Friday, July 23, 2021

Spectacular and Stupendous

By Abir 

Do you read books outside your usual interest? For example, do you read award-winning books out of curiosity, even if they aren’t your usual type of book? If you usually read thrillers, would you try a cozy if it was highly recommended? And vice versa?


Morning! It’s Friday again, but this Friday is different to the eighty odd Fridays before it. This Friday is special, because this Friday I am attending – in person - my first crime fiction festival in over a year. And not just any festival –  I’m at the daddy of them all (at least in UK terms) The Theakston’s Crime Festival in Harrogate.

 

You may have to forgive me if this post is slightly below my usual standards (and I admit that’s a low bar to start with) but I’m nursing a bit of a hangover this morning, having arrived at the festival at 5pm yesterday and then discovering the bar at 5.02.

 

In my defence, I should point out that I was in the running for an award last night – the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. Alas, despite being somewhat old and very peculiar, I didn’t win. That honour deservedly went to Chris Whittaker for his brilliant book ‘We Begin at the End’, and if you haven’t read it, I do recommend it. It’s fantastic. Anyway, I took not winning as an opportunity to drown my sorrows. Indeed this beautiful tankard they gave me for not winning certainly came in handy.


My prize for not winning. I now have three of these.



I phoned my family this morning and my six year old son told me where I went wrong. ‘You need to use more stupendous and spectacular words, daddy…like stupendous and spectacular.’ Maybe he’s on to something?

 

It’s wonderful to be back in the company of writers and crime fiction fans again; so many friends that I hadn’t seen for so long. I’m on a couple of panels later today but right now I can’t remember what they’re about. I’m sure it’ll be ok. 

 

Anyway, on to today’s question. Do I read books outside my usual areas of interest. That’s a tough one. The answer is probably ‘not enough’. Most of the time I’m reading crime fiction, history, politics, historical fiction, science, or a combination of any of the above. These are things I like. And there’s a lot to choose from in those categories. It doesn’t leave time for much else. Having said that, if someone says I should read something, particularly literary fiction, I’ll give it a go. More often than not though, I find that I don’t particularly enjoy them. I tend to get bored by a book unless it speaks to me in some way. I suppose if there’s a common thread to the books I enjoy outside of my areas of interest it’s that they tend to have something to do with India, or are written by Indian or other authors of Indian origin. I love the work of Jhumpa Lahiri and Vikram Seth. Lahiri’s ‘The Namesake’ and Seth’s ‘An Equal Music’ will always make my list of top 10 favourite books of all time. I’m also a huge fan of the works of Neel Mukherjee and Salman Rushdie. There’s something about the writing of these authors, a poetry infused with a culture that I partially understand; something in their writing that appeals to something in my core, my DNA, my bones, that somehow sets them apart.

 

But my favourite works by even those authors are probably from two decades ago. In more recent times I’ve struggled to find many books outside my interest areas that I’ve truly enjoyed. Maybe that’s just a function of getting old. Maybe I’ve become too set in my ways; too crusty and crotchety. Just like I’m convinced that music peaked in 1986 and that anything released this side of the millennium is strange, scary and basically just noise, maybe the same is true of my literary tastes. Have I become some sort of cultural dinosaur, who knows what he likes and likes what he knows? Probably, but that’s ok, isn’t it? Or should I read more widely? 

 

I’d be interested in what you all think, so please let me know.

 

For now I’m off to my first hotel breakfast in eighteen months. Congealed eggs, cold sausages and bacon you could line the soles of your shoes with.  Truly a stupendous and spectacular breakfast if ever there was one.

 

Stay safe folks and have a great weekend.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Grumbling, but succumbing - a guest post by Linda Lovely

Do you read books outside your usual interest? For example, do you read award-winning books out of curiosity, even if they aren’t your usual type of book? If you usually read thrillers, would you try a cozy if it was highly recommended? And vice versa?

Catriona writes: It is my intense pleasure today to welcome back a good friend of Criminal Minds: Linda Lovely. (Yes, that is her real name. If one were a romance writer, it would be the perfect pseudonym, but as a passionate writer and reader of the crime genre, Linda would surely have become a Linda Beat, or a Linda R. Herring, if she was tinkering. Of course, if Linda had decided to hyphenate when she married her husband, she'd be LInda Lovely-Hooker. But that's a whole other gener entirely.)

Back in the real world, Linda is here on her blog-tour for Neighbors Like These, a murder mystery introducing retired coastguard, Kylee Kane, and featuring some Home Owners' Associations like no others. We hope.

And now . . .  Linda Lovely.


Confession: I’m a
crime fiction addict. I could happily consume a steady diet of mysteries and thrillers day after day. Within this broad category, there’s plenty of variety—humorous cozies, police procedurals, historical mysteries, psychological thrillers, courtroom who-done-its, romantic suspense, and many more.  

