Wednesday, May 31, 2017

My secret life as a..... by Cathy Ace

“Does marketing your book feel oppressive or liberating?”

So the knotty question about marketing has reared its head again, and I think it’s time I ‘fess up…

I confess that I have earned my living from marketing for decades. There. That’s off my chest.

At Brynhyfryd Library, Swansea with neighbours and relatives of schoolfrineds
From 1982 to 2012 it was my chosen profession, and, therefore, my life. The first nine books I had published were marketing textbooks. I was made a Fellow of the UK’s Communications, Advertising and Marketing Foundation and of The Chartered Institute of Marketing. I was granted the Freedom of the City of London for my services to marketing, and am a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Marketors. I owned and operated what became Europe’s largest post-graduate marketing training company, and traveled the world preparing non-marketing managers to become heads of marketing for organisations like Ford, HSBC, the BBC and so on. Indeed, the reason I now live in Canada rather than the UK is that the University of British Columbia “imported” me to deliver the marketing components of their MBA course. So – there – I am a dyed-in-the-wool marketing person.

Thus, I have a bit of a problem with this question. You see, marketing and promoting are not synonymous. Promotion is a part of marketing, but it’s just one part of it. Marketing sits upon four pillars: product, price, place and promotion. The right product at the right price, available to the customer in the right places, and promoted in the right way.

As an author I have “complete control” over my product: I write the books, they are “mine”, thus I have control over the “product” part of the marketing mix (as it’s known). I also can, and do, have control over most of my promotional effort. However, when it comes to price, because I’m published by publishing houses I have no control over this aspect at all, nor do I control the outlets via which people can purchase my work. Thus, since I can only control two parts of the mix, I do the best I can to make both of those elements effective. But (and it’s a big “but”) I have found that the two remaining elements – pricing and availability – have a massive effect on sales.

With my proud Mum
Sometimes, promoting my work – building a recognizable brand for each of my series of books and for myself – can feel a bit like pushing water uphill; people might know me and my work, and even like me and my work, but if they can’t get their hands on my work easily, or at a price they feel is fair, then they won’t purchase, so I’m fighting a losing battle. Of course, if I could make sure my books were made available in every free-to-use library in the world that would help those who live close enough to such wonderful institutions to be able to read them at no cost, but even then, not everyone is served.

All that being said, I feel I should put as much effort into controlling that which I can, and trying to not worry about those aspects of the publishing process over which I have no control, so I put both my shoulders behind a) writing the best books I can, and b) promoting them as well as I can. I only hope it’s enough to get publishers to want to keep offering my work to readers.

With my background, promoting my work should feel liberating, insofar as it allows me to use a well-developed skill-set. And often it does…I’ve just returned from a trip to the UK where I promoted myself and my work at CrimeFest UK and at the library where I first read the Nancy Drew and Secret Seven books which inspired me to write, which was a wonderful feeling. And it allowed me to "do my thing" with Mum in the room - even better.

But – honestly – the writing is the fun part, the promoting is the job. That’s the truth of it.

Cathy Ace is the Bony Blithe Award-winning author of The Cait Morgan Mysteries (#8 The Corpse with the Ruby Lips was released on November 1st) and The WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (#3, The Case of the Curious Cook, was released in hardcover in the UK on November 30th and in the USA & Canada on March 1st).  You can find out more about Cathy, her work and her characters at her website, where you can also sign up for her newsletter with news, updates and special offers: 

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Other Side of the Writing Endeavor

Please welcome guest blogger Myra Jolivet, who is a fellow member of the Sisters in Crime NorCal chapter. A bit about her follows her answer to this week's big Q.

Q: Does Marketing Your Book Feel Oppressive or Liberating?

Vocational irony is an alternative description of the shoe-less cobblers wife and the cake-less bakers kids. When you promote and market others for a living, then find yourself with a piece of you to market, it is liberating.

Its not that I dont enjoy building strategies for others to win political campaigns or using marketing tactics to build client databases and influence; but once I had gathered the guts to fuel my passion to create cozy mysteries, I had my own thing to pitch and push. My brainstorm sessions happen now with my committee of me and we argue about angles, differentiation and layered strategy.

I hope that every author who bleeds at a key board can find creative release and enjoyment in writing unique marketing plans. I have had incredible mentors who helped to open my mind to my own purposes. I realized that book signings can happen at unlikely places that may be mentioned in your story. Social media communities are free, limitless resources for finding your readers both live and on-demand. Imagine using Facebook live to present a targeted, virtual book signing, internationally. Or using Google+ to define market segments tweaked to your genre. Once you have them, you can send newsletters, poll them on plot developments, ask their opinions on cover styles, and promote upcoming events. Youll notice the key word is targeted. In the earlier days of public relations, finding highly targeted market segments was much more difficult than it is today with social channels. Back then, we used six-figure surveys, scientific focus groups and huge manual efforts to find what can now be determined in an internet browser search. Finding non-fiction, fiction, romance and mystery book clubs can happen in minutes. Once you have a target audience, you can reach out to them and connect them to your books. This excites me!  It is liberating. The ability to connect, directly with those who enjoy your work product, is a rush. The freedom to experiment with marketing plans can bring creative satisfaction.

