Monday, April 24, 2017

Judging a Book by Its Cover

It’s time to admit it. I suffer from OCPD—Obsessive Compulsive Planning Disorder. I hadn’t even finished writing my first book, Murder Strikes a Pose when I started preparing to query agents. I took classes, read dozens of blog articles, and attended a host of information sessions. In the end, I left with two key takeaways:

1.      Check your spelling. Agents will toss your manuscript in the garbage if you spell their name wrong.
2.      Your manuscript must have a fabulous first line—a single sentence that will hook the reader in twenty words or less.

Writing my book’s first line became an obsession. I sweated and angsted and wrote and rewrote. I finally created something perfect: a pithy first sentence that would simultaneously hook the reader, draw them into the story, and introduce them to the voice of the novel’s protagonist.

But all of that angst and hard work will be for nothing if readers never crack open the book. That’s where the cover comes in.

The design of my book’s cover started with my author website. My webmaster (aka husband) and I discussed the site’s design for months. I wanted it to illustrate some key elements of my mysteries; he wanted a professional-looking page that wouldn’t take him a hundred years to create. We finally agreed that the site would contain:

·        Bright, happy colors that captured the lighthearted tone of the work
·        An illustration that quickly showed two important components of the series: yoga and dogs
·        Recognizable landmarks of Seattle, the city in which the series takes place
·        A feeling of playful mischief between the two main characters: Kate, a quirky yoga instructor, and Bella, her horse-sized German shepherd.

That decided, my husband hired artist Nicole Alesi who developed this web banner.

I was simply delighted. The web banner contained everything that I wanted and more.

My publisher agreed. When Midnight Ink purchased the first three books in the series, they hired Nicole to design the book covers. The cover art she created for Murder Strikes a Pose is below:

I have to admit, I love it.

So imagine my surprise when I read my first one-star review. The reviewer said that my writing was “lovely; fast paced and vivid,” and that mystery readers would like the book. So why did she give it a single star? In spite of the word “murder” in the title, she thought that the book was a romance, not a mystery. Evidently, she doesn’t like reading about murder.

The second surprise came a few weeks later at my first book signing. Several people paused at my table, glanced at the cartoon cover, shrugged, and walked away saying, “Oh, it’s a kid’s book.”
So much for that all-important first line.

I still adore my covers, as do most of my readers. I know many people have started the book specifically because they were drawn in by its bright, happy design. The covers of the rest of my series are substantively similar: Same light, bright cartoon characters; same illustration of the setting in the background; same sense of mischief and play between the two main characters.

But now we include crime elements.  In my newest book, A Fatal Twist, it’s the outline of a body.  Hopefully it's large enough for people to notice.

What makes you decide to read a book? Cover? Title? First line? Please share your thoughts below.

Tracy Weber

All four books in the Downward Dog Mystery Series are available at booksellers everywhere!

Tracy Weber is a certified yoga teacher and the founder of Whole Life Yoga, an award-winning yoga studio in Seattle, where she current­ly lives with her husband, Marc, and precocious German shepherd puppy, Ana. She loves sharing her passion for yoga and animals in any form possible. When she’s not writing, she spends her time teaching yoga, trying to corral Ana Tasha, and sip­ping Blackthorn cider at her favorite ale house. Tracy loves connecting with fans.  Find her on her author web page or on Facebook.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

When the Book Reviews Start Coming In ...

By Lisa Alber

There's this pause the occurs--at least for me--after handing off a manuscript to the publisher and before the book reviews start coming in (i.e. the reality of our stories out in the real world) that fills me with a combination of excitement and dread.

By the time I hand off a novel, I don't want to think about it for a long, long time. But this is impossible because I've gotta start thinking about marketing and promotion, and once that enters my head, I inevitably wonder about the novel's reception in the real world.

As I said to a friend last week, "I'm kind of curious about what Path Into Darkness's reception is going to be like."

"Curious?" C said. She's a fellow mystery novelist though on the lighter end of the spectrum.