More than a decade ago, a local bookstore owner strong-armed me into joining a book club she sponsored. I succumbed, grumbling that I’d successfully resisted being told what to read since my schooldays. Prize-winning literary novels? Historical memoirs? Coming-of-age tomes? Snooze-arama. Give me a crafty killer, an even smarter detective, and after the thrills and suspense, an ending that promises justice can win out. Yet, once a month, I’m coaxed into broadening my genre horizons.

While that local bookstore is gone, the book club it spawned lives on. Some readers have moved away, new readers have joined. Me? I’ve stayed without any coercion. I’ve even recruited newcomers. All these women are my friends. The books we read and discuss together allow us to learn far more about each other’s opinions, travails, accomplishments, fears, and hopes than would be possible in almost any other group setting.

Our book club includes women (yeah, no men have beaten down our doors to join) who’ve lived in all parts of the country, including Hawaii. There’s a twenty-year age range and occupations run the gamut from social worker to flight attendant and librarian to history professor.

I must admit I haven’t liked all of the books we’ve read. Unlike Mr. Boughton’s English class, our book club doesn’t require anyone to finish the month’s selection. That works for me, since I abandoned that compulsion eons ago. I always give a book at least fifty pages. At that point, if I am forcing myself to read on, I stop. Too many books by favorite authors and interesting debuts waiting in my to-be-read piles.

As a writer, I’ve learned something from even the reads I disliked. For instance, I’ve discovered I have an active dislike for novels populated entirely by despicable characters. I need someone to root for. Yet, on the whole, I’ve enjoyed most book club reads, regardless of genre.

Here’s the main reason I’d encourage every author—regardless of genre—to join a book club. It opens your eyes about what avid readers care about and look for in books. I won’t mention the title, but, in last month’s selection, the author switched point-of-view between paragraphs and dropped in lengthy exposition asides. My fellow book club members didn’t notice. I’ve also discovered grammatical errors don’t appear to be a reason for most of these readers to throw a good book across the room.

However, they do notice when descriptions, no matter how beautifully written, drag on, and cause the reader to lose the thread of the plot. Heavy-handed backstory is another no-no. They don’t easily forgive authors who simultaneously introduce so many characters it’s impossible to keep them straight. Character names that start with the same letters or rhyme are another cause-of-confusion pet peeve.

Yet book club members are quite tolerant if an author tells a good STORY—whether it’s a mystery, a memoir, or historical fiction. If an author can deliver that, almost everything else is forgiven. That’s a lesson all writers should remember.  

A journalism major in college, Linda Lovely has spent most of her career working in PR and advertising—an early introduction to penning fiction. With Neighbors Like These is Lovely’s ninth mystery/suspense novel. Whether she’s writing cozy mysteries, historical suspense or contemporary thrillers, her novels share one common element—smart, independent heroines. Humor and romance also sneak into every manuscript. Her work has earned nominations for a number of prestigious awards, ranging from RWA’s Golden Heart for Romantic Suspense to Killer Nashville’s Silver Falchion for Best Cozy Mystery. 

www.lindalovely.com

Neighbors Like These - out now!
 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Never not Reading


Image by futureprimitive

Do you read books outside your usual interest? For example, do you read award-winning books out of curiosity, even if they aren’t your usual type of book? If you usually read thrillers, would you try a cozy if it was highly recommended? And vice versa?


by Dietrich


A book is more about the quality of the writing than its label or genre. While I read a lot of crime fiction, I won’t say no to something dystopian if its in the caliber of Margaret Atwood or George Orwell. Or historical fiction like The Color Purple by Alice Walker, or Beloved by Toni Morrison. Or classic thrillers like Ken Follett’s The Eye of the Needle or The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris.


Some fiction crosses genre lines, like the hardboiled sci-fi thriller Gun, with Occasional Music by Johnathan Lethem. And there’s Stephen King who often slips past the edges of one genre into another while scaring the hell out of us in the most wonderful of ways.


Some books win awards, some become best sellers, some were published over a hundred years ago, some are true stories, some are pure fiction, some are a bit of both, but one thing a book has to have — it’s got to grab me because of its quality and originality. An engaging story that takes hold and won’t let go, one that keeps me thinking about it long after I’ve turned the last page. 


I don’t pick award-winners, nor do I avoid them. Sometimes I pick up a book on a friend’s recommendation, or a critic’s review. Other times I’m intrigued by a title, a familiar author’s name, or a striking cover design, and I stand and peruse a few pages at a favorite book store, and sometimes online, in hopes of finding something that hooks me. Here are a few I’ve read over the past couple of months that did just that for me, all highly recommended:  


The novella Typhoon, by Joseph Conrad, is a classic seafaring tale first published in 1902 — one that has stood the test of time.


The Road Back by Erich Maria Remarque, originally published in 1931, is the classic anti-war story, a follow-up to the remarkable All Quiet on the Western Front.


