed a few days with Mum and my sister having just attended CrimeFest in Bristol, England) to Toronto, Canada where I’ll be attending the Crime Writers of Canada AGM, the Arthur Ellis Awards Banquet and the Bony Blithe Awards. If it weren’t for social media, I’d have been hiding in a deep, dark hole for a couple of weeks without having had the chance to keep up to date with what’s going on in the world of mystery writing, reading and the interconnectivity that has become my “norm”.

I use the digital universe to stay connected, build relationships with fellow authors, with readers and many other different groups of people 24/7/365. It’s a part of my life. In the nicest possible way, I hope it’s not the most important part of my life; I think reality should fill that role, and there’s already a big chunk of my time that’s spent in the imagined worlds I create as a fiction author, so I strive for a balance. 

Do I use social media to market my books? Absolutely. Do I think it’s made a difference?  You’re reading this in the digital universe, so you’d probably be better positioned than I would be to tell me if my presence here impacts the possible success of my work. I hope it does. I hope that taking the time to connect with people around the world brings my work to their attention in such a way that they are engaged and intrigued enough to give it a go. I’ve “met” a huge number of people this way who I know read my books, and (thank you!) write to tell me they have done so and have enjoyed meeting my characters. When I’m sitting at my desk tapping away at my keyboard all alone (save the company of my lovely Gabby and Poppy – the world’s best chocolate Labradors!) knowing there are real people reading my work helps a great deal. 

The "real" me, at work in the garden with my dogs
I’m happy with my own company, and that of my fictional characters. But it’s good to know real people in the real world are enjoying the people and the worlds I create – even when they use digital means to tell me so. Thanks to all those of you who connect with me out there in the ether – you’re all part of my REAL life. 

Cathy Ace writes the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (book #2 THE CASE OF THE MISSING MORRIS DANCER was published in hardback in February, and book #1 THE CASE OF THE DOTTY DOWAGER was published in trade paperback on March 1st) and the Cait Morgan Mysteries (book #7 THE CORPSE WITH THE GARNET FACE was published in paperback in April). Find out more about Cathy and her work, and sign up for her newsletter at  

Monday, May 23, 2016

Please Friend Me

Q: Do you use social media to market your books, and if so, do you think it’s made a difference?

- from Susan

This is a hard question and (spoiler alert) one I can’t really answer. But let me break it down and take it in parts:

Do I use social media?

Yes, I cop to that. More than I should. Facebook is addictive and I have an addictive personality. I have soooo many friends on FB and would have so many more if I accepted the friend requests from the hundred or so manly looking guys dressed in army fatigues who apparently are tabula rasa when it comes to any details in their lives except having dogs or young children they can be photographed with.

Do I use it to market my books?

Yes, in that I mention new books, very occasionally share a particularly good professional review, and invite  - no, beg – people to come to book readings. Using Twitter is like getting swept away in a riptide. You just dive in somewhere and then kick your way to safety as soon as you can. For me, five minutes a day is it, but I do try to let it be known I am an author and do have allegedly witty novels on the market about art and crime. Pinterest? Yes, Hilary Davidson gave a room full of authors a challenge a few years ago: A Pinterest page for every book. So, I do it. It’s fun and a complete distraction from writing. No one has ever said, “I loved your photos of Santa Fe so much I had to run out and find a coy of Murder in the abstract.” No one. Instagram is beyond me so far. Blogs (here and occasionally on my own site and often as a guest on other writers’) all the time. Some delightful back and forth. No rush on Book Passage’s stock.

Do I think it makes a different in marketing efforts?

I observe that a good number of people (to whom I am forever grateful) show up at most book events if I’ve put out the word on social media. When people show up, they mostly buy a book. But does the social media I initiate and control influence anyone to search out and buy the book on their own? I have no idea, none at all. No bookstore tells me here’s been a flurry of interest about any of my books after a brilliant Tweet or a few new of photos on a Pinterest board. I don’t get nominated for awards because everyone knows my name and the title of my newest book by the time the ballots come out. And, in truth, I think the honest answer is no one knows where in all the non-writing activity authors have to do is the magic key to success.

I look at some of the most successful crime writers in my circle and what I see is they work hard at everything – from research to writing, to cleanly edited published books, to book tours, to Facebook posts, and contests, and charming book events – everything.

So my answer to the unanswerable question is: Who knows, but who’s ready to go silent and see what happens?