I knew she was wondering about my word choice. "Curious" is a curious word to use, for sure. It might have been code for "worried" or "scared shitless," but ... hmm ... not entirely. I really was curious. Because I felt--and still feel--that I tend to stretch the boundaries of my chosen fiction genre.

Readers might think they're picking up a traditional mystery, but they're not. Not really. And, of course, this gets me thinking about expectations and disappointment. I've never thought about these two topics as much as I have since getting published.

Some readers' expectations stem from the way a book looks and the way it's marketed. And, see, I have no control over this. This is part of what the pause I mentioned above is all about: the moment I lose control of the story around my story. This is why I get curious. I know what I was about while I writing, but will readers get what I was about while writing? Some will; some won't. Some will like it; some won't. Nothing I can do about any of this.

I've decided that I'm going to create a new genre within the mystery category: psychological whydunits, which could also be called :psychological suspense," I suppose, except that I do use traditional elements. The plain truth is that the whodunit has never interested me as much as the whydunnit, but that may be because I adore psychology, in general.

But, all's well that ends well--for the moment anyhow. I received my first two reviews from reviewing entities. And they were good! Whew!

"A dark, compelling mystery with numerous plot twists and well-drawn characters interwoven with an involving portrait of life in a small, insular Irish village."   --Booklist

"Dark and haunting ... The author's complex and tightly-woven tale filled was filled with colloquial phrases that added an air of authenticity to the story."   --Books and Benches

Lisa Alber is the author of the County Clare mysteries. Her debut novel, Kilmoon, has been called "utterly poetic" and "a stirring debut." Her second in the County Clare mysteries, Whispers in the Mist, came out in August from Midnight Ink Books. Look for PATH INTO DARKNESS in August 2017. Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging round out her distractions. Facebook | Twitter

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Release Flurry

Edith here, happy to report that Called to Justice is finally out! I'm in the middle of a great flurry of activities supporting and celebrating the release, and am delighted to be here.

I had a double launch party at an independent bookstore in the next town last week. Why double? Because my alter-ego Maddie Day had a book out only two weeks ago, so we interviewed each other. Read all about it on one of my other two group blogs, the Wicked Cozy Authors.

Next week I'll be launching Called in my own town, where the series takes place. We have a full Poetry Month schedule of events, and mine is called Poetry and Literature. We'll read bits from the two John Greenleaf Whittier poems mentioned in the book, a local poet will read a poem on Midwifery she wrote specially for me, and I'll read the book's opening scene. If you're in New England, come on down to The Noshery at two o'clock on April 23.

A few weeks ago I spoke, wearing my Quaker dress, to a historical society. They filmed the whole thing and I just received the link. You can watch it, too!

The Escape with Dollycas blog tour continues for a few more days, and includes chances to win a copy of Called at every stop.

Some awesome reviews are in, with more coming along every day.

  • "... intricate, heartfelt good as having a time machine..wonderful characters...a finely wrought mystery." - Cozy up with Kathy
  • "a great murder [mystery] with historical background and a story so well written you will be captivated from the start" - Shelley Reads and Reviews
  • "It is not all babies, courtship, and bicycles ... Double-dealing, shadowy shapes in the night, and gunplay all make their appearance in this story, including a twist in the tale that keeps you guessing as to who is who and what is what right up to the end. Delivering the Truth delivers, right across the board." - Criminal Element
  • "Climax...a real page turner...if you are looking for a trip back in time, there is no better guide than ...strong, resourceful...Rose." - Carstairs Considers
Finally, to give an extra boost to Called to Justicebook one, Delivering the Truth has won the Ippy Silver Medal in the Mystery/Cozy/Noir category! And the book currently on sale in both Kindle and paperback versions.