Quichotte, published in 2019, is a literary masterpiece about moral and spiritual decay, another great one from Salman Rushdie.


The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow, published in 1953, another literary classic about self-searching.


Nightwoods by Charles Frazier, first published in 2011, is a tight, suspenseful novel written in a timeless style of prose that’s as poetic as it is gritty.


Hollywood Hills by Joseph Wambaugh is the fourth in the Hollywood Station Series, and it dishes up some riveting crime fiction.


Mexican Hat by Michael McGarrity, the second in the Kevin Kerney series, has the ex-Santa Fe chief of detectives tackling a tough case. McGarrity has a great voice and a knack for keeping a story moving.

 

And I’ve also been catching up on the backlist of one of my favorite crime fiction authors, James Lee Burke, a master of the genre. I recently read Cimarron Rose, the first in the Billy Bob Holland series; the third and fourth in the Robicheaux series, Black Cherry Blues, A Morning for Flamingos; as well as the standalone The Lost Get-Back Boogie. All of them are fantastic and told in Burke’s rich literary style.


I don’t know about you, but I always feel better when I have several promising books on the stack, just waiting to be read. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Everything Under the Sun

 

Terry Shames answering our question of the week: 

 Do you read books outside your usual interest? For example, do you read award-winning books out of curiosity, even if they aren’t your usual type of book? If you usually read thrillers, would you try a cozy if it was highly recommended? And vice versa? 

 The big answer is: I read everything. At any given time, I may be reading a book of mainstream fiction, a mystery novel, and a book of classic fiction. Like now, when I’m reading The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V.E. Schwab, Leaving the Scene, by Dana King, and The Beloved Returns, by Thomas Mann.
This is a perfect time to answer this particular question, because we’re packing up for a major move to Southern California. I’ve been going through my books, giving up a few, remembering many, wishing I had the time to stop what I’m doing and read others, and packing most of them. It proves just how eclectic my reading tastes are. I just packed two books about Louis IV that I read a while back, and doubt I will read again. Why? Because they’re written in French. Why am I keeping them? “Just in case.” 

I’ve had to make agonizing decisions about whether to keep biographies I’ll probably never read. For some reason, biographies often don’t appeal to me. But I’m keeping Nabokov’s Speak, Memory, even though I’ve already read it. I read a few pages again and knew I couldn’t bear to part with it. 

 A few days ago, I ran across a science book I tried to read and got about a third of the way in, and knew I was in way over my head. I sat down with it and started reading again, with the idea that I would probably give away the book, because it’s a HUGE book. It’s called A New Kind Of Science, by Stephen Wolfram. You could make a career out of reading it. But despite the fact that it weighs about five pounds and I know I’ll never get through it, I’m keeping it. 

 I have a whole bookcase of literary fiction that I’ve already read. A few of them I decided had lost their luster and I could part with them. Others, I’ll keep “just in case” I need to dip into them again. Who knows when I might need to read a few lines from William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury? Or revisit John Fowles's The Magus? (which I have copies of both the old and the revised. No, I have two copies of the old one. I’m keeping them.) 

 I like belonging to a book club, because we vote on what we’ll read, and I often read things I would never pick up on my own. I would never have thought to read, Becoming Duchess Goldblatt, and would have missed out on one of my favorite books, ever. I would never have thought to read The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. It’s the perfect book to be reading while I’m snowed under, because it’s light and intriguing. 

 In addition to the other eclectic reading I do, I always try to read the nominees for the Edgars. This year’s was no exception in being full of wonderful books I might never have picked up. I might not have thought to read The Deep, Deep Snow, by Brian Freedman.
Or Please See Us, by Caitlin Mullin.
The other way I find mysteries to read are recommendations from friends. Even if I don’t usually read a particular type of mystery, I’ll take heed if someone recommends a book. Am I sometimes disappointed? Sure. But most of the time I get to broaden my reading horizons. I’d like to hear from readers? What have you read that surprised you? How do you decide what you’re going to read?

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Casting a Wide Net

Do you read books outside your usual interest? For example, do you read award-winning books out of curiosity, even if they aren’t your usual type of book? If you usually read thrillers, would you try a cozy if it was highly recommended? And vice versa?

Brenda Chapman here. A fun question this week.

I've been a reader of pretty much everything I can get my hands on since I figured out how to sound out words on paper ... and that came with its own challenges. I remember in grade one getting into trouble with my father because he realized I'd memorized a list of words  without actually being able to read any of them. When he asked me to read a word out of order, I had to guess. My father thought I was being lazy and wasn't too impressed with my effort. I wisely decided my six-year-old life would be easier if I made those letters mean something, and I never looked back once the ability to read took hold.