Friday, May 13, 2016

Because Something is Happening Here But You Don’t Know What it is, Do You, Mister Jones? Redux

When you are writing, do you read other mysteries? Or are you afraid it will affect your own voice?

by Paul D. Marks

Not to be party pooper, but we had a similar question a few weeks ago, in February. And since I don’t really have anything new to add to what I said then (you can find it here:, I thought I’d run a piece I did for another blog a while ago. As it deals with people who have little intellectual curiosity, cultural touchstones or desire to read, I think it’s something that might interest both readers and writers.

So, I hope no one minds my rerunning that piece here:


One of the things that scares me most as a writer is an illiterate society. Not only illiterate in the sense of people being unable to read and write. But “illiterate” in the sense that, as a society, we have touchstones that everyone or at least most people are familiar with. Or I thought we did at one time. I’m not so sure anymore.

Let’s start with plain literacy on a personal and anecdotal level.

When my wife and I were looking for the house prior to our current house we noticed something odd, at least odd to us. We’d go in various houses in different parts of Los Angeles. But, unlike some of the shows on HGTV, you could still see the real people’s stuff in their houses. Their junk, ugly sofa, hideous drapes and kids’ toys strewn all over, laundry baskets, cluttered closets, etc. One thing we didn’t see much of were books. Sure, a house here or there had them, but the majority didn’t. And if they did they had a coffee table book or two of some artist they thought would make them look chic or intelligent or maybe a book of aerial views of L.A. One place we expected to see lots of books was in kids’ rooms or a potboiler on their parents’ nightstands. But, alas, the “cupboards” were bare.
This was twenty or so years ago, so well before smart phones, Kindles and e-readers. So, it’s not like all their multitudinous libraries were in e-form. No, there just weren’t many books to be seen.
We found this odd, as we have books stuffed to the rafters, as do most of our friends. Here, there and everywhere, in the living room or the dining room, library, the hallway, and even shelves upon shelves in the garage.

Flash forward: Cultural Literacy

When we went hunting for our current house, about ten years ago it was more of the same. By then there might have been some e-books and the like but the real revolution still hadn’t hit full bore yet.

Again this seemed odd. But more than odd, it’s scary. Especially for a writer. Because a writer needs readers. And if people aren’t reading, I’m out of a job, and maybe likely so are you. Even scarier though is the fact that, imho, we are becoming a post-literate society. And we are losing our shared background, some of which is gotten through books. Aside from the greater implications of that in terms of the country, it makes it harder as a writer because when we write we assume some shared cultural background. And we make literary or historical allusions to those ends. We mention composers or songs or symphonies. Books, authors, “famous” or “well-known” quotes that we assume most readers will be familiar with, some foreign phrases, even biblical references. Hemingway and even Bob Dylan songs (and I’m talking those from the 60s before he found religion in the 70s), as well as other writers, are filled with them. But often these days readers are not familiar with these references, so they miss the richness of the writing. So then we begin to question whether or not to include these references and sometimes end up writing to the lower common denominator. And that diminishes our works and our society, even if it sounds pompous to say that.

Maybe people won’t know who Rudy Vallee is, and that's understandable, but many also don’t know who Shakespeare is in any meaningful way. (And Happy 400th Birthday to the Bard -- And Many More!)

When I would go to pitch meetings in Hollywood I would often have to dumb down my presentation. I would try to leave out any historical or literary allusions. Hell, I’d even leave out film allusions because while these people may have heard of Hitchcock, few had seen his movies. And they were mostly from Ivy League type schools, but they didn’t have much of a cultural background. So when you have to explain basic things to them, you’ve lost them. They don’t like to feel stupid. And sometimes they’d ask me to explain something to them about another script they were reading by someone else. One development VP asked me to explain to her who fought on which sides in World War II, because she was reading a WWII script someone had submitted. The writer of that script already had points against him or her since the development VP didn’t even know the basics of the subject matter. And I would have thought before that incident that just about everybody knew who fought on which side in WWII. And this is just one example. I have many, many more experiences like this.

After college, the stats show that many people never—or very rarely—read another book. Literacy rates in the US are down. A lot of young people aren’t reading, but they think they’re smart because they look things up on Google. But looking something up on Google isn’t the same as knowing, though it’s better than nothing, assuming people do look things up. See:

I’ve seen several authors, some very well known, ask on Facebook if they should include X, Y or Z in a novel because their editor says no one will get the references, even though the references aren’t that obscure. But even if they are, what’s wrong with using them and having people (hopefully) look them up. Isn’t that how we expand our knowledge? But nobody wants to challenge anyone in that way anymore. We’re dealing with generations now that have been told how wonderful they are without having earned it. So when we unintentionally make them feel stupid by using references they’re not familiar with, they turn off. Is it just me or does our society seem to have no intellectual curiosity, no interests or hobbies other than texting or watching the Kardashians? They don’t have the will to look further than the screens of their smart phones?