Now I need a nap. ;^)

Thursday, April 6, 2017

New Sins and Late Nights

by Tj O'Connor

Nighttime belongs to mystery and intrigue—evil, too. I could say it belongs to love, but I write mysteries and thrillers, not romance novels. For me, I do my best thinking around midnight. I also do my best panicking and second-guessing. Don't we all? It’s not unusual for me to be lying there (or sitting at my computer writing), plotting out a scene or another book and wham—God, in the 7th Grade, I insulted that sweet redhead, Becky. What was I thinking! Then back to my murder plot and … crap! I’ll never retire, I’ll have to work until I die and … now, where did I leave that last body in Chapter 12... dammit, why isn't Pluto a real planet anymore? As the hours tick by, so does my split personality between story plots and lifelong regrets.

Raise your hand if you are with me on this–and don’t lie.

But something else happens after midnight, too—creativity. An unknown author once said, “3 AM is the hour of writers, painters, poets, musicians, silence seekers, overthinkers, and creative people…” I am clearly in the writers and overthinker columns. Of course, perhaps the best quote to describe me was by the hiphop group, the Initials, who wrote, “The Night Belongs to The Poet and The Madman.” Hmmmm, I’m no poet so … yup, madman. Nailed it.

Most of my novels were all given birth after midnight. New Sins for Old Scores was no exception.

I was lying awake one night a few years ago when I began writing New Sins for Old Scores, my latest paranormal mystery coming out in a couple months from Black Opal Books. A line came to me that sort of sums up the opening of the story and my permanent state of insomnia and creativity—of the lead character, Richard Jax, I wrote, “… history taught him a very important lesson—an axiom of parents with teenagers—that nothing good ever happens after midnight. Jax wasn’t married and had no children. But it was after midnight and he was alone.” Then, bam! A body—his body—blood, bullets, and bang-bang. The story unfolds.

The story follows the traditional mystery path to “the End” with a murder, finger-pointing, a few more bodies, deep dark secrets, twists and turns, the spirit of a long-dead OSS operative, and the capture of the bad guys. Well, perhaps the spirit of a long-dead OSS operative isn’t the traditional mystery path, but it can be  with me. At least for this book it was. Most of this story was written between the hours of 9 pm and 4 am. In fact, most of my nine novels were written during those hours.

And yes, alas, most of my life-long regrets and mistakes haunt me then, too.

A lot of good can happen after midnight for me. I’ve learned a ton about writing over the past five years or so—patience, the ability to take a gut-punch (think critics, publishers, and barroom friendships), and perseverance. Mostly, though, I’ve learned a lot about myself and many of those lessons came in the late hours when I can forget about my real life and focus on my imaginary one—killing people and stopping international crisis. Okay, okay, so over the years my real life and imaginary life gets a little blurry, but you get what I mean. Late at night I love to take in the night air and let my brain go crazy. It’s a battle to ignore the forgotten appointments, lists of to-do things, and life’s worries (although I still accumulate a Picasso of yellow sticky notes by 5 am each morning). Still, I’ve learned that my inner demons thrive after lights-out, so I always have my cellphone handy and my note-application ready for an endless list of characters, plot twists, and action sequences I want to write. The dread of it all is that I must—like most of you—work for a living. Alas, I have to wait until the next night before I can put fingers to keyboard and craft those ideas into my stories. It’s painful sometimes, but like a vampire, daylight isn't fun—work, bills, cooking, chasing the dogs, responsibilities …

Somehow, before the sun comes up each day, I catch 3-4 hours of sleep. That’s when I dream about my stories. Do you think I’m obsessed?  

The moral to all this is know thy self—learn about your strengths and weaknesses and what works best for you. Don’t read blogs and go to seminars and panels and try to mimic what other authors do and say. There is no secret code to success (lord don't I know)! Don’t fall into the trap of trying to fit yourself into a mold. Trust me, you’ll get stuck and have to fight your way out—or worse, you’ll be captive to seeking that infamous secret formula. No. I believe in using your love of the pen to learn about yourself—learn when the demons come out and when the voices in your head begin to make sense. Even if that’s after midnight.

Oh, and forget the tossing and turning about those bills and long lost friends and what-ifs. Those voices are just your ex-spouse or the IRS trying to make you crazy! Listen for the little whisper that starts after the lights go out and tells your characters what to do and say and where the story is going. And for God’s sake, pay attention!