I've belonged to a number of bookclubs since I got married. The first couple of clubs were during the child-rearing years and were more of therapy nights out with lots of food and wine and very little book discussion. In fact, pretty much nobody read the book of the month although at the end of every meeting we'd faithfully select another one. A couple of years ago, I started up a new book club and was fortunate enough to have my friend Kathryn join. She reads widely and has recommended some terrific books. This year, we've read The Push by Ashley Audrain, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, and Indians on Vacation by Thomas King. Our next read is Five Little Indians by Michelle Good -- all in all an eclectic mix of topics and writing styles. (The only book in this list that comes close to crime fiction is The Push, an unsettling best-seller about a child psychopath.)

My own books are what a fellow crime fiction writer Barbara Fradkin labels 'medium boiled'. We have similar writing styles and oddly enough live in the same neigbourhood in Ottawa. Our books aren't cozies but they're also not overly gory or focused on the physical murders, and they are definitely not hard boiled -- they fall somewhere in the middle. However, I have several cozy author friends and buy and enjoy their books: Mary Jane Maffini, Linda Wiken, Robin Harlick, and Vicki Delany included. I also enjoy a good thriller by such authors as Rick Mofina, Harlan Coben, Linwood Barclay and many more too numerous to mention.


A photo of my books sent to me by a reader :-)

At a book event with (l to r) me, Robin Harlick, Barbara Fradkin, 

Linda Wiken & Mary Jane Maffini

Another way I choose books is to go to my local independent bookstore, Perfect Books, and ask for recommendations. This is how I discovered the fabulous Adrian McKinty, and more recently, Jane Harper and Anthony Horowitz. I'm always on the lookout for new authors, and once I find one that I like, I search out their entire collection. I've also bought some bestsellers or award-winning books, usually in the 'literature' category, with mixed success. Some of the subject-matter and writing styles don't appeal to me, proving that not all award-winners are for every reader.

Signing at Perfect Books pre-Covid

As a writer, however, I can appreciate all book genres and try to learn from every bit of writing, whether my cup of tea or not. The category of crime fiction or any fiction for that matter, doesn't matter so much to me as an intriguing story well told. The real problem is finding the time to read as much as I'd like with such a wealth of offerings to choose from.

Website: www.brendachapman.ca

Instagram & Facebook: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Twitter: brendaAchapman


Friday, July 16, 2021

Don’t Write For Free, by Josh Stallings

 

Q: “I recently heard a comment that the big publishers are trying to hold onto an old model of publishing that doesn’t work so well anymore. Is this true? Why doesn’t it work, and how could the model be changed?”


A: I self-published books in the early days of that movement. I have been published by a micro publisher, and (currently by) a stellar independent publisher. I have good friends who have been published in every way possible. With my lack of experience with legacy publishing houses, I’ll attack this question from a slightly different angle, looking at the book business as an industry. And more importantly, what do I want in trade for a piece of my hard-won sales dollars. What can I rightfully expect?


(*For a brilliant overview of publishing scroll back to Cathy Ace’s Wednesday post. )  


State of the Books Business:

(This is based on my experience, so odds are I got lots wrong.)


The Times, London, ten or so years ago had an article claiming, in the new publishing economy only the rich or retired would be able to afford writing careers. They foretold the death of the midlist writers, and to some degree they were correct. 


TANGENT ALERT — I remember when Hollywood studios had a couple of big tent pole films a year and the rest were smaller films, dramas and comedies shot on reasonable budgets and thus could make a return on investments. The 1980’s brought us all- mega-hits-all-the-time. As an added bonus we got sequels ad infinitum. It happened (not un-coincidentally) around the same time electronic and beverage corporations started buying up controlling interests in the studios. — END TANGENT


With legacy publishers merging and being bought by media companies, they have taken on a much more corporate approach to business. Thus they, too, are in the blockbuster business, placing a greater weight on  high-concept material than ever before. The all-important tight “elevator” pitch that swept Hollywood is here to stay in publishing.   

      

Add to this, a seeming anomaly, with more outlets like e-readers, phones and other devices to read a book, the income of most writers has fallen. Even bestselling authors are struggling to make ends meet. Fact is, most crime writers I know have full time jobs to support their lives and write books as a beloved side-hustle. The lucky ones write for TV or film, but those gigs are so all-consuming that it often leaves them with no time to write books. 


The loss of sales looks like a twofold issue: one, people who would never steal a book unless Abby Hoffman told them to (a reference for any old hippies out there,) will happily download an ebook copy without paying. The second thing was Amazon made self-publishing an easy click away. The good news, the gatekeepers couldn’t stop anyone’s books from getting to readers. The bad news: not everyone is at a place in their career where they should be publishing. This freedom flooded the independent book market, making it even harder to make a living at it.


Yes — before anyone yells at me — it’s more complicated and nuanced than this. Some self and independently published books have broken huge, and some midlist writers continue to be published by legacy houses. 


Moving on…


Why do we need publishers? Originally it was because they owned the presses, and the means of warehousing and distribution for crates of big heavy objects. Both no small things. However, print on demand and ebooks have somewhat rendered this argument unsustainable. But that isn’t—or it shouldn’t be—all a publisher offers. 


