Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Book Review: The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner

First of all, I love any writer who shares a first name with me. Betsy Lerner and I are also writers. Beyond that, I doubt there are many similarities.

Lerner divides her book into two main sections: writing and publishing. She makes clear that these are not the same, although no one is published without writing first. She explains that there are different types of writers. The ambivalent writer has so many ideas for projects that few if any are begun, let alone finished. The natural writer, a rare beast, perhaps even an endangered species, seems to have all the right words in all the right order without having to learn the craft of writing. The wicked child uses her family as the jumping off point for characters and plots. Right or wrong, often she trashes her family all in the name of art. Others are the self-promoter, the neurotic and those touching fire. Most writers will find themselves in one if not more of her types.

In the second half of the book, publishing, Lerner gives terrific advice on seeking and landing an agent (she herself is one and knows of what she writes), handling rejection (even Stephen King garnered a stack of rejections before his first sale), knowing what editors are looking for, knowing what you as a writer wants, working on the book with your editor and marketing your work after publication.

I recommend this to anyone who is starting out as a writer. Lerner pulls no punches yet leaves you laughing at some of her lessons. They serves beginning authors well. Those of us who have published a book or books already can still learn from this book. It's a reference book full of common sense and oft overlooked advice on how to behave as a writer.

It should be on every writer's bookshelf -- after the writer has read it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Book Review: Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas

Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime UnitMindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E. Douglas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars on Goodreads

John Douglas has written a reference book that belongs on the desk of any crime writer. Even though not every writer discusses the FBI's serial crime or the behavioral analysis units, this study into the mind of criminals opens endless possibilities for topics while at the same time reinforces the effort these brave agents go through to solve some of the most bizarre crimes. The model for Jack Crawford in The Silence of the Lambs, Douglas detailed profiles, habits and next moves to give law enforcement officers new tools to use in their fight against crime.

Through interviews with many of the most notorious serial killers and mass murderers, Douglas takes the reader inside their minds. From Charles Manson, who had to sit on the back of a chair to appear taller than he was, to Richard Speck, who murdered nurses in South Chicago, Douglas holds little back. Evil people are portrayed in all their evilness. This journey leaves the reader wanting a hot shower, sleeping with the lights on and jumping at every strange sound in familiar surroundings.

Chilling and yet fascinating, the reader will want to turn away but won't be able to.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Book Marketing on Steroids

This post is likely to annoy some, anger others and spur a different group to aim higher. Why annoy? Because some of my writer friends think every writer should have this kind of marketing support. Why anger? Because some of this came about during negotiations between an agent and a publisher. Why spur on and encourage? Because the more we write, the better we get as writers and marketeers. The better we get, the better our sales. And the greater the possibility we have to land one of these contracts where more is done for us.

A bit of background before I dissect this full-page ad from Publishers Weekly. Sharyn McCrumb is a long-time NYT bestselling author. Her ballad novels featuring Nora Bonesteel are continuing favorites. There hasn't been a new one in a long time. This novella comes ready made for success.

That said, Abingdon Press, which has been around for 200+ years, is throwing a ton of effort behind this release. Let's parse this ad.

  1. 100-copy early reader campaign. Most of us with small press contracts are lucky to have 10-15 copies to send out. We have to badger our publishers for the Kindle file to attract reviewers. Many of the names for the early readers came from Sharyn herself, but not all. Some came from the publisher knowing who the best earlier readers in her genre are. All are expected to review the book. 
  2. 100-copy radio reviewers promo. I don't know 100 radio reviewers. I would need a PR specialist to help with this.
  3. Multi-media publicity campaign. I know most of my local newspaper and magazine publishers. Outside of a 50-mile radius, I'm just another writer looking for column inches. I can send press releases and hope, but it helps if you know someone at the publication to grease the skids. As far as national book review pubs, again it's rather a crap shoot as to whether my book will be reviewed or not. I have to try, but I would rather have a bit of help to attract attention.
  4. Author signings at large festivals and book fairs. NYT bestsellers do well because they have support.  If an indie or small press author gets in, it's a lonely place. If you are with a publishing company that has high visibility. you'll be overwhelmed. Otherwise, you're likely to be underwhelmed.
  5. 20-stop regional author tour in southeast. Again, having a large publisher behind you to set up the appointments helps bring bodies and dollars to your events. You can do it yourself given enough time and contacts. If your book will attract a regional audience through its subject, you'll have a better chance of doing this on your own.
  6. National print and online advertising. Not likely if you are with a small press or on your own. I don't have deep pockets to pay for advertising.
  7. #NoraIsBack social medial campaign. All of us can do this. We can register our book titles and put together social media events. It takes time that you might not be able to spend.
  8. Online reading group guides. We should all have these on our web pages. If our publishers will print the guides at the back of the book, all the better. Some will; others won't. AT least put these on your websites, along with topics you are qualified to talk about.
  9. Abingdon Book club and blogger program. This works if your publisher has such programs. If not, you're on your own.
Is this all bad news for indie and small press published writers? No, because there are several things in this list we can all do without spending a boatload of money. We'll spend a boatload of time, thought. It's hard to figure out how to divide our time between promotion and writing the next book. We are often reminded that selling books is a marathon, not a sprint. True, but publishers would like to see a return on their investment in publishing our works. So would we.

We have to be smart to control the stress of feeling we have to do it all. Good publishers and agents can and should help. Alas, not all do.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Book Review: For I Have Sinned by Kristen Houghton

For I Have SinnedFor I Have Sinned by Kristen Houghton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'll start by saying I'm really pissed off at Kristen Houghton. Her well-written book cost me a good night's sleep, because I stayed up waaay too late to finish it. I've read several things by this writer and liked them. Without a doubt, this is her best book yet.

Kristen Houghton proves there is room for one more tough, sexy PI with the introduction of Cate Harlow, who takes her place alongside PI Warshawski and Stephanie Plum.

Houghton takes a lead from the headlines to discuss pedophilia in the priesthood. A year before the book opens, Cate found the body of a terribly mutilated man. The story is buried; the man was not. Ten years later in current time, she takes a job to find a teen who vanished the same year as the murder. The missing person case is long cold, but Cate displays a soft heart for the downtrodden. A well-drawn character with many levels of meaning, she begins delving into what happened to the boy when her ex husband and homicide detective calls her in the middle of the night to come to a crime scene. There she sees the mutilated body of another man, this one wearing a priest's collar, a lot of blood and nothing else.

The new murder is eerily similar to the older one, although the first body wasn't identified as a priest. She is troubled by the collar and a Latin message written inside. Cate and Will, the ex, combine with Cate's current boyfriend, the medical examiner, to figure out what happened.

Secondary characters are fully fleshed out, providing a rich tapestry of human behavior, desire and motive. From a pair of homeless men to a friendly neighbor to a mysterious man who appears without much warning, Houghton gives us characters that are real. You want to know what happens to them. You want to know their history, their backstory if you will. You want to know how each fits into the tapestry of a terrible murder.

The book is fast paced, well written and brings to light a delightful character in Cate Harlow and a wonderful contrasting pair of lovers. This first in a series promises hours of page-turning reading.