I know I’m generalizing and that there are pockets of intellectual curiosity (like the readers of this blog!), but I feel like we are becoming a minority.

And when you do a book signing or a library event, do you notice the average median age and hair color of the audience? More times than not they’re older and grayer. And where are the young people? That’s scary.

I wish more people would make New Year’s resolutions to improve their minds as well as their bodies, to exercise their brains as well as their muscles. So maybe we should do yoga for the brain as well as the body.

At this point I’d even settle for grownups reading comic books or graphic novels as long as there’s words in them.

All of this scares me, not just as a writer, who might not have an audience in the future. But for society as a whole. We need to have a shared background, a common knowledge, a literate society of people who are engaged. Not everybody can know everything, of course. But there should be some common background that we can all relate to.


Shakespeare picture: Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Thursday, May 12, 2016

No books, please - I'm writing

Do you avoid reading mysteries when you're writing them?

Are you kidding? I'd never have any time to read them! I'm on the second first draft of the year, which means I've been writing since Christmas and I've read fifteen crime novels in that time  . . . because I had to.

I had to read some because I said I'd blurb them if I liked them.
I read, liked, and blurbed:
  • Judy Penz Sheluk's Skeletons in The Attic because what's not to love about a book with a dead-or-alive hook and an old house that's getting gussied up too.
  • Susan Spann's The Ninja's Daughter: which I might not have, because I'm Rumsfeldian in what I don't know about Japanese history. Boy oh boy, I'm glad I did. I can still smell the food.
  • Tammy Kaehler's Red Flags which I absolutely would have because when I had to read Simon Woods' Aidy Westlake motor-racing books  I found out I loved this theme. And I loved this book.
  • Cynthia Kuhn's The Semester of Our Discontent. An accurate enough portrayal of academic life to give me flashbacks to the bad old days of working in a university, but worth it.

Others I had to read because I was moderating the authors on a panel:

  • Nancy West Smart But Dead Best. Title. Ever. And a masterclass on putting hard stuff (genetics) in a lighthearted story.
  • Terry Shames The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake. I would have read this anyway; I've read every word Terry has written but this way I got to call it working.
  • Triss Stein Brooklyn Graves. As above. Every word. And Triss's description of the next book sent me straight to the dealers' room.
  • Carla Buckley The Good Goodbye. You know how you love Lisa Scottoline and Joy Fielding and yet somehow you manage not to have read an author who writes those books and does it so well you kind of hate her? That.

Or I had to because I was interviewing the author:

  • Ann Cleeves Silent Voices
  • Ann Cleeves The Moth Catcher
  • Ann Cleeves (re-read) four of the Shetland novels.

Guess who I was interviewing.

Yet others I had to read because we were all on the Mary Higgins Clark shortlist together and ...well, I had to:

And the rest I had to read I had to read because I'm breathing: Robert Galbraith Career of Evil,
Karin Slaughter Pretty Girls, and Harlan Coben Fool Me Once.

That leaves just one:- Charlaine Harris's Night Shift. I had to read it because what's the point of having it in your mitts two days before it's even published (because you bought it at Malice) if you don't show off on the plane home?

The woman in the seat beside me didn't care but one of the cabin crew was filled with envy. That's all I ask. I think Night Shift might be my book of the year so far. I'm in deep denial that this third installment is truly the end, though.

What have you read so far in 2016 that's made a big impression?

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

An answer and (indulge me?) a poignant anniversary by Cathy Ace

With my first contract, and the "memento"
When you are writing, do you read other mysteries? Or are you afraid it will affect your own voice?
Okay – I’m going to give one of my “No, but yes” answers to the first part of this question. What do I mean? If I have a choice I don’t read other mysteries when I’m writing, but sometimes I have to, so I do. If I’m due to participate in or moderate a panel during writing (vs editing) times of the year I have to read the books of other panel members…and I’m pleased to say I thoroughly enjoy that indulgence! However, I usually choose not to, for no other reason than that I’m likely to be too far submerged in my own work to surface and connect with that of others.

Do I choose to not read mysteries when I’m writing because I fear it will affect my own voice? No, not really. Sometimes I happen upon a sentence or turn of phrase (or an entire premise and story) that makes me want to spit nails and cry “Damn you!” at a fellow author who has done something so well I just want to throw my hands in the air and give up writing altogether...but I can only hope that doesn’t happen too often. 