Here’s breakdown of what I love and need from a publisher:


A really good editor, someone who can see what I was going for, and where I missed the mark. A great editor can take a good book and make it fantastic. “You have twenty pages at the most to hook a reader, and as written, you’ve lost them.” I hated hearing this about TRICKY. But I trusted my editor, and the book is better for it.







A really good copyeditor. I’m dyslexic, so the need for this should be self-explanatory.


Marketing. People whose job it is to see the greater potential of your work in a cultural sense and can exploit this to reach beyond your friends and fellow writers.


Art directors who can come up with an eye catching cover, that both pleases and sells.





There are more but this a good start. All of these jobs you can do, or hire out. But it is both time consuming and expensive. And I have discovered with my novels I spend so long describing the roots and moss, that I lose the forest entirely. 


As for marketing—and movie marketing was my job for a long time—when it comes to my work, again, I can’t see the wider context of it.


Are these tasks worth between 90% and 75% (depending on hard cover, ebook, etc…) of the book’s revenue? Maybe. Is 10% to an agent worth it? 


It’s complicated, they are both artistic and business decisions. Subjectively, do they make the work better? Objectively, do they increase sales enough that my piece of the pie is smaller, but my income greater than what I could generate on my own? Clearly when a book comes out it is all educated guess work. I know my past track record, but every book is different. And sometimes sales fall a bit when striking out into new territory as an author, and the gains may not be seen for a book or two.


I don’t know if publishers paid for travel in the past, but I felt good when starting out if my sales paid for BCon and LCC trips. I remember I was at a bestselling writer’s signing in Carson, or another small So Cal town. I think five readers showed up, including me and my son. When I later asked why travel so far for so few readers, they said to me, “I do it partly for the readers, sure, but mostly to shake hands with the people working for the bookstore.” They were aware that these folks work tirelessly to get our words into readers hands. 





Scott Montgomery at Austin’s Book People has led more people to my books than anyone I can think of. When Scott asks me to travel to Texas for a reading or panel discussion, I do it. I mean it helps I have family in Texas to stay with, but I’d work it out if I didn’t.





Which brings me to a… RANT—Scott has never treated independently published writers (me) differently from the likes of Joe R. Lansdale. He put us together on a panel because he saw something in our work that sparked. And I suspect because he knew that getting me in front of Joe’s readers would help to broaden my readership. 


This is something the crime conventions fail at more that not. My first Bouchercon was Chicago 2005, where all the more independent writers were stuffed into an overfull basement room. This remains true today. Most panels pair best and better selling authors together, while up and coming or marginalized writes are smooshed in the small rooms at times where they have no way to compete for new readers.


There have been notable exceptions, such as LLC in Vancouver. I was on a panel about neurodiversity, it was diverse group of writers and because of it I met readers from all kinds of backgrounds, and tastes. We all read broadly, I have readers who also love cozies, hell, I love a good cozy. Why do the conventions rigidly separate writers as if it was a Borders bookstore? (Yeah I know they went out of business, kinda my point.) 


Why isn’t an author who writes “Small Town Police Procedurals,” put on the social justice panel? I know this means more work for the organizers, but the deal is we writers are paying to be the entertainment (and admittedly to get to hang with our peeps.) From a business standpoint, if these events don’t show an uptick in book sales that at least covers the cost of attendance, we really need to question their validity. — RANT OVER!







Final important note,


I don’t write for the money, in fact I’ve written and hidden away more words than I’ve published. I — like most writers — am driven to write. I do it for the love of the craft. I’ve dug ditches and I’ve driven taxis, and getting to spend my days inside these books is the greatest job I can imagine. And yet…


Because of my racial and gender privilege I was able to stash enough money from film work so that when the chance to write full time came I could jump at it. That’s not true for all, or even many. If we want diverse books, we need to make sure writers are being treated with equity.


Again, we’d write for free, and have, but we shouldn’t have to.




Thursday, July 15, 2021

A Close Call, by Catriona

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: I recently heard a comment that the big publishers are trying to hold onto an old model of publishing that doesn’t work so well anymore. Is this true?

As so often happens, I am going to refer you back to Cathy's magisterial answer from yesterday for a wealth of infomarion and clarity.

And when you come back . . . here's what I've got to say.


A few days ago, someone on Twitter sent me this: 

"I appreciate your work very much. Thank you for writing! Q: Is there any explanation, comprehensible to a publishing outsider like me, why some of your books are out of print / hard to get in the US, while others are ready to go (at least via print-on-demand)?"

And I replied: 

"Ooft. The US publisher of books 1 and 2 in the historical series went bust. (The new publisher started with book 5.) That kind of thing. In the UK the series is easy and there are missing contemporaries, although that's about to change. There's always Book Depository. Thanks, btw!"