We’ll talk again next month.

Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS (IPPY) FOR MYSTERIES. He is the author of New Sins for Old Scores, coming in Spring 2017 from Black Opal Books, and Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell. He recently finished his new thriller, The Consultant: Double Effect,and his amazing agent, Kimberley Cameron, is finding it a home. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. He was raised in New York's Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and Lab companions in Virginia where they raised five children. Dying to Know is also the 2015 Bronze Medal winner of the Reader’s Favorite Book Review Awards, a finalist for the Silver Falchion Best Books of 2014, and a finalist for the Foreword Review’s 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award.

Learn about Tj’s world at:

Web Site:


Monday, April 3, 2017

Preparation for Publication

by Linda O. Johnston

   It's April already.  That means May is fast approaching.  And May is when my third Barkery & Biscuits Mystery, Bad to the Bone, will be published by Midnight Ink.

   So right now I am in preparation mode.  It doesn't hurt that my mind is Barkery-centered anyway since I am currently writing book number four in the series.  But how does an author prepare these days for publication of a new book?

   Well, for one thing, here I am, blogging about it.  This isn't the only place I'll blog about it either.  I'll be participating in a Great Escapes blog tour.  That includes bloggers' reviews of the new book, plus I'll be providing interview responses and related blog posts to be included in other blogs.

   And of course I'll mention it on my regular blogs: Killer Hobbies, Killer Characters and Slice of Orange, as well as here at InkSpot--as I've just done!

   I'll also be doing personal appearances of various sorts.  For one thing, as usual, I will be attending Malice Domestic, a very fun conference as many other Midnight Ink authors know.  I'll be on a panel featuring authors who write about pets in their stories--The "Paws" That Detect--and that's me!

   I will attend the grand reopening celebration of the Glendale, California, Central Library with other authors.

   I'll also celebrate the launch of my book at the Mysterious Galaxy's birthday bash.

   I'll be chatting and blogging at Writerspace, which provides various communities for readers and writers.  It's a fun group and I participate there a lot.  I'll also be participating in their author newsletter and doing a book giveaway. 

   I'll attend the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, where I'll sign books that have already been published at three different mystery booths--and will also volunteer at the booth for the Los Angeles Romance Authors chapter of the Romance Writers of America.

   I'll be speaking at a couple of events for the Ridge Writers, the East Sierra Branch of the California Writers Club.

   I'll be on a panel at the California Crime Writers Conference in a couple of months.

   And if anything else comes up, I'll certainly consider doing that, too.

   Think I'm doing enough?  Heck, it's never enough, but I enjoy it all. 

   And maybe all of this will remind existing readers of me, introduce me to new readers, and help me sell a few books!

   I'm sure the writers reading this are nodding, or shaking their heads and laughing, or recognizing themselves in some or all of these ideas, plus more.  If any of  you have additional suggestions, please let me know!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Creating an Audiobook: The Easy, the Challenging, and the Unknown

By Tracy Weber

I’ve been clamoring for an audiobook version of my Downward Dog Mystery Series since before the first book came out.  Unfortunately, my agent was unable to find a buyer for the audio rights to the series, so I recently self-published the audio version of my first book, Murder Strikes a Pose using ACX, an audiobook self-publishing platform.
The process was simultaneously easier and more challenging than I could have imagined. For those considering the same path, here are some of my learnings.
Let’s start with the easy:
·        The ACX process.  ACX breaks the process of creating an audiobook into a few easy steps:

1.      Set up an account.
2.      Make sure you have rights to the title.  (If you’re traditionally published like I am, check your contract.)
3.      Create an audition script. (That’s a blog article all by itself.)
4.      Post the title and script on the ACX site for audition. Interested narrators (producers) submit audition recordings based on your script. You can either offer producers a set dollar amount per finished hour or a royalty split.
5.      Make an offer to your favorite producer.  This includes both agreeing to a schedule and contract terms. The contract template is provided by ACX, which I found super helpful.
6.      Start production. ACX recommends approval after the first fifteen minutes have been recorded and then again after the entire work is complete.  I chose a different process.  (See below.)
7.      Upload a cover
8.      Finish production and submit to ACX for quality review.
9.      Start selling.