My happiest reading times are when I take breaks from writing and editing (usually 3 x two weeks during the year) and I get to read for pure enjoyment and make a bit of a dent in my TBR pile. That’s when I gobble up mysteries and am my true reading-self. Like most writers (I believe) I am first and foremost a reader. During these periods I find I’m able to truly connect with what other writers are creating, and I do my best to read like a reader not like a writer, so my enjoyment is closer to that which I have felt my whole life. 

In memory of Dad
Finally – and I hope everyone will indulge me on this matter – I would like to take the chance to celebrate a bitter-sweet anniversary here. May 11th 2011 was the day I received the contract for my first novel (THE CORPSE WITH THE SILVER TONGUE was then published in March 2012, for which I got myself a little snail as a memento...escargots play a role in the book!) so today marks the 5th anniversary of that amazing day! May 11th was also my late father’s birthday, and the receipt of the contract on that day was especially significant to me because it was his death in 2006 that spurred me on to write more than the textbooks I’d had published to date. Dad didn’t live to share the pride I know Mum feels when she stands in the library in Swansea and sees my books on the shelf there, but his encouragement to always seek out, and be open to, new experiences, and to push myself as hard as possible (then a bit harder) certainly molded me as a person. I’m happy to have the chance to blog on this anniversary of his life, and the start of the writing career he’d have been delighted to see me have. The flowers were cut in my garden on 10th May: the iris was Dad's favorite flower, the pink rosebud is from a bush I bought when he was visiting, as is the orange rose which grows beside the front door and has the light, sherbety scent that always makes me think of summer - and reminds me to, literally, stop and smell the roses. Thanks, Dad!

Mum and Dad visiting me in Canada 2003
Cathy Ace writes the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (book #2 THE CASE OF THE MISSING MORRIS DANCER was published in hardback in February, and book #1 THE CASE OF THE DOTTY DOWAGER was published in trade paperback on March 1st) and the Cait Morgan Mysteries (book #7 THE CORPSE WITH THE GARNET FACE was published in paperback in April). Find out more about Cathy and her work, and sign up for her newsletter at  

Monday, May 9, 2016

No Copy Cats Allowed

Q: "When you are writing, do you read other mysteries? Or are you afraid it will affect your own voice?

-from Susan

What one reads while in the throes of writing is a bigger issue than voice. And I’m guessing the answer may be different if you’re working on the fourth in a series or your first stand-alone thriller.

When I was working on Murder in the Abstract, my first attempt at a piece of fiction, my first novel, and my first challenge after quitting my day job, I was easily spooked. What if my plot was the same as someone’s whose book just came out? What if my protagonist had the same name as some other author’s? What if the setting was the same? Could I be accused of copying even if I had come up with my ideas long before the other writers’ books had been published? Because it was my first book and I didn't have a contract deadline, I wrote the darn thing for several years, far too long to stay away from my favorite genre. But I stayed away from books that struck me as tempting fate, authors with distinctive female voices. And no books about art and crime, just in case.

The second in that series featuring Dani O’Rourke, The King’s Jar, was less worrisome. Her voice was now her own, the plot was unusual, and the setting in San Francisco’s high society world wasn’t echoing anyone. Then, I stayed away from books I thought were outstanding because their excellence made me feel “doom, doom, I’ll never write that well.”

By the time I was deep into the third in the series, Mixed Up with Murder,” I had gotten past all of those self-defeating behaviors. The first two books got good critical reviews and I was comfortable slipping into Dani’s skin, a real author now with enough confidence to plow ahead without dragging little clouds of self-doubt. Now my distraction was writing a better book, and not outfoxing myself with plot twists and turns. At some point many authors realize we’ve gotten ourselves a wee bit tangled in plot tricks and our real fear has nothing to do with losing our literary voices, it’s more like losing our minds or 20,000 words that turn into a blind alley!

There’s always something to worry about, always moments when I wonder if my manuscript will stand up to scrutiny, an editor’s approval, readers’ reviews. But I’m comfortable now that whatever I publish is mine for better or worse.

P.S. As I write the second in the French village mystery series my reading list includes Sarah Caudwell’s eccentric, tongue-in-cheek British legal mysteries, Lou Berney’s The Long and Faraway Gone, Snow Blind by Ragnar Jonasson, The Man on the Washing Machine by Susan Cox, and The Child Garden, by Catriona McPherson. If I add any French mysteries, they’re likely to be Fred Vargas’s right now.