The first word says it all, though. My feelings about traditional publishing and my place in it are summed up perfectly by "Ooft".


I've had eight publishers (not including large print and audio) and not because I keep flouncing off. (I've only flounced off once (for more money)). The rest of the fun and games has been publishers either going out of business or deciding they don't want to publish something I've written, meaning I need to take it elsewhere. I don't think that is the old model of publishing - at least not the version I've got in my mind, where a publishing house took an author on and nurtured their career, through thick and thin, until decades later either an elderly editor was at an author's memorial or an elderly author was at an editor's.

To be fair, I have written four different kinds of books, so eight publishers - four in the UK and four in the US - might have happened anyway, but it hasn't felt that measured while it's been playing out. Fun for my agent, though; she loves a challenge.


At various points as imprints folded and books were rejected, I have considered going indie. In fact, right now I've got rights to two early non-crime novels. Very recently, I seriously considered putting out four standalone novels that were with Midnight Ink in the US but have never been published in the UK. I didn't approach it with relish, but I did approach it. Think of a dog at the vet, being dragged into the examination room, toenails leaving deep gouges in the lino.

However, at the last minute, when I was facing up to the reality of going on a course and learning to do the kind of thing I was pretty sure I wouldn't enjoy knowing how to do, an offer came from Joffe Books, (2020 Independent Publisher of the Year) for all four of them!

I have seen one of the jackets and it's beautiful. But it's not shareable yet. So instead I'm illustrating this blog with a last look at those gorgeous Midnight Ink designs. Here's the last one. 




Cx



Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Big Question = Big Girl Panties... by Cathy Ace

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: I recently heard a comment that the big publishers are trying to hold onto an old model of publishing that doesn’t work so well anymore. Is this true? Why doesn’t it work, and how could the model be changed?

Yikes! Pulls up Big Girl Panties to try to give a serious response…

The “old” model of publishing boils down to this: writer – agent – publisher – bookseller/library. The writer puts in the months of sweat and tears to create a manuscript; the agent punts that about amongst potential purchasers (traditional publishers); the publisher invests in editing/polishing the manuscript, cover art, printing books, warehousing books, distributing books, promoting books; the bookseller invests in a shop where readers come to buy the book.

Please choose MY books!!!


This model has been disrupted in several ways. The most obvious way would be the arrival of e-books (negating the requirement for print, physical distribution, bricks-and-mortar stores). Another disruptor was the advent of technology that allowed for books to be printed on demand (ie a few at a time, rather than by the thousand) thus allowing for individual/small order to be placed by authors, Indie publishers, individuals (readers) using an online storefront, or even traditional bookstores. Also, the rise of social media means that we’re well past the days when a publisher could simply advertise a new book via “traditional” media, because readers increasingly find out about what they want to read via media they self-select (usually online sources).



These disrupting factors have given rise to a wide range of ways for readers to get the books they want to read, and for writers to publish the books they write. Nowadays, every single stage of the write, edit, polish, cover art, e-book production, print-production, promotion, and even physical distribution of a book is available either for the writer to do it themselves – by purchasing each service individually from different suppliers, or for the writer to use one of the many companies which offer all those services for a fee, or to try to attract an agent, who will try to sell the book to a traditional publisher; the writer must choose.

The traditional publishing model has been around for a long, long time. These days the “BIG PUBLISHERS” seem to be consolidating into one amorphous mass, with a nod to various imprints along the way; to be perfectly honest, I no longer know which company owns which imprints…but that’s a moot point anyway, as far as I am concerned, as I have walked away from the only two publishers I ever had to become an Indie Author.

Actually, I’m what’s called a Hybrid Author, to be exact, since the rights to publish the print version of one series is still held by a traditional publishing company, and my other series has rights still owned by a publishing house which was itself taken over, then sold the e-rights to another publishing house. Arrrggghhh...yes, it’s complicated, which might be why so many authors these days are finding their feet as Indie Authors, like me.

My experience with publishers/agents has been “not necessarily roses all the way”, but my experiences are just that – mine, so I don’t want to generalize, because that’s not useful, or fair. One thing I feel I CAN say, however, is this: every single person I have encountered working in publishing has been a dedicated professional – the business attracts people who love books, so they’ve got that going for them to start with! No, my disenchantment with the business of publishing isn’t because of the people, but because of the way of working. Every author who’s been published by a traditional house understands what I mean when I say we all have to “hurry up, and wait”: you spend months getting to the point where a manuscript is the best you can make it by your deadline date, you send it off…then wait for months before you get feedback, which you are given nanoseconds to turn around, then you wait months for more feedback, which you are given nanoseconds to turn around…and so it goes on. A writer may or may not have input about their cover art and the back-cover blurb about the book; they certainly have no input in terms of distribution; most of the promotional effort is their own, due to tiny promotional budgets for all but traditional publishers’ biggest-selling star authors and small promotional staffing levels.