Kind of reminds me of a Staples button.  Wow, that was easy!
Well, not exactly …

Now for the Challenging:
·        Hiring the right producer.  If you’re a fan of audiobooks, you know that the narrator makes or breaks the listening experience, perhaps even more than the writing. Some authors choose to read their own books, but I wanted to use a professional. I assumed hiring a producer wouldn’t be that big of a deal.
I was wrong.
Recording an audiobook is a ton of work; doing it on a royalty split, a huge gamble. I didn’t get a single audition for the first two weeks. Week three, auditions started trickling in.  Most potential narrators used soothing, yoga voices. My protagonist, Kate, may teach yoga, but she’s spunky!  Yoga voice would never do. 
One narrator was quite talented, but she could only speak with a British accent. Kate is a Pacific Northwest girl through and through.  I was about to give up when I received an audition from Anne James.  I knew she was right for Kate the minute I heard her.  I made an offer, she accepted, and off we went!
·        Creating the cover. I thought creating the cover would be a no-brainer, and it sure started out that way. My publisher kindly granted me cover rights, as long as I got permission from the artist.  She agreed, but for a fee that was, to be honest, way too expensive for an unproven audiobook. 
Still, covers are important and I love my cover art, so I paid it. The dimensions needed to be changed, so my husband spent a few hours massaging the original artwork until we created the cover below.  It’s pretty cool, don’t you think? 
·        Finding the time. My narrator was wonderful to work with.  Simply wonderful. She recorded a chapter at a time, then sent it to me for review. I listened to it once or twice, wrote up feedback, and sent it back to her for revision.
Ana pup waiting for me to stop working and play with her.
Sometimes a chapter was perfect on the first take. Most times, however, we had to do two or three versions.  The finished product is a little over eight hours, but I spent approximately twenty hours listening to the recordings. Add the time spent thinking and typing up feedback, and pretty soon I’d used up a pretty big chunk of my puppy’s playtime.
And the unknown.
Hello, is anybody out there?
·        Where are the listeners? I’ve spent a lot of time building the audience for my series, and I’m learning more about book promotion every day. An audiobook is proving to be a whole different animal, however. I joined groups, arranged blog tours, held launch parties, and offered giveaways.
I’ve definitely sold copies, and I hope to sell more.  As I write this, the audiobook has 49 reviews which are generally quite positive. But audiobook promotion has its own unique challenges, and frankly I’ve stumbled up against most of them.  Still, I’m learning as I go and am optimistic about the future.
Finally, the question my fellow authors might be asking:

·        Would I do it again?  The answer is a definite yes.  Anne and I are currently working on Book 2 of the series, A Killer Retreat.  We don’t have a launch date yet, but hopefully we will soon. Stay tuned!
To enter to win a copy of your choice of my Downward Dog Mysteries, please comment with the answer to one or more of these questions:
1.      Do you listen to audiobooks?  If so, why?  If not, why not?
2.      How do you learn about the audiobooks you purchase?
3.      If you’ve produced an audiobook, what advice would you give to me and my readers? 
Comment with one or more answers by midnight on Sunday, April 2 to be entered in the drawing.  Be sure to include your e-mail address (i.e. Tracy(at)WholeLifeYoga(dot)com) so I can contact you if you win.  Good luck!

Tracy Weber

All four books in the Downward Dog Mystery Series are available at booksellers everywhere!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Coming in Hot

Eileen here! I'm in the last stages of finishing a book, which is good since it's due in about two weeks. I'm a little farther behind than I'd like to be, but it's all still doable while still taking the occasional shower and eating something besides potato chips and M&Ms.