It is work. Yes, it is work. But, if youve ever worked endless days pushing a political candidate platform to disinterested voters or boosting a product you only marginally like, the opportunity to participate in the marketing of an extension of your time and talents, will feel like a luxury.

My committee of me is currently trying to figure out how to connect with a well-known vodka company because my amateur sleuth loves her martinis made with their product.

If marketing is not your vocation, it can become your passion when you consider the available tools to find your audience. It can become liberating to consider marketing your work, in your way, as the next step of your creation.

Myra Jolivet 

At 4 years old, I had an imaginary friend. I think my storytelling began there. Later came a career in television news, politics and corporate communications; more writing.

Working with writing coaches and editors, I began a series of murder mysteries that connect northern California to the colorful Louisiana Creole culture.

I am a Bay Area native with Louisiana Creole roots. In our quiet Berkeley neighborhood, my parents often hosted gumbo Sundays seasoned with hushed stories of relatives who spoke to the dead and had cast more than a spell or two. Those "secrets" fueled the voice of mystery and humor within me.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

From the page to the screen

How do books you love stack up to their film adaptations?

by Dietrich Kalteis

I think of chapters as scenes in a film when I write them, so it’s alway interesting to see a film adaptation based on a novel that I read. One shows the story, the other tells it. One delivers the action with images and sound, the other goes deeper into the reason behind an action. One comes with popcorn … Well, maybe it’s not fair to compare them at all, although one does represent the other. 

Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men is a great example of a terrific novel turned into a film of equal caliber, the Coen brothers delivering a tight adaptation — a story that has a western feel with a serial killer on the loose, a compressed air tank and bolt gun as his weapon of choice. 

Over twenty of Elmore Leonard’s stories were made into film, and the tighter the film stuck to his original words, the better the film. Both screenwriter Scott Frank and director Barry Sonnenfeld kept true to Leonard’s terrific characters and trademark dialog in Get Shorty, a tale of a Florida shylock making a career change into the movie business. One of my favorite crime novels and films.

Rum Punch is another good example of Elmore Leonard’s work translating to the screen. A twisting crime caper with the quirky characters and dialog typical of a great Elmore Leonard novel. Quentin Tarrantino did it justice in the film version called Jackie Brown. Then there are the two versions of 3:10 to Yuma.

Elmore Leonard sent his manuscript for Raylan to the series creator Graham Yost and told him he could strip it for parts. And that’s just what Yost did, keeping true to the rich dialog and story lines for the series. It’s a terrific series based on one of Leonard’s favorite characters, Raylan Givens, a one-time coal miner, now deputy marshal, going back to Kentucky. Leonard readers will also remember Raylan character from the stories Pronto, Riding the Rap and Fire in the Hole.

Another great one: Nicholas Pileggi’s best-selling book Wiseguy chronicles the true story of Henry Hill, a guy who worked his way up in the mob and turned informant. It went on to become Martin Scorcese’s Goodfellas, Ray Liotta delivering a powerful performance as Henry Hill, and Joe Pecsi winning a best-supporting Oscar for his portrayal of Tommy DeVito. Both the book and the film are intense and realistic, the classic tale of life in the mob. 

Richard Stark’s Parker character has been portrayed a number of times in film by Lee Marvin, Michel Constantin, Jim Brown, Robert Duvall, Ana Karina, Peter Coyote, Mel GIbson and Jason Stachan. Of all the Parker adaptations, the character’s name was changed for all but the one Stachan played in Parker. It was Stark’s novel The Hunter that was made into Point Blank in 1967 starring Lee Marvin, and as Payback in 1999 starring Mel GIbson. Got to love Parker.

Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer, and the film starring Matthew McConaughey were equally good. And there have been a number of Stephen King’s stories that made their way to film. Among my favorites: The Shining and it’s film adaptation by Stanley Kubrick both cranked up the creepy. Also The Shawshank Redemption and the film starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman; Misery with James Caan and Kathy Bates; Dolores Claiborne, also starring Kathy Bates; The Green Mile with Tom Hanks; and Hearts in Atlantis with Anthony Hopkins.

Other favorite novels that I thought made great films: The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris and the film starring Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster. One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest by Ken Kesey, and the film starring Jack Nicholson. James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential and the film starring Kevin Spacey and Russell Crowe. Mystic River by Dennis Lehane and the film by Clint Eastwood, starring Sean Penn. The Untouchables based on the autobiographical memoir about Elliot Ness, co-written by Oscar Fraley, and screenplay by David Mamet.