Designing & creating my own covers these days...


No, I’m not going to turn this post into a whinge-fest, but I will tell you that I became completely exasperated so decided to go it alone. I don’t use a company offering a full range of publishing services because I can’t afford them. I pay an editor with whom I have a good understanding/relationship, and do the same for copy-editing; I design and create my own cover art using Canva; I publish e-books directly through amazon for Kindle, directly through Kobo for Kobo readers, and also use them for getting e-books to libraries via Overdrive – I format them all myself; I format and publish print books directly through amazon which are printed to order when a reader wants to buy them from there; I format and publish print books via Ingram to gain access to the online ordering systems in pretty much every bookstore and library around the world…they order the books they want when they want them and they are printed on demand by Ingram and shipped directly to them (so there’s no huge print-run costs upfront for me, nor any warehousing costs). The promotional effort is all my own.

How different is this than the “old way” I was published by the two traditional publishing houses I had contracts with? Not much. The editing is done at the same level (I know this because I met the editor I use now when she worked exclusively for one of my publishers…she’s now a freelance); both of my original publishers, like me, use Ingram to provide print-on-demand around the world, in order to mitigate their own upfront print-run costs and warehousing needs; neither publisher spent great gobs of money promoting my work (one of them allocated a $75 allowance for each of my book launches, that was about it). The one thing that’s tougher now? Getting traditional media (ie newspapers and magazines) to review my work, because they tend to not review Indie authors’ books. That said, my recent launch of the tenth Cait Morgan Mystery, The Corpse with the Iron Will, has been my most successful Indie-launch to date, and the income from book sales is in my bank account already – as opposed to my receiving a much smaller percentage of the cover price in about six months’ time.

So the “old model” is, in fact, changing (print on demand, online sales) about as much as I think it will. The lists of “bestselling books” are still there, but they’ve always been out of reach for most authors in any case, even if they are published by traditional publishing houses, unless they are the recipients of the huge investment each house chooses to make in a few, select names (a huge advance means a huge promotional budget, in the hopes sales will recoup the investment by the publisher).

I don’t know what else will change, but I just hope readers keep looking for, finding, and reading books they enjoy. While I am now hands-on with every stage in the publishing process, my desire is to write books people read…and I just hope I can keep a balance between the writing and the business to be able to continue to do that.

So, no real answer…but the best response I can muster.

You can find out all about my books here: http://www.cathyace.com/



Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Guest Blog - Vikki Carter

Instead of you listening to my ramblings today, I'm giving over my space to Vikki Carter. Vikki is one of those wonderful people out there who is not only on her own writing journey but is choosing to do as much as she possibily can to help other writers on theirs. Among other things, she has a wonderful podcast that I've been fortunate to be on more than once (I'll be returning the favor - she will be my featured guest in January 2022 on Wrong Place, Write Crime) and offers resources for writers. 

We should always reward kindness in this world, so give Vikki a read - here, and on her site.

From Frank

Resources Every Crime Fiction Author Needs

By Vikki J. Carter, The Author’s Librarian

As a writer and librarian, I am often asked questions about researching. Because of the number of questions, I wrote my first book, Research Like A Librarian, where I address issues relating to plagiarism and how to research beyond the internet by accessing library sources world-wide. However, I will let you in on one secret: I love genre specific questions. But because of the vast number of possible genre specific questions, I could not address them all in my book.

The questions that I get the most excited about are from mystery or crime fiction writers because there are so many useful sources available. I also love answering these questions because I have a fantasy of breaking into crime fiction someday.

What I believe most readers of this genre expect is authenticity, and authors can make their stories authentic by organizing excellent resources and relying upon experts. Here is how:

I have compiled a list of resources for the crime fiction writers over the years. From that list, I have found that crime fiction resources fall into three categories.

1.    Sources on events that inspire the crime fiction writer.

2.    Sources on criminal justice professions for character development.

3.    Sources on procedures that are common in criminal cases.

 Sources on events that inspire the crime fiction writer: Think about where to get information that outlines events, past or present, that could inspire your work. I encourage writers to focus on primary sources such as journals, first-hand accounts, and interviews to help build a that list. Most times, writers will be inspired by criminal cases found in the news, but the news does not have to be the only resource that can inspire the next thriller.

Here are five sources to explore:

1.      https://www.crimemuseum.org: An educational resource on law enforcement, crime history, and forensic science. A repository of America’s most notable crime cases and artifacts.

2.      https://www.refdesk.com/crime.html: An encyclopedia list of forty-two crime and law enforcement related websites. Each list has a short description for quick reference.

3.      https://www.icpsr.umich.edu/web/pages/NACJD/index.html: a database to help guide exploration of topics connected to criminology. This database includes special data topics such as guns & weapons, gangs, and homicide.

4.      https://www.officer.com: a dedicated resource website with up-to-date reports on police officer procedures, training, careers, investigations, and tactical equipment.