There's a wonderful kind of madness for me at this point in a book. It's all coming together. In fact, most of the scenes are written. Unfortunately, they're not in order and there are damn few transitions from one scene to the next and there are also those scenes that are all dialogue between characters without tags or descriptions. It always reads like it's two people talking in a white room with no furniture. Still I get a little elated when I realize what scene needs to come next and that I've already written it. It's just a matter of finding it in my crazy long document and plunking it into place. And getting my heroine there and making sure she looks like something and is wearing clothes and stuff. And that she moves something besides her eyebrows and shoulders (seriously, what is my obsession with people furrowing brows, raising eyebrows, and shrugging?).

Sometimes I'll look up at the end of a day writing and feel like I've been driving at breakneck speeds over winding roads with my hair on fire. It's that kind of experience as I negotiate red herrings and plot twists and placing clues and emotional development in my character and establishing the little town she lives in and and and . . .

So wish me luck! I'm going in and I'm going in hot.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Gazing Out Windows in Ireland and on the Novel Page

By Lisa Alber

My morning writing spot at the B&B.
St. Patrick's Day is coming up, and it's reminding me that a year ago I was in County Clare, Ireland. I spent three glorious weeks performing novel research, hanging out in pubs, and writing all morning long in the sunny breakfast room at my B&B. 

PATH INTO DARKNESS, the third County Clare mystery, comes out in August, and it takes place at this time of year, in the weeks leading up to and just after Easter. This was why I chose to go to Ireland in the spring. Spring is amazing there, rainy to be sure, but so changeable. The cloud formations, rain, even snow!, warmth, sun, rainbows, wind. Three weeks is enough to see the change in a season, and every morning I looked out the big picture windows and noticed daffodils, the arrival of magpies, not to mention the neighborhood farmer who always waved as he drove past on his tractor. 

One of the themes of PATH INTO DARKNESS is resurrection, so Easter time is a fitting time of year in which to set the book, eh? By resurrection, I mean by means of healing -- emotional healing, psychological healing, spiritual healing, physical healing. I didn't set out to do this, but once I noticed that the novel was leading me in this direction, I paid attention to it.

Here's a small snippet that I wrote while I was Ireland last year:

Once again, Merrit surveyed the world from her bedroom window. Watching the weather had become part of her morning routine, similar to reading her horoscope when she was a kid. Today a hulking grey mass of cloud floated north, taking its rain with it. In its wake, sunshine streaked through lighter fluffy clouds and a rainbow grew out of the ground in an iridescent arc. A flock of starlings swirled like an airborne school of fish and settled on a telephone line while lambs bleated for their ewe mamas in the neighbor’s field. Spring had truly arrived. She decided to consider this a sign of a good day to come.

And here's one of many hilarious things about writing: Sometimes we insert ourselves into the stories without realizing it. In the first draft, Merrit, for example, looked out windows a lot. This was me transcribing my experience in the breakfast room watching the weather and spring's arrival. During revisions, I realized that, story-wise, Merrit's behavior made sense because of the growing pangs she's going through as a relative newcomer to Ireland. Here's another passage that elucidates her state of mind.

Hello, morning. Merrit plowed fingers through her hair and shuffled to her bedroom window. A haze of rain obscured the view of Mullaghamore and the countryside. She always seemed to be looking out windows. Her new pastime, watching the world from afar.
“Fantastic,” she mumbled.
A depressing realization first thing in the morning. She needed coffee.

The needing-coffee thing? Yeah, that's me too. Can't live without my coffee. I hadn't realized that Merrit is the same way.

I leave you with three of my favorite pictures taken from my writing spot at the B&B.

Toward the end of the trip I discovered that I'd met this man on a previous trip to Ireland. He's the ex-husband of my former B&B hostess. 

The rain storms (and rainbows) came and went with the clouds.

Woke up one morning to snow!
Lisa Alber is the author of the County Clare mysteries. Her debut novel, Kilmoon, has been called "utterly poetic" and "a stirring debut." Her second in the County Clare mysteries, WHISPERS IN THE MIST came out in August from Midnight Ink Books. Look for PATH INTO DARKNESS in August 2017. Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging round out her distractions. Facebook | Twitter