I loved both Midnight Cowboy by James Leo Herlihy and the film starring Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voigt. Waldo Salt did a great job on the screenplay and also wrote the one for Serpico, another terrific film starring Al Pacino, directed by Sidney Lumet, based on the novel by Peter Maas.

Dog Day Afternoon was also directed by Sidney Lumet, starring a young Al Pacino, based on the novel by Patrick Mann. And although it had a great plot, I think the novel Mute Witness by Robert L. Pike had a hard time keeping up with the screen adaptation of Bullitt. Those car chase scenes were the best ever on film, with McQueen ripping through the streets of San Francisco in the late sixties.

For some vintage black and white stuff you can’t top To Kill a Mockingbird — a classic either way, the 1960 novel by Harper Lee and the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck. One won a Pulitzer, the other won three Oscars. 

And there’s Truman Capote’s non-fiction In Cold Blood, brought to the screen by Richard Brooks. The story also inspired a couple more films: Capote, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman who won the Academy Award for best actor for portraying Capote’s experiences in writing the book; And Infamous starring Toby Jones. The book was also made into a two-part miniseries in 1996.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, published in 1939, and its 1946 film adaptation with Bacall and Bogart at their best. And there’s Strangers on a Train, the novel by Patricia Highsmith, film by Hitchcock.

There are many more that could be added, and there are a lot of good books out there that haven’t been made into films yet, but have that potential. And what author wouldn’t want to see one of their own stories up on the screen and watch scenes unfold that he or she created. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

This is my Brain...

How do you keep the balance between that little world in your head and the real one?

by Paul D. Marks

The simple answer is, I don’t. And I don’t care as long as I don’t call someone by one of my character’s names. Hasn’t happened yet, like it did when I called a girlfriend by another girlfriend’s name. That was not a good day…

And the best answer is what Susan said on Monday, “What? You mean the one in my head isn’t real?” I don’t think I can top that, but I gotta say something, so here goes:

Mostly it’s not a problem, see I actually know the diff between the real world and the world in my head…at least most of the time. The problem’s actually more acute, as opposed to cute, when I start to say some little silly thing to someone that isn’t my wife. Because, like many married couples we have our own way of talking and cute little things we say to each other. And sometimes some of those have started to pop out, but I think I’ve caught them all ahead of time. And the same goes for stories and characters, they’re always in there running around, percolating. So sometimes I might start to say something out of a story, but so far nothing’s actually escaped my lips.

And the reality is the inside of my head is like some Rube Goldberg contraption. Lots of pulleys and levers and slides and random junk everywhere, kind of like space junk in outer space, just floating around. So trying to get that little ball from one point to another can be a problem. The ball being the finished product, a story or novel.

The other reality is that as writers we’re working all the time, so it truly is hard to keep those little critters – our characters – out of our heads and out of our mouths. Everything we do, everything we hear, every conversation we have and everything we see is fodder for a current WIP or a future work.

As writers, I believe we’re often daydreaming, off in other lands. Sometimes it’s more fun to be in those worlds of our own making. Maybe more exciting than our humdrum everyday lives. Except mine ’cause my day job is as a super hero.

I do some of my best thinking while driving or walking the dogs or even in the shower. Actually, a lot of vexing writing problems have been solved with hot water running down my back. Something about that environment clears the mind. At least this mind. (I know, I know, some people think my mind has been too clear and empty for too long…) So there’s times and places to get lost in the world in our heads and times to be in the real world. But some day I might just go over the rainbow and stay in that other world forever. Of course the world over my rainbow is a dark night with rain-slick streets, glaring neon and venetian blind shadows everywhere.


And I want to congratulate everyone who was nominated for an Anthony earlier this week. I know a lot of you and you’re all terrific. I wish you all the best of luck!


And for something a little different: For the International Day of Families, my wife, Amy, did a piece on what it’s like to be a writer’s wife at the other blog I write for, SleuthSayers. If you haven’t read it you might find it interesting. So check out “Until a Split Infinitive Do Us Part” at: 


And now for the usual BSP:

My story Twelve Angry Days is in the May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magaine, on sale at newsstands. Or click here to buy online.


I'll be at the California Crime Writers Conference in Culver City, June 10th and 11th. I'm on a panel called "The Long and Short of It: Short Stories and Novellas vs. Novels" with William Kent Krueger, Kate Thornton and Travis Richardson, moderated by S.W. Lauden. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Balance? Moi?