5.      https://www.apbonline.com: a website dedicated to daily crime news aggregated from multiple news channels. The latest breaking news articles are highlighted as “new” for quick reference.


Sources on criminal justice professions for character development: Research should include information about the people who may develop as characters in a story: police officers, witnesses, or lawyers to name a few. Within writing crime fiction, these characters have to be authentic. With competition for readers coming from TV and live action films, authenticity of characters is imperative to keep readers coming back for more. Many writers will ask me questions about how to find information about the day-to-day procedures of the criminal profession. By learning about the criminal line of work writers can start to add authenticity to their stories that will captivate their readers. I like to remind writers to not forget about interviews with individuals who work in the profession as research. I encourage writers to reach out to local organizations and make friends with people in the field. It’s okay to tell them you are conducting research for a book. And it’s even better to tell them you will mention their help in the book’s acknowledgements.

 

Here are two good starting points for reference on criminal justice professions:

1.      https://guides.libraries.uc.edu/c.php?g=222212&p=1470996:  University of Cincinnati’s library guide of global professional organizations in criminal justice.

2.      https://www.careerprofiles.info/criminal-justice-careers.html: a website dedicated to the criminal justice career with links to career descriptions, definitions, programs, and job outlook.


Sources on procedures that are common in criminal cases: Once again, I encourage writers to seek out the professional. This can be done in many ways. One example is if you need to write about a court room procedure, go to an open court proceeding. Recently, many municipal court cases have been moved online giving access to these types of events to writers to explore for their procedure research.

Here are several good starting points:

1.      https://www.uscourts.gov/about-federal-courts/types-cases/criminal-cases: a website that helps to define the terms and procedures for American criminal cases. This site offers a free eBook titled Understating the Federal Courts.

2.      https://guides.library.harvard.edu/c.php?g=310516&p=2826979#s-lg-page-section-2072141: Harvard Law School Library Criminal Justice Resource guide is created to be the starting point for researching criminal justice and criminal law issues. This website is regularly updated but is primarily focused on the United States.

3.      https://backgroundchecks.org/11-alternatives-to-crimelibrary-com-and-courttv-com.html: A list of alternative websites that are similar to Crimelibrary.com (which stopped being updated in 2014,) and CourtTV.com.

Another excellent website to add to your resources that expands on information about equipment, weapons, types of crimes, and forensics is The Internet Writing Journal:

https://www.writerswrite.com/journal/research-resources-for-mystery-and-crime-writers-2994

As The Author’s Librarian, I will always encourage authors to move beyond internet researching by developing relationships with criminal justice professionals to gain real details that will enrich their stories. In my book, Research Like A Librarian, I call these types of sources “secret agents” for writers. The important key to developing a strong network of “secret agents” is to draw upon these professionals for details surrounding cases that a writer may miss.  By developing these relationships and using the information gained from discussions, writers can create realistic storylines.  And when you give the readers that type of story, they will keep coming back for more.

My final advice is to not neglect the one source that could be your best bet for finding the information you need: the public, state, or university librarian. Many authors are surprised when I coach them to reach out to librarians to get access to data or high-level documents that would help them with their fiction work. But I am convinced that librarians are an author’s best resource for researching.

For example, during a Facebook meeting I was asked to present at for historical fiction authors several weeks ago, I encouraged the authors to email a librarian with a question they may have been stuck on during their researching process.

One author reported back the next morning that she was surprised to have an answer within a day from a state librarian regarding data that she had been hunting down for a few months.

Another example can be heard on my podcast. In episode one hundred and five, Kim Taylor Blakemore and I talked about her working with an out of state librarian.  This librarian helped Kim gain access to historical records about an asylum that ended up being the inspiration to many aspects of Kim’s award-winning historical thriller novels.

As a librarian, I encourage you to organize your list of sources based on events that inspire, criminal justice professions, and procedures. As a writer, I challenge you to interview expert witness in the field. And as reader, I encourage you to ask a librarian for help when you are stuck. By incorporating these techniques into your writing, you will be able to write your next thrilling with excellent sources that will give your book the authenticity your readers expect.   

Get a copy of the links and descriptions listed in this article in a free eBook titled: 

Resources Every Crime Fiction Author Needs.

 

About Vikki J. Carter, The Author's Librarian:

As a professional librarian and author, Vikki J. Carter, The Author's Librarian, reveals the techniques that librarians use to help writers effectively find valuable sources. Vikki’s book, Research Like A Librarian is available in eBook and in print.

Since the publication of her book in March 2021, Vikki has scheduled a fall appearance on The Creative Penn Podcast and she will be presenting at The 2021 Self-Publishing Advice Conference.

You can learn more about The Author’s Librarian, future online courses, listen to her podcast, gain access to the free Author’s Librarian Checklist: Avoiding Plagiarism, or watch her YouTube channel by visit the website at https://www.theauthorslibrarian.com.