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 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!