"How do you keep the balance between that little world in your head and the real one?"

by Catriona

At the risk of sounding like Lady Catherine de Bourgh, if there was only one it would be a skoosh. Not that Lady Catherine ever used the word "skoosh" but she said - of piano-playing: "If I had ever learned I would be a great proficient" and she always comes to mind when someone, me included, makes a baseless claim.
Fictional house
The thing that gives me trouble is keeping my little fictional worlds apart. It's easy to remember whether a shop, house, beach, street or town exists in the world of Dandy Gilver or in a standalone. Roughly, if people drive Morris Cowleys and everyone's got a hat on, it's the 1930s. If people walk into lamp-posts while checking Facebook (and failing to get off my lawn) it's the 21st century and a standalone.

actual house where I lived - totally different
But trying to match character names and locations to individual books when all the names are suitable for working-class contemporary Scots and all the locations are in some bit of Galloway . . . that's where things fall apart. Not while I'm writing. While I'm writing, I could tell you where the plug points are in every fictional room and where the nearest postbox is to every fictional street. And as to the characters, every one of them has a face and voice, a wardrobe and a job, a childhood and a retirement plan, and - basically - a 40ft shipping container full of back story that never gets onto the finished page.

It can make for a lot of affronted spluttering when your editor says - as mine just did - that two characters introduced in the first three chapters are merged and need work. "They're nothing like one another!" I want to retort.  And, in my head, that's true. But on the page, two brothers, two years apart, both a bit sweary and sarcastic, are just a big double-headed blob.

Noisy neighbours
As to the real world, it can come as a bit of a surprise to look up - either from the breakfast room of a friend's stately home in the Highlands or from the check-out queue of the Dumfries Tesco - and see blue sky and brown grass, jack rabbits and crested quail, prickly pear cactus and persimmon trees. Oh yeah, I think. Remember that time you moved to California.

Some of California has seeped in deep, mind you. The last few years I've needed to write IT"S RAINING on a post-it note and stick it to my lap-top during first drafts, just to keep the possibility of actual weather alive in my mind.

But between 2010 and now, there's been no real danger of confusing my inner reality with the reality outside my head (see above: persimmon trees). However. I've started writing about California as well now. Specifically about a college town in contemporary northern California. And things are beginning to go a bit strange. When I drive under the railroad bridge at 1st St in Davis, I do kind of expect to see a cop shop, a run-down motel and tomato fields instead of an In-and-Out Burger, a Safeway and a suburb. And I recently mixed up the name of the real newspaper  - The Davis Enterprise - with my paper  - The Cuento Voyager - when I was looking for a real story online.

The town of Davis is rich with weirdness just begging to be dusted with a bit of fiction-glitter and plopped into a mystery plot. Here are just a few high spots for starters:

Not a sign you see every day, right?

The public art is mainly vegetables

And whatever this was all about
I foresee more mingling and less balance in my future.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Head out of the clouds? by Cathy Ace

How do you keep the balance between that little world in your head and the real one?

Gabby not caring if I'm off in my own little world
Honestly? Not terribly well. This is something of a drawback when I’m doing something requiring my full attention – like driving, for example – so that’s when I do my best to clear my head of the made-up places I inhabit, and focus on the real world about me. (I’m sure everyone on the road will be glad to know that!). 

Poppy ignoring me
But even then – yes, even then – there’s a little part of my brain that won’t turn away from whatever it is I’m working on, and I have been known to have “Ah-ha!” moments when behind the wheel. Of course, I need both hands to operate my vehicle, so writing a quick note to myself isn’t possible. My solution? I phone myself (hands-free, of course) and leave a message. Yes, that’s the only way I won’t forget what – at the time – I believe to be possibly the best idea I’ve ever had. 

Usually, whether I’m working through the day or night, being in the world I’ve invented is not a problem; the dogs at my feet don’t seem to care, and the dishes in the sink can wait a while. I especially enjoy driving my tractor mower, slicing the top off our acres of grass, while I ponder the regions of my fantasy world, and weeding? Oh weeding is wonderfully soothing when I’m plotting.

Me on my mower!
When I’m spending time with my family I do my best to not stare off into space for too long, because then then know they’ve lost me…and that’s not fair to them. We all have little enough time together as it is, so I owe them my mental as well as physical presence when we’re able to enjoy each other’s company.

Usually, therefore, I live a life in which the balance is allowed to be “off” – where I’m able to constantly and fully inhabit my make-believe world. And the mental gymnastics I perform to be able to give myself, fully, to my family – and friends – is as nothing, compared with the enrichment I get from my infrequent interaction with real human beings. 

Cathy Ace is the Bony Blithe Award-winning author of The Cait Morgan Mysteries (#8 The Corpse with the Ruby Lips was released on November 1st) and The WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (#3, The Case of the Curious Cook, was released in hardcover in the UK on November 30th and in the USA & Canada on March 1st).  You can find out more about Cathy, her work and her characters at her website, where you can also sign up for her newsletter with news, updates and special offers: